(CD - Mar 2006)
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Parable recommended!

My Salvation - acoustic (Real)


Partake of the fruit of Shawn McDonald’s labor. RIPEN is a delicious collection of songs you’re sure to enjoy, including the first single, Free.


  • SKU: 0094631156922
  • UPC: 094631156922
  • Title: Ripen
  • Qty Remaining Online: 2
  • Publisher: Sparrow Records
  • Release Date: Mar 07, 2006
  • Format: Album
  • Media: Compact Disc
  • Music Categories: Contemporary/Pop, Adult Contemporary
  • Weight lbs: 0.21
  • Dimensions: 4.98" L x 6.38" W x 0.39" H
  • Features: Lyrics Included, Price on Product
  • Category: CONTEMPORARY
  • Subject: Christian - Contemporary


Rebel With a Cause
By: Christa A. Banister

After the success of his debut Simply Nothing (Sparrow), Seattle-based singer/songwriter Shawn McDonald could’ve easily adopted the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality for his sophomore album, Ripen. But for McDonald, that wouldn’t have been nearly challenging or rewarding enough in the long run.

Soft-spoken, sincere and even a little shy in the spotlight, Shawn McDonald hardly seems the rebellious type. But that’s exactly how he describes his attitude about making his second studio disc, Ripen (Sparrow). “I think I got a little risky this time,” he says by phone from Ashland, Ore., where he’s playing a show later this particular Monday evening. “I guess I’m a rebel in the sense that if people expect something from me, I’ll naturally go a different way.”

While he’s quick to admit he’s not into switching things for shock value’s sake, McDonald does know that fans might be a little surprised by the lack of blatant pop songs on Ripen. “With this record, I think a lot of kids are like, ‘Where are the songs like ‘Take My Hand’ and ‘Gravity?’’” he confesses. “Basically, they aren’t here. They will probably show up again on future records, but coming into this record, I was like, ‘You know, it’s not about writing catchy pop songs. It’s about moving the heart.’ So I tried to make a record that was genuine, about who I am and what I wanted to say. And I believe and pray that, if people take the time with these songs, God will use them to draw people closer to Him.”

Slow Train Coming
When writing songs for Ripen, McDonald is the first to admit that he was a little intimidated by the process. Before he signed with Sparrow Records and released Simply Nothing, McDonald had several years, rather than several months, to craft his material. With Ripen, however, he was on a much tighter schedule. “I definitely had to be a little more intentional and serious about my writing this time,” he says. “But that was a good thing ultimately because it really stretched me.”

And it doesn’t hurt, either, that he had some spectacular scenery to be inspired by as he wrote about a third of the tracks (including Ripen’s moody, heaven-minded opener, “I Want to Be Ready”) on a train ride from Germany to France. “Basically, any time I would think of a topic I’d want to write about, I would just open up a new Word document on my computer and write. Then any time I’d get stumped, I’d just move on to the next one. Some songs were finished, some weren’t,” McDonald relays. “I was going through a really emotional period. I was passing some really incredible history—some old, old buildings, cathedrals and countrysides. I think I was overwhelmed because it was all so moving. Many of the songs were inspired during that time. Ultimately, Europe is such a different place than America, so enchanting.”

Tying the songs of Ripen together are three interludes that showcase more of an experimental side of McDonald, whether it’s the free-style rap of “Ramblings of a Beggar,” the Revelation-inspired “The Rider on the White Horse” or the entrancing beats of “Imago.” And stirring the pot up musically is something that McDonald aspired to do on Ripen with the acquisition of several new musical instruments—an Indonesian Timor guitar, a broken piano he picked up at a Seattle thrift store and several others he found at flea markets and, of course, on eBay. “That’s part of making music; you can make music with anything. You could hit on the arm of a chair with sticks and get the kind of drum sound you like,” McDonald says. “We really wanted something that wasn’t typical for a studio recording and would also be really fun to play live.”

He describes Ripen as “a journey over hills, down valleys and to new experiences.” And for the optimum listening experience, it’s also a project that’s meant to be enjoyed from start to finish. Yes, Ripen is an anomaly in the iPod generation where singles are often cherry-picked and downloaded without much regard for the rest of the disc. Fans know they’d be missing out to take such an approach with McDonald’s work. Consider their response when Ripen released in March. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Christian retail chart and at No. 2 on Billboard’s Heatseeker chart, selling more than 9,300 copies its first week out.

