Josh Wilson – That Was Then, This is Now

josh wilson- that was then this is now

Sparrow Records

Release Date: July 31st 2015

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Josh WilsonThat Was Then, This is Now (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. That Was Then, This is Now
  2. This is the Day
  3. No More
  4. The Songs I Need To Hear
  5. Blown Away
  6. Ode to Joy (Instrumental)
  7. Say Yes
  8. House Divided
  9. Don’t Let Go
  10. Coming Home
  11. Grace Upon Grace

Possibly one of the most unique and multi-musically talented artists this side of the millennia (I can’t even think of any other artists that can undertake the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, ukulele, banjo, glockenspiel, as well as some percussion with such poise and professionalism), Josh Wilson has always written songs that are honest and heartfelt, in a similar vein to others like Brandon Heath, Jason Gray or Tenth Avenue North frontman Mike Donehey. Having an ability to deliver and write some of the most relevant songs I’ve heard, from “3 Minute Song”, “Before the Morning” and “Carry Me”, to “They Just Believe”, “Fall Apart” and “Pushing Back the Dark”; Josh’s fast bolt into CCM stardom occurred shortly after his debut label album Trying to Fit an Ocean in a Cup that released in 2008. 7 years and 5 albums later, this Sparrow Records signee (home of artists like Britt Nicole, Mandisa, Matthew West and Sanctus Real) continues to remind us of God’s never-ending and always life-changing grace, and our emotive yet equally poignant response to this unbelievable decision; and That Was Then, This is Now is no different.

I know I’ve said this about Carry Me but I really do believe this- Josh’s new collection of songs is some of his most enjoyable and challenging, from the title track that shows us the change we ought to have in Christ, to even the eclectic and musically impressive instrumental of “Joyful, Joyful”, and the promotional singles “No More” and “Blown Away”. With honesty that is as frank as what it should be (but not necessarily the case) in the CCM industry, the album tackles issues from identity, to doubt, self-worth, being amazed by creation, as well as saying yes to God no matter what and believing that the grace freely given to us is and should be enough for us to live life guilt-free. Weaving together personal experience with a sense of humour and catchy melodies, this is an album you don’t want to miss, if you are a fan of Josh’s music prior, or even similar artists musically and lyrically, like Steven Curtis Chapman, Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray or Tenth Avenue North.

“That Was Then, This is Now” is perhaps one of my favourite Josh Wilson songs ever, and I mean ever. With a catchy guitar hook, and a message of leaving our sins in the past and remembering that Christ has remade us is something we as Christians need to be reminded of, sometimes on a daily basis. Standing at only 3:17, this pop radio friendly song is my favourite of 2015 so far, and with the poignancy to ‘…go ahead, put your past in the past, box it up like an old photograph, you don’t have to go back cause that was then and this is now…’, “That Was Then, This is Now” has created a lyric line we all need to live by as we are reminded that who we once was ought not to continuously creep into who we are or even will be. As Josh himself states about the theme and message of the song, ‘…It’s a before and after picture. We were dead before we met Jesus, and we’re alive once we know him. It’s a 180-degree turnaround. The bridge of the song quotes 1st John 1:9 almost verbatim, and that verse reminds us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”…’ Honest, poignant, heartfelt and a song to encourage us in the lives we lead, Josh’s first single is one of my favourites of 2015 so far, and possibly one of my favourite songs of Josh’s ever since “Before the Morning”.

Following on from the first single is “This is the Day”, and as the song starts off with children’s laughter and gang vocals, Josh sings straight to the message and heart of the song as the verses remind us that there’ll always be ‘…another day, another excuse, running from what I’ve been called to do, I put it off cause I’m too afraid, always counting down someday…’ A call to rise up and make decisions now rather than at a later undisclosed date in the far distant future, we are to be reminded through this short yet equally compelling track that we are to live like today is the day to take risks and calculated challenges. “The Songs I Need to Hear”, though only 2 minutes, is perhaps one of the most lyrical masterpieces and honest pieces of work Josh has delivered in his career thus far. With just a piano, Josh voices his own personal worries and how he’s ‘…sorry if I’ve ever written a line that sounded trite but just not true, I promise it was never my intention, to act like I know what you’re going through…’ Personal and emotive, Josh encourages us all to ‘sing the songs’ we need to hear, rather than what we think others would want to see or envisage for us.

