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20 Years of Ross King: The Early Years

I first heard Ross King’s music at camp in 2002. Some of the staff listened to his albums and a few of his songs made it into the camp videos. So after repeated viewings of my camp tape (back when VHS was still a thing), I had to find more by the guy who wrote “Clear the Stage.” We finally found his album at a local Christian bookstore– and it stayed in my mom’s Toyota Sienna CD player for months. This was back before all vehicles could carry multiple discs in the CD player– no, the Sienna could only hold one disc at a time. But we only needed one.

We listened to And All the Decorations Too everywhere we went– on the way to school, on the way back, to church, to the grocery store, waiting in the van for Mom to finish shopping, sitting in the driveway to finish listening to a song. It was magnificent. So, of course, I had to find more music by this Ross King guy. And found more I did. (I apologize to all English teachers for the grammar in that last sentence.)

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Taken from his Twitter: https://twitter.com/rosskingmusic

Ross King has been releasing music for about 20 years now– and he’s still growing in his artistry, trying out new styles, sounds, and themes. I decided to review his music, and this first post covers the first 5 years and first 7 albums.  Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I look at the rest of his music through the 2000s and more recent years. So, now, without further ado, Ross King.

Something By Sunrise (1995)

SBS“Ross King’s first musical contribution demonstrates a Christians’ overwhelming desire for answers from God. Ross searches God for something…something by sunrise.” From here.

This album starts off with an upbeat, acoustic guitar driven song, “To Carry” with lyrics like “When a bad hair day gets scary, I will carry…That’s the way love goes, why it works like that nobody knows.” Personally, I believe the best part of any Ross King song is his voice– rich, strong, resonant, with just the right amount of twang. Some might classify his work as “country,” perhaps simply because he has a “country sounding voice” and plays guitar, but I’d label his music a blend of folk, singer-songwriter, and soft rock (and sometimes pop). The songs on this album also strongly feature piano and mandolin, as well as guitar, bongos, and synth. Some are quite peppy (“To Carry”, “Every Day”), while many are maudlin and melancholic (“Meet Me Where I Am”, “Host of Angels”, “County Road 109”, “When the Fields Were On Fire”). Each has its own strengths (the intros to “Meet Me…” and “When the Fields…”, the simplicity of “Host of Angels“) and weaknesses (some of the songs drag just a little bit, “The Children” could have been a little faster or had different instrumentation, in my opinion). All in all, this is an excellent first album. I’m glad Ross hasn’t hidden it away in the archives, like some artists, but still has it available on iTunes.

Favorite lines: “You should have been there when they burned down the wheat fields. The flames gave their passion away to the sky. / But now it’s all gone, only ashes remain there. You should have been there when the fields were on fire.” (“When The Fields Were On Fire”)

Also, the album’s ending line, sung a cappella with great resonance: “Born of a virgin he came, and Jesus was his name– his purpose was unknown” (“Host of Angels”)

Favorite Song: “When The Fields Were On Fire” (Also “To Carry”, “Meet Me Where I Am”, “Every Day”)

Click here to purchase the album on iTunes!

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Sullivan’s Flaw (1997)

SF“Ross King’s second project Sullivan’s Flaw, illustrates that tragic defect Christian’s experience: imperfection. Despite our efforts, the one thing that saves us is grace through Jesus Christ.” From here.

This album starts off with vibrant, guitar driven song (“Such is the Love”), though there is an effect for the first few seconds that makes the recording sound kind of muffled, like you’re hearing it from another room (if that makes sense). But perhaps it’s analogous to the transition from first to second album? Because Sullivan’s Flaw has so much more instrumentation, layering, and effects than Something By Sunrise, along with the consistent force of Ross’s excellent songwriting and composition. Some of the choices rub me the wrong way (the intro, how he sings “for every life he pa-ai-ai-aid, heh!” in “Such is the Love,” a couple songs seem to drawl on), but for the most part this is an excellent follow up album!

Many of Ross’s songs are quite anthemic, stirring up your thoughts and emotions for topics such as grace in “Rest of My Life” (“I found the rest of my life waiting in Heaven’s embrace / Lay down in the mercy of Christ, fresh as the morning, this the message of grace“); the importance of evangelism in “Up to Me” (“Someone ought to tell them about Jesus … But that’s just not my gift, so you probably shouldn’t leave that to me“); and individual significance in “Brighter than You Know” (“You don’t know how important you are right there where you stand, right there where you are“).  In fact that last song is strongly reminiscent of Rich Mullins’s “Verge of the Miracle,” which is a high compliment.  Along with Ross’s excellent songwriting, this album features more percussion (“The Best Day,” “A Little More Alive,”), harmonica (“Same Tomorrow“), vocals (“Until I Fall”) and strings (“Rest of My Life”). Overall, Sullivans Flaw shows great maturity and is a hidden gem in Ross’s catalogue.

