John Mark McMillan
John Mark McMillan points to God and paints a faith beyond conformity and rote spirituality. He has eaten scripture whole and it comes out freshly-framed, shockingly accessible and in language resurrecting off the page. McMillan explores new sonic shades and retro musical motifs, atmospheric washes, and looping themes amidst his established rootsy, folk-rock. His third release Borderland is paradoxically restful—even in the midst of lyrical assault and cultural confrontation. That is not to say that those things are at the heart of the album. At the center is God’s enduring love and presence over our lives and times, his friendship, the one alone who gives context and meaning to a world off its hinges and hopelessly broken. Once again, John Mark immerses us in both still life and dramatic cinema. In the tradition of classics like Orbison, Dylan, and Cash, McMillan arrests and captivates with timeless artistry.
“Holy Ghost” opens the album with the warm and evocative caress of McMillan’s inimitable vocals wrapped in a chorus of angels, sweepy and staccato strings—the perfect backdrop for piercing commentary and desperate prayer: “I need a Holy Ghost.” Next, “Love at the End” fuses the vibe of songs from John Mark’s second album The Medicine with a new sonic pastiche of rhythm and dreamy sound, reflecting the paradox of love found at “the end of the world” in the face of life on the brink.
For congregations, McMillan’s “Future/Past’ is without doubt a strong contender for reaching across geographic ad generational borders. Other songs with congregational potential include the lovely trancey ballad “Counting On” and the chorus to “Silver Shores”—which evocatively mixes imagery from Daniel. The body of the song is not melodically easy to hitch a ride, but the chorus can stand on it’s own. “Heart Runs” updates the lyrical essence of “As the Deer,” with lush musical and vocal arrangements, heartfelt lyrics, hynotic and powerful rhythms and ascendant melodic beauty, and a bouncy “Guns/Napoleon” turns things on their head and would fly high if not for the symbolic confusion “Napoleon” in the lyric creates.
For thigh-slapping rhythmic energy, “Borderland,” the title-track features percussive power and irresistible charm, juxtaposed to raw poetry. With the same dark brightness, “Monsters Talk” delights, although it could have been taken further in that bass-heavy spirited jazz direction. “Tongues of Fire” is the aging Christian’s song with a bittersweet look back at the glory days, using images drawn from Samson’s story holding out the possibility of recapturing the courage and hope of our youth.
Finally, McMillan finishes with “Visceral,” both a prophetic exhortation and a hopeful promise of God’s Kingdom as seen through enlightened eyes.
Most Singable: “Future/Past”
Strongest biblical content: “Future Past” (Rev. 1:11, Job 9:9; Amos 5:8; Ps 139:7; Col 2:3); “Heart Runs” (Gen 2:7; Ps 42:1,7 ; Rev 3:20)
The whole package: “Heart Run” “Borderland” “Future/Past”
Resources Available: “Future Past” YouTube; Lyrics (johnmarkmcmillan.com)
AH 4.5 Stars