Provident Label Group / Reunion Records
Release Date: February 14th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Brand New
- What If
- Walking Miracles
- The God Who Stays
- Grace Upon Grace
- Not Today
- Why I Make Christian Music
- Love on the Radio
- Truth Be Told
- The Me You Made
- Looking Up
- Without You
- Too Young Too Soon
- Hope Returns
- The Man Who Needed Grace
Matthew West, dare I say it, is perhaps the closest there is to a modern day version of Steven Curtis Chapman. That’s my opinion- others may disagree, and that’s fine. But for me, ever since Matthew has undertaken what I reckon is one of the most selfless acts in CCM- writing music not based on your own experience but based upon others- fans to be exact; I’ve had much more admiration and respect for what he’s doing, something that I reckon the CCM community of music should decide to invest in moving forward- writing songs, not just on the experiences of the writer (that can happen too), but rather, place their own feelings and what they could think, in someone else’s head for a moment, and write from their point of view. For if that were to happen, there’d me much more humility, and less rash judgements- and where I see the most judgements from is yes, the CCM community. So for Matthew to write not for himself but for others is refreshing to see. He’s built most of his career- 2010 onward, on this structure, and as he’s entering his new season on Provident Label Group, we see him release his latest collection of songs in an album bundle called Brand New, that released to digital retailers in February 2020. Whether he’s singing about himself or a person he knows, the songs on this brand-new album (no pun intended) has been some of the most refreshing songs I’ve heard from Matthew, and stands tall with other album All In and Into the Light as my favourite Matthew West albums ever!
Partnering with his own imprint label, Story House Collective, Provident Label Group released ‘The God Who Stays’, Matthew’s first single from Brand New in July 2019. A song that is as vulnerable as they come, we are reminded that even if everyone else walks away from our circumstances we are in, God never does- He still stays. He may not change what is going to happen, or He may not heal a broken ___, whatever the reason; but He does stay with us; and walks with us through whatever we’re facing. Just because God doesn’t fix the problem doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us- He just may know more about the whole big picture than we know at the moment, and maybe, just maybe, what we’re going through, no matter how dark it may be, will allow us to have a greater more humble spirit at the end of it all. We may become more resilient, care about people more, rely more on God for things, and just be a better person, because of hardship. Sure, God does take things away, and He does heal people. But even if He doesn’t, He is still worthy of our praise and affection. Though the problem may stay, that doesn’t mean He has gone- He’s right there, we maybe are just too focused on the here and now to see it! ‘What If’ is another song released prior to Brand New releasing in February- in September 2019, Matthew dropped a promotional single in ‘What If’, and back then when I didn’t know that both these two songs were on the same album, I wrote, and I quote ‘…while Matthew hasn’t released anything new since his 2017 album All In, maybe both ‘The God Who Stays’ and ‘What If’ are songs from his new album, and if that is the case, then a very poignant and heartfelt album it will be…’ And indeed, ‘What If’ is as poignant as ever. The song itself is a powerful reminder of not having regrets before the time here on earth has ended- and with motifs and metaphors that harken back to Back to the Future (arguably one of my favourite trilogy movies ever!), Matthew timely gives us a reality check in the chorus as we’re confronted with the lines that ‘…what if today’s the only day I’ve got, I don’t wanna waste it if it’s my last shot, no regrets in the end, I wanna know I got no what if’s…’ Sobering, right? We all have a finite amount of time here on earth, before we are either in heaven or hell. Our time here as we know it is limited, and so the saying ‘no regrets’ definitely applies here. For to have regrets means to have resentment, bitterness, anxiety, worry, lament and wishing upon the good ol’ days, things that are most certainly not healthy for us. A reminder to seize the day (or in latin, carpe diem) and to make the most of the days we have while we still have them, this fun-filled emotional song is one of my favourite’s on Matthew’s new album Brand New.
