Word Label Group
Release Date: May 4th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Different Drum
- Who I Am
- If You Say Go
- Get Up (feat. Lecrae)
- Catching Fire
- Not Backing Down (feat. Tedashii)
- Forever Love
- Greater Is He
- Chosen Ones
In the early 2000’s, my musical tastes were limited to praise & worship and CCM pop, but as time progressed, I was exposed to many new artists, one of them being hip hop/rap trio Group 1 Crew. Their third album Outta Space Love was the first album I ever heard from the band from start to finish; and I was very impressed, with songs like “Let’s Go”, “Need Your Love”, “Please Don’t Let Me Go” and the title track all being highlights. 2012 marks another studio album in Fearless, in Group 1 Crew’s musical life; their first as a duo since Pablo Villatoro left to spend more time with his young family. Despite the challenges and changes; Blanca Reyes Callahan and Manwell Reyes have expertly expanded their sound to incorporate more pop anthems and CCM ballads, also holding onto their hip hop roots. Now Fearless was an album that expanded their genre to pop, much to many listeners’ dismay or excitement, and now fast forward 3 years later; and another singer change occurred- Blanca Callahan stepped down to be a solo artist.
Now lead singer changes in a band isn’t that new, with Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys and Hawk Nelson all undergoing some would say drastic, and others would say new and inventive changes. But nevertheless, Group 1 Crew has entered the group of artists redefining their sound, and they have gained a whole lot more fans in the process. But what is Blanca doing nowadays? Previously a member of Group 1 Crew, newly solo artist Blanca just released her solo self-titled album this year, featuring her distinct soulful and captivating voice, blended together with a myriad of genres from reggae, pop, CCM, r&b, gospel, soul and many, many others, and also including the hit song “Who I Am”. So how does this album stack up against the many other album highlights this year?
One of the reviewers on this site, Micah, previously reviewed Blanca’s EP Who I Am which you can read about here!), but let me give you a new take on these 5 songs, which are also present on Blanca’s self-titled new album. Most likely to be present, and also a worthy inclusion on the newest WOW Hits album; “Who I Am” is the most CCM song on the album, driven by sophisticated and pristine keys, inspiring percussion and Blanca’s mesmerising vocals. Outlining that we know who we are in Jesus Christ, and that our identity is secure because we’re ‘…running to the One who holds me, and made every part of me in His hand, I’m holding to the One who holds me, cause I know whose I am…’; Blanca gently reiterates that knowing that Jesus is by our side all the time changes our outlook on life, and we become more at peace. Our purpose is known and we know that we are God’s creation; well done Blanca for this extraordinary melody about self-worth and knowing who we are.
Unlike the EP, which starts with “Who I Am”, the album opens with the high octane electronic keys led EDM dance track “Different Drum”, encouraging believers to be our own person and run our own race, marching to a different drum, even if we are the only person walking the way that we are walking. Reminding me of one of my favourite Bible verses Romans 12:2, and also thematically of Switchfoot’s song “Dare You To Move”, Blanca enthusiastically highlights the fact that it is by God’s design and intention that we were made to live life different from the world, as we search for something more and ultimately live a life for God. While the CCM like “Echo” (which to me is one of the low points musically of the entire album, but is still catchy), has Blanca declaring that ‘…I was made to leave a mark, carry fire in my heart, no matter where I go I want my life to echo You…’, across emphatic guitars and keys, as we are reminded that our lives as Christians should reflect Jesus in every facet, so as to live a live pointing people to Christ; the final two melodies on the EP are poles apart genre-wise yet are two of my favourite songs originally from the EP.
In the joyful and celebratory “Sunshine”, Blanca employs the use of an r&b and reggae flavour as well as catchy acoustic guitar and possibly a ukulele, as we sing praises to God with Blanca, reiterating that God is with us all the time, bringing sunshine to our lives even in the darkest of times. It’s a musical tactic that is pulled off quite nicely as Blanca once again expands her genre, while in the equally impressive rap melody “Not Backing Down”, with guest vocalist Tedashii, is an unexpected yet inspiring turn of events as Blanca fervently relays the fact that we as Christians shouldn’t back down from our faith, and that we should stand firm in Christ in light of everything He has done for us. Thematically similar to “Different Drum” earlier in the album, Blanca eloquently reminds us why she is one of today’s most popular female CCM vocalists, and a force to be reckoned with in the CCM industry currently, outlining that ‘…No, I’m not backing down, no, you can’t count me out, nothing in this world gonna stop me now…’.
