Wednesday, October 04, 2017

SONG CINEMA



Mark Mitchell Schultz was born on September 16, 1970 and was adopted when he was two weeks old.  He released his self-titled debut album, which included the touching song ‘He’s my Son’, in 2000.  In 2001 he put out SONG CINEMA (Word).  It was produced by Monroe Jones and executive produced by Brad O’Donnell.  Schultz and Tony Wood co-wrote the energetic opening pop song ‘When the Mountains Fall’.  It’s one of encouragement: `When you walk through the fire/It will not consume you/Thought the water will rise/It won’t overtake you/Though the mountains will fall/Oh, still I am with you/I’ve called you by name/And I will not leave you/I’m learning to trust You/I’m learning to fly”.  ‘Back in His Arms Again’ is a beautiful song addressed to a prodigal: “Though you’ve run away/Reminded day by day/You’ve stumbled and you’ve fallen/Still He’s calling.../I believe that He never let you go/I believe that He’s wanting you to know/I believe that He’ll lead you ‘til you’re back in His arms again”.  ‘Think of Me’ is a lovely adult contemporary ballad about true friendship: “Think of me/I know God brought you as a friend/Think of me/I know He’ll bring you back again/Think of me/What can I say to show you/I’ll never give up on you/I will be waiting for you/I will be there when you call/I will see you through it all”.  Rachael Lampa, whom I named my daughter after, performs a perfect duet with Mark on this one!

Schultz and Regie Hamm wrote ‘I Have Been There’ which speaks of God’s faithfulness: “An older man up on a hill/Holding flowers but he can’t hold back the tears/Oh, he has come to say goodbye/He thinks about the life she lived/Thinks about how hard it’s been to live without her/Sixty years right by his side/And he cries ‘Oh Lord, I loved her ‘til the end’/Then he heard a gentle voice say ‘You’ll see her once again’/I have been there/I know what sorrow’s all about/Yes, I have been there/And I am standing with you now”.  Next Schultz covers Mr. Mister’s 1985 classic hit ‘Kyrie’.  Kyrie Eleison means ‘Lord have mercy on us’.  It’s a terrific pop/rock tune: “Kyrie Eleison down the road that I must travel/Kyrie Eleison through the darkness of the night/Kyrie Eleison where I go You will follow/Kyrie Eleison on a highway in the light”.

‘Holy One’ is one of several songs penned by Shultz alone.  It’s a pretty ballad appropriate for Easter: “You took the nails/You bore the pain/And as they hung You on the cross and mocked You/Holy One, if you’re the Holy One let your God come and save you from the grave.../Early morn, break of day/Came in time to find the rock You rolled away/I found Your robe/An empty grave/And as I fell upon the ground I cried out/Holy One, You are the Holy One/And You came and gave Your life away”.  ‘Back to You’ is a pleasant pop song nature lovers will relate to: “Sitting here on the dock as the sun is setting/Red and gold in a purple sky/And the breeze through the trees keeps them gently rocking/Just like the waves that are keeping time.../All around, hear the sound of creation singing/Lift their praise up to God on high/I know You’re there, know You care/I know You made the moment/I take a breath and I close my eyes”.

‘Faith, Hope and Love’ is an upbeat adult contemporary song penned for graduates: “A chapter done/Turn the page/And separate roads lead separate ways/But as we go we’re not alone/No, we’re not alone/Because faith and hope and love/Are waiting for you when we say goodbye/Where would we be without the faith?/Where would we be without the hope?/Where would we be without the faith?/The one that God alone has made?”  ‘The Time of my Life’ is a moving love song: “The months went by, it was their wedding day/A church on a hill, wedding bells rang away/She looked like a princess all dressed up in pearls/It was her proudest day/And he stood all alone in a darkened church hallway/He got down on his knees and he started to pray/He thanked the Lord for his family and the perfect bride”.  Last up is ‘We are Calling You’ which includes Congo language and sounds.  Here are the English lyrics addressed to Christ: “When I’m calling out can you hear me calling Jesus?/When I’m crying out can you hear me crying Jesus?/Holy Lamb/Great I Am/How long, how long/Until we see Jesus?/Jesus, Jesus we are calling You (2X)”.

If you’re a fan of Wayne Watson and Michael W. Smith’s Christian pop music, you’re going to want to pick up SONG CINEMA.  The list of background vocalists is impressive: Schultz, Tabitha Fair, Chris Rice, Lisa Bevill, Bonnie Keen, Todd Smith and Nicol Smith.  Scott Dente from Out of the Grey is one of the guitarists.  This record makes it clear that God can relate to us in a personal relationship with Him.  He loves us and wishes to take care of us.  Schultz is grateful for life and reaches out to God.  There are also songs here about the male-female romantic relationship and about friendships.  Not to be forgotten is a great song about the crucifixion and resurrection.  Schultz relates his stories and thoughts in a very down to earth, everyday man manner and comes across as very likeable.  I’m rating SONG CINEMA 90%.  For more info visit: www.markschultzmusic.com.


Monday, October 02, 2017

NOW



It’s been some fifteen years since Shania Twain released UP!, her last studio album.  She’s finally back with a new sixteen track project, NOW (2017, Mercury Nashville).  The entire project was written and produced by Shania.  First up is the tropical pop song ‘Swingin’ with My eyes Closed’.  It’s a carefree song: “You whisper ‘Come’ in my ear/I follow like a season/Not afraid of what I’m feeling oh/I’m swingin’ with my eyes closed/Got my hair down, a wide open road/I’m swingin’ with my eyes closed/Only God knows how far it goes/Fists up in the air/Go like we don’t care/Swingin’”.  Banjo and violin are used on the melodic ‘Home Now’.  On it Shania admits she’s had dark times: “Lost my way trying to find truth/But I’m home now.../Crossed my heart and I hoped to make it/Over to the other side of wasted/But I’m home now.../I’ve been roamin’ round the lost and found/But I’m home now”.

‘Light of my Life’ is the ballad of a dreamer: “Today to you I’m invisible/Tomorrow you may still be out of reach/But someday you and I will be possible/We’ll be alone making love on the beach/By then we won’t remember what it was like/Before you and I fell in love/That we were ever not together in this life/Hard to imagine the way it was/You are the light of my life”.  ‘Poor Me’ is autobiographical: “Still can’t believe he’d leave me to love her/Pour me another/Tried to face it, but so far down inside/I just can’t shake it, my stupid pride/Poor me, poor me.../I know it should get better/Oh but it never does/I wish he’d never met her/Then everything would be the way it was”.

‘Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl’ is a soft pop song full of questions for a guy: “Who’s gonna be your girl when all of the boys are gone?/And who’s gonna stop the world when living is no more fun?/When will you wake up from all of the dreams that you make up/And who’s gonna be your girl tonight?” Vibraphone and mellotron are used on ‘More Fun’, a slow adult contemporary song: “More fun is what we need/Everyone is on their feet/The weekend’s here and all we want to do is be together/Get a little crazy and forget what happens later/We made it through the week, now we’re headed to the street/More fun is what we need/One day we’ll be sitting back laughing all about the times/We were doin’ donuts in the parking lots and running lights/The time of our lives”.

Pedal steel and cello are used on ‘I’m Alright’, a quiet autobiographical song: “I broke down/All you did was stand there/Without a sound/It came from nowhere/The truth so loud/Oh my heart stood still/I was not your dream/The one you wanted/I tried to scream but silence haunted me in my sleep/Oh and probably always will/I’m alive/I think I’m gonna be okay/I’m alright tonight/Oh I’m alive/I think I’m gonna be okay/I’m alright for now”.  Ukulele and flugelhorn are used on ‘Let’s Kiss and Make Up’, a light positive pop song: “Let’s be honest, let’s be open/We’re not broken, not yet/It’s not easy trying to please me/I’m not perfect, I know that/I’m gonna stay here till you’ve got a smile on your face/I’m here no matter what/Everything else can wait/Let’s kiss and make up now/Let’s kiss and make love/Can’t wait another minute/Let’s go with this/Kiss me and let’s make up now”.

