Review #1: The Acoustic Sessions: Volume 1, by Casting Crowns

Hello, and welcome to my first album review! This is new territory for me, as I actually rarely listen to full-length albums. If I’m not tuning in to radio, then I’m typically listening to my music on a shuffle playlist. However, the concept of the album is still important even in this “iTunes® age”… sometimes, the best way to really appreciate and understand artists’ work is to listen to an album all the way through. So with that in mind, join me as I begin periodically reviewing new, recent, and classic album releases!

The honor of being featured in my first entry goes to a band who’s certainly no stranger to the Christian music scene, Casting Crowns. They’re also no stranger to success on my Top 50, charting a dozen singles over the years, including two #1s. Marking 10 years now since their national debut in 2003, these CCM veterans released The Acoustic Sessions: Volume 1 back in January, presenting a fitting look back on some of their earlier favorites, redone in a stripped-down style and then mixed with two new songs for good measure.

I got around to listening to the album this past weekend, and was pleasantly delighted overall. I can’t say I’ve been drawn to their more recent material (as shown by how 2008’s Slow Fade from The Altar And The Door was their last major hit on my chart), but Acoustic Sessions is one I did enjoy…mostly because it does feature many of my favorites from the earlier releases. Ha, let me just come out and say this already: if somehow, you’ve missed out on listening to their self-titled debut Casting Crowns, Lifesong, or The Altar and The Door, then be sure to give those a listen (they each sold over a million copies for good reason!)

Well, now to address Acoustic Sessions more in-depth. The album opens with If We Are The Body, their debut single and timeless hit about the need for acceptance and unity in the church. East To West follows right after, their leading single from The Altar And The Door and a long-running favorite on my Top 50, peaking at #4 and charting 148 weeks. This powerful anthem about God’s mercy and forgiveness certainly sounds all the more poignant in this acoustic version.

Next up is American Dream, an in-your-face track about the perils of chasing after wealth to the detriment of your soul and the lives of people close to you. I feel that the song loses some of its punch in the new acoustic setting, but that’s just a quibble from me.

Moving on, we have Who Am I next. This powerful ballad about our identity in Christ and our emptiness without Him, was my introduction to Casting Crowns way back in May 2004, debuting at #17 on my Top 50, going on to peak at #2 for a still-unbroken record 48 weeks, and charting an astoundingly long 365 weeks before finally falling off in May 2011. The song’s work on my spirit was a precursor to my salvation in December 2004, and as such, I’ll never forget its power. However, the new rendition of Who Am I does leave me with mixed feelings. Megan Garrett sings lead on it, and while she doesn’t do a bad job by any means, she definitely gives the song a different personality. That may or may not work against you, if you’re attached to the original.

Here We Go Again follows, sounding little different to me from the original on the self-titled debut. It’s the first of a couple album cuts, tackling the issues of sharing the gospel with friends. This leads in to the first of two new tracks, Delivered. A Garrett-fronted track, it’s written exactly for the album’s acoustic setting, I suppose. It’s a miss with me, as I feel like I’ve heard the lyrics (concerning salvation and deliverance) before, and done better. I’m not particularly moved by the simple lyrics or sound, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad track at all.

After a bit of a lull with Here We Go Again and Delivered, the quality steps up a notch again with Altar And The Door album cut Somewhere In The Middle. The tense lyrics about the battle between living fully for Christ or living for ourselves, seem to get under my skin a little more easily with the song’s acoustic treatment. A stellar track, indeed—why it was never released as a single years ago, remains a mystery to me.

Another stellar track follows, the gripping Set Me Free. A minor release from Lifesong that enjoyed some airplay on edgier CHR stations like nationally-syndicated WAY-FM, the song’s tale of being enslaved in the shackles of dark days and sin rarely fails to give me chills. I feel that the scaled-down acoustic treatment makes the song even more urgent, almost like a whisper of a voice you can’t get out of your head—I love it.

My listening experience descended into another valley upon reaching the next song, the other brand new entry, Only You Can Satisfy. Forgettable lyrics and delivery kind of make this one a throwaway. I feel like, if you hear one song about how only God alone can satisfy our deepest longings, you’ve practically heard them all. Not to say this is a bad track outright—I just crave a little more originality.

Finally, the album closes with a scaled-down—but no less powerful—version of Praise You In This Storm, the monster single from Lifesong that debuted at #2 on my Top 50 in September 2005 and went on to peak at #1 for 23 weeks in 2006, as it carried me through tough times in life at the time. Although its chart run of 148 weeks pales in comparison to the 365 weeks Who Am I spent, Praise You In This Storm still holds on to the record of most weeks spent inside my Top 5, 110. The lyrics of praising God even in the toughest of trials, shall never age.

Overall, the album is a worthwhile listening experience, especially if you’re already a fan of Casting Crowns’ work. I can only hope that this is the first in a series, however (why else would it be subtitled “Volume One”?) I definitely felt the absence of some personal favorites such as Does Anybody Hear Her (the other song to peak at #1 on my Top 50) and Stained Glass Masquerade, an album cut that has performed very well on my Top 20 Lifesongs chart. Here’s hoping that they’ll show up on The Acoustic Sessions: Volume Two. Other songs would be nice to hear as well, such as new takes on What If His People Prayed, Voice Of Truth, Love Them Like Jesus, The Word Is Alive, and White Dove Fly High.

Well, this wraps up my first album review. What did you think? If you’ve listened to the album, are a fan of the band, and/or have feedback on my review, sound off in the comments below!

Quick Stats & Last Links

Casting Crowns - The Acoustic Sessions: Volume 1 Cover Art
  • Release Date: January 22, 2013
  • Tracks: 10
  • Playing Time: 46 minutes
  • Genre: Acoustic / Contemporary
  • Stand-out Tracks: East To West, Somewhere In The Middle, Set Me Free
  • Final Score: 6.5

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