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Album Review

Rebecca St. James has been a household name in the Contemporary Christian Music world for almost two decades. Her younger brothers, who have served as her backing musicians? Perhaps not so much.

But that may be changing.

Born in Sydney, Australia, Joel and Luke Smallbone are the pop-rock duo For King & Country. And if the strong sales of their second full-length album are any indication—the disc spent its debut week camped out in the Top 3 on iTunes' album chart—they may soon be as well-known as their famous big sister.

Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. features songs filled with faith references and encouragement to passionately trust God, artfully fusing those spiritual themes to an up-to-the minute, ambient and anthemic sound that brings to mind Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, Coldplay and Switchfoot—not bad company at all for this fast-rising Christian band.

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"Run Wild" exhorts listeners to let go of mopey mediocrity ("The comfort of your misery you cherish dearly") and to appropriate the power of their true, courageous identity ("You're a lion full of power who forgot how to roar/You're an eagle full of beauty, but you can't seem to soar/ … Run wild, live free/Love strong, you and me"). The Smallbones encourage fans to flee the prison of regret ("To every soul locked in a cage/In the prison of your past mistakes/ … You can make your great escape"). And "Long Live" unpacks similarly faith-inspired carpe diem messages.

"Fix My Eyes" ponders how we might live life differently if given a second chance ("I'd love like I'm not scared/Give when it's not fair/Live life for another/Take time for a brother") and turns our gaze heavenward for courage and inspiration ("Find faith in the battle/Stand tall but above it all/Fix my eyes on You"). "To the Dreamers" inspires "broken … lonesome … homesick … wide-eyed believers" to keep "hanging on to hope by a thread."

The "Shoulders" mentioned in the song with that title are Jesus', and they're deemed a good place to rest our heads when life feels overwhelming. "No Turning Back" describes the forward-facing stance of those who were once beggars but now know they've been invited "into the courts of the King." "Steady" says of God's faithful presence, "You're a river, You cover me/When the bombs fall/You're the cavalry/ … You keep me steady." Echoing Psalm 19:1, "Already Home" unpacks how the starry night sky speaks of God's constant, attentive presence. "Matter" gently encourages those who've tasted defeat and brokenness to know that they matter deeply to their Creator and Savior. "It's Not Over Yet" delivers that same message to those battling despair in the dark. Album closer "O God Forgive Us" repents of fear and unbelief.

"Without You" features Luke's wife, Courtney, and articulates their absolute commitment to each other. Similarly, "This Is Love" ponders the possibility of lifelong love, come whatever may. We hear, "Richer or poorer/Better or worse/Could we be together?/Could we make it work?/If love is patient/And love is kind/Oh God, give me a sign." As the song continues, it builds on this wedding vow-like promise: "I'll kiss you only/Darling, I promise/To hold you gently/And still be the strongest/I'm yours completely/No matter what comes our way/I'll live you 'til the end of my days."

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Summary Advisory

The last three years have delivered lots of life, both good and bad, to Joel and Luke Smallbone. In 2013, the band won a Dove Award for Best New Artist. Joel got married, while Luke and Courtney welcomed a son and battled through a digestive disease that threatened Luke's life.

Writing on the band's website about how his son inspired the band's latest album, Luke says, "A lot of my passion and zeal for life is because I have a wife who counts on me and a son who looks up to me and says 'Dada.' I can't believe how much love he has in his eyes when he says that word. I can see the complete trust and safety that my son feels when he is with me. When he began to walk, I often thought, if I could run wild like a one-year-old does and live a life that embraces adventure in that way, I think I would see life entirely differently."

As a result, Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. clearly reflects the hearts of two faithful men determined to embrace life with zest and faith, and to inspire those who listen to do exactly the same thing.

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