Music Review: Courage by Stuart Townend

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Updated January 15, 2019
Stuart Townend - Keep you here
I Am Here For You

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This is Stuart’s first album for four years, and contains some of his most powerful work to date.

Containing a whole host of great new congregational songs, at the same time it explores some deep issues – pain, loss, mental health – and includes the moving song “Keep you here” from the video about his brother Phil’s journey with cancer. 

'So why is it called Courage? Recent events & situations (including the death of my brother) have had a big impact on me personally, and on my writing. And the word that has kept coming back to me is COURAGE: courage to face my own pain, to share my pain, and to sit with the pain of others.'

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Courage by Stuart Townend
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It's been over 4 years since Stuart Townend's last project, but he is a songwriter who is very familiar to many of us because he has written, along with his writing partners, many of the modern classic hymns. His tracks like "In Christ Alone" and "How Deep The Father's Love For Us" are often featured in live worship sets or compilations of worship songs and both are placed in the CCLI top 10, so many of us are singing them in our churches as well. Stuart is back with a new collection of songs on this album called "Courage" because that is the word that God has given him in the season that he has been walking through.

The first song is a co-write with his regular writing partners Keith and Kristyn Getty along with another familiar name to those who follow Christian music, Ed Cash. The song itself is a fairly typical example of the celtic-infused modern hymns that Stuart and the Getty's have become known for. This call to worship considers the wonders of the planets in worship and those that have gone before us, all adding to the heavenly choir. This track is followed by three more tracks that offer little different musically and although these songs work well in isolation they do get a bit tiring on the ears to listen to four tracks so similar on the bounce. "May The People's Praise You" is another call to worship track which is based on Psalm 67, similarly "How Good It Is To Sing" is based on Psalm 147. "Still, My Soul, Be Still" is a little slower and more contemplative and is more of a meditation on trusting God in the troubled times of our lives and also utilises female vocals to add a bit of a different dimension.

It could be said that the album starts to find it's feet, and it's theme, with "I Am Here For You". This song is definitely less of a hymn and more of an encouragement for all of us. This is a song of true friendship, a friend who offers to walk beside you when life is tough as well as when life is going well. It goes beyond just the outside pressures as the middle verse discusses the things that go on inside our heads, opening up the conversation about mental health as well as spiritual health. I welcome the fact that someone as prominent in church song-writing is making a way for this conversation that has been an issue in the church that has long been swept under the rug. 
"Curse the pride and burn the shame
When it chokes the voice inside of you;
Nothing is too dark to name
When you know that I am broken too.
When the cries of hurt rage in your head
And they goad you to destruction,
I can be the voice of calm that says,
I am here for you."
Of course we aren't the complete answer to someone's struggles, but the third verse then points the way to Jesus who will also walk alongside those who are willing to accept Him. This track is written by Stuart and his daughter Emma and is recorded on the album by Emma herself. 

"Courage", the title track of the album also covers some of this issue of mental health and dealing with the strange things that grief throws up. Stuart confessing to issues of worry of the future and proving himself, but with dealing with the recent death of his brother the chorus is about living in the moment, not worrying about what tomorrow will bring or living in the past. "We Believe (Apostles Creed)" is a co-write with the Getty's and is pretty much what you might expect from this trio of artists and is a quick aside from the more personal moments on this album which continue in "Keep You Here". This track was inspired by his brothers battle with Cancer, as he wants to stop time, to change everything with prayer and those responses are perfectly normal ways of dealing with something like this. The amazing thing about this track is the way that they recorded it as a family. They released a video talking about their feelings, including Stuart's brother Phil talking about his cancer and he even added his vocals to the track. You can watch the video above.

It must be hard to work out which song to follow with on an album. In this case the album continues with the gentle track with lead vocals from Emma as they sing "Lead On, Lead On". This song is quite honest about how we sometimes feel about God's leading, we don't always embrace where God is leading us and this song outlines that, but that ultimately we do it despite our own plans. "For The Cause" is much more back on the party line and again it's easily identifiable as a Getty / Townend collaboration. The last track is a family affair as Emma and son Joseph also had a hand in writing "Christ Be With Me" based on the Prayer of St Patrick. This has a nice warm choral feel, although it's a little slow, but works as a great blessing at the end of the album.

I think we all know what to expect from a Stuart Townend album, the church owes him a great debt for some amazing modern hymns, and there are more of those here. They are not going to break any new ground particularly as far as church worship goes and as an album it is hard to appreciate some of these tracks when they are in quick succession. For me though it is those more personal moments on this album which really captivate me as a listener, the songs about living in the now, dealing with grief and the fight to change what you can't and the acknowledgement of the mental health issues that are in our society and just as much in our church congregations. Those are the tracks that deserve real recognition in the middle of these church songs.

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