‘Where Do You Think You’re Going’ is an emotional ballad addressed to a former partner: “ ‘Case you never look back/I want you to know that you were loved like mad/I hope you live long enough to change your mind/Where do you think you’re going/I want to go with you/Can I come too?/Nobody knows you better/Nobody loves you quite like I do”.  ‘Roll Me On the River’ is a rootsy song that gets a bit steamy: “Listen to me closer when I need your ear/You don’t need to say a thing, just be here/Wake me with your wishes/Chase me like a star/Follow me until we go too far/Roll me on the river/Lay me in the sun/Love me like a giver/Give me some”.

Horns and chimes appear on ‘We Got Something They Don’t’, a radio friendly pop song about commitment: “We got something they don’t/A fire burning deep in our bones/Smokin’ when we’re away, on fire when we get home/Here’s to hanging tough/When no one else believed in us/Cheers to staying strong/They gave up but we carried on”.  ‘Because of You’ is a beautiful love song: “Because of you I’m me/All of a sudden I’m something I wasn’t/Because of you I see/Everything I can be, lonely is history/I know I am better when we’re together/Because of you I’m me/There’s nothing wrong with the world, oh when you smile/The most beautiful sound I ever heard is you breathing at night”.

‘You Can’t Buy Love’ is a fun pop song that uses tambourine and hand claps and celebrates life: “Without love we would be blind/There’d be no kindness in the world/There would be no girl/There’d be no boy/There would be no joy/You can’t buy love/But you can make it/You can’t make sunshine/But you can make love”.  ‘Life’s About to Get Good’ is a cheery pop song about persevering: “Oh life’s about joy, life’s about pain/It’s all about forgiving and the will to walk away/I’m ready to be loved and love the way I should/Life’s about, life’s about to get good/The longer my tears fell the wider the river/It killed me that you’d give your life to be with her/I had to believe that things would get better/It was time to forget you, forever”.

‘Soldier’ is a nice ballad that uses strings and is upfront lyrically: “You’re not alone when you dream I’m with you/I hear your heart when it beats, I feel it too/Sleep in peace, love is tender/Please remember me...Where did you go, my love?/I need to know you’re safe/So many miles between us/I need to see your face”.  Closing things out is ‘All in All’ which includes these spiritual thoughts: “God is older than I am/He knows where it all began/I tried to do the best I can/To see the truth from where I stand/I’m praying, I’m praying/All in all this much is true/There’s love and hate and they both burn/Peace and war, they take turns”.


NOW is a big departure from the powerful, energetic songs Shania Twain is known for such as ‘Any Man of Mine’ and ‘I’m Gonna Getcha Good!’  This album reveals a quieter, more reflective and mature side of Twain.  Even the handful of faster songs don’t blow you away as in the past.  There are songs here both of betrayal and lost love and songs of happiness about finding love.  Listening to this album is like reading through Shania’s personal journals.  This is an intimate record full of emotion.  This is also more of an album that will grow on you than wow you right away.  It is more thoughtful than celebratory.  Shania sings the songs in a heartfelt manner.  The CD booklet includes gorgeous photos of Shania.  I’m rating NOW 87%.  For more info visit: www.umgnashville.com and www.shaniatwain.com.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

THIS GENERATION



In 2000 Sonicflood won a Dove Award for their self-titled album.  It was for their debut and for ‘Praise and Worship’ album.  Fast forward to 2005 and they put out THIS GENERATION (INO Records), their sixth album overall.  The group’s roster was: Rick Heil (vocals, guitars), Bryan Willard (bass guitar), Trey Hill (guitars), Jordan Jameson (guitars), and Ben Showalter (drums).

First up is the title track, ‘This Generation’, penned by Kevin McDougal and Rick Heil.  Brandon Heath is a backing vocalist on this great rock song that reaches out to one’s peers: “This is a call to worship/This is a call to sing/This is a call to fall down on our knees before the Risen King/This is a call to shout out/This is a call to praise/This is a call to lift our hearts and hands and voices”.  An invitation to God is also extended: “Make every heart a new creation/Come into this generation”.  ‘All I’ve Failed to Be’ is a ballad of spiritual surrender: “I’m praying Lord break me/I’m praying Lord take me/I’m praying Lord make me/All I’ve failed to be/God above/I’m in awe of Your perfect love/Humbly I come to Your throne of grace/For a taste of You”.

Chad Cates, Jim Cooper, and Rick Heil wrote ‘You Are’.  Tony Palacios and Paul Moak play guitars on this pop/worship song: “You are the great I AM/You are the Prince of Life/You are the Spotless Lamb/My Risen King/The reason why I sing/I want to live for You/You are worthy/Boldly I’ll speak Your truth and lay down my life/And I will give You glory/For everything You are”.  ‘Everlasting’ is a beautiful song that uses strings and is about how reliable our God is: “The sky will fall/The ground will give/Through it all You will be faithful/Friends may leave/They come and go/This I know/You will be faithful (2X).../When all around is falling into waste/When the earth is dying/You cannot be erased/And I don’t have to be afraid”.

Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong of The Choir wrote ‘More than Anything’, an adult contemporary track that cries out to God: “More than anything in my life/More than anything my soul desires/Holy fire in the dark of my heart of hearts/How I need You/How I love You/More than anything/How sweet the rain that falls on barren land/So much more I need You/Divine the grace that heals a broken man/Precious Lord, I love You”.  Joey Canaday plays bass on ‘Prodigal’, a rock song that places total trust in God: “So here is my life/I give it all/I’m placing it in Your hands/Mold me and make me/Let me fall into Your arms of love again/Where I should have always been/My sin You remember no more/Your mercy has covered my scars/Your healing has welcomed me home/I am new in You”.

Jamie Rowe of Guardian sings backing vocals on ‘Your Love Goes On Forever’ which was written by Marc Byrd, Christine-Glass Byrd, Rick Heil, and Andrew Thompson.  It’s a pretty pop/worship tune: “Heaven and all the universe/Proclaim Your power and Your worth/Hallelujah/Your love goes on forever/God of life and Lord of love/Who was and is and is to come/Hallelujah/Your love goes on forever/All you creatures of the sea/And children of the Savior/Yearning hearts and oceans deep/Praise the Lord/For the mercy in His hands/For the healing in His scars/For the grace in His commands/Praise the Lord!”  ‘Never Forget You (Psalm 103)’ is a rock/worship testimonial: “Praise You Lord/With all my heart/I know You satisfy/Praise You Lord/Lord most high/For how You’ve changed my life/I’ll never forget that You forgive my sin/Redeem my life/From the pit/Forevermore/I’ll never forget You Lord/Your love surrounds me”.

‘Moment of Glory’ has Pete Kipley as one of the co-writers and is a pleasant song of wonder: “There’s something radical about this revelation/There’s something magical about the cloud formations/I see Your glory in this place/I feel the mystery of Your grace/There’s something wonderful about this transformation/Just like the stars shining at night/You are the sun that gives me light”.  Last up is Lara Martin’s ‘God is Here’, a light rock song with these words for a chorus: “God is here, let the broken-hearted rejoice/God is here, let the sick say I am well/God is here, let the weak say I am strong/God is here”.

THIS GENERATION is a fantastic album that blends pop and rock music sounds with modern worship lyrics.  It is an album full of spiritual passion and vitality.  God is presented as our ever present hope and true life-giver and mender of broken hearts and lives.  These ten songs express a sincere desire to know, love, and serve God wholeheartedly.  That is what life should truly be all about even if it goes against the popular flow.  We need not be ashamed to proclaim the goodness of our God.  At times the sounds on this album remind me of the CCM group PFR.  Youth and young adults who desire to glorify the Lord will appreciate THIS GENERATION which I’m rating a perfect 100%.  For more info visit Sonicflood or Rick Heil on Facebook.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

STILL HAPPY



Goodman Revival is: Michael Sykes, Tanya Goodman Sykes, and Johnny Minick.  They are carrying on the musical legacy of The Happy Goodman family who are legends in Southern Gospel music.  Goodman Revival’s first recording was 2014’s SONGS IN THE KEY OF HAPPY.  Here, I will be reviewing their second album, STILL HAPPY (2017, Gaither Music Group).

