Word Label Group
Release Date: March 11th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Broken Halos
- Love Me Like I Am
- Unity (feat. Dante Bowe)
- For God is With Us
- Hold On, Pain Ends
- Unsung Hero
- Harmony (feat. Sleeping at Last)
- Together (feat. Tori Kelly & Kirk Franklin)
- Cheering You On
For KING & COUNTRY have always been a band that are a joy to listen to, and no matter the preference of musical genre, I’m sure, that anyone who hears this infectiously hopeful and poignant duo, are sure to be blessed and encouraged. Relatively new compared to a lot of the CCM pioneers that have shaped what Christian music is today, we have covered the band a lot here on 365DaysOfInsipringMedia.com, and so whatever I wrote about the band in previous posts, I won’t rehash now. What I will say is that both Joel and Luke have created a duo that have challenged us listeners to stretch the bow a little bit in terms of the classification of music that is deemed ‘Christian’, and really remind us, that God can speak to us through a variety of different means, not just solely through ‘Christian’ influences. They have crafted their career in such a way that allows the songs they’ve carefully created, to sit with listeners in a reflective way, delving deep within our psyches and challenging the very nature of what we were to believe is true, about ourselves, God, love, life and the rest of it. Joel and Luke have created something special in for KING & COUNTRY, and this is a band that’s certain to make waves, continually in the CCM realm, and now maybe into the mainstream market as well (with the injection of their brand-new song ‘relate’ and their previously poignant and powerful songs ‘Together’, ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Burn the Ships’). The band have been a household name for quite some time, ever since their chart-topping song ‘Busted Heart’ hit the radio waves all those years ago, having taken the media, listeners and the whole general CCM industry by storm since their arrival to Word Label Group back in 2011. Relocating to Nashville in the early 1990s, the band have continually focused on powerful instrumentation and anthemic moments of revelation, realisation, and heart, as these songs delivered by this duo, allows us all to declare and proclaim, especially during current seasons that are difficult and trying.
Fast forward till 2022, and we’ve seen the duo mature and grow in their musical pursuits. Songs like “Fix My Eyes”, “Busted Heart”, “Middle of Your Heart”, “O God, Forgive Us”, “Messengers” [feat. Lecrae], “It’s Not Over Yet”, and more recently “Ceasefire”, and new songs “Joy” and “Amen” are just some examples of the songs that the band has shown us, and the calibre of them. The band have shown us what it means to succeed in the CCM industry, while still delivering engaging and thoughtful melodies that encourage us to see and look beyond ourselves, as we challenge the status quo and ask ourselves the continuing question- ‘why’ and ‘why should this be if I don’t agree with the way that it is now’? Topics like self worth, identity, the human condition, and man’s relationship with the creator and the created, are some of the messages scattered through these songs.
Earlier on in 2021, we saw the release of their expanded album Burn the Ships: Remixes and Collaborations, which featured their 2018 album in full, alongside new songs ‘Together’, ‘Amen Reborn’, two alternate versions of ‘God Only Knows’ (one featuring Echosmith & Timbaland, and the other featuring Dolly Parton), a remix of ‘joy.’ and another remix of ‘Fight On Fighter’. Joel and Luke created a space in this deluxe version of the album, for us to respond in whatever way we know how, and for us not to be worried about the person to the left or right (in a metaphorical sense), but to focus on ourselves and our response to such thought-provoking songs that we hear. Fast forward to 2022, and the duo have since recently unveiled their brand-new album, What Are We Waiting For?, their fourth full-length album, comprising of first radio single ‘Relate’, alongside other standout songs like ‘Together’, ‘Unsung Hero’, ‘Broken Halos’, ‘Love Me Like I Am’ and ‘If Our God is For Us’, to name a few.