So what is it about McDonald’s music that sets him apart from the pack, that connects so deeply with audiences? “He’s doing something that other people aren’t doing,” says fellow recording artist Bebo Norman. “Shawn doesn’t sound like anybody else; and that, to me, is always a breath of fresh air. He’s one of the most talented and creative artists in Christian music. Artistically, I have more respect for him than I know what to do with.”

Norman is also quick to point to the influence McDonald has had on him. “On a personal level, I just valued my time with him when we were on tour,” he says. “I walked away from that looking at things differently—in a good way, and in a healthy way. Shawn gave me a different perspective on what he was trying to pursue and what I should try to pursue, even, in music.”

It comes as no surprise that a Shawn McDonald recording is going to reflect deeply on the artist’s personal life. “God is growing me up, which is why the album is called Ripen,” McDonald explains. “I don’t feel like the same person I was five years ago. And rightly so—I shouldn’t be. I’m walking with God, and He’s teaching me new things. My vision, my heart, all these things are being molded to be more like Christ. This is a journey, and I want people to come along with me. Let’s learn; let’s grow; and let’s do this together.”

Also providing McDonald a new perspective on life and music is his recent marriage to Kate that’s just hit the nine-month mark. “Marriage has made me have to learn to be a man—to buck up and lead. I think it’s taught me a lot of leadership and really stretched my compassion level, just my love in general for people,” he says. “Marriage is hard. It’s hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I can honestly say that I think our first year is going to be one of our hardest. I’m on the road all the time, and on top of that, there’s the fact that I’m on a stage and get a lot of attention. But even though it’s been kind of a rough first year, we’re making it through. And it’s good; and it just keeps getting better. But I think it’s really crazy, the part that God has really softened my heart. I don’t know that I saw that coming.”

And in a superficial world, it’s transparency like this that’s really the most rebellious—and equally refreshing—thing about McDonald, a quality the likes of James Dean probably wished he’d had a little more of.

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Ripe for the picking

Following a critically acclaimed debut and a bold “live” second record, acoustic alternative worship wunderkind Shawn McDonald returns with Ripen, his third and strongest release yet.

On Ripen, McDonald stays true to his plaintive, searching lyrical style and his acoustic-driven arrangements. The operational principle for the artist and producers Christopher Stevens and Will Hunt seems to be intimacy. From the close-mike recording of his voice (so close it sounds at times like the microphone was actually inside McDonald’s mouth), to the soul-bearing and confessional lyrics, the record breaks right through the barrier between music and listener. Rich layers of cello, violin, viola and bass create a warm and rich backdrop for the acoustic guitar; and oddly effective loops and percussion programming add pop and drive to the songs. Though shades of John Mayer or David Gray will no doubt be heard by some, by incorporating the live strings (often playing more like sound effects than a string section), haunting melodies and McDonald’s throaty vocals, a truly unique sound emerges.

Odd loops and imaginative string arrangements pervade the entire disc, adding wonderful color to the already strong songs. Steel guitar, accordion and hand percussion are enough to make the worship ballad “Pour Out” stand out as one of the most beautiful songs on the disc, while “Imago” offers a brightly colored Latin instrumental interlude. “Take Hold” uses cello and viola to create suspensions and resolutions that combine with perfect melodies and turn a relatively plain and predictable chorus lyric, “Take hold/Don’t give up/You got to make the best of what you got/ Give it all your best shot,” into one of the high points of the disc.

With over 15 songs and more than an hour of playing time, Shawn McDonald weaves a fabric of music that functions as devotional art on one level and just plain beautiful music on another. Dark, often melancholy, but ultimately uplifting in a very “real world” way, Ripen proves that McDonald is a creative force to be reckoned with.


Heart of the Artist

“So here I am on a stage, and I don’t know why. I’m deathly afraid of being in front of people. When I started playing my songs in front of people five years ago, my knees would shake because I was so freaked out. If I tried to talk I would start crying. So the only thing I could do was sing.”

“But God met me in the middle of my weakness and fear. He said, ‘This is the life I have for you, this is where you’re going,’ and I said, ‘Okay God, my life is Yours. Let’s go.’ So here I am.”

Six years could be a lifetime if you’re Sparrow Recording artist Shawn McDonald. Six years ago he hadn’t recorded his genre-bending soulish-folk debut, Simply Nothing. He hadn’t had labels like Columbia and Java Records knocking at his door. In fact, six years ago, Shawn McDonald didn’t even play a lick of guitar. He had never taken the stage in a club or a coffee house. He had yet to write his first song.

