Across 20 years, Michael W. Smith's music has helped listeners realize personal relationships matter, hope stands ready for all and faith is of ultimate concern. In him is the ability to put into song the emotions people feel, but don't have the means to express. It stands as great tribute to Michael that his three most recent projects have yielded two platinum certifications and one gold.
This is the artistic standard represented on The Second Decade (Reunion Records), an ambitious project that for the first time collects in one place Michael's most popular songs from 1993-2003. It's a 15-track album celebrating the past, including a new version of Michael's signature song, "Friends." It's also a record looking forward, courtesy of two new songs, which reflect Michael's distinctive pop sound.
Second Decade is a must-have volume for fans and the perfect companion to his equally impressive First Decade: 1983-1993. That collection summarized Michael's many outstanding achievements in Christian and mainstream music, including Top 10 pop hits "Place in This World" and "I Will Be Here for You." It was then that The Wall Street Journal featured Michael while People magazine named him to its "50 Most Beautiful People" list. With this mainstream success, the singer-songwriter impressively underscored a time during which he turned out eight critically-acclaimed albums, collecting for his efforts a Grammy, an American Music Award and a healthy flock of Dove Awards.
It's Second Decade, though, that shows a shift in Michael's artistic perspective. Not one to rest on laurels, Michael discovered new creative wells inside himself during this period. The music tends to be more organic than it was in the early '90s, rich with acoustic guitar and piano instrumentation, and the lyrics more personally vulnerable. He attributes the change to the inspiration of his family, Debbie, his wife of 22 years and their five children. "Your priorities change when you get older and have kids. You find out what's important," he says. The era's pop-driven songs, like "I'll Lead You Home," "Missing Person" and "Love Me Good," tap again that Lennon & McCartney-like songwriting relationship Michael uniquely shares with longtime co-writer Wayne Kirkpatrick. Adding to what was merely a bubbling under instrumental repertoire, this season also brought about Freedom, Michael's epic, and overdue, orchestral composition. "That album is my favorite thing I've ever done. I think it's the truest reflection of who I am as a musician," he says.
Michael was also moved to share personal expressions regarding difficult national events. With "This Is Your Time," a song remembering slain teenager Cassie Bernall, Michael put a voice to collective grief over the Columbine High School student shootings. Through the music of his Worship record, released Sept. 11, 2001, Michael lifted weary spirits in communal worship across the country. Second Decade contains songs formed from the wisdom of time and the effort of discerning what's surely beautiful.
"I think the songs are better," Michael says, reflecting on this body of work, "and, hopefully, I've gotten better as an artist." No doubt, the supporting evidence rests in Second Decade. Overall, this collection celebrates Michael for the unparalleled diversity of his artistic portfolio, including pop, Christian, praise & worship, instrumental and feature-film scores. Further, it honors a singer, songwriter, producer and label executive who stands as one of music's most influential leaders.
Initially a struggling Nashville songwriter and a keyboard player in Amy Grant's band, Michael is now Christian music's most visible artist. He's tallied 40 Dove Awards, two Grammy Awards and 28 No. 1 radio singles. His 17 studio albums account for more than 10 million units sold. He's contributed to American Protestant hymnody with titles like "Great Is the Lord." With the popularity of his recent projects Worship and Worship Again, Michael has been one of the preeminent voices of the modern worship movement, an international recasting of how Christians devote themselves to faith, family and community. As founder and president of Rocketown Records, Michael influences music's future by mentoring talented new artists.
Michael's contributions to culture don't stop with gospel music. He's recognized for successfully forging into mainstream pop music with strong, life-affirming messages. He has devoted his accumulated artistic clout to lead a charge for helping others. His extensive work as a spokesperson for Compassion International, a global child development and relief organization, has resulted in more than 22,000 individually sponsored children worldwide. He's also the founder of Rocketown, a Nashville-based youth club which provides an alternative haven for teens to gather. Viewed as a person of strong character, Michael is a trusted friend to business and civic leaders, professional athletes, religious figures and world political leaders.
A sign of his on-going influence, Michael's peers honored him recently by gathering for "Friends 2003," a new, all-star recording of Michael's signature song, "Friends," the No. 1 Christian music single of all time. It includes Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Third Day's Mac Powell, CeCe Winans, dc talk's Michael Tait and others, and was conceived by award-winning producer Brown Bannister. "I am honored and humbled by their efforts," Michael says.
Two new songs anticipate Michael's third decade of music and his 18th album. He says the God-to-man song "Raging Sea" was written at Skywalker Ranch in about five minutes. In contrast, the other new song here, "Signs," was a "tough, tough lyric to write," Michael admits. In the end, the song was co-written by his son Ryan, who took his inspiration from the book Pilgrim's Progress.
As father and son collaborate, and as Ryan embarks on his own creative ventures in film, we fondly recall Michael W. Smith's own humble beginnings. His 20-year career is an American portrait of a young man imagining, chasing and fulfilling his dreams. Once aspiring to be a baseball player, Michael, at 15, embraced a new vision, one involving his other love, music. He left his small hometown of Kenova, West Va., for Nashville in pursuit of that dream. Establishing himself as a songwriter, session player and touring band member, Michael steadily emerged as a lauded performer, tenaciously mastering his craft to propel him where he is today-a wonderful junction where his talents intersect with the world's profound need. He says it's a place where he's truly being who he was meant to be.
Second Decade portrays a season of diverse work. It anticipates a still more promising future from an artist at the top of his craft.