Home > CCM, Christian Music, Christian Pop, Christian Rock, Greatest Albums, Jesus Music > 75. Toward Eternity – Matthew Ward

75. Toward Eternity – Matthew Ward


Matthew Ward

I have heard from different sources that Matthew Ward’s “Toward Eternity” is either the last Jesus Music album or the first CCM album. Released right around the turn of the decade that many define as the historical marker for the two genres. Produced and written by many that were the founder and stalwarts of the Jesus Music era (Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, Michael Omartian), but decidedly more polished, rock and pop driven than anything released previously.

I simply call it a classic that is clearly the center of a musical paradigm shirt in CCM. Production was stellar, performances spotless and Ward’s vocals soar. This is not a solo project from 1/3 of 2nd Chapter of Acts, it is a brilliant rock album conceived and released by an utterly unique and engaging artist in his own right. These are not left-overs from his group, but rather songs that far exceed much of what his siblings were releasing at the time.

Musicians on the album included those mentioned above along with Abraham Laboriel, David Kemper, Ray Parker Jr. and many more studio pros. The album is nearly flawless and many aficionados will list it in their all time Top 10. It was also released at a time when many Christian Music buffs were cutting their teeth on the genre and this album proved to be a revelation to many. I would not be surprised to find many of the “older” readers complaining on its placement in the countdown, and I will not disagree; I understand their reasoning.

Oddly enough, even fans of hard rock love the album despite its general lack of anything leaning in that direction. Much has to do with the great songs and Keaggy’s outrageous guitar work. It is always odd that Keaggy will often lend some of his best work on projects for other artists. But ultimately it comes down to the fact that Ward possesses one of the greatest voices on the planet. Period!

The album kicks off with the funky rock number “It’s Alright” lead by Keaggy’s great guitar work. This is a fearless rock groove with a monster bass line driving the low-end. The song is built around a particular end times expectation complete with money system, beast and mark. That notwithstanding, the song is just so good. The great vocal bridge leads to Keaggy’s driving rhythm guitar work.

Limited breaks between songs leads the starter right into a great Keith green piano driven song, “Soft Spot.” The Beatlesque (Penny Lane) sound of the chorus complete with a great string arrangement softens what could have been a much heavier song, and it actually works in the artists favor given the content of the song.

The acoustic “Noah” immediately sounds like a Phil Keaggy song. And it is. Written by Keaggy, Ward recorded it and someone once mentioned that Keaggy didn’t want to record it after hearing Ward’s masterful vocals. I don’t know if it’s one of those popular urban legends as Keaggy eventually would record his own version.

A personal favorite is the rocker, “Till the Walls Come Down.” Like the lead track, the song is one of the heavier musically and features Keaggy’s awesome guitar work, especially the solo. Written by Ward, Keaggy and Green (wow, just think about that for a moment), the song is most noted for the Michael Omartian lead “killer bees.” One must listen to truly understand the bees reference.

Returning to the most pop oriented piano sound with Green’s “Better Than This,” Ward let’s the vocals go on a few bright moments when he hits some unreal notes. The song has a great hook, but the same can be said for the entire album. I can go years in between listens and still never miss a note when singing along.

What would be initially the start of side two, “Your Love Came Over Me” is great Doobie Brothers (China Grove) type riff that never quits throughout. I know it may be hard for readers today to understand just how rare it was for a “safe” artist to deliver such a rock oriented album. The industry at the time would allow for the occasional pop rock riff, but rarely an album that rocked from start to finish.

The song was written by Keith Green and a gentlemen named Todd Fishkind. Fishkind may be one of the most important songwriters and musicians from the era that no one really knows about. He was very close to Green and they wrote quite a bit together, including the classic “Your Love Broke Through.” Fishkind would also wrote a book about Keith. He was also considered quite the musician.

“Hold On” follows and sounds like something off pop radio at the time. If not for Ward’s distinctive vocals I would swear it could have been a single off of Chicago 13. In fact, it would have been the best song off of Chicago 13.

The borderline “world music” influenced “Angels Unaware” is the only truly dated song from the project. The lyrics about guardian angels at times are silly (something about the “honkin’ flu”) but no more silly than what Amy Grant would record nearly a decade later.

The hiccup of “Angels Unaware” is immediately forgotten with the stunning and emotionally driving ballad, “Summer Snow.” The simple song of faith and God’s timing is exclusively driven by piano and strings. Tom Keene’s great string arrangement supports Green’s beautiful playing. Matthew shows the range both vocally and emotionally here. It ranks amongst the true classic from the era.

The “much too short” album closes with an Anne Herring tune, “The Vineyard.” It is all but an instrumental, as the only vocals are “ooh’s” playing the part of strings on top of Tom Keene’s beautiful piano work. It is a contemplative ending to an utterly brilliant and timeless classic album.

Whether it ended one or era or started another is not of consequence and the debate shall continue. What is of consequence is how truly revelatory and ground breaking the album was and how, over 30 years later, it is still a brilliant masterpiece by a wonderful artist.

  1. don
    April 22, 2011 at 2:26 am

    I don’t really know much about music or songwriting, but I have listened to a lot of Rock music. I agree – this is a really, really good album. I wouldn’t give it an A+ but a definite A. Top 50 maybe if I ever thought I could put out a countdown list that was fair and thoughtful.