The remainder of the nine tracks further cements Blanca’s encouraging and motivational position in the CCM industry, as these melodies are predominately pop influenced; however even though some tracks are somewhat cliché and musically similar to each other, it is the lyrics that make me thoroughly enjoy the album more than I thought I would. “If You Say Go” is a dance/electronic synth driven fun ball of energy focused on the theme of trust, with Blanca enthusiastically reminding us that we can trust God 100%, and his plans, even when they seem like they lead us somewhere we don’t want to go. Yes, sometimes we can be a bit like Jonah in the Bible, running in the opposite direction, but Blanca inspires us and boldly proclaims ‘…if You say go, I’m not gonna wait, if You say move, I won’t hesitate, wherever it is that You’re taking me to, I’m gonna trust in You…’; a statement that we all can declare now and/or in the future.
Other album highlights is the disco/80’s dance themed pop number “Catching Fire”, a feel good drum and keys led melody inspiring us to be the person God intended for us to be, as Blanca ardently reminds us that ‘…don’t be afraid to show them who you are, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for, you, you’re catching fire, I can see it in your eyes, just a spark, it will ignite you…’; as well as the epic out-of-this-world rap infused anthem “Get Up”, sung with Lecrae, where both Blanca and Lecrae encourage us to actively live life to the fullest instead of being a spectator and watching from the sidelines. In particular we are encouraged to chase our dreams and hold nothing back, something that is bound to motivate all who listen!
Though “Forever Love”, an r&b jazz infused trumpet and trombone blasting toe tapping melody, is directed at Blanca’s husband, and reiterates all of the reasons why Blanca believes him to be her ‘forever love’, it’s a song that’s cheesy and thematically doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, in the sense that it’s about her earthly soulmate instead of about Jesus, yet the theme of commitment, safety and love echoes God’s immense love for us! While “Surrender”, a straight up worship/CCM piano ballad that brings everything back to the heart of the album- trusting in God for our future and His plans. In this emotional, honest and vulnerable anthem, Blanca ardently and eloquently relays that Jesus can invade every part of her life and take all of her as she surrenders fully to the promise of unending new life in Him. It’s a song that is sure to be our declaration both now and into the future, and Blanca is to be commended, as we shout out that ‘…You can take all of me, every little piece I’m holding, You can invade the very heart of me till I surrender…’
The Caribbean reggae flavoured guitar led dance anthem “Worry”, co-written with Seth Mosley, has Blanca vividly and effectively describing how we shouldn’t worry about the circumstances and problems in our lives, and rather let God sooth our soul and calm our nerves, as ‘…Your love’s got a hold on me, and You won’t let go through the highs and the lows…’; while the energetic pop melody “Today”, driven by inspiring synth (and similar in theme to Lincoln Brewster’s “Today Is The Day”), is a dance number encouraging us to let go of past hurts and use today as a tool to start actively doing what God is placing on your heart- God will guide us through anything we want to do, so why not start today, which is as good as any other day!
Not to be confused with Peter Furler’s song of the same name; Blanca exquisitely employs soothing and captivating keys and synth, while also exclaiming that Jesus, who lives in us, is greater than anyone else in the world, in every aspect; a fact that should boggle our minds as we wrap our heads around the weighty concept, while we listen to a melody that could be a single in the future. And as the album winds down to a close, we are treated to a unifying and inspiring message of togetherness, love and friendship, in “Chosen Ones”, where Blanca emphatically outlines how we all as people have the same innate needs that Jesus has inbuilt in us, and once we realise that fact, we can now unite together and face any adversity and adversary that life throws at us. Well done Blanca for these fourteen motivational and inspiring tunes that will be on repeat on my iTunes playlist for a while yet!
For some, the fact that Group 1 Crew have split up (is that the right word?) and now Blanca is creating solo music which is stylistically different on the whole than the rap that Group 1 Crew was famous and popular for- diversifying into many unexplored genres; would be a bitter pill to swallow. But in my opinion, Blanca’s self titled new album is something to be celebrated as it marks the beginning of a new chapter, with plenty of new hits and potential singles such as “Who I Am”, “Surrender” and “Greater Is He”! With such diversity on this album from rap to ballads to pop anthems to dance tracks, it is likely that Blanca will receive at least a Dove Award nomination next year, hopefully a few wins. No doubt she will definitely be successful on many radio stations! Fans of Beckah Shae, Britt Nicole and TobyMac will love this album, and even though some songs could seem out of place on first listen; if there’s any time to expand the musical horizons, it’s now! A superb job for Blanca! I can’t wait for the next album!
4 songs to listen to: Who I Am, Surrender, Catching Fire, Greater Is He
RIYL: Mandisa, Francesca Battistelli, Group 1 Crew, Lecrae, Britt Nicole