A lot can be said about the state of Christian Contemporary Music as a whole these days--much of it good, much of it bad--and much that is not necessarily either (and even some that is both). But pretty much everything that can be said about CCM as a whole, whether fully accurate or not, can probably be said about this debut album for the brother band Citizen Way, consisting of Ben and Josh Calhoun and David and Ben Blascoe. It is good? Is it bad? Is it neither? Is it both? The answer? YES! Which question am I answering? All of them! How does this make sense? Well, you'll see.
Now, strictly speaking, Citizen Way is far from a "new" band. The two set of brothers have been making music together independently since they were all in college back in 2004, for a while going under the name "Least of These." But after signing to Fair Trade Records last year and changing their name (says led singer Ben Calhoun, because "Least of These" was shared by a large quantity of other ministries) they are being heard on a large scale for the first time on their label debut Love is the Evidence. Their sound reminiscent of such well-known acts as Rhett Walker Band, MercyMe, or (in particular) Big Daddy Weave. Their music is definitely pop-rock, but it has just a pinch of rootsy/country and even Americana elements thrown in that make it rather refreshing. It is a sound that fits them well, and I can tell that this is certainly a group that has been together for nearly a decade.
Here is what you might hear while listening to Love is the Evidence: a lot of very heartfelt, honest, uplifting lyrics. You can also hear a lot of lyrics we've heard before, but it never gets to the point where it's overwhelming enough by mundanity and repetitiveness that it becomes really problematic. Love Is The Evidence offers some really catchy and entertaining music that had genuine effort put behind it, but never pushing the envelope so much that any of it couldn't find its way onto your local Christian music radio station. In particular, their radio single "Should've Been Me" exemplifies this unevenness; while it does an excellent job of providing great depth to otherwise very-accessible lyrics ("It should've been me, It should've been us/ Should've been me hanging on a cross /All of this shame, All of these scars/Should've been stains that were never washed"), it somehow manages to, in the very same song, give lyrics that are very high on the cliché-ism scale ("I live a good life, I love a great wife/Our kids are beautiful, we got friends down the street"). All of ten of these songs are very enjoyable and have potential for replay value, but not a single song truly nailed its full potential. After finishing such fine tracks as "Evidence," "Lights On," and "Where Would I Be Without You," there still seemed to be something missing that could have truly set them apart from the rest of the pack. And somewhere in the middle of this not-quite-mediocrity-but-not-quite-proficiency, I can hear a band that, on future projects, could do something very special.
As far as debut albums go, Love Is The Evidence is one that serves as a potentially perfect building block into the proverbial "next step." Their refreshing take on the pop-rock genre is great to hear and I hope to hear more of it in the future. Where can Citizen Way improve from here on? Well, I'd say they need to stray a bit further away from the formulaic radio format that hinders most of the tracks from achieving their full potential. I'd also say that they need tighter stylistic cohesion between tracks as it felt like they attempted to cover just too wide of a variety of sounds that it made the tracks not flow as well. And of course, there are other areas too that should simply improve with time and experience. In short, the best way to describe this album is "almost-but-not-yet." It is pretty good with greatness easily within its grasp. I'm excited for their next album to see where they can go from here.
- Review date: 4/22/13, written by Mark Rice of Jesusfreakhideout.com