Monday, July 24, 2017

STRONGER


Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born on April 24, 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas.  She won the inaugural season of ‘American Idol’ in 2002.  Her first four albums were: THANKFUL (2003), BREAKAWAY (2004), MY DECEMBER (2007), and ALL I EVER WANTED (2009).  Here, I will be reviewing her fifth studio album, STRONGER (2011, RCA-19).  It peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and won a Grammy for ‘Best Pop Vocal Album’.  In the liner notes Kelly quotes Leo Tolstoy: “If a man lives, then he must live for something”.  She adds: “I live for love and music”.

‘Mr. Know It All’ was the album’s first song and lead single.  It was written by Brian Seals, Ester Dean, Brett James, and Dante Jones.  It hit #1 on the US Billboard Adult Top 40.  This light pop song puts a guy in his place: “You ain’t got the right to tell me when and where to go/No right to tell me, acting like you own me lately/Yeah, baby/You don’t know a thing about/You don’t know a thing about me/Mr. Play your games/Only got yourself to blame/When you want me back again/But I ain’t falling back again/Cause I’m living my truth without your lies”.  ‘What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)’ was the album’s second single.  It garnered three Grammy nominations.  It was a #1 hit on several charts including the US Billboard Mainstream Top 40 and the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.  It also hit #1 in Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Denmark.  These lyrics from it are ones of inner strength: “Think you left me broken down/Think that I’d come running back/Baby, you don’t know me, cause you’re dead wrong/What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger/Stand a little taller/Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone/What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter/Footsteps even lighter/Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone/What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger/Just me, myself, and I”.  ‘Dark Side’ was the album’s third and last single.  It was penned by busbee and Alexander Geringas.  It also hit #1 on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.  It’s about wanting to be accepted where one is at: “Everybody’s got a dark side/Do you love me?/Can you love mine?/Nobody’s a picture perfect/But we’re worth it/You know that we’re worth it/Will you love me?/Even with my dark side?.../So, don’t give up on me/Please remind me who I really am”.

‘Honestly’ includes these interesting lyrics: “All I see are Stepford-like lives/Needles and knives/Beautiful lies/Bringing out the green in your eyes/A perfect disguise for envy and pride/Face me/Make me listen to the truth/Even if it breaks me/You can judge me, love me/If you’re hating me, do it honestly”.  On ‘You Love Me’ Kelly is straight up with a guy: “You say/I’m not good enough (2X)/But what you really mean is/You’re not good enough (2X)/You can’t deliver/So you turn it around”.  It’s a great dance song.

Toby Gad, Bridget Kelly, James Fauntleroy, and Kelly wrote ‘Einstein’, a great rock song that tells a guy off: “Didn’t get it the first time/But don’t think I’ve been so blind/And I may not be Einstein/But I know/Dumb plus dumb equals you (3X)/Even had the nerve to flirt with her in front of my face/Here’s your keys, your bags, your clothes and now get out of my place/You say I’m crazy and that we’re happy/Is that supposed to comfort me?”  ‘Standing in Front of You’ is a nice ballad featuring The Love Sponge String Quartet.  Chris Rodriguez, Aben Eubanks, and Jerry McPherson play guitars.  It includes these words of encouragement: “Take a breath and listen/Open up, stop wishin’/All that you’ve been missin’/Standing in front of you/Everything you’re fearin’/All the walls you’re buildin’/Take a chance/Your reason?/Standing in front of you.../And they won’t break us and they can’t get through/Cause I’m gonna be here/Standing in front of you”.

Rodney Jerkins, Andre Lindal, and Lauren Christy wrote ‘I Forgive You’, a pop/rocker about letting go of grudges: “I forgive you/We were just a couple of kids/Trying to figure out how to live/Doing it our way/No shame, no blame/Cause the damage is done/And I forgive you/I forgive you/We were busy living the dream/Never noticed the glass ceiling falling on us/No shame, no blame/Cause the damage is done/And I forgive you”.  ‘Hello’ is about loneliness: “Sentimental feelings never get me anywhere/My heart continues beating/Is there anybody, anybody?/Hello, hello/Is anybody listening?/Let go!/As everyone lets go of me/Oh, oh/Won’t somebody show me that I’m not alone, not alone”.

Toby Gad and Olivia Waithe wrote the adult contemporary number ‘The War is Over’.  Kelly is very confident on this one: “All I have to say is/You don’t deserve me (2X)/I’m finally walking away/Cause you don’t deserve me and you’re not worthy/And I won’t let you pull me in/Because I know you’re gonna win/But the war is over/And I won’t fight you anymore/I’ve never been so sure/Cause the war is over.../I’m finally walking away/Cause you’ll only hurt me”.  ‘Let Me Down’ finds Kelly and Chris DeStefano on backing vocals.  It’s about disappointment: “You’re only gonna let me down/When it counts, you countdown/You’re only gonna turn me out/As I burn, you burn out/You’re only gonna make me feel so crazy/But when I think we could be something/You go and let me down, let me down, oh”.

‘You Can’t Win’ is an energetic pop/rocker with down to earth words: “If you go, they’ll say you’re following/If you don’t, then you’re too good for them.../If you’re thin, call it a walkin’ disease/If you’re not, they’re all screamin’ obese.../If you speak, you’ll only piss them off/If you don’t, you’re another robot.../You can’t win, no”.  Last up is the Jennifer Hanson/Michael Logen penned ‘Breaking Your Own Heart’.  Strings are arranged by Deborah Lurie, Phil X plays guitar, and Dann Huff provides a guitar solo.  The song offers these thoughts: “Too many tears, too many falls/It’s easier here behind these walls/But you don’t have to walk in the shadows/When life is so hard/You’re breaking your own heart/Taking it too far down a lonely road”.


Kelly Clarkson is one of the best female vocalists in mainstream music today.  STRONGER is an album many teen girls and young adult ladies will be able to connect with.  Several of the songs speak about guys not willing to invest in or commit wholeheartedly to a romantic relationship.  Girls and women longing for a man to love them completely will enjoy these songs.  There’s also a couple songs of encouragement and one about forgiveness.  I wouldn’t say Kelly comes across as bitter, just realistic, on this pop/rock/dance album, which I’m rating 94%.  For more info connect with Kelly on twitter or facebook.

Friday, July 21, 2017

VOX HUMANA



The Christian rock band Daniel Amos formed the year of my birth, 1974, so it was a very good year.  They recorded their first song, ‘Ain’t Gonna Fight It’ for the Maranatha! Label in 1975.  The next year they released their self-titled debut album.  It and 1977’s SHOTGUN ANGEL were country rock in nature.  Their third project, HORRENDOUS DISC, was eventually released by Larry Norman’s Solid Rock Records in 1981.  By then Daniel Amos had left their country sounds behind.  Between 1981 and 1986 the band released four records known as the Alarma! Chronicles.  Here, I will be reviewing a 2 disc deluxe edition of the third in that series, VOX HUMANA (Latin for ‘human voice’).  The original 12 song album was put out by Refuge Records in 1984.  This deluxe edition came out in 2016 on Stunt Records.  The group’s roster on VOX HUMANA is: Terry Taylor (lead vocals, rhythm guitars, occasional keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals), Ed McTaggart (drums, percussion, synthesizers), Rob Watson (keyboards, synthesizers, percussion, backing vocals), Tim Chandler (lead guitars, 4 & 12 string bass, synthesizers, backing vocals), and Greg Flesch (lead guitars).  Terry Taylor wrote all the songs and he produced the album with Rob Watson.

‘Travelog’ is a new wave pop/rock song about life being a journey: “This river channels out to my private shore/My boat’s a magic couch on remote control/Confused, I now consult my jungle guide/Departure times, best bets/And four stars that shine/As I bask in the blue light/Of my/Travelog”.  ‘(It’s the Eighties, So Where’s Our) Rocket Packs’ is a fun, quirky, sarcastic track: “I thought by now I’d walk the moon/And ride a car without no tires/And have a robot run the vacuum/And date a girl made out of wires.../I thought by now we’d live in space/And eat a pill instead of dinner/And wear a gas mask on our face/A president of female gender”.

