Friday, December 30, 2011

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

     Crystal Lewis has been wowing Christian music fans for years now with her unique and powerful voice.  Over the years she has performed such classics as 'I Now Live', 'Shine Jesus Shine', and 'People Get Ready.'  Among her best work was 2000's HOLIDAY! A COLLECTION OF CHRISTMAS CLASSICS which was jazz infused.  With HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (2010, Metro One) Lewis has truly outdone herself.  I have nothing negative to say about this project.
     It begins with three mellow numbers.  'O Come O Come Emmanuel' is based on the following biblical prophecy from Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel."  The lyrics to the song include this plea: "O Come, Thou Key of David, come/And open wide our heavenly home;/Make safe the way that leads on high/And close the path to misery/Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/Shall come to Thee, O Israel."  'White Christmas' was penned by Irving Berlin.  The first public performance of it was by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on December 25/41.  The song finds Crystal reminiscing: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know/Where the treetops glisten and children listen/To hear sleigh bells in the snow/I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/With every Christmas card I write/May your days be merry and bright/And may all your Christmases be white."  'Grown Up Christmas List' is a David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner tune from 1990.  Other CCM artists such as Amy Grant and Bryan Duncan have recorded it.  It contains these utopian well wishes: "No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/And everyone would have a friend/And right would always win/And love would never end/This is my grown up Christmas list."
     The title track 'Home for the Holidays' was recorded twice by Perry Como.  It picks up the pace musically and echoes the sentiments of many: "Oh there's no place like home for the holidays/'Cause no matter how far away you roam/When you long for the sunshine of a friendly gaze/For the holidays, you can't beat/Home, sweet home."  'I heard the Bells on Christmas Day' uses nice chime effects and is based on an 1864 poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The song proclaims the victory of good over evil: "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;/The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/With peace on earth, good will to men.'"  'Mary, Did you Know?' uses playful piano playing and dates back to 1991.  The lyrics marvel at what the baby Jesus would grow up and accomplish:  "Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?/Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?/Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?/That this child that you've delivered will soon deliver you?"
     'Let it be to Me' is a beautiful ballad written by Michael and Stormie Omartian.  It imagines Mary's thoughts on carrying and giving birth to Jesus: "I'm just an ordinary girl with extraordinary chances/To give my body and my soul to serve my God and Lord/Holy Spirit come and bring forth/This gift of life/Let it be to me according to Your Word/Let it be, let it be/Let it be to me."  'We Three Kings' by Rev. John Henry Hopkins Jr. first appeared in print in 1863.  These words extol the Lord: "Frankincense to offer have I/Incense owns a Deity nigh/Prayer and praising all men raising/Worship Him, God on high."  'Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella' is a Christmas carol which originated from the Provence region of France in the 16th century.  Crystal partially sings it in French.  It is a wonderful acappella track that joyfully proclaims Christ's birth: "Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!/Bring a torch to the cradle run/It is Jesus good folk of the village/Christ is born and Mary's calling/Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!/Ah! Ah! beautiful is her Son!"  'Sleigh Ride' will take you back in time musically and is a seasonal love song about two love birds: "Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up/It's grand, just holding your hand/We're gliding along with a song/Of a wintry fairyland/Our cheeks are nice and rosy/And comfy cozy are we/Ooh, we're snuggled up together/Like two birds of a feather would be."  'Oh Come All Ye Faithful' features nice percussion and ascribes worth to the Lord: "Yea Lord we greet Thee/Born this happy morning/Jesus to Thee be glory given/Word of the Father/Now in flesh appearing/Oh come let us adore Him (3X)/Christ the Lord."  'I Wonder as I Wander' by John Jacob Niles, closes the album.  It tries to grasp the grandeur of the incarnation: "I wonder as I wander out under the sky/How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die/For poor, ornery people like you and like I/I wonder as I wander/Out under the sky."
     HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS was produced by John Andrew Schreiner and Brian Ray, Lewis' husband.  Their daughter Izzi Ray, plays guitar, while Frank Lenz plays drums.  Schreiner is responsible for keyboards and programming.  Alan Pasqua skillfully handles piano duties.  I recommend this light pop, inspirational Christmas effort to those who appreciate the vocal talents of Christina Aguilera and Rachael Lampa.  It really is a flawless Christmas cd.  It is both soothing and mesmerizing.  The photos of Crystal with luggage at a train station are just beautiful!  For more info visit http://www.crystallewis.com/.  I'm rating this album 95%.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

SONGS FOR ISRAEL

     SONGS FOR ISRAEL (2010, Candlelight Concerts and Records) features the talents of four singer-songwriters: Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, and Buck Storm.  The following words from artist Ray Ware who painted the front cover 'With His Disciples in Galilee', shed light on the background for this project: "In November 2008, Candlelight Christian Fellowship and Compass International of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho embarked on an experiment-of-sorts by inviting four songwriters to visit Israel and other Biblical locales with the purpose of writing and recording a new body of music inspired by what they experienced together...Note that these artists were not in a cocoon of their own but lived and traveled with a diverse group of one hundred and fifty Christian pilgrims from across the USA."  Pastor Paul Van Noy sheds further light on this endeavour: "We chose to make this record because we believe it is God's will that we support and pray for Israel.  The Lord has and will use her to make Himself known to the rest of the world.  Today in the Church Age, He uses believers in Jesus as His ambassadors to the 'Jew first and also to the Gentile.'"
     The album begins with a deeply emotional song, 'Jerusalem', written and sung by Buck Storm who has a gravelly voice: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem you who stoned the prophets/How I have longed to gather you into My arms/Jerusalem, Jerusalem you who stoned the prophets/Precious in weakness and loved by the God who made you/Darkness comes to the City of David/Bone and skin lie bare to the wind/Blood and bent fingers/A Son crying out to His Father/Precious in weakness, perfect in love."  'House of the Lord' is a mellow song written and performed by Phil Keaggy.  It has God making promises to Israel: "And I will pour on the House of David/And those who dwell in Jerusalem/The spirit of grace and supplication/And they will see Him who was pierced/Who was pierced for all their sins/If My people who are called by My Name/Will humble themselves/And pray and seek My face/If My people turn from their wicked ways/Then I will hear from Heaven/Forgive their sin, and heal their land."  'Eyes Upon the Land' is an easy listening song delivered by Bob Bennett.  It speaks of God's goodness amidst heartache: "So much trouble, so much pain/An endless supply of well-worn hate/Sorrows that no man can ever number/Sown into this tiny piece of real estate/But God keeps the faithful preceding me/To tend this garden in the sand/Who keep the Torah and tell of Him/Who always keeps His eyes upon the land."
     'The Secret Name of God' is a wonderful Randy Stonehill ballad that runs over six minutes in length.  The lyrics look forward with hopefulness to the afterlife: "Mighty is His mystery, glorious in power/In ecstasy the heavenly hosts applaud/And when we are transformed, when spirits don their wings/It's then we'll know the secret name of God/The secret name of God."  'John the Revelator' is a song that will be familiar to Phil Keaggy fans from years past.  This song really brings the funk and is about an amazing experience John had while on the Isle of Patmos: "Well he wrote to the Seven Churches/And he wrote to those scattered abroad/He said 'Hold fast, return to your first love/And keep your faith in God'/Now tell me who's that writing?/John, John/Well, tell me who's that writing?/John, John'/Well, tell me who's that writing?/John the Revelator/He wrote the Book of the Seven Seals."  'God of All Creation (from Psalm 8)' is a song of praise that finds Buck Storm rejoicing: "Hallelujah, God of all creation/How exalted is Your name in all the earth/You've set Your glory high above the heavens/And You think of me/Beneath Your watchful gaze a flower grows/The seasons give their song, the oceans heave/The pain of childbirth fades/A baby breathes/The sparrow's flight does not escape Your eye." 
     'Deliver Us, Deliver Me' is a rock number written and sung by Bob Bennett and Phil Keaggy.  It points to the proper attitude we should have towards sinners: "The words of the Savior, 'Go and sin no more'/He would not throw a stone at the sinner/A welcome for the stranger, a cup of cool water/Forgiveness that melts away the winter/Why then do we judge and condemn?/When it's never meant to be a matter of us versus them/If the way of the cross leads us to peace/How can we not help but heal them?"  'Exiled' is a nice, thought provoking instrumental written by Phil Keaggy and Kyle Jones.  It affords the listener the opportunity to reflect on what has been sung so far.  On 'The Garden' Buck Storm shares of his personal experiences on the trip to the Holy Land: "I have tarried in the garden/I have rested in the sound of Spanish hymns/Filled with the mystery of pardon/And the wondering of grace bestowed to men/In the garden/I stand in the half-light with the dust of ruins on these travelling clothes/Caught somewhere between the angels and the ghosts."
     'Psalm 121' is a light pop song performed by Phil Keaggy.  It puts total confidence and trust in God: "Behold, He who keeps Israel/Shall neither slumber nor sleep/The Lord is your keeper/The Lord is your shade/On your right hand/The sun will not smite you by day/Nor the moon by night/The Lord will protect you from all evil/He will keep your soul/The Lord will guard your going out/And your coming in/From this time forth and forever."  'Broken Places' is pretty and has Randy Stonehill delivering a great vocal performance.  This song which would later appear on his SPIRIT WALK cd, speaks of God's promises to us: When the world has gone insane/When you're ragged from the strain/Call My name/You call My name/I'll meet you in the broken places/In the shadows of your pain/In a sea of strangers faces/I will find you, stand beside you (2X)/Anytime you call My name/Anytime you call/Just call My name."  The album ends with 'The Lord Bless Thee' featuring all four artists.  It contains these familiar words from a benediction uttered in many a church: "The Lord bless thee and keep thee/The Lord make His face to shine upon thee (3X)/And be gracious unto thee/Be gracious unto thee/The Lord lift up His countenance/Upon thee and give thee peace (2X)."
     SONGS FOR ISRAEL is, for the most part, a gentle contemplative project that will draw you closer to the person of Jesus and to the Holy Land.  The musical talents of the legendary Phil Keaggy are all over this album which is produced by Buck Storm.  The photographs of the artists in various geographic locations are a nice touch.  I'm rating SONGS FOR ISRAEL 85% and recommending it to those who wish to deepen their Christian walk.  To purchase this project go to http://www.candlelightfellowship.org/ and click on 'Ministry Products/Store.'  For more info on artist Ray Ware visit http://www.artistrayware.com/.

