Release Date: June 5th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Amadeo (Still My God)
- Wildest Dreams
- Through It All
- When We Fall Apart
- All I Need (feat. Paul Wright & GabeReal)
- My ‘90s
- Best is Yet to Come
- Mercy in the Dirt
- Back to the Altar
- With Your Life
One of the mainstays on Gotee Records, alongside Finding Favour, Hollyn and relative newcomer Aaron Cole; Ryan Stevenson has been creating music for the people and songs to inspire us all for a while now. Yet, if I am to be very frank and honest; previous to his powerful and emotive radio single, “Eye of the Storm” that peaked as high as #1 on Billboard Christian Songs Charts in 2016, I’m not even sure that many people even heard of Ryan and his music. I mean, even though Ryan has been within the music business for a few years, releasing an EP Yesterday Today Forever on BEC Recordings and Holding Nothing Back, his new 2nd EP, on Gotee Records in 2013, it was his debut full length album Fresh Start, that featured “Eye of the Storm”, that really placed this new singer/songwriter on the map of anyone who loves CCM (like myself). While much of CCM’s most popular, started their career in music at relatively young ages, Ryan previously held a job for a while as a paramedic prior to switching to music full-time. That’s what I reckon makes Ryan and his music so appealing, heartfelt and relatable- the fact that he undertook a regular average joe job before doing music, we can understand that when he sings about the daily struggles in life, he can actually relate. We think, ‘gee, this guy is not just an idealistic musician who has no idea what the common man deals with each day, he is like us, he did have a career in a ‘normal’ job prior to this, so he knows what we’re going through’. Not that I think like that when I hear music from any artist- think whether the song is even relatable to me given the background of the artist singing it, but Ryan’s position is a unique one.
Since his debut album on Gotee Records in 2015, Ryan has imparted to us emotive and encouraging songs, all reminding us of the necessity of Christ in our lives. No Matter What released in 2018, that featured the empowering and emotive title track (that featured Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe), alongside other standout songs like ‘The Gospel’ and ‘Lift You Up’. Now fast-forward to 2020, and we see yet another album release from Ryan- on the back of his successful double-single unveiled to us in 2019 (‘Mercy in the Dirt’ and ‘When We Fall Apart’); Ryan releases the 10-track Wildest Dreams (of which the two songs given to us in 2019 are also a part!), an album that for is one of the most emotive and heartfelt I’ve heard, holistically, since Matthew West’s Brand New given to us way back in February 2020.
‘When We Fall Apart’ the song is perhaps, up there with ‘Greater than All My Regrets’ (Tenth Avenue North), as one of my favourite songs of 2019. It is real, honest, poetic and at times unsettling as the song itself calls for the theme to be brought to the fore, that sometimes the only things that will bring us healing are the things that will ultimately make us fall apart. Sounding very dichotomous though, I am nevertheless reminded that in many circumstances, I am faced with the reality that it is in our weakness and brokenness that we can realise the things we’ve been holding onto for so long, be it through our shame, worry, discontent, uncertainty and assumptions about people and life and God, will only be brought to the light when everything else fades and all we’re left to cling to is either the truth of the Word of God and what it says about circumstances, or the things we’ve grabbed to for so long during times of despair and uncertainty, and that may not always be tied to what Jesus says. Falling apart may look scary, but often is a necessary thing in order for us to re-evaluate our own circumstances and see what needs to change in our own lives. Ryan wrote this song out of a personal tragedy- as an only child, Ryan was very close to his mother, until her untimely death in October 2009 because of bone cancer.
