Release Date: April 6th 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Lift You Up
- Child in Your Arms
- No Matter What (Feat. Bart Millard of Mercyme)
- The Gospel
- Faithful (Feat. Amy Grant)
- Welcome to Bonanza (Interlude)
- Single-Wide Dreamin’
- Always Been You
- With Lifted Hands
Previously singed to BEC Recordings, American CCM singer/songwriter Ryan Stevenson released his debut full length solo album Fresh Start a few years ago, which garnered the smash hit “Eye Of The Storm”, and almost straight away, audiences have resonated with Ryan’s relatable style vocally and lyrically as well as a freshness to his music. Maybe it’s partly because Ryan was a paramedic before he became an artist, so he’s relatable in the way that he’s been where almost all of us have been- in a ‘normal’ job. So maybe the topics talked about in the songs Ryan has delivered to us hold more value and merit, more weight also; but regardless, Ryan has always had that uncanny knack of making us feel like he’s singing directly to each one of us. Evident in many tracks in Fresh Start, Ryan presents us with a slew of vulnerable offerings, that make us hard not to love his enthusiasm, passion and heartfelt melodies, even if they sound just a tad cliché.
Signed to Gotee Records, the home of artists like Finding Favour, Hollyn and Aaron Cole, Ryan now has dropped his sophomore project No Matter What. Having released the ‘long-ish EP of 8 songs’ a few days ago; these songs that are now available to the public, are sure to impact many, just like Ryan’s previous singles such as “Holding Nothing Back”, “We Got The Light” and “Speak Life”. With No Matter What releasing on the same day as albums from Hawk Nelson and Hillsong Worship; this ‘album’ is on the short side in my opinion, however there’s no denying Ryan’s heart, so let’s dive in to find out how the singer who vocally sounds a lot like TobyMac, has found a place in our hearts.
“Lift You Up”, actually previously recorded by TobyMac, opens proceedings, and is a fun, poppy, hand clapping, TobyMac-like melody, which plays out similar to Toby’s original recording on 2015’s This Is Not A Test (minus the rap bridge, and shortened by around 30 seconds!). With the track previously been released as a single in October 2017, “Lift You Up” is extremely catchy and danceable, as Ryan ardently reiterates the fact that God continues to lift us up, help us and guide us along the path He has set for us, even during and especially in the moments where we may say we don’t even need it, but actually do. Though I do enjoy Toby’s version better, Ryan’s offering in nonetheless still poignant and stirring, as we remember that in response to Jesus lifting us up, we should do that same ‘…cause You ain’t ever gonna let us down…’.
While “The Gospel”, a radio single from last year, is also included here, as the punchy keys led anthem lyrically drives home the point about how ‘…in a world, where our hearts are breaking, and we’re lost in the mess we’ve made, like a blinding light, in the dead of night, it’s the Gospel, the Gospel that makes a way…’– even to the most hardened of hearts, we as Christians can be Jesus to them, and show the Gospel to them through loving them as people. As Jesus permeates our entire being, and the light of what He did for us on the cross and the resurrection is finally grasped by each of us fully; it is our view of ourselves, the world, and of God that fundamentally changes, as we are more loving to those around us, and especially to the least of these. While this song received radio airplay, it wasn’t that high charting however, and it’s a sad thing, as “The Gospel” is a song that everyone should hear at least once!
Fortunately, the title track is indeed a song that radio has picked up on quite quickly (and is a song that as a single, will undoubtedly do way better than “The Gospel”), and though in my opinion, nothing can quite compare to “The Gospel” on this track-list, “No Matter What”, which features Bart Millard on guest vocals, comes very close. Slowing down the tempo to a country/jazz/waltz (if that’s ever such a genre!), Bart and Ryan beautifully trade vocals effortlessly, and reiterate to us that no what if we believe the lies the devil has told us, we can rest in the promise that Jesus is always by our side, and that He’s with us no matter what. In the good times and bad times, He’s there no matter what, and because of this ever-true topic that we can all relate to, I guess it’s fitting that this song became the title of the album, as it is the heartbeat of all of these songs, that God is with us. Speaking of duets, Ryan also delivers “Faithful”, a lyrically strong, strings led mid-tempo ballad, exquisitely sung with Amy Grant, that is well primed for radio, as Ryan eloquently and subtly alludes to different examples of people in the Bible who outwardly possess faithfulness to God, inclusive of Moses and King David.
The previous four tracks are songs that I have all heard before, and I mean around a couple of weeks at the least and a year at the most. Meaning the remainder of these 4 melodies (5 if you include the completely unnecessary 1-minute instrumental “Welcome To Bonanza”), are songs I’m not that familiar with. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not good songs. They’re just not resonating with me enough as the others, but maybe they will in time. “Child In Your Arms” is an acoustic guitar/keys led, and EDM prominent dance melody, that powerfully conveys the notion that all we want to do is run to God and be like a child in His arms, while the fun and tongue-in-cheek “Single Wide Dreamin’” has some 90’s and early 2000’s vibes, as Ryan reminisces about his school days, reflecting upon the days where he didn’t have a care in the world; and about how sometimes he wishes to go back to simpler times when the world didn’t feel so complicated and crazy. Penultimate track “Always Been You” also has ‘radio’ all over it (at least for the first half of the track!), as Ryan presents us with a worship song with a spontaneous free-worship bridge, that ardently declares that it is Jesus and only Jesus that is the author of our stories, the One who is guiding our steps and working things out for His glory and our good; while the ‘too short’ album ends, just as soon as I’m in the groove of these songs, with “With Lifted Hands”, a personal standout on No Matter What, and a worthy end to a solid album, as this entry has Ryan fervently giving God the praise in this out-and-out worship anthem, crying out ‘…with every heartbeat in my chest, Lord, I surrender all that I have, the days yet to come, the days in the past, I’m giving You all I am, with lifted hands…’.
No Matter What by Ryan Stevenson isn’t perfect, as there are a couple of tracks that are a bit misplaced, either lyrically or musically (I’m looking at you “Single Wide Dreamin’” and “Welcome To Bonanza”!), and the album on the whole is too short. But I reckon it’s great that the theme of God always being with us is the undercurrent of almost every track here. Though quickly with multiple listens, the above nit-picks become only that- nit-picks, as this release becomes more and more enjoyable with every listen, and Ryan does just enough for me to be intrigued by what may release in the future. So should you check out this ‘EP’, considering how short it is and the few out-of-place tracks? Yep, you still should, as we’re all different people. You may love No Matter What or hate it, but one thing’s for sure, you’ll be hearing more of Ryan Stevenson in the near future as he builds upon the platform that he’s laid the solid groundwork to here.
3 songs to listen to: No Matter What, The Gospel, With Lifted Hands
RIYL: TobyMac, Group 1 Crew, Shawn McDonald, Capital Kings, Royal Tailor