Fair Trade Services
Release Date: April 8th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Never Fail
- Greater Is He
- Something Beautiful
- What Could Have Been
- I Found You
- Somebody to Call Home
- No Condemnation
- All Things New
- I Won’t Forget
- Mercy Tree
‘…L.A. is gritty. My friends there might say, ‘What are you talking about when you say, ‘Lamb that was slain’? You sound like you’re in a cult’. [So] being out in L.A. has made me think more progressively. I want to make sure I’m not compromising my message or my faith, but I also want to speak in terms that connect with people who don’t necessarily live in a church…sometimes it takes that real life to understand the meaning of real worship…’ 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 the introduction this year to the music of Anthony Evans (a previous contestant of The Voice America and a prominent gospel/CCM artist over the last 10 years or so), my outlook on gospel music as a whole has shifted.
With Anthony’s new album Real Life/Real Worship recently released in April 2014, Anthony’s album, and his music as a whole, has been the most surprising aspect of new music I’ve been exposed to this year so far. While I have not fully embraced the gospel music concept (instead, I’ve been listening to a lot of worship, indie, CCM, pop and rock), Anthony’s music may continue to warm me to possibly checking out some of these aforementioned artists later on during the year. From powerful songs like “Ask”, “Mercy Tree” (yes, the Lacey Sturm melody) and album opener “Never Fail”; this is a 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!
What drew me to this album initially wasn’t the fact that Anthony sung gospel music, nor was it the plethora of new songs on the album that would eventually be enjoyed by myself and the rest of my family (hopefully). It was really two words- Mercy Tree. The last song on the album, I was intrigued- to say the least- of how Anthony would cover and care for the Michael Neale-Krissy Nordhoff written melody beautifully performed by Lacey Sturm on My Hope: Songs Inspired by the Message and Mission of Billy Graham. Placing his own gospel spin on a song that’s one of my favourite anthems of late, Anthony uses the technique of gospel backing singers, strong drums, trumpets and a big full sound to remind me of the African American sound that is seemingly lacking in CCM.
With “Mercy Tree” having the epic sound that is does being the last track on the album, we are met with a message of hope and encouragement. The poignant words of how ‘…death has died, and love has won, hallelujah, hallelujah…’ is enough in and of itself for me to not only listen to “Mercy Tree” again, but to the rest of Real Life/Real Worship. A great way to end an album with some familiarity (to intrigue some listeners who may not have heard Anthony- like myself), “Mercy Tree” continues to climb the favourite songs list of 2014, making it one of my favourite songs on Real Life/Real Worship and in 2014.
With trumpets, hand claps, synth and a whole lot of funk/soul/worship, both “Never Fail” and “All Things New” are the rousing upbeat melodies on the album. Beginning with a trumpet and hand clap introduction, “Never Fail” is a vibrant, enthusiastic and heartfelt first track, also made into a poignant and unique music video complete with a pool of dancers- similar to what Carman did with his music videos for “R.I.O.T.”, “Who’s In the House” and “My Story”. With a beat that will be as infectious as it is compelling, Anthony brings out all the passion and emotion to relay a theme of us believing that God is never going to fail us in our lives, even in the moments where we often think He will, with Anthony himself sharing that ‘…Never Fail reminds us that God will do in us what He has promised in spite of our unfaithfulness. Phil 1:6 is my favourite verse…He will finish what he started in us…’
A great start to the album as we are reminded of God’s steadfast love for us, “All Things New” brings to the fore a similar enthusiasm in a celebratory melody that gives us all comfort that Christ makes all things new. A song to believe even in the tough times, the trumpets, powerful singing, and a musical atmosphere that infuses the styles of pop, gospel, R&B and funk; is enough for myself to sit back and enjoy genres of music that I would probably have never ventured into before prior listening to Real Life/Real Worship.
“Greater is He” delivers as a powerful worship anthem that brings to the fore more of a CCM element to the track, with looping percussion, light electronic keyboard riffs and a choir of singers declaring out that ‘…I believe He’s living in me, He’s making me greater, Greater is He that’s in me…’ It still has that gospel element to it, and probably a few years ago, if someone would’ve given me this track to listen to, I’d probably react sourly. Nevertheless, with time has come along with it an appreciation of different styles of music- and with “Greater is He” co-written with worship artist Martha Munizzi and having a unique music style, it could be a bold and different addition (and hopefully a welcomed one) if churches around the world add this song to their Sunday set list. Co-written with Jason Ingram, “Something Beautiful” detours into electronic music territory and seems to stand out (positively because it is something Anthony hasn’t done before, negative for possibly the same reason) as Anthony relays to us a theme of God making us into something beautiful (that we may not even know or believe can happen to us currently); while “What Could Have Been” peels back Anthony’s personality to unveil a moment of vulnerability- singing to someone he loves and letting them know how he feels because ‘…I don’t wanna live with regret so I’m standing with my heart in my hands…’
“Somebody to Call Home” brings together to talented writers in Anthony and Michael Boggs to create a relationship-style melody (sort of like “What Could Have Been” Part 2) as we are met with a song that declares with emotion and poignancy that Anthony wants someone, something and some place to be called ‘home’ for him. While it may seem like a ‘relationship’ song on the surface, we know that the cries, not only by Anthony in the melody but by millions of people around the world, can and ought to be filled by Christ. A song that’ll hopefully remind people of that fact, we delve into worship in the final set of tracks that thread together with the common theme of praising God. Each one of “I Found You”, “Ask”, “No Condemnation” and “I Won’t Forget” unveils Anthony’s heart for worship.
The reflective piano driven gospel ballad “I Won’t Forget” gives us a timely reminder of who God is and gives us motivation to not forget Him no matter the circumstance, while “No Condemnation” brings together both Anthony and Anthony’s sister, best-selling author Priscilla Shirer in a duet that speaks about no condemnation in Christ. Yet it is both “Ask” and “I Found You” that are some of my personal favourite worship melodies from Anthony on the album, as the piano led 6 minute track invites us all to ask the Lord about what’s on our hearts in one of the most vulnerable melodies of the year. With the piano arrangement in the melody reminding me of something Carman would do (“Serve the Lord” or “Whiter than Snow”?) as Anthony powerfully declares the words of how ‘…everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks will find…’; Anthony further invites us all to worship in “I Found You”, co-written with Cindy Morgan, and a personal song to Jesus complete with light electronics and a gospel flavour as we hear the poignant words of how ‘…I found hope I found love I found strength to rise above…when I found You…’
One of the most unique, out of the box, powerful, emotive, enjoyable and heartfelt albums of 2014 so far, this collection of 11 of Anthony’s most recent songs has the potential to be some of the most out-there and enjoyable melodies of the first six months of 2014. 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, 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 Real Life/Real Worship. From powerful ballads like “Mercy Tree” and “Ask”, to upbeat electronic anthems “All Things New” and “Never Fail”; Real Life/Real Worship stands out as one of my favourite albums released in the second quarter of 2014!
3 songs to listen to: Mercy Tree, Ask, Never Fail
RIYL: Israel Houghton, Carman, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Smokie Norful