Independent / Fair Trade Services
Release Date: March 2nd 2021 [Work of Art] / March 9th 2021 [A Father & Two Sons]
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- What You Mean to Say [Work of Art]
- You Belong Here [Work of Art]
- Work of Art [Work of Art]
- Better [Work of Art]
- Pushing Me Away [A Father & Two Sons]
- I Don’t Love You Like I Should [A Father & Two Sons]
- In the Middle [A Father & Two Sons]
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 swansong 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 material since the band split-up in the form of 2 EP’s- Work of Art and A Father and Two Sons.
With Work of Art releasing digitally March 2nd and A Father & Two Sons releasing March 9th, Mike launched a kickstarter earlier on during 2021, to help fund his full-length project coming at the end of the year. Work Of Art EP was initially going to release, as a tribute to fans who stuck with his band Tenth Avenue North all this time, but it was only until his monetary goal on kickstarter was reached, matched and given in excess of (quite a bit), did Mike himself decide to release a second EP, both in preparation for his full-length album. Work of Art EP has a different thematical and musical feel to that of A Father & Two Sons, and by all means, it should. The first EP in and of itself, is one of being in relationship and community with other people, some with a similar viewpoint to yourself, some with different ways of thinking, but people nonetheless that we need to do life with, in a way that we can disagree on things, but still be done in a respectful and honouring manner, that we can say what we need to say in a space of respect and honour, and not worry about whether people will shut us down or not. ‘What You Mean to Say’, the first track on the album, is about seeing things from another’s perspective, learning to listen to someone else, and to being slow to judge, slow to make assumptions, and just being able to try at least to see things from their point of view, so as to not ourselves, become defensive, wanting to prove we are right and everyone else wrong. ‘You Belong Here’ follows; and speaks about honesty and what happens and follows along from that. To be honest with our family, friends and peers is one thing, but whether we are to be accepted in spite of what we tell, is all up to them. For honesty is only one side of the coin- the other is acceptance, and before we act the way that we think we should, if someone tells us things that we can often deem unacceptable, first we must acknowledge that in our very own nature of who we are, God first loved us, as we are. For we belong to the kingdom of God, even before we have modified our behaviour, and so we ought to use that model to extend grace and acceptance to others that we meet. ‘Work of Art’ stands at track #3; and is one of the most vulnerable songs Mike has recorded in a while, ever since ‘Control’ way back in 2016. ‘Work of Art’ is a powerful and poetic track about a relationship, a romantic one, and how we as people ought to put in the work so as to stay committed to the relationship and to the other person. As Mike even puts it himself, ‘…when we start a romance, it chooses us, but then we have to do work choosing it back…’ Choosing to be in the relationship each day is indeed a work of art; and is something that we can easily master some days, and others it can be a real drag. Nevertheless, Mike presents a song that reminds us all to keep staying the course in a marriage or a relationship, that love is much more than a fleeting infatuation, but rather, a daily commitment to someone who loves as respects you, much more than you can even know you deserve.
‘Better’ is the EP-ender, and is the first single by Mike this year, a song about life getting better, and being assured that even though we live in such an unknown season of COVID-19, that just because things don’t necessarily get easier, it doesn’t mean it won’t get better. Mike presents this 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 be 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.
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.
