Provident Label Group
Release Date: March 2nd 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- My Feet Are On The Rock
- To The One
- How Far We’ve come
- No Impossible
- The Water (Meant For Me)
- Near To Me
- Crown Him
- Still Here
- Let Your Love Pour Out
3 years ago, in late January, an album of 10 songs released on Provident Label Group, of a 6-piece worship band that could have been a one album wonder. It’s not that I Am They’s album was a bad album- on the contrary, it was exceptional, in my opinion, one of my favourite worship albums of 2015. The band released hit singles “From The Day” and “Make A Way” as well as personal favourite songs of mine “Your Love Is Mine”, “King Of Love” and the Crowder cover “Here’s My Heart”, amongst others- and my brother Jon favourably reviewed the album, which you can view here. Yet right after the band’s label debut and subsequent popular singles, news of a sophomore album didn’t eventuate. There was radio silence, and I was left to wonder what happened. I mean, it was such a unique, inspiring and hopeful project; maybe the pressures of recording a second album living up to the expectations of the stellar debut project was too much for the band. I mean, there is such a thing as a ‘sophomore slump’…
Yet it turns out that I Am They, in the midst of recording their new album in 2016, went through a host of member changes for various reasons, with a couple of founding members (Adam Palmer, Stephanie Kulla) leaving and new personnel (Abbie Parker, Jon McConnell) coming in. But this did not halt their recording process. In 2016, a re-recorded version of “Make A Way” was released featuring Abbie on vocals, as well as their EP Resting Place only available on their website. Music videos of “Make A Way” and “No Longer Slaves” followed, but what was the first next step at the hint of another full length album was in early 2017, when a brand new single “Crown Him” was released (I personally thought that the song was extremely enjoyable and inspiring), featuring Jon on lead vocals. Now this year, it seems that I Am They are now ready to unveil to us their heart, in Trial & Triumph, an album that I believe will be one of my favourites of 2018- I reckon if you ask me at the end of this year if Trial & Triumph is part of my top 20 albums, I would probably say ‘yes’. With I Am They’s expertly and skilfully using all three vocalists singing together in perfect harmony (Abbie, Jon and Matthew), and each of the ten new original songs being led by a different vocalist (or sometimes 2 vocalists); I’d say Trial & Triumph is quite ingenious- with I Am They reminding me of Avalon in that way, which is a feat in and of itself.
“…Sometimes we lose sight of the eternal purposes our lives carry. We can get so worried about our own agendas and building a kingdom for ourselves that we forget that it’s really not about us or our kingdoms at all…Jesus wants us to come to Him before anything; to surrender and make Him king of our lives and He will always have our back. As people hear this song, we pray that they would be reminded that whatever it is we pour our lives into, it is meant to magnify and glorify God and crown Him as king over everything; our struggles, our burdens, our victories – even the songs we sing. May we live daily in His victory and for His glory…” “Crown Him”, a yearlong single, is the most recognised track on the album, and is more than worthy of being called a first single. With the song led by Jon McConnell, we are glimpsed into a declaratory modern hymn-in-the-making of sorts, as the band remind us that Jesus is worthy of our praise and we can ‘…crown Him, crown Him King of glory, crown Him, crown Him Lord of all…’. A worship song at heart, which was fitting to be released around Easter time last year, especially when we have more than enough reason to sing to God our praises because He rose from the grave; I reckon it’s only a matter of time that “Crown Him” finds its way to a Sunday morning church worship service near you in the future. Led by stirring acoustic guitar and vibrant keys, “Crown Him” hits the ground running in terms of lyrics, as Jon ardently cries out from the outset that everything we have is Jesus’, that ‘…it’s not my blood but His that stands in my defence, and oh what love is this that won the victory, He won the victory…’. Simple yet effective in their delivery, in my opinion I Am They have delivered a gem of a track, kudos to them for inspiring us with their heartfelt and worshipful melodies!
Prior to Trial & Triumph releasing this past week, four other promotional ‘singles’ released, each sung with a different vocalist(s) and each in a different tempo/musical genre. Is this the new Avalon we are seeing? “My Feet Are On The Rock” is a celebratory acoustic guitar and banjo led folksy 3 minute melody, led by Matthew (verses) and Abbie (chorus and bridge), as we are presented with a no-nonsense punchy declaration that our feet are on the rock that is Jesus, while Matthew and Abbie ardently reiterate that ‘…when I feel my hope about to break, I will cling to Your unchanging grace, let the waters come and the earth give way, I’ll be dancing in the rain, my feet are on the Rock…’.
