Like several recording artists before him, Danny Gokey first came into the national spotlight in 2009 on Season 8 of American Idol, finishing third in the competition. After a brief stint in country music, Gokey jumped ship and got a fresh start in the CCM industry with his 2014 release, Hope In Front of You. Since then, Gokey has become a household name in the CCM world and is ready to solidify that status with his follow-up album, Rise.
Hope in God is a recurring theme on this album--possibly moreso than on Hope In Front of You. It takes a straightforward lyrical approach that has mass appeal and, unlike many CCM releases, largely avoids cliches. Not only that, but Gokey also has a solid grasp of rhyming, never making them feel too forced and balancing them with near rhymes. For example, in the first verse of "Stronger Than We Think We Are," he sings "hope is stirring us inside / and the darkness has to run and hide / cause we illuminate the night." One criticism about the songwriting: it tends to stay within the safety net of familiar and vague lyrics. Because of this, none of the songs on Rise match the poignancy of songs like "One Life" from Gokey's previous release. Gokey may not have a groundbreaking style of songwriting, but it is approachable and complements his effortlessly soulful vocal delivery. It also helps that many of these tracks are catchy and "drum-on-your-steering-wheel" worthy.
One of the strongest aspects of this record is the variety of music, both in tempo and style. While Rise is a a full-fledged pop release (a genre that fits Gokey well), it does have influences from R&B ("Slow Down"), adult contemporary ("Rise"), EDM ("Stronger Than We Think"), gospel ("What Love Can Do"), and even some subtle disco ("The Comeback"). Some songs work better than others, but this diversity keeps the album from sounding too similar from track to track. For example, album highlight "Chasing" is a beautiful duet between Gokey and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, taking a slow and relatively stripped-down approach as they sing about a prodigal son type message. The following track, "Symptoms," contrasts the intimate vibe of "Chasing" with an 80's beat mixed with an overall modern pop sound. The message also feels nostalgic as Danny sings about God's contagious love, a theme that falls somewhere between Newsboys' "I Cannot Get You Out Of My System" and Family Force 5's "Fever."
Fans of Danny Gokey's release Hope In Front of You and fans of CCM in general will undoubtedly find a lot to love about Rise, but it's hard to say what kind of reach it will get beyond there. It's a fun listen, well-produced (just listen to that smooth low-end on "The Comeback" and "Slow Down") and keeps its focus squarely on God. Give this album a try; it might be just what you need to hear as we enter 2017.
- Review date: 1/10/17, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com