While Work of Art EP was primarily songs that were based upon relationships between people, A Father & Two Sons is in fact what the title of the EP suggests- about a father and two sons, in a broad respect. Or in biblical terminology, this EP is more of a story-album based upon the famous parable told by Jesus in the bible, ‘The Prodigal Son’. While there is tremendous focus upon the son that seems to squander his inheritance and leave home and blow away his fortune, Mike tries to deliver three songs from three different POV’s. For there are three characters in this story- the father, the older son, and the younger son. And there are three songs on this EP- one sung from a different perspective. Or as Mike himself divulges about the EP, ‘…it always bothered me when I heard this story in Luke 15 reduced to “the story of the prodigal son.” It is that to be sure, but isn’t it intriguing that’s not how Jesus introduces the story? As the religious leaders grumbled at His inclusive scandalous grace, Jesus said, “Let me tell you a story about a father and two sons.” Through that lens, I find this to be one of those parables I just can’t shake. I think it boils down a lot of theology into a three-act play. There is the magnanimous father, selling off his inheritance to bless his two ungrateful sons. There is the runaway, who isn’t satisfied at home, takes the money and lets his wanderlust run him ragged. Begrudgingly, he runs out of options and begins rehearsing his sob story. Then, there is the elder brother. He is the son who doesn’t simply go after what he wants. He angles his way into entitlement. He too doesn’t want the father; but would rather be owed what he’s looking for. He doesn’t join the party, too aghast at His father’s merciful inclusion. And so without further ado, here is a retelling of that story in three musical acts. Three songs. Three humans. All of our stories in one . . . EP: Pushing Me Away (the Father), I Don’t Love You Like I Should (The Runaway), In The Middle (The Older Son)…’
For it is in this quote that I end this ‘review’- as these three songs, produced in an acoustic frame of mind, show us the same event, through the eyes of three different people. The father, who graciously gives, and extends love, forgiveness and mercy to both brothers, even though the younger one longs to grab his inheritance at a fast rate, and then go blow it all at once. The younger son, the person who wants to rid themselves of the town they grew up in, to go see the world with the money their father has earnt. To wild out and commit the biggest debaucheries they can, just because they can. And then realising that maybe, their actions didn’t prove fruitful, and going back to the father, as shameful as that can seem, is most probably the better thing to do. Then there’s the older son, who stays behind after the younger one disappears into the midst of the night. He stays and helps our His father, all the while despising the younger one for leaving. It all comes to a head, when the younger brother comes back, and the father welcomes him home, throwing a feast and party in honour of the younger son’s return. The older son bawks at this- hides inside and refuses to attend. And it is in this moment of understanding that we as people can either be like the younger son, or even the older one, that this EP has great relevance for the generation of today. Even if people don’t necessarily ascribe to Christianity, they can still get a God-given message out of the parable of The Prodigal Son. Well done Mike for A Father And Two Sons, as well as Work of Art, two EP’s worthy of a spin or two on Spotify (or Apple Music), before the main full-length album to be released TBA 2021!
‘…I would say I have five songs almost totally recorded [for the full length album] that just need to get mixed. I think we already know what song will be the single, and I think there about eight songs that we know are going to be on the record and we are sorting through about 100 songs to finish. And the classic thing when you work with any kind of label is that they want you to keep writing, so I just wrote a new song yesterday with my friend Micah [Tyler]. We wrote a banger yesterday, so maybe that will be the ninth song. I’m writing with Bart from MercyMe on Thursday, so it’s how records work with just seeing what other songs you can make before you close the door on decisions. Which is how our band wrote the song “Worn” and “I Have This Hope,” where we thought the record was done. I won’t tell you the name of the single, but it is definitely the conviction I’ve held not having my eyes opened to the places where God is in the mundane, in the every day, in the places I didn’t think he was. A huge theme of the record is me waking up to the realization that I don’t really trust God. In all reality, since I’ve been an adult, I’ve had a path. So yeah, I had to trust God that I would make the money, but I knew what I was doing. So when the band ended and then the world shut down, talk about finding out where your trust is. It’s interesting the word in Hebrew for’ faith’ translated is loosely to ‘find one trustworthy.’ So I can say God is good and for me, but do I actually find him trustworthy when it sure doesn’t look like things are going to work out? That is the crucial thing that we’re all struggling with. What’s interesting to me is that I don’t have a hard time finding God in the mountaintop or the valley, because you’re looking for Him. When you’re on the mountaintop, your eyes are open and everything is amazing. And when you’re in the valley, you’re really looking for God because you need help. It’s the every day in between where it’s tough to stay aware of the mystical, magical grace of God and His presence…’
3 songs to listen to: Better, Work of Art, I Don’t Love You Like I Should
RIYL: Hawk Nelson, Sidewalk Prophets, OneRepublic, Goo Goo Dolls, Matthew West