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Beauty In The Broken - Starfield (2006)

It's been a few years now since Starfield made the break from Winnipeg, Manitoba down to Nashville. Canada's loss is the USA's gain, as Starfield have hit one out of the park with Beauty In The Broken, their sophomore album. Singer Tim Neufeld's voice and lyrical honesty are akin to those of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman’s in their easy relating and simple sentiment, though Switchfoot surely aren't writing songs with titles like "Son of God" and "How Great Thou Art." The latter is a highlight here, a reworking of the classic hymn, featuring altered time signatures led by aggressive drumming and washes of electric guitar. This is an amped-up Starfield, sharper in every respect.

It is not my first exposure to Starfield, however. In 2004 the band drove a very long way to fill a last-second slot at a Canadian festival I attended, and their live show, performed on very little rest, was brilliant: engaging, warm and ultimately reverential. Those three characteristics shine brightly throughout Beauty In The Broken. Lead single "My Generation" kicks things off, a chunk of true-blue, legit alternative rock, with Neufeld crooning, "How do we feel, how do we feel?/my generation is aching for real/dying for love, dying for truth/my generation is aching for you." This tune spotlights bassist Shaun Huberts, who I distinctly remember for his impressive talent, and whose nonstop fingerwork powers this song through.

"Everything Is Beautiful" is the twin of "My Generation" a four-bar, single-note piano intro followed by thick power chords mixed with some nice guitar leads. And like the lead single, "Beautiful"is classic alt-rock, sounding almost mid-'90s in feel and dynamics - and lyrically solid to boot: "everything is beautiful/even when the tears are falling/I don't need a miracle to believe/even in the crashing sound/I can hear redemption calling/and everything is beautiful to me." Such a visually evocative expression of faith in trials is not to be missed.

Starfield haven't completely forgotten how to write a softer, wistful number. "Son of God" and "Captivate" are lower-key in nature, more introspective, making their point using ultra-fine melodies and the band's trademark gorgeous vocal harmonies. "Captivate" sets the stage for "How Great Thou Art." Featuring Chris Tomlin, and with its timeless lyrics and U2-ish remaking by the band, this song is worth the price of admission, as guitarist Jon Neufeld's Edge-like hammer-ons and ringing tone add texture and depth.

I'll share a personal anecdote regarding the seventh track and album centerpiece, "Unashamed." July 1st marked a national holiday here in my native Canada, and for days and weeks I'd been in a spiritual and emotional rut. I worked alone that night, running a four-hour radio show, and on the bus ride home, waiting at midnight in a thunderstorm at a downtown bus shelter, watching the lighting crash, I wept as I heard these opening lyrics softly sung: "I have not much to offer you/not near what you deserve/but still I come because your cross/has placed in me my worth." And then the chorus: "and I know I'm weak/I know I'm unworthy/ to call upon your name/but because of grace/because of your mercy, I stand here unashamed." I don't want to expound further upon this song - I want you, the reader, to feel what I felt hearing it, and to know what the finale of the song means: "here I am, at your feet/in my brokenness complete." This song is nothing short of magnificent.

"Love Is The Reversal" and "Glorious One" are among the punchy, rock and roll highlights finishing out Beauty In The Broken, but anyone who hasn't already discovered the key component of this record isn't likely to find it at that late point. That key is reality - this one-time critic of boring, rehashed, "praise-God!" dreck has finally found what could be a termed a praise-and-worship album that truly lifts me up. Piercing deep to the core of what I struggle with most - my humanity, and the endless battle to doggedly try to justify myself and earn forgiveness - Starfield have given me a musical companion to calm me, console me and finally be still, and know that he is God.