ALBUM TITLE: Clear the Stage
ARTIST: Jimmy Needham
PRODUCER: Ed Cash and Jimmy Needham
BEST TRACK/S: If I Ever Needed Grace, My Victory, Clear the Stage, Arrows, The Only One
OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5
It is no secret that I have the highest respect for Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Jimmy Needham, but I must tell you that on Clear the Stage (Inpop), Needham has set such remarkable new heights for himself that it boggles the mind why Christian AC has not opened itself up to him. Given his penchant for clever little wordplay, irresistible singalong melodies, and ultimately, the desire to be, as he himself puts it in track number eight, Arrows, an arrow that points back to God.
I credit a lot of this growth to producer Ed Cash. Cash, an award-winning producer who has worked with artists like Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Bebo Norman, David Crowder Band, Kari Jobe, and Casting Crowns, clearly stretched Needham musically on Clear the Stage, employing a variety of musical arrangements and styles not previously available on Needham’s previous release, the brilliant Nightlights, which results in a more accessible, mainstream sound that definitely works, although occasionally, I find myself longing for the southern soul that was clearly present on Nightlights and the previous release, Not Without Love.
If I Ever Needed Grace by Jimmy Needham
Thematically, Needham delves into a wide range with Clear the Stage, although he returns most convincingly to the themes of grace (If I Ever Needed Grace, Rock Bottom, My Victory) and humility vs. pride, which Needham dealt with beautifully with The Reason I Sing off Nightlights, and with the title track on Clear the Stage. He sings about his baby girl Lively on Daddy’s Baby Girl and God’s omnipresence (Arrows). He even offers God more unrestrained worship with My Victory and The Only One, and indulges in a lovely duet with Lizi Bailey about God’s love on Stay.
My Victory by Jimmy Needham
Album-opener I Will Find You, which features Christian rapper du jour Lecrae Moore, starts Clear the Stage on a clearly contemporary vein. Not unlike Grace Amazing off Nightlights, which featured Trip Lee, I Will Find You reads like a letter from God to His children, encouraging them to never fear, because He is with them. The theme of encouragement also carries through to track six, In the Middle.
Clear the Stage by Jimmy Needham
Carrier single If I Ever Needed Grace, which is now #31 on the Christian AC chart, is a moving paean to God’s grace, and probably Needham’s most clearly personal single to date. Its powerful, anthemic chorus makes for excellent singing along, although I think the most singable song on the album is My Victory, track 8, also the most blatantly worshipful of the ten songs on Clear the Stage. Needham has several videos on YouTube leading worship in various churches throughout America, but his albums have by and large been relatively devoid of material that can be of use in congregational worship. Clear the Stage has My Victory.
Lyrically, Needham has always had a way with words, and Clear the Stage is chock full of them. Among the more noteworthy lines, some Jimmy Needham (and Ross King!) quotes, are:
- It’s true I’m spending nearly half an hour making faces just to get you to smile (Daddy’s Baby Girl) – Oh I remember this! Any father will connect with this and say, “Yeah! That’s me!)
- My hungry heart was desperate for a meal | I feasted on the Bread of Life (If I Ever Needed Grace) – Another Clear the Stage reviewer found this line awkward; I humbly beg to disagree. I love the way that this line is halfway between literal and symbolic. Our hearts hunger for something greater, something to fill it up and satisfy its hunger, and nothing fills a heart up like Jesus, nothing satisfies us more than His presence. I loved this line!
- If pain is the ocean you’re swimming in, if I can’t pull you out, I’m divin’ in (In the Middle). This was actually the first line off the entire album that made me go, “Wow.” I just love the imagery of it, and I love its duality as well; either way, the singer will rescue the object of his affection.
- Everywhere I go, I see arrows pointing the way back to you… Make me an arrow, put me in Your bow, pull back and let go, and send me wherever you want me to go (Arrows). Actually this entire song is one of my favorites on Clear the Stage because it tells the story of how anything (and possibly everything!) is God’s way of speaking to us, of leading us back to Him, and we, in turn, can also be arrows, pointing people back to Him. The thing about arrows, is that they need an Archer to point them in the right direction, and I love how Needham makes it clear in the bridge that God alone can send us where He wants us to go, and He can lead us there.
- My weakness Yours, Your mercy mine, My God, You’re not the leaving kind (My Victory). Wow, just wow. So much theology in one line!
- If You’re the water, fill me up ’til lesser loves are washed out to sea (The Only One).
- We must not worship something that’s not even worth it | Clear the stage, make some space for the One Who deserves it (Clear the Stage). Ross King wrote Clear the Stage in 2005, and seven years later, the song is just as powerful. Every Christian should hear this!
I can’t begin to tell you what a fantastic album Clear the Stage is. I strongly, strongly recommend you get a copy of Clear the Stage because lyrically and musically, it’s right up there with the best you’ll hear this year. Every song is clearly distinct from all other album tracks. As a matter of fact, I find in the presence of Needham’s work, I feel woefully inadequate to explain how moved I am by his songs, which are on-target in my life. If they speak to me, a Filipino-Christian, I believe they will speak to you as well.