Friday, November 30, 2012


In his Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music (2002, Hendrickson Publishers) Mark Allan Powell writes the following of the early days of Stryper: “They presented themselves in ways that practically begged treatment as a novelty act: heavy makeup, big hair, black and yellow spandex…and silly publicity stunts. They were, of course a Christian version of KISS-and the very idea of such an incarnation struck secular journalists as humorous and worthy of media coverage. There was a lot of mean-spirited criticism (mostly from the Christian side), but Stryper rolled with the punches and, by and large had fun with it.” Stryper is Michael Sweet (lead vocals/lead guitar), Robert Sweet (drums), Oz Fox (guitar/vocals), and Timothy Gaines (bass/vocals). Their latest DVD is LIVE IN INDONESIA AT THE JAVA ROCKIN’ LAND (2012, MVDvisual). Of it, Michael says: “This show was an unexpected, but welcomed, addition to our tour schedule. It was added last minute and we scrambled to make it happen, but I’m glad it worked out. It was an opportunity to go to a primarily Muslim country and share our faith.”

The concert begins with one of seven songs from 1986. ‘Sing-Along Song’ is a happy song of gratitude: “In a land of freedom/God has sent His grace/We’re proud to live in such a place/With the right to sing/Song after song/This song’s for you to sing along!” ‘Murder by Pride’ is a modern rock gem from 2009. It speaks of improving one’s spiritual state: “Seeds that were growing have been dried up by my flesh/I walk the walk and talk the talk but where’s the rest?/I could have everything even what’s behind the stars/But I built my prison without windows, without bars/Gotta fight, gotta stop living a lie/Gotta fall, gotta lay down and die/Gotta stand and run to the other side/Gotta live or it’s murder by pride.”

‘Loud ‘N’ Clear’ goes all the way back to 1984’s THE YELLOW AND BLACK ATTACK. In the lyrics, Stryper takes on their critics: “The hair is long and the screams are loud and clear/The clothes are tight, earrings dangling from the ears/No matter how we look, we’ll always praise His Name/And if you believe, you’ve got to do the same.” ‘The Rock that Makes Me Roll’ from 1985 shares the band’s motivation for what they do: “They say that rock and roll is strong/Check out the Rock that makes us roll/Don’t need no drugs to help us push on/We’ve got His power in our souls/Stand up and fight for what you believe in.”

‘Reach Out’ is a song that gives testimony: “I was looking for the answer all the time/Always looking, never finding/I was empty inside/Drowning in the darkness/Needing the light to see/Reaching out for shelter/Then He set me free.” ‘Calling on You’ is one of my faves. It could be addressed to God or a romantic partner: “I can’t explain just what you do to me/My love grows stronger every day/You give me love, you give me company/And when I have to face this rain/You bring sunshine into my life.”

‘Free’ reflects on one of the greatest gifts God has given us: “Free to turn away, say goodbye/Free to walk away and deny/The gift waiting for you/Whispers the still small voice/It’s your choice/You’re free, free to do what you want to/Choose your own destiny/Free to do what you want to.” ‘More than a Man’ finds the band determined: “God, I will follow You because You died for me/Gave to me Your life to set me free/Anyone who asks shall receive/Jesus in your heart/It’s time for you to start/Giving God all the glory/More than a man, God Almighty/He created you.”

‘Honestly’ is the first ballad and brought a tear to my eye. It is another song that could have spiritual meaning or be directed to a human love partner: “Call on me and I’ll be there for you/I’m a friend who always will be true/And I love you can’t you see/That I love you honestly?/I will never betray your trust in me/And I love you, can’t you see?” ‘Open Your Eyes’ is the headbanging opener from 2005’s REBORN. The song encourages listeners to reach their full spiritual potential: “Open your eyes/Loosen the vice that constrains you/Open your eyes/Break the unfaith that controls you/Open your eyes/The truth will be there.”

‘All for One’ comes from the group’s controversial 1990 album AGAINST THE LAW. The song is a melodic call for unity however: “Days are going by/It’s up to you to make a start/Before this Earth of ours/Turns to dust and falls apart/Right now I know we can make a change/All for one and one for all/Isn’t that the way that it should be?/Will we ever save this world?/United we will stand up tall/United we will never fall/If it’s all for one and one for all/I know that we can save this world.” ‘The Way’ is another testimony song: “I feel His strength come into me/Yes, I do/ Reading His Word helps me to see/I feel so new I want to sing/Feeling His joy in everything/Oh, what can I say?/Oh, Christ is the Way.”

