Listening to … Crowder, ‘Neon Steeple’

David Crowder has released his first solo album, "Neon Steeple," under the name Crowder. Photo from facebook.com/crowdermusicofficial.

David Crowder has released his first solo album, “Neon Steeple,” under the name Crowder. Photo from facebook.com/crowdermusicofficial.

Christian music fans who really appreciate quality, thoughtful, expressive music experienced a collective sense of loss when The David Crowder Band bowed out in 2012 with Give Us Rest, which could have also been titled, You’re Really, Really Going to Miss Me. Really.

Now, just under two-and-a-half years later, we find out what we were waiting for with Neon Steeple.

Crowder-Neon SteepleSince he burst out of Waco, Texas, in the early 21st century after building up a grassroots following around Baylor University, Crowder has been one of the steadiest developers in Christian music, initially capturing us with great hooks and a contemporary sound and then slowly blending it with the rootsy music of Appalachia — inspired, he once told us, by watching Kentucky’s own Loretta Lynn singing gospel on the RFD Channel. While recent writings have tried to peg him as glomming onto the vibe of Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers and their ilk, Crowder was really ahead of them on the charts and in fusing traditional acoustic music with the digital world. (He was also a hipster before we knew what that was. Remember when we thought his beard was weird?)

The title of the solo debut is a perfect expression of that blend: the steeple bringing to mind old churches at the centers of rural towns off the highway and neon lighting still representing something modern and urban, even if it is more than 100 years old. On his Facebook page, Crowder describes it as, “the sound of the Appalachians and Ibiza … The Ones and Zeros and the Handshake.”

Steeple is bookended in the traditional, opening with a quiet, detached intro leading into the jangling My Beloved and banjo-and-drum-rooted  I Am. The biggest borrows and guest appearances are also nods to tradition, with Emmylou Harris joining Crowder for My Sweet Lord and a cover of Hank Williams’ Jesus is Calling that recalls the Crowder Band’s showstopping rendition of Williams’ I Saw the Light.

But Steeple builds to mid-album rockers and raves like Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains) and Hands of Love – notably, even the most contemporary tunes are anchored on banjo.

But maybe the feel Crowder best honed over the years is intimacy, both with the listener and God, through quiet, airy works such as the penultimate Here’s My Heart.

Neon Steeple is confident affirmation that while the David Crowder Band is no more, its genius leader is still an active, compelling artist, and Christian music is much better with him.

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