Thank God for Crowder. In a musical landscape in which artists of a faith-based persuasion find themselves typically, and sometimes appropriately, pigeonholed, the eclectic artistry of this wild-eyed Texan consistently brings something new to the table, evolving with each outing. And on his sophomore solo effort, American Prodigal, he does just that, building on the best of Neon Steeple and pressing forward into something new, vibrant, and exciting.
While his solo debut boasted a sound self-described as “folktronica,” this time out the artist describes his sound as “swamp pop” and it’s fitting as he continues to fuse together elements of folk and Americana alongside healthy doses of pop and rock. In short, if you dug tracks like Crowder’s hit “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains),” then you’re gonna love this record.
The plaintive “American Intro” leads things off, setting the tone with a soulful vocal from Crowder while seguing into the rich percussions and bright banjo of “Keep Me,” which showcases some hip-hop flavored flows from the artist which really deliver. The album’s lead single, “Run Devil Run,” follows and is a playful, energetic jam whose pedal steel runs rock while “My Victory” finds its footing with the worshipful lyric, “The cross meant to kill is my victory.”
“Prove It” is a rousing rock-country fusion which gains life with a guest spot from Reach Records artist, KB, whose rhymes flow with ease before giving way to the high energy chorus of “All You Burdens.” A plodding piano line, haunting drums, and a simmering guitar line color in the lines of “Back to the Garden” which highlights Crowder’s oftentimes overlooked vocal prowess and make this a must listen as “Forgiven” delivers radio ready hope and encouragement that is no less powerful.
Big organic percussion and plucky banjo fuel “Promised Land (Glory Hallelujah),” which also boasts a guest vocal from Tedashii, a contribution that takes the track to the next level. That energy leads to “All My Hope,” another standout track that paints Crowder in a new light, this time as a country-tinged gospel song leader, his lyric powerful and his delivery rich and heartfelt. That tender moment is followed by the handclaps and foot stomps of the appropriately titled “Shouting Grounds,’ with soaring guitars and killer grooves while “Shepherd” fuses folk and pop together effortlessly into a radio ready gem. With an almost hymn-like verse of praise, “All We Sinners” provides the emotional and spiritual conclusion to the theme, celebrating that “We are saved!” before the standard record closes out with the experimental tones of “American Outro.”
Fans that stop there and simply purchase the standard package will have nothing to complain about but the Deluxe Edition boasts and extra three songs and, well, this is Crowder we’re talking about right? Why wouldn’t you want those tracks? And let us assure you, if you drop the extra bit of money, it’ll be money well spent.
The best of the three bonus tracks is the lyrically powerful “Praise the Lord.” A track that is surprising in ways, Crowder harnesses a subtle guitar line to declare lyrics that alternately admit doubt alongside faith and hope, offering up compelling lines like “I don’t think everybody’s right/I think we often get it wrong” against “I think that when we get to heaven/We’re gonna laugh when we can see/How hard we tried to make it/And how easy it should be.” They’re not simple sentiments and almost swim against the tide of the usual CCM party line and that’s the beauty of their inclusion here.
“Great Rejoicing” takes the edge off of the prior track with bright, pop energy and soaring vocals of praise while the closing track, “American I/O” fuses together his opening and closing moments with some solid help from BT.
Crowder’s American Prodigal is a breath of fresh air, bringing creative, unique compositions to bear alongside a lyrical palette that deals honestly with issues of faith, sin, doubt, and more. The concluding package is an album that is one of the year’s best and will be spinning in this reviewer’s mix for a long time to come.