A review of the latest CD release by Contemporary Christian recording artist Mike Westendorf.
by Steve Brown
What Songs Do You Carry?
Isn’t it true that we all carry a bag of songs along with us throughout our lives? I know that I do. I still remember the song that my wife and I danced to at our wedding – it happened to be “If” by Bread. I can hear it in my mind right now as we tried our best to gently foxtrot across the floor. I remember songs from certain funerals that I have attended, I remember songs from my youth, and I certainly have my favorite hymns and other Christian songs that help to carry me through the roughest times. I recall hiking with my wife once on some high mountaintops (she is afraid of heights) and after the hike she told me that during the highest lookouts, while standing as near to the edge as she dared, she would sing to herself “Right Here” by Jeremy Camp because it’s in those fearful moments that she wanted to know that God was nearby and she made the connection using a song that she carries. Songs that we carry have a special meaning to us, they comfort us, and they remind us of fond memories. I believe that Mike’s CD contains some of the songs that he carries in his heart and that it gives him overwhelming joy to share these songs, which are a piece of his soul, with the church. Some of Mike’s songs are a bit more personal than you might be accustomed to in church, but they show a very comfortable side of the relationship between Mike and his Savior. It’s a heart-felt relationship that many of us long to have.
Where Inspiration is Birthed
When I first listened to Mike’s CD, I thought to myself, “Mike is a storyteller more than a lyricist.” After listening to his CD several times, I took out the liner notes and read that he refers to himself as a storyteller as well. This is evident as you listen to his music. What’s interesting is that Mike states that some of his songs “were written just for me” and that these songs “will be a sort of refrain to a larger story that God is working out in our lives.” These quotes ring true with me and echo my very thoughts.
I contrast Mike’s words to mine:
“In Ephesians 2:10, God’s word states that we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Some pretty powerful words indeed! That word “handiwork” is actually translated from the Greek word “poiema” from which we get the English word “poem.” The Bible is filled with poetry. The traditional church’s music overflows with rhyme and meter. In a very real way, my life is unfolding God’s poem for me. I am the poem, the thing being written and so are you. God is the poet.” – Steve (excerpted from the book “Lifestyle Worship”)
What’s Your Story?
God is crafting a marvelous story for each of our lives. Both Mike and I are actively pursuing our stories, we are in fact all in pursuit of God’s story for our individual lives. Mike’s music is making a statement and this statement is part of the ongoing story that God has planned for him. What is your story? What poems are in your heart? What is God doing in your life? What songs do you carry?
But the similarities between Mike and I go even deeper. Mike and I write about poems and lyrics written that are just waiting for a melody and we each claim Ephesians 2 as playing a significant role in inspiring our work (as does my brother who is a writer as well!). I quote Eph 2:10, my brother quotes Eph 2:6 and Mike quotes Eph 2:1. The strange thing is that I have never met Mike in person. We are FaceBook friends and we are brothers in faith, but one day, our great Creator will introduce us to one another, of this I am sure. At that point we can talk about the colorful songs we have carried throughout our earthly lives. I encourage you to read Ephesians 2 yourself and see if God inspires your story through it.
The Sharp Keys
The CD is well produced, sounding beautiful to my ear and uplifting to my soul. I would say that all of the music except one song is guitar-driven as opposed to piano-driven and my guess is that Mike likes the sharp keys – G, D, A and E. Some of the harmonies are so tight and sonorous that you might think they were sung by a brother and sister team.
Every Picture Tells a Story
The CD cover artwork is humble and introspective, using brownstone muddied tones that depict a man who loves worshipping his Savior, enjoys life and family, holds music in high regard, and as a fellow guitarist I can appreciate the fact that Mike is holding and playing his instrument in all six photos. Included with the CD are all the lyrics and a special message from Mike. I listened to all the music first, a few times, then read the lyrics and finally Mike’s message. After doing this, I was compelled to listen again and in more detail because his music just seems to invite the listener into his world and to appreciate all of God’s graces and majesty.
Mike’s lyrics are bit unusual, but I mean this in a good way. There are so many Christian songs coming out today that all seem to be saying the same thing – one giant amalgamation of praise. But Mike avoids the rote cliches with his unique phrases that will engage the listener and pull you into his message; which is a good thing for a song to do.
The Songs that Mike Carries
Here is a quick rundown of the songs:
- I Will Sing – The bridge will surprise you. Suffice it to say that John Newton’s most famous hymn fits in with the story of this song. Excellent electric guitar work as well; I loved the intro, the outro, the power chords, the riffs – the whole enchilada. This song was inspired by Psalm 89.
- My Own Best Friend – A very warm and heartfelt message that I think Mike is singing to one of his sons. Not a song that you would probably use in worship but priceless nonetheless. The bridge contains a particularly endearing plea. Thanks Mike! You blessed me through this piece.
- You Are – A good song to sing in corporate worship. The bridge uses a portion of Psalm 23 which is the kind of nice surprise that Mike tucks into his songs. The CD also includes a performance track of this arrangement for use in worship.
- Coming Soon – This song is epic! The lyrics portray a conversation between us in worship and Jesus. The chorus is bombastic and the vocals soar.
- In the Garden – Is Mike talking about Eden, or Gethsemane, or something entirely different? You must listen for a fresh take on “The Garden.”
- Worthy (All Glory to Your Name) – Another great song to sing in worship along with the provided accompaniment track. The inspiration for this piece was Revelation chapters 4 and 5.
- Climb the Mountain – This is Mike’s motto. He usually signs his name with it. When I first saw this I had no idea what he was referring to. I think that I now finally get it. The mountain is the pinnacle of our worship experience and we climb the mountain as we grow closer to God. Mike’s heart is to help to give you the best worship experience possible, and he does this through his music and the work of the Spirit. You can watch Mike tell the story behind this song here: https://youtu.be/eKIkb3qn8h4.
- Safely Home – Another touching arrangement from Father to son or daughter beautifully embellished by cello. This piece would be an amazing song to have a soloist sing at a Confirmation service. The Holy Spirit, I am quite sure, would see to it that there would not be a dry eye in the house. I just love the lyric where Mike turns things over to his child by saying “You’re older now, the pen is yours, you’ll write all new pages, the story now becomes your own new chapters without end.“
- At a Time – The only piano-driven arrangement in the collection. It’s a simple yet beautiful song encouraging us not to lean on our own understanding but to rely on our God for strength to get through those tough days. Talk about a sign from Heaven! – watch this – http://youtu.be/6fGLVN1yOPs.
It is obvious from this CD that Mike has a passion for sharing God’s word through music to children, teens and young adults that is fed by his own love for Christ and the work of the Spirit who is working powerfully in and through him. The Church is blessed to have a man, a musician, an artist, and a worshiper with this amount of passion towards this age group. I pray for much success to Mike in his efforts to reach the weak, the wavering and the lost through his music and that he continues to climb the mountain to see his unique story unfold.
To purchase the CD: ITunes or http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mikewestendorf4
For concerts and booking information: http://www.mikewestendorf.com
Well that’s my review! Now you can hear Mike talk about the CD in his own words here: https://youtu.be/bel5BbMMu18.
Climbing the mountain, carrying my songs & pursuing my story,
Author of “Lifestyle Worship” &
the voice behind the “Worship Ideas You Can Use” BLOG