Favorite Lines: “But I will hold on, hold on to what I cannot see. Cause I know, I know You’re making me. I’ll be fine, life is great, better times await...” (“Better Times Await”); “So I will move from where I’m standing in this place of church elite and get down on my hands and feet and wash my brother’s feet(“Another Place to Stand”)

Favorite Song: “The Rest of My Life”

Click here to view and purchase the album on iTunes!

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Too Much Free Time (1998)

TMFTWhat can one say about Too Much Free Time? How about:

– It is (as far as I know) Chris Tomlin’s first full album

– It was made when they were friends at Texas A&M

– They take turns singing lead on each of the songs, though they share the leads on a couple 

“One Light Town” (Chris) is a perfectly simple country song about a small Southern town where “karaoke night is big showbiz,” where “Chevy and Ford can separate kin,” where “the Varsity sport is tipping cows.

“Anymore” (Ross) is a spot-on break up song–  “She seemed to think that I could be her friend for life– girl, think twice. / Cause friends don’t kiss me and they pay for their own ticket at the movie– so I hope you brought some cash…” and “I am going to take right down to the station where I’ll buy you a one way ticket out of town… And I’ll build you a big old ugly statue of my new girlfriend, the one I left you for, then I’ll send it COD express-mail to your door– that’s exactly what I’ll do as soon as I don’t love you anymore…

“Big Man” (Chris) this one is a twist– it sounds like a real serious, draining, emotional song… and it kind of is, as it’s about a man who lost his dog… but then you get this zinger: “It takes a big man to cry– but a bigger man to laugh at him…” and it just builds.

“Foot In My Mouth” (Ross)– So funny. SO FUNNY. This song really requires Ross’s goofy twang– but here is Chris Tomlin singing the classic (first time I’ve actually seen him reference this album!)

“Hidden” (Chris)- The guys did a play on putting “hidden tracks” at the end of your album… by putting it in the middle. Stupid. But hilarious. “Something tells me, she don’t love me anymore… like when she tried to iron my shirt while I still had it on… or when she came by my house last night to watch the stars and I broke my leg when she pushed me off my roof

“I Fell In Something” (Ross)- Another good “my crazy ex” song. Along with some potty humor. “I fell in deep, I fell in hard, up to my knees, down in her heart, I fell too fast, I fell too far, Now something just stinks when I think about us. I fell in something, but it wasn’t love” and “I wish I could wipe– her out of my mind, cause she really dumped on me good”

“Christmas Song” (Chris)- Chris Tomlin is a mall Santa singing lines to a good looking girl standing nearby, lines like “Sit on my knee and tell me you want me for Christmas” and “Snuggle up, whisper in my ear”

“If the Devil Was a Man” (Ross and Chris)- If any of these songs could be considered “serious” I suppose this one could… though it’s a fun song about how you could beat up the Devil, if only he was a man– “…I’d punch him in the eye, he could growl and snarl at me but all to no avail– if the Devil was a man I’d kick his tail” 

– The guys are obviously having fun, which usually (but not always) leads to a fun album. People always crack up when I play them songs from this album, so I hope you enjoy it too!

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Unfortunately, there’s nowhere consistent to purchase this album (you can check eBay and Amazon and see what they have), but here’s a few tracks you can listen to for now!

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Breakaway Ministries

Better Than Life (1996), Many Walks, One Road (1998), and The Spirit Moves (2000)

For many years, Ross King served on the worship team for Breakaway Ministries. From Breakaway’s current website:

Breakaway is a non-denominational, weekly Bible study on the campus of Texas A&M University. We exist to introduce college students to Jesus Christ and call them to walk with Him for a lifetime. We accomplish this through worship, Bible teaching and resources. While not affiliated with any one church, we work hard to connect students to local, Bible-believing churches. By God’s power and for His glory, we live to proclaim the gospel of Christ to college students and connect them to Christ’s community and His mission.

From an earlier version of their website (1999, found via the Wayback Machine), “Ross is one of two men who lead worshippers for Breakaway’s six-person worship team. As lead vocalists they lead Aggies to the throne of the Father in preparation of hearing His word.

