The lessons of Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, Bebo Norman’s remarkable new album, are these:
In finding peace, we come closer to the furies that rage around us.
There is power in music – power that reflects the transformation that Bebo Norman has experienced in these past few years.
Of course, some things don’t change. On Between the Dreaming and the Coming True we hear the same urgent spirituality that has been evident in all of Norman’s work.
But it speaks differently – not only in his familiar acoustic sounds and through the intimacy of his marriage of guitar and voice - but in powerful arrangements brought to life by a full band and crafted by Norman who served as co-producer on the project. Choruses soar, drums thunder, and the piano lets loose drapes of brilliant texture bathing Norman’s message with a more vivid light.
Listen closely and follow the flow of the music. “Into the Day” begins the album with a promise to the tortured soul of rescue and drifts to “Be My Covering,” a meditation on the ravages born by our modern world. “I Know Now,” finds freedom hidden in despair. “Sunday” reveals an appreciation for love as an island in a turbulent sea, and the last track, “Now That You’ve Gone,” serves as a cry for those who are wounded by loneliness and, frankly, is a strange finale to an album that preaches hope.
In the two years since his last album, he has, by his own admission, become more confident as an artist – more willing to explore what he has to offer and let his ideas grow as they will.
All of this contrasts with his state of mind in the fairly recent past. Even after breaking onto the music scene with The Fabric of Verse, which Norman released independently some ten years ago, he often felt that something was missing.
“I wrote a lot in those days from turmoil and loneliness,” he says. “A lot of that had to do with being single and living on the road without much of a home. The funny thing was that when this began to change and I entered into a season of my life where, for three or four years now, I’ve understood what peace is, that made me worry a bit too, because I didn’t know how to write from peace. I’d never done that before.”
The answer, he soon realized, was to use the contentment he had found as a prism through which he could see the troubles in the world from a new angle. “The rub is that I’m living in this peaceful place right now that’s played out against a backdrop of a world that looks so confusing and frightening,” he explains. “I watch friends of mine in failing marriages. I watch people that I love get sick and die. I watch war and poverty and natural disaster.”
With that, Norman was confronted with a number of questions that gave birth to a new attitude in his writing.
“In the middle of all this, I’m asking, how does this make sense? What is this peace I feel in a world that’s so clearly not at peace? Who is God in light of how I see Him in my life, in this world? And who am I?”
And so the seeds took root for Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. It began with the title, which he admits to finding rather than creating. In naming his project after Robert Benson’s book about discovering God even in the depths of depression, Norman lit the beacon that would inspire him through the first steps of writing. Fortunately, he found an ideal writing and producing partner in Jason Ingram, whose songs have been recorded by Building 429, Sonicflood, Rebecca St. James, among others.
Ingram was thrilled at the opportunity to write with Norman. “I’ve always loved Bebo’s songs,” he says. “They’re honest, vulnerable, and very well crafted. I knew he would set the bar high, but this meant that I could be proud of what we would come up with. And as I got to know him, I realized as well how different this project would be. He wasn’t in a place where he wanted to be safe. He wanted to write from his heart, so it was an especially great joy to work with him when he was in that emotional space.”
Working at Ingram’s home studio and sometimes at Norman’s retreat by a lake in his home state of Georgia, they came up with songs that surprised them both. They were more candid than either had expected, which in turn inspired the writers to take greater chances.
“My first efforts, which I wrote at home on my own, were about being at peace,” Norman says. “And right away, they didn’t feel compelling to me. Of course, peace is beautiful, but if that’s all you present in a song, if you don’t explore what it took to get to that place or present the fact that peace can exist even in a difficult world, then you’re not doing a service to those songs, to your listeners, or to yourself.”
So they dug deeper. Below the surface of the joy they both felt in their marriages and the strength derived from their faith, they found something that too often eludes the Christian perspective.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, we are in the same place as those who don’t believe as we do,” Norman says. “For all of us, life is fluid. It ebbs and flows. We get caught in darkness and some days we escape into light. Life is beautiful one moment and tragic the next, but we seem to spend all our time trying to separate the two - to somehow weed out the bad moments and highlight the good. We forget that all these things flow into one another.”
Working together, they completed “Bring Me to Life” on their very first day. Other songs followed quickly as Norman found his new creative rhythm.
“The more we wrote, the more new it felt,” Norman remembers. “I started getting up in the morning, already excited about writing. Making music, writing songs and playing them, hadn’t felt like this since I was in college – and part of the reason was that I understood that these new songs were about real life in a vast world. They were songs about relationships - with God, with my wife, with Jason as my co-producer, with our families and our friends and our communities - lived out in a real world that’s messy and beautiful all at the same time.”
Their collaboration was spontaneous. Ideas popped out of nowhere. Possibilities multiplied: Why stick to the acoustic guitar sound that had become Norman’s calling card? Why not add other musicians? For that matter, why not invite the musicians you knew in your heart were right for these songs? “If Jason and I had each made a list of which musicians we wanted for this project,” Norman says, “every single player we ended up getting would have been number one on either his list or mine.”
Instrumentalists on Between the Dreaming and the Coming True include: Adam Lester on guitar; Tony Lucido playing bass; Ken Lewis on drums; Gabe Scott on accordion; Shane Keister at the piano; among other extraordinary musicians. String arrangements were done by John Painter. Bebo, along with Painter, arranged horns on “I Know Now,” with Painter playing French horn, trumpet and trombone on the song. Norman and Ingram took control of
co-producing ten of the eleven tracks on the project, enlisting the talent of Glenn Rosenstein on “The Way We Mend,” a song Norman wrote with Dave Barnes.
The combinations worked. From the comfortable, backyard, laid-back vibe of “Sunday” to the tidal surges of strings and brass on “I Know Now,” and on the songs that Norman wrote with other collaborators or on his own, the magic sustains throughout Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. The music or the lyrics, if read in silence, are eloquent enough to stand on their own - but when joined together, they become nearly radiant.
As the world is introduced to these songs, and as the tour dates being booked for he and his band draw near, Norman can take a moment to put everything in perspective.
“One of the things I want people to know is that Between the Dreaming and the Coming True comes from my willingness to step forward unapologetically, without any disclaimer. I don’t think I’d every truly done that before. We weren’t thinking about making a radio-friendly record or writing singles or trying to present any sort of ‘image.’ For the first time in my life, I let each song speak for itself. And I think that when you look into them, they’ll show you who I am.”
This isn’t just Bebo Norman’s greatest musical accomplishment; this is a journey through the tumult of our times and the secrets we hide even from ourselves. It is a monument to the believer’s paradox - that peace in God will lead to pain as well as redemption.
Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, in other words, is an epic that whispers intimately and a pledge of love that endures through the worst of times.