Review: Picnic in the Meadow “Livin’ In Me”

Picnic in the Meadow “Livin’ In Me”

17 Feb, 2011 Andrew Greenhalgh

It’s always seemed like an obvious fit to pair the country music genre with Christian lyrics and stylings.  The South has clearly been the seat of the Bible belt for generations and the values of loving God, country, and family are firmly entrenched.  Those very tenets seem to mark country music as well, bridging soul to soul.  Yet, while many have tried this combination, it has rarely worked.  One is either left with music that falls more heavily into the southern gospel realm (a fine genre but not really country) or garners a mildly country feel but suffers from subpar vocals and lyrics that just don’t fit.  For whatever reason, it’s a tough fit to make.  Yet, if anyone’s come close, it’s Picnic in the Meadow with their release, Livin’ In Me.

Picnic in the Meadow is a loose collective helmed by the songwriting of Bryan D. Jones.  The name stems from an early song Jones wrote about the miracle of Jesus and the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and seemed a natural fit for this venture.  With a passion for music and ministry, Jones intends for Livin’ In Me to help raise money and awareness for the missionary venture Hope’s Promise, whose goal is to minister to orphans in Vietnam, Nepal, and Africa.

A first glance at the album art might make one raise their eyebrows and wonder at the contents but, as we have all hopefully learned by now, it’s not safe to judge a book by its cover.  Livin’ In Me is a first-rate production, not too rough and not too slick and finds a line that cuts right down the middle.  The players are superb and the vocalists, the area where many Christian country albums have faltered, come through honest and genuine and shine.

The tempo is pleasantly varied, with tracks like the title track and “Burn” providing some solid pace with throbbing percussion and good guitar work throughout.  “Jesus Loves Me” holds sway with a solid vibe as well with “Risen” pulling out all the stops, resulting in a romping barn-burner that showcases all that one could ask for despite a few hokey vocal effects.

Songs like “New Every Morning,” “Wits End,” and “Gaze Into Your Holiness” provide a subtle respite from the shuffling beats and jams of the aforementioned tunes.  And while slower numbers like “I’m Missing You” and “Hold On to Love” find themselves falling flat, despite a solid delivery, its tracks like “Be Like You” and “Dance With Me” that steal the show.

“Be Like You” is a textbook country inspirational track with an impassioned verse, a swelling chorus, and the requisite guitar solo near the bridge.  It’s been done before but when it’s done right, it’s right.  “Dance With Me,” however, is a track that is ready made for country radio.  Choosing to tell the story of loved one’s separated by war and strife, it offers up some of the most poignant lyrics on the album: “Dance with me/Hold me tight/Remember this/In the lonely nights/Know that I will be/Right here waiting/You’ll see/But for now/Just dance with me.”

Ironically, it’s this album’s lyrics that tend to be it’s undoing however.  Jones clearly does have a great musical ear but his songwriting needs to work to avoid the conventional clichés.  Unfortunately, Livin’ In Me finds itself smattered with overused lines like “hope living in me,” “burn for you,” “rest for the weary,” and “everlasting Prince of Peace.” For some, these might not be great crimes but to those who’ve spent time on the Christian music side of the fence, these are well used and worn ideas.  Add to that the occasionally clunky phrasing and we’re facing an issue or two.

Yet, Bryan Jones and Co. show far enough promise here to warrant encouragement of a second endeavor and an endorsement of this work.  Livin’ In Me is a step in the right direction for the genre of Christian country music and serves as a quality bridge between the genres.

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)