Release Date: August 27th 2013
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Mandisa is one of the many success stories that has originated from the reality TV show American Idol, along with other artists such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jason Castro, Daughtry, Jordin Sparks, Kris Allen and Katherine McPhee. Coming a long way from elimination early on in the show at number 9; Mandisa has since carved and crafted a strong, successful and well publicised CCM career with Sparrow Records, with 3 studio albums (True Beauty, Freedom, What If We Were Real?) recorded already, her most successful being her latest album in 2011 (her fastest tracking album to date). Known for her hit singles “Only The World”, “He Is With You”, “My Deliverer”, “Stronger”, “Waiting For Tomorrow”, and the most recent “Good Morning”, which features TobyMac; Mandisa also performed her hit songs on Good Morning America a few times last year, and other morning breakfast TV shows; as well as releasing a remix EP released in August and a Christmas album in October, not to mention touring with Britt Nicole and Laura Story, and with TobyMac on the ‘Hits Deep Tour’. Making for a very busy 2012, 2013 is even busier, with Overcomer releasing this week. The title track and lead single has already been peaking at no. 1 on the iTunes Christian singles charts, and the album also boasts many CCM heavyweights producing and writing songs on the album, from Christopher Stevens and David Garcia (producers) to Matthew West, Plumb, Chris August, Britt Nicole, Cindy Morgan, and Israel Houghton (co-writers, and backing vocals); these are reasons enough for me to get excited and interested. Add to the fact that Mandisa “…recorded both the song and the album to fuel faith, empower people, and remind those facing a battle, that all of the strength, power, and weapons of warfare they need is readily available to them. We are all overcomers…”; Overcomer is an album that is fun and inspirational to listen to, and definitely something that Mandisa should be proud of- it’s her best album to date in my opinion!
“Overcomer” kicks off the disc, with Mandisa’s uplifting pop single speaking about how we’re already overcomers and conquerors because Jesus Christ lives in us. Mandisa’s vocals are stellar and very powerful in this opener, and musically it’s extremely catchy with the right mix of guitars, keys and electronic beats, probably one of the most musically contagious tracks I’ve heard in a while! As for the lyrics and themes, the song doesn’t say that our life isn’t meant to be easy and rosy; in fact as Christians God has promised us that hardship will come our way many times in our lives. Yet as Mandisa uplifts and motivates us in our walk with God, we are reminded that the battle has already been won by Jesus, and that even when ‘…you might be down for a moment, feeling like it’s hopeless, that’s when He reminds you that you’re an overcomer…’, with God by our side, all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. Well done Mandisa for this brilliant first song that encompasses so much of what the album is about, and sets the tone for the many topics touched upon and explored!
The synth led positive and upbeat “Back To You” delves into the extent to which God sacrificed the life of His Son for us, and our immediate response to what was done for us. Because of the gift of salvation that was freely given, we can’t help but say ‘thank you’ to God and honour Him, which is exactly what the song is about. As Mandisa sings with gratefulness that ‘…You took a heart so black and blue, piece by piece You’re making new, the only thing left to do…is to give it all back to You…’, a sense of responsibility washes over me; as Christians our duty and responsibility is to shine a light back onto the One who gave us eternal life, and to be the agents, hands and feet for those who do not have a voice. Our destiny and identity are intricately linked with what God has done for us, and “Back To You” is the first step in the acknowledgement and appreciation that our life will never be the same again (in a good way!).
The electric guitar based anthem “The Distance”, a potential radio single, also is a feel good track. Co-written with Matthew West (and with Matthew singing on backing vocals…just every so faintly!), Mandisa powerfully declares that God’s love closes the distance between ourselves and Him through Jesus’ death on the cross. The bridge is where Mandisa sings words based on Romans 8:38-39, that nothing on earth and in heaven, can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ; and as I sing along with the words ‘…even in my weakest moment, I can feel You closing the distance, and you won’t stop…coming for me…’; I immediately get chills from this Holy-Spirit moment! Matthew West is a very good writer, and it evidently shows on this track, as we are met with something that potentially be re-recorded by Matthew (in fact, I would encourage that he put his own spin on the song!). Because Jesus closes the distance between us and God, we can indeed wonder and dream about seeing Him face to face. Mandisa takes that thought literally, and creates the electronic dance remix-y club track “Face 2 Face”, which is something that Capital Kings would be proud of. Because the song is so left-field, out of the box, and experimental musically, the lyrics are hence accentuated, and this makes me long for my heavenly home- I myself can sing with conviction ‘…I can’t wait to be where you are, close enough to feel your heart, face 2 face…with You my Saviour…’!
What has always grabbed and engaged me on previous albums, was Mandisa’s uncanny ability to interweave strong lyrics of relatable topics, with her pristine and unique vocals, and infectious and energetic music. This is definitely the case with the songs from Overcomer! The warm, emotional and moving guitar prominent track “Press On”, which debuted on USA Today last week, speaks about running the race that God has prepared for us, without looking back or to the side. Motivational for running, as Mandisa calls this her running song, the lyrics of ‘…I will follow, I will press on, even when the walk feels long, your hands will hold me together, your love is with me forever..’ is sure to encourage and uplift even those in the toughest places of their lives; this track is a game-changer for Mandisa, it will definitely be big!
