On Twitter the other day I saw the opportunity to review Carolyn Arends‘ new album, Love Was Here First. Let’s just start with the understanding that she is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Lately I’ve been busy with so many things, from running the soundboard at church to websites and programming, and I’ve rarely stopped to just listen to new albums. This was a chance not to be missed.
I care because Carolyn Arends was one of my early inspirations for writing. Her first songs (from I Can Hear You) were jam-packed with goodness, lovable for their hooks (both melodic and lyrical) and for their clever presentations of insights. My wife and I dated to the tunes of Feel Free, so it’s always fun to check in with one of our favorite artists a little further on and see what life has brought both us and them.
I really like the musicianship on this album. Lots of hooks, Carolyn with her trademark voice and melodies, enjoyable and quirky production choices with everything from handclaps to brass band and beyond – and it works with very few exceptions. Every song brings something different, but they all have Carolyn’s familiar melody style in the mix. The album overall seems fairly subdued though.
Several songs have a gospel feel. She retains her folk and quirky way with words that first drew me in, though this album hews more traditional and simpler than her early albums. So much of her chosen topics match what I’m learning and relearning now, so maybe I need less cleverness and more living what I’ve already learned.
Standout tracks for me: Willing, Be Still, Something Out of Us, My Favourite Lie. I’ll stop there before I find reasons to list them all. Did I mention Willing? If you like Carolyn Arends, or christian folk, or thoughtful lyrics, give this album a listen. Better yet, give it several listens, this is definitely an album that grows stronger and deeper the more you listen.
Notes by song (or just go buy it and listen yourself):
Be Still – Great, bouncy start with solid lyrics. I’m glad this one is on first, it’s full of energy.
Standing In the Need of Prayer – Rework of a classic, but if you sung this growing up, I think you’ll like the plaintive version created here. The spirit of the original spiritual is captured fully here. If you are in the car, it’s ok to sing along.
My Favourite Lie – I really like the pace of the verse lyrics. She does it without getting breathless. I can’t explain it so much as just say that I really enjoy it.
Something Out of Us – brass/big band sound, initially thought maybe a little cheesy – but then a minute later caught myself bobbing my head, jamming, enjoying the happy, bouncy tune. Try to listen without whistling or humming along, I dare you.
Willing – This is the standout track for me. Artists have the freedom to say out loud with their songs things that we don’t always dare even think. Sometimes they succeed at capturing something that many people feel but don’t have words to express. This is one of those times, where the lyrics and the music will resonate deeply with almost anyone who stops to listen. A contemplative song steps out into the chorus willingly.
Roll It – funky production of a gospel song with lots of country thrown in. Fun, nothing really new here but if you like her style you’ll still enjoy it.
The Last Word – Slower song, but with a really strong chorus. I so love the message and mental picture – Love was here first. So good to remember this after being inundated with the news these days, all the pain and sadness and terrible things in our world. Love’s gonna have the last word.
According to Plan – slow, carries me along. Great unwinding music, really puts me at peace. Backing choir and vocals, electric guitars and strong licks give it a bigger feel than some of the other tracks.
Nothing Can Separate – Straightforward, nice melody. I liked the musical interlude on this as on many songs. I’m not a musician but I definitely enjoy the talent of the players on this album.
Never Say Goodbye – The instruments on this track are quite a departure, as is I guess the subject (dealing with someone’s parting). The melody and vocals are still the lovely, distinctly Carolyn, but the production kind of caught me off guard. It seemed to distract from the chorus for me. I’m going through this right now with someone in our church though, so this was a strange song to evaluate.
Love Was Here First is a mature outing. It is contemplative, and doesn’t feel the need to be clever in every turn of phrase. There are some great surprises, and the strong upward pull that excellent music has. I look forward to listening to this on repeat for awhile.
Full Disclosure: I was given the album in exchange for the review. The only request was for 200 words, a link to the album, and my honest, unbiased review, which I’ve tried to provide above. Not sure this disclosure is necessary but I admire transparency. I can’t write under 200 words anyway, ask just about anyone.