Release Date: November 13th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- At Calvary
- Good, Good Father
- Great Are You Lord
- You Are the Only One
- Here’s My Heart
- No Not One
- Just Be Held
- The Well
- Called Me Higher
- Thoughts on Jesus, Friend of Sinners
- Jesus, Friend of Sinners
2 times in a year? After releasing Glorious Day: Hymns Of Faith (a studio album full of renditions of well-known hymns as well as fan favourites- a sort of greatest hits album so to speak…), as a worthy follow-up to the 2014 studio album Thrive; the 7 piece CCM/worship/pop/rock band Casting Crowns (Mark, Juan, Chris, Melodee, Megan, Josh and Brian) is back with a live offering this time. A Live Worship Experience has dropped this week, alongside new releases from Natalie Grant and Kutless. Even though I have mentioned this before in previous reviews of the band’s albums, I’ll mention it again- Casting Crowns’ albums, no matter the format, have garnered divided opinions, yet also commercial acclaim and huge chart topping numbers. I guess you either love the band or don’t, and I’m in the camp that love the band- my love for them and their ministry increasing after seeing them live in 2012 in Sydney, where they spoke about their heart for Jesus, and I heard stories behind their songs. Though the band is pretty successful, with plenty of radio singles and Dove Awards etched to their name, the band are still criticised for some reason by a few critics. Yet for their first full length album (yep, the other live ‘albums’ have been EP’s, lasting 6 or 7 songs long each!), there’s something that seems to have shifted somewhat in the band’s worship, and they’ve taken their love and devotion to Jesus Christ to the next level, expressing their surrender to Jesus in a powerful, impacting and inspiring way!
Though I do agree to an extent that musically, Casting Crowns are overall probably not as adventurous as artists like David Crowder, Andrew Peterson and Rend Collective, of late there’s been something about this 7-piece outfit from Georgia that keeps me transfixed and captivated, something that has overflowed and transpired over into this most recent live project. Mark Hall has developed into a brilliant song-writer and it’s clear that these humble men and women of God are here to stay, as they develop their craft more and more, drawing us into a deeper relationship with Jesus. So how does the new live worship album stack up? Let’s take a squiz shall we?
Out of the 12 melodies on the track list, 6 are songs from previous albums. Though these live versions stick very close to the original studio versions (and some may dislike that fact!), their presence in this live album for me showcases and highlights the band’s passionate and fervent heart for Jesus as we are reminded just how brilliant Mark Hall is as a songwriter, and how poignant, emotional, transparent and honest these melodies are- it’s some of the best songs Casting Crowns have recorded in their entire career. The current radio single “Just Be Held” is a mesmerising piano and strings prominent ballad, sung from God’s perspective, where Mark imparts that Jesus is with us and will never leave us, that ‘…your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place, I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held…’, my favourite part of the chorus providing us hope and reassurance. While the equally moving and inspiring mid-tempo ballad “You Are The Only One”, driven by strong electric guitar and vibrant keys, highlights to us that Jesus Christ is blameless, holy and sovereign, as Mark passionately proclaims and affirms God’s qualities singing out ‘…who can right every wrong? You are the only one who can calm every storm…You alone are Father, Saviour, Spirit, Healer, Redeemer, Lord of All…’. “Thrive” (the live album closer) is the final offering from the 2014 album, and has a bouncy and energetic tempo, as well as handclaps and a banjo included creating a country inspired atmosphere, as we are met with an honest track that speaks about living wholeheartedly for Jesus, and making the goal of glorifying Him in everything we do our primary purpose. A praise and worship song at heart, it’s infectious and heartfelt lyrics like ‘…so living water flowing through, God, we thirst for more of You, fill our hearts and flood our soul with one desire…’ that fully make use of the band’s capabilities, and has me singing along with gusto as well!
One of my favourite Casting Crowns’ songs ever is the transparent and captivating pseudo-title track of their 2011 album Come To The Well– and it’s a pleasant surprise to hear “The Well” on this live tracklist. With the theme of the acoustic guitar driven mid-tempo ballad being that Jesus and only Jesus is all that we need, as Mark and co. eloquently relay that ‘…all who thirst will thirst no more, and all who search will find what their souls long for, the world will try, but it can never fill, so leave it all behind, and come to the well…’, and we are encouraged to look inside ourselves, as we evaluate whether Jesus really is The Well in our lives. But it is the penultimate song on the album “Jesus Friend Of Sinners”, which sticks out to me the most. As Mark reiterates in a confronting, compelling 2 minute talk before the song, while Jesus is a friend of everyone, it doesn’t mean that we have a free pass to do whatever we want, and it doesn’t mean that since Jesus is our friend, that he allows everything that we do, even when it is harmful or against what He has planned for us. Rather, this in-your-face melody, which points out that ‘…You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast, for the leper and the lame; they’re the reason that you came, Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast, but you died for sinners just like me a grateful leper at your feet…’ reassures us that Jesus loves us where we’re at, and He also longs for us to not be in the state that we were in before, but rather closer to Him everyday. Food to chew on, right? Probably the most challenging song the band has ever recorded, Casting Crowns have unveiled an inspiring and enjoyable batch of well known songs, and favourites.
