Crowder — back again for the first time — sets himself apart from the cookie-cutter worship leaders with a fresh, relevant and innovative debut release, Neon Steeple. In a time when most worship music stops at the cross, his first album as a solo artist boasts about its redemption. This album is about life after salvation; its catchy melodies carry the freedom that song brings.
When I heard that Crowder’s solo project was going to be classified as “folktronica,” I was genuinely interested to hear it. What folktronica turns out to be is basically the same thing Crowder has been doing since Can You Hear Us? but with more banjo. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; he’s been doing elements of this for the bulk of his career. And, as they say, practice makes perfect.
You can always expect Crowder’s albums to have a structure and a direction. They’re like a church service: you know exactly what you’re getting into at the beginning and you know how it’s going to end. This album starts out like every Crowder album, with a quiet song to set the tone. Strangely enough, “Neon Intro” isn’t a prayer, but more like the mutterings of a town drunk who’s wandered into a revival. And then it kicks into the high energy “My Beloved” and “I Am,” leading into “Come Alive,” which will be most electronic track on Neon Steeple. It even has a pseudo-dubstep breakdown.
Don’t break out the glowsticks just yet. What I was not expecting was the Bon Jovi-inspired, arena-rock worship in “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains).” Layered on top of a Johnny Cash-styled riff, this song takes off and makes you want to do straight-armed, overhead hand claps. Crowder also received the coveted stamp of Nashville approval in being joined by Emmylou Harris on “My Sweet Lord.” (The only greater honor in Nashville is seeing Dolly Parton’s tattoos.)
Neon Steeple closes as quietly as it started, but no more drunken confusion — just peacefully and with grace. If Neon Steeple is any indication of where Crowder is taking us, then we’re in for an interesting ride.