Years ago, when I was searching for more of Ross’s music, I came across these albums. Each album is driven by the importance of corporate worship, with voices of hundreds joining together in adoration and praise.  I would greatly encourage you to look into this music– and Breakaway still meets and puts out resources too.

BTLTechnically, Better Than Life (1996) could be seen as Ross’s second album, but it was not his alone, so I would not count it in such order. Like most music after a number of years, it sounds rather dated. (Many songs in these albums, and the ones listed above, reflect the 90s love of near-operatic female vocals, synth, keyboards, and …interesting percussion.) This isn’t as much an insult as it is a reality of all music– how do you know what will last and what is a passing fade? (You can see this in music by everyone from the Beatles to Rich Mullins to Justin Timberlake.)  Despite all this, Better Than Life is a fine album with some great songs that could be transferred to other worship gatherings, like “Clap Your Hands,” “His Banner Over Me,” and “I Awaited.” Ross’s handiwork is all over this album with his strong, resonating voice in every song and his creative songwriting in “Grace & Peace,” “We Love Our God” and “In Need.”  For Breakaway’s first praise and worship album, Better Than Life is quite good.

MWORBut from the first few seconds of Breakaway’s album, Many Walks, One Road (1998), you can tell that the recording quality, praise band, and overall artistry has improved fivefold. There is much more control over vocals, though as the album continues harmonies start to seem a little bit off. The percussion seems much more intentional, especially in “In the Secret.” They obviously purchased a new keyboard, as it sounds much more natural and less tinny than the previous album. There are a few songs that trail along, but most of them have deliberate pacing and balance. While Ross was more of a worship team member in Better Than Life, he is clearly more of a “worship leader” (weird term, right?) in vocals and direction in this album. I love “Goodness and Mercy,” “Lamb of God,” “Spirit Fall On Me” (fun harmonica included!), “Only You,” and “How Great Thou Art.” Ross has great command with worship classics, and they even try something I thought was pretty fascinating, tagging the chorus of “In The Secret” to the end of “Open The Eyes of My Heart.” As far as I can tell, the only King-penned song in this album is “Holy, Holy,” but I would say that the production of this song alone is stronger than most of the previous tracks on Better Than Life. Worship leaders, songwriters, praise teams, tech teams (and recording technology), and communities can greatly improve over time, and that is certainly true in Many Walks, One Road.  

TSMOf the three Breakaway albums with Ross’s strong influence, my favorite is definitely the last, The Spirit Moves. The production value is even better than the past two albums, and the worship team finally sounds like one well balanced group, as opposed to a bunch of different voices singing together. Plus John Sherrill’s songs and performance add a lot to the album. It’s obviously a live worship album, but the “audience” involvement is at a perfect level, with some singing and clapping, but not overpowering. It sounds like they are finally playing with a true piano– if not, that keyboard has a great “piano” setting!  The overall instrumentation is great, with wonderful percussion, piano, guitar, and more. Finally, the song selection and performance is just perfect. From the lyrics of the first song, “Great Is Your Love” (“I will praise you oh Lord, my God, with all of my heart I will glorify your name forever!”) to the last words of “Holy & Anointed One” (“Jesus, Jesus, you are the holy and anointed one, Jesus…”) the entire album inspires you to worship and sing to God. Four of Ross’s own songs show up on The Spirit Moves, including “Great Is Your Love,” “Who May Ascend,” “Meet With Me,” and “Consume Me.”  If I had to pick a favorite song… I couldn’t!  This is one of those albums you really have to listen to (and sing along to) from start to finish.

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Unfortunately, there is no consistent place to purchase these Breakaway albums. You can search eBay, Amazon or just look around Google and see what you find– but if you love Ross’s live praise and worship songs, click here to check out his album To Make God Famous Vol. I on his site. (It has a few songs from the Breakaway albums, and I will review it next time.)

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Big Quiet Truth (1999)

BQTAnd at this point Ross crosses over into serious territory.

I don’t mean all the topics are suddenly life and death. Instead, I’ll say this. I enjoy all of Ross King’s music and have listened to all the earlier albums tons of times, but Big Quiet Truth marks a transition to a new level of musical ability, album development, and engaging songwriting. With Big Quiet Truth, he finally made it big (well, as big as you can get as an indie musician… yet I know his goal has never been to become the new “Fill-In-The-Blank Famous Christian Artist,” but simply to produce excellent music in service to God and others… and he has done that full well… ok, the “big” thing was supposed to be a pun, y’all.)