    

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RANDY STONEHILL'S SPIRIT WALK

     Randy Stonehill truly is a legend of Contemporary Christian Music.  It's been an amazing forty years since the release of his debut album BORN TWICE.  In this span of time, he has given us such memorable songs as 'King of Hearts', 'Shut De Do', 'Turning Thirty', and 'Great Big Stupid World'.  Of his latest album SPIRIT WALK (2011, Stonehillian Records) a press release states: "In whole SPIRIT WALK, strings together songs that only a veteran of a steady walk with Jesus over many years could sing with such conviction."  It also states: SPIRIT WALK is the second album Mike Pachelli has co-produced for Randy Stonehill-after PARADISE SKY (2008).  His contribution of bluesy guitar and authentic American production complements these songs and gives a quality of authority to the wisdom Randy sings."  I would agree on all counts!
     SPIRIT WALK starts off with 'Blood Transfusion and a Coca Cola' which features Dylanesque vocals by Randy.  The song begins with these words from a seasoned performer: "I got a touch of arthritis in my hips/Got a bird's eye view of the apocalypse/I got blisters on my fingertips/From tryin' to hold my life with a real tight grip/My ears are still ringin' from the gibberish and lies/These shifting sands have worn a lot of tread off my tires."  'Remember the Devil' features mean guitar playing by Mike Pachelli, and Baba Elefante on bass.  Baba has worked with Michael Sweet and John Elefante.  The song issues a spiritual warning: "Careful of the company you keep/Might be a wolf dressed up like a sheep/Remember the devil/He remembers you/He never makes a fair deal/Believe that's true/Know that His best trick is this-to make you think he doesn't exist/Remember the devil/He remembers you."  The title track has Ronnie Ciago on drums and paints a vivid picture of temptation and the spiritual state of society today: "The devil slid up to me/He said 'Why don't we have a little chat?'/I got a bit suspicious when he refused to let me take his hand/He said 'I know about your unfulfilled desires, I can help you out with that'/I said 'That's awfully tempting/I guess that's the business that you're in/What would you need for payment?'/He just looked down with a sheepish grin/I said 'I think I'll pass'/He said 'That's okay but I'll be back again'/It don't take Nostradamus to tell you how the chips are gonna fall/Open up your Bible, you don't need some gypsy's crystal ball/The way things are these days/Even Ray Charles could see the writing on the wall."
     'Life is Tough, God is Good' has a raw, bare bones feel to it.  Mike and Randy play the wood case, tray table, tambourine, African Cloves, shaker, finger cymbals and kalimba.  These words of wisdom are shared in the song: "Life is short, truth to tell/And it's not a dress rehearsal so live it well/Life is short, don't you blink/It isn't going to work out the way you think/It's a broken world with broken souls/We might not always be happy but we can be whole/And Jesus hung on the cross to make sure we could/Life is tough, sure enough/But God is good."  'Try Havin' Some Faith' is the most pop sounding track.  I would've like to have heard Larry Norman, Randy's deceased one time mentor, on background vocals.  The song tells the story of a modern prodigal: "He left home to be a star/He went and sold his soul right after he had to sell his car/Oh poor brother/Guess nobody told you for goodness sake/Try havin' some faith."  Lyrics like these point to hope: "Love will prove that doubt's a lie" and "You'll see when you open up your eyes."  'Broken Places' is written with Rob Crosby.  It has a worshipful feel to it, with just Randy on vocals and acoustic guitar.  It has God calling out to the prodigal: "You might think it's been too long, the road that leads back home is gone/But love's a thing that don't keep track of time/And you can't ever leave My love, can't ever leave My love/You can't ever leave My love behind/I'll meet you in the broken places/In the shadows of your pain/In a sea of stranger's faces/I will find you, stand beside you/Anytime you call My name."
     'Pray for Me' has Mike Pachelli playing some absolutely sizzling guitar work.  Lance Abair is on B3 and Wurlitzer, and a choir is also used.  The song includes this revealing plea: "Pray for me/I'm feelin' so weak/Pray for me/I can't get no sleep/Temptation won't let me be/Won't ya pray, won't ya pray for me/Darkness all around me/Of the world that's lost in sin/But the thing that I fear most/Is the darkness here within/Pray for me."  'That's where the Devil Lives' has creative, dark, demonic sounding background vocals by Randy and Mike to go along with these descriptive words of the devil's home turf: "Some say the devil isn't real/That makes him laugh out loud/He'll happily agree with you/And melt into the crowd/He smiles like an angel, but a serpent lies beneath/When he comes up close/You'll see the blood stains on his teeth/That's where the devil lives."  Stonehill's lyrics also make it clear that the devil loves unbelief and pride.
     Fans of some of Randy's lighter fare such as 'Christmas at Denny's' will appreciate the softer sound of 'Last Time I saw Eden' which includes these poetic, well written lyrics: "The last time I saw Eden I was standing in the rain/Down among some broken railroad tracks/I met a fallen angel waiting for a northbound train/He said 'I fear it's never coming back'/And now even in these crowds I feel alone/An orphan always aching for home/I'm longing for the mystery I had known/The last time I saw Eden."  'Finish Well' is another tender tune with Mike on lap steel and accordion among other things, and John Sferra of Glass Harp fame on drums.  Randy offers these words of advice: "They're a million shining highways that take you down to Babylon/Oh but it's the road less travelled that leads you from the darkness to the dawn/Folks will say you're just a simple fool/As they chase the fickle butterfly of cool/And everyone has some agenda they're trying to sell/Point your heart like an arrow/Walk the straight and narrow/Finish well."
     SPIRIT WALK is definitely one of my favourite albums of 2011.  Musically, lyrically, and artistically it trumps much of what is popular on CCM radio stations today.  This just may be the best album of Stonehill's career!  I'm recommending it to fans of bluesy acts such as The Rolling Stones, the 77's, Glenn Kaiser, and Larry Howard.  Those who enjoyed Stonehill's 2002 project EDGE OF THE WORLD should also give this a spin.  I'm rating SPIRIT WALK 90%.  For more info visit http://www.randystonehill.com/ or go to http://www.cdbaby.com/ to purchase.  Also, to learn more about the artist Ray Ware, who is responsible for the front cover, "The Spirit Came Upon Him", visit http://www.artistrayware.com/.

Monday, December 12, 2011

RON MOORE'S MYSTERY

     I had the privilege of seeing Ron Moore live in concert in Tillsonburg, Ontario in 1987 when I was just thirteen.  At that time I bought his DAUNTLESS cassette tape and I played songs such as 'Givers and Takers', 'Master Plan', and 'The Road Forever' over and over on my stereo.  Fast forward to 1998 and Moore released MYSTERY on Airborn Records.  Of his music career he recently wrote to me: "Musically, I have always done crossover albums.  Even though they credit me with naming Contemporary Christian Music, I have always felt more comfortable on the boundaries of that genre.  It seems the calling for me is to not only write and share music with the faithful, but also general market audiences, full of seekers and lost folks."  MYSTERY benefits from the capable guitar talents of Ron Moore, Colin Sapp and Randy Gancarz.  It has a fuller sound than say 1991's CHANGE THE WORLD. 
     Ron also talked to me about his faith journey: "MYSTERY is the first album I produced during a musical and spiritual transition.  Spiritually, my Methodist pastor became Eastern Orthodox, and respecting him highly, I studied and visited, and was happy to find a body of Christianity that has not (and will not) changed from the earliest Church; liturgy from the 5th century, full of Scripture, and reverence, along with the depth of teaching from the early church fathers who gave us the Nicene Creed, and with the Holy Spirit gave us the canon of Scripture (The Bible) we hold so dear."
     MYSTERY begins with 'Horeshoe Bay' which has a very accessible sound to it and contains these playful lyrics: "Climb the hill to the chapel/See the lake stretched out below/I 'baptized' you in the fountain/You turned around and you 'baptized' me...I remember we took that walk in the rain/Like school kids off on a holiday/Laughing and splashing in the stream/I replay that memory/It's a healing dream."  'Let's go Shopping' is a satirical look at America and benefits from Ron's harmonica playing: "Three inches from being born/Another baby is aborted/Thirty million killed in the U.S.A./In the world 150, 000 a day/Let's go shopping/Let's go to the malls/Hey, let's go shopping/Before the axe falls/Now comes this ape from Babylon/He says he has all of your answers/He will promise you your promised land/If you take his mark upon your forehead or your hand."  'The Wrangler' is a catchy story song: "Late one night/A lady scared to go out/I walked her to her car/And got her all loaded in/She handed me a ten/I said 'No thank you Ma'am/When you got nothin's/When it's most fun just to give...Someday I'll stand in Heaven by some rich man/He'll turn slowly and say/You had it better than me."
     'Storm' is very creative and has John Cassidy utilizing some unique sounds, including the doombek, woodblock, chimes, and a cymbal dipped in a bathtub while ringing!  The song written in 1985, speaks of a coming storm: "Now this problem's clear to me/One foot in a timeless dimension/The other foot on the street/Things seem all too normal on the surface/While overhead the cloud begins to form/And the storm is just beginning to blow."  'Full Moon in Romania' is another story song and has smooth vocals and nice harmonies: "Terry and Pamela/Leaving suburbia/Went to be missionaries in Eastern Europe/Stopping for border guards/Smuggling Bibles in/Followed around by the securitade/Full moon in Romania (2X)."  'Mary' is easy listening, with Carrie Pierce on cellos, Kat Moore on vocals, and John Cassidy on congos.  This song is likely the most controversial on the album.  Witness the following lyrics: "Gabriel's grand announcement/Mary's own humble acceptance/As you received Him/May our hearts receive Him too/Virgin and Holy Spirit/Mystery and conception/Chosen and willing/Bore the Savior of the world...Theotokos, pray for us (2X)."  'Theotokos' is God-bearer in Greek.  Ron explains the notion of having Mary pray for us: "May I assure you, only the Trinity is worshipped in Orthodoxy.  But Mary is honored for her direct role in the salvation of the world.  Just like we ask friends, and our church to pray for us, we can also ask those who are part of the cloud of witnesses to pray for us too since they are absent from the body, and now present with the Lord."
     'Friends of Mine' from 1980, is the oldest song here.  Ron wrote it for a college friend, Nancy: "Sorry to hear about your trip to the city/I heard you got robbed it's a pity/Bad times, hard things, and all those days/Can change you I hope in not too many ways."  'For the Bride' again has Carrie Pierce on cellos, and is a beautiful song about the Church: "Like a beautiful woman lying on the globe/Like a beautiful woman stretched across the globe/Stronger than the gates of hell (2X)/We are already mystically connected/With Christ in heaven/Where Christ is/There His body is also."  'The Son is Up' from 1991's CHANGE THE WORLD here is re-worked as 'The Sun is Up', a joyous song about Easter featuring tambourine and bass drum: "The sun is up, the sun is up/No more darkness, no more fear/The sun is up, the sun is up/The sun is here/There's a sound of running feet/There's a loud voice when they meet/There's a stone that's rolled away/A stone that's rolled away."
     Two live tracks are up next.  First is Moore's 1983 classic 'Kooties' which is "in celebration of love, marriage, and family."  It is a light hearted song: "Then one day in the lunch line/Right by the mystery meat/She asked me about the new giblet stew/I spilled jello all over my feet/She grinned at me with her friendly eyes/I felt all funny inside/I thought 'If this is what kooties can feel like/I'll let them come for a ride'."  Ron ends the tale with the two sixteen year olds dreaming: "Both of us wanted to know/If ten years from then we'd be married/With children all over the floor/Raising the new generation/To spread kooties around by the score."  'Jamie's Blues' is the second live track.  It is a seriously well performed blues jam that runs over eight minutes.  A twelfth, unlisted track called 'Window on the Wall' concludes this project.  It has Ron singing: "Prayers and incense rise around the rafters above/Angels, martyrs and heroes/Come and surround us."
     I asked Ron who his musical influences were.  He wrote: "I really wasn't looking for a replication of anybody's sound or style.  In my early years I played a lot of Neil Young, and people say I sound like him.  Others would be Beatles, Tom Petty, Sting, Steve Miller, Crosby Stills and Nash, Bruce Cockburn, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, David Wilcox, and Jimi Hendrix (And 20 more probably)." 
     MYSTERY is a strong, current sounding album from one of CCM's pioneering artists.  If you enjoy skillfully performed pop and rock music be sure to check out Ron's website at http://www.ronmooremusic.com/ and like him on Facebook as well.  I'm rating MYSTERY 90%.

