Release Date: November 24th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Come Back Fighting
- Off the Wagon
- Let ‘Em Fly
- The Hero
- Getting On With Life
- Do the Unthinkable
- Million Flowers
- I Saw the Light
- Always on My Mind
One of my favourite singer-songwriters to come out of the UK and the Great Britain area is Philippa Hanna. Alongside others like Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, Martin Smith of the now disbanded Delirious?, as well as the ever popular Rend Collective, Philippa’s music has been influencing my own life ever since her poignant and heartfelt ‘I Am Amazing’ that she recorded way back in the day (I think it was 2011, I need to check though). Inspiring many listeners around the world, including myself throughout her music career thus far, from her humble beginnings with her albums Watching Me and Taste, and her chart topping song “I Am Amazing”, to her momentual hits “Lighthouse”, “Hollywood” and “Stars Will Fall” from her 2013 offering Through the Woods, as well as songs like ‘Arrow’, ‘Even Now’, ‘Run to You’ and ‘Something Better’ from her 2016 album Speed of Light, Philippa’s journey towards Christianity, that started in 2004, is an inspiration to anyone who witnesses a certainty in her music, lyrics that encourage us all, yet also showcase as sense of identity for Philippa. And about a year and a half after Speed of Light, we see Philippa deliver another album in Come Back Fighting, as she continues on with her songs that are delivered in a relatable way and a faith angle, all the while experimenting with new sounds and musical genres, with Come Back Fighting being her first outright country album she’s created throughout her whole career thus far!
While she may not necessarily be as famous in America as artists like Francesca Battistelli, Natalie Grant or Meredith Andrews; it is her honesty within each and every song, that has given myself at least much respect as she writes her songs and incorporates a British flavour into her music that is different, in a good way, compared to the endless ‘Americanised’ songs I hear on radio. That’s not to say that the songs on K-Love or Air1 aren’t great, it’s just that sometimes there’s a demeanour and musical ability that British and Australian artists carry that comes through in their music, which is always a good thing. With this album being a country album along the vein of artists like Jana Kramer, Carrie Underwood or Steve Grace, with the faith element that has always been in Philippa albums both now and in the past; this unique album of country/CCM that is married together to create this unique musical landscape which is Come Back Fighting is what makes this album one to not miss if you are a fan of British music, Philippa, or both.
Since she recently was on tour with Leona Lewis throughout the earlier part of 2016, as well as being on tour with Lionel Ritchie in 2012, Philippa’s ability to share the stage with some of music’s most popular is something of a unique dream come true to someone who’s ministry is primarily within the Christian music industry. Rarely do people of faith who make music tour with some of music’s most popular, yet Philippa did. And that is something to marvel. As well as her ability to write songs that explore faith in a subtle and encouraging way- I reckon it is that, that will become a great asset to Philippa’s musical ability in months and years to come. With a myriad of imagery, motifs, and unique metaphors, this new album that is under the umbrella of country music, which was funded through rocketfuel at the beginning of the year, is certain to become one of my favourite albums of 2017. In fact, when I upload my top 25 albums of 2017 (July-December), this new album from Philippa will be up there within the top 10 for sure! Come Back Fighting and its messages just continues to assert my firm stand that Philippa is by far an amazing songwriter, and one of Britian’s best kept secrets. As with bands and artists like Rend Collective, Delirious?, Tim Hughes and Matt Redman; Philippa has travelled across the pond to make the U.S. her base of music making, and has created this new album as a result. And with two covers that people know (‘I Saw the Light’ from music legend Hank Williams, Willie Nelson’s ‘Always on My Mind’), Come Back Fighting is a 10 track collection of moments where we see life through the lens of faith and in the musical landscape of country. So let’s sit back and enjoy this poignant albeit shorter album, that uses a lot of musical and thematical imagery and motifs, as we’re all taught to come back fighting, much more resilient and stronger than before, knowing full well that God provides us with such strength to carry through another day!
