The NFN Demo Directory

Privately Recorded CCM Cassettes & CD's, including NFN Review - where available.
Last updated: 19 June 2006.

95 FOOT WAVE : No Deal. (Cassette EP . £2.00 inc p&p from : Geoff Howlett, 113 Bricknell Avenue, Hull, E.Yorkshire, HU5 4EU, England). 4 Tracks. Released April 1994.

95 FOOT WAVE : Girl in the Moon./ Don't Leave Me Standing. (Private Cassette Single. £1.00 inc p&p from : Geoff Howlett , 113 Bricknell Avenue, Hull, E.Yorkshire, HU5 4EU, England). Two pop tracks in the mould of Pulp and Roxette. Released July 1996.

AFTER THE FIRE : Signs of Change (RoughMix - order from This is a very difficult album to review in a short space. I mean, I could wax lyrical for days on how important it was when it was released in 1977 and how fabulous it sounded then against a very bland CCM landscape. It still sounds as good as it did then (except that my CD copy doesn't click, hiss & jump) - so, assuming you liked it then, you're going to like this now. Or maybe even more: the bonus tracks are very good (the demo of "Back to the Light" revealing some very Wakeman-esque synth work and "Dreamaway" being every bit as good as I remember it) and the transfer to CD is very well done. If it all sounds very dated then that's because it's a product of it's time: 1977 was the cusp of the transition from prog rock to new wave and it shows. But it's still a wonderful album - I can't wait for the re-releases of the others... If you were into it then, buy it again. If you missed it but were ever into Gabriel-era Genesis or Wakeman-era Yes, give it a go. Otherwise, buy a copy for your organist for Pete Banks' wonderful Hammond playing. 10/10 (1977) 9/10 (2004). Paul Ganney. February 2005

AFTER THE FIRE : Forged from Faith. (Available from iTunes) Released on October 10th, this single represents the reason behind the band's recent decision to start playing again. With lyrics written by singer Keith Smith, it's a reflection of his experience after performing at Greenbelt's 2004 Festival. Peter Banks was immediately inspired to put the words to music and the result is a sure-fire radio hit. Showing that the band have lost none of their musical quality, the song is a mid tempo rock number that has that "feel-good" factor about it. In all honesty, the moment the song had finished playing, I played it again, and again. Get those downloads working! 9/10

AFTER THE FIRE : Live at Greenbelt...Plus (CD from This was a very difficult CD to review - it's essentially the soundtrack to the CD "You had to be there", and I was. After the Fire's triumphant return to the Greenbelt festival after 25 years (during most of which the band didn't exist) is captured here exactly as it happened - complete with the odd bum note, missing words and not-quite-there-in-time mixing. You therefore have to listen to it twice - once to get used to the fact that it's not a mega-polished studio outing, and then again to enjoy it for all the energy and memories that AtF evoke. There are some storming tracks - Joy, Gina 2004, Starflight, Dancing in the Shadows - and the odd "hmmm…." (Der Kommissar) but mostly it's a real pleasure. Then there's two bonus tracks recorded the following year in an "unplugged" session in the Christian Aid tent. The sound here has been lifted from a video camera, and is very good. "Forged From Faith" is the better of the two, but that's being picky, really. Knowing that the whole of this CD comes from live tapes which couldn't be edited, overdubbed or re-done just goes to show how good this band are live. Buy it if you're already a fan - even if you've already got "You should have been there". Otherwise the CBS double CD would be a better bet. 8/10 (for pure energy!) Paul Ganney. May 2006.

AFTER THE FIRE : AT2F (Angelair records : LC10415 Anyone who is in their forties now will need no introduction to After the Fire. In the late 70's and early 80's they were arguably the biggest CCM band in the country, and their live show was excellent. This particular CD was meant to be released in 1984, but the band split up before it was released, and it never saw the light of day until now. These tracks are demo tracks and therefore not quite up to what you'd expect for a production CD, but to be honest they are still pretty good. And it's interesting to see the direction that the band could have gone in, when listening to this alongside their other albums. There are a couple of tracks that are more guitar based than most ATF stuff was at the time. And the instrumental 1984-F is an attempt to do something similar to 1980-F from an earlier album. Step by step is typical of what the band were doing at the time while the following track Don't say Goodbye is more like the tracks on the later albums. The only track that's a bit iffy to me is the cover of Stand by Me, which just isn't them. Overall though this CD covers most of their musical styles, and I found it to be an interesting CD to listen to, being heavily into ATF at the time, and even now if I still listen to them a lot. I suppose that a lot of people will think that this is a CD for die hard fans only, but I think it's better than that. Definitely worth a listen. If you do a search on Myspace for them there are some tracks and video that you can peruse to give you an idea of what it was all about. 8/10 Andy Sayner. December 2006

AFTER THE FIRE : 'ATF - Radio sessions 1979-1981': (Angel Air SJPCD301) London-based After The Fire were originally on the scene from the 1970's to early 1980's. In 2004 they were re-formed by keyboardist founder Peter Banks, with guitarist John Russell returning and new members added. Here we have tracks recorded live at radio sessions when they were at the height of their fame and had minor chart success, first in the UK and then the US, and in 1981 were on the same bill as a newly famous band called U2(!) ATF specialise in synth-led high energy melodic rock. Lyrics tend to be positive rather than overtly Christian. Having owned their 'Laser Love' album when first released (was it really 30 years ago?!) I was looking forward to hearing this reminder of the ATF sound and was glad to be launched into it via the instrumental opener 'Joy'. As the CD continued it was great to be reminded of tracks such as 'One rule for you' (probably the stand-out for me), 'Laser Love' (two recordings, the second one being the better mix), 'Like the power of a jet', 'Life in the city' and the medium-paced 'Sailing ships'(another particularly strong track). The CD very successfully captures the energy and essence of ATF, but sound quality and mixing could be better, and there are occasional vocal tuning problems ('Who's gonna love you' and 'Billy Billy' being examples). I am not sure also that the strongly synth-based approach stands the test of time too well as I found the rasping sounds of these keyboards from 30 years ago getting a bit much after a while and would have loved to hear more guitar – but then I am 30 years older too, so this could be the reason! Overall then, for me 7/10. Dave Deeks July 2009

ANAM CARAS : Celtic Prayer Rhythms - Resurrection & Creation. (CD from: MillsTone Recordings, 9 Miles Meadow Close, Willenhall, Walsall, UK) The songs on this album are all inspired by the book "Prayer Rhythms" by Ray Simpson, and this is the first of three planned CD's inspired by the 7 days of Celtic liturgy from that book. Anam Caras (meaning "Soul Friends") are Terry Braithwaite, Terry Mills, and Jackie Mills - the latter, formerly of the band, Nuffsed. The lack of a track listing hampered me a little when writing this review, but the quality of the songs shone brightly throughout, to give an uplifting and relaxing sound. Track 2 is a pleasant folk song, while Track 3 is a merry little song about letting God into your life. I particularly liked "Let Our Hands" (Track 11) as I felt that it could be a terrific song for a congregation to sing. "Sing A Song" (Track 13) has full instrumental backing, including jangly guitars like those so prominent on The Byrds, "Mr Tambourine Man", and there's nice harmonies on "Thanks For your Creation" (Track 17). I felt that Tracks 14 & 15 weren't as strong as the rest on show, and "Soul of the Water" didn't seem to fit with the feeling of the rest of the album. Anam Caras have found themselves a niche that many artists leave well alone. On this outing, the trio can count their debut release as a great success. 9/10. September 2005 Album of theMonth.

ANAM CARAS : Peace and the Spirit. (CD from: MillsTone Recordings, 9 Miles Meadow Close, Willenhall, Walsall, UK) This is the second in a series of folk style albums prompted and inspired by Ray Simpson's 'Celtic Prayer Book - Prayer Rhythms'. As with the first release, instrumental backing is kept simple but is well used throughout. 'Come to Life' is an early opportunity to marvel at the trio's close harmonies and Jackie's excellent vocals. 'Acceptable Offerings' has a nice acoustic guitar sound to it, while the fuller sound of 'Hung on High' works just as well. I thought that pick of the crop was the terrific song 'Rejoice!', which has a gentle flow and good use of string backing. 'Do Not Be Afraid' finishes rather abruptly, but is another good song, while 'What Love is This?' offers an uncomplicated prayer to God. In comparison with it's predecessor, this album continues Anam Caras' gift for folk roots music, and I believe that it's perfect for personal meditation and relaxation. 8/10. June 2006

ANTOINE : At the Piano. ( Well known for his “request” shows in the pubs of East Yorkshire, Antoine Robinson is a multi talented guy. Predominantly released as a promotional tool for his day job as a function pianist, ‘At the Piano’ deserves a much wider audience. Containing a mixture of sung and instrumental titles, it’s the sort of thing you can relax to at any time of the day. From the start of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, you realise that you are listening to a very gifted pianist, as he skilfully treats each note with equal polish. He also doesn’t lack confidence when it comes to singing and on both Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ and Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’, Antoine captures the essence of each song. From a singing point of view, perhaps ‘Desperado’ is his finest moment on the album. It’s a classic song, and this is a classy version. Other instrumental tracks include ‘Wonderful World’, ‘Chasing Cars’, and the timeless ‘Unchained Melody’. In some respects, the album is a throwback to years gone by, when production was simple, and every spoken or played phrase could be heard. How lovely it is to re-capture those moments again. 8/10 July 2011

ASCENSION : Everything in Nature Cries. (CD Recording. £3.49 from 14 Royal Oaks, Belfast, N. Ireland, BT8 6YX. Releasing a three track single just before a new album is, I think, a little risky for a band who, although going places, are still, at present, relatively unknown in the British Isles. How sales of both will be affected I don't know, but I'm praying that the single will inspire it's buyers too investigate the album, too. With acoustic guitars at the forefront of the songs, it's a sound that could be put in the style of folk rock. There's a feeling of classic Simon & Garfunkle about the title track, and that's no bad thing. It's a great song, clean and uncluttered sound, excellent harmonies, and an endearing lead vocal. "Word on the Street" is more of the same, but uses some synth brass to good effect. The final number is a slow praise and worship piece that, although good, is nowhere near as strong as the others. However, more neat guitar work reminded me of Dire Straits, and I'm already waiting for the aforementioned album. 8/10. April 2000.

AS IF... : Plugged Out. ( My earliest memory of As If was seeing them play for a few minutes at the 1996 Reading JAM Festival. Following on from that, I've been pleased to review numerous albums in their electro prog-rock style. But, things have changed, and after a couple of quiet years on the recording front, the band are back with a more acoustic approach. Gone, are the synthetic sounds that were so prominent in the past, and in come more guitars and simpler keyboard sounds. The opening track, "Love Is…" has a certain REM sound to it, but with Phil Goss' vocals being a little smoother than Michael Stipe. "Wait and Wonder" brings the first Celtic touch to proceedings, with some nice string sounds added. "I Still Believe" touches on the truth that Jesus is the rock and there's nice use of the violin from guest player Tony Collins. The pipes on "Fear No Evil" work well, and I loved the song "Down To Love", but I'm afraid the 60's blues feel of "Outside In" left me rather cold. The overall quality of the album lies in it's simplicity and that's due to the excellent playing of the musicians. It might take old As If fans a while to warm to this new sound, but should win the band plenty of new ones too. 8/10. July 2006

AS IF… : Aurora Noise. (Windmill Records/Appletree AICD006) If you’re a long standing follower of Christian music, chances are you will have come across “As If” in the past as they’ve been on the go for many a year now & have tended to be best known for their synth-led pop/rock style material. Aurora Noise is their first release since way back in 2004, being billed as a more “organic” and “real” style – but what exactly does that mean in real terms? How does this translate into music? When I think organic, I tend to drift along thoughts of expensive, naturally grown fruit & veg!! What the CD delivers is slow to mid-paced music that is well played & produced by seasoned musicians, most of which can be used in a purely acoustic setting. However for my tastes the resulting pop/rock was a little too bland to spark any real interest. If you take time to listen to the lyrics & read the CD insert, there’s some good potent stuff in there drawn from the band’s real life experiences over the past few years, such as ‘So Long’ written around thoughts most of us will have had when suffering the loss of a loved one. Musically though, a number of tracks such as the opening ‘Land of the Blind’ sounded a little dated & tended to blend into one another – a bit “samey” which meant real effort was needed to pay attention. I am very much aware that these guys are a well established band & have a pretty solid following of fans. I have also read a very upbeat review elsewhere, but I have to be honest & say personally this just didn’t float my boat. 5/10 Simon Redfern January 2010

JON BAMFORTH & MIKE KIRK : Refiner's Fire. (Private Recording.: CD £11.30 / Cass £8.30 from : Promit Ltd, 40 Ringwood, Peterborough, England, PE3 9SH.) This album took me quite some time to appreciate and I literally had to ask the Lord to open my eyes to it's power. Refiner's Fire is a musical meditation on Hebrews Chapter 12, for the thoughtful individual to truly worship God. Jon, Mike and friends use over 25 different songs to aid impact of the message. The music itself has it's good and bad moments - the latter is shown on the rendition of "Be Bold" with some very weak guitar playing. At it's best, there's some very reflective keyboard on the "Prayer of Response" and the overall craft on "Prayer of Adoration" only makes you wonder why the aforementioned guitar was so poor! Great calypso feel to "When I Remember" and more meditational keyboards to "Here I Am". It's not an album that you would put on to simply enjoy, but for personal worship, anointing, and meditation, Refiner's Fire will inspire many. 8/10. August 1997.

BANG BANG : Living Among the Dead. This CD is from a band that have reformed after a gap of 13 years. Originally called "Bang Bang You're Dead" they formed after the split up of "Press Any Key" a band which any fans of After the Fire will probably remember well. One member, Rob Russell is the brother of ATF guitarist John. This CD is basically late seventies / early eighties rock music all the way through, but with modern day lyrics. There are some fairly impressive sounding guitar solo's scattered through the songs, well they are to me anyway (Bass player). And everything is on the whole fairly up beat. You get the impression with this lot that they are a load of old blokes with nothing to prove just enjoying what they are doing, and I reckon that this comes over in the music. You probably have to look past the cover though, as someone else remarked it does look a bit kind of "Spinal Tap" if you know what I mean. Just goes to show though, that you can't judge a book, or a CD in this case, by the cover. This is a really enjoyable CD, which now has a place on my Zen player. Definitely give it a try. The website has some samples on it, and you can buy the CD from there. 9/10 Andy Sayner. October 2007

DEBBY BARNES : Lay Hold. (Private CD recording. Here's something a little "off the wall", in the shape of an American born singer/songwriter, now residing in Oxfordshire. Debby Barnes seems to have got some very good media attention in the southern part of the UK but is, practically, unknown, north of the midlands. "Lay Hold" demonstrates some thoughtful lyric writing and combines it with various musical styles. The title track is very radio friendly and jogs along in a poppy sort of way. "You Are the Lord" then moves into blues, while "No-one Else Will Do" coasts along quite nicely, and could be one of those memorable tracks which visions one driving along the US highway, top down, and radio playing loud. Debby's got a little bit of the quirkiness of Julie Miller in her songs, but the vocals give more warmth, perhaps in the mould of Sarah Masen. "Just Move On" proves the point, I think, while we get a Latin feel to "Holy Ranger". From there, it's folk, for "Come And See", and back to blues for "Come Get the Love". The main distraction, I felt, was that Debby jumps from one style to another with out any great conviction. Even the beautiful, closing "Doxology" finds her in celtic mood - another style. For me, all that Debby lacks is the consistency that all the style changes fail to provide. Most songs are good but the blues just gave me the blues. Nevertheless, worth investigating. 7/10. October 2001

DEBBY BARNES : Messages. ( 7 years since I last reviewed this lady, Debby Barnes returns with an interesting musing called ‘Messages’. Her website tells readers that her faith, amongst other things, has been tested and, maybe, this resulting release gives hope to all as she turns strong Biblical messages into a well crafted collection of songs. The celtic fiddle on ‘Ever & Always’ gives the opening song an Iona feel, but with Debby’s edgy vocals. Based on a verse from Philippians, ‘Maybe’ tells how “we have shared together the blessings of God”. ‘Clinging to the Cross’ is based around Psalm 36 and the mainly acoustic backing makes this a very poignant ditty. What makes Debby so individual is that I cannot think of another current artist who sounds like her. Years ago, a singer called Janis Ian might have given her a run for her money, but Debby has certainly moved on from the quirkiness of her Julie Miller days. ‘Stay’ is performed in a Latin style and I believe this to be the strongest track on the album. For me, there’s just a slight blip on ‘Only You’ and ‘Bleeding Heart’. The songs are quite similar but I personally thought that the brass sounds detracted from Debby’s vocals. I guess, that in the main, her style is influenced by folk, but she adds enough twists in her music to make this album stand out from the norm. 9/10 February 2009

BEEHIVE : Live at the BBC. (Cassette. £4.00 from Funkystuff, 42 Tamar Way, Wokingham, England, RG41 3UB). 3 Tracks of funky music including the French & English re-mix of 'Presence' and 'Fool's Wisdom'.

THE RIC BLAIR BAND : Fields of Freedom - Celtic Hymns and Meditations. ( The Ric Blair Band is a Christian, Celtic, folk rock group who have toured the UK, across the USA, and around the world. Since their beginning in 1995 the band have shared the stage with the likes of Steven Curtis Chapman, and Michael Card. This Cd is a 15 track mixture of stirring original songs, instrumentals, and meditations - the latter voice being provided by Sheila Walsh. The album opens with a piped lament, before launching into a very thoughtful and intimate version of "Just As I Am". "Be Thou My Vision" has been recorded many times over the years, but the Ric Blair Band have stamped their own individual mark on this outing. Ric Blair, himself, has the perfect folk/pop voice for the songs and it engages the listener straight away. Songs like "He Leadeth Me" and "Nothing But the Blood" are particularly strong. Indeed, the latter is a truly happy sounding song, and the celtic fiddles come to the fore. "Alleluia" is a real catchy number, produced by Phil Keaggy, wile "Gentle Maid" is the pick of the instrumental pieces. Searching for a phrase to sum this album of feeling is simple, it's full of music and meditations to both sooth and feed the spirit. 9/10. October 2006.

THE BOYS OF ST JAMES', GREAT GRIMSBY : Praise. (CD £13.95 from Cantoris Records, Freepost NEA1269, Lincoln, England, LN2 1BR). My first thoughts on receiving this traditional choral release was "What do I know about this type of music?". The answer being, "Absolutely nothing". 'Praise!' contains 14 tracks, of which 3 are instrumental organ pieces. 'Elegiac Romance' lasts for some 10 minutes, whilst 'Saraband in modo elegiaco' sounds as if it's been culled from a 1930's horror movie. Both tracks are quite dreadful. However, the choristers themselves are the main thrust and they do come over very well. Being the average Mr Sunday Churchgoer, I found that, although one track quickly melted into another, there was a distinct quality and relaxing feeling about the songs. Well known ditties such as 'There is a Green Hill' are complimented by 'Magnificat in G' - not to be confused with 'Magnificat in D'. Traditionalists will love this album and, quite rightly, sing it's praises. For the rest of us, it's still quite enjoyable. 7/10 November 1997.

MILES CAIN : Fairground Town. (Private CD Recording. £3.70 from: M. Salter, 32 St Matthew Street, Boulevard, Hull, HU3 2UA, England). Miles Cain - man of precision. He must be. Every song on this CdD is exactly 3:58. Oh, all right, both songs are 3:58. Oh, all right, the second song fades out, let's not get picky. And what musical adventure waits for us in that 3:58? Both songs are written by Miles and his chum Syd Egan and we're somewhere in Deacon Blue land. Or, for those of more mature years, Jackson Browne land (ask your mom). Printed lyrics would have been nice - I am President of W.H.E.W. (Wanna Hear Every Word) but if you like singer/songwriter stuff, this could be for you. Chumbles along at a good pace then has a nice change in tempo. R.E.M. but not so weird. Beautiful South but with a tune. 7/10 Geoff Allen. June 1998.

[CARELESS] : Galactic Tourists. ( As a punk music fan of 1976, I was witness to some of the greats from that era I never saw the Pistols live, but I did see the likes of The Damned and The Stranglers. Punk never really died, it just evolved as the years went by. Move on to 1996 and the first entity called [careless] had been brought together by Jamie Liskutin. By 2001, the band were touring across Europe and making a name for themselves on the undeground Christian Punk Circuit. 2004 saw Jamie struck down with cancer and the band broke up while he took three years to recover. Having survived these ordeals he’s first to admit “I wouldn’t have got through it without my faith and the grace Jesus gives me, I wouldn’t be here now.” This new CD is a definitive collection of powerful live and studio recordings – put together by Jamie himself. There are fourteen tracks and it’s quite a ride. For me, the album couldn’t start any better than with ’25 Feet Per Second’. I just love the guitars, and the song is terrific. The sound of ‘Apollo 13’ is so fresh and exciting, these opening songs took me back to those halcyon days of ’76. Jamie has been described as the Christian Johnny Rotten, but his vocals are much better than that. He can snarl like the best of them, but there’s a real depth in the quality. ‘To Yourself Be True’ includes more great guitar work, on a song that has it’s own football chant within. The songs fairly race along, but ‘There is Peace For you’ does slow things down a touch without losing anything musically. ‘Bringing It Back Home’ (Part 2) features some more of that great guitar sound, a stomping chorus, and Jamie, caressing every word. Once in a while comes an album that breaks the mold, this is one such album. A classic. 10/10 March 2010. Album of the Month.

