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Songs for Sunday and the Other Six Days
Posted April 10, 2015
By MarcusHathcock_NRT, Staff Reviewer

Listeners first were treated to Derek Johnson as part of Jesus Culture's 2012 Emerging Voices record, which featured him alongside three other up-and-coming worship leaders. Johnson's songs, however, were standouts on the compilation, especially his soulful song of dedication, "I Belong to You."

Fast forward three years and Jesus Culture Music has given Johnson his own full-length album, Real Love. The record showcases an artist who brings subtle, yet distinct and powerful lyrics that take on very different purposes. 

Upon listening to this record, it's clear Johnson toes the line between congregational worship songs and Christian pop/rock with overtly worshipful lyrics. It's almost as if Real Love is two albums in one, with songs in the two categories tied together by Johnson's raspy vibrato-laden voice.

Johnson brings some uptempo worship songs to the Church, such as the urgent-sounding, driving, guitar-propelled album opener "Our Salvation," which delivers the simple message of worshipping God for who He is and what He's done. 

Songs like "Jesus I See You" and closing track "Glory Come Down" are passionate, crescendoing and momentous songs of contemplative praise. Title track "Real Love" is one of those congregational gems that takes the Church on a lyrical tour of all the ways God loves us, from healings, signs and wonders, shows of His power, provision of our freedom, and His involvement in our lives. All three tracks are rock ballad that would find a home on an Elevation Worship record (probably because Johnson's voice is somewhat similar to Elevation worship leader Chris Brown), the song has definite Sunday morning potential.

"I Belong to You," the song from the Emerging Voices record, gets a fresh recording that features a more driving beat and some excellent atmospheric guitar riffs thrown in. The song, a staple in my own church for more than a year, sounds even better this time around. It definitely should be a radio single, and is the standout worship track on this record, too.

Much like those of fellow Jesus Culture Music artist Andrew Ehrenzeller, many of Johnson's tracks are songs of worship that aren't exactly tooled for Sunday morning use when it comes to its melodic composition. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. These songs become enjoyable, memorable pop/rock songs that harken back to Christian music's heyday of overt, praise-filled lyrics. 

Perhaps the strongest cut on the record is "Heaven Meeting Earth," a track that bows to a 1980s sound with piercing keyboard sounds and a heavy, cinematic use of toms on the drum kit. Lyrically, the declaration "Let there be no end to heaven meeting earth" is a great one that beckons for a lifestyle of encounter, not just chance meetings with God. 
The rest of the songs are solid offerings that are worthy car-driving, Bible-reading or meditating accompaniment. Songs like the reflective retelling of Jesus' sacrifice, "Power in the Cross," the declarative "Bright As You" and the uptempo "My Great Love" teeter on the edge of being congregational, but ultimately are authentic, personal musical creations that stand on their own, even if it's outside of the Sunday morning worship set. 

Closing Thoughts:
Real Love is a solid offering by a fantastic vocalist and worshipper in Johnson. And this record, like Ehrenzeller's before it, sends a clear message that while Jesus Culture is definitely into providing songs for the Church, it's also quite satisfied providing worshipful pop/rock songs that will fill the other six days of the week. 

Johnson excels at creating for both environments, even though some listeners looking for one or the other may not fully embrace the excellent dichotomy Real Love offers. When Johnson writes for the Church, he does it quite well, and when he writes in the pop/rock context, he has some flashes of brilliance. 

I'd like to see Johnson try his hand at a full-length album of JUST congregational worship records, because what he's done so far with "I Belong to You", "Real Love", "Jesus I See You" and "Glory Come Down" are promising. But I'd also like to see him come unleashed on a full-length pop/rock record.

Will he have to choose one path or the other? I don't see why he'd have to, but it's intriguing to see what more of a hyperfocus would yield.

Song to Download Now:
"Heaven Meeting Earth" (Get it on iTunes here.)

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