The greatest song on Crowder’s new album American Prodigal is not “My Victory,” though it’s an outstanding worship anthem. It’s not “Run Devil Run,” though it’s hard not to get off your feet and sing along to that one. It’s not even on the standard edition of the album. And it’s not written by David Crowder.
Though he’s one of our finest songwriters, Crowder has a history of calling attention to brilliant songs written by others. Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” is a concert staple. Crowder’s cover of John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” broadened the song’s audience, earned a Dove nomination for Song of the Year, and reached the Billboard Top 10.
Now, on the deluxe edition of American Prodigal, Crowder introduces a broader audience to another treasure. “Praise the Lord” was written by singer/songwriter Sean McConnell and appears on his 2014 EP The B Side Session. Here’s a live version of McConnell’s original:
The song is disarming in its honesty about our misconceptions about God. It follows the songwriter’s history of trying to define a limited picture of an unlimited God, and it’s rich in metaphor right out of the gate.
I used to shake You like an eight ball
I used to shoot You from a gun
I used to hold You like a hammer
Try to nail down everyone
It’s a story most Christians can tell of the times they’ve demanded a prediction from God or tried to treat the Good News as belligerent dogma. More convicting misapprehensions follow:
I used to keep You in a steeple
I used to bind You in a book
I used to take You like prescription
Without knowing what I took
Don’t miss the mastery of language here. Books have bindings that keep them together, but the same word can imply our attempts to dictate who God is and what we will allow Him to do. Taking a misunderstood pill could call to mind a fallow communion sacrament. Another subtle word play becomes the song’s chorus: “You’re not who I thought You were. Praise the Lord.” This could mean, “I haven’t really understood You before, God, but nonetheless I will praise You.” Or, it could mean, “My ideas about You were all wrong. Praise God for that!” Both are appropriate, and it’s a sign of a great lyric when it can mean different things for different people, all in constructive ways.
Crowder’s take on the song, produced alongside Hank Bentley, is brilliant. His vocal is emotional and a bit reminiscent of his Drake cover on Neon Porch Extravaganza. A gentle acoustic guitar undergirds the contemplative verses, and then double-time strumming drives the chorus through its proclamation: “And now I just don’t buy it anymore.” A loop adds atmosphere, and percussion punctuates the final choruses.
Kudos to Crowder for his care and attention to songcraft and his willingness to highlight the songs of others. And congratulations to Sean McConnell for writing a great song and gaining the attention it deserves.