‘Home Permanent’ is a tropical sounding pop ballad about heaven mostly: “My hair points to the sky/The place I want to be”, but my favorite lyrics here are: “I gave a toy top to my little brother/It says to SPIN FROM SIN/And to my mother/I gave a recipe book/It’s like no other/Now she makes chocolate Bibles/A witness to my unsaved father”.  ‘It’s Sick’ is a fast-paced song about desensitization: “Hey!/We cannot sense, we cannot know/What they’re going through over there/Bodies dropping in the snow/Russians marching everywhere/It’s history that cannot be felt by tiny souls.../It’s sick and I got it on my TV/It’s sick when I don’t feel a thing”.

Next up is ‘William Blake’.  According to Wikipedia he “was an English poet, painter, and printmaker”.  He lived from 1757-1827.  This slow song includes these words: “Sleep, William Blake/All is well/There’s a marriage up in heaven tonight/There’s a fire in hell/You were not mad/I know time will tell/William Blake”.  ‘Dance Stop’ is one of two songs Tim Chandler helped lead vocalist Terry Taylor arrange.  It’s a harmless song to bust your moves to.

‘Live and Let Live’ is a pop song with an Eastern sound to it.  On it, the band confirms their desire for something more than other religions can offer: “I’m longing for a land not assigned to me by birth/I’m holding close to me/Life amid the curse (2X).../Longing for another world/Crying for your tenderness”.  ‘When Worlds Collide’ is a melodic ballad about human love: “Stay my love/Here in my arms/Let me say ‘I love you’/Then sleep awhile/Dream your dreams/Soon I will take you/Far away/From where the night threatens the day/And worlds collide/I’m on your side/When worlds collide/I’m on your side”.

‘As the World Turns’ is a cheery sounding pop song, but speaks of the difficulties of being a Christian: “And I never get comfort in the earth or the sky/It’s my belief they’re not my home/The world spins one way/But I go another/Against the grain/One often stands alone/As the world turns it slaps me hard/As the world turns it tells me I’m weak/As the world turns I drop my guard/As the world turns/I turn the other cheek/I sing, hey oh, slaps me hard.../I put it all together in the exercise yard”.  ‘She’s all Heart’ is about an unsatisfying male-female relationship: “My longing/Not to be a god or hero/But to be a tree that grows for ages/Hurting no one/When I told her this/She could not see at all/She’s all heart I know/She’s all heart and souls that never touch/Never know how very much they are one heart”.

‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ is a bouncy pop song with these interesting thoughts: “The clergy dresses you in tights and cape/And so the pressure’s on to make no mistake/In truth, there is no way that you won’t break/You’re gonna fall/You’re much too small/From wells of power, you take a drink/You drown in it/It’s bigger than you think/A world accountable/Among the stars a grain of sand/You’re incredible/Incredible shrinking man”.  ‘Sanctuary’ is a mesmerizing rock ballad that runs almost six minutes long.  It’s one of Daniel Amos’ best songs.  It’s a song of divine comfort and refuge: “Hush little baby, don’t you cry/Your daddy’s here/So brush the tears out of your eyes/Brush them from your eyes/From your eyes (3X)/And should you find you have the things you need/Remember, remember/Me/And should the moon burn red/Stars leave the sky/Remember, remember/Your sanctuary”.

VOX HUMANA is one of my favourite Daniel Amos records.  It has 1980’s alternative pop/rock written all over it, with a nice mix of faster and slower songs presented.  Lyrically, Terry Taylor’s brilliance shines on this album.  He offers great commentary on the state of this world, using wit and sarcasm, but he also touches the heart by expressing both a need for human love and a need to connect with the Heavenly Father and our eternal home in heaven.  While Jesus and God are not mentioned by name, believers and many seekers will know who Taylor is pointing to.  I’m rating VOX HUMANA 100%.

The second disc of this bonus edition of the album begins with three demos written and performed by Taylor and Rob Watson in 1984.  ‘I Can’t Resist You’ is a pop song about a guy smitten with a gal: “How do you do it?/How come I’m hooked?/A strange fascination/A word is all it took/I can’t resist you.../You’re a magnet/I am drawn to you”.  ‘The Man that Can’t Be Mentioned’ includes these lyrics: “I cannot face the matter/It’s too soon, maybe later/Oh, I know you’ve gotten over your past love, girl/I remember how he held you.../Please don’t talk about him now”.  Next is ‘Do Anything for You’, about a man tragically obsessed with a lady.  The other fourteen tracks are alternate takes of songs on VOX HUMANA.  Highlights for me include an acoustic mix of ‘Travelog’, a rhythm mix of ‘It’s Sick’, a solo acoustic version of ‘When Worlds Collide’ by Terry Scott Taylor, and a live performance of ‘Sanctuary’ from Flevo Festival in 1985.  Disc 2 runs just over 68 minutes long.  I’m rating it 85%.  This collector’s edition of VOX HUMANA comes with several cool pics of the band and extensive liner notes.  For more info visit: www.danielamos.com.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ADIOS



Glen Travis Campbell was born on April 22, 1936 in Billstown, Arkansas.  According to Wikipedia he’s released 60 studio albums and seven live albums!  His debut album was 1962’s BIG BLUEGRASS SPECIAL with the Green River Boys.  Campbell has had over 80 singles reach the charts.  Over the years he’s been known for such songs as: ‘Gentle on My Mind’, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’, ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘Galveston’, ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, and ‘Southern Nights’.  What I will be reviewing here is Glen’s 64th and final studio album ADIOS (2017, Universal Music Enterprises).  It was recorded around five years ago, after it was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s.  The album, produced by Carl Jackson, is Campbell’s sixteenth Top 40 album.  It debuted at #7 on the Top Country Albums chart and peaked at #40 on the Billboard 200.  Collectors will love the album’s liner notes written by Glen’s wife Kim, and his longtime banjo player, Carl Jackson.

The album opens with ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ written by Fred Neil.  It was the theme song for the movie ‘Midnight Cowboy’, and in 1969 Harry Nilsson had a hit with it.  Glen’s daughter Ashley plays banjo on this easy listening tune with appropriate lyrics given Glen’s current condition: “Everybody’s talkin’ at me/I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’/Only the echoes of my mind/People stoppin’, starin’/I can’t see their faces/Only the shadows of their eyes/I’m going where the sun keeps shinin’/Through the pouring rain/Going where the weather suits my clothes”.  ‘Just Like Always’ is one of four songs on the album that are Jimmy Webb written.  Catherine Marx plays piano on this country ballad of romantic longing: “I pass your street/I look both ways, so incomplete/And I think that I might see you/But of course, I don’t/And I wish that you would call me, but I know you won’t/And I love you anyway/Just like always”.

Aubrey Haynie plays fiddle on Willie Nelson’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’.  It’s a soft ballad duet by Glen and Willie, on which Willie plays gut string guitar.  These lyrics confront an ex: “How’s your new love?/I hope that he’s doin’ fine/And I heard you told him/That you’d love him ‘til the end of time/That’s the same thing that you told me/It seems like only yesterday/Gee, ain’t it funny how time just slips away”.  Carl Jackson wrote ‘Arkansas Farmboy’ and provides harmony vocals on this sentimental country ballad: “Oh the weeds have grown high on the farm back in Dixie/Where cotton and corn used to grow/And the memories run wild in this Arkansas farmboy/Who’d give all he owns just to go/I recall how granddaddy held me and taught me/The melody to ‘In the Pines’/On a five-dollar guitar that led to a fortune/I’d trade just to go back in time”.

Track five is a short snippet performed by the late Roger Miller: “Have I lost your love or have I lost my mind?/Am I seeing things or am I goin’ blind?/Do I hear you cryin’ softly in your sleep?/Am I all alone or is it only me?”  On track six Glen and Vince Gill flesh out that song, entitled ‘Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me)’.  It’s full of questions about one’s relationship: “Is it my imagination every time?/Is it jealousy that rules this heart of mine?/Has it come to pass or has it come to be?/Am I all alone or is it only me?/Or is it just a crazy phase that we’re going through?/Is it cold in here or is it you?/Do I hear you crying softly in your sleep?/Am I all alone or is it only me?”