Friday, December 09, 2011

GIRARD

     Chuck Girard has certainly had a prolific music career.  In the early 1960's he was a member of The Castells who had hits with 'Sacred' and 'So This is Love'.  He moved on to form The Hondells whose personnel also included heavyweights Gary Usher, Brian Wilson, and Glen Campbell.  They are remembered for the song 'Little Honda'.  Chuck came to know the Lord through Costa Mesa's Calvary Chapel where Chuck Smith preaches.  Girard was a founding member of the pioneering Contemporary Christian Music group Love Song.  Their self-titled debut in 1972 contains such memorable classics as 'Little Country Church', 'Front Seat, Back Seat', and 'Love Song'.  Chuck also has released several solo albums, including such songs as 'Rock and Roll Preacher' and 'Take a Hand'.  His daughter Alisa Girard Childers was a member of the highly successful Christian pop group ZOE GIRL from 2000-6.
     The year is 2011 and Alisa is back with a new group, GIRARD, comprised of herself, her sisters Kristin and Nikki, and her nieces Lauren and Kailyn.  They are all beautiful, modelesque women, as can be seen by looking at the photos included with this project on which Kristin and Alisa write the majority of the songs.
     'All for You' is upbeat and would fit nicely on a ZOE GIRL project.  It is a song of total surrender to God: "I will cast down my crowns/Take my life and lay it down/My heart says this is all for You/Take my hopes and my dreams/All for You I live and breathe/My heart says this is all for You."  'His Eye is on the Sparrow' was originally written in 1905 by lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel.  Here it is known simply as 'Eye is on the Sparrow'.  Some of the original melody is kept, and it extols God as Protector: "I know who is in control/A refuge greater than my foes/Nothing's stronger than this hope/That Jesus is my portion/A constant friend is He/His eye is on the sparrow/And I know He watches me/I have a Savior who will never let me down."  'I Need You' sounds happy and speaks of wanting to share the Gospel message: "I want to tell all the world of Your goodness/'Cause You saved me from my sin/I need You, I want You/Lord, light Your holy fire in me/To burn for all to see/I love You, I praise You/And 'cause Your light has shined on me/Your love is all I need."  'Nearer, My God, to Thee' is a nineteenth century hymn oft credited to Sarah F. Adams and Lowell Mason, and based loosely on Jacob's dream in Genesis 28:11-19.  Here the song is called simply 'Nearer my God'.  It showcases nice harmonies and has the ladies longing for a closeness with the Lord: "So draw me nearer Lord to You/I want to know Your ways in everything I do/I surrender all my ways/To live for You for all my days/So draw me nearer Lord to You/Nearer, nearer, nearer/We draw nearer/Nearer, nearer, nearer/We draw nearer to You."
     'Jesus is the Way' is a great ballad that builds.  It starts with these very down to earth lyrics: "Maybe you've got a sickness/Maybe you need a friend/Maybe you've lost somebody/You thought would be there to the end/Maybe you've been abandoned/Maybe you've been abused/Maybe you gave your heart to somebody/Who gave it right back to you."  The song points to this hope: "I know it sounds so simple, maybe that's because it is/Jesus came to save you/Won't you give your heart to Him? (2x)"  'I Love You' features a strong vocal delivery and is a song of thankfulness: "In this great romance, You gave a second chance/You have made a way for me to be with You/In spite of my mistakes, You bled to hear me say/I love You, I love You/Because You loved me first."  'God who Saves' is pleasant sounding and reminds me of ZOE GIRL.  It praises God for His goodness: "Name above names/You calm the wind and waves/You are the God who saves/The road was closed and broken/Your love has made it open/You took the night and turned it into day/My heart was scarred and wounded/You healed and saw right through it/You are the God who saves."  'New Song' is an anthem that sounds anointed.  It acknowledges that there is a spiritual war in the heavenlies between good and evil and has the family siding decidedly with the former: "We will cast down our idols and we put down our pride/Nothing will stand in our way/We will break through the darkness with a sword in our hand/By Your Spirit we will take back this land/Oh praise Him (4X)/We lift our voices, we sing praise to You/We are singing a new song, we sing praise to You." 
     'Alleluia' is a simple song good to listen to in your devotional time: "Alleluia (3X)/Praise His Name."  'Rescue Me' is about being abused and finding healing in Jesus, and is appropriately mellow: "Haunted memories of an innocent child/How could this have happened to me?/Scared and lonely, there was no one around/Yet I knew that Your eyes were on me" and "I'm so tired of living a life that I can't leave behind/I'm so scared, I can't fix it myself, Jesus I need Your help/So I lay it down at Your feet/There You hold me as an innocent child/And You dry every tear from my eye/And I'm washed in the flood of Your life giving blood/Your love has paid my price."  'Only One' shares a desire for oneness with God: "We bow before Your presence, Lord we pray/You alone are holy/Create in us a hunger for Your ways/As our hearts cry out to You/We surrender to You our will in all that we do/There is no other way."  Chuck Girard's 1975 classic 'Sometimes Alleluia' closes the album.  It speaks of a desire to let our praises to God be a witness to unbelievers: "Let the sound of praises fill the air/Oh let us sing the song of Jesus' love/To people everywhere/Oh let our joy be unconfined/Let us sing with freedom unrestrained/Let's take this feeling that we're feeling now/Outside these walls and let it rain."
     It is exciting to see this group of young ladies using their talents for the Lord.  I'm sure Chuck must be very proud!  GIRARD is a contemporary pop album that will appeal to fans of Point of Grace, Carried Away, and ZOE GIRL.  Alisa wrote to me saying: "No plans for a follow up...this was just a fun thing we did as a family."  I'm rating this project released by Calvary Chapel Music 83%.  For more info visit: http://www.chuck.org/, http://www.thechapelstore.com/, http://www.alisachilders.com/, or like GIRARD on Facebook!

