Jimmy's Best Effort To Date | Posted March 19, 2012 Staff Reviewer
A few years back, my church had the pleasure of hosting Jimmy Needham in concert. I ended up helping out at his merchandise table that night and embarrassingly felt unqualified--seeing as I hardly knew any of his songs other than the few I’d heard on the radio. Little did I know I’d be schooled by a legion of diehard fans that night telling me just how amazing his heart for ministry was. As I interacted with the people who knew his music and peeked inside to see some of the show, it didn’t take me very long to see how right they were. He instantly won me over.
That was nearly three years ago, and while much has changed since then, Needham’s heart for the music he creates hasn’t. He found a great deal of success with his 2010 album, Nightlights--featuring the popular song “Grace Amazing” with Trip Lee. Fans were eager to hear how he was going to follow it up, especially since the singer--who openly wears his heart on his sleeve--has experienced so much since its release, personally speaking.
"All of the facets of my personal life keep leading me to an expanding view of Christ,” he explains. “In every way I attempt to navigate life, my only satisfaction--the only true answers--will be found in Christ.”
Known for his eclectic mix of blue-eyed soul and groove-driven pop, his latest effort, Clear The Stage, comes as his most musically diverse and lyrically vulnerable project to date.
“I hope that I’ve changed since the last record, but I know I have. I’m more aware of my desperate need for Jesus in everything that I do. In every circumstance that’s thrown my way. The most important takeaway that anyone can get from this record is to see Jesus as so satisfying, that every other pursuit or effort to make our lives better seems dull compared to life in His presence.”
Starting this album off with a bang is the funky and irresistibly infectious “I Will Find You,” featuring a stunning guest rap from GRAMMY Award-nominated Christian hip hop phenomenon, Lecrae. The song, which talks about our need for a savior, is quite possibly his best song to date and has enough mainstream appeal to reach beyond the faith-based audience.
“If I Ever Needed Grace” gives you your first taste of the musical grab-bag you’re in for with this project, slowing the pace way down and turning into an intimate moment of vulnerability before the Creator. “Daddy’s Baby Girl” will no doubt become an instant classic for fathers with daughters. Written for his own little girl, Lively, Jimmy expresses all the quirky and heartwarming antics that go along with being a father, including the reality he will one day have to let her go. It’s a very fun song with a sweet and relatable message.
The soulful “Rock Bottom” talks about the incomprehensible character of our God, and transitions nicely into the airy “Stay,” a duet with female vocalist Lizi Bailey from the duo, Matthew and Lizi. The song touches on the personal relationship we all have with God and does so in a beautiful manner. Lizi’s vocals also add a wonderful depth to the song, which might otherwise been seen as too mellow.
The true standout track on this project comes next with “In The Middle,“ which talks about continuing to believe in God’s sovereignty even after tragedy strikes. One can only assume it was written for his wife Kelly, after the couple endured multiple miscarriages prior to the birth of their daughter. The solemn melody collides beautifully with the raw and tender lyrics, offering every listener a simple reminder of God’s never changing love for us, no matter what pain they might be facing: “I believe that God was there watching over us, I believe He heard our prayers, He cried along with us, even when our hearts are scared, He’s closer then He seems…”
The groove-laden “Arrows” picks up the tempo a bit, talking about how everything beautiful we experience in life ultimately points back to the Creator, while “My Victory” focuses on the freedom found in Christ. “The Only One” serves as the deepest cut on the record, talking about the idols we serve whom we hope will give us fulfillment, when all the along, Jesus is the only one who will truly satisfy us.
The album comes to an end with the melodically haunting namesake, “Clear The Stage.” Following up on the thoughts found in the previous song, it comes as a personal cry unto God to strip us of everything that would take our eyes off of Him and help us to sit and soak in Him and who He is. It’s a heavy way to end a hopeful album, but does so in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling bogged down, but rather, convicted to seek God more ardently.
Fun, funky and full of faith, Clear The Stage is undoubtedly Jimmy Needham’s finest work to date. It paints a clear picture of what his own personal journey with Christ has looked like over the past several years, and ushers in all all-too-brief musical experience for listener, challenging them to set their focus on things above, all while enjoying the special moments life has to offer. Raw and thought-provoking lyrically, it also boasts a musical showcase secular counterparts might want to take note of, serving as one of the most diverse albums I’ve heard in quite some time. Overall, this album does not disappoint and will be a hard one to follow up, but if anyone can do it, it’s Jimmy Needham.