First up is the toe-tapping ‘When they Ring the Bells of Heaven’.  It offers something grand for believers to look forward to: “He’ll be there to welcome all the ransomed and free/When they ring the bells of Heaven on that day/Oh, when they ring the bells of heaven/Ring the bells of glory/When redeemed are gathered on that day/Oh, the hallelujah morning/Everybody singing, shouting/What a happy meeting/When they ring the bells of Heaven on that day”.  Isaiah G. Martin’s classic ballad of hope ‘The Eastern Gate’ is next: “If you hasten off to glory/Just linger near the Eastern Gate/For I’m coming in the morning/And you’ll not have long to wait/I will meet you in the morning (2X)/Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.”  Tanya’s Dad Rusty Goodman wrote ‘Had it Not Been’, a great Easter song: “Had it not been for a place called Mount Calvary/Had it not been for the old rugged cross/Had it not been for a man called Jesus/Then forever my soul would be lost”.

Aaron Wilburn and Phil Johnson wrote ‘The Word is Mercy’, an easy listening ballad about ultimate healing: “If you could just imagine a bird without a song/Fallen to the barren earth, wounded, left alone/And then with just a motion of the kind and loving hand/The broken wing is mended, the song restored again/The word is mercy (2X)/Nothing else describes what He did for me/On a hill called Calvary/He cast in the sea all I used to be/The word is mercy”.  ‘There’s Been A Lot of Changes’ offers testimony and is upbeat Southern Gospel: “Well, this old house was filled with sin from ceiling to the floor/And Satan had me wrecked within till I could stand no more/But the great Repairman from above, He knew just what to do/He filled my soul with His great love and made me over new/There’s been a lot of changes in this heart of mine/I’ve got a born again experience and now I’m feelin’ fine”.

Suzanne Jennings and Michael Sykes wrote ‘Knowing You’ll Be There’, a sentimental country ballad: “Knowing we can spend a lifetime reminiscing on the past/Knowing I will see your face again where tender moments last/It makes me wanna go there knowing I won’t be alone/Knowing you’ll be there makes it easy to go home”.  Rusty Goodman wrote the fun ‘The Answer’s on the Way’.  It’s a song of positivity: “Oh yes, the answer’s on the way, this I know/Jesus said it, I believe it and it’s so/Our Heavenly Father knows the need before we pray/And we can rest assured/The answer’s on the way”.

Johnny Minick and Tim Hill wrote ‘I’m Dying to Tell You’, which is a country ballad that finds Jesus speaking from the cross: “He said ‘I’m dying to tell you I love you/Dying to bring you life anew/I want to show you what grace can do/So I’m dying to tell you I love you’”.  Ronnie Hinson’s ‘The Lighthouse’ is an inspirational classic with a nautical theme and a spiritual meaning: “There’s a lighthouse on a hillside that overlooks life’s sea/When I’m tossed it sends out a light that I might see/And the light that shines in darkness now will safely lead me o’er/If it wasn’t for that lighthouse/My ship would sail no more.../And I thank God for the lighthouse/I owe my life to Him/For Jesus is the lighthouse and from the rocks of sin/He has shone the light around me/That I might clearly see/If it wasn’t for the lighthouse/Where would this ship be?”

Next is Bill Gaither’s intimate praise and worship gem ‘The Longer I Serve Him’.  It begins: “Since I started for the Kingdom/Since my life He controls/Since I gave my heart to Jesus/The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows/The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows/The more that I love Him, more love He bestows/Each day is like Heaven, my heart overflows/The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows”.  Last up is Charles Wycuff’s ‘I’m Too Near Home’.  It’ll get your feet a dancin’ and is a song of spiritual determination: “I’m too near home with my Lord/To miss sweet heaven’s reward/I’m not returning to sin/I’ve made my vow/There’s nothing to go back to/Oh ‘Praise God! Heaven’s in view!’/I’m too near Heaven my home/I’ll not turn back now”.

I became a fan of the last incarnation of the Happy Goodman’s (Howard, Vestal, and Johnny Minick) via the Gaither Homecoming video series.  On STILL HAPPY Goodman Revival keep the musical and lyrical vibe of the group going with several cover songs and a couple dandy originals that fit in well.  The main theme presented is that of anticipating Heaven where we will see God and loved ones who have gone before us.  It will be a place of complete joy.  Gratitude for Calvary is another main theme.  Through the sacrificial work of Christ we can obtain mercy, grace, love, healing, forgiveness, and salvation.  We can become new creations.  Other topics explored include prayer and serving Jesus.  Intimacy with God is desired.  Seven of the eleven songs are on the slower side of things, but the four fast ones are really good and celebratory.  Tambourine, harmonica, steel guitar, mandolin, and dobro are just some of the instruments used on this record of Southern Gospel and country sounds.  All three group members take turns singing lead, with Tanya and Johnny being most prominent.  I’m rating STILL HAPPY 95%.  For more info visit: www.goodmanrevival.com.


Monday, September 18, 2017

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH



Robert Mason ‘Bob’ Carlisle was born on September 29, 1956.  Early on he was part of the Jesus music groups Good News and Psalm 150.  I first knew him as the lead singer of Christian rock band Allies who put out six studio albums between 1985 and 1992.  He would go on to release a handful of solo albums beginning in 1993.  In 1997 he took the music world by storm with his crossover hit ‘Butterfly Kisses’, co-written with Randy Thomas.  It won a Dove for ‘Inspirational Song of the Year’ and was all over the airwaves.  With its father-daughter heart-tugging theme it became a wedding favorite.  Fast forward to 2000 and he put out the album NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (Diadem).

Randy Thomas and Rick Crawford wrote the soulful pop song ‘Forgiveness’ on which Kim Keyes is a backing vocalist.  It’s about not holding grudges: “Every time I throw that stone/The fate I’m sealing is my own/Do you know how much I need forgiveness, forgiveness?/I can’t live without forgiveness, forgiveness/That’s what love’s about.../Nobody wins when the bridges start burning/Can’t you hear my cry?”  Darwin Hobbs and Tabitha Fair are two of the backing vocalists on ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’, a gospel pop song about ultimate healing: “So, I’ve come before the Great Physician/Where I know the medicine is strong and free/Only You can cure this crossed up condition/Yeah, You know the very thing I need.../Lay Your hands on me/I want Your touch/Lay Your hands on me/You’ve got the power/Lord, You know I’ve got the need”.  Bob and Randy Thomas wrote ‘Heaven’, a sentimental ballad: “There are moments in this life when it’s hard to carry on/When I think about my father and all the loved ones that are gone/Friends and close relation/Somewhere on the other side/They’ve passed into forever but the love has never died.../I want to see heaven where the faithful carry on”.

‘First, Last & Always’ is a very slow song on which Kirk ‘Jellyroll’ Johnson plays harmonica.  It encourages us to focus on God: “So much that glitters and shines/In this world, wild and wonderful/So much that captures my mind/Still all my thoughts turn to You/You should know I think of You/First, last and always (2X)/You gave my life back to me/And forever you’ll be/First, last and always”.  ‘The Truth (La Verdad)’ is one of three songs on the album penned by Bob and Regie Hamm.  It’s a fun, tropical sounding, autobiographical track: “I never really listened much to rock-n-roll/Grew up on James Brown, Motown and Latin soul and that’s the truth/See all my homies were of serious Latino persuasion/They taught me how to find the groove despite my sole lack of pigmentation/They took a little white boy with shiny shoes/And they anointed me with salsa and rhythm and blues”.

‘River of Peace’ is an adult contemporary ballad featuring The Nashville String Machine.  It admits to having times of doubt: “You said we’re all Your precious children/But I must admit sometimes we feel so small/We wonder if You’re there or if You really care at all/Ours is not to question why/Ours is just to live and try/To settle for the answer/Whatever it might be”.  Next up is a cover of the Todd Rundgren co-write ‘Love is the Answer’.  Here, Bryan Duncan is Bob’s perfect duet partner.  The chorus of the upbeat song goes: “Light of the world shine on me/Love is the answer/Shine on us all, set us free/Love is the answer”.

Bob and Tom Hemby wrote ‘Watched by an Angel’.  It’s a bit of a sappy mid-tempo song: “I’ve had it harder than some/But I was never one for sympathy/Even when it seemed like my vision was gone/There was someone looking out for me/And when it’s all been said and done/It’s so clear that I was not alone/I’ve got something to say/And I know it might sound crazy/But I swear I’m being watched by an angel/Somebody’s there/There’s no other way to say it”.  Amy Grant had a massive hit with ‘Baby Baby’, a co-write with Keith Thomas.  It was on top of the Billboard 100 for two straight weeks in April of 1991 and is from her album HEART IN MOTION.  The song was inspired by her young daughter Millie.  Carlisle’s cover of the song here is slower, longer, and by far inferior.  At any rate, it’s still about devotion: “My love for you is true and it will never/Stop for a minute/Baby, you’re mine/And ever since that day you put my heart in motion/Baby I realize that there just ain’t no getting over you”.

