Release Date: February 3rd 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- See You Again
- Ever Be
- With You
- Back to Life
- God of Breakthroughs
- Everything Changes
- Your Way
- Because of Your Prayers (Grandma’s Song)
‘…Back To Life is a collection of worship songs derived from an experience I had in authenticity, vulnerability and honesty and I hope that’s exactly what listeners hear. I don’t ever want to get up on a stage or even go out to a dinner and put on something that is not really me or who I am. I’m hoping people hear how those three things have brought me back to life and that they are encouraged to do the same. As much as people hear Anthony the worship leader or see me on stage wherever with whomever, there is also a side of me that is raw, gritty and longs for interactions with no facades. Sometimes you have to rough up a surface in order for something to stick. A lot of my life has had to be roughed up in certain areas, but that’s what makes the lesson life changing. I can’t wait for people to hear this side of my soul, and even past this album, the music that’s coming will showcase more of that honest/life experience side…’ Anthony Evans’ music can be a little hard to define. Primarily focused on worship and CCM, his music has also been influenced by the gospel music atmosphere, and at times, his music can be reminded of similar artists like Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Jason Crabb or even 1990s legends Avalon or Carman back in his heyday. Now Anthony Evans is no stranger to gospel tinged worship music, creating a worship album in 2014 titled Real Life-Real Worship that features gospel-worship heavily, while also being on The Voice US Season 2 as a contestant as well as subsequent seasons of The Voice (3 more) as a talent producer. Anthony’s ministry, while in Christian music first and foremost, is also in Hollywood and the music industry there, with Anthony forming working relationships with the likes of CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion during his tenure as both contestant and talent producer of The Voice US not too long ago. Now fast forward to 2017, and Anthony’s readying to release Back to Life, quite possibly one of the most musically diverse worship album I’ve heard since Chris Quilala’s Split the Sky.
Now I personally have never really been into gospel music as much as someone else would. I do listen to my fair share of music by Carman, an artist primarily prominent during the 1990s who was famous in delving into some of the gospel genre, but if you’d ask me to check out an album by someone like Kirk Franklin, Smokie Norful, Marvin Sapp, Tamela Mann, Mary Mary or Fred Hammond; I’d probably shrug it off, say something like ‘I’ll check it out later’, and then probably won’t do it. But with Anthony’s 2014 gospel worship album Real Life Real Worship that was met with critical and commercial acclaim, and now his new album Back to Life, my outlook holistically on gospel music has shifted. His 2014 album was arguably one of the most surprising aspects of new music I listened to that year, so his new album sensibly carries on from the groundwork and foundation laid in Real Life Real Worship. From powerful songs like “See You Again” (a cover of the powerful single by worship leader Charles Billingsley), “Ever Be” (yes, the same cover sung by other artists like Aaron Shust, Natalie Grant, and of course, Bethel Music) and the potential radio singles “Believe” and “God of Breakthroughs”; this gospel/worship album is one that’s continuing to stretch me as I appreciate the gospel genre more and more since listening to Back to Life; and a certain great album to listen to if you love gospel, but also enjoy music with a CCM/worship slant, but also enough in the songs to be different to what you would probably have heard on the radio up to this point so far!
Just like how “See You Again” was a big highlight on Charles Billingsley’s album Right Here last year, Anthony’s version is just as emotive and poignant. While Charles’ version of the song was unfortunately never a radio single last year, Anthony’s rendition is indeed the first single from Back to Life, and features more of a dance-gospel atmosphere, as opposed to the more subdued worshipful undertone present in Charles’ recording. But one thing is still true- its message. What captivated me last year when I heard the song is still the same when I hear this one, as the song sets a theme which is hardly sung about in worship songs before- longing for God to recreate the wonderful miracles of the past in the here and now. Everything that was said about in the bible- we do want to see them all again, which is what this song is about. A song not to be sung lightly- because once God brings about all the things we long to see, we’d never be the same again (because frankly, who’d want to go back after seeing the marvellous miracles of God our Father being visible in the world today?); this is a great standout for me from Back to Life, with this rendition of the track being what I reckon will be the catalyst for the song to become more well known amongst churches in the upcoming year ahead. “Ever Be”, another song that I’m sure we’d all know; is presented in a slightly different format. The song is shown to be part dance, part 1980s throwback music, alongside music that would currently fit perfectly inside of a club. But all in all, the message is still the same, that God’s praise will always be on our lips no matter the circumstance that we face. The song embodies all of what it means for us to worship God, and it is primarily the chorus that makes me want to break into song and sing alongside Anthony, as he fervently reminds us all that ‘…Your praise will ever be on my lips…’, a notion that it is out of our love for our Father because of what He has done, that we will praise Him, not by any other reason.
