Hoopla

Christian group For King & Country returns to Cedar Rapids on Friday

Brothers Luke (left) and Joel Smallbone of For King & Country are returning to Eastern Iowa Friday night (11/8) with a concert at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Courtesy of For King & Country)
Brothers Luke (left) and Joel Smallbone of For King & Country are returning to Eastern Iowa Friday night (11/8) with a concert at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Courtesy of For King & Country)

With three albums, For King & Country is in a far different place than when brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone began writing songs and setting the wheels in motion for their group.

In quick order, the Australian brothers — who have since moved to Nashville and become U.S. citizens — have gone from newcomers to one of the bigger acts on the Christian music scene.

Their 2012 debut album, “Crave,” got things off to a solid start by reaching No. 4 on Billboard magazine’s Christian Albums chart. Then the 2014 follow-up, “Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong,” broke things wide open, topping the Christian Album chart and producing two No. 1 singles on “Billboard’s” Hot Christian Songs chart with “Shoulders” and “Fix My Eyes.” Things culminated with the album winning the Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.

Their contributions to the soundtrack of the 2016 movie “Priceless” only solidified their standing.

As the Smallbone brothers began thinking about their third album, the question was where to go next musically and lyrically. Remembering a moment early in the career of For King & Country helped provide an answer.

“I remember the first song that I ever liked that I wrote was actually a song called ‘Crave’ from the first album. It ended up being the album title,” Luke Smallbone said in a recent phone interview. “I remember it kind of bringing me to tears, and I remember thinking to myself, even if nobody else hears this song, this song is special to me. So we kind of thought to ourselves, well, what if we continue that thought? We make it special to us, because we’ve got a soul and we’re people just like the other people who are listening to this music. Our hope is that if it’s special to us, it will be special to millions of other people across the world.”

That thinking has resulted in the Smallbone brothers’ most personal collection of songs yet on “Burn the Ships,” the recently released third For King & Country studio album.

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And it turns out there were some more headline life events to use as inspiration, especially for Luke Smallbone, who battled a severe case of ulcerative colitis in 2012 and dropped to 125 pounds before finally seeing the illness go into remission in 2017.

The title track, “Burn the Ships,” is based on struggles experienced by Joel Smallbone’s wife, Courtney, during one of her pregnancies. She was suffering severe morning sickness and was prescribed drugs to help deal with her ailment. She ended up getting addicted to the drug, but faced up to the situation, went for treatment and has been free of the addiction ever since.

Another life-changing event involving Luke and Courtney’s infant son, Leo, inspired the song “Need You More,” which the Smallbone brothers co-wrote with their sister and fellow Christian music artist, Susan St. James.

In January 2018, Leo was discovered at the Smallbone home not breathing. Fortunately, the boy was revived with CPR, but later went through skull reconstructive surgery. Happily, young Leo has recovered from that major scare.

Events such as these have changed Luke Smallbone’s perspective on life — and in a good way.

“For me, it’s pushed me to a place of thankfulness,” Luke Smallbone said. “It has made me look at things and go, ‘Oh my goodness, look at what I have and what God has given me.’ I have a beautiful wife and three kids. There’s so much life.”

The feelings of appreciation and gratitude that Luke Smallbone (and his brother) now possess thread their way throughout the “Burn The Ships” album and is especially pronounced in lyrics to songs such as “Need You More,” “Joy,” “Amen” and “Control.”

Musically, the “Ships” album retains key trademarks of the For King & Country sound: airy instrumentation and soaring melodies (which have gotten the group comparisons to U2 and Coldplay) and big drums, but also adds new electronic and synthetic elements to virtually every song.

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So far, fans are liking the music and messages on “Burn the Ships,” which has topped the Christian album chart and produced chart-topping Christian singles in “Joy” and “God Only Knows.” That song has since been redone as a duet with Dolly Parton and reached the No. 2 slot on Billboard magazine’s Hot Christian Songs chart.

The live show, coming to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Friday night (11/8), figures to be appropriately epic. Luke Smallbone said the set is fairly equally split between the three albums, performed by an eight-person band, including the two brothers. Fans can expect a big show visually as well, with a stage that resembles the bow of a ship.

“One of the things that we have always enjoyed doing is quite a lot of production,” Luke Smallbone said. “This tour is going to be no different. There’s going to be an LED wall. There are going to be lights. Obviously, there’s going to be a big sound rig and things like that, but we’ve always wanted the music to lead.

“There are a lot of things you can do to supplement what you’re doing on stage. That’s what we like to do.”

Get out!

• What: For King & Country

• Where: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 7 p.m. Friday (11/8)

• Tickets: $23 to $203; venue box office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Uscellularcenter.com/events/

• Band’s website: Forkingandcountry.com

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