Anyone who’s close to me knows that I’m the unofficial president of the Andrew Peterson fan club (or a prominent cabinet member at least). In recent years, I’ve fallen in love with his extensive discography. He released his first full-length Carried Along back in 2000 and has consistently released music ever since. And yet, he’s somehow stayed under the radar for most people. His songs carry a subtle beauty that’s easy to miss on only one or two listens, but with each new listen there’s a new treasure to dig up. His masterful lyrics effortlessly weave mundane, everyday life situations with the epic story of Scripture making his music intimate and epic and honest and encouraging all at once. Even if his unassuming brand of folk rock takes a little bit of time to catch your ear, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mediocre song in his entire discography once you dive into it (in case you’re wondering, I’d start with 2010’s Counting Stars, the album with the “Dancing in the Minefields” song on it).
Andrew Peterson has a pretty consistent musical catalog behind him. In fact, this Andrew Peterson Fan Club Cabinet Member Who Could Also Use a Shorter Title would argue that it’s one of the most consistent musical catalogs in Christian music. As such, his ninth proper studio record The Burning Edge of Dawn was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015. So does it hold up against the best of Andrew Peterson’s work? And is it captivating enough to draw in folks who might not have had an interest in him before? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
The first noticeable difference between The Burning Edge of Dawn and Peterson’s previous work is its utilization of a full backing band. While past albums haven’t shied away from using full band instrumentation—most notably 2005’s The Far Country and his previous record, 2012’s Light for the Lost Boy—The Burning Edge of Dawn utilizes percussion more prominently than any of his records to date. Tonally, the record is bright, acting almost as a lighter counterpart to the (relatively) sadder Light For the Lost Boy. Because the record maintains the same brighter tone and upbeat tempo throughout, the songs initially feel less varied than previous albums on first listen. Thankfully, that’s a problem that immediately rights itself after a few subsequent listens. Each of the ten songs on The Burning Edge of Dawn prove themselves to be distinct both in sound and in substance.
The record opens up with “The Dark Before the Dawn” which sets the tone for the record in its liberal usage of percussion and brighter tone. As with most of Andrew Peterson’s music, there’s an understated epic quality to the music that is only intensified by the lyrics. The words that open up the record throw us right into an engaging story of redemption and eternal longing:
I’ve been waiting for the sun
To come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun
Till every shadow’s scattered, every dragon’s on the run
Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come
And this is the dark
This is the dark before the dawn
In addition to setting the musical and lyrical tone of the record, “The Dark Before the Dawn” introduces an interesting element to Andrew Peterson’s music in that it doesn’t adhere to a traditional song structure. The prevalent piano line throughout the song is the closest the song gets to even having a chorus and the song is instead structured on a subtle but constant build that culminates in a beautiful ending that introduces some of the reoccuring lyrical themes of the album:
I had a dream that I was waking at the burning edge of dawn
And I could see the fields of glory
I could hear the Sower’s song
I had a dream that I was waking at the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All that sorrow was gone
The next track, “Every Star is a Burning Flame,” follows suit in its light tone but has a slightly more experimental edge to it, with the ambient guitar solo prevalent in the latter half of the song providing one of the musical highlights of the record. And if you want any more insight into Andrew Peterson’s lyrical abilities, just listen to the storytelling in this song and the way he rhymes Idaho with I don’t know and Louisville with beautiful. Beautiful, I know. “We Will Survive” is one of the more straightforward tracks on the record, centering around a simple piano hook that’s both gorgeous and insanely catchy. It also contains a couple musical callbacks to “Rest Easy,” the first single off of Light For the Lost Boy. Lyrically, “We Will Survive” is an intense but redemptive reflection about the difficulties of marriage and the necessity of keeping the Gospel story at the center. “My One Safe Place” follows with a celebration of that marriage, and features some sweet background vocals from Caleb Chapman (son of Steven Curtis Chapman and lead vocalist of Colony House). In a record full of joyful songs, “My One Safe Place” might be the most exuberant of all of them.
