Capitol Christian Music Group
Release Date: July 31st 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Track Listing (+ songwriters):
- Thank You Lord (Intro)
- Thank You Lord feat. Florida Georgia Line & Thomas Rhett (Chris Tomlin, Thomas Rhett, Tyler Hubbard, Corey Crowder, David Garcia)
- Reaching For You feat. We The Kingdom (Chris Tomlin, Shay Mooney, Ed Cash
- Who You Are To Me feat. Lady A (Chris Tomlin, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood)
- God Who Listens feat. Thomas Rhett (Chris Tomlin, Thomas Rhett, Ashley Gorley, David Garcia)
- Power feat. Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE (Chris Tomlin, Pat Barrett, Ed Cash)
- Be The Moon feat. Brett Young & Cassadee Pope (Chris Tomlin, Corey Crowder, Tyler Hubbard)
- Sing feat. Russell Dickerson & Florida Georgia Line (Chris Tomlin, Corey Crowder, Brian Kelley, Tyler Hubbard, Cary Barlowe)
- Chase Me Down feat. RaeLynn (Racheal Lynn David, Josh Kerr, Hannah Ellis)
- Gifts From God feat. Chris Lane (Chris Tomlin, Corey Crowder, Tyler Hubbard)
- Forever Home feat. Florida Georgia Line (Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, Ashley Gorley, Corey Crowder)
- Together feat. Russell Dickerson (Chris Tomlin, Brian Kelley, Tyler Hubbard, Russell Dickerson, Corey Crowder)
- Tin Roof feat. Blessing Offor (Blessing Offor, Natalie Hemby)
2020 has been a very unexpected year to say the least. The global COVID-19 pandemic (which is still ongoing), the Black Lives Matter protests due to the death of George Floyd (which is also still ongoing), the Australian bushfires at the start of 2020, as well as delayed movies, TV shows and albums, cancelled sporting games and live concerts, and just the general continued economic and financial uncertainty around the world; have all been the ‘highlights’ or shall I say ‘lowlights’ of the year thus far. These are the markers of how we identify how good or bad the year has gone- and with everything that has been happening thus far, it seems as if this year has been excruciating, horrible, hard work, devastating, unprecedented, and never one to be repeated ever again. Knowing what I know now about how the virus has upended many of our lives, I would’ve told my younger self to hold on tight because it’s going to be a long bumpy ride ahead. Yet for all of these harrowing situations and circumstances we have found ourselves in, there are still a few shining lights ahead. We can still watch concerts and interact with our favourite music artists, through livestreams and online Youtube/Facebook events; yet one thing that has been remarkable, out of this world, and worth checking out, has been the release of Chris Tomlin’s new project Chris Tomlin & Friends. It’s a collaboration all-original worship project that Chris undertook, that’s way, way different than anything he’s ever done before… and it is this album that has brought a smile to my face most of all during that sombre and heartbreaking events of 2020 thus far!
Everyone bringing their own unique experiences and talents to the table is what made the songs and their message so relatable and powerful. One of my personal hopes for this album is to take a step towards bridging Christian music and all other genres. I believe themes about faith and God are relevant and needed regardless of the style of music or streaming platform genre classification. Since I was young, I have felt a calling on my life to help give people a voice to worship God. I want people to have the opportunity to worship every day of the week not just on Sundays; while they are in their car, at work, running, or just listening to whatever shows up on their playlist. For me this record is a step towards breaking down the walls of the Christian genre and allowing the music to be accessible to a wider audience. That’s my understanding of the Gospel. Music about faith, God, salvation and forgiveness doesn’t only have to come from the Christian genre.
As a country music fan I have always felt there is often a close connection between the themes of country music and faith. I experienced this first hand back in August 2019 when BK and Tyler invited me down to Atlanta to join them on stage towards the end of their concert. After their song, “H.O.L.Y.” I was standing side stage about to join them and I looked out to a sold-out crowd of 20,000 people lifting their hands up in the air. As I walked out to join them Tyler said, “we have found there’s a great power when we lift our hands. We’re going to praise God for a minute,” and he brings me out and we do ‘How Great Is Our God’ right in that moment. I was shaking. It was so powerful.