Two strong encores follow. ‘Abyss/To Hell with the Devil’ directly puts our adversary in his place: “Well, speak of the devil/He’s no friend of mine/To turn from him/Is what we’ve got in mind/Just a liar and a thief/The Word tells us so/We’d like to let him know where he can go/To hell with the devil (2X).” This song, another one of my faves, ends with a good scream by Michael. The concert closes with 1985’s ‘Soldiers Under Command’. It rallies believers in one higher cause: “Are you a soldier under God’s command?/Help fight the good fight, join us while you can/The battle that’s waiting is fought so easily/Through Him, without sin, there is victory /And we’re fighting all the sin/And the good book, it says we’ll win/Soldiers, Soldiers under command/Soldiers, Soldiers, fighting the Lord’s battle plan.”

This concert was filmed in 2010. The guys are definitely looking older, as they should be. Michael Sweet makes mention of the fact that the days of tight spandex and loads of make-up are gone. Of this, he tells the crowd: “Thank God!” As with other aging Christian rock stars, like John Schlitt, Sweet now sings some of the classics in a lower key, but they are still quite well done. The picture quality of the DVD is quite clear, as is the sound. And of course the group still plays yellow and black instruments. There is good crowd interaction throughout the show. The musicianship and harmonies are still there. Several of these songs have been a part of the soundtrack of my faith journey over the years. Fans of Bloodgood and Whitecross should pick this one up. I’m rating LIVE IN INDONESIA AT THE JAVA ROCKIN’ LAND 93%. For more info visit and

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Julie Elias studied musical theatre in college. She has appeared on several TV shows including Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: New York, and Weeds. She was also an extra in Larry Crowne which starred Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. She is quoted as saying: “I am grateful for my time in Hollywood; my experiences ultimately strengthened my relationship with Christ and played an integral part in the journey to realize my calling.” Her bio says: “A Christmas trip to her hometown in 2010 caused Elias to reexamine her career options. During the holiday, she performed in her home church’s praise and worship band and sang in some local concerts.” She felt led to pursue music. Her latest release is A WILD ROSE (2012). In the liner notes she calls this album “an exploration of my own heart and my faith.” She adds: “God has always been and will always be there for us. Sometimes, it takes a long time to truly remind myself of this but I have never regretted those moments when I give Him whatever is weighing me down and I feel a sense of hope that five minutes earlier felt like a pipe dream.” All of the songs on the album were penned by Al Denson, Julie, and Robert White Johnson. Denson is a CCM success who has performed at Billy and Franklin Graham crusades, while Johnson has songwriting and production credits with the likes of Celine Dion and Michael Bolton.

‘Breathing Room’ is a great opening song that finds Julie crying out for personal rejuvenation: “Wanna feel the earth beneath my feet/Feel Your rain, wash my spirit clean/Let the sun shine upon my weathered face/Dust from the past makes it hard to breathe/Wipe my eyes/Lord teach me how to see/Renew my heart so I can learn to love again.” ‘A Wild Rose’ makes good use of keys, and is a song of encouragement for those who are down: “While you lie sleeping alone in the night beneath the wind-driven snow/Hope springs eternal, the birth of new life, the bloom, a wild rose/Seasons bring changes, the day loses light, and darkness it comes and it goes/Splendid and perfect, eternally bright/God planted each wild rose.”

‘In His Plan’ is upbeat musically and reflects on the tension between self-reliance and God-reliance: “Sometimes I still think I know best/That I can face this world alone/So much was wrong, I should have known/Now I feel like my goals are out of reach and my plans all fell apart/Dreams extracted from my heart/What if these dreams were blinding me to all that God has planned for me?” ‘I am Yours’ is a reverent ballad with nice strings and orchestration by Jimmy Nichols. The song clearly finds Julie relying on God: “A gentle peace surrounds me/The stillness calms my soul/Surrendering all my fears/I give You control/Whispering a new song written on my wounded heart/Your faithfulness has given me life.”

‘Lord You Reign’ is a song suitable for congregational worship: “We lift our hands and sing to You/For You are great, amazing/Lord You reign on high, victorious/Now and forever, Blessed Redeemer/Lord You reign.” ‘Breathe in Me’ is a soft song that begins with these words of vulnerability: “Here I am again/Trapped inside myself with my impatient heart/Praying for a sign/Waiting is the hardest part/So many times I don’t understand why it takes so long/Till I give it all over to You.”

‘Here I Am’ features great electric guitar work by Dave Cleveland and has a rock feel to it. It contains these wonderful words of submission: “Not running away anymore/Not turning my back on You, Lord/See I finally heard You knock on the door/Now my heart is open/Here I am.” ‘Peace I Leave with You’ is very mellow and speaks of the pain of losing a loved one or a close friend: “Took your love forgranted/The hopes and dreams you planted/I always thought you’d be here/A voice to calm all my fears/Now echoes in my mind/Words I won’t hear/Or feel again.”

