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17. Matters of the Heart – Bob Bennett

MATTERS OF THE HEART (1982)

Bob Bennett

Clearly the single greatest oversight in the previous Top 50 list was the omission of Bob Bennett as an artists, and most specifically, this amazing project as an album. That omission is hopefully rectified here with its inclusion in the Top 20; a well deserved placement for one of the early 80’s most poignant, important and brilliant releases. Bennet’s stories songwriting career found a zenith of sort in the nearly perfect musical expression.

A decade before the strains of life brought a painful album of loss and regret in “Songs From Bright Avenue,” Bennett released “Matters of the heart,” an album filled with grace, yearning, hopes, legacy and love. Brilliantly performed with not one stray note or moment, the album is Bennett’s finest complete collection. There is nothing here that can be skipped.

No album title has ever been more apropos than the one here as Bennett explores the emotional, nostalgic, inspiration and frailty of the human heart and its faltering condition. The themes are set against some beautiful melodies that warm, soothe and wrap their notes around the listener in such a gentle and calming way that the album serves as both wonderful background music and forefront personal examination encouragement.

Bennett’s first release was on Maranatha Music and Bennett noticed from the very beginning that he did not quite fit with the rest of the artists on the label and with the Calvary Chapel way of doing things. the label’s pastoral type executive were kind enough to allow Bennett to record his brilliant debut, but did nothing to garner airplay, tour support or amrketing. In fact, Bennett was left out of all of the label sponsored concerts and events. Bennett’s concerns about the relationship were verified when there was never a discussion about a follow up despite the albums relative success given the lack of support.

So, as the 1970’s became the 1980’s Bennett found himself with a suitcase full of songs and no label. At the same Time CBS Records was working on an “Inspirational” imprint with eyes of taking CCM into the mainstream with artists they believed carried that potential. The James Taylor-like musical expressions of Bennett’s soulful pop had a strong Adult Contemporary, acoustic appeal that was quite popular at the time.

The label would be called “Priority Records” and would be the home of everyone from Bennett to Carman and even a one-off by Mylon LeFevere under the name, “Look Up.” Bennett was impressed initially by the label when the label’s President actually personally returned a phone call to him. This true rarity gave Bennett hope this would be his new musical home.

Bennett went into the studio with Jonathan David brown to record some demos for the label and eventually signed with the label. Bennett described to me that after the rather simplistic contract with Maranatha Music, the CBS record deal would make the IRS regulations seem pale in comparison.

After signing Bennett returned to the studio with Brown and a sick list of musicians that would make most artists green with envy. Smitty Price was brought in to create the band charts, arrangements and lead the band that consisted of Hadley Hockensmith, John Patitucci, Keith Edwards, John Ferraro, Alex MacDougall and Price. Bennett was joined by Kelly Willard and the impeccable Roby Duke on backing vocals.There are even real strings to be heard here!

What made the album seem so consistent throughout was that even though the album was loaded with brilliant musicians there was primarily one core band with only Ferraro and Edwards sharing the drumming duties. This gave an amazing studio album a true band feel throughout. Much kudos here to Brown for making it come together flawlessly for the listener.

The albums title track and finishing track share a similar musical landscape and even a similar title. This somewhat thematic approach weaves throughout the entire project. Opening with “Matters of the Heart” and closing with “Heart of the Matter,” the album introduces and brings home all of these themes into one cohesive unit.

The album starts off with the title track and the listener is immediately introduced to a wonderful acoustic musical, swirling melody that quickly morphs into a jazzy vibe that is utterly infectious. The listener is also introduced to brilliant songwriter at his very best. The song delivers a powerful message of the truth that there are things that numbers, statictics and sales cannot measure, nor define; these are the true matters of the heart.

These undefinable feelings, impressions and responses cannot be put through a strainer or defined by an outside source. The constant struggle to understand the “concrete and the spiritual” that wields this internal battle is so beautifully portrayed that the only lyrical comparison would be something from Bruce Cockburn’s “Dancing In the Dragon’s Jaws.” This would probably also serve as a good starting point musically. the guitar work, especially Bennett’s acoustic work is very reminiscent to Cockburn’s work on that album.

It should be noted here that not only did Bennett surround himself with brilliant musicians, he is also an accomplished acoustic guitar player. The previous comparison to Cockburn is meant to be taken lyrically and musically. His playing both melodic and intricate. Perhaps only Keaggy and Heard would rival his playing.

The beautifully jazzy “Falling Stars” will remind some listeners of Roby Duke’s softer side or the aforementioned Cockburn’s “Night Vision.” Here the heart’s struggles and pain are examined. Sin and the pain of loss are compared to these falling stars with no hope but to crash. But Bennett finds a glimmer of hope as the song concludes that hints at what will be revealed later in time and on the album.

One of Bennett’s truly great artistic achievements follows with “Mountain Cathedrals.” This epic song of epic praise reads like a Psalm where the writer realizes just how miniscule he is compared to the vast creation and majestic work of God, all the while realizes this same God loves him personally. Bennett’s personal frailty is so common that one would be hard pressed not to relate. Musically, the album is a real treasure as it floats from a simply worship like melody to this wonderful Celtic type musical break and closes with a more country rock feel of the same melody. It is nealry progressive in a purely acoustic setting.