Chris Tomlin & Friends surprised me in a very good way. I first heard about this project back in June when the first two singles “Who You Are To Me” and “Thank You Lord” released. Chris wrote on his Instagram about the story behind these songs, and I was just blown away at the positivity of the lyrics and just the sheer worshipfulness as well. In a year where almost everything has gone wrong, it’s nice to hear that Chris is still praising God and is still thanking Him for His goodness. And while a number of these guest artists I’m somewhat unfamiliar with, for this project it didn’t matter, as in each and every song Chris and the featured artist blew me away with their hunger, passion and heart for worshipping Jesus and declaring how good He is. With the album produced by Corey Crowder, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley from Florida Georgia Line (FGL), as well as Ed Cash and David Garcia; Chris Tomlin And Friends is a must listen- regardless if you love Christian music or country music or both or neither. Even if you’re not a Christian, this album will have songs that you’ll instantly fall in love with and resonate with- I can guarantee you that. And while at first I thought that this album would be a bit of a mish-mash… I was proven wrong and for that I am extremely thankful. This is definitely Chris’s best album since 2013’s Burning Lights! No joke!
If I were to tell you that Chris had a hand in writing both the upbeat EDM like country inspired “Thank You Lord” as well as the reflective and introspective ballad “Who You Are To Me”, would you believe it? I mean, they’re both completely different styles… yet they’re both from the heart of a man who’s ultimately on fire for Jesus the same extent or maybe even greater, than when he first started. And the passion shows here. 3 minute country/pop melody “Thank You Lord” features Thomas Rhett belting out the first verse and the chorus and then FGL on the stirring and heartfelt second verse and then Chris appearing in the bridge. For Chris to come in this late into a song and still have this track sound awesome and Holy Spirit led, gives testament to the passion and authenticity of both Thomas and FGL. While some die-hard country fans would probably ridicule and bag Thomas and FGL for their continuous release of ‘bro-country’ songs that are possibly bordering on mainstream pop, there’s still no denying their hearts for Jesus, as all artists join together at the end for an epic danceable praise party. With the chorus of the track declaring that we are indeed thanking Jesus ‘…for my mama, for my friends, for Your love, it never ends, for the songs that make us dance on this ol’ dirt floor, for my babies, for my girl, for the way they changed my world; waking up today, yeah, I just gotta say, thank You Lord…’, this track is quickly becoming one of my favourites of this year. “Who You Are To Me” featuring Lady A (fka Lady Antebellum) is another inspiring and worshipful anthem, as Chris co-wrote this gem with Hillary, Dave and Charles. With the lyrics essentially being a vertical worship song to God, emphatically proclaiming that ‘…You’re amazing, faithful, love’s open door, when I’m empty You fill me with hunger for more, of Your mercy, Your goodness, Lord, You’re the air that I breathe, that’s who You are to me…’, we are met with probably one of the most personal and inspiring songs of the year- as I once again am amazed by how much this song resonates with me and probably with each of us, putting our faith and our testimony into eloquent words. And as Chris relays how the songwriting and the recording of both “Thank You Lord” and “Who You Are To Me” impacted him, we can see that Chris obviously had fun on the record, but more than that- this project is changing people’s lives, and hopefully moving into untapped markets that Chris’s music on his own wouldn’t have been able to previously move into.
On “Thank You Lord”: Midway through this project, I was out on tour and Tyler sends me this song and says, ‘We’ve had this demo, me and Thomas, for a little while. We wrote this together and wanted to get your thoughts.’ I just loved that chorus. I did some tweaks on the lyrics, for me, that I thought would make it a little stronger, but the song was already there. What I love about this song is that it has a great summer turn-it-up feel to it. It gave me a real excuse to sing in a language that I usually don’t. It’s definitely not something that is a Sunday morning call to worship. ‘For my mama, for my friends,’ all those kind of things, it’s definitely more in that country language, which I absolutely love. When it gets to the bridge, ‘Praise up, eyes closed/One thing I know/I just want to thank you, Lord,’ definitely takes it more to that praise kind of moment. I think it’s the perfect collaboration, because it is Thomas, it is FGL and it is me, together. You’re hearing our worlds smash up.
