Written By: Shaamora Harden for Path MEGAzine
Jonathan Nelson’s newest project Finish Strong, is one of those albums that occupies a “middle ground territory”: I don’t love every song featured on it BUT there are a number of bright spots on this project that definitely make it worth checking out.
First let me say that Jonathan Nelson is a really good songwriter. His sincerity to reverence and worship really comes through when you listen closely to his lyrics. This was evident in his previous releases, and is still the case in his newest one.
On a less serious side, not only are his lyrics on point but he somehow manages to incorporate some choreography into them as well. We all got a glimpse of it with some of his past hits like “My Name is Victory” (remember making a ‘V’ with your two fingers and holding them in the air while you sang the hook…or was that just me?)
Well Jonathan does it again with his first track “Finish Strong (Strong Finish)”. When he gets to the chant part “strong finish, strong finish, strong finish” you can’t help but pump your fist in the air and join in. This song is one of those bright spots that I was referring to earlier. A chorus that’s easy to sing, lyrics that are encouraging and well produced-upbeat music…all the essential ingredients of a great song.
The next track “Yes Lord” draws you in pretty much right away with the music. It’s a guitar/keyboard driven song…almost has an ‘80s pop vibe to it but not in dated way. I know the musicians had a ball with this one and I’d absolutely love to hear the instrumental version for this particular song to really catch the intricacies of this track. The lyrics are pretty simple, with Jonathan and Purpose singing about their willingness to say yes to God’s will for their lives and encouraging us (the listener) to do so as well.
“Live Pure” and “God Is Blessing” are just OK (in my opinion). From a pure listening standpoint they don’t really do much for me. “Live Pure” features up-and-comer Todd Dulaney. It’s nice…nothing particularly spectacular about it. Same thing with “God is Blessing”. At 7:32 it’s kind of a long song that never really goes anywhere…musically. The producer took a little too long to get to the climax of the song. I realize that in worship songs, one must take time and allow the listener to really get into it, but this just felt like it was dragging on after a while. It’s no doubt that Jonathan is a worshiper and these songs are definitely in the worship mode that we’re so used to seeing him in. BUT… after hearing the “Smile/Better Is One Day” medley from his previous project, you come to expect more from him. If you want to see what I’m talking about check out this clip: http://youtu.be/Ibrr2Mz3w_U
One of the immediate words that come to mind when describing the next song “Worked It Out” is Smooovvee. This is to my favorite track off of the “Finish Strong” album. It features Karew Records founder and gospel trailblazer Karen Clark Sheard lending her signature vocal style to a song that perfectly compliments her. There are many things that I absolutely love about this song: from the smooth vocals to the rich/full music and did I mention Karen Clark Sheard? Need I say more…
Jonathan brings us back to worship mode with “Just for Me”. Though it’s a fairly simple song and a bit repetitive, it’s still lyrically strong. “Just for Me” solely focuses on the sacrifice that Christ made on Calvary. This is not a new topic for a gospel song, but what I liked is how Mr. Nelson chose to approach it. Check out these lyrics:
“Grace, Mercy, You created to cover me”
“Love you presented then you proved it on Calvary”
“With the blood that you dripped to catch me when I slipped”
“Lord you did it just for me”
I’m not sure if it’s because my church has been studying doctrine lately but I really like the way he was able to paint a picture of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and its impact on all who’s accepted Him as Savior in 4 short verses.
The worship tone continues with “Flow River Flow”. Jonathan starts this track off by revealing how this song came to be and seamlessly flows into it. “Flow River Flow” is very calming and serene, very fitting for the title.
The elevated organ and guitar sounds create a bluesy & down-homey vibe for “Dwell In Me” giving the next song a nice throwback vibe. The guest vocal by Lowell Pye also really adds to the musical mood. Unfortunately, even though the song contains good elements, it just doesn’t quite reach it’s full potential. “Dwell In Me” is yet another song that takes too long to get going. It kind of lost my interest midway and never really fully regained it. I wanted it to work…it just didn’t for me.
My opinion didn’t really change much with ”Finally”. It’s an average song musically but what gives it a bump up from “so-so” to good is the lyrics. “Finally” captures the theme of the album. When you listen, it’s not hard to imagine a fatigued marathon runner crossing the finish line with arms outstretched.
Jonathan decides to change the musical landscape of the album again with this next track “Free”. Again, not the best song on the album but I appreciate his attempt to try something different. The production leans more to a youthful sound. During the song, Jonathan is rallying all believers to get up and dance in celebration about the freedom that is ours through Christ. Lending an even more ‘youth-oriented’ vibe to the song are the lead vocals of Jade Milan Nelson, his niece. Some of you may also be familiar with her from her stint as Young Nala in the Broadway production of The Lion King. She has a light and cheerful voice that compliments the mood of the track.
The album closes in a strong way with the inclusion of a remix to his hit song “My Name is Victory” from 2008’s “Right Now Praise” album. As I searched for video on Youtube to familiarize myself with the previous version, I was reminded of how much peopled LOVED “My Name Is Victory”. In nearly every performance video of the song, the audience is up on their feet, mouthing all of the words, smiling and holding up that V sign; absolutely LOVING IT!
Fans of the original need not worry. The Remix still keeps the same excited energy with some slight differences. I don’t know if this is just my ears, but the dominant organ sound found on the original version is replaced with more guitar and horns on this remix. A nice change that adds an updated sound, but still keeps the same flavor as the original. Listen and let me know if you agree.
Probably the most noticeable change is the refrain. In the original, the lyrics are as follows:
“Victory that’s my name”
“Victory I know who I ammmmm” over and over again.
In the 2013 version, it’s slightly revamped with a confidently laid back run:
“My Name is victoreee…My name is victoreee”
“I know who I am…I know who I am”.
So now we come to THE QUESTION: Should you buy this or not?
Overall this isn’t a bad album. I love an artist who can pick a title/theme for a record and actually choose songs that go along with it. Jonathan does a great job at this. With 4 albums into his career, we’ve come to expect a particular style from Mr. Nelson. Yet, with the inclusion of certain songs on this CD that veered away from his traditional worship style, Jonathan showed us that we’ve only scratched the surface of what his music ministry has to offer.
My personal rating system for music goes like this:
Skip It – this song is not worth your time. Save your ears.
Stream It – It’s good but I wouldn’t rush to purchase it
Buy It – This is pretty self explanatory, right?
With that said, my recommendation is to BUY IT. Sure, there are a few songs that I’d skip but there are enough redeeming tracks that make Finish Strong worthy of your dollars.