Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Track-by-track: Will McMillan's 'My Story'

Last week's post anticipated the release of Will McMillan's debut album, My Story. As I said, I haven't been this excited for an album release in a long time, so of course I had to come back this week and give my thoughts on the project, especially my favorite track, "Lost And Found." Clearly I've had this album on continuous repeat, because it's only been out for five days and I've already learned the words to all eight songs (Okay, so I already had "You'll Never Leave Me" and "Never Get Tired (Running)" from previous releases, but to learn six songs in five days, it HAS to be good.).

Will McMillan - My Story (2018) / Amazon

Straight out of the gate, I was hooked on "Hanging," the album's opener. If you like country music, you'll definitely love this one. The lyrics are simple, but packed with meaning:

If You, if You go before me

You'll never leave me hanging

If You, if You go in front of me

You'll never leave me hanging

If you can get the "hang" of those lines, the rest of the song is a piece of cake, and the message is powerful: With God at the forefront, we're never alone.

Track 2, "Never Get Tired (Running)," featuring Lance Robinson, begins in a seamless transition from "Hanging." Inspired by Hebrews 12:1-3, this upbeat track is about not slowing down while pursuing purpose:

We look to You, the finisher

Of the race that's set for us to run

While the crowd of witnesses cheers us on

You give grace and strength to keep on

If you need motivation to keep going, you need this song in your music library.

Next on the list is another feature, "See You." This song is very reminiscent of Disney classics like Pocahontas' "Colors of the Wind" (1995) and Mulan's "Reflection" (1998). The premise of this track is the importance of reflecting the light of Christ, "Every day I live my life trying to be more and more like You/ That's the way I wanna live, so/ When people see me Lord, let them see You." This song definitely stands out from the rest with whimsical instrumentation as well as the addition of McMillan's sister Julia's melodic soprano.

The fourth track on this project is a prime example of how art inspires other art. "Best Thing" is a remake of James Cleveland's Gladys Knight-inspired classic, "Jesus Is The Best Thing" (2001), with a 2018 twist. McMillan added an orchestra to the mix and made it personal, "Who would've thought you would give up everything/ You're the only reason that I'm free/ One thing I know for sure is that You'll always be with me." Fans of the original version should appreciate this fresh adaptation.

Moving on to track 5, "You'll Never Leave Me." I can't say enough about it here, because I could go on and on about how great it is, and we have three other songs to talk about. It's so good, each verse could literally be a song! This track needs its own blog post. I'll save that for another day, but for now, chew on this:

I've played around for awhile and found

life can be no fair

But grace has a way of creeping up when

the odds are just not there

You looked beyond what I once was, a

hopeless tragedy

And stepped in and captured my heart with

love, so costly and yet free

Like I said, it's in a league of its own.

Next up is number 6, "Tell Me Where." Nothing excites a music lover more than hearing a snippet of a song and having to wait until it's released. For me, that was the case with this track. McMillan often included a portion of "Tell Me Where" in his performances of "You'll Never Leave Me." I heard the melody several times on his Instagram and wondered, What's that? Now that I've heard it in its entirety, I play it again and again. It strikes me as very hymnal, which isn't surprising, given McMillan's COGIC roots:

Father, I stretch my hands to Thee

There is no other help I know

If Thou withdraw Thyself

Tell me where I'd go

I don't know

Mellow and soothing, this one would be a great addition to your evening devotional time.

Track 7, the rock-infused "Scream It Loud," is a stark contrast to "Tell Me Where." This track will definitely be a crowd pleaser that works well as a call and response. It encourages listeners to share Jesus' message:

With my life

I'll scream Your name out loud

'Cause You are the one true and living God

Scream it loud!

The edgy beat and catchy proclamations of "Jesus!" set this song apart.

Last but certainly not least is track 8, "Lost And Found." Move over, "You'll Never Leave Me," I've found my new favorite Will McMillan song. This track is so nuanced. It's basically two songs in one. Inspired by the story of the prodigal son, the first few minutes give an R&B vibe and depict a journey of walking away from God and choosing to come back to Him:

I thought that I could go alone

Just take my share and just move on

A misleading option, prodigal, I was wrong

And I can't defend my side no more

Just when the listener thinks the song is over, McMillan switches gears and takes it to church. The prodigal son comes back to the Father and the crowd of witnesses sings, "Welcome home/ It's been too long/ Glad you are home." The transition from the groove of the "journey" to the full chorus in the "welcome home party" is phenomenal, the perfect way to tie up such an eclectic body of work.