Josh also explores instrumental layer-upon-layer acoustics in “Ode To Joy” (or maybe the melody is better known to us as “Joyful, Joyful”) as a conglomerate of instruments infuse together to create one of Josh’s instrumental masterpieces and his best instrumental melody to date. Playing the acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, electric guitar, drums, percussion, ukulele, mandolin, and any other interesting and obscure instrument you can possibly think of, Josh’s musical repertoire is nothing less than awe-inspiring and encouraging to a lot of people around the world learning music. “Say Yes”, one of the songs I reckon will be overlooked in favour of other promotional singles like “Blown Away” and “No More”, is also a standout, as Josh tells us all the benefits of saying yes to God even if we may not see the full picture in front of us. As radio friendly as can be, this acoustically driven melody is one that is a comfort but also a catalyst for change as we, alongside Josh, are going to ‘…put one foot in front of the other, I don’t need to know where You’re leading next, cause You are in control, no matter what’s coming, I won’t second guess, whatever You ask, I’d say yes…’ Tempo slows down in “Don’t Let Go”, a personal song about doubts, fears and longing for God to not let go of us in the moments of our despair and demise, while “Coming Home” against invites the personal to be unveiled for us to see as Josh tells the story of the prodigal son from the prodigal’s point of view, and how ‘…I’ve been running for so long, don’t know how I got so far, out here on my own…I’m running back to Your strong arms, I need to be where You are…I’m coming home…’

“Grace Upon Grace” harkens back musically to the Trying to Fit an Ocean Into a Cup days as acoustics layer upon honest vocals and reminds me lyrically of a “Saviour Please” Pt 2, as the song encompasses the theme of the constant flow of grace God keeps giving us in spite of us and our decisions, while it is the songs “No More”, “House Divided” and “Blown Away” that are sure to be songs that unite, as well as divide Josh’s fans the most. Both “No More” and “Blown Away” are radio friendly songs that speak to us about how we need to believe on a continual basis that there’s ‘…no more guilt, no more shame, no more thinking I can’t change, who I was is dead and gone, who I am is moving on… you’ve blown away the prison door, hallelujah God, I am condemned no more…’ (“No More”), and to be amazed and awestruck at the everyday moments in our lives, that no matter how little things can seem on a daily basis, what we experience points straight to God. As Josh cries out in “Blown Away” that ‘…I wanna be blown away by your extraordinary grace every ordinary day…’, I can also concur that even if our days are ordinary, they are still extraordinary with the grace given and the moments appreciated as we move from one day to the next believing that every moment has a chance to encourage, inspire and point us to our Creator, Maker, Father and Friend.

“House Divided”, musically the most different track on the album, is one that delves into a theme of us still believing in Christ, yet momentarily reverting back to the ways of the past, whether it be worry, doubt, pride, conceitedness, and the like. We are Christians but sometimes more often than not, bad habits die slowly, and this song addresses that. Musically it’s the most out-there song Josh has recorded- when you hear it in a musical frame, you could almost see someone like Jeremy Camp or Kutless singing the track- that’s how musically different it is. “House Divided” may divide people as some could say its musical genius from Josh, while others could prefer his more radio friendly material. Whatever this song will bring out in his fans, the message is clear- until we are in heaven, we are indeed a house divided, and it is only with the help of Christ that was we can ‘…fight it, I do what I don’t want to, but God I need You to make me new everyday…’

A lyrical masterpiece from start to finish, Josh’s poetic nature in writing songs is what has drawed me to his music in the first place. With a singer-songwriter atmosphere akin to other artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Nichole Nordeman or Andrew Peterson, Josh has continued to deliver a plethora of musical themes of genres to present to us That Was Then, This is Now, as we are reminded that our past cannot hold us down from what and who we’re called to be in this moment and moving forward. Unique in every way imaginable, this is an album not for the casual listener just wanting a song to hear on their road trips- this album requires serious attention, with the themes its dealing with. The second 5/5 rated album by me this year (the first was Fireflight’s INNOVA), Josh has delivered a standout album destined to be on my iTunes playlist for years to come. From the powerful title track to the magnificently produced instrumental to the hard rock genre melody “House Divided”, there’s something for everyone in this bundle of 11 songs. Well done Josh for such an innovative and poignant album. Can’t wait to the next one, in the meantime, I’ll spin this album for the months ahead. Fans of artists like Nichole, Steven or Andrew will be sure to enjoy an album by personally one of my favourite songwriters this side of the 2010s!

3 songs to listen to: House Divided, That Was Then, This is Now, No More

Score: 5/5

RIYL: Nichole Nordeman, Brandon Heath, Bebo Norman, Steven Curtis Chapman, Andrew Peterson

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