Often at the start of formal gatherings in New Zealand a mihimihi is given… A mihimihi is a basic introduction to let people know a little bit about yourself. It tells people where you are from and who you are by sharing your whakapapa (genealogy, ancestral ties) and other relevant information. To know one’s whakapapa is to know one’s identity.
It’s the story behind the name, it’s the pain behind the smile, it’s the things in your life that have woven themselves to help make you exceptionally YOU.
So what does this have to do with an album review about ‘The Cobblers Grandson”? … well nothing… and everything.
‘The Cobblers Grandson’ is the latest offering from New Zealand worship leader and songwriter Malcolm Gordon. Well known for writing thoughtful, melodic music for use in worship and spiritual reflection, Malcolm has taken a turn down the singer/songwriter alleyway.
And this is his family history… His mihimihi if you like.
Approaching this album, I initially listened to it as if it were any other album. That in itself was beautiful, purely as an album of songs. However the magic of the album was that the more you listen to it,the more it became so much more… a family photo album… a book of family history… a gallery of moments in time that have shaped a family, a generation, a man.
The album starts off with the track ‘Oh My Heart’ that sets the tone for the album with a lyric that both draws you into the story and also seems to challenge you:
“‘You weren’t to know how far you’d gone… adventure called you ever farther on”
It’s clear right from the outset that this is not Malcolm’s typical album.
The album tells a story exploring themes of origins and heritage through Malcolm’s trade mark haunting style that is laced with the celtic tones that echo his previous offerings.
The songs that really work best are the songs like the title track ‘The Cobblers Grandson’ and ‘Ash to Ash’. These are the quieter, more ‘folky’ songs that are so sparse that you find yourself listening to the track as if it was actually a story being told to you… which of course is exactly what is happening.
Many of the songs are far more sparse than Malcom has dared before. Often the tracks rest on just an acoustic guitar sitting hauntingly behind his vocal with nothing more than the drone of a cello or some piano used sparingly to add more depth or tension. Once again Kirstin Cant adds perfectly timed backing vocals and harmonies.
The pinnacle of the album is the first single ‘Hey Stranger’. This is the most pop style song on the whole album and is all about being a great neighbour. The chorus has a kids’ choir accompanying Malcolm with the words:
“Hey Stranger, Hey Neighbour, you don’t need wings to be my angel”
Some people might question Malcolm’s new direction on this album.
Why would someone move from a place where they were writing songs for church, and writing them well?
Actually I wonder if the question should be, why aren’t more people doing this?
The obvious answer is simply that not everyone is as talented and theologically grounded as Malcolm.
This direction is a sign of someone who isn’t interested in just having a good idea… but listening to GOD ideas, and having faith that God who gave the vision will also give the provision for it.
I think there is certainly a place for ‘church songs’ or ‘spiritual songs’ but the best way to reach people is through story telling. Wasn’t the best example of a storyteller Jesus himself with his parables and testimonies?
So why won’t we combine it with an international and spiritual language like music?
Doesn’t this seem like the most logical step?
“Let me tell you a story of what has happened to me… the pain, the hardship and this is what gave me the strength to get through it”
This is the best kind of story isn’t it?
I left this album thinking I wish I could see this as a soundtrack to a movie or a stage show… this is already a beautiful back drop to a wonderful story.
I can’t wait to hear the next chapter.
Release date October 4th, and can be ordered at onevoice.org.nz in the meantime
Or after October 4th it can be purchase at iTunes, bandcamp and Manna Christian stores.