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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Casting Crowns
Label: Beach Street Records
Length: 10 tracks / 43:43
To British ears, this American roots rock seems to be growing ever more popular in the CCM scene and Casting Crowns nuzzle in nicely alongside bands like Mercy Me, Big Daddy Weave, and Caedmon's Call. Certainly like Caedmon's as the seven piece seem more like a family than a band!
They are also capable of writing songs of great power as demonstrated by "If We Are The Body." One of the most challenging songs of 2003, it has called for us to realize that if we truly are to be the body of Christ we need to really live out our faith and sometimes our thoughtless shoddy judgmental behavior cripples the work of Christ in the world. It's hard to listen to the song without wanting to immediately shape up and make a difference. I guess the group's leader Mark Hall will consider it a job well done that I feel this way!
Other highlights include "American Dream" which examines the soulless results of the pursuit of happiness when it is unaccompanied by the pursuit of God. Hall has a poetic way of creating compelling images and snapshots that cut the heart. The picture in this song of the man toiling whilst his soul and family life is starved is a memorable and moving image.
On "Here I Go Again," Hall's lyrical pictures take a common experience, the hesitancy and fear of sharing the gospel with a friend, and make it a prayer and a hope and a song that wakes up the listener to the realities that we need to take these opportunities. We need to be brave, face our fears and communicate the gospel at the simplest level to our friends.
That personal struggle to share is expanded to a global challenge on the album's opening cut "What If His People Prayed". What if everybody picked it up, everybody took their stand? What if we all shared, all prayed, all made a difference? What would the impact be? Strongly referencing the famous 2 Chronicles 7:14 scripture, Mark Hall and the band dream out loud and listening we dream with them and wonder… The song also has an excellent example of the band's cutting humor in the line:
What if the life that we pursue came from a hunger for the truth"Voice of Truth" sees the band team up with Steven Curtis Chapman, obviously one of Mark Hall's heroes to create a song that deals with issues of vision and faith. Do we have the courage to step into the things that God wants for us? Do we have the courage to step out of the boat and walk on the waters of faith. Do we have the courage to listen to God speaking to us and directing us into spiritual risky territory where we have to rely on God, listen and believe Him or are we going to stay under the influence and fear of other voices? Faith v fear seems to be a recurring theme throughout the album and Casting Crowns enjoy provoking the listener to step up a gear.
The album closes with a lovely acoustic version of the Darrell Evans worship song "Your Love Is Extravagant". For a band who began as a worship team working with students in their church, this sounds like a favorite from their early days and you get a glimpse of the roots of this band. They may have spread beyond worship to writing songs that have the power to disciple and challenge the listener, but there's a sense that worship remains a powerful part of their ministry.
It would be very easy to dismiss Casting Crowns as the same old same old. There are plenty of rootsy acoustic rock with a big voiced frontman writing plaintive lyrics and yet there is something refreshing about the way that Casting Crowns go about their business. There is a great need within Christian music for bands with the ability to inspire us to live differently and pursue God more passionately. There's also a need for bands to be able to do this in a creative way rather than reducing life and theology to bumper stickers. Casting Crowns manage to combine the poetry, artistry and ministry much needed to inspire. Here's an album that is capable of making a lasting impact.
Mike Rimmer 11/9/2003