Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I'M NOT YOUR SUICIDE


Michael Sweet was born on July 4, 1963.  He is best known as the frontman for Stryper.  That group has sold over ten million albums worldwide and are known for hits such as ‘To Hell With the Devil’, ‘In God We Trust’, and ‘Soldiers Under Command’.  Their most recent studio album is 2013’s NO MORE HELL TO PAY.  Michael Sweet is now back with a new solo album entitled I’M NOT YOUR SUICIDE (2014, Big3 Records).  Of it, he says: “The title is about multiple subjects tied together, basically going out to anyone who’s been bullied or abused in any sense and serving as a rallying point for not letting someone or a group of people beat you down or take away your value...Musically and lyrically, this project is a soundtrack to rise above your circumstances”.  Michael wrote ten of the thirteen tracks alone, and produced the album.  Bill Edwards is executive producer.

The first song, ‘Taking on the World Tonight’, features Tony Harnell, the lead singer for the Norwegian hard rock band TNT.  This heavy metal treat is a song of great determination: “I can’t sit back and watch my life go by/I’m just not that type, I won’t back down/Why would I walk when I was born to fly?/If I stop I’ll lose the winning round/I am a fighter, a survivor/I’ve beat the odds and I want more/I’m taking on the world tonight/I know it’s dark but there’s a light/It might be war, a bloody fight/I’m taking on the world tonight”.  ‘All That’s Left (For Me To Prove)’is a melodic rock song that finds Michael strongly committed to a relationship: “The words we say are weapons of a mass destruction/I don’t want to join the war/Or see you hurting anymore/So apologetically, I am offering my plea.../I know you’ve heard it all before/I see you closing every door/So I’ll lay it on the line/I ain’t losing you this time/No I won’t give up on me and you/And I won’t let go over time/If it takes me till my dying breath/And that’s all that’s left for me to prove/No I won’t give up on me and you”.

‘The Cause’ is a pop/rock song with Stryper-like backing vocals.  It reminds us there is more to life than what we see: “Oh, we have a soul, we have a heart/That we can show/We’re here for The Cause/Bigger than life/This one we know”.  ‘This Time’ features the vocal stylings of Audio Adrenaline singer Kevin Max.  It deals with the spiritual side of life as well: “This time/I won’t let it slip away, no/This time, oh my faith will lead the way.../When I rise up in the morning/Faith will lead the way”.

The title track and lead single ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ is up next.  It is a pop/rock song written by Blair Daly and Michael Sweet.  Almost half of abused children consider suicide.  This song is delivered from the perspective of one who has been bullied and/or abused, and is decidedly pro-life: “I was sanctified, I used to feel justified/Only to be crucified by you, by you/My life has just begun/I’m standing in the shining sun/I’m not gonna run and hide, lay down and die/No, I’m not your suicide/The stones you throw might bruise my bones, my skin/Reap what you sow, the truth will show in the end/I won’t break under pressure/I wouldn’t give you that pleasure”.  ‘Coming Home’ is an adult contemporary song with strong country music influence.  It reflects on life as a travelling musician: “I want to tell you sweet girl/I count the minutes, the hours/And the days I’m not with you-but then there’s/Coming home and thinking bout tomorrow/When I’ll be holding you/And I’m coming home/A smile breaks the sorrow/Dark skies are turning blue”.

‘Miles Away’ finds Michael longing for intimacy with God: “This life’s taken the heart that once beat within me/I’ve said from the start that You’re gonna save me/But my doubt conceives/That You’re miles away/That You’re in another place and I’m lost without a trace/What I would do to know You/What I would give to run to You/I’m crumbling from deep within/These miles away”.  ‘Strong’ is a rock ballad of great encouragement: “A storm can hit you with fury/And you know that it’s coming soon/What good does it do to worry/When in the end there’s a sky with a moon?/In the end there’s a summer with June/Cause you are strong in every way/Don’t say it’s over now, believe in every day/Your strength isn’t gone/Don’t say it’s over now/There’s hope beyond this play”.

‘How to Live’ features the talents of Stryper’s Timothy Gaines and Robert Sweet.  It is a beautiful love song: “You’ve shown me how to live/Encouraged me to try/Inspired me to give/And reach beyond the sky.../I don’t want to be without you/I could never see my world without you/I believe God has a plan/That He holds in His hands/It’s not hard to understand/You’ve shown me how to live”.  Next up is a decent cover of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’.  It includes these iconic words: “I’ve been to Hollywood, I’ve been to Redwood/I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold/I’ve been in my mind, it’s such a fine line/That keeps me searching for a heart of gold/As I’m getting old/It keeps me searching for a heart of gold and I’m getting old”.

