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Crowder - Neon Steeple Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 7.5
Musicianship 7.5
Lyrics 7.5
Production 7.5
Creativity 7.5
Lasting Value 7.5
Reviewer Tilt 7.5
Final Verdict: 75%
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Crowder - Neon Steeple

Reviewed by: Gregory Robson (06/01/14)
Crowder - Neon Steeple
Record Label: Sparrow/Sixstep
Release Date: May 27, 2014

Let’s face it, Christian music gets a bad rap. Be it Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys or the various offshoots of DC Talk, the torchbearers for the genre do little to entice the non-CCM crowd. David Crowder is hoping to change that.

After more than a decade with the band that bears his name, he’s forging a solo career, and much like Chris Daughtry and Carlos Santana, he’s using just his surname. His debut album, Neon Steeple (yes, that’s a paean to both Arcade Fire and his devout Christian faith) is a layered and rewarding work replete with meticulous production, bellowing vocals and deft instrumentation. Grand in its ambition and at least three songs too long, Neon Steeple is a cornucopia of vacillating sounds that often feel misplaced or forced. Heck, at least he gave it a shot.

The album opens with a 60 second intro that more or less serves as an introduction to Crowder, both the vocalist and the deeply spiritual songwriter. There’s a strong chance that if “Neon Intro” doesn’t pull you in, you’re probably going to dislike a good chunk of the disc. However, if you’re just looking for a quick, snappy cut to distract you from the minutiae of the day-to-day, “My Beloved” is a wobbly attempt to navigate both Americana and EDM, a tactic repeated by Crowder in various parts throughout the disc. Not surprisingly, the worst songs on the disc are when Crowder chases down this highly lofty goal. If “My Beloved” has a purpose, that is, to get you dancing, it serves that purpose quite well. Beyond that, it’s rather ridiculous.

It’s often said in music circles that you’re only as good as your single, and if that’s the case, then Crowder has quite a juggernaut in his back pocket. “I Am” is a titanic CCM-chart topper with a sweeping chorus, swelling instrumentation and the right kind of tonic for a bad day. Those who find self-affirming, buoyant anthems to be hokey might want to steer clear, but for those of us that do, welcome to the party. The dance-folk thing is reiterated in “Come Alive,” an effort that goes for the same vibe as “My Beloved” and pretty much achieves it. If there’s a market for this kind of thing, then awesome, if not, let’s hope Crowder is the last person to even attempt it.

Whether he wants to embrace it or not, Crowder’s biggest asset is his burly voice and because of its dynamic charisma, he doesn’t really have to do much with a song to make it engaging. As proof, dive into the sweetly melodic trappings of “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner.” That burly voice is perfectly suited for ballads so it should come as no surprise that the album’s first ballad, “Come As You Are,” is not only one of the album’s best, but also one of the best songs in the CCM arena so far this year. Timeless, tender and deeply thought-provoking “Come As You Are” is exactly the kind of song that could push Crowder beyond the CCM arena. As uncomfortable as it might be for many to embrace, Christian-themed music reaches people. There’s a very strong reason why artists like Patty Griffin and Tom Jones have recorded gospel-based albums. Christian themes speak to people. Brokenness, fragility and sin are things we battle with on a daily basis. David Crowder understand this and executes those themes masterfully in “Come As You Are.”

Whoever convinced the Texas-bred singer that his throaty vocals were a good match for EDM ought to be taken out back behind the wood shed and beaten severely. There’s probably a slew of fans who will eat this up (Family Force Five devotees mostly) but honestly, this is just wretched, wretched stuff.

On the contrary, the Hank Williams cover “Jesus is Calling” is first-rate alt-country with a lilting lap steel and some of Crowder’s best vocals to date. Ditto for “My Sweet Lord” a gorgeous ballad with Emmylou Harris that lingers long after the final listen. It is at this point that Crowder becomes firmly ensconced in his Americana wheelhouse and absolutely slays the rest of the way. “This I Know” is a ruminative acoustic effort that begins inward and immediate and envelops into something much richer and full., while “Ain’t No Grave” is folk balladry without flaw. And then, just when you thought Neon Steeple was hitting its stride, Crowder revisits the folk-dance mashup on “You Are,” which thankfully eschews all of the EDM trappings by the final 90 seconds and delivers what is sure to be a crowd favorite. Neon Steeple concludes with “Here’s My Heart,” a gorgeous, slow-moving folk masterpiece and “Steeple Outro,” an album epilogue in very much the same vein as the album’s prologue.

The benefits of Neon Steeple are many, however the album suffers from its grandiose ambitions. While Crowder may think it’s cool to bookend an album with both a prologue and an epilogue the entire idea is both hackneyed and banal. Additionally, weaving the age-old tapestries of Americana with the cringe-inducing textures of the more modern EDM is a short-sighted and frustrating ploy for a man who doesn’t really need to be pulling rabbits out of his hat. Had Crowder been content to craft an Americana album in the vein of The Lumineers or The Last Bison, he’d probably find himself an AOTY contender. Instead, for reasons only he can explain, he tried to marry two completely diverse genres into one cohesive piece. That decision is what buries Neon Steeple from staking its claim as one of CCM’s best albums of 2014. That being written, the album is chock full of first-tier cuts and those songs will probably be what keeps Crowder atop CCM charts heading into 2015. Whether or not songs like “I Am,” “Come As You Are” and “My Sweet Lord” reach other audiences is left to the fate of Crowder’s hired hands. Let's hope they pull it off. CCM needs a facelift and Crowder is just the guy to do it.

Recommended If You Like Needtobreathe, Third Day, Will Hoge, EDM


Tracklisting 1. Neon Intro
2. My Beloved
3. I Am
4. Come Alive
5. Lift Your Head Weary Sinner”
6. Come As You Are”
7. Hands of Love
8. Jesus is Calling
9. My Sweet Lord (featuring Emmylou Harris)
10. This I Know
11. Ain’t No Grave
12. You Are
13. Here’s My Heart
14. Steeple Outro

Produced by David Crowder and Ed Cash


Find Him Here http://CrowderMusic.com
 
Displaying posts 1 - 8 of 8
05:54 AM on 06/01/14
#2
Quijiba
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I want to like this but the lyrics are just a little too christian for me. I have no issue with christian music, but the lyrics read like a page of the bible to me
01:33 AM on 06/05/14
#3
Jamos4184
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My main issue with this album is that it's not really all THAT different from his previous work with David Crowder Band. I like it better than The Digital Age's (the other former DCB members) full-length from last year, although their "Rehearsals EP" is by far the best post-DCB release from either camp. Really looking forward to "Rehearsals 2" this year.
09:43 AM on 06/07/14
#4
jasonisafatty
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My main issue with this album is that it's not really all THAT different from his previous work with David Crowder Band. I like it better than The Digital Age's (the other former DCB members) full-length from last year, although their "Rehearsals EP" is by far the best post-DCB release from either camp. Really looking forward to "Rehearsals 2" this year.
The Digital Age's full length is way better then Crowder's album. Crowder has great lyrics, but the music is not as cool as The Digital Age.
12:39 PM on 06/07/14
#5
Jamos4184
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The Digital Age's full length is way better then Crowder's album. Crowder has great lyrics, but the music is not as cool as The Digital Age.
I don't know. I feel like Digital Age's full-length was way more in the CCM vein than "Rehearsals" was and very typical CCM, too. It's not a bad album by any means, I was just disappointed with it for how good the EP was.
08:03 PM on 06/09/14
#6
jasonisafatty
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I don't know. I feel like Digital Age's full-length was way more in the CCM vein than "Rehearsals" was and very typical CCM, too. It's not a bad album by any means, I was just disappointed with it for how good the EP was.
I liked that it stepped out of the box a little and had scream-ish vocals on a few tracks. They have a versions of Oceans from a new Rehearsals EP that;s insanely good.
03:51 PM on 06/10/14
#7
Jamos4184
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I liked that it stepped out of the box a little and had scream-ish vocals on a few tracks. They have a versions of Oceans from a new Rehearsals EP that;s insanely good.
Yeah, it's great! Can't wait for Rehearsals 2. I just wish the production for their albums would match the production of Rehearsals. I suppose they were going more for radio-friendly, though with the album.
05:52 PM on 06/10/14
#8
Gregory Robson
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Album is currently #9 on the Billboard Top 200. Quite an impressive feat for an "outsider."
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