Provident Label Group
Release Date: July 9th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Empty Grave
- Walk With Me
- Less Like Me
- Rescue Story
- Stand Up
- Slave to Nothing
- Under My Feet
- There Was Jesus (feat. Dolly Parton)
- Heaven Help Me
- Face to Face
- Stand My Ground
- The Struggle
- Good to Know
- Turn it Over
- RATTLE! (feat. Stephen Furtick)
- There Was Jesus (Piano Version) (feat. Dolly Parton)
Everyone knows Zach Williams. Or at least they should, with his hit song ‘Chain Breaker’, being what I reckon, one of CCM’s most charted songs on radio for the last 5 years. Zach’s rise in popularity has been surreal, more like from a movie or TV show than anything else. With the release of Chain Breaker both as an EP in September 2016 and as a full length 10 track album in January 2017, alongside a follow-up full-length album Rescue Story that came in 2019; this now-once-in-a-rock-band-now-reformed pastor and Provident Label Group signee has captured our hearts with his southern rock/gospel music atmosphere, in a similar vein to that of Crowder or Third Day. Even if we may not enjoy the southern gospel genre that much, we all have heard of the song “Chain Breaker”, along with his other radio hits like ‘Old Church Choir’, ‘Survivor’, ‘Chain Breaker’, ‘Less Like Me’, ‘There Was Jesus’ and ‘Fear is a Liar’. Zach’s move from being in a mainstream rock band, to pursuing a solo Christian music career after an encounter with God in the early 2010s, has resulted in music that is honest, hopeful, raw and emotive. His first full length album received plenty of acclaim- so much so that in 2017, he released a deluxe edition of the album, complete with a few new tracks. And then in 2018, Zach, still riding the Chain Breaker album wave, unveiled and EP titled Survivor: Live From Harding Prison, full of songs and stories that have been recorded when he was invited to sing a few songs and share his testimony for people inside Harding Prison. While the EP was a tad redundant- as it featured various hits of his over the years sung in a ‘live’ setting in the prison; the collection of 6 songs was enough to garner a Grammy nomination for best CCM album of the year, as the songs were earnest and honest, hopeful and encouraging, as he relates to and encourages prison inmates through the songs. Zach also released his Billboard Music Awards nominated Rescue Story in late 2019, and with singles like ‘Rescue Story’, ‘Less Like Me’, ‘There Was Jesus’ and ‘Walk With Me’, Rescue Story has fast become one of my favourite albums of 2019, and Zach himself becoming one of my favourite new-ish artists over the past 3 – 5 years. Now in mid-2021, Zach has once again released something different- Rescue Story: Deluxe Edition– with his 10 original tracks from the album released 2 years ago, alongside 7 newly recorded songs, inclusive of an acoustic version of his chart-topping radio hit, ‘There Was Jesus’.
I recently reviewed Rescue Story in November 2019, highlighting songs like ‘Rescue Story’, ‘There Was Jesus’ and ‘Less Like Me’, so for me to write bout them again now seems a little redundant. But what I will say is this. ‘Rescue Story’ the song, and to a greater extent the album, has been a blessing for me over the years. And even though it may seem like the song and album on the surface are a little bit ‘country-fied’ than what we’ve been used to in the CCM industry, the album nevertheless has impacted me in my own walk with Jesus of late. ‘Rescue Story’ the song is by no means a new-ish concept- songs were written before to do with having a story and being rescued from darkness. ‘Rescue’ (Lauren Daigle), ‘Be My Rescue’ (Nichole Nordeman), ‘Rescue’ (Newsboys), ‘Rescuer’ (Rend Collective), ‘Rescue Me’ (Kerrie Roberts) and ‘The Rescue’ (Adam Cappa), are just a few songs that delve into the theme of being rescued, or rather, wanting to be rescued, from whatever is plaguing us. So in a nutshell, Zach isn’t really re-inventing the wheel, nor is he creating anything that has a tremendous ‘wow’ factor. Yet, a song exactly like ‘Rescue Story’ is rather what we need as a society- the raw, unfiltered, passionate, and at times, vulnerable singing that requires us to sit up and listen attentively, is how I reckon Zach sings most, if not all, of his songs of the past, and this new one is no different. ‘Rescue Story’ is basically the story of Zach, an autobiographical one. A song that shows us a man who was basically at the end of his rope all those years ago, and in one pivotal moment, Jesus came searching and took him out of the darkness, from despair to delight, from uncertainty to groundbreaking belief and faith. And when you hear the back story of Zach and what he has gone through to this point, and how the Lord has changed his life around, the power and effect of the song will become greater- and that’s what happened with this new one from Zach. ‘Rescue Story’ is such where I’m sure anyone who has heard of Zach Williams, his music and his story, can testify upon hearing this song, that ‘Rescue Story’ is God-breathed. Not that there’s only a select few that God breathes through, not at all. It’s just that I’m sure some songs are given a certain power over them, by God, to impact and affect- similar to the power in songs like ‘You Say’ (Lauren Daigle), ‘Is He Worthy?’ (Andrew Peterson), ‘Head Above Water’ (Avril Lavigne) and ‘Reckless Love’ (Cory Asbury). ‘Rescue Story’ is one of these songs.