‘Truth Be Told’, ‘Walkin’ Miracles’, ‘Grace Upon Grace’ and title track ‘Brand New’ all dropped digitally (in a EP bundle titled Grace Upon Grace – EP) prior to Brand New, and just like ‘What If’ and ‘The God Who Stays’, we’re reminded of how talented and authentic Matthew’s music is. ‘Truth Be Told’ is a sobering account, asking the reason why we say that we’re ‘fine’ to everyone we meet, even if we’re not. In Matthew’s own words in a post on Instagram, we see that ‘…this song is an honest attempt by me to be, well, honest. Authenticity is easier said than lived. I think deep down we all like the idea of showing who we really are, warts and all, to the world. But allowing others to see the rough-around-our-edges, is a scary thing. What will people think? How will they judge me when they know I’m anything but perfect? The crazy thing is, the truth is already told when it comes to God. Scripture says nothing in our lives is hidden from Him. For someone who hasn’t discovered the freedom of grace, the thought of a God knowing about the worst parts of your life can really freak you out. But to understand that there is a God that sees every secret sin, every struggle, every thought, every mistake, and loves you still- that is a freedom like no other…’ ‘Walking Miracles’ speaks of the miracles that we see day to day in the eyes of people whose lives have been changed over the course of a certain amount of time- inspired to impact the world around them and be the underground ‘heroes’ that just keep plugging through and do what they do- without any recognition or praise. ‘Walking Miracles’ speak of people who defy everything that has been said of them in the past to show people that God can and does deliver miracles at the 11th hour and remind us of His providence, even during moments where it may seem near impossible for such turn-arounds to occur. I guess for me personally, I am a walking miracle (more on my personal story later on in a blog in the future!).
‘Brand New’, the album’s title track, speaks of the autobiographical experience of Matthew’s childhood and how he accepted Christ has his Lord and Saviour when he was 13, and how often at times, when we grow up, the innocence and wonder that we have as children gets lost and replaced by a cynicism and scepticalness that comes with looking at the world through pessimistic and often realistic glasses. ‘Brand New’ longs for us listeners, us Christians and to a wider extent, us humans, to get back to the innocence of childhood, to look through children’s eyes on issues great and humungous and understand that to be like a child is to rid ourselves of all the worry that comes from moving into adulthood. God makes us brand new, and hopefully such a song can give us the comfort in knowing that if God can make even the unlikeliest of people move from hating to loving and championing, in the person of Paul in the bible, then our situations are not far out of reach for our big God. ‘Grace Upon Grace’ is the final song released prior to the album, and is the ‘title’ track of this EP, and speaks of the importance of the concept of grace, and the understanding that we all need it on a daily basis, often to survive. Grace is a gift, and we do nothing to earn it. God gives through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and all we can do is just accept that He’s done it for us and we don’t have to do a thing. ‘Grace Upon Grace’ also harkens back to the days of the hymns, and adds in the chorus of ‘Nothing But The Blood’ as the bridge to this song, as we’re reminded that often, the older hymn songs are still relevant and needed today as they were back when these songs were written and popular.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Matthew impart to us a myriad of themes that remind the listener of who they are in Christ and that they are a new creation, brand new without the worries of condemnation and uncertainty hanging over their heads. The album itself is a reminder of our slate washed clean by Christ, and individual songs play into certain different aspects of the same overarching theme that Matthew has employed not only in this album but in various albums previously. ‘Not Today’ is quite possibly the most CCM track Matthew has recorded in recent memory, and serves as a timely reminder that the hold that sin and death and the devil has on us, the shame, guilt and condemnation that we may feel, often on a daily basis, has been overridden with the grace of God, and that the hold of sin has no more grip on us, now and into eternity. As said by Matthew in the lyrics, ‘…I listened to you yesterday, now I need you to hear me say, not today, the father or lies will not have his way, yesterday guilt had me digging my own grave, sin had the final say but not today…’ The ‘song’ ‘Why I Make Christian Music’ alongside its counterpart ‘Love on the Radio’ both make the statement as to why Matthew is still involved in Christian music and singing about Christ all this time, as he reminds us all that he can only sing about what he believes in, and that is the changing power of God’s love in people’s lives. Yes, I’m sure Matthew would’ve reached more people if he did sing in the mainstream industry, and did go the route of Switchfoot, needtobreathe and Skillet, but Matthew is called to the Christian industry, and there’s nothing wrong with that. ‘The Me You Made’ speaks about all the insecurities one may have with their physical appearance, or even insecurities about job settings and how a house looks like and what figure of finances is acquired, and then the song says that ‘…I don’t wanna spend my life wishing I was different, that would be a waste of time, cause I know You love me just as I am and I know my God don’t make mistakes, so, I’m just gonna be the me you made…’, a conscious decision to not wish I was someone else, but know that I am me, and the only me there is, and that God who created me has done so with a grander purpose in mind. ‘Looking Up’ speaks of how we as humans always look up to someone- we look up to our parents, and they look up to their own. Our children and family look up to us, and we also in turn look up to our heavenly Father also. We all look to someone or something for guidance and help, for advice and to emulate, and thus, we all need positive influences in our lives that will make the roads we walk upon straighter, or at least more palatable to walk upon.
