Reunion Records / Provident Label Group
Release Date: January 14th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Desert Road
- The Power of the Cross
- Scars in Heaven
- Anything But Easy
- Crazy People
- 2nd Opinions
Casting Crowns needs no introduction. No seriously…they don’t. If you are a diehard fan of this Florida CCM group, or even if you’re a casual listener, I’m sure anyone who knows music, even mainstream music, knows Casting Crowns, right? Besides, I’m sure you all have read my blog post about Casting Crowns that I wrote about in 2019…and now that we’ve got all the formalities out of the way, let me just say that over the last few years, I’ve been tremendously blessed and impacted by this group- and Mark Hall & co. are fast becoming one of my favourite Christian bands out there, ever…alongside others like Tenth Avenue North, Switchfoot, Skillet and for KING & COUNTRY, to name a few. A band that has been discussed amongst people who love Christian music (like myself) for ages, is one such band that comforts and unsettles at the same time. Since their Florida beginnings, Casting Crowns have now become such a band that has given to us a lot of albums, alongside many awards and opportunities to bring songs to the masses through the radiowaves. From songs like ‘East to West’, ‘Courageous’, ‘If We are the Body’, ‘Praise You in This Storm’ and ‘Lifesong’, to ‘Until the Whole World Hears’, ‘Already There’, ‘Jesus, Friend of Sinners’, ‘Oh My Soul’, ‘Just Be Held’, and ‘Broken Together’; Casting Crowns write music that is primarily radio friendly and accessible to the average joe person, but all the while carefully crafting some of Christian music’s most emotive and poignant lyrics. In essence and to put it bluntly; lyrically- the band is top notch, with much of the music, in fact, all of it, grounded in the Word of God, and reminding us of the qualities of God and who we are in light of that. The music as a whole, will leave a lot to be desired, for the listeners; because frankly, Casting Crowns aren’t as musically risqué or even inventive when compared to many other artists within the CCM community- the likes of Crowder, All Sons and Daughters, Third Day, Andrew Peterson, all these guys have a much more interesting musical backdrop compared to the band out of Florida. And maybe, that’s ok. The band hasn’t really focused too much on the aesthetics and how the music sounds in the grand scheme of things. If the song touches a person’s life, then the band has served their purpose.
Casting Crowns released their chart-topping album Only Jesus in 2018, with their standout hits like ‘Only Jesus’, ‘Nobody’, ‘Love Moved First’, and ‘Starts Right Here’. The band even saw great success of this album, with the release of their deluxe version of the album in September 2020. On the heels of their best-of 16 track compilation of songs thus far in their career (Voice of Truth: The Ultimate Collection in November 2019) and The New York Sessions, that unveiled to us around the same time as well; Only Jesus (Deluxe) was released during a year (2020) where we needed emotive and poignant albums the most. While the album was actually a re-release of their 2018 album Only Jesus– with a few more renditions of songs like ‘Only Jesus’, ‘Starts Right Here’, and ‘Nobody’, alongside their 11 track Only Jesus Visual Album (of which they received a Dove Award in 2019 for the Long Form Music Video of the Year); Only Jesus (Deluxe) was nevertheless an album for us to dwell upon and revisit in 2020 (and 2021), and realise that songs from a few years ago can still have impact a few years later on. For I’ve always found Casting Crowns to speak hard truths, rattling our own preconceptions of what we believe the Christian walk of life to look like and be, and their 2018 album, and by extension this new 2020 one, was no different. Mark Hall and co. offer to us heartfelt songs all with a heartfelt message, and while I myself didn’t review the album when it released (the review can be seen here and was reviewed by my brother Josh), I nevertheless heard the album numerous times, and while for me it doesn’t hold a candle to my favourite album The Altar and the Door, it does nudge in at 2nd– closely edging out Lifesong which was my second favourite album from the band for a long time…until Only Jesus of course. Now we are here at the beginning of 2022 and once again, this band from Florida have again unveiled to us another project full of encouraging songs- Healer, a 7 track project released in mid-January 2022.