DAVID CHILDS : New Song. Childs ( "Featuring all original, acoustic guitar-led worship songs framed in a modern production style, 'New Song' bridges the gap between the organic and the cutting-edge." A quote on the home page of David's web site, and I don't think I could have put it better myself. David hails from New Jersey, he writes all his own material, and it's soundly Scripture-based and reassuringly vertical; check out his web site for the sound clips, and you'll hear what I mean. 'Eagle Song' was the track that hit me hardest at first listen, with its catchy chug-along rhythm and lyrics inspired by Isaiah 40: 'I will run, and I will not grow faint, awaiting you Lord as you renew my strength.' 'Luke 12' uses Jesus' words that rebuke us for our lack of faith in God's ability to take care of us ('If the Lord takes care of these, there is nothing for me to fear, for he has called me his child'), and 'Psalm 103' is straight ahead praise ('Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all he's done'). Stir in good production and musicians, and we have another thoroughly competent US independent release that deserves to shift a few. 8/10 Trevor Kirk. February 2006

CARPE DIEM : .Com _ Culture. (Private CD £6.99 from: Mark Pease, 9 The Stray, Idle, Bradford, Yorkshire, England, BD10 8TL). Carpe Diem are a 6 piece outfit from Bradford who release their second offering on June 19th. 6 is also the number of tracks contained on this EP, which kicks off with the Jars of Clay orientated "Braindead". Lot's of good indie/rock guitars and a meaty hook to get your teeth into. "Lookin 'Round is a lot lighter in depth and feel, while "Wishing Well" proves to be vocalist, Kevin Pease's highpoint. Indeed, without being overtly strong, the singer does have an endearing voice. Perhaps, the only blot on his copybook is "Let It Flow" but, then again, the whole band seem to struggle with this one. Jock James writes practically all the songs but is helped out by Charlotte Amadeo on "Always", where she also shares vocals. This song is more of a worship number with the simple message to God of "Never Let Me Go". By the time we reach "Start Over" we have, indeed, come full circle into the style of track 1. Swirly keyboards and distorted guitars carry the song through to a sound finale. It sounds as if Carpe Diem are still finding what's their best sound and this EP should help them smooth the rough edges. Overall, they reminded me a lot of Devon's NSC, and should prove popular, especially on the live front. 7/10. June 2000.

CLOUDED VISION : The Truth Will Set You Free. (Private Cassette £3.00 from: Peter Laws, Warden's House, Lawson Court, Chester Le Street, C.Durham, DH2 3DQ, England). Raw talent that needs some polishing. 5/10 February 1996.

CONSCIENCE CUBED : Life in 3D. ( Now, this takes me back. It takes me back to the early 90’s, when there were bands aplenty were releasing demo’s of their own songs. In fact, this Hull based trio remind me very much of long lamented names such as Pity the Small Thumbs, and Crossfire. The album has been recorded in a number of studio’s over the past year, and the result is a modern rock sound with influences such asU2 and Coldplay never far from the fore. The opening ‘First Day’ rolls along with a nice edge to it, and Matt Phelps’ vocals work very well alongside his musical partners. ‘Unlock the Doors’ had me thinking that the sound might just be edging towards Snow Patrol territory, but the band soon steered me back on track. Every now and then, the sound suffers with a muffled drum beat but that shouldn’t deter from the overall sound. There’s good guitar work on ‘Human Qualities’, while the more melodic ‘Authenticity’ takes a look at being the “real” person, rather than the one the media would have us fall for. A minor blip comes with the final track, ‘Here it Comes’. It starts off well, but seems to fizzle out like a damp firework. The album may have a few rough edges in production but, for me, that is what excited me most. 9/10 Album of the Month. May 2009

VINI CONTREAS : Kingdom of Conscience. ( Haling from Southern California, Vini Contreas cites his many influence as including Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and James Taylor. For me, it's the Dylan influence that comes through here, although I much prefer Vini's voice! Perhaps it's the inclusion of some good harmonica playing in some of the songs. There again, maybe it's the simple, yet incisive writing of his lyrics that reminds me of Dylan in all his pomp of the sixties. This album starts with a bright song (The Invitation) and some of the best acoustic guitar recording that I've heard in some time. As I've said, I like Vini's vocal prowess and he is a very engaging singer. For something a little out of the ordinary, 'Christ Crucified' has a South American feel to it, complete with trumpets playing. I once wrote a song called 'Give it to Jesus'. On this album, Vini includes a song called 'Give it to Christ'. Two songs, but the sentiments are the same - confess your sins and be made whole again. There's also a song about revival, called 'Derek's Lament', and that's rather catchy too. One minor moan? Well, there's only 9 songs. I've listened to a lot albums from singer/songwriters lately and Vini Contreas is the most original and freshest of all. 9/10. December 2007.

DAVID COOPER : I Will Follow. (CD Recording £10 from 91 De La Pole Avenue, Hull, East Yorkshire, England, HU3 6RD). For his debut release, David Cooper has recorded at Hull's Eastside Studio. If I'm quite honest, and I always try to be, his style is akin to a tuneful Bob Dylan (apologies to his fans) with a tinge of Steeleye Span when he is joined by a female vocalist. Songs range from the simple repetitive praise of "Glorious" and "Now & Forever", to the beautiful rendition of "Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer" and the closing title track, "I Will Follow". This song, inparticular, raises God on high and proclaims Him as Lord. Alongside the acoustic guitar playing of David, there's also some excellent violin playing which is exceptionally good on "Come Spirit Come". As a debut, David can be well satisfied with the result. It's a testing of the water to see what feedback he gets and, from me, I feel that he's got a solid foundation to build on for the future. 7/10. January 2002

JARROD COOPER : Days of Wonder. (Jarrod Cooper Ministries : JCM003) Originally released a couple of years ago, this relatively low budget recording is now in it's third reprint, with sales recorded from all parts of the globe. Jarrod Cooper is a respected worship leader based at the New life Church in Hull, and this recording literally knocks many others for six. It's lyrical content, music, and finished product is one of the finest worship albums that I have ever heard. No, I'm not biased because he's from my home city, I've never even met the guy. "Your Majesty" is said to be one of THE worship songs of last 12 months and I can easily see why. Beautiful, just doesn't describe what I feel about it. "Lost in Your Glory" simply oozes peaceful worship and that feeling runs throughout the whole album. "Clamourously Foolish" is shorter and livelier in style, before "Your Majesty" is reprised in Spanish tongue. And, just when you thought things couldn't get better, Jarrod presents a Celtic version of the great "Be Thou My Vision". There's no wonder this album has sold so well, it's a masterpiece. 10/10. Album of the Month March 2000.

JARROD COOPER : The Early Years. (JCM005) This album by a Hull artist - whom I had not heard of before - features songs from his previous albums "deep Calls To Deep" and "Song of the Bow". I have enjoyed listening to and reviewing this album, and there are some quite catchy songs. Indeed, I found myself singing "Thank You" whilst out and about this week. This is my favourite track, a quiet, contemplative and prayerful song, telling of what Jesus has done for each one of us. "Mighty Warrior" is a good praise song wit plenty of beat to it. I was a little disappointed with the CD cover, however, as it contained very little information, and I do like to read the lyrics. 8/10 Pam Robinson. March 2000.

TONY CORNISH : First Heart. (Private Recording. CD £13 Cass £9 from: Broken Records, 6 Vicarage Road, Llangollen, Denbigshire, Wales, LL20 8HF). Already likened in style to Phil & John, as well as Eden Burning, Tony Cornish is another new name to the world of CCM. With 12 self-penned songs, he has released this delicious collection for a wider audience. For starters, we have the poignant 'The First Heart to Break', written after the Dunblane tragedy. Here, Tony carefully puts into words the feelings of those who were hundreds of miles away from the event, yet still grieved. The main course is served by the extremely tasty, 'Upside Down'. You can really get your teeth into the catchy hooks and the foot tapping beat. After dabbling with some juicy jazz/blues mid-course, presnets one of the best titles for a song I've heard in some time. 'Windy Side of Your Welcome Mat' tells of his personal trust and thankfulness of being IN God's house, rather than outside and open to the elements/temptations. For desert, we're served up with the quite beautiful 'Oceans of Forgivenss', a song of meditation that concludes with some prime saxophone playing. With another batch of songs ready to record, Tony must be careful if he is to live up to the standards he's set with this one. 9/10. January 1999.

TONY CORNISH : Sacrifice. (New Dawn Music : NDD006). £4.00 from: New Dawn Music, 1 Beech Close, Towcester, Northampton, England, NN12 6BL). Things have certainly started to move for singer/songwriter Tony Cornish, since the release of his debut album "First Heart". After signing up with Brian Taylor's New Dawn Music, and gaining support slots with the likes of Loose Goose, he's ready to release his EP, "Sacrifice". Four tracks that show that he's not a man to rest on his laurels, but to build on what he's already achieved. The lyrics of "Honest Injun" asks for truth and honesty from world leaders, and the sound is moving towards that of The Waterboys. From there, we travel into Beautiful South country, with a laid-back ballad that has some very good backing vocals. "Swimming With the Dolphins" would be the obvious track for single material, with it's quiet verse, pressure building middle eight, and distorted guitar chorus. Great song. It's the title track that finishes things off and, after it's predecessor, isn't as strong. However, I think that both new and old fans will enjoy this release. 8/10. June 1999.

ALI CROMPTON : Leave A Footprint. ( Ali Crompton may be a new name to many of you, but he's been around the Hull and district music scene for a number of years. This is his first outing as a solo artist and features 11 songs written primarily by himself. "Be My Everything" kicks things off in a happy, mid-tempo beat that would score well at praise & worship events. On "Sacrifice", he uses drum rhythms well to provide a background of African origin. His vocals struggle once or twice during the listing but I think that this has more to do with the different style of song, rather than vocal quality. The title track, for instance, is where Ali sounds least convincing, vocally. "You Light Up My Life" is a song of two halves. The first is pure worship, while the second ends as an atmospheric instrumental. "Sing" is one of the most strongest songs on show and would, I feel, really go down well in a large, live setting. Towards the end, Ali slows things down with a couple of worship songs, of which "Whitest Snow" stands out as the best. "Leave a Footprint" is an album of different styles and production ideas that result in a collection that showcases a talent that has every chance of gaining wider recognition. 7/10. July 2005

CROSSFIRE : Warriors. (Private Cassette EP. £5.00 from: Andy Sayner, 34 Fountayne Street, York, YO3 7HL, England). Six tracks of melodic rock from one of the regions busiest bands. 6/10. August 1996.

ANDY CULLEN & MIKE BAKER : Atmosphere. (Private Cassette Recording : £4.50 inc. p&p from: Andy Cullen, 25 Lincoln Street, Longsight, Manchester, England). Over 12 month's in the making, and a complete surprise to all who have previously heard Andy's work. From the moment the title track began with a sort of Gregorian chant, my ears were alive with expectancy. A lovely piano piece was followed by 'Let Me Know', a song that instantly had me tapping my feet along to the rhythms. The whole concept was not written as a musical but I, personally, feel that this is were 'Atmosphere's' strength lies. With a little more work, a production in the class of Paul Field's 'Daybreak' is not beyond comprehension. The songs do seem to tell a story, and real social issues are not taboo. 'Quick & Easy' is one such number that tells of a man, with a wife at home, and the lure of another woman. The 'Nothing Song' actually has no words, but the music gives a feeling of hope and light after being encased in darkness. Instrumentally, there's some excellent keyboard & clarinet, and Andy's vocals are well used. Perhaps, 'Monica Says' and 'SOP1' need a little more work but 'The Road to Emmaus' ends the tape in lively style. Recorded on a 4-track, there are production flaws but, the musical content is extremely good. 7/10. November 1997.

PAUL A DAVIES : Strange Tale. ( For secular guitar aficionados, there's the likes of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and a host of other top notch players worthy of praise. In Christian circles, we have Phil Keaggy and…….er…well, no-one else sprang to mind. Enter, Paul A Davies, a man who freely admits to being attracted to the unknown and the often unknowable. His latest CD kicks off with an intro that sounds like some Hollywood fanfare, called "1.98 x 1014". I'm not sure that I liked the title track but I did find myself warming to "Nephelokokkygia", possibly the nearest you could get to a Satriani track without it being played by the man himself. Layers of guitar sounds smoothly melt together, to give a delicious concoction. "Pink Cottage" was written almost entirely on the Chapman stik, and it sees Paul venture into an ambient jazz sound. For those who like the more acoustic sound, "Lil Lil" has a chugging rhythm to accompany the dance loops. It puzzled me for a while, and then came to me in an instant. The style of "Something to Hold Dear" and "In My Dreams" reminded me more of Bill Nelson (Be-Bop Deluxe) in his 'Red Noise' era. The vocals on the former track also sounded fresh. "Down the Line" tells of life not working out the way you thought it would, this time with Paul using vocal FX well. "Teardrops in the Rain" is a catchy but rather short number, while "The Buzzing of Bees" conjured up images of ancient Egypt and a time long gone. Paul says that making this album meant that he could "start with a blank canvas and just do what sounded right" in his head. It sounds right to me too. 8/10. August 2006.

PAUL A. DAVIES : Postcards from Aunt Cordelia v.1.1 ( Paul is a very accomplished guitarist who you may have seen with Ascent, Eve & the Garden, Enygmartyr, Helen Turner or even playing solo. If so, then you'll know how talented he is. The question when approaching a solo CD by a talented guitarist is: Vai or Satriani? Clapton or Malmsteen? In other words, will it be impressive playing or impressive music or (hopefully) both. I'm pleased to be able to report that this CD veers very definitely towards the latter territory. I'd seen some of these tracks performed live and been impressed - on CD they're even better. There's the soaring Gilmore-esque moments, there's the slightly-further-back-in-the-mix vocals that you'd expect from someone who expresses himself better through a guitar than through vocals, but it's always in context and always highly listenable. There's also some Lemon Jelly-style "vocal sample and riff" stuff which I rather liked. Overall, a very enjoyable album. Standout tracks: Just this side of joy, Dignity and Contact. 8/10. Paul Ganney. August 2006.

DAVE DEEKS : Walk With the One. (CD £10/ Cass £8 from: LJMM, 13 Pentland Grove, West Moor, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE12 7YN). Nine years since his last album, singer songwriter, Dave Deeks returns to the CCM scene with an album that is very much the creation of his son, Mark. For, he selected the songs, produced them, played most of the instruments and even found time to lend a hand with the backing vocals. What happens is that you can spot Dad's 60/70's influences in the basic song, but with son's 90's interpretation. The result is mixed. Songs like the strong opener, "Such Love Amazes Me" is a choppy affair that is carried along by some simple, yet effective, guitar playing. "Free For All" sees Dave almost talking the words to an accompaniment of more good guitar work and fx. And so the album continues in positive vain with songs like the catchy "Man Without A Reason" and the title track. It's around here that things get a bit messy, with too many ideas complicating the overall sound. "A Christian Isn't" being a prime example as the vocals fight against the swirling guitars. The writing itself is very good, with Dave writing an honest chronicle of the ups and downs of life. Ending with the folk meets pop "My Hope..." the album improves with play and has currently risen to.....8/10 November 1999.

DAVE DEEKS : Bridge. ( With songs based on Biblical truths as well as from his own walk with God, Newcastle’s Dave Deeks has released, what I believe to be, a meditational, easy listening collection of songs. In some respects, they remind me of an early Michael Card album, but Dave has honed his own style, over the years. The title track depicts Jesus as a bridge on which to stand firm, and has some good keyboard sounds to accompany. Thinking and contemplating on God’s word, seems to be the focus of ‘Whatsover Things’, and is one of the strongest tracks. Like many before him, Dave puts his own twist on ‘Psalm 23’, but the gloomy organ sound left me rather cold on this one. Happily, the mood changes for the shuffling ‘The Fight’s Been Won’, where trusting in God is the backbone of the song. I found the album easy to listen to, and was able to digest the words fairly quickly too – always a plus point! The music is uncomplicated, but well produced, and Dave has done well to gather such talented musicians around him. With themes such as ‘running the race that is life’ and ‘creation’, he pulls no punches, and “tells it like it is”. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Four Walls’, ‘Big Big God’ and the engaging ‘My Peace’, while the blues groove of ‘Pots of Clay’ didn’t quite work. However, Dave lovingly brings the album to a close with his very personal love song to Christ, backed by a simple piano. It’s crisp, clean, and very moving. All in all, it’s another example of the wealth of unsigned talent in the world of UK CCM. 8/10 January 2009.

DEP4 : Popular Friction. (CD £12 from: 11 Spring Road, Rhosddu, Wrexham, LL11 2LU, Wales). Sounding not a million light years away from The Beautiful South,, at times, DEP4 present their debut full length album. Twelve songs, all written by singer and guitarist Tony Cornish, and ably backed by Kev Plant on bass and John Ramm on drums and percussion. Based in Wales, this threesome have travelled as far as Northern England to take their ministry into venues such as prisons. As for the musical style, well it's never going to produce a mosh pit at the front of the stage. It's more like, sitting, tapping your feet, and listening to each song as it tells it's own story. "Pick It Up Downstream" is all about losing your way in your walk with God. But, as we all know, just because you fall, it doesn't mean that we can't ask the Lord to pick us up and dust us down once again. One of my favourite tracks is the last one, "The Real Cost of Living". This looks at how so many people live for the 'now', as well as what they can get out of life, forgetting the most important things. As I say, there's plenty of foot tapping to do whilst listening, but not many that you find yourself actually singing along with. However, "Here Comes Summer" is one exception, and very welcome it is too. For me, the album takes a little while to get going but, then, it may be that I'm imagining it in a live set listing. The lyrical depth of Tony's writing is very good and it really is an album that makes the listener think about themselves. Now, how many albums do that? 8/10. August 2001.

DIMITRI : Natural High. ( Dimitri are a funky outfit from Devon, and have achieved national distribution for their album via Integrity Music. The album has already reached number 4 on the Crossrhythms Chart, and has received much airplay from various radio stations in the UK. At their smoothest, the band sounds like Simply Red, but when they up the tempo, it's more on a level with Jamiroqui. And, as Jason Kay is to Jamiroqui, so lead singer Jimi K seems to be the focal point of Dimitri. He writes and sings all the songs, and predominantly features on all of the website photographs. The title track talks of the natural feeling you get when Jesus sets your heart free, and it's one of the funkier sounds on the album. "Traveller" tells of life being a journey, and it's a really smooth sound with a lovely saxophone break. The saxophone returns to the fore on what I'd call a chill out number, that being "Can't Stop Crying", which also features some nice guitar work. The album finishes with a totally different sound to everything else on the album. "Save Me" is a great song, about crying out to God. Without wishing to sound too cliché, if you like the music of their secular counterparts, then Dimitri will satisfy your musical hunger. 8/10. April 2006

ELATION : Elation. ( Elation is a worship duo from Leicestershire, joined together by the huge passion of making music and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Together form less than a year, singer Ben Williams and guitarist Dan Harris wanted to unite their musical taste, various talents, and their burning desire to praise God to create their own individual stamp on worship. The CD is a six track offering, with Joe Gilliver adding his writing talents to that of Ben and Dan. ‘Let My Worship’ builds in power as the song progresses, and Ben has a pleasing voice. A lot of effort seems to have gone into the production of ‘Your Sacrifice’ but the distorted guitar is rather intrusive at times. ‘Father God’, on the other hand, provides some lovely acoustic guitar work, as the song calls upon God, who made all things. As a debut release, there’s a bit of experimentation going on within the sounds produced but, on the whole, the Cd stands up well. ‘As I Live and Breathe’ is similar to the first track, as it too builds in strength, promising to serve and love with all your heart. There’s almost a folk element to ‘Greatest Story’ before we’re treated to a live version of ‘Father God’. Yes, there are one or two warts in the overall concept but there’s a lot of promise too and, if you buy the Cd, you’re helping a good cause as well. 7/10 October 2011

JANIS ENGLISH : God Holds the Key. (Private Recording. CD £12.50/Cassette £7.50 including p&p from: Janis English, 164 Barnston Road, Barnston, Wirral, England, L61 1BZ). Let me say right now, unashamedly, that the quality of privately recorded British CCM is - on the whole - just so good. Here's another new name to the scene, Janis English. A Scot, who's debut album contains a spoonful of country, a pinch of 70's pop, and a cup of refreshing, home made muse. Surely the title track sounds like....."Oh no", she said, "I don't really listen to any particular artist". Lovely, sugary, enjoyable, singalong....and that's just the first track! If originality is lacking anywhere, then the country sound is rather predictable. However, don't let this put you off, you'll soon find yourself tapping your feet to "Over & Over" or admiring the steel pedal guitar on "Move On This Land". When I first heard "Move Now Holy Spirit", I had to stop what I was doing and play it again. What a beautiful song, and what power it holds within. This track just "blows me away" as it quietly begins and then builds to where I can imagine thousands joining together in praise. God given praise and worship doesn't come much better than this. 9/10. March 1998.

AARON FERRIS : Solitary Realignment. (www, Here’s a new name to the Christian music scene. Winging it’s way from County Antrim, comes the debut album from singer songwriter, Aaron Ferris. Now, unlike artists such as Martyn Joseph, and Gareth Davies-Jones, Aaron doesn’t weave stories into songs. Instead, he proclaims Jesus as His Saviour, and writes songs that are all based on gospel truths. The first song, ‘All I’ve Ever Wished For’, unashamedly stands up for Jesus as savour and friend, while the short ‘Heaven Awaits’ thanks God for such a friend. It’s a, mainly, acoustic sound that is used throughout, with guitar, piano and drums being the most used instruments. Aaron’s voice measures favourably with his counterparts and I found the lyrics very easy on the ear, apart from ‘Happily Ever After’. Have you ever thought that you don’t deserve to be loved by God? Well, Aaron, puts his thoughts on this with a song called ‘I Don’t Deserve You’. My favourite track on this folk/pop album has to be ‘Think on This’. If I’ve understood it right, Aaron asks the question about making ourselves ready, For the return of Jesus to this earth. It’s a bit of alternative praise and worship, to my mind, and I think that Aaron tackles it well. Judging by his myspace page, his music certainly seems to be picking up plays, and that’s always a good sign. 8/10 February 2010.