The intro pulls you in with some pedal effects, simple acoustic guitar and drums, and Ross’s vibrant voice. And the lyrics continue to pull you in as he sings about the need for revival (“Revival,” perfect song to start off an album). “To live is not to simply survive– I think it’s time that I revive.”  The gospel and the Bible, while certainly central and influential in previous recordings, are now driving forces, almost recurring characters, in this album. You can see it everywhere. 

  • The need for revival in the first song?  Uses Easter symbolism of being buried in a tomb and being brought back to life: “One cry, one prayer, you rolled the stone away. I know you’re waiting. / Your life in me can lift me from my grave, one cry, one prayer, and I’m no longer there…”  
  • First lines of the second hymn-like song?  “I will send my sin away upon the Savior’s cross, I don’t think I need it anymore / I will send my sin away as an acceptable loss, that I might find the favor of the Lord / I will send my sin away, it’s been here way too long, you might say it made itself at home / But that was yesterday when I was not so strong, now I’m strengthened by the mercy of the dawn” (“Send My Sin Away”). 
  • And the third song?  A review of Bible characters that all chose to “take” something– “Jeremiah took rejection / Hosea took the prostitute… / Stephen took the stones and took a peak at heaven all because he took a stand” — and then Ross circles back to how we all seem to sometimes miss what God is doing and what God has done. “Sometimes I get it, sometimes I miss it by a mile. / Sometimes it’s hard for me to see it, sometimes it takes a little while. / Then I look back and it all makes perfect sense, and I ask myself, “Why can’t I take a hint” (“Take A Hint”). 

Beautiful imagery, stunning wordplay, poetic lyricism– it’s all there, and we’ve only looked at three songs!

Big Quiet Truth is full of unique classics that each have their own sound. Upbeat, folksy “Send My Sin Away.” The mandolin-breathed epic “Take A Hint.” A slow ballad, similar to songs from his previous albums (“Watch the Sun Go Down”). Soft acoustic sound balanced with tough gospel truth in “As Much For Me.” Funfair-sounding “Tuesday” with harmonicas and organs (no doubt written about Breakaway Ministries’ weekly meetings). “These Things” with calm, quiet guitar picking and soft (almost whispered) vocals. The song “Long and Lonely Fall” makes me picture a kid strolling down a path through the woods, whistling and praising God. “Fight On” is another King anthem (with the signature bongos and a bunch of other instruments) that just makes you want to stand up and sing. “Wake Up” is a melancholic, heart-wrenching song with just Ross and a piano. “Foolish to You”— another fun but “Oh wow– he’s right” folk pop song. Then there’s the marriage anthem “Will You Walk With Me?” with beautiful guitar and vocals and just a little 90s sound. And finally, the pièce de résistance, “An Open Letter to the Christian Subculture.” I could just quote the whole song to you, but then it’d just be black text on a yellow background. The song is so much more rich than that. Give it a listen.

Dang. This whole album just gives me a shot of adrenaline– not like an intense Relient K song, but it affects me deep in my core, makes me want to revive, to run after Christ more passionately, to follow more faithfully. And I’m sure that’s his purpose, after all.  It’s a great title- Big Quiet Truth.  That is the gospel, after all.  Truth so big, epic, grandiose, it redeems the whole universe– and truth so quiet, calm, and small it can enter the heart as a long awaited friend.

And I greet most of Ross’s music the same way too– like a good ole friend. It comforts me when I need it, challenges me when I need it, and stirs up my affections for Christ and His world. So thanks Ross.  

Favorite Track: “As Much For Me” and “Open Letter to the Christian Subculture”

Favorite Lines: “There’s some guy quoting answers from a book of guesses, he’s a pseudo student of a brand new art, but he’s the expert here among the wide eyed masses, he has unchecked power over every little heart. / I want something real, and I don’t think you can give it to me. You don’t know how I feel, you’re too addicted to your life. I’m making my appeal, can you take the time to listen to me, or are you blinded by the light you never shine?” (“Open Letter to the Christian Subculture”)

Click here to purchase Big Quiet Truth from Ross’s website!

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And at this point I must leave you, but come back for Part 2, as we move into the 2000s and look at Ross King’s albums To Make God Famous (2001), And All The Decorations Too (2000), To Make God Famous, Vol. 2 (2004), Soulspeak (2006), Perhaps I’ve Said Too Much (2007), and Words That Rhyme With Orange (2009). A fantastic mix of worship songs, singer-songwriter albums, and even something for the kids!

Tune in next week for more (or sometime in the next couple weeks… still have to do a lot of VBS planning!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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