Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Michael W. Smith at Wal-Mart? At press time Michael W. Smith was set to release his new CD Worship Again, which was recorded at Southeast Christian Church over the summer. Michael was going to be in town at a local Wal-Mart for the national release. I'll details on this next month.

Bebo Norman was scheduled to be in concert October 24 at St. Matthews Baptist Church. It's Bebo first "major" headlining tour (though the tour is playing to smaller venues) and his first Louisville appearance since opening for Third Day at Broadbent Arena last April. Bebo released his highly anticipated third project, Myself When I Am Real, September 10. In support of its release, he hopped the tour bus for the "Fall Circa 2002" tour, ready to premier new music from the record for audiences in 42 cities nationwide.

Fellow singer-songwriter Sarah Sadler also celebrated the release of her self-titled debut offering September 10. She was supposed to open for Bebo but cancelled at the last minute for reasons unknown (at least to me). Ten Shekel Shirt and La Rue were scheduled to fill in for Sarah.

The tour kicked off Sunday, September 8 at Mt. Vernon Nazarene Christian University in Ohio and traveled to Memphis, Tenn., on Monday, where Lifeway Christian Stores sponsored a post-concert midnight release party and signing. Moving on to College Station, Texas, on Thursday, the artists performed for a packed-out Rudder Theater at Texas A & M. The three opening concerts drew about 3,000 fans.

In promotion of Myself When I Am Real, Bebo has been interviewing with radio stations across the country, including Louisville, as "Great Light Of The World," the debut single from his upcoming project, climbs its way up the charts. At press time, the song has just entered the top ten on R&R's Adult Contemporary Christian radio chart. This week the song is also on R&R's Christian Hits Radio chart

Bebo's following continues to grow steadily, as a result of the success of his critically acclaimed projects, Ten Thousand Days (1999) and Big Blue Sky (2001). The latter ranked No. 1 on Amazon.com's list of the 10 Best Christian and Gospel CDs of 2001. Bebo maintains a loyal fan base nationwide, built by years of consistent touring initially as an independent artist and later after signing to Watershed Records, a division of Essential Records, in 1999. This year alone Bebo has wrapped a 53-city tour with Third Day (including that Louisville date) enjoyed his first multi-format Top 10 radio hit ("Holy Is Your Name"), performed at summer festivals around the country and appeared on the August cover of CCM Magazine.

According to some of those who know him better than I, Bebo's "realness" hasn't been altered by the success of his career. Each time I've interviewed him, I've him found to be pretty "regular guy." In addition to CCM, he has been on the cover of Release, Christian Single, and Premier magazines. His previous two national releases have seen critical acclaim. He's consistently headlined his own nationwide tours and has also shared the stage touring with Third Day, Jennifer Knapp, and Caedmon's Call. Whether performing concerts for thousands of fans, or kayaking down the rushing Tennessee rivers, however, Bebo is apparently as down-to-earth on stage as he is among his closest friends.

Myself When I Am Real, is a blend of his past two projects. It combines the intimate songwriting of Ten Thousand Days with the slightly progressive production of Big Blue Sky and is possibly the most accurate representation of Bebo so far. More than anything, the album reveals a musician who has truly found his pace.

"This project is a medium between my last two albums," he says. "Musically, Big Blue Sky stretched me in healthy ways that were outside my limits, but now I've sprung back and landed in a place where I feel like an adult as a songwriter. These new songs express the things I want to share more than ever. My goal with this album has been to portray myself as accurately as possible."

A collaboration with his longtime friend and producer, Ed Cash (Caedmon's Call, Big Blue Sky), Myself When I Am Real gathers guitars, cello and simple percussion into a backdrop for Bebo's vocals. With songs that confide his thoughts on God, faith and longing, it's appropriate that the project was created in the places Bebo feels the most at home. The photos for the album were captured in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, while the recording took place where in Nashville.

"The atmosphere in the studio was really relational - we had visitors almost every day and at any given moment, I might find myself watching some amazing musicians make sounds happen or one of Ed's kids make us all laugh," he says. "Friends stopped in just to check on us, and we played video games more than we played our instruments. It felt like this album was created right out of my normal every day life. This record is a statement of who I think I am in light of who God is. The bigness of God from Big Blue Sky has settled in, and I'm able to live in the reality of it on a daily basis."

The most articulate expression of Bebo's relationship with God is found on "Great Light Of The World." Bebo premiered the song nightly for thousands during the Spring 2002 Come Together tour with Third Day. I was at the Louisville show when he played it and I remember thinking, "I hope they release that song as a radio single." I was glad when they did.

"The initial idea for `Great Light of the World' came as just a chorus melody in my head, and I somehow stumbled back across it late one night in Nashville. Sitting on my couch in the dark just after the most beautiful thunderstorm, I watched a cloudy evening turn into one of the most worshipful experiences I've ever had. At home alone and quiet with my fears, I rediscovered the absolute and utter sufficiency of God's grace. Salvation was no longer a theory for me...I was living it in real-time. So I reveled in it and soaked it up and poured out a worship song, in my own words, to the Great Light Of The World."

Other songs spilled out through his time on the road, in his car, wherever inspiration happened to find him. The feel of Myself When I Am Real has been described as a "comfortably rustic image of home." It's built from the experiences and people that have kept Bebo on a grounded path. "I've spent six years singing songs, living life in different places, and I'm realizing that the things that really fill me up are much more simple and consistent than I ever imagined," Bebo explains. "All that I truly love in my life is waiting for me at home."

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