After much ado, the dust has finally settled over at the Studio DNA camp and we’re back with a fresh New Music Digest. The brief respite gave us a wealth of newly released albums to choose from, which makes it a little easier to bring a wider selection and variety of styles. This week, we’ve got some CCM pop, an R&B album with a twinge of country, and some rap – all capped off with an old standby in the tune du jour. As I prepared this, the theme that came through was one of finding your lane and staying in it. Let’s just get right into it.

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Album 1: All In, by Matthew West (9/22/17)
Matthew West is probably one of the more likeable guys you could ever meet in the industry. This is technically his seventh studio album according to PR standards, but that excludes at least 2 Christmas albums, not to mention 3 independent releases, which I understand. He first hit my radar in the early 2000s with SELLOUT and it’s been a fun time watching his career unfold through the years, even though his core sound and song structure has remained steady.

This album opens with the title track and lead single and for a brief instant, I think it may be something entirely unexpected. The little chipmunk-y screech of “All In” conjured up images of a venture into modern rock, but alas, we are still firmly entrenched in the pop craftsmanship we have come to expect from Matthew West. Hard to not let that heavy snare that comes in for the chorus take over your head and force a nod. It’s good stuff. BROKEN THINGS comes in with an almost identical harmony, just taken slightly out of context. It’s really uncanny and it’s no surprise that this is another single currently charting high on the airwaves. These songs are so anthemic – it’s a real talent, for sure. The third song, MERCY IS A SONG, tones things down a little bit before opening up into a gospel-esque, down-home chorus. This is all exactly what you want from this album – especially if you are marketing the album.

BONUS: AMEN. This one hits home like a performance from a Gospel Broadway Show. It has so many intersecting and overlapping elements. It’s fun.

Album 2: ‘91, by Jamie Grace (9/1/17)
Jamie Grace started out in music as a YouTube star, posting songs until she was eventually “discovered” by the man. (And by “the man” I’m not just referring to some faceless corporate entity, I’m talking about Tobymac of course.) Signed to Gotee Records, she earned a wider audience and experienced a fair amount of success, but after her second album, she parted ways with the label, citing a desire to get back to who she was way back when she was doing her own thing. ‘91 is our first peek at the new, old Jamie Grace.

Normally, I would skip the introduction track, but DIFFERENT clocks in at just under a minute and a half and it, well, different from other introductions. It’s a pretty simple arrangement – just a beat and an acoustic guitar on the verse, with clapping and a keyboard on the “verse”. THE HAPPY SONG start of with a distorted hip hop beat, reminding me of an old POD track, but it dissolves into a cleanly produced version of the beat and a poppy track. It’s not much of a departure from her previous singles (though I don’t know if this is a single). Less production, for sure. The third song is ONE OF A KIND (because it’s not at all like the others). Yeah, so I don’t see much deviation from the song structure she had on the Gotee albums, so, it’s hard to imagine they parted ways due to a creative dispute. Anyway, this is a praise-ish song, thanking God for seeing her unique value and accepting her as she is. (I suppose it could be a song to a boy, but I think it’s to God.)

BONUS: Jamie’s sister joins her for HERE. I can’t place it, but I have a song in mind that this reminds me of. I like it best of the first four. It almost has the feel of a studio version of a Robert Randolph song. Maybe that’s it… hmmm.

Album 3: All Things Work Together, by Lecrae (9/22/17)
If you don’t know who Lecrae is, then you don’t ever pay any attention to Christian hip hop. That’s fine, but Lecrae has actually been honored as Artist of the Year at the Dove Awards, too. That was right before he decided not to accept the moniker of Christian hip hop artist. That’s fine, I’m not going to get into all that, but the point is that he is well known. This is his latest release and he deals with a lot of current events, commenting on racial inequality and other “hot button” issues of the day. This was also marketed as a career retrospective of sorts.

ALWAYS KNEW kicks things off looking back at his career and life, offering thanks to those who have walked with him and supported him, most notably his mom, who “says she ‘always knew’” he would be successful. He dives right into the thick of the content with FACTS and, as expected, he’s holding nothing back. The soundtrack is really solid and engaging, too, so for those who ignore the words, they still will enjoy it enough to keep coming back. BROKE was previewed a week or so ago and it’s still good even though I listened to it a lot. Overall, you get a good sense of the album and it’s everything you expect coming into it. Lecrae is what Lecrae is and it works for a reason.

BONUS: BLESSINGS. This was the lead single and it features Ty Dolla $ign, which was a big deal for some people. I guess I don’t care because it’s not the first time I’ve seen this type of pairing before – hello Grits, LA Symphony, etc. It’s a good song with or without the guest verse.

TUNE DU JOUR: You’re the Best Thing About Me, by U2
To be clear, I’m not one of those U2 fanatics who just goes berserk every time Bono touches a microphone. I do understand that they are kind of a big deal so, this new single is worth bringing up. If nothing else, it’s pretty amazing that after all these years, they are still worth talking about and still putting out music that is worth listening to. This proves it.

Okay, that was that. I hope you listened to the podcast, the playlist, or the voices in your head as you read along. And I hope it was fun. Until next time…

peace… love… bdg…