Saturday, July 30, 2016

SOUL ANCHOR


Michael Card was born on April 11th, 1957 in Madison, Tennessee.  He got his start in music when his professor William L. Lane asked him to write music to accompany weekly sermons at their church.  Card’s friend Randy Scruggs asked him to record a demo tape so he could become a producer.  The record label agreed to hire Scruggs as long as his first gig was to produce an album featuring Michael Card.  Card’s most famous song, ‘El Shaddai’, was a 1982 co-write with John Thompson.  (Source: Wikipedia.org) Card’s debut album was 1981’s FIRST LIGHT.  SOUL ANCHOR (2000, Myrrh) was his nineteenth album.  It was produced by Phil Naish.  Card’s website says: “One key symbol for hope is the anchor, an ancient symbol adopted by the early Christians as their key symbol some three hundred years before the crucifix.”  SOUL ANCHOR is based on the book of Hebrews.  The liner notes include the following: “We forget in America that more Christians are dying for their faith in the world today than at any time in the history of the Church.  Martyrdom is still a reality”.

The album begins with ‘A Violent Grace’, one of three songs penned by Card alone.  Sonny Lallerstedt plays classical guitar, the Nashville String Machine is used, and Out of the Grey’s Christine Dente provides guest vocals.  This inspirational song reflects on the crucifixion: “Most willing of victims/And with His final breath destroyed the one who holds the power of death/The hate heaped upon Him, scorning all the shame/But all for love He died and overcame/So ruthless He loves us, so reckless His embrace/To show relentless kindness to a hardened human race/The joy that was before Him/On the Man of Sorrows face/And by His blood He bought a violent grace”.  ‘A New and Living Way’ is a light pop song on which Danny O`Lannerghty plays bass.  It points out the difference between Old and New Testament sacrifice: ``Year after year, there the priest would stand/An offering of blood held out in his hand/Before the curtain there/He would stand in fright/It hung there to hold in the Holy/To keep in the Light.../A new and living Way/Through the Curtain that was torn/The climax of the Cross/The moment our hope was born/By a new and living Way/With confidence we come”.

‘He Was Heard’, a co-write with Randy Scruggs, dates back to 1983.  Imagine living during the time period these lyrics describe: “In the days of old the priest would come with a lifeless sacrifice/While the crowd in anxious silence would wait outside/As he entered the Temple/They only hoped he would be heard/God would give them a tomorrow/And the priest would stay alive/Their only chance, their only hope/Would he be heard?/The only way they might be saved/Would he be heard?”  Dan Haseltine, frontman of Jars of Clay, is guest vocalist on ‘By Faith’, a great adult contemporary song of encouragement: “So fix your eyes upon the Champion as you seek to run the race/Understanding that He cheers you on as you long for His embrace/So hold on and do not grow weary of the faith that you profess/Remembering that you are ringed around by this cloud of witnesses”.

Phil Naish plays piano on the beautiful ballad ‘Never Will I Leave You’.  It finds God lovingly talking to us, His children: “Trust in Me/Keep your life free from what the love of money will do/Am I not enough for you?/And never will I leave you/That’s something I’ll never do/Forever remember that it’s true/And never will I leave you/And when you fear, the scars and tears/Remember what I have sworn/I’ll be with you through the storm”.  ‘Pilgrims to the City of God’ is a rootsy number that looks at life as a journey: “And sometimes we run by the power of His might/On our own at the best we can plod/What we hopefully look for is just beyond sight/We are pilgrims to the City of God/The stigma of strangers lost in a strange land/In a fallen world that’s not our home/But we are not just homeless prodigals here/Because we have someplace to go”.  It is one of five songs written by Card, Naish, and Rob Mathes.

The title track, ‘Soul Anchor’, is a fun, upbeat soul/jazz/gospel number that uses a twelve person choir including Nirva Dorsaint, Darwin Hobbs, Kim Keyes, and Ann McCrary.  Kirk Whalum plays tenor sax, while Vance Taylor plays piano and organ.  The song has a decidedly positive message: “Though the wind is raging all around/And even though the waves may rise/There’s a place of stillness in the storm/And you can find it if you will believe/It’s a soul anchor/Hold on to the hope/It is a soul anchor/Just hold on to your courage/Before we call, He answers us with hope”.  CCM legend Phil Keaggy plays electric guitars on ‘Fellow Prisoners’, a serious song that encourages empathy: “Remember then the brothers who are suffering/Remember that your sisters are in pain/For some of them the sun of hope is setting/For others it will never rise again.../We must weep the tears that they are crying/In prayer we take our stand beside them/So they won’t be alone”.

On ‘Seventh Sunrise’, Jerry McPherson plays electric guitar and Ken Lewis plays drums and percussion.  It reflects on the Sabbath: “We wake and go to work six days a week/To struggle with the strain and stress/But the Lord`s provided for the care of our souls/A day to rejoice and rest/Creation’s seventh sunrise/We stand before the burning bush of time/The six days were good/The seventh He called holy/Creation’s seventh sunrise (2X)”.  Last up is ‘Grace Be With You All’, a tender song that serves as a benediction: “Forget not the sufferings of Jesus/And bear the disgrace that He bore/Confessing His Name, for Christ is the same/Yesterday, today, and forever/And grace be with you all/And may the Great Shepherd of the sheep/Equip you with all things/For doing His will/And grace be with you all”.

Let me start off by saying I love the simple, yet artistic front cover of SOUL ANCHOR with its Christian symbols.  As far as I am concerned this is about as perfect as any album is going to get.  The lyrics are straight forward in nature, with themes including: the cross, having faith in Christ, God’s care for us here on earth, and the depth of our devotion to God.  Musically, this is an adult contemporary and maybe more so even, light pop album.  What a pleasure to listen to!  SOUL ANCHOR gets 100% from me.  For more info visit: www.michaelcard.com.  The album now has a different cover I do believe.




Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ALL ALONG THE ROAD: VOLUME II


Geoff Moore was born on February 22, 1961 in Flint, Michigan.  He released his solo debut WHERE ARE THE OTHER NINE? in 1984.  By 1988 he was putting out albums with his band, under the name Geoff Moore and the Distance.  Their last studio album was 1997’s THREADS.  After this, Geoff resumed his solo career, releasing a self-titled album in 1999.  Circa 2006/7 he put out a two disc retrospective project, ALL ALONG THE ROAD VOLUME I and II (Overflow, Inc).  Here, I will be reviewing VOLUME II.  Geoff’s website says: “Each of these songs were re-recorded and digitally remastered”.

‘Foundations’ was written by Geoff and David Martin.  It is an adult contemporary ballad that will remind many of an old Sunday School song: “I will build my house upon a strong foundation/And I will set my foot upon the Solid Rock/Though the storms they blow sometimes/The Lord is by my side/The Lord is my, my foundation/He is my, my foundation”.  Pierce Pettis’ ‘God Believes in You’ is up next.  It is a country ballad of encouragement: “When you rise up just to fall again/God believes in you/Deserted by your closest friends/God believes in you/And when you’re betrayed with a kiss/And you turn your cheek to another fist/It does not have to end like this/God believes in you”.

‘Listen to our Hearts’ is one of three songs here co-written with good friend Steven Curtis Chapman.  It is a gentle, modern Psalm of sorts: “So if You listen to our hearts/Lord, every beat will say/Thank You for the life and thank You for the truth and thank You for the way/And listen to our hearts and hear our spirits sing/A song of praise that flows from those You have redeemed/And we will use the words we know to tell You what an awesome God You are/And words are not enough to tell You of our love/So listen to our hearts”.  ‘Passionate Man’ is a sincere cry for revival: “And I remember the promise that I would never turn/What will it take to rekindle the flame, the flame that used to burn?/When I loved You like the air I breathe/You filled my empty heart/And I wore my faith out on my sleeve, like a fire in the dark/I was willing to do anything/Oh, eager to make a stand/I was a passionate boy/Make me a passionate man”.

‘Heart and Soul’ is an adult rock ballad about giving God all we’ve got: “I passed a church one time where a rich man filled the plate/But he gave just a piece of what he had/An old woman that nobody saw, she didn’t have much of anything/But the little she had, you know she gave/She gave everything/She said ‘I’m giving You two hands, You can call ‘em Your own/Two feet to lead wherever You want them to go/Two eyes to see things You want me to know/Said I’m giving You/Everything (3X)/Everything, heart and soul’”.  ‘Swept Away’ was penned by Geoff and Blair Masters.  It is a piano and string based number about adoption, a cause close to Geoff’s heart: “We would say your name a hundred times a day/Like speaking words in faith/And with a mixture of hope and fear and trust/We prayed for strength to wait/And dreamed of how we’d feel the day/You’d be in our arms and/Swept away/Caught up in our love.../You’ll never be unloved/You’ll be amazed at how much you are loved/Life will never be the same/When you’re swept away”.

‘Thanks to You’ is a fun pop/rock duet on which Geoff and Steven Curtis Chapman celebrate their friendship “I’ve been picked up when I was low and I have never been left alone, I know it’s true, thanks to you/And I have had my burdens shared/There’ve been valleys I’ve been carried through, thanks to you.../Thanks to you, I’ve learned to laugh a little bit harder/Thanks to you, I never cry alone/Thanks to you, I know what it means to have a friend that’s true/Thanks to you”.  Geoff and Jimmie Lee Sloas wrote ‘The Vow’.  It is a song of commitment to God: “I will make a vow to You/It will never change no matter what I do/Right here, right now, in the midst of the crowd/I stand alone and I make my vow/Whatever it takes, I will be faithful/This is my vow”.

