Tenth Avenue North – Unplugged For the People (The Acoustic Greatest Hits)

Provident Label Group LLC

Release Date: October 30th 2020

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Tenth Avenue NorthUnplugged For the People (The Acoustic Greatest Hits) (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Healing Begins
  2. You are More
  3. Love is Here
  4. Control (Somehow You Want Me)
  5. Losing
  6. By Your Side
  7. Worn
  8. I Have This Hope
  9. Hold My Heart
  10. Greater Than All My Regrets

Tenth Avenue North has officially disbanded. Yes, you heard me right. It was in this year of 2020, where the band decided to part ways with each other, and shortly after the release of their successful 2019 album No Shame, Mike Donehey and co. decided to hang up the boots, after a successful career under Provident Label Group and ushering into existence, 6 studio albums of goodness and heart, of poignancy and emotion, reminding us of the sheer grace of God and his mercy through these melodies we have been given throughout the years. The band have pressed the envelope and stretched the boundaries of what it means to be honest and vulnerable. Sadly, the CCM industry is like any other- one that, just like the mainstream industry, is plagued with a lack of honesty that should really be present. A stigma is attached to the word ‘honesty’ and ‘vulnerability’ in music, and thus, a band like Tenth Avenue North, who in their music, has challenged all those assumptions, is well deserving of having a career in music as they have had, all these years; a career that has brought something new, interesting, heartfelt, challenging and transformational, to the discussion of what music means for people today. Sure, Tenth Avenue North aren’t popular by ‘mainstream music’ means. But the band itself has never really cared about that- carving out a career more focused on songs being used as vehicles of honesty as we traverse this sometimes chaotic and difficult life, rather than songs just being a way to escape it!

Now years upon years after their debut album Over and Underneath; the band have since parted ways, and the only two remaining members, lead singer Mike Donehey and guitarist Jeff Owen, have put together an acoustic album featuring 10 songs of their best and most highly requested, as a swan-song of sorts before both these men move onto other opportunities, either in the realms of music or elsewhere. While the news of Tenth Avenue North disbanding literally came as a shock to me, earlier on during the year, what has transpired since then, was a great and deep appreciation for a band that will be sorely missed, for being such a group, that like artists All Sons and Daughters before them, created a way for people to engage with the presence of God in such a real way, honestly, even through all the fumbling questions we all may have for the Lord God Almighty. Mike and co. have presented a discography full of albums that are lyrically rich, and musically mesmirizing, and this 10 track last-album, is such where we see a plethora of radio hits, all stripped down to accentuate the lyrics of them, and thereby the poignancy and impactful nature of these tracks as well. Tenth Avenue North have once again presented a career worth being proud of, and this album, in and of itself, is a great snapshot of songs that have impacted a generation, and reminded us all, that it is ok to come to God with anything that is of want or need, even our own honesty of which we ourselves try to hide, for whatever reason.

Winning countless of Dove Awards, and having multiple No. 1 radio hits throughout their 10+ year career; we as listeners have been blessed to hear one of CCM’s most influential bands, and maybe, just maybe, a band that can hopefully impact people in the mainstream later on, even after the band itself has disbanded…it could happen, right? Speaking of issues that are sadly swept under the rug in CCM, Tenth Avenue North, alongside other artists like Switchfoot, Skillet, Newsboys, For KING AND COUNTRY and needtobreathe, have all reminded us what it means to create music that has more of a universal appeal, all the while never comprising on faith and values. The band have reminded us all of the need to have hope, and it is their songs full of emotion backed up with biblical truth, that carves the way for the future of what CCM should be. By writing and recording songs about what people need to hear, rather than what people crave and want; the band has earnt a lot of respect from myself as I am pleased to call myself an avid fan of a group that has defined the 2010s era of  CCM in a way that I believe no other CCM band (aside from For KING AND COUNTRY) has done…period. And while it is genuinely sad that there won’t be a brand-new studio album after No Shame, what we have been given in Unplugged for the People is something of a gift for fans- songs presented in an acoustic setting, and songs that challenge us all to revisit our own lives, and even the albums in which these songs were from, and to be reminded of the themes and messages of said albums and what impacted us upon listening to these albums at that particular time.

