Reflecting the message of hope from the Psalms
Three small numbers with big meaning for kiwi gospel singer-songwriter Debbie Shepherd - 139 is the name of her sophomore release due to hit the shelves this November.
She explains her new contemporary gospel album and the events surrounding its making:
“139 [the album] was written and recorded between September 2010 and April 2011, during a challenging season for all of us.
“I am involved with the Hamilton Community Gospel Choir and we had the huge privilege of travelling to Samoa where we sang at the National Memorial Service in Apia on the first anniversary of the September 2009 tsunami.
“While in Samoa we witnessed first-hand the grief of families who had lost loved ones and heard the many stories of miraculous survival. Needless to say it was a moving experience. As we returned to New Zealand, Christchurch suffered its first earthquake. We like many have family and friends in Christchurch and then came the Queensland floods. It was a worrying time for everyone.
“We were in the studio writing through February when the second Christchurch earthquake struck and into in March when the devastating tsunami in Japan. I had one arm in a sling after shoulder surgery; my youngest daughter’s wedding preparation was in full swing - it was challenging times.
“But challenges are normal and ours were clearly minute compared to those affected by these tragedies; the brutality of natural disasters puts things in perspective pretty quickly. I was reminded of God’s sovereignty and that we can’t control what happens to us but we can control how we respond.
“I took the opportunity to rethink, reevaluate and relive the basics if my life and faith, and a number of song ideas on the album were conceived during that time and process.”
139 was co-written with a number of Kiwi artists including talented Hamilton writer/producer Regan McKinnon (The Porch Recording Studio), Tauranga break-though artist Luke Thompson (Here on the Ground), with contributions from musicians Chanelle Davis, Simon Hirst and multi-instrumentalist Sam Trenwith (Late 80s Mercedes, Radiator).
The contemporary gospel album was co-produced by McKinnon and Shepherd with 12 tracks ranging in style and pace and lyrics touching a variety of subjects around the central themes of hope and joy.
Opening track ‘Coming Home’ (McKinnon, Shepherd) reflects on the importance of being close to family while the upbeat ‘Faith Side’ (McKinnon, Shepherd - single) highlights Shepherd’s post-disaster reevaluation and when she “put feet to her faith”.
‘The Hope I Know’ (McKinnon, Shepherd) speaks about God’s faithfulness in life - in catastrophic disasters, family and whatever else life chooses to throw at us - and how those things are a “stepping place” to personal grow.
Guest artist Nick Kraenzlin joins Shepherd in the inspiring scripture-in-song duet ‘Everlasting Father’ (Thompson), a song of joy, hope and dedication.
“I named the album 139 because Psalm 139 so wonderfully sums up the message of all of these songs and my life’s journey with God and my family. Family is my heart. Like every family, we have plenty of challenges to work our way through and the learning during these times influences my writing.”
Turning the pages of an open book
Two weddings and two more grandchildren arriving since her last release Heartspeak and Shepherd says this album is like the next chapter in the telling of her life story. “It feels like turning the pages of my biography, parts of the story are looking back and some is looking forward.
“Psalm 139 talks about the hope we have for the future that comes about because of how intimately God knows and loves each of us. I am constantly encouraged by GodŐs provision, his reassuring presence and endless grace. No matter what the circumstance, there is always hope!”
The journey continues
Shepherd says she wants to ‘keep telling my story from the heart’, in the hope that others will benefit from it. “Life never ceases to surprise us all. What a challenging and privilege it has been to walk the journey so far”, says, Shepherd. “The future has beautiful hope and joy ahead for all of us, regardless of where we may be right now, and that is exciting.
“To listeners I want to say - I hope you enjoy this record as much as we have enjoyed making it, and I trust you will be blessed by the messages of hope and joy that you will find within it.”
God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too - your reassuring presence, coming and going.
(Psalm 139, v1-5, The Message).
About the Artist
Debbie Shepherd is a gospel artist based in Hamilton at the heart of New Zealand’s the thriving Waikato dairy region. Debbie is the founder of ‘Agora Goes Live’, a monthly performance café at the Agora Events Centre and is a regular worship leader at City Bible Church. She is a vocal trainer at Hamilton Christian School and a soloist with the Hamilton Community Gospel Choir who have performed in centers throughout New Zealand an overseas.
139 is released by Some One Up There Records, distributed in New Zealand by Pure Entertainment New Zealand Limited and is available from all good music stores, iTunes and at www.amplifier.co.nz.