Album Review :
John Waller - Life Is A Gift

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Artist: John Waller
Title: Life is a Gift
Label: independent
Release Date: 2/4/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Life is a Gift
  2. I Know My God
  3. Love Has Spoken
  4. Crazy Faith
  5. Forgive Me
  6. Epic
  7. Orphan
  8. Rain
  9. Our Decree
  10. Your Word, My Life

‘…God always provides. He always comes through and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that God’s plan for each one our lives is not going to look like someone else’s. I’m an individual and unique and God has a unique plan for me. I’ve had to learn to not compare myself to someone else and it’s hard not to do that especially in this industry.  You want to measure your success by what you see others doing. I’ve learned that I’ve had to let that go and know that I am successful, but I’m successful by God’s standard and not by man…’ Since signing to Reunion Records in 2007, singer-songwriter John Waller’s music career has been able to lead to hits, powerful songs and moments where songs were able to minister and heal people who have listened to his music. With his song ‘While I’m Waiting’ appearing in its entirety in the 2008 film Fireproof starring Kirk Cameron, John’s passion for the church and delivering songs that can bring listeners hope and a closeness with God has been evident in his music, and with hits like ‘Still Calls Me Son’, ‘While I’m Waiting’ and ‘As for Me And My House’, it’s no wonder that his ability to craft melodies of hope has given him quite a number of accolades over the years (namely, his music video of the year nomination for ‘As for Me And My House’, up against videos from artists like Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Hawk Nelson, Chris August and Chris Tomlin). Now with virtually no promotion on social media leading up to his newest album release, John Waller’s fourth album, Life is a Gift, released in the first week of February (on the same day as albums from City Harbor and Anthem Lights). Yet despite this lack of marketing and promotion on his album, this collection of ten songs has been some of the most personal and heartfelt melodies I’ve heard for this year so far, possibly even tying Casting Crowns’s Thrive as my favourite album of 2014 so far. With John’s heart for adoption and orphans (and with him being a father of nine), the theme of caring for those less fortunate runs through the backbone of these melodies, and the notion that as God adopts us into His family, we ought to be the hands and feet of Christ, and adopt, if not help in any way we can, the people who need it the most. From the emotional ‘Orphan’ to the powerful anthem in the title track, and the compelling ‘Crazy Faith’; every one of these songs showcase a small glimpse into the Father’s heart for His children. With country, pop, CCM, worship and acoustic all fused and rolled into a single album; John’s ability to write from a place of being known, loved and adopted by the King is something that will continue to fuel this album and John himself towards heights as he gives us perspective, understanding, and hope that we are all adopted and called sons and daughters of God!

The only time I ever heard that John was writing and releasing new music was his announcement of releasing the ‘Orphan’ music video late last year (‘Orphan’ officially debuted in early February 2014). With virtually nothing being discussed about the album between then and now, it was when the video debuted last week (that actually corresponded to the album release date) that I realised that a new John Waller album was actually out, and much earlier that I thought it was going to be released. ‘Orphan’, a melody about being adopted by God and understanding that there are indeed more orphans in the world than there needs to be, is a song that’ll hopefully spark listeners to play their own part in ridding the world of children who don’t have fathers and mothers (or at least father and mother figures), and whether it is by sponsoring children, or even adopting them or setting up a foster home, John invites us all to listen to the truth of how ‘…Jesus hears the orphan, He is moving heaven and earth, all for one little girl, I heard Jesus calling, “Will you go and rescue her?” All for one little girl, little did she know…we were coming, cause Jesus hears the orphan…’ Moving and emotional, and maybe even a little uncomfortable for some listeners as they hear the openness in which John delivers the song, we are sent down the gauntlet- doing whatever we can to help children without any parents, even if it means to open up our own families and the comfort we so often cling to, all for at least one less child without a home and without someone to love them. Piano and vocally based, ‘Orphan’ is certainly going to be one of John’s all-time hits in the future, and despite the overall attack on our own comfortableness while others around us aren’t living to the standards we are, the song will hopefully give us courage to stand tall and encourage others (or even ourselves) as we care for the orphans in the ways God prompts us to.

Starting off the album with ‘Life is a Gift’, the title track, John presents to us a song that, along with ‘Orphan’, anchors the album musically, lyrically, sonically and thematically, as through the light piano introduction, we are met with the notion that the lives we lead are a gift given to us- and every experience that we have is an opportunity for us to give God thanks for the breath in us. This song title (and sometimes proverb) can seem cliché, but sometimes the cliché can be the truest. As John starts singing and provides us with the comfort that ‘…every breath is a kiss from above, every rising sun is an act of love, life is a gift…’, we are able to understand that it is in the little things of life- the mundane week or even the trials that we face, that can show us that God is with us in this life, and what we experience is a testament to God’s faithfulness, with life being the ultimate gift God gave, and is continually giving, to us. With a country twang in his voice, John uses creation as a mark for us to wonder, looking around at God’s majesty and being in awe at how our lives and what we do can sometimes be down to God-ordained. A gift is not earned, and all we have to do is just accept life- both before the grave and beyond it. With electric guitars and John’s enthusiasm, this is a song that reminds us of what we do not deserve, but freely receive because of God’s unending love. ‘Epic’, another standout song that’s certainly of epic proportions, musically, lyrically and anthemically, John uses electric guitars and gang vocals to highlight the grandiose nature of God, and then further proclaim His goodness in the words ‘…when I survey the world you have made, I lift my voice, You are epic in glory, how awesome in power, galaxies sing majesty and I will join them…’ A song meant to be sung in chorus with other believers, this one for the church is certain to be a bold proclamation as we join, both in the home setting and with fellow believers in communion with each other, to proclaim God’s epicness. Not overdoing it on the guitars, it is the drums and John’s distinct voice that make ‘Epic’ one of my favourite John Waller songs since ‘Somebody Else’s Story’. Well done John for both ‘Epic’ and ‘Life is a Gift’, some of my personal standouts on what I think is one of John’s best albums to date (almost as good as his 2009 album While I’m Waiting).

