Sandra McCracken: A song-by-song rundown of her 'God's Highway' album

Sunday 11th September 2016

Singer, worship leader, record producer and modern-day hymnwriter SANDRA MCCRACKEN gives a track-by-track rundown of her album 'God's Highway'.

Sandra McCracken
Sandra McCracken

Of all the tens of thousands of independent singer/songwriters currently plying their trade in the USA few have received the critical plaudits of St Louis-born Sandra McCracken. Her soulful, folk-gospel-cum Americana sound has captivated a sizeable audience and her 11th full-length album, 'God's Highway' like its predecessor 'Psalms', was inspired by God-breathed biblical poetry. Said Sandra "when I wrote and recorded the 'songs' album, it was like walking through a doorway into a new landscape. After many fulfilling years as an independent singer and songwriter, writing songs about my experiences and relationships, God began to recalibrate my heart more specifically towards writing songs for people to sing together". Here's Sandra's rundown of the songs on 'God's Highway'.

There are many words we use to talk about the faithfulness of God. It's a present theme in our great hymns and all through the Scriptures. One of the words that captures this idea most for me lately in the Psalms is the word steadfast. My emotions travel way up and way down just about every day depending on the changes in my outward and inward circumstances. How much comfort and stability it gives me to know that our God is steadfast; unchanging, unresting and firm 'till the end.

"God's Highway"
This song sparked from an old hymnal, and then tumbled around in my head for a month or two before I sat down with Thad Cockrell one afternoon at a chapel in Houston. We finished this song on a memorably painful day in my life. But in the pain, there was triumph and strength coming up around my heart, too. God's strength was tangibly becoming my support. When I look back on that day, I remember it as though my feet were a few inches off the ground. I know now how much I was being carried. I hope this song goes on with God's Spirit to carry others, too.

"Call Him Good"
I wrote this song with Don Chaffer and Derek Webb about 10 years ago as part of a Psalms translation project called The Voice. We've been singing it at Ecclesia Church (Houston) ever since, and in a few other communities here and there. But the first recording we made of the song back then was on an album that never really had a proper release. I love Psalm 104 and this poetic text that follows it. It resonates as the place where the "scientist meets the poet" in the Psalms. Where else but out under the open sky can we meet such a majestic, imaginative God this way? Wonder is good for our souls. Wonder is the beginning of humility. Humility and wonder position our hearts for worship.

"Trinity Song"
Last summer, on a beach in Portugal, I had some much-needed solitude and I wrote this singing over the noise of the waves and the rhythm of my steps. I was thinking about the mystery of the Trinity and I imagined the symbolic dance of three voices, though at the time it was only me. I sang it all the way back to my room where I was staying and recorded it into my phone to see if it could work in overlapping harmonies. In this piece and several others, I'm exploring simpler, repetitive lyric structures inspired by Taize for more of a contemplative mood for use in worship. Since much of our Sunday service is word-heavy, space is so important in how the music lets people breathe a little bit. If worship is a conversation between us and God, space and silence opens our ears to listen.

"Love Will Bring You Home"
I woke up one morning early on a farm in Vermont with this melody on repeat in my head. I was there with friends for a weekend songwriter's retreat. So often creativity only comes when we have "white space" or margin enough to let it out. If we are over scheduled, over committed, overly efficient in our daily lives, often we don't have the breathing room to remember our basic human-creative-embodied selves. This is a song about running. The embodied, gritty meandering journey of our lives comes down to our two feet on the pavement. And somewhere in this adventure, we realise that in all this, we are being pulled along toward God's affectionate and ultimate embrace. And when we've run the race, love will bring us home.

"The Lord's Prayer"
This melody sprung up out of our local church practice. I've thought more about church music these past couple of years as I serve as the worship pastor of a small Anglican parish. Written by Greg LaFollette, a member of our congregation, we sing it often during the communion liturgy. I have been drawn more deeply into the written prayers, the familiar choreography of the liturgy, and the prayers like this one that hold us when are hearts need to borrow the words to hold us up.

Sandra McCracken:  A song-by-song rundown of her 'God's Highway'

"Come Light Our Hearts"
I wrote this piece also for our church congregation to sing during Advent. We needed songs before Christmas, not for the celebration but for waiting and longing, as that is so much a part of our life-practice. Like "Trinity Song" this one is more contemplative, with pauses between the lines and just a few repeated sections instead of long verses. I've been practising writing music that helps to make space for us to be still before God. Waiting is an active happening, and it's hard work learning to be still.

"Be Still My Soul"
Continuing the theme of stillness, this text is from Psalm 131. The central theme of this Psalm is humility. But even in the open-handedness, there's an intentional burst of energy and disorder with the harmonies on the bridge section of this arrangement, to add contrast. Life circumstances bring both storm and stillness. The discipline of contentment is what helps us hold the centre. Songs like this one help me practice holding the centre, in the busyness, reminding myself to take deep breaths of gratitude.

"Doxology (Jude 23-24)"
This melody came up right out of the text, reading these two small verses and lifting up the repeating words, 'to him, to him, to him' as a way of refocusing our affections around Jesus as the centre, who holds all things together. Worship is the re-centering of our affections. Because God has promised to keep us, we can lay down all the things that we carry and lift him up as we sing.

"Song For Rachel"
This song was inspired by Jeremiah 31 and a sermon by Timothy Keller. In the Scripture passage, Rachel is broken-hearted and lamenting over the places of loss that were not yet brought to restoration. Like her, we wait in eager expectation, and sing ourselves forward into the day when the trumpet sounds and earth and heaven will be made one. God gives comfort to us as we bring our honest cry to him. This song also echoes the refrain from the last album, "We will feast, and weep no more." CR

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