Reunion Records/Beach Steet
Release Date: September 16th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- The Very Next Thing
- One Step Away
- Oh My Soul
- What If I Gave Everything?
- God Of All My Days
- The God Man Passes By
- For All You Are
- Song That the Angels Can’t Sing
- Make Me a River
- No Other Name
- Loving My Jesus
Casting Crowns have always been a band that have created songs that have been hit after hit on radio. Not that they have been musically safe throughout their entire career, they did deliver some out-of-the-box tracks, like “Thrive”, “Until The Whole World Hears”, “Courageous”, “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Broken Together” to name a few, but on the whole, you would call Casting Crowns a ‘safe’ band- ministering to those who need ministering to on a weekday- primarily anyone who listens to K-Love or Air1…not that there’s anything wrong with creating music that speaks to a certain type of listener, it’s just that sometimes if the band, or any band for that matter, makes a similar sounding music again and again, ministering to the same crowd, it can seem a little musically and stylistically stale for anyone who listens to the album, even if it wasn’t the artist’s initial intention for what the album should sound like. So what does The Very Next Thing, releasing today, sound like, and how does it compare to albums of the past, like The Altar and the Door, Come To the Well, Thrive and others?
Well for starters, this new album from Casting Crowns is a step in the right direction in a musical and artistic way, as the band branches out and creates some of the most heartfelt and poignant songs I’ve heard throughout all of Mark Hall’s tenure as Casting Crowns’ lead singer. In fact, the band has matured both in music and in lyrics over the years, that this new album, as a whole, stands formidable and tall amongst the rest of their music catalogue, and has quickly become a favourite album of mine amongst all the other Casting Crowns albums. Admittedly, The Altar and the Door is my personal favourite, even though a majority of these tracks never really hit success in a commercial and radio standpoint- nevertheless it is still a favourite of mine…and their 2016 album is a very, very close second. What has always worked for the band in the formula to create songs that are as relatable as they are popular; is the fact that all of these band members are full time youth leaders, worship leaders and pastors at their respective churches around America…so the band is a ‘side’ thing, rather than their main focus. They write songs out of their experience in their churches, thus making melodies that have a much more down-to-earth and personal touch. All these songs on their new album are some of the most vulnerable that I’ve heard, from the emotive and encouraging “Oh My Soul”, inspired by Mark Hall’s cancer journey, to the title track that encourages us to take steps to live life according to what we believe God is calling us to next, as well as the Hillsong Worship cover “No Other Name”, and the bluegrass/folk/country song “God Man Passes By”, a song that I initially thought the band would never record (in terms of musical style). This is a must-have for anyone who enjoys the band’s previous work, or anyone who wants to hear something different from the band, that they have never heard before.
The first radio single from the album, “One Step Away” tells the story of how we as Christians can still fall into the trap of believing the lie- that what we’ve done or will do can never be enough to earn God’s forgiveness, or rather, and we may believe this intentionally or not, that God doesn’t have enough grace to reach us where we are. Yet when we hear “One Step Away”, we hear a song that shuts out all these lies, and gives us hope in the comforting lyrics, of how we’re ‘…one step away from surrender, one step away from coming home…one step from arms wide open, His love has never let you go, You’re not alone…’ With light electric guitars and an easy-to-sing melody, this radio friendly track fit for K-Love is an ever timely reminder of how we are all just one step away from God’s goodness and grace. Though the song may be simple in a lyric and theme sense, the band still delivers the song with much poise, grace and intentionality. “One Step Away” is a standout, not because it sounds great, but rather it is a song that we can declare in unison with Mark, as we are encouraged to speak out the words to each other, and remind us that we don’t need to do anything, except to turn around, to accept God’s favour, grace and abundant love given freely to us. Well done Casting Crowns for such a powerful song, one that I reckon will become a big radio hit in the upcoming weeks ahead.
The title track is as encouraging as it is emotive, and is by far one of the songs on the album that has impacted me the most. In fact, I wrote about the song in an earlier Message Mondays post. And while the song is almost just as radio friendly as “One Step Away”, the title track is one of these songs from the band that really hit you from the get go. Dealing with living in the moment and allowing God to actively show us what He longs for us to undertake in the foreseeable future, trusting Him that whatever plans He has for us are for our good and His glory; “The Very Next Thing” features gang vocals and Mark’s passion to ignite within us a longing for us to also want to do the very next thing with the Lord. As we delve deeper into the theme of how we as Christians can sometimes dream way off into the future and believe that God can only use us somewhere down the road when we’re married, settled career-wise, etc, when in fact, Jesus wants to use us for His kingdom here and now; this is a song that challenges as well as compels and calms, as we know full well that it is God alone that prompts, prods and perseveres, til we realise that here and now, often in the middle of our brokenness, we can indeed offer our own hurts, failures, disappointments and inadequacies, and God will still use them to ourselves in the process.
“Hallelujah”, track #1, is a bold anthem that stands at just over 5 minutes, and begins in a slow build, moving from a light reflective track halfway into a rousing declaration of us shouting out the words ‘hallelujah’ unto God. As we’re encouraged from track 1 that God is indeed the focus of not only the song but the album as well; the band continue to deliver to us songs that allow us to be challenged, and others that are simply just worshipful. “What If I Gave Everything” is, dare I say it, ‘If We Are the Body’ Pt 2. With tambourines, light piano and Mark delivering his trademark gruff vocals alongside a backing choir in the chorus, this gospel tinged track is a call to action for many- why are we sometimes standing still, never moving or acting, when we believe in our heads that God has called us to greater things, when all we’re worried about are whether what God’s calling us to do will take us out of our comfort zone or not. “What If I Gave Everything” expresses the struggle in a real and relatable way, the tension between being as comfortable as we can be as Christians, and following His calling 100% and being zealous after the Lord, not worrying about what may be.
