Friday, February 27, 2015

ONLY TO RISE


Sweet & Lynch is: Michael Sweet (Stryper) lead vocals, additional guitars, George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) guitars, James Lomenzo (White Lion, Megadeth) bass, and Brian Tichy (Whitesnake) on drums.  They are joined by Charles Foley and Robbie LaBlanc on backing vocals, and Paul McNamara on organ and keys.  Their debut album is ONLY TO RISE (2015, Frontiers Records).  In a press release, Michael Sweet shares: “George wrote the riffs and basic ideas and I wrote melodies, lyrics, and arranged and completed the songs.  I knew that we would complement each other’s style.”  In an interview with www.artistdirect.com Michael reveals: “We worked in separate locations-East Coast and West Coast and there were really no issues at all”.  Read ahead to see what I think about this album collaboration between Sweet (a born again Christian) and Lynch (a freethinker/atheist).

‘The Wish’ is a love song in the hard rock vein of Stryper musically: “What I would give to hold you, to smell you on my skin/If you’re dreaming let me in/Girl, I want to love you just like Hollywood/Like a New York Times best selling fairytale/A knight in shining armor who’s defending you/The wish within your well/I feel alive by your side, we create electricity”.  ‘Dying Rose’ is another hard rocker.  It is the song of one determined to keep on the sunny side of life: “Life is what you make it/It’s all up to you, so they say/If you get knocked down seven times/You just have to get up eight/I’m not opening the broken doors/I’m not staring through the shattered windows/I’m not falling through the open floors/I won’t fade like a dying rose”.

‘Love Stays’ is a power anthem that offers these observations: “When we can build a bridge that lets the wounded cross/We will be found within the darkness where we’re lost/Love-Stays, no it never runs away/Games-Played, lead to nowhere/Hearts-Swayed-Break and go their separate ways/Love-Stays, love stays”.  ‘Time Will Tell’ includes wonderful electric guitar work and is about searching for meaning and purpose in life: “I do recall when life was simple/But complications took the prize/I need a sign, I want a symbol/No smoke and mirrors or disguise/Time will tell/If I’m caught between heaven and hell/Is my life an empty shell?/Time will tell”.

‘Rescue Me’ reminds us that we all need companionship: “We’re all searching for that someone/Who makes some sense in all this craziness/Every man and every woman/Needs to fill a void of emptiness/You’re my answer, you’re my resolution/You’re my light in a dark world/I want good company, I need good love/Someone to rescue me/An angel from above/Baby, I want you”.  ‘Me Without You’ is a ballad that includes these romantic lyrics: “What good does it do/To have me without you?/A tree without leaves and the sky without blue/Is me without you”.

‘Recover’ is a real headbanger that includes Sweet’s signature high octave screams.  It also includes these lyrics that are anything but promiscuous: “I’m a one woman man and honey I won’t be shaken.../Love will recover, forgive each other/Hold to one another/Recover.../We can be free if we wear each other’s shoes”.  ‘Divine’ is a hard rock song of encouragement that employs religious language: “You have strength that’s beyond measure/But you’re just too sweet to see/Don’t give in, don’t give out/To all the pressure/Keep The Faith cause you’re the lock that fits the key/Sunshine is divine/It lights up the way/Life’s good and you should be/Molding the clay/Don’t let the sins of the world ever weigh on you”.

‘September’ is a powerful song that reflects on an historic day in the free world: “We woke to find the sky was turning black/And our frozen minds could not comprehend/On that bitter day there’d be no turning back/The wound never heals, the scar doesn’t mend, no/Do you remember?/Eleven, September/We still feel the embers in the cold of December”.  ‘Strength in Numbers’ is a memorable rocker that encourages unity: “There’s strength in numbers/Where two or more are gathered/Pride only encumbers/The strength in numbers/We’ve got our differences/Pride and ignorance/A wide line’s in between/We never communicate, we always tolerate/The same old common theme”.

‘Hero-Zero’ warns gals against falling for bad guys: “Patience is a virtue/But apparently you’ve never heard the term, no/Tell me why you study/But you never seem to learn/The hero is a zero/He’s just a Highway Man/He’ll burn you worse than Nero/I hope you understand, the hero is a zero”.  ‘Only to Rise’, the title track, is a pulsating rocker that ends the album off, as it began, with a love song: “The beauty in your smile/The way you hold yourself/Yeah, it moves me/I was lost for quite a while/Sitting on a shelf and expiring/One look from you and I realize/I’m justified/You make me feel just like I’ve died/Only to rise”.

ONLY TO RISE is simply an incredible album!  The songs are marvellously composed and performed.  Michael Sweet’s vocals are top notch.  His lyrics are clean and full of emotion and prove that a Christian does not have to perform only Christian music.  George Lynch’s guitar playing is jaw-dropping!  I love all the electric guitar solos.  In fact, the musicianship as a whole on this album is some of the best I have heard in a while.  I really hope this supergroup puts out a second album.  Fans of Stryper, Petra, Whitecross, along with fans of mainstream 80s and 90s bands like Van Halen, should absolutely eat up ONLY TO RISE which I’m rating 95%.  For more info visit: www.sweetandlynch.com and www.frontiers.it.

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

BOOTLEG


Larry David Norman was born on April 8, 1947 and died on February 24, 2008.  In 2001 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  He released his solo debut, UPON THIS ROCK, which many consider to be the first Christian rock album, in 1969.  In 1971 he followed this with STREET LEVEL.  Norman’s website says: “In early 1972 One Way Records released BOOTLEG, a double album retrospective covering the previous four years of Norman’s career compiled from the demonstration recordings made while at Capitol Records, private recordings from his friends, and various interviews and live performances.  It was deliberately recorded to sound like an unauthorized bootleg recording to ensure reception by street people who were wary of slick major label products”.  Here, I am reviewing a recent 2 CD re-issue of BOOTLEG which has been remastered.

Starting things off is ‘I Think I Love You’, a piano-based rock and roll song about conversion: “I used to wonder where You could be/I used to seek after truth and follow where it led/So many facts and philosophies inside my head/I heard so many people telling me You was dead/I bet they all own a Bible that’s never been read/Mmm.../All my life I’ve been wondering what I should do/Suddenly I stopped wondering/Cause I really found the answer when I fell in love with You”.  ‘Walking Backwards’ is lullaby-like musically.  It’s the song of one lacking direction: “People stop to watch me/They’re wondering what I’m doing/What direction I’m pursuing/I pretend I’m free but actually/I’m walking backwards down the stairs/Trying to get higher/How can I get anywhere’s/Walking backwards down the stairs”.

‘Ha Ha World’ includes these very Normanesque lyrics: “The call is for me/And I answered the phone in the kitchen/The room was too hot/I forgot I was cookin’ a chicken/It was burning like hell/But the stove wasn’t on/And the voice on the line says the chicken is gone/The receiver goes dead and it/Hums while the plot starts to thicken”.  ‘Classical Mandolin’ is a very short instrumental.

‘I Don’t Believe in Miracles’ is a ballad about letting down one’s guard: “I don’t believe in miracles/I’ve been around, I’ve seen enough/Oh, no/The only way to get along, you must be strong/You must be tough, life is one big bluff/But then you opened up the door/I walked right in and all my fears fell on the floor/Do you suppose a miracle is happening to me?”  ‘The Day That a Child Appeared’ reflects on the nativity: “Just a baby in a manger/But the room was filled with strangers/And the star hung in the sky/Oh, like an angel on the day that a child appeared/Little children please remember why we celebrate December/It’s much more than Santa Claus/But you’re right about the gift and tree/A gift of life at Calvary”.

