Longtime adult music fans will likely distrust any artist/songwriter who self-consciously describes their craft as a calling. It isn’t about the foundation of said calling. It’s about the inevitable wont of such performers to turn dogmatic and forsake their essential duty of providing an entertaining, enjoyable listening experience for their audience.

Coppe Cantrell, however, gives us the best of both worlds. Wedding a sense of calling to compelling musical settings, beguiling melodies, and polished production creates a body of work greater than its individual parts. We come away from such albums and songs invigorated by the experience and even inspired. Coppe Cantrell’s The Breastplate of Righteousness sets for that lofty height and never loses its way.

The thirteen-cut release opens with “War Cry”. Cantrell doesn’t leave any doubt here, or elsewhere, about where her sympathies lie. Her intense commitment to her faith behooves her to build several songs like this over the course of the album and the patient unfolding of this song’s rhythmic dimensions secure it a spot as one of The Breastplate of Righteousness’ peak moments. Her layered arrangement for “Swing to the Right” sparkles with understated guitar parts, an unbelievable bass part, and the right propulsive yet tightly wound beat to realize the cut’s potential. The vocals are a huge reason for the song’s final success as well.

“Dance in the Dark” is an incendiary number. Cantrell hides a vision of a fallen world and her attempts to stay afloat within an intensely intimate dance track. Some listeners will contend that it features the best bass playing yet on the album. Cantrell’s rendering of her lyrics bristles with intensity through each passage. “Set Me Free” is cut from a similar cloth. Her songwriting shows boundless creativity, however, through pouring old wine into new bottles musically while further diversifying her subject matter. She finds a surprising amount of angles for writing about her faith.

This talent evidences itself in a large way during the album’s title track. She invests a deceptive amount of ambition into this performance as it has an almost dream-like ambiance that nonetheless delivers a profound message. Her deeply felt, almost reverential vocal ranks high among the album’s finest moments. “Keep Asking” has a steady beat listeners can latch onto and nicely percussive keyboard parts that complement the rhythm. It’s another vocal showcase, as well, and you can’t help but admire the natural quality that Cantrell achieves in a studio setting.

“Born Again” adopts a slower pacing than many Cantrell songs, but it nonetheless glows with the same inner light. Utilizing the album’s penchant for involved and rewarding vocal arrangements in a more languid fashion like she does here makes this track a warm and inviting experience for the audience. She brings The Breastplate of Righteousness to a satisfying end with “Come and Accept Jesus” which, in essence, defines the bulk of her artistic vision in a relatively unassuming closer. It shares the same across-the-board strengths, however, that makes Coppe Cantrell’s The Breastplate of Righteousness one of 2023’s most surprisingly powerful releases.

Troy Johnstone