Album Review: Colton Dixon, “A Messenger”

ALBUM TITLE: A Messenger
ARTIST: Colton Dixon

American Idol finalist Colton Dixon may not have gone home with the coveted title, but he didn’t go home empty-handed. The blond mohawked “rocker” with the remarkable voice has become the latest American Idol to venture into Contemporary Christian music, joining the ranks of Mandisa, Chris Sligh, Phil Stacey, George Huff, and a slew of other somewhat less successful entries. With a record deal from Sparrow Records, a management deal from 19 Entertainment, and a Top 11 hit under his belt (You Are peaked at number 11, ouch), the future of this young man appears to be bright and rosy.

With the release of A Messenger, Dixon releases a slickly produced and thoughtfully written debut that is one of the most diverse first albums from any American Idol alumnus of the past five years. Sparrow Records hooked him up with several key producers to help him bring his vision to life, including Red Decibel (Kelly Clarkson, Jesse McCartney, Jeremy Camp, Switchfoot), busbee (Daughtry, P!nk, Switchfoot, Smash Mouth, Keith Urban), Zac Maloy (Daughtry, Plain White T’s, Carrie Underwood), and CCM stalwarts David Garcia & Ben Glover (Mandisa, Britt Nicole, Avalon). The end result is a diverse set of songs that should speak to a wide set of listeners.

Never Gone, the first song made available to the listening public, was performed by Dixon during the American Idol tour, making the rocker the first artist to perform an original song on the tour. Personally, this is my favorite track on the album. Instantly radio-friendly, very singable, and with a highly encouraging message, Never Gone is that Christian pop-rock radio crossover track waiting to happen.

You Are is the official radio single released to Christian AC, and it exploded at Christian radio, eventually peaking at number 11 on the Christian AC chart as well as finishing in the Top 10 of the Christian rock chart. A straightforward song of praise, You Are clearly deserved to finish in the Top 10. (It can still reverse track, IMHO.)

Several other tracks on A Messenger also hold a lot of promise and contribute to Dixon’s overall vision for his debut. In my opinion, however, Dixon’s strength lies in the quality of his piano-driven tracks. Rise, for instance, is a powerful track with a chorus that just won’t quit. Love Has Come is another stand-out track, showcasing Dixon’s range and the message that God’s love is pretty much the answer to whatever questions we may have as a result of what life throws at us. I’ll Be the Light is another terrific track, excellently produced and brilliantly sung; you truly believe that he wants to be the harbinger of the Good News that Christ offers. Scars is another emotional and musical highlight, in which Dixon sings of God’s redemptive nature and how we can find the strength to move upon from the painful day-to-day’s, so to speak, by relying on God’s strength. The album closer, Let Them See You, is breathtaking in its production and how it reflects Dixon’s heart.

Dixon, a recent Manila visitor for a Valentine’s concert with fellow American idol alum Jessica Sanchez, delivers impressively with A Messenger. There is enough texture and musical balance on this debut release to establish for himself a sound that will ultimately please his fans and hopefully earn him some new ones. On the basis of this release, I hesitate to call him a rocker, though; I still feel that his strengths ultimately lie in the quality of his ballads and his piano skill, and I feel that he would do well to head in that direction.

Vocally, Dixon is virtually flawless.

On another note, lyrically, Dixon comes across as genuine, but perhaps with the exception of Scars, there isn’t much range thematically, and while the lyrics do match the music, I feel that there isn’t quite anything I’ve heard on this record, lyrically speaking, that I haven’t heard on other Christian rock releases in the past. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, lyrically, but it would have been very interesting to see the lyrical result of a collaboration between Dixon and his pre-believer collaborators.

(I do not mean to compare, and this is really apples and oranges, but when we listen to new releases from some of Contemporary Christian music’s most thoughtful songwriters – Jimmy Needham, Andrew Peterson, and Shawn McDonald, perhaps even the somewhat commercial yet still remarkable work of writers like Matthew West, Ben Glover, and Mark Hall – you never quite know what to expect lyrically, and you look forward to the new spin on old faith that these masters of the word can put together. Dixon is young, and I think he has the lyrical chops to create some amazing work in what will hopefully be a long and lasting career.)

Ultimately, A Messenger tells us exactly that: Dixon is a new star on the horizon, with a bright future and a bold message to declare. Having been given a rare opportunity on a global stage to take a stand and make a statement, he stepped out and made a passionate declaration of faith in a God Who is now giving him his own soapbox. And what a timely, lovely message it is.

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