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Album Review

It's been nearly four years since we've heard from Grammy-winning American Idol alum Mandisa. But they haven't been easy years for the singer, who spent much of that time battling depression in the wake of the death of her best friend, Lakisha Mitchell.

"Her death shook the foundations underneath me in a way that I had not experienced before," Mandisa told Huffpost. "I started ignoring phone calls from friends and the loved ones who showed up at my door, and I just sat in my house day after day and did nothing but watch TV and eat."

Those doubts and struggles inform Mandisa's sixth album, Out of the Dark. But as the album's title hints, dark times don't get the last word. This feisty singer invites us on a journey from spiritual desolation to renewed hope.

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"Prove Me Wrong" finds Mandisa pouring out her emotions regarding her friend's death, as well as the doubts and spiritual disorientation that ensued. "You could've healed her," the Christian Mandisa laments to God, "You've done it before/ … Instead You took her/ … And I'm wondering where You are." Mandisa's brokenness and questions aren't fully resolved on this track, but the rest of the album shows that she's grown in her ability to trust God amid a terrible loss.

Some of those hard emotions linger on "My First Love," where Mandisa echoes Psalm 13:1 when she asks, "How long will you forget me/How long will you hide your face?". Elsewhere in the song, we can feel Mandisa beginning to gain some spiritual altitude as she pleads with the Lord to renew her faith: "I need revival/ … Help me to trust You/Jesus, restore my passion."

"I'm Still Here" recalls stumbling ("And I dropped outta sight/This overcomer lost her/Will to fight") before rising to keep moving forward spiritually ("And by the grace of God/I'm still here/ … Guess my God's not done with me yet"). This song is one of several that references struggling with shame (the causes of which aren't identified). But then Mandisa proclaims, "He lifted me up/Out of the pit/All glory to God."

Similar themes of God's sustaining power, paired with Mandisa's renewed determination to walk closely with Him again, fill "Out of the Dark, "Unfinished" and "Comeback Kid." "Good News" finds her responding to God's faithfulness by sharing her faith ("I've been quiet for way too long/ … Got a story and it's time to tell") and encouraging others to do likewise ("If you got it, share it/If you need it, receive it/Come on, tell everyone that it's all about good news"). "The One He Speaks Through" also exhorts listeners to pay attention to God's holy nudges to encourage others: "He might use your words to heal a heart that's been bruised," she sings. "He might use your hands to rescue."

"Shine" and "What You're Worth" challenge us to ground our identity in who God says we are. The former says, "Take a look in the mirror/Tell me what you see/God sees a fighter/But you've got to believe," while the latter encourages women specifically, "You gotta fight/Stand up strong/ … Show 'em what you're worth."

On "Bleed the Same," Mandisa's joined by Kirk Franklin and tobyMac. Together they deliver the message that no matter what color our skin may be, we're "all the same on the inside." We also hear, "We're more beautiful when we come together," and, "If we're gonna fight/Let's fight for each other."

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Summary Advisory

Life can knock us off our feet, a metaphor that Mandisa herself uses in one of her songs. And even if we're rooted in our faith, those disorienting seasons can plunge us into doubt and despair. Sometimes it can even be difficult to understand where God is and why He would allow tragedy to occur to those we love.

Mandisa has experienced exactly that kind of season over the last four years. And though it's obviously been a devastatingly difficult one, I'm thankful that she's chosen to share her story on Out of the Dark. This authentic, gritty, hopeful collection of songs may very well help others who find themselves in similarly shadowy places.

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May 19, 2017

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Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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