Written by: Jay Heilman (8/1/2017)
Christian rock mainstays Third Day have long been one of not only the most successful bands in Christian music history, but also one of the most beloved and decorated as well. Though the group has won 4 Grammy awards, an American Music Award and two dozen Dove Awards, awards and accolades are something the band has never seen as a priority along their musical journey which has spanned over three different decades. When the Marietta, GA based group debuted on the national level in 1996 with their self-titled rookie effort, a lot of the Christian music landscape was beginning to change. With bands like Jars of Clay and dcTalk emerging as the front-runners in the Christian rock scene, Third Day fit in well with its mix of old-school gospel and southern rock roots. Sounding a lot like a modern and more positive version of legendary bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes, the band in its 26 years of existence has undergone some musical style changes along the way.
When the band released its follow up records to the debut with 1997’s Conspiracy No. 5 and 1999’s Time, it was clear that the band was paving a way to musical stardom. Many hardcore fans (or Gomers) that loved those first three records, should now be pleased that the band is going back to their roots with the brand-new record Revival. When fans first got a glimpse of the title track in late April, a lot them (including myself) were curious of what the new record was going to sound like. After all, 2015’s Lead Us Back kind of gave us a glimpse of what was to come. The band promised a “roots-style” experience and boy did they deliver with the new record. Not only does it go back in style from the early days of the group, but in Gospel music in general. With an old, raw and broken down sound, Revival delivers everything it promised and more.
We have all heard “Revival” and this is the track the record starts out on, setting the old-school feel for what will make up the rest of the album. The ever important message needed in today’s society reminding listeners they are not going to find the revival they need in “politician, government or any law or any religion” but only by the “Spirit and the Word of God”. The opening track doesn’t disappoint and has been gaining steady traction since its release to radio this past spring.
One thing I like about this record is the additional instrumentation that you don’t normally hear on a Third Day record. Unless you are familiar with the band’s entire musical repertoire, it’s highly likely you might miss a few of the instruments that have been absent from previous releases. “Gonna Be There With Me” is the first instance you really hear the ‘whole package’ of what’s to come from the record. In one point in the song, you hear trumpets, reminiscent of a mariachi band playing in the background. One might wonder if the mix of brass and Third Day’s signature so sound would sound good together. Let’s put that question mark to rest, because it does. This song also displays the sick piano and keys of long time touring member Scotty Wilbanks. You hear Scotty quite a bit on previous records, but Revival allows Scotty to shine through and be showcased like you’ve never heard him before. Love Mac’s intro to Scotty’s skills when he says “Praise the Lord Piano” and Wilbanks just takes it from there.
The more edgy and raw “When I Leave This World Behind” proclaims an anthem of not worrying about our Christian brethren who have gone on to be with the Lord. The song, in my opinion is the heaviest on the record, also featuring more distorted rock guitar tracks than usual with Mark Lee and road guitarist and former tour mate Trevor Morgan, playing off of each other, adding a depth of guitar that really hasn’t been heard since the departure of longtime lead guitarist Brad Avery in 2008.
Aside from “Revival”, “Let There Be Light” is probably the most radio-ready song on the record. Easily blending in with Third Day’s previous singles of praise and worship, point to the Light of the World, it’s message of shining the light of Jesus in the darkness could have easily fit onto the band’s 2005 effort Wherever You Are. It’s simple yet effective message is encouraging to believers to continue spreading the hope that only Jesus can bring.
My favorite track on the album would hands down be “Faithful & True”. The song starts slow with an acoustic intro before going into a more bluesy sounding tune similar to what you would find on an older Black Crowes record. The song also offers a jazzy sound with a horn section with a little hint of sax in the background as well. The female vocalists featured really add a depth to the song that makes it sound full despite its laid back and raw appearance. This is also one of the few songs you hear Mac testing out his falsetto. Opening proclamation of the song is a great reminder that I think we need to examine and pray on more. “There’s never been a reason not to believe You/There’s never been a season when You didn’t come through/Every situation You’ve been my Salvation/Your love is faithful & true”
“Gather Round Now” is another one of those tracks that captures your attention because of the mix of musical influence you hear in it. One of two of the ‘oldest’ sounding songs on the record, I really enjoyed this one and could easily label it as a stand out on the record. With a mixture of ‘bluesy rock’ paired with the elements of the old time negro spiritual, it was great to hear a modern take taking two of the more historical elements of early Gospel music and pairing them with a great message; one with the resonating line of “Singing Oh oh whoa oh, I wanna sing about my Jesus”. I might add that although I thought The Blind Boys of Alabama join them on this song, according to an interview I did with guitarist Mark Lee it’s actually a choir that producer Monroe Jones put together for this record. Still an amazing track nonetheless!
If you have ever wanted to pay homage to a mama who instilled Biblical values in you as a kid, “She Loves Me Like a Rock” does just that. Originally a Paul Simon tune from 1973, this is another one of the older Gospel sounding tracks on the record. The track also features another falsetto vocal part on Mac Powell’s behalf and I might add that it’s also the longest period of time on any Third Day record you will hear Mac’s amazing vocal talents displayed like this. The group does justice to the original while giving the hit a modern upgrade with some help from the Oak Ridge Boys.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (NKJV). “New Creation” is one of those songs that will have you singing along in a matter of moments. Perhaps even tapping your feet as well. Probably the most ‘sing-a-long’ song on the record, the band even makes it a point to ask “Jesus people” to “help me sing this song”.
“Great God Almighty” is other track on the record mentioned before that I feel has the ‘oldest’ sound to it, one featuring lyrical stories you would here in Sunday school. The common call found in the chorus is a great reminder of the reliance we must put on the Lord just as Moses did with the Pharaoh and the trek to the Red Sea and David with Goliath. “Great God Almighty, won’t You save Your children/Lord in heaven won’t You lend a hand/Ain’t no way we’re gonna do this without You/By Your spirit I know we can”.
The record ends on a high note with the track “Devotion”. With its slowed down bluesy folk rock sound, the song proclaims devotion of life to the God who gave it to us. The song is one of the few that sounds reminiscent of previous efforts from the band and could easily be another selection off of Revival that goes to radio at some point in time. Great way to bring another great album to a musical culmination that shows us just why we fell in love with these guys to begin with.
I am going to go ahead and say it out loud – Revival is, in my opinion the best record to release in 2017 and that’s saying a lot, because this year has brought us a lot of great, great albums from so many artists. The fact that Third Day jumped outside the box on this one and brought us an album that most of us were probably not expecting – is hands down amazing. It manages to have that ‘rootsy’ feel as promised, but brought forth in a way that sounds just as fresh and new of anything out there right now. While Third Day’s earlier recordings like Conspiracy No. 5 and Time are lauded by many long-time fans as their best; many may also say that there is no way that they would ever get that good again. Revival is not just that good, but a phenomenal release. It is in my opinion, the musical experience I have been waiting a long time to hear. I think others will agree with me on that one. Bravo gents, this one gets 5 Stars.