Tenth Avenue North have always written songs that are, to put it bluntly, uncomfortable to listen to. I mean, yes, they do deliver to us biblical truths and really state what the gospel is, but when we as flawed humans hear such songs like ‘Worn’, ‘Losing’, ‘Control’, ‘Healing Begins’ and ‘You are More’; we can feel inspired, hopeful, encouraged, and maybe even offended. For there have been many songs that Mike Donehey, lead singer, and co.; have released throughout the last 10 years or so, that have tugged at my heart, stirred my soul, and challenged my every being in what it really means to lay down myself and to love unconditionally as Jesus loved us, to sit and listen and hear rather than to be heard, to admit problems rather than to always find solutions to them. Starting in 2008 with the unveiling of Over And Underneath, and then subsequently with chart-topping albums The Light Meets the DarkThe StruggleCathedrals, Followers and No Shame; the band has given to us songs that we as listeners, from varying walks of life and varying degrees of faith, can sink our teeth into. Much of their musical catalogue never fitted into the CCM/pop mould, because the band never really made songs for that category to begin with. Instead, songs like “Worn” show us how a person can still be broken and still cry out to God for mercy and strength, while ‘Losing’ speaks of the issue of forgiveness, and how, though it feels like we’re losing because we have to extend grace to the person who’ve wronged us when all we feel like doing is to show bitterness and hate, we are nevertheless remind us that as God excused the inexcusable in us through death and resurrection via Jesus Christ; we as Christians should be compelled to do the same.

‘Love is Here’, from their debut album Over and Underneath, encourages us to believe into the fact that it is God’s love that pours out and is given freely as we’re reminded that Jesus’ death and sacrifice, and thus His subsequent resurrection, was all motivated and out of an undeniable and unending love for His creation; while ‘Hold My Heart’, one of the most vulnerable songs on Over and Underneath; presents this issue of longing to be held in difficulties and asking the Lord why pain is present in this life, even to the point of questioning whether pain is even necessary to further what God wants to accomplish in our lives; and ‘By Your Side’, quite possibly the band’s biggest hit (alongside ‘Worn’), is sung from the Lord’s point of view, as we as Christians, and even we as people, are given comfort to know that God is by our sides, championing us in this life, and walking alongside us in every aspect. ‘Healing Begins’, a chart-topping radio hit from their second album The Light Meets the Dark, speaks of breaking our walls down by the way of admitting our struggles, faults and sins to each other, thereby giving gravity and weight to them and realising our desperate need for a Saviour; while ‘You are More’, the band’s most meaningful track to me  (alongside ‘Worn’), shows the band in one of their most vulnerable states ever- giving us a perspective I’m sure the world won’t- that our choices we make do not make us who we are. Let that sink in for a bit- that what we do and what we don’t do, how we act and how we behave, what we accomplish, or even what we don’t; does not define us. Rather, we are called as sons and daughters of God. That is our identity- sure, whatever we do will have consequences and will direct us to the places where we will end up and the road our choices will lead down, but the choices themselves won’t define us. Who we are isn’t in the doing, but it is in the believing and knowing that He who made the world, loved us to the point of even coming as God incarnate to die the death we deserve and conquer the very thing, death, that’s separating us from God in the first place. That is who we are- sanctified, redeemed, loved unconditionally. And that is why ‘You are More’ has so much emotion and weight- a song that has inspired my own walk with Christ over the last 5-6 years, and a song that has stood out amongst the sea of radio singles by the band, a song that has redefined the structure and definition of grace for a generation that feels like they need to put in more works, for whatever reason.

