BY TOM NETHERLANDS | SPECIAL AT HERALD MAIL
BRISTOL, Va. – Neither the formula nor the facsimile encompasses the music of Shannan Miller of Bristol. Technically billed as a purveyor of contemporary Christian music, Miller eschews convention for ingenuity.
Exhibit A comes in the form of Miller’s new album, “He Shall Be Our Peace.” An eight-track tour de force of originality, Miller sets new and adventurous ground outside of what is classified as contemporary Christian music.
“If contemporary Christian music sounded like Shannan’s album,” said world-renowned guest cellist Dave Eggar on Miller’s CD, “I would listen to more contemporary Christian music.”
Meet Miller’s music live as he returns to Blackbird Bakery in Bristol, Va. on Friday, March 11. In addition to performing the album in its entirety, Miller will have copies of the CD for sale.
Recorded in a studio located inside Celebration Church in Blountville, Tennessee, Louis Brittz produced.
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“In Shannan’s CD, I hear unique contemporary Christian music, and that’s something,” said Brittz, worship pastor at Celebration Church. “Much of Christian music today sounds generic; it sounds the same. When I hear Shannan’s material, it’s like a breath of fresh air. There is a light flow of jazz.
Miller, who lives in Bristol, Tennessee, wrote each of the eight songs on her album. Lyrically, they are based on scripture.
“When I listen to the CD, I hear an attachment to Jesus. Directly,” said Miller, a married mother of three. “I think the lyrics say I don’t have all the answers, but I look to whoever has them.”
Musically, Miller’s songs possess a panache of exploration. Supported by a group of musicians based in Brittz’s native South Africa, they applied Miller’s visionary lyrics with elaborate and expansive music about what she envisioned.
“There are piano notes and chords that are completely out of the ordinary in the world of Christian music,” Miller said, “and it works.”
With Brittz on the board, Miller recorded his lead vocals and background music in Blountville. Brittz then passed this on to musicians such as guitarist Gideon Boties and pianist Tshepo Monareng in South Africa.
“Shannan is a great songwriter,” Brittz said. “I hear Dianna Krall in her music. I’ve heard that style of writing in Shannan’s music. So, I said, I’ve got the musicians for that. They live and breathe that stuff and they are Christians. I told them to play what they felt.
Therefore, Miller’s aptly titled “He Shall Be Our Peace” imbues peaceful and easy feelings.
For example, Barry Snyman’s supple saxophone weaves delicate tones with Monareng’s demanding piano on the title track. Miller’s voice, like that of a pillow on which we rest our cares, comforts with lyrics that point directly to and embrace Christ.
The ETSU Gospel Choir, a multicultural rainbow of singers from East Tennessee to Africa, gently opens as if the clouds parted for a heavenly finale.
“I wrote ‘He Will Be Our Peace’ after deciding what this project would be about,” Miller said. “It comes from the scriptures. Christ is always with us. The Holy Spirit is always with us.
Miller deviates neither a snippet nor a fragment from his message. Her album blooms in Christ as savior like a field full of spring roses. As with the heavenly scent of a rose, its lyrics tell that Christ’s availability not only brings happiness, but that he is accessible to all who seek him.
Take Miller’s song, “When I Say Your Name.” The graceful cello of Dave Eggar joins the ethereal piano of Tshepo Monareng. Miller’s quiet voice and embracing lyrics provide windows into boundless love. It’s downright heavenly.
“It’s a blend made in heaven,” Brittz said.
Miller’s opening line could provide a mantra on which Christianity rests: “When I say your name, Jesus when I say your name, demons must run and hide, when I say your name.”
“My youngest son is very scared of the night and the dark,” Miller said. “One evening, he was very upset. I said, ‘All you have to do is say the name of Jesus. Say Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Demons have no power over it.
Such impact and import permeates Miller’s album. Partly because she based her words on scripture, her arguments provide an indisputable basis from which she expounds. For example, the opening track of his album, “I’ve got a Savior”, contains an entire verse from Psalm 73.
“It has a positive message,” Miller said. “I sometimes come back to this song when I feel lonely.”
Negativity exists in the daily lives of countless Americans. We are in the midst of a prolonged pandemic. The politics of division rages on. You get it.
Meanwhile, Miller’s music soothes with not only positive messages; it offers the truth.
“It’s real,” Brittz said. “The thing is, I hear Shannan on this CD. I like her spirit and her character when she sings. It’s true. It is not a produced thing.
Those interested in Miller’s CD, “He Shall be Our Peace”, can purchase a copy through several outlets. More directly, she will sell it during her performances. It is also available through its website, www.shannanmillermusic.com. Moreover, it is downloadable via Apple and Amazon stores.
“And yes,” Miller said, “it’s on all the streaming sites — Pandora and Spotify. You don’t write music to get rich.
Miller’s music, as featured on his new album and beyond, communicates boundless joy. When you’re alone, it says you don’t need to be. When you feel unloved, it means you are loved. When you feel lost, Miller’s music offers to simply look to God.
Ultimately, Miller writes, sings and records love songs for the soul.
“I have some good news to share,” Miller said.
Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]
When: Friday, March 11 at 7 p.m.
Where: Blackbird Bakery, 56 Piedmont Ave., Bristol, Virginia.
Internet, audio and video: www.shannanmillermusic.com