‘What Goes Through Your Mind’ is a frank rock and roll song addressed to a gal: “What goes through your mind? (2X)/The things you think you want/They only screw you up/You can be good or bad, do what you want to do/And it’s up to you to decide/Just what goes through your mind, girl?/I think you like being blind, girl/Look for the truth and you’ll find it, girl/The truth’s ahead, you’re behind it, girl/Just what goes through your mind, girl?”  ‘No Change Can Attend’ is a short track that includes these words of declaration: “Every human tie may perish/Friend to friend unfaithful prove.../No change can attend Jehovah’s love/You know He loves me/He loves me/He loves me”.

‘One Way’ is a gentle anthem of faith: “One way, one way to Heaven/Hold up high your hand/Follow/Free and forgiven/Children of the Lamb/In my youth, I knew the truth/But I spent many years just sitting on the wrong track/Now that I’m older, I’m bolder/And it’s high time I should be getting back/And that’s a fact”.  ‘A Song Won’t Stop the World’ has an old country feel to it and reflects on the power of music: “This world’s in trouble/You know it’s true/But who has the answers/To help us get through?/We look to our leaders/They politely yawn/The press gives coverage/And the world goes on/This song won’t stop the world from goin’ round/’Cause a song can’t stop the world from being unsound/But it might change a heart/Change a heart or two/No, it can’t stop the world/But it might stop you”.

‘Blue Shoe’s White’ is a lively, upbeat rock and roll song of testimony: “He reached right out and touched my toes/Everybody knows how the rest of the story goes/If you’re steppin’ through life, then my appeal/Is to follow in His footsteps and get your soles re-heeled/And if ya wanna give your feet a treat/Then get ready to walk down that golden street/But be careful how you use your shoes/And don’t waste your time on the rhythm and blues/He turns blue shoes white”.  ‘666 (The Anti-Christ)’ is a folk song about the End Times: “In the midst of the war he offered us peace/He came like a lover from out of the east/With the face of an angel and the heart of a beast/His intentions were six sixty six/He walked up to the temple with gold in his hand/And he bought off the priests and propositioned the land/And the world was his harlot and laid in the sand/While the band played six sixty six”.

‘Taking my Time’ is really just a short ditty.  It includes these words: “Love is divine/And reading the scrolls/Is making me whole”.  ‘I’ve Searched All Around’ is a swell pop tune on which Larry testifies: “Yes, I’ve searched all around the world to find a place of peace/I’ve sat in the shade of God and watched the joy increase”. 

Disc Two begins with a television interview from 1971 in which Larry shares: “I found Jesus with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  That’s what changed me concretely...I don’t have to go to a church every day.  I go to church in my heart.  I don’t have to kneel or bow.  My spirit has been humbled and bowed.  Ah, I’m not afraid of approval from the preachers or the members of the church.  I just, I have to be right before God.  I have to read my Bible and a, to stay informed on whom man is and who God is”.  The next track is ‘Let the Lions Come (Speech to Russia for Christ)’.  It reflects on Watchman Nee and tackles the topic of persecution head on: “I’m not afraid of the Russians coming or the Chinese or the World Council of Churches if that’s gonna be our enemies too.  Let them come.  I’m not afraid of the lions.  Let them eat me.  They can’t swallow my soul.  They can’t touch us.  They can’t get us.  We’ve been bought with the price and nobody’s got enough money or enough force to buy us back.  They can’t touch you.  And when they come you just pray for them and when they lead you away you just sing ‘Glory to God’.  And when they shoot you, just smile”.

‘Jesus and the Movies’ is a humorous reflection by Larry beginning with these words: “It bothers me that in the movies they never show Jesus really, you know, the right way.  Every movie I’ve seen He walks around like, you know, He’s just had His nails done or something”.  ‘Addressing the National Youth Worker’s Convention’ is a very lengthy performance of his cheerful song ‘Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation’.  It includes these words: “When you know a wonderful secret/You tell it to your friends/Tell them that a lifetime filled with Jesus/Is like a street that never ends, alright!/Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation/And let your laughter fill the air/Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation/And tell the people everywhere”.  Larry uses his humor to engage the audience fully in the song: “Those of you who are uptight about clapping for a religious, you know, song or experience, ah, you can think of it as praying rapidly”.

‘When I First Met You’ is a short adult contemporary song that shares these sentiments many will be able to relate to: “When I first saw you I was all alone/Wishing for a love I could call my own.../I’m hoping that maybe we/I’m praying that maybe you and I/Can spend our life together/La, la, la, la...”  ‘Without Love You are Nothing’ is a great rock song that doesn’t mince words: “You can be a woman feeler or a baby stealer/You can drink your life away/You can be a Holy Prophet/Get a blessing off it/You can fast for 50 days/You can shake hands with the devil/Or give your life to God on the level/But without love you are nothing, without love”.

‘A Love Like Yours’ finds Larry conversing with God: “With a love like Yours/A man could live in beauty and grace/If I were a king I’d give everything/Just to see Your face/With a love like Yours/A man could be completely satisfied.../You have saved me, You have saved me/You have saved me from myself”.  ‘You Can Save Me’ finds Larry playfully strumming on his acoustic guitar.  It again finds Larry conversing with God: “I can’t see You but I know You’re there/And I can’t touch You/But I know You care/God, I love You/And I just bought Your book/I took it home and had a real long look/And this may not sound nice/But my favorite part is where You died for me”.

‘Even if you don’t Believe’ is a pretty, piano-based ballad about the End Times: “Even if you don’t believe, it’s gonna come true/Even if you don’t believe, it’s gonna happen to you/He’s gonna come down/Take a last look around/And with both feet off the ground/You’ll be homeward bound”.  ‘U.F.O.’ is a gentle folk tune that reminds us of our blessed hope: “He will come back like He promised/With the price already paid/He will call out for His followers/And take them all away.../He’s an unidentified flying object/Coming back to take you home/He’s an unidentified flying object/He will roll away your stone”.

‘Why Don’t You Look into Jesus’ is a rock song that offers a spiritual invitation: “If you’re unhappy and you don’t know how/Why don’t you look into Jesus?/He got the answers”.  ‘Song for a Small Circle of Friends’ is a tender folk song that shares the Good News: “And Jesus died for all you friends/But even better yet, He lives again/And if words do not appeal to you/I hope the Spirit slips on through/He loves you”.

There are eight bonus tracks included on Disc 2.  The first finds Larry performing ‘Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation’ at Jesus Sound Explo ’72.  Then there are alternate takes of four previous songs.  Next up are two takes of the American spiritual ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’.  Larry includes these additional lyrics: “He’s got The Beatles and The Stones in His hands/Unless they bring it on home, in His hands/They’ll spend eternity alone”.  Last up, is ‘He’s the One’.  This fun rock and roll ditty includes this lyric: “He’s the One, He stole my heart away”.

BOOTLEG is a great companion piece to 1971’s STREET LEVEL.  Several of the songs are different versions of songs that had already appeared on 1969’s UPON THIS ROCK or would go on to appear on the legendary studio albums ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET (1972) and IN ANOTHER LAND (1976).  There are also many songs not on any of those records.  This is truly a must have two disc collection for collectors.  These are songs that convey a Christian message with a sense of both innocence and urgency.  Fans of early Jesus rock and folk music should pick this one up.  It includes some great shots of a young Larry Norman at work, on the street, and with a white cat.  I’m rating BOOTLEG 90%.  For more info visit: www.larrynorman.com.

