Release Date: August 12th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Group 1 Crew– #FASTER (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- The Wonder Years (feat. Moriah Peters and Glory)
- A Little Closer
- Heaven (feat. Jonathan Thulin)
- Everyday is a Miracle (feat. Rachael Lampa)
- Psalm 23
Group 1 Crew (G1C), well known for their hits like “Can’t Go On”, “Love is a Beautiful Thing”, “He Said”, “His Kind of Love”, “Movin’”, “Keys to the Kingdom” and “Walking on the Stars”, have had quite a personnel change of late. With the departure of both founding members Blanca Callahan (and hence the band’s drummer Ben Callahan also leaving) and Pablo Villatoro (in 2013 and 2011 respectively), lone founding member Manwell Reyes has toiled on, giving us a new lineup in a full band as well as a new EP #FASTER, which released today in Australia, and later on today in America and the rest of the world.
While the loss of both Pablo and Blanca to church ministry and a solo career respectively makes G1C’s sound and uniqueness change from a 3 part harmony and rap towards a more CCM pop/rock sound; Manwell has recruited new singer Sarah Sandoz and three other members (Lance on guitars, Pedro on drums, Loren on bass) to present to us 5 songs that gives listeners a fresh, invigorating and powerful new sound that the band has been adopting since the redesign and restructure earlier in the year. Boasting 3 guest vocalists (Rachael Lampa, Jonathan Thulin, Moriah Peters), #FASTER is an EP to listen to if you have been a G1C fan, are new to listening to the group, or if you love CCM/rap/hip hop that gives a unique and fresh musical atmosphere compared to anything else on radio currently!
The first single from the EP, “A Little Closer” shows us a new era of G1C without Blanca and Pablo. While it may seem a little different and sometimes weird to not hear Manwell’s two other vocalists and ex-members of G1C, the band’s new song nevertheless does a great job at giving us something new, while also holding on to the trademark rap/pop sound. A song that encourages us all to be a little closer to Christ (mannerisms, relationship with Him) today than yesterday, Manwell offers up the story behind the song, and while on the surface the looping percussion and guitars make the melody a fun-filled one, it is a song that has a deep meaning behind it- ‘…for a long time I always felt like my Christianity was based on performance; it was about making sure that I was good enough to be called a Christian, and then I realized that God truly expects us not to be perfect, but to trust in the One who is perfect…every day I get a little closer to becoming more like Him, to seeing Him, to realizing His calling coming true in my life…’
With “A Little Closer” hopefully giving us great motivation to be more like Christ today and now than at the start of the week; Manwell does his best to continue the vision of G1C with new members, a new sound, and a fan base that’ll hopefully encourage others to hear a band that I reckon is one of the most underrated in recent CCM history. Entering a new era, the band continue to bring out new genres, new vocalists, and a plethora of guest artists on the remaining four tracks, making #FASTER one of this year’s most ingenious EP’s from an established artist.
The first track on the album, “The Wonder Years” invites Reunion Records artist Moriah Peters to try her hand at pop/rap as she offers her vocal to sing about simpler times, times when we weren’t chasing the next big thing as we appreciate what’s in front of us- the relationships with our family and friends. While the most ‘pop’ melody on the album, “The Wonder Years”, underneath all the enthusiasm, colour and life lies a song with a message begging to be heard. As Manwell raps that ‘…the best things in life are free, you can miss it if you spend your time chasing things…’ and Moriah declares to ‘…just look around and we can see…the wonder years are happening, stop looking for tomorrow and live within this moment…’, we have a song that is one of the most poignant on #FASTER.
“Heaven”, “Psalm 23” and “Everyday is a Miracle” are the three remaining tracks, and with each of the songs performed with someone else other than Manwell, G1C try their hand at expanding their genre as Jonathan Thulin, new co-lead singer Sarah Sandoz and Rachael Lampa sing their parts in “Heaven”, “Psalm 23” and “Everyday is a Miracle” respectively. A hip-hop/pop version of the famous Psalm chapter, we hear Sarah shine as co-vocal lead on “Psalm 23”, as she declares that ‘…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I’ll never fear, You are with me Lord, You never left…I’m never alone…’, coming into her own as a formidable replacement for Blanca, and one that’ll certainly make G1C thrive here and into the future.
As Rachael Lampa enhances the pop-dance melody “Every Day is a Miracle” to bring this 3 minute 16 second song to an enthusiastic height with the theme of embracing each day and thanking God for the circumstances we face and opportunities we have on a daily basis; it is sadly Jonathan Thulin’s contribution to “Heaven” that makes this the low point on the EP. Though probably not his intention, the song feels disjointed and can almost seem like two songs in one- the part Jonathan sings and the other section attributed to Manwell. Despite a theme that I reckon we all need to take notice of, “Heaven” was a song that seemed to be a low point on an otherwise well-produced EP!
With the reinvention of themselves and their infusion of CCM, pop and rap in their 2012 album Fearless, #FASTER EP is no different. Despite the loss of Blanca and Pablo, Manwell still steadies on to deliver 5 songs that are certainly going to become pillars musically, sonically and lyrically when listeners point to songs that’ll highlight their new journey without Blanca and Pablo. A great way for exposure for Rachael, Jonathan and Moriah, this new offering from a band that has virtually been quiet in 2014, is sure to gain some attention, buzz and popularity as they release two more EP’s this year/early next year before releasing their full length new studio album sometime in 2015. With standout songs like “Every Day is a Miracle”, “Psalm 23” and “The Wonder Years”; this is an album certain to be enjoyed and liked by fans of any style of Group 1 Crew music, or music lovers who want to have some fresh uplifting rap/hip hop/pop music to enjoy. Well done Manwell and the rest of the band for giving us something to dance to and enjoy. Bring on #STRONGER and #POWER and their new album #WEARETHECREW later on in 2015!
3 songs to listen to: Every Day is a Miracle, A Little Closer, The Wonder Years
RIYL: Britt Nicole, Beckah Shae, Manic Drive, TobyMac