‘Be Thou my Vision’ is well executed and should please fans of sacred music. It is a traditional Irish hymn (translation by Eleanor Hull 1912). The rendition here, combines the hymn’s traditional words with a new chorus by Al Denson, Julie, and Robert White Johnson: “Thou and Thou only/First in my heart/High King of Heaven/My Treasure Thou art” and “Be still and know/For I am God/Wherever you go/My peace you will know.” ‘Freedom in Love’ is a six minute triumphant sounding rocker that ends the album on a positive note lyrically: “Walking in faith, now I am strong/Awaken the fire inside my heart/To the reflection of Your truth/Give it all up/No turning back/Here I am rescued by grace/When a Voice inside said I’m not alone.”

Julie Elias has performed at major festivals such as Spirit West Coast, Ichthus, and Cornerstone, and at Walt Disney World’s Night of Joy. She shares: “I’ve always believed you can hear words, but you can feel music. What is a relationship with God without feeling His presence through your entire being? Sometimes songs can touch you in a way that words cannot.” A WILD ROSE reveals an artist who fluctuates between Kari Jobe type pop/worship music and Alannah Myles chick rock with a bit of an edge. Julie performs both styles equally well. Her vocals are clear and crisp. I would like her to put out a straight up Gospel rock record in the future. On A WILD ROSE, Jason Webb plays piano, keys, and accordion. Veteran CCM artist Lisa Bevill is one of the background vocalists. The photos of Julie included with this project are quite pretty. If you’re looking for an album to lift your spirits, this one’s for you. I’m rating it 84%. For more info visit

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Smalltown Poets is a Christian rock band formed in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia. Their first album SMALLTOWN POETS (1997) won a Dove Award for Best Rock Album and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Rock Album. It contained such great songs as ‘Prophet, Priest, and King’, ‘If You’ll Let me Love You’, ‘Everything I Hate’, and ‘Monkey’s Paw’. The Poets went on hiatus after 2004’s IT’S LATER THAN IT’S EVER BEEN. In 2010 they regrouped to begin work on a Christmas CD. They released a Christmas single ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ in December 2010. Of their fifth studio album CHRISTMAS (2011, Friendly City Records) their website says: “Smalltown Poets is back from a seven-year hiatus with an album that feels like a perfect Christmas gift from a longtime friend you didn’t expect to see.” The album was co-produced by their former drummer Matt Goldman (Underoath and Casting Crowns).

‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ uses bells and keyboards to good effect. It integrates words from another hymn that express a desire for the Christ to draw near: “Come Thou long expected Jesus/Born to set Thy people free/From our fears and sins release us/Let us find our rest in Thee/Emmanuel.” ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ by Christina Rossetti and Gustav T. Holtz is given a nice pop treatment. It reflects on how to properly respond to the nativity: “What shall I give Him/Poor as I am?/If I were a shepherd/I would bring a lamb/If I were a wise man/I would do my part/Yet, what can I give Him/I’ll give Him my heart.”

‘In the first Light’ written by Bob Kauflin in 1988 has great backing vocals. It looks ahead to the cruel death Christ would ultimately die: “As His mother held Him closely/It was hard to understand/That this baby not yet speaking/Was the Word of God to man/He would tell them of His kingdom/But their hearts would not believe/They would hate Him/And in anger they would nail Him to a tree.” Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe contributes sweet vocals to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. The song makes it clear that God wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us: “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/The dear Christ enters in/O little town/Proclaim His birth/And praises sing to God our King/Cry peace to all the earth.”

‘St. Nick is Alright’ by Michael Johnston, Noah Stephens, and Danny Stephens, is fun, bouncy, and catchy: “Free my heart/For the sake of childhood wishes/With grateful thoughts/For the life of Father Christmas/His greatest gift is his belief/In the miracle and the mystery/To life (2X)/St. Nick is alright/He’s alright with me.” ‘Silent Night’ is a short, atmospheric instrumental.

‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ is upbeat musically and reflects on the historical event that gives us a reason to celebrate during the festive season: “Good Christian men rejoice/With heart and soul and voice/Give ye heed to what we say/Jesus Christ is born today/Ox and lamb before Him bow/And He is in the manger now/Christ is born today (2X).” ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ by Charles Wesley and Felix Mendelssohn waxes theological: “Christ by highest heaven adored/Christ the Everlasting Lord/Late in time behold Him come/Offspring of the Virgin’s womb/Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the incarnate Deity/Pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus our Emmanuel/Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Glory to the newborn King.”

