The celebration and contemplation of everyday life is where we discover the truth and joy of who we really are. Even the stories that emerge from daily encounters with ordinary people and conditions can oftentimes offer profound life-lessons and help resolve what really matters in this life.
Telling these stories is front and center for Monk & Neagle, an acoustic-pop duo that sprang to life organically in Amarillo, TX out of a 12-year friendship between Trent Monk and Michael Neagle. Now back with their sophomore album release, The Twenty-First Time—its first on Reunion Records—Monk & Neagle deliver a storyteller’s delight, full of deep spiritual conviction, high-octane fun, passionate imagination, and sincere, heartfelt worship. A road-worthy soundtrack for life from start to finish, The Twenty-First Time beckons you to listen and follow.
“These stories, these songs were born in the everyday,” Michael Neagle says, “from the conviction that comes out of personal experience, faith in the middle of doubt, and our desire to unbox the Gospel. To show how relevant it is to where we all live.”
Produced by Ed Cash, The Twenty-First Time exceeds the John Mayer/Jack Johnson/Bebo Norman jazz/acoustic-pop fusion established on Monk & Neagle’s 2004 self-titled debut with even more irresistible hooks and melodies. The duo’s phenomenal vocal work is powerfully evident. But by far, the telltale mark of distinction here is found in the lyrical depth and meaning that permeates the record.
“I’ve worked on a lot of great records,” says Cash, Gospel Music’s 2007 “Producer of the Year,” “and the special ones you can usually identify. From the beginning, the songs to me on this record are simply at another level… It’s been amazing, watching these guys bring them to life.”
From the unforgettable title track, which pricks at our excuses not to love the unlovable, to the heart-melting “What Soldiers Do,” to the authentically worshipful “Hallelujah, Jesus,” these stories—these songs—grow richer with the telling.
He may be a drifter who’s grown old and gray
What if it’s Jesus and I walk away
I say I’m the body and drink of the wine
But I pretend not to see him for the Twenty-First Time
“’The Twenty-First Time’ is a song inspired by my wife, Micah, who for our entire marriage has been a true picture of compassion in my life,” says Monk. “Anytime she sees someone in need, she wants to stop and help. She’ll take food to the park to see if she can find anyone homeless or hungry, when I’m the guy who says, ‘We don’t have time.’ This song grew out of being challenged by her example, her spirit, her compassion.”
“As the song began to develop,” Neagle says, “I felt a tug on my heart that grew in its intensity. I’ve always known that our duty, our service, is to represent Christ to the world, but I’ve always kind of been ‘on the fence’ as to how we’re to do that. With ‘The Twenty-First Time,’ that revelation finally sunk in. To feed the hungry and give to the needy, that’s where it starts.”
Son, stand strong,
Love is the reason I would give myself for you
‘Cause that’s what soldiers do
“What Soldiers Do” hits close to home on many levels, with news of the war in Iraq a part of our everyday lives. “I’d been playing around with a melody for more than a year before I figured out what to do with it,” Monk says of the song. “Ed (Cash) and I started having conversations about the war and all the soldier stories we’ve heard, it started coming together. In it, we’ve tried to capture these stories, to paint a picture of their sacrifice. It’s our attempt to do them justice.”
Wonderful, powerful, Jesus is your name
“Hallelujah, Jesus,” a worship anthem written by Evan Wickham, sets a new benchmark for Monk & Neagle, as the first song they’ve ever recorded that they didn’t write. “We’ve always just wanted to stick with our own songs, our own dynamic,” says Monk, “but when Ed (Cash) brought this one to us, it moved us in a big way. And honestly, it had been awhile since a worship song had moved me. So I knew we had to consider it.”
An acoustic ballad that builds to a declaration with a buoyant gospel underscore, “Hallelujah, Jesus” will likely become a modern worship anthem that travels around the world. “So many times you forget what ‘hallelujah’ means,” adds Neagle. “It’s just another word that’s seemingly overused. But the simplicity of the lyric combined with such a haunting melody, it’s a true, straight-up vertical moment on the record. …One of our background vocalists said it best: ‘Makes you want to fall down, just to sing it.’”
For a couple of guys who’ve held the wheel firm through the twists and turns, ifs and maybes of the music business, The Twenty-First Time makes one thing clear: Monk & Neagle still have much to say.
“From the beginning, we’ve never doubted our calling,” says Neagle. “We’ve been willing to give it up, and at times anybody with common sense would try to move on, but by the grace of God, we persevered, and there’s a reason why….”
“If anything has come out of the last few years,” Monk adds, “the frustration of waiting and writing and trying to stay busy with our music, it’s that we have a better understanding of what really matters. These songs hold so much more meaning, this far in the journey, because we’ve experienced grace in real-life terms.”