 

Friday, February 20, 2015

CAFFEINE & BIG DREAMS



Kira Isabella was born on September 18, 1993 in Ottawa, Ontario.  She cites her musical influences as being Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain, and Taylor Swift.  She has toured with the likes of Carrie Underwood and Terri Clark.  Kira’s debut album LOVE ME LIKE THAT was released in 2012.  That year she won the Canadian Country Music Association’s ‘Rising Star’ award.  In 2013 she was named the Canadian Country Music Association’s ‘Female Artist of the Year’.  Her current album CAFFEINE & BIG DREAMS (2014, Legend North/Sony) is nominated for a Juno award for ‘Country Album of the Year’.  She says: “One of the main things that I want to convey is growth-not only as a vocalist and a songwriter, but personally as well...Some of the music is definitely autobiographical.  It’s almost like opening up a journal and sharing it with everybody.  I didn’t mean for this record to be as personal as it ended up being, but it truly is”.  The album was produced by Mark Liggett and Jerry Lane, with David Corey and Warren Copnick serving as executive producers.

‘Shake it if ya Got It’ is an energetic modern country song written by Kira, Eliot Sloan, and Jason Phelps.  It is all about having a good time: “All the girls with their red hot lips/Wearin’ their long hair down/All the boys talkin’ about all us girls/And passin’ that jar around/We got the radio playing our favorite songs/Cowboy boots and our blue jeans on/The girls look pretty from top to bottom/C’mon everybody/Shake it if ya got it”.  One of the co-writers on ‘Gone Enough’ is Deric Ruttan.  It is the song of one very hurt gal: “My friends tell me that you/Were hangin’ all over a brunette last Saturday/I didn’t wanna believe/But now you’re tellin’ me you’re needin’ a little more space/Well, let me help you out/Baby, how about/Gone-how about so long/Forget about you, we’re through/I’m movin’ on/How ‘bout I pack that truck, pop that clutch/Leave you here in a cloud of dust?/You said space, but you didn’t say how much/Is gone enough? (2X)”  Bobby Hamrick, Rivers Rutherford, and Marti Dodson wrote the lead single ‘Quarterback’.  It is a moving ballad that tells a tragic tale of date rape and cyberbullying: “She got out at a bonfire party/Never had a drink before/But he held it to her lips as she took her first sip/And before she knew it she had three more/She always heard that a girl’s first time/Is a memory she’ll never forget/She found out the hard way about love/When she saw those pictures on the Internet”.

‘Coke Can’ is a ballad about a lost love: “Now I’m driving home, feeling all alone/Tears wellin’ up in my eyes/Are you happy now?/Who do you think about?/I had it all when you were mine/And I’m missin’ you tonight/All because I saw a Coke can in some guy’s hand/Took me back to those college nights/We were running on caffeine and big dreams/I would have given you my life/These memories are all I have”.  ‘Hey Love’ is a gritty country tune in the vein of Carrie Underwood musically and vocally.  Many a woman will be able to relate to these thoughts: “Don’t you think that I’ve had enough?/Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey love/Hey love, you always come a knockin’ and I always open up the door/It only takes a bit of sweet talkin’/Messes with my head and/You’ve got me comin’ back for more/I’m kinda dizzy/What’s wrong with me?/I should say no and walk away”.

‘Ring Around It’ is a country rock number about a gal who is not easy: “If you’re melting like the ice in my sweet tea/And if these legs in these short shorts are killing you baby/Don’t even think about it/’Til my finger’s got a ring around it/I know my kisses turn it up a little hotter/Yeah, and I don’t mean to cause a bunch of drama/But don’t even think about it/’Til my finger’s got a ring around it”.  ‘Make a Sinner Out of Me’ seems to be about spiritual warfare: “Momma taught me young/The right from the wrong/The bad from the good, the shouldn’t from the should/And the weak from the strong/But when you kiss me boy/It all goes away/I could sell my soul and be glad that I sold it/Every single day.../Oh Lord, you’ve got to help me/His blue eyes are about to melt me/Please give me strength to hold on/Boy, you’re gonna make a sinner out of me”.

‘A Night Like This’ is a modern country ballad penned by Kira, Kevin Fox, and Jason Phelps.  It deals with romance: “Every girl wants a night like this/Full moon, first love, first kiss/A Luke Bryan song playin’ on the radio/Somewhere in the distance/We could just let the night end/Walk away from the feelin’/Or take a chance, tonight, first kiss/Every girl wants a night like this”.  ‘Country’s Written All Over Me’ is an upbeat country song that finds Kira in love with a 6 foot 6 man known as Country: “It’s written on my lips in shiny hot pink/On my bedroom wall in permanent ink/And on my smile every time he kisses me/Country’s written all over me/July night, full moon/I did what my momma told me never to do/I got a tattoo, now the world can see/I love Country/Yea, I love Country/Country’s written all over me/It’s written in ink on my left arm/Six feet high on my daddy’s barn/Forever for the world to see/Country’s written all over me”.

Kira and David Thomson wrote ‘Late Bloomer’.  It finds a mother encouraging her daughter: “Hey, late bloomer/You don’t have to fly sooner/You can take your time before you take off/They may all fly by/You’re gonna catch ‘em when it’s time/And know, there’s nothing wrong/You’re just a little late bloomer, that’s all/Don’t ya grow up too fast/Keep trying even if you’re last/You can walk/You don’t have to run”.  ‘Heaven’ is a strong inspirational song that finds Kira longing for intimacy: “Hearts don’t beat to be alone/Hold me close, don’t you let me go/I’m right here and you’re right there/We can have a little bit of heaven/We can’t stay forever young/But you can stay till the morning comes/Before the dawn, before the tears/We can have a little bit of heaven here”.

In the liner notes Kira writes: “I would like to start by thanking GOD.  I cannot put into words how grateful I am for this journey”.  CAFFEINE & BIG DREAMS is exactly the kind of country album a lady in her early twenties should be making!  It includes several fun, upbeat, dance-worthy tracks, mixed in with a handful of emotional and heartfelt ballads.  Kira has a lovely voice and the instrumentation here is quite skillful.  By and large, for a mainstream album the lyrics aren’t too objectionable.  The photos of Kira included with this project are beautiful.  I’m rating CAFFEINE & BIG DREAMS 90%.  You can catch Kira in concert this summer at The Calgary Stampede and the Boots and Hearts festival in Ontario, Canada.  For more info visit: www.kiraisabella.ca.

 

 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

STREET LEVEL


Larry David Norman was born on April 8, 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas.  While in high school he formed the band The Back Country Seven.  In the late 60’s he joined People!  They appeared alongside The Animals, The Dave Clark Five, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix.  Their cover of The Zombies’ ‘I Love You’ sold over one million copies and became a No 1 hit.  Larry’s first solo album, UPON THIS ROCK, was released in 1969 by Capitol Records.  It included such songs as ‘Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation’, ‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready’ and ‘Moses in the Wilderness’.  Capitol dropped Larry when the album didn’t do well.  Televangelists spoke out against him too.  In 1970 Larry founded One Way Records.  With a monetary loan from Pat Boone, he released the albums STREET LEVEL and BOOTLEG, as well as Randy Stonehill’s debut BORN TWICE.  Here I will be reviewing STREET LEVEL which initially saw the light of day circa 1971.  It was re-released by Larry’s camp in 2014.  His official website says: “The first and second versions of the LP had different songs on side two of the vinyl, but this CD has all of the songs from both versions”.  STREET LEVEL includes recordings from a solo concert at Don Williams’ Hollywood Presbyterian Church and also some recordings with White Light (Randy Stonehill, Fred Bova, Glenn Selwitz, and Hilly Hillman).

