Release Date: September 25th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Natalie Grant – No Stranger (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Face to Face
- My Weapon
- Do It Through Me
- Praise You in the Storm
- Who Else
- Isn’t He (This Jesus)
- Even Louder (feat. Mr Talkbox) [w/ Steven Malcolm]
- No Stranger
- Presence of the King (feat. Fleurie)
- My Weapon (Sacred Version)
- Amen (So Be It)
Natalie Grant needs to introduction. A mainstay in Christian music for years, this songstress and quite arguably one of the most powerful vocalists (in both Christian and mainstream music) in recent memory, has given to us powerful songs over the years, from ‘Held’, ‘Live for Today’, ‘I Am Not Alone’ and ‘Bring it All Together’, to ‘The Real Me’, ‘I Will Not Be Moved’, ‘Hurricane’, ‘Be One’ and more recently ‘More Than Anything’ and ‘King of the World’; to name a few. Now five years later on from the chart topping Be One that released in 2015 (and was one of my favourite albums of that particular year), Natalie is back after a humungous hiatus, and a well-received welcome-back to music with the brand-new studio album No Stranger that just unveiled in September 2020. With standout songs on the album like ‘My Weapon’ and the Casting Crowns cover, ‘Praise You In This Storm’ present on the album, alongside the powerful and poignant collaboration of ‘Even Louder’ with rapper Steven Malcolm; this is a must-have album if you have enjoyed Natalie’s music previously, or if you’re looking for some reflective music with a worshipful slant. An album that stands out for me lyrically and musically, within the second half of 2020 thus far, this album from Natalie is one that can facilitate a heart of worship, and has facilitated a heart of worship for me over this last week or so. An album that is well worth the 5-year wait, Natalie’s emotion and passion ring true and through every song on the album, making this collection of 11 songs easily and arguably one of my favourites of 2020 thus far!
Cowritten with Natalie Grant and other fellow songwriters Benji Cowart, Jonathan Jay, Ryan Ellis and Andrew Bergthold, ‘My Weapon’, both in the normal studio format and the symphonic ‘sacred version’ has been one the pleasant surprises of 2020 so far. While Natalie hasn’t recorded anything new in 5 years because of personal issues and various other things, she’s back, unveiling ‘My Weapon’ as a radio single back in February 2020, with the song being about using the Lord’s presence and the power of prayer as our greatest weapon against the circumstances that may hold us back in everyday life. Produced by husband Bernie Herms, ‘My Weapon’ is indeed a reminder that the weapon which is Christ in all that He is, is enough for us to repel and push back the cowering darkness that may take hold of our lives at any time. The chorus lyric is especially emotive and poignant for me- ‘…Your presence is my greatest weapon, pushing back the darkness, breaking every chain, my worship opens up the heavens, crushing every stronghold, when I speak Your name, Your presence is my weapon…’; and gives me comfort in knowing full well that the same God who lives in me because of my relationship with Him; is the same God that when I call His name, can do things through me that even I can’t really fathom or even imagine. It is a surreal concept, but a concept nonetheless that I can grasp and hold onto during difficult or trying times. While I still actually prefer the original recording of the song to the symphonic ‘sacred version’, the alternative strings-heavy rendition indeed showcases the song in a different way, as now in a symphonic moment, the lyrics and words are much more accentuated and impactful as opposed to the original studio recording (for me though, nothing beats the original!).
‘Praise You In this Storm’ is perhaps one of my favourite songs by Casting Crowns…ever. Hands down. We all know this song, that was birthed way back in 2005 and was released on Casting Crowns’s second album Lifesong. The song itself is about trusting the Lord and declaring Him to be faithful, praising Him even during the difficult and trying times of our lives. This song certainly rings true and is a timely track unveiled by Natalie on No Stranger; especially during the COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter climate that is happening around the world. In all of the confusion, uncertainty, and just-plain worry, it is good and nice to be reminded of a song that still stands firm and tall today as it did when it was written. To declare or even utter the words ‘and I’ll praise you in this storm, and I will lift my hands, cause You are who You are no matter where I am’ is something of a bitter pill to swallow, but nevertheless, this is the truth- that God is the same even if our circumstances change. ‘Praise You in this Storm’ is a great reminder to understand that even if we can’t see the Lord working now, He is still working, and we praise Him not because of what we can see Him doing now or even what we see Him doing in our lives full stop, but we praise Him because of who He is, and what He undertook all those years ago to reconcile all of humanity back to Himself. And that is the reason why I love ‘Praise You In This Storm’ so much- it embodies so much of the frustration and the anger, the hurt and the downright bewilderment, when we look at humanity right now, but still carries a sense of hope and purpose as we assert to ourselves and to the Lord, that even in the midst of trouble, we look to the One who can alleviate all these things (and still does), but more than that, we praise Him just because He is good- though we may not see it, though we may not even feel it, He is still good, He still cares, His heart still breaks for the world as it is in currently, and He still is working behind the scenes in ways that we may not even see or fathom. Natalie’s version of the song isn’t as guitar driven- and maybe that’s the point. With just the piano, strings and her voice, the lyrics are accentuated and highlighted all the more, as we contemplate the gravity of what is being sung. ‘Praise You in This Storm’ has become an anchor for myself in terms of my own faith over the years, and it is great, and much needed, for another rendition of an already-good song, to release in such a time and moment like this.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Natalie impart to us a variety of themes that have become relevant, poignant, prevalent and needed, now more than ever in the society of 2020. ‘Even Louder’, featuring the vocals of Natalie Grant coupled with the hip-hop/rap talents of Steven Malcolm, is the fusion of worship/pop and hip hop at its finest. Now the song originally was birthed as a all-out worship song, unveiled as ‘Even Louder’ as part of a The Church Will Sing Word Label Group compilation. Back then it had a different verse, and a different bridge and sounded like a corporate worship song that you’d sing on a Sunday morning worship service. Where it stands now on Natalie’s No Stranger is a unique feat in and of itself- the chorus was kept from the previous worshipful version, and the verses were re-written by Steven to create this worship-rap hybrid of the a song. The result? A collaboration with Leeland, and the song with all of its rap verses in full on Steven’s own 2019 album The Second City, while here on Natalie’s No Stranger, it’s a radio version of the song, without Leeland and Natalie’s vocals in the place of a gospel choir for the chorus. A much more refined and seamless version of the track compared to the raw unfilted 5:22 version on Steven’s full-length, ‘Even Louder’ the song, both as a rap format and as a worshipful melody, has become a great song to me over the last year or so, and is most definitely a standout here on No Stranger– one that I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy very much since it’s unveiling as a stand-alone single in April 2019.
