Release Date: November 13th 2015
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Be One
- Good Day
- King of the World
- Love Has Won
- Never Miss a Beat
- Ever Be
- More Than Anything
- Nothing But the Blood (feat. Steve Grant)
- Be One (Acoustic)
- King of the World (Acoustic)
- Clean (David Thulin Remix)
- How Great Thou Art (Live)
‘…one of the biggest problems in our entire culture, especially American culture, I believe, stems from a sense of entitlement. I’m entitled to a good life, I’m entitled to success. When we have a sense of entitlement in our own life, we can’t stop to think about what somebody else needs, because we’re too busy being upset about our own unmet expectations. I think it all comes down to a change in perspective, when you instead ask yourself, ‘What can I do’ instead of ‘what can they do?’…’ Quite possibly one of my favourite female Christian artists ever, Natalie Grant’s above sobering quote makes me wonder- are we all guilty of thinking that we’re entitled to things of this world, when we’re really should be focused on the lives of others and what we can do as children of God to influence the world in a way that Jesus longs for it to be?
Natalie Grant has been a mainstay within the CCM scene for the good part of 15-20 years, and it is heartfelt messages like the one shown through the aforementioned quote that can be found in her newest album Be One releasing November 13th. With singles like “What Other Man”, “Hurricane”, “Held”, “In Better Hands”, “There is a God” and “The Real Me” that she has delivered throughout her career, listeners are met with probably one of the most powerful voices, not just within the Christian music industry, but within music period. Full stop. Wearing her heart on her sleeve in every song she sings, it is her latest album Be One that has leap-frogged every other album released this year to become my favourite album of 2015 so far (yes, even surpassing albums from Josh Wilson and Fireflight, both of which I rated 5/5…so yes, you guessed it, this album is also rated 5 as well!). With a myriad of musical genres layered throughout the album, from pop to worship, to electronic, soft reflective melodies, and even re-worked hymns, this is an album certain to be enjoyed if you are a fan of similar artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Francesca Battistelli or Nichole Nordeman. Natalie’s music continues to be an inspiration to many, myself included.
Now releasing her 8th studio album, we are given 11 songs (15 in the deluxe edition) of hope, encouragement and inspiration. From title track “Be One” to the bouncy and symphony layered “Symphonies” and the Bethel cover “Ever Be”, this is a perfect gift for anyone who loves CCM/pop with an EDM edge, or for anyone who has been a long-time fan of Natalie’s music, and is in for something different, yet still the same, from this artist whose career continues to be on the rise. If this is what Natalie has given us in Be One, then I’m sure the best is still yet to come for this artist who has inspired millions of people around the world to ‘be one’ in the communities, both local and global as we as Christians are inspired to be more Christ-like in all that we undertake. One of her strongest albums, lyrically and musically, to date; Be One is an album that I’m sure will be monumental in the lives of many, mine included, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
The first radio single, and title track, on the album, “Be One” is as encouraging as it is heartfelt and motivational, and while only 3 minutes, we are met with Natalie delivering what is by far one of her most vulnerable and applicable singles to date, since “Held” in 2006. With powerful driving guitars, “Be One” speaks of how we can all work together and be one to help society and to spread the gospel of Christ to those we meet. While not necessarily as epic as songs like “In Better Hands”, “I Am Not Alone” or “Held” (maybe Natalie just sings the ballads in a better way?), “Be One” has indeed grown on me since its release to radio earlier this year. It is the lyrics in the chorus where Natalie urges us to ‘…get our hands dirty, be love, there’s a whole lot of hurting, calling all hearts, calling all hands, calling all feet to take a stand…’ that I’m sure will encourage listeners the most, as we wonder what we as individuals can do to make the world we live in a better a place to be. A standout, not just on Natalie’s album, but a standout amongst all singles on Christian radio released in 2015 so far, we continue to marvel at the talent and relatable nature of Natalie and her music, with “Be One” being no different. The album also features an acoustic take on the song as well (shown below in an acoustic video format), as this stripped-down version is a reminder that a song can still be impactful when played acoustically compared to when it is recorded with a full band presence.