‘I Still Believe in You’ is a mellow R & B declaration of faith: “I still believe in You/I still believe what You say is true, yes I do/I still believe in You/My God is alive/I still believe in You/No matter what they say or do/I still believe in You/Lord, I still believe in You”.  CCM vet Randy Stonehill co-wrote ‘After All’, an easy listening ballad about God’s love: “After all the heartache and the pain/All the bridges I have crossed/And the ones I’ve left in flames/After all the sorrow and regret/All the times I’ve turned away when You’d call/You still love me after all”.

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH was produced by Regie Hamm and executive produced by George King and Dean Diehl.  Bob Carlisle’s soulful vocals will appeal to fans of Michael English and Michael Bolton.  His voice is seasoned and mature.  Pop, adult contemporary, gospel, and R & B sounds can be heard on this record.  It is a very laid back offering and doesn’t really have a central theme so I found it to be disjointed.  Certainly Bob is singing about his Christian walk, but not in a cohesive manner.  The album is all over the place topically.  Sonically, I also found it somewhat boring.  I’m rating this one 73%.  For more info connect with Bob on Facebook.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE



In 1985 speed metal band Deliverance was formed in California, fronted by Jimmy P. Brown II.  In 1987 they contributed two songs to the compilation album CALIFORNIA METAL.  Other artists on that album included Guardian and Neon Cross.  In 1989 Deliverance released their self-titled debut album.  It included such songs as: ‘No Time’, ‘If You Will’, ‘The Call’, and ‘Jehovah Jireh’.  In 1990 the band released their most loved project ever to this day by many, WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE (Intense Records).  Members were: Jimmy P. Brown II (vocals, guitar), George Ochoa (lead and acoustic guitar), Brian Khairullah (bass), and Chris Hyde (drums).  Ochoa served as producer.

The opening track ‘Supplication’ doesn’t hit the two minute mark, but it’s a good one.  It includes these spoken words: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal/But mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.../And bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”.  A nice acoustic, then electric guitar piece follows.  ‘This Present Darkness’ rocks hard and urges us to be spiritually alert: “Mighty are the weapons of God to combat this present darkness/Satan’s plan, complacency/Knowing not the fight for your soul/Don’t believe his lies, just unveil your eyes/Through prayer bring down the strongholds”.

Next up is the title track, ‘Weapons of Our Warfare’, which is one of my all time favorite Christian metal songs.  The video got airplay on MTV.  The song pulsates from beginning to end.  It begins with a warning: “Imaginations running wild/Innocent they seem/Polluting your mind/A formulated scheme/The battle it starts in your mind/A lesson to be learned/Provoking thoughts only cause the sin that provoking thoughts have earned”.  The song goes on to advise: “To take dominion over Satan’s own ground/Rise up with the sword of God and put your armor on”.  ‘Solitude’ is fast and heavy and Jimmy again screams in falsetto when appropriate.  The song stresses the importance of the Bible: “A man’s fear is crushed when thoughts recall words heard so long ago/Search for an answer/A holy book upon a shelf/Words cutting deep inside/Speaks to my heart and to my soul.../I don’t have to be alone/No more solitude”.

The next track, ‘Flesh and Blood’, is the longest at about seven and a half minutes.  It’s blistering metal with bold lyrics: “This war is not for wimps, the emaciated, or the weak/It’s for those who bear their cross and believe the power of Jesus’ Name/Christianity, a reality/It’s a fight to let you know about a Man who gave His flesh and blood/To save your hellbound soul”.  ‘Bought By Blood’ begins with a warning: “The seductress that flatters with her tongue/Don’t be led astray by her deceit/Many are the victims she’s cast down/All her slain are a mighty host/Her house is the way to hell”.  The song goes on to remind us of our value to God: “You’ve been paid for at a price/You’ve been bought by blood/The precious blood of Christ”.

‘23’ is a slower metal song based on David’s most famous Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/I will fear no evil/You are with me/Your rod and staff/They comfort me/You are with me/Oh Lord”.  ‘Slay the Wicked’ sizzles in fine metal fashion and empowers us: “Release the power/Not ours, not angels’/But God’s above/This is the hour/Demons your fate is sealed/Slay the wicked.../Resist the devil and he will flee from you/Don’t give place to his lies/Not being ignorant of any devices/Submit to God/Be a vicar of Christ”.

‘Greetings of Death’ is a headbanger with awesome electric guitar work and a serious message: “It has been appointed once for a man to die/But after this the judgment/Once the appointment has been made/Nothing can be done to change it.../Are you afraid to die?”  Last up is the energetic ‘If We Faint Not’.  It encourages the weary: “Life just seems so much harder/All the battles day by day/That’s when we must stand up and be bold, be bold!/So let us not grow weary in doing what is right/God shall renew our strength to fight someway/Remember, we reap what we sow/Flesh sows corruption/Spirit everlasting life/It’s yours/We shall reap/If we faint not”.

In order for this album to make any sense, one has to believe that there is a Creator God who has a wonderful plan for our lives and who wants us to spend eternity in heaven with Him.  One also has to believe that there is an evil Devil who wants to draw us away from God, destroy our lives, and wants us to spend eternity in hell with him.  Furthermore, one has to believe in the events of Easter-the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God ultimately defeated Satan on our behalf.  In the meantime though, there is a battle going on for each individual human soul.  We must not be passive, but active participants in spiritual warfare.  Prayer, reading the Word, and putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) are vital weapons in our battle to draw nearer to God and away from the devil’s schemes.  We can live happy, victorious spiritual lives on planet earth as long as we answer the devil’s lies with God’s truths and accept the salvation Christ offers us.  On WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE these Christian messages are delivered via speed and thrash metal music, so granted, it won’t appeal to the masses.  That being said, those who enjoy bands like Vengeance Rising and Tourniquet will enjoy this album that is very lively.  I’m rating it 95%.  For more info connect with Deliverance or Jimmy P Brown II on Facebook.


Friday, September 15, 2017

REVIVAL



Formed in Georgia, Third Day has been a mainstay on the CCM stage since the release of their self-titled Reunion Records debut back in 1996.  Over the years they have performed adult contemporary, worship, and Southern rock music equally well.  Many Christian rock bands have came and went during this time with varying levels of success, but Third Day has remained a fan and radio favorite.  On their latest record REVIVAL (2017, Essential) Third Day is: Mac Powell (vocals), Mark Lee (guitars), and David Carr (drums).  Other instrumentalists used include: Scotty Willbanks, Tim Gibson, Trevor Morgan, and Ken Lewis.  Monroe Jones produced the album, while Terry Hemmings served as executive producer.  The band was blessed to record at the famed FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Mac Powell says REVIVAL is an old school gospel record.  The band still wants to use music to share their faith after all this time.

First up is the title track and lead single ‘Revival’.  It’s one of nine songs written by the three group members.  Cheryl Rogers, Alfreda Gerald, and Brittany Shewbridge provide backing vocals on this rousing song that sounds like it’s ripped right off of Bob Dylan’s SAVED (1980) which isn’t a bad thing!  Get your gospel toe-tapping shoes on for this song with an old school, but much needed message: “Anybody here looking for revival in our own hearts and across the land?/Anybody looking for a real revival?/Lift up your voice and say ‘Amen’ (2X)/Ain’t gonna find it in a politician/Not from the government or any law/Can’t get it going by your own religion/Only by the Spirit and the Word of God (2X)”.   ‘Gonna Be There With Me’ is one of two songs on which Trevor Morgan, Scotty Willbanks, and Tim Gibson are co-writers.  It has a bar room feel to it musically, complete with piano, and offers these words of comfort: “From the deepest part of the ocean to the farthest galaxy/Anywhere that I would roam/Lord, it’s always good to know/That You’re gonna be there with me”.

