Beyond Nature, Phil Keaggy, 1991

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The other day I was on Andrew Osenga’s blog, where the topic lately has been “Top Five” lists. Several years ago, I made a top five “Christian Albums of all Time” list. (For more on what an “album” is, go here.) My list has been revised over the years some, but not much. And it has always retained Rich Mullins’s Liturgy, Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band and Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature. Both albums hold their immovable place on my list for the same reason—from the first track to the last, they are perfect. If I were speaking in hyperbole here, I would tell you.

I am not. They are perfect.

This opinion, I recognize, requires a defense. For Beyond Nature, here goes.

Since this is an acoustic, instrumental record, some words on Phil as a guitarist are in order. If you’re familiar at all with Phil Keaggy, I don’t really need to mention that he’s a great guitar player. What does bear mentioning here, however, is that the acoustic guitar tells the truth about the one playing it. You cannot hide your imprecision or bad timing or flubbed notes. The acoustic guitar plays you as much as you play it.

So to hear Phil alone with his acoustic is something rare. And I mean that. If you are someone who enjoys being around to witness history unfolding before your eyes, do whatever you can to be in the same room with Phil Keaggy and his acoustic guitar, because his talent comes by maybe once a century…maybe.

Beyond Nature is Keaggy’s musical tribute to C.S. Lewis (which is why I thought it would find a friendly home here in Rabbit Room). The songs musically tramp you through Lewis’s Oxford England. You can almost feel the autumn wind on your face and smell the musty old earth beneath the fallen leaves as you walk through the dales.

Every note is played with a deliberate, knowing sense of what each song needs. It is a very mature work, and rounding out the soundscape with his guitar is a collection of strings, woodwinds and, when called for, even some triumphant brass. Stuart Duncan’s fiddle on “County Down” is especially brilliant.

I imagine this album is the kind of recording musicians rarely achieve more than once a career because it has an intangible quality that seems almost impossible to manufacture at will: seamless continuity from beginning to end. This seamlessness seems to “happen to” some records, but usually even the artist is surprised when it does. Well, it happened to Beyond Nature. And for this reason, it remains inspired and untouchable on my top five.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to the other fine works Keaggy has produced. Its just that for me, this record holds together in a way that doesn’t come along very often. I have never bothered to remember the names of the individual tracks which make up “Beyond Nature” because the thing holds together so well as a complete work that I’ve never really favored one track over another. This record feels more like a symphony than a collection of songs.

Beyond Nature washes over you. It is the sound of a virtuoso playing his best work, and keeping it up for a full 60 minutes.

And sadly, it is running out of print in a hurry. But I believe you can still get a hold of it at philkeaggy.com.

Thanks, Phil. It’s perfect.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


8 Comments

  1. b.j.

    one of the first times i recall meticulously dissecting the players in the liner notes was with this album. i was 14 years old, and my older brother had brought it home from college (i’m sure it was a cassette) and we listened to it. it was the first time i saw stuart duncan’s name, for example. this album was the window to a whole world which i have enjoyed ever since. i remember being absolutely fascinated by these people – they were so breathtakingly good and pure and sweet and emotive, and it was like nothing i had ever heard before. and it’s still so good – i added ‘county down’ to a mix CD just last week. so, basically, yes and amen.

  2. Billy Marsh

    I’m so glad that you listed Beyond Nature as a top five. I was just about to do a quick review of it also on my blog. This instrumental album is an incredible work. Keaggy moves through each track so effortlessly, yet so profoundly. You are right, albums like this one don’t come around but every once and awhile. I’m a seminary student, so I have a playlist of most of Keaggy’s instrumental albums lumped together and I listen to them while I write. I always look forward to Beyond Nature and often, when it is over, I will start it again. FYI, Keaggy is re-releasing his first ever instrumental album, The Master and Musician, which is also a landmark record, on his website at http://www.philkeaggy.com.

  3. Cody

    why would you waste your time with phil keaggy when just this very week we get new releases from both ricky martin and the spice girls……..keaggy…shmeaggy

  4. Tom Bubb

    Once again you’ve given me something new to look forward to so thanks for that Russ! I have not heard this album yet but now I’m excited to get my hands on it. Thanks!

  5. andy

    Phil did the accompaniment to a story by Calvin Miller called The marionette. Phil played as Calvin reads aloud. I have heard the instumental but never with Calvin reading. If anyone knows where to get that please let me know!

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