‘Home Run’ was the title track off of Geoff Moore and The Distance’s 1995 album.  It is a terrific, contagious, pop/rock song that effectively compares the Christian walk to a baseball game: “Gotta keep your eye on the ball/Swing straight and true and follow through/Don’t be afraid, whatever the call/Because we’re never alone/Our Coach is there to cheer us on/Let’s wind up, here comes that ball/You gotta pray and swing/Watch it till it’s goin’, goin’, it’s gone/Home Run!!!/We need a home run.../We are not the first to play this game or stand over this plate/We are surrounded by their legacy/Like they’re sittin’ in the stands/I can see ‘em wavin’ their hands/Go, go, go all the way/Home Run!”  Last up is ‘When All is Said and Done’, a lovely ballad that reflects on the legacy Geoff wants to leave: “Will they say I loved my family, that I was a faithful friend, that I lived to tell of God’s own Son?/When all is said and done.../You can forget my name and the songs I’ve sung/Every rhyme and every tune/But remember the truth of Jesus’ love/When all is said and done”.

ALL ALONG THE ROAD: VOLUME II is a fantastic, stripped down, intimate retrospective of Geoff’s career.  The songs are very down to earth, personal, and relatable.  Geoff comes across as one of us followers of Christ, just trying to love his God and his family wholeheartedly.  He fully admits he is far from perfect.  Fans of Carolyn Arends, Mark Schultz, Tom Cochrane, and Kenny Marks should pick this album up.  I’m rating it 93%.  For more info visit: www.geoffmoore.com or find him on facebook.  I’m looking forward to picking up VOLUME I in the future!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

THE LIVE ADVENTURE


Steven Curtis Chapman was born on November 21, 1962 in Paducah, Kentucky.  He released his first album, FIRST HAND, in 1987.  THE LIVE ADVENTURE (1993, Sparrow) was his sixth album.  It was recorded live in Seattle, Washington on May 6, 1993 and was produced by Phil Naish and Steven.  It won a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album in 1994.  In the liner notes Steven writes: “Heavenly Father, thank You for allowing me to share from a platform far greater than I ever imagined, a love and grace far greater than any could deserve.  You alone are worthy!”

The album begins with the short, majestic sounding instrumental ‘Prologue’ accompanied by audience excitement.  This is followed by ‘The Great Adventure’, a rousing, motivational pop song co-written by Steven and Geoff Moore: “Saddle up your horses/We’ve got a trail to blaze/Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace/Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown/This is a life like no other, yeah/This is the Great Adventure!/Come on get ready for the ride of your life/Gonna leave long-faced religion in a cloud of dust behind/And discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored/This is what we were created for”.

‘That’s Paradise’ is a great country/rock story song: “Jimmy and Mary were quite a pair back in their younger days/They met and married in six weeks time and that was sixty years ago this May/Four kids made a house a home and a love for Jesus kept them strong/Now every morning at 8 a.m. Jimmy takes a drive through town/He spends his days at Mary’s side at a home for the old and broken down/With a cane in his lap and a Bible in his hand/He reads her stories about the promised land/With tears in their eyes they dream of a place/Where everything changes in the light of Jesus’ face/And that’s paradise”.  The next track, ‘Introduction’, is a short one, where Steven thanks the audience for coming and names Jesus as the Guest of honor.

‘Go There With You’ is a beautiful love ballad Steven wrote for his wife Mary Beth: “I see it in your tears, you wonder where we are/The wind is growing colder and the sky is growing dark/Though it’s something neither of us understands/We can walk through this together if we hold each other’s hand/I said for better or worse I’d be with you/So no matter where you’re going, I will go there too/I will take a heart whose nature is to beat for me alone/And fill it up with you, make all your joy and pain my own/No matter how deep a valley you go through/I will go there with you”.  ‘Busy Man’ contains these thought provoking words: “You’ve got a lot of nice things there Billy/They’ve cost you more than you know/What is it really worth, can you tell me/If you’re gaining the whole world, but you’re losing your soul?”

At this point in the live concert, we have a cut entitled ‘Great Adventure Stuff’.  It imagines what the hit song would have sounded like if it had been composed as a bluegrass, swing, and country song.  Though fun to listen to the first time, you’ll likely want to skip over this one on future listens.  What follows is a lovely, lengthy ‘Acoustic Medley’ of six of Chapman’s quieter songs.  It begins with part of ‘My Redeemer is Faithful and True’, a co-write with James Isaac Elliott.  It offers these words of testimony: “As I look back on this road I’ve travelled/I see so many times He’s carried me through/And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my life/My Redeemer is faithful and true (2X)/And everything He has said He will do/And every morning His mercies are new/My Redeemer is faithful and true/Jesus is faithful and true”.

‘Family Talk’ is next.  We learn that at the time, Steven and Mary Beth had three kids: Emily (7), Caleb (3), and Will Franklin (2).  Steven encourages us to come to Jesus as kids acknowledging our needs and weaknesses.  He cares and wants to meet our needs.  He doesn’t take away all of our troubles, but He can give us love, life, and peace in the midst of them.  God wants a personal relationship with us.  ‘More to this Life’ is an adult contemporary ballad that describes the need for living with a purpose: “Tonight he lies in silence staring into space/And looks for ways to make tomorrow better than today/But in the morning light he looks to say/Life just goes on and on and on/He takes care of his family, he takes care of his work/And every Sunday morning he takes his place at the church/But somehow he still feels the need to search/Baby, life it just goes on/There’s more to this life than living and dying/More than just trying to make it through the day”.

‘For the Sake of the Call’ is a CCM anthem of total dedication to Jesus Christ: “Once we hear the Savior’s call, we’ll follow wherever He leads/Because of the love He has shown/And because He has called us to go, we will answer/We will abandon it all for the sake of the call/No other reason at all, but the sake of the call/Wholly devoted to live and to die/For the sake of the call”.  Steven wrote the ballad ‘I Will Be Here’ as a love song of commitment to his wife Mary Beth, after watching his parents go through a divorce.  The song begins: “Tomorrow morning if you wake up and the sun does not appear/I, I will be here/If in the dark we lose sight of love/Hold my hand and have no fear/Cause I, I will be here/I will be here when you feel like being quiet/When you need to speak your mind/I will listen/And I will be here when the laughter turns to crying/Through the winning, losing, and trying/We’ll be together/Cause I will be here”.

‘My Turn Now’ is a bouncy pop song about reciprocal love: “He gave His life and His love away/And now He’s asking me to do the same/I wanna give Him all I have/And all I ever hope to be/Cause it’s my turn now/My turn now/My turn to give my life away.../My turn to say ‘I love Him’/It’s your turn to let Him know it/Our lives are His so where He leads us that’s where I wanna go”.  Closing off the concert is an energetic pop co-write with Phil Naish, called ‘No Better Place’.  It is a celebration: “I know this road we travel on is very straight and narrow/I’ve looked down other roads along the way/And from all I’ve seen I can say without a doubt/There’s no better place on earth than the road that leads to Heaven/No other place I’d rather be/No better place on earth than the road that leads to Heaven/No better place to be”.

THE LIVE ADVENTURE is a fun, lively pop concert with distinct Christian themes.  The main themes are love for and dedication to God and His purposes, and love for one’s life partner.  I recommend this concert CD to fans of Michael W. Smith and Kenny Marks.  The audience is clearly into the show, which features a good mix of Chapman’s more upbeat CCM pop material, and his tender, heartfelt ballads.  His band here is: Dennis Kurttila (drums), Dale Oliver (lead guitar), Dave Cleveland (rhythm guitar), Scott Sheriff (keyboards), and Arlin Troyer (bass).  The concert runs 72:10.  I’m rating it 85%.  For more info visit: www.stevencurtischapman.com.








Saturday, July 23, 2016

OFFERINGS II: ALL I HAVE TO GIVE


Third Day released their self-titled major label debut in 1996.  In 2000 they released OFFERINGS: A WORSHIP ALBUM, which was a success.  Fast forward to 2003 and they followed it up with OFFERINGS II: ALL I HAVE TO GIVE.  That year they won ‘Group of the Year’ at the Dove Awards.  On this sequel on Essential Records, Third Day is: Mac Powell (vocals, acoustic guitar), Tai Anderson (bass), Brad Avery (guitars), David Carr (drums, percussion), and Mark Lee (guitars).  In the liner notes, you’ll find the following: “God is not through with any of us and worship.  We all have offerings we can give.  As musicians, we choose to give our music.  That doesn’t mean that worship is just music.  We can all worship God in our relationships.  We can all worship God with our entire lives”.

‘Sing A Song’ is one of five new songs presented here.  It is an awesome rock song of praise with great electric guitar work: “And I sing about Your mercy/And I sing about Your love/Your goodness, Lord/Your righteousness/I want to sing a song of Your faithfulness/A song of Your grace/And of Your loving kindness/To the glory of Your Name/With everything that’s in me, Lord/Listen to me say/I want to sing a song for You/I want to sing a song”.  ‘You are so good to Me’ is a Waterdeep song Third Day wanted to introduce to a larger audience.  It is a melodic song of testimony: “You are so good to me/You heal my broken heart/You are my Father in Heaven/You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song (2X).../You poured out all Your blood/You died upon the cross/You are my Jesus who loves me”.