Released as the first radio-single from the album, and the first single since ‘Starts Right Here’; ‘Scars In Heaven’ focuses around losing loved ones in life, and it is purposefully ambiguous about whether the someone that the persona in the song has lost (Mark could be singing it about himself or someone else) is a spouse or not (and thus, making the song be more relatable and applicable to a variety of people who hear it). The song itself is a great reminder of how we ought to spend each moment with our family members, and to cherish the time we do have with our ailing grandparents and other family members who may be nearing the end of their own life- because once these people in our lives pass on, we won’t get them back- until the next life, that is. For the time we spend here and now will encourage us in our own lives, and we’ll appreciate our loved ones all the more, if we know that the time here on Earth, in general, is limited. The song is a great and sobering reminder to do better- of how people can often coast by in life, never really connecting with people, and then realising that we need to, when the person we want to connect with, is gone permanently from this Earth. Mark Hall and co. have presented a track that has challenged my own conception about death and grieving; and making the most of our relationships as they come in life, for taking them for granted is something that we’re all guilty of, myself included. A song that’ll be continuously on my Spotify playlists for weeks and even months to come, this is a song that has the potential of rising up to become one of my favourite songs, from the band, within the last five years, closely up there with ‘Only Jesus’, ‘Oh My Soul’, ‘God of All My Days’ and ‘Still Standing Here’.
‘…I began to write the song [while] watching my mom care for her mom and dad as they were passing away. They passed away within a year of each other. And, seeing sickness change the people that raised her, seeing their minds change, and so many things were just taking a turn, and watching her bear the weight of that. My mom is a believer; she loves Jesus. She’s the one I go to first when I need somebody to pray for me. But watching her deal with this as they passed away — that was tough. And being a pastor for a long time, walking people through loss; there’s this moment when we are suddenly very aware of their absence. The world seems quieter. You realize you’re not going to hear their voice again. In those moments, along with that, you feel the last moments of their life here. And there was pain, and there was suffering, or there was tragedy, or there was weakness, or there were wrong choices, and your mind is cluttered with the last thing you remember. And then your only hope is in something you’ve never seen. And as believers, we have a lot of faith for ourselves, but sometimes it’s hard to have faith for others, especially when we’ve never been where they’re going. And all we have is God’s Word to tell us. It’s in those moments, I’ve got to make sure that I’m in God’s Word for Him to tell me what the truth is…when we lose someone, our only faith and comfort has got to come from the Father. It’s not going to come from here because all we see are reminders that we don’t have. So, what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to ask God to help us release our ideas of who I knew that loved one was, and I’ve got to start focusing on who they are now. They are with Jesus. They are being held by the hands that bear the only scars in Heaven…’
Throughout the rest of 7 song EP (of which will be part of a bigger project Healer released later on during the year), Casting Crowns continue to delve into hard topics and emotive messages as we see one of the most heartfelt collection of songs for quite some time. Also pre-released prior to the release of Healer the album; both ‘The Power of the Cross’ and title track ‘Healer’ were unveiled before January 14th, and both remind me of the power that comes from surrendering to Christ on the cross, and allowing the healer of all healers, to come into my life and to move and shake things that ought to be. ‘The Power of the Cross’ speaks about all the things that you’ll be away with when we surrender to Jesus and the power of the cross, and the things that you’ll gain when Jesus enters your life. Sorrow will dissipate and joy will come flooding in- and while it won’t be instantaneous (and may even take a lifetime to rid ourselves of the things that aren’t of God, and for God’s qualities to come inside us), the choice of surrendering to Christ and all of His ways, will be worth it in the end. ‘Healer’, the title track, speaks about our own human fascination with things and stuff, instead of the person behind them. We long for healing, and the healer…well, I need to think about that, right? We want the comfort; but become worried when Christ comes to shake up our world and ‘afflict’ the ‘comfortable’. We want the results and things that God brings us (blessings, prosperity, health, wealth), and that often takes a front seat to Christ Himself. And maybe that’s why right now, we see a sudden rejection of the prosperity doctrine’ the world has accepted for so long. Because now, more than ever, is a time where we wake up to what we’ve been doing all these years- we’ve grasped onto the ‘healing’ and have ‘rejected’ the healer, when in reality, it should be the opposite way around. Yes, we should long for the healing, but if that healing (and more and more of it) causes us to forget the healer and causes us to have less appreciation, respect, love and compassion for the healer and those around us; then we’ve made idols of the ‘things’ we’ve craved for. ‘Healer’ reminds us of the warped theology we’ve bought into…maybe people would recognise things about themselves and their beliefs, through this track, and maybe they’ll be given impetus and courage to change it too.
