Capitol CMG/sixsteps records/Sparrow Records
Release Date: June 11th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Crowder – Milk & Honey (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Good God Almighty
- In the House
- He Is
- Milk & Honey
- Higher Power (feat. Hulvey)
- Sweet Jesus [w/ Maverick City Music]
- God Really Loves Us (feat. Maverick City Music) [w/ Dante Bowe]
- Who’s Gonna Stop the King
- Better Than Sunshine
- Glory, Glory (God is Able)
- Hallelujah For Every Broken Heart
- The Anchor
Crowder has been in and around the music business for quite some time. If anyone who has listened to CCM for quite some time now, you’re able to hear David Crowder’s distinctive and trademark voice, whether it is through this previous band iteration David Crowder*Band (DC*B), or through his new band an ‘moniker’, Crowder. Whichever way you have been introduced to this Waco, Texan native who has been blurring country, folk, CCM and rock all in a unique balanced way for years; Crowder’s impact on CCM in general has been paramount in his success over the years. One look at his discography (as both DC*B and Crowder) from the early 2000s to now, and you can see quite an effect he has had on CCM and even corporate worship music over the years- songs like ‘O Praise Him (All This For a King)’, ‘Our Love is Loud’, ‘Open Skies’, ‘Wholly Yours’, ‘Here Is Our King’, ‘Everything Glorious’, ‘The Glory of It All’, ‘Shadows’, ‘Let Me Feel You Shine’, ‘I Am’, ‘Lift Your Head Weary Sinners’, ‘My Victory’, ‘Run Devil Run’, ‘Forgiven’, ‘All My Hope’, ‘Red Letters’, ‘I’m Leaning On You’, ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘Come As You Are’, have all charted radio and have had varying degrees of success over the years, and it is in these songs that such a collective as both DC*B and Crowder has become successful- creating songs that challenge the way that we view worship music, and what even constitutes as worship music to even begin with.
From 2001 to now, David Crowder has been in the business of creating songs that challenge the soul and that are fun filled in the process. Always walking the line between folk, country and CCM for quite some time, Crowder’s ability to blur the lines between these three distinct genres, is what gives him credibility and a respect that crosses genres, and an opportunity for him to collaborate with artists in varying musical genres, and even him having his music being impacted in these genres in a way that other CCM and worship artists cannot. Which brings me to July 2021. Upon the heels of his chart-topping album, I Know A Ghost, his collaborations with Mandisa and Riley Clemmons, and his overall positivity through the country/CCM atmosphere presented on the album; we see another dip into the territory of country/worship/CCM/folk in the album Milk & Honey. And with the added genres of gospel and hip-hop presented in this new album as well, as well-intentioned as this album is, and how enthusiastic and passionate Crowder is generally, I unfortunately feel like this album tries to do too much across it’s 12 tracks, making the album not as impacting as albums previously.
Let me just say this first and foremost- I love Crowder the artist (and DC*B as well). But where it stands right now, I’m not as much of a fan of Milk and Honey as a lot of people are. I look around at a lot of the reviews of the album recently, and many of the publications- JFH, Louder Than the Music, JubileeCast and Today’s Christian Entertainment, are all giving the new album by Crowder 4.5 stars and above…and to put it bluntly, I dunno how to even do that for me as a reviewer of this album and listening to the songs from start to finish. Maybe it’s because of all the uniqueness of all the songs and how there’s pop, rock, country, CCM, worship, bluegrass, gospel and folk all in the album that it seems clunky, disjointed, uncohesive and underwhelming. Or maybe it’s because I’m just saturated with all things Crowder (with his albums from the DC*B days alongside his first 3 Crowder albums) that I’m finding it hard to get into Milk and Honey. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a lot of Phil Wickham’s new album Hymn of Heaven that to go from such a great corporate worship album to something as genre-stuffing as this, that it takes a lot to get used to. Or maybe it’s just because Milk and Honey sees so musically and stylistically ambitious, that the final product isn’t as ‘wow’ as even I thought it could’ve been. All of these factors play a role in my own enjoyableness of the album. Whatever the case, Crowder’s latest is good, but not great.