“Good Day”, “King of the World”, “Love Has Won”, “Ever Be” and “Clean” are all promotional singles released prior to November 13th, each of them giving us moments of reflection, encouragement, heartfelt praise and an emphasis on Jesus the King as we live out our days, good and bad, in His presence. “Good Day”, though not necessarily the most ingenious or even imaginative in terms of song title, is anything but, with a light airy guitar introduction leading us into poignancy as Natalie declares that ‘…happiness is temporary, it’s here and gone in a flash of light…’, something we all should take note of as we live out each day. A dance number through and through, Natalie pours out her vulnerability through her passionate and high-soaring vocals as we are introduced to the theme of every day being a good day because of Christ rather than our circumstances, we see other important themes thread through not just this collection of singles, but through the album as a whole.
“Love Has Won” embodies some clever whistling (maybe by Natalie Grant), looping percussion and an EDM sound reminiscent of something either from Press Play or Jonathan Thulin, as this CCM songstress invites us all to ‘…lift up your head, the King has come, we know that His love, His love has won, keep marching on to the risen Son, His love has won…’, while she also delivers a Bethel cover in “Ever Be”, a worship song that allows us all to sing out God’s praises in reverence and awe, collectively asserting together that “…You will be praised, You will be praised, with angels and saints, we sing ‘worthy are you Lord’…” Having all of her three daughters (Gracie, Bella, Sadie) sing harmonies on this song is such a beautiful thing, reminding us all that God’s love ought to be imparted to children at a young age, reminding us all that it is never too young to have a servant heart for Jesus.
“Clean”, possibly the album’s most musically subdued track, is also equally the most emotive, heartfelt and poignant. With just the piano and Natalie’s voice, “Clean” delivers a message that’s hard-hitting and one that we all need to hear- that God has wiped our slates clean, and that we stand before Him blameless and without fault. The lyric lines of how there’s ‘…nothing too dirty, that You can’t make worthy, You washed me in mercy, I am clean…’ is as heartfelt as these lyrics come. As written by Natalie herself, ‘…people are hungry for grace. Nothing to do with the singer. It just confirms the clear message I felt in my spirit when I wrote [Clean]…Jesus wants to bring freedom to every shame and hurt that you’ve kept hidden in the shadows. He wants to drip Grace on your wounds and make you whole. There’s NOTHING too dirty…no such thing as a dirty little secret when it comes to Jesus. He will make you clean with a grace that NEVER RUNS OUT…’ One of my favourite songs on the album, and quite possibly one of my favourite Natalie Grant songs ever, “Clean” is the song to hear if you were to hear only one song from Be One. While the remix version of the track by David Thulin may seem a little out of place, and not necessarily as epic or even impactful as the original piano-only recording, the remix does deliver some clever use of electronics as David Thulin continues to assert himself as a leading Christian DJ and remixer in today’s generation of DJs and the like.
Then there’s “King of the World”, the last promotional single on the album. As hard-hitting and emotional as “Clean”, this piano prominent ballad emphasises on the fact that we as humans fail to understand the notion of God being king of the world, because of the fact we try to control our situations as humanly possible and fail to rely on Christ being in control of whatever we face. As Natalie sings in the chorus, we can sometimes forget that God has always been the king of the world, acting in circumstances as we are selfish and self-centred, never understanding that though we live in a me-cultured society, we aren’t to succumb to the fear and worry that plagues us from moment to moment. Natalie even reminds us that she is in fact like us sometimes- ‘…I have control issues. I like to try and control outcomes. And most the time I make my plans and hope God will just go along with it. Furthermore – I have fear issues. And I’m pretty sure many of my control issues and my fear issues go hand in hand. But when did I forget HE has and will ALWAYS BE the King Of The World? He is still on the throne. When I look at what is happening in the world at large and in my own little world, none of it takes Him by surprise. This song was written with these thoughts in mind…’ A song that speaks volumes even though it is musically tranquil, Natalie, especially in this track, emphasises on lyrical content, believing that it is through the message that listeners are impacted. Recorded acoustically as well, I actually enjoyed “King of the World (Acoustic)” better than “Be One (Acoustic)” and “Clean (David Thulin Remix)”. Well done Natalie for such an awe-inspiring track, and one that’ll be on my iTunes playlist for weeks and months to come!