CATHERINE FRANCIS : Inside Story. (NuLife : NU CD 198. CD £11.00/Cassette £8.50 inc p&p from: C.Francis, Elined Arts & Music, PO Box 13778, London, England N14 5WD) When I interviewed this young lady in 1995, I thought that I had stumbled upon a special ministry in the making. When I saw her in concert last year, my thoughts were confirmed. Now, with this release, Catherine Francis shows that she has been truely blessed with the gift of 'Hope for the Hurting'. Writing from her own experiences, as well as others, she draws the listener into feeling that the music has been written especially for them. Take the first line of 'This Woman Knows'..."She only cries when she's alone." Catherine brings out the hidden hurts of countless years and lays them gently in God's hands. Tracks 8 & 9 run into each other with 'Kiss the Shore' depicting sorrow and 'The Darkest Years' realising that God was in that sorrow but unseen. Piano based songs, with carefully produced programmed backing brings out Catherine's vocals to pure brilliance. Yes, at times she is like an early Kate Bush, but there's more to her than just a copy. I've never heard another CCM artist like her. Somebody should sign her up, quickly. 10/10. February 1997.

FREESLAVE : Remember the Day. (CD £6.50 from H. Spenceley, 50 Orchard Hill, LittleBilling, Northampton, UK, NN3 9AG). Freeslave return after last year's debut EP with another recording featuring 4 tracks. The first is, probably, the strongest, and most likely to get them more airplay. "Hiding Place" has a raw freshness and energy that you only get in a smaller studio, and while the production isn't perfect, it does add a lot to the performance. Haydon Spenceley has an engaging voice which drones just enough to give it a certain quality. As for "Nothing", I just don't like the song itself. The overall sound is good, but the song leaves me cold - just a personal thing. While the opening faster song works best, the slower ones do give a glimpse into the band's armoury to show that Freeslave are more than just a one-trick card. On "Crying Tonight" the song shows just what God might say to the question "What do you think of your world today"? This song highlights Sarah Crays backing vocals and some tasty guitar work. It may not be perfect, but the finished product show what Freeslave are about. Maybe now they can move to a full album and show their true potential. 7/10. December 2004

FREESLAVE : Love Explosion. ( "Love Explosion" is the new single from wheelchair artist Haydon Spenceley, who now wears the Freeslave crown on his own. Through his music ministry, Haydon's main goal is to sing about the hope, suffering, joy and despair that make this life we live, so varied and exciting. The three songs on this single, show a tidier production than previous releases, and the instrumentation has also improved the resulting sound. The title track is the strongest cut and the catchy chorus makes it ideal for radio. Haydon's vocals are complimented by some superb guitar playing by Harun, and the result is more than pleasing. "Road Less Travelled" isn't so strong, yet it still has a certain quality about it. Finally, Ross Gill's guitar work on "Save My Day" ensure that this single is an ideal taster for those wishing to dip their toe into the world of Freeslave. 7/10. February 2006

FREESLAVE : Songs for the Dying. When our very own Geoff Howlett informed me that he had done three earlier Free Slave reviews I was tempted to check them out to see what he thought! - but decided it was fairer to approach this one without any preconceived impressions. So, what do we have here? Well, we have an album full of catchy alt-rock songs, set within a framework of predominantly synthesiser sounds, delivered by heavily processed vocals. Although you may assume Free Slave to be a band, at the time of this album release in May 2006 Free Slave was predominantly the solo project of one Haydon Spenceley, with 'Songs for the dying' evidently taking him three years to complete. With Haydon writing all the songs and contributing keyboards and vocals, he was nevertheless assisted by friends on drums, guitars and backing vocals. Bass guitarist Harun Kotch also gets the production, engineering and mixing credits. Whilst I enjoyed this album from the off, it is one that grows. By the third listening, I was really enjoying it. Harun knows his stuff production-wise - this is smooth and expertly done and he pulls off the trick of all the vocals being easy to hear whilst not overloud within the mix. My only criticism is that I would prefer a slightly less synthetic sound to the vocals - but that's just personal preference. Stand out tracks for me were 'Save my day' (the guitar riff was particularly effective) and the slower tempo 'Not alone'. So, whilst I still have no idea what Mr Howlett thinks of Haydon Spenceley/Free Slave - my view is that he/they are definitely worth a listen. 8/10 Dave Deeks. December 2006.

FREESLAVE : Save My Day. Formed in the summer of 2006, the full band 'Free Slave' have rushed out this four track EP. The publicity describes them as 'a four piece alt-rock band based on the South Coast, pumping out a full and punchy sound with swirling synths and floating guitar riffs set over grooving bass lines and solid rhythms - a sound that sits comfortably amongst influences and contemporaries including Muse, Radiohead, U2, Coldplay and Lost Prophets'. Quite a build up! I certainly noticed bits of Coldplay and Lost Prophets - and as these happen to be favourite bands of mine, that was no bad thing. The title track is a slightly different version of one of my standout tracks from 'Songs for the dying'. Haydon Spenceley is joined by new members on drums, bass and guitar - Harun Kotch giving up his musical contribution to concentrate on production, with his expert influence being evident. Here we have a more 'live', rocky sound however. Drummer Matt Bromley deserves special mention, but (brothers?) Aaron and Ben Lewis also work well together on guitar and bass, and overall everything is very well sorted indeed. It is pretty obvious that Haydon Spenceley is a talented guy, who surrounds himself with just the right people to help his talents shine. As it happens, Haydon is also a wheelchair user. A very good EP, and for its extra energy over the album, worth an extra point. 9/10. Dave Deeks. December 2006.

CATH FROUD : You've Got A Friend. ( Regular readers of NFN will, no doubt, be aware of the Zephaniah Trust based in Shipley, UK, and the musical ministry of John Froud. Well, after supporting her Dad in a number of ways on stage over the years, it's the turn of Cath to produce her own album. It's primarily an acoustic recording, with instrumental backing kept to a minimum. Cath jumps straight into the recording with an accapella version of "In the Ghetto", which is a very brave move in my opinion. The fact that she pulls it off, proves the confidence she has in her singing is not false. A lot of the song writing credits go to her Dad, but Cath sings them as if they're her own. "Late and Lonely" features the piano skills of David Wilkinson, and the backing gently caresses, Cath's vocals. "God's Sorrow" tells how God's love is unfailing and no matter what you may do, HE never turns His back on you. "Reason to Believe" is a very pretty little song, while the duet on "I Hear You Calling" didn't work for me at all. If there's one fault I would pick out on the album, it's that almost all the songs are of similar pace. The exception to this is "Burdens" which snaps along quite nicely. Ending, Cath gives a good rendition of Carole King's "You've Got A Friend", and almost goes into southern gospel territory with "His Eye is On the Sparrow". Style-wise, for us older folk, she reminded me a bit of Janis Ian. Her intimate style makes this album ideal for late night listening, and contemplating the lyrics. 7/10 February 2007.

JOHN FROUD & THE PKs : Seriously... (Private CD Recording : £13.00 from Zephaniah Music, 2a Norwood Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, England, BD18 2AZ). John Froud works full time in music ministry, specialising in schools work in his home area. However, his music will appeal to all ages and I think that a live concert would be quite an experience, judging by the humour contained in some of his songs. Prime example on the album is "Stressed" - which lends a lot from an old T.Rex tune - which contains the immortal line "I've had another bad day, and my hair's going grey". It's not all tongue in cheek muzak though, and there's plenty of lyrical depth in "Lost Without You" and the poignant "Seriously Unrehearsed". Perhaps the most appealing, is the folk tinged "21st Century Prophet" and it's sideways look on life and just what the future holds. On the whole, the songs contain a mixture of ingredients with styles varying from blues to rock. "The Spin" reminded me of The Beautiful South while "Face" and "Tell Me", I found less appealing. It takes all sorts to make the world go round, and John Froud certainly provide quite a mixture. 7/10. June 1999.

JOHN FROUD & the PK'S : Be There. (Private CD Recording : £13.00 from Zephaniah Music, 2a Norwood Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, England, BD18 2AZ). And so we come to the latest musical offering, recorded on a shoestring budget, from one of the many wonderful artists who play and minister at 'grassroots' level. Recorded over four days at Dan Bowater's studio in Lincoln, John Froud & the PK's present an album of good old fashioned, honest lyrics in a style that sees folk, pop and R'n'B rub shoulders with each other. "Language of Love" starts the ball rolling, as John tries to tell the Lord that he sometimes finds it hard to speak the right words to Him. "Blue Hills" and "Holding On" are pure rhythm & blues, with the latter featuring some heavy saxophone and 60's keyboard. Actually, it's very refreshing to hear some different instruments being used with whistles, flute & mandolin being added to those already mentioned. Mind you, I did find the saxophone rather annoying in the laid back ballad "Be There" which, for me, distracted the listener from the words. John travels all over the UK but is primarily involved in schools work around the Bradford area. Like Brian Houston, last month, his lyrics are simple and will, therefore, appeal to all ages. One day, I'm going to have to catch up with this guy for a live gig. In the meantime, knowing he's out there producing songs like the powerful "Still Dreaming" will do nicely. 8/10. December 2000

JOHN FROUD : Don't You Know". (CD £13.00 from Zephaniah Music, 2a Norwood Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, England, BD18 2AZ). Over the years, it's been my pleasure to review a number of albums written and performed by Bradford's John Froud. John works mainly in schools in West Yorkshire taking the gospel of Jesus into the schools in a fun way that the children can understand and enjoy. Last year, he gave all the primary schools that he visits, the opportunity to be part of a new album. The result sees 19 different schools represented on 23 songs on the album. The one thing that eminently stands up throughout the album, is the way that John, his co-workers, and children all radiate a great joy in what they're doing. Some songs, like "When the Spirit of the Lord" and "Be Bold Be Strong", are well known to us all, but others such as "God So Loved the World" and "Though the Grass May Wither" will be new to the listener. The strength of a lot of the songs featured is their simplicity. Sometimes, those repetitive songs just annoy, but I didn't find it the case once here. It was quite a task to undertake, but well worth the effort, for a result that is a little out of the ordinary. Well done guys and gals. 8/10. February 2003

JOHN FROUD : Retrospective. (Zephaniah Music ZEPH407) In 1994 John gave up his full-time work as a teacher and became the founder of Zephaniah Trust, with the mission statement "taking light into dark corners". Now with co-worker Mark Drake, the Trust regularly visits over 45 schools and organises a wide range of events. This album represents "the righteousness remnant of the concert material of the years 1997-2003 - those songs still regularly performed". Disappointingly, the lyrics are printed for only 8 of the 16 featured tracks - and these are not in playing order. John and the band tend to major on a raw, rocky style. The recordings sound as if they are live performances rather than studio productions. There are many good tunes here, and the lyrics reflect John's clearly heart-felt desire to get the gospel message over in a relevant and direct way. '21st prophet', 'Finished', 'Late nights', 'Be there' and 'I cry alone' stand out as a good'uns. 'Too long' features a sudden and not too successful tempo change. A down side of the 'under-produced' approach is that there are occasional balance and 'vocal tuning' problems. Much of the time John's voice sounds a touch high in the mix, and it doesn't really stand up to the extra spotlight of the bluesy gospel 'Face' and minimalist backing of the wry 'Seriously Unrehearsed'. These are picky observations in the overall context of John's ministry however. Comments on the Zephaniah Trust website ( indicate that he has an enthusiastic following from pastors, parents and children. He is obviously doing exactly what the Lord wants him to, and I wish him every blessing in those dark corners! 7/10 Dave Deeks. March 2008.

JOHN FROUD : Haven’t You Heard. ( Whether it be playing to adults or children, John Froud has a song for all occasions. See him live, and it’s just like meeting an old friend – he exudes a lovely, warm glow. This new album is primarily aimed at the younger element and features choirs from a number of schools, mainly in the West Yorkshire area. Hats off to the engineers for masterly putting the whole thing together! John writes the songs that are catchy, yet easy for the children to both sing and understand. So it is with the opening track, ‘God Is So Good’. Repetative? Yes, but John and his cast of hundreds give the song a real life and belief. The title track follows similar lines, “Haven’t you heard about the good news?” for the most part, the songs are performed in a light pop/folk fashion, but on ‘This Little Light of Mine’, the muso’s give it a ragtime feel, and the children, once again, come up trumps. Once or twice, John performs on his own, and the gentle ‘I Will Not Hurry’ works well, with some nice flute work thrown in, too. ‘The King of Love’ and ‘I Know’ are just two of the remaining songs that will have you smiling as you listen to this collection. It must have been hard work putting this album together but, let me tell you, it’s been worth it. 9/10 August 2009. Album of the Month.

JOHN FROUD : Time Added On. ( I had the privilege of seeing John Froud live a couple of years ago and I was struck by his gentle yet witty demeanour. It's a great platform for delivering some wonderfully poignant songs that are at times political, othertimes personal but never dull. But how does his live act translate onto a recording. The answer is very well but let me say this – if you're expecting a polished, slick, generic sounding album then prepare to be pleasantly disappointed. This is none of those and thank goodness it isn't! It has a raw, rootsy, live feel, well suited the Dylanesque blues sound that clearly influences John's work. There is a nice mix of original material and some very well interpreted covers. In the latter category you'll find a version of “River's of Babylon” made famous by Boney M – not that there is anything Boney M about it. This version is hauntingly atmospheric and perhaps rather more accurately conveys the meaning of Psalm from which the lyrics are drawn. Of the original pieces I particularly love the opener “You Don't Want to Do That” and the declaratory “Standing in Line”. A honourable mention also goes to the title track, the hook of which still sticks in my mind. There's a couple of places on the album where the instrumentation gets a little overpowering and there's the odd tuning issue, so it isn't perfect, but it is full of character and feeling and these characteristics make it a more than pleasurable listen. 8/10 Robin Thompson. February 2012.

FULL CIRCLE : Set Your Sights. (Private Cassette £2.50 from: Phil Lewis, 4 Bramble Rise, Cowslip Estate, Penarth, S.Glamorgan, Wales, CF64 2RE). Pet Shop Boys meet The Stone Roses. 6/10. February 1996.

GHOSTREE : Ghostree EP. Online only (independent) UK four piece Indie band Ghostree have released their debut EP as an online only offering (for the time being at least) on Soundcloud. However from first impressions, this release has the potential to go further as a hard copy CD. Those that have read any of my previous reviews will be aware that I am partial to something a bit different than the run-of-the-mill praise & worship offerings & this sure fits the bill in that respect. From the outset with the opening track “Hope” you’ll notice this isn’t your usual fayre with a rather atmospheric, slightly dark & possibly theatrical atmosphere & frontman Haydon Spenceley adds to this aura with his moody vocals - certainly fits the “indie” label. “You They See” is a little lighter on the ears & has a good rocky feel to it. My favourite on the EP has to be “Glorious” though as I found it to be one I would be likely to listen to repeatedly & not get bored. It’s by no means a fast track but it still packs a punch in terms of the powerful God-centred praise lyrics & is certainly useable in a church setting – albeit with a little modification! “Save My Day” follows on in a similar vein with “Hallelujah” completing this offering at a slightly more relaxed pace, but for me took a while to get going. Difficult one to categorise is this – has a splash or REM in some respects with a dash of Coldplay. Some may find it a bit too out of the ordinary but this grew on me! Musicianship from this 4 piece outfit is excellent throughout & I have to admire some of the drum patterns & some of the rhythms could be occasionally seen as a tad experimental but it does work. I look forward to seeing what else these guys can produce as I am sure there are greater things to come! 8/10 Simon Redfern. April 2012.

GLASS DARKLY : Lost Persons Area. ( This album is the debut by this band, and has been completely self financed. Apart from the drums which were recorded at ICC the rest of the CD was done at various houses, churches etc. With no record company to mess everything around this CD retains that raw edge that is often sacrificed in the name of commercial necessity these days. The music is mainly guitar driven fairly up tempo rock worship, but there are a few slower numbers which are just as good too. For me the best track on this CD is "I can hear" which is a slower number, and has a definite U2 sound to it. Not too sure about the vocal on "Need to see you though", there are some falsetto lines in the verses that sound a bit too much like Justin Hawkins out of The Darkness. Apart from that, and to be fair, it's not really a bad track, just my personal prejudices coming out, this is probably one of the best Christian CD's that I've heard recently. The band have a website that has quite a lot of interesting stuff on it too, it's well worth a look. You can buy the CD from there too, there's a link to Acorn Direct. Give this CD a try, I'm sure that you won't be disappointed with it. 9/10 Andy Sayner. December 2005

THE GLORYHOUNDS : The Gloryhounds 1&2. (Private Cassette Recordings. Tape 1 £1.50 / Praise Tape £2.50 : from Dan Harris, 34 Leicester Street, Kettering, Northants, England, NN1 8EF.) Two Tapess in the style of bands such as Cast and Ride. Tape 2. Tape 1 8/10 : Praise Tape 7/10. June 1997.

PHILIPPA HANNA : Out of the Blue. ( Following a hard working year of winning fans with her pop sounds, Sheffield’s Philippa Hanna returns with a live, studio recording of country numbers that lend more than a passing nod to the style of Alison Krauss. Spoken count-in’s add to a spontaneous feel for most of the songs, and there’s a slight quirkiness in Philippa’s delivery too. The opening ‘Happy in My Skin’ describes the feeling of being happy in just the way that God made us, and the song carries the message well. My favourite track is ‘Reggedy Doll’, even though I’m not sure that I completely understand the lyrics. Telling us that her “Raggedy Doll” has always been there and has always been loved is quite sweet, but is there an underlying message about Jesus in there too? Instrument wise, there’s a lot of acoustic guitar, banjo and even a good helping of harmonica, especially on ‘Higher’. There’s also a stripped back version of her popular ‘I Am Amazing’, and it still sounds good. What Philippa’s pop served fans will make of this release I’m not sure but it’s quite a brave move overall. 7/10 May 2011

MICHAEL HARCUS : Take A Moment. ( Michael Harcus and his wife Christine live on the island of Westray, which is one of the northern isles in Orkney. In 1998 he released his first album called "There Is", and received invites to play in prisons, church's and events. Since then, he's toured Scotland regularly and now releases this latest CD. The songs are unashamedly MOR, but there's a certain quality contained within each. Also, Michael manages to squeeze the best sounds from each individual instrument such as the mandolin on "Love Didn't Come Easy" and the guitars on "You Are God". Perhaps the most radio friendly track is the 60's sounding "Never Walk Away". It's got a great hook, a catchy tune, and I was singing along almost immediately. At times, Michael's vocals remind me of James Taylor, with a warmth and quality, especially on "Keep Me From Falling - a shuffling type of song! It's always pleasing to hear new British artists, and especially pleasing when they're as bright as Michael Harcus. 8/10. June 2005

MICHAEL & CHRISTINE HARCUS with Friends : Green Pastures. (Island Image Records : IIR003CD) Until a couple of weeks ago I was new to the name of Michael Harcus. Then Geoff Howlett reviewed his latest CD in last month's NFN, I saw two of Michael's songs in the NCM Euro charts, and this earlier 'Harcus' CD popped through my letterbox! Based in the Orkney Islands, here Michael brings us a selection of songs mainly in the traditional/old time gospel style. Writers include Loretta Lynn, Ricky Scaggs and Rich Mullins - with one particularly 'hootenanny' track written by Michael himself. Michael has a voice that really does communicate, and he and Christine certainly have the right friends when it comes to making a CD. Other members of the Harcus family also contribute, with Kenneth on bass guitar and drums, and John singing bass vocals on a couple of tracks. Much use is made of vocal harmonies, very well done. Mandolin and 'country fiddle' also feature - the latter to particularly good effect on 'Far side bank of Jordan'. Several times, Ken's inventive drumming adds particular interest. Whilst much of the musical style presented here is not really my thing, the quality of the performance, production and sound is such that I soon found myself enjoying it - the best tracks for me being "Green Pastures" and "Where Could I Go". For more info about Michael and his band, visit 7/10 Dave Deeks. July 2005

MICHAEL HARCUS with FRIENDS : One Day I'll Know. ( This is the 5th album from Orkney based Michael Harcus and what a good one it is too. With gospel harmonies and contemporary country styles, he weaves a clever array of sounds that is pleasing to the ear. On the opening "Carry Me", he uses only piano to back his engaging vocals. Meanwhile, the title track carries a fuller, richer sound with some effective guitar playing too. The album's purple patch comes mid-album with the uptempo country song "I Believe, I Believe". It's a good song and begs for radio play. A female vocal takes the lead on the sweet "Ten Thousand Angels Cried" but it's those country songs that really stand out. "Why" is a thoughtful, mid-paced number while "God Is Good Isn't he" and "Higher Are Your Ways" contain simple biblical truths. Michael isn't scared to state the obvious in his songs, but he has an effective way of conveying an evangelistic message without it being "in your face". In my humble opinion, if this man lived in the US, he would already have a recording contract. As it is, let's be thankful that he shares his music so freely here in the UK. 9/10. January 2007

MICHAEL HART : The Heart of the Matter. (CD £9 Cassette £7 from: Soul Keeper Records, 5243-57 A Street, Ladner, British Columbia, Canada, V4K 3H2). "He has a nack for writing catchy tunes"....the record "emanates strength and faith".... "He shows his convictions openly & in a way that touches your heart". These are just three quotes from the many wonderful reviews that Michael received when this album was first released in Canada. As for writing "catchy tunes", I can confirm that this is the case, as he shows in both "The Righteous" and "You Are My Confidence". "Paper & Phone" has a tropical feel to it, as Michael comes up with a story like ditty about media dating. His tenor vocals are slick and precise throughout, with "I Had No Idea" being one of many strong points. Here, Hart's lyrics tell of life's journey, his music providing the perfect accompaniment. Just one track out of ten that I didn't rate, that holds this release from being my album of the month. If, as he hopes, Michael returns to the UK next year for some concert dates, be sure to check him out. In the meantime, check his sounds. 9/10. April 1998.