The first of a few “legacy” songs is “1951,” a poignant picture of his family, especially his father. One can see the song , written in black and white, and compares favorable to Bruce Springsteen’s more emotive lyrics, though musically very acoustic jazz. The legacy of simple faith and the need to pass along to further generations the faith and family values is on display here. Nothing about the life of the family sounds easy, but rather, all too real.

A long time personal favorite is “A Song About Baseball.” This same father introduced in the previous song appears here as a loving and compassionate one who loves his son no matter the results of his athletic endeavors. Bennett croons, “He loves me, no matter how I played.” And so, this example rings true about a heavenly father who loves us no matter what. One line that really sticks with the listener is “nothing mattered after the game, when my father would find me, and call out my name.” The simple expression of a father knowing his son by calling out his name leaves an indelible mark.

On “Madness Dancing” the heart finds a heart that is more expressive and joyous than elsewhere on the album. There are times when all hearts must simply release its love for God even in ways that are unconventional and uncomfortable. Though there are times to experience a somber, sober and reflective worship, there are times when the heart must be free of expectations. It is at these times that Bennett cries out, “I don’t want to shoot anyone, with my high powered doctrine gun.”

I also would like to bring attention to the great band feel on this song, especially the brilliant guitar work by Hockensmith.

The album returns to a much more reflective and difficult content with “Together All Alone.” The struggles for purity and true relationship are contrasted with the desire to be loved and to interact on a deeper level. Very few songs understand the real struggles of young people and older ones alike like this song. The first story revolves around a lonely and needy young boy whose girlfriend had moved away leaving him at a loss. But Bennett’s keen wisdom and lyrical precision describes the struggle perfectly with the lines, “She bounces his heart like a basketball” and “he lies with his with back to back…together all alone.” Then leaves a chilling and somber reminder that somewhere, half-way around the world, “a shepherd tends his sheep”

“Beggar” always brings to mind Walter Wangerin’s great short story, “Ragman,” in which a man trades in his rags for new clothes. In Wangerin’s powerful story the beggar trades his old clothes with another who takes upon himself the wounds and scars of the beggar. Here the beggar is clothed in new garb who is also now well fed because he discovered where true bread resides.

I will not claim that “Come and see” in Bennett’s finest moment ever, but it certainly ranks up there among his best. This beautiful and worshipful melody is just captivating. It should have grown to be a great song of invocation or calling for its majestic sound and yearning content. Bennett calls the listener to come and meet this man from Heaven. A recent Facebook discussion led one man I admire greatly in the industry to refer to the song as “majestic.” I cannot disagree, I find myself hitting repeat quite often as I listen to the album. Though it does not serve as the album’s closing piece, it does, in way, close out the albums message with a call to meet the Savior. In the hands of a less gifted communicator the content could have sounded trite and simplistic, but with Bennett it is revealed as authentic, genuine and convincing.

The album closes with somewhat of a reworking of the title track in “Heart of the Matter.” After a short acoustic introduction, the title track’s rhythm and groove is repeated with a chord reversal to match the title’s reversal. There is one moment when the song retraces the actual title track’s melody, then returns to its initial form. It is is really a musically brilliant work and Bennett, Brown and, especially Price, deserve serious kudos.

CCM Magazine made the album it’s “Album of the Year” and would later include it in the Top 20 of it’s first “Greatest of All Time” countdowns. It would also show up up lower when the CCM released its Top 100 of all time, which is ridiculous!

Bennett ranks with Mark Heard, Bruce Cockburn and Terry Scott Taylor as among the finest songwriters in Christian music history. “Matters of the Heart” is Bennett’s finest work ranks among the very best singer-songwriter albums in or out of Christian music.

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  1. Shawn McLaughlin
    November 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I LOVE that you have this so high. I’m not totally sure I would but it is definitely one of those albums that sneaks up on you with its subtlety and poignancy. Plus, Bob might be one of the most under-rated guitar players out there. He manages to to incorporate intricate technique with an unerring rhythmic sense…..I believe you used the word “groove” at one point and this man can certainly groove! I also have always marveled at how he can keep his feet so firmly planted in the Christian music world and still not fall prey to the lyrical or musical banality of most of the CCM world. I whole-heartedly agree with your last paragraph.

  2. Shawn McLaughlin
    November 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Spell Check alert…….Roby Duck. Sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon about an aquatic, guitar playing Superhero!

  3. Don
    November 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Very good album. I am more familiar with Songs from Bright Avenue and think that one is better – but maybe that is cause I know that one better.

  4. Greenchili
    November 18, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I like this one and Bright Avenue. Didn’t realize Mylon’s mis-step “Look Up” was done under this label. Of course I did not know about “Look Up” until years later.

  5. Brett C
    November 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I love this album and it is very deserving of it’s placement in the top 20.
    I first learned of Bob Bennett and this album when CCM Magazine included it in it’s “The Best Contemporary Christian Albums of All Time” in their June 1988 issue. It was listed at no. 25. I immediately went on a search of a copy of the CD and when I eventualy found it it became a fast favourite. CCM Magazine dropped it to No. 65 in their “100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music in their March 2001 issue. A big mistake in my opinion.
    I now own most of Bob’s albums and they are all great.
    Bob Bennett is an artist that speaks to the soul.
    If you don’t know his work (art), seek it out and your life (and music collection) will be greatly enriched.

    • low5point
      November 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      Brett

      I think I mention in the review that CCM lowered the album in their 2001 Top 100 book…they are flat out wrong!

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