Truth is, six years ago Shawn McDonald was just a desperate, lost kid in Eugene, Oregon, who grew up too quickly without his parents in his life, and who was now full of rage, and staring down the barrel of nine felony charges for possessing, growing, manufacturing and dealing marijuana, LSD, crank and a host of other controlled substances.

Not that you’d ever guess.

“I can’t communicate how crazy I was,” Shawn says. “Who I was then and who I am now is like night and day. You name the drug and I was selling it and doing it. I was a confused kid, and my confusion boiled up into bitterness and anger. My life had become a hard, closed shell. I was extremely rebellious, miserable, and lost. What God has done in my life in the last six years is amazing.”

Shawn was once notorious for the trouble he caused. He was the kind of kid most people had written off as hopeless. Nowadays he’s recognized instead for his ingratiating and disarming transparency and for his sparse, eloquent, laid-back musical stylings. Shawn’s story is a moving testimony of abandonment, despair, hope and redemption. His songs are a sophisticated blend of organic instrumentation, such as nylon guitar, cello, violin, and harp, mixed with hip-hop sensibilities and a passionate flowing lyric.

Expressing his insatiable hunger and thirst for God, the lyrics on albums reveal a personal maturity of belief that prefers a hard truth over a feel-good lie. Shawn consistently refuses the easy way out in life, art, or theology. Instead, hope, redemption and worship are discovered in the context of real searching, struggling, questioning, and pain.

“Honesty is huge,” Shawn explains. “That’s what I think people connect with in my concerts. I get up there and I talk about my life and my struggles and my experiences, good and bad. I sing and talk about it all. I talk about the grime of life. I can’t understand a version of Christianity that would deny all that. How can we have a true picture of what grace is if we don’t admit our own sin and brokenness?”

“The theme that comes across the most in my songs is my need of God,” Shawn says. “The older I get the more I’m realizing how imperfect I am and how much I fall short. My songs just continually come back to this deep need of something more, which is God. I can’t get away from the fact that we need more than ourselves.”

The turning point in Shawn’s own life came after his second bust on drug-related charges. With nine felony counts hanging over his head, he knew that life was crashing down around him. He tried in vain to find spiritual answers in Rastafarianism, Hinduism, and meditation.

At the lowest point of his life, Shawn finally offered up a desperate prayer: “God, I don’t know who You are or where You are, but I need to find You. Whoever You are, show Yourself to me. Show me a sign.”

Pulling out an old Bible, Shawn stuck his finger in and began reading. As he read a passage from Matthew, he sensed that God was warning him to clean the drugs out of his life, and that the police could be coming back. Shawn immediately got rid of everything. One day later the police arrived with a search warrant. Shawn was convinced that God had indeed spoken to him. In thanks, he began to worship, and as he did so, Shawn had a personal encounter with the Spirit of God that permanently changed the direction of his heart and life.

“I did a 180 and started running in the other direction,” Shawn remembers. “For the next three years my hunger for God was out of control. I couldn’t get enough. I spent most of my time studying the Bible and reading every book about God I could get my hands on. In the midst of all that I started writing my own worship songs. People around me encouraged me, I started getting invitations to play different places, and it just grew from there. Music wasn’t something I ever dreamed of doing. But it was the plan God had for me.”

Perhaps it’s Shawn’s obvious lack of star struck pretensions that makes listeners so immediately comfortable during his live shows. Rather than viewing his concerts as performances, Shawn casts them in the context of relationship.

“When I share my songs and say things live,” he says, “I see it as a conversation that just happens to be taking place on a stage. You can’t plan a conversation, it just happens. There’s give and take on both sides. I don’t have a song list or a set of things I say every night. Each show is different. I play and say whatever comes into my head. I want it to be an experience, not a performance.”

The live experience Shawn facilitates has shown a surprising resonance with Believers and unbelievers alike. Despite the overt presence of worship and testimony in his concerts, the bulk of Shawn’s current audience is still a crowd who wouldn’t identify themselves as followers of Christ.

“I always tell my testimony,” Shawn explains. “I just put it out there. The crazy thing I’ve found is that if you’re willing to be really real and honest, people are willing to listen. So I can tell them about the drug lifestyle I came from and I can tell them about my redemption in Christ. The world can relate to me because I can relate to them. I’ve been there and done that. The church relates to me too, because I’ve met the God they’re serving and my life has been changed by Him. Paul said, ‘to the Jew I become a Jew and to the Gentile I become a Gentile.’ I think he was saying that he sought out ways to connect on a real level with people in different cultural contexts. I want to be like that. I want to listen to people so I can know where they’re coming from. I want to learn how to communicate in a way that connects with people, moves them, and changes them. “

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