FRAMEWORK RECORDS / The Fuel Music
Release Date: April 22nd 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Won’t Let Me Go
- My God is Still the Same
- How Many Times
- Used to Be
Sanctus Real has been a band that has released powerful music and standout albums every so often over the last 20 or so years. The band have had tremendous success over the years, ever since their first independent album released in the late 1990s. Since signing to Sparrow Records in the early 2000s, the band has worn its heart on its sleeve. With songs like ‘Lead Me’ discussing about the theme of standing up and leading the family as fathers, husbands and men in general (with the help of the Lord, of course), ‘Lay it Down’ encouraging us to lay down our troubles and worries at the foot of the cross, and ‘We Need Each Other’ showcasing the very need for us to be around people, that our company and camaraderie is what is going to allow us to get through this life not alone; we are reminded that such a band exists where they are not afraid to discuss and sing about themes that would otherwise be swept under the carpet. Fast forward until 2022. Ex-lead singer Matt Hammitt left the band in 2015, and with such a dramatic personnel change that undergone at a time when many lead singers of many bands were moving on to other places (Kevin Max and subsequently Josh Engler both left Audio Adrenaline, Adam Agee took over, Jon Steingard took over from Jason Dunn as lead singer of Hawk Nelson); worship leader Dustin Lolli picked up from where Matt Hammitt left off.
And while with any lead singer change, we can all become hesitant at first, what transpired was something unique and different- This is Love EP dropped early in 2016; and featured more of a rock sound that was originally present in many of Sanctus Real’s earlier material (re: Say it Loud and Fight the Tide). Changed followed in 2018; and featured the chart-topping radio single ‘Confidence’ and other standouts like ‘Safe in My Father’s Arms’ and the title track. Dustin fit right in with the band, and while as a sound, Sanctus Real was moving from more of a rock-anthem based band to more of one with a pop-radio friendly atmosphere, the band’s message and heart continued to stay the same, giving us songs borne out of local ministry and what people have been dealing with in their churches at home. We saw another album drop in 2019, Unstoppable God on August 30th, and featuring songs like ‘Jesus Loves You’, ‘Today, Tomorrow & Forever’ and ‘Lazarus’ to name a few, the band continued to be one of my favourites within the CCM sonicspace. Now in 2022, three years after Unstoppable God (my favourite collection of songs with Dustin Lolli at the helm as lead singer) Dustin Lolli, Chris Rohman and Mark Graalman have presented to us another musical offering to listen to- a five song EP titled Won’t Let Me Go– comprising of singles ‘My God is Still the Same’, ‘Rebel’, ‘How Many Times’, plus a few others.
Released in 2021 (one of three singles unveiled in that year), ‘My God is Still The Same’ is a reminder, a declaration to us all, that irregardless of the difficulty of our seasons that we face, we can be assured that God never stops being who He says He is. And while the song is plagued a bit by a repetitious chorus (like a lot of CCM has), the song nevertheless reminds us of how need and dependency on God, who never changes, to give us perspective in a life that always changes. With the song at the radio-friendly length of 3:25, Dustin, Chris and Mark have created a song that can easily succeed at radio, but also still give us a personal connection to the lyrics, as we realise and understand that God is still the same, He never changes and reminds us to always trust Him in light of this truth- ‘…Now more than ever we know the message we want to share. If there’s one bit of good news we have during uncertain times, it is that God is the same today as He was yesterday, and that is a hope worth sharing…It would be easy to think of these times as uniquely difficult. For the most part a lot of what we’re experiencing is something totally unseen before by our generation. There were so many questions without answers as the weeks and months of 2020 passed by with what seemed like an unending amount of bad news. Dustin and I knew we had to write about God’s steadiness throughout the ages as a way to encourage people right now. There was one thing we felt we could communicate with certainty no matter how quickly everything around us had changed – that our God is still the same…’
Unveiled shortly after ‘My God is Still the Same’ was ‘Rebel’, quite possibly one of my favourite Dustin Lolli-led songs by Sanctus Real, alongside ‘Jesus Loves You’ and ‘This is Love’. The song itself is a reminder to us all, to really consider what it means to be a rebel for Christ, to really consider if picking up our proverbial cross and following Jesus, being a rebel for Him in a sense that we don’t follow whatever the world says of us, and we stand against the grain and believe things that wouldn’t be ‘popular’, is really worth it for us in the end. Because really at the end of the day, we all have to count the cost of our own decisions- Jesus did, and what He said and the things He stood for, and what He claimed to be (God incarnate in the flesh, the Messiah who is able to heal the sick and to forgive sins), got Him killed on a cross. So, if we are to consider ourselves followers of Christ, then we must consider these things ourselves, and be ok with being rebels, with being misfits, outsiders, people that don’t ‘fit’, because ultimately in the end, it is because we’re different, because we stand out, that we can fulfil the things that Christ has called us to, knowing full well that once we embrace the ‘rebel’ label on our lives, we can chase the Lord with full abandon, knowing that ‘…look at me, now I’m finally free, I’ve got nothing left to hide, if I’m a fool, I’m a fool for You, and I give You all that pride, I was stumbling down the road to Damascus but You knew who I could be, I heard You say, “Come, oh, come, be a rebel for Me”…’
