The opening four bars of Jimmy Needham’s fourth album on InPop Records sound like any other American pop artist. But a surprise is in store as a funky guitar riff kicks in, shattering all preconceptions.
Hailing from Houston, Texas the 26 year old has been making music since his independently released 2005 debut For Freedom.
But new album, Clear the Stage marks a new direction for the singer songwriter. The opening track, I Will Find You, grabs you as soon as the tight drum fills, solid bass line and plenty of interesting guitar parts kick in.
It’s an excellent start and Lecrae’s passionate rap halfway through only adds to the greatness of the song.
Jimmy says the second track, If Ever I Needed Grace was written at “the eleventh hour”. Going into the studio with unfinished songs and a new producer at a time when Jimmy had just become a father led to a sense of inadequacy.
Reflecting back, Jimmy says: “Nothing has proven to demonstrate my inadequacy like fatherhood and leading a family. I remember praying, ‘If I ever needed grace, God, it’s now.’”
“It was awesome to take steps of faith and lean on God throughout this record, and to see Him come through in big ways over and over again.”
It’s an emotional song where Jimmy admits his inabilities and cries out to God for help. While the lyrics are faultless, musically it’s a long way away from the initial brilliance of I Will Find You.
Third track, Daddy’s Baby Girl could be a Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz cover. “I think I’m love, she’s three foot three, eyes blue and green I just can’t get enough”, he sings. It's a sweet song but the transition to a happy, acoustic, summery song about his daughter is far from smooth.
Stay is a beautiful duet about running away to “the place where my fears have no voice at all”. The acoustic guitar riff is complex, Jimmy’s voice is gentle and the string section is subtle.
Like many of Jimmy’s songs, In The Middle is easy to sing along with and engage with, but it’s the seventh track Arrows that really stands out. The song has a slow funk feel similar to Maroon 5. Minimalist instrumentation means that Jimmy’s voice shines through. It’s a wonderful mixture of soul, pop and R&B.
Sadly, only a little over half the album stands out. There’s a few too many mediocre songs to make this a must-have recording. From a musical point of view, Victory and Rock Bottom are so average they're barely worth mentioning. There is some diversity, but Jimmy will have to include more than a couple of acoustic tracks and a 30 second rap to for Clear The Stage to be labeled ‘eclectic’.
Nevertheless, both of the bookends of the album are exceptional. Whether you're listening to the the funky opening track, or the serious finale, both are very enjoyable pieces of music.
Final track, Clear The Stage is a piano led ballad about... idolotary. "You can sing all you want to and still get it wrong / Worship is more than a song" Jimmy proclaims. The singer songwriter has used his final song to deal with a weighty issue. Hard hitting and challenging, the song tells the listener to: "Clear the stage / Make some space for the one who deserves it".
The song builds into a powerful bridge: "Anything I put before my God is an idol / Anything I want with all my heart is an idol / Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol / Anything that I give my love is an idol"
The album finishes with the words: "Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze if that's the measure you must take to crush the idols". It's a message which is both powerful and unusual. If you're looking for a rousing, joyful send off at the end of this album you'll be disappointed.
With 10 tracks clocking in at less than 40 minutes, Clear The Stage is a little on the short side. Fans of Royal Tailor, Mat Kearney and Kari Jobe will most likely appreciate Jimmy's effort, just don’t expect this album to be quite as great as any of those artists releases.
Rating: 7 out of 10
March 29th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes