Art cannot be divorced from context, so it is the year of our Lord 2021 into which Charlie Peacock’s wonderful new album, Skin and Wind, enters and resides with its lovely melodies and poetic wisdom. It’s an important arrival, to be sure, given the artist’s posture and position in the world.
The context around Skin and Wind is as important as the work. This album is a mature musical release, a gift brimming with inspired observations gleaned from a life well-lived. That’s good news, since these are juvenile days. Peacock is an elder statesman, one who nurtures yet nudges us along with this 10-song set.
This might all sound a bit flowery, but Peacock’s fourteenth studio album is a remarkable achievement for a number of reasons. It’s rare for any artist to build a catalog so broad that it crests the youthful hills of love lost/gained. Most albums wrestle with the opponents we all face in our earlier periods of life—pushing back against inherited boundaries, exploring interests on our own terms, questioning long-held beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Those albums are needed. Those releases are necessary. We’ve all been there.
The problem is that context changes—or at least it should—but the art often does not. We’re intended to move beyond youthful concerns of what is black and white, in or out. We’re supposed to find our identity and settle into it. We’re meant to move from reactive to proactive. If we’re lucky, we find art to accompany us—or at times even lead us—down that path.
This album is a mature musical release, a gift brimming with inspired observations gleaned from a life well-lived.Matt Conner
It’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum, but suffice it to say, the context for Skin and Wind‘s arrival shows that we’re stuck. Our juvenile culture is filled with juvenile art and pointing fingers to shift blame is a juvenile exercise. Then along comes Skin and Wind with meditations and musings that summon us toward our better selves—both individual and collective. Peacock’s ruminations from farther down the path invite us to consider such things ourselves.
The album title itself, Skin and Wind, points us to the sustenance of the life-giving work of moving forward—the Holy Spirit at work in our flesh. “Skin and Wind is a Mind-Bend” opens the album, the thesis given up front: a body animated by the spirit, a fusion of the titular subjects, is beautiful and mysterious, frightening and majestic.
There is a wind, an untitled wind
A friend to every color of skin
A life-giving hurricane
A just and holy rain
It’s impossible to listen to these songs and not be struck by the rare space from which they’re sung. What other musician introduces himself like Peacock does on “Call It Destiny” when he sings, “Here I am a man of quiet demeanor / No more lust for spinning plates”? Youthful pursuits are behind him. His storied career, one filled with accolades and achievements from Grammy wins to smash songwriting hits, is well established. He’s now concerned with our own movements, as listeners, through those same portals. He’s an artist on the other side, hoping his own reflections and reminders will help keep the head up and heart strong.
On tracks like the acoustic “Sing It Blue,” the advice is heartening. After reminding the listener that “it’s all been decided, the history of love,” Peacock then beckons us all:
Lift your voices like sirens
Like echoes in the black night of the universe
Do your part to be a heart
That beats in time with the truth
And I will too, sing it blue
In other places, the guidance offered is harder to stomach, musically difficult truths spoken from a well of experience. On “Waiting is the Plan,” Peacock’s familiar analogies are deeply felt: “Boat adrift on the water / Wind at the stern, broken sail / Nowhere to go, leave or follow / Stay the course of nowhere now.” The adage that nobody prays for patience is true, yet avoidance is foolish. It takes an enlightened artist to remind us to lean into the unkown.
Later on in “The Captain,” Peacock admits “I’ve got the least amount of time that I’ve ever had” and vulnerably describes the tension of being “the captain” of a failing body—the honest side of skin and wind.
I’ve got the least amount of time that I’ve ever had
My heart is full, my mind is quick
My body wants to lay it down
I’m a riddle, I’m a puzzle, I’m a quandary all around
I’m the captain of a ship that’s going down
To be clear, Skin and Wind is not overly serious or downtrodden. Its arrangements range from jazz to pop and back again (with some wonderful Paul Simon-esque touchdowns thrown in periodicaly). Peacock celebrates love and life on several tracks such as the golden “Even When You’re Not” and “Never Be Another One,” while “24 Hour Parade” nods to Sly Stone and salutes the beauty of humanity (“We’re all drinkin’ the same wine / Need the same touch, same love”). Yet it’s also this latter track that reveals the album’s rudder. After listening to Skin and Wind, we can only hope to shed our childish skin and labor in the same direction:
I seek to live the righteous dream
So deep and wide and beautiful
All faith, this hope
Love first, let’s go
Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.