Rich Mullins and Beaker wrote the next song, ‘Creed’.  It appeared on Rich`s 1993 record A LITURGY, A LEGACY, AND A RAGAMUFFIN BAND.  It is one of six live tracks here on this Third Day album.  David Carr writes: `We hope that this is a song that will bring people back to the basics and reignites that passion that we all remember from the start of our journey with God”.  Third Day really rocks the song up and keeps the bold lyrics: “I believe that He who suffered, was crucified, buried, and dead/He descended into hell and on the third day, He rose again/He ascended into Heaven where He sits at God’s mighty right hand/I believe that He’s returning to judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men/I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am/I did not make it, no it is making me/It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man”.  ‘Offering’ is a reverent ballad of worship: “I stand before You at this altar/So many have given You more/I may not have much I can offer/Yet what I have is truly Yours/This is my offering, dear Lord/This is my offering to You, God/And I will give You my life/For it’s all I have to give/Because You gave Your life for me”.

‘Show me Your Glory’ offers up these prayerful words: “Show me Your glory/Send down Your presence/I want to see Your face/Show me Your glory/Majesty shines about You/I can’t go on without You, Lord”.  Next up is ‘Nothing Compares’.  It is lead singer Mac Powell’s favorite cut from 2001’s COME TOGETHER.  It reminds us what is really important: “I see all the people wasting all their time/Building up their riches for a life that’s fine/But nothing compares to the greatness of knowing You, Lord”.

‘Anything’ is an adult contemporary number that finds the band talking to God: “I can’t do anything without You/But You can do everything/You can do everything You want/I just can’t believe that You would love me/After everything, after everything I’ve done/And I want to love You/Love You more than life itself/And I want to hold You/Even though You can’t be held”.  ‘God of Wonders’ was actually penned by Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd.  It was originally recorded on the multi-artist cd CITY ON A HILL: SONGS OF WORSHIP AND PRAISE (2000).  On the live version here, Michael Tait, formerly of dc talk, joins Third Day.  It is a modern anthem of praise that nature lovers will appreciate: “Lord of all creation/Of water, earth, and sky/The heavens are Your tabernacle/Glory to the Lord on high/God of wonders beyond our galaxy/You are holy, holy/The universe declares Your majesty/You are holy, holy/Lord of Heaven and Earth (2X)”.

Musically ‘May Your Wonders Never Cease’ is Southern Rock.  The lyrics are a direct prayer: “May Your wonders never cease/May Your Spirit never leave/May we ever long to see Your face/When we’ve turned from You again/Oh how quickly we forget/May we be reminded of Your grace/May Your wonders never cease”.  George Cocchini plays acoustic guitar on ‘The Everlasting’.  It is a quiet song of praise: “You are the everlasting Father (You are the everlasting)/You are the everlasting Light, oh yeah/Every knee shall bow (Every knee shall bow)/Lord of mercy, we adore You now/You are the everlasting life”.

What comes next is a medley of four songs that runs over 7.5 minutes long.  It includes part of U2’s ‘With or Without You’ and Third Day’s ‘Your Love Oh Lord’.  Closing off the album is the beautiful ‘Take my Life’ from Third Day’s first album in 1996.  This song cries out to God: “How many times have I gone astray?/The number is the same as the stars in the skies/Every time You’ve taken me back/And now I pray You’ll do it tonight/Please take from me my life/When I don’t have the strength to give it away to You/Please take from me my life/When I don’t have the strength/To give it away to You, Jesus”.

OFFERINGS II: ALL I HAVE TO GIVE is at the same time a great rock music record and a great worship record.  These are songs sung with passion and feeling!  The audience participation on the live tracks is enthusiastic.  God is truly glorified on each track.  The lyrics point to Him as our Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  Additional musicians used are: Scotty Wilbanks (B3, piano), Monroe Jones (keyboards, piano), and Ken Lewis (percussion).  Additional vocalists include: Geof Barkley, Michael Mellett, and a small choir that includes Kim Keyes and Chris Rodriguez.  This is truly a worship album full of life and energy!  It does not fit into any formula.  It is honest and sincere.  I’m rating this one 95%.  For more info visit: www.thirdday.com.




Friday, July 22, 2016

THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL


MercyMe released their major label debut ALMOST THERE back in 2001.  It gave birth to the mega-hit ‘I Can Only Imagine’ about heaven.  Their next album SPOKEN FOR (2002) featured ‘Word of God Speak’ which spent twenty-three weeks on top of the Billboard Christian Songs chart.  THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL (2010, INO Records) was the band’s sixth major label studio album.  Group members were: Bart Millard, Barry Graul, Jim Bryson, Mike Scheuchzer, Nathan Cochran, and Robby Shaffer.  The album was produced by Brown Bannister and Dan Muckala.  In the liner notes, you’ll find these words: “Who is Mr. Lovewell?  He’s an idea.  He’s a movement.  He’s the hope that the little things can add up to big change.  He’s what the Bible has already called us to do...love one another.  Look for the best in people.  Give people a chance regardless of status, race, or gender.  Mr. Lovewell is the understanding that the Gospel is for everyone.  Some may receive it, some may reject it...”.

MercyMe and Dan Muckala wrote the first cut, ‘This Life’.  It is a techno-pop song of spiritual purpose: “Every moment is a chance to let your light break through/This life, this life was meant to shine (2X)/I don’t have to stall, I don’t have to wait/Don’t have to bide my time till I make my escape/Cause heaven’s in my heart/I won’t settle for less/I will  lift Your Name by the life I live”.  The title track, ‘The Generous Mr. Lovewell’, is a happy pop song about a fictitious character, but has a great message about impacting those around us for the better: “He believes it’s the little things that make a great big change/Hey Mr. Lovewell, doing today what you do every day/No matter how small, believing that it’s all the same/Come on Mr. Lovewell/Oh, we could use a few more just like you/Who care enough to give this life away ‘cause you’ve been changed/The generous Mr. Lovewell loves today”.  ‘Move’ is a contagious pop song about perseverance: “This hurt is getting heavy, but I’m not about to cave/Everything is about to change/There’s gonna be brighter days/I just might bend, but I won’t break as long as I can see Your face.../No matter what life brings/Gotta move, gotta move to a different beat”.

‘Crazy Enough’ is thought-provoking: “Call me crazy/But what if we learned to love our brother for nothing in return/Oh, how the rules would change/Reaching out to the ones who need help/Treating them as you first would treat yourself/Now that would be insane/It may just be crazy enough to work if we could only love”.  The album’s lead single, ‘All of Creation’, penned by MercyMe, Dan Muckala, and Brown Bannister, became a #1 hit.  It is a marvelous praise and worship song: “When time has faded and we see Him face to face/Every doubt erased/Forever we will worship the King/And all of creation, sing with me now/Lift up your voice and lay your burden down/And all of creation, sing with me now/Fill up the heavens, let His glory resound”.

‘Beautiful’ is an adult contemporary self-esteem booster: “Days will come when you don’t have the strength/When all you hear is, you’re not worth anything/Wondering if you ever could be loved/And if they truly saw your heart, they’d see too much/You’re beautiful (2X)/You are made for so much more than all of this/You’re beautiful (2X)/You are treasured, you are sacred/You are His/You’re beautiful”.  ‘Back to You’ is a breezy pop song that includes whistling.  It again deals with perseverance: “If I’m down don’t count me out/I’ll slowly get back on my feet/Stumbling and fumbling but I keep on coming, just as long as You’re not giving up on me/And when I trip, fall, and slow down to a crawl/And feel like I got nothing left to lose/Well, I may slip, slide and watch our worlds collide/But I will hit the ground running back to You”.

‘Only You Remain’ is one of two songs in a row written by MercyMe, Dan Muckala, and Jason Ingram.  It is praise and worship in nature: “Only One/Never having a beginning/Only One/Who reigns when everything is ending/High above/Glorious and true/We sing ‘Holy, the only uncreated One/Holy, the Light that was before the sun/You shine and even when the stars have left the sky, You remain/Even when the earth is shaken, You remain/Even when our kings have fallen”.  ‘Free’ contains these lyrics I like: “The hands that hold the world have set me free/He has broken every chain so I lift my hands up to the One who saves/Take me captive, you can lock me away/But my debt is already paid/Take me prisoner, but I will not fear/’Cause my Deliverer is already here”.

‘Won’t You Be My Love’ is a wonderful adult contemporary ballad that finds Christ beckoning us, His children: “Won’t you be My voice calling?/Won’t you be My hands healing?/Won’t you be My feet walking into a broken world?/Won’t you be My chain breaker?/Won’t you be My peace maker?/Won’t you be My hope and joy?/Won’t you be My LOVE?”  Last up is the quite short ‘This So Called Love’, which reminds us that our good works must spring from our faith in Christ: “I can cover your head when life starts to rain/I can hold on tight when it feels like you’re falling/I can bread-crumb the path when you’ve lost your way.../But if all that we do is absent of Jesus/Then this ‘so-called’ love is completely in vain”.  I believe non-Christians can do a lot of meaningful, noble things in this world though.

THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL has several really fun songs to listen to musically.  MercyMe shows here that they have diversity when it comes to musical styles.  Pop, adult contemporary, praise and worship, and a hint of rock are mixed in together.  Instead of leading to an identity crisis, the eleven tracks all come together to create something truly great.  Fans of Casting Crowns and Building 429 should acquire this project, which I’m rating 95%. The design of the CD booklet is pretty neat too.  For more info visit: www.mercyme.org.




Thursday, July 21, 2016

STILL THE CROSS


FFH released their major label debut I WANT TO BE LIKE YOU in 1998.  STILL THE CROSS (2004, Essential) was their fifth major album.  It peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot Christian Albums chart.  The group’s roster at the time was: Jeromy Deibler (lead vocals, piano, guitar), Jennifer Deibler (lead vocals, background vocals), Brian Smith (bass guitar, background vocals), and Michael Boggs (guitars, background vocals).  The album cover is made up of small pictures of a bunch of different styles of crosses.  In the liner notes the group writes: “No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, the message of the cross is still the same.  It’s a message of forgiveness, a message of hope”.  A Sinner’s Prayer is included in the CD booklet as well.

‘You Drive I’ll Ride’ is one of three Jeromy Deibler/Brian Smith compositions.  It is an upbeat pop/rock song of dedication to the Lord: “I’ve nothing left, but repentance and a guilty plea/I’ve learned my lesson/No one ever handed me the keys to my own story/I just took them for myself/OK, I’m sorry/You take the wheel, I will work the radio/And You take the wheel/We’ll go where You want to go/And You take the wheel/Take it fast, take it slow/Whatever You choose I’m fine/You drive, I’ll ride”.  ‘You Love Me Anyway’ praises God for His faithfulness: “Your love’s amazing/It’s never changing/Whenever I need You/You’re right on time/You love me constantly/Even in spite of me/When I mess up time after time/And You never abandon me/You just keep loving me/When I try to run and hide”.

One of the co-writers on ‘Without You’ is Aaron Benward.  It is a happy, breezy pop song: “Without You, there’d be no sunrise/Without You there’d be no light/Without You, there’d be no answers to the questions in my life/You bring joy in the morning/You bring comfort in the night/In Your hand You hold the heavens/You make everything alright”.  The title track ‘Still the Cross’ was penned by Jeromy Deibler, Scott Williamson, and Donna Smith.  It uses a 15 person choir and The Nashville String Machine and was nominated for a Dove Award for Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year.  Here are some of the wonderful lyrics: “When it all comes crashing down/The cross still stands alone/And on this our faith is built/And our courage is made strong/When the world falls apart and you fear for your heart/There’s a tower of peace/It’s still the cross/So bring your sick and your poor/And your longing for more/To the place of relief/It’s still the cross/There is hope for the lost/It’s still the cross”.

‘You and Only You’ is a pleasant pop love song: “I try to make something of my day/But I hopelessly drift away/To the place where we can be alone again/I’ll never be the same again/All because of you, you and only you/You and only you can take grey skies, make them blue/You and only you”.  ‘The Long Haul’ is a great ballad about romantic relationships: “So many people just packing it in/They don’t give it half a chance/Not me and you, we’ve got it all/And it’s gonna last/Oh yeah, bring it on ‘cause/I’m in for the long haul/Bring on the fight/I will, I will stand tall/With all my might/And face the wind and face the rain/And even the pain/Through it all/I’m in for the ride of my life”.

Jennifer Deibler sings lead on ‘In This Moment’.  It tackles loneliness: “Stuck here on this highway in a river of red lights/For at least another mile, there’s no relief in sight/Feeling all alone/But from the radio comes a singer to remind me something I already know/In this moment You are here with me/In this moment You are closer than the air I breathe/You’re the God who reigns in heaven/It’s amazing indeed/That You are here with me in this moment”.  ‘Cover Me’ places trust in God: “It hit me from the blind side/It’s getting hard to breathe/It hit me from the blind side/The hurt, it feels so deep/And I don’t have any answers/Your ways are higher, Your love is stronger/And through this pain You’ll cover me/Your grace is greater/When there are no answers/And through this pain You’ll cover me”.

‘All Part of the Walk’ is a bouncy pop song that uses a baseball analogy to make its point: “I finally got in the game but got thrown out at second base/Oh well, at least I tried/I can’t dwell upon these things/What’s done is done/It can’t be changed/I’ll do my best next time”.  Michael Boggs wrote ‘Another Day With You’, a great love song: “Baby, it could never be commonplace/To put my arms around you and be swept away ‘cause/You are beautiful under this wonderful amazing sky/That I’m sure the Lord made just for you/And you are everything that I could ever dream about/And I thank God for another day with you.../It might sound crazy but my heart still skips a beat whenever you are sitting next to me”.

STILL THE CROSS is a modern and relevant snapshot of one walking out their Christian faith.  The songs express both a love for and commitment to God and one’s romantic partner.  Though life is not always rosy, God is always at the ready to help us through.  Fans of the pop and adult contemporary sounds of Avalon, PFR, and earlier era Point of Grace will enjoy this album.  It is uplifting and encouraging!  This is one you’ll want to listen to time and again.  I’m rating it a perfect 100%.  For more info connect with FFH on Facebook.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

ANOTHER FRIDAY NIGHT


Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Marks was born on November 6, 1950 in Detroit, Michigan.  He is of Yugoslavian descent and graduated from Messiah College in 1971.  His debut album, FOLLOW HIM, came out in 1982.  ANOTHER FRIDAY NIGHT was his fifth studio album (1989, Dayspring).  It was produced by Bubba Smith and executive produced by Lynn Keesecker.  Kenny writes: “This recording is dedicated to all of us who are discouraged and disappointed at times.  May you find encouragement in this music”.

Steve Forbert wrote the album opener, ‘Running on Love’, which features the harmonica prowess of Buddy Greene.  It is a superb country-rock song of testimony: “I was runnin’ on empty, I was runnin’ on fumes/I was runnin’ on desperately/Neath a cold, dark moon/Now I’m runnin’ on tenderness/Thankin’ God above/I was runnin’ on loneliness, now I’m runnin’ on love (2X)”.  ‘Whisperin’ A Prayer’ is one of eight songs co-written by Kenny and Phil Madeira.  This energetic rocker shows concern for one’s fellow man: “Is there anything on your heart that’s tearing you apart?/If there is, you can open up with me/I’m whisperin’ a prayer for you/I’m holdin’ out my hand to you/I wanna know what I can do for you/I need to see a sign from you/I’m lookin’ for a simple clue/I wanna know what I can do for you”.

‘Hope for a Broken Heart’ strikes a positive chord: “It’s hard to laugh when you’re dancin’ to the beat of a broken heart.../Heartaches come and heartaches go/And broken hearts still need to know/That though you may be sinkin’ low/There is hope for a broken heart/Hope for a broken heart”.  ‘I’ll Be a Friend to You’ is a gentle folk ballad.  The following words serve as the chorus: “There’s so many ways I need to learn to love you/There’s so much I want to do/There’s so many ways I need to show you/That I, I’ll be a friend to you”.

‘Next Time You See Johnny’ is one of Marks’ terrific story songs about Johnny and Jeannie.  These words come from Jeannie’s perspective: “Bedtime, in her room all alone/She feels a presence of Someone unseen, Someone unknown/’Jesus’, she hears herself start/’Let the fire of forgiveness burn bright in this broken down heart/And the next time You see Johnny/Tell him it’s alright/There’s a fire of forgiveness that’s always burning bright/There’s Someone he can pray to each and every night’”.  Less than ten years after this song came out, Kenny himself went through a divorce.  Kenny, Phil Madeira, Phil Naish, and George Cocchini wrote ‘Nobody Else But Jesus’.  Mark Douthit plays sax on this all-out rocker of praise: “There’s no one, nobody like Jesus/There’s no one, nobody like Him/He’s the One watchin’ over me/He’s the One that I wanna be like/There’s nobody like Him/Just tell me who can turn the water into wine/Nobody else but Jesus/Just give me someone who can change this heart of mine/Nobody else but Jesus”.

‘Graduation Day’ is a sentimental ballad: “Graduation day/There were tears in their eyes/Photographs and promises/They threw their hats goodbye/Graduation day/And the sun was shinin’ bright/A piece of paper and a heart full of dreams/It was the best day of their life/On their wedding day/There were tears in their eyes/Words of love and promises/They threw the rice and waved goodbye/It was the best day of their life”.  ‘Threshold of Regret’ tackles domestic abuse: “Every generation is watching from the wings/Listening to their mom and dad saying careless things/That they don’t mean for them to hear/But they’ll remember them for years”.

‘Somebody Loves You’ is a fantastic bluesy rock song.  It exalts Christ: “There’s no cry that goes unheard/There’s no tear that goes unseen/There’s no hurt He hasn’t felt before/No one He can’t redeem/There’s no wall that He can’t scale/There’s no mountain that He can’t move/There’s no place He hasn’t been before/No sorrow He can’t soothe/Somebody loves you/You wonder who/Talkin’ bout Jesus/He cares for you”.  Last up is the classically influenced ‘You Made a Difference For Me`.  It is a song of sincere gratitude: ``I see it passing right before my eyes/The slow parade of people without You/And I see myself without You long ago/Where would I be if not for You?/You made a difference for me/Far beyond what I could see/If there’s one thing I know to be true/I’d be lost if it wasn’t for You”.

