Capitol Christian Music Group
Release Date: September 22nd 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- All In
- Broken Things
- Mercy is a Song
- The Sound of a Life Changing
- Something Greater
- Jesus & You
- The Beautiful Things We Miss
- 1 Song
- POWER LOVE SOUND MIND
- Never Ever Give Up
- Dream Again
- Becoming Me (feat. Lulu West)
- You are Known
Matthew West has been on a mission of late. Ever since his 2010 chart-topping album Story of Your Life (and inclusive of that album), Matthew has been writing new songs at his cabin in the woods, for often months at a time. And during those moments of solitude, Matthew has been reading stories from fans around the world, and writing songs based on and inspired by these stories. In effect, Matthew’s songs from 2010 onward have not been about himself and his own struggles, rather, the messages have come from all of us. The fans, the everyday people. And when we hear a track that we know is inspired by a fan, it makes the song ever more raw, real, honest and relatable. Not that any other song written by any other artist is of void of passion and enthusiasm. It’s just that there’s something unique and different when it comes to hearing an album solely inspired by someone else, other than the artist and their journey themselves. It makes the process of recording much more inclusive and impacting. That is what Matthew has been embarking on these last little while, resulting in The Story of Your Life (2010), Into the Light (2012), and Live Forever (2015), and unearthing radio singles like “Strong Enough”, “My Own Little World”, “Hello, My Name is”, “Do Something”, “Forgiveness”, “Grace Wins”, “Mended” and “Day One”. Enter in Matthew’s new album All In, that released September 22nd 2017 via Sparrow Records.
Once again, Matthew has been pouring over fan stories in his cabin for the better part of this year. With the release of All In, we are indeed blessed with a collection of songs that have been inspired by stories, however ‘small’ or ‘insignificant’, of Matthew’s fans. And if you haven’t listened to the new album yet, let me just say this- Matthew’s newly released album is one of his most honest and encouraging yet. While still not as popular in the CCM industry as other powerhouse solo artists like Chris Tomlin, TobyMac, even artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith or Francesca Battistelli; Matthew has still been fervent and honest to the call to write not about himself but about others. There’s something daunting trying to put other people’s stories in song and to the paper, but with three albums under his belt doing just that, Matthew’s latest encourages us all to step from the ground of mediocrity and mundane to exciting, exhilarating and interesting, from dull and underwhelming to expecting of whatever the Lord is going to do next. All In the album is a declaration of what we are going to be when we follow Christ- a participator in life and what we want to contribute to the world in which we have a sphere of influence over!
Standing at a quite-short 3:07, ‘Broken Things’, the first radio single from the album, is by far one of his shortest to be a radio single…and that’s ok. We as listeners to Christian radio have a stigma attached to lengths of tracks and the quality of them- we think that the longer the song, the more enjoyable, powerful and poignant the track tends to be. But here we have “Broken Things” and this song, if ever there is any, bucks the trend. Despite the short track length, the song is still emotive and impacting- and this is shown quite powerfully in the chorus- ‘…now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King, I wish I could bring so much more, but if it’s true You use broken things, then here I am Lord, I am all Yours…’ More often than not; we as humans can often think that what we have and what we want to give, back to God and back to society, is so miniscule and small, that how can we make a difference to the world we live in if what we have to begin with isn’t worth talking about? This track turns our own thoughts around and says this- that even if we don’t have that much, even if we aren’t qualified to be in the circumstances and places that God sets us in at a certain moment, even then, He will still use us, not only to further His ever-advancing kingdom, but also to influence and impact the lives of people we are in contact with, even ourselves too!
And then you have ‘All In’, a promotional single that is just as poignant and hard-hitting as ‘Broken Things’. Way back in 2007, Matthew wrote this song called ‘The Motions’. In it, he speaks about how we as Christians, and as humans in general, ought not to travel through life just going through the motions, in whatever we do. If we wholeheartedly believe in something, we ought to give it our all 100%. And therein lies the point of this new song of his, ‘All In’. While ‘The Motions’ made us search inside our souls and come to terms with areas in our own lives where we have been going through the motions, whether intentionally or unintentionally, this new song from Matthew allows us to think- where to now? Are we willing to dive all in, to the grace and sufficient abundance of life that Jesus offers to us on a daily basis, or are we willing to just settle for whatever the world has to offer? Are we giving 1000% each day, or are we content to be comfortable and safe, knowing that not taking any risks and not stretching outside the familiar allows us to not grow into the people that Christ longs for us to be? That is the million $ question.
