Prime Cuts: Faithful (featuring Amy Grant), Child in Your Arms, Gospel
Overall Grade: 4/5
Ryan Stevenson's "No Matter What" doesn't insult our intelligence. Countless CCM songs these day are so predictable that you can almost envision the lyrical depth and boundaries by a single glance at its title. Few songs these days have much to say. And fewer are the songs that have something worthwhile to write home about. The pride of place of Stevenson's album is that the songs' arch are all well developed over themes that are cynosure to life and faith. Moreover, the beauty of many of the songs lie in their intricate details. Take the song "Single Wide Dreaming" as an example. A nostalgic song that celebrates Stevenson's youth, you can't help but be vicariously incarnated into Stevenson's past when he sings: Passin' notes in class behind the teacher's back about who we had a crush on/ Staying up all night making mix tapes, with all our favorite love songs/And a couple of my best friends who were Mexican, taught me to "habla espanol".
Ever since Stevenson signed with Gotee Records, he has been riding on the success cart. His debut album for the imprint produced the monster hit "Eye of the Storm" which spent an astonishing 15 weeks on the pole position. And ever before the advent of this new album, the record's lead single "The Gospel" has had already made its stake on the charts. And a listen to "No Matter What" reveals that Stevenson's chart success will not be short lived.
Easily the album's highlight is Stevenson's duet with the indispensable Amy Grant "Faithful." Though there are countless songs that harkens our commitment, but how many songs actually speak of defining faithfulness as "not running into the arms of idols." Even though idolatry is at the heartbeat of the Bible, how many modern worship songs today actually address this issue? Moreover, it's so refreshing to find Amy Grant singing such a Biblically sturdy song. This is the type of songs she should be singing rather than those sentimental Christmas songs about cozying around fireplaces and sipping eggnogs.
"Gospel" is another must-hear. The titular is such a watered-down term that it has been prostituted of its Biblically-nuanced meaning. Stevenson's "Gospel" not only gets the definition right but he offers example after example about how the Gospel is enacted in life's circumstances. "Child in Your Arms" explores Stevenson's softer side as it expounds with great affection the simplicity and honour of being God's child. Not sure why the power pop anthem "Lift You up" is lifted as this record's sophomore single as the lyrics are more pedestrian and they don't showcase Stevenson's sublime lyricism.
If there's any criticism on this record, it's that the album could benefit from a greater diversity of sounds. Rather than relying on a slick pop production with those big percussion loops that envelope all the songs, some songs, such as, the aforementioned "Single Wide Dreaming," could benefit from a more rustic backing. While "Child in Your Arms" would have been a killer if it had a simple piano accompaniment.