‘…I think one of the things that makes us thankful and passionate as believers is remembering who we were without Jesus. Ephesians 2 is probably one of the best descriptions of who we were without Jesus. Dead in our sin. There’s no finding our way to Him, there’s no figuring out a way to Him. There’s no knowing enough about Him; or doing enough for Him. A dead man don’t do anything, right? But He has rescued us, from a dominion of darkness, and He’s delivered us into the kingdom of the Son that He loves. Colossians chapter 2 says that He took the record of debt that stood against us, and He cancelled it by nailing it to the cross. Jesus said on the cross, He said ‘tetalestai’ right? That’s an accounting term for ‘paid in full’. It’s a stamp they would put on things- ‘this record is cancelled’. It’s been taken care of. That’s what Jesus did for me, on that cross. That is power. That is life-changing power. And the thing about the power of the cross, what God did through His Son on that cross, not only saved me, but now it sustains me. I still need Jesus, right? Yes, I belong to Him but now I’m in the process of becoming like Him a little more every day. And when I get a hold of the fact of who I was and who I am now because of Jesus, now I start seeing other people like Jesus sees them. And now instead of being mad at the world for being lost, I become broken for how lost the world is. I’ve gotta get them to the cross. I’ve gotta show them what Jesus did in me. I’ve gotta tell them my story. I’ve gotta point them to what only Jesus can do. The power of the cross can change lives, and it’s changed mine…’
Story behind ‘Power of the Cross’
‘…one of the things you’ll notice in Scripture, when people encounter Jesus, they really loved the things that He could do. They really loved what He had to offer, and they came from miles, for that. As a matter of fact, it seemed like He began starting to point that out to them. That everybody came to Jesus for stuff. It was Jesus Himself that they started to struggle with. I think they liked the healing, but it was the healer that they struggled with. They wanted the comfort, but they weren’t sure they wanted a King. You know when you read stories in the Old Testament of people making golden calves and worshipping a statue, that sounds just out of this world. But when you boil it down, what you see is a people that loved moments, they loved unity, they loved gathering around something, that they could roll out when they wanted it and roll away when they were done with it. And that’s what religion is. It’s something you can pick up and sit down, anytime you want. And people were starting to do that to Jesus. They would come to Him and say, ‘give us this bread’ and what would He say? ‘I can’t give you the bread, I am the bread’. They’d say, ‘give us this water of life’ and He says, ‘I am the water of life’. Even the disciples said ‘how do we know where to go? Show us they way!’ What does Jesus say? ‘I am the way. I didn’t come here to give you these things. The answer is me’. Jesus isn’t life enhancement, Jesus is life. And that’s why we shy away from the healer Himself. We’d much rather have delivery from the moments and rescue from situations, but to have a king is a whole new website. And I’m just telling you, we’ve seen a couple of years, of everybody coming up with this idea that if we could just get this president, if we could just get this hashtag, if we could just get this law passed, if we could just get these things, everything’s gonna be better. And it’s all left us in a big hole of despair. What we need more than healing as a nation, as a family, as churches, as people, what we need more than healing, is we need the healer, we need the shepherd, we need the King that Jesus is…’
Story behind ‘Healer’
There’s always at least one song on each album that Casting Crowns release, that is about praying for a friend. Longing for someone who is not a Christian to become one; and presenting a song where the listener is convicted to share their own faith with someone close to them who isn’t a Christian…yet. There’s songs like ‘Here I Go Again’ from Casting Crowns that speaks about how the persona feels as they he’s ‘going’ again, speaking to his friend about superfluous things and asking the Lord for words to say because ‘…I only know it hurts to see my only friend slowly fade away…’, while on 2005’s Lifesong, Casting Crowns unveil ‘Love Them Like Jesus’, a song that encourages us to love the people around us that are