‘Anybody Else’ is a groove-laden rocker that includes the talents of Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich and Fozzy frontman and professional wrestler Chris Jericho.  The song seems addressed to Michael’s critics: “I’ve seen the middle, the ups and downs/I’ve been a targeted man/It’s been hot and colder than hell/And just for making a stand/I’ve learned to shake the dust from my clothes/As I get back on my feet/I’m here to tell you, nobody knows/Just how to fight like me”.  ‘Unsuspecting’ begins and ends with signature Michael Sweet screams.  This fast-paced heavy metal gem is a strong statement of faith in God: “You’re unsuspecting/So I’ll put my trust in You/You’re resurrecting/Every bit of good I failed to do/I hear Your voice and I am taken/To a land that’s built on mercy/You are the pinnacle of why/I once was blind/But now I can see/I never thought/That I’d be glorified and everything in between/But now I know/That I’ve been bought and I was washed beyond pristine”.  Last up is a bonus track.  It is a duet version of ‘Heart of Gold’ with Electra Mustaine, daughter of Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine.  I prefer this version to Michael’s solo version earlier.

Michael shares: “I’m extremely thankful to have the greatest fans in the world.  God has blessed me with this talent and I plan to continue on this path as long as I can draw breath”.  There are a few songs on this CD that would fit nicely on a Stryper record with heavy electric guitars and strong vocals.  That being said, Michael experiments with a variety of musical styles here and does them all quite well.  The album sounds contemporary and relevant.  This is a very well thought out, cohesive album, giving the listener glimpses into Michael’s relationships with both God, and his wife Lisa Champagne-Sweet.  These songs are delivered with passion and are fun to listen to!  I’m rating I’M NOT YOUR SUICIDE 90%.  For more info visit: www.michaelsweet.com and www.big3records.com.

 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY AND MEN

It is a given fact that many women feel threatened, hurt, or of low self-esteem when faced with the images of perfection they face in magazines and on screens, most of which have been airbrushed. It is a common assumption that thin is in. I would say that this is changing. I mean just look at the success the full-figured Kate Upton has had. However, my point is that most  women would feel threatened and lowly if put in a room full of supermodels with which they had to interact. They would constantly be comparing themselves and seeing how far short they fell. What the hell does this have to do with evangelical Christianity and men? Read on if you please...
 
I became an evangelical, born-again Christian on April 12, 1986. That is when I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart, forgive me my sins, and become my Lord and Saviour. That is a decision I do not regret. However, now at 40 years old in 2014 as a man, I feel myself increasingly disillusioned with and distanced from the whole evangelical movement. Why?
 
The main reason is that there are so many reasons I do not qualify to be a man according to many evangelical Christians.  First of all, I couldn't even name the 7 Promises of a Promise Keeper.  Somewhere along the line Christians started to think it was okay to define who is and isn't a 'real man'. There was even an ad I saw for a 'Real Man or Men' conference. A recent article warned Christian ladies not to marry 'playboys', 'deadbeats', 'addicts' etc.  Movies such as Fireproof (with Kirk Cameron) and Courageous certainly raised the expectations of what a real man is to be.  And I don't even come close.
 
Many, many Christian women believe their man MUST either be living in victory in Jesus or at least always be trying to attain it. As a man who struggles with anxiety, depression, social phobia, and elements of OCD that is just not always at the top of my list. No use me lying. As the Petra song says: "Sometimes I feel like Jekyll and Hyde/Two men are fighting a war inside".  Some days I am strong, sometimes I am not. I waver to and fro.  Pastors and Christian folks oft place sexual purity as a requirement for being a real man, an ideal husband, a worthy father. I'm sorry but whether or not my son is a sexual conqueror or not in this sense as he grows up, he is a real man, albeit imperfect perhaps.  I have had my battles with addiction but whether or not I am at a given time living more like Billy Graham or more like Ron Jeremy, I am still a real man.  Christian women want their men to be sexually pure in thought and deed, but yet are not always willing to help their men in tangible ways. For example, if you truly want your man to be 100 percent  sexually pure, probably best not to take him to pool parties or to the beach or the waterpark where bikinis and cleavage abound.  Now don't twist what I am saying. I have no problem if Christian ladies want to wear such attire. A man is responsible for what he looks at and thinks about. I like the Beach Boys who sing about pretty girls.  But realistically MOST men are going to be prone to lust in those situations whether they know Christ or not.  Ladies, asking your man to be a sexual conqueror over lust is like your husband asking you to avoid shopping.  You may be able to do it for awhile, but sooner or later, you'll probably cave. And I do not want myself or my son to dwell in a bed of guilt for sexual failures.  Please don't stretch this to say I think affairs are okay. I am talking about matters of the mind. I think that a Christian man can learn to admire beauty without coveting but it takes a hell of a lot of effort, likely a lifelong battle.  There are Christian married men who photograph female models. What do we say to that? Should we say a Christian man should only look at and promote his wife's beauty?  This is another inconsistency I see.
 
