Release Date: April 15th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Heaven Raining Down
- God Alone
- Holy, Holy
- Earth and Sky
- With Me
- We Sing Hallelujah
- God of the Miracle
- Something Greater
- Only You
- Kingdom Come
DREAM Records (or DREAM Label Group as they are rebranding themselves nowadays) have always been on the fringes relative to other major labels like Provident, Word, BEC Recordings, Tooth and Nail, Sparrow, Fair Trade Services and Inpop. No matter how many artists are signed to the label (in DREAM Records’ case, artists like Jonathan Thulin, Press Play, Summerlin, Loftland, Satellites and Sirens, Bread of Stone and Warr Acres), artists on this label are seemingly, whether intentional or not, outed in favour of other prominent artists, when it comes to radio airplay, popularity, and general marketing. Nevertheless, DREAM Label Group have been able to give us a label of dedicated artists, with Cindy Cruse Ratcliff, worship leader at Lakewood Church, being a part of the ever-growing label. With her latest album Heaven Raining Down an infusion of praise and worship, pop, dance, electronic and CCM music; Heaven Raining Down is a great gift to anyone who loves electronic worship music a la Warr Acres, or similar artists like Hillsong, Planetshakers or Jesus Culture. From the first radio single “God Alone” to the powerful Jonathan Thulin worship cover “We Sing Hallelujah”, Cindy’s first album on DREAM Records is nothing short of enjoyable and encouraging, and delivers, through its 10 tracks, a set of songs that are energetic and relatable to the 21st century culture we now live in.
First hearing this song during Jonathan Thulin’s acoustic set list when he and Charmaine came to my house in Sydney as part of an acoustic living room Australia tour, “We Sing Hallelujah” has to be one of my favourite Jonathan Thulin songs ever, which is why I was intrigued to say the least about this new rendition of the song by Cindy. A song that encourages us all to declare out our praises to the Lord, the piano riff at the beginning of the melody is a great way for an anthem to come into fruition as the chorus gives us a moment of declaration in the heartfelt words of how ‘…with our hands lifted high, we sing hallelujah, hallelujah, with our hearts open wide, we sing hallelujah, hallelujah…’ While not necessarily the most famous song by either Cindy or Jonathan, the publicity and growing popularity of DREAM Label Group as a whole, and the continual popularity of Jonathan and his music, is sure to translate into continual interest on this song, and hopefully translating towards this album as a whole and Cindy’s solo music. While the only cover on the album, “We Sing Hallelujah” feels just right on the album, and a great rendition of a song that’s certain to be a favourite worship song of mine in months and years to come.
“God Alone” is the first radio single on the album, is one of the most enjoyable worship/radio friendly songs since “My Lighthouse” by Rend Collective Experiment. With a powerful drum beat and enthusiastic guitars, Cindy invites us into the theme of us being free from the power of sin, and the poignancy of how ‘…God alone, God alone, in You we trust, free the world, free the world, You’re more than enough, God alone, no one else can love like You do…’ While the theme of the song is seemingly done on CCM time and time again (see “You are God Alone” by Phillips, Craig and Dean, or “To God Alone” by Aaron Shust), Cindy nevertheless uses a great array of musical instruments to deliver a vibrant first single, and one of my personal standouts (musically and lyrically) throughout the album. “Heaven Raining Down”, the first track on the album (and title track), is a song full of dance, electronic and a whole lot of joy as Cindy sings a melody that encourages God to send His love and the qualities of heaven to the Earth as we declare that God’s presence makes us want to ‘…dance, dance, and it makes me wanna shout, and it makes me wanna sing, sing, sing, all of heaven raining down…’ While some of the lyrics can be cliché, the song does have a great musicality to it to somehow look past the lyrics that some could deem as childish, lazy or the like. While I must admit that “Heaven Raining Down” compared to others doesn’t have the lyrical poignancy, the song’s lyrics are far from uninspired.
With a piano riff to bring to life the musically explosive “Earth and Sky”, Cindy brings forth a theme of unrepentant declaration of God’s glory and that the earth and sky above will lift high God’s name. Possibly one of the songs that seem familiar on the album, even though I know I hadn’t heard the song before, “Earth and Sky” is a call to declare God’s name above any other, and while at times it seems a little repetitive in the chorus and seemingly formulaic in structure (and thus alluding to the CCM vein to the point where some could say this song falls into the sameness that is plaguing artists like Casting Crowns or Chris Tomlin), the song in itself is one of the catchiest on the album. A tad under 3 minutes, “With Me” brings pop and electronic music to a new level compared to the remaining songs on the album, as Cindy presents a theme of God being with us and us following wherever God leads. A little lyrically simplistic at times as the chorus declares that we ought to move ‘…step by step, Lord You know I’ll follow, I will follow everywhere that You go…’, the song nevertheless does its best to craft up something different and unique, and with the added vocals of Planetshakers singer Joth Hunt, “With Me” is able to stand out, as we are reminded of God’s presence in us.
Throughout the rest of the album, Cindy continues to bring to the fore the forte of her worshipful music, complete with great pop and electronic undertones as the music brings a vibrant freshness alongside it as hopefully the songs are picked up and sung in churches in the months ahead. “God of the Miracle” encourages us to keep searching for the miracles in the form of healings as Cindy vibrantly proclaims in the chorus to ‘…let what’s dead come to life, let our hearts open wide, come make miracles out of brokenness…’, while “Holy, Holy” is one of the most poignant and emotive worship songs I’ve heard since Elevation Worship’s “Greater”. The heartfelt lyrics of how God is ‘…holy, holy, are You Jesus Lord God Almighty, saints and angels bow before You, all the ages declare You are worthy…’ ought to be one of the most enjoyable and impacting parts of the song. “Something Greater” continues on with the pop/dance theme as Cindy unveils a theme of us being set apart for something greater to be accomplished through the works we undertake and while at times the song seemingly sounds like it has had a bad case of ‘me’ complex (with the various nuances of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ flooding through the track), the song nevertheless does express gratitude and thanks to our Father, no matter how self-centred the song may seem (and I’m sure this was not Cindy’s intention for the song to seem).
With the album ending as great as it began, with two powerful melodies in “Only You” (a piano led ballad that declares that there is only God when everything else is swept away), and “Kingdom Come” (a prayerful melody that longs for God to send down His kingdom to refine us in our everyday lives); Cindy’s first album on DREAM Label Group is nothing short of interesting, unique, emotive, powerful and enjoyable as Heaven Raining Down becomes one of the albums of the year that took me by surprise. Entering this this listening experience without knowing anything about Cindy’s music (with the exception of the duet “Lovesick” on Warr Acres’s 2013 album Hope Will Rise), what the result indicated was a well-rounded album worthy to be enjoyed by fans of Cindy’s previous music, or similar artists like Jonathan Thulin or Warr Acres. With Cindy worshipping at one of America’s largest churches (Lakewood Church), her prominence and rising popularity of the label are sure to bring in more intrigued listeners. Well done Cindy for such a heartfelt album, and one of my April 2014 standouts.
3 songs to listen to: We Sing Hallelujah, Earth and Sky, Holy, Holy
RIYL: Jonathan Thulin, Charmaine, Warr Acres, Bread of Stone