You have seen the story in the March issue of the Singing News Magazine, you’ve heard the new single “Say Amen” on the radio and maybe you’ve even submitted your testimony for Daywind’s “Say Amen” contest for a chance to be the storyline in the new concept video. Or maybe you haven’t seen or heard any of the things listed above and are wondering what I’m talking about. If so, allow me to introduce you to Unashamed – the long awaited 2014 release from Brian Free and Assurance.
Brian Free and Assurance have a long 15+ year history in Southern Gospel Music. Forming his own quartet after a twelve year career with Gold City, Brian Free launched Brian Free and Assurance (also known as Assurance and/or BFA for short) in 1993. Over the years, Brian has perfected BFA’s sound to be one of a kind without losing his love for the older quartet music that fans love and the new material they anticipate with each release. In February of 2014, Brian added another collection of outstanding songs to their repertoire with Unashamed.
This new CD boasts of ten brand new songs from writers like Lee Black, Marty Funderburk, Sue C. Smith, Ronny Hinson, Kenna Turner West, Brian’s son, Ricky Free and more. If fans enjoyed projects like Never Walk Alone (2010) and Nothing But Love (2012) they will fall in love with Unashamed. The sound heard in those recordings (and previous CDs) seamlessly flow into this new project and provide fans with more great music that they will love. With big ballads for the tenor and baritone part, snappy tunes with a groove for the bass feature and the powerful medium tempo solos on the lead – this CD has everything a seasoned BFA fan would expect from a new project. Speaking of new, Unashamed is also the first release available from BFA that showcases their new baritone, Mike Rogers. Mike joined Assurance in the summer of 2013 and has shown himself to be a solid addition to the group. Once fans hear him sing these new songs like “One” and “Tell It Like It Was,” they will want to hear more from this strong vocalist. Another characteristic of Unashamed that’s different from any other Assurance project is the addition of guest vocalist Lauren Talley Alvey of the Talleys on track nine, Where There’s A Will He’ll Find A Way. Lauren has been a fan favorite for many years and has appeared as a guest vocalist on many artist’s CDs. It is no surprise to find Lauren pop up on another with such a stunning performance! As lead singer Bill Shivers said, “She killed it!” Finally, it wouldn’t be a true BFA CD without pointing out the strong theme the lyrics carry throughout the project. Without a doubt, the title gives it away in its simplicity and each song develops the subject with deep faith, chasing away any shadows in the heart that would keep any of God’s children from standing Unashamed.
Brian Free and Assurance
Tenor – Brian Free
Lead – Bill Shivers
Baritone – Mike Rogers
Bass Jeremy Lile
1 God of Possibilities
Feature: Bill Shivers
In a world that has been trying its best to weaken the faith of Christians; this song reminds us of four people who were unashamed of their faith in God and what their response was to the world’s criticism. If the skeptic were to say to Moses, “There’s no way through the Red Sea” or to little David, “Your sling and stone is no match for that giant” – what would they say? The chorus speaks for them, “I know the God of possibilities – I know the Lord of all that is to be – I know whatever is in front of me will bow the knee to the God of possibilities!” Again, if the scoffer were to say to the boy with five loafs and two fishes, “That’s not enough to feed 5000,” or to Peter when he stepped out on the water, “The waves are way too rough for that,” they would find out that when people have faith and have witnessed how the Lord can work – faith becomes an unshakable thing.
Other Comments: The intro begins with an acoustic guitar and is soon echoed by the lead guitar. Though the style can be called progressive, it does not exceed what has been recorded on previous CDs. Personally, this is one of my favorites from this project – it kind of reminds me of Anything is Possible from their Never Walk Alone CD and has a happy, up-beat flair that raises one’s spirit.
Feature: Brian Free
In Southern Gospel Music it is rare to find a song that speaks of the persecuted church and their boldness for the gospel, but this ballad does. The first verse tells the story of the past – of one who chose to suffer for Christ rather than deny His name. The writer expresses his desire to follow in that one’s footsteps…no matter what the cost. To tell others about Jesus and live by His Word, to glorify Him in all things – there is no price too high to pay to “live my life unashamed.” We live in a free country, but the second verse reminds us that someday that may not be the case. When persecution comes may our cry be, “Let me live for Jesus – take His message to the lost!” He died to give them hope, why should we not tell it? Until then, the bridge pulses with our heartbeat resolving to stand, obey and trust every line written in the Word of God, for therein the way to eternal life is fully explained.
Other Comments: This ballad written by Sue C. Smith and Ricky Free comes with a fully orchestrated track – strings, piano and a little tap on the drums. The “type” of music has been repeated again and again in this genre; folks love to hear the “big ballads” that will move your heart and lift you up to the heavens…this is certainly one of them. BFA’s release was named after this song and once you hear it you will understand why the lyrics set the standard for the whole CD.
