Reviewed by Bert Gangl
Come to the Well by Casting Crowns
Mark Hall and his companions return for their sixth studio album, which features more than a few welcome surprises.
During Casting Crowns’ Until the Whole World Hears tour in early 2010 lead singer Mark Hall related a humorous story about befuddled fans who would ask him why his group didn’t play their most famous hit, “I Can Only Imagine,” at their concerts. The aforementioned humor, of course, lies in the fact that the hugely successful single was a hit for fellow CCM artists MercyMe and not for Hall and his band mates. Whimsical though the account may be, it nonetheless hints at what has become an all-too-frequent critique of the lion’s share of the artists who inhabit the Christian Hit Radio Top 40: the fact that a good many of them are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
In their defense, Hall & Co. were among the progenitors of their now-familiar brand of radio-ready pop/worship music and the performers who sound like them could arguably be classified as followers rather than contemporaries. Be that as it may, many a newcomer to the inspirational pop genre would have a hard time distinguishing the bulk of their work from that of, say, MercyMe, Sanctus Real or Tenth Avenue North. The good news, for those who don’t mind the comparison, is that Come to the Well is chock full of slowly-swelling, prototypical mid-tempo pop/rock/worship anthems like “Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” “Wedding Day” and the now-ubiquitous leadoff single, “Courageous” – all of which sound as if they could have been pulled from any of the septet’s previous five albums. In fact, the bulk of the new effort finds the Crown cooperative sticking, for the most part, to the tried-and-true formula that helped make them one of the top-selling artists in Contemporary Christian Music history.
Perhaps sensing that, after a decade together, now is the time for a change, Hall and his cohorts shake things up a bit this time out. The slightly haunting, piano-driven “Already There,” which sounds a good bit like early Coldplay, is a decided, and welcome, side excursion away from the band’s signature lite pop/rock inclinations. The droning melody line of the bluegrass/folk/country hybrid, “Spirit Wind,” helps lend the nearly five minute track a likewise distinctive quality when compared to the bulk of the group’s back catalog. And the poignant storytelling of “Just Another Birthday,” which was co-written with country songwriter Tom Douglas, will undoubtedly strike a resonant chord with fans of Miranda Lambert’s exceptional country ballad, “The House That Built Me,” which Douglas also helped write.
Elsewhere, though, the seven piece makes an ill-advised foray into modern rock with “My Own Worst Enemy;” a clear case of form at the expense of substance. Similarly, the otherwise engaging Gospel flourishes that grace “The Well” are all but overwhelmed by the cut’s overly generic construction and lack of a memorable melody – traits shared by several other tracks on the project as well. And the lyrics to “Well” and “Angel,” which visits the all but threadbare theme of romantic love as salvation, score precious few points in the arena of insight or originality. That said, violinist Melodee DeVevo instills the tender ballad, “Face Down,” with the sort of sincere poignancy that can only come from having walked through the trials she sings about. The likewise unforced “So Far to Find You” perches Hall’s moving account of the adoption of his daughter, Meeka Hope, atop an absolutely beautiful melody for what turns out to be, far and away, the record’s most memorable moment.
In the final analysis, Come
to the Well sounds, for the most part, fairly similar to just about every
other Casting Crowns album. This news will,
of course, be welcomed (or not) in direct proportion the listener’s
love of the group’s previous material. That said, the band deserves
at least a degree of credit for their willingness to toy with what has
thus far been such a winning formula. There aren’t any instant classics
on the order of “Who Am I” or “Praise You in This Storm,” but
songs like “Face Down” and “So Far” are easily
as good as anything the band has ever written. And, taken as a whole, the
new record, in spite of its intermittent musical tangents – or perhaps
because of them – winds up being one of Hall and his cohorts’ most
cohesive, and impressive, releases to date.
Bert Gangl was formally introduced to the wonderful world of Christian music by his baby brother as the two were winding their way through Western Tennessee in the family automobile. Ever intent on proving that not all Christian artists were knock-offs of their mainstream counterparts, the younger Gangl duly inserted his newly-purchased copy of White Heart's Freedom into the waiting car tape player and the rest, as they say, is history. In the twenty years that have transpired since that time, Bert has amassed a sizeable CCM album collection of his own and has gone on to write reviews for a range of music-related sites including ChristRock , The Phantom Tollbooth, inReview and The All-Music Guide. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and daughter.