Provident Label Group / Reunion Records
Release Date: October 14th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Welcome Back to Wonder
- Don’t Lose Heart
- I’m Alive
- Running After You
- Love Now
- Where Else Could I Go
- A Desperate Benediction (Peace on Earth)
- Living Color
- Trying to Get Back Home
Steven Curtis Chapman is a legend in his own right. His songs like ‘More to this Life’, ‘For the Sake of the Call’, ‘Lord of the Dance’, ‘Let Us Pray’, ‘The Walk’, ‘All Things New’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Heaven is the Face’ and more recently ‘Glorious Unfolding’, ‘Remember to Remember’, ‘We Remember’ and ‘Together (We’ll Get Through This)’ (to name a few) have all been melodies that have spoken to us throughout the years as we hear these poignant and poetically heartfelt songs of hope, confession, heartbreak, healing and clarity being carried with us in our hearts. Steven’s music has impacted my life so immensely throughout my teenage years, that I even wrote a blog piece about him and his music in late 2019. He’s just an icon, and with 35 years + in this music business, it’s almost as though Steven is part of the ‘furniture’ of Christian music, don’t you think? He’s been able to write heartfelt songs over the years that have now become synonymous with a certain decade and a certain time in history, and throughout my own life, has been instrumental and pivotal in some of my own experiences in both my teenage years and well into my 20s and 30s. His most recent label-backed album was in 2016 (Worship & Believe), while in 2019, he unveiled the independently produced bluegrass album Deeper Roots, followed along by a live Gaither-produced album A Great Adventure. Added to his storied and prolific discography, a few singles of late (‘Remember to Remember’ in 2018, ‘We Remember’ in 2017, ‘That’s My Dad’ and ‘Together (We’ll Get Through This)’, both in 2020), and we see Steven remind us why he is consistently delivering lyrically challenging and musically engaging songs and albums all this time. He is indeed one of the greats, and just this past week, he’s once again proven to us, why his musical prowess and lyrical depth is one to consistently be marvelled over- his brand-new studio album Still released this past week, to much critical and commercial acclaim, as well as fan anticipation (inclusive of mine). With standout songs present on the album, like the title track, ‘Don’t Lose Heart’ and ‘I’m Alive’ for instance, this is perhaps one of the most cohesive, heartfelt, compelling, and challenging SCC albums to date. A must-have if you’ve enjoyed any (or all) of Steven’s music in the past (or have enjoyed even his other contemporaries, like Michael W. Smith, Andrew Peterson, or even country trio Rascal Flatts), Still is a reminder that Steven’s days in music is far from over. Maybe, just maybe, his best albums are to come. One listen to Still, and I’m sure you’d agree as well.
‘Still’, ‘I’m Alive’ and ‘Don’t Lose Heart’ are the three pre-release tracks unveiled at strategic times during the year, prior to Still the album- we as a site reviewed both ‘Still’ and ‘Don’t Lose Heart’, so I won’t really go much into detail with those two songs, but would rather just say this, about both of them- ‘Still’ is by far one of my favourite SCC songs in recent memory (and my favourite song of 2022 thus far), while ‘Don’t Lose Heart’ is equally as good, as I’m encouraged by both songs, that God still is on the throne, in control in spite of what we see in this world, and that we ought not to lose heart because of what we see in this world, because of what He has promised to us all those years ago- Do you now believe? A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:31-33, NIV) My brother reviewed both ‘Still’ and ‘Don’t Lose Heart’ and what he wrote about both these songs, I stand by and echo all these months later. ‘Still’ is a song that ought not to be sung or even taken lightly, that we have to understand the gravity of us declaring from the outset, that God is with us still, that He is faithful still, even if every metric and measurement that we see in the world screams the opposite. And ‘Don’t Lose Heart’ is equally as difficult to declare and proclaim, especially in the midst of trying to get through COVID-19, as well as seeing the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, alongside the aftermath of the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, amongst many other country-specific turmoils. You look at everything in the world, and it’s easy to become despondent. And yet both ‘Still’ and ‘Don’t Lose Heart’ encourage us to lift our eyes to heaven, to be reminded that regardless of what we see, that Christ has a bigger plan, far beyond our very own comprehension. Or as Steven himself so eloquently put it, in his Facebook post a few months ago- My new single “Don’t Lose Heart” is OUT NOW! I’m really excited to share this new song that I pray will be an anthem of hope and encouragement! There’s no way I’d be where I am on this journey without the people God has put around me who have cheered me on, encouraged me in the dark valleys and reminded me that I’m not alone. We desperately need each other on this journey, now more than ever, and I hope this song will be an anthem of hope and encouragement that we can sing to each other and help each other remember that God is with us and we are gonna make it home…together!
