The Grace Of Life by Miles & Martha Pike is mostly “unplugged,” featuring Miles’ vocals and Martha’s piano on a total of fifteen tracks, including three instances of “Be Still My Soul.” Most tracks add one or two more instruments, but only one track (“Man Of No Reputation”) features a full accompaniment including bass guitar and percussion. Overall, the setting is one of sophisticated simplicity.
After opening with an a cappella version of “Be Still My Soul,” Miles demonstrates his baritone range on Rich Mullins’ “Bound To Come Some Trouble” with a nice narration toward the end by Martha. Her piano instrumental follows, a simple medley combining “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with “For The Beauty Of The Earth.” Tim Denbo’s cello complements Martha’s piano accompaniment on “My Portion Forever,” and Glen Duncan’s bouzouki is added to back the 1980 Keith Green lyric “Grace By Which I Stand.” The cello returns for “Father, How Sweet” and is joined by violin and viola. The first (and largest) section of the CD concludes with another piano instrumental, the familiar hymn “Jesus Paid It All.”
The second and third sections feature four songs each and begin as the first section did with a portion of “Be Still My Soul.” “You Are With Me” adds an acoustic guitar played by Michael Card that I wish had been mixed a little louder. “The Spirit Of Brokenness” was written by Rodney Griffin and Gerald Wolfe in 1996 and recorded by Greater Vision that same year. I admire the way Miles and Martha are able to find nearly forgotten songs like these and give them new life. “Complete In Thee” is a tasteful hymn setting.
The third iteration of “Be Still My Soul” features an extended piano introduction and clocks in at nearly three minutes. It sets up “Kingdom Hymn,” which adds a penny whistle and brings back the bouzouki to blend with Martha’s piano work. “Man Of No Reputation” is a bit of a departure both in terms of the full band on the track and the sheer length of the arrangement which tops six minutes. The final section of The Grace Of Life ends with an “as you depart” song written by Michael Card titled “Grace Be With You All” that includes Jeff Taylor’s accordion and a third appearance of the bouzouki.
At fifty-one minutes in length with tempos that trend slow, The Grace Of Life feels rather weighty. I wouldn’t mind the slower tempos if the CD was trimmed down to say, ten tracks. As much as I tend to enjoy fast songs when it comes to most of the music I review, I would not want to see the overall character of The Grace Of Life altered. It’s just a lot of slower material to take in for one listening session.
That aside, there is an artistic quality in The Grace Of Life that is generally missing in much of the music I review. With a scriptural basis provided for each song, The Grace Of Life could be turned into a centerpiece for a creative bible study and enjoyed by a group of people over a period of weeks. Miles and Martha Pike draw from a diverse array of sources ranging from centuries old hymns to modern hymns, Southern Gospel, and praise/worship songs. I am impressed by the way they are able to present such diverse material in a thematic manner.
Producer: Tommy Cooper
Song Titles: Be Still My Soul – I; Bound To Come Some Trouble; Great Is Thy Faithfulness/For The Beauty Of The Earth; My Portion Forever; Grace By Which I Stand; Father, How Sweet; Jesus Paid It All; Be Still My Soul – II; You Are With Me; The Spirit Of Brokenness; Complete In Thee; Be Still My Soul – III; Kingdom Hymn; Many Of No Reputation; Grace Be With You All
Rating: 4 Stars (scale of 1-5 stars)