One thing I love about gospel music is the fact that God is not limited to one sound. Will McMillan's out-of-the-box style is proof of that. He has managed to package several genres into a project that is lightyears ahead of its time. #SupportKingdomMusic and get My Story here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Artist On The Rise: Why Will McMillan's 'My Story' will be the "Best Thing" in Your Music Library

If you've listened to gospel music at all over the last decade, chances are, you've heard Will McMillan...even if you haven't heard of him. If you're not familiar with eOne Nashville's newest signee, read on to find out why his debut album, My Story, will be the "Best Thing" you've heard in a long time.

Will McMillan - My Story (2018) / Amazon

While he is technically the "new kid on the block" at eOne, 29-year-old McMillan is no stranger to the gospel music industry. A multi-talented musician, he's played keys and organ for some of gospel's finest, including Jonathan Nelson and Tasha Cobbs-Leonard. He also directed the music on William McDowell's Dove Award-winning album Sounds of Revival (2016) and Travis Greene's Stellar Award-winning album, Crossover: Live From Music City (2017). A few years ago, McMillan decided to transition from the background to the forefront, embarking on his own music career. As the frontman of Willmband, a collective comprised of himself and a group of friends who share his passion for music, he released two singles, "Never Get Tired (Running)" (2015) and "You'll Never Leave Me" (2016).

Now under Tenth Child, Inc.'s management, McMillan will release his debut album, My Story, on July 20th. If you pre-order on iTunes, you'll get two tracks automatically: The single, "Best Thing," a fresh spin on the James Cleveland classic, and the Disney-esque "See You." The latter features Will's sister, Julia McMillan, a vocal powerhouse in her own right who is currently touring with Travis Greene.

Will McMillan's sound is carving a unique niche in gospel. He's bringing a fresh transparency to the genre that gets to the heart of the matter, to the heart of God. I was introduced to his music in 2017 when "You'll Never Leave Me" was available as a single under Willmband. Rarely do I ever purchase a song after listening to it one time, but it was that good (if you haven't heard it, it'll be re-released on this album)! Struck by McMillan's hard-hitting lyrics and beautiful melodies, I bought it immediately, learned the words in about three hours, and covered it on SoundCloud the next day. It was then that I realized his gift was something special, but I wondered why I hadn't heard of him before. Turns out, I had heard him, I just didn't know it. To say I'm excited to hear this full project is an understatement. Honestly, I haven't been this excited for an album release in a long time.

God is doing a new thing through the fresh oil that is being released in his Kingdom, and Will McMillan is just one example of new wine in the gospel genre. Take a listen to his single, "Best Thing," below. If you like what you hear, #SupportKingdomMusic and buy My Story. You'll be sowing into good ground.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lifting Le'Andria Johnson: The Perks and Pitfalls of the Spotlight

By now, you've probably heard about the controversy surrounding Grammy-winning gospel artist Le'Andria Johnson. Last weekend, she went on a tirade about corruption and wrongdoing in the church. Names were called, profane words were spoken, and as a result, she was removed from the gospel lineup at Essence Festival. I've seen the videos, but I won't post them here because more exposure will just add fuel to the fire. All weekend I watched as people inside and outside of the gospel music industry weighed in on Johnson's spiel, stating whether or not they were on her side. Unlike those posts, the only side I'm taking here is the side of Christ.

Image source: Le'Andria Johnson's official website

As a gospel music enthusiast, while I have met a plethora of gospel artists, I've only seen the industry from a supporter's perspective, and even that has allowed me a glimpse of how unforgiving the business can be. Johnson was right on that point: Gospel music is a business--and so is the church, to some extent. This is where a separation needs to occur: First of all, we need to separate Christ Himself from those who claim to be following Him. Secondly, we need to separate the gospel artist from the person.

The truth is, a lot of people claim Christianity, but very few of us live it. If we're sincerely striving to live righteously, we should naturally expect for every other Christian to treat us respectfully, speak to us cordially, etc. Right? WRONG. Some people in the church are corrupt, while others genuinely want to win souls for Christ. The good news is, it's not our job as Christians to point fingers at those who are doing wrong. God will deal with them. Our only assignment is to do what is right. In order to fully appreciate the Church (with a capital "C") we have to know the difference between Christians who are doing God's work, and people who look like Christians, but are actually just pushing their own agendas.

Now to my second point, separating the artist from the person. As I said, I've met a lot of gospel artists. I'm familiar with some more than others, because I often go to multiple shows in support of the same artists. The same way the Church is filled with both real believers and perpetrating "Christians," the stage is full of people who either sincerely sing for God, or sing about Him and live for themselves. I make it a point to stand in line after gospel concerts, not just to buy products, because most of the time, I already have them (#SupportKingdomMusic) but to see a little bit of the person behind the music and find out how they're doing.