The opening track has Larry Norman reciting a poem by Nigel Goodwin in a British accent.  It is called ‘First Day at Church’.  It pokes fun at the language, clothing, and rituals of the church, and rebukes Christians who go to church but won’t help poor beggars in need.  ‘Peace Pollution Revolution’ is a folk ballad that is both political and prophetic: “The word is revolution, but no one’s fired the shot/Each side has its battle plans, a million counterplots/And the world is closely watching as we near the battle line/But if you’re truly wise, you’ll keep your eyes on Palestine/The water is polluted and the air is filled with death/And someday it won’t be easy to stop and catch your breath/It’s all in Revelations/It’s part of the design/And if you’re truly wise, you’ll keep your eyes on Palestine”.  ‘Right Here in America’ is another folk ballad, this one over seven minutes long.  It speaks of being persecuted for the Christian faith: “There are Christians in Russia, they meet underground/In China they’re killed when they’re found/And in Cuba the Christians live up in the hills because it’s not safe in the town/And to think it might happen right here in America/I know you think it’s not true/But it’s happening to Christians right here in America/Wait till it happens to you”.

‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready’ is a classic CCM ballad about the suddenness of the Rapture: “A man and wife asleep in bed, she hears a noise and turns her head, he’s gone/I wish we’d all been ready/Two men walking up a hill/One disappears and one’s left standing still/I wish we’d all been ready/There’s no time to change your mind/The Son has come and you’ve been left behind”.  ‘The Six O’clock News’ is a classic Christian rock number told from the perspective of a news reporter: “Catch my plane flight back to the mainland/Fall asleep to the engine’s drone/I see the sound of guns, how red the mud becomes/I’ve got a close-up view/I am the six o’clock news/What can I do?/All those kids without shoes/What can I do?/Napalm tattoos/What can I do?/Gorilla rendezvous/What can I do?/I am the six o’clock news/CBS, ABC, NBC...”.

‘She’s a Dancer’ is a tranquil song that begins with these words: “She’s a dancer in the garden and she dances with the flowers in the early morning hours/When the wind shifts and the fog drifts/She’s a dancer/She’s a dancer and she knows it/Everywhere she goes she shows it”.  ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose You’ is a rock and roll love song: “I don’t wanna lose you to somebody else/I wanna keep you all to myself/Don’t wanna lose you, lose you/You keep me deeply satisfied all of the time/You know I love you all of the time/Don’t wanna lose you, lose you/I was lost and hungry, love, love is what you brung me/If I ever start to see you run around/I’ll break down”.

‘The Price of Living’ is a song of determination in the midst of life’s hardships: “It’s getting hard to find a place to stay/It’s overcrowded and it’s dirty, yes it is/And I don’t want to sleep with thirty other kids/This isn’t living, I feel like giving up, but if I’m strong/I’ll get along/Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday/Ends another week/Life goes on/Even for a freak/Life is rough, but I’ll make it through/Me, I’m tough/I know what to do/The price of living’s going up today/And costs are at an all time high/I hold my head cause so am I”.  ‘Sigrid Jane’ is a short and repetitive rock ‘n’ roll song.  On it, Larry declares love for a plain, insane, strange, troublesome lady.

‘Baby out of Wedlock’ is a piano-based story song of redemption: “I had a baby out of wedlock, her old man got me in a headlock/I was an unwed father, but don’t bother feeling sorry for me/I took a lot of L.S.D./I smoked a lot of marijuana/But it did not help me, it did not set me free/’Jesus, why’d You come and do it?/Why’d You help a guy like me?/You saved me, You forgave me and I swear You set me free/Ah, You took away my problems one by one/I guess You knew what You was doin’/When You sent Your Son’”.  ‘One Way’ is a piano-based ballad of personal faith: “Two roads diverged in the middle of my life, I heard the poet say/I took the one less travelled by and that’s made the difference every night and every day/I say ‘One way, one way to heaven/Hold up high your head/Follow free and forgiven/Children of the Lamb’”.

‘Blue Shoes White’ is a fun rock and roll ditty of testimony to God’s transforming power.  ‘I’ve Searched All Around the World’ is a catchy rock and roll song offering hope to all: “I’ve searched all around the world to find a grain of truth/I’ve opened the mouth of love and found a wisdom tooth/I’ve searched all around the world to find a place of peace/I’ve sat in the shade of God and watched the joy increase”.

‘No More L.S.D. for Me’ is a ballad of testimony: “No more L.S.D. for me/I met the Man from Galilee/And He saved my soul, made me whole and heaven is my home/He takes good care you know/He’s everywhere you go/He fed me bread and He fixed my head/Untangled all my thread/Take a chance with Jesus, I highly recommend it/Let Him change your heart, let Him in/Take a chance with Jesus/Ask Him in and forget your sins.../I’m so happy, yes I am/I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb”.  The last track is ‘Jim Ware’s Blues’ which is one of the best Christian rock songs ever written!  It is very bold as evidenced by these lyrics: “Gonorreah on Valentine’s Day/You’re lookin’ for the perfect lay/You think rock ‘n’ roll will set you free/Honey, you’ll be deaf before you’re 33/Shootin’ junk until you’re half insane/Broken needle in your purple vein/Why don’t you look into Jesus?/He’s got the answers”.

STREET LEVEL is a remarkable collection of songs.  Any serious collector of CCM music must have this CD in his/her collection.  The lyrics are full of fresh, vibrant, and new Christian beliefs.  In addition, a couple of love songs are thrown in for good measure.  This 2014 re-release of the album includes some pretty neat old photos of the grandfather of Christian Rock himself.  I’m rating STREET LEVEL 90%.  For more info visit: www.larrynorman.com.

 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

BOOTS & BLING


Holly Spears grew up in the small town of Wana, West Virginia.  Early on she sang in the church choir, school choirs, in musicals, and at festivals and fairs.  She got her first guitar for $25 at a garage sale.  She was discovered by the lead singer of Blessid Union of Souls, Eliot Sloan, and began touring with them and opening for the likes of The Spin Doctors and Gin Blossoms.  In 2012 Holly put out the full length album HEARTACHE TO HOPE.  She has also released three EP’s with the latest being BOOTS & BLING (2014, Girl on a Mission Music).  She says: “BOOTS & BLING is my attempt to get back to my roots and embrace who I’ve grown into...I grew up as a tomboy, and when I moved away, I became more ‘girly’.  Today, I’m a good mix of the two”.  She is currently in Texas filming the faith-based film Nail 32.  A press release says: “Just as 32 nails attach the shoes to a horse, Nail 32 clenches the importance of men being courageous, honorable, and truly God-fearing”.  Some of Holly’s songs will be used in conjunction with the movie.

The first song on BOOTS & BLING is ‘Brothers’.  It is one of five Holly wrote alone.  This breezy country/pop tune is autobiographical: “I grew up in a little bitty town/On front street is where we built our house/With two brothers and the whole football team/I grew up a tomboy you see/Brothers-teach me what is right/Brothers-when am I supposed to fight?/Brothers-can I wear your clothes?/Brothers.../Brothers-teach me how to fish/Brothers-teach me how to spit/Brothers-teach me how to drive your car/Cause I just wrecked it”.  ‘Cowboy Up’ is a modern country ballad that encourages males to be the best men they can be: “Be like the good book said to be/Do their best thinkin’ on their knees/Tell me, why don’t you, do the same thing, too.../Cowboy up, don’t back down/Stand your ground instead of fallin’ down/Be the kind of man you want to be/Cowboy up (2X)/And love like a father/Be good to your wife/Ask God to guide you/Every day of your life”.

A cover of Paula Cole’s thrice Grammy nominated 1996 song ‘Where Have All the Cowboys Gone’ is up next.  It is a song of disappointment from a female perspective: “We finally sold the Chevy/When we had another baby/And you took that job in Tennessee/You made friends at the farm/And you joined them at the bar/Almost every single day of the week/I will wash the dishes while you go have a beer/Where is my John Wayne?/Where is my prairie son?/Where is my happy ending?/Where have all the cowboys gone?”  ‘Sunshine’ is a tender country song that includes these touching remembrances: “Grandpa, I remember when I was really little and you’d play games with me/Grandpa, you would laugh and grin/And read my favorite stories/Then sing me fast asleep/You’d sing ‘My sunshine, you’re my only sunshine/And you make me happy when my skies are grey, hey’”.