‘Leave this World Behind’ is a terrific Christian rock song with a great electric guitar part.  These lyrics anticipate heaven: “When I leave this world behind/Don’t worry for me/When I leave this world behind/Cause I’ll be in glory/Don’t you shed a tear for me/I’ll be doing fine.../All my tears and all my pain/Will be gone in Jesus’ Name/I’ll be free and I will sing forever”.  Chris Rodriguez sings background vocals on ‘Let there Be Light’, a modern worship number sure to become a favorite: “Let there be light where there is darkness/Let there be hope when there is none/Let there be peace in the midst of sorrow/Let there be love to bring us back home.../There is one light/There is one Savior of the world/There is one hope/His Name is Jesus, Jesus”.

‘Faithful and True’ is a laid back ballad that uses violins, viola, and cello.  It places full confidence in God: “There’s never been a reason not to believe You/There’s never been a season when You didn’t come through/In every situation You’ve been my salvation/Your love is faithful and true (2X)”.  Scat Springs provides backing vocals on ‘Gather Round Now’, a meaty and mighty modern spiritual: “Oh, I will sing about my Jesus/Oh, I will sing about my Lord/The King of all creation, of every tribe and nation/One day He’ll return to take us home”.

Solomon Olds, Rebecca Olds, Seth Philpott, and Mac Powell wrote ‘In Your Hands’, an adult contemporary song of testimony: “When I’m all dried up and I’m all worn out/You runneth over my cup/When You pour love down/When I’m lost and alone/All by myself, barely breathing, yet I find You there/You have always been there”.  It’s quite a pretty track.  Next up is Paul Simon’s 1973 composition ‘Loves Me Like a Rock’.  Here it is given the country gospel treatment with group claps and The Oak Ridge Boys contributing vocals.  It’s a catchy story song: “When I was a little boy and the Devil would call my name/I said ‘Now who do you who do you think you’re fooling?/I’m a consecrated boy/Singer in a Sunday choir/Oh my mama loves me, she loves me/She get down on her knees and hugs me/Oh, she loves me like a rock/She loves me like the Rock of Ages’”.

Tanya Smith is a backing vocalist on ‘New Creation’, a spirited Americana style song about conversion: “Well, if you’re sad and lonely, don’t know what to do/You give your heart to Jesus, He will get you through/And if you’re feeling tired, with nothing left to lose/You give your life to God/He’s gonna make everything new, yeah”.  ‘Nobody Loves Me Like Jesus’ sings His praises with a pleasant sound: “Nobody in this whole wide world gonna give what I’m looking for/Listen right now, gonna say it more/Nobody loves me like/Nobody else gonna to live that life or gonna make that sacrifice/The only thing I can’t deny/Nobody loves, nobody loves me like Jesus”.

‘Anything is Possible’ is an inspiring gospel number that’s upbeat: “We all have our troubles, we all have our trials/But I know that we can make it with a faith that’s like a child/When you see you’re outnumbered/And you’re feeling overwhelmed/Let the Spirit lead and just believe/That anything is possible”.  ‘Great God Almighty’ offers this advice in a funky, folksy musical style: “So if you think that you can’t make it/And you feel like no one cares/You just turn your eyes to Heaven/And you whisper out this prayer/You say ‘Great God Almighty won’t You save Your children?/Lord in Heaven won’t you lend a hand?/Ain’t no way we gonna do this without You/By Your Spirit I know we can”.  Last up is ‘Devotion’, a ballad that uses strings and is prayerful: “Lord, I really want to know You just as You are/To give You all that You deserve/Lord, fill me up till Your love surrounds me/Lord, give me grace for all those around me/Lord, give me faith that’s simple and true/Lord, make my life a devotion to You”.

REVIVAL is a folksy, rootsy gospel rock album that is very down to earth.  These songs will take you to church.  They make you feel you are at an old time camp meeting or sitting around a campfire singing about God.  These are Holy Ghost inspired songs.  Besides gospel, Southern rock and old country sounds can be found here.  Various instruments used to flavor this unique Third Day record include: B3, clavinet, melodica, Wurlitzer, and resonator.  Mac Powell’s vocals are full of feeling.  Themes include: a desire for revival and God’s presence, songs that testify about Christ’s power, love, and the peace He gives, heaven, prayers, and encouragement.  This is a flawless, unique, uplifting album which I’m rating 100%.  Young and old alike should enjoy this one.

The Deluxe Edition of REVIVAL includes five bonus tracks.  The first two are new songs.  ‘You Redeemed Me’ is an adult rock song that testifies: “My debts have all been cancelled/My ransom has been paid/You turned my fears and failures to a story of Your grace/You gave me a brand new life/Now I am forever changed”.  ‘The Return’ is a sobering song of sorts: “In the blink of an eye/Like a thief in the night/The sky will be torn open.../Are you ready for, ready for, ready for the return?”  Last up are three tracks collector’s will appreciate: ‘Revival (Radio Mix)’, ‘Let there Be Light (Original Cut)’, and ‘Faithful and True (First Take)’.  For more info visit: www.thirdday.com.


Monday, August 28, 2017

TRIMMED & BURNIN'



In 1990 two Christian music legends, Glenn Kaiser (Resurrection Band/Rez) and Darrell Mansfield joined together to release TRIMMED & BURNIN’ (Ocean/GRRR Records).  Kaiser writes in the liner notes: “Blues speaks to hurts, struggles, and desires in a powerful, emotionally passionate way.  In a time when the world is so full of turmoil, I am of the opinion that true Christians must learn to do the same.  Jesus did and does and He is ultimately my reason for living and singing”.  Kaiser sings, plays guitar, dobro, dulcimer, and a bit of harmonica (harp).  Mansfield sings, claps, stomps, and plays harmonica.  Rob Glickman plays dobro and guitar. 

First up is one of three Rev. Gary Davis compositions (1896-1972), ‘Great Change Since I’ve Been Born’.  Glenn sings and plays guitar on this spirited song of testimony: “Lies that I used to would tell, I don’t tell no more (2X).../People that I used to would hate, Lord, I don’t hate no more.../Been a great change, Lord, since I been born.../A new song been sung since I’ve been born”.  ‘Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burnin’’ is one of five Blind Willie Johnson compositions (1897-1945).  It’s a song of encouragement: “Brother, don’t get weary/Sister don’t get weary/Ever don’t get weary/For the work is almost done”.  ‘Shaky Ground’ is one of six penned by Glenn Kaiser.  Curt Bley plays upright bass.  It speaks of how we can be deceived: “I thought I’d been livin’ in the light of day/I thought I’d been redeemed/I prayed my prayers but I went my way/Livin’ just like I’d been/Standin’, standin’ on shaky ground”.

Darrell takes the lead on ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, a song about taking responsibility: “Well, nobody’s fault but mine/Nobody’s fault but mine/If I don’t read my soul be lost/Nobody’s fault but mine/I have a Bible in my home (2X)/If I don’t read my soul be lost/Nobody’s fault but mine (2X)”.  The song has a definite twang!  ‘Go Tell Pharaoh’ is a fast paced number that draws from Exodus: “Go tell Pharaoh let my people go! (2X)/ I am the God of the Israelites, that I’ll surely show/Power in the water, power in the sky (2X)/Woe to those in Egypt/That’s the apple of my eye!”  ‘You Got to Move’ has simplistic lyrics: “You may be high, you may be low/You may be rich, child/You may be poor/But when the Lord gets ready/You gotta move”.

‘In the Light of the Morning Star’ anticipates heaven with joy: “The moon comes down/Shinin’ on the earth/It’s a wonderful thing to behold/But someday I know we have been foretold/We will walk on streets of gold”.  ‘Celestial Shore’ is a nice ballad on the same topic: “It won’t be long, but it’s for sure/Soon I’ll be walkin’ through that special door/There’ll be no more cryin’, fightin’, or war/When we gather together on that celestial shore/When we all come together (3X)/On that celestial shore”.  ‘Jesus is Comin’ Soon’ is upbeat musically and has bold lyrics: “God is warnin’ the nation/Warned us in every way/Turn away from the evil/Seek the Lord and pray/We been told/God has warned us/Jesus a comin’ soon”.

‘God Don’t Never Change’ speaks of His faithfulness: “God in creation/God when Adam fell/God way up in heaven/God way down in hell/He’s God/God don’t never change/Always will be God”.  ‘What You Did’ reminds us of the importance of our actions/deeds: “What you did for the least you did for Me/What you did for the least (3X)/You did for Me/You ask/When was this?/How could this be?/What you did for the least/Child, you did it to Me”.  Glenn and Darrell share vocal duties on ‘I Belong to the Band’, while Glenn plays guitar, and Darrell harp.  It is cheerful: “When I get to heaven gonna sit right down/Ask my Lord for my starry crown/I belong to the band, hallelu/Hallelu! Hallelujah!/I belong to the band/Hallelu (2X)”.

