PHILLIPS, CRAIG & DEAN
Most bands search and toil and pray for that one song, that “career-defining” work that stands as a monument to their calling. Remarkably, Phillips Craig & Dean can look back on a body of work defined by multiple “career-defining” songs. There was “The Concert of the Age,” way back in 1993. “Mercy Came Running” personified God’s love and compassion. “Crucified with Christ” was a powerful proclamation of scripture and the CCM Inspirational Song of the Decade for the 1990’s. And in 2009 “Revelation Song” was a radio juggernaut, capturing the imaginations of listeners and the GMA Dove Award for Inspirational Song of the Year.
Even more extraordinary than their long list of musical landmarks is the fact that this band just keeps getting better. And now, 23 years into their storied career, Phillips Craig & Dean offer a ground-breaking collection of songs poised to minister to the hurting, lead believers in powerful praise, and point the broken to Christ.
Breathe In speaks life into a world so full of frustration and struggle. “Daily life can be so deflating,” says Randy Phillips. “The single parent who has to be mom and dad. The career that weighs heavily on you. The responsibility to live up to expectations. You get to where it’s metal on metal and you feel oxygen-depleted. This is where you come into the presence of God, and you just kneel before Him, you say, ‘God, I can’t do this anymore, I’m deflated.’ And you begin to breathe in those words of Jesus Christ: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Breathe in that. It inflates you and helps you to rise above the things that life brings to all of us.”
The album’s extraordinary lead single is “When the Stars Burn Down.” Written by Jennie Lee Riddle (“Revelation Song”) and Jonathan Lee, the song transports listeners beyond the temporal to a place of unfettered worship. Shawn Craig likens the moment to Peter’s description of the “the heavens melting with fervent heat.” The song’s driving 6/8 beat builds momentum as a picture of eternity unfolds and, suddenly, the expanse of eternity becomes intimate and individual. Craig speaks of that final verse, He will wipe our eyes dry, and take us up to His side, and forever, we will be His: “That’s the moment it becomes very personal, that not only is this wonderful God in control of the church, the universe, but that he will call us to Himself. One by one, name by name. He knows the hairs on our head, knows our name and our past and present and future. He transcends all that is temporal and everything that will burn up and melt. He still remains. That’s why we worship.”
Since Phillips Craig & Dean are senior pastors at churches in Texas and Missouri, it’s no surprise that these songs minster so effectively. As Dan Dean notes, “I think all the songs we write are part of the experiences that we go through day to day with our church people. I can look back over the course of a number of albums and see particular songs that were inspired by something at church or a message I heard at a church service. Other songs are just stuff you live every day. I would say 90 percent of the things we write are born out of experiences going through life as pastors.”
One such song is the inspiring anthem “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again,” the source of the album’s title. The song was inspired by a stirring moment witnessed by a minister friend of Phillips who was observing an open-heart surgery. “However medicine has progressed, that’s still such a barbaric procedure,” Phillips notes. “So the surgeon explained to the pastor what he would see -- saw open the chest, put the life support in place, extract the heart, repair the heart -- and then the most unbelievable part of that surgery is when the heart is put back in place, to get the heart started again is just a very gentle touch, a small massage. Not anything radical. We’re so fearfully and wonderfully made, the heart just starts beating again. So he thought he was prepared.”
This surgery didn’t quite go as planned, and after repeated attempts, the heart failed to start beating. That’s when the surgeon went around to the head of the table and knelt by the lady’s ear, and took off his mask and said, “Mrs. Johnson, the surgery was successful. Everything was done correctly, and we’ve placed your heart back in your chest cavity. Now tell your heart to beat again.” And just like that, although she was unconscious, her heart started beating. Phillips sees this story as a symbol of our spiritual condition. “Christ, the great surgeon, did his part. He died on the cross, He rose to set the world right, he bridged the gap between fallen man and God. He puts it back together if we believe in Him and on Him, but there’s a part we have to play in it. We have to tell our heart to beat again. This is the message that all three of us preach: move forward, there is hope, get up, live. Breathe it in. That’s what Christ came to give us the power to do.”
For Dan Dean, one song born of life experience was quite personal. “I’ve walked through some unusual places the last couple of years. I lost my father-in-law to liver cancer and my brother to mesothelioma. I remember getting the call regarding my brother, that he had that incurable form of cancer. The song “I Choose to Believe” was born out of one of those moments that I think we all will have from time to time. You find out some devastating news, you get a phone call, you’re standing in a corridor at the hospital, whatever. In those moments, you have a choice to make. You can fall into doubt, and questions and fears. The temptation is there for all of us to do that. Or you can say, as the chorus of this song declares, ‘I choose to believe.’ In the moments when I can’t see God’s hand, or see His face working in my life, I make a choice to believe that He’s there, that he’s involved in the daily affairs of my life, that He’s in control, that He knows what I’m walking through.”
Newcomers to the PCD phenomenon might not realize how effortlessly the group has managed to remain sonically relevant with each new album. Producers Bernie Herms (Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant) and Nathan Nockels (Chris Tomlin, Laura Story) have managed to keep the signature PCD harmonies in place while stretching the songs and their singers to explore new ground. As Dean points out, “Both guys have done a tremendous job of keeping the music very relevant and taking us to a new place. I know that on the first song, “Great and Glorious,” there’s a whole lot of unison on that song, which is unusual for us. We’re usually in parts all the time, but on that there’s a whole lot of ‘screaming in unison’!”
Phillips concurs: “‘Great I Am’ is a good example. It just keeps getting bigger. It’s this small trickle of praise coming down this mountain, and by the time it reaches that big, huge chorus at the end, that big payoff, it’s just this avalanche of sound and harmonies. It’s just hard not to lift it up in praise and worship!”
For Phillips, Craig & Dean, that’s really what it’s all about. Even as they minister to God’s people in word and in song, they get swept away themselves in moments of praise for a God who causes us to breathe in His goodness and live again. And that’s why their message is so relevant, even after two decades. “Sometimes I get very sentimental,” says Randy Phillips. “When I hear a song from an earlier CD, it takes me back to a place early in our career that’s so precious to us. It’s just been a great journey. I don’t think any of us thought that 21 years later we’d still be together, still be making songs that people seem to embrace. It’s been a wonderful journey and we thank God for His goodness.”