Mike Johnson plays steel guitar on ‘It Won’t Bring Her Back’, a country ballad that offers advice to a heartbroken fella: “You gotta get a grip on it mister/This is not the remedy/And it won’t bring her back, and it won’t stop the pain/And it won’t make you feel any better soon/You keep drinkin’ that old jack/You’re gonna end up under a train/You can lay down on the railroad track/But it won’t bring your baby back/It won’t bring her back”.  Next up is Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, which has an upbeat shuffle to it here.  It’s about a guy leaving a gal: “I’m headed down that long, lonesome road, babe/Where I’m bound, I can’t tell/But adios is just too good of a word, gal/So, I’ll just say ‘Fare thee well’/I don’t mean to tell ya that you’ve been unkind/But you’ve been wastin’ all my valuable time/Now you’re the reason this ol’ boy don’t toe the line/Baby, don’t think twice/It’s all right”.

Glen first recorded Dickey Lee’s ‘She Still Thinks I Care’ on his 1972 GLEN TRAVIS CAMPBELL.  On this new version, Tony Creasman plays drums and Kevin Grantt plays bass.  It’s a great country and western number with down to earth lyrics: “Just because I asked a friend about her/Just because I spoke her name somewhere/Just because I saw her then went all to pieces/She thinks I still care/Yes, she thinks I still care”.  ‘Postcard from Paris’ is another sentimental song: “And I wish you were here/When the shadows fall and all the rushing traffic stills/I wish you were here/And the bells are ringing on the seven hills/I make my way to a small cafe/I wonder what you did today/I wish you were here”.  Glen and Kim’s daughters (Ashley, Cal, Shannon) and Carl Jackson do a great job on backing vocals!

Jerry Reed Hubbard wrote ‘A Thing Called Love’.  Carl Jackson sings tenor, Ashley sings high baritone, and Glen takes the lead.  It reflects on the opposite of hate: “Can’t see it with your eyes, hold it in your hand/But like the wind that covers our land/Strong enough to rule the heart of any man/This thing called love/It can lift you up, it can let you down/Take your world and turn it all around/Ever since time nothing’s ever been found stronger than love”.  Last up is the title track, Jimmy Webb’s ‘Adios’.  This easy listening tune is a fitting conclusion to Glen’s storied career: “We never really made it baby/But we came pretty close/Adios, adios.../Our dreams of endless summers, they were just too grandiose/Adios, adios/And I’ll miss the blood red sunset/But I’ll miss you the most/Adios, adios”.

I’ll be straight up with you. ADIOS will appeal mostly to the forty and over crowd.  It’s mainly comprised of country and easy listening ballads, with a few exceptions.  Glen’s voice was actually in fine form for these last recordings of his.  Those who will relate most to this album lyrically are those with unfulfilled romantic longings, those who are experiencing heartbreak and heartache, and those who are lonely.  On a couple of songs Glen does point out there are better days ahead, so all is not gloomy.  Hopefully ADIOS, which I’m rating 90%, will spur others including myself to pick up some of Glen’s classic recordings.  If you like Randy Travis, buy this album.  For more info visit: www.glencampbell.com and www.universalmusicenterprises.com.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

TIME


Third Day released their self-titled debut in 1996 on Reunion Records.  ‘Nothing at All’ from that project hit #34 on the Billboard rock charts.  In 1997 they put out CONSPIRACY NO. 5.  It was nominated for a 1998 Grammy for ‘Best Rock Gospel Album of the Year’ and won a Dove Award for ‘Rock Album of the Year’.  One of its tracks, ‘Alien’, also won a Dove for ‘Rock Song of the Year’.  In 1999 Third Day released their third studio album TIME (Essential).  Monroe Jones is the album’s main producer.  On two songs Jim Dineen is a co-producer.

Starting things off is ‘I’ve Always Loved You’.  It’s a light country/rock number with Buck Reid on steel guitar.  On it God calls out to us: “Don’t you know I’ve always loved you/Even before there was time?/Though you turn away/I’ll tell you still/Don’t you know I’ve always loved you and I always will?”  Jim Spake and Scott Thompson play horns on ‘Believe’, a Southern rocker addressed to the unsaved: “Always looking for a sign/Miracles won’t change your mind/Tell me how much evidence you need/Turning truth into a lie/Hardened hearts and blinded eyes/All you need to do is just believe”.

Scotty Wilbanks plays Hammond B-3 and Alfredo Gerald and Tabitha Fair provide backing vocals on ‘Took my Place’, a short gospel music influenced rocker.  It’s a song of testimony: “Chained like a prisoner from the day I was born/Blamed like a criminal for the things that I’d done/Then along came from out of nowhere/Precious as the light of day/You gave me something no one could take away/When You took my place”.  ‘Never Bow Down’ is about devotion to one’s Christian faith and includes a great electric guitar solo: “And everyone from everywhere/Will show you their allegiance/But the child of God will faithfully stand tall/I will never bow down/Though I know I will be saved from the fire/I will never compromise/All that I have and everything I hold”.

‘Your Love Oh Lord (Psalm 36)’ is now a modern worship classic.  Third Day included a live version of it on 2000’s OFFERINGS: A WORSHIP ALBUM.  The song begins with these words: “Your love, oh Lord/Reaches to the heavens/Your faithfulness stretches to the skies/And your righteousness is like the mighty mountain, yeah/Your justice flows like the ocean’s tide”.  Monroe Jones plays piano on ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’, which offers advice: “Chasing lies can find you tired and jaded/And in your world the colors have all faded/If you think that you can find a place to get away from the pain/You’re looking for nothing/And I hate to see you leave without a fight/Time will open doors for you/Wishes spent make dreams come true/I promise I’ll be there/Don’t say goodbye”.

‘What Good’ is a Southern rocker that speaks out against materialism: “Rich young man, you think you can make it through the world on the things you’ve got/I’ll tell you, I know it’s true/You can’t get to heaven on things you’ve bought, no/They’re going to leave you/They’re going to fade away/What good is it a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”  ‘Can’t Take the Pain’ is a great ballad from Peter’s perspective: “I can’t take the pain of knowing that I left You/I can’t bear the shame of knowing I was wrong/But I’ll take the blame for everything that I’ve done/I can’t take the pain of leaving You alone, of leaving You alone/I was there when they accused You, but I guess I was too afraid/Not just once and not just twice/But three times I denied Your Name”.

‘Sky Falls Down’ includes background vocals by Michael Mellett and percussion by Blaine Barcus.  It’s about being bound for gloryland: “Sky falls down, it crumbles into the sea/The sun goes out/He’s coming back for me/I’ll be found at the place/Where the gravity leaves the ground/I won’t be comin’ down”.  ‘Give’ includes these words which I really like: “How great the love lavished on us all/That we can be the children of God/All I want is love/I confess to this/I will take it, Lord/All You have to give”.  It’s a lengthy track at over eight minutes long.


On TIME Third Day is: Mac Powell (vocals, acoustic guitar), Mark Lee (guitars), Brad Avery (guitars), Tai Anderson (bass), and David Carr (drums, percussion).  I wouldn’t say this is the band’s most popular album, but it is certainly one of their best.  Musically, there’s pretty much an even mix of rockers and adult contemporary ballads.  Third Day urges folks to believe in God and stresses devotion and faithfulness to one’s Christian faith.  The love God has for us His children, and Christ’s redeeming work for us is presented.  There’s also a good song about Christ’s return.  Fans of Kutless and Jeremy Camp will enjoy this Christian rock album which I’m rating 100%.  For more info visit: www.thirdday.com.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LUCKY TOWN


Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949 in Long Branch, New Jersey.  He released his debut album, GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, N.J., in 1973.  It was his seventh studio album BORN IN THE U.S.A. (1984) that really resonated with me as a kid with its awesome title track, and other songs including ‘Glory Days, and ‘I’m on Fire’.  Fast forward to 1992 and he released two studio albums via Columbia Records on my birthday, March 31st. They were his ninth and tenth and entitled HUMAN TOUCH and LUCKY TOWN.  Here I’m reviewing the second one.  It peaked at #2 on the UK Albums Chart and at #3 on the U.S. Billboard 200.  The album was produced by Bruce, Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin, and includes additional production by Roy Bittan.

