“O happy fault—o happy fault / That gained for us so great a Redeemer.” Thus begins the first track of Audrey Assad’s new album, Fortunate Fall. These familiar words, inspired by St. Augustine’s writings on the fall of humanity and sung at Easter vigil, set the tone for Assad’s first independent release. From the first to the last track, this is not just another album. It is deep in its spirituality and unabashedly praiseful in its lyrics. Her strengths lie in her unique voice, but more importantly in her ability to weave her contemplation of high theological concepts into songs that are easily accessible to the average churchgoer.
Three years ago, I reviewed Assad’s first major label effort, The House You’re Building. That album introduced a young Catholic artist with a voice that infused the album’s songs with emotion and brought a breath of fresh air to the industry. Since then, Assad experienced mainstream success with a second major label studio album, a Live recording, and collaborations with some of CCM’s most notable artists. Assad has also played for packed houses at praise and worship events and at Catholic and other Christian churches.
Fortunate Fall, however, is a different kind of album. Where The House You’re Building gave us a first glimpse of a talented singer and Heart solidified Assad as a true talent in the industry, Fortunate Fall allows us to see an artist deeply in love with God and delving into the depths of the mystery of faith through her music. It would do this album no justice to simply say it is a beautiful gift to the Church.
In her lyrics, Assad contemplates some of our faith’s deepest mysteries, such as redemption and the incarnation while also reflecting on humanity’s dependence on God. “Help My Unbelief,” the album’s second track, is a contemplation of the incarnation: “The fullness of the Godhead knit with our humanity / Flesh and bones sewn in the heart of God inseparably.” In the song, the believer recognizes the magnitude of that gift along with the gift wrought on the cross: “O happy fault that gained for me the chance to know you, Lord / To touch your wounded side and know the joy of my reward.” But, even in that recognition—even in the certainty of the words “I know, I know, and I believe that you are the Lord”—there echoes the prayer of the heart that longs to trust and believe: “Help my unbelief.”
Assad’s focus on the beauty of the incarnation is echoed in the third track, “Humble”, where Assad sings, “Humble and human willing to bend You are / Fashioned of flesh and the fire of life You are / Not too proud to wear our skin / To know the weary world we’re in.” Not only does it remind us of God entering into the reality of our humanity, but it reminds us of the humility of Jesus that carried the pain of suffering of our sin to the loneliness and brutality of the cross. This track is appropriately followed by the meditative “O Happy Fault,” which repeats “o felix, o felix culpa” – a reminder that even in the midst of evil, good can emerge. In listening to “O Happy Fault” I was reminded of the meditative singing of a Taizé prayer service where the repetitive nature of short songs opens the heart to the voice of God. In fact, I found myself at a Taizé service only hours after listening to Fortunate Fall the first time and “O Happy Fault” was still fresh in my memory and seemed more than appropriate for the setting.
The remaining tracks on the album are less an exploration of the mystery of faith and more a collection of praise songs that speak to the soul’s dependence on God. “Lead Me On,” co-written with Matt Maher, is a beautiful setting of Psalm 23 for today’s church. “I Shall Not Want,” an absolutely beautiful song co-written with Bryan Brown, appears to be inspired by the Litany of Humility written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val during the papacy of Pius X. It is not difficult to hear this song played at Eucharistic Adoration or in moments of personal prayer. “Good to Me,” the first of these songs to be made available for download by Audrey’s fans is one of the catchier songs on the album. It is a reminder of God’s perfect goodness and the knowledge that even through the darkness God’s goodness remains ever present. I have found myself singing this song for the past few weeks—if singing is praying twice then Audrey Assad has given us an extra prayer of thanks. It is a piano heavy song with beautifully subtle backing vocals.
In “Spirit of the Living God,” Assad has taken a hymn written by Henry Hallam Tweedy (1935) and made it truly her own. Not only does it preserve a hymnal quality, but Assad’s voice gives it a beautiful soulful essence. It is a hymn of yesterday for the church of today. This is followed by “Felix Culpa,” a piano-only composition that is lovely and leads us to appreciate Audrey Assad’s piano playing as much as her vocal talent.
My two favorite songs round out the album. “Lead Kindly, Light” is a lyrically beautiful song that asks God’s guidance in one’s life. Assad sings, “Here in the dark, I do not ask to see / The path ahead—one step enough for me / Lead on, lead on kindly Light.” It is a song personal in nature and resplendent with references to the heart’s longing, our instincts to run from the good—from God, our interior blindness, and the reality of faltering from time to time. But, the song is also a prayer that recognizes the presence of God through life’s trials and tribulations and asks for God’s light to lead the way. This leads into the final song, “You Speak,” which, in my opinion, embraces the ultimate reality for us who dwell in the mystery of God’s grace. God is with us, as fully present in the now as God has been from the beginning of time. The gift given to us at the incarnation and on the cross of our redemption was the opportunity to begin anew—filled with the knowledge that there is a God who loves us, frees us, and is continuously in communication with creation. Assad sings, “You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos / From the chains of a lesser law You set me free.” At the heart of this album is the continual understanding that out of the consequence of humanity’s own sin arose the gift of redemption. Ultimately, that “fortunate fall” led to a relationship with God and humanity where we can say with confidence, as Assad sings, “In the silence of the heart You speak / And it is there that I will know You / And You will know me.”
Fortunate Fall began with the risk one artist took to bring her vision of beautiful music to the Church and her fans. Audrey Assad took that risk and launched a Kickstarter campaign to make this indie album a reality. It was a risk well-taken and one that blesses the hearts and prayer lives of those who will pick up this album and play it for years to come. Of this record Assad wrote:
I have long believed that true Beauty can change a world where truth and goodness are no longer important to most people. Beauty is still idolized in our society, and so it still has influence, however warped its role may have become. But the remarkable thing about true Beauty is that, when it is real and when it is pure, it carries in itself Truth and Goodness. The three are inseparable. And the best thing I can do as an artist who wants to serve the Church is to love all three, and to pursue them with prayer and humility, hoping to offer them to the Church and the world using the gifts I’ve been given. I believe God will bless that work. I am not worthy of it, but I undertake it willingly.
More beautiful than any gift of music one person can give is the coming together of believers to sing the praises of God. I hope this project will afford me the opportunity to experience that with you.
Truly, Audrey Assad has created something beautiful and has done so in a way that honors God and His Church. In so doing, she has not only shared her gifts with us but reminds us too that, at any given moment, the hearts of the faithful are connected as one in those quiet moments of prayer where our hearts sing to our soul’s longing.
Fortunate Fall is officially released on August 13th. Pre-orders are available now at Amazon.Disclosure Statement: I received an advance copy of this album as a reward for supporting Audrey’s Kickstarter campaign. The decision to review this album was entirely based on the merits of the album and not on my participation in the process.