MICHAEL HART : Dulcimer Light Christmas. (CD £9 Cassette £7 from: Soul Keeper Records, 5243-57 A Street, Ladner, British Columbia, Canada, V4K 3H2). Since I first wrote about this singer in NFN earlier this year, Michael Hart has continued to win friends wherever his ministry has taken him. A recent Cross Rhythms review of his previous release "The Heart of the Matter" only confirmed the well deserved interest that this man is gaining. Released in his home country last year, "Dulcimer Light" is not just another artist jumping on the Christmas bandwagon. True, well known songs like "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard.." are included but, given the Michael Hart style. Listening to it, you can close your eyes and imagine a typical family Christmas, sat around the tree and a roaring log fire in the background. On the other hand, there's enough carefully thought out music and lyrics to touch the heart of many. Other, less familiar songs, are just as impressive with Michael adapting the sound of the dulcimer to carefully wrap each track with care. Well worth your effort to order. 8/10. November 1998.

MICHAEL HART : Lord of the Mountain. ($20 from: Soulkeeper Music, 5243 57A Street, Delta, B.C. V4K 3H2, Canada). When you think of Canada, what to associate with it? Mounties? Ice Hockey? If you do, then, you're missing out on a lot of good Christian music. One of the many talented - and often underrated - artists to come out this country is singer/songwriter Michael Hart. For this, his 5th album, Michael collected some fine musicians around him and recorded most of the sounds live. With his trademark dulcimer featuring throughout, he and the band present a collection of songs in the style of contemporary hymns, blues, jazz, light pop, and sweet harmonies. Michael's voice is rich in tone and is immediately on top form with the opening "I Put My Trust", where piano and acoustic sounds are so fresh. The title track includes some lovely violin and "Call Me" really soothes all inside you. Lyrically, Michael writes from having a deep longing to serve a loving God and from enjoying the beauty of such a relationship. Two short instrumental pieces are a welcome addition to the running order, while "Praise Him" and "There Is Forgiveness" stand out towards the end. Overall, it's an album that should see Michael's music reach far further than the boundaries of his native Canada - it just needs someone to sit up and take note. 9/10. June 2000

MICHAEL HART : Desire. (Soulkeeper : Canadian based singer songwriter Michael Hart has a clear track record over the last 20 years from both secular and faith based press. His previous albums have been sweet music to the ears of this reviewer and I'm pleased to say that this new offering continues the trend. "You Are the One" kicks things off in alight pop mode in praise of the Lord, and I think that it's a prime choice for radio play. "Psalm 20 Dance" has a Celtic sound to it, which is repeated on "Glory to You Lord" - where Michael also displays his dulcimer skills. Mid album there's a couple of jazz-blues tracks which I personally didn't find as enjoyable, but they're very competently done. His themes for songs are very straight forward in Christian terms and therefore the lyrics are easy to digest. His musical styles also include a little bluegrass, which plays well on the title track. Indeed, this song was nominated for Best Folk Roots Song of the Year at the recent Calgary GMA. Other songs of note are "Healer", "Who Is A God Like You" and "My Soul Finds Rest". The former is a pretty little song and one I found myself humming long after the CD had finished. Michael's high tenor voice is a delightful sound, and this album deserves to be heard by a much wider audience. 9/10. December 2006.

J. BRIAN HILL : Life, Love and Worship (available from - MD30488 Brian is a singer songwriter and worship leader based in Chicago, Illinois. This is his second of three recording projects all of which are now available in the UK following his recent mini tour. This cd gives you 13 songs, all written by Brian and produced by Mark Pay, who also plays guitar on the album. Brian's first project was recorded in the "Gaither Studios" and influences of that can be heard here - stacked backing vocals and lush keyboards being two examples. But it isn't overdone and the arrangements are very effective at highlighting the strength of the songs. There is quite a variety too, from the heartwarming "Tapestry of Memories", a song about seeing your children grow up, to the guitar driven closer "Walking with Jesus" which leaves you feeling on a high and ready to take on the world! Brian here has managed to achieve what is usually quite difficult to do, that is create an album that will appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Strong melodies, insightful lyrics, sensitive production and excellent performances are all evident here and the end result is a very good package. 9/10. Robin Thompson. May 2006

J. BRIAN HILL. Blessed By Love. ( Produced in Nashville at Zod Lounge Studio’s, this is J.Brian Hill’s latest EP release. Over the last three years, Brian has ministered in the north-east of England, bringing God’s word to young and old alike, and many have been touched by his gentle ways. The songs on this CD remind me a lot of Michael W Smith in style, but Brian’s warm vocal tones are very individual. The title track features twice – one radio edit and one long version. The production is first class, and Brian’s delivery, sincere. ‘Breathe on Me’ cries for God’s soothing touch, while ‘Draw A Line’ prays that the lord will help us to be the person that we are supposed to be. The songs are medium paced numbers, and each one could be released as singles – they are so strong. My only complaint was that four tracks weren’t enough, I wanted more! It’s no wonder, then, that Brian continues to bless so many with his music. 9/10 November 2009

HOT GOSPEL : Many Rooms. ( Although this choir was only formed a few short years ago, they have already made quite a name for themselves by playing at numerous, prestigious events and venues around the UK. Based in East Yorkshire, under the guiding hand of Helen Garnett, they are the north-east’s answer to the London Community Gospel Choir. This debut release finds Hot Gospel in top form, and features 12v tracks, totalling more than 60 minutes of music. ‘You’ve Got the Love/Kumbaya’ opens the listing, and instantly there are some very strong vocals. ‘Faithful’ is a great song, where all the voices and instruments come together as one, in perfect harmony. The old Edwin Hawkins hit ‘Happy Day’ rather overstays it’s welcome, as it gets a little repetitive, but the choir’s version of ‘Shackles’ is really powerful. Musical backing on the album comes from Dave Bradfield (Drums), Dave Short (Bass Guitar), and Antoine Robinson (Piano, Hammond Organ, & Acoustic guitar), and they prove to be more than capable in this department. Other highlights include the excellent ‘Do You Know Jesus’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’, with James Taylor taking the soloist spot on the latter. Closing the album is ‘My Life, My Love, My All’, where Robinson’s intuitive piano playing caresses each word of the song. Live, Hot Gospel are infectious, and this album manages to capture that spirit very well. 9/10 June 2011.

GEOFF HOWLETT : Fear No Evil. (Private Recording : NFN001. CD £7.50 + 75p postage; Cassette £5 + 50p from : Geoff Howlett, 113 Bricknell Avenue, Hull, E. Yorkshire, England, HU5 4EU). If the artist's name doesn't give it away, then the label does. This is NFN's editor in full flight on his first solo album. Recorded at Hull's Eastside studios over "far too long", it kicks off with "You Promised" and the tone is set. Geoff writes songs with catchy choruses separated by verses that do far more than simply fill the spaces: they tunefully explain the words that you'll go round singing for ages after first hearing them. Then just as you think you've got the album sussed and are ready to give it a solid 7/10, it steps up a gear: "Ebony Blood and Snow", "When the Son Comes Down" and "Sea of Flames" are the album's purple patch, "When.." featuring some of the best-recorded acoustic guitar I've heard in a long time. Asking around, the track that's raising the most interest, though is "No", a re-working of a song Geoff first aired with "95 Foot Wave". This is a calmer version, and took me a couple of listens to decide that he's done the right thing. If the album has a fault (and as a reviewer, I'm supposed to find at least one) it's in the ordering of the tracks: it runs more like a live gig than an album. It starts strongly and closes with a stomper, but lacks a cohesion in places, that, live, would be given by the introductions. Did I mention I like the album, by the way? 8/10. Paul Ganney. November 1998.

GEOFF HOWLETT : Always & Forever (Private Recording : from Geoff Howlett, 113 Bricknell Avenue, Hull, England, HU5 4EU. CD : £3.50; Cassette: £1.50) It must be at least 18 months now since Geoff released his solo album, 'Fear No Evil', so it's about time we heard from him again! Since then, Geoff has found himself playing much more to audiences of over 35s, so has built upon those experiences to produce a more mature style of music. Released for St. Valentine's Day, this EP of four more Howlett compositions certainly shows this. All are love songs, treated in different ways but with Geoff's lyrical style stamped all over them. The EP opens with the title track, unashamedly retro 60s - but doesn't he do it well? And it goes on ... 'My Love' , also 60s style, is a slower number with the arrangement really catching the style of the time. 'I Love You' is more of an acoustic number with Geoff's guitar work coming to the fore, whilst 'The Positive Sign' makes use of modern technology and reminds me of 80s synthesiser stuff such as Soft Cell and early Depeche Mode. I like this collection as a whole, and the variety works but I have to say that Geoff's forte is definitely in the 60s retro material. His voice is perfect for it, his original songs just seem to slide into it, and the way he uses modern sounds to recreate it is great. No crackle and hiss! Geoff's version of the Billy Fury classic 'Halfway to Heaven' adorns the late star's fan club website, so surely that is recommendation indeed. Nice one, Geoff! 8/10. Julie Lord. March 2000.

GEOFF HOWLETT : Golden Days. (CD £5.50 from 83 Parthian Road, Hull, Yorkshire,UK, HU9 4SX) Well, if Daniel O'Donnell can record an album of secular classics, why can't Geoff? After all, as he takes his music into various venues, there's always a smattering of smash hits from the 50's and 60's to help roll back the memories. His love for British rock n' roller Billy Fury results in three of the legend's tracks on show, "Be Mine Tonight", "Cross My Heart" and the classic "Like I've Never Been Gone". Similarly, three songs made famous by Johnny Tillotson also get an airing, "Judy Judy Judy", "My Special Angel" and "Poetry in Motion". Despite the age of some of these songs, Geoff has the happy knack of making them sound just as fresh as the day they were in the charts. Hit's by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Bobby Vee slip together nicely with songs like "Venus in Blue Jeans" and "Summertime Blues," all helping to make this an enjoyable listen. 7/10. Warren Harry. October 2004.

GEOFF HOWLETT : Golden Days 2. ( These days, plying his trade, predominantly, in the world of secular music, singer Geoff Howlett follows up his 2004 tribute album with well known hits of yesteryear. Kicking off with the Dusty Springfield classic, ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’, Geoff takes us on a journey of musical history, with songs that he covers in his live sets. One early piece of feedback stated that it was nice to hear Gene Pitney’s ’24 Hours From Tulsa’ actually sung in tune, and this version certainly hits the right notes. There’s 90 seconds of what became one of Adam Faith’s biggest hits, ‘What Do You Want?’, while Geoff also offers a mini tribute to British singer Craig Douglas, with ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’ and ‘When My Little Girl is Smiling’. One surprise inclusion is the 2007 hit by the Killers, ‘Human’ but, again, it works well. Geoff hasn’t forgotten how to play instruments though, and his guitar playing is highlighted in a thoughtful solo on Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’. No Geoff Howlett gig would be the same without a passing nod to Billy Fury, and he doesn’t disappoint, singing versions of ‘Halfway to Paradise’ and the lesser known ‘I’ll Never Quite Get Over You’. It’s an album that you’ll enjoy if you’re of a “certain age”. It’s never going to rock your socks off, but with covers of songs by Chris De Burgh, Ronan Keating, and Shakin’ Stevens, it’s sure to find you singing along. 7/10 Warren Harry. February 2010.

GEOFF HOWLETT : Love Songs. (£5 from Another year, and another offering of golden hits from the golden tones of NFN maestro, Geoff Howlett. Playing concerts in his native Yorkshire area, Geoff has built up a reputation of providing an excellent evening of memories and entertainment, through songs from days gone by. This time, he’s decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day, by issuing an album of 17 love songs. There are far too many of my favourites to mention here, but Geoff caresses each word on songs like Billy Fury’s “I’ll Never Quite Get Over You’, and Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love’. He surprised me by taking on Shania Twain’s ‘Still the One’ but, somehow, it works quite well. Slower songs like ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ and ‘Dream a Little Dream’ and equally as enjoyable as more uptempo numbers such as ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth’ and the powerful ‘Tracks of My Tears’. Most people will know a good number of the tracks but, for some, Roxette’s ‘Vulnerable’ will be a hidden gem. All in all, a delightful CD. 8/10 Warren Harry. February 2011.

THE IDENTITY : Fight For Your Life. ( Cited by Powerplay Magazine as “One of Chester City’s finest bands in a long while”, The Identity’s passionate and energetic brand of rock has been connecting with audiences around the North-West of England and even further afield. With an average age of just 17 years, this debut EP certainly sounds as if they have been around a lot longer. The title track is a storming song. It’s attack minded, and has a great hook for audiences to shout out to. ‘Save My Soul’ carries on in similar vein, but isn’t quite as strong musically. Lead singer, Matt, does an excellent job vocally, and the rest of the band back him well. ‘Sacrifice’ is a slower, more melodic song, and has quite an anthemic chorus, which I can also see going down well live. The band’s overall sound reminded me of The Steels, but I also thought that there was a bit of Red Hot Chilli Peppers influences thrown in as well. There’s some nice distorted guitars on ‘Rescue’ which give a real bite to the overall sound of the song, and the whole mix sits well overall. With Sheffield’s Resound Media behind them, the band look set to become one’s to watch over the coming months. 8/10 November 2011.

INDIAN SUMMER : Crown of Creation. (Private Cassette Recording. £5.50 from : A Bamforth, 162 Alexandra Road, Peterborough, PE1 3DL, England. It's a long time since I receieved a pure olde worlde folk album. Performed here by Annie & John Bamforth, we have a colection of 16 songs of varying quality and production. Some, such as "Gaudete" and "Lord of the Dance" are well known but most, I 've heard for the first time. The simple backing of acoustic and bass guitars seem to work the best throughout, although Annie's vocals do not always suit. The opening "Crown of Creation" being an immediate example of this, with her voice being either weak or nervous. The second song contains an excellent 12 string guitar, but the words are difficult to pick out. Again, this was something that ran throughout the album and was more of a production fault. "Christ Receive" raises things a little even though it sounds like a chant. "Tree of Life/Light" is the strongest track although the use of distorted guitar(?) does detract from the basic sound. If this all sounds like a negative review, I'm afraid it's because of the production and recording. When I can hear the lyrics, they sound good and some of the tunes are quite catchy. Perhaps, this pre-release copy is not the finished product but, even if it is, there's still promise from a fledgling ministry trying to break free. 5/10. April 1998.

STEVE JAMES : Voices in the Desert. (Private CD Recording £13 from: Steve James, St Andrews Church Office, The Rectory, Highcroft Avenue, Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside, England, L63 3EX). Steve James has recorded a number of albums, including some that were produced in Canada, where he worked as a curate for 4 years. He now lives and works, as Rector, in the Wirral, as well as performing his songs at many local venues. 'Voices in the Desert' has been produced by Roy Salmond, who also provides some of the most memorable guitar playing that I have heard in recent months. Either he, or Dane Deviller, delivers a terrific acoustic display on 'My Heart May Fail'. Couple it with Steve's fine vocals, it's a marriage made in Heaven. 'Angels' is a strong, rocky opener that makes good use of a catchy hook and pricks up your ears. 'That Night' tells the story of Christmas with great power yet, at the same time, simplicity. Steve's writing is very accessible and the musicians around him are first class. The only comparison I could make would be Garth Brookes meets Michael Card. One or two songs aren't as strong as others but the beautiful piano & guitar to 'Winter' leaves you well satisfied. 8/10. January 1998.

JHARDINE : Water & Thunder. ( I first heard this young lady on a media disc, and was so impressed that I asked to hear more. Recorded in Leeds, this is her sophomore release and it compares well with the likes of bigger names such as Ce Ce Winans. Singing from an early age Jhardine, then, began and directed her school’s own gospel choir. After committing herself to Christ, she began turning her award winning poetry into songs. This album starts in confident style with a light gospel number called ‘Admittance’. ‘Forevermore’ is an engaging song and was originally written as Psalm 151. Jhardine’s ‘Praise Medley’ is joyful, while ‘Heavenly Voice’ is simply lovely, and gives a peaceful feeling to the listener. ‘You Are God’ and ‘I Will Gently Rejoice’ are both strong, vocally, and highlight the comparison I feel she has with Miss Winans. And, just when you think you’ve heard it all, Jhardine comes up with ‘Were You There?’, which shows her full vocal range to a simple piano backing. A couple of songs didn’t quite do it for me, but I think that was just from personal taste, rather than a dip in quality. The album ends, as it begins, with a happy and joyful sound that is ‘Deep & Wide Medley’. My only minor moan is that the sleeve notes are almost unreadable as they are written in white on a yellow background. It’s an impressive album, and the production for a small studio is very good. Jhardine certainly has the voice, and now it just needs to be heard by the masses. 9/10 Album of the Month. January 2012.

THE JIVE ACES : Bolt From the Blue. (Private CD Recording. Information from: Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, West Sussex, England, RH19 4JY. In a world of shred, dread and grunge come a bolt from the the Jive Aces. A six piece band playing a form of jive that is best expressed as rock/jazz. Just a CD in the NFN postbag, with no accompanying literature. 15 songs including some that older listeners will instantly recognise, which have been given a 90's face lift. 'When You're Smilin', 'Blue Moon', and the 30's hit 'Pennies From Heaven' are just three of those with shining pedigree. Of the new songs, perhaps the 'Jive Ace Boogie Woogie' is a bit of self indulgence but the title track is up there with the best. If a little boogie woogie and jive is your cup of tea then the Jive Aces will go down a treat. 7/10. January 1998.

GARETH DAVIES-JONES : A Play Upon the Conscience. (CD £12.99 from: 1 Hagg Bank, Wylam, Northumberland, UK, NE41 8JU) You might think by the title that there's something more to this singer songwriter than just putting together an album of songs for the sake of it. Gareth takes the gritty writing style of Martyn Jospeh, the simple smoothness of Fernando Ortega's sound, and the commercial substance of David Gray, to come up with an album that could just be different enough to make it big. The lyrics delve into your conscience and ask those questions that we sometimes avoid. Are we really building our house on solid rock, or is slowly sinking in the sand? Listen, as "Out of Hand", an acoustic blues number, asks that very question. Do you really put others first? "Take A Back Seat" cleverly twists and turns lyrically to pose another. Musically, Gareth leads the way with his acoustic guitar but is complimented well by his co-musicians and vocalists. "Solitude" flows effortlessly all over you and wraps you in a cocoon of God's love, while the haunting sound of "Heavenfield" explores the personal battle that we all go through, especially times of denial. Take time to listen to this album and you'll find a lot more than just a talented musician. This is a gift for all. 9/10. October 2004

GARETH DAVIES-JONES : Faith, Folk, & Fair Trade. (CD from This EP features four songs which each touch on poor people's struggle for dignity in a world where the rules are stacked against them - a problem the world is increasingly in tune with in this year of the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign and Live 8. Gareth, who has the knack of writing in Martyn Joseph style, has a very listenable voice and the simple instrumentation is well recorded. Indeed, the acoustic guitar sound is some of the best I've heard for a long time. "Greed For Gain" says " I Work all day for a very low wage…it's time to make a better deal". If you listen to the words, Gareth brings home the message of just what Fair Trade is all about. "Love thy Neighbour" is the message contained in "These Days" and the overall feel of the CD is very intimate. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine Gareth performing the songs just for you. Overall, the well crafted lyrics weave and connect well with the simple acoustic backing. 8/10 October 2005

GARETH DAVIES-JONES : Only For A Short While. ( Rooted in the folk/acoustic tradition, Gareth Davies-Jones is a singer songwriter and guitarist who's previous work I've had the pleasure to hear. Since turning professional 3 years ago he has been gigging his way around the UK and Ireland, building a reputation as a strong live performer and a perceptive songwriter. He says that this new album deals with the "travails of life, the things that can affect us all regardless of our standing". Staying true to his live sound, Gareth's songs are accompanied by simple, stripped down sounds. "Money Goes Round" starts things off, with a look at universal wealth and poverty. "Hard Reality" sounds good with it's guitar and keyboard backing, while the first really catchy number comes with "Asylum". Here, Gareth looks at the growing problem of asylum seekers all over the world. Gareth plays the sort of music that would go sdown best in an intimate setting. It's the type of thing that Martyn Joseph has been doing so well over the year's, and now, here's someone of quality to rival his talents. 7/10 June 2006

GARETH DAVIES JONES : Water & Light. Here's a chap who's a seasoned professional singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has played at many of the UK's best known festivals and venues. In the past, I've likened him to Martyn Joseph and David Gray, and it's the former category that he sits in best. One thing I like about Gareth's music is it's simplicity in sound. There's some fine music in the background, but it's uncluttered and lets him, as the singer perform his trade. He starts this album off with the excellent 'Borderland', a strong opener. 'Breathe' is also a superb song which is full of passion and good hooks. Away from the usual praise and glories to our Lord, Gareth can also write folky numbers that tell of a story. 'Shoreline of Ghosts' depicts a time, not so long ago, when miners worked down the pits in his native north east of England. Similarly, later on, Gareth weaves his words into a delightful story about an ill-fated ship. As a singer and performer, Gareth is slowly building up a reputation that I'm sure will see him become even more popular in the years to come. As for the album, it's a joy to listen to. 9/10. June 2008

GARETH DAVIES-JONES & ROB HALLIGAN : Try This at Home. (Rough Mix Records, 11 Firs Chase, West Mersea, Essex, CO5 8NG) This is the first collaboration from these singer/songwriters who champion the cause of Fair Trade and Trade Justice. Engineered and produced by After the Fire’s Peter Banks, there’s a “no frills, raw sound” to this 8 track CD. Musically, it’s primarily just they guys’ guitars providing the backing and consequently, the sound feels a little empty at times. However, it all kicks off very nicely with Jones’ ‘Upside Down’, which I found to be quite appealing. Halligan’s ‘Eleana’ has a Latin feel about it, and tells the sad story of a Spanish girl who got mixed up in the drug scene and eventually died of HIV. These guys play a lot of concerts and I think that seeing them live would be a lot better than this resulting CD. The songs are quite thought provoking, such as ‘Money Goes Round’ and ‘Do Justice’, and shows the writing skills of both men. Memories of Julie Miller came flooding back to me towards the end of the CD, as Gareth sings his rendition of ‘Broken Things’. A pretty little song, and well, delivered. All in all, a taster of two of the UK’s busiest independent songsmiths. 6/10. November 2008.