3 Tell It Like It Was
Feature: Mike Rogers
Compromise, catering to what people want to hear instead of the truth and adhering to what is considered politically correct have replaced the good old fashioned fiery preachers of the tent revival days. For some reason, no one wants to hear about the times when the altars were full and the man standing behind the pulpit could preach the truth. The pre-chorus reminds us that even though we try and “pick and choose” how to present the gospel, there is only one way to get folks through heaven’s gate – it hasn’t changed and won’t change as long as we’re on this earth. The chorus points out that we can’t revisit the spiritual revivals of yesteryear unless we, as the lyrics so practically explain, “Do it like they did.” The old fashioned way didn’t guarantee success in and of itself; they were successful because those preachers taught the truth of the Bible. This brings us to the sad conclusion of the second verse, “Is there any wonder that we’re in the shape we’re in? The church will only say it if we’re sure it won’t offend…” Yet, the power of the Word can change it all if those who believe in His name stand unashamed.
Other Comments: Out of all the songs that BFA has recorded in the past, “Tell It Like It Was” reminds me most of “Praying Man.” Maybe that’s because it was co-written by Ronny Hinson and Ricky Free. Ronny brings a distinct sound to a song – there’s always a good beat, steady lead guitar and straightforward message. This is one of three tunes that feature Mike and as you listen I’m sure you’ll hear how well his voice complements the sound BFA has perfected over the years.
4 Say Amen
Feature: Bill Shivers
Life leads us all on a path entwined with highlands and vales. Those obstacles will always be a part of our journey, but no matter where we are along the road we can pause and hark back to the times when we saw God work and be encouraged by what He’s done. The chorus is full of examples that display all the different trials and sorrows God has brought His people through…and beckons any who has been through just one, to “say amen.” In the second verse we are exhorted to trudge through the darkness and embrace the power of He who is in us. Because the battle belongs to the Lord we can stand and testify of “the greatness of God in our lives!”
Other Comments: The first thing that I’m going to say about this song is that no matter how I try and describe it, the words above will never do it justice. It’s something you just have to hear for yourself! Written by Kenna Turner West, Jason Cox and Michael Farren is one of the strongest songs on this recording. The style is a cross between a contemporary ballad and black gospel – which ends up being a great fit for the lyrics. BFA plans to spot light Say Amen as their first radio release from this project and second concept video. I’ve seen this ballad performed live and the attitude of worship that it brings is very powerful and moving … but more than that, it has the same effect when you listen to it at home or in your car.
5 He Sill Saves
Feature: Brian Free
Over 2000 years ago the cry “It is finished” signaled the completion of redemption on Calvary. With a drop of blood, forgiveness began to flow…and it still does. Both the first and second verses of this song explain that even though the inaugural act of redemption took place long ago, the effect is still active today. No life is too stained with sin or ruined that it cannot be saved. And so the chorus cries out, “He still saves! He still saves!” Death is still beaten, the tomb still empty and the blood still able to wash sin away. He still saves!
Other Comments: This ballad that Brian sings is very contemporary in nature. Compared to the sound one usually associates with a ballad, the track accompanying “He Still Saves” comes across somewhat dark. It is like the verses and chorus switch back and forth from a minor key to a major key. The style fits the song well, but for me, it took a little getting use to. If the sound isn’t your thing when you first hear it, give it a chance, it’ll grow on you. Great message from Marty Funderburk and Steve Marshall!
6 Evidence In You
Feature: Mike Rogers
Disgusted with the condition of the world around you? The speaker in the first verse of this song was until they remembered that they were a part of that dying world when the Lord saved them. The chorus talks about the transformation in one’s life that can only happen by the hand of God. My favorite line is, “If He saw something worth redeeming in the mess that I had made – I believe there’s nothing He won’t do…to see the evidence in you!” The second verse talks about how the writer was ashamed of their failures, yet God kept reminding them that under the blood, the only thing He sees is a “child made worthy” through the blood of Christ. The bridge goes on to say that any good that’s found in them is only because of the Lord’s love for them.
Other Comments: This snappy tune written by Dave Clark and Ricky Free begins with a lead guitar that almost has an electronic sound to it. Like “God of Possibilities” and “Tell It Like It Was,” “Evidence in You” has a good beat with a great track that will keep your toes tapping.
7 Little Bit Of Me and You
Feature: Jeremy Lile
In the Bible, we find two stories that have a remarkably similar theme; a boy, a challenge, adults who question the possibility of it all and the One who makes it happen anyway. We hear about the first of these in the opening stanza – his name was David and he killed a giant with a stone and sling-shot. When it was over, David knew that it was God who performed such a miraculous feat! The chorus opens to us the moral of the story – everything that we do and/or conquer in this life has a lot more to do with the power of God than anything we can accomplish in our own strength. The other boy? We hear about him in the second verse of this tune…he was with the multitude hearing Jesus preach when his lunch of fish and bread fed 5000 people. The means by which these miracles happened began with something relatively small, but as the bridge reminds us, “Well, it may not seem like much but when you give it to the Lord, He can take and multiply and turn a little into so much more!”
