Album titles are a strange affair. Some titles are frivolously lifted off a song on the disc (often the lead single); other albums are named after a poignant phrase from the lyrics of one of the songs. Just like naming their own children, some other artists put more thought into it. At times, the title is a summary idea of the all the songs on the entire record. Then there are others who give up trying all together and name their record eponymously. When it comes to the Shaffer Band's ninth album, two factors were influential towards christening the album as "Grateful." First, the album title is an expression of lead singer Cassie Hymes's thanks to God after healing her from a severe health crisis way back in 2007 and 2008. Second, all these ten songs pedagogically function to teach us why we need to be grateful towards God. Before we start examining these reasons, a word needs to be said about the Shaffer Band. Formerly known just as the Shaffers, the Shaffer Band consists of Dave Shaffer, his wife Trish, their daughter Cassie and her husband Mike Hymes. Dave plays the keys, Cassie plays the bass guitar and sax, and Mike plays the drums. On paper, they may bear all the characteristics of a Southern Gospel group, but their music is far more encompassing. Unlike many southern quartets who love singing in harmonies and trade the lead amongst the members, here Cassie Hymes takes the microphone all the way through. Music wise, "Grateful" is a wonderful concoction of contemporary country (Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum) with some dashes of contemporary pop blanched with some praise and worship tunes.
One reason the Shaffer Band is grateful is because of the faithfulness of God. The crisp sounding guitar, the joyous jumping banjo and Cassie's sunny disposition in the goodness of God, chase the rain clouds away on the relentlessly upbeat "Dance in the Rain." Lead single "He Ain't the Leavin' Kind" utilizes the trump card of country music to great effect. Known for its clever use of narratives, this country-sounding song contrasts two stories side by side. An absconding dud of a husband who left when things were tough is here contrasted with God our Divine Husband. "He Ain't the Leavin' Kind" seamlessly celebrates God's faithfulness in this deftly written story song. In a world of selfishness, the band's duet with Adam Crabb's "Love Can't Walk Away" is beautiful ballad about self-sacrificing love. Here the focus is on a couple who have weathered all the trials of life without giving up; such paeans of marital faithfulness are sadly rare these days.
Another reason why sometimes we are not grateful is because we often forget how much God has already blessed us. This is the thesis of the title cut 'Grateful." A slab of country pop with a chorus that churns and burns, Cassie sounds like Hilary Scott (of Lady Antebellum) on fire. Dove Award nominee and the writer of 22 number one Christian songs Tony Wood gets to write six of the ten cuts. Easily the best in the Wood canon is the upbeat "Beautiful Broken People." A pulverising exposition of the grace of Christ expressed through His Cross, this song really nails such a theological truth in ways that are catchy and palatable. With a focus directed to God, "As It in Heaven" is a pop worship number that is dramatic and highly melodious.
Yet, their take of Chris Tomlin's "Waiting Here for You" and "You Are My God" --- both of them being worship numbers --- do not have the focus of the other tracks. They are by no means as colorful in its lyrical details and border around the generic melodically. Nevertheless, "Grateful" has a bit of everything for everyone. Southern gospel fans who like a touch of contemporary country would have much to indulge here. Others who don't like the twang in high gear will find enough contemporary pop to satisfy. And for those who like some worship numbers with some stellar story songs will be grateful they have found the Shaffer Band.