Release Date: February 12th 2016
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Good To Be Home
- Only You (I Speak Your Name)
- What It Takes To Be A Savior
- God Is In Control
- Keep Breathing
- In the Presence of Jesus
- With Each Borrowed Breath Me
- When We Look Back
- He Gave Me More Love
- This is a Son
Formerly one of the lead vocalists for CCM powerhouse group Avalon, Jody McBrayer is probably one of my favourite CCM vocalists ever, alongside Mark Hall of Casting Crowns and Bart Millard of MercyMe. Jody has one of those unique and distinct voices that is instantly recognisable as well as captivating and moving. Hence way back in 2008, it was a bit of a shock to hear that Jody was leaving his longtime group Avalon (it was due to health reasons so…), but it’s great to finally see God calling him back to doing what he does best- making music to point people to Jesus and to glorify His name. With Jody employing plenty of keys, organs and gospel choirs throughout his new project Keep Breathing, it’s clear that the Avalon fan in probably anyone who loved 90’s CCM music (myself included) will gladly appreciate this trip down memory lane, as Jody instils in us his deep, deep love of the Father, and the eternal truth that Jesus is with us and will never let us go. Ironic isn’t it, that I’m reviewing this album from an ex-Avalon member 4 months after the release date, on the same day that Avalon announces a comeback and new album!
One listen to the first track “Good To Be Home”, and you’ll know that all the best things about Avalon are present here, and the album does feel like listening to Avalon. That’s not to say that Jody’s voice was what made Avalon great and he shouldn’t be doing solo. Far from the fact. I love Jody’s solo stuff, and I am excited for what the future holds for Avalon’s new album releasing later this year or next year. Yet this album does nevertheless contain quite a few musical elements Avalon used way back in the day, and I reckon it’s a good thing as we are reminded of the power of music, no matter what era or who influenced the songs.
Opening with stirring synth and a worshipful atmosphere, Jody emphatically declares that it feels good to be home in the arms of Jesus (probably sung from the perspective of the prodigal son if you squint a bit deeper!), sung fervently against the chilling backdrop of an enthusiastic gospel choir akin to Mark Schultz’s “Love Has Come”. A toe tapping pop melody that should get everyone on their feet dancing and echoing Jody’s sentiments that ‘…in the presence of His love, I’m never alone, it’s so good to be home…’, Jody’s charisma and joyfulness is overflowing and deeply infectious, as he inspires and reminds us of the unending love of Jesus.
Taking the tempo down a bit and delivering a song on the other end of the musical tempo spectrum, is the next song “Only You (I Speak Your Name)”, which could be considered what Avalon would record in the 90’s or early 2000’s, in which Jody sings a soft ballad ala “You Were There”, and employs an epic orchestral crescendo later on in the track. As Jody ardently reiterates that he will call upon the name of Jesus in any situation, highlighting ‘…Father God on wings of praise, my song shall rise, my hands are raised to You, only You, Creator come create in me a heart of joy, a voice that sings to You, only You…’, we are met with an honest prayer to God that we should strive to declare ourselves with our whole hearts as well. Throughout the rest of the album, Jody sticks with what he knows (power ballads), yet thematically and lyrically covers quite a lot of ground, for us to be inspired, despite the sameness of the genre, which is engaging and compelling in its own right to the avid fan, may be a bit stale to the casual listener.
“What It Takes To Be A Savior”, led by stirring keys, alongside yet another epic full band crescendo has Jody vividly recounting Jesus coming to Earth as a baby, living life as a man and dying on a cross, crying out ‘…what it means to sacrifice, to redeem and change a life, that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes to be a savior…’– with the layout of the song sounding quite similar to Carman’s “This Blood”; while the compelling and exquisite duet with Melissa Greene titled “God Is In Control” sounds like another 90’s CCM melody (though not the popular smash hit single from Twilla Paris!) has both vocalists singing in perfect harmony, as we are reminded that Jesus is in control, and that He knows the future and what’s best for us.
Title track is a fun jazz/piano pop/reggae melody sounding musically similar to Carman, as Jody provides us with assurance to keep breathing, and going on because our purpose isn’t fulfilled if we still have breath in our lungs- a theme similar to TobyMac’s “Move (Keep Walkin’)”, though nevertheless yet another good and necessary reminder to keep our head high and be positive; while the motivational story-in-song piano prominent “In The Presence Of Jesus” has Jody eloquently reiterating stories in the New Testament of the Bible where people wanted to be closer to Jesus. As Jody inspired us to ‘…bring your broken body, bring your broken heart, come all weak and weary, come just as you are, there is hope and healing, there’s power I believe in, anything is possible in the presence of Jesus…’, we are glimpsed into the kind of faith we ought to have- unshakeable and unmovable as we remember that inn God’s presence we can so anything!
“Me” may seem like an egotistical title yet this revealing, honest piano ballad is anything but, with Jody admiring the fact that Jesus dies for each one of us, even if there was only one person alive in this earth (past, present and future!), and that is definitely mind-boggling if you sit and dwell upon the fact that as sinners, Jesus loved us each unconditionally. While Jody then steps into uncharted waters of hymn like worship in “With Each Borrowed Breath”, a potential single and maybe timeless classic, where Jody shows off his brilliant vocals, announcing that ‘…in the best and worst of times, all that life may take me through, with each borrowed breath You give, Jesus I will worship You…’; and also delves into the notion of creating an eternal legacy that God would be proud of in heaven in the guitar led pop ballad “When We Look Back”.
With the penultimate track “He Gave Me More Love” being a stirring and captivating encourager about God providing us and showering us with more and more love and abundance of provisions for us to thrive and not just survive; it is indeed the album ender and first single “This Is A Son” that really tugs at my emotions and heart, and is THE SONG to listen to if you would only listen to one song from Keep Breathing. As Jody delves into the notion of each one of us being sons and daughters of someone in this world (and definitely children of God!), Jody challenges us to love each one of the broken, down and out, desolate and the least of these, not because it is the easy thing to do nor because we want to, but because we just want to show the love of Jesus to the world, and this is one of the ways to glorify Jesus as we inspire others to live an authentic life of worship for Jesus. As we give second chances and maybe third, fourth and infinite, to people who do not deserve it (just like Jesus did), this melody encourages us to take an active part in our faith and live out what we believe, even if goes past our kingdom of comfort. Well done Jody for this last confronting melody and for the enjoyable and inspiring album as a whole as well!
Over the course of the album, Jody bares his soul and shows us all the journey he has gone through over the past few years to be where and who he is today. And while these eleven melodies are mostly ballads, it is the sheer honesty and brutal emotion evident that makes this record one of the most honest and personal of 2016 so far (alongside Jason Gray’s Where The Light Gets In). It’s worship, but worship at its rawest form, probably also considered to be like an autobiography or Jody’s own personal story if you will. If you have not listened too Jody McBrayer’s Keep Breathing, then you’re definitely missing out on some powerful testimonies and eternal truths. So what are you waiting for? As you all eagerly anticipate Avalon recording new music (I know I am!), let us let Jody minister to our souls, as we praise God and keep breathing, for if we still have breath, then God isn’t finished with us yet!
3 songs to listen to: What It Takes To Be A Savior, In The Presence Of Jesus, This Is A Son
RIYL: Avalon, Charles Billingsley, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, Jason Crabb, Selah