‘Better Days’ is a mid-tempo rock song on which Randy Jackson (who would go on to be a judge on ‘American Idol’) plays bass.  The song tells this story: “Well, I took a piss at fortune’s sweet kiss/It’s like eatin’ caviar and dirt/It’s a sad, funny ending to find yourself pretending/A rich man in a poor man’s shirt/Now my ass was draggin’ when from a passin’ gypsy wagon/Your heart like a diamond shone/Tonight I’m layin’ in your arms carvin’ lucky charms/Out of these hard luck bones/These are better days baby/These are better days it’s true/These are better days/There’s better days shining through”.  The title track, ‘Lucky Town’, is a melodic one of determination: “Well, here’s to your good looks baby/Now here’s to my health/Here’s to the loaded places that we take ourselves/When it comes to luck you make your own/Tonight I got dirt on my hands but I’m building me a new home/Baby, down in lucky town/Down in lucky town/I’m gonna lose these blues I’ve found/Down in Lucky Town”.

Lisa Lowell, Patti Scialfa, and Soozie Tyrell sing backing vocals on ‘Local Hero’ which includes these interesting words: “Well, I learned my job/I learned it well/Fit myself with religion and a story to tell/First they made me the king/Then they made me Pope/Then they brought the rope/I woke to a gypsy girl sayin’ ‘Drink this’/Well, my hands had lost all sensation”.  ‘If I Should Fall Behind’ is a short, beautiful ballad about commitment: “Now there’s a beautiful river in the valley ahead/There ‘neath the oak’s bough soon we will be wed/Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees/I’ll wait for you/And should I fall behind wait for me”.

Roy Bittan plays keyboards on ‘Leap of Faith’, a gospel music influenced light rock song.  These words from it might make some blush: “Now your legs were heaven, your breasts were the altar/Your body was the holy land/You shouted ‘Jump’ but my heart faltered/You laughed and said ‘Baby, don’t you understand?’/It takes a leap of faith to get things going/It takes a leap of faith, you gotta show some guts/It takes a leap of faith to get things going/In your heart you must trust”.  ‘The Big Muddy’ serves as a warning: “Billy had a mistress down on A and 12th/She was that little somethin’ that he did for himself/His own little secret didn’t hurt nobody/Come the afternoon he’d take her wadin’/Waist deep in the big muddy (2X)/You start out standing but end up crawlin’”.

Next up is ‘Living Proof’ which opens with these wonderful words about a baby being born: “Well now, on a summer night in a dusky room/Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light/Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon/In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take/Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make/In a world so hard and dirty, so fouled and confused/Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy/I found living proof”.  ‘Book of Dreams’ is an easy listening number that includes these intimate lyrics: “In the darkness my fingers slip across your skin/I feel your sweet reply/The room fades away and suddenly  I’m way up high/Just holdin’ you to me/As through the window the moonlight streams/Oh, won’t you baby be in my book of dreams?”.

‘Souls of the Departed’ is an adult rock song full of meaning: “On the road to Basra stood young Lieutenant Jimmy Bly/Detailed to go through the clothes of the soldiers who died/At night in dreams he sees their souls rise/Like dark geese into the Oklahoma skies/Well, this is a prayer for the souls of the departed/Those who’ve gone and left their babies broken hearted/This is a prayer for the souls of the departed”.  Closing things out is ‘My Beautiful Reward’, which speaks of life’s ups and downs: “Well, your hair shone in the sun/I was so high/I was the lucky one/Then I came crashing down like a drunk on a barroom floor/Searching for my beautiful reward”.  Ian McLagen plays the Hammond organ.


LUCKY TOWN is a roots rock album.  You won’t really find stadium rock anthems here such as the song ‘Born in the U.S.A.’.  When the songs do rock here, it is in a more laid back fashion.  Four of the ten tracks are what you would call mellow.  Bruce’s vocals are gravelly sounding which is a good thing here.  There are happy love songs, songs about having a good time or longing for better times, and selections about blue collar life in small towns.  While not Bruce’s most dazzling album, LUCKY TOWN is a solid rock effort and it is worthy of several listens.  I’m rating it 95%.  For more info visit: www.brucespringsteen.net.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

DIGNITY



Hilary Erhard Duff was born on September 28, 1987 in Houston, Texas.  She played the lead character in the Disney Channel series ‘Lizzie McGuire’ from 2001-2004.  She currently stars in the comedy-drama series ‘Younger’.  Her first three studio albums were: SANTA CLAUS LANE (2002), METAMORPHOSIS (2003), and HILARY DUFF (2004).  Fast forward to 2007 and she released her fourth studio album, DIGNITY (Hollywood Records).  It debuted at #3 on the U.S. Billboard 200.  Here, I am reviewing the standard 14 track version of the album.  In the liner notes Hilary writes: “This is the first time I have written a record completely based on how I was feeling on any particular day.  Good mood, bad mood, sad, happy, playful, funny, lonely, stressed out, or really calm and peaceful.  It’s all there!!”  She adds: “Most importantly, I want to thank God for loving me, guiding me, and giving me all of the blessings that I have”.

Starting things off is the album’s third single, ‘Stranger’.  It hit #1 on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart and was written by Hilary, Kara DioGuardi, Vada Nobles, Derrick Haruin, and Julius ‘Logic’ Diaz.  It’s a song about being disappointed in a guy: “You treat me like a queen when we go out/Wanna show everyone what our love’s about/All wrapped up in me whenever there is a crowd/But when no one’s around/There’s no kindness in your eyes/The way you look at me, it’s just not right/I can tell what’s going on this time/There’s a stranger in my life”.  The title track, ‘Dignity’, follows.  It takes aim at celebrity: “Where’s your dignity?.../Can’t buy respect, but you can pick up the bill.../You’d show up to the opening of an envelope!/Why?/Does everybody care about where you go?”

‘With Love’ was penned by Hilary, Kara DioGuardi, Vada Nobles, and Julius ‘Logic’ Diaz.  It was the album’s second single and also a #1 hit on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.  It hit #24 on the US Billboard Hot 100.  Hilary speaks directly with her guy: “Slow me down, slow me down/I know you will always be around/Baby, you can be tough/Say enough is enough/I’m wrong/That I’m coming on way too strong/Don’t think I’ll be crushed/Just do it with love, love, love, love”.  ‘Danger’ finds Hilary falling for a guy she knows she shouldn’t: “I’m smarter than this and know better than this/Cause there’s something really missin’ in your kiss/I’m smarter than this and know better than this/But there’s something that you got that is tough to resist/It’s tough to resist/Cause I see danger, danger, danger in your eyes/Cause danger, danger, danger, you disguise/So, baby lift your head up to the light/There’s danger in those eyes”.

‘Gypsy Woman’ was written by Hilary and Haylie Duff, and OneRepublic’s lead singer Ryan Tedder.  It’s a terrific pop song that is mesmerizing.  It, like Proverbs, warns of a dangerous woman: “She can swallow knives, she can swallow lives/Gold and black stare/Brought the night of your demise.../She can rob you blind with just one look from those eyes/Out of all the thieves that trained her/None of them could tame her”.  ‘Never Stop’ begins with these words of encouragement: “Sometimes you feel your world is breaking down/Baby, don’t stop/There’s trouble everywhere, it’s all around/Baby, don’t stop/Cause I’m here to turn the corner with you/And when we’re together, there’s nothing that we can’t do”.

‘No Work, All Play’ is a smooth flowing pop ballad that offers good advice: “Sometimes it’s hard looking at yourself/You’d rather place the blame than point it your own way/I still do hide from my feelings myself/But I’m trying hard these days not to procrastinate/And face my fate/Stay on my case.../You gotta know yourself to be yourself/It’s a struggle everyday”.  ‘Between You and Me’ finds Hilary being upfront with a guy: “My love is not up for negotiation/’Hello’ doesn’t mean an open invitation/Don’t take it personally/Cause you and me, we’re wrong/So move on/Move on (2X)/Now, I’m not saying you’re not nice/Let me give you some advice/There’s a girl across the room who’d kill to be with you tonight”.

