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Sounds like … a balanced mix of pop and rock reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional, but more similar to Sanctus Real, David Crowder Band, and Paul Colman TrioAt a glance … greater lyrical depth, a stronger rock sound, and Groves's proven pop approach all add up to the singer/songwriter's best album to dateTrack ListingWhat's Wrong with This WorldSad SongAmenWhite FlagCraveHummingbirdHeaven Hang OnBless the LordOnlyMy EnemyPeace Has Broken OutNarrow
Since he first emerged on the Christian music scene four years ago, it's been clear that singer/songwriter Shaun Groves has a lot of potential. The guy's got a way with words—insightful and humorous, both in song and on stage—and is a talented multi-instrumentalist with a good voice. Yet despite finding a certain level of success and acclaim, thanks to a handful of brilliant pop songs on his first two projects, Groves has also succumbed to some occasionally formulaic songwriting and production, not yet revealing his full potential as a breakthrough talent.
At last he nails it on White Flag. This third effort stems from his work since 2004 co-leading a college and young adult ministry in his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee. In this case, a Bible study on the Beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) has clearly helped spark both his faith perspective and his songwriting abilities.
What's particularly impressive here is how Groves has refrained from simply setting a series of "Blessed are's" to music, reflecting the songwriter's personal responses to the simple-yet-profound Beatitudes. Groves views these teachings as the steps of a journey to true obedience to Christ—an outline that takes us from mere belief to a life fully surrendered to serve Christ, hence the album title. If only more artists would similarly apply Scripture to songwriting rather than merely reciting it. Whether or not you agree with Groves's interpretation, it at least gives reason for further pondering God's word, and that in itself is something significant.
It also helps that the songs of White Flag are sequenced in the same order as the Bible. The "poor in spirit" are represented by considering "What's Wrong with This World," concluding that it's us and our inherited sinful nature. "Those who mourn" is the subject of "Sad Song," reflecting on recent tragedies and the fallen world crying out for redemption. Surrendering our wills to the Lord is the central theme for "the meek" in both a worship song ("Amen") and the more introspective title track. "Crave" is about how the world cannot fulfill our "hunger and thirst for righteousness," nor can our own exhausting efforts to feed it ("Hummingbird"). "Heaven Hang On" paints stark pictures of those most in need of mercy, and then our pursuit of pureness in heart is openly expressed in "Only" and "Bless the Lord". Peacemakers are praised through a changed heart ("My Enemy") and a utopian vision ("Peace Has Broken Out"), concluding with the hard road of the persecuted believers ("Narrow").
Groves also manages to beef up his sound from the straightforward AC pop of 2001's Invitation to Eavesdrop and the mellow "shoegazer" alt-pop of 2003's Twilight. Producing the music himself for the first time, it's immediately apparent that he can rock out, as heard on the almost progressive sounding punk of "What's Wrong with This World," as well as tracks like "Crave" and "Hummingbird." Supposedly influenced by the likes of Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional, Groves actually sounds more like the aggressive side of Sanctus Real, Paul Colman, and David Crowder Band—still more confident than his previous efforts.
There's also plenty that's reminiscent of Groves's past work, such as "Sad Song," another melodic ballad with arty production, and "Narrow," which captures the beautiful alt folk sound he does so well. The title track and "My Enemy" both have a bit of a Brit pop feel, as does "Heaven Hang On," sounding almost too much like a Travis song, and "Peace Has Broken Out," which enjoyably breaks into a Lennon/McCartney styled sing-along toward the end.
The Psalm-inspired worship song, "Bless the Lord," is the only one on the album not written by Groves. A good song (most recently heard on Jason Morant's impressive 2004 album Abandon), but the choice to make it the first single—this album's ambassador—seems misguided, either suggesting a lack of confidence in the album's original material or confirming that a worship song is the only way to get Christian radio airplay these days. A shame, since "Bless the Lord" inadequately reflects the excellence of this album, which is packed with so many better potential radio singles.
Not every track is a homerun—"Amen," for example, is fairly routine sounding for Groves. But the album overall is a leap in the right direction for this artist. If he wants to progress further, he simply needs to continue with the changes he made for this album, adding more sonic variation and even stronger hooks. This remains a thoughtful and entertaining pop/rock effort that should impress fans and surprise non-fans with its more aggressive sound and substantive lyrics. Past achievements aside, there's a sense that White Flag introduces the real Shaun Groves and what he's capable of creating.