TREFOR JONES : The Psalms. ( I didn’t hear Trefor’s 2007 release, ‘Fairweather’ but, apparently, it received critical acclaim. For this album, Trefor has taken 11 of the Psalms and has placed them with inspired melodies from blues to folk on them. I wasn’t quite ready for the old fashioned, uptempo gospel of ‘Seen You in the Sactuary’. It didn’t really impress me, although it was nice to hear the harmonica making a comeback. On ‘How Long Will You Forget Me?’, Terfor emerges with a Bono type vocal on an engaging song that sounds like a cross between U2 and Simple Minds. ‘Sing to the Lord’ swings along majestically, and I especially liked the use of the string pads within. Choosing to live in one of the UK’s largest council estates, Trefor works for the charity Criss Cross, which engages children and young people in learning about the Christian faith. I guess that his use of some of these songs will be an excellent tool in communicating some of those relevant Bible stories. I must admit not to liking Trefor’s growly vocals on the blues edged ‘He Has Done It’, but the Dylanesque style of ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ was excellent. My favourite track comes very late in the track listing. ‘Refuge and Strength’ just has a certain quality that puts it head and shoulders above the rest. I’ve always been a lover of grassroots artists, and Trefor is a very welcome addition. 8/10 March 2012.

THE JOY BRIGADE : Counting Days. ( The band formed in 2001, shortly after Adrian Thompson’s previous band, Split Level, had decided to call it a day. Over the next two years, they played various shows in the UK, Germany and Sweden before disappearing. Originally recorded live onto two inch tape, these tracks have now been released by former band member, Trevor Michael, on his 7Coremusic label. Now, as a great fan of the late Split Level, I found these tracks to be very reminiscent of the iconic band. Thompson’s vocals still ring out with all the passion that I remember, and The Joy Brigade’s demise is a sad loss. The title track is pure guitar driven pop/rock, and would make a sure fire hit single. ‘Salt Water’ and ‘Talk Show’ are more medium paced, but the quality of the band still remains. The closing track, ‘Simpler’ tells us to “stand where the light shines brighter than the sun”. It’s another rocky affair, and one that I played instantly again. The sound is raw. There have been no overdubs, no fixes, but that’s what makes it so good. 9/10. April 2012.

KATO : Seasider. (Private CD Recording £7.99 from: PO Box 61, St Annes, Lancs, England, FY8 1SS). Remember the band K? Well, in Star Trek terms, KATO are the next generation, with Captain Keith Ayling still at the helm. "Seasider" is a seven track Brit-pop mini-album that sounds more like the Charlatans than, say Oasis, but with a distinctive Kato twist. "Superhero" is chart material and opens things up with driving guitars and posing the question; "If your hero (Jesus) was 2 9 and living in your home town, what would you say to him"? "Grow" is very similar, but "Into Your Hands" is packed full of energy and I can see this one going down well live. "The Waves Are High" is a slower number that still works well, but "Walking on Water" doesn't quite have the same class about it. Bands may come and go but Keith Ayling and his troops continue to play where others fear to tread. 8/10. August 1997.

RICHARD KNIGHT : Rock in the Storm. (Private Cassette Recording. £7.50 inc p&p : from Richard Knight, 38 Parkside Drive, Watford, Herts, England, WD1 3AX. It's always a pleasure to receive something from a new artist, t aking their first steps in the CCM scene, and this is no exception. Richard hails from the Watford area and, after a few efforts, this his his first major demo release. Thirteen tracks of self penned songs that vary in both quality and delivery. The opening two tracks, for instance, carry thin, unconvincing, vocals that really do detract from the tunes - especially the catchy "The Things You Said". Move on to the title track, however, and it's a completely different kettle of fish. The slow electro ballad moves along nicely, and Richard's vocals fit perfectly, with feeling. The musical sound of the whole album reminds me of early Depeche Mode, although the "Instrumental" is undeniably Kraftwerk. "Thomas" is another catchy tune but, by the time we've reached "Sons Return", we're back to the vocal problem. Here, he tries to fit in far too many words and fails in it's delivery. There's no doubt that Richard has a lot of talent and gifts to share and this is a reaonable first outing . 6/10. November 1998.

LABEL OF LOVE : Label of Love. (Private Cassette £5.49 from: Label of Love, 20 Hilton Avenue, Scunthrope, DN15 8BD, England). Dance/rap from this Message Tribe type ministry. 7/10 January 1996.

LAST BEACON : First Light. (Private Cassette Recording £2.20 from: Jon Gurr, 7 Stonelea Drive, Rastrick, Brighouse, Huddersfield, England,HD6 3PT). Only two tracks on this cassingle from a band based in West Yorkshire. Recorded, presumably, on a limited budget, the finished sound could have been better. However, the first song ,'Run', is a mixture of Brit pop meets Runrig. "Waiting at the bus stop of my life" is the songs first line and gives you some idea of the lyrical content as a whole. Some, might say that the words are rather weak but I, personally found them oozing with honesty. Some good guitar work, interesting break, and never mind the robotic drummer. Track two 'Holy Day' is a quieter song and lacks any real impact. Although the guys do try with their harmonies, it just doesn't quite happen and, perhaps, it's one to work on. With so little to go on, it's hard to give a wider view of the band but with such a catchy song as 'Run' in their repertoire, (I've been singing it for days now) there's sure something worth listening to. 6/10. November 1997.

LAST MAN OUT : All or Nothing. (CD from I've been waiting for an album like this for ages. Why? Well, I just wanted a new grass roots UK band to produce a guitar driven sound that would get me excited. Last Man Out are based in Scotland and this debut release leaps from your speakers with some really tasty sounds. At times they remind me a little of Kato, especially on the opening "Great & Glorious", but Pete Chalks lead vocals can also be a bit Jon Bon Jovi too. The songs are full of simple truths and the result is an album of praise and worship rock. Backing vocals are supplied by Susie Allan - who also plays keyboard - and they work really well with Chalk's lead. "Everything" has those good driving guitars forcing it's way through and "SOS" shows that Allan can also take over the lead vocals with confidence. "Fly" is a slower number but one of quality, while "Saved", "Only You", and "Yours" get things rocking again. I really enjoyed the overall sound of the band as the instruments seemed to gel instantly. It sounds as if a lot of time has gone into the production of this album and, if so, the time has been well worth it. 9/10. October 2005

NICK LAW : Christus Victor. Born and based in Sheffield, England, Nick Law is the Worship Co-ordinator for St Thomas Crookes Church. His 2006 debut EP ‘Heart on Fire’, established his reputation as a skilled songwriter and musician. Nick is responsible for most of the instruments on the album and has worked with producer Andy Barker for this project. There’s a fresh, raw sound about the opening ‘O Praise Him’. It’s a little different to your usual p&w fodder, and lends more than a nod to the style of Matt Redman. ‘From Generation to Generation’ is a great song, which praises God for all He does and is. The slower, more worshipful ‘This Life Laid Down’ works well, while I enjoyed the use of a trumpet break in ‘Lowest Ebb’. Nick’s music includes some catchy choruses and by rubbing shoulders with other members of the New Wine Summer Festival worship team, he’s got more than just one idea for his sound. The foot tappin’ ‘Higher Than I’ proclaims Jesus as “the Rock”. Meanwhile ‘Just As I Am’ invites you to come to the Lamb of God, in a very tender way. Although I wasn’t so keen on the flow of ‘Psalm 51’, I did find myself wanting to replay the album again. Nick’s hope is that this album wouldn’t sound out of place alongside other secular items on your music player. I believe that he’s achieved that, and more. 9/10 November 2010.

ANGIE LENDON : Honesty. (CD : £13 from It's always great when I receive an independently recorded CD because of the unexpected listening pleasure it may or may not reveal. Well, this one, I'm pleased to say, is a goody. Mixing fine tunes with intelligent lyrics, Angie has come up with a debut that would sit nicely with her bigger name contemporaries. "God is My Salvation" is a song of proclamation and you soon start singing along and tapping your feet. There's a light country feel to "No Eye Has Seen" but it's the Dido style of "So Much More" that raises this release to a high standard. It's a great pop song and deserves some concerted airplay. I think I noticed some Chrissie Hynd influences in some of Angie's vocals and that's no bad thing. It's especially noticeable on another super song, "The Lord is Mighty" and "The Way, The Truth, The Light", complete with infectious chorus. Add to the listing "My Prayer" where she truly captures the very essence of worship, you have a terrific debut album from a young lady who should go far in the world of CCM. 10/10 January 2005

ANGIE LENDON : From Hull With Love. ( It’s been more than three years since Angie’s debut release, and the wait has definitely been worth while. Here’s a woman who’s sure of her faith and not ashamed to declare it. ‘Amazing Days’ is the opening song, and that’s just what it’s about. It’s well sung, well produced, and is bound to make a few radio play lists. ‘Worthy Are You Lord’ is another really strong track and it was with this song I became aware of Angie’s delivery being akin to that of Amy Grant. Her vocals have really matured over the last couple of year’s and Angie is on top form with ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Her style is easy listening, adult pop and there’s unashamed praise and worship of Jesus in songs like ‘Jesus I Love You’ and ‘You Said Ask’. Numerous songs have that infectiousness that make Amy Grant so popular around the world, on both side of the Atlantic, and Angie produces the same on catchy number’s like ‘You Are Wonderful’ and ‘Open the Windows of Heaven’. She’s one of a new breed of female singer songwriters in the UK, along with Chris Mercer and Rachel MacDonald. Enjoy the lyrics, enjoy the songs, and enjoy getting close to God. This album is a triumph. 10/10 July 2008 Album of the Month.

PHIL LEWIS : Demographic. (Private Cassette £3.00 from: Phil Lewis, 4 Bramble Rise, Cowslip Estate, Penarth, S.Glamorgan, Wales, CF64 2RE, ).Styles vary from Duran Duran to the Everley's. 7/10. March 1996.

PHIL LEWIS : Better. (Cassette EP. £3.50 inc p&p from : Phil Lewis, 4 Bramble Rise, Cowslip Estate, Penarth, S.Glamorgan, Wales, CF64 2RE). Influences are plentyfold, with a little Pink Floyd and Oasis rolling into Mr Lewis' own sound.. 7/10 November 1996.

PHIL LEWIS : Fidei Defensor. (Private Cassette Recording £3.00 from: Phil Lewis, 4 Bramble Rise, Cowslip Estate, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, CF64 2RE). Phil Lewis produces some very accessible songs that really stand up with his secular counterparts. 8/10. April 1997.

PHIL LEWIS : Generation Ecstasy. (Private Cassette Recording : £3.50 from 4 Bramble Rise, Cowslip Estate, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, CF64 2RE). This is the 5th offering from Wales' finest unsigned writer, that I've reviewed in the last couple of years. Once again, Phil doesn't just stick to his previous successful formula, and the depth of his work continues to evolve. The early U2 influences are there in "Coming to You" and his 60's jangly guitars are highlighted with "Your Tune" and "Dark Days". Just as Martin Smith's vocals are instantly recognisable, Phil's voice has the same quality that gives him individuality rather than being just another singer. "In Heaven" is a poignant song, sung to a dying loved one, the words being those we have often been unable to say previously. "Child", I feel, is the one weak spot of the 6 tracks but "Come Running" is a simple song, with the obligatory 'throw away' chorus that buzzes around your head for days. Just how long can the industry ignore this man? 9/10. October 1997.

PHIL LEWIS : Whispering. (CD : £8 from In the latter half of the 90's, I reviewed several CD's from this Welsh based singer songwriter. His raw talent gave rise to some pretty good pop songs but despite this Phil disappeared from view. 5 years later, he's back, complete with a more polished sound, and a few of those rough edges finely honed. Previously, Phil did, sometimes, try and fit too many words into a song but with songs like "Hey Sha La La" and "Fragile", he's learnt to simplify things well. The former, especially, is really catchy. On "Eyes of God", he gives it a Latin feel with some mellow guitar work, and this song, I'm sure, would make a decent radio hit if given the right production. I've always felt that Phil's vocals were more suited to the uptempo beats, and "Come Running" does nothing to change my mind. Certainly on the laid back songs like the title track and "Back to Life", I felt that there was a little conviction lacking. When you get a title like "Life Feels Good", you need a good delivery, as well as a good song. In Phil's case, he does the job and succeeds admirably with a nice foot tapping number. I think that Phil is still experimenting with some of his songs and style, but the world of grassroots CCM is richer for his return. 7/10. January 2005

PHIL LEWIS : Ancient Light (£8 from Phil has received some very positive reviews from his previous offerings, and I feel certain that this, his second full length album, will follow suit. Phil weaves a complex tapestry with his songs and arrangements and this isn't the sort of cd that will grab you on first listen, but the resultant effect is an album that will continue to be on your must listen list long after many others have been resigned to the cd rack. This is largely due to Phil's sound being quite unlike anything else available on the market, but also due to some great songs. My favourite, "No Accident" expresses an oft used theme in a different way. The uptempo number "Beautiful" demonstrates some of Phil's sixties influences whilst "Run to Win" is unmistakeably REM in their "Out of Time" days. On the negative side, a couple of solos didn't sit quite as well in the mix as they could have, particularly the guitar solo on the first track, "Is Anybody Home", which isn't quite in tune in one very noticeable place. As this is the first track, it might have paid Phil to sit it further back in the mix and move the track to a later point in the album. For everything else the musicianship is excellent with tight arrangements and exquisite harmonies. This could be an early contender for best independent release of 2007. Don't believe me? Visit to check out a small sample. 8/10 Robin Thompson. February 2007

PHIL LEWIS : Movements in Space. ( It's 12 years since I first lent an ear to the music of Phil Lewis and, in that time, he's created some terrific songs. For this new release, Phil takes a back seat with the instruments and programming and calls on the talented Ben Haynes to turn his ideas into music. It's hard to pigeon hole Phil's sound as it's a little bit indie, a little bit rock, and a big chunk of experimental. But, it all comes together well and 'Burn Burn Burn' contains an excellent repetitive guitar phrase that was in my head for days. 'S.A.D' is an intriguing song, but the adult rock of 'Shine' has radio potential. I liked the track 'High Flyer' very much, with it's cleverly written look at the self made man, taking no prisoners as he tries to rise to the top of the professional tree. Later on, there's a slower, almost latin feel to 'Now That the Lights Are Out', while Phil creates another sound with some accapella vocals on 'One Step at a Time'. He's got the voice, the sound, and the songwriting ability so why hasn't someone signed him up? If Phil lived in America, it would be no problem, he'd sit well with the likes of Joy Electric. Here in the UK, however, perhaps he's just not mainstream Christian enough for the record company's to take a chance. 9/10 June 2008

PHIL LEWIS : Dumb & Stupid. ( Phil has been writing and recording songs for more than ten years. His last album, the warmly received ‘Ancient Light’ was recorded during 2006 with the Incredible String Band keyboard player, Lawson Dando. This single sees Phil concentrate on a guitar driven sound, the first rack of which was “in part, inspired by a rapidly rising anti-Christian sentiment in the country which has gained momentum since Stephen Dawkins “The God Illusion” book was published. The song itself is pretty self explanatory, and contains a “who, oh, oh” chorus that is quite catchy. The second song follows in similar musical style, only this time it looks breaking free from the everyday hum-drum life of the material world. Phil’s vocals are quite engaging, and after a couple of plays. Both tracks are difficult to leave alone! 8/10 August 2009

PHIL LEWIS : Movement in Space. (LPW Records : 010210) This CD starts with a short 20 second track called "Intro" which is a synth track that Pink Floyd would be proud of, then we are into the album proper, which is made up of fairly straightforward pop songs, I say pop rather than rock, but it's not at all like the bland drivel served up on the radio by Cowell and his ilk. The songs on here all feature catchy guitar licks and nice keyboards. Phil's voice is quite an individual one, The only person I can think of to compare it to is Lloyd Cole. There's a certain amount of dry humour in the lyrics too, both the music and the lyrics reminded me of "James". There's not really a bad track on this album, and it will be available to download from Feb 1st from all the usual places. There's a list of these, plus some tracks from the CD that you can hear at The only thing that lets this down, and I know it's only a minor point, but the track listing is in black lettering on a dark grey background, and it's just about impossible to read through a shiny CD jewel case. 9/10 Andy Sayner. February 2010

PHIL LEWIS : RipplesFrom a Small Pond. ( Phil Lewis has been consistently making good Christian albums for more than 15 years. His sound isn’t praise and worship and that, in my opinion, is the only reason that he hasn’t been approached by one of the major UK record companies. The writing for this album was bookended by two significant events in Phil’s life – the death of his father, and then being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, himself. The album itself has 11 tracks, and kicks off with the atmospheric overture called ‘I Think It’s Time’. From then, we’re treated to ‘Everything Just As It Should Be’ – a pop song that deserves radio play. I must admit, that after reviewing a lot of his music over the years, I found the lyrics, this time round, more difficult to get my head round. Saying that, Phil still provides plenty of hooks, whether they be lyrically or musically, to catch your ear. Julian Wiggins provides some excellent saxophone playing on ‘I Live in Hope’, while Ben Haynes’ thoughtful acoustic guitar playing on ‘Dripping Away’, brings out the best in Phil’s vocal range. The album’s purple patch begins at track 8, ‘Everybody’s Happy’ raises the old chestnut about wanting material things, but Phil’s delivery is bright and well produced. ‘He gives an insight into his own personal faith on ‘Faith’, while ‘New Page’ is all about stepping out in Christ for the first time. Phil cites influences as being Crowded House and R.E.M but, over the years, he has developed his own style. I said earlier that Phil has consistently produced good albums over the years, and this one continues that trend. 8/10 October 2011.

LIEZEL : Oath of God. ( Liezel Goosen is originally from South Africa, but has recently joined a church in the north-east of England as one of their worship leaders. This album has just been released here in the UK and contains 13 original songs. Liezel has a very pure and clean vocal style, which I found very refreshing to the ear. The music is definitely "MOR" and that should appeal to a whole range of adult listeners. The first track is called "Living in the Sunshine" and it's a catchy, bouncy little number. The same can be said of "That's Why God Made You" as well as the foot tapping "Fix Me". Liezel says that the songs have been written as part of her life-story, through experience and emotions, and the lyrics do seem very personal. "Draw Me Lord" does exactly what the title says, while "If It Hadn't Been For You" gives thanks to God for being in her life. "Heaven" sees her relax into a "lounge bar" singing style which I didn't enjoy so much. Meanwhile, the album closes with the title track which sounds like a spoken Psalm over some nice backing music. Four songs are sung in her native language, but the Cd does come wit a short translation of each, which I found helpful. I certainly thought that the album has a crisp and clear sound, and found it a joy to listen to. Liezel is a welcome addition to the UK CCM scene. 8/10. October 2006.

LIVING HOPE : Chronicles. ( Hull’s Robin & Helen Thompson have been on the Christian music scene for many years. Stalwarts of bands such as Medieval Fete, Trinity, and Giants Will Fall, for the past 15 years, they have been quietly going about their business as an acoustic duo. Their first CD, “With Faith” contained a mixture of pop and folk songs, and it’s the latter style in which the couple seem to have settled with on this album. Proceedings begin with a re-working of the ancient hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. If you thought that you knew the hymn well, then, think again. The words are sung to a completely new tune and has been met, so far, with very positive feedback. ‘Better Place’ is an uptempo number where Helen sings that being in God’s heart is better place”. Her voice is at it’s best on ‘Watch The Sunrise’. Helen’s gentle tones are caressed by Robin’s backing vocals, and some warm string sounds. Once or twice I found the mix of the vocals to be a little low, and found it difficult to hear some of the words in ‘This Song’s For You’. Robin’s guitar playing never falters and he’s ably accompanied by his wife’s skilful playing of various whistles. The beat is fairly steady through the album, but the blues tinged ‘I Want You’ does move the pace on a little. US singer/songwriter J.Brian Hill joins them on the closing song – a well produced version of ‘Be Thou My Vision’, which I can see going down well, live. Living Hope remind me, a little, of Anam Caras. It’s a simple album, but there’s a lot of quality within, and should appeal to many. 9/10 August 2010.

JULIE LORD : Diamond Nights. (Private Cassette Recording : £4.99 from 15 Glenhurst Drive, Whickham, Newcastle upon Tyne, England,NE16 5SH). Here's a first for me, a CCM artist presenting an album of well known secular hits. The former evangelistic singer with Crossfire and Heart & Soul has now turned her talents to entertainment, but is suitably 'at home' in either church or club environments. "Pearl's A Singer" would not have been my choice for an opener as Julie doesn't really seem at ease with this song. However, her impressive renditions of "Crazy" and "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" soon make you realise why she is such a popular artist. The musical backing is the same that she uses for live gigs and the quality is very good. Julie's vocals seem to suit certain types of song better than others and chart toppers like "Walk on By" and "Smooth Operator" produce far better results than, say, Michelle Gayle's "Sweetness". What this album lacks in original content, is made up by freshness of Julie Lord's approach. 7/10. October 1997.

