Calling Ken Medema a singer-composer is like calling the Yankees a ball club. For his latest CD, Sea Change, Ken is also orchestrator, back-up vocalist (and choir), and percussionist. If they’d show him how to operate the shrink-wrapping machine, he’d do that too.
Medema’s vast talent may also be the reason he is not the most famous musician in the land. After five listenings, I am at a loss to categorize this CD. His influences run from Bach to Broadway, with stops in hip-hop, rock, and full gospel.
Medema’s mature bass hasn’t sounded better in 25 years. The CD begins with “Sea Change,” a soulful folk call to worship that is sung a cappella, and then moves to “Morning,” a hymn that might be sung from the rooftop of a San Francisco Victorian in praise of the colors and sounds of Medema’s hometown. Then our contemplation is shattered by the raucous call from a child to “Come Down to the Park.” Here Medema is social commentator on our over-scheduled lives and over-busy children: “Kill the phone, leave it home.”
Like a rich oboe, Medema cries for a suffering, needy world. A simple answer, our answer, is in front of us: “I’ve Got These Hands.” We experience Citizen Medema employing his gifts and heart for suffering and injustice. In “Freedom Trees,” he calls us to “wake up and touch the trouble, wake up and smell the danger” because “they’re chopping down the freedom trees”—the voices and freedoms that are essential to democracy. Few artists in gospel show biz tackle cruelty and injustice head-on.
No Medema collection would be complete without a sanctuary-shakin’ full-gospel sermon-in-song. Turn to John 5, where a man is unable to walk for 38 years; Jesus comes to him (and us in the midst of our complaining) and says, “Rise up!”