Jon Gibson - The Storyteller

Jon Gibson
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Twenty years ago, Jon Gibson was the toast of the Gospel and Contemporary Christian Music world. His funky song "Jesus Loves Ya" became one of the biggest Christian hits of all time and he seemed to top the charts with every single and album he issued. But while Gibson began the 90s as one of the most admired and successful Christian artists, he spent the latter part of that decade and most of the next in a kind of musical exile. Ironically, at the same time his personal life was at an all-time high with his marriage and the birth of three children, he had no record deal and few ways to get his music to his  increasingly frustrated fans. In fact, after Gibson's self-released 2001 praise and worship album, Soulful Hymns, he largely disappeared from the Christian music circuit, as live, studio and "unplugged" albums were announced but failed to materialize.

Twenty years ago, Jon Gibson was the toast of the Gospel and Contemporary Christian Music world. His funky song "Jesus Loves Ya" became one of the biggest Christian hits of all time and he seemed to top the charts with every single and album he issued. But while Gibson began the 90s as one of the most admired and successful Christian artists, he spent the latter part of that decade and most of the next in a kind of musical exile. Ironically, at the same time his personal life was at an all-time high with his marriage and the birth of three children, he had no record deal and few ways to get his music to his  increasingly frustrated fans. In fact, after Gibson's self-released 2001 praise and worship album, Soulful Hymns, he largely disappeared from the Christian music circuit, as live, studio and "unplugged" albums were announced but failed to materialize.

Amazingly, through all this turmoil, Gibson's fans remained both loyal and supportive. And that loyalty paid off earlier this year as they turned his Kickstarter project into a rousing success, providing the funding that allowed him to complete his first album in a decade, The Storyteller. Perhaps even more amazing is that Gibson, now in his late 40s and a decade and a half past his commercial peak, has delivered an album that is on par with the best work of his critically acclaimed career.

Jon Gibson the lyricist has always held a special place with listeners. He is a man who has clearly experienced quite a life, and his times of challenge are never far from the surface in the messages he delivers. But more powerful are his assertions of the power of faith and grace to overcome those challenges. So while a Gibson protagonist is often of the streets, he is not a thug or glorified, irresponsible man-child of modern R&B; he is basically good but admittedly flawed, searching for the fulfillment that can only come from One place, and often finding it in subtle but joyous ways.  So the desperate adult standing outside at night in "God Will Find Ya" is only grace away from the one singing "I'm Happier Than the Morning Sun" the following morning.

While Gibson's lyrics connected with a generation of Christian listeners, it was the self-taught musician's keen sense of melody and "the hook" that ultimately won over the saved and even some secular fans. Like his mentor, Stevie Wonder, Gibson rarely created a musical clunker, generating one memorable tune after another over his first half dozen albums.

All those characteristics are in full bloom on The Storyteller. With Gibson playing north of a dozen instruments on the disc, it is a two year tour de force condensed into a little under an hour. His thesis for the disc - that he is simply a vessel to provide hope to those forgotten or repressed by society - is summed up on the track "On A Mission":

I see so many people hurting everyday
While knowing that the answer is but a prayer away
That's why I'm on a mission to show the world just how I feel
And I'm on a mission to show them You're real, so real.

Musically, the compositions on The Storyteller stand toe to toe with those of Gibson's two best albums, Body and Soul and Love Education.  The hooks are as irresistible as they are plentiful. So "I Want I Need" and "I Am Free" sound like instant Praise standards, while "Sanctify Me," "So Let It Rain" and the title track are cut from the cloth of Gibson's biggest past hits. Interestingly, the "classic Jon Gibson" sound of The Storyteller actually represents a double-edged sword for the project: the disc's arrangements have an overall 90s feel to them, most similar to 1995's like Love Education (in fact, "Ready Gone" sounds like the musical sequel to "I'll Stand My Ground"). This familiarity will undoubtedly provide a bit of welcome comfort food to Gibson's longtime fans, even as the sound shades a bit dated for new listeners in 2012.

As has often been the case on Jon Gibson's albums, where songs like "Friend in You," "Everyone Needs the Lord" and "Jesus" took center stage, on The Storyteller a couple ballads provide perhaps the most memorable moments. The first is "Your Favorite Song," a touching tribute to Gibson's father, who led him to faith during a troubling period three decades ago.  The second, "Anymore," is a gorgeous, big praise ballad that serves as the album's best moment and among his greatest compositions.

We often complain about how segmented popular music is today, but those walls are familiar to the stars of Gospel and contemporary Christian music, who were often relegated to a musical ghetto before artists like Mary Mary, DC Talk, Michael W. Smith and Kirk Franklin smashed barriers in the mid-90s. Consequently, the classic 80s and early 90s work of immensely talented Gospel and CCM artists are not familiar to most SoulTrackers.  Fortunately, those readers have another chance now to experience the music of one of that period's best: With The Storyteller, Jon Gibson provides a fresh and joyous reminder of the power of melodic, accessible, well performed music that also includes a message of hope...in a time where hope is in short supply.  Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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