Next up, is a short musical interlude, ‘We Three Kings’, that is made to sound like it’s coming from an LP. ‘On Christmas Day (Ave Maria)’ by Poet Danny Stephens features Eric Sturniolo of the Georgia Boy Choir. The song contains these beautiful words: “Not a sweeter voice could ever my heart sway/Than the Savior’s call/This Christmas day/He is risen in me/This Christmas day/And His mercy stalls a glorious return/But I should urge this world/To despise delay/And to give up, give up all themselves/This Christmas day.”

‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ is a mysterious and glorious instrumental for the most part. ‘The First Noel’ has a cool percussive beat. Oh, to have been there the night Christ was born: “The first Noel, the angel did say/Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay/In fields where they lay keeping their sheep/On a cold winter’s night that was so deep/Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel/Born is the King of Israel.”

‘His Delight’ by Poets Michael Johnston and Danny Stephens, speaks of giving oneself completely to Christ who came to earth for us: “And as this heart peeks in/On that moment sublime/I find it all my joy/To offer heart, soul, and mind/To the perfect Son of love divine/And oh, His delight (2X).” The song is a relatively short, but great, original. ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ is a song of good cheer that makes use of a kid’s choir.

Over the years, Smalltown Poets have been compared to groups such as Jars of Clay, Matchbox Twenty, and The Waiting. What I can tell you is that this Christmas album is easily one of the best I have heard in recent years. The Poets offer up gorgeous, contemporary arrangements of holiday favourites and throw in a few originals to boot. Banjo, cello, classical guitar and strings help make this a memorable album, as do the smooth, easy to listen to vocals. If the Christmas carols have become stale to you, this record will bring them back to life for you and closer to your heart again. The album artwork which includes a sled, a hot beverage, a mitten, and a bird, is simple but appealing. I’m rating CHRISTMAS 95%. To purchase this product or the band’s new EP, visit

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Leonard Norman Cohen was born on September 21, 1934. He is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist. His work often explores religion, isolation, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. He is an inductee of the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has also received the Order of Canada. His first studio album was 1967’s SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN. I know him best for ‘Hallelujah’ which was first recorded on 1984’s VARIOUS POSITIONS. He is also known for such songs as ‘Suzanne’, ‘First We take Manhattan’, ‘Bird on a Wire’, and ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. My cousin Trish is a huge fan of Leonard and shares: “I experience his music as a writer, artist, and mostly as a fellow spiritual being. Leonard Cohen writes with a precision that few writers are capable of, and a raw vulnerable humanity that we all share. One of the greatest joys of listening to Leonard’s music is his witty, self-effacing sense of humour that we can all relate to.” Leonard was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996, but is still religiously Jewish. OLD IDEAS (2012, Columbia Records) is his twelfth studio album. It is the highest charting album of his ever, hitting Number One in Canada, Norway, Spain, and many other countries. It also did well in the U.S. In addition, it was a nominee for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize.

‘Going Home’ is one of four songs co-written with Patrick Leonard. It is a spoken word piece with slight keyboard accompaniment and female choral vocals. It seems written from the viewpoint of a Higher Power: “I love to speak with Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/He’s a lazy bastard/Living in a suit/But he does say what I tell him/Even though it isn’t welcome.” The song moves on with that Higher Power reflecting on what Cohen’s true desire is: “He wants to write a love song/An anthem of forgiving/A manual for living with defeat/A cry above the suffering/A sacrifice recovering/But that isn’t what I need him to complete.” ‘Amen’ is a pretty song that runs over seven minutes and utilizes banjo, violin, guitar, and a horn. It has Cohen speaking to God: “Tell me again/When the victims are singing/And the Laws of Remorse are restored/Tell me again/That You know what I’m thinking/But vengeance belongs to the Lord/Tell me again.” In the song, the singer admits there is a tendency to use alcohol to mask pain and sorrow: “Tell me again/When the filth of the butcher/Is washed in the blood of the Lamb…Tell me again when I’m clean and I’m sober.”

‘Show me the Place’ has Cohen half-talking and half-singing, not unusual for him. The song contains these words that will resonate with evangelicals: “Show me the place/Help me roll away the stone/Show me the place/I can’t move this alone/Show me the place/Where the Word became a man/Show me the place/Where the suffering began.” Leonard’s live band joins him on ‘Darkness’. This mid-tempo number has cool organ flourishes throughout. The lyrics seem to speak of a man falling for a woman who turned out to be no good for him: “I should have seen it coming/It was right behind your eyes/You were young and it was summer/I just had to take a dive/Winning you was easy/But darkness was the prize…I used to love the rainbow/I used to love the view/I loved the early morning/I’d pretend that it was new/But I caught the darkness baby/And I got it worse than you/I caught the darkness.”

