Southern Gospel music is known for its upbeat tunes and positive lyrics, with any hint of darkness dispelled by a song's end and expressions of faith that are as simple as the alphabet. This can make it easy to criticize the genre's shiny sheen for being overly simplified or not realistic enough. Yet, sometimes that positivity may serve a down-and-out soul better than a sad song as it draws the listener to look up to God no matter the circumstance. Steve Ladd's latest EP, Come Up Clean, is a good example of Southern Gospel's appeal.
Opener "The Thing About A Valley" admits the lure of the easy way, but also embraces why "valley experiences" are worth enduring, as the chorus states: "The thing about a valley/When a way is lonely/Has a way of showing/That your help comes from above." In fact, the first four songs on this EP focus on pushing through the tough times by trusting in God, highlighted especially by the lone slow track "I Never Lost My Praise" and the confident "Unshakable God." The final two songs veer away from this theme into more familiar Southern Gospel territory, with the title track calling people to repentance, and the closer "Grave Clothes" reveling in salvation and how a Christian doesn't "need those grave clothes no more."
Steve Ladd's voice is a constant highlight throughout this EP. He swings low and shoots high, keeping the same energy for every note. The music is also varied enough to keep things interesting with different degrees of country/gospel being deployed. It helps that the EP clocks in at about 21 minutes and the songs never overstay their welcome. Lyrically, things are bright and encouraging, though there are plenty of clichés to be found. In a sense, the songs all come across as cookie-cutter gospel style tunes, but Ladd's enthusiasm for the music and message add a fire to keep the listener close. Probably the biggest complaint is the sudden turning away from the theme established in the first four tracks. With only six songs, it should be easier to keep a common theme running through the proceedings. The shift is questionable, though not bad enough to deter enjoyment.
Fans of this genre will find Come Up Clean a worthwhile purchase. In spite of its hiccups, it delivers exactly what one would expect when tuning into a Southern Gospel record. Steve Ladd's soaring voice and infectious fervor raise the collection even higher. Casual listeners--or even those who avoid the genre--may be surprised at the encouragement they find within these tunes. It's easy to complicate faith and get bogged down in the weeds. Steve Ladd is here to give a bird's eye view of the joy, freedom, and hope we have in Christ, and every Christian needs to be reminded of that truth from time to time.- Review date: 9/27/18, written by John Underdown of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Sonlite Records
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