‘Dreamer’ is a pop/dance track directed at an obsessed fan it seems: “I’m at the grocery store and there you are just watchin’ me/Pick up my clothes from the cleaners and look who I see/I try to lose you in my car, but you won’t go away/Come on buddy/Don’t you think you’ve overstayed your stay?/Don’t you have better things to do with your life than hang around and stare at me and complicate mine?”  The next song, ‘Happy’, is about a girl who has moved on: “I understand why you’re looking for tears in my eyes/Trust me, they were there but now the well has run dry/I was in so deep but couldn’t get out/I sat on feelings that I buried deep down/I knew there’d come a day when our paths would cross/And glad it’s today cause now I am strong/I’m happy and I can thank myself/If it were up to you I’d be in my bed crying”.

‘Burned’ has lyrics many of us who’ve been hurt before will relate to: “When somebody’s knockin’/When somebody wants me/When somebody’s trying to love me completely/I get scared/Don’t know how it works/Will somebody save me?/Or will I get burned?”  Alecia Moore (Pink), Chantal Kreviazuk, and Raine Maida wrote ‘Outside of You’, a pop/rock song that pines for a guy: “I’m outside of you and I can’t get through/Overlooking the beauty that’s dying inside me/Can’t you see?/I’m outside of you and I’m so confused/You keep missing the small things/The safety that love brings/Can’t you see?/I’m outside of you”.

‘I Wish’ is a pop song that’s catchy and includes a great electric guitar solo.  It’s also one of honesty: “You always hurt the people closest to ya/Guess I blamed you for everything wrong/And I don’t know why it’s so hard to tell ya/I guess that’s why I’m writing you this song!/Yeah/You wanna know why I look so sad and lonely/You wanna know why I can barely talk/Well, it’s not your fault, so let me say I’m sorry/For makin’ you the reason for my fall”.  Last up, ironically, is the album’s lead single.  ‘Play With Fire’ was written by Hilary, Kara DioGuardi, Rhett Lawrence, and will.i.am.  This pop/dance number minces no words: “You never know just what you got till it’s gone/You freak out/But I’m not falling for that game/Boys like you never change/You made me feel I wasn’t enough, wasn’t enough/For your love/But it was insecurity that made you run/It wasn’t me/So, don’t you sit there trying to give me more excuses/I don’t have time for this/I’m off to play in Houston!”

Style-wise DIGNITY is a bubblegum pop/dance album that musically reminds me of Britney Spears, but with cleaner lyrics.  It’d be a good album to work out to.  Lyrically, the songs deal with a wide variety of topics.  Hilary sings about relationship problems, gives men advice, speaks of dangerous women, and moving on when there’s no potential for a romantic relationship.  Hilary warns against getting an inflated ego and people following celebrities too closely.  She encourages introspection and self improvement.  This album shows great growth from her previous efforts.  Hilary was 19 when DIGNITY came out.  I’m rating it 93%.  For more info visit: www.hilaryduff.com.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

ALLEGIANCE



Raymond Howard ‘Ray’ Boltz was born on June 14, 1953 in Muncie, Indiana.  In 1986 he released his debut album WATCH THE LAMB.  The title track became a #1 hit.  His second album was 1988’s THANK YOU.  The title track for it won a Dove for ‘Song of the Year’.  After releasing three more albums including THE ALTAR (1989), in 1994 he released ALLEGIANCE (Word/Epic).  In the liner notes he writes: “This project was inspired by my involvement with an organization called ‘TEEN MANIA’.  It is my prayer that this project will inspire and challenge you”.  This album was produced by Steve Millikan and Ray Boltz.

The first track was written by Ray, Brent Alan Henderson, and Steve Millikan.  Phil Madeira plays the Hammond B-3 on ‘I Go to the River’, a gospel influenced adult contemporary selection of testimony: “Oh, what a gift of the Father is the Water of Life/Like a river that flows deep in my soul/It’s from an endless supply/Where do I go when I’m thirsty and dry?/I go to the river and I always find/Rest for my soul, peace for my mind/I go to the river.../It’s a river of healing/It’s a river of faith/It’s a river of gladness/It’s a river of grace/Help me, Lord/It’s a river of mercy/It’s a river of love/It’s a river of freedom/It’s a river of blood”.  ‘Reigning’ is one of five cuts penned by the duo of Ray and Steve Millikan.  Background vocalists are Guy Penrod and Michael Mellett on this song of praise and worship: “You are still reigning/Glorious One/Mighty Redeemer/God’s precious Son/Forever and ever we worship You/Jesus the King/You are still reigning/You reign in power/You reign in power and glory/And You will reign forever/And ever and ever and ever”.

‘Where I Met Jesus’ is a lovely adult contemporary ballad that paints this beautiful picture: “Bessie can still remember like it was yesterday/She watched her husband, Oliver/Kneel in the church and pray/That was what she had been hoping for/Still she was so surprised/Was that a glow upon his face or just the tears in her eyes?”  ‘Bought with Blood’ is an excellent, upbeat country song of testimony: “There’s no greater treasure than what He paid for me/Bought with blood, not with gold/He gave His life to make me whole/There’s no doubt God is love/For my soul/Was, was bought with blood/You can keep the silver, you can keep the gold/Give me the treasure/Buried in my soul”.

‘I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb’ is one of two on this project solely penned by Ray.  It won a Dove for ‘Inspirational Song of the Year’ and was accompanied by a heart-tugging video.  11 backing vocalists are used including Guy Penrod, Chris Willis, Bonnie Keen, and Beverly Darnall.  The song speaks of true devotion to God: “I have heard how Christians long ago were brought before a tyrant’s throne/They were told that he would spare their lives/If they would renounce the name of Christ/But one by one they chose to die/The Son of God they would not deny/Like a great angelic choir sings/I can almost hear their voices ring/’I pledge allegiance to the Lamb/With all my strength, with all I am/I will seek to honor His commands/I pledge allegiance to the Lamb’”.  ‘Set Sail’ is a fast paced country/pop tune of invitation: “Set sail/The Captain’s calling/It’s time to climb aboard/Set sail/There’s room for all and there’s such a great reward/Oceans of glory, islands of grace/The sun on your shoulders and the wind in your face/There’s not a chance you can fail/Set sail”.

‘The Storm’ is a short, neat instrumental score penned by Steve Millikan.  It serves as an intro for the Lawrence Chewning/Ray Boltz penned inspirational classic ‘The Anchor Holds’.  It’s a powerful song about God’s faithfulness: “It was in the night/Through the storms of my life/Oh, that’s where God proved His love to me/The anchor holds though the ship is battered/The anchor holds/Though the sails are torn/I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas/The anchor holds in spite of the storm”.  On ‘Thrown Away’ Randy Melson plays bass, while Sandy Williams, Jerry McPherson, and Mark Baldwin play guitars.  This easy listening song tells us everyone has value: “Thrown away/Can you believe the things they toss aside and leave ‘em where they lay?/Oh, but they can be saved/If you will take the time/And try to find the good along the way/Oh, what this world throws away”.

Chris Lieber plays the organ on ‘I Will Tell the World’, a Christian pop song about sharing Jesus with others: “I have a dream, I have a goal/I have a destination/His call is burning in my soul/It is an obligation I will cherish/Oh, may it never perish/Father, make my voice Your own/I will tell the world He is returning/I have touched the fire/I feel it burning/Until everyone on earth has heard/I will tell the world”.  Ray and Greg Gilpin wrote ‘The Gospel of Grace’.  Here is the chorus: “The Gospel of Grace is sailing/What a glorious sight to behold/Her heavenly banners are waving/Her sails are covered with gold/They say when a man looks upon her/The glory will shine on his face/For there’ll never be a ship on the sea/Like the glorious Gospel of Grace”.

