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If you tell Bob Bennett his songs don't sound much like Christian music, you're likely to invoke a smile. After all, Bob has always lurked outside the fringes of contemporary Christian music, crafting songs that detail not only his joys and victories, but also his disappointments, struggles and failures.
Bob's acoustic folk-style recordings have honestly confronted the messy side of human existence over the years. But those who have discovered his depth, wit, honesty and musicianship consider him to be one of Christian music's foremost songwriters. His classic tunes "Matters of the Heart," "Man of the Tombs," "A Song About Baseball," and others reveal a songwriting proficiency unmatched among his peers. His ability to express the complexity of emotions we all experience in our spiritual and visceral lives is just as evident in his latest release, Small Graces.
Bob was born in Downey, California, in 1955. He picked up his first guitar at age nine and formed a rock 'n' roll band in high school. In the late seventies he converted to Christianity and his songwriting began to reflect his newfound faith. His career was launched with the release of his 1979 folk-style debut recording First Things First. Three years later came Matters of the Heart, a recording Contemporary Christian Music Magazine voted 1982's "Album of the Year," ranking it among the top 20 contemporary Christian albums of all time. Soon after the release of his next recording, Non-Fiction, he served as opening act on Amy Grant's Unguarded tour. Lord of the Past: A Compilation followed, with its title song reaching number one on the Christian radio charts in early 1990, followed by his second number one song, "Yours Alone." Later that year Bob joined Michael Card on his The Way of Wisdom tour, performing in front of sold-out audiences across the country. Songs from Bright Avenue was released in 1991, a collection of songs he wrote while struggling with the dissolution of his marriage. The years that followed were a time of emotional healing, regrouping and moving forward with his life.
Recently, Bob has found acceptance in the mainstream folk music scene, while performing in music clubs near his home in Southern California. Small Graces reflects this new outlook on life. A host of friends contributed to the recording, from producer Phil Naish (Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace) to Michael Card - not to mention some of Nashville's finest studio musicians. Recorded in Naish and Card's studio at Mole End in the pastoral outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee, Small Graces is perhaps Bob's most remarkable recording to date.
"This recording is about being observant.. noticing the small things," Bob explains, "It's about the seemingly inconsequential things that perhaps don't even appear to be very spiritual, but that truly have an underpinning of hope to them. I realize that when you use grace as a theme, you are on pretty safe territory, in terms of Christian language, concepts and understanding. Everybody, I think, knows that grace is unmerited,, undeserved favor. But when you get into a situation where you feel so undeserving and then it still comes, I think it becomes a lot more valuable and precious."
Bob's ability to write songs about other than typical "spiritual" topics has always made him stand out a bit from his peers. To Bob, spiritual themes are everywhere, even in the least holy of circumstances.
"The album is pretty evenly divided between songs that hint at relationships and those that are directed upward and outward to the body of Christ, as well as to those who might not view themselves as particularly interested in religion," Bob says, "I think songs about doing the laundry belong right along songs of worship and grace. What makes the gospel so important is that it works in a real-life context. Everything from the mundane to the spectacular is touched by the grace of God and is infused by the truth of the Gospel. I have always felt that the palette that I can paint from, as a songwriter, is a broad one with lots of shades and colors."
His approach to ministry also follows the same line of reasoning - that our lives are intricately woven with the sacred and the human, and that honest communication is ultimately most effective.
"I think that accomplishing some sort of ministry by playing music is a completely faulty, frail method that God still manages to use," Bob says, "To me, my primary goal is to communicate truthfully with people. If I can communicate truthfully the life of the spirit and the always accompanying struggle along the way, then ministry happens as a natural result of that."
Deliberately subjective in his lyrics, Bob allows listeners to eavesdrop on his personal observations and decide for themselves if the words ring true. Ultimately, he reaches into hearts, using his abilities to craft language and music to tell the stories inside each of us.