‘Who Said’ is another quiet country song.  This one is about chasing your dreams and finding yourself: “Small town girl wins three Grammy’s in a row/She finds herself always on the road/The girl she once knew is not the girl she knows/Well, who says you can’t go, you can’t go, you can’t go/Who said you can’t go, you can’t go/You can’t go home”.  Next up is a cover of ‘Wide Open Spaces’ which Holly says was the theme song of her teen years.  It was penned by Susan Gibson and made famous by Dixie Chicks in the late 1990’s.  Holly’s version is more laid back.  It is about spreading one’s wings: “She needs wide open spaces/Room to make her big mistakes/She needs new faces/She knows the high stakes/She knows the high stakes/She needs wide open spaces”.

‘With You’ is the song of a girl in love: “I can’t believe it/You tore my walls down/With all your sweetness/Your silliness, too/And I can’t wait/To spend my days/With you, with you/You make me laugh/You calm me down/You set me straight/When I’m in a mood”.  Last up, is definitely the best cover song, ‘Country Roads’.  John Denver recorded this folk/country classic on his 1971 album POEMS, PRAYERS AND PROMISES.  It hit No 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.  It is a song of longing: “Country roads, take me home/To the place I belong/West Virginia, Mountain Mama/Take me home, my country roads/I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me/The radio reminds me of my home far away/And drivin’ down the road/I get the feeling/That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday”.

BOOTS & BLING was mixed and produced by Mitch Dane at Sputnik Sound in Nashville, TN.  On it, two members of Jars of Clay, Stephen Mason and Charlie Lowell, play several instruments including: banjo, mandolin, bells, electric guitar, steel guitar, and synthesizer.  In the album liner notes Holly writes: “God from whom ALL blessings flow.  Thank You for making me the way you did and for surrounding me with LOVE”.  BOOTS & BLING is a decent EP if you enjoy country music that tells stories and is on the more mellow side musically.  Holly has a pleasant voice and is a good songwriter.  I only hope on her next project she rocks out more, including more upbeat tracks that’ll get my feet moving.  The cover photo of Holly as a cowgirl is pretty.  I’m rating BOOTS & BLING 83%.  For more info visit: www.hollyspears.com and www.nail32.com.

 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

WRAPPED IN RED


Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born on April 24, 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas.  She was raised Southern Baptist.  While in high school she performed in some musicals including ‘Seven Brides For Seven Brothers’ and ‘Brigadoon’.  In 2002 she won the first season of American Idol.  She released her debut album, THANKFUL, in 2003.  Some of the songs she is known for are: ‘Miss Independent’, ‘Since U Been Gone’, ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’, ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay (with Jason Aldean)’, and ‘What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)’.  WRAPPED IN RED is her 6th studio album.  It sold 70, 000 copies in its first week and hit No 1 on the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart.  It came out in 2013 on RCA Records.  Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Ellie Goulding and Foster the People, produced it.

The first song, ‘Wrapped in Red’, is a strong adult contemporary one and was written by Kelly, Ashley Arrison, Aben Eubanks, and Shane McAnally.  It is about gathering courage: “Everybody’s happy, snow is falling down/Prayers are being answered, miracles all around/From afar I’ve loved you, but never let it show/And every year another December comes and goes/Always watching, never reaching/But this Christmas I’m gonna risk it all/This Christmas I’m not afraid to fall/So I’m at your door with nothing more than words I’ve never said/In all this white you’ll see me like you’ve never seen me yet/Wrapped in red”. ‘Underneath the Tree’ is the bouncy pop lead single.  It uses saxophones, trombone, trumpet, flugelhorn, and mellophone.  It reminds us of the folly of chasing after material things: “Presents, what a beautiful sight/Don’t mean a thing if you ain’t holding me tight/You’re all that I need/Underneath the tree I found what I was looking for/A love that’s meant for me/A heart that’s mine completely/Knocked me right off my feet”.

‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ includes these sentimental lyrics: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Make the yuletide gay/From now on our troubles will be miles away/Here we are as in olden days/Happy golden days of yore/Faithful friends who are dear to us/Gather near to us once more”.  ‘Run Run Rudolph’ was penned by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie.  It is a playful, fun, rock and roll song: “Run, run Rudolph/Santa’s gotta make it to town/Randolph, he can hurry, he can take the freeway down/And away went Rudolph, whizzing like a merry-go-round”.

‘Please Come Home For Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)’ includes the talents of The Regiment Horns.  It reminds us that the holidays can be a lonely time for many: “Bells will be ringing the glad, glad news/Oh what a Christmas to have the blues/My baby’s gone/I have no friends to wish me greetings once again.../Please come home for Christmas/If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night”.  ‘Every Christmas’ is a soulful song.  It again finds Kelly pining for love: “Santa isn’t listening, no/And I’m losing hope/Oh God, if it isn’t too much/Please bring my baby home/Every Christmas/Counting the days/Maybe this year will be different and I won’t be, be alone again/Under the mistletoe, let it snow, come on home”.

‘Blue Christmas’ is the third consecutive song on the same theme and has an old country feel to it: “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you/I’ll be so blue just thinking about you/Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree/Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me”.  ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is given the jazz treatment here.  It is a flirtatious song featuring country music legend Ronnie Dunn: “This welcome has been so nice and warm (Baby, it’s cold outside)/(Look out the window at that 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/(Mmm, your lips are delicious)/Well, maybe just a cigarette more/(Never such a blizzard before)”.

‘Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)’ is a great pop number that finds Kelly in love: “This Christmas Eve, ‘I’ became ‘we’/Don’t wake me please from this winter dream/Build a fire to escape the cold/Bing Crosby on the stereo/Tracing letters on my skin, slowly starts sinkin’ in...you love me/Oh, don’t wake me up/If this is love/Please let me be swept completely off my feet”.  Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ is another sentimental song: “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”.

‘My Favorite Things’, from ‘The Sound of Music’¸ was composed by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers.  Here it is presented well, in the traditional manner.  It begins with these famous words: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/Brown paper packages tied up with strings/These are a few of my favorite things”.  Kelly, Greg Kurstin, Cathy Dennis, and Olivia Waithe wrote the terrific pop/rock song ‘4 Carats’.  It is an adult conversation with Santa: “I know you have your rounds to make/But I’ve been waiting up for you/And now the clock has just struck two/I’m looking out my windows/Looking for a red nose/My heart’s sinking/Don’t forget me or my diamond ring/Just a little something from Tiffany’s/Or a big ruby/You know red has always looked good on me”.

Imogen Heap’s ‘Just For Now’ begins with these interesting lyrics: “Just for now/It’s that time of year/Leave all our hopelessness’s aside/If just for a little while/Tears stop right here/I know we’ve all had a bumpy ride/I’m secretly on your side/How did you know/It’s what I’ve always wanted/Could never have had too many of these”.  ‘Silent Night’ is a real treat vocally as it features two country music heavyweights in Reba and Trisha Yearwood.  It is a song of praise: “Silent night, Holy night/Son of God/Love’s pure light/Radiant beams from Thy holy face/With the dawn of redeeming grace/Jesus, Lord at Thy birth”. (2X)

The Deluxe Edition of the album I have includes two bonus tracks.  ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ is from an iTunes Session and Leif Shires plays trumpet on it.  It starts with these familiar sentiments: “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 you/Where the love light gleams/I’ll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams”.  ‘Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel’ is short and presented reverently like a prayer: “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel/And ransom captive Israel/That mourns in lowly exile here/Until the Son of God appears/Rejoice! Rejoice!/Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”.