Friday, December 02, 2011

BROWSING THROUGH POLLYANNA'S ATTIC

     Supporters of the prosperity gospel who believe that all is well all the time will have a bone to pick with Carolyn Arends' 2006 project POLLYANNA'S ATTIC (2B Records).  She writes that the songs on it are: "all in some way about a dissatisfaction I hope I can accurately call a Holy Discontent." 
     The CD begins with the peppy 'Just Pretending' co-written with Spencer Capier.  It comments on the rat race that is life: "Family full of achievers/Beat the Jones and be the Cleavers/Give the lawn a manicure/No rough edges, that's for sure/Sunday the whole congregation/Doesn't seem to need salvation/Everybody's just terrific/All the time (2X)/Why do we try so hard?/Life's not some greeting card/Models and movie stars/They're just pretending (2X)."  'Something to Give' is bouncy, utilizes the trumpet, and spurs the listener on to live a meaningful life:  "Hey you, with the time why don't you spend it?/If you've got a dime why don't you lend it?/If you've got hands then get them reaching out/If you've got feet then get up off the couch/There's nothing so rude/As a gift you don't use/Or a life that you choose not to live/'Cause you're blessed to bless/And the best of possessions is/Having something to give."  'What in the World' written with Connie Harrington, reflects on our sinful nature: "Today I woke to my alarm/Just like I did the day before/I stretched and put the coffee on/I kissed my baby out the door/Then as he turned to wave goodbye/I said some petty thing/I saw the light in his eyes die/It left me wondering/What darkness hides within this heart of mine?/Why do I do what I despise?"  'The Wasteland' contains the promise of God overcoming the evil done by the human race, and has a stripped down feel to it: "You can give us Your justice but we'll only defy it/You can send us salvation but we'll just crucify it/Still You rise from the ruins and You promise us a day/When You'll lead us away/From the wasteland."
     'Land of the Living (Psalms 27:13)' is a beautiful ballad about going through a spiritual winter of barrenness: "I know I'm not the first soul/To find myself lost in the night/But it's so long and dark, I'm not sure that my heart/Can survive/Still I've got no choice but to wait/And cling to this last bit of rope/It's the promise that You made me not to leave me or forsake me/So here I am hoping that hope."  'To See Your Face' is a moving ballad by the late Mark Heard: "Lord, You know I need Your love so bad/I hardly even have the strength/To take Your hand/If I ever get to see Your face/If You will spare me/I know that my allegiance to the human race/Will not ensnare me."  'Everybody wants Everything' is groove heavy and prescribes a cure for the ills of modern society: "Everybody wants to get ahead of the rat race/Find ourselves in a better place/Can't we see it's such a waste/All we need is just one taste/Of amazing grace/Everybody wants everything."  'More is Less' sounds laid back, but finds Arends cynical and jaded: "We've got food that makes you hungry/Drink that makes you sick/We've got cars that go in circles/Real nice clothes that do not fit/Here the money makes you paranoid/There's no one you can trust/The sex will leave you lonely/And the love all turns to rust."
     'Free' is written solely by Arends, as are the following two tracks, and has disillusionment as its theme: "Can't see the forest for the skyscraper/Locked in a cold war with the sun/Which one will kill us: hate or indifference?/Tell me has all the killing been done?/Well I don't know why I'm asking/'Cause I'm well aware/That while we're free to wonder/We're more free not to care" and "Well we're so full of freedom that we may just well/Split down the middle like the Liberty Bell/There's just too many lies we're too free to tell/We're all free to die, we're free to go to hell."  'No Trespassing' paints a dismal picture of our day and age: "'Cause you can't go near/Anybody else's private ground/See folks 'round here/Have got a democratic right to drown/And you're just a fool/If you care about the faces in the crowd/Got a new edition of the Golden Rule:/No trespassing allowed."  Layton Howerton sings with Arends on 'Not Alone', a song that offers encouragement: "There's a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with our grief/And He's done His share of crying in the night with no relief/And there isn't any heartache that He has not known/So we are not alone" and "Well, there's no use in pretending, some things just don't make sense/And there isn't any justice, at least not yet/In a while we will remember this is not our home/Cause we are not alone, no/We are not alone."  'I've Got a Hope' penned by Eric Fiedor and Pierce Pettis in 2000, appropriately ends the album on a hopeful note: "Lest I should stumble/I try not to forget/That every hair is numbered/Every footstep, every breath/And this life that I'm living/It will not end in death/I've got a hope/That is not in this world."
     POLLYANNA'S ATTIC benefits greatly from the musical talents of Spencer Capier (acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki, violin and backing vocals) and Roy Salmond (organ, lap steel, Wurlitzer piano, all manner of percussion, backing vocals).  It is an honest, artistic look at faith and doubt, questions and answers.  I'm rating it 82% and recommending it to fans of the soft rock and light pop sounds of Jann Arden, Sheryl Crow, and the more recent projects of Amy Grant.  For more info visit http://www.carolynarends.com/ and http://www.signpostmusic.com/.  The CD booklet contains a beautiful picture of Carolyn, eyes closed, head tilted downwards, and guitar strapped on.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

KINDNESS

     Acclaimed singer/songwriter Steve Bell has performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and shares the following thoughts about being classified as a Christian singer/songwriter: "I'm an artist.  I want to be a singer/songwriter.  The fact that my music comes out Christian is simply because that's who I am, not because I've got an agenda for my work.  So my first and primary calling isn't to be a Christian artist, it's to be a good artist, and any good artist is going to be true to who they are."  Bell is greatly concerned with the quality of his work: "Excellence in itself at some level is a truth-teller.  It tells something about the excellence and the goodness of God and His worth striving for."  He once had someone speak these words over him: "When you sing and you play, battles will be fought and won, that you know nothing about."  Steve reflects on his latest album KINDNESS (2011, Signpost Music): "Usually when I do an album I don't have a preconceived idea of the theme.  It usually presents itself afterwards to me.  With this one I was originally going to call this collection of songs CHANGES.  I'm 50, I've got grandkids now.  The music industry's changing, the economy's changing, the culture is changing.  It seemed like an appropriate title.  But when I was collecting the songs one day I was singing them to some friends and this one woman said to me 'Why don't you call it KINDNESS, it seems like the running theme of the songs.'"  Bell quotes Lucie-Christine (1844-1908): "I have sought how I might make God more loved by other souls...and have not found any other or more powerful way than kindness."
     The album begins with 'About Love', a beautiful pop song with these reflective lyrics: "One thing that I've learned in my time/You can't win if you have to draw lines/When it comes to the struggle/To show and to prove love/Oh-it's always been about love."  The title track was written by Brian McLaren and features Alana Levandoski.  It is smooth sounding and urges us to live with purpose: "Christ has no body here but ours/No hands, no feet here on earth but ours/Ours the eyes through which He looks/On this world with kindness."  'Changes' written by Jim Croegaert, utilizes a vocal chorus to good effect, and assures us that all the changes we go through in life lead to something good: "Sometimes we may be lonely/It's a hard job making us holy/But in the long run there will be glory/Glory to rival the sun."  The next two tracks are two of my favourites.  'Good Friend' written by Steve Bell, was "inspired and adapted from the poem 'Mayflies' by Richard Wilbur."  It begins with pretty keys and guitar and has a nice sing-a-long type chorus: "Be but your own good friend/And be good to the other/Chrerish those sisters and brothers/Along the road/And to the earth extend/Every reverence and wonder/Tend to the wounds of your blunders/And honour God who formed our home."  Pierce Pettis wrote 'Absalom, Absalom' featuring Alexa Dirks.  Bells says the song helps us grieve our own sins and their consequences.  The song is about King David grieving his son: "Come and smear me/With the branches from that tree/Hyssop dipped in innocent blood/To make me clean/Let an old man's broken bones/Once more rejoice/Absalom, you were my little boy" and "You were watching/When I took a good man's wife/And gave the order for his murder/Just to cover up my crime/All the vanity, cruel arrogance, and greed/Absalom, you learned it all from me."
     I picture God singing 'These are the Ones' over us.  The song features Jodi King, but I would have liked to see it done as a full on duet, with Bell and her trading off vocals.  Here are some of the lyrics: "These are the work of my hands/These are the shoot I have planted here/For the display of my splendor here/In these beleaguered lands/These are the ones I have loved/These are the ones I have called my own/These are the priests of a sacred home/These are the ones/These are the ones I love."  'In Billy's Wake' was inspired by the article 'The Washing' by Jessie van Eerden in Geez Magazine.  She was doing the laundry one day when she got a call that her cousin Billy had committed suicide.  All she could think to do was to go back to her good work of doing the laundry.  The song has a pleasant, content sound that suits Bell's voice.  It includes these words: "We're not alone/Silently watched by a sliver blue moon/Closed casket wake in a cold living room/There is good work to do...We're not alone/Laundry awash in the mid morning sun/You can see angels dance as they try trousers on/There is good work to do."  'Stubble and Hay' written by Gord Johnson and featuring Alexa Dirks talks of getting older.  Interspersed in it is a poem preached by Gerry Atwell.  The song is creative and memorable: "Forty-nine years/I've walked this life/What do I have to say?/Cast it all down in refiner's fire/Nothing but stubble and hay" and "Forty-nine years I've walked this life/One thing I've got to say/Remember God in the days of your youth/All else is stubble and hay."  Fans of Buddy and Julie Miller will like this song.  Of aging, Bell says: "You start to realize you're heading towards evening and we as Christians trust there's morning after evening...You start to ponder things, you start to be quieter, maybe less confident of the things you knew when you were 30."
     'Birth of a Song' written by Steve Bell, is easy listening and praises the babe Christ: "Author of the mysteries/Ecstasy of blazing suns/And swooning moons and these crooning/Winds and water, earth and fire/Yearning spirit, burning flesh/Consummating desire/Tossing off the soul's attire/Ever I in You and You in me."  'Greatest Gift' is one of the most commercial sounding tracks on the album.  It features country singer Carolyn Dawn Johnson: "No one can say this is not the work/Of the One who looks over us all/And the love that is given/The love we all share/Is the greatest gift of all."  'The Gifting and the Giver' is a well done original song of worship featuring Graham Shaw on harmonica: "I see in rocks, in sands and swell/In highest cliff and lowest crater/In broken shards of pearly shell/Fair fingerprints of the Creator/And I onshore admire this living Scripture/And adore the painter of the picture/I adore the gifting and the Giver/The gifting and the Giver."  A stellar rendition of Jim Croegaert's 'Was it a Morning like This', made famous by Sandi Patty in 1986, closes the album.  It attempts to picture what resurrection morn was like: "Did the grass sing/Did the earth rejoice to feel you again/Over and over like a trumpet underground/Did the earth seem to pound He is risen?/Over and over in a never ending round/He is risen/Alleluia Alleluia/Was it a morning like this/When Peter and John ran from Jerusalem?/And as they raced for the tomb/Beneath their feet was there a tune?"
     Signpost Music's mission statement is: "To encourage Christian faith and thoughtful living through artful word and song."  Steve Bell has done just that on KINDNESS.  I'm recommending this wonderful album to fans of Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Bruce Cockburn, and James Taylor.  Steve Bell has truly hit his stride with this project.  I'm rating it 87%.  For more info visit http://www.stevebell.com/ or http://www.signpostmusic.com/.

