Release Date: September 21st 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Jericho (feat. Michael tait)
- Him (Hymn)
- Beauty For Ashes
- At The Cross
- So Many Reasons
- I Will Follow
- I Surrender All
- In The Middle Of It All
- Second Chance
- Here Is My Life
- Walk By Faith
- To The World
- Jericho (Radio Edit)
Everyone knows “God of This City”- even if they don’t know Bluetree. But if you are still unfamiliar, let me give you a brief synopsis: the song was made famous by Chris Tomlin on Passion: God of This City in 2006, and on his 2008 studio album Hello Love; and if you’re a fan of Chris Tomlin, then you obviously know that he didn’t write the hit song. As is the case with other bands/singers who were only songwriters early on in their career, people may not necessarily know the men behind the song if the artist didn’t write it. Yet Bluetree, from Northern Ireland, are one of my favourite worship bands in Britain (alongside Delirious? and Rend Collective) and were one of the most unique and interesting worship bands, alongside Rend Collective, in the current modern CCM scene. Yet all good things come to an end, and Bluetree quietly disbanded a few years ago. For what reason, I don’t know, but what has resulted now is the debut solo project of Aaron Boyd, former lead singer of Bluetree.
With his debut album Jericho having been released for around 2 and a half months already- after the lead single and title track dropped at the end of August; I’ve decided that now is the time to voice my thoughts on probably one of the most honest and heartfelt worship albums of the year that no one knows about yet…until now. Sure, Bluetree were famous for songs like “You Were You Are”, “Jesus Healer”, “It Is Finished”, “Shine”, “You Are My Rock”, “Life’s Noise”, “Each Day” and “My Redeemer Lives”, to name a few; so I guess you’d think my enthusiasm for Aaron’s debut project would be warranted given my love for the band. I thought ‘why not review “Jericho”, especially if Michael Tait is involved as a guest vocalist on the title track?’! Well, let me tell you that though Bluetree has wowed me time and time again; Aaron’s debut single…not so much. Aaron’s debut album? Well it certainly does the job- of making this album more known to listeners, for a variety of many different reasons.
If after I listened to “Jericho” a few times, and each time I concluded that Michael Tait’s guest vocals are the best part of the song, then that is worrisome. It’s sad because I know for a fact that Aaron is a brilliant songwriter, case in point his entire discography with Bluetree; yet something inside of me isn’t connecting with “Jericho”. Don’t get me wrong, the song is good, but I think I expected something more- something different musically, but all I heard was Bluetree under a different name (which is fine, but why disband when the solo stuff sounds just like the band material- granted I’ve only listened to one song from Aaron, and there’s only one song released from Aaron, but still!). I expected a ‘wow’ factor but especially after I heard the second verse being the exact same lyrics as the first verse, I though ‘meh, nothing special’. Michael Tait’s presence here is a highlight though, as is Aaron’s enthusiasm and passion (which you can see in the music video, which strangely omits Michael Tait’s vocals!), and not to mention the strong lyrics that declare that we as a people of God can conquer any adversity just like how Joshua and his troops conquered Jericho; however this is still a song that I won’t listen to over and over on repeat. As it stands right now, this song is mediocre, at best. Directly quoted from my ‘single’ review of “Jericho”, I still stand by that comment today, and after listening to the rest of the album, I’m of the opinion that the title track is the weakest song on the album, for reasons outlined before. I mean, even the radio edit version of “Jericho”, which is a whole 40 seconds shorter and omits Michael Tait; is somewhat lacklustre so there’s that… and let’s move onto the rest of the project, shall we?
If you’re judging the album by “Jericho” alone, then I reckon you’d be giving a great disservice to Aaron, as a deeper listen to the rest of the album contains many honest, emotional and inspiring melodies. “Him (Hymn)” is a mid-tempo Rend Collective like worship song through and through led by the banjo, that could fit at home on Sunday morning services everywhere as Aaron ardently relays to us that Jesus is victorious and reigns forever, as he vividly gives a description of the crucifixion and the resurrection; while the slower paced light electric guitar led ballad “Beauty For Ashes” is a personal highlight, as Aaron majestically imparts to us that every unfortunate situation and trial can used by God in ways that glorify Him and shape us more like Him as believers in Christ. Similar in theme to “Beauty Will Rise” from Steven Curtis Chapman, Aaron delivers a powerful message of encouragement, that is only amplified and made more potent as we hear the epic, anthemic and sweeping and swelling bridge.
