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Album Review

Mat Kearney burst onto the music scene in 2004 with, literally, a Bullet. But it was the Oregon-raised singer's second album, Nothing Left to Lose, that seemed to portend bigger things—especially in the Christian music realm. Kearney's style, which blended singing and a spoken-word rap with acoustic guitar and piano melodies, netted him a New Artist of the Year nomination at the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards in 2006. And he got the nod in another category, Rap/Hip-Hop Recorded Song of the Year, for his tune "Trainwreck." The following year saw three more high-profile nominations for Kearney.

At the same time, his songs began popping up all over the place on television, including 30 Rock, Without a Trace, The Hills, NCIS, The Closer and Grey's Anatomy, among other shows. Kearney's sometimes moody, sometimes sunny musical style seemed a perfect fit for conflict-ridden TV drama.

So in contrast to how some Christian artists build a fan base among the faithful, then "cross over" into the mainstream, Kearney has cultivated a following in both arenas simultaneously. In a 2005 interview with cmusicweb.com, he said of that serendipitous success, "When I went to [music label] Inpop I said, 'Let's work on the Christian side but I am also going to sign a general market deal.' I did not know how or what I was doing. My take is that it is natural. For me it just feels like exactly what I am supposed to be doing. My faith is a part of who I am and the music I make. But it has to exist within the world that does not necessarily believe what I believe."

Kearney's latest effort continues to reflect that approach, alternating between heartrending angst and twitterpated infatuation, with subtle nods to Christian faith mixed in as salt.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

The first hit from Young Love, "Hey Mama," sings the praises of Annie Sims, whom Mat married in 2010. The song is sung from the perspective of a man madly in love and on the verge of proposing: "Hey, mama, hey, hey, mama/ … What are you doing for the rest of your life?/ … Hey, lover, don't want no other/Finger for my ring." "She Got the Honey" and "Young Dumb and in Love" traipse through similarly feel-good territory. In the latter, Kearny talks about the first flush of infatuation. He prays that the relationship will work ("Found myself on my knees a little more each night") and relishes the memory of a first kiss.

But Kearny also presses past the breathless wonder of young love into what comes next, namely persevering through conflict. "Sooner or Later" finds him promising a woman that they'll make it through a rough patch in life. And even though a clash with his beloved leaves him feeling sick to his stomach on "Count on Me," he vows, "You can count on me/Amen, we made it this far/ … You can count on me, when you cannot see." "Ships in the Night" majors on resolution and humility when harsh words threaten to separate a couple.

Upbeat messages of encouragement saturate three other songs. "Learning to Love Again" encourages a brother to persist through disillusionment so deep it's apparently left him contemplating suicide. Kearney describes the man's circumstances as a "one-man hell" that's left him "looking down a barrel." But the singer insists that all of us have "shed those same tears," that we're all "learning to love again." "Down" counsels a drug-addicted girl and a struggling young father whose house is in foreclosure, "When all you see is darkness/We all need forgiveness." On "Chasing the Light," Kearney prays for a lifelong friend who's struggling to keep the faith.

Poignant album-closer "Rochester" reflects on Mat's father's difficult life as an abused son, as well as his dad's ultimate choice to renounce drugs and turn to God after a difficult experience in Vietnam ("Had a son named Benjamin, and I was so scared of it all/Well, Benjamin walked in the room where I was cutting up my hash/Looked into his deep blue eyes wondering why I'd been so mad/Flushed a quarter pound down the drain, praying for the mercy to confess/ … We're gonna walk right out into those heavenly fields/ … My three boys and the grace of God revealed").

Objectionable Content

"Hey Mama" gets just a tad sexual when Kearney sings of his attraction to his wife's legs: "I could see it in her Cherokee eyes/Those baby browns and her golden thighs." Likewise, the chorus of "She Got the Honey" could be heard suggestively ("She got the honey and I got some money/To buy her a big bouquet"). "Sooner or Later" references two people sharing a bed apart from any clear marital context ("You can feel the fire in the night lying here").

The painful story in "Rochester" includes some mild profanity: "Daddy'd come home fired up looking for some sort of release/he'd beat the h‑‑‑ out of Timmy, and Timmy'd beat the h‑‑‑ out of me."

Summary Advisory

Talking about how "Rochester" relates to the album as a whole, Kearney said, "It's this very folk song that I wrote about my dad. My grandpa ran an illegal gambling ring in Rochester, N.Y., out of a cigar shop, and my father lived through that. Then he became a lawyer, went into the army, followed Pink Floyd through Europe and moved to Hawaii where he met my mother. I wrote about my family, friends and loved ones. This album is a documentary, not a drama."

He adds, "There's a sense of joy, honesty, vulnerability and wisdom in this record. I've experienced pain, but I still want to feel like that high school boy with butterflies in his stomach who loves life and has hope."

Butterflies. Hope. Honesty. Pain. All of those words get at the essence of what Young Love is all about.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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