Kelly Clarkson’s vocals are strong, moving, and flawless on this WRAPPED IN RED album.  The best comparison I can think of is Natalie Grant.  This album is so good you will want to listen to it year round!  A variety of musical styles are presented including: pop, rock, country, soul, jazz, and alternative.  The photos of Kelly included with this project are stunning and beautiful.  All in all, this is a perfect project!  I’m rating it 100%.  For more info visit: www.kellyclarkson.com.

 

 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

SLOW TRAIN COMING


Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota.  He put out his self-titled debut album in 1962 and became known for his folk and protest songs such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.  Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian in the late 1970’s.  He released his first gospel album SLOW TRAIN COMING (1979, Columbia Records) not long after.  It reached No 3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.  Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) is one of the guitarists.  Carolyn Dennis, Helena Springs, and Regina Havis provide great backing vocals.  The album was produced by Jerry Wexler (Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield) and Barry Beckett (Paul Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd).

The song ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ kicks things off.  It won a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male.  It doesn’t mince any words when it comes to the spiritual realm: “You may be an ambassador to England or France/You may like to gamble, you might like to dance/You may be the heavyweight champion of the world/You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed/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”.  ‘Precious Angel’ has an old country music feel to it.  It is again direct lyrically: “Now there’s spiritual warfare, flesh and blood breaking down/Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground/The enemy is subtle, how be it we are deceived/When the truth’s in our hearts and we still don’t believe?”  ‘I Believe in You’ is a ballad of great resolve: “I believe in you when winter turns to summer/I believe in you when white turn to black/I believe in you even though I be outnumbered/Oh, though the earth may shake me/Oh, though my friends forsake me/Oh, even that couldn’t make me go back/Don’t let me change my heart/Keep me set apart”.

‘Slow Train’ has a slow R&B groove and a nice electric guitar solo.  It points out that there will be a day of reckoning for us all: “People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting/Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it/They say lose your inhibition/Follow your own ambition/They talk about a life of brotherly love/Show me someone who knows how to live it/There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend”.  ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinking’ is an adult rock number that includes the talents of the Muscle Shoals Horns.  It urges us to live our lives intentionally: “Jesus said ‘Be ready for you know not the hour which I come’/Jesus said ‘Be ready for you know not the hour which I come’/He said ‘He who is not for Me is against Me’/Just so you know where He’s coming from/There’s a kingdom called Heaven/A place where there is no pain of birth.../Well, the Lord created it, mister/About the same time He made the earth”.

‘Do Right to me Baby (Do Unto Others)’ begins with these words of wisdom: “Don’t wanna judge nobody, don’t wanna be judged/Don’t wanna touch nobody, don’t wanna be touched/Don’t wanna hurt nobody, don’t wanna be hurt/Don’t wanna treat nobody like they was dirt/But if you do right to me, baby/I’ll do right to you, too/Gotta do unto others/Like you’d have them, like you’d have them, do unto you”.  “When You Gonna Wake Up’ includes these lyrics that sound like something from Steve Taylor’s pen: “Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts/Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up into knots/When you gonna wake up? (2X)/When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?/You got innocent men in jail, your insane asylums are filled/You got unrighteous doctors dealing drugs that’ll never cure your ills”.

‘Man Gave Names to all the Animals’ is a slow R&B song.  It did well on the charts in France and Belgium.  It was turned into a children’s book in 1999.  The Wiggles even covered it in 2013!  It includes these humorous lyrics: “He saw an animal that liked to growl/Big furry paws and he liked to howl/Great big furry back and furry hair/’Ah, think I’ll call it a bear’.../He saw an animal up on a hill/Chewing up so much grass until she was filled/He saw milk comin’ out, but he didn’t know how/’Ah, I think I’ll call it a cow’”.  ‘When He Returns’ is a splendid keyboard based gospel song that reminds us of God’s sovereignty: “Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask/He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask/How long can you falsify and deny what is real?/How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?/Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned/He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne/When He returns”.

In 2001 CCM Magazine named SLOW TRAIN COMING as the 16th greatest album in Christian music.  Bob Dylan’s singing voice is such that it polarizes folks.  You either love it or hate it!  I quite enjoy its uniqueness.  This is an album of nine new songs from a new believer in Christ.  They are passionate and pointed.  These are songs urging people to convert to Christianity and make major lifestyle changes.  I’m rating SLOW TRAIN COMING 90% and recommending it to fans of Larry Norman and Keith Green.  For more info visit: www.bobdylan.com.

 

Friday, February 06, 2015

IF I LEFT THE ZOO


Jars of Clay originally formed at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois in the early 1990’s.  They took their name from 2 Corinthians 4:7 which reads: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”.  The band put out their self-titled debut in 1995 which included the popular songs ‘Flood’ and ‘Love Song for a Savior’.  IF I LEFT THE ZOO (1999, Essential Records/Silvertone Records) is their third album.  It won a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album.  It was produced and mixed by Dennis Herring who has produced for the likes of Counting Crows and Elvis Costello.  On this album Jars of Clay is: Dan Haseltine (vocals/percussion), Matt Odmark (acoustic guitars), Stephen Mason (electric guitars), and Charlie Lowell (piano/keyboards).

‘Goodbye, Goodnight’ is a folk song that uses accordion, violin, cello, and the Oxford Coffee Choir.  It begins with these depressing words: “A flower for your vanity, a penny for your thoughts/About the world’s insanity and how we’ve gotten lost/Strike up the band to play a song as we go waltzing by/And fake a smile as we all say goodbye/Goodbye, oh goodbye”.  The lead radio single and great pop song ‘Unforgetful You’ is up next.  It uses hand claps and was on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Drive Me Crazy’.  It is a song of praise: “You never minded calling me a child/Well, I guess that’s how I acted all the while/But You live through every tantrum/You see through every lie/Though they seem to be more common/I just wanted to know why, oh why/Unforgetful You, unforgetful/Unforgetful You, so unforgetful”.

‘Collide’ is a rock song that contains these emotional words: “Open up your box of sunshine/And smile as confetti comes raining down on you/You feel a lot like the good guy, but do you know why/Everything’s so blue/Well, love is fire and the coals are barely burning/Cold fills the emptiness that fills this empty place/I taught you the walk, but then you ran away from me/And that’s not how it’s supposed to be”.  ‘No One Loves Me Like You’ uses pump organ and mandolin.  It is the song of one captured by love: “No one loves me like you/No one loves me the way you do/No one loves me like you/No one loves me the way, the way that you do/To touch the rose unfearful/Is to meet the thorn/And pierce the heart’s emotion/And feel the emptiness no more/Emptiness no more.../Took some time to realize I’ve fallen”.

‘Famous Last Words’ has a commercial adult pop sound.  It is thought provoking: “Narrow is the road and too high a price to pay/When loneliness is such a sanctuary/Empty are the musings and wasted are the days/When you say you were only waiting/And famous last words/’I’m not ready yet’/’I won’t be gone a minute’/And I won’t forget/Famous last words/If tomorrow never comes, will I ever know that I was in love?”  ‘Sad Clown’ is a tranquil song with Ben Egan playing lap steel.  Toy piano and Moog are also used.  This song is about becoming vulnerable: “Say how’s the weather, so I look out the window/To brighten my soul, but I can’t control the rain/That keeps falling/Smile on the outside that never comes in/A comedy, mystery, irony, tragedy/So I scream/’Let the show begin’/You break me open, turn on the light/Stumble inside with me, with me”.