On “Who You Are To Me”: I’ve known Charles [Kelley] a little bit, but I knew Dave [Haywood] and Hillary [Scott] pretty well. When this started coming together, I thought, ‘Man, they’d be great. I know their hearts. I know where they’re at, where they’re coming from.’ Especially Hillary; she’s done music in my genre as well. It really started with Charles being so vulnerable: ‘When I think about my faith and the faith of so many, for so many of us, it is just these Sunday school stories [we heard] when we were growing up, these Bible stories, these crazy stories, Noah and the Ark and David and Goliath. Yet, in these last years, I’ve been in a really hard place, and it’s amazing to see God meet you in a very personal way.’ So we just started it with ‘Some people think you’re just some words on a page/You’re nothing more than fables handed down along the way/But I’ve seen you part the waters when no one else could pull me from the deep/That’s who you are to me.’ That’s the essence of this song. I think people can relate to this. I’m just floored how it came out. When they start singing, it just sounds so good.
The rest of the album is pure gold, and is simply a joy to listen to, as I hear Chris becoming more passionate than I’ve ever heard him recently. It’s also nice to hear Chris sing with familiar and unfamiliar artists whom I reckon will be the pillars of country music and Christian music alike. “Reaching For You”, co-written with Dan + Shay’s Shay Mooney and We The Kingdom’s Ed Cash, features We The Kingdom on guest vocalists, and is a typical Chris Tomlin worship song (which I’d imagine would be covered by Passion next year or the year after!), which explosively highlights the confidence we have in Jesus, and the realisation that there is only one thing that we’re reaching for and that’s Jesus Christ. “Power”, with Bear Rinehart from NEEDTOBREATHE, is a groovy jazzy gospel like tune, which has both Bear and Chris eloquently and powerfully relaying that there is all kinds of power in the name of Jesus Christ- a simple yet effective notion and concept; while promotional single “Be The Moon” is actually the heartbeat of the album. As Chris, Brett Young and Cassadee Pope fervently lay out to us the concept of being a light in the darkness, and striving to be like the moon- which has no light of its own but reflects the sun’s light; we are met with what Christianity should be like- always pointing people back to Jesus and never taking the glory for ourselves, as we act with humility, similar in theme to “Only Jesus” from Casting Crowns. “Sing”, a country/jazz/pop 3 minute melody with FGL and Russell Dickerson (Chris’s guitar tech for 3 years over a decade ago, turned rising country singer), is a solid, hopeful and worshipful melody which ultimately lists out the reasons as to why we want to sing about Jesus’ love for each of and all of us; while “Gifts From God” with rising country artist Chris Lane, is possibly one of the only downsides to the album, as this super cliché radio friendly tune personally seems out of place here, even though there’s good intentions here with the passion evident in the singers and the lyrical content of trusting God with His perfect plan because He and only he knows best.
FGL make another appearance (yep, their third!) with the honest and emotional guitar led ballad “Forever Home”, as Chris hardly makes an appearance here (he starts singing in the last minute), as Brian and Tyler fervently relay to us our anticipation of heaven and our longing to be with Jesus for eternity, at our forever home; while Russell features for a second track in “Together”. Nope, it’s not the For KING & COUNTRY cover, nor the Steven Curtis Chapman cover, however it’s still a stirring and heartfelt melody- an original tune which features Russell on lead vocals- and a fine, fine job he does, as he and Chris confidently sing out that Jesus holds everything together- a song extremely fitting now that we’re all still in lockdown and quarantine. With the album closer “Tin Roof” being a piano prominent ballad with Nigerian singer Blessing Offer, this song is definitely the most mysterious, and the one that is out of Chris’ genre completely. Yet this track gives me chills and eloquently describes what heaven is- as Blessing says in the song that heaven is home, and Blessing is reminded of home when the rain falls on his tin roof on his childhood home. In essence, “Tin Roof” is a track that will grow on you, and when it does, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Because of this song, I am definitely going to check out Blessing’s discography. I’d encourage you all to as well!