JULIE LORD : Lifetime. (CD Only £13.99 from: New Dawn Music, 1 Beech Close, Towcester, Northampton, England, NN12 6BL). It might seem like a lifetime since Julie recorded the first notes for this album but the wait has, truly, been worthwhile. If we've questioned production quality on a limited budget recently, then this is the album that sets the standard, and hats off to all those behind the scenes. From the moment the title track's saxophone hits the speakers, you know that you are listening to something special. With a sultry vocal that reminds me a lot of Sade and, at times, Annie Lennox, Julie simply caresses each number to bring out the best. The lyrics are strong too, like "Forbidden Fruit" that warns how fickle the temptation of an extra-marital affair can be. Featured in two different mixes, Andy Curtis' keyboard skills shine and add real texture to an already well crafted song. If you've ever watched those b&w movies who's background features the 'lounge singer', then "Even Now" is purpose built. Lovely piano, super sax break and a great bluesy guitar. It's hard to try and pigeon-hole Julie's style but if you take a large helping of Blues, mix it with some Jazz and R&B and you may be getting near. Just once or twice I felt that a song didn't quite reach it's potential but, maybe I'm just being a little picky. Closing with the exquisite "Peace of Mind" this is a fine debut release. 9/10. June 1999 Album of the Month.

STEVE LOWNDES : Design For Life. (CD from: or This is the debut album from Skegness based singer, songwriter, bassist and all round musician Steve Lowndes and is released on his own Pots and Pans label. The album contains ten self-penned songs themed around Gods unique plan for our lives and, although an eclectic mix of songs, it hangs together well. It opens with the infectious "Something Different" which demonstrates Steve's innate ability to fashion good pop hooks. But there are some more reflective moments too, as in the wonderfully profound "Gethsemane" and the celtic sounding "A Sacrifice of Praise", the latter demonstrating some subtle acoustic guitar work. Although primarily a bassist, Steve plays all the instruments on this album, showing that he has a diverse range of musical talents, including a rich baritone voice. Comparisons can be made in style and sound to Dave Bilborough and Michael Card, so if those artists are your thing, you wont be disappointed with this. All in all, a good introduction to an artist with clearly a lot of potential, a real heart for God and an honest approach. 8/10 Robin Thompson. February 2006

MACCABEES : Modern Man. ( It's three years since their last offering gained runner's up spot in NFN's independent album of the year, and I wondered if the guys could match the excitement of that release. With "Modern Man", they've not only matched it's excellence, but moved on musically too. They do have an individual sound, thanks in the main to Andy Jennings' vocals and guitar work, but now they've encompassed the style of, say, Franz Ferdinand with 70's punk band, Television. "Same Way" starts things off with a hypnotic beat, followed by an energetic and powerful title track. The scene is set, and track after track attacks the listener's ear with lyrics of questions and thoughts about a spiritual life in the 21st century. "Rome" is a strange little beast, with the vocals sounding almost Dylanesque in delivery. "Company Store" has a 60's sound to it, while TV evangelists get a hammering in the appropriately named "Wolves". Then, when you just thought you knew what was coming next, "Television" leaps from your speakers. It's the best track, and has some superb guitar riffs. Not sure why it's taken three years for this album to arrive, neither am I sure why one of the big labels haven't offered them a contract. The Maccabees are a here and now band, with so much to offer. 9/10. February 2006

RACHEL MACDONALD. : Breathing November. (CD from And, like a breath of fresh air, the next independent release shows just how good one can be. In a style reminiscent of Susan Ashton, Rachel Macdonald blends thought provoking lyrics, with a rich taste of succulent tunes and produces an album that shows great promise. "You Make Me Sing" has a feel good quality about it, and flows well as an opener. Closing proceedings is an Amy Grant-like ballad called "Your Presence". Indeed, the album is like a multi layered chocolate cake, with those two song providing the outer layers, and the filling being the numerous delicious songs in-between. "Father's Heart" is a pretty little acoustic song, and the piano led "Bus Window" provides the perfect vehicle for Rachel's vocal talents. "I Believe in You" is a good pop song and I'm sure I heard just a glimmer or two of the quirkiness of Julie Miller, thrown in for good measure. Sound writing talents, a good voice, and instrumental skills - welcome, Rachel Macdonald. 9/10.August 2005

RACHEL MACDONALD : Certain. ( Following on from her 2005 debut "Breathing November", Rachel MacDonald serves up, yet another box of tasty surprises. I just love her vocal quality and her keyboard playing flows effortlessly around you. Her songwriting is very strong and she has the knack of producing catchy, yet intricate, tunes. "Hurricane" is one of those tunes and is already pencilled in for air play by myself. Indeed, there are any number of songs on this album that I would be prepared to play on air. "Where Would I Be" contains simple yet poignant lyrics, while the title track tells about a taking "leap of faith". "Dressing Up" is another tasty song, complete with terrific instrumental backing. No matter how tough the journey is to resting in God's love, be sure that it's all worth while. How many times have we said that to someone? Just play them "Big Green Hill" and they will soon get the picture. Rachel depicts the story well and the song flies freely through to the listener. I'm not sure that there's anyone else like Rachel on the Christian scene at the moment. Certainly, no-one springs to mind. Her album is like a breath of fresh air and should be inhaled by all. 9/10 March 2007

RACHEL MACDONALD : All Four Corners. ( How does she do it? A wife and a mother, Rachel Macdonald has also just had to deal with the stress of a house move from the north of the UK, right down to Plymouth. Now, she has released her third album. Rachel has gathered some smashing musicians around her, as well as the best production from Lincoln’s dB Studios. Together, they have perfectly moulded Rachel’s songs into a stunningly beautiful release. Leading the way with her keyboard playing, she looks at our walk with God and cleverly gives us pointers, and food for thought. The first track is called ‘Everlasting Arms’ and is a pretty pop song, with catchy keyboard phrases. Here, Rachel tells of all the bombardment the secular world gives us about wanting every material thing that comes on the market, when all we need is God’s everlasting arms. She sings a personal thank you to God on ‘Nobody Like You’ – a truly beautiful song that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. There’s a slight Celtic feel to the bouncy, ‘Found A Penny’, while the title track flows effortlessly and peacefully as a clear, blue stream. The song also contains one of the best fade outs I’ve heard, too! Earlier in the year, I waxed lyrical about the voice of Sarahanne Wilmont. Well, Rachel Macdonald is just as outstanding. On both ‘Refuge’ and ‘Push Through’ her vocals caress each word and her emotion filters right into your heart. IF I’ve not said enough already, then there’s still time to mention the glorious ‘I Call On Jesus’ and the prayerful ‘Be Still’. It really is time that this lady’s music was produced by a major label. 10/10 Album of the Month. October 2010

MARK MALLETT: Let the Lord Know. (CD from: Mark is a Roman Catholic singer/songwriter, born and brought up in the prairie country of Saskatchewan, Canada, who started songwriting at the age of nine. He has a lyrical touch with a praise song, as witness this offering (mentioned briefly by Geoff in last month's NFN), which is full of worshipful melodies, so full, that it runs to 16 tracks and over 63 minutes of playing time. The opening track, 'All I Am, All I'm Not', inspired by Psalm 51, sets the mood, and whilst some of the songs are a bit repetitive lyrically, they are designed to help the listener to focus on the Lord, and bring him into a place of worship and praise. Some of the songs are already being used in worship, Mark's website reports that 'Lift Our Hands' is a particular favourite with Canadian youth groups, featuring some tasty fiddle by Natalie McMaster, and the songbook, which is available via the website, should be a useful resource to bring Mark's material to a wider audience. Well worth seeking out. 7/10 Trevor Kirk

MATT McCHLERY : Fly. ( Born in Zimbabwe, but now residing over here in the UK, Matt committed his life to the Lord shortly after his 13th birthday. His early songs were used to bless his local church, and he has appeared on both South African TV and radio. This album, recorded at Appletree Studios, sees Matt present us with 11 songs, ably assisted some competent musicians. Instantly getting you singing along is "Cling to You" - a nice opener. Matt's acoustic guitar playing has a touch of David Gray style about it, and it's most noticeable on the worship song "Wait Upon You". The song also features some lovely backing vocals from Nancy Sawyer. It's a very personal collection of songs, which seems to depict the singer's own relationship with God, warts and all. The title track tells of "flying" to God's, loving arms, and it's a song that grows on you the more you listen. Matt tries something a little different with the piano led "I Fall Down", but I personally found this to be one of the weaker moments. On the whole, Matt proves that he can not only sing well, but writes some very good songs, too. His hardest task will be to match this quality in the years to come. 8/10. May 2006.

RAYMOND McCULLOUGH : Into Jerusalem. (CD from Singer/songwriter Raymond McCullough has been playing traditional Irish gigs around the country for years, fitting in his own brand of Celtic ballad 'protest songs' between the jigs and reels, His previous release "The Great China Bike Ride" spawned the instrumental hit track "Our Land" which reached No.1 for 14 weeks on one internet Celtic station. This new album begins with an infectious reel called "I Lift My Eyes Up" and drew quite a response from listeners when I played it on air. "Battlecry" has similar qualities but "Lift Your Heads" sees Raymond go more retro-rock. In our busy lives, how many times do we put prayer on the back burner? That's the question asked with "Pray", and it's a timely reminder that we need to remember. "Lord, You Are My Inspiration" is a Celtic march and "Prayer for Ireland/Pipe Major's Jig" both go down well. Raymond then chages style and includes three Hebrew worship songs that, personally, I didn't think were suited to his voice. He finishes with the folky number "Thank You For Your Mercy" and that works well. All in all, it's an interesting album, that was a pleasure, on the whole, to listen to. If you're a fan of Celtic music or just want a change from the norm, try this one for size. 7/10 March 2006

MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : The Lovely Face of Jesus. ( From Gardenstown, Scotland, comes 10 year old Matthew James McKay with an album of gospel songs and hymns. Matthew was heard singing in the audience of a concert, when choirmaster John Buchannan picked him out. God was certainly smiling on that day, because under the guidance of John, and his mother, Roseanne, Matthew has produced an album of real quality for one so young. I’d not heard many of the songs before, yet, they soon became familiar as I listened to the young man’s vocal quality. Roseanne takes the writing credits for the opening ‘In My Work and Play’. It sounds like an old fashioned hymn and Matthew tackles it well. There’s some country gospel, in the shape of ‘I’m Glad I Know Who Jesus Is’, and on songs like ‘Pass Me Not’ and ‘Mansion Over the Hilltop’. Matthew’s voice never falters. ‘Precious Memories’ swings along, while ‘Ten Thousand Angels Cried’ took my vote as one of the strongest cuts. Apart from ‘How Great Thou Art’, Matthew and the team have to be congratulated on picking out some of the lesser known gospel songs for this album. Producer, Paul Gardiner, has also been a great help to this fledgling career, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Matthew was invited to appear at next year’s Whitby Gospel Music Week. A Christmas album is already being recorded, and I, for one, can’t wait. 9/10 October 2011.

MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : In Christ Alone. ( Hot on the heels of his debut album earlier this year, 10 year old Matthew James McKay releases his second collection of gospel songs. Once again, recorded and produced by Paul A Gardiner, this release really takes things up a notch with polished vocals, backing vocals, and overall sound. More at home in the studio, the second time around, Matthew seems to be more confident than on his previous outing. The result is the most enjoyable album I’ve heard, of this genre, for a long time. There’s a really strong start to the album, as Matthew sings ‘I Want My Stage to Be An Altar’. Written by Nick Akin, the song suits Matthew down to the ground. That’s followed by an old country sound on ‘What a Lovely Name’. Had It Not Been’, ‘The Haven of Rest’ and ‘Because He lives’, are just so well sung, and the added backing vocals lift Matthew’s voice to new heights. ‘The Lower Lights’ gives him chance to duet with his vocal mentor, John Buchanan, and ‘Here Is Love’ features some thoughtful music. The album’s title track is sung as if it’s his own, and Matthew proves what a great talent he has. The opening song features the lines; “Some perform to thousands, and some to just a few; But numbers aren’t important, just gotta do what we can do.” A great sentiment, and one that will serve this young man well in the years to come. An absolute joy to review. 10/10. Album of the Month. November 2011.

HELEN JAYNE McKELLAR : Give My Life. (CD £11.99 from As one of those who have held Helen in their prayers regularly over the last few years, I am so pleased to be able to review this album. Through the heartaches and struggles of a long illness, Helen has kept the Lord at the centre of her life, along with the love and care of her husband and family. The resulting album is a little more low key than her previous release but offers the listener the chance to bathe in Helen's warm vocals. The opening title track is a choppy pop affair that instantly won my heart and a place on my radio playlist. "Let Me In" follows as a nice ballad, and the laid back duet on "Running Scared" is simply divine. Helen re-works the old Olivia Newton John "A Little More Love" and sounds just like the lady herself - Stars in their Eyes are calling! However, on Shania Twain's "You've Got A Way", it's definitely Helen and what a sweet rendition it is. I also like the chart sounding "My Energy" and "Still On My Mind", but wasn't so keen on the rather bland sounding "Is This What You're Waiting For". In parts, Helen's vocals remind me a lot of Cherri Keaggy and that's no bad thing. One thing's for sure, Helen is back on track. 8/10. January 2002

HELEN JAYNE McKELLAR : Prayer For America. (CD £3 from The events of September 11th in New York last year will be etched in our hearts forever. However, through the horror, death and destruction have come many shining lights and, most of all, hope for the future. Many artists have felt moved to put their feelings into words and Helen's "Prayer For America" is one. The main song is centred around us being at a loss to come to terms with the event itself. All we can do is to ask God to give everyone involved the strength to carry on. It's a touching ballad that will mean a lot to many. All proceeds from the sale will be distributed equally between the American Red Cross National disaster Fund and the British Red Cross Afghan Crisis Appeal. For £3 plus postage, that's not a lot a bad thing, is it? January 2002

HELEN JAYNE McKELLAR : It’s Not Too Late. ( It’s more than 7 years since I last reviewed any music from this young lady, and over a decade since I saw her live, promoting her “Safe” album. At that time, she was tipped by many for big things. Sadly, a long illness knocked the wind out of her sails and those big things have never really happened. But, like the title of this 6 track CD, it’s never too late. I often thought that Helen’s vocal’s reminded me of Cherry Keaggy, but her delivery is very much like Amy Grant. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking how alike Helen and Amy sound in this area. ‘He Will Cover you’ starts the ball rolling about God’s protection, and it really rocks. The title track has a big production behind it, and Helen’s vocals carry the song to a very high standard. Indeed, that quality gets even better on her song for the lost, called ‘Hard Cruel Day’. There’s a real feeling of compassion that comes across, and I was hooked by this one. The final song is ‘Do They Know?’ – a question to those about knowing God beside you through all things. I’m sure that this is a terrifically personal song for Helen, and she handles it well. How I would have loved a full album of songs. If this lady enjoyed better health and lived in America, I have no doubt that she would be enjoying bigger success. There again, that would be a big loss for the UK Christian public. 9/10 May 2009.

GEMMA McQUEEN : The Rescue. (CD only £12.99 inc p&p from: Spirit Music, 143 Leeson Drive, Ferndown, Dorset, England, BH22 9RF.) Launching her debut album, Gemma McQueen is donating some of the proceeds to CLAPA, a charity supporting babies born with serious facial deformities. The lady, herself, has received acclaim as a singer/songwriter from such personalities as the late Roy Castle, and EMI's Bruce Welch, and was also invited to audition for the role of Cathy in Heathcliffe. Although I have plumped for the style of soft pop overall, there's more than hint of Celtic roots, running throughout. Some tracks, including the opening 'Nothing', are both malleable and powerful in a Kate Bush sort of way, but Gemma's individuality shines in it's own right. The anthem 'I Will Stay' tells of a child-like love for the Father and ministers right to the heart. Pounding drums and dynamic use of fiddles accompany her passionate vocals on the title track, before the gentle 'Can It Be True'. Here, Gemma sings softly over sparse string pads, and exquisite guitar work. The honest theme of her own relationship with God, together with the quality of the finished product make this album very special. If it was a painting, it would be hung in the Louvre. 'The Rescue' is a work of art. 10/10. March 1998.

CHRIS MEDWAY : All Aboard the Heaven Express. ( Young children are very lucky to have such artists as Duggie Dug Dug, Dave Godfrey, and Ishmael to point them in the right direction where Jesus is concerned. Well, now, there’s a new kid on the block. Say “Hello” to Devon’s Chris Medway. This is his debut release and it’s quite a corker too! Using the theme of a train journey, Chris uses train announcements, sound effects, and whole box full of whacky sounds to create a musical heaven for young kids. Chris has written all the songs over a number of years and, as well as his own, enlists the voices of adults and children to participate. The title track has easy to pick up words and it’s the same all the way through. Title’s such as ‘Jesus Said I Am the Way’ and ‘For God So Loved the World’ are pretty self explanatory, and musical styles range from the rock n’ roll of ‘On and On and On…’ to the sea shanty lilt of ‘Ahoy There’. It’s obvious that Chris has spent a lot of time putting this concept together and he can be very proud of the result. The finished product is every bit as good as his aforementioned peers, and certainly better than numerous other children’s albums I’ve heard. Well done, Chris. 8/10 January 2010

STUART MENZIES FARRANT : Presence. (www.stuartmenzies It's taken two years in the making, but Stuart's follow up to his successful "Revival" album sees the artist move on, musically, in his ministry. Right from the off, it's an edgy, harder sound on tracks like "Carry Me" and "You Got a Hold on Me". Mind you, then comes the more mellow sound of "You're the One", complete with it's 'full-on' chorus - a good song. "Look At Him" sounds like a cross between Stryper and All Star United, as Stuart looks at global politics over the last 5 years. There's nice guitar work on "Heal Me Now" before "Jesus in the Street" turns to a funky style proclaiming Jesus as Saviour. To me, Stuart certainly seems to have changed his target audience to the youth element. His infectious and energetic songs, like "Running Man" will appeal to rock fans of today's youth culture. "Kingdom Come" casts aside any thoughts about faith being a religion or a vision, and vents frustration, recognising that sometimes that's all the church seems to be about. I, personally, didn't enjoy the funkier numbers so much, but thought that Stuart's rock style shows a more confident artist who is still spiritually and musically growing. Certainly, this album shows just why he's been nominated for several gospel music awards over the last couple of years. 8/10. July 2006

CHRIS MERCER : Beauty of the Jagged Road. ( Chris Mercer has slowly been gaining recognition for her music over the last 5 years or so. Indeed, she won New Christian Music’s Artist of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008, as well as Roots Artist in 2009 and 2010. Her previous album, ‘Whispers of His Grace’, obtained Top 10 hits in the USA and the UK and, like this latest release, is destined for the hurting, lost world. Produced by former Electric’s frontman, Sammy Horner, there’s no surprise that a celtic feel runs throughout the track listing. First up is ‘Cold Wind’, which features some fine fiddle playing mid-song. Chris’ voice clearly shines through as she asks the question “Where have all the good men gone”? The warm sounds of a keyboard, give ‘Wrong Side of Town’ a Nashville feel about it, but it’s Chris’ sultry vocals on the laid back ‘Never To Far’ that I really liked. The more I played the album, the more I enjoyed it. I also found it very easy to listen too. Her personal prayer to God, ‘All To You’ has a distinct quality about it, and the pretty ‘Milestones’ – Rodney Cordner song – sits well in proceedings. Other highlights include Chris’ declaration of Jesus as King on ‘You Are My Rock’, and the foot tappin’ ‘Come Home Weary Traveller’. How lovely it is to hear such a bright British talent. 9/10. Album of the Month. April 2010

VALMA MERRICK : Precious Treasure. ( This debut Cd from Valma Merrick really excited me. Why? Because it really has the feel of those demo albums from years ago. The recording isn’t as polished as it could be, and Valma sometimes doesn’t quite hit the right note vocally but, it is still glorious. Recorded by Colin Owen, he also takes writing credits on a number of songs, including the opening ‘Show Mercy’. Not the strongest of songs, it does improve as it builds. ‘See His Love’ is a heavier, rock song about Jesus dying on the cross for us. Valma’s vocals aren’t the best here, but its rawness carries it through. On ‘Love Came Down’ the production is rather over-bearing and threatens to drown the vocals, but on ‘Oh Saviour, Oh My Lord’, Valma finally shows what she’s made of, with some fine singing. Possibly the best track is Darlene Zschech’s ‘The Potter’s Hand’. Valma’s voice really shines on this track and you can feel her confidence growing. The album is not perfect by a long chalk, but you can tell just what passion this lady has to sing for God. How wonderful that she can celebrate her love for the Lord so freely, and with such feeling. Perhaps Valma is one to watch for the future? 7/10 March 2011.

KAREN MONEY : Secret Things. (CD from: Another new name to the world of UK CCM comes in the form of Nottingham based Karen Money, a young lady with a delightful voice, and the ability to weave lyrics into a delicate musical tapestry. Imagine Enya or Mairre Brennan without the ethereal vocals, and you've got a good idea of Karen's sound and quality. I rarely use this word to describe a song but, 'pretty' describes the opening "Golden Day". I've already spoken about her lyric writing, but the words to "Surrender" are very thoughtful and makes it a very pleasant song to listen to. "Stranger" is a fairly gentle number, while the stronger "Sanctuary" tells of being with God and knowing His love. Lasting just over 30 minutes, it's a rather short album, but, nonetheless, a very worthy introduction by a new talent on the block. 8/10. November 2005

MUDHEAD'S MONKEY : Shout. (Private CD £10.50 & Cassette £6.50 from: Paul Loader, c/o Counterslip Baptist Church, 648 Wells Road, Bristol, BS14 9HT, England). A gourmet's delight of indie/rock. Very tasty. 8/10 June 1996.