“What Scars Are For”, the piano led power ballad, talks about how even though God doesn’t approve of bad things happening in this world, some adversities bring us scars (physical, emotional or otherwise), which ‘…remind me of Your faithfulness and all You’ve brought me through, they teach me that my brokenness is something You can use…’. Though these lyrics do not at all try to rationalise and state that scars are good for us; they do try to paint things in a different light. God does use every part of us to further His kingdom, and that includes our scars. Once we realise and accept that, we’d be a lot freer! “At All Times”, a participatory all-out worship gospel anthem co-written with Israel Houghton, brings the worship and party back to the album, with Mandisa proclaiming that Jesus is King and worthy of all praise, outlining that we can bless the Lord at all times! Mandisa hasn’t really recorded that many out-there worship songs, and it’s good that there’s a representative on this album. “Joy Unspeakable” is another electronic dubstep remix type track, showing Mandisa being very creative musically, and is also very catchy. I can’t think of an album with so many catchy and top notch songs; Mandisa has certainly outdone herself with every track on Overcomer! As the song speaks about how our joy that’s beyond comprehension as we dance before God, pleases Him immensely; the last few tracks bring Mandisa’s story into personal territory.
I’m now convinced that Mandisa is a veteran at all kinds of music, especially the dance/club genre after introducing a slew of offerings. Yet it’s the emotional ballads and personal songs where she shine the most in every facet! The acoustic jazz/soul ballad “Praying For You”, with finger clicks instead of drums, co-written with Chris August, is directed at her future husband. Inspiring all single people in the world (myself included) that we should pray that our spouses honour and love God with all their hearts, the question is raised that if we don’t start praying now that our future spouses are godly men and women of God, then when will we. Marriage is a sacred and permanent decision, and finding the One God wants you to be with is the best thing that will happen in our lives, so any time we start praying for our future, is definitely a good thing. The album closer “Where You Begin”, one of my favourite album closers that I’ve heard recently since Switchfoot’s “Where I Belong”. Co-written with Britt Nicole and Cindy Morgan, the serene and honest piano led ballad is an honest prayer to God. As Mandisa asks God ‘…are You telling me to go, are You telling me to stay, are You telling me to hold on to You for another day?…’, immediately after the uncertainty, the vulnerability and raw emotion kick in as Mandisa admits that ‘…I got nothing left, and I’m hanging by a thread, I’ll give you all my weakness, you give me the strength, cause I’m here again, here at my end, where You begin…’. Really, the chorus is my favourite part of the song. As the last song is generally where the artist ties the messages up into one neat bow, a song about holding onto God and letting Him take the reins on our life is very freeing, and something that has the power to transform and change our lives and preconceptions of Jesus- that He is able and willing to give us strength to make it through any day!
But the track that propels Overcomer to the lofty heights that I’m glad it did, is the track that deserves to be heard- “Dear John”, written for Mandisa’s non-Christian brother John. Co-written with Tiffany Arbuckle Lee aka Plumb (and featuring her on guest vocals as well); it’s a heartfelt plea for John to give his life to Jesus, and encourages us to share the good news with our loved ones who do not know Jesus. Mandisa is taking a risk here, as John may or may not respond positively to this song, yet for this risk I commend and applaud her for stepping out and recording a song that she feels needs to be recorded, and one that God has put on her heart. You can literally hear the cries of desperation and raw emotion through Mandisa’s earnest singing; and with the words of ‘…it’s up to you, you get to choose, your Father is waiting now with open arms…’, I’m sure everyone after listening to the song will root for and pray for John that he’ll accept Jesus in to His life. But it does beg the question of how we are spreading the gospel, and for all that may go wrong for this song in the future, Mandisa has done a whole lot right, for this track and others on her best and most vulnerable album to date in Overcomer!
I guess the problem with albums in general though is that only 10-13 tracks are allowed (I guess that’s the label’s issue). Personally, I think that’s a shame, as the 4 bonus deluxe tracks that Mandisa offers up are deserving of being on the album too. Capital Kings remixed their own version of “Overcomer”, which turns out to be very unique and creative (however I like the original studio version better, but this is good too), and the remix version of “Press On”, maybe prophetically titled “CB Ultra Run Remix”, transforms the pop uplifter into an electronic dance anthem fit for encouragement- it’s remixes like these that I love, as “Press On” was enhanced greatly! Mandisa also covers the famous ballad “I Hope You Dance”, originally recorded by Lee Ann Womack, and transforms it musically from a country flavoured ballad to an electronic dance number, keeping it true to Mandisa’s upbeat style. Lyrically and vocally, Mandisa makes this version her own, and it’s great to hear her singing about being positive and dancing even when life gets you down. The final deluxe edition song is “Cradle Me (Patsy’s Lullaby)”, which is, you guessed it, a piano only reflective track similar in style to a lullaby, co-written with Patsy Clairmont, and has Mandisa softly and majestically singing about God guiding and helping her through this journey we call life. Well done Mandisa for methodically recording the bonus tracks and giving us something extra to enjoy!
Seriously, all of these 13 tracks (minuses remixes) are probably in my top 25 or 30 tracks that Mandisa has ever recorded. More than making up for the longer wait between albums, Overcomer is stacked with inspirational tune after inspirational tune. Add to that, the extent of musical diversity, and a few personal tracks bound to be relatable to at least one person, Overcomer is bound to shine on a release day stacked with healthy competition from artists such as Love & The Outcome, Stellar Kart, Jars Of Clay and for KING & COUNTRY. Do not miss this career highlight from this passionate and authentic woman of God, and be sure to catch Mandisa on the 2nd leg of the Hits Deep Tour later on this year. Well done, Mandisa, you thoroughly deserve all of the accolades and praise for this superb effort. Hats off to all of the co-writers involved. And as I close, let’s all pray for John, that God works in his heart tonight and all of the subsequent nights until he becomes a believer!
- Back To You
- The Distance
- Face 2 Face
- Press On
- What Scars Are For
- Dear John
- At All Times
- Joy Unspeakable
- Praying For You
- Where You Begin