ANOTHER FRIDAY NIGHT is an excellent Christian rock album that draws from a handful of other musical genres as well.  Doug Dimmel, Kenny Greenberg, Randy Moore, Eric Darken, and Phil Kristianson are just some of the players used.  Chris Harris, Mark Heimermann, and Michael Black provide strong backing vocals.  There is a good mix here of songs that deal with relationships between humans and songs that explore the relationship between God and humanity.  Youth and young adults who enjoy the music of Rick Cua, Bryan Adams, Tom Cochrane, and Randy Stonehill should acquire this album, which I`m rating a solid 100%.  Connect with Kenny Marks on Facebook or visit: www.kennymarks.com.




Thursday, July 14, 2016

RESTORED


Jeremy Thomas Camp was born on January 12, 1978 in Lafayette, Indiana.  He is a pastor’s kid.  RESTORED was his third major label release (2004, BEC).  It was nominated for a Dove Award for Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year.

‘Restored’ is one of ten tracks that Jeremy wrote alone and one of three on which his wife Adrienne sings background vocals.  On this title track, Jeremy testifies: “And I feel it/My heart is being mended by Your touch/And I hear it/Your voice that’s shown my purpose in this world/You have restored me from my feeble and broken soul/You have restored me”.  ‘Take You Back’ was the album’s first radio single and was a #1 hit.  It is an adult contemporary ballad that speaks of God’s faithfulness to us: “When I fall I bring Your Name down/But I have found in You a heart that bleeds forgiveness/Replacing all these thoughts of painful memories/But I know Your response will always be/I’ll take you back always/Even when the fight is over now (2X)/I’ll take you back always/Even when the pain is coming through (2X)/ I’ll take you back”.

‘Even When’ features strings arranged and conducted by Brandon Roberts and is another testimonial: “You took this fading heart and softened every part/I’ll rest in light of what You’ve promised to me/Even when I wrote my life away, You still receive me (2X)”.  Camp co-wrote ‘Lay Down My Pride’ with Jean-Luc Lajoie of Canadian band The Kry.  It was nominated for ‘Rock Recorded Song of the Year’ at the Dove Awards.  Aaron Sprinkle plays electric guitar on this song about submitting to Jesus Christ: “The cross, the blood You shed for me/Your back was ripped and bruised so I can know Your love/I kneel, I bow to You my King/I lay down my pride, my desires, my demise/I’m ready now to see it Your way/I’m done, I’m through ignoring You/Now it’s true/I’m kneeling at the cross of Your grace/Lay down my pride”.

‘My Desire’ is a song that offers one’s life completely to Christ: “All my life I have seen where You’ve taken me/Beyond all I have hoped and there’s more left unseen/There’s not much I can do to repay all You’ve done/So I give my hands to use/This is my desire, this is my return/This is my desire to be used by You”.  Zach Hodges plays piano on ‘Be the One’, a song about waiting for God’s timing: “And all these dreams I’ve made/I take them all and lay them down in light of reasons I have found now/And I can rest in knowing You will open every door instead of forcing my own world now/I’d rather wait on You/You’ll be the One to call me out/I have found that it’s the only way/You’ll be the One to call me out/I have found that it’s the only way”.

Andy Dodd plays electric guitar on the adult rock song ‘Everytime’.  It confirms God is always ready to help us: “Everytime I’m on my knees pleading for Your strength/I will find You there, find You there/Everytime I’m on my knees reaching for Your strength/I will find You there, find You there”.  ‘Letting Go’ is about full commitment to Christ: “I have been brought to a place/Where I want to give up everything/Where all I can do is seek Your face/And my brokenness I will bring/Letting go of the things I hold so dear/Letting go of all my pain and all my fears/Letting go of the things I hold so dear/Letting go of all my pain and all my fears”.

‘Breathe’ is a good rock song co-written with Adam Watts.  It contains these words we would all do well to utter: “I won’t hesitate to call when I’m empty from within and I know the only source of life are the very words You give/You formed me before I was known and I was made Your own now/Breathe in me/Breathe the breath of life/It’s more than I can see/Breathe in me/Breathe the breath of life/It’s more than I can see”.  ‘This Man’ is a lovely adult contemporary ballad and was a #1 hit.  It is certainly thought provoking: “The blood and water flowed/And in it all He showed just how much He cared.../Would you take the place of this Man?/Would you take the nails from His hands?”

‘Innocence’ finds Jeremy conversing with the Lord: “Lord, I feel You drawing my heart into Your love/I can hear Your Voice is pleading/I can see You molding the shape of purity/I am what You’ve laid before me/Here my soul is yielding/As I fall down/I give all these weak hands have forsaken/As I fall down before You I know I’ve been broken”.  Cameron Stone plays cello and Nic Rodriguez bass on the adult contemporary ballad ‘Nothing Else I Need’, which speaks of how God truly meets our needs: “When I think of all I’ve seen/Nothing compares to what You give/And to drink of what You bring/You quench the thirst for me to live/I am satisfied by what tenderness You’ve shown to me/And I empty all that I am/And You fill my life/You’re everything to me”.

The lyrical theme of RESTORED is that of completely surrendering one’s life to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Of course, this is a noble goal, which one can spend a lifetime pursuing.  This is not one of the stronger albums in Jeremy’s catalogue though.  Why?  First of all, the central theme is repeated so much that it’s hard to distinguish one song from another.  He should have thrown in a couple of love songs to his wife or something with a different subject matter.  Secondly, this is a mainly adult contemporary record that lacks the energy and drive of some of his other works.  I`m rating RESTORED 80%.  The CD includes some nice photos of Mr. Camp.  For more info visit: www.jeremycamp.com.




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

MY REDEEMER


Matthew Ward was born on February 15, 1958 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  He was a member of the popular CCM trio 2nd Chapter of Acts from 1973 to 1988, along with his sisters Annie Herring and Nellie (Ward) Greisen.  They had great success, even singing back-up for Barry McGuire.  Matthew released his first solo album TOWARD ETERNITY in 1979.  He has sung backing vocals for the likes of LeAnn Rimes and Twila Paris.  MY REDEEMER (1997) was his seventh solo effort if you include his 1992 best-of project.  Ward produced MY REDEEMER himself.

`I See the Lord` is a majestic worship song: “I see the Lord seated on the throne exalted/And the train of His robe fills the temple with glory/And the whole earth is filled (3X)/With His glory/Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord (2X)”.  Tim Sheppard wrote the next song, ‘This is my Offering’.  It has a chorus of willing spiritual submission: “This is something I can do/I give my everything to You/This is my offering/More than the praise I bring/I give my everything/My hopes and dreams to You/This is my offering/More than the praise I bring/I give my everything/My heart and soul to You/This is my offering”.

‘To The King’ was a #1 hit nationally.  It is a beautiful piano based ballad of reverence that begins with these words: “To the King who gave everything for me/Who’s body crucified, high on Calvary’s tree/Who’s redemptive blood makes way for me/I now give everything/To the King who came in the form of a child/All powerful God, and yet, so mild/Who’s obedience shows the way for me/I humbly come to Thee”.  ‘Psalm 61’ is a light rock ballad of sorts with Ward and Richard Souther writing the music.  The song is addressed to our Maker: “Hear my cry O God, give heed to my prayer/From the ends of the earth I call to Thee/When my heart is faint/Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I/For Thou hast been a refuge for me/And a tower of strength against the enemy/A tower of strength against the enemy”.

Annie Herring wrote the title track, ‘My Redeemer’.  It is an easy listening song of personal testimony: “When with His words of light/He spoke and pulled my dark soul from the night/How can I repay my Redeemer?/With His wounded hands He held my broken heart to understand/I never can repay my Redeemer.../Here I go again/I’m thinking of the time when I will stand and look into the eyes of my Redeemer”.  ‘Drink Deep’ was a #1 hit.  It is a nice adult contemporary song of spiritual contentment: “How excellent is Your unfailing love/In the shadow of Your wings/We feast on the abundance of Your house, oh God/And drink from the river of Your delight/In Your light, we see light/For with You is the fountain of life/So, drink deep/Drink deep/Drink deep from the fountain of life”.

A traditional cover of Melody Green’s early 1980’s classic ‘There is a Redeemer’ follows.  It expresses gratitude: “When I stand in glory, I will see His face/And there I’ll serve my King forever/In that Holy place/Thank You, O my Father for giving us Your Son/And leaving Your Spirit till the work on earth is done”.  These lyrics from ‘God Almighty’ admit that life can at times be very difficult: “Overwhelmed with sorrow, broken by the pain/I could hear the doubt falling like rain/This time it is over, this time you won’t win.../Loneliness would cry out, keeping your heart bound/I would ache inside/To hear heaven’s sound”.