The remainder of the album (9 more tracks) are songs that are originally written, each embodying a worshipful atmosphere that have been set by “See You Again” and “Ever Be”, and while I may take more time to warm up to these originally written tracks, Anthony nevertheless delivers his heart and soul into these songs, enough for me to appreciate his work and craft within the confines of Back to Life. “Believe”, a dance-worship song with such power, reminds us of the declaration we ought to speak out when we’re in difficult situations, that we believe in the things that God has promised us. It is the chorus that speaks volumes, as Anthony delivers the anthem with such enthusiasm, asserting that ‘…I believe that You will fight for me, You’ll do what’s right for me, I believe it, I believe it, I know You can make the mountains move, so I will trust in You, I believe it, I believe it…’– and while I know these lyrics can seem contrite and cliché; the truth remains, that sometimes it is the simplest lyrics that can pierce beneath the surface of our hearts the most, that often God uses the songs that are considered the lyrically ‘safe’ to affect our emotions more so than we even know or imagine. “Incredible” is more of an acoustic/Latin/smooth gospel moment as Anthony lists of all the ways that our Lord our God is incredible; while the electronic keyboard driven “With You” takes from Psalm 139, and turns it into a song that is much more worshipful than the Psalm seems at face value. While the Psalm can seemingly be read in a way that God sees everything, therefore, it’s better not to hide anything away because He is like a judge in the all-seeing all-knowing regard, the song “With You” paints the Psalm in a much more welcomed light, as we’re presented with this theme- that we can come to God with any question and any desire of our hearts, because He sees us, doesn’t judge us and knows us for who we are, we can rest assured that His plans for us are for our good and His glory!
“Back to Life” stands tall at 6:12, and is as autobiographical as it is encouraging and emotive, as Anthony describes the moment he himself came ‘back to life’. Featuring gospel choir backing vocals and Anthony’s trademark passionate vocal that reminds me continuously why gospel singers are much more engaging, unique, different and celebrated within the Christian music industry; “Back to Life”, though not necessarily the most ingenious or original of titles, is a song that ought to impact as well as hopefully become a catalyst for change, and remind us all that it is never too late for any one of us to come back to life, from whatever situation we’re in.
“God of Breakthroughs”, another potential radio single for Anthony in the future, presents a moment of realisation hopefully for many as they hear, that God is a God who can break everything that is weighing us down, that what has held us in our state before cannot and will not have any effect over us in the future. Anthony declares in this anthem of praise, that ‘…there’s power when I speak Your Name, there’s freedom everytime I pray, Your presence always changes me, Jesus! I’m running to You, the God of breakthroughs…’, and we are compelled (I know I am), that at the end of it all, we still need to make a decision. We can believe everything that we want, but if we don’t get up and run to Him the God of breakthroughs, then all we’re doing is believing with our lips rather than our actions, which is going to be difficult when people see us but not what we do. “God of Breakthroughs” is an encouragement, but it is also a reminder that deeds are just as important as faith.
“Home”, “Everything Changes” and “Your Way” all round out the album and present to us a variety of themes. “Home” has us declaring outright for God to make His home in us and for Him to undo, change and restructure what He wants in our very being; while it is “Everything Changes” that allows us to present sincere thanks to the Lord for all the good things He has done in our lives, and “Your Way” imparts the realisation that it is indeed God’s way that gives us the peace and the hope above everything else that this world tries to offer. The album ends with a bonus track, possibly only on the digital iTunes version of the album- “Because of Your Prayers (Grandma’s Song)”, like “Back to Life”, is very biographical, and tells us a story about how the persona in the song (maybe it’s Anthony, maybe it’s someone else) sings about how it was because of the prayers their grandma prayed that allowed them to encounter God and be changed through circumstances and situations where God’s hand moved and impacted the persona’s life.
One of the most unique, out of the box, powerful, emotive, enjoyable and heartfelt albums of 2017 so far, this collection of 11 of Anthony’s most recent songs have the potential to be some of the most out-there and enjoyable melodies of the first six months of 2017. While I may not necessarily say that I’m a full-fledged gospel music advocate (give me CCM any day though), I have much more of an appreciation than I did prior to listening to Anthony and his music. With a comparable vocal to someone like Israel Houghton or even Kirk Franklin, Anthony’s experience of being in music for more than 10 years is something that ought to at least intrigue listeners to a hopeful listen once through to Back to Life. From powerful ballads like “Believe” and “God of Breakthroughs”, to upbeat electronic anthems “See You Again” and “Ever Be”; Back to Life stands out as one of my favourite albums released in the first quarter of 2017!
3 songs to listen to: See You Again, God of Breakthroughs, Incredible
RIYL: Avalon, Carman, Israel Houghton, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Smokie Norful