This album review is not really going to be much of a ‘positive stroke’ session- if you’re really looking for a positive review of the album, look no further than the reviews on JFH, JubileeCast or even Louder Than the Music. This ‘review’, if you even are to call this a review, isn’t going to be that. it’s rather going to be a few of my own musings, pointing out which songs struck out for me for all the good reasons, and which songs struck out for all the wrong reasons…to the point where the album in effect, doesn’t have much replay value, if at all. ‘Good God Almighty’ released first to radio in January 2021, reached #1 on the US Hot Christians Songs chart, and while the song itself is ok, about Crowder declaring of how in a state in our lives that God found us, and that He is good and that He was God- being able to pull us from our depths into a place of hope, life, grace and forgiveness; in the grand scheme of things and when compared to a lot of songs gone before, ‘Good God Almighty’ unfortunately isn’t that ground-breaking. ‘I Am’ was the first single of Crowder’s much-anticipated first album Neon Steeple and was a track declared from the POV of God Himself, while ‘Run Devil Run’, presented as a promotional single to promote American Prodigal, gained a lot of traction, that the song itself was placed in the official promo of The Flash Season 3. ‘Red Letters’ was the first single from Crowder’s third album I Know a Ghost, and discussed how important the red letters were (and still are) in society right now (some versions of the Bible translations highlight the words Jesus spoke in red, thereby emphasising His words over every other aspect of the Bible), so I guess from a ‘1st single’ standpoint, ‘Good, God Almighty’ isn’t really breaking any new ground that the other few songs have done before. Nevertheless, as a song full stop, ‘Good God Almighty’ is still a good listen; and is by far one of the brightest sparks on the album.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see a variety of musical genres and themes come to light and be presented to the listener. On their own, the songs are good, but together as one supposed cohesive unit, the album doesn’t flow as good as it could’ve been. ‘In the House’ is littered with electronic effects and a heavy radio-friendly atmosphere, as this song presents this theme of coming as we are to God, because ‘…it’s home sweet home here in the house of the God…’ and while the song itself is catchy, the theme has been done before- by Phil Wickham’s ‘House of the Lord’ and by Crowder no less, in his 2014 single ‘Come As You Are’. ‘He Is’, one of the promotional songs from the album, is a song written for the church, as he describes all the things that Jesus is, in light of how we are to respond to Him with the things that we have and what is going on in our lives. A song that is decent in its on right, ‘He Is’ however hits all the radio-friendly tropes (slow building ballad, an anthemic moment of praise, a radio-friendly length of 3:45) that seems to bog down a lot of the songs on this album and make this album full of radio songs that don’t seem to grab my undivided attention for the full duration of the album. Sure, I can listen to a few songs here and there on Milk and Honey, but for the whole album experiences, I’d rather check out Hymn of Heaven again a second time, before this.
‘Milk and Honey’ uses the Old Testament metaphor of a land of milk and honey being that of heaven that one day we’d go to, as Crowder utilises a banjo to create this country-esque melody, and while the song itself is a step outside the proverbial CCM box for Crowder, the theme about heaven has been better executed before in years gone by (‘The Third Heaven’ by Carman and ‘The Great Day’ by Michael W. Smith come to mind). ‘Higher Power’ feels a little too busy for me from the get-go, and the song itself can seem like a bit of a mess too- Hulvey brings in the rap towards the end of the song, but his inclusion in and of itself seems a little too ‘pasted on’. The song itself speaks about this higher power that we receive when we trust in God- and yet this ‘higher power’ is not truly defined further…for the casual listener who may not listen to all of the words, the song can seem more ‘mainstream’ than even maybe Crowder wanted it to be. ‘Sweet Jesus’, as well-intended as it is, suffers a lot from repetitious choruses, and the gospel choir even outshining Crowder himself, that we are even unsure of whether this song is from Crowder or from Kirk Franklin. And that may not necessarily be a bad thing, except for the fact that the lyrics themselves seem to be a little bit too corny to a fault- Crowder’s songwriting used to be more compelling than ‘Sweet Jesus’, but as much as I do appreciate Crowder’s music as a whole, ‘Sweet Jesus’ unfortunately suffers from trying to execute a genre that doesn’t really fit into Crowder’s style of country/CCM. Crowder’s ‘Who’s Gonna Stop the King’ again suffers from lyrical simplicity and a super-radio-friendly atmosphere, as this song seems to miss the mark, as well-meaning Crowder was when he was writing the song, one cannot deny the fact that we have all heard this song before- in the form of ‘Our God Reigns’ (Delirious?), ‘O Praise Him’ (DC*B) and ‘Praise Him’ (The Royal Royal)…and then when I finally somehow ‘get into’ the song, it abruptly ends- the song stands at 3:00…very radio friendly, isn’t it?