Another area I find hard is that there is pressure for evangelical Christian men to be big family people.  I like to spend a lot of time alone. I would prefer spending much more time just with me and my wife watching a movie, or having coffee, than at tons of family gatherings with the inlaws.  Once in a while an extended family get together is fine, but it should always be secondary to one's marriage and time spent as man and wife.  There is a reason there are a lot of jokes about inlaws. But in the circles in which I have run everyone seems to get along nicely without any major disagreements. Sometimes I long for an in-law to express a strong difference of belief with my mother or father-in-law on something major politically, or religiously, or to do with the family. Or for there to be a tiff of some sort. How about a mix between Roseanne and the Cosby Show when it comes to family?
 
If one is to be a good evangelical Christian man, they should love going to church, get involved, and maybe join a small group during the week.  Again, here I fail. Church for me is not a place of safety where I make deep connections with God.  It is a place where I am told how I am not a good enough man.  I hate dressing up.  I like some worship music, but a lot of it is 'God as my girlfriend' church sounding songs rather than manly rock and roll.  I do not agree with the elevation of pastors to positions of respect that I'm not sure they always deserve.  Again, with my anxieties, group gatherings are not always the best for me. I would rather meet with someone one on one for coffee for a spiritual discussion than go to a Sunday service to hear what I likely already have heard before.  I long for growth and learning, not preaching to the choir.  I hope I have more to learn about God and Christianity in the future than I have already learned.
 
The point of this article is to say to both women and men: Don't expect your husband or wife to be perfect. Don't love or not love him/her based on their performance. For example, if I married a woman who was living up to all that was in Proverbs 31, but years later she did a complete turnaround and did not exhibit those qualities, should I separate from her or divorce her? My answer is no.  My wife, as I am, is a deeply flawed human being saved only because of the grace of God.  I do not want 'the perfect woman' as the church would define her. I want a real, live woman who loves Jesus but doesn't have it all together.  I am reminded of the Smitty song 'Picture Perfect' which says: "You don't have to be picture perfect to be in my world".  I do not want to marry a woman like Joyce Meyer or Beth Moore, who are wonderful leaders. I just want a companion who loves me and loves Jesus, who at the end of the day is human and has both strengths and weaknesses.  It is much more interesting going through life with someone who is noticeably imperfect than with someone who is sanctified completely.
 
And that is my attempt at summing up my current thoughts. Thanks for reading and don't hesitate to contact me if any clarification is desired.  I have said a lot but not perfectly.
 

Friday, May 02, 2014

ESCAPE FROM THE FALLEN PLANET


Crumbacher is a Christian new wave and synth pop band.  They played their first show on New Year’s Eve in 1983.  They released their first album INCANDESCENT in April of 1985 on Broken Records.  It included such great songs as ‘Understudy’, ‘Infrared/X-Ray Eyes’, and ‘Jamie’.  Their follow-up ESCAPE FROM THE FALLEN PLANET came out in 1986 on Frontline Records.  The group’s roster was: Stephen Crumbacher (lead and backing vocals, keys), Dawn Wisner-Johnson (keys, backing vocals)¸ Jimmy Wisner (drums, backing vocals), and Dan Hohulin (guitars).  In 2011 Frontline Records released a 25th Anniversary Edition, produced by Stephen and remastered by Chris Duke.

Like all of the songs ‘Solo Flight’ was written by Stephen.  It is a cheery electronica instrumental that will put you in a good mood.  ‘Crashlanded on Another Time Zone’ is a great pop/dance tune that finds the band grappling with their expulsion from Eden into a fallen, foreign land: “I’m just a stranger/Looking for an information source/My indicator’s been a little off course/I’ve got this feeling/I’m a hundred billion miles from home/And then my heart is crashlanded in another time zone/I’m just a stranger/Looking for an information source/Sailin’ a little bit off course”.

‘Identical Twins’ is an 80’s pop track.  It is a modern take on the apostle Paul’s sentiments in Romans 7: “Why do I ever do what I don’t want to do?/Why can’t I always be the better side of me?/Christ is in my heart/You often ask me if I’m playin’ fair/I’m breakin’ all the rules in this deadly game of double solitaire/Sometimes I think I am identical twins/Each one tryin’ not to let the other one in/As they’re fighting for my life/I pray the better one wins”.  ‘Name Droppers’ is an energetic electronic song that warns against taking God’s Name in vain”.