What makes Andrew Peterson’s storytelling so beautiful is that we’re never casual observers. The themes of suffering and redemption that he weaves into his songs are all so relatable and applicable to life that we’re forced into the story. The next two tracks, “The Rain Keeps Falling” and “Rejoice,” are prime examples of this and both form the collective centerpiece of the record, both musically and lyrically. “The Rain Keeps Falling” is one of the most brutally honest tracks Andrew Peterson has written to date. Musically, it’s the first of two ballads centered completely around a piano line that can only be described as theatrical. Lyrically, it’s incredibly raw, as Andrew Peterson continues to pour out the continual ways that “the rain keeps falling” in his personal life. If I were to delve into the lyrics that hit hardest in this song I’d inevitably post the lyrics to the whole song, but the most beautiful part of the song is when Ellie Holcomb comes in to quietly sing “Peace, be still” in response to Andrew Peterson’s laments. That peace informs the rest of his lyrics as the song turns from bitter lament to mournful joy:
My daughter and I put the seeds in the dirt
And every day now we’ve been watching the earth
For a sign that this death would give way to a birth
And the rain keeps falling
Down in the soil where the sorrow is laid
And the secret of life is igniting the grave
And I’m dying to live but I’m learning to wait
And the rain is falling
Soon after “The Rain Keeps Falling” fades out, “Rejoice” fades in with an ambient, somewhat melancholy intro. But any lingering sadness immediately disappears once the gentle acoustic guitar comes in. And when the chorus bursts in at full-blast, complete with a triumphant hammered dulcimer, the song lives up to its namesake and then some. The entire track encapsulates the exuberant joy that comes after a moment of deep sorrow and is a perfect companion piece to “The Rain Keeps Falling”:
And when the peace turns to danger
The nights are longer than days
And every friend has a stranger’s face
Then deep within the dungeon cell
You have to make a choice:
Next up is “I Want to Say I’m Sorry,” a soft acoustic track that is all about making amends with a friend who’s been wronged. It’s not the most memorable track on the album, but it’s still beautiful and vulnerable in a way that few songs ever are. “Be Kind To Yourself,” the first official single on the record, is a song Andrew Peterson wrote for his daughter Skye. The song continues the bright tone of this record and lyrically touches on the same themes as “Rest Easy” did on the last record. Like that song, “Be Kind To Yourself” beautifully acknowledges that while we as Christians are still struggling against sin, we’re completely secure in our adoption as sons and daughters and we have to stop and rest in that blessed truth. It’s ultimately a gorgeous meditation on grace. Skye Peterson also sings backup on this track and adds a poignant element to an already poignant song. “The Power of a Great Affection” follows. It’s a tremendous song that brings the record’s full attention to the Gospel and serves as a perfect penultimate song leading into the final track.
The album closes with “The Sower’s Song,” the second song centered around a slow but epic piano line after “The Rain Keeps Falling”. This song perfectly resolves the themes of suffering and redemption on the record and serves as the perfect bookend with “The Dark Before the Dawn”. The climax of this song (and perhaps the entire album) brilliantly incorporates Isaiah 55:10-13, which itself is a perfect passage to accompany the trials that mark this album. Overall, it’s a perfect closer that comes dangerously close to matching the brilliance of Light For the Lost Boy closer “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”.
Upon repeated listens, and now with a year of reflection, The Burning Edge of Dawn has virtually no hiccups. The initial lack of diversity makes the record seem less adventurous than the ambitious Light For the Lost Boy, but the fact that the album maintains a joyful tone throughout works in its favor once you dive into the lyrics, which are easily some of Andrew Peterson’s best to date. This is an album for the hurting. It gets down with you in your suffering and refuses to let you lose sight of a greater joy that’s been set out before you. It’s not just a vital addition to your music collection, it’s a vital addition to the life of anyone going through a season of pain:
I am furrowed like the field
Torn open like the dirt
And I know that to be healed
That I must be broken first
I am aching for the yield
That You will harvest from this hurt
Abide in me
Let these branches bear Your fruit
Abide in me, Lord
As I abide in You
I came right out of the gate saying I’m a huge fan of Andrew Peterson’s music so maybe this review will come across as a bit biased to some. But if so, this album just makes that bias feel all the more justified. The Burning Edge of Dawn is not only one of Andrew Peterson’s best records to date, it’s one of the most beautiful and encouraging albums I’ve heard in the last few years. Period.