Review Rating: 3.8 / 5
Since his debut on American Idol nearly nine years ago, Danny Gokey has made waves in the Christian music community with well-known songs like “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again” and “Hope In Front Of Me.” Coming up on album number five, Danny continues boldly with Rise. Alternating between pop, electronic, and a variety of other melodies, his signature vocals and story propel the tracks of the album.
Towards the start of the collection, “If You Ain’t In It” is a prevalently catchy pop song that advances boldly and unashamedly. Electronic synths form the foundation while brass horns, drums, and some guitar build the melody from there. Background voices, masked as if from a radio, accompany Danny’s signature vocals as he leads the lyrics. The song conveys a simple yet important message – that even a perfect life with everything going right is not worthwhile if God “ain’t in it.” Considering Danny’s story, the song packs a lot of power behind the pop sounds and definitely stands out in the album.
The title track “Rise” utilizes the electronic-pop feel to create an inspiring atmosphere. Alongside the foundational synths, drums, echoing chimes, and a mild strings presence build the melody that, quite literally, rises as the song goes along. Danny’s vocals are showcased here, ranging from low to high and everywhere in between. His lyrics express God’s desire to restore and heal His creation, that we are His and we are meant to shine. Though basic in the message, “Rise” demonstrates how we were meant to live for our Savior.
Farther along is the slower and deeper “Masterpiece,” a beautiful track both in melody and story. The emphasis changes from upbeat, popping electronics to calm and echoing chimes, with gentle drums, keyboard, and large bell sounds. Verses are quiet and calm until the massive crescendo that kicks into the chorus, a satisfying and energizing build-up that lifts the listener as it does the tempo. Danny sings of the pain of life, the heartbreak and brokenness that plagues us all, across the verses before changing focus in the chorus. “You’re shaping the soul in me … and all I am is in Your hands” Danny sings, speaking of God’s plans and that He works all things together for good. “You’re taking me all apart like it was Your plan from the start, to finish Your work of art for all to see, You’re making a masterpiece.” The beautiful melody and incredibly sincere lyrics make “Masterpiece,” in this reviewer’s opinion, the best song in the album.
Even with so many meaningful songs, it seems the album has a few too many weak points that conflict with its stronger tracks and require some attention. For instance, “Stronger Than We Think,” the opening track, emphasizes that we have the strength to resist the darkness of this world, yet almost makes it sound like we can conjure it up ourselves. The themes of strength and change do not really re-surge until the final track “Better Than We Left It.” Danny sings of the chaos in this world and a desire for change, but as he expresses a desire to “be a light” and “leave it (the world) better than I found it,” the only person who can truly save the world, Jesus Christ, doesn’t show up. Even as Danny and guest vocalist Kierra Sheard passionately close with “I believe … we can leave it better than we found it,” eventually listeners have to ask “how?” It’s a bit of a letdown that an album that so beautifully emphasized God’s presence and perfect plan starts and ends with a desperate, empty, and somewhat negligent battle cry.
Though there are a few tracks that, if listened apart from the album as a whole, could prove to be a little confusing in message, there are lyrically and melodically many high points that make Rise a soon-to-be success. There are passionate moments fueled by raw vocals mixed with upbeat, joyful celebrations, rounding out the album and reflecting bits and pieces of Gokey’s story. With amazing vocal ability, impactful lyrics and catchy electronic-pop sounds, Gokey continues his upward climb in the CCM industry and is fast on his way to becoming a mainstay in the community.