Brian Doerksen releases first solo album in seven years
by Keri Vermeulen
His laughter breaks through the warm living room like a fresh surprise on an otherwise regular, early autumn afternoon in the Fraser Valley. It’s completely unexpected – and kind of contagious. The joyful bellow comes from multiple award-winning Christian singer-songwriter Brian Doerksen, known to thousands of fans for his worship songs that unreservedly connect with the pain and brokenness of human life. Many of his well-known faith songs are beautifully woven together with a thread of lament to God. Acknowledging this kind of pain in Christian singing and song writing is perhaps why so many other Jesus-followers connect with Doersken’s music, and have been singing along at home and in churches for decades now. And maybe it’s at least partly why the man behind songs such as “Faithful One”, “Refiner’s Fire”, and “The River” has been awarded over a dozen Covenant Awards (including a lifetime achievement award in 2014), a Juno Award for the album Holy God (2008) and is the second Canadian to be awarded a Gospel Music Association Dove Award.
More recently, the prolific songwriter has been quietly known for a painful period of wordlessness. After a devastating relational breakdown in his faith community, Doerksen entered a five-year “winter” in which, he says, he lost his words. The infilling of relatable, tangible lyrics once so familiar to him had stopped, completely. A long, wordless winter set in. Over the last few years, partly as a way of navigating that painful time, Doerksen joined with his friends Brian Theissen, Teresa Trask and Calum Rees to form the Shiyr Poets, a band that has put a beautifully layered, folk-rock setting to a few dozen of the Psalms. The wounded, yet faithful cries of an imperfect man, those ancient songs seemed a perfect fit for Doerksen.
And now? Joy. Relief. And at last, a new album, Grateful. Along with genuine laughter and hands gesturing with enthusiasm, Doerksen is, on this sunny day, like a kid with a brand new gift he wants to share. The wordless winter has passed. The relief in his new album is tangible – and the gratitude unmistakable. In fact, the opening two songs, “Grateful for Another Day” and “The World Turns” burst with the kind of thankfulness that fuels the good fight in all of us. These songs have some seriously good kick. Listening to them, you can’t help but smile and want to throw a victory fist in the air.
“This gratefulness takes tenacity to grab onto it and say, ‘What am I grateful for today?’” Doerksen shares. “Because it’s not all going to just land in your lap. Because you know in yourself you’ve made mistakes, you know in yourself you’re imperfect.”
“Grateful for Another Day” is a fantastically relatable connection to the place of being thankful. There is a sense of fresh light, of morning, but true to Doerksen’s gift for acknowledging struggle, the song resonates with gritty, bluesy notes that hint it wasn’t easy to get to this grateful place. ‘A day to stop complaining/A day to start reclaiming/A day to trust that God will see us through.’
“I think actually the opening two songs on the album, “Grateful for Another Day” and “The World Turns” are meant to be this kind of pair of ‘we’re coming out of the winter, we’re into spring’,” Doerksen says, relaying the story of how he and his wife of more than 30 years, Joyce Doerksen, journeyed out of the winter together. Staying in Arizona last March, Doerksen would pull out his guitar every morning and the couple would start the day by singing “Grateful for Another Day”. Joyce would ask to sing it again. “It was like she just needed to hear it. And then one of the mornings, we had finished singing that and I was looking out at the desert, and it was just after sunrise, and it just came out of me ‘The world turns towards the Son to be reborn.’ You recognize in the natural world, we are so completely dependent upon the sun for life. I mean what a metaphor, and what a reality. This sense that the physical sun and the Son of God is where our life comes from.”
The album Grateful, which will be released Oct. 27, first sprouted in Doerksen’s heart about two and a half years ago, when his five-year wordless winter broke with the writing of “Scars on His Hands”. The song came after hearing his friend and pastor, Joyce Rees, share a message in which she talked about the scars on Jesus’ hands. It struck Doerksen afresh that Jesus is acquainted with our grief. He writes: ‘My King is acquainted with grief/ he won’t recoil when in sorrow I weep/ my King is acquainted with grief.’ While the song undoubtedly relates to sadness, Doerksen called it his “little green sprout” because he knew his heart was coming back again. And that vulnerable, hopeful sprout shoots up throughout the songs of Grateful, even represented in the cover art, a photo of a tiny oak sapling, soil clinging to its tender roots. The baby tree, which Doersksen calls ‘Little Grateful’ now lives safely potted in a blue ceramic container on his Abbotsford home’s brightly flowered back patio.
“Little Grateful evokes story – the fact that it’s been transplanted from somewhere and now it’s on this journey, on its way somewhere else,” says Doerksen, who is Director of Worship and Music Arts at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta (he splits his time between there and his home in Abbotsford).
With his new album beautifully, willfully pushing past the winter, Doerksen acknowledges more seasonal changes are inevitable. “It’s springtime that acknowledges a bit of the hard journey. I’m just a guy who writes simple songs from the heart about love, about pain and about hope. And it starts with just saying ‘thank you.’”
Join Brian Doerksen and special guests, in concert, Saturday, November 11, celebrating the release of Grateful, his first solo release in seven years, at an intimate album release concert at Church in the Valley. For tickets, visit www.eventbrite.ca/e/brian-doerksen-album-release-concert-tickets-37113152438 or call House of James at (604) 852-3701.