‘Royal Command Performance’ is a song encouraging all Christians to be troopers and give all they have in serving the Lord as aliens and strangers on the earth.  ‘Tourist Trap’ is heavy musically and includes some good electric guitar work.  The song speaks of the strong allure of earthly temptations: “Oh the straight and narrow way/It will be worth the temporary sacrifice/I’ve come to an oasis/But I’ll keep on holding out for paradise”.

‘Life of the Party’ is one of my favorites.  It is a celebratory, upbeat, pop/dance song.  I can see people working out to this one in the 1980’s wearing their head bands and jogging pants!  The song reminds us that we are saved through Christ and that we have a great reward awaiting us in heaven.  It is a message we should share with all: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost, but now I’m found/Was blind, but now I see/And it all began with someone askin’/’Don’t you want to be the life of the party?”  ‘Alma Mater/Graduating Class’ is over six minutes long and begins with a majestic feel to it both musically and vocally.  The lyrics rejoice in the fact that deceased, loved believers go to heaven, but admit it is bittersweet for those still on earth: “I’m really gonna miss the graduating class/Their school days all went so fast.../They’re movin’ on to bigger and better things by far/I’m so glad of where they are”.

‘Interstellar Satellite’ is another terrific song.  This CCM ballad was a radio hit.  It finds the band longing for their heavenly home: “Oh, won’t You take me home/To the gold, celestial shore/I’m gonna be your interstellar satellite/Sail beyond the outer limits of the night/I’ll escape this fallen planet/To the everlasting Light”.  This 25th Anniversary Edition of the album has one bonus track.  It is a fine vocals only recording of ‘Alma Mater’ from the original recording sessions.

If the creators of Star Wars or Star Trek were to make a CCM album, this is what it would sound like, abundant with space metaphors.  Stephen Crumbacher has a mellow, easy to listen to voice.  The vocal harmonies on this album are amazing!  The male and female vocals complement each other brilliantly as in groups such as Silverwind.  ESCAPE FROM THE FALLEN PLANET reminds us that this world is not our eternal home.  For believers, a better one awaits!  That being said, how we live while on this earth does matter.  I’m rating this CD 87%.  For more info visit: www.frontlinerecords.us and www.crumbacher.com.

 

 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

IF WE'RE HONEST


Francesca Battistelli was born on May 18, 1985 in New York City.  Both of her parents were involved with musical theatre.  She is known for songs such as ‘I’m Letting Go’, ‘Free to Be Me’, ‘This is the Stuff’, and ‘Motion of Mercy’.  IF WE’RE HONEST (2014, Fervent/Curb) is her third major label studio album.  Ian Eskelin is the producer.  In the CD booklet Francesca writes: “Jesus, You are everything.  Thank You for allowing me this outlet to share music, to do ministry, and to glorify You.  These songs are Yours”.

‘Write Your Story’ is the great pop lead single penned by Francesca, David Arthur Garcia, and Ben Glover.  It is the song of one wanting God to be totally in charge of her life: “I’m an empty page/I’m an open book/Write Your story on my heart/Come on and make Your mark/Author of my hope/Maker of the stars/Let me be Your work of art/Won’t You write Your story on my heart?”  ‘When the Crazy Kicks In’ features some neat pop beats and speaks of the importance of personal devotions: “Pushed and pulled by a thousand expectations/And all the roles that I’m supposed to play/To hit the ground running’s a temptation/But I have learned this lesson the hard way/A little time with You/The only way to get me through the day/Oh, come meet me in this moment/Before it all gets going/And these plates start to spin”.

‘He Knows My Name’ was written by Francesca, Mia Fieldes, and Seth Mosley.  It is the song of one who knows where their true identity comes from: “He calls me chosen/Free, forgiven/Wanted, child of the King/His forever/Held and treasured/I am loved/I don’t need my name in lights/I’m famous in my Father’s eyes”.  ‘Unusual’ is a good pop/dance number in the vein of latter era Newsboys.  It praises those who are bold and unashamed in their faith: “Gray is now the status quo/Black and white’s not in, you know/You’re the zebra in the pony show/You wear your faith just like a light/I’d say you’re doing something right.../Standing up for Jesus’ Name/Just let them call you strange”.