Yet for all of the sheer brilliance and near-flawlessness Chris Tomlin brings to his album Chris Tomlin & Friends; there are two songs which stand tall above the rest on this track list. Not to say that the other songs are bad… it’s just that “God Who Listens” with Thomas Rhett and “Chase Me Down” with RaeLynn are just magical and on another level. There’s no other reason for to me justify the greatness of these songs, and no amount of convincing will draw you all in. Just one listen and you’ll be floored- I can guarantee you this. “God Who Listens”, a guitar led mid-tempo ballad, is definitely THE track that has made me a Thomas Rhett fan (particularly as I’ve heard a few songs like “Be A Light”, “Die A Happy Man” and “Life Changes” to name a few, as I respect him for being vocal for his faith (as once again Chris is only present from second verse onwards). This track showcases Thomas more as a singer and as a songwriter, with the duo relaying that God is a God who always listens to everything that we lay at His feet; while RaeLynn carries “Chase Me Down” with such professionalism (and Chris is singing only backing vocals!), channelling her inner Hillary Scott, and prayerfully pouring her heart out that even in the times when we fail and fall, God always chases us down, that ‘…You chase me down when I don’t deserve it, You show me love, You don’t make me earn it, I make a mess and I just start running, hoping that You won’t know, oh, when I’m lost and I’m low in a place that I think You won’t go, You chase me down…’. Again this song hits all the right notes, and while not at that level yet where I can say that I’m a fan of RaeLynn like I am with Thomas Rhett, this song makes me intrigued to check out her discography… and if she’s as awesome vocally as she is here, then we definitely do have a star in the making! And as Chris eloquently relays to us his thoughts about both “God Who Listens” and “Chase Me Down”; we see God working beyond our wildest dreams to create songs that I’m sure will be timeless!
On “God Who Listens”: This was my first time sitting down with Thomas. We were writing together for his Christmas album last year, and [Thomas Rett] said, “I’ve got this idea that I’d love for us to think about.” It was me, Thomas, Ashley Gorley and David Garcia. I mean, if you can’t write a good song with those guys, you just need to quit first of all. And then secondly, Thomas just said that he’d heard his pastor say that the difference maker in who we worship is that we are praying to a God who listens. [Thomas] said that really meant something to him. So immediately that lyric came, “I’m not just hoping, I’m not just wishing. I know I’m praying to God who listens.” We really tried to paint a picture of that: of this grandness, this greatness, this all powerful and untouchable — you would think — God and yet he still draws close to us and still hears what’s in our hearts. That is an incredible thing to contemplate and to think about throughout all of your life. And so I think that’s the heart and core of this song.
On “Chase Me Down”: Oh my goodness. I felt like we were in the current of the river, right? The river was rolling over and we were just going wherever it took us. And it got to that point where we were just creating this whole project through friendships. There was no A&R, no labels, no managers involved. People didn’t even know we were doing this. It was just us. And I didn’t know RaeLynn, but instantly I knew this song was so special. We were saying we think it’s the best song RaeLynn’s ever written. So I said, “Let’s just let her sing the song, and I’ll just sing harmony.” There’s a lot in the song that just knocks me down every time. And then in the chorus, there’s a part that says, “When I’m lost and I’m low in a place that I think you won’t go, you chase me down.” That is great. That is the gospel. That is the good news, and all of us have felt that. Or maybe thought they were so far away. Or that there’s no way that with all things they’ve done that God could ever hear them or their prayers. And that’s the story that Jesus told the prodigal son, and it is all through the Bible. RaeLynn has such an honest voice, and such a haunting voice, that I can’t imagine another person singing this song.
Could Chris Tomlin go full country in the future? Will there be a Chris Tomlin & Friends Vol. 2 in the future? Will all of these artists go on tour with Chris when it is safe to do so for a Chris Tomlin And Friends Tour? A potential live CD or DVD? The possibilities are endless here, and now that the whole public know about the faith of many of these country artists whom we never had any idea before; how about some more genre crossovers with the other artists in the future? As in FGL or Thomas Rhett or RaeLynn could release a worship album under their own name in the future? Still there are some worship purists and Chris Tomlin purists who would hate this album purely because Chris is recording with artists who do not publicly glorify Jesus in their music, and do not record Christian music. For those people, I guess I’d say that we do not know the heart of a person, and only they and God know. So personally I’d give everyone the benefit of the doubt; and coming from that standpoint, Chris Tomlin & Friends is one album for the ages. Will it receive awards in both the Dove Awards and the CMA’s? Possibly, or maybe not. But awards aren’t the main focus here. The main focus is the music and the songs that we can use to sing to Jesus and worship Him. And while it’s a fact that Chris probably will never top Arriving or Hello Love; this album comes pretty close. So what are you waiting for? Do you want to hear Chris like you’ve never heard him before? Then this album is for you! But if you’re not a fan… then this album is still for you!
3 songs to listen to: God Who Listens, Chase Me Down, Together
RIYL: Maren Morris, Pat Barrett, Leeland, Maddie & Tae, Blake Shelton, Passion, Lindsay Ell