Plain and simply put ALLEGIANCE contains songs that are much better crafted than a lot of what is put out by today’s male Contemporary Christian artists.  These songs touch the heart.  Stylistically the album includes pop, adult contemporary, country, inspirational, and gospel sounds.  God is pointed to as our Source of strength, peace, love, and as our sure refuge in hard times.  Our worth to God is stated and His redeeming, atoning, saving power is proclaimed.  Christians are encouraged to share their faith and live lives of obedience to Christ.  I’m rating ALLEGIANCE 100%.  For more info visit: www.rayboltz.com.


Friday, June 30, 2017

MOST WANTED: THE COLLECTOR'S SIGNATURE EDITION



Hilary Erhard Duff was born on September 28, 1987 in Houston, Texas.  Her first major acting role was in the 1998 movie ‘Casper Meets Wendy’.  She went on to star in the Disney Channel show ‘Lizzie McGuire’ from 2001-2004.  Her debut album was 2002’s SANTA CLAUS LANE.  In 2003 and 2004 she put out pop albums.  Here, I will be reviewing  MOST WANTED: THE COLLECTOR’S SIGNATURE EDITION (2005, Hollywood Records), which comes with some cool pics in a special box.  In the liner notes Hilary shares: “I want to dedicate this ultimate collection to you, my fans all around the world!  I feel so blessed and supported by you.  No matter where I am, it always feels like home”.

Starting things off is ‘Wake Up’ an upbeat pop song written by Dead Executives and Hilary.  It offers these words of commentary on what it’s like to be a celebrity: “People all around you everywhere that you go/People all around you/They don’t really know you/Everybody’s watching you like you’re some kind of show/Everybody’s watching/They don’t really know you now”.  ‘The Getaway’ is a song about a guy causing a gal confusion: “You tell me that you love me first/Then throw your heart into reverse/I gotta get away/I can’t keep comin’ back to you every time you’re in the mood to whisper something sweet in my ear/It’s so hard to move on cuz every time I think you’re gone/You show up in my rear view mirror”.  ‘Beat of my Heart’ is a catchy pop/dance song with no deep meaning, but that’s okay.

Next up is ‘Come Clean (Chris Cox Remix)’.  This Kara DioGuardi/John Shanks song is given the techno-dance treatment here.  It finds a young lady coming into her own: “I’m shedding, shedding every color/Trying to find a pigment of truth beneath my skin/Cause different doesn’t feel so different/And going out is better than always staying in/Feel the wind/Let the rain fall down and wake my dreams”.  ‘Who’s that Girl (Acoustic Version)’ finds Hilary reflecting on a past version of herself: “I’m the one who made you laugh/Who made you feel and made you sad/I’m not sorry for what we did, who we were/I’m not sorry/I’m not her/Who’s that girl livin’ my life?”

The next track, ‘Mr. James Dean’ was penned by Hilary, her sister Haylie, and Kevin De Clue.  This rocker has Hilary being honest with a guy: “All the king’s horses wouldn’t make me believe/Even when the walls come crashing down/You still could never be/A rebel without a cause/A rebel to the first degree/Why don’t you stop trying so hard?/Cause there’s no men man enough to be/Another James Dean/You’re nothing like him/So don’t call me friend”.  ‘So Yesterday’ is about moving on when a relationship ends: “If it’s over, let it go and come tomorrow it will seem/So yesterday (2X)/I’m just a bird that’s already flown away/Laugh it off/Let it go and when you wake up it will seem/So yesterday (2X)/Haven’t you heard that I’m gonna be okay?”

 ‘Metamorphosis’ was written by Hilary, Charlie Midnight, Chico Bennett, and Andre Recke.  This pop/rock song is about growing as a person: “Watching the butterfly go towards the sun/I wonder what I will become/Metamorphosis/Whatever this is/Whatever I’m going through/Come on and give me a kiss/Come on, I insist/I’ll be something new/A metamorphosis”.  It was the title track to Hilary’s 2003 album.  ‘Rock this World (Remix 2005)’ is an energetic rocker about having fun: “I don’t want to save the day/I just want to get my way/And rock this world/Read my lips and watch ‘em curl/Rock this world/It don’t take much to please this girl/I don’t need the glitter, don’t believe the hype/You might say I’m the simple type/Like any other girl/Who wants to rock this, rock this world”.

‘Break my Heart’ isn’t exactly a happy song: “Now I try to get my heart up off the ground/My confidence is gone/Happiness cannot be found/So look what you did to me/You got the best of me/And now I’m stuck with all the rest/It will never be the same”.  Charlie Midnight and Chico Bennett wrote ‘Jericho’.  This here, is a Remix 2005 version.  Here are some of the lyrics: “Nothing is ever what it seems/When you live inside your dreams/The walls will tumble (2X)/But I’m not gonna cry/My heart won’t crumble (2X)/If we ever say goodbye”.

Kara DioGuardio and John Shanks wrote ‘Fly’, the inspirational lead single from Hilary’s self-titled 2004 album: “All your worries, leave them somewhere else/Find a dream you can follow/Reach for something when there’s nothing left/And the world’s feeling hollow/Can you hear it calling?/Can you feel it in your soul?/Can you trust this longing and take control?/Fly/Open up the part of you that wants to hide away/You can shine”.  2005’s pop/rocker ‘Supergirl’ oozes with self-confidence: “Haven’t you heard?/I’m Supergirl/You don’t wanna mess with me/I got your back/I know your every move/And I got everything you’ll ever need”.

‘Party Up (Remix 2005)’ is next.  On it, Hilary calls out a guy for his bad behavior: “You roll me, you use me/You love me and then/You wrap me up and reel me in and use me again/You love me, you hate me/You say it’s the end/I know you’re gonna do it again and again...”  ‘Girl Can Rock’ includes these fun lyrics: “Hey boys, are you ready for the shock?/I’m living proof, the girl can rock/Spread the news around every single block/Hey boys, the girl can rock/The girl can rock/Don’t say ‘maybe’ or call me ‘baby’/I ain’t crazy at all”.

Jane M. Wiedlin and Terence E. Hall wrote ‘Our Lips are Sealed’.  It was originally recorded by The Go-Go’s on their 1981 album BEAUTY AND THE BEAT.  Here, the happy pop song is a duet with Hilary’s sister Haylie.  It appeared on the soundtrack for 2004’s ‘A Cinderalla Story’, in which Hilary starred.  Here are some words of wisdom from the song: “It doesn’t matter what they say/In the jealous games people play/Our lips are sealed/Pay no mind to what they say/It doesn’t matter anyway/Our lips are sealed.../Hush, my darling/Don’t you cry/Quiet, angel/Forget their lies”.  Closing things out is ‘Why Not (Remix 2005)’.  It encourages us to step out of our comfort zones: “There may never be a sign/No flashing neon light/Telling you to make your move/When the time is right/Why not take a crazy chance?/Why not do a crazy dance?.../Why not take a star from the sky?/Why not spread your wings and fly?”

MOST WANTED: THE COLLECTOR’S SIGNATURE EDITION will appeal to fans of Carly Rae Jepsen and the earlier works of Miley Cyrus.  One has to keep in mind that Hilary Duff was not quite 18 years of age when this collection came out!  The CD runs almost an hour long.  There are several songs about just having fun, loving and enjoying life and music.  There are songs about guys falling short of her expectations, and breakups.  There are also songs about starting anew, growing up, and reaching one’s full potential.  Hilary comes across as strong and independent.  I’m rating this project 84%.  For more info visit: www.hilaryduff.com.

Monday, June 26, 2017

WIDE EYED


Nichole Ellyse Nordeman was born on January 3, 1972 in Dallas, Texas.  She was raised in Colorado Springs.  In 1998 she won a songwriting competition put on by the Gospel Music Association.  In an interview with Dan MacIntosh for Crosswalk Music she said: “I respect songwriters tremendously, just because I can relate to the craft.  People like James Taylor, Carole King, and Billy Joel all have my respect.  But I can also listen to bubble-gum pop, and be just as happy”.  Nichole released her debut album WIDE EYED on Star Song Records in 1998.  It was produced and arranged by Mark Hammond, while John Mays served as executive producer.  In the liner notes, Nordeman writes: “To the Creator of all life and Giver of all gifts.  May this work be, in some small way, a tribute to Your greatness.  And may You choose to further reveal Yourself through it”.  The album peaked at #16 on the US Billboard Christian Albums chart.

