Welcome to an in-depth look at Andrew Peterson’s “The Burning Edge of Dawn.” I hope you have read the overview that was posted last week. We are going to jump right in with a far more detailed look at this album.
On the opening track “The Dark Before the Dawn,” Peterson sings with a hard-won faith, “I’ve been waiting for the sun / To come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun / Till every shadow is 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.” A clanging piano sets the tone, while the rest of the instruments keep a methodical pace. (I do feel compelled to point out how impressive the background vocals are for this album. They add a layer of excellence to the entire recording and deserve acknowledgement in some form.) Peterson has never sounded more confident as a singer. Some of that is age and years of hard work, and some is his steadfast belief in the words he is singing. The song climaxes with the electric guitar soaring and Peterson defiantly singing, “I’m just waiting for a change / Lord I am waiting for a change.”
“Every Star Is a Burning Flame” is a nimble and quick number. The pace is fast and jaunty, with delicate guitar undertones, and a piano-led melody that holds it all together. It is an upbeat and hopeful look into the future. Hints of Paul Simon and David Gray move in and out, yet it never sounds derivative.
The hammered dulcimer makes its first appearance on the following track, “We Will Survive.” He sings again to his wife, continuing a legacy that has been a part of his music from the beginning. It is a song of hope and grace, with Peterson clinging to his wife and asking her to reassure him that “there is nothing left to fear / nothing left to hide.” Musically, it is an up-tempo track, with acoustic guitars and the hammered dulcimer setting the tone.
“My One Safe Place” follows, and it is easily one of the highlights of the album. “I believe in the love of the Father / I believe in the power of grace / I believe that He brought us together / and you are my one safe place.” The song has a gentle vibe but builds to a final chorus that is a wonder to hear. Once again, the background vocals are incredibly important in establishing the sound. Musically, acoustic guitars lead the way, with piano, perfectly placed electric guitar, and a wonderfully effective rhythm section.
What follows, is Andrew Peterson at his most exposed. “The Rain Kept Falling” is a song of brokenness and pain. Peterson lays his soul bare in a way rarely, if ever, heard. If the album has a spiritual turning point, this is it. This is truly the dark before the dawn. “I tried to be brave but I hid in the dark / I sat in that cave and I prayed for a spark / To light up all the pain that remained in my heart / And the rain kept falling.” A beautifully composed piano part, moving up and down the scales and reinforcing the rain imagery, a haunting string arrangement, and an echoing percussion build the foundation for “The Rain Kept Falling.” A subtle rhythm section completes the musical structure. Yet the song, even in all of its despair, finds a purchase of hope. Ellie Holcomb (Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors) sings the simple refrain “Peace, be still” over and over. The effect is overwhelming. Peterson continues to ask questions as the song ends, but they are answered again and again with “Peace, be still.” It is easily one of the high points and it signals a change in tone for the rest of the album.
What comes next can best be described as inspiring. “Rejoice” serves as the album’s call to worship. It is Peterson’s way of telling the world, that even in the midst of pain and doubt, we can rejoice. We must rejoice. While he could have gone with understated, he eschews the safe choice, and presents “Rejoice” as a triumphant epic. The song builds to a crescendo of vocals, piano, driving drums, hammered dulcimer, and guitars. “So set your face against the night / And raise your broken voice.” Peterson’s greatest gift is his ability to speak to deeper truths. At the moment you feel the album is ripping open the skies, and finally seeing the light of hope, Peterson reveals that, no, the light is still not visible. But he says that this does not matter. “You have to make a choice.” We have to choose to rejoice.
What better way to continue to move towards healing than to admit when we are wrong and ask forgiveness. “I Want to Say I’m Sorry” is quiet and intensely personal. It is doubtful we will ever peak behind the curtain to find out what inspired this song, but we don’t need to know the whole story to understand the importance of it. The song has a country/southern vibe, with the slide guitar really standing out.
Peterson has always had songs about his family. They are beautiful little glimpses into his life. “Be Kind to Yourself” continues that tradition with amazing results. To make it even better, his nearly teenage daughter Skye sings background vocals on the track. “How does it end when the war that you’re in / Is it just you against you against you / Gotta learn to love, learn to love / Learn to love your enemies too.” The amazing thing that happens is that even though every word is written for his daughter, each one resonates with any listener with ears to hear. A fascinating blend of acoustic and electric guitar, piano, keyboards, drums, banjo, and ethereal vocals help the song work its magic.
“The Power of a Great Affection” is a statement of faith of sorts. “So Father I will give You thanks and praise / The Son has opened wide the gate of glory / He declared your mighty love and gave His grace / And I will tell his story / It is my story / I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection / Seized by the power of a great affection.” Once again, the song is structured around the piano. The cello complements the melody and adds little touches of elegance. There is a full band sound by the end with guitars, bass, and drums joining in. It is still low-key, but effective in what it sets out to accomplish. Thematically, this song brings the album full circle. Peterson acknowledges the supremacy of God in his life, and that serves as his foundation even in the tough times.
Closing the album is “The Sower’s Song.” For me, it is the highlight of the album. The climax in every way. Lyrically, Peterson has never been better. Musically, this is his majestic opus. It is orchestral in structure and production. The song begins with a simple melody, but switches abruptly at the two-minute mark, transforming itself into something more intense, more passionate. Then it builds. And builds. I do not have the words to describe the swirling, cascading sounds; the piano, keys, and guitars pulsing and driving, the drums pounding in barely controlled chaos; cymbals crashing. I cannot do it justice. It is a work of art; a song of power and grandeur.
As I stated in my overview of the album, “The Burning Edge of Dawn” is a triumph. Longtime Peterson fans should be overjoyed with what they hear. Peterson newcomers should be equally impressed. I will leave you with the bridge from “The Sower’s Song”; as good as anything you will read today:
As the rain and the snow fall
Down from the sky
And they don’t return but they water the earth and bring they forth life
Giving seed to the sower, bread for the hunger
So shall the word of the Lord be with a sound like thunder
And it will not return, it will not return void
We shall be led in peace
And go out with joy
And the hills before us
Will raise their voices
And the trees of the field will clap their hands as the land rejoices
And instead of the thorn now
The cypress towers
And instead of the briar the myrtle blooms with a thousand flowers
And it will make a name
Make a name for our God
A sign everlasting that will never be cut off
As the earth brings forth sprouts from the seed
What is sown in the garden grows into a mighty tree
So the Lord plants justice, justice and praise
To rise before the nations till the end of days