‘Our Master’, a duet with Rita Baloche, is a simple love song to God: “Our Master, Our Savior/You are Lord, our King/Our Master, our Savior/We give our praise/To our King (2X).../You’re the everlasting Father, The beginning and the end/There is no one that can take Your place/There is no other name”.  Last up is Graham Kendrick’s wonderful 1993 composition ‘Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)’.  It conveys heartfelt feelings and desires: “Knowing You, Jesus/Knowing You/There is no greater thing/You’re my all, You’re the best/You’re my joy, my righteousness/And I love You, Lord/Oh, to know the power of Your risen life/And to know You in Your sufferings/To become like You in Your death, my Lord/So with You to live and never die”.

The strength of MY REDEEMER is most definitely Matthew Ward’s vocal performance.   He has one of the best male voices in CCM history.  Unfortunately, the lyrics, for the most part here, are pretty generic.  There doesn’t seem to be much depth to them or thought put into them.  They lack creativity.  However, these songs are good for devotional use or just meditating on God.  Musically, the album is a mix of praise and worship, inspirational, and easy listening.  I’m rating MY REDEEMER 85%.  For more info visit: www.matthewward.com.


Monday, July 11, 2016

VOICE FROM HOME


FFH was originally known as Four For Harmony, an acappella group.  Eventually they became a CCM group known as Far From Home.  They shortened their name to FFH because a secular duo was using the name Far From Home.  FFH made their major label debut in 1998, after having released several independent projects.  VOICE FROM HOME was the group’s sixth major label effort (2005, Essential).   Group members at the time were husband and wife Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler, Brian Smith, and Michael Boggs.  Jeromy produced the record, with Robert Beeson and Conor Farley serving as executive producers.  The liner notes include these words: “We believe that the words on this recording are from the heart of God.  They are anchored in Scripture, but come in common language and with present experience of a God who still speaks.  Our prayer is that in listening to these songs you will be able to hear clearly and in a new way the only Voice that matters...The Voice from Home``.

First up is one of three Jeromy Deibler compositions, ‘The Only Hand You Need’.  It is an adult contemporary ballad that finds God calling His child back home: “You held my hand, we were a family/It was the only thing you’d ever known/But you decided to let go/And walk away/You bought the lie, you said goodbye/But My hand is the only hand you need/Why do you keep on looking up to find a sign?/It’s been right here all this time/O, Can’t you see/My hand is the only hand you need”.  ‘Great Big Problem’ is one of five tracks written by Jeromy and Mark Vogel.  It is a rock song that again finds God speaking to a prodigal: “You refuse to be/The one I meant for you to be/If you could only see how this is killing Me/You’d come back to Me and I would set you free.../I call your name, but it’s always the same/You walk away/It’s always the same”.

‘Well Pleased’ is a happy pop song.  In its liner notes you’ll find the following: “The Father’s love is based on who you are as a person, not your performance”.  The chorus goes like this: “You are the child that I love/In you I am well pleased (2X)/Nothing high, nothing low could separate you from me/You are the child that I love/In you I am well pleased/You’ve got nothing to prove/In you I am well pleased”.  Jennifer Deibler sings lead on ‘Can’t Let Go’ which finds God declaring His sufficiency and faithfulness to us: “Can’t you see I’m all you’ll ever need/It’s not that bad to believe/In something you can’t see/I can’t let go/I can’t let you down/I don’t even know how/You can run, you can hide/But you’ll never be alone/Cause I can’t let go”.

‘I Am Love’ has a slow R&B groove to it.  God speaks frankly on this cut: “I can see what you’re trying to do/Fill this space with another lover/You should know that I have feelings too/And we were made for each other/But one day this new lover will be gone/Like the rest it will be moving on/But I’ll still be here holding out my hand/I know it’s hard but try to understand”.  ‘Worth It All’ is a real self-esteem booster: “You are precious to Me, My everything/No matter what they’ve done I will restore you/You’re a masterpiece to Me/Only I can see that underneath the hurt and the pain is a picture of Me/You are Mine/You are loved/You have always been thought of”.

Michael Boggs and Belinda Smith wrote ‘It’s You’, a nice pop duet between Jeromy and Jennifer that reminds us how God views us: “You don’t have to wear designer clothes if you don’t want to/I don’t care what kind of car you drive, it won’t define you/I see past the surface, the glitter, and the gold/To the place that really matters to your soul/And it’s you, I’m in love with/It’s you, I want most/When it all comes down/It’s not what you do/It’s you, yeah”.  ‘Through My Eyes’ is a soulful tune that reminds me of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: “You’ve been searching everywhere to find that you’re still thirsty/If you would only drink of Me/You’d find that/You would be satisfied/If you could see it through My eyes”.

‘Grand Canyon’ is a lovely song that depicts God as very caring: “There’s a thorn you’ve been holding and you can’t, you can’t let it go/I wish that I could stop the bleeding/But you won’t, you won’t let it show/And I can’t wrestle with your demons/If you never let me see them/So, I’m reaching across the Grand Canyon/Hoping you will take My hand”.  Michael Boggs and Matt Shockley wrote ‘Take a Chance’.  It has a conversational tone: “I’m waiting on you/To tell Me all the things you’ve wanted to/You stare at the mirror in the dark/And wonder why you can’t see who you are.../I’m reaching out to you/I won’t save you unless you want Me to”.

‘Come Away’ is an easy listening ballad that encourages us to go deeper with God: “You’ve been standing in the stream, the water feeling nice/But it’s only up to your knees/It’s beginning to rise/Let it carry you away/Don’t worry, it’ll be okay/Oh, I’ll be right by your side/Come away with me to the mountain of your dreams/Come away with me, there’s something you’ve got to see/Come away with me (2X)/I will show you Who I am/And who one day you will be”.  The album closes with a spoken word piece entitled ‘Listen’ that encourages us to listen to God’s words about us.  It was penned by Jeromy and Rich Stevenson.

This is one of the best Contemporary Christian Music album’s I’ve heard in a while!  It effectively clearly makes the point that God’s love for us does not depend on our performance in life.  What a comforting thought that is!  God’s love for us is permanent.  Vocally and musically this is a solid and tight album.  I recommend it to fans of other Christian adult pop groups such as Avalon and Mercy Me.  I’m rating VOICE FROM HOME 100%.  For more info, connect with the group on Facebook.


Friday, July 08, 2016

MIRACLE MILE


Guardian was originally founded in 1982 using the name Fusion.  In 1989 Enigma Records released Guardian’s first album FIRST WATCH.  Oz Fox of Stryper produced it.  Band members at the time were: Paul Cawley, David Bach, Rikk Hart, and Tony Palacios.  In 1990 Guardian put out their second album, FIRE AND LOVE, with Jamie Rowe taking over lead vocal duties and Karl Ney playing drums.  The band’s third album MIRACLE MILE (1993, Pakaderm/Word) reached the CCM Top Five Albums list.  John and Dino Elefante, who also produced Petra, produced the album.  Group members now were: Jamie Rowe (lead vocals), Tony Palacios (guitar and vocals), David Bach (bass and vocals), and Karl Ney (drums and vocals).  In the liner notes of MIRACLE MILE the band writes: “Dedicated to our fathers and all men of good example”.

‘Dr. Jones & The Kings of Rhythm’ is a hard rockin’ story song about a man who offers spiritual life: “Townfolk wouldn’t hear the Doc and they drove him out of town/He’d shake the dust right off his feet and leave without a sound/But you know he spoke the truth to me/Gave me reason to believe/Tell it round the whole wide world/I’ll never be the same/Well, he took me to the mountain/But it was heaven’s love that set me free, yeah/Dr. Jones & The Kings of Rhythm/Dr. Jones, he’s a rhythm king/Dr. Jones & The Kings of Rhythm/Tearin’ darkness down with a ragin’ swing”.  ‘Shoeshine Johnny’ is a bluesy rocker that waxes spiritual: “What gains a man to win the world but lose his very soul?/Riches of the promised land much better than silver and gold/Oh, how wise is he that makes the Lord his company/Fearless of the days to come/Knowin’ that the battles won”.

‘Long Way Home’ has a chorus that serves as a prayer: “Take me where I long to be/Pick me up and carry me/Oh, I need Your love/It’s such a long way home/Even though I fall sometimes/Nothin’ here can change my mind/Lord, I need Your love/It’s such a long way home”.  John Elefante is a co-writer on ‘I Found Love’.  It sounds like an 80’s hair metal love ballad: “All my days spent searching for that rainbow/I’ve spent some lonely nights trying to find a reason to live my life/Your love is pouring down on me like sweet summer rain/Your love is like the sweetest song/All of heaven sings Your Name/I’ve been around enough to know/I found love when You walked through my door/Since You came into my life/You took away my broken heart”.

‘Sweet Mystery’ is an acoustic love song penned by group member David Bach: “Looking back at my old school/I think of the things that I used to do/And I remember those crazy days gone by/Sometimes I wish I could go back in time/Be changin’ what was then/But after everything’s been said and done/I’m glad you are my friend/And it’s a sweet mystery that you love me like you do/Oh, it’s a sweet mystery to me”.  ‘Let it Roll’ brings back the rock factor and offers these words of testimony: “Lord, Your truth is crystal clear to me/Forever is a highway/Lord, You bring me through/Take me down the road that leads to You.../You opened up my eyes to see the riches of Your majesty/Love is flowin’ down on me/Your peace is like a river runnin’ free”.