Jonathan Noel is a co-writer on ‘Hand’.  He also contributes backing vocals.  It is about learning to trust in God: “Fear is keeping time with the beating of my heart/I’m doin’ way too much thinkin’/And it’s tearing me apart/And I, I feel You reach for me/From lost and not found, to run and not hide/My hand inside...(Your hand)/Losing my grip, falling so far/My hand inside Your hand/I hear Your voice and follow/So hard to believe, and still I go”.  ‘I’m Alright’ will take you to church.  It makes good use of a Gospel choir that includes Sherrie Kibble and Darwin Hobbs.  It includes these honest lyrics: “It was the fear of God that led me to you/And it’s the fear of you that takes getting used to/I’ve never been one to hang my heart on a thread/But you spun me around and you loved me instead/I know I could turn to something other than you/’Cause I don’t understand you and why you’re after me/I’ve never been the saint you wanted me to turn to/And I can’t see the view from the eyes you look at me through, oh no”.

‘Grace’ is a conversation with God: “God, I admit I’ve loved these chains/And crawling around this cage sometimes has its advantages/I know someday this could get old/And I’ll need Your healing water to find my home/I feel Your grace come running over every road/I love the way You’re calling overflow/I feel Your grace come running over every road/You break the floodgates down and carry all”.  ‘Can’t Erase It’ is a light rock song that speaks of life’s consequences: “Follow the crowd and love everybody now/’Cause love is the best thing for you now/But you changed your mind, you let everybody down/But down is the best place for you/It’s easier that way, you know it’s/So wrong, can’t embrace it/Wish sometimes for any other you/But you can’t erase it, and you won’t escape it”.  The last song is ‘River Constantine’ which is a ballad that uses piano and warblestrings.  It is a cry for spiritual renewal: “Carry me, Your love is wider than my need could ever be/Come to me, and I will walk along Your shoreline/Feel Your crashing waves sing in time with the pounding of my heart/Come down, pour out on me (2X)/River deep, could I know You as well as You know me?/Constantine, will we travel faster, farther than these/Legs could ever trustworthy be?”

IF I LEFT THE ZOO is an album abounding in artistic depth and creativity.  The lyrics are deep in meaning and cannot be fully grasped with just one listen.  These are songs that will make you both think and feel.  The music is mature and pleasant to listen to.  Dan Haseltine’s lead vocals are spot on.  There is nothing fluffy about this project.  I’m rating it 96%.  For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com.

 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit


Patricia Lynn ‘Trisha’ Yearwood was born on September 19, 1964 in Monticello, Georgia.  She is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2000.  Some know her for her cookbooks and for hosting ‘Trisha’s Southern Kitchen’ on the Food Network.  Just last year, she released PrizeFighter (2014, Gwendolyn Records/RCA Records Label Nashville).  It contains six new songs and ten previous hits re-recorded.  The producers on the album are: Garth Fundis, Mark Miller, and Allen Reynolds.  Trisha says: “This album was about bringing together the songs that show what I’m all about”.

The title track, ‘PrizeFighter’, is a great adult contemporary song written by Jessi Alexander, Sarah Buxton, and Ross Copperman, and featuring harmony vocals by American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.  It is about courageously facing life’s challenges head on: “When you hit the ground you find your wings/You go one more round when that bell rings/You say you’re done, but here you come/You’re a hammer hittin’ spittin’ fire/Prizefighter/When you’re sweatin’ from the fear/You look it in the eye/Turn the sound of defeat into your battle cry/Stakes are down, you’re outta luck/Look at you smilin’ with a shiner/Standin’ higher/Prizefighter”.  ‘Wrong Side of Memphis’ was penned by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison.  It has an old country feel to it and is about a journey: “These cowboy boots are gettin’ kinda restless/Ain’t gotta single thing to lose/I’ve had this dream from a tender age/Calllin’ my name from the Opry stage/I can hear it sing loud and clear/200 miles and I’ll be there”.

David Campbell arranged and conducted the strings on ‘I Remember You’.  Trisha’s sister Beth Bernard contributes background vocals.  Those who’ve lost a loved one will best relate to these words: “I can picture you like a photograph/I can see your smile/I can hear you laugh/I don’t have to look back/I remember you/When I’m all alone, you’re all around/I tell you things, yeah I talk out loud/Ever since you left the ground/I remember you”.  ‘Walkaway Joe’ is a country ballad featuring Don Henley, a founding member of the Eagles, on harmony vocals.  It talks about getting involved with the wrong type of guy: “That boy’s just a walkaway Joe/Born to be a leaver/Tell you from the word go/Destined to deceive her/He’s the wrong kind of paradise/She’s gonna know it in a matter of time/That boy’s just a walkway Joe/Now just a little while into Abilene/Pulls into a station and he robs it clean”.

DeGarmo and Key drummer Greg Morrow plays drums and Ashley Cleveland’s husband Kenny Greenberg plays acoustic and electric guitar on the contemporary country song ‘End of the World’.  This one reflects on an ex-lover: “Right now I bet he’s looking so fine/By now she’s started feeling the wine/Right now he’s probably paying the tab/And they’re getting into a cab//I wondered how this would feel/Turns out it ain’t no big deal/It’s just the end of the world”.  ‘In Another’s Eyes’ is a moving duet with Trisha’s third and current husband, Garth Brooks.  It begins with these lyrics: “In another’s eyes I’m someone who loves her enough to walk away from you/I’d never cheat and I would never lie/In another’s eyes/In another’s eyes I can do no wrong/He believes in me and his faith is strong/I’d never fall or even compromise/In another’s eyes”.

‘Perfect Love’ is a happy, playful country song: “Sunday mornin’ when the paper comes/Let’s read it front to back and see what’s going on/Drink our coffee by the flower bed and talk about the stuff/That’s running through our heads/When you look at me the way you do/I can’t help but look right back at you”.  ‘How Do I Live’ written by Diane Warren is a highly recognizable inspirational ballad associated with the movie Con Air.  Jim Horn plays saxophone and Paul Franklin plays the lap steel guitar.  The song declares total dependence on another in the romance department: “How do I get through one night without you?/If I had to live without you/What kind of life would that be?/Oh and I, I need you in my arms, need you to hold/You’re my world, my heart, my soul/If you ever leave, baby, you would take away everything good in my life”.

‘Met Him in a Motel Room’ is a tender song penned by Rory Lee Feek and Jamie Teachenor.  It reminds us that God seeks after us: “With a bottle full of sleeping pills/And a long, long list of sins/She’d already planned on checking out/Before she checked in/She was gonna leave a goodbye note/Just needed paper and a pen/And with the vacancy light  blinking red/She found that Bible in the drawer beside the bed/Some people meet Him in a church service on Sunday/While the preacher says the perfect words/They bow their heads to pray/And the choir sings a sweet forgiveness tune/She met Him in a motel room (2X)”.  ‘She’s in Love with the Boy’ was Trisha’s first Number One single back in 1991.  The upbeat country song is conversational: “Her boyfriend Tommy is layin’ on the horn/Splashin’ through the mud and the muck/Her daddy says he ain’t worth a lick/When it comes to brains he got the short end of the stick/But Katie’s young and man she just don’t care/She’d follow Tommy anywhere/She’s in love with the boy (3X)/And even if they have to run away/She’s gonna marry that boy someday”.

‘Your Husband’s Cheatin’ on Us’ makes use of slide electric guitar, organ, strings, and more.  It is a terrific song about revenge: “I said/Oh honey, you’ll get over it/I said never mind those fantasies/Of cyanide or taking out a hit/And anyway it’s better don’t you think/To make him wish that he was dead?/Just promise me you’ll take that creep/For everything he’s ever had instead/I’ve got a Polaroid camera/And a room number down at the hotel nautilus/Where your husband’s cheatin’ on us”.  ‘Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love’ was the title track of Trisha’s 2007 album.  This funkified country number was written by Clay Mills and Tia Sillers.  It is a song of ups and downs: “My old flame said/’I hate to break it to ya darlin’/I was born the leavin’ kind’/Left me standin’ in the drive cryin’/’Why baby, why baby, why baby, why?’/Aww but real love’s got me back in the saddle/Shoutin’ ‘Amen!’ again”.