“God Of All My Days”, “For All You Are”, “Loving My Jesus” and Hillsong Worship cover “No Other Name” anchor the album in the worship component of the album, and while these 4 tracks can seemingly follow a worship song formula and thus feel less artistic and uniquely structured compared to the other songs on The Very Next Thing, what is good about these songs is that Casting Crowns is not Chris Tomlin…and that’s a good thing. In fact, Casting Crowns can sometimes make worship songs more engaging, unique and powerful than many worship CCM artists, and that is exactly true of these four songs. While each of them seem similar musically upon face value, looking at each of the songs reveals a deeper uniqueness that is present in each of the songs. “God Of All My Days” allows us to focus on how God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, while “For All You Are” discusses the issue of how we as Christians need to seriously consider- are we laying down everything we are- inclusive of our hopes, hurts, dreams and failures, for all He is? “Loving My Jesus” is an acoustic number a la “So Far to Find You”, and featuring light acoustics, and a message that allows us to lay everything down at Jesus’s feet, loving Him completely, as much as He loved us completely. “No Other Name”, lastly, features the band covering a Hillsong Worship track, though the song may not be as popular or even well known as people think. The band deliver the cover with much poise and poignancy, to the point where I even enjoyed Casting Crowns’ version much more than the original. Maybe more worship covers in the future?
“Make Me a River” features light drum beats, and a message of us asking God to make us a vessel of His love and peace as He uses our lives to show to others what God’s unending love looks like, while “The God Man Passes By”, a 4 minute bluegrass/country inspired track, complete with gang vocals, fiddles and a southern atmosphere, allows us to venture into the world of Christian country music. While the band slightly touched upon southern gospel/country music on their song “Thrive”, “The God Man Passes By” is a much more refined and matured representation of what kind of music people in the southern states of America would thoroughly enjoy. A song that paints a picture- that when Jesus impacts a person’s life, they will experience life like nothing else; the band delivers another song of uniqueness in “Song that the Angels Can’t Sing”, a more contemplative track featuring Melodee DeVevo on lead vocals, and a hard hitting message that reminds us all that we indeed have something that the angels don’t, salvation, and a God who loved us enough to create us (even though He is the trinity, in community with each other and therefore didn’t need anyone), love us and die for us. Encouraging, isn’t it?
Yet in fact, the song that is the standout on the album, and a song that is a must listen if you only listen to one song, is “Oh My Soul”. Written and borne out of Mark Hall’s cancer, it is when we are all humbled at our lowest that we can appreciate the good times more, and that is exactly what happened to Mark and his venture in writing this song. Contemplative and reflective, “Oh My Soul” features the piano as the prominent instrument, as the band invite us into personal reflections of Mark as this song tells us a picture, that every demon we all face, be it figurative or literal, will have to come face to face, and deal with, Jesus Christ our Lord. As spoken by Mark himself; ‘…the song “Oh My Soul” is really an argument with myself. I’m speaking truth to myself. The roots of my faith are talking to the storm in my life. For me, one of the most special moments in the song is the bridge because you hear the argument happening. I really wanted to paint the picture of that inner struggle that we’re all dealing with. We know what the verses say and we know how the storm feels. It’s hard to bring those together. But one thing about digging deep in the word is that when your roots are deep, they can’t be ignored. Even when the storm comes, and as shaken as I was, it felt like the storm kept just slamming up against something solid inside of me that wouldn’t let it control me. It was the roots of my faith. It was the truth that I had been soaking in and pouring into others for so many years. I got to speak scripture to myself…’ “Oh My Soul” is as encouraging as it is emotional. Mark has delivered one of the album’s most vulnerable tracks, or maybe even one of the most vulnerable tracks from the band ever! Will it achieve radio success? Maybe, maybe not. But what has been catalogued as a song whose influence come directly from the Psalms and boldly brings forth Mark’s own personal cancer experience; is one that I reckon will have a lot of impact in the upcoming weeks and months ahead. “Oh My Soul” is as introspective as any other Casting Crowns track, maybe even more so. Well done Mark and the band for a song that is very much needed as it is cathartic and impacting.
The Very Next Thing is an album full of different musical genres, depending on the song. Yet while at times in albums gone past the band has always reverted back to safe radio friendly CCM songs, this album is somewhat different, conglomerating together worship, pop, acoustic, bluegrass, country and the like. And while at times the band may divide fans more than unite, I still reckon that this new album will be enjoyed more across the board. But who am I to say? Listen for yourself and make a judgement, but let me say this- Casting Crowns’ new effort is one that I reckon will gain some new fans, and retain the old ones, in the coming months ahead. Well done guys for such a diverse album, one that’ll be on my iTunes playlist for years to come!
3 songs to listen to: Oh My Soul, The God Man Passes By, The Very Next Thing
RIYL: MercyMe, Third Day, Jeremy Camp, Steven Curtis Chapman