Three years ago, after the release of their album Followers, Tenth Avenue North looked to be on the brink of a breakup. A brutal touring schedule, a loss of commercial relevance, and a wandering of purpose led the boys to reconsider their vocational identity. Then I Have This Hope and Control peaked on the Billboard charts. They dramatically reduced their touring schedule. They wrote and released an EP that pushed the boundaries of CCM. No Shame marks a new season in the band’s life – one of maturity, refreshment, and passion. It also coincides with frontman Mike Donehey’s first (official) book launch. Click through to read reviews of both of these projects.
Track 1: Intro – In foot with their groundbreaking EP, opening an album with a spoken intro pushes through the expectations we typically hold for CCM artists. It’s great to expose listeners who may not have seen TAN live to Donehey’s conversational preaching, while introducing the world to the concept behind the music. No doubt a good tool for recruiting readers for his debut as well.
Track 2: No Shame (Feat. The Young Escape) – The increasing directional turn Tenth has taken towards a more pop-infused sound (no doubt aided by Owen’s increased producer role) the female-infused track echos mainstream DJ trends. The smooth melody of synth sounds makes this a smooth and simple bop that’s great music and a great message.
Track 3: Heaven is Now – Echoing the lyrical message in All The Earth is Holy Ground off the album Cathedral, the band reminds listeners that heaven (and so-called “kingdom culture) is not a far-off goal, but something we participate in today. The track is relatively weak musically (the y on the “me” line is grating, the lyrics feel predictable and ordinary, and the melody is expected and tired). The bridge, however, begins energetic and showcases Tenth’s true talent. It ends with a strange energy and the change is a bit jarring. The outro is a nice amount of overwhelming, though, and fades well into
Track 4: Someone to Talk To – A mild, mainstream-friendly relational partner to the EP’s I’m Listening, Tenth takes on church culture. It reminds me of the driving force behind Church Clarity – a powerful movement to put honesty back in the heart of church life. The best part comes in the second verse as you hear Mike’s genuine anguish as he trades singing for a echoing cry. The bridge is simple and powerful. While not a breakout musically, the lyrics are powerful, true, and necessary for a generation leaving the church in mass.
Track 5: A Phone Call – Like the intro, this inclusion makes No Shame a concept album that forces a conversation with the listener into the genuine heart of the band. Mike retains his (absolutely genuine, I can attest) persona as a real person doing ministry for ministry’s sake.
Track 6: Greater Than All My Regrets – This previously released piano ballad builds a tear-jerker perfected by years in the industry. Thematically, it maintains the flow of desperation built over the past two tracks. The melody moves in surprising and nuanced ways, playing with pitch and expectation. This is a knockout in every sense of the word.
Track 7: The Future – As the listener heads from past to future, the mood gets even more mainstream. A simple guitar pluck feels like something you’d get on any radio station in America. Snaps (which have become Owen’s favorite layer to add) are in full swing here. Vocal ooo’s (Mike’s new favorite, as heard on Paranoia) layer nicely over it all. The lyrics are smooth and cements the album as an easy-groove album. It handles its subject matter – uncertainty – with certainty.
Track 8: Paranoia – Full on fun has arrived as one of the album’s singles arrives in its slated position. The lyrics are simple, predictable and a bit too vague for the band’s iconic storytelling ability. Further, after The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say, it feels dangerously safe for a song claiming “free at last” as the dream. It’s incredibly college-juvenile writing. However, the mix is fun and perfect. It’s a shame the message couldn’t have been equal to the task.
Track 9: Reaching – The fun hasn’t left the building with these nostalgic disco track. It feels a bit Bruno Mars-y. It’s a sure fire dance track. The lyrics are a bit predictable but fitting for a song so fun. The trumpets add a wonderful atmosphere of grandeur and swing. A rally cry for hope, this is one of the album’s biggest assets. Groovy and inspirational, it’ll be a winner no matter the listener.
Track 10: Call My Name – We return to a more juvenile rhyme scheme but couple with a track that knows its role as the commander of theme. This is best seen in the break before the first chorus. And, while it grooves, it doesn’t add anything of substantive value to the album. The repetition, however, solidifies the simplicity of the message, and in turn, its power.
Track 11: Space to Speak – A dramatic shift in tone and space, it feels this would fit best somewhere around track 6 or 5. However, the piano ballad, aided by a subtle female harmony, feels holy. It’s a wonderful centering for both band and listener. It doesn’t ask for much but gives plenty in return. Leaning into the grace of simplicity is perhaps one of Tenth’s greatest strengths, and their passion is laid bare on the floor on this one. This will be the best one to see live.
Track 12: Always Been You – A final lift before the goodbye, this song starts energetically mellow. The opening line “Where can I go with all of my sadness?” seems to summarize the album’s original question that led to the answer of shedding one’s shame. The lyrics are simple and powerful. The melody boarders elevator music but it wouldn’t be a bad ride to the top floor.
It feels like, with an intro and an interlude, it needs a spoken outro and it’s a curiously bad choice to exclude one. Overall, though, the album is beautiful, necessary, and a full thrust into new territory for the band.
No Shame is out now, wherever you get your music.
Finding God’s Life for My Will by Mike Donehey
Having been to nearly every Tenth Avenue North concert in Colorado since I was about 12, I was obviously going to do whatever it took to read this book as soon as possible. There aren’t a ton of surprises in store for those familiar with Mike Donehey. This book has his signature humor, wisdom, and heart. His book is part memoir – both as a person and as a band-member – and part devotional, calling the reader to a reorientation of Christianity and calling.
What if, instead of thinking we had something great to offer God, we began to fully live as though God has something great to offer us?Finding God’s Life for My Will shuns conventional wisdom of how we think about our life and offers a more holistic way to feel about ourselves. He addresses not just our calling, but our shame and our secrets, our love and our deepest fears. And, unlike some writers, doesn’t just offer a formula, but backs it up with tales from his own life. There are plenty of Easter eggs for Tenth Avenue North fans, secret revelations behind the band’s songs, but there’s also an abundance of heart and humor for those who have never heard of Mike or the band he sings in.
Mike is a delightful, compelling, and original narrator. Reading his new stories as well as his old is a true gift and treasure. Several stories or thoughts in this book have been discussed in his other texts or in concert, but even the tired ones have new life breathed into them in this edition. Whatever you’re looking for in a Christian-life book – marriage advice, vocation, mission-work, theology, Bible stories – there’s something in there for you. I’m hoping that an audiobook will be released so that I can read this again with Mike’s voice narrating. Mike Donehey is a gift to all of us, and I’m glad to call him pastor, friend, and favorite artist all in one.
Finding God’s Life for My Will will be available wherever you get your books beginning Tuesday, August 6th.
Bryce’s debut collection can be purchased here. 25% of the profits go to organizations like RAINN, 1in6, and End The Backlog. He writes short stories for free here. Support him by purchasing your next book through this special link and get FREE worldwide shipping.
* Bryce is a member of Finding God’s Life for my Will book launch team and an ARC review was provided in exchange for reviews.
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