Black River Christian
Release Date: September 23rd 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Never Leave Your Side
- Your Love Defends Me
- I Stand Here
- Love I Leave Behind
- Mercy Won
- Be Still and Know
‘…Casting Crowns was my first concert. I grew up listening to them along with Steven Curtis Chapman, Mercy Me, and boy bands like True Vibe. I also listened to my parents, who loved to sing and lead worship. Their worship music has always inspired me. I never imagined myself being an artist, but I always knew that I loved to sing. Watching my parents lead worship was the perfect outpouring of their gift and I think it planted a seed in my heart…’ Hannah Kerr, one of 2016’s most unique and powerful voices to grace the radio airwaves, has released quite possibly one of 2016’s unexpected album releases of the year (alongside Zach Williams’ Chain Breaker EP– the unexpected EP of the year thus far). And while Hannah’s album was under the radar in terms that even I did not know she was releasing anything until it did actually release; what this newcomer has given us is what I reckon is one of the most mature and lyrically profound worship albums I’ve heard since albums like Children of God (Phil Wickham), Wild Heart (Urban Rescue), Worship and Believe (Steven Curtis Chapman) and Deeper (Meredith Andrews). At only 19, Hannah’s emotion and passion is beyond her years, as this collection of 11 tracks, though it caught me by surprise (in a good way), has become a set of songs that has been on my iTunes playlist almost all the time since a day or so ago when I first heard the songs.
With a few songs like “Undivided”, “I Stand Here” and “Warrior” released previously on either singles or EP’s previously; Hannah’s first debut album is nothing short of encouraging and impacting, and one to be respected, enjoyed and treasured if you are a fan of other similar worship artists, like Meredith Andrews, Lindsay McCaul, Laura Story or Kari Jobe. As I pointed out when I reviewed her debut EP in 2015; Hannah’s style of music sounds eerily similar to that of her mentors, Casting Crowns…which isn’t a bad thing, by any means. Hannah’s stylistic musical choreography that backdrops each track is as if the tracks could’ve been sung by Mark Hall and still would’ve had the same impact, which is a testament to the quality of the songwriting on the album, and the poetic and powerful nature of Hannah’s singing, for myself to say that the same enthusiasm in lead singer Mark Hall’s voice is also present with Hannah. Delivering these 11 songs with such intentionality and heart, Hannah’s relevance and future within the CCM industry looks bright, especially with the success of “Undivided” and “I Stand Here” in the past.
Released as a radio single late last year, “I Stand Here”, the first song I ever heard from Hannah, still holds a special place with me, as ever since I heard the track, I knew that Hannah’s music, her enthusiasm and passion would make an impact…and she did, releasing an album a year later, yet releasing an album nonetheless. With a piano prominent introduction, we hear passion, heartfelt worship and a style only Casting Crowns can create (yes, dare I say that Hannah is the female version of the Mark Hall led band, which could mean both critical acclaim and harsh criticism at the same time), as Hannah invites us all to come to Jesus, standing before His holiness as we are reminded that He raises us‘…up on eagle’s wings, give my soul Your bigger dreams, breathe your life into me…’ Vocally reminding me of Kari Jobe or Lindsay McCaul, and maybe even a little Bethany Dillon at times, Hannah’s fervent urgency to deliver a message of offering, surrender and worship is what I reckon will propel “I Stand Here” to become a popular message amongst lovers of worship, Casting Crowns and everything else in between. As divulged by Hannah herself; ‘…the reason I recorded it [I Stand Here] is because it ministers to me. It says, ‘I stand here and I’m laying down the fear in me.’ Fear is something that everybody struggles with. I have fear in my life, but I’m laying it down. I’m not afraid to admit that. ‘I Stand Here’ really sums up my whole album in a way because it’s encouraging and empowering, but it also deals with the real stuff that people go through in life…’ Kudos to Hannah for such an impacting track, and one of many highlights on Overflow, an album that I reckon will propel Hannah to new musical heights in the months and even years to come!
Both “Warrior” and “Undivided” were released prior to Overflow, the former from her 2015 EP and the latter a radio single from this year…yet even though I practically heard these two tracks more than 10 times each, I never really get tired hearing them. Each of these two tracks deliver to us some unique gems about ourselves, God and every other matter in between…which is why I reckon these tracks, alongside “I Stand Here”, anchor the album in both a musical and lyrical sense. “Warrior” is a reminder to many that we are in fact warriors, leaders, fighters, soldiers, sons and daughters of the living High King, and that to be a warrior isn’t necessarily to be victorious in all the battles we face, but rather learning and growing from the adversity we may find ourselves in on a daily basis. With gang vocals and a looping electronic keyboard beat; Hannah brings to the fore themes of declaration, assertion and crying in the face of battle, knowing that in every circumstance we face; God is fighting alongside us and for us.
The chorus makes the message clear, that ‘…you’ll never stop me, I’m a warrior, when I fall down, I get stronger, faith is my shield, Your love is the armour, I’m a warrior…’, while “Undivided” becomes more explicit than “Warrior” and states about how we as Christians ought not to be divided in our own faith in Christ. With light electric guitars and Hannah’s passionate voice, we are met with profound and impacting lyrics, in how ‘…I won’t stand here, before You and lift my hands in vain, when I worship, my heart won’t sing any other name, You’re my focus, my anchor, the anthem of my soul, I’m undivided…’; giving us courage and impetus to look in our own lives to see if we may even be divided in our devotion to God in certain aspects of our lives. A song like “Undivided” is an encouragement, that even when this world is full of distractions, we will still focus our eyes on Christ. As Hannah relays to us, ‘…when we worship it should be with our hearts and as an offering of everything that we are. I wrote ‘Undivided’ to declare that in spite of distractions in this world, I will worship the King with all that I am. Worship is not just a song, but a lifestyle that we should strive for daily…’ Well done Hannah for these two songs, each of them inspiring and encouraging as she continues with the remainder to deliver what I reckon is one of 2016’s most invigorating and worshipful album’s I’ve heard this half of 2016 thus far!
The latest radio single from Hannah, “Radiate” is as emotive as it is encouraging, as Hannah boldly declares that she will let her light radiate and shine for everyone else to see. With the chorus musical backdrop sounding eerily similar to that of TobyMac’s “Light Shine Bright” (I’m sure it was just coincidence…I mean, God does give similar melodies to different artists who write songs that are vastly different than one another right?), Hannah co-wrote with her brother Josh on this song, and unveils in her bio, that the song was the first ‘…song I ever wrote with somebody else. It was really cool that I got to share that with my brother and that we got to create the song together. It’s definitely a very special one on the album for me…’ Comforting and easy to sing, I suspect “Radiate” or even “Undivided” to be included in WOW Hits 2018 (neither as a bonus or a bonus deluxe track, but rather straight in to the set of 15).
Throughout the rest of the album, we hear song after song full of enthusiasm, as Hannah invites us all into a moment of worship in each of the remaining tracks. “Lifeline”, though I didn’t pick it at first (maybe it’s because it’s been so long since I’ve heard the original recording) is in fact a cover of Hillsong Young and Free’s song that released in 2013, that encourages us that God is our lifeline, the One who pulls us out of difficulties, some of which we cause ourselves. The song is transformed from a dance/worship moment that Hillsong Y&F create, to a more standard CCM/worship atmosphere…which I’m sure will impact even a different target audience compared to who was impacted by the original Hillsong track. Not that I personally have anything ill towards electronic worship, but it is nice and refreshing to hear a song that is void of electronics and focuses more on the heartfelt lyrics- in fact, dare I say that I enjoy Hannah’s version much more so than Hillsong’s? “Love I Leave”, another potential single on the album- maybe after “Radiate”, calls upon us all to love without inhibition, stating that how we will be remembered in this life is how we love our friends, family, even our enemies, and how we show the love of Christ to those who we know need it, but may often don’t know themselves; while “Mercy Won”, a lightly acoustic and piano prominent track, sounds like a song that an artist like Kari Jobe may record and sing, as we are met with a prayer that Hannah declares- that God bring us to the place where we realise and believe for ourselves, that judgement has lost, and mercy has won.
“Overflow”, the title track, adds a little electronics as Hannah prayerfully longs for her worship to the Lord to overflow into the lives of others, and should be a song that we all can hopefully pray for our own lives as well. And while at times I did feel that Hannah herself was creating a song that may not have been her strong suit to begin with (while I do respect Hannah for creating a song that features electronics, her voice and passion does sound much more at home with a song that is more radio friendly/worshipful…), the songs “Never Leave Your Side” and “Your Love Defends Me”, both worshipful and both songs that I could definitely see being sung in churches in the near future, certainly make up for “Overflow”, a song that could seemingly be a downside in an otherwise enjoyable and emotive album as a whole.
Co-written with Meredith Andrews and Jacob Sooter (“Never Leave Your Side”) and Matt Maher (“Your Love Defends Me”) respectively, both these songs highlight the importance of God, that He is by our sides even during the moments when we believe He’s not. Maybe “Never Leave Your Side” will be recorded on the next Vertical Church Band album, or “Your Love Defends Me” on the next Matt Maher one? Possibly. Presented with a strong piano presence, “Never Leave Your Side” features Hannah’s soulful voice as she reminds us all that often, it is the whispers of God that relay to us that He has never left us, even if it is the grandiose moments we are looking for rather than the still small voice. “Your Love Defends Me” evokes a theme of God standing by us and fighting for us, often at times when we can’t fight ourselves, as we are reminded that our war today is not against flesh and blood but rather against principalities and evil forces and schemes of the devil, and this song is just the right one to declare when we’re feeling like we’re pressed down from all angles.
The album ends with a personal song in “Be Still and Know”, a song written for her friend from high school who was uncertain with direction in their life. As Hannah explains, ‘…I sent her the song and I didn’t tell her at first that it was about her. She called and said, ‘I know you wrote this about me, and I’m so thankful.’ She was in tears and said, ‘Please tell me that song is on your album because people need to know, like I did, that it’s not in our control and it doesn’t have to be. It’s in His hands.’ ‘Be Still’ is personal, but I feel like it applies to everybody and it’s a message that I need to remind myself of all the time…’ Thematically similar to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song of the same name (on Speechless in 1999), this piano only reflective melody featuring Mark Hall as backing vocals is a song that I reckon will become a song to declare amongst anyone who feels discouraged and disillusioned with where they are in life. This is a song that still can be declared in times of aplenty as well, as we all as children of God need to know of this simple yet equally profound fact, that God is God, and that His plans will always prevail, even when ours don’t.
Hannah’s introduction into CCM with this 11 song project is nothing short of poignant and heartfelt. Sure, she may be a carbon copy of Casting Crowns in quite possibly every way, yet it is her fervent enthusiasm to present to us songs that make us think in terms of a kingdom mentality that I’m sure will propel her to new heights in months to come. From “I Stand Here” to “Warrior”, “Never Leave Your Side” and “Undivided”, this is a must for any Casting Crowns fan, or if you love artists like Lindsay McCaul, Bethany Dillon or Kari Jobe. Well done Hannah for such an encouraging and compelling album. Already looking forward to the next one, whenever it arises.
3 songs to listen to: Love I Leave Behind, Never Leave Your Side, Undivided
RIYL: Meredith Andrews, Kari Jobe, Lindsay McCaul, Laura Story