Posted by: Billy Marsh | August 10, 2007

Waiting For Aidan: A Creative Contribution

Steve Bell

Steve Bell is a Canadian artist that I stumbled upon one day as I was scouring the internet for new, good Christian music. Seeing how this is a difficult task according to my own musical standards, my search led me deep below the surface of most CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) circles and into the current of independent Christian music networks. I found an old record label promoting Steve Bell and comparing his music to Bruce Cockburn, Fernando Ortega, and Michael Card. Well, I knew that if he remotely sounded like any of these guys, I had hit the jackpot. Sure enough, I accessed his main webpage and sampled some of his tunes. This album really caught my eye before any of the other of his projects for two reasons: (1) The blurb someone had written for the album listed four of the main artists Bell had recruited to assist him in putting these songs together. First, there was the addition of Sam Bush. Bush is a bluegrass artist that I am really familiar with (bluegrass is my first love) who is a proficient on the mandolin, but is capable of playing most anything that is wooden and stringed. Then there was the referencing of two brothers whom I had never heard of before, one a bassist and the other a violinist(also Candian artists), but who had as their last name “Marsh”. So, I felt a personal, familial connection to the record (yes, I know I’m shallow). Last, there was the appearance of the greatest guitarist in the world, Phil Keaggy. Keaggy is a prodigy, freak of nature, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve seen him in concert twice and everytime I walk away from his show I am tempted to sell my guitars and just give up playing altogether. (2) This CD along with one other album were the only ones that he had a tablature/music songbook available for purchase. What this indicated to me was that the music was good enough on this record to the point that there was demand from the consumer to learn to play it.

So, I took a chance and bought Waiting for Aidan. I remember when I got it in the mail. I was shopping that day for Kim, I think for Christmas, and was able to listen to most of the record all at one time driving from store to store. I cranked it up in my little red Toyota and was amazed at the recording sound quality of the album. It is perhaps one of the best recordings/mixes that I’ve heard captured in the studio.

Bell’s voice like Jerry Garcia’s, Bob Dylan’s, and even Andrew Peterson’s, was an acquired taste. It is a little different, and took some getting used to, but those normally are the best ones. Now, I appreciate his vocals just as much as I do his guitar work and song arrangements. Speaking of his musicianship, Bell is a guitar-man in the vein of Keaggy’s playing. He uses a lot of open tunings, finger-picking, complex chord phrasings, and even is capable of doing some tapping for those of you familiar with that terminology.

As far as the lyrical quality goes, I quickly found out why he was compared to Cockburn, Ortega, and Card. Bell is a rare kind in today’s music scene, Christian or secular. I read an article on him where he confessed that one song may be the summation of 10 books that he has read. His devotional life and spiritual intake are what feeds his songwriting. For instance, he takes his lyrical cue from a lot of ancient writings such as the song “Restless” that obviously is derived from the writings of the church father, Augustine. Or, he also has a song, “Jesus My Glory”, which he adapted from Psalm 3 and the Anglo-Genevan Psalter. Though the album is modern, it has a very sacred atmosphere which laces its output and production.

Another great feature of Bell’s songwriting is his unique ability, like Ortega and Card, to write songs based off of specific texts of Scripture without coming across as corny, choppy, and shallow. There is an art to writing songs that integrate and are based off of particular Bible verses. For myself, I struggle in doing it in my own songwriting. However, on Waiting for Aidan, Bell puts on a seminar at a distance on how to accomplish this task with excellence and creative integrity. 6 out of 12 songs on the record explicity reference and allude to Scripture. The combined elements of having a very theologically orthodox foundation to the content of his songs and his direct interaction with God’s Word in the lyrics makes for a deep, doctrinal musical journey. Not to mention that every song contains a high-level of musicianship as well as fresh and uplighting arrangements that prevents every song from sounding the same. This gives the album a set apart identity which is a rarity these days.

If you do desire to take a musical leap of faith out of your CCM comfort zone, click here to go to grassroots music website where they have Waiting for Aidan in the bargin bin for a ridiculous price of $2.97! Yes, that’s where I bought my copy. I think with shipping and handling included you won’t spend no more than $5. If you can afford it, I think it would be money well spent.

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