The song ‘When We Fall Apart’ was written and released 10 years after her passing, and the song itself, for me, embodies what it means to be a vulnerable human being who isn’t behind masks and facades, but rather, answers the call of Christ to be real to our fellow man, so that others can see that realness that we often speak of. It is in a song like this that we can rest assured that it is indeed ok to fall apart, knowing that God has us held in His arms whenever such occurrence was to happen. Falling apart is indeed unwanted by ourselves initially, but in hindsight, could be the very thing where God works in our lives the most. ‘Mercy in the Dirt’, the other song on Wildest Dreams to be unveiled in 2019, is a joyous and pop-radio friendly song about singing about how God never kicks us to the curb when we’re down, but rather, lends a helping hand and offers mercy, even in the midst of our dirt and chaos. Ryan delivers these two songs, that though poles apart musically, nevertheless deliver hard-hitting truths about Jesus and the gospel and what it means for us to be completely transparent in His presence, and realising that God is present with us always, even in the pits where He pulls us out, often more than once.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Ryan deliver to us poignant, heartfelt themes of hope and encouragement, of joy and fun-filled boppy melodies as these songs show to us Ryan’s journey over the last few years. ‘Amadeo (Still My God)’ is Ryan’s first official single to be unveiled from Wildest Dreams, and is the first track on the album. The song itself is a reminder and testament to the fact that God is still our God in every circumstance- that what we experience shouldn’t really change what we believe our God to be- that in spite of the changing seasons, God is still our rock, our hope, our security and our defender. As Ryan himself imparts to us, ‘…Amadeo is derived from the Latin name Amadeus which means ‘lover of God’. We live in an uncertain world, and the truth of our humanity is the fact that we will all face uncertainties in life. Uncertainties can sometimes be catastrophic, life altering events, that shake the foundations of our faith and can leave us disillusioned. My prayer for this song is to encourage all of us, to trust God no matter what our circumstances may be. To remind us that whether in crisis or victory, our first response should always be to cry out to the Lord! In the midst of trials and storms, may we all be able to hold steadfast to the Lord, our comforter and peace, and always be able to say, ‘I trust You God, I love You God! In every valley or mountain top, You are still my God!’…’ ‘Wildest Dreams’, the title track, continues with a CCM-esque atmosphere as Ryan imparts to us that the purposes and plans that God has for our lives goes far beyond what we can even conceptualise and even assume to be true- sometimes the Lord answers prayers in ways that we cannot imagine, or God places situations and people in our pathway that are totally from left-field. ‘Wildest Dreams’ is a reminder for us to keep understanding that God is far bigger and greater than our dreams of Him, and what He has in store for us is 1000 times more fulfilling that what we can ever conjure up. ‘Through it All’, often considered the ‘forgotten’ song on the album, is a looping-percussion keyboard driven track about how God is going to love us, through all of our hurting, calamity, doubts and questions- the key word here is love, and that the song reminds us all that God is going to love us- not punish us, or dismiss us, or even quiet us down, but rather, loving us through our own processes and questions, our own worries, fears, doubts and things we take issue to in relation to faith. To many times we think that maybe God won’t love us if we start to ask the questions that a lot of Christians may feel like they can’t ask, but this song in particular is a great way of encouraging us that our assumptions about God, Christianity and people is just not true. God will indeed love us through the process, and once we’re given the freedom to ask without condition or condemnation, we can ask away and see the Lord work through our questions and shape us into better people both now and into the future.
‘All I Need’ features the guest vocalists of Paul Wright (previously on Gottee Records) and long-time collaborator with TobyMac, GabeReal; as the song takes a turn for the bass-heavy Carribean-style melody that reminds us all in a poignant way that all we need in this life is ‘you’- and whether the song is about God or about someone else (like a spouse, family or friends) is up to interpretation; while ‘Back to the Altar’ is an encouragement to all of us to come back to the altar of God, in remembrance of all that was done for us and the gravity that comes with the weight of our realisation of the depths of God’s love for us that He gave Jesus as a sacrifice. Album ender ‘With Your Life’ is a reconciliation of sorts between friends who may not have spoken for years, and whether or not it’s actually based on personal experience or not, you can certainly hear the passion and emotion in Ryan’s voice when he says he wants the other person to reconcile with him, not with words, but with how they live their lives. ‘My 90s’ and ‘Best is Yet to Come’ both round out the album, the former being Ryan’s formidible and unique attempt at hip-hop in a song that has major nostalgia and places the listener in the front and centre of Ryan’s personal childhood (and is very similar thematically to Owl City’s collaboration with Hanson, ‘Unbelievable’); while ‘Best is Yet to Come’, a potential radio single in the future, is such a hopeful song about what we long for in the future, and what we believe to be true for our lives, because of Christ. To have faith in the unknown future that we will traverse as being the best in our lives that is to come, can be considered foolish to some- but to a lot of Christians, it is just natural for us to see things from a perspective that isn’t worldly. The best is indeed yet to come for us not because of the circumstances in our lives, but because everything that we experience, be it good or bad, is a way for us to learn more about ourselves, about God, or both. And that, in and of itself, is a great reason to believe that the best is yet to come, however it may look like for us!
Wildest Dreams the album has been a great welcomed surprise for me over the last few weeks. The songs, especially ‘When We Fall Apart’, ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ and ‘My 90s’, have reminded me of the God that I serve, and how sometimes it is when we are broken and can only rely on God for everything that we need, that we can truly see God for who He is- a loving Father who went all the way, by becoming sin as God incarnate through Jesus, and entering into our human suffering and dying by way of a cross, to reconcile us back to Himself. That blows my mind; and is a reminder of the value that I know I have, and the value that humanity in general has. Wildest Dreams is a great contribution to this realisation, and a great way to immerse myself in the central truth of my own humanity but also God’s grace and sovereignty. Ryan’s new album is a standout in all of 2020 thus far, and a great album that’s going to be spun on repeat for a while yet. Well done Ryan for such powerful and life-changing songs- songs that remind myself of just how talented Ryan is and how all encompassing his music means- infectious, joyous, happy, and confronting all at the same time.
3 songs to listen to: When We Fall Apart, Best is Yet to Come, My 90s
RIYL: Delirious?, Stellar Kart, Tauren Wells, For KING AND COUNTRY