Friday, November 25, 2011

EVERYTIME I FEEL THE SPIRIT

     Clay Crosse achieved great success in 1994 when he won New Artist of the Year at the Dove Awards.  His songs such as 'I Surrender All', 'His Love is Strong', and 'Saving the World', were all over Christian radio.  Following a personal battle with pornography, he and his wife Renee founded the ministry Holy Homes which aims to strengthen marriages and families.  For a time, Clay also led worship at a church in Tennessee pastored by the late Dana Key of DeGarmo and Key fame.  The good news is Clay is still making music.  He describes EVERYTIME I FEEL THE SPIRIT-AN AMERICANA COLLECTION OF HYMNS AND SUCH (2010, HolyHomes Music) as his "countriest offering yet."  I would agree.  I would also note that Clay's vocals are softer and quieter overall than on previous efforts which had him belting out notes like Michael English.  Clay sounds like a completely different artist here and the new formula seems to work.  The unmistakable talents of industry vet Phil Madeira permeate the album.  He plays acoustic guitar, piano, organ and dobro.
     The album begins with 'There's Power in the Blood' written by Lewis E. Jones.  It is a song of triumph with a campmeeting feel to it: "Would you be free from Your burden of sin?/There's pow'r in the blood, pow'r in the blood/Would you o'er evil a victory win?/There's wonderful power in the blood/There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder working pow'r/In the blood of the Lamb/Yes, there is pow'r, pow'r, wonder working power/In the precious blood of the Lamb."  The title track is next.  It is a traditional black spiritual and includes fiddle by James Pennebaker: "Ev'ry time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray (2X)/The Jordan river is chilly an' cold/It chills the body but not the soul/There ain't but one train upon this track/It runs to heaven, Lord it comes right back."  'How Great Thou Art' has an upbeat, old country feel to it, and marvels at God's plan to redeem fallen humanity: "And when I think that God, His Son not sparing/Sent Him to die/I scarce can take it in/That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing/He bled and died to take away my sin."  'In the Garden' written by C. Austin Miles in 1912, is mellow, and depicts an intimate relationship between God and man: "And He walks with me/And He talks with me/And He tells me I am His own/And the joy we share/As we tarry there/None other has ever known."
     The next couple of tracks are two of my favourites.  'From Depths of Woe' is a ballad written by Martin Luther and Luke Smith.  It features the pretty background vocals of Myla Smith, and has Clay crying out to God: "From depths of woe/I raise to Thee/The voice of lamentation/Lord turn a gracious ear to me/And hear my supplication."  'Gotta Serve Somebody' was penned by Bob Dylan in 1979 and was previously covered by Mesa in the CCM market.  It has a funky, groovy, sound with strong background vocals by Ann and Regina McCreary: "You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride/You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side/You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair/You may be somebody's mistress/May be somebody's heir/But you're gonna have to serve somebody/Yes, you're gonna have to serve somebody/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you're gonna have to serve somebody."  'O Sacred Head Now Wounded' finds Clay accompanied by Phil Madeira on piano and somberly reflects on Christ at Calvary: "O Sacred Head now wonded, with grief and shame weighed down/Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thine only crown/How art Thou pale with anguish/With sore abuse and scorn!/How does Thy face now languish, which once was bright as morn."
     'That's Enough' by Dorothy Love Coates is upbeat and finds Clay having church: "So many times I didn't have a dime/Didn't tell nobody but the Lord/He heard my plea, He came to see about me/He's my all in all/You push me down, Jesus picks me up/Sticks by me when the goin' gets tough/I've got Jesus and that's enough."  'Just a Closer Walk with Thee' acknowledges God as Protector and Keeper: "When my feeble life is o'er/Time for me will be no more/Guide me gently, safely o'er/To Thy Kingdom's shore/To Thy shore."  'I Need Thee Every Hour' written by Annie S. Hawks and Robert Lowry in 1872, falls into the easy listening category, and is a song of humility: "I need Thee every hour, Stay Thou nearby/Temptations lose their pow'r when Thou art nigh/I need Thee, oh, I need Thee/Every hour I need Thee/Oh bless me now my Savior/I come to Thee."  The album closes with the modern hymn 'Wonderful Merciful Savior' written by Dawn Rogers and Eric Wyse in 1989.  It is a grateful song of worship given a country touch, which I quite enjoyed:  "You are the One that we praise/You are the One we adore/You give the healing and grace/Our hearts always hunger for/Oh our hearts always hunger for."
     I recommend EVERYTIME I FEEL THE SPIRIT to fans of Bob Dylan's "Saved" album, Larry Norman's "American Roots" album, Elvis Presley's gospel work, old country, and the Gaither Homecoming series.  I'm rating it 85%.  Clay Crosse has reinvented himself on this project and I'd love to hear a sequel to it.  His vocal creativity is to be applauded.  For more info visit http://www.claycrosse.com/ or http://www.holyhomes.org/.

Monday, November 21, 2011

DAVID'S VINTAGE CHRISTMAS

     David Ian is better known as Dave Ghazarian, former lead guitarist of Church of Rhythm, and current lead guitarist of Christian pop/rock group Superchick.  He was born in Canada to Armenian immigrant parents.  In an e-mail to me he wrote: "Ontario holds a special place in my heart as I was born and lived in Toronto for 10 years of my childhood and I am honored that my music is reaching you!"  In the liner notes of VINTAGE CHRISTMAS (2011, Prescott Records) he writes: "Thanks to God for the gift of a Savior and a reason to celebrate this season of hope.  Thanks for songs with meaning and for those that are just plain fun."  A press release states: "Ian sought to create a vintage sound, one that harks back to classic jazz and Christmas LP's of the 1950's."  The jazz trio used to do this is David Ian (piano, guitars, bells), Jon Estes (upright bass, cello), and Brian Fitch (drums).
     The album is comprised of songs with vocals and instrumentals.  Let's look at the former first.  'Have Yourself a merry little Christmas' showcases the sweet, soft voice of Acacia from the sister duo Tal & Acacia, and includes these lyrics of well wishes: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/From now on our troubles will be out of sight/Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Make the yuletide gay/From now on our troubles will be miles away."  'Let it Snow' was written in 1945 by Julie Styne and Sammy Cahn, and features the cool, relaxed vocals of Andre Miguel Mayo singing these romantic words: "When we finally kiss goodnight/How I'll hate goin' out in the storm/But if you really hold me tight/All the way home I'll be warm/The fire is slowly dyin'/And my dear we're still good-byin'/But as long as you love me so/Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."  'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' is performed quietly by Acacia and is a call to worship the Christ child: "Joyful all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies/With angelic hosts proclaim/Christ is born in Bethlehem/Hark! The herald angels sing/Glory to the newborn King!"  'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open Fire) was written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells in 1946.  The version here is quite traditional.  Acacia sings it, painting a perfect picture of the holidays: "Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe/Help to make the season bright/Tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow/Will find it hard to sleep tonight/They know that Santa's on his way/He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh."  'Christmas Time with You' is the final vocal track and there are two versions of it on the album.  It is an original composition by David Ian himself, and nicely complements the rest of the album.  The first version is performed by Andre Miguel Mayo and includes these dreamy lyrics: "Icy streets are white and slick you know/Wear your cozy boots, we'll float through the snow/And with our rosy cheeks we'll sing (3X)."  The second version is a duet between Mayo and his now wife, Acacia.  It includes this additional lyric: "Christmas time with you/Forget the weather/Let's get together dear/I wish you were here now/Whatever the reason/We long for this season."  A press release states the song was "inspired by Ian's long-distance relationship with the woman who became his wife in 2009."
     Instrumentally this album holds its own.  'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' written in 1938, is given a subdued, slowed down treatment.  It would be good for dining by candlelight.  'The Christmas Walz' by Paul Francis Webster and George Cates, has a playful spirit to it.  It makes me want to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  'Home for the Holidays' sounds like a musical interlude or intermission and is my least favourite.  Bing Crosby took 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' to the top ten of the record chart in 1943.  The version here is pretty and could be playing in a small boutique while you are doing your Christmas shopping and sipping on hot cider.  'Silent Night' is played in such a way that it will help you contemplate and meditate on the birth of Christ and what it means to you.
     Ian related to me: "I really enjoyed making this record and I am hoping this will be the first of several solo projects I do in the jazz genre."  VINTAGE CHRISTMAS should be picked up by fans of artists such as Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, and Judy Garland.  I'm rating this fine holiday album 80%.  For more info visit http://www.iantunes.com/.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SMALL SACRIFICE

