By Jenna DeWitt
Shawn McDonald is back on the Christian music radar with his new album “Closer.” The album releases March 11 on EMI’s Sparrow Records. Though the songs are very personal for McDonald (he wrote or contributed to all of them), he shares songwriting credits with other award-winning writers such as Brandon Heath, Joy Williams, Ben Glover and Josh Garrels.
The whole album is fresh, but comfortable, starting with “Better Way.” The first track is TobyMac-esque and funky, perhaps an influence of producer Christopher Stevens who has worked with both artists.
McDonald’s passion to go deeper spiritually resounds throughout the album, but is summed up in “Closer.” McDonald’s radio hit single is catchy, even after much airplay. The keyboard and strings serve as solid foundations for poignant harmonies.
“I wrote this song, and a lot of these songs, when I was in a rough place,” McDonald wrote in the album’s song-by-song descriptions. “This is just my own desperation bleeding out.”
“Something Real” expresses a desire that is being vocalized through the nation’s churches: to experience something life-giving and relationship-based besides dead traditions and passive religion. McDonald declares through his raw and honest melody that the missing element is love.
“Don’t Give Up” is the album’s slower, but hope-giving, ballad. It is thematically powerful, but with a quiet determination. “I’ve come too far/I’ve seen so much/I’ve heard the call/I’ve felt the touch/I’ve tasted love” McDonald witnesses as he urges listeners not to give up on life.
“Eyes Forward” brings back the funky groove, but in a more toned-down way so it is less of a party song and more of a Mat Kearney-style understated coolness. Though the song is about spiritual warfare, McDonald approaches it with understanding that though the darkness is present, the battle is not lost.
Musically and thematically, “Storms” is a bit cliché for CCM, but likely only MercyMe fans might find it noticeable. Otherwise it reflects the dark times McDonald has been experiencing since his last release. “It was like [God] allowed things to crumble just so He could rebuild it all,” McDonald said in a news release. “God has redeemed me, and He is healing my heart. So I hope this record can be a redemption story for people; that God can use it to speak and bring hope. Because that’s what He’s done for me.”
There is much repetition within the songs, which will make them memorable, create earworms and allow audiences to sing them. However, this is risky as it may also make them seem older, more tired and overplayed over time.
Though there are many musical references to other artists, there is an element that is distinctly McDonald in each song that has been absent from the Christian music scene since his last recording in 2008. Welcome back, Shawn McDonald. CCM has missed you.