‘Without You’ features new Provident Label Group artist Leanna Crawford and speaks about our innate nature to always connect and be in community, and as the song suggests, ‘there’s no me without you’ and the understanding that we are not who we are without Christ in us and beside us; while ‘Hope Returns’ speaks of the theme and the elusive word ‘hope’ and really unpacks what the word means for people in different circumstances. Hope is a word where we wish for things to be true and we long for things to become a reality- a concept that only is made tangible through God incarnate Jesus- that our hope solidifies when we fully grasp Jesus overcoming death and the grave on the cross all those years ago. ‘The Man Who Needed Grace’ is a fitting final song on the album, and speaks about the ‘man’ who needed grace, i.e.- Matthew West, and the autobiographical undertone of the song that says what Christ did all the years ago to bring Matthew to Himself; but the song that is really the most poignant of the whole entire album, but a song that shouldn’t have been written in the first place, is a song titled ‘Too Young, Too Soon’. Yes, you guessed it- a song about someone passing sooner before their time. And as Matthew articulates himself about the message and story behind the song, we’re reminded of how fragile life really is, and the importance of us recognising mental health conditions whenever they arise: ‘…I would file that song in the category of songs that I wish I didn’t have to write, because I wish it didn’t happen. That song’s inspired by my daughter’s classmate, sadly. The first week of sixth grade, he took his life. And here we are in Nashville, Tennessee, in the Bible Belt, nice little community, nice little Christian school that our daughters go to. This sweet kid, who I talk about it in the song, I remember him in the Christmas play, and we were trying to get my daughter’s attention. I was just being an annoying dad waving and trying to embarrass my daughter. And he looked up, he thought I was waving at him. And he had this big grin on his face, and that’s my picture of this boy Sam. But little did I know he was struggling with some serious depression. I felt like I needed to write that song for my daughter’s class, honestly, and anybody else who’s out there struggling. These stories I experience kind of bring me back to a brand-new appreciation for how short life is and how important it is to treat people with kindness around this…’
Matthew’s discography is a wide one, and with many songs that have climbed up the radio charts over the years, his presence in CCM shouldn’t be ignored or even bypassed in favour of other ‘more famous’ CCM artists, like TobyMac, Chris Tomlin, Francesca Battistelli, Newsboys, and the like. Yes, Matthew doesn’t have that much traction or even a following as opposed that all these other aforementioned artists, and that’s ok. His discography speaks for itself. And his new album Brand New is a steady and firm reminder of a constant worker in an industry that often overlooks the artist that grinds tirelessly, like Matthew, in favour of someone flamboyant and impactful from the get-go, but after an impressive debut, may not be in the spotlight anymore, for whatever reason- artists like Everfound and About a Mile come to mind, who had impressive debuts, but nothing much else. Nevertheless, Matthew’s influence in an industry that is seemingly tired is indeed there; and his songs on his latest album are some of the most hard-hitting I’ve heard in a while. In fact, Brand New sits at favourite album #2 of his- following my favourite Into the Light, and closely followed by All In as well. He is a reliable and gifted songwriter, and yes, by all means, a definite contender to be a modern-day SCC (Steven Curtis Chapman). Songs like ‘Grace Upon Grace’, ‘The Man Who Needed Grace’, ‘The God Who Stays’ and ‘Truth Be Told’ are some of my own personal standouts on this 16 track album, one that is a sure thing and will certainly be enjoyed if you are a Matthew West avid fan, like myself, or if you enjoy similar-sounding artists like Tauren Wells, Rascal Flatts, or the ever-reliable and recently disbanding band, Tenth Avenue North. Kudos to Matthew for such a vulnerable album, and my first 5/5 score for 2020 thus far!
4 songs to listen to: Truth Be Told, Grace Upon Grace, The Man Who Needed Grace, The God Who Stays
RIYL: Rascal Flatts, Tauren Wells, Big Daddy Weave, Royal Tailor, Tenth Avenue North