Dara Maclean – River


Release Date: July 1st 2022

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Dara Maclean– River (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Desert (Intro)
  2. When All I Have Is Jesus (Interlude)
  3. Back To The Beginning (feat. Brandin Reed)
  4. Forever Family (I Belong)
  5. Never Alone (Interlude)
  6. Simple Things
  7. Oh The Love Of God
  8. Don’t Care (Interlude)
  9. Love Over Religion
  10. My Deliverer (feat. ChiChi Onyekanne)
  11. Full Access
  12. Amen (Interlude)
  13. River / Nothing But the Blood / Freedom In Your Love / Come Thou Font / When All I Have Is Jesus / River Spoken Word / True Self (Medley)

CCM artist and worship leader Dara Maclean, one of my favourite worship artists back in the day, is emerging from a hiatus of sorts. From her rise and success in the form of her 2011 debut You Got My Attention (featuring the hit songs “Suitcases”, “Yours Forever”, “Free” and the title track), to the 2013 follow-up Wanted that spawned the radio hits ‘Wanted’, ‘Our Only Hope’ and ‘Blameless’; Dara has been able to present to us heartfelt moments of encouragements across these two albums. It’s been a while since anything new from Dara; but this year, she is back with her brand-new album River. Dara teased us with a semi-comeback of sorts, with the 2017 song “Ashes”; but River is a genuine return to the spotlight. An independent album and a worship album, River reminds us of God’s immense love for us as well as encouraging us that Jesus has our future in the palm of His hand, and thus we can worship Him extravagantly- as Dara also reminds us why she still is a force to be reckoned with within the CCM and worship industry. While at times I did wonder where Dara was and whether she was releasing any new music; Dara’s new release is a reminder, that even though artists can take an extended break for whatever reason, the calibre of their music can be just as strong whenever the hiatus is over.

where do I begin… from desert to blooming and back again a hundred times. Gods perfection has led me back to himself forehead to forehead with an even deeper revelation of His eternal love for my true self finished work identity, regardless of what I have ever done, or could ever do. this real love has ruined me for a lifetime to counterfeit love.

my deepest prayer for you, is that God encounters you and leads you to himself over and over again throughout this record. everything you need is found in God, in the RIVER.

“God is the river, his streams make me glad, God is the river within us, we will not fail.” (Ps 46)

This project would not have been possible without God, my best friends/brilliant creatives, Kickstarter and you.

Overall, Dara’s popularity since her out-of-the-box musically diverse debut album has been exponential- with comparisons between her, Adele, and Francesca Battistelli, in terms of her vocals and musical style. With River though, Dara doesn’t let comparisons faze her; and instead keeps travelling in her own lane- making Jesus famous and worshipping Him rather than trying to keep up with the current trends. Overall, the 13-track album comprises of 1 2-minute intro, 4 one-minute interludes as well as a live worship outro that is 34 minutes long. Hence this album is kinda like a long-ish EP of sorts. Nonetheless, River flows quite well (no pun intended), and is well worth the listen. Opening track “Desert”, is a 2-minute intro, and a laid-back soul/gospel powerful melody about Jesus invading our lives and making us brand new like how He reinvigorates and revitalises the most barren of deserts. It’s a captivating, encouraging, honest and impacting opener and one that inspires us to always hold tight to the truth of Jesus Christ. The stirring a powerful acapella driven interlude “When All I Have Is Jesus” follows, and eloquently relays that Jesus is all that we need; while the first ‘proper’ song is the 6 minute worship track “Back To The Beginning”- a stirring duet with Brandin Reed, where Dara and Brandin earnestly and fervently cry out to Jesus, asking Him to allow them to go ‘back to the beginning’, essentially back to their energetic and child-like faith where nothing else mattered except for Jesus and His presence.

The rest of River is a joy to listen to, with the album further reminding us to dwell in Jesus’ presence- to seek Him first, and especially when we seem to be in a tight spot. “Forever Family” (previously reviewed by Jon here!), is a melody that reminds us of the camaraderie and friendship we can have, in a community of fellow believers in Christ. This melody also places the importance upon meeting together with other believers and encouraging each other to walk with Jesus. The song itself released last year during the global lockdowns in mid-2021, in a time where physical distancing in some countries around the world was still in force; and hence this song was some kind of way of trying to connect with people so that we can feel less alone- and it was indeed something is something that has been very paramount, especially during that time. “Forever Family” is a great reminder of the family we have in Christ, and a powerful worshipful song that we can declare alongside to; while the acoustic type demo interlude “Never Alone” speaks about how we are each never alone even when we think we are- Jesus is right beside us and He will never forsake us.

