Sometimes an artist’s best laid plans evolve into an entirely different, God-ordained scenario in actuality. For Christian music great Anthony Evans, who’s spent the last twelve years recording six acclaimed studio albums, a Christmas collection, plus concert and conference tours all over the world, his latest long player was originally meant to be split in two distinct segments respectively chronicling his worshipful and personal sides. However, as the Dallas native turned L.A. transplant following time on the smash NBC series “The Voice” soon realized, dividing the ambitious concepts into their own individual albums would likely be the most fruitful route in the long run, and considering this season of transformation was jumpstarted by his heart and passion for worship, it seemed like the most natural place to start.
“God has given me one revelation after another over the last couple of years through worship and through life experiences,” explains Evans, deciding on the ever so appropriate title Back To Life. “But when someone goes from praise and worship to a song about life and love’s experiences, it can be a jarring on one album, so I decided to make Back To Life take on and maintain a worship theme and I’ll do an EP soon after this release the life situational songs on it.”
Regardless of the difference in mindset and delivery date, Evans arrived at a crossroads of authenticity, vulnerability and honesty throughout these prolific songwriting sessions. Even so, he’ll be the first to admit feeling depleted prior to arriving at that inspirational outcome as he struggled to stay on fire for his faith amidst the rigors of the road, and to a lesser extent, concurrently trying to embrace an entirely new community filled mostly with folks who don’t share similar beliefs.
“I was at a place where I felt like I was going through the motions and I didn’t feel fully alive,” he uncovers. “I had to get to a place where I started to understand that God’s truth had to genuinely become a part of my existence for me to feel alive again. Over the years, it was sometimes very easy for me to put on what I needed to be for the sake of a career, for the sake of my name and for the sake of holding everything up. But putting on what you need to be rather than what you’re really going through is exhausting. As I fully embraced authenticity, vulnerability and honesty, they literally felt like a defibrillator for my spiritual heart and that’s the point when I was able to come Back To Life.”
Given his background as a dynamic worship leader in circles as vast as Dallas’ Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (spearheaded by his world-renown father Dr. Tony Evans), his family’s “Kingdom Family Conference” and “FerVent” Tours (with his sister, best-selling author and lead in the box office smash “War Room,” Priscilla Shirer), solo concerts and Judah Smith’s City Church in L.A., audiences already familiar with that praise tradition are sure to latch onto the new collection. And since this type of music played such an integral role in fueling Evans’ renewal, Back To Life really is an authentic portrait of his reality over the last couple of years, which alongside the vulnerability and honesty he conveys throughout the entire collection, is likely to be a vital shock to the system of anyone else who may have been sleepwalking through their faith, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for his forthcoming batch of even grittier “heart songs.”
“Back To Life is a collection of worship songs derived from an experience I had in authenticity, vulnerability and honesty and I hope that’s exactly what listeners hear,” he reiterates. I don’t ever want to get up on a stage or even go out to a dinner and put on something that is not really me or who I am. I’m hoping people hear how those three things have brought me back to life and that they are encouraged to do the same. As much as people hear Anthony the worship leader or see me on stage wherever with whomever, there is also a side of me that is raw, gritty and longs for interactions with no facades. Sometimes you have to rough up a surface in order for something to stick. A lot of my life has had to be roughed up in certain areas, but that’s what makes the lesson life changing. I can’t wait for people to hear this side of my soul, and even past this album, the music that’s coming will showcase more of that honest/life experience side.”
Much of Evans’ inspiration from that mindset comes out from the personal relationships and professional experiences he’s had outside the church’s four walls, which include studio work with the illustrious likes of CeeLo Green, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, the “Glee” soundtracks and a return to “The Voice” for three seasons as a talent producer. Even though it’s been a few years since appearing on that very show, so many of the industry connections and life lessons remain with the singer/songwriter to this very day.
“Christina Aguilera looked me in the face and said ‘you can be doing so much more,’ and not ‘more’ meaning ‘Christian music is small,’ but ‘the scope of you is broader than Christian music.’ I also had Jewel tell me that faith was just the tip of the iceberg of what she saw in me. She sensed there was way more underneath the surface that she as someone who isn’t immersed in church culture could connect to if only I would tell more about “what else is going on”. These were life-changing moments for me and what got me moving down that road as I started shaping and selecting the songs for these next two records.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the sonic diversity throughout Back To Life is both a much needed breath of fresh air within modern worship and something that could very well compete with Coldplay, OneRepublic, Drake, The Chainsmokers or any trend going on in the mainstream right now. Evans gives much of the credit to all-star producer Max Stark, who outside of working on his 2014 project Real Life/Real Worship, had no previous experience in Christian music and therefore was able to bring a completely unbiased ear to the job.
Another factor was collaborating with Tim Davis, one of the most sought after vocal arrangers, producers and contractors in Hollywood whose worked with Barbra Streisand, Celine, Sam Smith and Mariah on down, alongside a slew of background singers with credits spanning Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Hudson and Jonny Lang. Back To Life also just so happened to be recorded in the same studio as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” which surely added at least a little extra inspiration by osmosis.
As for the songs themselves (including personally penned selections, co-writes with Krissy Nordoff, Cindy Morgan and Martha Munizzi, plus a songwriting contribution from Kirk Franklin, among others), the tone is most certainly directed vertically, but with an unconventional, stereotype-shattering mindset starting with the title track. “Like many artists, I tend to get overwhelmed with emotions. The reason I choose that song was because authenticity is such a big part of me. The bridge says ‘resentment, depression and all anxiety, they have no power over me. Addiction, strongholds and every disease, they have no power over me.’ I’ve never heard a Christian song talk about those things, but in my L.A. conversations with friends and associates, you hear about addiction and anxiety all the time. That’s a truthful way to tie in what I’ve experienced and what’s been so life-giving to me from daily conversations into a worship environment.”
Additional standouts include the spiritually-affirming battle cry “Believe” and the stirring “See You Again,” the latter of which Evans describes as a favorite centered around the fact that “a lot of us lean on what God has done in the past, but we forget that the same God who changed our tears into laughter five years ago is still the same God now. That song is just begging to see Him again in fresh way, and I believe that for me, He has always been faithful to show Himself…when I’ve asked.”
Although “Ever Be” may appear to be merely a remake of a tried and true tune, it sounds more like an original given it ingenious rearrangement that’s equal parts soulful dance throwback and current club banger (but never at the expense of compromising the essential message). “This is the faith anthem of the album,” he suggests. “I did it using these sonics and giving Max creative freedom because I have such a multi-cultural audience where you have people choosing between the hottest albums in pop music and Christian music. I want them and also myself to feel engaged in those sonics just as much as the lyrics.”
By the end of the entire experience, Evans’ refreshed approach towards worship is apparent time and time again, but so is his broader than ever potential to impact listeners from many walks of life. And as he hints of upcoming chapters, it’s obvious that Back To Life is really just the first step in this journey of rejuvenation that’s just as riveting as it is downright contagious.
“The revelations that God gave me and continually gives bring me back to life. His truth has infiltrated my work and personal life alike and altered the way I handle myself. There’s been life breathed back into my career because He was giving me truth and lessons in unexpected places. You don’t think that you’re gonna find a drive to do ministry better in Hollywood, but that’s where I found it and that’s the bottom line. Having the very best in Hollywood on your album wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t pursuing that and there’s been a huge reward for the risk that I took…This wasn’t a factory that’s just putting out more worship music. Everybody on the album is a friend. I’m all about relationships, digging deep, knowing each other well and putting out music that hopefully brings the listener back to life in the same way that I’ve been.”