     Twila Paris is one of the most beloved female vocalists in the history of Contemporary Christian Music.  She has popularized such songs as "We Will Glorify", "The Warrior is a Child", "How Beautiful", and "God is in Control."  Her latest album SMALL SACRIFICE (2007, Mountain Spring Music) is produced by John Hartley and still finds her voice and songwriting talents in fine form.
     'We Know Love' is percussion heavy and starts the album out on a grateful note: "One love would give up itself for a friend/One love is faithful and true till the end/This love is Him/By this we know love, by this we know love/That He laid down His life/Laid down His life for us/We know love."  'I Can do all Things' finds Twila engaged in spiritual warfare and features a nice electric guitar solo: "The danger here is real/From one who comes to steal/The freedom and the life/That You have given me/So I will cling to You/Your promise will be true/You are my Solid Rock/You are my victory."  'You Lead Me' is about one who is totally dependent on the Lord:  "And You lead me by still waters/You lead me through the storm/You feed me in green pastures/You keep me safe from harm."  'Small Sacrifice', the title cut, features pretty keys and finds her conversing with God: "What can you do with this gift of mine/So insignificant, so unrefined/What can You do with a simple girl?/You can change the world, you can change the world/With one small sacrifice/I give You all my love/I give You all my life."  'Lord I need You' is a fitting worship chorus that conveys a desire to be approved by the Father: "Lord I need You/I want to please You/In everything I say/In everything I do/Make me holy/For Your glory/A living sacrifice/Accepted in my Savior's eyes/This is my heart, this is my cry."
     The next two songs are two of my favourites.  'Live to Praise' is an upbeat song of thanksgiving: "You made me out of dust and breath/And I will live to praise You/You saved me from a certain death/And I will live to praise You/The more I look the more I see/There is no higher goal for me/You are my King, You are my Lord/I will praise You."  'Not Forgotten' is a ballad that offers these words of assurance:  "And hope will spring eternal/In the home of those who know/That loving eyes will follow/Everywhere we go/And even in the darkness/His promises are true/Keep this in your heart/He has not forgotten you."  'There is a Plan' is an artistic track featuring Chris Donohue on bass.  It reflects on how God mysteriously works in our lives: "He is working through the night/Behind the scenes, behind the eyes/Though we would never realize it at a glance/When He comes to work in me/The building of eternity/I pray I do not miss the moment/Do not miss the chance, do not miss the chance."  'You are a Great God'  is signature Twila Paris and praises God for His incomparable greatness: "You are the giver of light/You are the giver of wisdom/You are the giver of strength/You are the giver of joy/You are the Saver of souls/You are the maker of all/We bow down low because we know/You are a great God."  'Alleluia' ends the album on a confident note: "No matter where on earth I stand/Alleluia/I am resting in Your hand/Alleluia/Casting every fear aside/In Your shadow I will hide/You have called me to abide/Alleluia."
     The background vocalists on SMALL SACRIFICE are impressive: Michelle Tumes, Jennifer Paige, Chris Eaton, and Chris Rodriguez.  Those who prefer soft, gentle, inspirational music and light pop tunes will appreciate this project.  I'm rating it 83%.  For more info visit www.twilaparis.com or www.propermgmt.com. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

TRICIA'S ROAD

     It's been ten years since Superchick put out their first album KARAOKE SUPERSTARS, so what better time than now for lead vocalist Tricia Brock to release her first solo effort, a worship project, THE ROAD (2011, Inpop Records)?  In an interview with CCM Magazine's June 2011 digital edition, she shares: "My prayer for listeners is that these songs can be songs of hope that resonate in deep places of your soul like they have mine.  That you can be honest about hurts, and losses and pain and that these very places can lead you closer to the altar of God-to the one place of true healing, true forgiveness and love that make sense of all the unanswered questions."  The last couple of years have not been easy for Tricia.  Her mother-in-law was fighting cancer, she almost lost her mom to a heart attack, and she had a miscarriage.
     'Breath of God', a pop song of total surrender, begins the album: "On my knees I bow before You/So here I am, I lay my treasures down/I lay them down/From my lips a song of glory/With my hands I reach for more of You/For more of You."  'Lean' is an adult contemporary song about trusting in Jesus: "So I will lean upon the cross/I will lean into Your love/Your Spirit's living in me/Alive in me/I will sing when there is no song/In the dark/Lord, Your light is strong."  'You are my Shepherd' is a beautiful piano ballad written by Jennie Lee Riddle and Jonathan Lee, that is a modern take on the message of Psalm 23: "You are my Shepherd in the wilderness/Whom shall I fear?/You are the God who goes before me/My Rock and my Shield/In troubled times/You will provide/And I shall not want/You are, You are my God."  'You Hear' suits Tricia's voice very nicely, and rejoices in the open conversation we have with God: "From burdens weighty with regret/And sorrows we cannot forget/You turn our tears to holiness/When You hear, oh You hear."
     'Jesus, I am Resting' is a peaceful, guitar based song of praise: "How great Thy loving kindness/Vaster, broader than the sea/How marvelous Thy goodness/Lavished all on me/Yes I rest in Thee Beloved/Know what wealth of greace is Thine/Know Thy certainty of promise/And have made it mine."  'The Altar' is a reverent song of intimacy: "There's a place/A place of healing/There is no shame, within Your scars/This place is sacred/This place is secret/Here in the presence of a holy God (2X)...Be still and know that He is God (2X)."  'Always' is an anthem featuring strings, written by Jason Ingram and Kristian Stanfill.  It presents a realistic view of life and offers a proper response to the trials we face: "Trouble surrounds me/Chaos abounding/My soul will rest in You/I will not fear the war/I will not fear the storm/My Help is on the way (2X)."  The song's background vocalists include Melissa and Ben Greene.  'Impossible' is upbeat and points to the Source of our victory as Christians: "He has won where we have failed/He is hope where all hope is lost/He's the One whose hands were nailed/Forgiveness bought by blood and a cross/Glory to His name (2X)." 
     'Everything in Me' is one of my favourites and is a catchy pop song of dedication to God: "With everything that's in me/Until there's nothing left/I will sing for You/With everything that's in me/Until my body's broken/I'll live for You/Take every breath/Take every part/How could I give anything less than everything?/Than everything."  'Overwhelmed' is a quiet song written by Jennie Lee Riddle and Jonathan Lee, and featuring these beautiful words: "Your tenderness is moving/You refresh my soul/With words of pristine water/That bathe and make me whole/Your holiness is burning through my very soul/Your words consume like fire/I'm purified like gold."  'Broken for Love's Sake' gently closes the album and begins with this prayer: "You've come to seek and to save/Those who've lost their way/So seek me or I won't be found/You've come to keep and sustain/Those whom You have named/So keep me, O keep me now."
     THE ROAD was produced by Tricia's husband Nick Baumhardt, who also shares writing credits with her on some of the tracks.  It is a mostly mellow, contemporary worship project that finds her adoring the Lord for what He has done and for who He is.  It is neat to see a different side to this Superchick gal.  The photos of her are very compelling.  I'm rating THE ROAD 87%.  For more info visit http://www.triciabrockmusic.com/ or http://www.inpop.com/.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

ONE SILENT NIGHT-AN FFH CHRISTMAS

     FFH (Far From Home) is comprised of husband and wife duo Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler.  ONE SILENT NIGHT-AN FFH CHRISTMAS (2011, 62 Records) is a commendable holiday album with a fine mix of traditional Christmas songs and newer fare.  It begins with the playful, flirtatious 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' written by Frank Loesser in 1936: "I simply must go-But baby it's cold outside/The answer is no-But baby it's cold outside/This welcome has been-How lucky that you dropped in/So nice and warm-Look out the window, at the storm/My sister will be suspicious-Gosh, your lips look delicious/My brother will be there at the door-Waves upon a tropical shore/My maiden aunt's mind is vicious-Oh your lips are delicious/Well maybe just a little bit more-Never such a blizzard before."  'Jingle Bell Rock' is happy spirited and dates back to the 1950's: "What a bright time, it's the right time/To rock the night away/Jingle bell time is a swell time/To go ridin' in a one-horse sleigh/Giddy-up jingle horse, pick up your feet/Jingle around the clock."  'One Silent Night' is a wonderful song with pretty instrumentation that marvels at the night Christ was born: "One silent night, one holy night/When all was calm/When all was bright/With no one to kneel and no one to sing/Heaven came down and changed everything/Let all the earth receive her King."  Bing Crosby took the sleepy, sentimental 'I'll be Home for Christmas' to the Top Ten in 1943: "I'll be home for Christmas/You can count on me/Please have snow and mistletoe/And presents under the tree/Christmas Eve will find me/Where the love light gleams/I'll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams."
     'The Birthday of a King' is a majestic ballad that uses chimes and speaks of the hope Christ brought: "All of creation joins to sing/Throughout the nations anthems ring/Our humble hearts, the gifts we bring/To celebrate the birthday of our King" and "The faithful daughter, the wayward son/All find a place in Him tonight."  'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' was originally written in Latin in the 12th century and was translated into English in 1851.  It has a reverent feel to it and is beautifully orchestrated: "O come Thou Dayspring/Come and cheer/Thy people with Thine advent here/Disperse the gloomy clouds of night/And death's dark shadows put to flight/Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel/Shall come to Thee O Israel."  'Winter Wonderland' is given a nice, upbeat, contemporary treatment: "In the meadow we can build a snowman/Then pretend that he is Parson Brown/He'll say 'Are you married?'/We'll say 'No man, but you can do the job when you're in town."
     'Glorious Impossible' uses sleigh bells and is a well phrased, grateful song of praise: "He is mercy's incarnation/Marvel at this miracle/For the virgin gently holds the glorious impossible/Love has come to walk on water/Turn the water into wine/Touch the leper, bless the children/Love both human and divine/Praise the wisdom of the Father who has spoken through His Son/Speaking still He calls us to the glorious impossible."  'O Little Town of Bethlehem' was written by an Episcopal priest, Phillips Brooks, and a church organist, Lewis Redner, in 1868 after Brooks had visited Bethlehem three years prior: "How silently, how silently/The wondrous gift is given/So God imparts to human hearts/The blessings of His heaven/No ear may hear His coming/But in this world of sin/Where meek souls will receive Him still/Our dear Christ enters in."  The last track is 'Heaven and Nature Sing', a ballad with these Biblical lyrics: "In Him was life and that life was the Light of men/He came to His own but His own/Would not receive Him/Let earth receive her King/Let every heart prepare Him room" and "Now to those who receive and believe in the name of Jesus/Is given the right to become children born of God."
     Jeromy and Jennifer's voices complement each other very well on this project.  ONE SILENT NIGHT-AN FFH CHRISTMAS will be enjoyed by fans of groups such as Point of Grace, Avalon, 4Him, and Sugarland.  It is a peaceful, relaxing pop album to enjoy while you're sitting in front of the fire watching your children play around the Christmas tree with their new toys.  I'm rating it 85%.  For more info visit http://www.ffh.net/ or http://www.62records.com/.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