What can I say about the remaining tracks that I haven’t declared over the aforementioned tracks already? “Nothing But the Blood” and “How Great Thou Art”, some of the most known, treasured and loved hymns by many around the world, are both included in Natalie’s album, the former being a studio recording of Natalie and her brother Steve Grant singing a duet, while the latter a live performance of the beloved hymn. We are reminded that singing is very much a family affair- and with Steve’s duet with Natalie, alongside Natalie’s daughters and their background singing in “Ever Be”, Natalie’s music ministry could be the influence of something bigger. While not the most musically ingenious or different, this sombre representation of “Nothing But the Blood” gives us enough for us to delve deeper into what this song really means, for individuals and the church in the upcoming years to come. “How Great Thou Art” also allows Natalie’s voice to soar in a live setting, as millions of people who were there at the recording of it were able to witness Natalie deliver powerful melodies, as we as fans of Natalie and her music continue to understand why she is still one of CCM’s most powerful and prolific artists of the modern era of today.
“More Than Anything” showcases Natalie’s southern-gospel piano driven musical undertone as this song speaks to the heart of what knowing and following Christ really means- wanting God the healer more than the healing in the physical, and wanting God the Saviour more than the saving in the here and now; while “Never Miss a Beat”, again littered with electronics and vocal distortion, imparts to us a theme of God being present, constant and reliable in our lives, never ‘missing’ a beat- and always giving us the comfort that ‘…there’s nothing out of Your reach, nothing in my life that You don’t see, You never miss a beat…You’re holding onto me…’ (“Never Miss a Beat”). “Enough”, originally thinking that it was a Chris Tomlin cover, is an originally recorded melody that is just as poignant and emotive as Chris Tomlin’s famous melody- with Natalie allowing herself to vulnerably believe into the fact that God’s presence and love is enough for us to live our lives; while “Symphonies” is indeed symphonic as Natalie brings together layers upon layers of string and brass instruments, all the while presenting to us a theme of us being a symphony of praise to our Father, singing to Him and bringing all that we are and have so He can create and make us into the people He longs for us to be in our lives.
‘…so many people are panicking over what they perceive to be a greater presence of darkness in the world. To me, it’s not a greater presence of darkness — it’s an absence of light…’ With Be One encouraging us all to be that light as we shine in the darkness, it is the combination of pop, worship, dance and CCM that continue to make Natalie Grant one of my favourite artists I’ve heard in a while. There is not a dull moment on the album- “Enough” can easily be featured in a Sunday worship morning song set-list, while the cover of “Ever Be” could even be more popular than the original Bethel recorded version. “Be One” is a great encouragement if ever there was any, and “King of the World” ought to squash any doubts we may have over whether God is in fact King of the World or not at that very moment. Natalie continues to grow her reputation as one of the decade’s most heartfelt singer/songwriters, while we see musical diversity encapsulate the album, hopefully allowing other listeners of CCM/pop to listen to Be One whenever they have the chance. Since 1999, this is a whirlwind ride for Natalie, but if Be One is any indication, Natalie’s work ought to be treasured in the upcoming weeks and months ahead. One of my favourite albums, not just this year but throughout the last 5 years, it is songs like “Good Day”, “Clean” and “King of the World” that continue to propel Natalie to heights, further than what’ she’s currently being impacting with right now. Well done Natalie for such a powerful album. My favourite of 2015 so far!
4 songs to listen to: Ever Be, Good Day, Symhonies, King of the World
RIYL: Tricia, Rebecca St. James, Nichole Nordeman, Steven Curtis Chapman, Mandisa