Music Monday Double Feature: Ryan Clair - Less Traveled Road, Ian Zumback - The Table
Release Date: January 26, 2018 (Less Traveled Road), February 2, 2018 (The Table)
With the start of a new year, there is already plenty of great new music to fill up your playlist. I’m excited that two artists I’ve followed closely over the past year are releasing new projects within a week of each other. Ryan Clair is a worship leader based in Baxter, MN whose “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me” single was featured here last fall. His new full-length album Less Traveled Road drops January 26. Singer-songwriter Ian Zumback is based in Nashville and gives us his debut full-length project as well, titled The Table (releasing February 2). Having connected with singles that Ian released leading up to The Table, I was already gearing up for a strong offering.
This first #musicmonday of 2018 is a double feature and takes a look at both releases.
First up, Ryan’s Less Traveled Road is aptly titled as the listener is taken on a journey throughout the release. One element that is apparent upfront: there is a tenacity and a grit at times to Ryan’s voice. This comes through strong on opening track “Move Over Devil”. I’m immediately struck by a feeling of holy defiance and spiritual warfare within the song…”like a train coming down the line, I am ready for a war this time.” It’s an immediate kickstart which has me saying “Alright Ryan let’s go, I’m all in!”
Up next, “Throw Me A Line” was the second single advanced off the disc and it feels familiar…like a down-home, straight up Gospel song. That rich organ sound sweeping over the melody and the soft swells of a lap steel guitar makes Throw Me A Line feel good to the soul. And lyrically speaking, who of us cannot relate to the idea of being at the end of our rope, crying out in desperation for the Savior to save and redeem us? This one’s on repeat.
Themes of trust, perseverance, and longing for heaven’s home are drawn out throughout the album. A weary traveler just passing through is the subject matter of title track “Less Traveled Road”. That song and “Hope” are clear displays of the flip-side of Ryan’s voice: a softness and a beckoning to the listener to come and worship. “See How Great A Flame Aspires” has a strong “dark-country” drive with lyrics to support it: a strength and confidence in the Lord we serve.
"Come To The Altar and Pray" has a hymn-like quality and features Chris and Anthony Hoisington (Brothers McClurg) on vocals alongside Ryan. The easy-feel of the track is soothing in itself and the lyrics call forth a response: “If it’s addictions you hold or joy the enemy has stole, come to the altar to pray. Your faith may be small, there’s room here for all. Come to the altar and pray.”
True elements of worship pastor meets singer-songwriter abound on Less Traveled Road ("Great Is The Lord", "A Brother’s Battle") but I’d be remiss if did not once again mention “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me”. As a songwriter myself, there is an appreciation one finds for a beautifully crafted melody and heartfelt lyrics. Many people have heard this song as the introduction to Ryan’s music. Hopefully those people will become not only fans but also followers as Ryan points the way to Jesus. As I’ve shared Ryan’s music with others (family, friends and beyond), there has been an instant connection that has crossed boundaries of age, sex, and even denominations. It's rare these days for an artist to be able to achieve that.
Combining influences of artists such as Zach Williams and Chris Stapleton, Ryan Clair presents a sound that is not readily heard elsewhere in Christian music. It’s a sound you’ll readily be drawn to. Go give Ryan’s new release a listen and download (or CD purchase).
Must listen-to tracks: Throw Me A Line, I Want Jesus To Walk With Me, and Less Traveled Road
Less Traveled Road on iTunes here
Perhaps one thing lacking in Christian music today are songwriters who are storytellers…artists who articulate the story of redemption in new and fresh ways. Artists like Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson, and Bebo Norman are storytellers I have come to admire for their honesty and humility. After listening to The Table, I now must add to that list Ian Zumback.
Ian Zumback’s The Table is a true songwriters album by Ian’s own admission. First track “Down In My Soul” carries the vision of what I would imagine is the victim in the Good Samaritan parable. Painting a picture of desperation in need of a Savior’s touch, Down In My Soul is a soft opening that gives the listener a glimpse of where things are headed: “I’ve been that broken down heart, broken down car, just waitin’ for someone to come and help me out.”
Up next, “Promise Is A Promise,” thematically pulls from the idea of staying the course and knowing the Savior is not one beholden to forget His word. Melodically, there’s banjo, fingerpicked guitar and piano all laid against a backdrop of a soft-shuffle rhythm section. Anthony Hoisington provides additional vocals on this track which has already found its way into my head; I’m humming the chorus throughout the day.
Restoration of the weary heart and reaching out to the lost by putting feet on the Gospel are strongly conveyed on tracks like "The Table" and "Entertaining Angels." The title track once again reveals the promise of God as He gives us sonship: “You give me the life that You want me to have when You said this promise I’ll keep. You’ll sit at the table with Me.” Entertaining Angels was advanced as a single last year and I immediately resonated with its authenticity and charge: “When you help someone in need, the lowest of the low, you could be entertaining angels and not know. Until you get up to heaven and hear the Savior say of how you entertained the angels you met along the way.” Brothers McClurg and Keri Cardinale round out a great ensemble alongside Ian making this track feel very communal and tight-knit.
The promise of the life we have in Christ abounds throughout The Table and is readily apparent on tracks “Hope Beyond Despair” and “Resurrect Me.” Each one presents a somewhat different perspective: Hope Beyond Despair could easily sit in a worship set (a heartfelt plea a la “Lord I Need You”). Resurrect Me goes a little darker melodically but begs Christ’s resurrection for our own souls: “Roll, roll, roll the stone away. Lift me out from the grave. Cause only You have the power to save. Lord, resurrect Me.”
I’m honestly vibing with every track throughout this album’s journey and remaining tracks (“Brother To Brother” featuring Weston Skaggs, “Song of Songs”, “Manasseh”) are rich and feel very modern with a folky yet stripped-back touch. I must make special note of "Murderer A Messenger" as it’s the kind of song that gives you pause when you consider it’s full truth. This was another pre-album single and once again was a brilliant decision to advance before The Table came out. With accompanying vocals provided by Jessica Crawford, Ian makes the case that God “takes the worst of the worst and gives them the best of the best.” It’s a poignant reminder of the salvation story Christ has written for those of us who have trusted in Him.
Hoping you will check out Ian Zumback’s The Table and once again, download or purchase a copy today.
Must listen-to tracks: Entertaining Angels, Promise Is A Promise, and Murderer A Messenger
The Table on iTunes here
Until the next #musicmonday, God bless!