  2. greenchili
    April 22, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Funny.. I discovered this album because of the song “It’s Alright” which Mylon Lefevre would cover live and I liked it enough to try and find out where it came from. Boy was I in for a surprise. What a funky song! Excellent playing.

  3. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    It has been years since I heard this and, while I wasn’t incredibly impressed, I do remember thinking it was a cut above the normal CCM fare. I actually owned Armed and Dangerous for awhile……not my cup of tea but palatable because of Ward’s voice. By the way, 3 minutes of a playground full of children making “fart noises” would have been the best song on Chicago 13.

    • y2daddy
      February 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      “By the way, 3 minutes of a playground full of children making “fart noises” would have been the best song on Chicago 13.”

      I think that song already appeared on Darn Floor, Big Bite 🙂

  4. don
    April 24, 2011 at 3:12 am

    I think this is the only “rock” album Matthew has done. His later albums were “easy listening” I think (the usual Christian radio ready stuff).

    • Shawn McLaughlin
      April 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      Armed and Dangerous rocked fairly hard for a label record from that era (late 80’s).

      • Don
        April 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

        Thanks for the correction – I should check that cd out. I like his stuff – but need to stay awake as well! I think his last? album got very good reviews as well, but I don’t really care unless it is rocky.

  5. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 25, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Don, it is true….after Armed and Dangerous, Matthew definitely went in a more AC/Inspo direction. I doubt you would like any of his records since then, going by what you have said you prefer. Armed and Dangerous definitely has a few softer moments, but I was pretty surprised by the rocking content, having not heard the first solo project before purchasing A&D.

  6. Don
    April 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Armed and Dangerous sounds good – pretty rocking, but not the stockpile of songs that Matthew had saved up for his debut, I think. Sounds a lot like Dan Huff – which isn’t bad.

  7. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 27, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Yeah….Dann Huff is a good comp. I agree that the songwriting on Toward Eternity is superior, but when I first heard Armed and Dangerous, I was expecting MUCH less so it was a pleasant surprise.

  8. Don
    April 27, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Arranged By – Jim Tenneboe, Matthew Ward
    Backing Vocals – Eric Tagg, Matthew Ward
    Bass – Lee Jones
    Drums – Mike Baird
    Guitar – Curt Bartlett, Dann Huff
    Horns – Chuck Smith, Keith Jourdan, Kim Hutchcroft, René Saenz
    Keyboards, Programmed By [Keyboard Programming] – Jim Tenneboe
    Music By – Jim Tenneboe, Matthew Ward
    Producer – Matthew Ward
    Words By – Matthew Ward

  9. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 27, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Right, Jim Tenneboe! I am not sure I ever saw his name again on any album I owned.

  10. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Just listened to Armed and Dangerous and have to say….if the entire project were up to the quality of the last 4 songs (side 2) this would be a viable candidate for any best of list. Also, now I remember wishing that Kerry Livgren would reform Kansas and install Ward as lead vocalist. This record had touches of a prog sound.

  11. Brian
    May 9, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    This was one of the first ten albums I heard as a Christian.
    Incredible. “It’s Alright” were immediate loves as I was rock starved in a Christina music world, but soon came to appreciate the “Summer Snow” & “Vineyard
    selections as well.
    Love this album.

  12. May 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    It would be nice to get known with this artist. He has a great voice. I have heard him singing with Leslie Phillips the song “By My Spirit”.

  13. May 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Love this thread. It’s Matthew’s largest selling ‘download’ album to date. We put all of his solo work on cd baby, iTunes, etc. last fall. Folks would love for him to rock out to a few ‘Toward Eternity’ or ‘A & D’ tunes during a concert these days but alas there is no perf track made (he can still hit the notes I assure you). If you want to anything else about this or any album, history, what he is up to now, etc just give a shout!

    Blessings and keep on rocking,

    Dave Durbin
    Matthew Ward Ministries

    • June 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm

      I have tried to find it in Amazon.com but it is currently unavailable. I didn’t find it in on ebay. I want to have my albums on CD. I hope I’ll find this album someday on CD.

  14. Christopher™
    May 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    This was the third CCM album I ever heard in my life, the first two being Benny Hester’s “Nobody Knows Me Like You” and DeGarmo & Key’s “This Time Thru.” All three of those records hold a special place in my heart, although this one is definitely the strongest of the three in terms of songwriting and performance.

  15. August 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Rekko, I just saw it on Amazon today (the CD) for $49.

    • September 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

      Thank you for the hint, Dave. I bought it about two weeks ago and I received it early this week (On Monday). I have now listened to it three times and it sounds great! All the ten songs are fantastic but especially I like the song “Soft Spot”. Also “Angels Unaware” and “The Vineyard” are my favorites. This is one of those artists who aren’t well-known here in Finland. Still, this album is almost as good as Keith Green’s “For Him Who Has Ears to Hear”. The album was quite an expensive but it’s worth it.

  16. Tim Anderson
    January 1, 2016 at 2:15 am

    The Stradivarius of voices.

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