DEE MOORE : Don't Wait. (CD Recording £5 from: E-mail Dee has previously toured the UK as a member of the Birmingham Mass Choir, and also sang backing for Simply Red during the 1996 European Championship Draw. Now, she's concentrating on a solo career and releases her first single, "Don't Wait". With influences such as Shirley Caesar and the Winans, it's the latter to which I can make comparison to. The main track is a dance mix and would be perfect for mainstream radio or club play. Nice rhythm, catchy beat, and sweet vocals that could melt the hardest of hearts. "Reaching Out to You" is a slower number and had me thinking of Eternal's hits, and this is good, too. "Let Go and Let God" didn't quite make the same grade but, overall, I think that Dee Moore could have a big hit on her hands. In typical fashion, there's various mixes of "Don't Go", of which, the club mix is the best. 9/10. April 2000

THE MOUTH OF TRUTH. (CD from : M Smith, 29 Brookmead, Hildenborough, Tonbridge, Kent, UK, TN11 9DN). Over the years, I've had dozens of independent albums sent to me for review and never have I been so dumbfounded by one such as this. Chris Hearn, Mike Smith and Samantha Stagg are the people responsible for this CD, while Sarum Studios, Tonbridge must take it's share of the blame for it's recording. From the opening 7 minute epic entitled "The Hoarse Whisperer", the listener is treated to vocals of questionable quality, sparse backing, and utter boredom. The song "Cash" is placed in the running order three times and, not for the first time, includes the most uninspiring guitar solo imaginable, and Samantha's vocals that barely holds a tune. Production is so poor throughout, that little thought seems to have gone into the recording as a whole and if Sarum Studios are more than just a name for a bedroom recording outfit, they should hold their head in shame for such shoddy workmanship. Acoustic guitar based songs do offer some respite from the torture and, if I was pushed, I would name "Living Apart Together" as the best song on the album. "Coming Home" shows promise, too, but those vocals need working on. I'm sure that the idea and intentions of the album were sound, but all in all the result only goes to show that you need talent and musical skills too. 1/10. August 2005

MUMBLE : Dated. (Private Cassette Recording. £3.99 from Nick Kinsella, 37 Gracedale Road, London, SW16 6SW). The 23 year old singer/songwriter behind Mumble is Nick Kinsella. After previously working alongside various CCM bands, this is his first solo venture. 5 tracks on offer, opening with the engaging "I'm Scared". This shows Nick's vocals and guitar playing at the best, with some nice fx used to enhance the sound. This, like the rest of the tracks, is a song about faith and life, and a perspective which allows you to see the world from a slightly different angle. Instruments used are few, but that doesn't stop Nick's basic writing skills showing what he is capable of. I'm assured by the man himself, that the strange vocal mixes on 'Get To Get Out' and 'Dated' are done on purpose, but I'd like to see the former played straight. 'Invisible Friend' is a more acoustic number but, with influences such as Radiohead and Crowded House, it's the warped guitar playing that is performed most freely. I think that Nick lacks a bit of confidence in his singing ability - almost scared to let go - but that should improve with time. This debut is not going to change the world but if you want to support a new artist and feel like something out of the ordinary, give Mumble a try. 6/10. July 1997.

VIV NEVILLE : Holy One. (Plankton Records : Plancd007) Darlington’s Viv Neville is an Oxford Brookes graduate, writing contemporary Christian music and choir arrangements. She has also led worship at Durham Cathedral, as well as performing on the fringe at many festivals around the UK with the band, Asylum. This 4 track CD is her first release, and she hopes to release an album later in the year. The sound is contemporary folk, with a hint of celtic influence thrown in for good measure. In Stuart Elwin and Barry Marshall, she has two talented musicians that help bring her music to life. On ‘Holy One’ Viv gently weaves her vocals through a song of praise. ‘Lover of My Soul’ and ‘A Celtic Saint’s Prayer’ have been co-written with Cindy Spear, who has previously written for Iona. Both songs carry on the praise and worship feel and tell of Viv’s own faith. If I could liken her to anyone, it would be another British artist, Rachel MacDonald. Her own keyboard skills are well used and the closing ‘I Love You Lord’. This is the simplest of the 4 songs in production but, somehow, the most memorable. Viv has also just finished writing two books, one of which explores issues relating to trying to understand God’s will and leading in our life. She’s obviously a very talented lady, and this fledgling artist is getting ready to fly. 7/10 February 2009

VIVIENNE NEVILLE : Veiled in Mystery. (Plankton : pcdn164) Following her debut EP of early 2009, Vivienne Neville finally releases her long awaited full album. Her style remains in the folk/pop field, but there’s still an element of Celtic sounds influencing her overall delivery. Take, for instance, the opening ‘A Celtic Saint’s Prayer’ Co-written with Cindy Spear, and based on Psalm 46 v10a. Vivienne’s voice soars through it, like a seasoned campaigner. For years, the Celtic voices of the UK were Mairre Brennan and Joanne Hogg. Vivienne’s performance, here, ranks alongside both of them. ‘Let Me Know Your Presence’ is a keyboard based number about God’s everlasting presence. It’s well written, and production is first class. There’s a more poppy edge to ‘The First, The Last’. I particularly liked the atmospheric sound of ‘Holy One’. Not many words to the song, but it’s simplicity lets you soak in God’s love. There’s also a touch of experimentation about Vivienne’s music, and she demonstrates this admirably with her arrangement of the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father’. Once again, it’s music to soak in. Musically, she’s backed by some super talent. But, when she’s alone with just her keyboard for company, the strength of ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ really shines through. It’s a stripped back sound, and her vocals rise once more to encourage the listener to trust in Jesus in all life’s storms. Building on the success of her original EP, Vivienne Neville has risen to the challenge of writing a full length album and produced a collection of songs that will speak to individuals, the world over. 9/10 December 2010.

MARILLA NESS : From Where I Stand. (Merciful Love Music : MLM118) After seeing, and hearing, just how much my own relations had enjoyed Marilla's 1996 album and video, I was full of high expectations for her latest release. I'm pleased to say that I have not been disappointed, as here is a collection of old and new songs that have been given the full Marilla Ness treatment, resulting in a brilliant album. From the moment 'Make My Heart...' opens, you can literally relax and enjoy the soft, gentle vocals of this talented p&w artist. Most of her songs have the feel of Irish folk and the beautiful acoustic guitar playing on numbers like 'As Gentle As Silence' is almost perfection. 'Abba Father' has rarely been sung better and the country tinged 'Jesus the Healer' is just another of the list of high points on show. Delirious? or WWMT fans probably wouldn't give this lady the time of day but, for many others, 'From Where I Stand' it will be an essential purchase. 10/10 November 1997.

MARILLA NESS : Resting in Love. (Merciful Love Music : MLM120) Album number 10 finds Marilla Ness, ministering in song the only way she knows how. With gentle, easy listening tunes she delivers 12 beautiful tracks in typical Marilla fashion. From a personal point of view I can only tell you of the spiritual joy and uplifting her previous releases have given to various members of my own family. Here, using songs written by the likes of Tom Paxton, Michael Cameron and Robin Mark, her voice is only made more outstanding by the excellent musical backing. Stve Hindalong is a name from the CCM past, and his "Beautiful Scandalous Night" is an early highlight. When I heard that other writing credits included ex-Pogue Shane McGowan, I was a little worried. However, any fears were quickly squashed by the excuisite "You're the One". "Don't Give Up On Me", Gently She Carried", "I Will Love You", are just 3 more of a track listing of which I can find no fault. Long may her wonderful ministry continue. 10/10 November 1999.

MARILLA NESS : Love Beyond Measure. (Merciful Love Music : MLM138) If you'd seen the look of happiness on the lady's face after winning a copy of this album, you'd know just how much the musical ministry of Marilla Ness is loved. As that same lady passed the Cd around to her friends to admire, I heard her add "She's such a lovely singer". Indeed, Marilla is a lovely singer and her albums of easy listening songs give much pleasure to countless thousands all over the world. This latest offering does, perhaps, lend to a time of meditation whilst listening and I, for one, found the whole thing very relaxing. Gems include the Andy Park number "Only You", Dan Francisco's "Come Holy Spirit", and Amy Grant's "Do You Remember the Time". I can't remember when I first heard the song, but "Mary's Song" has always been a favourite of mine. Singing as though Mary herself, Marilla gently portrays a view through a loving mother's eyes. Once more, Marilla has served a dish of delights for listeners old and new. 9/10. November 2004

MARILLA NESS : The Psalms. (Merciful Love Music : MLM140) It's a great testament to this lady that she is one of the most requested artists on BBC Radio Humberside's Sunday Breakfast programme. Her gentle vocals give great joy to countless listeners and her albums have proved most popular over the years. This release includes gospel meditations and songs, all linked to the book of Psalms. For instance, Marilla relates how Psalm 6 is the cry of a broken heart, while Psalm 34 tells how the Lord promises to rescue us from our afflictions. These thoughts are then centred with a lovely version of the well known song "As the Deer". Similarly, Psalm 57 reveals David's prayer whilst hiding from Saul. Marilla reads passionately and then sings the beautiful song "The Light in You". It's a simple recipe that she uses yet, somehow, Marilla has just the right song for each reading. Difficult to pick favourite tunes on this occasion but, perhaps, "Oh the Word of My Mouth" and "With A Clean Heart", stand out. A most valuable tool for reflection, meditation, and personal prayer. 9/10. September 2005 Album of the month

MARILLA NESS : I Believe In You. (Merciful Love Music : MLM143) It should come as no surprise that this album becomes our Album of the month for May. Over the years, I have had the great privilege of reviewing many albums from Marilla and have yet to be disappointed. This new release is no different and as soon as she begins to sing the title track, there's a warmth and glow that I feel inside. It's a love song to Jesus and says so much that I want to say myself. 'Surely the Presence/Alleluia' is such a simple song but, to me, it brings great peace. Similarly, 'How Beautiful' is just full of joy. Marilla has been blessed with a smooth and engaging vocal sound, which seems to improve which each passing year. I find all the songs so fulfilling that I found it very hard to choose a favourite. Many lift you up and bring you closer to God, and that is very important. 'You Raise Me Up', made popular by Westlife, gets a gentle delivery, while 'Holding God in My Arms' is sung like a lullaby. There are twelve superb tracks on this album and it finds Marilla at her very best. 10/10 Album of the month. May 2008.

NEW LIFE CHURCH : Presence. (£10 from Recorded live, this album gives a little insight into the many great things that are happening in this 21st Century church. Unlike a lot of the current worship recordings around, this album brings you entirely new songs to bless you and to worship the Lord. It all starts off with lots of excited voices cheering and shouting, before Angie Lendon leads the congregation in 'Shout to the Lord' - no, not that one! 'Come Bless the Lord' and 'I Can Do All Things' both have an American gospel flavour to them and I thought that these were two of the weaker tracks on show. Then, it's back to exuberant praise with Angie, Paul Hemmingway, Darren Clarkson, and Liezel Goosen sharing the lead on 'The Lord is Mighty'. One minor production moan is that some of the fade-in's and fade out's are literally quite horrible but, I guess, I may have been a little picky. 'My God Does Miracles' is a declaration of a wondrous God, and I particularly liked the easy to pick up chorus. Angie Lendon then gives a great vocal performance on 'O Great God', before Liezel Goosen sings the lovely 'More of You'. The collection of songs certainly work well together, and on the whole this album compares favourably with it's contemporaries. 8/10. September 2007

JOHN NUTTALL : Heartsongs. (CD recording from : John Nuttall, 121 Castleton Road, Royton, Oldham, England, OL6 6UP). The obvious comparison when you first hear a male singer/songwriter of this kind is, of course, Martyn Joseph. There again, comparing john to Martyn Jospeh is a bit like saying that S Club 7 are as good as The Beatles! Who knows? In years to come we may well be eating our words but, for now, lets say that John Nuttall certainly has every chance of becoming as popular as Martyn is today. The songs are all (bar one) carefully crafted in a consistant way that obviously shows he has the right ingredients needed. "Deeper Is your Love" starts off the album and is, indeed, one the strongest tracks. It chugs along quite nicely and I soon found my foot tapping away to the beat. Then, it's basic piano accompaniment to "You Said It All" which, in my view should have come later in the listing. "I Heard the Voice of Jesus" reminded me of Adrian Snell, and I especially liked the love song to Jesus entitled "Hang on To You". There's some simple acoustic worship and then the out of place hymn "The Cross" but, as a grounding, John Nuttall is a name to remember for future. 8/10 July 2001.

JOHN NUTTALL : Joining With the Angels. (CD: £5 from: 121 Castleton Road, Royston, Oldham, UK, OL2 6UP.) It's more than 4 years since John's previous album, "Heartsongs", and I just wonder where he's been hiding himself? Since that debut, John's song writing has become smoother and more rounded, with the result that the finished product is well worth £5 of anyone's money. He opens with the African rhythms of "Come Let Us Worship Our God", and follows that with the title track. This song is so lovely and powerful, and reminded me so much of the quality of Fernando Ortega. Indeed, "Sovereign God" could have been written with Fernando in mind, it is just SO him. Rachel Kitchenside takes over the vocals for the summery "Morning Glory", but John's back to his best on "Fairest Lord Jesus". This is a beautifully crafted song, and you really do get the feeling that it's come straight from the heart of the writer. I thought that "You Are My Fortress" has the makings of a great congregational song, and "Come to Me" says everything about resting in the Father's love. The packaging is definitely low budget, but don't let that put you off sampling the delights of Mr Nuttall. 9/10. December 2005

JOHN NUTTALL : Father’s Love. ( Three years on from his last release, Oldham’s John Nuttall returns to the music scene with a seven song offering. For a musician who doesn’t play any concerts, God must certainly be at the centre of this Cd which has already sold in excess of 1800 copies in 18 different countries. Things begin with the delightful ‘Welcome Home’. What a lovely, heart-warming song about the prodigal son. It’s terrific. ‘I Love You’ sees John marry his acoustic guitar playing with some string sounds, while the song tells of God’s unconditional love. Have you ever wondered what God actually sees in little old you? Well, just take a listen to the piano led ‘I Delight in You’, and let those magnificent wonders soothe and reassure you. There’s almost a lullaby sound to the soft tones of ‘You Are Beautiful’, and John’s vocals caress every word. The last track is an instrumental, highlighted by some thoughtful guitar. I’ve not felt this way about a CD for a long time, but I see it as a boon, especially, to those suffering or in despair. The Cd relays the promises of God’s unfailing love through the songs of John Nuttall. 10/10. Album of the Month – November 2008

JOHN NUTTALL : Father’s Love 2. ( Since the release of Volume 1 of this series last year, John has sold literally thousands of copies of the CD, all over the world. This follow up simply does follow on, with more songs and music that portray the Father’s Love for us all. As with the first volume, this one kick’s off with a lovely song, ‘Walking Together’, about knowing God as number one in your life and the relationship that ensues. John, then, takes Matt Redman’s ‘The Father’s Song’ and gives it a very gentle, piano led, treatment. ‘Wonderfully Made’ sees Andy Green take over the vocals before John returns with ‘I Love You’. If you’ve ever doubted just how much God does love you as an individual, then these two songs really say it all. And, if you find yourself going through tough times, there’s no better reassurance that He is with you, when you listen to ‘Try Running’. Musically, the songs are all very easy to listen to with guitars and keyboard leading the way. To close proceedings, John uses these instruments for two instrumental tracks of meditational music, which brings the CD to a close. With the overwhelming response to his first volume, John had the difficult task of writing to a very high standard. With God’s blessing, John has done just that. 9/10 July 2009

JOHN NUTTALL : Father’s Love (The Book). ( Following on from his successful privately released CD’s, Father’s Love 1&2, John Nuttall has put pen to paper and come up with a very readable book. Sometimes, we find it hard to accept God as our loving Father, especially when times are hard and our faith is being tested. Indeed, if one has never known a loving earthly father, or has been abused, it’s hard for us to enter a loving relationship with God the Father. John writes; “This book is about Jesus’ Father. When we believe in Jesus, receive Him and submit to Him we are born of God and He becomes our heavenly Father. So this book is a celebration of God as my wonderful Father”. In his own words, John looks at Bible verses and opens them up into simple, understandable words that we can all adhere to. He uses his own songwords and poems as examples of just how much God wants to be close to us, and be that loving Father. Once I picked up the book and began to read it, I found it hard to put down. It made me think hard about my own relationship with God, and how He is always there, even when we forget about Him. ‘Father’s love’ is one of the easiest books to read, yet so valuable. 8/10 March 2011.

JOHN NUTTALL : Jesus Beautiful Name. ( John Nuttall is one of those UK singer/songwriters who quietly ministers to thousands through his music, yet fails to be picked up by the main CCM market. For this new eight track CD, John has gathered some fine musicians around him, including Dan Wheeler and Mike Haughton. Now, on his previous albums, John’s opening tune has always been very catchy, and that’s just the case again, this time. ‘Such Love of Jesus’ is one of those tunes that stays in your head for ages, and focuses on – I suppose – what we all would like to say to God. ‘I Heard the Voice of Jesus’ contains some great guitar playing, and the added brass sounds give the song a Latin feel. If you’ve ever wanted a song to encourage someone to seek Jesus, then look no further than ‘Come, See Jesus’. It’s well sung, with John’s warm vocals enticing the listener. For those of you who are not familiar with John’s work, then its predominantly “easy listening”. But, within each tune, John cleverly weaves scriptures and gospel truths with ease and simplicity. ‘Jesus Your Presence’ is what I call a typical John song. It’s especially good, just to soak in the music and let God fill you with his presence. It’s a lovely mini album and should result in many blessings for both John and his listeners. 9/10. July 2012.

NSC : Wasp in a Jam Jar. (Private CD £11.99 & Cassette £7.99 inc p&p from : NSC, West Down, Cheriton Bishop, Nr Exeter, Devon, England, EX6 6HG. A highly impressive CD debut. (Cross Rhythms Apr/May 96). Alternative Rock. 8/10.

OAK TREE WORSHIP : Eternal. CD from: Innocent Music, 41 Bollo Bridge road, London, W3 8AT. Tony Willis, Abbie Jones and Carolyn Hope are three worship leaders based at the Oak Tree Anglican Fellowship, and led worship at New Wine last year. 11 of the 12 songs featured here are penned by Willis, who's debut album "Rivers of Grace" scored a healthy mark when reviewed in 2002. This album is completely different in style and features various rock influences. "We Believe", "Only You" and "The Secret Place" are performed in an Evanesance style, but the vocals aren't as strong. "Unfailing Love" and "Your Glory" fall into the Delirious? type of indie pop worship, with the latter being the better of the two songs. My favourite part of the album came during the last three songs. I particularly liked "Eternal Praise" and Willis' vocal, plus the powerful energy of "The Way of the Cross". All in all, it's not quite what you'd expect from a group calling themselves the Oak Tree Worship, and may well make a mark in the British rock scene. 8/10. November 2005

ON THE ROCK : No Hidden Agenda. (Private Recording. CD £11 Cass £6 & £1 Postage from: Kingsway Christian Fellowship, Church Road, Waterloo, L22 5NA, England). This year's crop of privately recorded albums has been of consistently high standard, and this offering is no exception. On The Rock hail from the Liverpool area and have been playing plenty of gigs in and around their home area. This debut release contains 8 tracks and starts with the atmospheric "In the Beginning". Using the first verses from the Bible, the words are carefully used over a backdrop clever, manipulative sounds that could certainly be used with dramatic, visual effect. "Jesus, Lovely Jesus" is a superb, rocky praise and worship song that I can see going down a storm live. Simple lyrics but very well used. Just once or twice elsewhere I thought that the lyrics didn't quite fit the music but, overall, Ian Walker proves to be a writer of distinction. The guitar work on "Hold On You" is quite special, while the introduction of a saxophone on "Let the River Run" is exceptional. Joy, happiness, and praise literally oozes out of the speakers. A couple of the songs don't quite match the rest but, with the quality of "My Grace" and it's relaxing mood, it's a very good start. 8/10. June 1998.

KATHY PETERS : Love Will Find A Way. (Private Recording. CD £13 Cass£6 from: Kathy Peters, St Andrews Church Office, The Rectory, Highcroft Avenue, Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside, England, L63 3EX). Kathy says "At times we all feel weak......if we can put aside our feelings of inadequacy, or unhappiness, and share Gods love, then love will return." The title track kicks things of at nice and easy pace in a Susan Ashton sort of way, and some country style guitars. The lovely feeling it emits, is carried on by 'When We Don't Speak', as she reaches out for the father's hand. It is a very personal collection of songs, written from the very heart of a Christian woman trying to live in today's world. The music is of general high quality, but I would pick out the piano on 'You Will Find Him' as a little special. Kathy's voice suits every song no matter what their style, whether it be the Celtic tinged 'I Hear Your Voice' or the sweet 'Carry Me'. Interestingly enough, I found the two songs written from a mother's perspective the most difficult to listen to but then, I'm not a mother. Kathy Peters is another bright light in British CCM. 9/10 November 1997.

MARK PIERCE : Mpfree. (Free download from: Now, not a lot comes free these days, so here's something that you can download for absolutely nothing from the web. Mark has paid his dues by playing a number of bands over the years, probably most successfully in the rock outfit Damarius. This 4 track EP had me wondering straight away if he was a James Blunt tribute artist. The vocal quality of Mark is so much like that of the popular mainstream artist, that a comparison is obvious. The songs, too, are in a similar style, but don't let detract you from an interesting debut. 'Back Where I Belong', is about surrendering and coming back to God, and contains some nice rhythms throughout. 'Whole' is a smooth, laid back number, that took a couple of plays but finally grew on me. Of the other two songs, 'Out There' is the best for me. It's simple piano backing gives it an air of prayerfulness and intimacy, while 'Some Place Now' chugs along, telling about how you must find your place in the world and find happiness through the Lord. The recording quality is first class, so I would encourage you to find the website and do yourself a favour. 8/10. February 2008.

