Release Date: September 9th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- I’m Free
- The Joy
- The River
- Our Church
- We Are Loved
- The Kingdom of God is a Party
- Toast to the Most (Psalm 116)
- I Will Bless You Lord
- Nothing But the Blood
From Canada, Starfield is perhaps one of Christian music’s most underrated worship bands, even now during their hiatus. Formed in 2004 and 5 albums later, Tim and Jon Neufeld have decided to take a break from the band and their touring life. While there is hope that Starfield may reunite in the future, what comes next has been in the form of solo artistry for both Jon and Tim. Tim’s first solo album Trees released last year, and while they were 10 cover worship songs, the album still nevertheless showed us what indie worship could be like, further asserting my own championing of Tim (and Jon) as some of the most unique and underrated worship artists ever (and not because they are from Canada either). Fast forward a year, and with both Jon and Tim Neufeld releasing EPs/albums this year (Burn Bright and The Joy respectively), it can be said for certain that both men still focus on their music, despite the band being up in the air.
With Tim’s songwriting calibre and worshipful enthusiasm in the same realm as other artists like Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Matt Redman or Phil Wickham; Tim’s latest venture with ‘The Glory Boys’- i.e.: his bandmates, to forge this new project together is one of the most enjoyable worship albums I’ve heard this year, alongside albums from Lincoln Brewster, Crowder and Bellarive. With an ethereal voice that makes the melodies seem much more poignant and heartfelt, these original melodies (as opposed to his covers on his debut) ought to bring in fans of both his solo music and band efforts alike. With each song having an acoustic guitar/piano focus with the splash of banjos and a country undertone; The Joy focuses on the theme of joy, and how we all as Christians and as human beings need to make a conscious decision to choose joy each day, and to be reminded that ‘…with every new day I’ve got to make that choice, to chase the sunshine or let life steal my joy…’ (‘Sunshine’).
Not that there was (or is) anything against Trees, but it is great to see Tim Neufeld sing some new original songs again. While Trees was amazing in true Starfield style and fashion, this new album from Tim, and the Glory Boys, sounds much more like a sequel to The Kingdom than his 2013 album. Nevertheless, this slight country music style that Tim has employed throughout each of his 10 songs need not deter anyone from his music- it still boasts a faith filled message, and in fact, each song, in some way shape or form, references the word ‘joy’. An album with an overarching theme like that that is quite obvious is a great thing. And the best albums do have an overarching theme- MercyMe showing in their latest album about us being new in Christ, Francesca Battistelli reminding us to be honest to each other in her latest music offering, and Skillet reminding us in their latest album effort to rise above adversity; to name a few. Enter in Tim, who reminds us through song of how conscious we need to be when deciding to run from or towards the joy given by God to us in all circumstances.
The first single from the album, “I’m Free”, begins much like any other country melody- with a banjo and steel guitar taking prominence musically. You’d think you were listening to a band like Third Day or needtobreathe because you hear Tim’s distinct powerful voice sing out a song that is personal- either from his own life or someone else’s. The poignancy in the words of how ‘…my burden fell with the sound like thunder the hour I first believed, my chains were gone and the fear no longer had no hold on me…I’m free…’ is something that anyone can attest to- that something as universal as having burdens lifted from us can bring listeners who may not necessarily have heard about Christ back into the church with a simple melody and a musical sound that doesn’t necessarily sound too CCM-esque.
Familiarity also plays a part in the album’s success in the album ender “Nothing But the Blood”, a rendition of the beloved hymn with a country/bluegrass twist (a steel guitar, ethereal vocals and a slowed down pace in melody brings us more into reflection than usual); while the rousing 2 minute 46 second “The Kingdom of God is a Party” is indeed that- fast paced, anthemic, powerful and a moment where we can all bring to the table of God our thanks and adoration, being encouraged to ‘…stop your feet and shake the ground, shout it loud if you believe that the kingdom of God is a party…’ Though a tad on the short side, Tim nevertheless makes up for it with enthusiasm that’ll hopefully bring out similar feelings and emotions in us as we hear it.
Title track “The Joy” brings to us hand claps and light guitars to further the country/southern gospel genre of music that Tim has experimented with as we hear a song that encourages us to pursue the joy of the Lord- shown through a variety of ways from a laughter of a child through to peace and serenity in knowing that our lives are not meaningless but meaningful to the people we meet. Riveting guitars also bring to us “Sunshine” that furthers the theme expressed in “The Joy” and remind us that joy, like happiness is a choice- and with Tim asserting that ‘…I choose sunshine, God knows I won’t break, nothing’s gonna take my joy away…’, we can hopefully assert these very words alongside him as we ponder ourselves about whether we’re letting our circumstances steal away the joy that God has placed in us from the start. Tim also brings to us a variety of different styles throughout the rest of the album, all to convey and communicate his central theme of joy, not only in the circumstances we are currently in, but in every situation of every day.
“The River” celebrates the day were we saved by grace as we hear Tim evoke a musical arrangement akin to something found on Nashville– steel guitars, light acoustics, and a southern gospel atmosphere; while also bringing us something more CCM-esque “We Are Loved”, a 4 minute reflective song encouraging us to know and believe that ‘…we are loved, and God has made us sons and daughters, His heart, we have His heart, we’re His children, He’s our Father…’ “A Toast to the Most (Psalm 116)” features strong drum beats, light electric guitars and a party atmosphere with the lyric lines of ‘…it’s a toast to the most high God…’ which makes this rendition of Psalm 116 seem interesting, and Tim expounds on this theme of blessing the Lord through “I Will Bless the Lord”, a worshipful reflective melody fit to be sung in Sunday services. While mellow at times, this song fully expresses Tim’s devotion to Christ, something we all need to ask ourselves and ponder the question- will we bless the Lord when times are tough?
“Our Church” is possibly the standout track if you were to pick one track- with Tim bringing forth a radio melody that remind us all of the collectiveness and how crucial being in a collective, community, and a church really is. Being in community is something we as Christians need to comprehend, that because Christ is a community of God the Father, Son and Spirit, we need to be in fellowship with one another to thrive in our everyday lives as well. A song that respects this theme and encourages us all to dive deep into our local churches and invest in community at ground level, “Our Church” is a song that’ll be in my iTunes playlist for a while yet!
Tim’s second album is just as enjoyable as his first, maybe even more so. While it is sad to see Starfield depart ways (if only for a little bit), Tim’s enthusiasm and passion for music has not waned one bit which is good. With Tim having a full heart of worship, his infectious way at delivering melodies that are country and acoustically driven is nothing short of enjoyable, and reminds me of other similar artists like Audrey Assad, All Sons and Daughters, Beth Hazel Farris, needtobreathe or Third Day. One of my personal favourite worship albums of late, The Joy is a must to purchase if you love country worship music. A standout worship album alongside others this year from Crowder, Lincoln Brewster and Bellarive; this album is certain to be a blessing to whomever listens. One of the well-received surprise worship albums of the year so far, well done Tim for such a compelling and powerful album!
3 songs to listen to: Our Church, Sunshine, The Joy
RIYL: Audrey Assad, Beth Hazel Farris, All Sons and Daughters, needtobreathe, Third Day