‘Georgia Rain’ finds Trisha fondly reminiscing: “Just you and me down an old dirt road/Nothin’ in our way/Except for the Georgia rain.../And I don’t remember what was poundin’ more/Heart in my chest or the hood of that Ford/As the sky fell in and the storm clouds poured/Worlds away outside/The Georgia rain/On the Jasper County clay/Couldn’t wash away/All the love we made”.  ‘You Can’t Trust the Weatherman’ is a real foot-stomper using fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and B-3 organ.  Background vocals are handled by Morgane Hayes and Sonya Isaacs.  It is all about how unpredictable life is: “The man on the evening news/Promised sunny and 72/But, you can’t trust the weatherman/Makes his livin’ off a lucky chance.../One thing you can plan/You can’t trust the weatherman”.

‘XXX’s and OOO’s’ includes these words: “Slow dance, second chance, mama needs romance/And a live-in maid/Fix the sink, mow the yard/Really isn’t all that hard/If you get paid.../Well, she’s got her God and she’s got good wine/Aretha Franklin and Patsy Cline”.  The closing song is ‘The Song Remembers When’, a Hugh Prestwood creation.  It speaks of the power of music in our lives: “I was standing at the counter/I was waitin’ for the change/When I heard that old familiar music start/It was like a lighted match/Had been tossed into my soul/It was like a dam had broken in my heart”.

Trisha Yearwood is one of my all-time favourite female country vocalists.  She is like the previous generation’s Carrie Underwood.  The new songs on this album are not just filler.  They can stand alone on their own, not having to rely on the strength of the old hits.  Those folks who like their country music delivered without debauchery and drunkenness will appreciate this album.  Fans of Martina McBride and Faith Hill will enjoy this one.  The photos of Trisha wearing boxing gloves are cute.  I’m rating PrizeFighter 98%.  For more info visit: www.trishayearwood.com.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

PERFECT


Benny Ray Hester was born on May 3, 1948 in Waco, Texas.  Early on he sang with The Texas Boys Choir and became the youngest member of the Texas swing band named Sam Weaver and The Playboys.  He was also a founding member of the Texas pop/rock band The Morticians.  In 1972 Benny recorded his first solo album with Elvis’ TCB Band.  Most copies of it were destroyed in a studio and warehouse fire.  He released his self-titled debut CCM album in 1978.  He had accepted Christ at a traveling tent crusade called Christ is the Answer.  Over the years he became known for songs such as ‘Nobody Knows Me Like You’, ‘Legacy’, and ‘To Fill our Empty Hearts’.  His mid 80’s song ‘When God Ran’ was the longest running Number 1 song in CCM history, holding that spot for thirteen weeks.  From 1992 to 1996 he was a driving force behind the Nickelodeon tv show Roundhouse, which was popular with tweens and teens.  Back in 1989 Benny released the album PERFECT on Frontline Records.  It was co-produced with Bill Baumgart.

To start things off, ‘Headlights on the Highway’, written by Lauren Stalnecker, is an upbeat pop/rock song that includes a good electric guitar solo.  It conveys a desire to rescue others: “Out on the turnpike/Running in the fast lane/Speeding to nowhere/Getting caught in the rain/The signs are provided/To keep you on track/It’s getting harder to see them/So you better turn back/Headlights on the highway/That is what I want to be/Headlights on the highway/Just to help you see (2X)”.  ‘Before you know It’ is an adult contemporary number based on Ecclesiastes.  Here are some of the words: “To live in this hour is all that I wanna do/But time moves so quickly and precious is the heart that’s true/The hard times that we face may frighten us/But trust Him, it’ll be OK, cause/Before you know it, this could all be gone/Before you know it, life moves us on/Before you know it, love can fade away”.

Matthew 10:39 reads: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”.  ‘If you Die before you Die’ has a quirky rock feel to it musically.  The chorus goes: ``If you die before you die/Then when you die you won’t die/If you die before you die/Then when you die you won’t die”.  Benny wrote the title track, ‘Perfect’, alone.  It is a ballad of praise to God: “You’re perfect/You helped me turn around, break free/You’re so perfect/Now You’re a part of me/The love I knew before was a different kind/Without trying You reached in and stole my heart this time/And for all that You’ve done and You are/You’re perfect”.

‘Hungry World’ speaks of the spiritual need in society: “I was cruisin’ the drag in my car/Flipped the radio on and it’s the news/I just don’t like what I hear/I’ve got a little sister, she was alright, jack/But someone turned her on to a little bit of crack/I lived through the sixties, but now we’re hangin’ by a thread/I took a deep breath, turned to my girl and said/Oh, oh, oh, baby, it’s a hungry world (2X)”.  ‘You Weren’t Meant to Live your Life Alone’ is a quiet song penned by Benny and Niles Borop.  It reminds us that no man or woman is an island: “You weren’t meant to live your life alone/Open up now, don’t close me out/You don’t have to make it on your own/Let me know what your life is about/’Cause I love you just the way you are/And you know I’m talking straight from my heart/No, you weren’t meant to live your life/You don’t have to live your life/You weren’t meant to live your life alone”.

‘Two Good Reasons’ is a pop/rock story song that begins like this: “Suzanne Lavern and Bobby Mack Birch/Two carefree kids that both went to my church/Things made a turn the day that they learned/She would be a mom, he would be a dad very soon/And if they wait any more, they’re never gonna live it down/They’d plan to marry someday/So Bobby pleaded/’Suzie, hear what I’m sayin’/Give me two good reasons if I’m way out of line/I’ve got to know if your heart feels just like mine’”.  ‘This one’s for Keeping’ relates a tale of spiritual transformation: “So surprising, new horizons/Open around me now that You’ve found me/Like a child I find I’m smiling/Oh what a wonder, I hardly understand/This feeling, my heart’s reeling/This time it’s more than a dream.../Wide awake, I finally believe in love and what it means/This one’s for certain/For healing up a heart that was hurting/Holding on and never deserting love/This one’s for keeping”.

‘Passion, Possession, Position’ is a jazzy, funky, pop/rock song written by Benny, Bill Baumgart, and Tim Heintz.  It warns against following after the wrong things: “Passion-everybody knows what that means/Intense desire-suffering/Possession-gotta get it before it’s gone/You see someone else’s/So many things you wanna own/Position-you wanna get ahead/See someone with power/You don’t wanna be you, but them instead/These were the original, some play with dangerously/But they can have you as easy as one, two, three”.  ‘Shall We Gather at the River’ is beautiful.  It begins with these hopeful, joyous, old-school lyrics: “Shall we gather at the river/Where bright angel’s feet have trod/With its crystal tide forever/Flowing by the throne of God/Yes, we will gather at the river/The beautiful, beautiful river/Gather with the saints at the river/That flows by the throne of God”.

While PERFECT is not a perfect album, it does have its strengths.  Benny’s voice is passionate, unique, and memorable, sort of comparable to that of Phil Collins.  The background vocals are very prominent on this release and are performed by Benny, Bob Carlisle (Allies/Butterfly Kisses), Bill Baumgart, and Allison Beech.  If you liked the 1980’s catalogue of Christian pop/rock music by Rick Cua and Morgan Cryar, you should enjoy this project.  I’m rating PERFECT 86%.  For more info visit: www.bennyhester.com.