Rob Glickman plays the 12-String Slide Guitar on ‘You Got to Die’, which offers frank advice: “Sinner man, you just as well to get ready, you gotta die (2X)/Well, it may be today or tomorrow/Well, you can’t tell a minute or hour”.  ‘Cornerstone’ offers an acapella invitation: “He is the Cornerstone (3X)/Come under Him, the cornerstone/Come unto Him, the cornerstone/Come unto Him, the living stone/Rejected by men, the cornerstone/But chosen by God, Precious Stone”.  Last up is ‘We Shall See the King’ which offers hope: “There’s a blessed time/It’s comin’, comin’ soon/Maybe even  mornin’ night or noon/The wedding of the bride united with the groom/We shall see the King when He comes”.

TRIMMED & BURNIN’ is one of the finest CCM albums ever put out!  Both Kaiser and Mansfield are talented musicians and have raspy, seasoned voices.  This is a raw, stripped down, rootsy, passionate album of both fast and slow selections.  The most common topic is anticipating the joys and glory of Heaven and being with God-no more troubles in sight!  The second most common theme is how Christ changes our lives and the importance of having a personal relationship with Him and living for Him.  A third theme is the coming judgment.  I’m rating TRIMMED AND BURNIN’ (49 min, 50 sec) a perfect 100%.  For more info reach out to the artists on Facebook.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

CRAWL TO CHINA



Tourniquet is a Christian metal band formed in the late 1980’s in California.  The band’s theme verse is Psalm 147:3 which states: “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds”.  In 1990, STOP THE BLEEDING, their debut album was released.  Two of my favorite albums are PSYCHO SURGERY (1991) and VANISHING LESSONS (1994).  1997 saw them release CRAWL TO CHINA.  Here, I am reviewing the 2009 re-release of the album on Pathogenic Records.  At the time of the original release the band was: Ted Kirkpatrick (drums), Luke Easter (vocals), and Aaron Guerra (guitar and vocals).  The re-release was produced by Bill Metoyer and Tourniquet, with artwork by Rex Zachary.

‘White Knucklin’ the Rosary’ is a splendid rock track that comments on how many of us view prayer: “Don’t even try to tell me what prayer is for/My Genie in a bottle needs to give me some more/And when this mess is over I don’t need Him anymore/I’ll put my God back on temporary ignore.../White knucklin’ the rosary/I know my God by what He does for me/Open only in case of emergency/White knucklin’ the rosary”.  ‘Going, Going...Gone’ is pro-environment: “Is it greed or ignorance or is it both?/As the bulldozer trashes a thousand years growth/Clearcutting with a clear conscience/A burning desire to burn/If a tree falls and no one’s around/The wildlife still hear it crashing down”.

According to the liner notes: “Proprioception has to do with our sense of direction when we’re upside down-the sense a cat uses to land on its feet or a gymnast to perform a back flip”.  So, the next song is ‘Proprioception: The Line Knives Syndrome’.  Here are some of the lyrics to this metal track: “Like the feline that finds the floor on all fours/Is the house built on rock that the devil abhors/Build your house on sand to find/A cat with one life instead of nine/Proprioception/Balance correction/Innate sense gives direction”.  The title track, ‘Crawl to China’, was a #1 hit for the band.  It’s an awesome hard rock number about calling: “Is God asking you to crawl to China or just to cross the street?/To trudge through the desert through Arabian heat/Or to accomplish the impossible, an Herculean feat/Or maybe just trade in bad thoughts obsolete?”

‘If I Was There’ is a reverent easy listening ballad about Calvary: “As He marched up that hill I can picture Him still in my mind/All the blood and the sweat on His brow/As He passed me on by/I could see in His eyes/That His pain was a gift of His love/He was the sacrifice, the Lamb/And He is the great I AM/And He paid the price for me/The price for you and me, you and me”.  ‘Tire Kicking’ rocks hard and is about spiritual pride: “I know many verses and have studied many years/Can’t you see how holy my exterior appears?/Armor All on all 4 tires/You sure are looking good/But you will be bent out of joint if I lift up that hood”.

‘If Pigs Could Fly’ calls us to action: “But wait-on the horizon-land-land ho!/Will you sit there and pray or will you get up and row?/The next time you are quick to say/’I’m just waitin’ on the Lord’/Just make sure that you remember where we all have been before”.  ‘Stumblefoot’ reminds us we need God: “The consequence of diligence without Him will show all the dents/That’s why our eyes are always on the throne/What’s wrong with me?/What’s wrong with you?/How many times we’ve fallen through/The thin device of foolish thinking/All along our pride is sinking”.

‘Enveloped in Python’ is a strong metal track partly sung, partly spoken, and includes an Indian recorder solo.  It’s about sin’s grip: “The coiling is fast, this time it’s your last/Your soul asphyxiated/Final chance for escape terminated/Enveloped in python/Constriction complete”.  Next up is ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ based around Edgar Allan Poe’s short story first published in 1843.  The song reminds us our sins will find us out: “I thought I’d committed the perfect, fool-proof crime/I never knew how heavy this would weigh upon my mind/Things done in secret under cover of night/Have a funny way of being brought into the light”.

‘Bats’ is a fun sounding song musically and includes good theology: “The God Jehovah is not feathers, wood, or stone/The Word became flesh and ascended to the throne/He walked the earth like you and me/And dwelling in our hearts is where He wants to be (2X)”.  ‘Crank the Knife’ speaks of relationship tensions: “Distance makes my heart to fester in self-inflicted pain/If I can’t face the consequences of my actions/I’ll find somebody else to blame/I greet you with a brother’s kiss and crank the knife another...twist”.

Tim Gaines (of Stryper fame) plays bass on ‘Claustrospelunker’ which is a mix of metal and Tony Bennett like swing!  It asks good questions: “Are you afraid that where He takes you is a cold, dark, lonely place/Where it’s hard to find His face, hard to find His face/In a world that is not your own?”  ‘Imaginary Friend’ tells a story: “Sitting in a corner admiring the sunbeams/With an imaginary friend he frolics and plays/But he’s forgotten the only One who can take away the pain/Trading in what’s real for a figment/A cashed in life locked up in his brain/They don’t give diplomas from catatonic state”.

Two instrumentals close out the album.  Of ‘America’, the liner notes say: “We must remember that the Lord’s hand is powerful enough to bring peace to any land, if the people will only call on Him”.  The song makes use of banjo, guitars, and marching drums creatively.  Last up is ‘If I Was There’ which you could sing along to as a solo in church.

Fans of Deliverance and Skillet, as well as heavy metal and hard rock music, will enjoy this project!  It is executed with great precision and artistry musically.  The CD booklet of this re-issue includes Scripture verses, revealing liner notes, and pics of the band too.  Many themes are touched upon lyrically.  The importance of prayer and action in good and bad times, God’s calling on our lives and our trust in Him, environmental and wildlife concerns, Calvary, and sin’s dangerous and deadly nature are just some of the song topics.  I’m rating CRAWL TO CHINA an outstanding 97%.  For more info visit: www.tourniquet.net.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

PIECE BY PIECE



Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born on April 24, 1982.  Her debut album was 2003’s THANKFUL.  PIECE BY PIECE (2015, RCA/19) is her seventh studio album.  It was produced by Greg Kurstin, Jason Halbert, Jesse Chatkin, and Chris DeStefano.  In the liner notes of this Deluxe Edition I’m reviewing, Kelly writes: “Thank you to all of my fans reading this who have supported that 19 year-old girl who auditioned for ‘American Idol’ and have been with me ever since.  It’s been quite a ride and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Starting things off is ‘Heartbeat Song’, the album’s lead single, penned by Kara DioGuardi, Jason Evigan, Audra Mae, and Mitch Allan.  It hit #1 on the Billboard US Dance Club Songs chart.  This energetic song includes these earthy lyrics: “You, where the hell did you come from?/You’re a different, a different kind of fun/And I’m so used to feeling numb/Now I’ve got pins and needles on my tongue/Anticipating what’s to come/Like a finger on a loaded gun/I can feel it rising/Temperature inside me/Haven’t felt it for a lifetime”.  Oliver Kraus plays violin, viola, and cello on ‘Invincible’, the second single.  It hit #2 on the same chart as its predecessor.  It’s  a song of great confidence: “Now I am invincible/No I ain’t  a scared little girl no more/Yeah, I’ m invincible/What was I running for?/I was hiding from the world/I was so afraid, I felt so unsure/But now I am invincible/And I’m a perfect storm/Now I am a warrior/A shooting star”.