Both ‘Broken Things’ and ‘All In’ are not for the faint-hearted, not for people who just want a quick pop song, but rather, these two tracks have a lot of meaning attached to it. ‘Broken Things’ reminds us that time and time again in the bible God never chose that good, the righteous, the ‘sinless’ to be His ambassadors. In fact, He chose the tax collectors, the doubters, the misfits, the adulterers, the fearful, the rebels and prodigals, the different and down-and-outs to proclaim His name and fame across the world. And it is in that moment that we realise that there is still hope and encouragement for people like you and me, people who are still struggling to find out their role and place in society and in the story of God. And it’s ok if we don’t have it figured out right now. God will nevertheless use us where we’re at to bring hope and joy to whoever we are in fellowship and communion with on a daily basis. ‘All In’ challenges us further, to get out of the rut we may often find ourselves in. Because frankly, we can feel so stuck where we are that we may not enjoy the thing that we once had a passion for. What we once loved, whether it be a job, our hobbies, the group of friends we are around; we can start to feel like we are an outsider, that what we do, no matter how small, won’t have such an impact, because frankly, who are we, little people, to change the world? This is where Matthew’s new song hopefully encourages- that it is only God who gives us the strength to give it our all- often on a daily basis we can ask the Lord’s help in such a feat. But this is the kicker- that as long as our hearts are beating, we still have a purpose to fulfil. If we are trapped in a sense of comfortability and restlessness, let this be such a song to awaken our spirits and challenge us to move from mundane to exciting, allowing the Lord to shake up and break apart whatever it is in our lives that needs such a treatment, and thereby allowing God to give us a spirit of no fear, so that we can dive into tricky situations knowing full well that it is God who covers us even if we believe we can’t!
And then there’s the rest of the album, which is as emotive, poignant, heartfelt and encouraging as these aforementioned 2 tracks. ‘Mercy is a Song’ is yet another pre-release track prior to album release, and perhaps one of my favourite songs on the album, and one of my favourite songs from Matthew…ever. The song is in fact just about that…mercy. And that we need mercy every day, and that God freely gives it. It is the fuel to deliver encouraging words, it repels lies and hurt, anger and malice. It lifts what has been broken down. It stirs the soul and comforts the weary. God’s love and mercy is the remedy for every situation, and this song is a celebration and a recognising of the reality of what mercy is and that it’s given as a gift to whomever is humble enough to receive something that is as life-changing as this indescribable message delivered in such a song as this. ‘Amen’, musically the most unique song on the album, tells a story about a persona (it could be Matthew, or someone else) who shares his testimony in front of the congregation on Sunday morning, and then welcomes whoever wants to just freely borrow the mic and start talking about what Jesus has done in their life. Musically and stylistically reminding me of Carman’s ‘1955’ way back in the day, this gospel-tinged southern country-esque melody is something Matthew hasn’t done before…which makes this offering something special. ‘Amen’ brings to the fore a sense of fun to Christian music, something that may have been lost along the way of bringing in something relevant alongside something with theologically sound biblical doctrine.
‘The Sound of a Life Changing’ is the most autobiographical song that is on All In, as Matthew writes about his own personal journey and how another pioneer in Christian music, Steven Curtis Chapman, propelled and influenced Matthew’s own journey into music way back in the late 1990s, and how one single act from one person can inspire a positive change in someone far beyond what can be perceived or even conceived. A life changes because of what is invested and sown, what is spoken over them and what is given and therefore, given out to the world as a result. Matthew invites us all to become encouraged to tell our own stories, no matter who small we consider them to be…because they will inspire someone else, like how Steven influenced Matthew, maybe without even knowing it. ‘Something Greater’ brings the focus to something greater than ourselves as Matthew uses such a technique of describing the love of God and the orchestrating of our lives because of God as a notion of ‘something greater’, a way of bringing in listeners who may not have heard much about Christianity or God’s love, and maybe, not bring with it a sense of fear and condemnation (that I’m sure many seekers or people of other religions hear when they do hear Christian music), but a sense of hope, inspiration and a general sense of ‘yeah, maybe there’s something out there’! ‘Jesus & You’ is a love song to Matthew’s wife, as he imparts an acoustically driven track to dedicate his devotion to his family and a sense of gratitude and thanks for the people in his life during the times of difficulty as well as the times of triumph and rejoicing, while ‘1 Song’ continues the acoustic framework, as well as looping percussion to present a track that’s message is this- that if we only have one song to sing before we pass over to the other side, what’d it be? Are we going to make such a song good, great, about this topic or that, or just sing a song about our adoration and affection for God our Father?
