"Come As You Are" is David Crowder's best song in years. His voice soars above a pump organ as he sings about being healed by the work of the Cross. It's weepy and joyous at the same time, matching most recent Nashville country ballads note for note. On "Hands Of Love," you have a choice: you can either jump in place like hipsters at a Hillsong United concert or you can knee-slap with a neighbor. It's a total barnfest.
That said, Neon Steeple does run aground on a few tracks. "Jesus Is Calling" could have been the B-side to a Johnny Cash album circa 1983. "You Are" should probably not have used Chris Tomlin's synth progression from "God's Great Dance Floor." True folk music requires a unique spin to be effective (what you might call the Wilco treatment) and Crowder as a band rarely hits the mark set by bands like The Head and The Heart or Of Monsters And Men, with their multi-part harmonies and horn sections.
Still, it's an impressive reemergence. An aching duet with Emmylou Harris on "My Sweet Lord" comes late on the album, and it's a saving grace. The song "Here's My Heart," with its fine finger-picking and intricate soul-baring, could work at either a funeral or a wedding. On this song, at least, the band lays down the stumpf-fiddle and encourages communal participation. We need to sing this song in churches that have worn out their CCLI license on Chris Tomlin and Jeremy Camp songs.
And that's the big win from this album: you won't mistake it for the new Passion Conference album (also out this spring). Let Arcade Fire keep their corner on swirling electric guitar parts. Christian worship should explore ancient early church rituals and go hog-wild with Hank Williams, Sr., at the same time. Crowder's ready to lead us there.
John Brandon is a guitarist, father of four (plus one son-in-law), husband, self-proclaimed techie, and budding cyclo-cross racer.
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