Beauty and Prayer Shine through Alanna Boudreau
When browsing the charts of popular music — even Christian music — one doesn’t often find lyrics filled with the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins or songs inspired by the likes of C.S. Lewis or Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Alanna Boudreau incorporates all these in her genre-crossing repertoire of songs, deeply inspired by the Catholic imagination and profoundly sacramental.
Boudreau is a force of nature. Her voice stuns and stretches octaves as it croons lyrics about the Eucharist, the apostle Peter, penance and Confession, and even the devastating effects of pornography. The young artist is fearless as she moves from folk to jazz, from simple accompaniment to dancing orchestras. Even for those hesitant about “praise” music (in full honesty, I am not afraid to scream-sing some P&W when the setting is appropriate) Alanna Boudreau is an artist worth listening to and praying with.
Take, for example, “The Weight of Glory,” a track on the artist’s first album, inspired by C.S. Lewis’ sermon of the same title. Boudreau relies on simple strumming and quiet piano to accompany her as she swings into the chorus. There, she’s met with a trumpet line that seems to bounce as she sings: “When my Papa invites me to the seaside / Will I go or just fill myself with mud pies / ‘Cause I’ve dabbled in sin and folly / And in the things that subside / Why am I, I’m too easily satisfied.” The words are not Lewis’, but she manages to capture the tone and theme of the sermon. As Lewis explores our “longing for the transtemporal,” which we disguise and dismiss as “Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence” (“The Weight of Glory”), so Alanna remarks: “this feeling of nostalgia is a longing to get in.”
Later on the same album, Hints and Guesses, Boudreau’s vibrato meets Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Heart of the World. Her lyrics proclaim Christ’s constancy and incarnational love for the world: “Forgive me, forgive me, my one constant Lover,” she prays, “I’ve chosen far lesser loves over you.” A drum beats in step with a heartbeat as the song fades into silence demonstrating Balthasar’s “Heart of existence” (Heart of the World 36) — the Heart of God — that pulses at the world’s center.
Boudreau’s second album, Champion, is introspective and vulnerable as she explores the human person and our guarded hearts. Much of the album serves as a study of those guarded hearts and the relationships we enter into: with God, with a spouse, and within our families. As she proclaims in “Joseph,” “There’s no shame in being seen / there’s no shame in being needed / there’s no shame in being loved.”
“Petros” — a personal favorite of mine — takes its name from the apostle Peter, and explores the un-guarding of the heart of Simon, called Peter. The track holds the fullest sound on the record, and some stunning poetry: “Who is the greatest Lover?” She asks: “You said you are ‘I AM.’” With Peter, we’re invited to sing: “if I could give you just one tiny thing / it would be my whole life.” In our weakness and his, we plead: “Tell me once again, love, what you saw in me.” Champion is filled with these kinds of heart-shattering prayers, and they, in turn, invite listeners into deeper contemplation.
Goodbye Stranger is the artist’s most recent album, and in it, she’s stepped into her sound. The tracks are jazzy and experimental, boasting deep basses, dancing string orchestras, and sleek guitar. The particular sound she has crafted shines in “The Lord is Coming;” a cat-walk baseline almost clashes in a careful dance with Boudreau’s jazz melody as they sing of the coming of God with growing — and deeply scriptural — urgency: “The doors are open wide / Will you choose death or life?”
Boudreau’s gift for songwriting is evident throughout her portfolio, and she continues to come alive when she enters into conversation with the Catholic imagination more explicitly. On Goodbye Stranger, “What Bendrix Read” draws from Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Boudreau brings the novel to light in a new way: “If you are love, if you are good, teach me to behave as I should, / Hang me to bleed on the dry wood.”
No brief tour of Alanna Boudreau’s work could do justice to this incredibly talented singer and songwriter, and the deep faith that so clearly inspired her work. Though the artist has since drifted from the Church, the Catholic imagination — and the encounter with Christ it offers — is fully alive and well in her music.
In rolling melodies and softly sung refrains, one can find a voice for his or her own pleas, fears, hopes, and joys. In cascading jazz and powerful vibrato, there is a voice calling all who hear, too. As Boudreau sings in “Heart of the World,” so He sings to each of us: “in My eyes, you’re lovely / and nothing shall change the fact that you’re Mine.”
Maggie Garnett is a sophomore studying theology with minors in Constitutional Studies and ESS. She asks that you please listen to this artist, and even made a playlist for you! Find her standing in front of the Sacred Heart statue on God Quad, softly singing an Alanna Boudreau song, or at email@example.com.