‘…our hope is that this song will inspire people to remember the goodness of God in their lives, how He’s always been there, bringing them through any difficult circumstance they’ve ever experienced. God is faithful to His loving and caring nature. We can trust we will continue to see His kindness toward us and experience His grace again and again…’
‘How Many Times’ is the last pre-release song unveiled by the band prior to the EP release, and the song itself speaks of the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of God, throughout all of our running away from Him, as we often lead a life that is rather displeasing to the Lord, if we boil it all down and really look at everything from God’s point of view. The song is a reminder of our own inadequacies, and about ‘how many times’ we did this thing or that- but the song is also redeeming, because it equally reminds us of ‘how many times’ God Himself entered the picture, picked up the pieces and showed us what grace really is. ‘How Many Times’ ought not to be a condemnation song, but rather, a song of hope, redemption and unmerited grace, as we’re reminded of the very fact of how ‘…many times, You’ve picked up my pieces, how many times, my heart You’ve redeemed it, all of my life You’ve never left my side, no matter how many times You gave second chances, how many times You’ve held my hand through all of my life, You still love me how can it be with how many times, how many times…’ The EP then rounds out with Sanctus Real’s two new songs for the project- ‘Won’t Let Me Go’ and ‘Used to Be’. The former is a timely reminder of God never letting go of us, especially throughout the last couple of years because of uncertainties, COVID-19 and the like, because in all honesty, there’ll be times in our lives where we will let go of God (or at least it’ll feel for us like we will), but we ought to know that He won’t let go of us, no matter how bad it could get on our end. As guitarist Chris Rohman states it, ‘…we’ve spent the last two years, as many have, wondering if we had taken for granted the sense of ‘normal’ we initially longed for in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. It didn’t take long for us to realize that nothing about this life is normal! There’s no hiding the fact that we live in a broken world and in that brokenness, we have always had an anchor through the good and the bad. We wrote most of these new songs in response to seeing God’s faithfulness all around us during an incredibly difficult time. ‘Won’t Let Me Go’ is a statement of worship to our Savior, a profession that even in the darkest places, even when our faith is shaking, we know that God will never let us go. We’ve seen this to be true and we hope others can find solace in the simplicity of that statement as well…’ The EP ends with ‘Used to Be’, a light and quiet acoustical 3 minute song about how we were not who we used to be (and that can either be for better or for worse, because we may not still like who we are now, with all of our hangups still), and in spite of who we are now compared to who we were before, we ought to remember that He is always ‘…patient, You’ve always been patient, chasin’, You’ve always been chasin’, now who I was, isn’t who I am, and who I was, I’ll never be again, since You made me a new creation…’
While it can still take some getting used to, hearing Dustin’s voice instead of Matt’s, let us know that this isn’t the first lead-singer change in a prominent CCM band- Newsboys being a very big example of a lead-singer change that has resulted in success still. Sanctus Real still brings about a similar message, whether it’s Matt at the helm or Dustin, and yes; there will be some die-hard fans that will boycott anything without Matt Hamiitt…and that’s ok. Then there are others, like me, who are indeed open to Dustin and his perspective on the music. And that’s ok, too. This EP, Unstoppable God, and maybe even Changed before, are being held to the standard of all of Matt Hammitt’s albums previously, when to be honest, they should be compared to themselves. In essence, a lead singer change can be a band change without the band change. Because like it or not, the lead singer makes the band. And for me, since coming into the fold in 2016, Dustin Lolli has recaptured a vibrant spirit and made the band continue, when I’m sure there was every intention to quit at the end of 2015. Nevertheless, here we are with Won’t Let Me Go EP, a collection of 5 songs that I’ve enjoyed and I’m sure others will enjoy, if they love and appreciate similar artists like Tenth Avenue North, Casting Crowns or Sidewalk Prophets. No, they’re not similar to Sanctus Real 1.0, because they’re not, and I’m sure they’re not trying to be. I’m sure once we understand that every new singer doesn’t have to emulate the previous one, and that a new sound can be developed for the better, the sooner our judgements of the band and albums once there’s a turnaround of lead singer, can decrease.
2 songs to listen to: Rebel, How Many Times
RIYL: Matthew West, MercyMe, Zach Williams, Tenth Avenue North, Kutless