‘Someone’ follows.  It’s an adult contemporary ballad addressed to a former lover: “I hope you will find/Someone to cry for/Someone to try for/Someone to turn your crooked roads into her streets/Someone to fight for/Someone to die for/Someone whose arms will hold you tight enough to be the reason you breathe/The reason you breathe”.  ‘Take You High’ uses an orchestra arranged and conducted by Joseph Trapanese.  It includes these cheesy lyrics: “When your angels fall out of the sky/I’ll be the wings that make you fly/When you come down/I’ll take you high/If I’m dreaming don’t roll over yet”.

Kelly and Greg Kurstin wrote the album’s third single and title track, ‘Piece by Piece’.  It peaked at #6 on the US Billboard Adult Top 40 and #6 on the Billboard Canada AC Chart.  It’s a moving autobiographical song: “Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me at six years old/And you know he never walks away/He never asks for money/He takes care of me/He loves me/Piece by piece he restored my faith/That a man can be kind and a father could/Stay”.  Jerry McPherson plays guitars on ‘Run Run Run’, a strong duet with John Legend.  It’s an emotional song: “Tell me how you closed the door knowin’ nobody could love you more/Tellin’ all your friends that this love was just made for bleedin’/Hung up underwater but still we keep on tryin’ to breathe in.../Our lust for fighting/Tied up in silence”.

Fred Martin and The Levite Camp sing backing vocals on ‘I Had a Dream’, a terrific adult pop song with a great message: “Remember that the footprints you’re leaving will tell us all who you really are/It’s too bad you can’t see what you’re worth/Spreading your legs ‘stead of using your words/Character is shown by the things that we do/The one thing you’re never gonna hide is the truth”.  Sia Furler and Greg Kurstin wrote ‘Let Your Tears Fall’, which offers comfort: “Watch a tear fall/Let them fall, fall and I’ll make the seas calm/Take you in my arms/You cry/Let your tears fall/It’s not a crime to fall apart sometimes/It’s not a crime/To ask why (2X)”.

‘Tightrope’ is a pretty ballad that finds Kelly being honest: “And maybe you and I will fall in time eventually/Maybe we’ll both die trying but I can’t bring myself to leave/Cause I’ve looked and I ain’t seen nothing like you/The way you light up every room tonight so easily/And I have moved mountains babe just to stumble into your good grace/And I, I still can’t compete/You’re on the tightrope”.  On ‘War Paint’ Jason Halbert and Eric Olson play keyboards and bass, while Aben Eubanks plays guitars.  This pop/rock song cries out for peace and intimacy: “Why in the hell do we fight on the front line/When we both know that we’re here on the same side?/We can be beautiful without the mistake of our war paint.../Hold me close and kiss my skin/Don’t be afraid, let me in/I’ll hold you close/And take your hand to my heart/Here I am”.

Dan Rockett wrote ‘Dance with Me’, while Nicole Hurst sings background vocals.  It’s all about having fun: “And when the music starts and the lights go down/We will all be found/No one’s fighting anyone/We’re all dancing on the ground/Come on and dance with me (2X)/Feel the music like a lover’s kiss/Feel the rhythm like a warm embrace/Come on and dance with me (2X)/I’m wide awake, yeah/It’s 4 AM and the room won’t stop/My heart is pounding, how your body rocks/My lips they quiver on your skin/Let’s take this dance and just breathe you in”.  ‘Nostalgic’ is a pop/dance number: “When I’m sleeping I still kiss your face/I can’t have it when I’m awake/Even though we lost it, I still get nostalgic/Even if we wanted/You can’t turn back the hands of time”.

The standard edition of the album ends with ‘Good Goes the Bye’ on which Tony Lucido plays bass.  It’s about a relationship ending: “Slam goes the door, hush goes the phone/Out goes the flame/And I’m standing here alone/Burn goes the drink/Down go the tears/Drip goes the sink/And I’m missing you like hell/Break goes the heart/Wrong goes the right/Good goes the bye”.  The Deluxe Edition of the album includes 3 Bonus Tracks.  ‘Bad Reputation’ is a funky R & B number that uses The Regiment Horns.  Many women will relate: “Well, I tell ‘em, tell ‘em yeah, you’re nothing to me/I tell ‘em that you’re just another/You’re just like any other/Well, I try to sell ‘em but they ain’t buying it/Baby, they see me start to stutter/When they ask if I’m your lover”.

‘In the Blue’ was written by Kelly, Jesse Shatkin, Anjulie Persaud, and Fransisca Hall.  It’s about longing: “I see your face in every stranger/Footsteps down the hall/Warm breath, back of my neck/Shadows on the wall/And your voice is loud as thunder, hey/I can hear it crashin’ in my head, yeah”.  One of the co-writers on ‘Second Wind’ is country’s Maren Morris.  Chris DeStefano plays pedal steel on this song that finds Kelly being direct: “You can hate me, underestimate me/Do what you do cause what you do don’t phase me/Just when you think I’m at the end/Any second I’m a-catch my second wind/Na, na, na, na/Na, na”.

The sixteen track Deluxe Edition of PIECE BY PIECE has eight ballads and eight faster paced songs, although I would have interspersed them more.  The most frequent theme for sure is relationships not working or not working out at all.  Second to this is the theme of personal strength and aspiring to greatness.  Unfortunately here, Kelly doesn’t tie those things to God.  There is one song about a happy relationship, one about partying, and the standout title track about the importance of being a good father and good husband.  The pics of Kelly in the booklet are modest and beautiful.  I’m rating this pop/dance album 88%.  It’s a good album, but not her best.  For more info connect with Kelly on Facebook.


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

JACI VELASQUEZ


Jacquelyn ‘Jaci’ Davette Velasquez was born on October 15, 1979 in Houston, Texas.  She released two independent albums and then put out her major label debut HEAVENLY PLACE in 1996.  It birthed five hit songs.  She won a Dove Award for ‘New Artist of the Year’.  Jaci’s second album was released in 1998.  It was self-titled, with a gorgeous picture of her on the front cover.  In 1999 and 2000 she won Doves for ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’.  In the liner notes Jaci thanks “All of the songwriters for such incredible songs, and all of the players.  You guys were incredible”.

Starting things off is one of four #1 hits from the album, ‘God So Loved’, written by Chris Eaton.  It was nominated for a Dove for ‘Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year’.  It shares the Gospel message: “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son/That whosoever believes in Him/Will not perish but have everlasting life/I try so hard to find the words to say/To let you know how great is this God to whom I pray/Nothing can or ever will compare/To the peace that flows in your soul when He is living there”.  Jackie Street plays bass and Jaci and Michael Tait sing backing vocals on ‘Show You Love’, a soulful pop song about witnessing: “I won’t convince you with anything I say/But maybe you will see His love in how it is portrayed/An act of kindness, a loving sacrifice/Simple little things that have the power to change your life”.

‘Little Voice Inside’ is a ballad that finds Phil Madeira on the B-3 and uses the Nashville String Machine.  It’s about the Holy Spirit: “Little voice inside keeps calling/Little voice inside it cries/Little voice inside keeps calling/Little voice-oh won’t You be my guide?”  Michelle Tumes provides backing vocals on ‘You’.  She also wrote this ballad of testimony: “You make everything good/Everything wonderful/You grace my days and heaven fills my view/Let’s forever sing/You make everything pure/Everything beautiful/You make me see the only thing that’s true/It’s You who makes the waters of my sorrows part and leads the gladness into my heart”.