Also on this 10 track greatest-hits acoustic album are songs like ‘I Have This Hope’ and ‘Control’- some of my favourite songs by Tenth Avenue North ever- ‘I Have This Hope’ being a piano and guitar led ballad that wrestles with questions like: how can a person who is in all purposes good, be struck with such an affliction? Rooted in Isaiah 43, ‘I Have This Hope’ reminds us all that hope in Christ is what will take us through such afflictions- this song is for the person who has a happy ending after such afflictions, but is also for the person who doesn’t have a happy ending- when God doesn’t answer the prayer, such a song as this reminds us to keep on pressing into God and His faithful promises across time, even if we can’t see them at the moment. ‘Contol’, another standout from Followers, is also present here on Unplugged for the People, and has impacted my own heart over the last few years, the song reminding us that it is God’s way that is ultimately the best for our lives, and that as we give up control to Him, it gives us the freedom to just be and bask in His presence. It allows us to have the rest we really, really need, but never quite have because we’re so busy wanting to be in control, because we believe, somewhere down the line, that to be in control is to have everything together, and to be a ‘good’ Christian. But herein lies the point- to hold onto control says more about us than it does about God. It shows everyone around us that we are not secure in our identity in Christ, and we want to hold onto something that we should’ve let go into the hands of God a long time before. And in all seriousness, we do need those times to just sit back and rest, if nothing else than to marvel at the fact that the Lord our God gave us this life and everything in it, that whatever we do and say, however we act and whatever we accomplish, is a reflection of what we believe in our hearts, and that when people see us, it ought to be what we believe about ourselves and about God Himself as well. Mike and co. also offer to us ‘Greater Than All My Regrets’ to round out the 10 tracks on this acoustic best-of project, with this song being one of my favourite songs from 2019, and a reminder that God is indeed greater than all of our failures, regrets, mishaps and worries we often carry around metaphorically in bags, lugging them from one situation to the next, never really letting them go for fear of what will happen to us when we do. ‘Greater Than All My Regrets’, arguably one of my favourite songs from Tenth Avenue North, ever, speaks about regrets in a way that we regret things in our past, or regret not undertaking things that we’ve done in a sooner timeframe, and God Himself is greater than all that. There’s a universality of just longing for what once was, but then realising that God is bigger than every lost dream or untapped potential. God is greater than every failure and regret, in a song that I’m sure is very much needed in this economic and political climate at the moment.

So, there you have it. 10 songs- ‘Love is Here’, ‘By Your Side’, ‘Hold My Heart’, ‘Losing’, ‘Worn’, ‘Greater Than All My Regrets’, ‘I Have This Hope’, ‘Healing Begins’, ‘You are More’ and ‘Control’. 10 songs that have impacted my own life over the last few years especially, that have made their way to this acoustic best-of compilation from the band- a final offering of songs we’ve known and loved for years, presented acoustically to accentuate and highlight the poignant lyrical content that this band has had a knack and a talent for, for all these years. And while this album is indeed not perfect- Cathedrals the album doesn’t have any representatives here on this acoustic album (where’s the love for songs like ‘Stars in the Night’, ‘For Those Who Can’t Speak’ or ‘No Man is An Island’?), and songs like ‘Strong Enough to Save’, ‘The Struggle’, ‘What You Want’, ‘Afraid’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Times’ or even ‘Beloved’ are all unfortunately absent from this acoustic album; the album nevertheless presents to us everything that is good about Mike & co. and remind us why the band is stilil as impactful now as they were when they started. While it will be sad to see them go, this band will not be forgotten, and a great reminder of what other aspiring bands should become and long to emulate, if given a chance to. Tenth Avenue North is a great band to hear if you want honest music, and in a sea of fakeness in music, honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, can seem like a refreshing thing. This is a must-have if you’ve been a fan for Tenth Avenue North for ages, or if you’re a recent fan. Whoever you are, these acoustic songs will certainly tug at your heart, and remind you of why music in and of itself can be a life-changing process for someone. Kudos to Tenth Avenue North for this album, one that will continue to be on repeat in my spotify playlist for years to come!

‘…’Give the people what they want.’ That’s the advice I give to young artists when I hear them begin to grumble over their first hit song. ‘All of this…all the attention, the love, the audience giving you the time of day…it’s a gift. So give them what they came to hear.’ And that’s the heart behind Unplugged For the People. In a lyric driven genre, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, ‘I just wished you stripped everything away so we can hear the words better.’ We took note. If it’s time to say goodbye to this band, and this twenty-year journey we’ve been on, we figured we might as well go out with what we’ve been asked for all along the way. Luscious, contemplative, dreamy, intimate…these are the adjectives we aimed for as we sent files back and forth during the tightest months of lockdown. These songs, which we’ve sung countless times over the last decades spoke to us in new and profoundly comforting ways. We hope they do the same for you…’

3 songs to listen to: Control, Greater Than All My Regrets, Worn

Score: 5/5

RIYL: Andrew Peterson, Steven Curtis Chapman, Bebo Norman, Matthew West

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