Release Date: December 15th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Tenth Avenue North has officially disbanded. Yes, you heard me right. It was in this year of 2020, where the band decided to part ways with each other, and shortly after the release of their successful 2019 album No Shame, Mike Donehey and co. decided to hang up the boots, after a successful career under Provident Label Group and ushering into existence, 6 studio albums of goodness and heart, of poignancy and emotion, reminding us of the sheer grace of God and his mercy through these melodies we have been given throughout the years. The band have pressed the envelope and stretched the boundaries of what it means to be honest and vulnerable. Sadly, the CCM industry is like any other- one that, just like the mainstream industry, is plagued with a lack of honesty that should really be present. A stigma is attached to the word ‘honesty’ and ‘vulnerability’ in music, and thus, a band like Tenth Avenue North, who in their music, has challenged all those assumptions, is well deserving of having a career in music as they have had, all these years; a career that has brought something new, interesting, heartfelt, challenging and transformational, to the discussion of what music means for people today. Sure, Tenth Avenue North aren’t popular by ‘mainstream music’ means. But the band itself has never really cared about that- carving out a career more focused on songs being used as vehicles of honesty as we traverse this sometimes chaotic and difficult life, rather than songs just being a way to escape it. Now years upon years after their debut album Over and Underneath; the band have since parted ways, and the only two remaining members, lead singer Mike Donehey and guitarist Jeff Owen, unveiled to us, an acoustic album featuring 10 songs of their best and most highly requested, as a swan-song of sorts before both these men move onto other opportunities, either in the realms of music or elsewhere. I reviewed the acoustic best-of album here, which featured standout songs like ‘Control’, ‘I Have This Hope’, ‘You are More’, and more recently their radio hit ‘Greater Than All My Regrets’. Now at the turn of 2021, we see Mike Donehey’s first solo offering since the band split-up, a song titled ‘Better’, about, well, life getting better, a poignant and fitting track for such a time as this!
‘…the best part of my song coming out tomorrow? This girl right here. I’ve always loved her voice. It’s pure; unpretentious. But a long time ago, my wife was told she was a terrible singer. We’re not sure who said it, or when, but the words stuck in her head and eventually her heart. As a result, she’s never sung in public…ever. Until now. I was shocked when she agreed. I knew this song needed a female voice in order to fully communicate the lyric; but when my manager suggested my wife do it, I immediately laughed him off. “She’ll never do that,” I chuckled, “but I’ll ask her just to amuse you.” Shockingly, she said yes. I guess 2020 never ceases to amaze. You guys, when my wife’s voice comes in after the bridge, I’m all tears. EVERY TIME. “BETTER” featuring my wife, Kelly, comes out tomorrow. Get ready…’ There’s nothing much to be said about ‘Better’, it’s just that Mike presents a track so real, hopeful, honest and raw to remind us all that even if our lives don’t get easier because of all the things we have been experiencing during 2020, doesn’t mean our lives won’t bet better. Sometimes we have to go through difficulties and trials to look inside ourselves and reevaluate- see who we place our trust in, what we believe about our circumstances, our lives, God, us, the people around us, because of what we go through; and just realigning our focus because we want to shift our priorities because of COVID-19. And that is exactly what ‘Better’ has evoked in me, a reminder that yes, things are going to be better, because the Lord will be in this journey we all face, shaping each day, and allowing us to learn, grow, and be challenged by such an experience which is COVID-19 during 2020. For such a life-altering moment that’s gone global has had such a polarizing response from people around the world, and maybe, just maybe, such a song from Mike can create a sense of unity and a commonality in that we as people in Christ can attest and declare that things will be better, and are already better, because of Christ in us, the hope of glory. Well done Mike for this first solo single, post-Tenth Avenue North; can’t wait for more more solo music in the future, whenever that may come!
The song “Better,” started in my kitchen this summer. Every day I found myself singing the refrain from one of my sister’s songs. “Is it ever gonna be easy?!?” Mid-pandemic, post band break up, I was feeling a lot, not to mention a six week quarantine while my family passed Covid around. I kept praying and singing this song by The Lone Bellow. “Is it ever gonna be easy?” And then one day, I felt like God simply whispered to my spirit, “Maybe not Mike, but it does get better.”
I can’t say I loved that answer at first, but after a few days reflection I began to see how beautiful that is. Anything worth doing, from art to running marathons, is never easy. But it’s precisely what makes things difficult, is often what gives them value. I have a friend who calls songs a type of lifeboat for others to hold onto. Well, in 2020, I found myself writing a whole harbor of lifeboats just for me. I’ve written more songs this year than I ever have, and the song “Better” feels like the one I keep coming back to over and over for comfort. Maybe you will too.
Oh, by the way, I didn’t even mention my personal favorite thing about the song. It features my wife’s vocal skills. I’ve always loved her voice. It’s pure; unpretentious. But a long time ago, my wife was told she had a terrible voice. We’re not sure who said it, or when, but the words stuck in her head and eventually her heart. As a result, she’s never sung in public…ever Until now.
I was shocked when she agreed. I knew this song needed a female voice in order to fully communicate the lyric; but when my manager suggested my wife do it, I immediately laughed him off. “She’ll never do that,” I chuckled, “but I’ll ask her just to amuse you.” Shockingly, she said yes. I guess 2020 never ceases to amaze.
You guys, when my wife’s voice comes in after the bridge, I’m all tears. EVERY TIME. “BETTER” featuring my wife, Kelly, is out now. I hope it reminds you that things don’t have to get easier for them to get better. In fact, it might be the fight that makes it all worth it in the end. And oh yes, one more thing…the cover art is my three-year old’s water color painting. Every morning of this entire year she’s insisted on spilling water colors all over our entire dining room table. And instead of resisting the mess, I’m starting to see the beauty in embracing it.
RIYL: Tenth Avenue North, Matthew West, 7eventh Time Down, Apollo LTD