“Scars” takes the celebratory mood, and flips it on its head though, and we are treated to a sombre, reflective piano led slow ballad, which is probably one of the most impacting, emotional and personal songs on the album. Exquisitely and near-flawlessly led by Jon on vocals, this radio friendly mid-tempo ballad, lyrically it could be a bit controversial (as Jon actually thanks God for his scars, asserting that ‘…without them I wouldn’t know Your heart…’; something that most people would think twice before actually thanking God for the ‘bad’ things in life!), yet by the time comes for the bridge, where Jon recounts ‘…I can see, I can see, how You delivered me, in Your hands, in Your feet, I found my victory…’, we realise that this is at heart a worship anthem to God, declaring that the struggles in our lives and the trials make us stronger, and make us better Christians and people. How can there be growth without God being there with us through the pain and the suffering? Though the concept can take a while getting used to, I Am They remind us gently through “Scars” to dwell upon who has brought us to where we are right now, as we ask the question of whether we’d be ourselves if we had no scars. Thought provoking yet hopeful, “Scars” will be on my rotation on iTunes for a very long time!
The final promotional singles are “No Impossible With You” and “The Water (Meant For Me)”. While the former is a CCM-esque inspirational and encouraging Rend Collective-like melody, led by Jon, outlining that nothing is impossible at all for God (subtly referencing David fighting Goliath and/or the 12 guys chosen by Moses checking out the Promised Land, and all but Joshua and Caleb being scared out of their minds because of the giants) and reassuring us that with God on our side, out adversaries aren’t as scary as we make them out to be; the latter features David Leonard of All Sons And Daughters on guest vocals, on a very All Sons And Daughters-like anthem, where Abbie takes the vocal lead and highlights the fact that whenever the water (hopeless situations) crash into our lives, Jesus steps right in, and ‘…He’s gonna rescue us…’. Refreshing, energetic and vibrant, “The Water” contains lots of imagery, as we worship along with I Am They, on one of the most reflective, contemplative, yet also engaging, absorbing and engrossing worshipful melodies this year!
With hand claps, heavy acoustic guitar strumming and commanding vocals from Jon (verses and bridge) and Abbie (chorus), “To The One” is a fast paced 3 minute pop and worship infusion and a fun ball of energy, as we fervently declare a song of praise ‘…to the One whose name is Healer, to the One who came to save, to the One whose love is stronger than the power of the grave…’; while the testimony themed guitar and piano led mid-tempo ballad “How Far We’ve Come” has Abbie channelling her inner Jenny Simmons vocally, delivering probably the strongest song on the album lyrically. As we are glimpsed a track of thankfulness and gratefulness, the question of whether we thank God enough for everything He’s done for us is subtly posed. In this song, we can sing along and thank God for being with us every step of our walk in Christianity, through the good times and the bad times; yet the hope is for us to do that consistently and constantly in our own lives once the music stops playing. Next on the track list is the subdued, mysterious, ethereal, angelic and slow paced piano worship ballad “Near To Me”, led perfectly on vocals by Abbie and Jon; and while this song didn’t connect with me on a level and previous melodies, there’s no doubting the passion here, and perhaps this track will grow on me in the near future.
“Still Here”, a seemingly run-of-the-mill reflective piano led ballad, is anything but, as Abbie earnestly and prayerfully highlights to us that even in the darkest of times, Jesus is still here with us, and is moving in ways we could never imagine. “Let Your Love Pour Out”, a fervent prayer of admission that all we need is God’s love to live and live well, ends Trial & Triumph, and is a great way to put a full stop on one of my favourite sophomore albums since Matthew West’s Into The Light way back in 2012. As Jon passionately cries out that ‘…everything I need, in You, I find, in You, I find, my Father’s love for me is better than life, is better than life…’, we are encouraged to seek what we want to find, in God, as He alone is our source of strength, comfort and refuge. Well done guys for a breathtaking, stellar, comforting and confronting album, full of twists and turns musically, but also filled with hopeful worship moments to our Lord and Saviour!
There’s something truly magical about an album when you hear it for the first time, and realise that it’s your favourite album of a particular genre (contemporary pop and worship!) in months, or maybe years. That’s definitely the case with I Am They’s Trial & Triumph– I could talk about this album for hours on end, but let’s just listen to the band create a near flawless project that can be a fan favourite and a force to be reckoned with for many, many years! I Am They’s newest offering hopefully will be what critics and listeners alike are listening to and recommending to their friends and family. As a debut album I Am They was top notch, but Trial & Triumph hast beaten that effort musically, lyrically and just overall production-wise. Well done guys, I can’t wait to hear more of what God has in store for you in the future!
3 songs to listen to: Scars, The Water (Meant For Me), Crown Him
RIYL: Love & The Outcome, Crowder, All Sons And Daughters, FFH, Avalon, Carrollton, Rend Collective