Originally released on the deluxe version of Burn the Ships, ‘Together’ unveiled during a time where the world really needed a powerful and uplifting song…and ‘Together’ delivered in spades. As I quote verbatim from my ‘Together’ review that I wrote around a couple years back; we see how much we needed the song back then, and how powerful a song can be and how music can be used by God in the face of adversity and uncertainty- ‘…I’m sure by now people know about COVID-19, or the more common name for it, coronavirus, and its impact both heath-wise and economically on a global scale, affecting almost every country around the world, for at least the last couple of months. Now here we are at the beginning of May and personally, I don’t think we’re all too close to a vaccine, yet. And yet, it is during this time where our physical morale seems to be going under, where I’ve realised that people have been leaning on God more and more- worship songs are being sung like nobody’s business, and we’ve been seeing the Lord move in ways unimaginable in people’s lives around the world. Though we are distancing physically, the connection that we’ve having with people in a general sense seems to be going up, with more Skype calls, more phone calls, even Zoom calls, and just connection through facebook, twitter and every other mobile and technological device there is, especially when there’s lockdown of countries and stay-at-home orders in a lot of places around the world. A song like ‘Together’ by the duo cannot come at a better time…no seriously, it can’t. With the band themselves partnering with gosel legend Kirk Franklin and mainstream pop icon Tori Kelly in a collaboration that I’m sure will make this song see crossover success in both the CCM and mainstream radio charts and music markets; for KING AND COUNTRY premiered their uplifting song of unity and camaraderie on ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA) on Friday morning May 1st, as the band performed the song across a nation needing hope and a song to declare and sing that will bring them together as the nation and the world moves forward to fight this pandemic head on- and ‘Together’ by the duo is one such song that I’m sure people around the world can cling to during such a time as this…in a holistic sense, the band and their music has always been littered with messages of hope, encouragement, and perseverance, all the while throwing a little bit of ‘God’ in there for good measure (not much, but enough for people to think about things beyond themselves)… ‘Together’ is once again another song of theirs that has hit the nail on the head, as we see the importance of being together (albeit in a digital way) in a time where physical closeness may not be possible because of this virus. Nevertheless, ‘Together’ is a timely reminder to always find ways to connect to our loved ones and friends, as we understand that the only way out of this dark and uncertain time, we’re in is together rather than apart. A song that’s certain to be replayed again and again on my Spotify playlist for months to come, ‘Together’ is a song that’ll literally bring people together, I’m sure, as we navigate uncharted waters over the next few months, unified in our joys, and our defeats as well…’
‘RELATE’ released in August 2021, and standing at a bit under 3 minutes, both Joel and Luke deliver another compelling song about unity and seeing things from someone else’s perspective. We are living in a society right now where division seems to be aim, on both sides. Maybe intentional, or maybe unintentional, but the fact of the matter remains, that we’ve just been seemingly another group of people that are much more at odds with each other than usual, considering this current political and economic climate. And maybe that’s because we’ve just been fed polarising views, and that in the end, we’re being forced to pick one side over the other. But like it or not, we as people feel as though it’s an ‘us v them’ mentality out there, and that kind of way of viewing the world and viewing people (they’re either with our cause, or totally against it), can be unfortunate for us all. And so ‘RELATE’ allows us all to take a step back and really ponder the questions, of whether this person who is different from us on the surface, is really all that different. Both Joel and Luke have made an unashamed call for us to unify with each other- while there are differences galore, what we do have in common are the experiences we face as humans, and as people who feel the same things we do. What I believe is a firm sequel to Mandisa’s ‘Bleed the Same’, ‘RELATE’ allows us all to focus on what can bring us together rather than what really drives us apart. A song that is enthusiastic and fervently compelling, this duo delivers a song that reminds us all, that with God’s grace, mercy and compassion, we can unify with people who are different from us- they may have a different Christian denomination, or they’ll be of a differing gender, socioeconomic status, financial status, or even a geographical one. Whatever the case, humans still feel and bleed, and even if we may be different on every measure we can see with our eyes, I’m sure there is at least one thing, we, and someone else, can relate to. A song that can hopefully allow us to ponder who it is we’re placing assumptions upon (that we think we’re really different from them) when in fact we’re more similar than we release; ‘RELATE’ was the first official single (and the first song) from What Are We Waiting For?, that sets the tone, thematically, musically and even lyrically. Well done Joel & Luke for a great start to the album, and a song destined to become a standout of this album, even at year’s end.