‘Mr. Do Wrong’ is a catchy heavy metal track that directly addresses the devil: “With the setting of the sun something wicked this way comes/Black on black, got a wicked stride/Hounds of Hell are by his side/Feeding on the lusts of man/Shake him off, but he’s back again/Promises and hidden dreams/Oh, how sweet your poison seems/You are the tempter of my soul/Do Wrong/Mister Do Wrong/Don’t you whisper in my ear tryin’ to sing your love song/I know it’s sweet, like honey on my lips/But I know who you are/Death is on your fingertips and everything you do is wrong”.  ‘Curiosity Killed the Cat’ warns against false religious beliefs: “Superstitions fill your mind/Don’t know where to draw the line/A religion of a different kind/Tellin’ futures with a card/Make a wish upon a star/Lady Luck is just a thin disguise.../You play with fire, you’ll get burned/Seems some people never learn/Curiosity killed the cat”.

‘Sister Wisdom’ is a rock song about discernment: “She sings a smoky torch song/She burns a candle in the night/And her ways of truth are so strong/She lifts me up as my life goes by.../In the light she comes to me/Takes the weight of the world from my shoulders/Turns my eyes to see the light in a dark world turning/Sister Wisdom shine your light on me”.  ‘The Captain’ is an acoustic ballad that is a character study: “He told a story, sailed through storms/Painted a picture, lived in the scenes/Some say he was crazy, living in a dream/But he sailed with a reason out on a crystal sea/And what he did not fear didn’t hurt him/What he did not seek didn’t find/And he would not run from the answers/What he did not hear were the lies/Sail on/Captain, sail on/Let your guiding light lead you cross the ocean”.

‘You & I’ is a pop/rock song that celebrates romantic relationships: “You and I we belong together/Say a prayer and make it last forever/When you need a friend to lean on/I’ll be there/Winds of change bring the stormy weather/But in the end it only makes things better/You know I want to be your only one/I’ll be there.../When you hold me/I know that love is here to stay”.  ‘Do You Know What Love Is’ muses about one of God’s most terrific qualities: “And all of your life I’ve been more than a friend/I was there from the start and I’ll be here till the end/Do you know what love is?/Can you feel what love is?/Do you know what love (2X)/Love is/Deeper than emotion/Comin’ stronger than all devotion/Do you know what love/Do you know what love/Love is/I want to show you one love that’s true/Won’t you open up your heart?/My love is for you”.

I was lucky enough to find an autographed used copy of MIRACLE MILE for a buck in a thrift store in downtown St. Thomas recently.  Musically, it falls into the heavy rock and heavy metal genres, but also delves into acoustic based music.  Jamie Rowe’s raspy lead vocals are spot on.  Fans of Stryper, Whitecross, and Petra`s heavier material, will enjoy this album.  The songs point to Jesus Christ as Lover of our souls and make it clear He will direct our lives if we let Him.  I`m rating MIRACLE MILE  97%.  For more info connect with the band on Facebook or visit: www.houseofguardian.com.






Thursday, July 07, 2016

UNITE


1 Girl Nation made a splash in the CCM market in 2013 with their self-titled debut album on Reunion Records.  At the time, the group had five members.  They are now a trio: Carmen from Nashville, Kayli from Orlando, and Lauryn from Birmingham, Alabama.  Former group member Lindsey provides additional vocals on 1GN’s new album UNITE (2016, Reunion).  On the group’s official website you will find the following: “As 1GN, we are about more than music.  Our mission is to encourage each other to guard our hearts, to protect our lives online, to overcome hate with love, and to live boldly for Christ.  Haters gonna hate, but Jesus taught us to love them anyway.  Above all else, GUARD YOUR HEART”.

‘Get Hype’ starts things off.  It is a peppy pop song meant to rally 1GN’s fans: “Are you ready, ready, set, go/Get up, get loud, tell everyone you know/Round the world, from left to right/Are you ready?/It starts tonight.../Every time we hear that beat drop, we can’t stop/My girls, we got this on lock, are you with us, say what/Put up your 1’s, lift ‘em up to the sun/Everybody jump, look alive while we’re young”.  ‘The One’ speaks of the Lord’s everlasting faithfulness: “How could I forget?/You’re the One, the One/Who’s always by my side/You’re the One (2X)/For me, You gave Your life/You’re the One/Jesus, You’re the One, the One/You are my, You are my first love”.

‘Cinema’ is an R&B song of reflection: “Some days up like they’re magic, then some down like Titanic/I can be frozen, tangled, and broken/But You show me a whole new world.../If my life was a cinema, what would my story tell?/Would the tickets sell?/Were You in the frame?/If my life was a cinema/Did You play the lead?/Were You directing me?/Did I bring You fame?”  ‘Guard Your Heart’ is an adult contemporary ballad of encouragement: “Maybe you feel all alone like something’s missing/And all of your friends have found their prince charming/Believe me, I get it/You’re so tempted to settle or give up on love/But it’s in God’s timing/You can’t rush it, don’t believe you are not enough/Know your worth ‘cause you are precious/More than gold, more than diamonds/Be the light inside the dark/Keep your faith and guard your heart”.

‘#Nofilter’ is a catchy pop song about self-esteem, with rap breaks: “This is, this is me, this is me, no filter/Me and my girls when we wanna take a selfie/Gotta hold the camera at the right angle perfectly/Which filter, which pose, black and white, how’s my nose?.../I think this has gone too far/I just want you to see my heart.../We’re beautiful the way we are/God’s masterpiece is in our scars (2X)”.  ‘Haters’ offers advice on how young gals should deal with those who treat them badly: “Haters gonna hate/Love ‘em anyway/No matter what they say/Love ‘em anyway.../You be you/If you got haters/That ain’t nothing new/Even Jesus had haters/Just like you”.

‘Panic’ is a ballad that finds the group ultimately putting their trust in God: “Though the sky falls and the winds rage/Your power can’t be tamed/In the shadows, through the valley/I will not be afraid/I will not stay down, no/I know You’re  here now/I won’t freak out/Don’t panic now, don’t panic”.  ‘Impossible’ is a light pop song of great positivity: “Can’t’s not a word that I’m sayin’/Quit’s not a word that I use/Finally I’m living like I won’t lose, I won’t lose/Anytime I reach out for a star/You make me understand/You’re holding every one of them/So I ‘m reaching for Your hand/I used to say that the sky was the limit/But You’ve opened my eyes to what’s really true/My dreams can happen as long as You’re in it/Cause there is no, there is no/Impossible with You, You, no”.

‘Smile’ is a folksy pop song that encourages us to witness for Christ: “Sing if you believe/Shout for the victory/Dance ‘cause we are free/Free indeed, free indeed/Don’t be ashamed/Don’t let it hide/Cause Jesus came and paid the price/Show the world He’s alive.../We’re His hands and His feet/When we walk down the street/Do they see Jesus/Everywhere that you go/Every high, every low/Do they see Jesus/Through the words that you speak/Everybody you meet/Do they see Jesus when they see you smile”.  Closing the album off is the title track, ‘Unite’.  It is a pop song that asks girls and young ladies to unite and make a positive stand for Jesus Christ: “C’mon we gotta stand for what we know is true/With His love inside/No, we can’t lose/Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith/We’ve got a voice, make some noise/Let’s shake this place.../Different faces, different names/We’re different, but we’re all the same/It’s time to let ‘em know/Let’s show the world tonight/Let’s unite.../You and I/U-N-I-T-E/You and I/Let’s break the hate”.

On UNITE, 1GN shares their zeal, enthusiasm, and fervor for the Lord in a way teen girls and ladies into their twenties in some cases, will be able to relate to.  Topics explored include social media pressures and wanting to find the right guy.  This album is not meant to be a deep theological treatise, but is rather, a guide to facing everyday life challenges with the Lord by one’s side.  If you enjoy the Christian pop music of Superchick, V. Rose, and Zoegirl, you’ll most likely find something to like here.  I’m rating UNITE, which runs just shy of 31 minutes, 85%.  For more info visit the group on Facebook and at www.1gnofficial.com.










Tuesday, July 05, 2016

OFFERINGS-A WORSHIP ALBUM


OFFERINGS-A WORSHIP ALBUM (2000, Essential) was Third Day’s fourth major label album release.  Nine years later they’d be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.  The band’s line-up for the album is: Mac Powell (vocals, acoustic guitar), David Carr (drums, percussion), Mark Lee (guitars), Tai Anderson (bass), and Brad Avery (guitars).  In the liner notes they write: “We hope that this record gives you the feeling of actually being at a Third Day concert, surrounded by your brothers and sisters in Christ, united in worship to the Lord”.

‘King of Glory’ is one of three new songs on this project.  Monroe Jones plays keyboards on this contemporary worship anthem that seeks to describe the Divine: “Who is this King of glory with strength and majesty and wisdom beyond measure?/The gracious King of kings/The Lord of Earth and Heaven, the Creator of all things/Who is this King of glory?/He’s everything to me/His Name is Jesus, precious Jesus/The Lord Almighty, the King of my heart/The King of glory”.  ‘These Thousand Hills’ is a beautiful cover of a 1990’s Jacob’s Trouble song that reflects both on nature and on the atonement: “These thousand hills roll ever on/Footprints of a Mighty God/They bring me to my knees in praise/Amazing love, amazing grace/Was on a hill my Savior died/A broken heart and bleeding side/Hill of the Skull, Mount Calvary/The blood He shed, He shed for me”.  ‘Your Love Oh Lord’ from 1999’s TIME is a lovely ballad inspired by Psalm 26: “Your love, oh Lord reaches to the heavens/Your faithfulness stretches to the skies/And Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, yes/And Your justice flows like the ocean’s tide/And I will lift my voice/To worship You my King/I will find my strength in the shadow of Your wings”.

