Eric Peters‘s body of work addresses a diverse range of topics, but hope is a recurring theme that gently percolates in the midst of it all. And yet,somewhere between the 2001 masterpiece Land of the Living, and Scarce, the flavor of hope that Peters’s work emits has evolved closer to a tone that is more resolute than what came before. And though the complexion of hope has a broad range, the lyrics from Scarce–while intermittently contrite and timorous as in previous efforts, are now strengthened and bolstered by roots that have grown deeper, radiating an underlying grit and secu rity
Vaguely reminiscent of the lyrical tone from “Every Breath You Take,” from The Police, Peters opens the project with “Radiate,” a sparkling little pop jewel. This sing-along showpiece, laced with paradox and clever wordplay, is an optimistic, devine ode to the past, present, and future. The tune begins sparsely, with a choppy guitar, embellished with some fanciful Ben Shive keyboard tinkles. Then, with a Ken Lewis drum flurry leading the way to the emerging chorus, producer Brent Milligan employs some production sleight-of-hand. Like an aural avalanche–a wall of sound, if you will–we ride a glorious sonic wave, like a runaway roller coaster. With split second precision, the musical canvas seems to multiply from four to 24 tracks as the slightly built Peters belts out the indelible chorus with the amplitude and intensity of a much larger man.
One passage from “Radiate,” “Like a radio song stuck in my brain,” could easily be a tribute to Peters’s own captivating work. Indeed, he’s an artist that carries more hooks in his toolbox than Babe Winkleman. Examing the songs in Peters’ discography, it’s obvious that Peters is a serious student of rock and roll history. But while Peters borrows liberally from diverse nuances of popular music, unlike some carbon copy indie artists, his songs share one consistency–the ubiquitously contagious hook. Even those Peters songs that creatively flirt with enigma–like “Wiseblood” from Bookmark and Land of the Living or “Kansas” from Scarce–we still discover an urgent and arresting passage which clings to our leg like a child with separation anxiety.
As usual, Scarce is rife with junctures where lyric and music intertwine, reverberating truth with an endearing emotional rush; enraptured listening moments in which dopamine flows like the white water rapids of a raging river.
“The Storm” features at least one such moment. This evocative composition artfully spotlights the eternal “I AM,” with Old Testament allusions and a medieval ambiance that earnestly support the project’s theme. The great paradox of Christianity is that one discovers strength and victory when he most intimately understands and accepts his utter weakness and inability to please God through his own misguided and misplaced efforts. So when in solemn bearing Peters sings, Drenched in mercy and dripping holy tears / Dressed in kingly garments from my toes to my ears, my inner being is inspired and shimmers with a graceful reverence for the gospel’s transcendental, elegant, assured outcome wrapped in a glorious celestial vision.
“Save Something for Grace,” features soaring, ethereal background vocals. It’s the nexus of the entire project, masterfully providing thematic linkage to the rest of the songs. Like Chuck Girard in the early Jesus Music song “Tinagera,” Peters creatively personifies a lyrical angle by employing a women’s name.
The first verse of “Save Something for Grace” calls to mind Andrew Peterson’s “High Noon,” itself inspired by the classic western of the same name. Ironically, in Peters’s twist from this main street showdown, we face none other than … ourselves:
“Quiet eyes in a blaze of shame, like a beast of burden you could never tame.”
The line We try to be holy without being human first, in one agile motion, indicts synthetically pious believers, a category to which most of us intermittently slide. It’s a place where looking good counts for more than being good; where our glory is more important than God’s glory. At the same time, Peters reminds us of the ultimate helping hand in the breathtakingly beautiful bridge:
We live as though mercy were frail And forgiveness merely a tale We condemn ourselves to a fault When we fail, when we fall We find we’re human after all
In the transparently melancholy tradition of “Yesterday,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Hold Me Jesus,” enter Peters’s magnum opus “Tomorrow.” This song has the ring of an instant classic, an austere arrangement providing a musical spotlight for the keyboard wizardry of the quickly emerging Ben Shive. The tender dance of Brent Milligan’s cello fused with Shive’s organic piano is a moment of pure, elegant beauty, one of the standout instrumental slices from the project.
Like a jigsaw puzzle, nearly every component of Scarce contributes to the whole. Conversely, unlike such a puzzle–each piece of Scarce is exhaustive enough in beauty and thematic consistency to virtually stand on its own. Even the title conveys something meaningful and thematic. While the average title of the average recording often seems like an afterthought, I’ve come to expect something deeper from Eric Peters, because that’s what he consistently delivers.
For fun, look for an ’80’s guitar lick or two, reminiscent of The Outfield or The Hooters. Introduce yourself to Mollie Garrigan, lending blue-eyed soul seasoning and spot-on harmony to In the Meantime. Notice the infectious Turtles-like 60’s pop extract that tags “Metropolis.” Discover the latest bag of ear candy that Peters and producer Milligan sprinkle generously through this project–those embedded sugar coated musical moments leading from one musical passageway to another. Certainly, Scarce is worth having for these frivolous, incidental moments alone.
Still, there’s a far more exalted and noble reason for making this CD part of your collection: The opportunity to discover Eric Peters, the man–and by extension–that which seems to inspire and galvanize the man’s work, a hope that is not of this world. His work and this project in particular, help integrate the seemingly contradictory elements of that curious paradox–the seemingly intractable tension between those two other “h” words–human and holy.
If God chose the weak things of the world to shame and confound those of us that are superficially strong, and if weakness represents a place to find a glimpse of God–it’s quite worth navigating the apparent ambiguity-as it becomes the secret key–indeed, the only key to majestic treasure.
Put differently, the denotation of the word “scarce” is two-pronged, with what seem like ostensibly contradictory definitions. While “scarce” is often defined as “Insufficient to meet a demand or requirement,” it also means, “Hard to find, or rare.” Decidedly far removed from trivial, it’s the blending and bonding of these two disparate definitions that marks Eric Peters’s Scarce as stately and grand.
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