“Off the Wagon” is the first single from the album, and released as a music video a few months ago. Reminding me musically of something that Australian country gospel singer Steve Grace would write and record, Philippa has utilised her production in the city of Nashville to the max, and remind us all that the music genres of both CCM/gospel and country can co-exist together in the same space- the result of which is this album. Come Back Fighting isn’t necessarily a country album through and through but it does delve into that direction in parts. And that’s ok. For ‘Off the Wagon’, we are reminded through a gospel choir, a light electric guitar backdrop and soothing Philippa trademark vocals sung with a country/southern atmosphere; that if we ever fall off the wagon for whatever reason, God places us back on no question. Though there’ll be sometimes, where life may knock us down and there will be consequences to where we end up, but at the end of the day, God always gives us a way out. The song is a prayer of sorts, asking the Lord to continuously do what He does best, often on a daily basis, because us alone can’t do much, at all. A perfect song to be the first radio single for the album, ‘Off the Wagon’ isn’t about drinking, or having fun as I reckon the song title may initially suggest, but rather looking deeper the track is a timely moment of realisation, that yes, God does in fact pick us up when we’re down, that all we do is just keep on driving, knowing that where we’re going is far more unique and better than we can fathom or even dream about!
Throughout the rest of the album, we have been blessed to hear a myriad of musical genres that continue to bring to life the artist that Philippa truly is. And if I’m being completely honest, Come Back Fighting sounds much more refined, mature and a sound that Philippa is naturally at home with, not to say that the sounds explored throughout Speed of Light, Through the Woods and Taste aren’t the natural genres that Philippa is drawn towards; but rather, this new exploratory musical backdrop that is present throughout Come Back Fighting is very much a surprise by Philippa as it fits very well. This album is new musically, yet her message still remains. The title track delves into the situation that everyone may find themselves in at a certain point in our lives- down for the count and whether we believe we can get back up or not. It is the chorus that delivers a timely reminder for us, and with heartfelt lyrics like this- ‘…and if it’s do or die, sink or swim, I ain’t backing down, no, I’m all in, there’s much more to the story that’s been writing, I’m collecting all these sticks and stones, build myself out of what’s been done, when the bottom falls out, I’m more than just surviving, Imma come back fighting…’, who needs a better track #1 and a title track?
‘Dorothy’ can certainly succeed on mainstream radio. In fact, I reckon it should. It is a song that speaks to people who may feel like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, who may have lost their way from home, who may travel to someplace thinking the grass was greener, to people who just want to go home but don’t know how. Just like how Dorothy had red slippers that she could click together and be sent home that way, we as humans have to find our own slippers to lend us a helping hand- and those slippers by way of analogy is Jesus and His help and providence. As the chorus of the song reminds us all that there’s no place like home, I understand that this is in fact correct, and something we all have to understand and dwell upon- that home is where the people are, rather than the place. And yes, there is no place like home. And yes, if we’re feeling out of place, it’s because the people surrounding us aren’t giving us a homely feel, they aren’t building us up as they should, and they aren’t giving us a space to be ourselves, as families should. ‘Dorothy’ gives comfort to the person who doesn’t feel like they’re at home, and hopefully, it could encourage us all to turn back home if we need to. ‘Let ‘Em Fly’ incorporates together jazz and country to tackle an issue that can be overlooked and swept under the carpet- holding onto things and regrets more than we should, and holding onto dreams when we should let them go. And that if they are truly from the Lord, they will come back to us someday, but for now in order for us to breathe and not suffocate from the pressure of these dreams we want to occur, we have to let them go…heavy stuff, right? ‘The Hero’ tackles the message of how we can sometimes try to be the hero of situations, even when God Himself is asking us to lay everything down. We can often try to be the hero, try to have things figured out, and most times that’s ok. But so often, while we’re off playing hero to everyone else, we’re in fact the ones that need the most saving. We don’t have to do anything- it is God that is the hero, and sure He may use us, but it is not up to us to try and alter circumstances for His glory. We are human too, and if there are moments where we need to step back and ask the Lord to save us like how we’re saving others, then so be it!