The third ballad in a row is ‘Look What Love Has Done’.  It finds Michelle Tumes on backing vocals and uses the Nashville String Machine.  This pretty song speaks of God’s transforming power: “Where once each breath was just a sigh of aching emptiness/Where once I hardly felt the beating in my chest/Now each breath feels like a precious kiss of life/Now inside me beat the wings of a thousand butterflies”.  Mark Heimermann sings backing vocals on ‘Child of Mine’, a pop song that finds God talking to a prodigal: “I know you so well and I can tell when you’ve been hiding something from Me/Just let it go/Let My love flow/Let it bring you release/I have come to breathe new life into the heart of a child of mine/I have come to give you peace/So lift your head and believe/You were made in a beautiful way/Born to be holy and sure of your faith/Something inside you has led you astray”.

Mark Heimermann and Toby McKeehan wrote ‘Speak for Me’, while Dan Needham plays drums on it.  It opens with words Moses could’ve uttered: “What have I to offer to a world in need?/Yet for some unknown reason You have chosen me/Lord, You’ve set my journey/You’ve prepared the way/Still I’m desperate for the words to say/All I am is willing/All I have is in Your hands”.  Next up is ‘Glory’, a pop song of positivity with Anointed on backing vocals: “I went for the horizon and I found the glory of Your love/I see the glory/There’s glory all around in the world/And glory has been found/It surrounds me/And opens my mind and heart”.

Dann Huff plays guitars on ‘Sweet Surrender’, a quiet love song to God: “And with a single leap of faith I’m fallin’ into Your loving arms/Showing no resistance/There’s a peace that flows over me/Sweet surrender/Love me tender/You have captured my desiring heart completely/Sweet surrender/Yours forever/I will gladly give my all to You/Receive me/Oh Lord, I am ever Yours”.  ‘Paper Tigers’ was penned by Heimermann, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and George Cocchini.  It’s a cool song that tackles fear: “They are only paper tigers following me/In the wild imagination of the make believe/And there’s a fighter, a survivor arising in me/I’m not afraid of paper tigers/Night brings creepy things and I hide away/False fears disappear in the light of day”.

Jaci and Melody Chambers sing backing vocals on ‘Made My World’, a happy pop/rock song about how God gives meaning to our lives: “I never thought of what I could be/Where I’d go/What I’d do/I never thought of what I should be/Until You/You came into my life/When I was all alone/You came down and saved my soul”.  Chris Eaton and David Velasquez wrote the closing track ‘Al Mundo Dios Amo’.  Chris Harris co-produced this splendid Spanish version of ‘God So Loved’ with Mark Heimermann.


JACI VELASQUEZ is a really good album of adult contemporary and light pop songs for the most part.  What a beautiful young lady she is and what a wonderful voice!  God’s love for us comes through clearly on this project.  There are praise and worship songs about God’s goodness and surrendering to Him.  Listening to the Holy Spirit and sharing God’s love with others are also stressed.  There’s a great song about overcoming fear.  Jaci would go on to star in the movie ‘Chasing Papi’ and to co-host a Christian radio show.  I’m rating JACI VELASQUEZ 91%.  For more info visit: www.jacivelasquez.com.

Friday, August 04, 2017

THE LONG FALL BACK TO EARTH


Jars of Clay put out their self-titled major label debut back in 1995.  Over the years they became one of CCM’s most creative bands, producing such songs as: ‘Flood’, ‘Crazy Times’, ‘I Need You’, and ‘Dead Man (Carry Me)’.  In 2009 the band released their ninth full length album, THE LONG FALL BACK TO EARTH (Gray Matters/Essential).  It was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album’ and won the Dove for ‘Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year’.  It peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Albums chart and at #29 on the Billboard 200.  Jars of Clay is: Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason, and Matthew Odmark.

First up is ‘The Long Fall’, a beautiful instrumental shy of two and a half minutes.  It’s one of eleven songs penned solely by the band.  ‘Weapons’ is a pop/rock song that uses a choir comprised of the band, Ben Shive, and Joshua V. Smith.  It urges kindness: “Hallelujah, we can finally see/How the bitterness was bruising on our skin/We didn’t notice that grace had run so thin/Till we’re falling apart and the cracks in our hearts let the truth sink in/Lay your weapons down (2X)/There are no enemies in front of you”.

The album’s lead single, ‘Two Hands’, was nominated for a Dove for ‘Song of the Year’.  It’s one of three here written by the band, Jeremy Lutito, and Gabe Rushcival.  It’s one of my fave Jars of Clay pop songs!  I love these words: “I have a broken disposition/I’m a liar who thirsts for the truth/And while I ache for faith to hold me/I need to feel the scars and see the proof/I use one hand to pull you closer/The other to push you away/If I had two hands doing the same thing/Lifted high, lifted high”.  The album’s second single is ‘Heaven’.  Here’s the chorus to this rock song: “And find, glowing on the inside/Heaven’s not that far/Glowing on the inside/Showing on the inside/It’s growing where we are”.

‘Closer’ is a cool love song: “I’ll drop out of the race for more personal space/Cause the rockets we’re in get so cold and I miss your skin/It’s just how I’m feeling/If you need more love, well you’ve gotta get close to me/If you want my love, well you’ve gotta get closer to me/No unreachable itch, if you hemorrhage I’ll stitch/You are tears, I’m a cheek/I’m a pail on your boat with slow leaks/Out to sea for weeks”.  ‘Safe to Land’ is a wonderful ballad about relationships: “I’m coming home, I’m waking you up/In the middle of the night, I’m not giving up/I’m gonna stay till we make it work/We’re not going down even if it gets worse/We’ll work it out/Yeah, we’ll work it out/I need your light/Guide me in/Is it safe?”

Katie Herzig contributes vocals on the next two songs.  ‘Headphones’ is a sad commentary on society: “I don’t have to hear it if I don’t want to/I can drown this out, pull the curtains down on you/It’s a heavy world, it’s too much for me to care/If I close my eyes, it’s not there/With my headphones on (4X).../I take in the war-fires and I’m chilled by the current events/It’s so hopeless, but there’s a pop song in my/Headphones on”.  ‘Don’t Stop’ is a terrific sounding 80’s pop number.  It includes these words: “My recurring dream of you/Starlight in your eyes and music everywhere/I am dancing close to you/There are no days or nights we’ve left behind”.

‘Boys (Lesson One)’ is a touching song from father to son: “Lesson one-do not hide/Lesson two-there are right ways to fight/And if you have questions we can talk through the night/So you know who you are/And you know what you want/I’ve been where you’re going/And it’s not that far/It’s too far to walk/But you don’t have to run/You’ll get there in time/Lesson three-you’re not alone”.  ‘Hero’ acknowledges spiritual need: “We need a hero to save us from ourselves/Save us from ourselves/Save us from our fear/When the sirens wail we need a hero here!/We hide on our knees in silence/Maybe God doesn’t hear at all/And the wait overtakes the violence/And we watch as the giants fall/We’re not gonna let it end this way”.

Next up is ‘Scenic Route’, a nice pop song.  I like these lyrics: “We’re just sitting like novels we’ve picked up but never read through/You think you know my ending/i think I know yours too/You see, nowhere in these conversations is there anything new/Even though we know the sun will rise/Every ray of light still takes us by, by surprise”.  ‘There Might Be a Light’, a song of romantic longing, is next: “There is no delusion/To you I don’t exist/I am only shadow/Only a ghost can wait as long as I have for this/And I, I can’t wait much longer/Cause there might be a light/Somewhere in your mind/When you think of you and I/I know there will be a light/It might not burn very strong/But I know it’s coming on”.

‘Forgive Me’ is addressed to one’s partner: “For every town there is a crier, like a thief in every choir/And when I think of the mistakes I’ve made/All my transgressions on a big parade/As far as the eye can see/As deep as the heart can be/Such an impossibility that you would forgive me/Forgive me”.  Last up, on this standard edition of the album is ‘Heart’, which almost runs six minutes long.  It’s a light pop song with these nice thoughts: “One flag left to burn, one country to fall/One soul to pour out, one love to catch all/No walls to defend, wars to align/Give me your heart, you already have mine/No mountains to climb, papers to sign/Offer your heart/I’ve given you mine”.


THE LONG FALL BACK TO EARTH is an artistic success and a real treat for the ears.  It`s alternative adult pop/rock music accompanied by Dan Haseltine’s stellar vocals.  Songs about spiritual themes and spiritual growth are equal in number to those about male-female relationships.  Other themes covered are: isolation, loving our fellow man, and the relationship between fathers and sons.  There are so many terrific songs here!  It’s one of my favorite Jars of Clay albums.  I’m rating it 100%!  For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com