Sierra Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Sierra lyrics)
"Our lives are an ongoing story and we as characters bear witness to the Author. Only He can turn the page and bring meaning." - C.S. Lewis
As C.S. Lewis writes, we all have our own story - our own introductions, chapters, our own plots and prologues. With such diversity treading in and out of our lives, it's sometimes unfathomable that any of the characters wind up on the same page. Fortunately, that feat rests on the Author. It is He that takes our different stories, weaves them together and places them in the same tale to give it meaning. On their albums, Sierra, Devotion and Story of Life, as well as in their own lives, Sierra bears out that process.
Setting history by having had the best-selling debut release for the record label Star Song, numerous No. 1 songs, and having traveled the country performing with other industry greats, the members of Sierra have gathered the knowledge and experience needed to determine the direction of the next chapter.
Chapter One: The Music
Choosing guitarist and 1996 Grammy-winner Gordon Kennedy (co-writer of 1996's Song of the Year, "Change the World,") to produce the album was one of the first steps in this new musical chapter - one filled with live instrumentation, driving vocals, three-part harmony and acoustic guitar licks - all in all a scaled-down, somewhat ragged-edged, less "produced" sound than Sierra's two previous albums, Sierra and Devotion. "This is the sound we've been going after ever since we started. We've always wanted to be more acoustic-driven," says Wendi, founder of Sierra and one of the principal songwriters on Sierra's albums. "That's one reason why we chose Gordon. We knew his acoustic guitar background." All agree: Kennedy, who makes his producing debut on this album, did not disappoint. He even exceeded their expectations. "Gordon is very talented in the way a song should feel," Jennifer says. "He was also very creative vocally. He offered us new ideas and ways of harmonizing. Even the little things. He'd say, 'Try going up on this note' or he'd divide our vocals when our first instinct was to stay parallel. It was the attention to detail that made the difference." He is joined by top studio players, including drummer Steve Brewster, bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas, guitarist Jerry McPherson and keyboardist Blair Masters. They're in good company with other notables: PFR's Joel Hanson, Carolyn Arends, Jeff Silvey and Lowell Alexander all lending their songwriting prowess.
Chapter Two: The Songs
By this time, Wendi has probably gotten used to seeing "songwriter" by her name. She has written and/or co-written 20 of Sierra's songs. This album is no different. However, the song that comes to her mind when thinking about her favorites on Story of Life is "Broken Things." "The first time I heard this song four years ago, I started crying," Wendi recalls. "I just love the vulnerability of it. This lyric can reach believers and non-believers alike. I'd guess that 98 percent of our concert attendees are Christians, yet there's still two percent out there that aren't. We have an opportunity there that they could hear a song that says, 'No matter what you've done in your life, God loves you."
For Jennifer, Story of Life marks her songwriting debut - a process she describes as "fun" and "special." Co-written by Jennifer, Lowell Alexander and Jeff Silvey, the song, "Willing to Walk," is arguably the album's most progressive track. "I started trying to write with a lot of different people and I really developed a friendship with Lowell and Jeff," she explains. "We had a great time. It's probably the most aggressive track and if anyone's going to be scared away," she jokes, "that song will probably do it. It has a little U2-ish flare."
Vanessa, the newest of the close-knit crew (replacing Deborah Schnelle who departed the group to pursue other interests) elects "Story Of Life." as her favorite. It's the title track which boasts the talents of Gordon Kennedy who also enlisted Jerry McPherson and his "Change the World" co-writer Wayne Kirkpatrick. The acoustic-driven cut showcases Jennifer's gutsy alto and is best described as "big and live." As the album's opener, "Story of Life" sets the tone for the other nine songs.
Chapter Three: The Lives
For the past seven years, the members of Sierra have offered their music to hundreds of thousands of people as touring has become a way of life. Over the years, through letters and post-concert conversations with attendees, Sierra has seen and heard the fruit of singing about the gospel and loving others. Jennifer says: "People are wanting encouragement. I think that's part of what we're supposed to do is provide love and serve these people when we're out there."
Sometimes, however, the responsibilities are overwhelming: "We feel our ministry is to help these people," Wendi explains. For guidance, Sierra turned to Nashville Pastor Scotty Smith. For the past two years, the group has regularly met with Smith for counsel and accountability. "Pastor Scotty tells us, 'You don't always have all the answers but you do know who does.' That's what we have to tell them: 'If you're looking for an answer, it's found in the perfect love of Jesus Christ. If its appropriate, we encourage people to get Christian counseling." The members of Sierra understand firsthand the pain that often accompanies life. They have all confronted feelings of helplessness and inferiority. Wendi, now the mother of a son, Cooper, and daughter, Gatlin, coped with infertility for three-and-a-half years. Vanessa, the youngest member, struggles with fear. And Jennifer, struggles with self-confidence. As a result, compassion runs deep.
And so goes the story. With each new chapter, nothing is predictable, new characters and experiences are introduced. The only constant is the Author who, as He pens each page, knows.