TUESDAY REVIEW – BRETT AND EMILY MILLS (NEVER TOO FAR)

Brett and Emily Mills made a name for themselves early on as gifted worship leaders and songwriters. For years, they’ve led in the local church as well as for camps, retreats and concerts, releasing worship  projects to support and spread their worship ministry.

But in 2002, the Mills found themselves leading worship for a ministry to women who were in the adult entertainment industry. And in that leading, God moved on their hearts – to find women in these situations and to live the love of Christ to them. They called their ministry “Jesus Said Love” and since 2002, they’ve ministered to women in Waco, Dallas and Bryan/College Station. And as God grew their ministry and their vision, He also birthed in them songs focused and fresh and birthed from day-to-day ministry in areas that many of us would ignore.

There’s no denying that this is a concept album. It’s not a worship project, but that doesn’t matter. When two people who’ve given their life to serving Jesus follow His call into the mission field, there’s nothing more beneficial to the church at large. These songs are worship. And they’re good.

GOD’S CHILD
I’m gonna’ be honest – you give me a massive downbeat kick drum and dobro guitar part, I’m IN. It only gets better when Emily begins singing. We don’t have enough female vocalists who can attack a song with such a broad vocal attack, and this song is a welcome adventure! This opening track is a crystal clear blues vocal that is on point from start-to-finish. And more impressive than the delivery is the stellar songwriting here. Brett and Emily go to Old Testament imagery to paint a picture of God’s promises in light of those we see here and now that don’t “look” like what we expect.

BACKWARDS RESCUE
There’s a lot of good stuff in this song, but DO NOT miss the nuanced piano voicing throughout. It’s beautiful work! Once again, the songwriting is fresh, managing to speak a “hard word” in a way that feels welcome and wanted. The image of “backwards rescue” is one many of us understand but often struggle with expressing. This song does it well and it communicates that this project has a central, guiding theme.

WRESTLING WITH BELIEF
I was impressed at how Brett and Emily seem to capture the heart of questioning and doubt. Many career Christians have difficulty reconnecting and remembering their lives before Jesus. The Mills have connected to that so beautifully and with honesty. While this isn’t a worship record, there’s no way this song wouldn’t touch folks in your church.

LEAN
This one stopped me in my tracks. For the whole first verse, I’m thinking, “Oh. ‘Lean.’ This is a song about the lean times.” Then the Mills hit the chorus and I realize that this song is about desperate, holy trust in God. It is about lean times. And leaning, too! I also love that the song is big without opting for standard pop-anthem cliche. So far, my favorite song on this project. Amazing song.

HARD FOR THE MONEY
Yes. It’s the song you’re thinking of. But the Mills have taken this old hit and infused it with a dark tension that doesn’t pull any punches. For people who are so invested in this ministry, I appreciate the matter-of-fact nature of this song. There’s no preaching, no creating a morale – just an honest depiction of a very hard life.

WHERE’S THE MIDDLE
This is a beautiful instrumental track featuring piano, synth and a massive, echoing drum part. When’s the last time a “song” record just had an instrumental right in the middle of it? Creative and bold!

KATHLEEN
This simple story song says with beauty and grace what the first track did with grit and confidence – that God loves the “forgotten.” Simple acoustic and piano with a nice horn part, it’s a compelling, intricate story told in just over four minutes. Pretty impressive. The song ends with a poignant question about the nature of suffering, an honest response to a story like this one.

LOVE WON’T SLOW DOWN
Oh, man, this ethereal, sprawling proclamation of God’s relentless love needs to be sung in churches as soon as humanly possible. The Mills have tapped into a poetry and passion in this song that serves both a reminder to Christ-followers and an invitation to those are far from Him. Like the best songs, it reminds of a truth we didn’t know we had forgotten.

SAFEST PLACE
Sparse piano and strings set the tone for this confessional commitment to honor another and create a place of safety as a reflection of God’s great protection and victory. The song is quick, more like a quiet prayer than an anthem, but it’s a quiet break in the song order to remind the listener once again what true community looks like.

INTERRUPT ME
I’m digging the minor electric guitar riff that drives this prayer for God to wake us up to His call. This is another one that would be an amazing song to sing in our churches. I also appreciate the honesty here – the acknowledgement that we need to be interrupted.

ROUND THE MOUNTAIN
Definitely the most original song on the record. This one took me a few listens to “get it.” What starts off like a simple redo of an old folk tale actually evolves into a fun, gospel music celebration, complete with a big choir and quite a bit of belting from Emily and a slamming horn part. It’s a perfect accompaniment to this record. So far, the songs have been heavy, meticulously crafted lyrics, but this one is simple and fun – hopeful for what God’s going to do for the women in this ministry.

SURELY GOODNESS
The project ends with a hymn that puts just the right touch of Colplay-esque dynamic into this piano excursion. And it does show wisdom – ending with a song that reminds us all of our fallen state before a holy God who redeems! Needed!

________________

I’m not only impressed with this work as a musical endeavor, but I’m encouraged by it. The songs on Never Too Far remind me that the best songs are the ones that are born out of the work of loving people with the love of God. I’m grateful that Brett and Emily are documenting this amazing journey with songs of such honesty and power. If you’d like to check out the project, you can do so at brettandemilymills.com.

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