Review: American Prodigal

americanprodigalsquareArtist: Crowder
Label: sixsteprecords/Sparrow Records
Genre: “Swamp Pop” (Christian Contemporary)
I caught my first David Crowder Band concert back in high school, as part of a Christian music festival, and I was instantly hooked. I was blown away by his original and exciting take on classic hymns, but also his sincere and powerful original music, all mixed in with a southern flare.
When the band broke up a few years back, I was bummed… but understood that sometimes it’s just time to move on. One cool thing about when a band breaks up is you get to see where the real talent of the band was. DCB had some seriously talented members. Their drummer custom built a lot of their equipment so they could translate what they did in the studio to a live setting (he once modified a Speak-And-Spell to work as a vocoder; the dude is seriously a genius).
So honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from Crowder himself when Neon Steeple dropped a few years back. But I was wrong. So, so very wrong.
Neon Steeple proved that Crowder was in fact the powerhouse behind David Crowder Band’s original success – the honest, powerful lyrics, the creative sounds, the energetic writing. But American Prodigal… oh my. This album is a whole new level even for Crowder. In fact, halfway through my listening, I launched on a crusade (including messaging the man himself, which he did respond to) to find out who the producer was… because the album is just so good I want to follow that person’s future work (unfortunately at the time of this writing, my quest remains unfulfilled).

Content Guide

Crowder’s lyrics – in terms of subject – are pretty standard-issue: lots of songs about God and contrasting his perfect nature with our imperfect nature. But somehow, Crowder manages to stay remarkably raw and honest. In a world absolutely flooded with cookie-cutter worship bands who all sound the same and sing the same lines (that’s an article for another day), somehow Crowder feels real. He feels genuine. Just as David poured his honest heart out to God in the Psalms, many of Crowder’s songs feel like the man is just being real with God in the quiet of his room alone.

Review

Crowder refers to his music as “swamp pop.” I don’t know about swamp, but there’s definitely a lot of southern sounds to be heard and loved – banjos, choirs, blues scales, and all the things that make you think ‘yeah, I absolutely believe this guy is from Texas’ (or Georgia, where he now resides).
.01 American Intro: The album kicks off with a fairly standard intro track. I’ve mentioned before that I love a good intro track. Albums always feel a little weird to me when they just jump right in, but a quality intro really sets the mood right.
.02 Keep Me: Right out the gate, this album had me sold. “Keep Me” has a beautiful drop, a catchy southern infusion, and an excellent genre-bending with Crowder rapping in some of the pre-choruses. The lyrics do feel a bit weak sometimes, but to be fair Crowder has never really been known for his poetry, just his honesty and musicianship.
.03 Run Devil Run: “Run Devil Run” was the lead single off the album, and it was about as predictable as “I Am” from Neon Steeple. It’s something easy and mainstream that your average K-LOVE listener can latch onto, but it still has a nice energetic bounce. Fans with good subwoofers will appreciate this album. There’s a lot of processed bass work – heavy kicks, powerful subbass, etc.NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 05:  David Crowder perform live onstage at the 4th Annual KLOVE Fan Awards  at The Grand Ole Opry House on June 5, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for KLOVE)
04. My Victory: This song was another single that preceded the album, and one of the first things I noticed was how churchworthy this song is. This song could compete with Hillsong without even batting an eyelash… with solid lyrics, a great instrumentation, and the composition really helps drive the song home. In fact, you need to call your worship pastor right now and ask him why he isn’t playing this song in church. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
.05 Prove It: Energetic and bouncy, “Prove It” is a fun song with lots of harmonica, blues riffs, and a very southern vibe. Crowder really is a master at bending all kinds of genres and always has been, with this song serving as a perfect example. If the pop/rock/southern crossover wasn’t enough, KB has a guest spot on this album and he absolutely kills it. If you want to get a feel for American Prodigal in one song, this is probably it.
.06 All You Burdens: So as a musician, this song made me stop what I was doing right away. “Something’s not right,” I thought. I pulled up Spotify and began counting: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1? This song is written in 7/8 time. For context: Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” was written in a very similar time signature. Name any Christian or pop song and I’ll bet my entire paycheck that it was written in either 4/4 or 6/8 and 90% of the time I’ll be right.
This song made my inner progressive music fan very happy. But despite the eclectic time signature, the song is still very enjoyable for anyone, even people who don’t speak music theory. The guitar lead is catchy and rock-driven, the southern instrumentation is clear and consistently present.
.07 Back To The Garden: “Back To The Garden” is a very heavy, powerful song (“heavy” in the deep sense, not the metal sense). This was the point at which I stopped and launched off on my “who produced this?” quest. This song is a prime example of what I meant when I said that Crowder feels genuine in his songs.
The lyrics aren’t really original or groundbreaking, but he sings them with such conviction you can really feel it. A small dose of production effects like drums, low synth, and strings keeps this song energetic and exciting the entire way though while still weighing your heart down with Crowder’s cry, “take me back to the garden.” The song reminds me a lot of “The Sound of Silence,” and rock fans will enjoy the dirty electric guitar at the end. (For the record: Crowder himself responded to my question, saying “I can’t remember, check the liner notes.”)

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.08 Forgiven: Another perfect church song, containing further references to the garden. Which of course, makes sense given the name of the album and the idea of “going back to the garden.” This is really a great worship song; that’s the main thing that stuck with me.
.09 Promised Land: Steady and consistent, “Promised Land” features a stellar guest spot from Tedashii. However, since the album has already seen so much rap already (“Keep Me” and “Prove It”), I would’ve loved to see a different collaborator. Maybe John Cooper of Skillet, or Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath, or Mattie Montgomery of For Today. I can dream.
.10 All My Hope: This is a very slow, hymn-like song about how God sustains us and is our hope. Classic, piano, southern Baptist sort of sounding… and yet, just a little jazzy. Great song.
.11 Shouting Grounds: This song was cool and memorable to me, as I found that the chord progression distinguished it from a scene of predictable songs. The dirty, straight-up rock-and-roll electric guitar was awesome, too. “Shouting Grounds” has a really high energy as a straightforward, good old rock song. If any of our readers are familiar with The Ongoing Concept, it gave me a serious “So Long, Goodbye” vibe (but less metal, obviously).
.12 Shepherd: “Shepherd” is a really creative piece based on Psalm 23. Most of the lyrics are pulled directly from the psalm in question, but it’s really cool to hear a new twist on this piece. I wonder what King David would have to say about it.
.13 All We Sinners: This song is a little orchestral and even slightly theatrical, but it’s a fun listen. Very hymn-like, fans of classic hymns will enjoy this song. Again, one of the things I loved about Crowder from the get-go was his interesting way of presenting songs like this, and “All We Sinners” is no exception.
.14 American Outro: The ending of the album, this piece is an incredibly soft, melodic, and emotional piece. There’s a lot of post-production processing, but it just makes the song that much more powerful and intense to listen to.

The Bottom Line

Crowder has really reached some new heights on this album, and continues to push the bounds of what Christian music is capable of. Everyone should at least check this out and give it a shot.

8.3

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