A shaker is used consistently on the soft track ‘Anyhow’. It tells of a man desperately wanting to reconcile with his true love interest: “I used up all my chances/And you’ll never take me back/But there ain’t no harm in asking/Could you cut me one more slack?/I’m naked and I’m filthy/And there’s sweat upon my brow/And both of us are guilty/Anyhow/Have mercy on me baby/After all, I did confess/Even though you have to hate me/Could you hate me less?” ‘Crazy to Love You’, co-written with Anjani Thomas, features nice guitar strumming. It speaks of how we sometimes go too far to try and make a love relationship work: “Had to go crazy to love you/Had to let everything fall/Had to be people I hated/Had to be no one at all.”

‘Come Healing’ starts with a soothing female vocal. It is a gem, that could almost be a modern day worship song lyrically: “The splinters that you carry/The cross you left behind/Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind/And let the heavens hear it/The penitential hymn/Come healing of the spirit/Come healing of the limb.” ‘Banjo’ is a curious story song: “There’s something that I’m watching/Means a lot to me/It’s a broken banjo bobbing/On the dark, infested sea/Don’t know how it got there/Maybe taken by the wave/Off of someone’s shoulder/Or out of someone’s grave.”

‘Lullaby’ is another slow song and uses harmonica. It is more mysterious than the typical song you’d sing your child to sleep with: “If your heart is torn/I don’t wonder why/If the night is long/Here’s my lullaby(2X)/Well the mouse ate the crumb/Then the cat ate the crust/Now they’ve fallen in love/They’re talking in tongues.” ‘Different Sides’ has a playful sound to it. The song speaks of our unfortunate tendency to let things divide us as people: “We find ourselves on different sides/Of a line nobody drew/Though it all may be one in the higher eye/Down here where we live it is two…Both of us say there are laws to obey/Yeah, but frankly I don’t like your tone/You want to change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone.”

Publications such as Rolling Stone and The Guardian have praised OLD IDEAS. I believe this album will appeal to fans of the latter works of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Those who appreciate the deep baritone vocals of George Beverly Shea will like Leonard’s voice. Cohen’s vocals are balanced with the sweet female vocals of Shannon Robinson, Dana Glover, Jennifer Warnes, and the Webb Sisters. This project is for the music lover who highly values poetry and artistry. It glows with a certain maturity that only true life experience can bring. The instrumentation is appropriately sparse and is well placed. These are not, for the most part, songs that you can sing along with, but they are songs that will appeal to your thoughts and emotions. I imagine Leonard whispering several of these songs in the listener’s ear. I’m rating OLD IDEAS 85%. For more info visit

Thursday, November 08, 2012


Neil Percival Young was born on November 12, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario. He had diabetes as a child and a bout with polio in 1951. Neil began as a solo artist and was a member of Buffalo Springfield (1966-68) who played folk, country, psychedelia, and rock music. His first solo album, self-titled, dropped in 1968. In 1969 he released EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE with Crazy Horse. It featured ‘Cinnamon Girl’. He was also a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, as of the same year. His fourth album HARVEST (1972) was a big success with songs such as ‘Heart of Gold’, ‘Old Man’, and ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’. One of my favourite Young songs is 1989’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’. In 2006 he released LIVING WITH WAR. Here he showed himself as an activist, clearly against George W. Bush. He is also an environmentalist. Neil Young released AMERICANA, his first work with Crazy Horse in eight years on June 5, 2012 (Reprise). Crazy Horse is Neil Young (vocals, guitar), Billy Talbot (bass, vocals), Ralph Molina (drums), and Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro (guitar). Of this recording American Songwriter quotes Young as saying: “Every one of these songs…has verses that have been ignored. And those are the key verses, those are the things that make these songs live. They’re a little heavy for kindergarteners to be singing. The originals are much darker, there’s more protest in them…” In this review I won’t bore you with the history and background of each of the songs.

‘Oh Susannah’ begins with great electric guitar licks. It sounds like a mix between a kid’s sing-a-long song and a rock song. Here are some of the lyrics: “Rained all night the day I left/The weather it was dry/Sun so hot I froze to death/Susannah, don’t you cry/Oh, oh, oh Susannah, don’t you cry for me/Cause I come from Alabama with my B-A-N-J-O on my knee.” ‘Clementine’ begins with heavy rock guitar and features heavy percussion. It’s a tragic song: “Ruby lips above the water/Blowin’ bubbles soft and fine/But alas I was no swimmer/So I lost my Clementine/Clementine (2X)/Oh my darlin’ Clementine…How I missed her (2X)/How I missed my Clementine/So I kissed her little sister and I forgot my Clementine.” ‘Tom Dula’ is the longest track, clocking in at over eight minutes long. Tom Dula’s name is chanted throughout this story song which includes these encouraging words: “Hang down your head Tom Dula/Hang down your head and cry/Hang down your head Tom Dula/Poor boy you’re bound to die/I met her on the mountain/And there I took her life/Met her on the mountain/Stopped her with my knife.”