struggling with their faith, to ‘…love them like Jesus, You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions, just know that He loves them, stay by their side…’ ‘Prayer For a Friend’ from The Altar And The Door echoes a similar theme to ‘Here I Go Again’ and speaks about a friend the persona is lifting up to God- the simplicity of the track allows us to understand that sometimes prayer is all you can do to help friends who may not know Christ. Title track ‘Until The Whole World Hears’ from Casting Crowns’ 4th album, speaks about a longing and prayer that we all ought to pray, to allow us to be ready to proclaim the gospel to the world, as long as it takes, and especially to the people who don’t know the Lord presently, while ‘Jesus Friend of Sinners’ from 2011’s Come to the Well allows us to be reminded that we are all sinners, that us as Christians aren’t necessarily ‘better’ than our friends who are without, but rather, we both are capable of sins. We judge the world and people who are ‘without’ Christ, when in reality, we need to ‘…open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers, let our hearts be led by mercy, help us reach with open hearts and open doors, Jesus friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours…’ ‘Love You With the Truth’ from 2014’s Thrive speaks about how we can sometimes feel as if we don’t have it all together, to speak to our friends about Christ, that we’re always waiting on preachers, teachers and those higher up, to speak words of wisdom to them. Yet this song still reminds us that we can just as well speak to our friends as much as anyone else would. We have a duty and love to share Christ with our friends, because ‘…when we love, we earn the right to speak the truth, when we speak truth, we show the world we truly love, I’m not pointin’ my finger, I’m holding out my hand, I lay it all on the line now to see God save my friend, let my life and my words be the proof, I’m gonna love you with the truth…’ ‘One Step Away’ from The Very Next Thing shows Mark speaking directly to someone who feels as though they are too far from God’s grace and love, showing them that ‘…it doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone, mercy says you don’t have to keep running down the road you’re on, love’s never met a lost ’cause, your shame, lay it down, leave your ghosts in the past ’cause you know that you can’t go back, but you can turn around, you’ve never been more than one step away…’; while ‘One Awkward Moment’ from 2018’s Only Jesus, reminds us all of how sometimes its better to have an awkward moment with your friend and share Christ, speak to them, and say what you need to say, than to withhold truth on the basis that you love your friend and that you don’t want to ‘offend’ them. The lyrics of the chorus are very poignant, and remind us that at the end of the day, ‘…one word, one hand, tell me, is that too high a price? One awkward moment, could be the one that saves a life, your hurt, your scars, God will use to open up her eyes, one awkward moment, you’ll see the gospel come alive…’ Then you have ‘Anything But Easy’, which, like all these songs gone before it, discussed in this paragraph; is also about helping a friend see Jesus and to maybe respond favourably when they hear. But they won’t hear it if we don’t speak. If all we’re doing is talking about the weather and never really going below surface level conversations, then maybe our friendships either need to be deeper, or change completely. Because eternity is too serious of a reason, for us to have ‘surface-level’ only friends. If we see things happening in our friends lives, we have to say something. Because in all honesty, ‘…it will be easy to talk about the weather, it will be easy to look beyond the wave, but I love You too much to not say something, without the truth my love means nothing, sometimes love is anything but easy…’