‘Choose to Love’ has an R&B feel to it.  It reminds us that as Christians our lives should impact others positively: “I’m gonna choose to reach out/Choose to lay down/All of the fear that I’ve been hiding/Choose to be brave/Though my heart’s afraid/To be a part of Your Kingdom rising, oh/God, I’m done running from/The reason that You sent Your Son/So I’m gonna choose to love/Maybe I’ll hurt, maybe I’ll bruise/Maybe I’ll cry, maybe I’ll lose/Still I will choose to love”.  ‘Run to Jesus’ is a stunning pop gem.  It is a song of spiritual invitation: “When you’ve reached the end of every road/And you’re a million miles from home/That’s when you run, run to Jesus/When the clouds have covered up the sun/And your strength is all but gone/That’s when you run, that’s when you run, that’s when you run”.

‘Find Rest’ is a composition by Francesca, Jared Anderson, and Ian Eskelin.  It uses pedal steel guitar, cello, viola, and violins, while Debi Selby provides additional backing vocals.  Based on Psalm 62:5, it is an inspirational song: “Find rest my soul/Put your hope in God/Put your hope, put your hope in God/He always is, He always will be/He always has been everything I need/How can this be, catching me by surprise?/He’s ever strong, He’s ever faithful/His love is real, now nothing is impossible/Cause nothing catches Him by surprise”.  ‘If We’re Honest’ is a well delivered ballad written by Francesca, Jeff Pardo, and Molly E. Reed.  It encourages us to be spiritually transparent with each other and God: “Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not/Living life afraid of getting caught/There is freedom found when we lay our secrets down at the cross, at the cross/So bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine/Cause love can heal what hurt divides/And mercy’s waiting on the other side/If we’re honest, if we’re honest”.

‘Giants Fall’ evokes the Old Testament story of David and Goliath: “Don’t you be afraid/Of giants in your way/With God you know that anything’s possible/So step into the fight/He’s right there by your side/The stones inside your hand might be small/But watch the giants fall”.  ‘Hands of God’ is a nice adult contemporary song featuring Sanctus Real vocalist Matt Hammitt.  It praises human companionship and encouragement: “Every time you listen to me/Cause you know I need a friend/Every time you stop what you’re doing/And help me find my way again/I hope you know/To me you are/The hands of God/You are the hand upon my shoulder when I’m hurting/You are the voice of truth and love when I am searching/For every time you reach to help me in my need/One day Jesus will say/’You did it for Me’”.  ‘We are the Kingdom’ is a great album closer with Gabe Scott on hammer dulcimer.  This song finds Francesca wanting to share Christ with the world: “We are the Kingdom, we are the light/You set a fire we cannot hide/And we’ll be Your city burning so bright/Cause we are the Kingdom/We’ll shine Your light and raise it high, raise it high/The Kingdom of God is alive, is alive”.

The deluxe edition of IF WE’RE HONEST includes four bonus songs.  Jesus Culture’s Brian and Katie Torwalt wrote ‘Holy Spirit’, a reverent praise and worship song: “I’ve tasted and seen/Of the sweetest of loves/Where my heart becomes free/And my shame is undone/Your presence, Lord/Holy Spirit, You are welcome here/Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere/Your glory God is what our hearts long for/To be overcome by Your presence Lord/There’s nothing worth more/That could ever come close”.  ‘Keeping Score’ is a funkified pop song that is a testament to God’s grace: “I know you’re thinking that you’ve finally gone too far/And you’re certain He’ll be closing the door/But you’ve gotta believe the things you’ve done aren’t beyond His love/He’s not keeping score/If He can make the morning/He can make redemption too/There’s nothing you could do/To take that away”.

‘I am Home’ is autobiographical: “I was born in New York City/Raised in the sunshine state/And I met a boy from Georgia/And we set a wedding date/Now my heart beats for the drummer/Yeah, there’s no sign of slowing down/Together we sing for our supper/Every  night, a different town, singing/Maybe I was made to wander/Maybe I was born to roam/But, baby, as long as you’re with me/I am home, I am home”.  ‘Tonight’ was co-written by and features Integrity Music’s All Sons & Daughters.  It is a quiet song praising God’s comforting ways: “Your love is deep/Your love is wide/And I will rest in Your arms tonight.../Lay Your peace/Like a blanket over me/And as I lay down to sleep/I will rest in You”.

Francesca Battistelli is undisputedly one of the top female Contemporary Christian Music artists performing and ministering today.  Her voice is distinct and strong.  Her music is fresh, contemporary, fun, and youthful.  Her message is one of hope and salvation through Jesus Christ.  This is one of my favorite albums of the year!  I recommend it to fans of Britt Nicole, Jaci Velasquez, and 1 Girl Nation.  The pictures of Francesca included with this project are tasteful and gorgeous.  I’m rating IF WE’RE HONEST 95%.  For more info visit: www.francescamusic.com and www.wordlabelgroup.com.