‘I’m Alive’ is the other pre-release song unveiled by Steven prior to the full-length album, and just like the other two tracks ‘Still’ and ‘Don’t Lose Heart’), we are blessed with another rousing declaratory track full of vibrant passion and heartfelt enthusiasm, as Steven encourages us to have a zest and zeal for life. Because we know in our hearts, that we’re alive, and that because we’re alive, we have the opportunity for God’s love to be showcased to others, through us, in whatever we undertake, do and be, as we live our daily lives for Him and be in tune to wherever we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us (at times successfully and other times unsuccessfully). ‘I’m Alive’ is joyful, but it’s also a song that has a lot of intentionality and purpose behind it- us being reminded of our purpose in life because we are alive and not just living a mundane existence from day-to-day. As Steven himself puts it, ‘…I’ve got breath in my lungs right now, and there are some who are not with us still. So, in a way, it’s, ‘Why am I still here?’ And the fact that I am still here is enough. That’s why I’m here, to be alive and to breathe in the air and feel my heartbeat. And if I’m sad, to be sad and cry and taste tears and face fears. I am scared. I am afraid. I don’t know what’s coming, and yet I’m still alive so I can fight it. I can face it. And there was something in all of that for me that just was wind in my sail and put some fight in me…’
Throughout the rest of the album, we continue to see Steven invite us into his storytelling process, as we witness some of the most heartfelt songs that he’s ever been a part of, in his whole career thus far. Entering the album with track #1, ‘Welcome Back to Wonder’, this 1:45 track somewhat feels incomplete (upon listening to the song in full, it feels like a verse 1, verse 2, chorus track, maybe there’s a full-length song with verses 3 and 4 coming later on during this year/next year), but in spite of that minor hiccup, the song itself is very much poignant and compelling. Steven delivers a storybook setting of a child (perhaps himself) staring up at the sky at night, counting the stars, feeling so small, but also so alive all at the same time, and understanding full well that in that moment, a sense of wonder, awe and excitement was borne inside a little boy’s heart, as he understands that there is something bigger, grander and much more vast than he may have known in his life up to that point. As Steven himself relays, ‘…‘Welcome Back to Wonder’ was a theme for me of almost this whole season of life. And I think it is for a lot of us, but especially those who’ve been around for a while, like myself, and who’ve experienced incredible mountaintops beyond anything I could have ever imagined, but also a lot of sadness and grief and loss, personally for me and my family with the loss of our daughter 14 years ago. But then, so much of this pandemic, and so much of what has happened in our world politically, racially, socially—even within the church, which I write a lot of music for—has felt heavy and weighty…’ ‘Welcome Back to Wonder’ is Steven’s attempt in getting listeners to become more receptive to the concept of being amazed and in wonder- at creation, at God and His handiwork, and at our lives that we’ve lived thus far.
