Christian Artist Shelly Moore — Her Album “Unraveling” Brings Rest to the Soul
“You have taken me apart now at the seams. / You have brought me to where I am on my last string — unraveling.” Thus begins the title track of the album by new Christian Artist Shelly Moore. The song concludes with depth and certainty (“Yes I’ve found hope that stays around”) that this unraveling that God brings us through, ultimately, leads us to the peace that we have been seeking all along.
Sometimes a good way to review an album is to ask yourself a question, “At what moments of your life do you reach for this album? When do you crave it?” This can reveal certain qualities. With Unraveling, I found myself playing it during chaotic moments when my spirit felt unsettled and worn out from the constant noise of this world. It’s the equivalent of finding a place of solitude — the good kind of solitude — where you can hear God think, where you can pray without distraction, where you can retreat. The album is peaceful in the sense of certainty, of confidence, of the calmness you feel when you’re standing in a safe place. And Shelly’s voice, besides being beautiful, has a calm, unshaken strength in it. The album — in both the lyrics and the music — expresses the hushed, bewondered mystery that comes from knowing God, especially in its hymn-like anthems that begin in whispers, and then grow into larger-than-life epiphanies.
I like to think of music as colors sometimes, and Shelly’s voice, and the album itself, evokes a sense of grand mystery; and I keep thinking of a specific shade of blue. It’s a little hard to describe without sounding like an over-serious poet at an open mic night at the coffee shop, but I’m going to risk it anyways. Besides, when I read reviews I always wish the reviewer would use more interesting ways to describe what they hear. If we’re going to describe music, we might as well have fun doing it. You can snap your fingers for me (the hipster coffee house applause) when I’m done.
But last night I saw the sky after twilight had cooled off, and it had an expansive ultramarine blue. Ultramarine is a dark, glowing shade of blue, and I’m very serious about this shade of color. I’m not just cherry-picking random color adjectives that sound cool. See the color for yourself here. All of the tension of the day had melted off — just an ultramarine sea beneath the stars. This color has a very specific character to it, and somehow this album captures some of that quality. Still. Powerful. Glowing with color but calming because the day and all its work is finished.
Tracks like “Anchor” with its waltz-like upright piano accompaniment, reverb-washed guitar, and melodic phrasing that reaches higher into the sky as the song progresses is a perfect example of what I mean. “Hymn 27,” “Turn Your Eyes,” “Crown Him,” are other examples. It’s a contemplative structure of hymnody — in the cases where she’s quoting actual hymns — and meditative songwriting where the song begins with sparseness, like the way the mind is when it is quieted and attempting to work through a specific thought about God. As that thought is given depth and brightness by the Holy Spirit and the Word, we then have an epiphany about God, which explodes into praise. These songs follow the same arc, and it’s impossible not to worship the Lord when you’re listening.
But my attempts above to describe the music do not cover the entire album. The music explores other directions as well, which gives it variety. “Redeemed Ones” is an upbeat worship rock anthem with a contagious back-beat and an irresistible hook in the chorus. “Stay the Night” is a beautiful acoustic guitar finger-picking love song that grabs at the heart strings (and also has an awesome little piano motif sprinkled throughout — love that kind of stuff). “To Our God” caught me off guard with its perfect rendering of vintage bluegrass along the lines of T Bone Burnett’s soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The mixing and production on that track is especially impressive. The earthy acoustic tones of the bluegrass instruments and the brush kit were exactly as they should be, which isn’t always easy to do in the studio. I especially love “Tie That Binds,” possibly my favorite track on the album because the melody just sends my spirit soaring. It begins with a light mid-tempo palm-muting rhythm guitar that you might hear in folksy Top 40 pop songs, and then it just grows into this epic melodic hook that is incredibly addictive to the ears and nourishing to the soul: “Hold our hope, this alone, / The fight isn’t over.” Shelly’s voice gives it such triumphant elevation that it almost brings you to tears (in a good way).
It’s always a joy to find a new artist that brings something beautiful and unique to the table, and Shelly Moore’s Unraveling does exactly that. I’m already looking forward to her next album.