There has not been, in the annals of Christian music, a prison album in the vein of Johnny Cash's iconic Live At Folsom Prison till now. And although Zach Williams' new live album is just an EP, it represents an expansion of the kind of music that a CCM artist can do, or the places where they can minister. Many artists of faith (and otherwise) play music in prisons and jails, but as a document of this act, it's not such a common thing.
And Zach Williams is exactly the artist to right this wrong. His gritty, no-nonsense, blue collar Gospel rock and roll is the sort that translates directly into the lives of those who most need to hear the good news of Jesus. Alas, at only six songs, the EP is over much too soon. With a few more traditional hymns or Gospel songs, he would have a classic album on his hands. But what is there (a string of recent hit songs and one worship cover) are well done and highly appropriate to the setting.
New single and title track "Survivor" launches the set with a great repeated guitar line, and Williams' meat-and-potato lyrics about redemption are well-delivered in the artist's signature raspy, southern-fried delivery, "For so long I carried the weight of my past Cripple by burdens like stones on my back / I thought I had fallen too far from your grace But you came and showed me the way. As a statement of purpose for a prison show, you can't get much more direct than this."
Recent hit "Old Church Choir" is also a great choice for this setting. With an extended, old-timey Gospel-styled piano and organ intro, the song's uplifting (and somewhat goofy) nature translates well in this context. Williams' brief testimony before "To The Table" works the song's strong Biblical metaphor into a bit of storytelling that sets up the tune's invitation quite well. The one cover here is also very well chosen. "No Longer Slaves" is a powerful worship song in its own right, but sung against the backdrop of incarceration, it gains a poignancy of metaphor and message. To hear the inmates singing along at the end of the song is a transcendent moment. "Fear Is A Liar," and the ending "Chain Breaker," are both likewise poignant moments when considering the venue of the concert (especially that "prison shaking savior" line).
Zach Williams is to be commended for taking his songs to a place where there is a great need for them. May many more artists take risks like this, because music is a tremendous gift of God to shine light in some of the darkest (and most forgotten) corners of our world.- Review date: 9/24/18, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Provident Music Group
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