Starting things off is ‘To Know You’, one of five songs written by the duo of Nichole and Mark Hammond.  It was the album’s first single and went on to become one of four songs from the album to be a Top 40 hit on Christian Adult Contemporary radio.  This song is one of honesty: “Thomas needed proof that You had really risen/Undefeated when He placed His fingers/Where the nails once broke Your skin/Did his faith finally begin?/I’ve lied if I denied the common ground I’ve shared with him”.  The title track, ‘Wide Eyed’, is one of five songs solely written by Nichole.  It was the album’s last single.  Gordon Kennedy plays guitars and Mark Hammond plays bass on this adult contemporary song that will make you think: “Not so long ago/A man from Galilee fed thousands with His bread and His theology/And the truth He spoke quickly became the joke of educated, self-inflated Pharisees like me/And they were wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion/They were tongue tied, drawn by their conclusions/Would I have turned and walked away and laughed at what He had to say/And casually dismissed Him as a fraud/Unaware that I was staring at the image of my God?”

‘Who You Are’ is a great song that uses The Nashville String Machine.  It reflects on how we view God: “It is easy to insist on what is packaged and precise/And dismiss the clear suspicion/That You’re bigger than we’d like/It is tempting to regard You as familiar in so many ways/I know I can’t explain You/I would not even try to/And still it’s clear that You are here beside me/I marvel and I wonder/So near and somehow still so far/What makes You who You are?”  Caitlin Hammond is a backing vocalist on ‘Anyway’.  It’s an easy listening song about our worth: “A gallery of paintings new and paintings old/I guess it’s no surprise that I’m no Michelangelo/Every layer of mine hides a lovely design/It might take a little patience/It might take a little time/But You called me beautiful/When You saw my shame/And You placed me on the wall/Anyway”.

Craig Young plays bass on the pop song ‘I Wish the Same for You’.  It finds Nichole desiring others to find a relationship with God: “We are not so different/Sons and daughters, you and I/Facing walls of questions/Fearing answers on the other side of eternity/And what the day will bring/But I finally found the safe and sound/And I wish the same for you/There’s something to hold on to/Yeah, I wish the same for you/A chance for love”.  George Cocchini plays guitars and Gary Lunn plays bass on ‘Is it Any Wonder’.  It speaks of the pressures the world puts on women and men: “Is it any wonder that she would feel less than real/When she reveals what is clearer in her mirror?/Take a look around her/Magazines, glamour queens.../Take a look around him/His wallet size and what he drives/Will symbolize how he’s made it/How they’ll grade it”.

Nichole plays piano on ‘Burnin’’, a terrific ballad about spiritual refinement: “Used to be that I could say/My faith was one arm’s length away/From any flame that ever felt too warm/Asked for matches but I received a gallon full of gasoline/Now my cozy campfire days are gone/And I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’/And I know I’m gonna blister in these flames/But I’ll stay here til this smoke clears/And I’ll find You in the ashes that remain”.  ‘Gone are the Days’ is a cool pop song about how God accepts us: “No more self-rejection, no longer paralyzed/This holy perfection/Is me in Your eyes/Gone are the days of all that I was afraid of/I’ve left behind the traces of who I’ve been/I’m no longer able to wrestle with this angel/And the closer You get, I can let You love me/You love me”.

Of the next song, ‘To Say Thanks’, Nichole writes: “For anyone who believes that every storm in life comes from the guy with a pitchfork and a red cape”.  These lyrics are thought provoking: “Even fields of flowers dressing in their best because of You/Knowing they are blessed to be in bloom/But what about November/When the air is cold and wet winds blow/Do they understand why they can’t grow?/Why? (4X)/Why does it keep getting harder to say thanks?/And I could not pretend to know the difference between the storms You send and those I find”.  Nature lovers will appreciate the closing easy listening ballad, ‘River God’.  It’s about spiritual growth: “Rolling river God/Little stones are smooth/Only once the water passes through/So I am a stone/Rough and grainy still/Trying to reconcile this river’s chill/But when I close my eyes and feel You rushing by/I know that time brings change and change takes time/And when the sunset comes/My prayer would be this one/That You might pick me up/And notice that I am/Just a little smoother in Your hand”.

WIDE EYED has got to be right up there with the finest of debut albums in Contemporary Christian Music!  Fans of Sara Groves and Sarah McLachlan will appreciate the adult contemporary, light pop, and easy listening sounds on this record, along with Nichole’s endearing vocals.  Spiritual growth is a reoccurring theme here.  It takes time and sometimes it hurts.  Another topic explored is that we can’t know everything about God on this earth.  It’s okay to have questions and doubts.  These songs convey a desire to know God and also convey our worth to Him.  I’m rating WIDE EYED a perfect 100% with bonus points for Nichole’s nifty hairdo on the front cover.  For more info visit: www.nicholenordeman.com.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

OPEN HANDS



Laura Mixon Story was born on September 5, 1978 in Augusta, Georgia.  From 1997 to 2000 the band she was in, Silers Bald, put out four independent records.  In 2002 she released her first solo independent album, INDESCRIBABLE.  A couple years later Chris Tomlin had a #2 hit with its title track.  Story released her fourth album, BLESSINGS, in 2011 (INO).  It hit #1 on the Top Christian Albums and the Folk Albums chart.  It won the Dove for ‘Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year’.  The title track also won a couple of Dove’s.  Fast forward to 2017 and Story has a new studio album out, OPEN HANDS (Fair Trade).  She states: “What the Lord asks us is to surrender.  It’s about learning to live with open hands, learning to live life in this constant state of saying, ‘Lord, my life is Yours.  My time is Yours.  My resources are Yours.  All of this is Yours.  Do what You will”.  She adds: “My greatest goal is always for my story to encourage listeners to believe that they, too, can live out their faith in the midst of hard circumstances”.

A modern worship song, ‘Death Was Arrested’, starts things off.  It’s a song of testimony that uses six background vocalists: “Released from my chains, I’m a prisoner no more/My shame was a ransom He faithfully bore/He cancelled my debt/And He called me His friend/When death was arrested and my life began/Oh, Your grace so free washes over me/You have made me new/Now life begins with You”.  Laura Story and Seth Mosley wrote the title track, ‘Open Hands’, which is already a chart-topper.  Luke Brown sings backing vocals, while Third Day’s Mac Powell provides duet vocals.  It’s a worship song about letting go: “Take it all, every hope, every dream, every plan/Take it all, every weight/All the shame and brokenness/Jesus, I surrender all/Every victory and loss/Take it all, take it all/’Til all I have is open hands”.  ‘You Came Running’ is an adult contemporary song that praises God: “Heartbreak on this winding road/And the pieces I had gathered/Couldn’t heal up on their own/But the God of all comfort and the Prince of all Peace/Came running/You came running/You saw what was shattered/The depth of my need/And came running/You came running to me”.

‘Give You Faith’ is a pretty co-write with Hank Bentley.  It’s lovingly addressed to Laura’s children: “I wanna give you faith/I wanna leave you hope/That you would know a love that never lets you go/More than wisdom or wealth/More than happiness and health/May you say I gave you faith.../The very God who formed you/Gives grace enough for us/And though I won’t be perfect/I’ll teach you to trust”.  ‘For the Love of My King’ includes background vocals by Tina LaRue and Jeremy Redmon.  It’s a well done mash-up of ‘My Jesus, I Love Thee’ and new lyrics including these: “As long as I have breath, until the end of days/I will sing for the love of my King/Whether in life or death/My heart will ever praise/I will sing for the love of my King”.

Laura writes: “I’m pretty sure that the theology that I learned as a kid was from old hymns.  It’s amazing, even now as an adult, how those hymns come back and really provide that sturdy foundation for life”.  ‘Awake My Soul (A 1000 Tongues)’ presents these words in a modern worship style: “O’ for a thousand tongues to sing/My great Redeemer’s praise/The glories of my God and King/The triumphs of His grace/A thousand songs are not enough/To say how great You are/The glories of Your majesty/The triumphs of Your love/Awake my soul to sing the glories of my God and King/Arise and praise the One/Worthy of the songs of a thousand tongues”.  Laura, Hank Bentley, and Mia Fieldes wrote ‘Whisper’.  Gabe Scott plays the hammer dulcimer, Cara Fox the cello, and lap steel and bouzouki are also used on this beautiful ballad about patience: “I will wait for You (2X)/And my heart will be the listener/I will wait for You (2X)/And I will find You in the whisper/I believe that You speak in the quietness/Even in the chaos I will rest”.