But that’s not all. Well, it probably would have been if the album was “Thrive Live” or “Come To The Well Live” or something… But it’s not, and that means 6 more songs! For these tracks Mark and his friends have delivered some renditions of well-known worship songs that are quite compelling and mesmerising, with these versions being as impacting as the originals. “Good, Good Father”, previously recorded by Big Daddy Weave, Zealand Worship and Chris Tomlin, once again pulls at my heart strings like previous versions, with the simple melody reaffirming the belief that God is a good Father and He loves to provide and lavish His children with good gifts. Not as poppy or rocky as Zealand Worship’s version, and just as laid back and worshipful as Chris Tomlin’s rendition, Casting Crowns have provided us with a worthy version, of a song bound to be popular by listeners and critics alike in the future!
The band also takes to covering All Sons And Daughters. The vibrant and eclectic “Great Are You Lord” is simple in its theme and lyrics, as Mark reminds us of God’s greatness and faithfulness, with vulnerability and brutal honesty seeping through the emotional vocals, and earnest lyrics such as ‘…You give life, You are love, You bring light to the darkness, You give hope, You restore, every heart that is broken…’, overtly spelling out the fact that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, against a powerful anthemic and epic like piano led orchestral crescendo, creating a massive God moment. Lead by the strings as well as a beautifully played keyboard, Mark and the passionate crowd sing in harmony as we are transfixed by the message of God’s greatness and sovereignty, which the same passion oozes into “Called Me Higher”, an acoustic guitar and piano focused slow ballad, led by Megan, reiterating that Jesus has called us higher and deeper into a more fulfilling life and relationship with Him. As God leads us wherever He wants, we as Christians ought to step into the great unknown, even if we are scared and apprehensive.
The final two ‘covered’ songs are “No Not One”, penned by Christy Nockels (Megan does a great rendition, possibly even just as good as Christy’s!) and the David Crowder led “Here’s My Heart”, recently covered by Lauren Daigle and I Am They. And it is these two brilliantly recorded worship melodies that I cannot fully express my love and appreciation for, without possibly writing a few more hundred words- these songs are that good! With “No Not One” being an electric guitar led lyrically simple yet vocally sublime melody about how there is no one other than our Jesus, that He is unparalleled, unchallenged, and all reigning in all of history, “Here’s My Heart” is as vulnerable as they come, with Mark ardently and prayerfully baring his soul and heart against a simple acoustic guitar backdrop, singing out ‘…here’s my heart Lord, speak what is true…’.
But the pinnacle of the album in terms of lyrical content, I believe, is the album opener, the new song “At Calvary”, previously recorded on their hymns album earlier this year. Driven by convicting and inspiring acoustic guitar, the hymn like song, which could be present on a future Casting Crowns album of all original material, in my opinion could be a timeless hymn in a few years’ time, as this potential single and guitar led mid-tempo melody and account of Jesus’ death once again paints a picture of a God who loves us immensely that deserves many, many listens. As Mark eloquently cries out in the chorus that ‘…there Your mercy and your grace was free, there Your pardon multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary…’, we are presented with the notion that Jesus’ price and death on the cross at Calvary, that allowed us to be free and live in relationship with Him, should not be brushed over or taken lightly but rather dwelled upon as we thank Jesus for dying for us. Well done Casting Crowns for an inspiring, heartfelt and poignant new album!
With such a divide on the people who love Casting Crowns and the people who don’t, there’s no mistaking that regardless of where you stand, you’ve got to respect the band for the ministry that they’re involved in. With profound lyrics, inspiring music, and such biblical truth and a heart for Jesus, the band is set to rise and rise more in the CCM industry, and maybe beyond that, in my opinion. With A Live Worship Experience being one of their strongest to date (alongside Thrive and Come To The Well), I am interested and intrigued in the forthcoming records, as well as a potential new acoustic album (The Acoustic Sessions Vol. 2 better happen!!). Though you may not have a similar viewpoint to me, and you could be indifferent to the band from Atlanta, Georgia; what I can say is this, that with songs like “Good, Good Father”, “Here’s My Heart” and “The Well”, A Live Worship Experience is sure to minister to everyone, so, I’d suggest you jump in and buy this when it releases (which is…now)! Well done Mark, Melodee, Megan, Chris, Juan, Josh and Brian for a stirring and motivational record that will be on my computer and phone playlists for many years to come!
3 songs to listen to: At Calvary, Here’s My Heart, Jesus Friend Of Sinners
RIYL: MercyMe, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong United