Review Summary: Open my hands and give You control.
“And we know that for those that love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” -Romans 8:28
This verse doesn’t necessarily relate explicitly to this album by Tenth Avenue North, but the truth contained in that short verse has summed up adequately a common theme that runs throughout the album. Giving up control and trusting that God is. From the opening refrain of Matt Donehey singing he doesn’t want to be afraid anymore like he was before, to the hope he has in his soul, and to the actual track entitled “control”, much of this record speaks to me of the struggle of giving up control to have faith instead.
I must confess, this is the third time I have tried to write this review, the first time was last May, still in the beginnings of the global pandemic that had sent me home from college. I was about a month past a breakup and listening to this record, I realized that I had to give up control over my life, over past circumstances, and over the end of that relationship. I have as much control over that as I do over the way that the wind blows. I ended up not finishing that review then, and tried to write it again in November, and tried to write about the narrative of CCM music and how Tenth Avenue North had succeeded in making a good CCM record. Now, I sit here a few days into a New Year, a few weeks after finding out that former significant other is now engaged to someone else, ripping open a scar that had just recently begun to truly heal. But right now I am hopeful. As for most, this past year was hard, beyond just that relationship and the pandemic, our family lost our dog unexpectedly to cancer, and I went through a long season of doubt and questioning of my faith, while wrestling with the uncertainty of my future. Through it all, I kept clinging to that faith and that promise in Romans, even when the doubts, the questions, and the anxiety were screaming bloody murder. And now, listening to this album again, it is refreshing to hear them sing lines like, “I could never outrun your presence,” or “you could never fall that far,” as he does in sparrow. It reminds me of promises to remind myself of and of hope that is not lost. I didn’t listen to this album consistently through the trials, but it still rings true in all the circumstances the past year, and that is why this album to me exceeds expectations in a CCM marketing that is sadly flooded with mediocrity. Musically, there really isn’t anything here that`s crazy innovative, but it is definitely enjoyable and fun. The lyrics are what really separates this from the pack though. I could spend the rest of the review writing about various lines, many new ones popping up as I re-listen again. This is what a proper CCM record should be like in terms of lyrical depth, that goes beyond the overused cliches and themes that usually dominate the scene. As mentioned above, control is a big one, speaking truth to the fact that God doesn’t need us, but wants us. He frees us to give up control of our lives and trust Him to lead us to something better in the end. Donehey sings in the second verse of the song that he had things he had hoped in fall through his hands. I know that feeling and I suspect we all do. That hope may be in a career or what the future looks like, or in the prospect and possibility of a relationship that ended suddenly. In the end, I guess it took not having control to realize that I needed to give up the control I thought I possessed in favor of faith and trust.
The true standout however is the album closer “I Confess.” Here Donehey gets pretty real, a breath of fresh air in a genre stuck in generalities. Whereas most songs might be content to say that there was a trial, a struggle, a temptation, Donehey straight up admits that he looked and looks for life outside of God. This admission of idolatry and the honesty is helpful in that we now see him as just a man, not necessarily the leader of a Christian group or worship band, but as a man with flaws and shortcomings. Many artists outside of Christian music are willing to do these and often bluntly state their flaws, and for some unfathomable reason it`s hard to understand why Christians, who willingly admit to sin don’t always honestly confront their sin like this. I think that most artists and people generally gravitate to those that they can relate to, whether that be through good or bad themes, we can relate to someone who is singing about something we have firsthand experience with. I don’t say this to glorify any sins or wrongdoings, but to respect the honesty in a music scene that shouldn`t be afraid to be brutally honest. Many artists in other bands with Christian roots such as My Epic, to name just one, openly confront their demons and this authenticity makes me want to listen further and is relatable in such a profound way that gives me peace, assurance, and even encouragement in my own faith that I am not the only person to struggle with a particular vice or question or doubt (Go check out Lashes by My Epic if you want to know what I`m talking about) Long story short, Tenth Avenue North have made an album that is somewhat of an anomaly for the current Christian markets of the day. The music is good and entertaining rather than dull and boring, and the lyrics actually provide sound truth and insight that make you go further and deeper in a way that most CCM doesn`t. And with all that said, I have hope for this specific genre, I see some artists rising up that are taking strides lyrically and musically to create authentic music with heartfelt lyrics that speak to the life of fellow believers, and hopefully this isn’t the last time we see and are able to celebrate it.
So, did I do it, nearly 8 months later, did I give up control and surrender it all to the Lord? I’d like to say and think yes, but it’s a daily battle, one where I have finally seen that the result of all that struggle that last few years has been strengthening though at times it felt crippling. But I return to the promise in Romans 8:28 to remember it is much better to surrender my feeble will and control to something much better. And when I do falter and look for life outside of where I should, I know that confession and repentance lead me on the way back home to true joy and that no matter what happens if 2021 is even worse than 2020 (Though my struggles may be tame compared to others), that He is working that together for good as well.