Ryan Stevenson is quietly one of the most active songwriters in Christian music for the last decade or so. From his songwriting work with TobyMac ("Speak Life," "Lift You Up") to his own notable (and quite hummable) hits, like "Eye Of The Storm" and "When We Fall Apart," Stevenson has shown himself to be a hardworking and talented artist who has a keen ear for a melodic idea and a heart for pointing to the truth of the gospel.
But his latest album, ABLE, finds Stevenson running in place a bit, with a slew of mid-tempo songs that lack the sort of spark that he brings to the songwriting table. There are, however, a few good-to-great moments here. The opening track, "Closer," is a soulful and poignant look at the tragic and hard moments of life through a new spiritual lens: "I'm talking to someone out there listening, feeling rejected / Like you're too messed up and you're always stuck learning the same old lessons / Looking for purpose in all this pain, looking for sunshine behind the rain / There's more to the story that we haven't seen / So what if every heartbreak is not an accident? / And what if every failure is not a coincidence? / Not a moment wasted, not a tear in vein / I know my God can use anything to draw us closer."
There is an important theological caveat here, though. It's important to note that the Lord is capable and famous for using the mess of our lives (be it something we have done, or something that has been done to us) to draw us closer to Him, but He is not responsible for the evil that befalls us and every person since Adam and Eve made their fateful decision back in Genesis chapter three. There is a needed distinction between the Lord working in the hardship of life to build our character and teach us of our need for Him, and the Lord causing the sadness and evil of our world just to turn around and use it for His purposes.
The title track is a clever, rhythmically interesting celebration of the power and faithfulness of God, while "When We Finally Get There" is a slow-build, epic number that finds Stevenson delivering his most soulful vocal of the album about "crossing the Jordan." (This tune is just begging for a grungy guitar solo and a passionate guest rapper at the song's apex, though.)
But a few too many paint-by-number songs dull the album's overall impact. "The Answer" is a well-meaning but hackneyed song that has the sort of lyrics that get reworked in Christian music almost every year by some artist or another. That's not to say that Jesus is not the "answer for the world today;" it's just that songs like this, with didactic, rote lyrics, commit the writing crime of "telling" and not "showing." Where is the poetic license here to show what an answer might look like? The same problem belies the closing song, "Coming Home," as well.
ABLE is a well-intentioned and well-recorded album that shows Stevenson as a capable veteran artist. But at only eight songs, and with a few too many similar songs here, there is also a sense of an artist phoning it in a bit.- Review date: 5/8/23, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Gotee Records
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