82. Ten Thousand Days – Bebo Norman
TEN THOUSAND DAYS (1999)
Clearly one of the finest singer-songwriters to come out of the acoustic folk rock phenomenon of the late 1990’s was Bebo Norman. That shy, sweet-natured and thoughtful songwriter established himself in coffee houses and on the road with Caedmon’s Call for quite some time before gaining national attention with his “national” debut discussed here.
Though Norman had recorded an album previous on an independent label run by Kemper Crabb, it was the tours with Caedmon’s Call that really helped him establish his name in the market. Norman has, over the last decade, consistently created great album with strong songs, but it would be this debut that would set the standard.
A little folky, a touch of rock and Americana and blessed a throaty and scratchy soulful voice, Norman makes his songs become a part of the listener. His brutal honesty, dealing regularly with doubt and disappointment, has brought both cheers and jeers is this “happy for the Lord” industry. He even wrote a song supporting Britney Spears and rebuking the Church for its attitudes and judgmentalism.
Ten Thousand Days (roughly the amount of days Norman was alive at the time) starts with a slide guitar enhanced folk melody called “Walk Down This Mountain.” The song revels in the need for brokenness and humility when coming into community with others just as Christ did as “He walked down the mountain to where the masses are.”
“Stand” has a great commercial sound, kind of like if Jason Mraz did an Americana folk song. Great groove and killer hook in the verse structure leads to a radio friendly chorus. If any song from the album would fit on a Caedmon’s Call album it would be this one.
The highlight of the album, and possibly one of the great unheralded songs in CCM history follows with “The Hammer Holds.” This poignant and powerful song should be an Easter classic. I’m convinced that if it was written in the 1970’s, it would rank with “He’s Alive” for great story songs for Easter.
In the song we are introduced to a piece of metal that does not know its own destiny, but hold out a great hope for being something special like a piece of art or used to build something majestic. The metal is pounded, burned and cooled in water, all the while unaware that its ultimate destiny would be to pierce the hands of the Savior of the world.
The first time I saw him perform the song was at a Family Bookstore Manager’s conference. This is a pretty jaded group of people who have “seen it all” and are constantly getting schmoozed and pumped up by record company executives and publishing marketers, but there was not a dry eye in the place once the songs point hit! Including my own.
The album returns the folky, Americana rock with “I’m Alright.” This hopeful song presents Bebo realizing that despite the demons and struggles we encounter, there is something more than just a heart beating in our chests.
One of the few piano driven songs, “Deeper Still” shows Norman at his most vulnerable and emotional. This slow-moving ballad tells the heart wrenching story of a woman who loses the love of her life to bitterness, anger and resentment. Yet, despite the emotional pain the glimmer of hope of a God who sees and knows and loves remains.
“Deeper Still” appears to musically and lyrical merge into the following, “Where the Angels Sleep.” This time the acoustic guitar returns with only a very limited drumming in support. The song builds into a beautiful and powerful anthem as it progresses.
“The Man Inside” is both musically and lyrically more upbeat. The acoustic piano takes on a very groovy vibe not far from a late 70’s Stephen Bishop melody. At the surface it appears to be written about his father, or at least about father’s in general and their impact on their sons.
“Healing Song” is a “real” love song. There is humility, passion and an understanding of the need for God’s blessing for love to flourish. But the love in question is not just limited to intimate relationships, but friendships, community and even strangers.
The softer, gentle Norman is revealed in “In Your Hands.” Accompanied almost exclusively by an acoustic guitar this song of abandon and transparency before the maker revels in its simplicity. The difficulty of giving up who we are to wither a loved one or to God is difficult and scary. This universal is made more real be Norman’s performance.
A personal favorite is “A Page is Turned.” Written like something penned by Mark Heard, Norman presents several stories of faith and struggle through the pages of a book as each verse finds the page turned to present another story. As the story progresses we are introduced to two characters that, originally living separate lives, come together to become man and wife. If I recall correctly, the song was written for Norman’s brother and sister-in-law. All the while after the story is told you discover that it is God that had the story written in advance.
“Selwood Farm” harkens back to the days of Norman’s youth. A time of simple faith and joyous grace. The song starts very somber and slow, but the change is so sweet that the whole complexion of the content seems to change with the musical direction.
The album closes, not with some joyous expression, but with glimpse of pain, doubt and death. “Rita” tells the story of the death of a loved one, whose body has been ravaged by disease. As many readers know I lost my beloved brother-in-law a few months ago and I find this song still rubs the wounds of loss raw, but in a good way.
Slower passing are the hours
To tell this tale that takes its time
But the finest moment, no man can measure
Is to look your Savior in the eyes
A beautiful way to end a stunning and powerful album. Few artists have maintained a quality of integrity and consistency as Norman has. This is one I seriously cannot recommend enough.