- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Sep
At the center of Atlanta-based band Casting Crowns is veteran youth pastor Mark Hall. A singer and songwriter at heart, Hall began by leading youth worship, gradually teaming up with his future bandmates one-by-one: Juan Devevo (guitar, vocals), Melodee Devevo (violin, vocals), Hector Cervantes (guitar, vocals), Andy Williams (drums), Chris Huffman (bass), and Megan Garrett (keyboards, accordion, vocals). Though successful as a local independent band, Casting Crowns never expected to take things nationally; Hall envisioned himself maybe someday writing for other bands.
Those plans changed when one of Hall's students lent Hall's CD to a coach—who happened to be friends with Mark Miller, frontman of best-selling country band Sawyer Brown. Miller had wanted to launch his own record label imprint to showcase new talent, encouraged to do so by two close friends, Provident Music Group president Terry Hemmings and Christian pop superstar Steven Curtis Chapman. The pieces fell into place, and Casting Crowns found themselves recording their national self-titled debut with co-producers Miller and Chapman.
One of the first things you'll notice is Hall's no-nonsense approach to lyrics. Though not as bold as, say, Derek Webb is on his solo debut, Hall tells it like it is, simply and with conviction. "What If His People Prayed," clearly borrowed from an oft-used passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14, asks, "What if the life that we pursue came from a hunger for the truth?/What if the family turned to Jesus, stopped asking Oprah what to do?" The disc's first radio single, "If We Are the Body," evokes Michael Card and Keith Green by challenging the church to make outsiders feel welcome: "If we are the body/Why aren't His arms reaching?/Why aren't His hands healing?/Why aren't His words teaching?" Hall's in-your-face approach is especially apparent in "American Dream," a simply yet powerfully worded rock anthem that convicts fathers to spend more time on faith and family.
"Voice of Truth," co-written with Chapman, is a ballad of encouragement to put fear behind us and listen to Jesus: "I will soar with the wings of eagles when I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus singing over me." Then there's "Here I Go Again," virtually the same song in its expression of the fear experienced when sharing faith with a non-Christian: "Here I go again, talking 'bout the rain and mulling over things that won't live past today/And as I dance around the truth, time is not his friend/This might be my last chance to tell him that You love him." Yet another AC ballad, the Psalms-inspired "Who Am I," explains our emptiness without Christ.
It's no surprise that this worship band includes songs of praise, but it bogs down the disc's third act with four such songs in a row. The songs are catchy and strongly performed—just less interesting than the previous six tracks. Most listeners won't mind since worship is as popular as ever, and these are some of the album's fastest tracks. "Praise You with the Dance" is a rollicking country-rock stomper, sung by one of the band's female leads and incorporating a violin solo of "Lord of the Dance" (a.k.a. "Simple Gifts"). "Glory" is more of the energetic worship, and the album closes somewhat abruptly with a harmony-rich cover of Darrell Evans's "Your Love Is Extravagant."
This is a case where production makes the album, which probably would have succumbed to predictable AC pop sounds in less capable hands. Yes, Casting Crowns has something to offer on their own, between Hall's straightforward lyrics and the band's strengths. But Miller and Chapman keep it fresh—and at times surprisingly loud with thunderous guitars reminiscent of Chapman's
If anything, this extremely well-produced album too readily recalls the work of its producers, leaving us to wonder how much of it is really Casting Crowns. We'll know more with the band's next album. In the meantime, enjoy this national debut for what it is—heartfelt pop/rock from a capable band with slick production.