‘Agnus Dei/Worthy’ combines a Michael W. Smith classic from 1990 with a Don Moen song from 1986 and here it results in a pleasant rock ballad with great electric guitar work and then later quiets down.  Here are some of the words: “Hallelujah, hallelujah/For the Lord God Almighty reigns (2X)/Holy, You are holy/King of Kings, Lord of lords/You are holy/Holy, You are holy/King of Kings, Lord of lords/I worship You”.  ‘Saved’ was penned by Bob Dylan and Tim Drummond and was the title track for Dylan’s second Christian album in 1980.  On the version here, Tabitha Fair and members of The Cobb Mass Choir provide background vocals.  It is an upbeat, toe-tapping gospel number of Christian testimony: “Nobody to rescue me, nobody was there/I was going down for the last time/By His mercy I’ve been spared/Not by works/By faith in Him who called/For so long I’ve been hindered/For so long I’ve been stalled/Now I’m saved by the blood of the Lamb/Thank God, I’ve been saved by the blood of the Lamb.../I want to thank You Lord/I just want to thank You, Lord/Thank You, Lord”.

‘My Hope is You’ is from 1997’s CONSPIRACY NO. 5, and is drawn from the 25th Psalm: “I am, O Lord, filled with Your love/You are, O God, my salvation/Guard my life and rescue me/My broken spirit shouts/My mended heart cries out/My hope is You/Show me Your ways/Guide me in truth/In all my days/My hope is You”.  ‘You’re Everywhere’ reflects on God’s omnipresence: “You’re everywhere, like the rain that’s falling/You’re everywhere, like the wind that’s blowing/You’re everywhere, like the sun upon my face/I feel the warmth in Your embrace/You are everywhere/My Lord, now I truly know that I could never go from Your presence”.

‘Thief` is a moving rock story song told from the perspective of one of the two men who were crucified with Jesus: ``I am a thief, I am a murderer/Walking up this lonely hill/What have I done?/No, I don’t remember/No one knows just how I feel/And I know that my time is coming soon.../Who is this man?/This man beside me/They call the King of the Jews/They don’t believe that He’s the Messiah/But somehow, I know it’s true.../And He says ‘I tell the truth/Today, you will be with Me in paradise’”.  ‘Consuming Fire’ is a blistering, blazing rock song requesting revival: “Set this place on fire/Send Your Spirit, Savior/Rescue from the mire/Show Your servant favor/Yesterday was the day that I was alone/Now I’m in the presence of Almighty God/And yes, our God, is a consuming fire/And the flames burn down deep in my soul/Yes, our God, He is a consuming fire/He reaches inside and He melts down this cold heart of stone”.

Scotty Wilbanks plays the pump organ and penny whistle on ‘All the Heavens’, a pretty and modern hymn of praise and worship: “All the heavens cannot hold You, Lord/How much less to dwell in me?/I can only make my one desire/Holding on to Thee/All the angels exalt You on high/What a Kingdom to depart!/But You left Your throne in the sky/Just to live inside my heart”.  ‘Love Song’ is a definite fan favorite!  It is one of three songs here from the band’s debut album.  It is an adult contemporary ballad sung from Jesus’ perspective: “And I know that You don’t understand the fullness of my love/And how I died upon the cross for your sins/And I know that you don’t realize how much that I give you/But I promise, well, I would do it all again/And just to be with you, well, I’ve done everything/Well, there’s no price I did not pay, no/Just to be with you, well, I gave everything/Yes, I gave my life away”.

OFFERINGS-A WORSHIP ALBUM includes both studio tracks and live performances.  The audiences on the live songs are very enthusiastic.  This album is right up there with the best contemporary praise and worship albums by Petra and Sonicflood.  Rock music can be used to exalt the Lord and declare one’s love and gratitude towards Him.  Youth and young adults, and some of their parents even, can use this album as a tool for worshipping the Lord.  I’m rating this one 98% and recommending it to all who are born-again believers!  For more info visit: www.thirdday.com.


Sunday, July 03, 2016

THERE IS JOY IN THE LORD-THE WORSHIP SONGS OF CHERI KEAGGY


THERE IS JOY IN THE LORD-THE WORSHIP SONGS OF CHERI KEAGGY (1999, Sparrow) was her fourth album.  Cheri wrote all twelve songs.  On the back of the CD package Cheri writes: “You hold in your hands a collection of contemporary praise and worship music.  Many of these songs were my very first expressions of love to the Lord.  What a privilege it is to re-record them here with a band in a worship team style as originally intended”.  This album was produced by Bill Batstone, Tommy Coomes, and Eddie Keaggy.  Grant Cunningham served as executive producer.

First up is ‘We Have Come to Worship Him’, one of three tracks from 1994’s CHILD OF THE FATHER.  It is a cheerful pop song of spiritual intent and declaration: “We have come to worship Him, to lift His Name on high/He is worthy of our praise, so let us lift Him to the sky.../He is my Father/He is the Prince of Peace/He is the Risen Lord/And of His awesome deeds we sing/And our highest praise to Him we bring”.  ‘Reign on Me’ is one of three new songs from 1999.  It converses with Christ: “When my heart is empty You will fill my cup/When I’m feelin’ weary You will lift me up/In my time of weakness You will be my strength/Touch me with Your power/Lord, I welcome You to reign”.

The title track ‘There is Joy in the Lord’ is next.  It’s an upbeat encouraging song all around: “There is joy in the Lord/There is love in His Spirit/There is hope in the knowledge of Him/There’s a fountain that flows/Like a river from heaven/Abounding in love to my soul”.  ‘Glory Be’ is one of 2 songs from 1997’s WHAT MATTERS MOST.  It offers these words of praise: “Sweet Lamb of God/O Holy God/A brilliant light surrounds You/For without blame/Our Jesus came/And we are changed forever/Gory be, glory be/Glory be Your own/Oh, glory be, glory be/Glory be to the Throne.../No other Name will I proclaim/Your Kingdom reigns forevermore”.

‘You, Oh Lord, Are My Refuge’ is the only song over five minutes.  It is a calming ballad: “You, oh Lord, are my refuge/It is You I will trust/You’re my light in the darkness/You, oh Lord, are my refuge/By Your mercy, You cover me/Under the shadow of Your wings/Lord, in Your presence, I will remain/You are forevermore the same/You are my refuge, my only refuge”.  ‘Humble Me’ is a quiet prayer: “Humble me/Help me be in a right place with You/Where I look in Your face/And I’m touched by Your grace/And I see You for who You are/Humble me, help me be in a right place with You/Where my heart can rejoice/At the sound of Your voice/And I know You for who You are”.

‘We All Need Jesus’ is one of three songs from Cheri’s 1996 album MY FAITH WILL STAY.  It is a good song for Sunday mornings: “We come to this place of worship/We come with a heart of praise/We know that the Lord is with us/We’ve come to hear what He might say/He’s calling us, can’t you hear it?/The angels rejoice above/He’s sending His Holy Spirit/And opening His arms of love/He’s opening His arms of love”.  ‘His Banner Over Me’ is a happy, celebratory pop song: “His banner over me is love (2X)/And He takes me to His table of love/And He takes me to His banqueting table of love/Surely His goodness and mercy shall follow me/All of my life I will dwell in the house of the Lord, of the Lord”.

‘Heavenly Father’ is a ballad of spiritual admission: “I love You/I need You/I know I would be lost without Your love/Father, You are my God/You are my God/Heavenly Father, be God again today”.  ‘Pour out Your Love’ offers these words of prayer: “Pour out Your love to me/Let it fill my heart to the deepest part/Pour out Your love so that You might see/A reflection of Yourself in me”.

Tom Howard arranges The Nashville String Machine on ‘In Remembrance of Me’ which includes these lines of gratitude to Jesus: “I will remember the cross that You bore for me/I will remember the crown that You wore for me/I will remember the reason You suffered and died”.  ‘I Want to Follow You’ is, again, a prayer: “Lord, I want to follow and serve You alone/Lord, help me to live right and bring glory to Your Throne/Lord, I am willing to be Your servant, faithfully/Oh Lord, I want to follow You”.

Musicians used on THERE IS JOY IN THE LORD-THE WORSHIP SONGS OF CHERI KEAGGY include: Blair Masters (keyboards), Tom Hemby (electric and acoustic guitars), Brent Milligan (bass), Steve Brewster (drums), and Eric Darken (percussion).  Vocalists used include: Lenny LeBlanc, Michael O’Brien, Gary Sadler, Lisa Bevill, and Nicol Smith.  This album comes across beautifully as intimate journal entries Cheri has written to her Father God.  These are songs from the heart, soul, and spirit.  The overarching theme is one of willing and complete surrender to Jesus Christ.  Another theme is that of joyful praise and worship unto the Lord.  Fans of the early works of Amy Grant and Sandi Patty should buy this retro project.  I’m rating it a perfect 100%.  For more info visit: www.cherikeaggy.com.