Release Date: May 27th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Neon Intro
- My Beloved
- I Am
- Come Alive
- Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains)
- Come As You Are
- Hands of Love
- Jesus is Calling
- My Sweet Lord
- This I Know
- Ain’t No Grave
- You Are
- Here’s My Heart
- Steeple Outro
It’s odd to see David Crowder making music again without his band- to be honest, I thought that after the DC*B retired in 2012, I assumed that David would be done making music. Little did I know, what became of the DC*B’s breakup resulted in the popularity of both The Digital Age (with Mark Waldrop and Mike Dodson as co-lead singers) and Crowder’s solo music ministry. Nevertheless, when the band was together, they delivered some great music, from “O Praise Him”, “Open Skies”, “Here Is Our King” and “Everything Glorious”, to “Let Me Feel You Shine”, “No One Like You”, “After All (Holy)” and “Shadows”.
Now venturing on his own, Crowder brings to life the music we all know and love on Neon Steeple releasing next week in digital retailers (but can be streamed a week early on iTunes First Play)- fusing together the acoustic folk nature of his music of late, and the electronic beats and music undertones that have been creeping their way in the DC*B music towards the end of their own music career. Just like how artists like Martin Smith and Peter Furler made solo music work after Delirious? split and Peter left Newsboys respectively, Crowder, and especially this album, is certain to find the niche market- people who have enjoyed Crowder’s band music before, or if you enjoy a collision of Capital Kings meets All Sons and Daughters (whom ironically are touring alongside Crowder on the Neon Steeple Tour in September 2014).
Immediately when gazing through the track list, I can see a few standout tracks that Crowder has shown listeners in previous albums, either in live, acoustic or studio format. “I AM”, the first radio single from the album, released to radio stations in November 2013- and right from the get-go, Crowder utilises a whole other range of instruments (banjos, mandolins, electronic synths) to create a melody that gives us a unique way of infusing worship with instruments that are relevant and hopefully impacting to a generation who appreciates electronic music much more than their parents. With “I AM” (and frankly every song on Neon Steeple), Crowder relays to us a song etched out of poetic genius. Proclaiming the impacting words of how ‘…there’s no space where his love can’t reach, there’s no place where we can’t find peace, there’s no end to amazing grace…’; “I AM” gives us comfort that God, who is I AM, holds onto us regardless of our circumstances.
This theme is similarly expounded on in “Come As You Are” (both these melodies were representatives of Crowder on Passion 2014: Take It All), a melody in which the theme is directly shown through its very title. As Crowder calls us to lay our burdens down at the feet of Jesus as we come to the foot of the cross and unveil every part of who we are, we can listen to the heartfelt strings and light keys as “Come As You Are”, whilst one of the slowest songs on Neon Steeple, is in effect one of the most enjoyable and poignant. For listeners who could find it unsettling or even uncomfortable to come into God’s presence without believing that they have to clean their act up first; both “I AM” and “Come as You Are” unveil a theme of vulnerability and grace that runs through the album as a whole.
“Here’s My Heart”, “My Beloved” and “This I Know” are other standout tracks on the album that have seen either audio or video format prior to this album release- “My Beloved” was released as a live music video from Passion 2013, “Here’s My Heart” was an audio track on the corresponding Passion album, and “This I Know” was released as a bonus track on David Crowder*Band’s Best Of 2013 collection. Starting off with a light acoustic beat and a country twang in Crowder’s voice, we are presented with a ‘hymn-like’ song with powerful hand claps, light percussion and a children’s choir, as he describes his own convictions about what he believes about the gospel and how it is in the moment of the chorus where we cry out for God to ‘…take me up to where I was, where I never wanted more than You, lift me up to feel Your touch, it wouldn’t be that much for You, this I know…’ “My Beloved”, heavy on banjos, electronic keyboards, guitars and a southern gospel atmosphere, is a love song to our Father, as Crowder calls on his beloved to bring him awake, all the while paying homage to another melody the DC*B has been famous for, as he poignantly declares in the chorus- ‘…I see the light, I see the light, oh thank you God I see the light…’ A musically busy song to impact listeners with a fusion of acoustics and electronics, the song’s music may at times drown out the lyrics- nevertheless it is a great song that shows Crowder experimenting with something different.
Familiarity continues to come with “Here’s My Heart”, a heartfelt melody originally recorded on Passion 2013’s Let the Future Begin, and one of my favourite albums from that particular album, as well as Crowder’s solo material. Presented as a prayer to God as we lay down our hearts before Him, ‘Here’s My Heart’, though musically refrained compared to the overall country-acoustic-electronic musical theme on the album, is a gem amongst the songs. With a poignant chorus that reminds us all about our identity in that ‘…I am found, I am Yours, I am loved, I’m made pure, I have life, I can breathe, I am healed, I am free…’, while also showing us that ‘…You are strong, You are sure, You are life, You endure, You are good, always true, You are light, breaking through…’; Crowder has been able to deliver not just one of the best songs on the album, but throughout his career (both solo and with the band) as well.
Throughout the rest of the album, Crowder continues to break down the wall of acoustic and electronic music, as worship music is revolutionised to a whole new different level. “Come Alive” brings the banjo and marries it with hand claps, looping percussion and Crowder’s ethereal voice proclaiming that it is when we taste and see and have that experience with Christ that we come alive and declare His love, while “Hands of Love” introduces us to Nintendo and Gameboy sounds (possibly through the keytar) and a necessary theme for us to ponder and believe- that we are held by the hands of God- the same hands that made the world and gave the life of Christ as a ransom for the freedom and life of each person in all of humanity.
The most unique melody in terms of incorporating game console sounds that make me nostalgic about my childhood, Crowder’s hits keep coming, from the country-esque “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner”, a call for us to lift our heads because of the news of salvation that knocks on the door of our hearts (and one that could fit right at home musically on a show like Hart of Dixie or Nashville), and the 2 minute “Jesus Is Calling”, a song that encourages us that Christ is calling us if only we hear, to “Ain’t No Grave”, the first song to incorporate whistling into its array of layered musical instruments as the theme of conquering the grave is explored- that if we are in Christ, the physical death is not going to hold us down as we will ‘…rise, I will rise…ain’t no grave’s gonna hold me down…’
With Crowder also unveiling “You Are” before album ender “Here’s My Heart”, a upbeat anthem starting with a riveting banjo riff and a powerful drum beat that brings to life a moment of truth that shows us who God is- ‘…You are constant in my wandering, You are brighter than the dark in me, You are the Lord that sets me free, You are faithful…’, Neon Steeple is just one great worship song after the other. Standing at a great 14 tracks long, Crowder’s first solo studio album is a must if you are fans of DC*B, The Digital Age, or any artist from the Passion Conferences. One of the most progressive, experimental and encouraging worship music albums of the year so far, Crowder still continues to play his music in an era without the DC*B. Even if bands break up, their music can still impact, and Crowder has reminded us through the album that a band break up isn’t gonna hold him down- with this album giving us some of the best songs of his whole entire career so far!
3 songs to listen to: Here’s My Heart, Come As You Are, This I Know
RIYL: David Crowder Band, Passion, The Digital Age, All Sons and Daughters, Capital Kings