CINDY MORGAN'S HYMNS AND SPIRITUALS

     In the liner notes for Cindy Morgan's HYMNS & SPIRITUALS-SOME GLAD MORNING (2011, Somerset Entertainment Ltd.) she writes: "I think most people would say one of their first points of connection to God almost always leads back to a church with age-old wood pews, creaky wood floors that smell of lemon Pledge, a choir singing, possibly an out of tune upright piano in the corner and songs that we've known our whole lives, the same songs that our parents and grandparents before us sang.  For me, this is certainly the case."  The version of the album I am reviewing is available at Target and is Cindy's favourite.  I have a handwritten note to prove it!  The album begins with a rootsy, unique arrangement of Alfred E. Brumley's 1920's classic 'I'll Fly Away' featuring Chris Donohue on upright bass.  It points to the hope that Christians hold dear: "Some glad morning when this life is o'er/I'll fly away/To a home on God's celestial shore/I'll fly away" and "Just a few more weary days and then I'll fly away/To a land where joy shall never end/I'll fly away."  'Worry' has an Americana feel to it, is co-written by Morgan with Jeremy Bose, and features Jason Goforth on banjo.  The song tackles one of humanity's rivals: "It won't add a day to your life/It don't help you sleep at night/Lord I sure am tired of this fight/Worry, why do I worry/Why do I doubt Thee/What do I do it for?"  'Touch the Hem' is written by industry vet Phil Madeira and showcases nice background vocals.  It is an invitation to draw near to the Lord: "Listen friend His voice is speaking/And for You His heart is beating/You will find Him if you seek Him/Touch the hem of His garment/There's a blessed assurance that will conquer my fears/There's a river of healing/That will wash all my tears." 
     'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring/Sweet Hour of Prayer' includes pretty piano playing and cello.  It emphasizes the importance of communion with God: "Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer/That calls me from a world of care/And bids me at my Father's throne/Make all my wants and wishes known/In seasons of distress and grief/My soul has often found relief/And oft escaped the tempter's snare/By thy return, sweet hour of prayer."  'Just as I am/I Come' is a ballad co-written with Laureen Smith that reminds us that God is waiting for us to rely on Him: "He will whisper in the stillness/In the storm He shouts your name/Come to Me with all your burdens/Come to Me with everything/Come, Come" and "So walk across the barren desert/And meet Him at the water's edge/Hidden by the Rock of Ages/No more fear and no more tears to cry/Come."  'Our Father (The Lord's Prayer)' is another ballad.  It echoes Jesus' hearfelt prayer in the New Testament and contains additional words by Cindy Morgan: "Our Father which art in Heaven/Hallowed be Thy name/Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done/On earth as it is in heaven/Hallelujah, hallelujah/Let Your Kingdom come/Let Your will be done/Your will be done."
     The next two tracks are a couple of my favourites.  'Go Tell the Angels' is co-written with Jeremy Bose and is a song of repentance: "Go tell the angels/Tell the angels/Forget everything I ever done/Go tell the angels to tell the Lord I've had my fun/Go tell the angels/Tell the angels/I'm tired of being on the run/Go tell the angels/Go tell them that the battle is won."  'Working on a Building' has also been covered by the 77's in recent years.  It has a stripped down feel to it and stresses the importance of the Lord's work: "I'm working on a building, I'm working on a building/A Holy Ghost building/For my Lord, for my Lord" and "If I were a liar/I tell you what I would do/I'd stop all my lying and start working on a building with you/If I were a drunkard/I tell you what I would do/I'd stop all my drinking and start working on a building with you." 
     'It is Well' is given a very laid back treatment.  It would be good to use for your devotional time.  It gives a reason for the hope Christians hold on to: "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come/Let this blest assurance control/That Christ has regarded my helpless estate/And hath shed His own blood for my soul."  'Well Done' is a stellar song written by Cindy Morgan and featuring Phil Madeira on hammond b3.  It offers these words of encouragement: "When pain is deep and grief is great/And it's hard to make it through the day/Walk onward soldier to the gospel truth/For the crown and the glory is waiting there for you."  The last song is 'Praise the King/Amazing Grace' written by Morgan in 1998.  It is a song of adoration: "Praise Him for the blood that fell and bloomed a rose that day/And praise Him that he suffered through the guilt, the grief, the shame/Oh and praise Him that His tender love will still forgive today/Oh praise Him all ye people, praise the King." 
     Cindy Morgan's voice has matured nicely over the years, and she is aging beautifully as is seen by looking at the pictures of her included with this project.  I recommend HYMNS & SPIRITUALS to those who appreciate folk, old country, bluegrass, and black spirituals.  If you are drawn to Patty Griffin, Sara Groves, latter era Johnny Cash, and the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, you will enjoy this album.  My only complaint is that I wish there were a couple more upbeat numbers included on the disc.  I'm rating HYMNS & SPIRITUALS 87%.  For more info visit http://www.cindymorganmusic.com/

Friday, November 04, 2011

ALL WE NEED

     It's been eleven years since Rachael Lampa first appeared on the CCM radar, and some seven years since her last full length album of all new material.  On ALL WE NEED Rachael co-writes six of the twelve tracks.  It was released in 2011 by 220 Entertainment Group.  In the liner notes she writes: "Jesus-thank You for my gifts, the gifts of others, and the gift of their presence in my life."
     The title track starts things off, and is a rousing song with influences of Pink, that displays a reliance on God: "Journey is the destination/Just let me see through Your eyes/Even though I'm searching, even though I'm searching/You're my guiding light/Let the blind and broken see" and "I don't know the answers hidden in the questions but I know that I believe/Follow in Your footsteps/Find me in the darkness falling to my knees." 'Remedy' is soulful and finds her assured in her faith: "Every time I cry and I wanna hide/Feeling like I'm damaged on the inside/You know just what to do/You've got what I need/You're the remedy" and "Jesus Your love is my hope, my hope/You're my remedy, You're my remedy."  One of the writers of 'Savior's Face' is Ben Glover.  It features nice keys and speaks of God's transforming power: "Do you have an ugly scar/Do you have a damaged heart/Did you know that that don't make you who you are?/It doesn't define you/All I wanna do is remind you that/And all this time we waste thinking about the past/And what we've done/He don't remember that/We sold our souls but he bought us back." Encouraging words!  'Beauty's just a Word' slows things down musically and tells us there is a purpose for the hard times in our lives: "It's dark so you can see the light and it's hard so you can know it's right/And pain nothing ever grows without you/And hurt is just a chance to heal/And tears are just a call to feel/And pain beauty's just a word without you."
     'No Escape' is good to clap along to and features horns.  It is about a prodigal being found: "Tried to go where You wouldn't find me/Tried to hide when I saw Your face/Hoping You'd just forget my name/I woke up and Your love revived me/I was running backwards/'Til my heart was captured."  'Unchartered Territory' is midtempo and documents a girl unsure of herself: "I'm usually not the one/To be afraid, hesitate, second guess/What I've done/Am I overthinking it, complicating it/Should I let go or let it be?/Never done this before/How am I supposed to know where to go from here?"  The next two songs are two of my favourites.  'Elevate' is uplifting and about reaching your full potential: "In my dreams I've seen the view, and life above the clouds is beautiful/Don't let the circumstances keep you down/You might just lose your chance to leave the ground."  'My One and Only' is a highly danceable song of praise to God: "You rescued me from the weight of the world and I want You to know/You are my one and only/You're not like the rest/I know that You've got my back/You are, You are/You are my one and only/Right from the start You saved my damaged heart."
     'Run to You' is partially written by Taio Cruz and is a ballad about finding hope and comfort in God: "Whenever there's pain in my soul/Whenever I'm losing control/And feeling like I'm all alone/Whenever I'm lost and confused/Whenever it's hard to break through/The only thing left I can do is run/I run to You always."  'Feel' is a ballad that builds that I'd like to hear Carrie Underwood do.  It has Rachael longing for someone who understands her: "I don't need for you to try to fix the world this time/I just want your heart to break every time I cry/Stop the music, don't say a word/Cause what I need right now is something real/I just need to feel."  Two bonus tracks follow.  'Human' features Jonny Lang and looks at the imperfections and limitations of people: "What would you do if you knew the truth?/When you find out it wasn't me that hung the moon/I'm not responsible for making flowers bloom/Didn't separate night from day or make the ocean blue/What will you do when you find out I'm human too?"  The album concludes with a modernized version of Lampa's hit 'Live for You' from her debut project.  It is written by industry vets Chris Eaton and Chris Rodriguez and contains these words we can draw confidence from: "You know everything about me/Before my life began/You held me in Your hand/You have walked these roads before me/You have known the pain a broken heart can bear/Won't You help me now to trust You?" 
     ALL WE NEED will appeal to fans of Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, and Christina Aguilera.  It is a smart, consistent pop album with meaningful messages.  The photographs of Rachael Lampa are gorgeous, as is my daughter whom I named after her.  I'm rating ALL WE NEED 82.5%.  For more info visit: http://www.rachaellampa.com/, http://www.220entertainmentgroup.com/, and http://www.embracedbygrace.org/.