Other Comments: This is another number from the pen of Ricky Free and Dave Clark. The bouncy tune is a perfect fit for a bass solo and Jeremy does a great job on it!
Feature: Mike Rogers
The world we live in has adapted to a philosophy that has rejected the difference between right and wrong, truth and lie. Now, as the first verse of this song states you may, “Choose your own version of the truth.” Nevertheless, a voice rises out of this falsehood and declares that he will hold to his faith even if he’s ridiculed. The chorus explains why. There’s only one God, who is Lord of all, He is the champion, His love never ends and He is the Lamb seated at the right hand of God. The second verse interprets this atheistic viewpoint as the battle for souls, a battle that has been fought since the dawn of time. Though some days it looks like the enemy will take the victory, one day that wicked kingdom will crumble and there will only be One left standing.
Other Comments: This ballad penned by Lee Black and Cliff Duren is the last slow song on the project, and as such, has a powerful effect on the listener. Though the word “unashamed” is not found in the lyrics, the idea is written all over the song and is a strong addition to the project’s theme. This kind of song calls for a good dose of piano and strings in the track and if you listen closely you’ll admire how each is fitted in just the right place for the desired effect!
9 Where There’s A Will, He Has A Way
Feature: Brian Free and Lauren Talley Alvey
Life can beat you down. It’s easy to get trapped in a corner and feel like there’s no way out, no strength to fight. “Well, don’t give up!” the first verse exclaims, with faith, family and friends and more importantly, God’s hand on your life – you’ll make it. The refrain lays it out plain and simple: God will make a way for His will to be accomplished in your life, He hears your prayers and He has the answer before you ask, just cling to His hand and when the day ends, trust His will. The second verse is sung by a veteran in the faith who knows just what it’s like to be in the situation you’re at. Their advice? “The rain ain’t gonna’ last – this storm is gonna’ pass!” He’s never failed to bring His children to the other side and His love has never failed to be enough. The bridge reminds us that even when it seems like the obstacle is here for good…He has a way!
Other Comments: Where There’s A Will marks the first time in BFA’s history where a guest vocalist appears on one of their recordings. After Brian sings the first verse of this peppy tune, fans hear the smooth soprano of Lauren Talley Alvey of the Talleys on the second stanza. Brian shared the story of how this came to be with me after a concert one night. He said that as he sat in his kitchen one day listening to this song, his wife, Pam, asked if they ever had a guest vocalist accompany them on a song. Brian replied that they had never done it before, but it was possible. Pam suggested that the style of the song sounded like something the Talleys would sing and that they should consider having Lauren sing with them. The rest is history!
1o Before The After
Feature: Jeremy Lile and Bill Shivers
The theme of being “unashamed” wouldn’t be complete without a song that addresses the mistakes of the past. These memories come back to us like turning the pages of a book as Satan looks over our shoulder whispering, “You haven’t changed that much.” You have the choice to pick it up again…but don’t. The chorus explains why: it’s forgiven, mercy says the past is gone, the blood covered it all and the memories that assault your conscience were before grace reigned in your life…now, and we’re in the after. The second stanza reminds us that one slip can begin the bad habit of remembering all the failures of the past. However, the only reason we should ever recall those things is to help others overcome their temptations. I love the line in the bridge that says, “You tell your story but you don’t live there anymore!”
Other Comments: Another great bass feature that has the groove you’d expect to hear from Jeremy…the surprise comes when Bill takes the second verse. I really liked the effect this gave the song, it’s something different that gives fans something fresh to listen for. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed songs where the features are split between singers, so this gets a big thumbs up from me!
Conclusion: A project like Unashamed deserves a five star rating. Each track has the best instrumentation possible, reflecting the personality of the song. The vocals are superb. The theme is evident, easily spotted and comprehended. The addition of guest vocalist, Lauren Talley Alvey, on Where There’s A Will, He Has A Way was a first for Assurance, yet, another strength to the project and definitely a highlight. Lauren’s voice fit in so well with the group’s sound, if you didn’t know better, you would think she’s been singing with BFA for years! In that way, I enjoyed seeing BFA do something different and I think fans will enjoy it also. As someone who is familiar with BFA’s concert program, I’ve heard Brian say again and again that Believers need to take a stand for what they believe in now more than ever because the Lord is coming back very, very soon. I see Unashamed, and all the lyrics represented on the CD, as a way that BFA is taking their stand and encouraging others to do so as well. The whole project is about being unashamed of the Gospel of Christ. It gives us examples from the Word of God of saints who stood their ground and also advises us how to do the same in today’s world, amidst those who would weaken our faith. A must buy for anyone who enjoys music that tests their faith, pushes their walk to the next level and encourages the church.
To purchase Unashamed – click HERE!