“I Know a Ghost,” the latest album from Christian musician Crowder, won’t sound foreign to fans who have heard his first two solo albums, “Neon Steeple” and “American Prodigal.”

Like those predecessors, “I Know A Ghost” blends together seemingly incongruent musical elements — the modern rhythmic and sonic tones of hip-hop and electronic dance music and the bluegrass-country touches provided by instruments such as banjo, fiddle, Dobro and lap steel guitar — creating a folkish rootsy rock sound with a uniquely urban accent.

But the way Crowder wrote the songs on “I Know a Ghost” was starkly different from how he created the music, not just on his two previous solo albums, but the eight studio albums he recorded as frontman of the David Crowder Band from 1996 through 2012.

Having moved to Atlanta shortly before making 2016’s American Prodigal,” Crowder had become fascinated by the hip-hop scene in town and taken note of how those artists created songs and how prolific they were in the amount of music they released.

“It seemed like they’d blow out a 20-song drop every month. I’m like, ‘How in the world are you all so (prolific)?’ So I just started watching the process. And I was like, ‘Man, this is what I need to do. I’m going to approach the writing totally different than I ever have,’ ” Crowder explained in a late-January phone interview.

“What would happen is my buddies would go into the studio, and then there would be a guy who has made a bunch of beats (the track guy). He’d start scrolling through beats and be like, ‘Hey, are you feeling this?’ And they’d nod along or whatever and all of a sudden something would change in the room. You’d connect with it. They’d be in the vocal booth and (before you knew it), there would be your next song. It would take, like, no time at all because you’ve got the beat. You just do a little arranging, and there it is, out the door.”

So Crowder decided to employ a similar formula for “I Know a Ghost,” bringing in musicians who create basic rhythm tracks — the track guys.

“They’d send me tracks. I’d get a Dropbox folder or whatever through the internet, and there’d be six to 12 songs that would just be like a verse-chorus idea. Here’s kind of the vibe of a verse, here’s kind of where it could go when a drop happens or whatever,” Crowder said. “I would just scroll through them and one would click, and I’d pull a guitar out, and there was the song. It felt like I had never made music before. It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I could do this all day every day. This is a blast.’”

The new songwriting approach for “I Know a Ghost” yielded an album that continues the rocking signature blend of bluegrass, hip-hop and EDM of “Neon Steeple” and “American Prodigal.” But “I Know a Ghost” might feel a bit more epic than the previous albums, as Crowder employs layers of sound and assertive rhythm tracks on many songs.

Songs from

the album

“Wildfire” is a tense track that blends a bluesy harmonic riff with clangy rhythms and multiple vocal hooks. It’s a unique song, to say the least. The anthemic “Golgotha Hill (King of Love)” starts out eerie and even a bit quiet, only to build to considerable heights as a wall of sound builds behind Crowder’s lead vocal and a chorale-like backing vocal track. Even tracks that overall feel more modest, such as the hip-hop-flavored “No Rival” and “I’m Leaning On You” (which would fit on Top 40 with its poppy, soulful vocal and percolating hip-hop beat) blossom to a grand scale.

Only the two most bluegrassy tunes on the album, “La Luz” and “Night Like This,” come off as more earthy and modest, but both songs are still quite peppy.

Thematically, the latest album completes what Crowder considers a trilogy that started with 2014’s “Neon Steeple.”

“I knew that this was going to be more of a Holy Ghost type record,” Crowder said of “I Know A Ghost.” “I kind of work in album cycles of three, and I had been doing kind of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit motif.

“I feel really cool about how they (the lyrics) wound up as a total unit,” he said. “All the pieces wound up like I was hoping them to.”

The three solo albums have continued what was already a highly successful career for Crowder in the Christian music world.

The David Crowder Band saw its final four albums top Billboard magazine’s Christian album chart (with the group’s last album, 2012’s “Give Us Rest,” also reaching No. 2 on Billboard’s all-genre Top 200 album chart).

Both 2014’s “Neon Steeple” and “American Prodigal,” topped Billboard magazine’s Christian album chart and also debuted in the top 15 of the all-genre Top 200 album chart. “I Know a Ghost” hasn’t had quite as big an impact, but it has done reasonably well. It opened at No. 2 on the Christian album chart and No. 43 on the Top 200. But two of the album’s singles, “Let It Rain (Is There Anybody)” and “Red Letters” have been top 10 hits on the Christian singles charts.

Winter jam

Crowder is continuing his touring cycle for “I Know a Ghost” by headlining this year’s edition of Winter Jam, a leading Christian music tour that features about a dozen acts. He headlined the 2016 edition of the tour and was on several earlier Winter Jams as well. Obviously, Crowder likes this tour.

“From the very first one we ever did, from day one, it felt like you were stepping into a family,” he said. “The best I have, as far as an analogy goes, is with summer camp as a kid growing up. You go to the same camp, and there are different kids there every year. It’s like the camp’s the same, but you’re going to make different friends this time around. That’s what it feels like. It’s a special thing.”

One of the challenges that comes with the tour, though, is Crowder only has about 45 minutes for his headlining set. But he thinks he has overcome that issue quite successfully.

“I’m kind of borrowing from my hip-hop friends that are in the ATL,” he said, using shorthand for Atlanta. “You can arrange a song where it feels like you experienced the whole song, but it only takes a minute and a half. Old-school country guys used to blow through a song that way as well. So I’ve just truncated a bunch of the songs to where we’ve got arrangements that are flowing one into the next, and you get through five songs in less than four minutes.

“It’s like, ‘Wow, that was a blazing through the record right there.’ It’s my favorite set list we’ve ever put together, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that out loud. I love this set list because (usually) I’m always kind of picking and choosing and moving things around (in the set list). Here, it felt like this is a blast to play, it really is.”

Alan Sculley is a freelance writer for Last Word Features.

Load comments