Although the Christian pop rock circuit certainly doesn’t need another band that sounds like Casting Crowns or Third Day, we’re not quite sure just how we got along without Tenth Avenue North. The band deserves nothing but praise for its freshman album, Over and Underneath.
The 11-track CD earned the band the title of best selling new Christian artist of 2008 following its May 20, 2008 release. The band wastes no time with two lead singles, “Love Is Here” and “By Your Side.” Over a year since the album’s debut, the latter continues to top music charts and radio requests on a national scale.
The song themes are not by any means ground-breaking. “Break Me Down,” the album’s fifth track, is point blankly about a worn-out sinner breaking down and asking for God to come into his life. But the band does stand out in its lyrical originality and deliverance: “I feel You fallin’ / Like the rain against my skin / And I hear You calling / Your voice like thunder in my head.”
The tracks, with simple names such as “Times” and “Hallelujah,” are catchy. Over the course of the album, a continuous toe-tapping beat diversifies enough to cater to several different musical tones and styles ranging from pop to acoustic. Fresh, upbeat songs mix with the slightly more dominant soft, acoustical sounds to make the album familiar yet interesting to listen to.
Songs such as “Lovesick” take the diversity too far, however. The title, which sounds too much like a Jonas Brothers rip-off, loses the mellow rock sound that makes the group so enjoyable. Gone from this track are the heavy drumbeats and the steady guitar strumming; instead, a quiet, solo beat with a hint of southern drawl makes a song already full of metaphors (“Like a child needs a night light in the dark, / Lord light me up”) almost out of place with the rest of the album.
Peaking at No. 130 on Billboard’s top 200 in April 2009, the group’s success is mostly definitely attributed to the widespread success of “By Your Side.” This song, along with songs such as “Hold My Heart,” showcases the harmonies of lead singer Mike Donehey and backup vocalist Jeff Owen. Quiet guitar and piano sounds fill the background creating a sound that is now widely identified with Tenth Avenue North.
“By Your Side” evokes strong emotions with simple, rhyming lyrics reminding people of the never-ending presence of God’s love: “I’ll be by your side / Wherever you fall / …Please don’t fight these hands that are holding you.” Based on the testimonials given by KLOVE alone, listeners everywhere seem captivated by the universal message delivered with a contemporary beat.
“Hold My heart,” about a man struggling to understand the wait behind God’s plan, is another song that effortless flows from one bridge to the next. A simple yet powerful piano melody supports Donehey’s enamoring echoes and vibratos, making this the album’s best song that has yet to be a hit.
Over and Underneath won’t take the world by storm; the songs aren’t quite unique enough, and the band has yet to find a unified, effortless style. This album does, however, bring Tenth Avenue North front and center in the group of Christian rock newcomers, and I’ll definitely be waiting by the band’s side to see what’s next.