‘Gallows Pole’ is a bluesy romp with good choral vocals. It is the song of a man condemned to death, whose parents can’t save him, but his lover does: “Honey did you bring me silver?/Honey did you bring me gold?/Did you come to see me hangin’ by the gallows pole?/Brought you a little silver, I brought you a little gold/Didn’t come to see you hangin’ by that gallows pole.” ‘Get a Job’ has a doo-wop feel complete with ‘Sha-na-na-nah’ lyrics. It’s a tongue in cheek song about a nagging wife: “When I get the paper I read it through and through/And my girl never fails to say if there is any work for me/When I go back to the house I hear the woman’s mouth/Preachin’ and a cryin’, tell me that I’m lying about a job/That I never could find.” ‘Travel On’ is an upbeat country song that sounds a bit like ‘Do Lord’. It finds Young in love: “Wanna see my honey, Wanna see her bad, wanna see her bad/Yeah, wanna see her bad/I wanna see my honey, wanna see her bad/She’s the best girl this old boy ever had/I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long/Summer’s almost gone, yeah winter’s come and gone/Laid around and played around this old town too long/And I feel like I gotta travel on.”

‘High Flyin’ Bird’ has a classic rock sound. It is either morbid or full of hope depending on your interpretation: “Well, I once knew a man/He worked in a mine/Well, he never saw the sun/But then he never stopped tryin’/And then one day that old man he upped and he died/Yeah, he up and he died (2X)/Well he wanted to fly and the only way to fly was to die/Lord, I’m goin’ to die (2X).” Next up, is a rocked up version of a song I would sing to my kids while pushing them on the swings at the park. ‘Jesus’ Chariot (She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain)’ is heavily electric guitar driven and uses gang vocals in a nice fashion. Included here is a gruesome verse: “We’ll kill the big red rooster when she comes/We’re gonna kill the big red rooster when she comes/We’ll kill the big red rooster, we’ll kill the big red rooster, kill the big red rooster/When she comes.” Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to ‘This Land is Your Land’ back in 1940. Here, it has a happy old country/folk sing-a-long feel to it: “As I went walkin’/I saw a sign there/And on the sign it said ‘No trespassin’/But on the other side, it didn’t say nothin’/That side was made for you and me.” Pegi Young, Stephen Stills, and an Americana Choir help out on vocals on this one.

‘Wayfarin’ Stranger’ is mellow and is about a man with singleness of mind on a spiritual journey: “I am a poor wayfarin’ stranger/While travelin’ through this world of woe/Yet there’s no sickness, toil, or danger/In that bright world to which I go/I’m goin’ there to see my Father/I’m goin’ there no more to roam/I’m only goin’ over Jordan/I’m only goin’ over Home.” ‘God Save the Queen’ is covered in a manner suitable for a Broadway musical. On it, Neil strikes another spiritual chord: “O Lord and God arise/Scatter the evil lies/And make them fall/Confound their politics, frustrate their empty tricks/On Thee our hopes we fix/God save the Queen.” The song and the album end with the words “Let Freedom Ring”. This seems appropriate.

AMERICANA is for fans of traditional American historical songs. Long-time fans of Neil Young and his experimentation with various musical styles, but leaning towards rock, should enjoy this one. Those who appreciate the seasoned, mature artistry of folks like Larry Norman, Willie Nelson, and Randy Stonehill will appreciate AMERICANA. This is a unique album that covers a lot of ground in a way that will hold your attention and overall make you appreciate music more. This album is, in reality, timeless. I’m rating it 87%. For more info visit

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Jeremy Camp was born on January 12, 1978 in Lafayette, Indiana. His first wife Melissa died of ovarian cancer in 2001 just months after they were married. In December 2003 he married Adrienne Liesching who was the frontwoman for The Benjamin Gate. The couple has three children. Over the years Jeremy’s hits have included ‘I Still Believe’, ‘This Man’, ‘There Will Be A Day’, and ‘Jesus Saves.’ This March he released a greatest hits album which included 15 Number Ones. His latest project is CHRISTMAS: GOD WITH US (2012, BEC Recordings). Of it, he says: “I wanted to pick songs that I listened to growing up, and make them my own. I also selected Christmas carols that I thought would be a good fit and everyone could enjoy this season and for years to come!”