With hand claps and whistles, ‘I Know My God’ develops into a song about assurance and certainty as we see John powerfully assert that ‘…when it seems like I’m am undone, when it looks like there’s no way, and the lies come like a flood, oh I know my God…’, inviting listeners to believe this truth just as much as John himself. Standing at a formidable length of nearly five minutes, we are able to hear a unique array of instruments, from electronic keyboards, strong bass guitar and John’s ever-present choir that has been present in many of his songs previously. With pulsating drums, John cries out that He knows His God, and that even during times when we don’t think He’ll save us, He still does. Simple but equally profound, we hear that ‘…I know my God and He won’t delay…’, and allowing us to at least trust in His timing above ours. ‘Crazy Faith’ delves upon the topic of faith, and how sometimes we are asked to do crazy things (by our standards) but not crazy to God. With acoustic guitars, the lyrics are exemplified as John invites us to believe in a faith that is crazy- because once we release our own ideas and preconceptions of what we think God should be or should do, we can trust and understand that what may sound or seem crazy now, can be something that God has intended for us all along. The chorus of John encouraging us to ‘…take crazy faith, so what if it cost everything? I’m stepping out, I’m taking a leap of crazy faith…’, is something for us to ponder and consider as we each take stock of our lives so far, and what may seem crazy to us or to those around us, may be of perfect sense to the one leading our steps. ‘Our Decree’, recorded in 2012 with Big Daddy Weave frontman Mike Weaver, is a song first and foremost for Americans who want to stand up and preserve the Christian heritage of the nation, and while I myself am not American, I can see myself singing along (replacing the word ‘America’ with ‘Australia’ of course). A song about unity, freedom, and declaring God’s name and worth over the country that we reside in, I can tell that this song is destined to become what ‘America Again’ by Carman was during the 1990s- an anthem for change, a hope for motivation and encouragement as we try to change, and the acknowledgement that God rules over the countries we live in, regardless who lives in power. John’s duet with Mike is nothing short of powerful, and I’m almost certain that this song will make it on Big Daddy Weave’s latest album Love Come to Life: Redeemed Edition, slated to release later on during 2014.

John’s voice is almost unrecognisable on ‘Love Has Spoken’, a country inspired melody that emphasises a country twang on the music and on John’s voice. While I’m not sure of John’s ability to put on a Southern accent, the song does place a pleasant idea on what country music is- songs that emphasise on life, love, and hope as the rhythmic melody leads us into head bopping and dancing, while John reminds us that love, and more specifically, God’s love, has spoken His name over us, and that ‘…God is in this heaven now, and I will soon be in the ground, but death will never hold me down…’ A song to tap your toes to, ‘Love Has Spoken’, while it may seem the odd song out, is a welcomed change and a glimpse into another genre that John can delve into. Turning a 180° to deliver acoustically driven songs in ‘Forgive Me’ and ‘Your Word, My Life’; John uses these songs as catalysts for personal reflection, with ‘Forgive Me’ being a humble confession to God for forgiveness for all the things he has said, but didn’t do; while ‘Your Word, My Life’, a duet between himself and his sister Laura Waller-Smith, is a melody that gives us confidence and security of who we are in Christ. The crescendo of the guitars and drums brings along with it a riveting bridge, with John declaring that ‘…Jesus You’re the Word, and the Word is living, Jesus You’re the Word, and the Word is life…’, emphasising the words ‘living’ and ‘life’, and how people can be alive, but not fully living. This song takes me back to the passage in John where Jesus tells His disciples that He has come to give life, and give it abundantly. A song that emphasises the life we have in Christ is a great song to end the album with. Well done John and sister Laura, for such an emotional and compelling album closer.

Overall: John Waller’s fourth album is possibly one of my favourite albums from an indie artist (even though John started off as signed) since The Sonflowerz’s Love Walked In, possibly my favourite full length album from an indie artist since Red Roots’s Triplicity. With heartfelt lyrics and emotional topics to be sung about, John’s heart for mission, family, adoption and hope, all come through in each of his ten songs on Life is A Gift. Whatever genre of music you enjoy, John Waller’s new album is indeed going to be a unique one, with elements of pop, CCM, country and stripped down acoustic weaving its way into the corners of each track. Despite its lack of promotion, this album has quickly arisen to be one of my favourite albums of the year so far. With standout songs like ‘Orphan’, ‘I Know My God’, ‘Epic’ and the title track, this is an album that I’m going to be recommending to anyone who wants a recommendation or wants to listen to new music. Well done John for such an enjoyable album, and one that’ll hopefully convict myself to live a life God wants for me, throughout the rest of 2014!

RIYL: Steven Curtis Chapman, Josh Wilson, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Peter Furler

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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