Citizen Way – Love Is a Lion

Fair Trade Services

Release Date: October 18th 2019

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Citizen WayLove Is a Lion (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. The Lord’s Prayer
  2. Love Has Won
  3. Mountains
  4. God You are Good
  5. Peace Like a River
  6. The Hope Song
  7. Love is a Lion
  8. You Loved Me Anyway
  9. Hallowed Be Thy Name
  10. Be Still
  11. Wave Walker (feat. Bart Millard)

Comprising of Ben Calhoun, David Blascoe and Daniel Olsson; Citizen Way, a trio from Elgin, Illinois is everything that a pop/CCM enthusiast can hope for in a band. Formed in 2004 and signed to Fair Trade Services in 2012, it was the success of singles “How Sweet the Sound”, “Should’ve Been Me” and “Evidence” from their debut album Love is the Evidence that they released in 2013, that placed them on the map of new CCM bands of that particular year to be on the lookout for. Fast-forwarding 2 years, and the band released 2.0; and here the sound is much more mature, and much more refined. An infusion of musical sounds similar to that of Josh Wilson, Aaron Shust, Sidewalk Prophets and We are Leo; this infusion of pop/rock, with a few underlings of electronic goodness and an overarching atmosphere of worship is what made 2.0 one of the standouts of 2016 as a whole, and delivered their biggest radio hit in their whole career thus far, ‘Bulletproof’. Now here we are in 2020, and upon the heels of their anticipated album Love is a Lion in 2019, we see a set of songs that Ben Calhoun and co. have mined for the better part of a few years for, which has eventuated in 11 songs that are great to listen to and enjoy if you are a CCM enthusiast, like myself. Comprising of already fan-favourite ‘Wave Walker’ (feat. Bart Millard on backing vocals) and their re-imagining of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, we see this trio deliver what I reckon is one of their most ambitious and heartfelt albums yet, at times with mixed results, but overall, an album that’s certain to resonate with people who loves CCM but with a fresh sound fusing together the likes of Big Daddy Weave, Brandon Heath and mainstream pop sensation OneRepublic.

I can think of one other song in the history of Christian music that speaks on the Lord’s prayer in the book of Matthew. ‘The Prayer Anthem’ by Carman was recorded 21 years ago as part of the 1998 album Mission 3:16, and while that song in and of itself was great for its time, it was really time for the Lord’s prayer to get a makeover and appeal to a newer generation, and seeing what this trio has done to arguably one of the most well known prayers in the bible (known to both Christians and non-Christians alike!); I am proud to say that this band has done the prayer proud. Enthusiastic and vibrant and enjoyable, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is the most poignant and heartfelt song to be released as a ‘first’ single since ‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’ back in 2013, as the band deliver a rejuvenating song along a similar joyous vein to that of Rend Collective’s ‘Your Name is Power’. As lead singer Ben imparts to us about the story behind the song, we see a glimpse into the real life stories and situations that have inspired a song that I’m sure will impact for generations to come- ‘…a few years ago, I went through the toughest season in my life.  A pastor friend of mine encouraged me when he reminded me that Jesus knows exactly how we feel.  In fact, He taught us how to pray in those times and that’s found in Matthew chapter six: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’  That was the prayer I needed to pray!  So we want to encourage you that wherever you are in this life, remind yourself that Jesus knows exactly how we feel and that God is sovereign over everything that is happening in our world and in our lives.  If you’re in that season, then sing this song with us…’ ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is a passage we all read in the bible countless of times, yet Citizen Way portray it as something that has new life and energy, as we realise that such an ‘old’ inspired text of yesteryear can still impact the people of today! And as the band continue to divulge in yet another quote (on, ‘…we live in a world that craves truth but we are constantly bombarded with lies. When the people of God sing scripture together, the truth is revealed and evil can be dealt with. We want to lead people to Jesus, the only source of truth and the original author of these words found in Matthew 6…’

‘Wave Walker’ is the other remaining track to have been released prior to Love is a Lion, way back in 2018, to be in fact. And with it’s beat and even groove being similar and akin to their own chart-topper ‘Bulletproof’, we know we’re in for a winner when a song like ‘Wave Walker’ has us all dancing and moving along to the beat from the word ‘go’. A song that also incorporates Bart Millard, quite possibly one of the most relevant front man of any CCM band at the moment; ‘Wave Walker’ released way back in the early parts of 2018. With an electric guitar undertone, and wave references in the chorus to make us realise and understand that we as Christians have the power of Christ in us to walk on the waters (spiritual waters in our lives, maybe physical ones if God wants us to!) and to overcome adversities that ever come our way; Citizen Way have delivered yet another anthem that we can declare in our own tough moments, and to place this song as the album closer is to finish it with a strong note- ‘Wave Walker’, though it may not go as high in the charts compared to even ‘Bulletproof’ or ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, is still nevertheless heartfelt- and with Bart Millard involved, what can go wrong?

