Release Date: November 9th 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- I Know A Ghost
- Golgotha Hill (King Of Love)
- Crushing Snakes (feat. Taya)
- Red Letters
- Let It Rain (Is There Anybody) (feat. Mandisa)
- Everyday I’m Blessed
- I’m Leaning On You (feat. Riley Clemmons)
- No Rival
- Child of God
- Happy Day
- Night Like This
- La Luz (feat. Social Club Misfits)
- The Sinner’s Cure
- Hundred Miles
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- David Crowder is an enigma. It’s a well known fact that you cannot put him in a box musically, as he’ll just jump right out of it and prove you wrong. Yet if you do not know who I am talking about, then I guess you need not look any further than the time in 2012 when he split from his bandmates from the band David Crowder*Band, then so soon after formed his own band titled Crowder. We may never have known why this occurred (some would say that David’s ego was getting too big for the band!), and others have different viewpoints. Maybe there was animosity. Maybe his bandmates were difficult to get along with. Maybe he felt God calling him to go solo, and they split amicably. Whatever the case, what eventuated was The Digital Age (with Mark Waldrop and Mike Dodson as co-lead singers) and Crowder’s solo music ministry.
Now, don’t get me wrong, The Digital Age is a fantastic band. Evening:Morning and Galaxies are solid offerings. However even a split from his former bandmates didn’t hinder Crowder at all, as Crowder’s continued solo albums flourished with critical and commercial acclaim. Neon Steeple was one of my favourite albums of 2014, spawning hits such as “I Am”, “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains)” and “Come As You Are”; and American Prodigal, with its hits such as “Run Devil Run”, “Forgiven”, “Back To The Garden” and “My Victory”, was one of my favourite albums of 2016, so much so that I rated the album 5/5 (you can read my review here!). Now, just this year, Crowder has released his brand-new album titled I Know A Ghost (last week actually!), a musical experience similar to his two previous offerings. Standing tall at 16 tracks, how do I as a reviewer and as a fan rate the album, considering that Crowder has always been a favourite artist of mine? Objectively speaking, is this release comparable to other year highlights such as albums from The New Respects (Before The Sun Goes Down), Michael W. Smith (A Million Lights), Building 429 (Live The Journey), for KING & COUNTRY (Burn The Ships), TobyMac (The Elements) and Phil Wickham (Living Hope)?
In preparation for I Know A Ghost, “Red Letters” and “Wildfire” both released in mid-September, and are two songs which thematically anchor the album. “Red Letters”, destined to be present on WOW Hits 2020, is very hymn like and “All My Hope”/“Forgiven”-like in music and melody, as they track pulls at my emotions, with Crowder emphatically singing in the persona of someone who actively argued for Jesus’ crucifixion yet turned to Jesus later on. Perhaps singing from the point of view of the thief on the cross who repented; Crowder thanks God for the red letters in the bible- the words that Jesus Himself spoke, when he became a free man, and basically this song is a track of gratitude and thanks, with the chorus especially poignant and heartfelt, relaying that ‘…when I read the red letters and the ground began to shake, the prison walls started falling and I became a free man that day…’. While “Wildfire” is as experimental as ever, with former frontman of Family Force 5 Solomon Olds being a co-writer; as Crowder relays to us the notion that wildfire from Jesus set us free from sin. It’s a bit from left field to hear Crowder half-screaming in the chorus, yet I am sure that this song will grow on me in the future.
The rest of the album is vintage Crowder as we hear all of the instruments, such as banjos and fiddles, that make the release as eclectic as it is, and diverse as it is. Stirring 2 minute guitar led opener “I Know A Ghost” (the title track) has Crowder wrestling with the notion that he still stuffs up and still makes mistakes, and still does the pig headed things he does even if he does know ‘a ghost’ aka Jesus Christ, and is compelling as ever as an opener; while “Golgotha Hill (King Of Love)” is an acoustic guitar led slow ballad and a vivid account of the crucifixion (like Carman’s “This Blood”!), as Crowder emphatically relays to us that even though Jesus ‘lost the battle’ and ‘…the Son went down on the killing floor…’, the fact remains that ‘…you can’t stop Love…’. Eye-opening and confronting, “Golgotha Hill” is an album highlight, as is “Crushing Snakes”, a slow build anthemic guitar led ballad where Crowder and guest vocalist Taya Smith from Hillsong UNITED both eloquently and passionately impart to us the reality that we have all come back from dead to life, thus we can live in freedom, as ‘…we’re taking back our freedom, our battle has been won, we have been liberated, back from the dead we’ve come…’.
