Word Label Group
Release Date: September 14th 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Remind Me
- What If
- Real Love
- Best Part of Me
- All In
- Run To The River (feat. Tye Tribbett)
- How Much More
- Give It All (feat. Redimi2)
- Feel It
Back when they were active, Group 1 Crew was one of the most inventive and musically daring and unique CCM/pop/rap groups over the past decade, and it was the band’s third album Outta Space Love that won me over as a fan- 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. Since then I have been avidly following the band and all of its members, including their member changes- Pablo left in 2012 and Blanca left in 2014.
Now a solo artist, Blanca released her debut self-titled album in 2015 after being in the group since the band’s inception. Blanca’s first release, complete with 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 comprising her singles “Who I Am”, “Greater Is He”, “Not Backing Drum”, “Echo” and “Different Drum”; and still has listeners singing along with the catchy beats and relevant lyrics- and you can read a review of Blanca’s debut album that we posted, right here. So, while it’s been about a couple of years since Blanca released anything new, she did drop a new single, called “Real Love” in August 2017, followed by a new 5 song EP in September, as well as a new single (“Shattered”) in May this year, as well as another brand-new song “Steady” a few weeks ago. With all of those songs part of a 14-track sophomore album Shattered, which just released this past week; anticipation was high, for fans and long-time listeners like myself. Now the wait is over, so how does this project stack up against the many other album highlights this year, such as Michael W. Smith’s A Million Lights, Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child, and Building 429’s Live The Journey?
Opening proceedings is the explosive, high octane EDM track “Remind Me”, where Blanca ardently dives deep and doesn’t hold back, asking God to remind her of His goodness and faithfulness, asking Him to ‘…remind me You are all that I need, and You are everything, and You are always with me, even in my darkest hour, You remind me of Your love and Your faithfulness, remind me of Your ways and I won’t forget, it’s true, whenever I need it, You remind me…’. Latest single “What If” is next, and is extremely catchy and CCM-like, as the soulful confronting and hard hitting melody asks the underlying question of ‘what if God is actually holding us, and we start believing in His power instead of listening to the lies of the enemy?’- it’s a freeing concept and the hand claps led 3 minute tune is an EP highlight.
Despite my own personal enjoyment of these two openers, the true gem on the track list belongs to “Real Love”- and let me just say that from the outset, this song isn’t like anything Blanca has released at all. It’s not CCM and pop like her self-titled debut solo album in 2015, and not rap like what Group 1 Crew have always been famous for. Maybe more like dance or gospel. Anyway, “Real Love” is purely piano, but not a worship ballad. I’m not entirely sure what to classify the song as, nonetheless Blanca eloquently reminds us that the things we do and how we look and dress doesn’t matter to God, that He just wants our hearts. Calling out fakers in the chorus, Blanca tells us all to ‘…leave your religion at home…’ and also encourages us that ‘…I know it’s about what He’s already done, not about what I think that I gotta do…I don’t need no stained glass to be washed in his blood, I don’t need no perfect, put together pretty words to be enough…’; and it is in this in-your-face anthem that we are glimpsed maybe into the type of song that Blanca really enjoys singing. Will the song be what the fans want though, and is the added gospel genre that will set Blanca’s sophomore solo studio effort apart from others, and help her avoid the ‘sophomore slump’? Only time will tell I guess, although from first listen, this song is quite good lyrically, even though musically it takes a while to fully appreciate and be immersed in what Blanca is trying to convey here.
“The Best Part Of Me” is a radio friendly guitar led pop track where Blanca could be singing about her husband, or about God (and it’s the ambiguity that will draw even non-Christian listeners in!), added with some serious 70’s and 80’s musical vibes; while Blanca delivers a hopeful and heartfelt melody in the electronics prominent waltz type melody “Steady” where she eloquently reiterates that Jesus is the rock that we can stand on, the only One who can keep us steady. Tempo-wise, Blanca takes the tracks up a notch with “All In”, as she fervently uses the theme in Matthew West’s song of the same name as the main message of this song, crying out that we’re all in for God, so we can do whatever we feel God has called us to do, and the gospel infused joyous and celebratory “Heaven”, where Blanca channels her inner Mandisa, and delivers maybe the best vocal performance of the whole album, and also remind us of the fact that when we’re living, we need to have an eternal perspective, always focusing on our Father in Heaven, and being firm in our faith.
“Run To the River” is a danceable EDM/gospel infused melody, with Tye Tribbett on guest vocals, as both Tye and Blanca have a blast, letting listeners know of their exciting faith in Jesus, and His promises and faithfulness, as we all can go down to the river and express our faith through baptism and other means. Blanca then tackles the theme of worry and reassures us in the celebratory and happy-go-lucky “How Much More” that Jesus takes care of the sparrows, so ‘…how much more will You give us all Your love, how much more will You come through, You always do…’; and also invites us to join her on going deeper with God in “Undeniable”, a musically Caribbean flavour melody where Blanca channels her inner Tauren Wells and Unspoken vocally and stylistically, and reiterates that being in relationship with Jesus is undeniable, that there’s nothing like the feeling of being unconditionally loved.
“Numb” probably is one of the musically weakest melodies on Shattered, as Blanca in my opinion takes on too much in too short a duration, as this short but punchy and busy EDM melody highlights the notion that Blanca wants to feel something, even if it hurts, as the alternative of being numb to any feeling, is worse. The penultimate track is the jazz/r&b infused pop tune “Give It All”, where Blanca lyrically highlights the fact that we can and should surrender our entire beings to Jesus, and give over our complete selves, holding nothing back, and being the most vulnerable we can be.; and Shattered ends with “Feel It”, the infectious and contagious gospel/jazz/r&b/worship/pop melody that has Blanca passionately that Jesus is moving and that ‘…change, change, change is a comin’, and like the train that’s set in motion, ain’t no stopping where it’s going, no, no, I know, change, change, change is a comin’, ain’t gonna be this way forever, I’ma get somewhere better, oh yeah, I feel it…’. Yet it is the title track that is going to propel Blanca to the highest of heights, and quickly.
“Shattered” basically shatters misconceptions of what a good song should sound like. It’s a piano only song, but Blanca’s vocals nonetheless make this song brilliant despite the limited instruments, as she reiterates that ‘…if you shatter every piece of you that’s on the floor, He can restore, and after you’ll be even stronger than before, He can restore what’s shattered…’. Inspired by the passing of Blanca’s mother last year, I reckon you may not be able to find a more personal song from this year to listen to so that you can feel inspired- and there’s really not much more I can say here, so I’ll just let you listen to this song and be amazed at Blanca’s prowess as a singer and as a songwriter.
For some, the fact that Group 1 Crew have totally rebranded 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; would be a bitter pill to swallow. But in my opinion, Blanca’s newest album Shattered, in particular the title track, “Real Love”, “Heaven” and “How Much More”, is something to be celebrated as it marks the beginning of a new chapter (genre change or genre expansion?), with plenty of God moments and a thoroughly inspiring message. No doubt Blanca will definitely be successful on many radio stations! Fans of Beckah Shae, Britt Nicole and TobyMac will love this new project, as we let us sit back and marvel at Blanca’s stellar batch of new songs!
4 songs to listen to: Real Love, Heaven, How Much More, Shattered
RIYL: Tasha Cobbs-Leonard, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, Sarah Reeves, Tedashii, Andy Mineo, Derek Minor, Hollyn