‘POWER LOVE SOUND MIND’ is perhaps the weirdest song on the album- mashing together spoken word and pop, and while on the surface it could sound like something that doesn’t fit, this song nevertheless brings us all out of our own comfort zones in what a song should look and sound like, and make us appreciate the message that is being presented- that God has not given to us a spirit of timidity and fear, but rather one of power, love and that of a sound mind, so that we can call upon His love and comfort as such to give us the authority to walk in any circumstance with confidence and assertion that He is for us and therefore nothing can be in our way. ‘Never Ever Give Up’ continues the motivational pep-talk as this 2:41 track is a song we can sing to our friends and those whom we believe are fighters, to those unsung heroes who never give up during the difficult times, who fight til the end knowing that it is Christ who does most, if not all, the heavy lifting; while ‘Dream Again’ encourages us all to never give up on our dreams we have inside our heads, that even if life seems dire, and most times, it does; our own wishes and what is placed on our hearts will come into fruition, because we have a God whom we serve that is bigger than our own fears and insecurities. The album also features a duet with his own daughter, Lulu in ‘Becoming Me’, a track that delves into the heart of what it means to be a parent, as Matthew creates this song around his own children. It is also a reminder of how we as Christians emulate the Father and become like Christ in what we have seen to be modelled to us through Jesus- through His words, what He stood for and how He was radical back in the day. All In then ends with ‘You are Known’, a song directed at anyone who is feeling hopeless, encouraging them that there is a Father who knows us fully and loves us where we’re at.
And then there’s ‘The Beautiful Things We Miss’, arguably the most personal song on the album for Matthew (aside from ‘The Sound of a Life Changing’). As said by Matthew himself, ‘…my youngest daughter one night said, ‘Can’t someone else tell them about Jesus this time? I remember looking at her like, ‘Wow, I don’t have an answer for that.’ I was like, ‘Don’t hide behind your noble mission that you’re on and think that it doesn’t affect your kid the way that any parent leaving any kid would…am I just a traveling business man who thinks there’s something nobler because my music is Christian music? Do I hide behind that when really I’m just trying to climb a ladder that anyone else in business is trying to climb? So I started to write from that point. How can I be all in like never before? …’ ‘The Beautiful Things We Miss’ is indeed such a song that asks all these questions. It encourages us to not stress about the future or have any regrets about the past, but to just enjoy the moments we have now. To focus on what is important- health, family, faith in God, our loved ones, rather than the new career or the social circle we’re dying to be a part of. We need to prioritise, and if it means God shaking up what we believe to be important, for us to realise that it was never important in the first place, and what should really take our time has been falling by the wayside all this time, then that is what He has to do. If we’re too comfortable where we are, then I reckon we haven’t really, truly, grasped the gospel with two hands and run with it. This is what ‘The Beautiful Things We Miss’ attempts to do- it is the critical friend that asks you the things your family are afraid of saying. Kudos to Matthew for such a song, and here’s hoping we are encouraging by it and are reminded to not ‘…look back someday and find everything that really mattered was right in front of me this whole time, open up my eyes, Lord, keep me in the moment just like this, before the beautiful things we love become the beautiful things we miss…’
‘…God has spoken to me in a powerful way as I’ve spent time in the cabin, my place of solitude, to work on this new album. I had a hard time getting through the writing and recording process on this song without choking up – it brings me to tears and into a place of worship. The fact that God still uses me blows me away. There are a lot of times that I feel broken and unqualified for God to use me, but day after day He invites me into the gates and says ‘I’m going to use you in a powerful way’ because our God is in the business of using broken people and broken things…’ Matthew West’s new album is pack-full of heartfelt moments and lyrical and musical backdrops that Matthew hasn’t really ventured into…until now. His promotional singles in ‘All In’, ‘Mercy is a Song’, ‘Amen’, ‘Broken Things’ and ‘Jesus & You’ delivered a variety of styles prior to album release date on the 22nd September, and songs like ‘Never Ever Give Up’, ‘The Beautiful Things We Miss’ and ‘You are Known’ expounded on the ability of Matthew in delving into a sonic landscape that CCM artists haven’t really done before. The album is a unique experience musically, and while most times it is different compared to Matthew’s previous music, All In brings a sense of uniqueness and power, making this new offering by Matthew my favourite album since Into the Light. An artist that is equally as passionate about songwriting as he is about delivering hope and encouragement, All In is for anyone who wants a little bit of hope, and encouragement to ‘…step to the edge and I take a deep breath, I’m not turning back around ’cause there’s no turning back now…’ Well done Matthew for this engaging and inspiring album, this will be spinning on repeat in my iTunes playlist for months to come!
4 songs to listen to: The Sound of a Life Changing, Mercy Is a Song, The Beautiful Things We Miss, Amen
RIYL: Brandon Heath, Josh Wilson, Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin