If you haven’t heard the name Cory Asbury, then you’ve certainly heard his worship songs "Reckless Love" and "The Father's House." The former has nearly been inescapable for the modern Christian music fan or regular church attender, specifically in the years 2018 and 2019. Research reveals Asbury has an impressive worship leader resume. It includes an internship at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (2005), time on staff at New Life Church in Colorado (2012), and inking a deal with Bethel Music in 2015. And that's what makes his road-less-traveled approach to album number four, Pioneer all the more interesting.
Instead of resting on his laurels, so to speak, Cory goes country. That's right, Pioneer is a full turn to a who's-who of country writers and an album chock-full of slide guitars and relationship-focused story songs. Think Chris Stapleton or the slower moments of Zac Brown Band sound-wise. The title track is my favorite, with a harmonious chorus that hits just right. Others that land as highlights are "The Promise is the Same," "Misunderstood," "My Inheritance," "These Are the Days," and "Kind."
Lyrically, Asbury makes his big statement straightaway in "The Promise is the Same." Here, he preemptively answers questions some of the faithful may call him out on, singing "They might say I'm sinner if I don't sing ‘hallelujah'/That I'll be forgotten if every song I sing's not to ya/But I find peace and holy ground in a little farmhouse in a no-name town/Where we say our prayers each night." In "My Inheritance," he addresses his uncertain relationship with his earthly father and, in "Kind," he juxtaposes it, keying in on the Heavenly Father's kindness. "These Are the Days" focuses on living in the moment as a family with young kids, tenderly crooning, "Let's slow down and raise a glass/‘cause these are the days we'll want back."
Ultimately, the only thing slightly holding the album back is the fact it settles into a mid-tempo groove early and never really rises above it, energy-wise. A barn-burner or a boot-stomper would have gone a long way here, but even still, the quality of the stories and topics in the songs nearly make up for it. In short, the album is terrific. Of course, this direction is a risk in alienating fans of his congregational songs, but I truly hope it's one that most will go with him on. This is perhaps an "I-should-have-seen-it-coming" record, but I honestly didn't, and I'm so glad I gave it a chance to take me off guard. Ultimately, I'm just happy for another pleasant surprise in 2023, and looking forward to enjoying Pioneer on repeat.- Review date: 9/23/23, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: BEC Recordings
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