First up is a playful, upbeat version of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ that makes good use of church bells. The song was first released by Bobby Helms in 1957. Witness these lyrics: “What a bright time, it’s the right time/To rock the night away/Jingle bell time is a swell time/To go gliding in a one-horse sleigh/Oh, giddy-up jingle horse, pick up your feet/Jingle around the clock/Mix and mingle in the jingling feet/That’s the jingle bell (2X)/That’s the jingle bell rock.” ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ has a rock feel to it here. The song first appeared in 1739 in the collection ‘Hymns and Sacred Poems’ and was written by Charles Wesley. It declares the Good News: “Joyful, all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies/With angelic hosts proclaim/Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Later, it continues: “Mild He lays His glory by/Born that man no more may die/Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth.”

‘Joy to the World’ is, well, appropriately joyful. Jeremy adds some Scripturally based words: “Hallelujah (3X)/Christ is born/Hallelujah (3X)/Christ is born/For unto us a child is born/Unto us a Son is given/And He will be called/Wonderful Counselor/The Mighty God/The everlasting Father/The Prince of Peace, yeah/And the weight of the world is on His shoulders/And His kingdom will never end.” ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ has a bit of a thump to it, accented by jingle bells chiming. The original words are by Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), an Episcopal priest. His organist Lewis Redner added the music. Jeremy Camp shares: “This song is such a great description of the gift God gave us through the birth of Jesus Christ.” Here are some of the well-known lyrics: “O holy Child of Bethlehem/Descend to us we pray/Cast down our sin and enter in, be born in us today/We hear the Christmas angels/The great glad tidings tell/O come to us, abide with us/Our Lord, Emmanuel.”

‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is perhaps a little too subdued musically. It contains these words of well-wishes that unfortunately don’t always come true for those who are grieving during the holiday season: “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 Yule-tide gay/From now on/Our troubles will be miles away.” Next up is a happy, danceable version of ‘Let it Snow’. It includes these romantic words: “When we finally kiss goodnight/How I’ll hate going out in the storm!/But if you’ll really hold me tight/All the way home I’ll be warm/Oh, the fire is slowly dying,/And my dear, we’re still good-bying/As long as you love me so/Let it snow! (3X)

A terrific cover of ‘Mary Did You Know’ follows. It was penned by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. Lowry wrote the words in 1984 when a pastor asked him to write the program for a living Christmas tree presentation. The song begins with these deeply thought provoking questions: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?/Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?/Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?/This child that you deliver will soon deliver you.” The title track ‘God With Us’ was penned by the album’s three producers, they being, Jeremy Camp, Brown Bannister, and Ben Shive. Of the song, Jeremy says: “It was amazing to think that our King actually came down to this earth and walked among us as human flesh. The lyrics came out as an expression of what I was thinking at that moment: Emmanuel, our humble King/We give You our hearts as an offering/You laid down Your crown and became as dust/Emmanuel, God with us.” The song is a pretty ballad that makes good use of strings.

‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ includes these words of tremendous hope: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/Shall come to thee, O Israel.” The album ends with a clever arrangement of ‘Away in a Manger’. This children’s fave reminds us we can have a deeply personal relationship with Jesus: “I love Thee, Lord Jesus/Look down from the sky/And stay by my side/Til morning is nigh/Be near me Lord (5X)/Be near me Lord Jesus/I ask Thee to stay/Close by me forever/And love me I pray/Bless all the dear children/In Thy tender care/And take us to heaven/To live with You there/We’ll be with You Lord Jesus/We’ll be with You.”

CHRISTMAS: GOD WITH US has a beautiful, scenic front cover and comes with a couple nice pictures of Jeremy. The contemporary arrangements of the classics presented here, along with the slight lyrical additions here and there should please his fans. His voice is in fine form. I would have liked to see more than one original song however. I recommend this CD to fans of adult rock artists such as Creed, Chris Tomlin, Kutless, and Bruce Springsteen. I’m rating CHRISTMAS: GOD WITH US 84%. For more info visit: and

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


Cheri Keaggy began as a worship leader at a small church in Southern California. She was discovered by industry veteran Charlie Peacock. He has production credits on her wonderful first two albums CHILD OF THE FATHER (1994) and MY FAITH WILL STAY (1996). The former garnered Cheri a Dove Award nomination for New Artist of the Year. Her bio states: “Often with her Bible and journal close at hand, Cheri takes a teachable approach to life, looking for the lesson in every experience. ‘If God can use our challenges and heartaches to build character that makes us more effective for the Kingdom, then that’s what I want. He can use me however He sees fit.’” Cheri’s latest album SO I CAN TELL (2012) was largely influenced by the end of her nearly twenty-three year long marriage to her high school sweetheart. She shares: “I feel like God has given me some gold and now is the season of pouring out everything He’s poured into me.”

