Prime Cuts: In America, Spirit Speak, Why God
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
Austin French's debut album lives up to its titular in the way he opens up his heart progressively with each passing note. And the way he invests an array of emotions into his songs makes this record bristle with urgency and sizzle with passion. When it comes to an uptempo burner, French puts so much of himself into the song that you feel like he's about to jump right out of the speakers with a guitar in hand. And when he croons a ballad, there's so much heartfelt emotions that envelope each syllable that you can't help but worship along with him. But it's not in the execution of these songs that Austin excels, it's also in the breadth and depth of the song's themes that makes this album worthy of multiple listenings.
Originally from Georgia, French was surrounded by a musical family and began touring in churches, which led him to leading worship at the age of eighteen. In 2014, he won the hearts of millions of viewers, finishing as the runner-up on the ABC TV show Rising Star and shared the stage with multi-platinum recording artist, Josh Groban. After his success on Rising Star, French served as a worship pastor in the drug recovery capital of the world, Delray Beach, FL.
"Wide Open" is Austin's debut album for Fair Trade Services (Phil Wickham, MercyMe). And like his label mates, this is a pop-centric album that come awash with those embedded synth sound and elongated electric drum beats. The title cut "Wide Open" - which features Matthew West - starts off the proceedings on a positive note. Charging out on full force, "Wide Open" which speaks of surrendering to God's will for our lives sets the thematic focus of the record. "Freedom Hymn," which is fast becoming Austin's signature tune, brilliantly deals with Biblical paradoxical concept of freedom. True freedom comes when we bind ourselves to Christ. Then Austin indulgences in a couple of average-sounding EDM numbers with"Good Feeling" and "Living Proof," before maxing the rock guitar volume in "Holy Ground."
But the ones that pass with highest honors are the ballads. "Spirit Move" is the valedictorian; backed by just the piano and strings, Austin and his wife Joscelyn trade vocals on what is a heartfelt prayer for the Holy Spirit to sing when we are overwhelmed by the stresses of this world. The song which only contains three verses (without a bridge or chorus) is simple but out of this world superb. This is definitely a song you want to put on "repeat." Don't let the patriotic-sounding title of "In America" distract you. It's not a jingoistic song; rather, it's a power-packed prayer to God to bring revival across the land.
Then French gets up, close and personal with "Why God," another thoughtful ballad that deals with the issue of God's love and providence in our sufferings. In a similar vein but more worship-focused is "I Need a Hallelujah." All in all, this is a thoughtful album that is rich enough o feed our souls. Add to this is French's vocal execution - not only does he incarnate each and every note, he sings them in ways that makes you want to listen over and over again.