“Simple Things”, one of my favourite melodies on the album, is an admission of immense love for our Father, as Dara fervently imparts that ‘…it’s the simple things You do, the simple things You do, still sounds so crazy, a love this amazing, a simple kind of love…’; while the earnest, prayerful and moving piano ballad “Oh The Love Of God” is another album highlight- with Dara passionately outlining to us all that Jesus’ unending love for us is something worth deserving to bask in the presence of, and to worship over- as ‘…the days I feel so undone, I feel so far from love, You’re there, reminding me there’s nothing more to do, I stand complete in You, and my life, You’ve forever changed…’. “Don’t Care”, another interlude, is a fervent, inspiring 1 minute piece where Dara ardently sings about her not caring what she looks like whenever she is worshipping Jesus and during the times when it is evident that she follows Jesus; while “Love Over Religion” confronts and challenges our preconceptions and ideals about what we think God looks like and what we think religion looks like. A heartfelt and emotional song in which Dara exclaims that she longs to know Jesus more and more and know His heart more so than believing everything about Christianity than she was taught. Is this song blasphemous or heretical? No, I don’t think so, and as Dara confidently sings out that ‘…so I throw my hands up, You’re so much better than I thought You were, so I throw my hands up, I know I’ve never been so sure, that I just want more, more of the real You…’; I’m certain that you will find no reason to doubt Dara’s faith in Jesus- in this song she literally champions a relationship with Jesus over following rules and regulations and going through the motions.

“My Deliverer”, a soothing, stirring worship ballad, features Dara and guest vocalist Chi Chi Onyekanne praising Jesus because of the fact that He is a mighty deliverer, and that He alone saves us from our sin and shame; while “Full Access” invites Jesus into every part of our heart, and was inspired by a dream Dara once had: God gave me this song in a dream. I was walking down a long hallway. there were doors on either side as far as I could see. I knew this hallway was my heart. I saw Jesus at the beginning of the hallway, I was standing behind him. without looking back, he extended his hand to me, an invitation for Him to walk into every door, and every room of my heart and heal it the back to the way He originally intended. Crazy thing was, each door we opened, Jesus was already in the room. He had a paintbrush in His hand. He dipped His brush in crimson red paint, but when he painted the wall, it was pure, bright white. He painted every square inch of that room until it literally looked like a perfect blank canvas for him to begin again on. This is the work of daily inner healing with Holy Spirit and I pray this song provides you with a musical vehicle to explore and heal the rooms of your heart with God. “Amen”, the final interlude follows, and speaks about praising Jesus because of all He’s done for us; while the super, super, super looooong 34 minute medley “River” is an unnecessary track that I feel shouldn’t have been placed on what would have been an incredible worship album. As it stands with the 34-minute Hillsong/Bethel/Jesus Culture/Elevation Worship-esque spontaneous free worship medley added on; River is solid, but the ending doesn’t seem ‘natural’ enough, if you know what I mean. This medley is good on its own but doesn’t fit with the tone and feel of everything else.

River is a long time coming for anyone who is a Dara Maclean fan, like myself. If other CCM artists like Britt Nicole, Mandisa and Nichole Nordeman can make comebacks (although we’re still waiting for more ‘comebacks’ from these three aforementioned legendary CCM artists!), then I guess it comes with no surprise that Dara made a comeback too. River the album is powerful, moving and inspiring as we worship Jesus and sing about what the Saviour has done for us. With soulful worship moments and an earnest passion for Jesus’ love, this album is a must have for anyone who has enjoyed Dara’s previous work- probably stylistically more inclined with Wanted than You Got My Attention, having more of a worship atmosphere compared to the soul-pop of her debut. Regardless, this hopefully isn’t the last album from Dara; as we look ahead to the remainder of 2022 and beyond. Whatever the case, Dara’s efforts ought to be commended, this album is one of my favourite worship albums this year. Well done Dara for such a powerful album, and one to enjoy and cherish if you love similar artists like Lauren Daigle, Francesca Battistelli and Kerrie Roberts!

4 songs to listen to: Forever Family, Simple Things, Oh The Love Of God, Love Over Religion

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Kerrie Roberts, Chris August, Cody Carnes, Brandon Lake, Francesca Battistelli

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