The remaining three songs on the EP continue to speak about biblical truths, as Casting Crowns continue to collaborate with long-time writing partner Matthew West (who also co-write their chart-topping single ‘Nobody’) on the songs ‘2nd Opinions’, ‘Desert Road’ and ‘Crazy People’. ‘Desert Road’ is the first song from the EP, and speaks of a road that we all as Christians (and as humans in general) seem to travel along, at one point in our lives or another- this proverbial ‘desert road’- the time in our lives where everything goes haywire, where things aren’t necessarily what we want them to be (or even worse, things are exactly what they are and we couldn’t even see it all along the way). We all aren’t immune to them, and at some point, or another in our lives, we’re gonna experience the road that we want to get off; but can’t. For to put things bluntly, God often uses these desert roads in our lives, to shape us into better people, to remind us of who He is and who we are as a result. To allow us to not rely more on ourselves; but rely most on Him. ‘Desert Road’ ought to be an encouragement, that we follow where God leads, and to be humble enough to understand and accept that God can use anything to get our attention and to communicate what He wants to communicate to us, even if it is for us to go on the paths we wouldn’t’ve chosen- these desert roads! The EP then rounds out with ‘Crazy People’ and ‘2nd Opinions’. The former (‘Crazy People’) is an upbeat anthem that reminds us that even if the world sees us as crazy people, we ought not to shy away from what we believe. That by human opinion and standards, we are considered crazy, and that maybe that’s ok. ‘2nd Opinions’ is the last track on the EP; and is considered a sobering account of what we as people of the Word should do- follow the Word. Instead of looking to this person or that, looking at self-help guides, and other things that aren’t the Bible…what we really should do is follow Christ instead of what people think about Christ. We all have our own biases, and more often than not, its almost easier to read a Christian book about Jesus, than to read the Bible, which his actually all about Jesus. We receive our theology and ‘gospel’ from songs and sermons, and there’s nothing wrong with these things per se. But if they replace the Bible, and we only understand Christ through songs and sermons, then we really are just viewing 2nd opinions rather than the actual thing itself.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the album released, but sometimes it takes that long to listen to the tracks and digest and understand what Mark Hall and co. are trying to communicate through these songs. Because this band from Florida have always been delivering poignant lyrical moments in song, from the word go…that’s just who they are. It can take some time for the song to soak into ourselves when we listen to these tracks, but once we understand the heart behind these songs, we see the importance and value of said artist in the music industry in general. And said artist happens to be Casting Crowns.
Casting Crowns have had a plethora of radio hits in the past; and will so in the future. They’ve influenced people’s lives, mine included, and have influenced not just CCM but I believe music in general; and have shown the wider community that it is ok to unveil vulnerable and innermost thoughts in music, especially when you’re a CCM/Christian music artist. It is assumed by and large that much of CCM seemingly appears fake, and that music artists write from a place of elevation and the comparing of self to others. And yet when we hear Casting Crowns and their music, there is a sense of honesty and urgency, of compassion, care and a hope that is presented that is seemingly lacking, especially in the mainstream music industry. There is a sense of realness to Casting Crowns the band and their songs, and their new album Healer carries to the fore, the realness and relevance that has made them flourish in an industry that is ever competitive, from their inception, till now, and most certainly in the future. Mark and co. have given to us 7 tracks that remind us of the importance of Jesus the healer, not just the healings we crave each day. For fans of Casting Crowns, or even fans of Christian music in general, this is a must have- if you’ve ever been a fan of the band from the start, or even a brand new one. Maybe, just maybe, pick this album up, alongside Only Jesus (Deluxe), as well as their 8 track EP The New York Sessions and their best-of 16 song collection (released in November 2019) and gift it to a friend in the future? Well done Mark and co. for such a powerful and poignant collection of 7 songs, and a great reminder that albums don’t necessarily have to be released as a whole, they can be released in parts instead. Congrats to the band on this album release, here’s hoping that their full-length studio album Healer (releasing later on during 2022) is as poignant and heartfelt as Healer itself is!
3 songs to listen to: Scars in Heaven, Anything But Easy, Healer
RIYL: MercyMe, Tenth Avenue North, Building 429, Newsboys