‘Face to Face’, a promotional single from the album, starts off No Stranger in a reflective fashion, as we see Natalie impart to us an emotive and hard-hitting prayer of someone who has grown tired under the weight of everyday life- worn, bruised and battered from what has been thrown at them. And yet to still move forward in everyday life, declaring such a prayer as the one in ‘Face to Face’, can often seem like an impossible task, and yet, we see Natalie unveil a song that is as vulnerable as it is relevant to anyone in a difficult situation. There is a sense of urgency and boldness, of purposefulness and of trust, as we hopefully believe into the fact that the promises of God before, still stay the same and relevant even now, especially in the times where everything seems to be falling apart. ‘Do It Thorugh Me’, quite possibly the most CCM/pop song on the album, is a song about the Lord using people to undertake His handiwork and using people to speak words of encouragement into people that we meet, but in the same breath, the song states the impactful lyric line ‘…it’s hard to believe I’m somebody You’d choose…’, reminding us all that even though we really believe that the Lord uses people to shape, reshape and change the world, we get worried, even defensive and puzzled, if God uses us as the people He wants- either because we believe we have some inadequacy about ourselves that we believe God can’t use, or we just believe we’re not good enough for God to use, to further His kingdom here on earth. Nevertheless, this is a song that can hopefully bring forth people’s doubts and insecurities as we understand that God can use and does use whatever He uses, to bring about change, even if it is us people who are insecure. ‘Who Else’ is a powerful worshipful song (something that an artist like Kari Jobe could sing) as Natalie presents a song that can easily be present on any Sunday morning worship set list in the upcoming months ahead. The message of ‘Who Else’ itself is very poignantly timely- of there being no one and nothing other than God that can take tragedies and turn them to victories- showing His power as He uses everything that we go through for our good and His glory; while the song ‘Isn’t He’ (previously released as a standalone single as part of Natalie’s home church The Belonging Co.’s music single catalogue) is given the studio-recording treatment with Natalie at the helm, presenting a song that has made it’s mark and impact a couple of years ago when it was released in the live setting. The song is a great reminder of God’s characteristics and of who He is, irrespective of what we can earn, or what we do or don’t do, in order for us to believe He is pleased with us!
Title track ‘No Stranger’, stands at 6:27, the longest song that Natalie has ever recorded, is by far one of my favourite songs on the album, as Natalie herself tells us all, that in all of Jesus’s splendour, majesty, power and awesomeness, still is intimate and personal with us all, understanding what we all go through, because Jesus, God incarnate, has gone through the exact same things- even death by the way of a cross, for reconciliation between the creator and created, can occur. He suffered much more than we can ever suffer, and thus, He endured what He rightly deserved- death. God is indeed no stranger to us and everything that we carry- the good and the bad bits. He loves us in spite of the very things that we ourselves hate about ourselves, and such a song as this is a great encouragement not to hide or pretend, we can be free of putting up a front, as we lay all of our circumstances at His feet, knowing He will use and transform that very circumstance; to become what He’ll use to bring people back to Himself. The album then ends with two strikingly different songs musically- EDM inspired ‘Presence of the King’, and instrumental ‘Amen (So Be It)’- the former is a collaboration with EDM artist Fleurie and is presented as a worshipful track that fuses two genres of music together nicely (EDM and pop/’worship’) and remind us all that the worship of God is not confined to the musical style that you sing it in; whilst ‘Amen (So Be It)’ is an instrumental track that is as much peaceful and tranquil as it is compelling and poignant- and even without words, a message of joy and hope are conveyed with the instruments, also a reminder that you can still worship the Lord and listen to instrumental music concurrently, and it isn’t mutually exclusive.
‘…whatever current difficulty or hardship we find ourselves in, there is one thing that is a source of comfort and strength above all else, and it is also our greatest weapon—the presence of God. And His presence is always with us. Joshua 1:9 reminds us to ‘not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ So no matter the fight, we never fight alone. May this song remind you that God is with you and God is for you, fighting your battles. He is your victory…’ Natalie Grant is back, and with a 5 year sabbatical, it’s like she’s never left with this brand-new album. With No Stranger certain to be within my top 10 albums come year end in December 2020, this album that was very much anticipated by Natalie is well worth it, and is actually my 3rd favourite album by Natalie, ever- behind Awaken and Be One. Well done Natalie for this comeback album, looking forward to listening to the songs over and over in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!
3 songs to listen to: My Weapon, Isn’t He, No Stranger
RIYL: Love & The Outcome, Meredith Andrews, Rebecca St. James, Mandisa