‘Kindness’ is a song that we all, as Christians, need to hear at this moment in time, because it looks like where it stands now, how we speak to each other (Christians talking to other Christians, Christians talking to…well, everyone else) is through anything else but kindness. Hate, anger, malice, through a sense of pride…we speak through a lens of all these things, but it seems that kindness and empathy take a back seat, sad to say. Alas, this song was completed to remind us of the importance of kindness, full stop; as Steven delivers this song with a sense of urgency, necessity, and intentionality, as we hear these vulnerable words hopefully being addressed to listeners with much effect- ‘…and what if we lived with a heart of kindness? What if we loved like we’ve been loved? If that’s all that we’re remembered for, well, lеt that be enough, so when thеy stand and tell the stories of who we are and what we’ve done, of a thousand things that we could leave behind us, if they say just one word, well, let that word be kindness…’ This song is full of hopelessness and lament, but is also full of opportunities and possibilities, as Steven acknowledges where we as Christians (in particular) of late, have been lacking in…and what we need to do better at, if we want to lead with kindness, both now and into the future. ‘Running After You’ follows along from ‘Kindness’ with a much happier and more jovial atmosphere and tone, as Steven delivers a song that feels like it’s ‘Love Take Me Over’ Pt. 2. Steven presents this theme of love personified through Jesus, coming, and running after us, even in the midst of such circumstances where we seemingly run ‘too far’ from God’s love and grace, believing in that moment, that we are ‘unsaveable’; whilst ‘Unfixables’ is Steven attempting to write one of the album’s most serious songs, covered in a poppy sheen and shine. Because on the surface, ‘Unfixables’ is as upbeat as songs of SCC’s past, like ‘See the Glory’, ‘Dive’, ‘Love Take Me Over’, ‘Treasure of You’ and ‘Let Us Pray’, to name a few. But the subject matter…well, it’s something that needs to be taken seriously- life happens to have a lot of unfixables, and what happens when what you imagine your life to be, doesn’t happen the way that you planned. What happens when all the things that are unfixed…stay unfixed until we see the other side of eternity? ‘Unfixables’ challenges us to trust the Lord wholeheartedly, as Steven powerfully proclaims that ‘…what am I gonna do with all these unfixables? All these not-as-they-should-bes, not as they will be onе day I’m gonna trust You with all these unfixables until thе day when I finally see the way You make masterpieces out of these unfixables…’ Sure, there’s never going to be an answer that’ll suffice if you’re going through a terminal illness, or death, or divorce, or trouble, or natural disaster, but hopefully, a song like ‘Unfixables’ can bring some kind of comfort in the midst of difficulties and trials.
‘Love Now’ is a song that is personal to Steven- based upon a family member of his, passing away because of a terminal illness, and how through the lyrics of the song, Steven tries to reconcile God’s healing for his family member (by taking him home to heaven) against his own longing for his family member (ultimate physical healing this side of eternity). Steven then urges listeners to ‘…love now, don’t wait ’til the clock runs out, all you’ve got is today, right here, right where you are, love fierce, love brave, love first, don’t wait, love now…’, as a sense of urgency is delivered through the piano-prominent acoustically driven track, and we see the importance of loving people where they’re at, and just spending time with the people we love, because we don’t really know when we may have that carved-out time again. ‘Where Else Could I Go’ is similar thematically to Steven’s 1997 hit ‘I Am Found In You’, as we see this upbeat anthem remind us all, that ‘…where else could I go? All my hope is in You and You alone, so where else could I turn? You’re the only one who can speak the words of life to me, You’re all I need, so where else, where else could I go?…’ It’s a song about realism and practicality- where else can we go if we decide to abandon Christ? With all of the evidence, shown through our lives, but also the lives of people from the Scriptures…well, that ought to be reason enough to not go away from Christianity, and stick it out till the end, right? ‘A Desperate Plea (Peace on Earth)’ is a soulful piano-led prayer full of gospel choirs and a prominent message of unity and peace, as Steven relays for God to come and bring ‘…peace on the mountain, peace in the valley, peace on the bulls on Wall Street and the lost sheep in the alley, peace on the painted desert, down the Mississippi River, peace on the takers and peace on the givers, peace in the blessing and the curse, oh, let there be peace on Earth, oh, let thеre be peacе on Earth…’ It’s a song that is very much needed now, when there is a lot of political division and countries coming up against others on a core fundamental level. As Steven relays himself, ‘…I started writing that song about three or four years ago. It was before the pandemic even hit. And I was just so troubled with, particularly on the political front, the fighting and division and how that had started to divide even friends and families. I got with Tom Douglas again, and I said, ‘I just want to write a prayer of benediction speaking a blessing over our world, all of us, on all extremes, just to say we need peace.’ On January 6th, after the election and all the crazy stuff that went on in Washington, it just intensified the division so much. I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to release a version of this song, just as a prayer into this craziness right now.’ And so, it was a live version with my son Caleb and my daughter-in-law, Jillian, that we recorded in my studio…’
The album then ends with ‘Living Colour’ and ‘Trying to Get Back Home’, two of Steven’s most heartfelt and emotional songs that I reckon he’s ever recorded in recent memory. ‘Living Colour’ is a poignant, heartfelt piano-driven song full of emotion and vulnerability as Steven presents a take on a friendship in his youth, between himself and Carlton, a black man, in the seventh grade, and how his friendship formed during a time where there was as much animosity between races as there is still currently now. While the song itself is genuine and Steven’s heart behind it is felt throughout it as well, I can’t help but wonder what the real purpose of ‘Living Colour’ really is, considering that this song speaks about racial tension, and when Steven himself has never written a song focusing as much on race as this song has done, one can immediately assume that ‘Living Color’ is involuntary virtual signaling, even though it may not have been Steven’s on personal intention. Nevertheless, ‘Living Colour’ challenges us to make friends with people who look different than you (and it goes beyond race as well). Interact with people who have different skin colour, while also having civil discussions and discourse with people who believe different than us, or who have a different political ideology. Because once we realise that the people that we assumed were totally different from us may not be as different as we thought, then change can hopefully happen for once and for all…change for the better. The album then ends with ‘Trying to Get Back Home’, an acoustic moment of realisation for us all, as we understand that ‘we’re all trying to get back home’- that each of us, believers or not, are on a journey, a search for the eternal and the divine, for God to reveal Himself to each one of us in a real and personal way- people are just unfortunately looking in all the wrong places for God Himself. And so when we understand that people are living through this life as best as they can, fumbling through the years, and yearning for a God to come and fill up their empty space (they may not see it as God initially, but they do know that something is missing); we give people grace and space, love them where they’re at, and remind ourselves that everyone is longing for an eternal home- here’s hoping through hearing this track (and others like ‘Not Home Yet’), we understand fully, that heaven is our eternal home, when every unfixable thing, becomes fixable and whole again.
So there you have it…Still. Arguably one of my favourite albums of this year thus far (alongside other 5/5’s like Calum Scott’s Bridges, Casting Crowns’s Healer and Hailey Whitters’s Raised), Steven Curtis Chapman has delivered once again to deliver an album that’ll only be fully appreciated and enjoyed, if listened all the way through from start to finish. Gone are the days where people generally listen to an album from start to finish (because of Spotify and Youtube), but this album deserves to be heard with the first track being played first, and the last track being played last, and every other track, in order, inbetween. Still is a great blessing and encouragement, and a reminder that Steven’s work in music is not done yet. I must admit, I was a little hesitant that Steven would hang-up-the-boots after Deeper Roots in 2019, but lo and behold, he’s back, with one of the most cohesive albums he’s ever done, ever since 2004’s All Things New and 1999’s Speechless. An album that is a must for any SCC fan (like myself), or just any fan of CCM, full stop; Still is a massive encouragement, especially during this day and age when we need some desperately. Well done Steven for this powerful and compelling album. Looking forward to however the Lord uses this album, in the upcoming weeks and months to come.
