Reviewed by Matthew Cordle
Since their first studio album release in 2008 Tenth Avenue North have managed to retain a consistent sound despite several changes in personnel, Mike Donehey being the only remaining original band member. Avoiding the mediocrity trap of releasing too much material too quickly, their songs have been characterised by thoughtful messaging and memorable melodic hooks. The overall sound has evolved a little with both their 2016 album, 'Followers', and this having more of a bouncing pop flavour than previously. The premise for the album is to differentiate between healthy and toxic shame: the spoken intro informs us that "healthy shame leads you to good things, it leads you to repentence. . . toxic shame is the voice that cries out over your life, 'unredeemable!'" Mike states, "Bitterness is the belief that God got it wrong and anxiety is the belief that God's not going to get it right. Regret is the belief that what I've done or the mistakes I've made are so bad that God can't make my life beautiful again. The record is called 'No Shame' and it would be better entitled 'No Toxic Shame', but that just doesn't have a good ring to it!" This line of thought pervades the entire collection, dealing honestly with real-life worry and anxiety and dependence on God, with no pretence at always-victorious living. There's a good balance of up-beat celebratory and quiet reflective material and the overall mood is that of encouragement, not condemnation. Mike Donehey sings soulfully with a warm, rich vocal tone that is equally smooth when singing at full power as in sweet quieter moments. Supported by top-notch production and arrangement, there's not a single bad song on the album, making it hard to single out highlights. However, if I had to choose: "Heaven Is Now" has a singable, uplifting melody, reminding us that heaven is not just in the future, but God's Kingdom begins right now in our hearts. We are not to sit back and wait but to work towards bringing his Kingdom to earth, "Not gonna wash my hands and say, 'Let it burn'/I wanna burn with your love instead." "Reaching" is a bouncy retro pop tune complete with '80s-style bass and brass that you just have to tap your foot to, reflecting on age and facial lines being a record of days of grace, that age is no barrier to being a part of God's purposes in the world. "Space To Speak" is a quiet, piano-led reflection on the crucial importance of giving God space to speak amongst all the busyness of life - a message many of us need to take note of. Back in 2014 I reviewed 'Cathedrals' and thought that was the band's best work to-date. Now we get to 2019 the band has done a great job of remaining fresh and evolving in a way that doesn't alienate their audience. 'No Shame' is arguably their best work to-date.
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