‘Every Word You Breathe’ declares the power of God’s Word: “It’s water for the thirsty, power for the weak/Shelter for the weary/Help for those in need/It’s revival for the broken/It answers those who seek/With every word You’ve spoken/You’re bringing life to me/You are bringing life to me”.  ‘Majesty’ is one of two cuts on the album solely written by Laura.  It’s a modern worship ballad: “Your Majesty, Your Grace Divine/The fullness my soul thirsts to find/May all I am be lost in the depths of who You are/That I may know life true/O Majesty”.

Next up is ‘Extraordinary’, a contemporary song beginning with these words of gratitude: “No eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard/The fullness of Your love/And kindness undeserved/This mystery of grace/I cannot comprehend/That You would call me child, that You would call me friend/You are extraordinary/In the way You love/In the way You love me/You find me when I’m weary and You lift me up”.  Laura’s bio says she wrote the closing song ‘Grace Abounds’ “after weeks of turning on the television only to continue to watch stories of terror attacks, extreme injustice, and racial tension make headlines day after day”.  Laura plays piano and Chris Bevins and Craig Swift are responsible for the string arrangement on this easy listening number.  I like these words: “When life has left me disillusioned/When hostility and hatred seem to win/Each headline that I read brings me to my knees again/When it feels like hope cannot be found/Grace abounds”.

If Chris Tomlin were female, he would be Laura Story.  The two artists are very similar in their approach to crafting modern worship songs for the church.  At least that’s what I conclude after listening to OPEN HANDS.  Laura has a voice that is easy to listen to and the instrumentation is skillful here.  These songs express gratitude to God for redeeming us via the cross and the resurrection.  God is praised for His grace, love, comfort, healing, and majesty!  We are called to willingly surrender our lives to Him.  We are also called to wait on and listen for God.  There are two updates on traditional songs of the church, presented with additional and new lyrics, which is a Chris Tomlin mega-trait.  ‘Give You Faith’ is the best song appropriate for infant baptisms or baby dedications that I’ve heard in a while.  I’m rating OPEN HANDS a perfect 100% for its strong lyrics and how the songs flow together so effortlessly.  For more info visit: www.laurastorymusic.com and www.fairtradeservices.com.


Friday, June 16, 2017

BREAKAWAY



Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born on April 24th, 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas.  She won the first season of ‘American Idol’ back in 2002.  Her debut album, THANKFUL, came out in April 2003.  It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and its lead single, ‘Miss Independent’ was a hit that was nominated for a Grammy.  Clarkson put out her second album, BREAKAWAY (RCA-19-S) in 2004.  In 2005 it was the world’s seventh best selling album.  BREAKAWAY won a Grammy for ‘Best Pop Vocal Album’.  In the liner notes, Kelly writes: “God, You are so gracious and giving.  There are no words to describe my love and passion for You.  These past couple of years have been a bit hard and so crazy and I thank You for being with me and teaching me to just let things go and give them up to You because no matter how strong I think I am, I CANNOT do anything without You”.

The title track, ‘Breakaway’, was the album’s fifth and final single.  One of the co-writers is Avril Lavigne.  It’s a highly inspirational adult contemporary ballad: “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly/I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky/And I’ll make a wish, take a chance, make a change/And break away/Out of the darkness and into the sun/But I won’t forget all the ones that I love/I’ll take a risk, take a chance, make a change/And break away”.  ‘Since U Been Gone’ was written by Martin Sandberg and Dr. Luke.  It was the album’s lead single and won a Grammy for ‘Best Female Pop Vocal Performance’, although I consider it an energetic rock song.  These lyrics rejoice at having one’s freedom: “Since you been gone/I can breathe for the first time/I’m so movin’ on/Yeah, yeah/Thanks to you, now I get what I want/Since you been gone/You had your chance, you blew it/Out of sight, out of mind/Shut your mouth/I just can’t take it/Again, and again, and again, and again!!!”

‘Behind these Hazel Eyes’ peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was in that chart’s Top 10 for fifteen weeks!  It’s a strong rock track of heartache: “Now I can’t breathe, no I can’t sleep/I’m barely hanging on/Here I am once again/I’m torn into pieces/Can’t deny it, can’t pretend/Just thought you were the one/Broken up deep inside/But you won’t get to see the tears I cry/Behind these hazel eyes”.  The album’s third single, ‘Because of You’, is next.  It’s a sad, powerful ballad: “Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk/Because of you I learned to stay on the safe side so I don’t get hurt/Because of you I try my hardest just to forget everything/Because of you I don’t know how to let anyone else in/Because of you/I’m ashamed of my life because it’s empty/Because of you I am afraid/Because of you”.

Kara DioGuardi and John Shanks wrote ‘Gone’, a song about a romantic relationship being over: “You know you did it/I’m gone to find someone to live for in this world/There’s no light at the end of the tunnel tonight/Just a bridge that I gotta burn/You are wrong if you think you can walk right through my door/That is just so you/Coming back when I’ve finally moved on”.  ‘Addicted’ uses piano and strings and includes these raw words: “I’m hooked on you/I need a fix, I can’t take it/Just one more hit/I promise I can deal with it/I’ll handle it, quit it/Just one more time, then that’s it/Just a little bit more to get me through this”.

‘Where is Your Heart’ is an adult contemporary ballad that questions one’s partner: “Where is your heart?/Cause I don’t really feel you/Where is your heart?/What I really want is to believe you/Is it so hard to give me what I need?/I want your heart to bleed and that’s all I’m asking for/Where is your heart?”  Next up is ‘Walk Away’.  It peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a Top 40 hit internationally.  2 of the co-writers are Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida.  On this catchy pop/rock song Kelly doesn’t mince any words: “I want a love, I want a fire, to feel the burn, my desires/I want a man by my side not a boy who runs and hides/Are you gonna fight for me, die for me/Live and breathe for me?/Do you care for me?/Cause if you don’t, then just leave”.

‘You Found Me’ sings the praises of a guy: “You found me/When no one else was looking/How did you know just where I would be?/Yeah, you broke through all of my confusion/The ups and the downs and you still didn’t leave/I guess that you saw what nobody could see/You found me”.  ‘I Hate Myself for Losing You’ is an honest song: “I woke up today/Woke up wide awake/In an empty bed/Staring at an empty room/I have myself to blame for the state I’m in today/And now dying doesn’t seem so cruel/And oh, I don’t know what to say/And I don’t know anyway, anymore/I hate myself for losing you”.

A rock song, ‘Hear Me’, follows.  It shows vulnerability: “I used to be scared of letting someone in/But it gets lonely being on my own/No one to talk to and no one to hold me/I’m not always strong/Oh, I need you here/Are you listening?”  Last up is a live version of ‘Beautiful Disaster’, a song from Kelly’s first album.  The writers are Matthew Wilder and Rebekah Jordan.  Jason Halbert plays piano.  The song reflects on a guy: “I’m longing for love and the logical/But he’s only happy hysterical/I’m searching for some kind of miracle/Waiting so long.../He’s soft to the touch/But frayed at the ends he breaks/He’s never enough and still he’s more than I can take”.

BREAKAWAY is mainly a rock music album with touches of adult contemporary music.  The album begins with a song about chasing one’s dreams and reaching one’s full potential, but by far the main lyrical theme is heartache and heartbreak.  Kelly wants more than just a ho-hum relationship.  Benefits of getting out of a bad relationship include gaining one’s freedom and independence, and starting over with a clean slate.  A happy love song is thrown in for good measure.  Kelly is a powerful vocalist and for the most part the songs here are well-written.  I’m rating BREAKAWAY 93.5%.  For more info visit: www.kellyclarkson.com.