‘Getting on With Life’ offers us a unique moment of realisation, that every person has a story and they are just trying to get on with life as much as the next person. That we as the other person who listens to such a story ought not to be judgemental as we so often are quick to do, but rather, more forgiving and less assuming, because after all, we are all in the same boat- trying to figure out our lives in the endless sea of expectations and unsaid assumptions spoken over us by people we meet. ‘Do the Unthinkable’ is Philippa’s most musically unique song she’s recorded to date- sort of like a rock meets country meets EDM, as she allows this song to become a call to action, knowing that often we are stunted by fear and thereby can’t move in making decisions- yet this song calls us to do the unthinkable, knowing that often by doing the things that scare us, it allows us to become more bold and resilient, knowing full well that Christ is beside us cheering us on.
‘Million Flowers’ is the last remaining originally recorded song on the album (aside from the covers of the Hank Williams written ‘I Saw the Light’ and the Willie Nelson penned ‘Always on My Mind’), and is one of Philippa’s most personal to date. Written and recorded a few years ago, she wrote the song based on not her own experience, but someone else’s. As she relays the story behind the song in a facebook post a few years back, ‘…last year I received a very moving message. It came from a wonderful family who tragically lost their young son Jamie in a road accident. They wondered if I could write a song in memory of him. Right away I knew there is simply no song, no gesture sweet enough to thank someone for a lifetime of their love. And that gave my friend Dan Wheeler and I the idea for this song ‘Million Flowers.’ We hope it’s a song Jamie would have loved…’ With just an acoustic guitar, keys and Philippa’s emotive voice, ‘Million Flowers’ is a song that I reckon will bring healing and hope to whomever is needed to hear it. The last two songs everyone ought to know (though I myself didn’t really know ‘Always on My Mind’ prior to this album) and both cover tracks stay seemingly close to the originals. Both these songs grant a sense of familiarity to the album, and will hopefully encourage more listeners, some who may not have heard much CCM/country songs themselves, but know these last two tracks from popular radio and media of the past!
Philippa’s new album and a great follow up to what I reckon was one of the most underrated album releases, of any genre, in 2016; Come Back Fighting is a journey full of lyrical and stylistic ingeniousness, as Philippa brings to listeners songs of comfort and confrontation, hopeful moments of clarity and songs where questions are just asked. All within the umbrella of a country music style. Which is vastly different compared to music of her past, but that’s ok. And while she’s still not as publicised or even as popular as one would hope she’d be, her presence on both British Christian and mainstream radio is growing. Come Back Fighting is a quick turnaround from Speed of Light, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the album is anything less poignant or encouraging. Because it is. It is indeed one of my favourite albums of the latter half of 2017, in a similar musical and lyrical vein to that of Matthew West (All In), Cimorelli (Sad Girls Club), Kristine DiMarco (Where His Light Was), Nichole Nordeman (Every Mile Mattered) and Matt Maher (Echoes). A joy to hear and enjoy regardless of your favourite music genre or if you know Philippa and her music or not, the album is a clever reminder that God will give us all the courage and strength to come back from a fight, stronger than we were before because we would’ve learnt so much about ourselves and about Christ in the process of our refining during the difficulties of life. From the title track to “Off the Wagon”, to the two covers; this is a must have for anyone who loves British music, worship music, and out of the box music that is not CCM. Well done Philippa for such an album full of inspiration and motivation. An album that’ll certainly be in my iTunes rotation playlist for months to come!
3 songs to listen to: Come Back Fighting, Do the Unthinkable, Let ‘Em Fly
RIYL: Audrey Assad, Rend Collective, Tim Hughes, Beth Croft, Natalie Grant, Carrie Underwood, Jana Kramer