Irish poet and songwriter Benjamin William Hastings has been lurking in the background of preeminent Aussie-worship-band Hillsong for nearly a decade. He's the poetic mastermind behind the collective's more grandiose productions, such as "So Will I (100 Billion X)," "Seasons," and "Highlands (Song of Ascent)," and his lyrical contributions, in my mind, are easily the richest quality of the their broad repertoire. That being the case, stepping out on his own is not all that surprising. What is surprising, however, was to be introduced (albeit subtly) to a master lyricist experiencing writer's block, as he explains in narrative opener "Hold On To Your Hats"... "I haven't written in forever/at least something I would sing/'cause I'm so scared of inauthentic I've just not been saying anything." It's this kind of self-aware humility that makes his songwriting all the more captivating.
The first full track, "Feels Like A Blessing," is a fun enough beginning, with its clap-along rhythm and chorus, but, as we'll see throughout, it's his poetic wizardry that sets Hastings a cut above. Sure there are pop tracks scattered throughout, like "So Help Me God," "Anyway," and "That's The Thing About Praise," but even these upbeat sounds are infused with clever turns of phrase and a gold mine of spiritual gleanings. A wordsmith by trade, this solo venture gives Hastings full room to explore his workshop, painting colorful word-pictures with ease while tackling such heavy topics as loss ("Boy On The Moon"), church scandals ("Cathedrals Of The Nelder Grove"), hypocrisy ("The Jesus I Know"), and doubt ("Faith Is").
The 80's influenced "Dancing With My Shadow" is a whimsical number in theory, but again we find a deeper meaning within, this time revealing a Jekyll-and-Hyde power struggle to control the artist we see in front of us... "It's two of me in tension/didn't know I had depression/till he started writing songs/and I told him not to draw attention/so he fouettés across the floor." Album stand-out "Eden" is one of the only songs on the album to not be directly about Hastings personal journey, instead focusing on God's redemptive nature throughout history, noting the Garden of Eden, and Calvary as prime examples... "For You climbed a hill not Yours to climb/they thought Your fate was sealed/for the serpent tried to take you down/but he only bruised Your heel." Another highlight is the catchy "Not Even Once," where Hastings' unique upper voice takes center stage; it's a peaceful, swirling timbre, that gently trades with a background choir, before seamlessly transitioning to the wonderful poem, "Giveth."
There's also a streak throughout that details the growing pains inherent with being a new father, and how it has changed Hasting's outlook on life and writing, as seen in the tear-jerker "A Father's Blessing," and "While I'm In The Wind"... "And I know I probably made mistakes/probably worked harder than I should/but I hope you understand someday/that what I did I did for you."
The album is purposefully extraneous (as he admits many times in the album), and as such I did feel my interest waning a bit towards the back-half of the album, especially as it remains firmly rooted in the singer/songwriter enclosure. But this album isn't about polished musicianship, or sonic experimentation. To boil it all down, this album is poetic insight into a believer's journal when stuck at a crossroads. Whether it's dealing with material hardships, cleaning house in the church, personal depression, or fatherhood, Hastings writes with his heart thoroughly attached to his sleeve, unleashing a treasure trove of wisdom and sincerity at every turn. And he ends his manifesto where every Christian begins, hands wide open, surrendered to God's plan... "And if You carved out every valley/using glaciers and rain/surely then I trust You'll guide me/for this lifetime of terrain."- Review date: 2/6/23, written by Joel Zaloum of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Capitol CMG
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