‘…one of the most encouraging things recently, a guy who is in the music business who heard my whole record, and said “Man, I was so excited as I listened to this record because this is a record. I’ve been a fan since record one, love your music. This is a record I hoped Steven Curtis Chapman would make at this point in his career.” That was really encouraging.
Being totally candid, vulnerable, and really honest, I had to silence a lot of voices, externally, as much as just my own insecurity. I’ll give you this example. A few years ago, I remember reading that Billy Joel had announced that he wasn’t going to write and record any more new music. He’d still do concerts and sing his songs. I thought, “Man, that’s so sad. I wonder what happened.” Then as I’ve gone further into my career, I thought, “I get it, because a guy like that is an incredible success. He set the benchmark in many ways for what pop music could be, great songs, great songwriting, great albums.” I’ve had people, in recent years, when I would write and release a new song or share some new music, so many times people—and they mean it as a compliment—but they’ll say, “Hey, that was really good. But golly, you know, there’s never going to be another album, like a ‘fill in the blank,’ there’s never going to be another song like, ‘fill in the blank’.” It’s meant to be and it really is a blessing. But the insecure artist in you, everything you write, everything you pour your heart and soul into is the most important thing you feel like you’ve ever done. You have to fear that and go, “Okay, so I know they don’t mean it, but what it feels like is, I didn’t need you to write that newest song, I really didn’t need that. I just need you to sing those songs that I love.” All of that stuff starts going in getting in your head and you start thinking, “Well, I don’t even know if I should bother people with new music. I mean, there are great artists making new music, who don’t have a 35-year career, and they probably would they rather listen to those artists.”
I’ve not been a long-term Bruce Springsteen fan. I’ve always respected his writing. But in the last few years, he has made two records that I think are to the best records, just creatively, as a poet, as a songwriter, and musically, I love them. They really inspired me, one called “Western Stars” and one called once called “Letter to You.” Here’s a guy who’s 70 plus years old, who’s writing some of the best music maybe he’s ever written. And he’s doing it from the perspective of where he is in life now. That’s really that’s powerful to me. For me, at an even deeper level, with faith at this level of all that we’ve experienced these last few years in the world, which obviously, touched very closely for me personally, and all that we’ve experienced as a family in the last 14 years of our loss of our daughter. In the last few years, we lost my dear friend who played keyboards with me for many years, Brian Greene, 60 years old. He was just a little older than me. We lost my brother-in-law and Mary Beth sister’s husband, five months he was diagnosed with cancer with brain tumors and he passed away. We walked through it with him, praying and believing God could heal him but also knowing God might not, and all that all while this pandemic is going on. So, these epic, earth-shattering things happening all around me and within me, how do I process it? I write songs about it.
So, I silenced all those voices. The song “Still” sort of captures that. Because I finally just said, “I don’t think I need to wrestle with the question of ‘Does the world need another song or album from Steven Curtis Chapman’.” The fact is, I need to write these songs. I need to sing these songs. I need to make the best record that I can, that really reflects what’s going on in my heart. Who knows from there? Hopefully, my friends will be encouraged by it, want to hear it, and listen to it. But that’s beside the point. The point is, I need to steward these things, the stories and the songs and these melodies, and these words I feel like God has stirred in me. Because the truth is, just like my first record “First Hand,” all I wanted to do then was just tell my stories, have the conversations that I can have with people through music, and encourage them. Hopefully, maybe somewhere along the way, they go, “Man, I feel a little less alone, I feel a little less crazy.” Somebody just came along and said, “Oh, that’s what I’m thinking. Thank you for putting that to music.” That’s why I started doing this and “still,” there’s the word, why I want to do it now. I still believe through all the life that I’ve lived and the life and the death, that God is good, and that God is faithful…’
3 songs to listen to: Kindness, Don’t Lose Heart, Trying to Get Back Home
RIYL: Rascal Flatts, Michael W. Smith, Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Keith Urban