God created man — the divine love story. Then God said it was “not good for man to be alone” and created woman — the romantic love story. Then He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves — the human love story. Then Jesus became man and offered His life that love could be made full — the ultimate love story. And all of these drive Chris Rice’s late summer release, Amusing, a boundary-stretching carousel of love.

Rice isn’t shy, either, in writing about romance. He actually brings up a good head-scratcher: “Why don’t we [as Christians] write more about love?” he asks, wondering why good, old fashioned, epic love songs aren’t more of a staple on Christian radio. God created love, gives love and takes joy in the love story. So while the rest of the world sings primarily of matters of the heart, how is it that the Christian industry, which focuses so much on the gifts of God, so often side-steps one of His most engaging gifts?

So Rice cut the strings, dug into his heart and wrote from there, hoping to reach beyond the boundaries and write of love for the world, from the pen of a Christian man. While there are occasional hits of this sort in contemporary Christian music, the way Rice approaches it is simply different; he may have cracked open a new genre.

Nine years of steadfast acclamation behind him, Rice is still discovering anew, “I think I can do this.” Music wasn’t his childhood passion or lifelong goal, so while it might still feel like uncharted territory to him, it’s hard to miss the unique beauty in the composition. Amusing is some of his finest writing yet. The gospel images are evocative, his heart is laid bare and lyrics are as poetic as when he likened finding God to “trying to smell the color nine.”

“I was writing all these songs about falling in love and all the great concepts that entails, and as I started trying the songs out on friends, they all wanted to know whom it could possibly be about.” He smiles at this, but doesn’t even hint as to whether there is an answer to their curiosity.

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Though the theme is obviously love, love and love, that could reach different people in so many different ways. One of the fundamentals Rice hopes listeners take away from this album is also one of his most noticeable traits: “I’m an optimist. There’s an overarching contentment in where God is going and having faith in that. I’d like to encourage that sense and write songs that infuse a realistic optimism — that we wouldn’t just exist, but live, knowing the balance of ‘no matter what, in His hands, everything is going to be all right.'”

It’s an impossible sensation to escape on an album full of enigmatic levels of passion for love, living and longing for heaven. Even a simple song like “Sleepyhead Sun” delivers an impelling depiction of creation’s view of Calvary. “Lemonade” is a near-Shakespearean sonnet of a joyous, hopeful man. “When Did You Fall,” is terribly endearing. Legendary guitarist Duane Eddy graces the prologue to the unpredictably funky “Love Like Crazy.” “The Final Move” sounds most like a Rice ballad and encapsulates the overall emphasis of the album: that love is where it begins and ends.

The songs of Amusing can either make or break the heart. Beyond the piercing twists of phrase, the music is grander, more sweeping and cinematic. The instrumental festival on “The Best Song Ever” makes it just about that. “I See The Moon” pairs the nursery rhyme Rice learned from his mother with lush strings and a single added line that turns it into a prayer of longing. The stand-alone heartbreaker, though, is the musical daydream that becomes the title track. Filled equally with longing and knowing, it plays like a theme from the silver screen, at about the pace of a falling star.

Rice captures what it feels like to be human — to long for paradise but embrace the joys of life on God’s earth; to hope for the unimaginable and pursue it; to wait and dance in even just the dream of romance; to believe in love. He says in the album’s closing line, quite simply, “I find it all so amusing.” Copyright © 2004 Christian Music Planet, used with permission. Read more at ChristianMusicPlanet.com!