Cheri’s eighth release and first new CD in five years begins with an inspirational ballad that starts with these words that speak of sharing God’s goodness with others: “I was shown grace/So I will be gracious/I was shown mercy/So I will be merciful and kind/I have been loved/To be lovely, yes, but that I might love well/I have heard the Truth so I can tell.” It’s a great title track! Revelation 21:4 says: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” ‘There Will Be One Day’ is a song that builds in momentum and makes good use of a Holy Ghost Choir. The song looks forward to a blissful eternity in heaven: “Oh, God of Love what love we’ve known/Mercy keeps falling from Your Throne/Still we are waiting for that trumpet blow/When You will come to call us home…/There will be peace just like a river/Joy like we’ve never known/We all will be delivered when we get Home.”

Of ‘When You Were Jesus to Me’, Cheri writes: “For Sara and Joan Del, two special women who prayed, mentored, and held me up.” It begins with these blatantly honest words of one in despair, ultimately divinely encouraged by a fellow pilgrim: “I made it to church/Though just barely there/When the music began it was all I could do/To sit slumped in my chair/How can I worship/In all of this grief?/You said ‘Friend, you don’t have to’/And then you said ‘it’s O. K. just to receive’/You led the way to belief/When you were Jesus to me.” Isaiah 43:19 reads: “Behold, I will do a new thing,/Now it shall spring forth;/Shall you not know it?/I will even make a road in the wilderness/And rivers in the desert.” ‘Starting a New Year Today’ was written on the one year anniversary of her divorce. It includes these refreshingly vulnerable lyrics: “Staring at a clean page/Putting thoughts down on paper the usual way/I may not know where this might lead/But Your Word is the lamplight in front of me/Here’s where I pray a lot/Thankful for all I’ve got/Doing the best that I can/I reach for Your Hand.”

‘Air, Food, and Water’ is an upbeat ukulele based number. Cheri writes: “Inspired by Pastor Michael Easley’s sermon on the three things we need to survive. Proof God CAN turn mourning into dancing.” These words find her victorious: “I’m praising God in the valley/And lighting candles at night/And if you ask me how I’m surviving/I have all that I need/He’s been so good to me/If you’re not sure you can trust Him girl/Then come talk to me.” ‘Hello, God’ is a nice song that has Cheri putting her total confidence in her heavenly Father: “For there’s nothing/Nothing You cannot do/There is no one/No one You can’t put together again/That’s just what You’ll do/And there’s nowhere/Nowhere You can’t get to/And there’s no one/No one You can’t pull through/If we’ll only let You.”

Philippians 1:21 says: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In the poetic song ‘To Live is Christ’, Cheri petitions her Lord: “Lord, clean slate me, make me new/Wake me, shake me, even bait me/Consecrate me just for You/Know me, judge me, reign above me/Covenant Love me like You do.” In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” ‘Come to Me’ is a particularly strong song that finds God calling out to the heavy hearted: “If you’re scraping by, but just can’t get ahead/Always more month/At the end of the money/When you’re running out of options/Can’t see how, don’t know when it’ll end/Come to Me/When you’re weary and you’re burdened/Come to Me/When your future seems uncertain/Come to me/Before they pull the final curtain/Come to Me/And I will give you rest.”

‘Bind Me to You’ features these words where Cheri cries out to the Lord: “Loving and Faithful are You, my Lord/Covenant Keeper/Love’s True Reward/Knight in Shining Armor/Prince of Peace/Stay with me now, my Lord/Quiet me with Your Love/My True Companion to have and to hold/Will all Your warmth to me, conquer this cold/Stay with me now, my Lord (2X).” ‘Romans 15:13 (Benediction Song)’ follows. A benediction, according to Wikipedia, is “a short invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance, usually at the end of a worship service.” The song here is very pretty and contains these words of encouragement: “May the God of hope/Fill you with all joy and peace/As you trust in Him/So that you may know and overflow/With hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The album ends with ‘Postlude: Invitation to Hope.’ It is a beautiful instrumental continuation of the previous song, and features the talented acoustic guitar playing of Phil Keaggy.

In the liner notes Cheri writes: “This is more than just another album to me. It is a testimony of how God can bring beauty from ashes as we walk in Him.” Her bio calls her a modern day Psalmist and describes her music as accessible folk-pop. On this project Cheri has really reinvented herself as an artist. The album is full of emotion. You can hear country tones in her voice. People who enjoy Cindy Morgan’s HYMNS AND SPRITUALS and Clay Crosse’s EVERYTIME I FEEL THE SPIRIT will enjoy this effort. I’m rating SO I CAN TELL 86.5%. Fans of Patty Griffin, Dolly Parton and Laura Story should also check this one out. The producers are Scott Dente from Out of the Grey, and Ken Lewis. Cheri is also available to speak on topics such as ‘Overcoming the Pain of Divorce’, ‘Biblical Foundations for Worship’, and ‘Learning How to Forgive’. For more info visit