All Sons & Daughters' eponymous third full-length release finds the band on a steady upward trajectory, providing a sound and spirit welcomed by growing numbers of worshipers while stretching the boundaries just enough to add life and vigor.
The worship music of Leslie Jordan and David Leonard has resonated with listeners since the band's early string of EPs, a studio album, and last year's 5-star release Live. The motif is not really unusual: worship leaders at a local church (Franklin, Tennessee, in this case) distribute praise music to wider audiences in both studio and live formats. What's different here is the approach, the quality, the instrumentation, and the voices. There are several common criticisms associated with praise music that AS&D tend to avoid. Their lyrics are often original, avoiding cliché. Consider this evocative turn of a phrase, co-written with Derek Webb: "So I'm not bargaining, for nothing's hidden from Your sight / I would be a fool if I could be made new / Come ruin, come ridicule, recklessly I come / I run to You". Their song structures dare to break the mold, usually eschewing the all-too-common gradual build to an endlessly repeated bridge. AS&D opens with a breezy, idyllic sound and closes with a full stop and then a long, thoughtful instrumental outro. In between, there's surprising variety.
Part of that variety is surely due to an all-star cast of cowriters, including Jason Ingram, Leeland and Jack Mooring, Francesca Battistelli, Stu G, and on a sad note (given their recent news of divorce), Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken. The contribution of Gabe Scott on banjo, hammered dulcimer, and dobro (among others) adds a lively touch. "Tonight" is a good example. The lyrics read like a lullaby: "Lay Your peace like a blanket over me / And as I lay down to sleep, I will rest in You." Somehow, though, in the middle of the lullaby, a banjo hoe-down breaks out.
Similarly incongruous is "For Your Glory & My Good," the aforementioned Webb co-write. The lyric is based on the story of the woman with the bleeding disorder in Mark 5. The music is so Webbian you can easily imagine the song with his vocal leading the way. There's an interesting almost-Latin beat that again does not quite match the desperate lyrics.
The music-lyrics dissonance is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, fresh creativity is welcome in an often formulaic genre. It also helps add life to what might otherwise be a bit-too-sleepy collection of songs. Not everything is quirky of course. The warm guitars on "King of Glory" feel like the restoration proclaimed in the song. "The Victory" is suitably bright and celebratory.
Fans who've seen AS&D live will be familiar with the prayer of thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer that closes each event. Fortunately, AS&D along with Jason Ingram decided to set the prayer to music, and the result is "We Give You Thanks," a quiet song with a memorable chorus that will be a perfect concert closer. Also noteworthy is "Almighty God," featuring a lovely vocal duet with Jordan and McCracken. It's easy to imagine the song accompanying communion church services for years to come.
This new album features studio versions of two songs previously released live: "Great are You Lord" and "God with Us." It's worth mentioning the potential for lyrical confusion on the latter song. Jordan sings something like, "Well You've come to bring peace… well You've come to breathe life," but it almost sounds like "we've come" instead of "You've come." Rest assured, the band means to say that Emmanuel is the peace-bringer and life-giver.
All Sons & Daughters is an excellent collection of songs. The sound is familiar, but a few risks are taken. The lyrics are thoughtful and they serve their purpose in moving the listener to worship with a more profound understanding of God. This is an important release from a band that continues to offer strong contributions to praise and worship.- Review date: 5/1/14, written by Mark D. Geil of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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