Rescue Story: Deluxe Edition released July 9th 2021, and with an extra 7 tracks to total this album to 17, it’s exciting to see Zach release some new material, some of which are the strongest on this 17 track album. ‘Empty Grave’, track #1 on this deluxe edition of the album, released in early 2020, and was a song that was a precursor into Easter 2020- to be sung and declared in the knowledge of the stone being rolled away all those years ago. With electric guitars and a harmonica, ‘Empty Grave’ starts off the deluxe edition of Rescue Story very well, as Zach presents this theme of the tomb and empty grave, and how we ought not to be alarmed or dismayed even in our own lives, because if Christ was risen from the grave during the times when the disciples couldn’t even anticipate, then He is working in our own lives when we don’t even expect it. ‘There Was Jesus’ (Piano Version) is a piano-only version of Zach’s duet with Dolly Parton, and for me, was a hauntingly refreshing take on an already-great song- one that has been the highlight of mine over the last few years. As Zach himself says, ‘…we can all relate to that song [There Was Jesus] because everybody has been at some place in their life where they’re looking back on a moment that they didn’t see God in, but there was somebody out there praying for them. Through all of these things, all these broken times, God used that to become this thing that now you can talk about in your life. For me, “There was Jesus” is that song. In all the waiting, in all the searching, through all of the things I that I have done, there was Jesus. When I didn’t know He was there, there was Jesus…’ Zach also brings to life a rendition of a new Elevation Worship fan favourite ‘Rattle!’, with the song having the extra enthusiasm and passion that only Zach himself can bring, as this song of hope and encouragement reminds us of how God brings together dry bones in the desert, that the power displayed during the book of Ezekiel can still be applied in today’s setting. Even if we may not see miracles in the here and now, we can still pray for them, believing that God can do it, even if He chooses to wait until another time for prayers to be answered.
‘Stand My Ground’, complete with steel guitars and other electric-styled guitars, is given the full ‘country’ treatment with this 3-minute track that something Crowder would cover, and quite nicely. Zach, just like the artists needtobreathe, Third Day, Crowder, Hillary Scott, Carrie Underwood, Point of Grace and Amy Grant, has been able to bridge the gap between CCM and country (the two genres I firmly believe are very much alike, both musically and lyrically), and this new song ‘Stand My Ground’ is no different. The song itself is about standing our ground whenever the principalities of darkness come for us during our weakest moments, and while standing our grounds can easily be said than done when push comes to shove, this song nevertheless encourages us to get more into the Word of God, allowing ourselves to become more armed with Scripture, so that when difficulties come (and they will!), we won’t we as wavered or easily swayed by this or that. ‘The Struggle’ is a song that can potentially go well on country radio, as real-life stories and lessons learnt from these, are the crux of what this song is about- the persona(s) in the song deal with alcoholism, and self-medication, and the song reminds us all that such things in peoples lives may continue to be struggles, even until the rest of their days. And even in those circumstances, we must honour the fact that these people suffering these addictions are struggling tooth and nail to get out of the situations they’re in. The song provides a brief, albeit short, outlook into the life of someone who is suffering from addictions as described in the song, and while the song itself is a little open ended (grabbing a Bible and then crying out to the Lord…but what happens after that?), ‘The Struggle’ nevertheless can allow people to have more sympathy and empathy for people who are in these circumstances, hopefully allowing them to hear a way out, in the process. ‘Turn It Over’ is a surrender song, about a persona (quite possibly Zach’s very own personal journey) who doesn’t want to go back and live in the situations and circumstances he’s found himself in, not wanting to live in the past, but to press on and move forward, giving everything over to God, knowing full well that He loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way. We come as we are to Christ, and that is the starting point for each of us. Zach rounds out the album with ‘Good to Know’, an autobiographical song about Zach understanding the gravity of what Christ’s sacrifice was for us, that ‘…it’s good to know that You took it all off of me, stood there in my place, and my lost soul swept up, caught up in Your grace…’ At a tad over 5 minutes, ‘Good to Know’ is a definite highlight of the deluxe album, and a track that can hopefully succeed at CCM radio in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
A must have for anyone who his a fan of Zach and his songs before, or even fans of similar artists like needtobreathe, Rhett Walker Band or the now disbanded Third Day; Rescue Story was a favourite of mine during 2019, and it certainly hasn’t changed even now. And what I’ve said about Zach’s debut album Chain Breaker in my review previously, I’ll say here, verbatim- ‘…while Zach may not be as popular as any other Christian artist that is popular today, what Zach does have is raw honesty and heart. This album is real, and each track I’m sure will speak to different people on different levels…an album that’ll continuously be on repeat for the next few months, Zach ought to be commended for a fine effort on a project certain to be enjoyed by anyone who loves Christian music, country music or both…’ But what I will say is different now compared to then when I wrote the review in 2017, is that now most certainly Zach is a household name in houses that listen to CCM on a regular basis. He is indeed popular, and his music has reached thousands upon thousands, and quite rightly so. His music has certainly bridged the gap between gospel, CCM and country music, and is a reminder that this niche genre within CCM (Christian country/southern gospel) can still be alive and well, even so long after the departure of a group that I’ve loved so dearly during their career, Third Day. Yes, I firmly believe Zach’s ministry is continuing from where Third Day left off, and Zach’s albums Chain Breaker and Rescue Story are a result. A must have for anyone who loves music, period, this powerful set of 17 songs (on the deluxe edition) is a journey you don’t want to miss, no matter if you’re a ‘religious’ person or not! Well done Zach for such a powerful unveiling of songs. Here’s hoping and praying that God ministers through these melodies to people in months and even years to come!
3 songs to listen to: There Was Jesus, Less Like Me, RATTLE!
RIYL: needtobreathe, Third Day, Skillet, Switchfoot