Image source: Clipartix

Most of the artists I've met seem to genuinely be doing Kingdom work. Yes, they want us to buy their CDs, because that's their livelihood. Yes, they'll take pictures, because they understand that their music is ministry. They care about winning souls and they want to hear about how their music makes an impact, but I see how tired they are. I see how much the constant traveling, time away from their families, comments on social media, and industry politics (much of which we, as consumers, don't see) drains them. You'd be surprised to learn how uncommon it is for supporters to ask artists, "How are you?" to care about their wellbeing. We need to realize that before these people are our favorite artists, they are human.

In Matthew 7:3-4, Jesus asks, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye" (NIV)? Gospel artists have ungodly, unhappy, frustrating moments where they drink, smoke, curse, etc. just like everybody else. The only difference is, because of their platform, they don't have the luxury of a private fall from grace. If they don't have anyone to vent to, the emotions they are forced to bottle up can reach a very dangerous (and very public) boiling point.

I saw Le'Andria Johnson in concert about a month ago, and while I didn't get a chance to meet her, I could tell in her performance that she was going through something...but she still sang to God like nobody was watching. Despite whatever it is she's battling, I genuinely believe she loves Him. I think she just needs to rest and regroup.

Yesterday, Johnson issued an apology via Instagram. She owned up to her comments, saying in the caption, "I accept full responsibility for what I communicated out of frustration." From her apology, it's clear that she deeply regrets some of the things she said in those videos, not just what she said, but how she said it. She's still one of the most anointed voices in gospel music, and I hope that this controversy will not overshadow that. Instead of shining the spotlight on her shortcomings, let's give her grace.

Let this post serve as a call to action. Cover your favorite psalmists in prayer, always. Even if they're not strong enough to admit that they need prayer, especially if they're not asking for prayer, they need it! Even if you don't know what to pray for specifically, just speak their names into the atmosphere. The weight of the gifts they carry can bear heavily on their hearts. Before you judge them, ask yourself if you could handle the pressure.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Queens Don't Chase: The Dangers of Pursuing Potential

A while ago, a friend of mine asked me why she always seemed to attract the wrong guys. We listed all the things she had going for herself: She's intelligent (with two degrees under her belt), funny, she can cook, and she loves Jesus. I added, "You're pretty, too!" The smile melted from her face and she said, "Yeah...but I'll never have a shot with [insert name here] because I'll never look like that," comparing herself to the "models" she's seen on Instagram. She explained that, while she was proud of her accomplishments, she felt "overqualified" for a relationship because most guys she liked didn't care how smart or ambitious she was. In fact, she told me some of them were turned off by her passion for success. She said they only cared about girls with perfectly filtered bodies and fake personalities to match, and that each time she'd like a guy, the relationship would end before it even started, even if it seemed like there was "potential." As soon as she used that word, I understood why none of those would-be situationships lasted. Sisters, I've got three words for you: QUEENS DON'T CHASE (and we definitely don't pursue potential)!

Image source: Pinterest

I explained to my friend that when you know your worth, you know that potential is just that...potential. Potential is not the same as progress. If it's not going anywhere, you owe it to yourself to move on. The problem wasn't just that my friend attracted the wrong guys, the problem was the ungodly environment she found them in. The environment, quite literally, separates the men from the boys. So I said, "Sis, you need to be around guys who will appreciate what you have to offer, who know what a privilege it would be to 'have a shot' with you." Then, I reminded her of who she was. "You're the prize. The prize doesn't present itself to the prize winner. The winner works to earn it."

Think about it, ladies. Drive, ambition and real, useful skill sets are a turn-off to a shallow guy, not a guy who has his priorities in order and knows what type of woman would really be beneficial to where he's going in life...assuming he has real dreams and aspirations, that is (because let's be real, not all of them do 😂). And not only is the guy who finds those things to be a turn-off really shallow, he's also really weak. A lot of times guys who are turned off by your accomplishments are really intimidated by you, and don't know how to approach you. If he's turned off by your accomplishments, he might have an inferiority complex. A man who's confident in who he is is not intimidated by a woman with a good head on her shoulders.

I write a lot about the hurry-up-and-wait tug-of-war in what feels like a perpetual season of singleness--and I'll continue to write my way through it until marriage. The struggle IS real, but this conversation was a necessary reminder of why I won't settle for less than a Godly man. I need a man with GODfidence--a confidence that can only come from God. He should be secure in his gifts but only boast in the Lord. My Godly man will see who I am in Christ and won't be intimidated by where I'm going, where God is taking me, because he'll see himself going in the same direction.

The bottom line is, looks DO matter...but they aren't everything. The right(eous) man will find beautiful parts of a woman that go beyond her face and body. He'll see past "pretty" on the surface and fall in love with the praying, purpose-driven woman that will one day raise his children. Shallow men stay in the shallow part of the water. They don't dive deep beneath the surface because they're afraid of what they'll find...not in the person they're looking at, but within themselves. Queens, what's for you will pursue you. Stop running after a man! Pick up your crown (and your cross) and run with Christ instead.