“At The Cross” takes us musically to the 80’s and 90’s with a big booming piano led worship ballad and then lyrically delivers us one of the most theologically and biblically sound melodies I’ve heard in a long time, as Aaron once again references the cross and the resurrection, reminding me thematically of Hillsong Worship’s “At The Cross”; while “So Many Reasons” should be a huge ball of fun and celebration, as this joyous EDM melody is very fun musically, yet vocally Aaron misses the mark unfortunately, even though he tries his hardest and reiterates to us that there are so many reasons to worship Jesus, as ‘…You’re the God of grace, forever yes and amen…’. Thankfully, highly energetic and synth led party song “I Will Follow” brings the music and lyrics back on the right track, as Aaron delivers a very catchy yet also inspiring melody, declaring that ‘…I will follow You wherever You lead me…’; and a worthy rendition of the timeless hymn “I Surrender All” ends the first half of the inspiring yet still flawed album, despite the track somewhat still dragging by about a minute or so.
Aaron tries his hand and doing the boy band thing in “In The Middle Of It All”, and it’s clear that though he’s no NSYNC or Backstreet Boys or Plus One, his attempt at a 90’s vocal melody is admirable and valiant, as Aaron relays to us that Jesus is working all things for good, even in the middle of suffering in this world. “Second Chance” then follows and takes me by surprise in a definite good way, as Aaron delivers one of the most emotional songs on the album, with the slower paced melody highlighting to us the notion that Jesus gives us all second chances, and third, fourth, fifth, stretching to infinite, that ‘…when I have run from all I know, You’re still the God that won’t let go…’; while EDM rocker “Here Is My Life” is one of the most quirky and odd melodies musically, where Aaron passionately sings about surrendering his entire life to the Almighty, our Father, Saviour and Friend. “Story” follows, and though it’s inspiring to listen to, it’s instantly forgettable, with songs like “My Story” (Carman), “My Story” (Big Daddy Weave), “Big Story” (Steven Curtis Chapman), “The Story Of Your Life” (Matthew West), “Write Your Story” (Francesca Battistelli), “God Of Every Story” (Laura Story), “Untold Story” (Naomi Streimer) and “The Story You’re Building In Me” (Love & The Outcome) all more engaging and all more poignant and hopeful. Not to say this song is bad, but the topic has been done before to death. Maybe I’ll resonate with “Story” in a few year’s time?
“Walk By Faith” is not a cover of the smash hit Jeremy Camp song of the same name (sad to say), but rather an original, as this piano led soft ballad is also a bit of a downer, as we hear plenty of clichés and repetition here, though I know for a fact that Aaron’s passion can’t be denied; while the project ends with the frenetic Planetshakers/Hillsong Young & Free-esque dance and electronic number “To The World”, which in my opinion is the most fun song I’ve heard on the album, and is the heartbeat of why the album was created in my opinion. As the song reiterates that we are to go out into the world and spread the gospel to every creature (The Great Commission), Aaron ends the album with praise, joy, thanksgiving and celebration, as he declares that no matter how people act to him, he’ll never stop sharing Jesus’ love to the rest of the world.
One of my favourite UK bands ever, it’s a shame that Bluetree disbanded, but nonetheless Jericho overall is a worthy succession to what was a brilliant band. It’s great that we can hear what Aaron Boyd is up to next, and even though the single underwhelmed, there’s plenty here for us to be excited about and for us to worship to with pure enjoyment. Though this album isn’t for everyone, hopefully the differing music styles scattered all throughout won’t put you off- there are mis steps here (I’m looking at you, “Story” and “So Many Reasons”!), yet I reckon holistically, Jericho is more than great for a ‘debut’ project. So…now it’s time for all of you to check the album out and let me know your thoughts. You already know mine as of this point… and soon you’ll either agree or disagree with me. Enjoy listening guys!
3 songs to listen to: Beauty For Ashes, Second Chance, To The World
RIYL: Delirious?, Matt Redman, Rend Collective, Chris Tomlin, Bluetree