Throughout the rest of the album, we see various other pop-CCM anthems that the band has delivered to us that can have the potential to become radio singles in the future and impact and impart biblical truths to people in the future. ‘Love Has Won’ has a prayerful element to it as the song itself is a declaration over people who are struggling in life, who are suffering from loss and great difficulty. We are never alone if we’re in Christ Jesus, and this song is a certain reminder of the need for people to be in fellowship and community, to be unified with people as healing comes from communication and communion with our fellow man and God, and thus, ‘Love Has Won’ is a great way to start- reminding us that ‘…hallelujah, love has won, God is with us, thank you Jesus, though the battle rages on, hallelujah, love has won…’ ‘Mountains’, track #3, is a potential radio track, as we are reminded that the God who has moved mountains (a clever metaphor that God is the God of the impossible) in the lives of people in the past, can still be active today and change the hardest of hearts right here in 2020; while ‘God You Are Good’ slows down the tempo a bit, and brings the acoustic guitar to the fore as this reflective song encourages us to believe into the never-shaking truth that God is good in spite, despite, and in light of, our circumstances, and that is something that we can never hear enough. ‘Peace Like a River’ is inspired by the age-old hymn, and is a timely reminder that all the things we amass isn’t enough and shouldn’t be enough if we don’t have the peace in our souls that only God can give, that the unsettling moments in our lives is just a way of God trying to tell us that we are in desperate need of Him in our lives, that what we have can’t fill us as God can.

‘The Hope Song’ is a 4 minute melody of CCM pop-rock goodness, and though in and of itself, it’s a good song, when looking at the album as a whole, the song sadly doesn’t stand tall, featuring a lot of ‘yeah’s and repetition that seemingly bring down a song that nevertheless delivers a theme of hope that is as much needed in a society that craves it, as it is necessary in the lives of individual people today. Alas, ‘The Hope Song’ is just a little blip in the track listing, as the title track ‘Love is a Lion’ brings a notion of dichotomy and a need for us to understand that as much as a lion is described as fierce, determined and ‘cruel’, all these qualities are very much God as the notion of love, as we’re reminded that love can be shown through being just, ‘fierce’ and determined too. It is a nice nod to Aslan the Lion, the protagonist and the hero in the Narnia series, and a figure that author C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus as, as we’re reminded that God as a lion, means that we have the authority in Christ Jesus to speak into the lives of people, and to remind them of the unconditional love and affection Christ has for humanity, and the aching and heartbreak that comes when people turn away. ‘You Love Me Anyway’, in a similar theme and vein to Sidewalk Prophet’s song of the same name; is a depiction of a persona who tries to run far from God’s grace, doing all the things that are deemed despicable and unloveable, and yet the song still declares that God loves us anyway. It is a reminder that we are never too far gone from God’s unconditional love, that who we were and who we are struggling with is not who we are- we are sons and daughters of Christ our King, we are loved unconditionally, and that is who we are. ‘Hallowed By Thy Name’ follows suit thematically to both ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘The Hope Song’ as we are shown Ben Calhoun’s quasi-rap skills in a song that has groove and a radio-friendly song potentiality. The song itself? Where we ask the Lord how to pray, acknowledging that what we know and what we will ever know, pales in comparison to what God understands and knows…and that’s ok. The album’s last new song (not including album ender ‘WaveWalker’) is ‘Be Still’, the longest song on the album, and is a song similar in theme to ‘Be Still And Know’ from Steven Curtis Chapman, from the album Speechless way back in 1999. In fact, thematically and even musically, the songs are similar, and that’s not a bad thing. I guess it was time for a song to be written and recorded that is basically an ‘updated version’ of one of Steven’s most vulnerable songs of the 1990s period, and Citizen Way’s melody is just what this generation needs!

‘…this album is the victory lap of the last four years of our lives, which were the hardest we’ve been through. Each one of these songs is founded in God’s Word. They are the stories of our lives and the people we get to live and serve with. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do. We live in a world that craves truth, but we are constantly bombarded with lies. When the people of God sing scripture together, the truth is revealed, and evil can be dealt with. We want to lead people to Jesus, the only source of truth and the original author of these words found in Matthew 6…we want to be like Billy Graham with a guitar, sharing the Gospel with as many people as we can…’ Citizen Way have delivered to us an album full of standouts and songs that have made me realise that sometimes it’s ok to not be a Casting Crowns or even a Chris Tomlin, that often to fly underneath the radar and be a Citizen Way is all that is needed for people’s lives to be changed. Nothing big or grandiose, but rather, songs that are impactful to the soul. Yes, Citizen Way won’t be as popular or even as hard-hitting as both Casting Crowns and Chris, and maybe that’s ok. We all have different callings, and Citizen Way’s is delivering songs with a specific CCM sound, and that is just as much valid as any other musical genre. Love Is a Lion is a welcomed surprise, and certainly one of my favourite albums of the late 2019 period. Well done Ben Calhoun and co. for such an edifying and emotive album. Can’t wait to blast these songs on repeat in my Spotify playlists for months to come!

3 songs to listen to: The Lord’s Prayer, God You Are Good, You Love Me Anyway

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Big Daddy Weave, Aaron Shust, Brandon Heath, TRALA, OneRepublic

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