For KING & COUNTRY released another single ‘For God is With Us’ in September 2021, and is as joyous as it is poignant, as orchestral as it is resounding and compelling. Joel and Luke have crafted together a song that deeply proclaims so earnestly and fiercely that our God is with us, in the moments of yesteryear when He was born God incarnate as Jesus all those years ago, and is also with us now, even during moments when we may not ‘see’ or ‘feel’ Him also. Every song this duo has created has always been thought-provoking and heartfelt, and this song is no different. For I reckon it was good that ‘Together’ the track (the duo released that song in mid-2020) took off and became the quasi-crossover hit that it did. Because ever since the duo received the exposure that ‘Together’ gave them, Joel & Luke have had a sense of creating songs fit for both the mainstream and CCM audiences- the duo presented ‘Relate’ that could’ve easily been released to mainstream radio, and now on ‘For God is With Us’, the song itself has an ‘epic-cinematic’ quality, and that even though the song is much more Christianese-explicit compared to both ‘Together’ and ‘Relate’, I still reckon that their song that dropped digitally not too long ago, can easily be climbing the charts on mainstream radio too (as of right now, I don’t think it has happened, but there’s still hope). A song that requires us to firmly believe the words of God being with us as we sing it, we are indeed reminded of this very fact, and that even during such a ‘hopeless’ time we’re in, we’re still called to believe that God is always with us, especially in the moments of now in this polarising time as it is. God being with us doesn’t change regardless of how we feel, and this song is a powerful reminder of that.
Throughout the rest of the album, the band continue to deliver songs to us that are still on a ‘togetherness’ and ‘unity’ atmosphere, as we see Joel and Luke impart arguably one of this year’s most emotive and lyrically challenging CCM albums yet. ‘Unsung Hero’, one of the most subdued and poignant tracks on the album, speaks to all the ‘unsung heroes’ in someone’s life, and as we hear the song progress, we realise the brothers are singing praises for their mother, the person who has stuck with them and supported them throughout their own musical journey. It’s a song about honouring the people nearest to us who sacrifice so much for us to have our dreams and futures, something that maybe we may not understand or even take for granted- because for us to sacrifice for someone else, may even be unheard of for us, because, for lack of a better term, we live in a land of convenience. Our parents generation sacrifice for us; because that is just what they do. To be honest, I dunno if we could do that for people, purely because we’ve been so accustomed to the things that we’ve had growing up, to sacrifice may mean to give the things up that we may not want to. ‘Unsung Hero’ honours and lifts up the people that selflessly lay down their own ambitions for ours; and do so without complaining or whinging. ‘Love Me Like I Am’, standing at 3:05, speaks about this thing we often fail to understand, or even think we do, and overcomplicate it- loving each other as we are, because we were first loved as we are by Christ Jesus. He died for our sins and paved a way for us to come to Him as we are, and so with that unconditional love, grace and mercy given towards us, so too should we deliver grace and love abundantly and without condition to our fellow humans, even if we may righteously think they’re in the wrong for whatever reason we declare.
The brothers also impart to us songs like ‘Broken Halos’, ‘Hold On, Pain Ends’, ‘Shy’ and ‘Seasons’, with the delivering a myriad of themes and messages applicable for society today- ‘Broken Halos’ acknowledges that we all don’t have it all together, that we who think we have glowing halos, in fact have broken ones (so we ought not pretend as we are ‘better’, and thus judge and assume a self-righteous position based off this false elevation that we have things right and ‘the other’ have it all wrong); while ‘Hold On, Pain Ends’ is a song that can hopefully give people comfort during this time of COVID-19, as we’re reminded through this electronically driven track, that we ought to ‘…breathe in and breathe out, I know it hurts now, pray through the waiting, hold on, pain ends, hope when it’s all gone, hope when it’s so wrong, nothing is wasted, hold on, pain ends…’ ‘Shy’ showcases a sense of boldness from the brothers as they state that they will no longer be shy, when speaking up in the name of love, forgiveness, grace and truth. ‘Shy’ realises that to speak love, grace, truth and forgiveness, requires us to be less shy in our approach and bolder in how we deliver God to people; while ‘Seasons’ provides a sense of vagueness to how people see this track, as either an ode of love and gratitude from the brothers to their wives, declaring their unending love and appreciation of them through the seasons, or a love song between creation and creator, a love and adoration between Christ and His bride- the church. ‘Cheering You On’ shows the brothers declaring that they will be cheering their friends and family on in their own personal journeys in life, with this song becoming a moment of prayer and uplifting as those closest to us can hopefully journey alongside ourselves as we navigate life, love, death, and everything else. And hopefully by the end of it all as well, we can journey alongside them too, both of us sharing wholeheartedly the highs and lows of life, with each other.