‘Better Than Sunshine’ compares the Christian life, walk and transformation in our life, as something that is better than sunshine, and while the concept itself is good, I feel like Superchick’s ‘Sunshine’ does it better. Also…if I didn’t have any prior knowledge of Crowder, it could be disheartening for me to notice that Jesus only ‘comes in’ in the bridge…before then, you can be almost forgiven to think that Crowder himself isn’t singing about Christianity, but rather, a relationship between two people in an earthly sense. Nevertheless, ‘Better Than Sunshine’ is still a catchy tune, hopefully people can look past the ‘lack of Jesus’…but knowing how people can often nit-pick, this song unfortunately can get some haters, and quick. ‘Glory, Glory (God is Able)’ is as traditional as they come- Crowder presents this 1920s spiritual hymn in a new light in the 2010s, as we see a newly written chorus for this otherwise ‘familiar’ melody- and while the song still seems to stick out in this track-list amongst all the other tracks, ‘Glory, Glory’ nevertheless brings some foundational truths to the forefront- something that is present in hymns but not as much, in the modern worship songs we sing.
The three remainder songs ‘God Really Loves Us’, ‘Hallelujah For Every Broken Heart’ and third promotional single ‘The Anchor’ are the three tracks (alongside ‘Good God Almighty’) that stand out for all the right reasons on Milk & Honey, and are the three songs that lift the album from a rating of dismal, to a rating of mediocre. ‘God Really Loves Us’ has a piano backdrop as Crowder and Dante Bowe trade vocals in the first and second verses, with the gospel profusely stated, as we are met with the truth of how ‘…we are not alone, God really loves us, God really loves, Hallelujah, oh praise my soul…’– simplistic lyrically, but nevertheless still captivating and compelling with the Maverick City Music choir backing up Crowder in the declaratory chorus. ‘Hallelujah for a Broken Heart’, co-written with Bear Rinehart (of needtobreathe) and Ed Cash (of We the Kingdom), this song feels a little more like a needtobreathe rock song, but nevertheless, Crowder at the helm is not a bad thing too. The song declares God’s goodness no matter the circumstance, as we declare ‘hallelujah’ in the broken situations, because it is in these moments where we can often learn about God and ourselves the most. The album ends with ‘The Anchor’, and with the song co-written and produced by cinematic producer Tommee Profitt, you know you’re in for a great ride- and as we hear ‘The Anchor’ we see Crowder’s urgency pierce through in his vocals, powerfully urging us all, pleading for us to hold onto our anchor, at all times, not just in times of trouble or in times of aplenty. For it is an anchor that solidifies our foundation during the dark times of our lives- and after the hauntingly refreshing piano moment in the bridge, we hear the song build cinematically towards the end, as Crowder encourages us all to come home to ground our feet into the anchor of all anchors- Christ Himself. As Crowder himself relays to us all, ‘…this song has been resonating deeply with me, and I am thrilled to finally get to share it with you. I hope as you listen you are reminded that even in times of hopelessness, there is an ANCHOR…’
Milk and Honey, the latest from Crowder, is an album full of lyrics for the church, and music that brings together the genres of pop, rock, CCM, country, hip hop, gospel, and folk to the fore as we see one of the most musically diverse releases of 2021 thus far. And while I myself haven’t been as enamoured with the album yet, I do give props for Crowder for being unique. Though I do find his albums Neon Steeple and American Prodigal much more cohesive and enjoyable, there are still a few major bright spots on the album- ‘The Anchor’, ‘God Really Loves Us’ and ‘Hallelujah For Every Broken Heart’. All in all, Milk and Honey is a decent album, just not my favourite…but it could be somebody’s when they hear it. Well done Crowder for the general contribution to music and society- though Milk and Honey was musically more of a mish mash than what I thought, there songs are still good if you listen to them on its own and not as a cohesive unit. Maybe one of ‘The Anchor’, ‘God Really Loves Us’ or ‘Hallelujah for Every Broken Heart’ as an official single next?
3 songs to listen to: Hallelujah For Every Broken Heart, The Anchor, God Really Loves Us
RIYL: Chris Tomlin, Leeland, David Crowder*Band, All Sons & Daughters