Saturday, July 6, 2013

Music Review: Wide-Eyed and Simplified by downhere

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting and fun behind the scenes portions
Cons: Tracks don't sound that different from studio versions
The Bottom Line
Not too simplified
Stories behind songs are good
A disc for the fans

Stories Behind the Acoustic Selections as downhere gets Wide-Eyed and Simplified

I have a confession to make.  I've had Wide-Eyed And Simplified from the band downhere for years, but I haven't listened to it much since I bought it.  Heck, I even had it autographed years ago.  But a friend who also loves the band was talking about it, so I dug it out and gave it another listen.

Released after their third studio release (Wide-Eyed and Mystified), the idea was to take most of the tracks from that disc plus three fan favorites and sit down in a studio and record them acoustically.

But here's my problem with this idea and with many band acoustic records.  When you have a band that plays all the instruments you normally use in your songs, how different can the acoustic versions really sound?  And that's my biggest issue with this disc.  Yes, there are some superficial changes.  The biggest one I notice is that Jason's piano playing really stands out more here than normal (and I like it).  But for the most part, these songs sound almost identical to their original versions.

However, here's the part that does make this CD fun.  Before each song, the guys talk about the creation of the song.  And since members and lead singers Marc and Jason write all the band's songs, they've got some great stories to tell.  You learn which song started out as a love song to Jason's wife.  Which song is the oldest song in the band's history?  Which song got poor reviews the first time they played it?  Which song was partially inspired by a piano?  There are some interesting stories on this disc, and you can tell the band has fun together with a few of the laughs that come up.  I do wish Glenn and Jeremy had been better miked because when they talk it's harder to hear, but since Marc and Jason do most of the talking, it's not that big an issue.

Since Wide-Eyed and Mystified is my favorite of their releases and 8 of those songs are present here, you can bet I do like the choices.  They start things out with the upbeat "The More," which talks about growing to know God more.  "A Better Way" is still one of my top two downhere songs, and the way Marc and Jason play off each other in the chorus is just outstanding.  It's a slower track, but each word is fantastic.

Also on the slow side, we've got "Unbelievable," a song that looks at the wealth of songs we have in the church, even incorporating some of the lyrics into the bridge.  Jason's piano playing is a highlight of the version here.  A reminder that everything matters to God is found in "Little is Much."  "The Real Jesus" looks at how our culture perceives Jesus and who He really is.  Finally, "Remember Me" is a communion song that I'm a little surprised hasn't caught on in more churches.

They are a Canadian rock band, however, and you'll see that again in "Surrender" and especially the very upbeat "Stir," a call to the action of loving those around us.

The final three songs on the disc are classics from their two earlier releases.  "What It's Like" is another upbeat song that reminds us that Jesus knows what we're going through.  "Great Are You" is a praise song that's a bit on the simple side yet is actually very powerful when you stop and listen to it.  (And some of the stranger images from it makes sense now.)  Finally, there's "Protest to Praise," a song about finding God in the trials of life.

Most of these tracks are fairly fresh from having been recently recorded or frequently played in concert (or both).  These are four guys who are used to making music together, so it all sounds good.  I know I've singled out Jason's piano playing, but he also plays guitar, along with Marc.  Glenn plays the base and Jeremy plays the drums.

If you are new to downhere, this isn't the place to start.  I would recommend getting some of their studio releases and enjoying them.  This was really designed for their fans to get a glimpse behind the creation of these songs.  And those who already know the songs will certainly appreciate that.  I know I picked up on some things in these songs by listening to their thoughts.

While the acoustic sound isn't enough different to really notice, fans will still enjoy hearing the thoughts behind the songs on Wide-Eyed And Simplified.

CD Length: 1:06:48
Included Songs:
1. The More
2. Surrender
3. A Better Way
4. Little is Much
5. Stir
6. Unbelievable
7. The Real Jesus
8. Remember Me
9. Great are You
10. What It's Like
11. Protest to Praise

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