The album then ends with ‘Benediction’, a song full of emotive ethereal organs, as the brothers showcase a song where we declare boldly before the Lord, that ‘…if You can hold the universe, then You can hold me too, if You can form the human heart, then You can mend it too, if You can love Your enemies, I’ll love them as myself, and if You gave Your life for us, then I’ll give mine as well…’; while one of the standouts on this album, alongside ‘Together’, ‘Unsung Hero’ and ‘Relate’, is ‘Unity’, featuring Bethel Music artist Dante Bowe. Co-written with Tony Williams, cousin of Kanye West, ‘Unity’ was borne out of observing that the nation, and to a wider extent, the whole world, was becoming such a divided and fracturing place to live in, especially throughout the last few years. As Luke Smallbone relays to us about the song in general, we see that ‘…seeing the things that we were going through as a nation, it saddened us all. We wrote this song, just asking questions: ‘Do you believe in unity, you, and me in unity?’ If so, it does mean you do something. You go out of your way to love a brother, love a sister. Rather than focusing on the things that separate us, what if we focus on the things that unite us? Having Dante on this album and on that song, it really illustrates that point. That’s the reason to do a collaboration, to expand the story, and I think that Dante does that in a brilliant way…there was already so much racial division going on and our hearts were broken by it. [Tony Williams, co-writer on the track] listened to it [an earlier version] and said, ‘Look, that may work from your side of the street, but those lyrics don’t work from my side of the street.’ I thought, ‘If you’re talking about a song about unity, I have to have your side of the street. We all write music and stories from our perspective, but it’s important to ask, ‘Well, what if someone doesn’t look like me, doesn’t have the same perspective as me?’ Tony brought so much to the table, and I’ll be forever indebted to him for that. The first verse that Dante sings, Tony wrote that. Just having him write it from his perspective as a Black man growing up in America, it was so compelling…’ It is in this quote that I’ve appreciated this song all the more, as this track becomes one of the most relevant songs this band has undertaken since songs like ‘Together’, ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Priceless’. Well done Joel & Luke for ‘Unity’, a song that can hopefully bring unity amongst black, Hispanic, and white folk in the upcoming weeks, months, and years ahead.
There you have it…What Are We Waiting For?, an album so joyous and life-giving that it’s quite possibly one of my favourite albums of this year thus far. Brothers Joel & Luke can do no wrong, and while they are still relatively ‘pigeonholed’ within the confines and context of CCM over the last decade, hopefully into the future, they can break new moulds and soar to new heights, allowing their music to impact mainstream media as well. But if not, then that’s still ok. They are leading the charge of pioneering bands within CCM that are pushing the boundaries of what is considered ‘Christian’ music, and that’s ok. Joel and Luke have impacted CCM over the last decade, and to a larger extent, impacted music, culture, and society over the last decade as well. Hopefully this new album can usher in a new era where CCM artists can collaborate freely with mainstream artists, and no one will bat an eyelid. With collaborations on this album, with Kirk Franklin, Dante Bowe, Sleeping at Last, Tony Williams (writing credit) and Tori Kelly, Joel & Luke have crafted an album full of poignancy and fervent enthusiasm, something that CCM in general seemed to have lacked, by and large, for around a decade or so. Well done for KING & COUNTRY for such a powerful album. Here’s to the next few weeks and months ahead of powerful testimonies of how this album has been influential in people’s lives that we may not expect. Maybe the duo tours with a mainstream artist next? Stranger things have happened.
3 songs to listen to: Unsung Hero, Together, Relate
RIYL: Coldplay, U2, Delirious?, OneRepublic, TobyMac, Tenth Avenue North, Mike Donehey