Monday, October 24, 2011

ON THE ALTAR OF LOVE

     In a press release regarding Downhere's latest project ON THE ALTAR OF LOVE (2011, Centricity Music), the following words are written: "As students of history, Jeremy, Jason, Marc and Glenn have come to recognize and appreciate the fact that their faith is not simply their own-but that it's part of a much larger communion of believers that stretches across cultures and thousands of years."  This album is an examination of that faith.
     'Only the Beginning' sounds like it could be the theme song of a movie and presents life as a passionate pursuit: "This is only the beginning/Press ahead forget what's behind, forget what's behind/And the good work He is still perfecting/A new name, a new dream, a new life/And this is only the beginning/This is only the beginning."  'Rest' is a radio friendly invitation to find peace in the person of Christ: "Come to Me, you tired and heavy-laden/Come to Me with all your weariness/Here with Me is where you'll find your haven/And I will give you rest/Yes, I will give you rest."  'Let me Rediscover You' is powerful and marvels at God's greatness: "How can I say I know You/When what I know is still so small?/Let me cry 'Holy, Holy, Holy'/Let me awaken to Your majesty/And see a glimmer of Your glory/Let me abide in You/Let me rediscover You."  'For Life' is a poetic song that reflects on things to be thankful for: "For a pretty girl and for falling in love, oh love/For spring ice churning the driftwood shore/For birdsong air and windswept hair/For fiddle head strings and flower bows" and "For everything revealed to see/For what's kept in mystery, oh Lord/From the finer things to the shirt on my back/The less I have the less I lack."
     'Living the Dream' has a circus type feel to it and highlights the importance of having a positive attitude: "As for me, I'm singing a new song/I'm not gonna dwell inside some alternate reality/I feel free-I'm making the best of it/Seeing with eyes that find the heart and soul of true beauty" and "Every day Love makes the promise/That we can be great if we want it/And we are living the dream/Highs and lows we'll take on together/Choosing joy whatever the weather."  'Seek' is a pop/rock song that offers this advice to humanity: "The call left unanswered/Will quickly take its toll/Seek while He may be found/Delight in Him in these times/This is the invitation/We've been waiting for/Seek while He may be found/Call on Him while He's near/Don't you fear, He won't hide."  'Glory by the Way of Shame' is a ballad about the power of forgiveness: "She cheated on him twice but for fear she never told/She finally confessed before her heart ran cold/With pain in his eyes, he walked out of the house and drove to town/Bought her a white wedding dress/Came home to her and danced."  'Holy' is a worshipful modern hymn: "You bore my shame/And in death carried my sin/Worthy Lamb, who gave Your life/Now, I can live again/Who was and is and is to come/The Father, Spirit, and the Son/Holy, holy, holy One/Holy, holy God."
     'For the Heartbreak' has a happy sound to it and shows evidence of a mature faith: "Thank You for the heartbreak/Thank You for the pain/Thank You for the sadness/On the gloomy days of rain/Thank You that the hard times/Have a reason and rhyme/Thank You that the healing makes the beauty shine/Thank You for the heartbreak."  'Turn this Around' is a midtempo request for divine intervention in one's life: "I feel the toxins in my veins/And deeper routed through my heart/I don't want to stay the same/If there's healing for the broken/Save me from me/I'm calling on the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief/Can You make a change in me?"  'The Altar of Love' is a magnificent song of true surrender to God that features the fiddle: "Lay down your idols/Lay down your possessions/Lay down your shrines and/Your worldly obsessions/Love will ask of you more than treasure/When you're willing to trust/Blessing far outweighs the loss when you lay it all/You lay it all on the Altar of Love/In the holiest room/Where the curtain was torn/By the ultimate wound/Oh, the Altar of Love/Where the glory resides."  'Reveal the Kingdom' has a laid back feel to it and reveals a desire to live life with an eternal perspective: "Be Thou our strength, to carry through/The hope of grace and bear the truth/As we wait for You to.../Reveal the unseen Kingdom/The glory of the new Son/Where ever more His love imparts/The kingdom in our hearts/Reveal the Kingdom."
     The black and white photography of the four bearded bandmates in period costuming on the album cover and in the booklet are a nice artistic touch.  ON THE ALTAR OF LOVE is a very strong Christian rock record produced by Mark Heimermann. I'm rating it 90% and recommending it to fans of Sanctus Real, Kevin Max, and Mercy Me.  For more info visit http://www.downhere.com/ or http://www.centricitymusic.com/.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NOT HERSELF ANYMORE

     In the liner notes of her major label debut, NOT MYSELF ANYMORE (2011, BEC Recordings), Jessa Anderson lays out the purpose of her music: "It is my deepest desire that Your love for humanity be spread through these songs and that Your glory be known."  'Not What I Thought' begins the album on an upbeat, victorious note: "And You're not what I thought when I saw You/I had been running for so long/But now I've got something else, something more/That I know will fill the empty up/Cause You're not what I thought/No You're not what I thought."  'Fireflies' is a delightful pop song about the light of God: "You're breaking through the darkness/I'm like a child/Standing in amazement/Here in the night/You shine brighter than fireflies/Caught up in the mystery/I can't deny everything around me reflects Your light/You shine brighter than fireflies."  'Everybody has those Days' is bouncy and about having a lousy day and feeling down on yourself: "I'm feeling alone and I'm feeling like sort of a mess/Can't make sense of anything" and "You know I'm really more the clumsy type/Always making mistakes/The harder I try to be careful the bigger the break."  'Worship the Lamb' is a Sunday morning friendly song of praise: "There is nothing I could say/I could sing/To give an adequate description of my glorious King/For You are indescribable" and "All I am at my best/I am merely a breath/All I am at my best/I am merely a breath for You."
     'The Same Place' is about someone finding themself in a difficult position: "Trade your problems for the pain/Of knowing that you walked away/No longer participate/You made another big mistake/Didn't anybody ever say/We all lie in the bed we make?"  'Not Myself Anymore' is a piano ballad showcasing Jessa's vocals.  It explores the pain involved in a relationship ending: "I can't seem to figure out why/I'm not myself anymore/And I cry all the time/And you, you're unaccountably gone/You've got no explanation for leaving me alone/Well maybe we shouldn't have let it go on for so long."  'I Won't Break' is a guitar and percussion driven rocker.  The flavour in Jessa's voice really shows here in this song about a relationship gone sour: "And I've been wondering when it all fell apart on me/And how I didn't see it coming/In the least baby/I gather miles and put them up on display/Pretend I'm shiny, new and tell the world I've changed."  'Moving On' is a song of encouragement I could hear Taylor Swift doing: "Stop your worry now/Just be strong/Be strong/Leave your fear behind/We're moving on/Moving on."
     'Offering' is a mid tempo song of gratitude to God: "I believe in a purpose intended for the life You breathe only in me/I needed someone to fight and defend me/And salvage what's buried beneath" and "You alone are perfect by nature/Passionate lover, redeemer, and friend/Who am I to inherit this treasure?/A place in Your infinite rest."  'Don't Know' is a song of self-examination and is about a desire to hide one's real self from others: "So why do I feel the need to hide myself behind/A veil that doesn't show/Who I am inside?" and "Does anybody see me here?/Does anybody, anybody care?/Does anybody hear me now?"  The album closes with 'Return' which is a prescription for a fulfilling life and has a poetic feel to it: "We have been running away/We have been hiding/We have been making mistakes/And then denying/All of the things that make us who we are/Fallen from grace and then restored" and "We are unwilling and we are cold/For fear the darkness will be exposed/But if we hold on to all our secrets/We only forfeit/Our chance at freedom."
     NOT MYSELF ANYMORE is a strong pop debut from Jessa Anderson.  I recommend it to fans of Ke$ha, ZOEgirl, Everlife, and Cheri Keaggy.  I'm rating it an 85%.  The album cover is a gorgeous portrait of Jessa.  For more info visit http://www.jessaanderson.com/ and http://www.becrecordings.com/.

Friday, October 14, 2011

SARA'S INVISIBLE EMPIRES

     Listening to an album by Sara Groves is always a pleasant, thought provoking experience.  Her tenth album INVISIBLE EMPIRES (2011, Fair Trade Services) is no exception.  'Miracle' is soothing and piano based: "Lay down your arms/Give up the fight/Quiet our hearts for a little while" and "Let's heal where we couldn't heal/Oh it's a miracle/Love is a miracle."  'Obsolete' is mellow and about struggling with insecurities and finding identity in God: "And you don't know where you stand/And you feel so small and thin/And if you are dismissed/Will another take you in?" and "Are we walking through the streets of invisible empires?/And I know I shouldn't care if I'm out or if I'm in/Cause if I am dismissed You always take me in."  'I'll Wait' is a radio friendly pop song about the importance of seeking the Lord's direction: "I'll wait for You now more than ever/I see it's true now more than ever/I'll wait for You/I don't want to do this by myself/I know I need Your help/And so I'm waiting for You."  'Scientists in Japan' reflects on the power of science and offers a word of caution before proceeding to the next advancement: "Eyes wide open and our jaw on the floor/We see science fiction ain't fiction no more" and "Who's gonna stay here and think about it?/Who's gonna stay, who's gonna stay?"
     'Open my Hands' features acoustic guitar and speaks of a deep trust in God: "I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain/The broken find healing in love/Pain is no measure of His faithfulness/He withholds no good thing from us" and "I am nodding my head an emphatic yes to all that You have for me."  'Precious Again' is a plea for spiritual revival: "Where is the wonder?/Oh sing me the song that's never old/Oh tell me the story never told/Promise that just when love grows cold/You'll make it precious again."  'Eyes on the Prize' is an inspirational song about perserverance that starts off sounding like a black gospel number: "Got my hand on the gospel plow/Won't take nothin' for my journey now/Keep your eyes on the prize/Hold on" and "The way is slow and we've so far to go/Keep your eyes on the prize/Hold on."  'Without Love' is slow and mesmerizing and references 1Corinthians 13: "You can fall on the blade of the martyr/You can give all your possessions to the poor...Without love I have not."
     'Right Now' is less than a minute long is about taking personal responsibility: "I'm tired of blaming everybody else/I'm sorry if I blamed you/I have everything I need to be myself/I have what I need to love you."  'Mystery' finds Sara relinquishing self-effort: "My body's tired from trying to bring You here/And my brow is furrowed tryin' to see things clear/So I'll turn my back to the black and fall/And wait for the mystery to rise up and meet me."  'Finite' concludes the album.  With this song Sara explores womanhood: "What God meant by woman I'm hard pressed to find" and "I'm finite/I come to an end/I'm finite/I cannot pretend." 
     INVISIBLE EMPIRES is a thoughtful, introspective album that encourages the kind of spiritual growth in believers that will cause them to positively impact the world in which they live.  Sara's voice is in top form and is pleasing to the ears.  I'm rating INVISIBLE EMPIRES 90%. For more info visit: http://www.saragroves.com/ or http://www.fairtradeservices.com/. The album drops in stores Tues, Oct 18, 2011.