Gospel seems to be the name of the ‘in’ thing- after “All My Hope” with Tauren Wells last year, Crowder makes room for an out-and-out gospel melody on this record with “Let It Rain (Is There Anybody)” featuring CCM/gospel singer Mandisa. It’s an all out worship melody as well as we are blessed to hear Crowder and Mandisa emphatically asking God to make His presence known more and more amongst us today, and for Him to move in His will, and not ours. It’s a bold statement, but I guess that’s why this song is there- as an encouragement and as a declaration that we can speak out in confidence now or into the future. Music-wise Crowder then transitions to bluegrass in probably the most repetitive yet most catchiest song on the album in “Everyday I’m Blessed”, where Crowder sings about the fact that everyday Jesus blesses us, from Monday through to Sunday; while gospel or at least gospel infused with a hymn like structure is next with “I’m Leaning On You”, again repetitive, but nonetheless inspiring, particularly with the powerful and soothing guest vocals of Riley Clemmons featured, which makes this track all the more enjoyable.
Haunting and mysterious electronic prominent guitar led mid-tempo ballad “No Rival” is somewhat lulluaby-ish at first (but in a good way!), as Crowder honestly and earnestly relays to us that Jesus has no rival on earth- He is above anything and everything ever created, while rapper JR takes the song up a notch with a verse that even veterans like Lecrae and KJ-52 would be proud of; while Crowder then decidedly makes a stand and consciously releases a slew of country/bluegrass songs in a row- very ambitious yet on this album one would say the experiment falls flat (though my opinion is still undecided, with these songs not being my favourite but not horrible by any stretch either. “Child Of God” has a fiddle and harmonica as Crowder explosively relays to us that he is a child of God (essentially a 1 minute 30 second song with the last half being a raucous instrumental bluegrass free worship sort of thing!), and the barely 2 minute high octane and energetic banjo and strings led southern gospel “Happy Day” brings a smile to my face from ear to ear, as it shows that Crowder is still having fun, as he thanks God for the happy day because of our sin being washed away. Though I guess you could say that Crowder does not do full-on country well, and that genre should be left to the experts such as Blake Shelton or Keith Urban- it’s not that “Night Like This” is bad, it’s just that Crowder’s voice doesn’t fit at all. It’s a good thing that he tries here, but “Night Like This” sadly is a misstep. And as much as I love Social Club Misfits, and in particular their songs “Tuyo” and “War Cry”, “La Luz” is all over the place musically and lyrically- the track doesn’t know what it is and frankly, I don’t really know either. Only one verse, and a chorus that is repetitive- Fern and Marty try their hardest, yet because I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t really know what they’re singing about, and that is a real shame.
The album then turns around for the better in the compelling rap/laid back acoustic musically diverse “The Sinner’s Cure”, where Crowder tries his hand at rapping, with great success in my opinion; as well as in “Hundred Miles” the lone true worship melody on the record- covered and originally written by Judah And The Lion, and beautiful in the respect of us proclaiming that there’s no one like Jesus, and that we could sing a song a hundred miles long and that could still not even compare with the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s love. The mega-long album then ends with “Ghost”, which is all vintage Crowder. There’s many genres encompassed in this song, and that’s definitely a good thing in my opinion; as this country/southern gospel/jazz/pop/rock/worship tune (yep, all genres infused in this track!) inspire us to be ready for the ‘ghost’ of Jesus (obviously the Holy Spirit!) to move in our lives, and change us all in unexpected ways, and each way for the better. Laid back and reflective, this is a different side of Crowder that we’ve seen and heard (yep, not even covered in this eclectic and unique track list!), and that is something that may take some time to get used to, but a fact that I absolutely love.
One of the most progressive, experimental and encouraging worship artists ever; Crowder continues to play his music in an era without the DC*B, and here’s hoping that there are many more albums in the future from the talented singer/songwriter- Crowder has reminded us through his first and second solo albums that a band break up isn’t gonna hold him down. In fact, I reckon he’s just getting started. And though I Know A Ghost is a tad too long (maybe the presence of a deluxe edition would have made the album slightly more cohesive, with songs like “Night Like This”, “La Luz” and “Everyday I’m Blessed” all fitting better only on digital…), that does not detract from Crowder’s effort, nor how much I still enjoy this latest worship/country/bluegrass project, that is its own genre in and of itself like how TobyMac is his own genre. So what are you waiting for, pick up some Crowder (I Know A Ghost and/or “All My Hope” single and/or American Prodigal and/or Neon Steeple), and let’s have a party with some banjos and harmonica, shall we? Maybe with some Steve-3PO as the drummer as well!
4 songs to listen to: Golgotha Hill, Red Letters, No Rival, Ghost
RIYL: Royal Tailor, Group 1 Crew, Hollyn, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, TobyMac