Pizza Ranch Records
Release Date: June 2nd 2015
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Future – Francesca Batistelli
- Blind – Colton Dixon
- My All In All – Phil Wickham
- Hold Onto Hope – Ellie Holcomb
- Savior’s Arms – Passion Band featuring Kristian Stanfill
- Overcome the World – Mark Schultz
- Panic Button – Kevin Max
- Hope of Heaven – Michael W. Smith
- Till I Met You – Laura Story
- A Little Hope – Bart Millard
- What Are You Waiting For – Sidewalk Prophets
- Day One (Acoustic Version) – Matthew West
‘…Christian Music deeply resonates with our guests, while upholding the ideals of Pizza Ranch. I love the songs on the CD and feel that they will deeply minister to many people. We couldn’t be more excited for its release…’ Just like Steven Curtis Chapman, Casting Crowns and Michael W. Smith who released hymns albums exclusively through Cracker Barrel Country Music Stores at various times throughout the last few years (and on iTunes at later points during the years), another food/restaurant chain is following suit. Pizza Ranch, an only-American exclusive store (alongside others like Taco Bell, In-N-Out and Chic-Fil-A), has decided to gather a collection of 12 artists and 12 songs, both established and up-and-coming, to pen brand-new songs and form the compilation titled Living Hope. With each of these songs having an underlying theme of hope and comfort, this exclusive album bought through stores in America and via Amazonmp3, this is a perfect gift for anyone who loves CCM/pop and want to support the restaurant chain, who’s message and vision is to ‘…to glorify God by positively impacting the world…’ while also giving ‘…every guest a legendary experience…’
To review a compilation is an interesting and somewhat difficult thing. When reviewing something like a WOW Hits, the songs are known, and the review would consist of song choices, and would be more of an expose about what songs ought to be included and which songs are dated or new. But to review an album full of new songs, some songs written and recorded especially for this project is a much more daunting task? But doable? Most definitely. Starting the album, one of CCM’s reigning, prolific, powerful and poignant singer/songwriters Francesca Battistelli lends her voice and pen to “Future”, a song about the very topic of futures, and how we as humans can be afraid of our very own. As Francesca brings the song to life with her powerful vocals and lyrics that pierce straight to the heart of every individual that has every lived and ever will live, the hauntingly refreshing yet equally confronting lyrics of how ‘…my future is Yours, my whole life in Your hands, my hope is secure, God, Your goodness will stand…’ It can be scary to give our whole futures to someone else, even if it is to God. While we know in our heads that He’s got it all under control, our hearts may tell us something else. Which is why this song us as important as it is enjoyable to hear, and Francesca, with her trademark voice, a piano riff undertone, and an enthusiasm that oozes out of her, gives us one of my favourite first songs, on any album, in 2015 so far.
Matthew West, one of my favourite male vocalists of late, also lends a song of importance to this album, even though it is only an acoustic version. “Day One” is just as life-defining and powerful as it is catchy, and while many can consider it generic at times, the beauty of its generic nature is its appeal to both Christians, seekers, and those not even worrying about relationship or religion, alike. The concept of do-overs is universal, and as Matthew shows through this song, we are to believe and be encouraged that we can start again and again each day and have no shame or guilt about that. Whether we have no regrets or have tons, what we all have is a second chance- tomorrow. That what wasn’t accomplished today can be visited tomorrow and that is ok. Starting the album with “Future” and ending with “Day One” hasn’t happened by accident, and I’m sure lives will be changed by these two tracks.
In Ellie Holcomb acoustic fashion, it is her piercing vocals and hauntingly refreshing way of delivering poignancy in a soulful package of enjoyableness, fun, hope and comfort, that makes “Hold Onto Hope” another favourite of mine. With an acoustic guitar and a piano, Ellie reminds us all that hope is what brings us through each day, and what continues to fuel our passions and triumphs in days to come. Inspired by a friend of hers in her own pit of hopelessness, the song is a reminder that sometimes we need to hold onto hope- God’s hope for us, daily, and that even if we don’t have hope for ourselves, Christ has hope for us. Releasing his first song in what feels like ages or forever (it’s only been 3 years since All Things Possible), Mark Schultz brings to us country and acoustic influences to allow us into the theme of God overcoming the world to bring us closer to himself. As upbeat as many Mark Schultz songs are, “Overcome the World” was sadly forgettable amidst the plethora of melodies this Pizza Ranch album presents- as heartfelt the song really is, other songs, like “Future” and “Day One”, are much more engaging musically and lyrically. Nevertheless, you can’t really fault Mark, and Mark Schultz enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy his comeback song.
Throughout the rest of the album, respected and much-loved artists continue to contribute powerful songs all relating to the theme of hope. With many of these songs recorded especially for the project, it’s nice to see a compilation project lyrically and musically strong and on the same level as others like My Hope and Music Inspired by the Story. While the song itself can be a little busy at times, Colton’s new track “Blind” brings us into the theme of being spiritually blind to the things in front of us, and that even if we admit to the blindness that we are, Christ will continue leading as long as we’ll follow. Kristian Stanfill, still a newbie amongst other Passion artists, offers “Saviour’s Arms”, a track fit for a Sunday morning service, as the hope of being in the Saviour’s arms brings us peace and comfort within the span of 4:45 minutes, while Phil Wickham, another worship artist, delivers a radio friendly hymn-like melody in “My All In All”, a song that cries out that Christ is ‘…my life, you are my love, you are my reason, you are my hope, you are my joy, you are my passion…’, easily one of Phil’s new singles that’ll hopefully land on his new album slated to release late 2015. “Panic Button”, Kevin’s 80’s-esque swinging song of admitting we need Christ’s help, is indeed a standout indie track amongst the worshipful-pop melodies, and further highlights the need for music to focus more on bringing up indie artists rather than continuously highlighting the fair few radio friendly songs and artists.
Laura Story, Michael W. Smith, and Bart Millard (technically it is still MercyMe- Bart does make the band…) all offer powerful tracks- each speaking about hope in their own way- Laura offering us the hope we have when we surrender to Christ (“Til I Met You”), Michael delivering us the hope we all ought to have of heaven our eternal home (“Hope of Heaven”), and Bart the hope we need on an everyday basis, sometimes to even make it through a day (“A Little Hope”); yet it is the generically titled “What Are You Waiting For” by quintet Sidewalk Prophets that has stood out musically and lyrically- one that encourages us to not stand around waiting but to take action on issues close to our hearts. Sometimes we can wait for the timing to be ‘perfect’ that we can miss out- on life, on love, on hope, and on everything else. The band, with acoustic guitars and Dave’s signature voice, encourage us to take action on things close to our heart before the moment slips by forever.
This Pizza Ranch compilation is one of a kind. Not only will it bring interest into the concept of hope and the artists involved, but it will also draw more attention to the fast food brand, and any attention is a good thing where the mission of hope is concerned. With 12 songs to deliver to us spiritual food of hope, this is a compilation to listen to if you are a fan of CCM, indie, worship and pop music, and love to hear your favourite artists sing something new and different. While I’m sure some of these songs will be on albums later on during the year (Sidewalk Prophets, Michael W. Smith, Phil Wickham); most of these tracks are exclusive. So, to place a pun, what are you waiting for? Check out this album pronto and be sure to listen to each of these individual artists are their work- who knows, by listening to this album you’ll branch out into other music and artists in weeks to come.
3 songs to listen to: Future, What Are You Waiting For, Hold Onto Hope
RIYL: Francesca Battistelli, Ellie Holcomb, Sidewalk Prophets, Phil Wickham