MARK PIERCE : Sing. ( Still uncannily sounding like James Blunt, this York based singer/songwriter says that his earliest musical memories are of listening to his father’s LP collection of Simon & Garfunkle, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, and Bread. His foray into Christian rock music of the 90’s with Damarius is now a long distant memory as this 3 track EP consists of just acoustic guitar and piano backing. Other reviewer’s agree that Mark’s vocals do sound like secular star Blunt and that is so obvious on ‘Some Place New’. It’s a song about moving on in your life, and it’s strength is in the catchy chorus. For the title track, Mark not only looks back at his life, but also looks forward to all that is yet to come. Possibly not as strong as the first track, but still very listenable. For ‘Flower in the Summer Sun’ Mark discards his guitar and sings a pretty lament to a carefully played piano backing. The lyrics seem to be a love song, with hopes, glory and sadness all tackled by Mark’s thoughtful writing. It’s a short look into the music of Mark Pierce, but this EP carries on the suggestion that there’s more to come. 8/10. February 2012.

MARK PIERCE : MP Free : (free EP download) Evidently around since 2008 and picking up good comments at the time, Mark Pierce has this cleverly named 4 track, mostly guitar-led acoustic indie pop release out for review again. In vocal style Mark has been likened to, among others, James Blunt – but I feel he is better than that! I found all four tracks quite enjoyable although it took me a few plays to latch on to the melodies – whilst pleasant these tend to wander a bit and lack memorable hooks, so I didn't find them remaining in my head afterwards. I tried unsuccessfully to find printed lyrics anywhere. This was a shame – with the exception of the simple vocal/piano arrangement on the closing track 'Out there' the words are difficult to hear, so the meaning of the songs was largely lost on me. The recording quality is nothing special although better than some of the over-compressed mush(!) being currently released. With other later stuff available and details about Mark's ministry, his website is definitely worth checking out at 7/10 David Deeks. September 2012.

PILGRIM : Pilgrim. (Private Cassette £3.50 from: Paul Symonds, 175 Quarmby Road, Quarmby, Huddersfield, HD3 4FE, England). At times, Pilgrim can rock with the best. 7/10 February 1996.

PITY THE SMALL THUMBS : Blackbird. (Private Cassette £3.35 from: P.T.S.T, 4 Deal Avenue, Walney Island, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, LA14 3BH, England). A must for your indie collection. 7/10 March 1996.

POETIC JUSTICE : Mark of Cain. (Private CD £10 & Cassette. £6.50 from: Poetic Justice, c/o David Casswell, HM Prison Wolds, Everthorpe, Brough, E.Yorkshire, HU15 2JZ., England) Folk rock, presenting the view of prison life. 9/10 Album of the Month September 1996. Privately Recorded 'Album of the Year'.

SARAH POOLE : Hushabye. ( One of the great joys of reviewing is that I get to hear some brilliant independent artists from around the world. On this occasion it’s UK singer/songwriter Sarah Poole, with her acoustic folk/blues recording of seven songs. She opens the mini album with ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, a song that she says is a “great opening song for a solo singer.” Immediately, I was impressed by her smooth vocal quality. On ‘Heart’s That Heavy’ Sarah looks at life through both rose tinted glasses one day, and then the next, everything is a deep shade of blue? This is the main bluesy number and really easy to sit back and listen to. Sarah’s guitar playing is quite delicate at times, and never more so than on ‘Black is the Colour’. Sarah has overcome many things in her life, depression being one, and I can see how God has used those trials to make her stronger. ‘Through the Night’ was written when her faith was being tested, but the resulting song is quite superb. I thought that ‘Better Days Are Coming’ sounded quite melancholy, but the sweetest sound comes on the final title track. Inspired by Sarah’s twin sister’s beautiful baby girl, the melody came to her in a dream, and reminds us all how much God loves His children. Overcoming her natural shyness by playing at various events, Sarah has given us just a taster of what’s to come. I think that small, intimate gatherings would suit her music best, while owners of the album can just relax and let her music minister. A very warm welcome to Sarah Poole. 8/10. September 2012.

PAUL POULTON PROJECT : Dumb Dogs. (Temporary Music) I have to confess to have been looking forward to the release of this cd, this being the first that Paul has released with his current band and particularly the superb Joe Blanks on drums. Paul's desire is that this album is a closer representation of their live sound and, having heard them live earlier this year, I think he has managed to achieve that. It has more energy than 2005's "Affected" and coupled with a batch of great songs, it is an excellent album all round. Paul's unique and bold lyrical approach is finely represented on songs such as "Take the Rubbish Out" - the immortal line "my wife is busy looking in the Argos catalogue" makes me chuckle every time - and one has to admire his ability to attempt things lyrically that in the hands of the less experienced would just sound naff. The songs really groove well too, a nice mix of rock, blues and funk topped with Paul's inimitable vocal style. Overall, I have a sense that Paul shows no sign of slowing down and continues to produce music of a quality that we have come to expect. In a market swamped by a lack of imagination and constant regurgitation, the Paul Poulton Project is a refreshing change. 9/10 Warren Harry. October 2007.

PAUL POULTON PROJECT : Looking For Someone to Blame. (Temporary Music : It’s more than 20 years since God first spoke to Paul and told him to pick up his guitar for Him. His debut album, ‘I Think I’m Being Followed’ made it’s mark in the British CCM market, and his 1999 US Radio Hit ‘Flaky People’ raised his profile across the pond. I remember the first time I saw Paul play live, you had to really think about his lyrics because he cleverly wrote some deep meanings with them. Listening to this new album, it’s still the same. You need to sit down with it for a few listens before you really get the meaning behind each song. The opening track, ‘She Sees Other Men’ has Paul almost speaking the words to a rock/blues backing. ‘Don’t Blame Me’ looks at the material world and the dissatisfaction it can bring, while ‘Ain’t It A Shame’ takes a sideways look on why we shouldn’t keep God just for Sunday’s. Paul’s got an engaging vocal quality but just once or twice it seems to get lost in the mix. For those of us old enough to remember the original, there’s a great version of Larry Norman’s ‘Rock the Flock’ included. Paul’s songs also include a look at marriage on ‘Married People’, while the shuffling sound of ‘I’ve Seen Too Much’ is very much a personal take on faith and God’s love, growing, despite all the happening’s of today’s world. Difficult to pigeon hole the Paul Poulton Project. I guess that’s just one of the thing’s I like about it. 8/10. December 2008.

PAUL POULTON PROJECT : Too Twitchy. ( It’s two years since Paul’s last album, ‘Looking For Someone to Blame’, scored a creditable 8 out of 10 in these hallowed pages. Various tours later, he and the project are back with this new offering. The musical style still has blues influences, but has a very modern sound. The theme of ‘Too Twitchy’ is “relationships”, and Paul works his lyrical magic into some very good songs. He says; “The humour used in ‘Coffee And Cake’ is a warning firstly about addictions, which are stronger than we think. When life isn't going the way we want, comfort eating is a problem for some people. But of course there are far worse addictions, the addict in the song is a "substance user" and his addiction is spoiling his chances of getting the girl he wants.” The band are very tight in their playing, and the opening ‘Why’ proves that from the very start. ‘Lonely’ looks at why so many people are lonely, when really, it’s so easy get along. Paul, himself, provides some excellent blues guitar on ‘I Like You’, and this song alone should gain him guaranteed airplay. ‘Why Are People Like That?’ is the title of a great foot tapper, and again shows Paul’s keen observations on life. The Paul Poulton Project never fail to deliver, and this album is first class. 9/10 October 2010.

THE PAUL POULTON PROJECT : Some People Believe Anything. ( Less than a year since ‘Too Twitchy’ was released, Paul and the band are back with an album of songs that have something to say about the past, present, and future. You can always guarantee that Paul will come up with some rather interesting subjects to sing about, and this album begins with people telling us what we should want in life, and how having more will make us happy. ‘Anything’ even includes a dig at TV Quiz shows and telephone sales people to get the point across. There’s an R’n’B shuffle sound to ‘Bad Things People Do’, and I smiled as Paul sang about getting used to the fact that people do bad things, but we should learn to forgive them rather than get mad ourselves. Marriage break up’s are commonplace in today’s society, but ‘Don’t Break Up’ is a message of hope, to couples who may be going through a bad time in their relationship. Musically, the band are as tight as ever with Ross Lander, Aron Bicskey, Nic Burrows and Chris Smith adding to Paul’s vocals and guitar playing. ‘Here in Heaven’ got me thinking ‘Pink Floyd’ in a ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ way. The sound really differs from the rest of the album. All songs, but one, have been written by Paul. The exception is a very good 60’s beat version of Larry Norman’s ‘Reader’s Digest’. Paul has the knack of writing songs that tell a story, and those stories are all food for thought. 9/10 September 2011.

PRETENCE : Everything Under the Sun. (Private Cassette £5.50 from: Derek Hobbs, 21 Freeborn Close, Kidlington, Oxon, OX5 2BH, England). Light rock of a Hall & Oates style. 7/10 February 1996.

NEVILLE RAINE : Heaven to Hollywood. (Private Cassette Recording. £5.75 from Neville Raine, 22 Ibbetson Drive, Churwell, Morley, Leeds, LS27 7TZ, England). A smattering of Queen influence here and there, but Mr Raine shows that he has a wealth of talent and is just waiting for someone to light the blue touch paper. A popping 8/10. December 1996.

THE REIGN : Where Jesus Touches the Earth. ( "Where Jesus touches the earth'' is the Reign's 2006 follow-up to their first CD "Sing", issued in 2003. The CD sleeve design (by Mark Pierce) and two web sites and (including tracks from "Sing") look really classy. The man behind this 9-piece band is Hull-based worship leader and therefore lead vocalist David Cooper, who also provides the material. David is a talented writer - there are some good lyrics here, set to hummable tunes with memorable hooks. Best tracks for me were 'So beautiful', 'Song of love', 'Charcoal Skies' and the ubiquitous (NOT written by David!) 'When I survey'. This is done to a beautiful arrangement, featuring entirely female vocals. Otherwise however, production is often weak. There is a tendency to 'throw everything into the pot'. The drums are often well over-busy and with a tendency for timing to wander. David's vocals tend to be set too high in the mix and aren't strong enough to merit such spotlit presentation. As a worship leader I would imagine he is very effective, with every word clearly heard, but his tendency to sing in 'shout it out' mode misses the opportunity for expression that a recording studio provides. The female vocals on 'When I survey' are really natural and beautiful and could have been used to great effect on more of the songs. Some great songs then, but better production/mixing would really let them shine. 6/10 Dave Deeks. August 2006.

THE REIGN : 96 – Live. ( Some 5 years after their last album, comes this live offering from one of Yorkshire’s premier praise and worship bands. As an outfit, they have played up and down the UK both in concert and leading the Rock Eucharist. Led by chief songwriter and lead singer, David Cooper, this live album gives the listener the chance to re-live an event or, if you’re hearing of them for the first time, a welcome introduction. I’m glad to say that I’ve seen the band a number of times, and their rousing version of ‘Mighty to Save’ never fails to stir my sprits. While self penned numbers like ‘Charcoal Skies’ engage the listener,’ Song of Love’ appears rather pedestrian, and I found myself “drifting off” mid song. There’s always an element of surprise in the audience when David sings his version of Britney Spears ‘Baby One More Time’ but, somehow, he makes it his own. On this occasion, the band also give a rendition of the old Tears For Fears hit, ‘Mad World’, which is much better that the version that hit the No.1 spot a few years back. Recording a live album tends to highlight all those niggly little faults that you can usually re-record in a studio. On a couple of tracks the backing vocals are a little off key and it rather spoils the songs. However, with powerful songs like ‘I Love the Rain’ and the feel good ‘Never Failing Love’, you can, perhaps, forgive the odd mistake. As a bonus, you can pop the CD into your laptop and access two bonus mp3 files of the band, and that really is a bonus worth having. On this showing, it seems that The Reign will carry on their success for quite some time to come. 8/10 November 2011.

VARIOUS : Released 8. ( Here’s the latest in the “released” series of albums from Lincoln’s dB Studios, featuring new and unsigned artists. Steve Mews kicks things off, with the pleasant sounding ‘We Lift Our Eyes’. He’s not got a particularly strong voice but it’s okay. On the other hand, Chris Wilkins sounds like he’s been singing for years, and gives a good Matt Redman impersonation with the medium paced ‘I Surrender’. Jersey’s Jo Le Page gets two songs on this release with ‘Praise Be to Your Name’ and the musically pleasing ‘Candlelight’. Jo’s vocals are really coming to the fore and she reminds me, a little, of Cathy Burton. Diane Devine’s ‘Worship Our God’ is one track that grew on me, the more I played it. As in a lot of cases over the years, the simple songs are the best. Another good song is ‘Now I’ve Seen the King’. Sam Reid has an endearing vocal quality and it’s really well sung. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Alan Darley. The blues background is fairly passable but his voice struggles to remain in tune and wins this month’s cringe factor. 12 tracks in all, and a good collection from the UK’s grassroots artists. 8/10 March 2010

THE RENEWED REPROBATES : The Renewed Reprobates. (Private Cassette Recording : £3.00 inc. p&p from: P. Swinney, 17 St Peters Road, Scotter, Lincs, England, DN21 3SG). Primarily aimed as a promotional release, this is the debut from three guys with a lot to offer. Four songs here, all penned by lead singer Paddy Kirkman who has a blues guitar background that comes to the fore on the closing 'Jesus is King'. If that isn't enough for one guy, then his remarkable Martin Smith voice is almost too good to be true. 'Jesus Christ is Lord' is a simple, 3 minute contemporary praise song in the style of Mr Smith's band. That, I'm afraid, does tend to lead you into the Delirious way of thinking but, there is more to this band. The lyrics are thoughtful and the tunes well written. The musicianship is tight and, if you forgive the tiny budget recording, this is a good first outing. 'Lord I'm Aching' is a slow worship number, while 'Have You Ever' returns to the poppy style whilst shouting how much we should love those who have no-one. If the RR's can build on this, they should have a healthy ministry ahead of them. 7/10. November 1997.

THE RUMOURS ARE TRUE : Longer Days. (Private CD £6.50 & Cassette £4.50 inc p&p from: Richard Coates, 141 Fossway, York, YO3 7SQ, England). Inspirational jazzy, celtic rock. 8/10 May 1996.

IAN ST PATRICK : Faith Times. ( Yorskhire based artist Ian St Patrick has released this 8 track album which is available for download at his myspace site. What it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in pure honesty. It all starts with ‘Amazing Grace’ which Ian sings in the style of gospel Elvis. The piano tempo of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ lacks variation but Ian’s vocals fit perfectly. ‘Morning Has Broken’ is still one of my all time favourite hymns and this version brought back many happy memories. Ian’s voice is quite engaging but the production on ‘The Battle Belongs to the Lord’ just has a bit too much reverb for my liking. ‘I Heard The Voice of Jesus’ and ‘Abide With Me’ are very enjoyable, and the 60’s pop style format of ‘I Will Follow Him’ comes over really well. While not bringing any fresh music to the fore, this collection is well worth a listen and will satisfy the discerning listener. 7/10. February 2012.

CAROL LEE SAMPSON : Bigger Picture. ( Carol was born in Jersey, and wrote her first song at the age of 9. After various musical partnerships, she moved to West Sussex in 1990 and became part of the music ministry at the Kingdom Faith Bible College. Her 1995 Kingsway album (recorded under the name of Carol Owen), ‘You Alone Are God’ gained good reviews, and since that time, she has gone on to minister and lead worship in numerous countries. This latest album sees Carol writing most of the songs herself, and what a nice album it is. ‘Breathe New Life’ is a real feel good song, while ‘Everything’ has a summer feel to it – very relaxing. I liked her dip into modern country with the story of ‘Rosaleen’, and her Amy Grant sound on ’44 Mayfair’. As you would expect from someone with her pedigree, the vocals are faultless, and should appeal to a wide audience. There’s some sensitive saxophone playing on ‘You Make Me Feel’, and great guitar work form Gordon Giltrap on the pretty ‘Everlasting Arms’. There are no lyrics printed on the sleeve, but I found these easy to listen to and understand. Carol weaves God’s love into most songs, and sings about building your relationship with Him on ‘The Rock’. There’s more country on the rocky title track, and a bouncy feel to ‘Swept Away’, where God replaces sadness with joy. The album ends with a beautiful song called ‘Don’t Wait’. If there’s someone that you care for, or need to tell them how much you love them, don’t wait until it’s too late. It’s a sign of an enjoyable album if it makes it from my house CD player and into my car. I’m pleased to say that this one made the trip. 9/10. June 2012. Album of the Month.

ANDY SAYNER : Journey. ( I remember being so excited 22 years ago when I recorded my first album of songs on a 4 track cassette machine. Time and technology has moved on, but I feel that same excitement must still be felt by aspiring artists such as Andy. This mini album features self penned tracks that show influences from many years both listening to music and playing in live bands. The opening track is called ‘City Lights’ and Mr Sayner brings to the table a prog’ rock style, reminiscent of Barclay James Harvest. Synth’ strings take the lead, while it also features some nice guitar work. ‘Mr Politician’ is a more modern sound, and simply questions the morals of today’s members of parliament. On ‘I Wish That I Was Home’, Andy turns in a lighter song that I thought could well have been from ELO’s hey day. It’s possibly the strongest track on the album and deserves some radio play. He uses the technology available well, but I did feel that his vocals suffered on some tracks by not adding more effects or even doubling up to bring more warmth to his voice. The closing track is an instrumental number called ‘Journey – Part 2’. It’s full of electro music and samples, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Elevation’s ‘Worship Workout Mix’ (see earlier review). It may need a bit of polish, here and there, but essentially Andy can be well pleased with his debut release. 7/10 May 2011

SECRET ARCHIVES OF THE VATICAN: Reformation. (Private CD Recording: £10 from V.Millett, Broken Drum Records, 70 Birdhurst Road, South Croydon, Surrey, England, CR2 7EB. "What is that?" asked my 15 year old daughter. Is it all Indian music?" said my 14 year old son. "I don't quite know what to make of it", answered their 40 year old dad. Secret Archives consist of Vince Millett and Louis Counter, with some guest musicians helping out, here and there. This is their first major release, which is an ecletic and original combination of styles as diverse as acid techno, Arabic & Indian, and psychedelic trance. 16 tracks and 70 minutes of music that I've never, before, come across in any shape or form. Make your mind up after one play and you'll probably never play it again. But, I think that you will want to. With the use of such instruments as mandolas, bouzoukis, and more, the sounds slowly filter into your brain and, it's then that you start to ask questions. IS "Godheadz" really about the trilogy? Is there a hint of revelation in "Dark Night of the Soul"?. No lyrics, but plenty of unusual and remarkable sounds that is capturing media attention far and wide. You've certainly got something guys, and more power to you!. 8/10 April 1999.

JONATHAN SHELTON : Provision of Heaven. (CD from Jonathan Shelton is a new name to the world of Christian music, and this debut album has been released independently. All songs feature the piano playing of Seth Partridge Underwood and very little else in the way of backing. That said, there is an annoying guitar that appears every now and again such as on the song "Amazing". With that in mind, the limited backing does tend to make the songs sound a tad similar to each other despite Jonathan's best vocal efforts. It's an album of simple praise and worship but there are quite a few highpoints on the journey. "More Than words Can Say" and "Breathless" are just two of the fine songs on display, while "Thankful Heart" is another. Indeed, the latter contains some really nice harmonies. On the downside, weaker songs like "I Stand" and the repetitive "Without You" detract somewhat from the potential of the rest of the album. It would nice to hear what Jonathan and co writer Seth could do with their songs given a larger budget and full band to work with. Certainly, there's a lot to build on here. 7/10. October 2005

DEBBIE SIMPSON : Set Me Free. (CD available from Two years after her debut album, Hull based Debbie arrives with a 14 track offering that sees her mature as a writer and co-producer. "Set Me Free" opens the listing and it's simplicity is it's strength. Great keyboard work by Antoine Robinson, and the richness of Debbie's vocals, make for a perfect marriage and a wonderful result. "Be Still and Wait" is a moving little song, but the use of the flute does detract the listener somewhat. "Close to Your Eyes" is a carefully crafted worship song that I played again and again, such was it's beauty. From then on, the track listing goes a little more poppy. I found the production of "The Other Side of the Rainbow" a little messy, but songs such as "Jesus Sends His Angels" and "Safe in His Arms" shine out brightly. "You're All Around Me" has an infectious beat to it and the closing "Take Us Home" is very poignant. The lyrics all seem to gel together nicely and I think that Debbie has found a winning formula. With a live band to back her now, all that she needs are regular concerts to finely tune some of those rough edges. 8/10.January 2005

FIONA SIMPSON & BRIAN ADAMS : Grateful. (www.fionaandbrian.og) It’s good to know that some things in life remain the same. Despite no longer leading a full band, Fiona Simpson, along with her long time musical partner, Brian Adams, returns with a CD, full of warmth and reassurance. The couple’s commitment to outreach remains as strong as ever, and this album should see them comfortably reach to many. Forthose of you who have never come across Fiona before, then her voice holds a rich, mellow tone, and it’s instantly recognisable on the opening Steven Curtis Chapman song, ‘More to This Life’. Accompaniment is well thought out, and I especially liked the acoustic guitars on ‘Never Too Late’ and ‘Pretty Amazing Grace’. While the latter may lack the raw power of Neil Diamond’s original version. Fiona and Brian play it well as an easy listening song. Most songs on the album are of similar pace, but the pair show that they can easily move uptempo with fine renditions of Steve Earle’s ‘Jerusalem’ and Diane Warren’s ‘Love Understanding. There are some uplifting moments during the album, but the word “reassurance” kept forming in my head whilst listening. Welcome back, Fiona and Brian. 8/10 January 2010

SKINFLOWERS : Skinflowers. (Private CD Recording. £2.50 from G.Leicester, 6 Hurcombe Way, Brockworth, Glos, England, GL3 4QP. Although promoted as a three track single, this CD actually contains six songs. The extra three are provided by the inclusion of material previously only available on the band's demo tape. Of these, "Come Back Hungry" is the strongest, with it's definate REM influences. The new tracks, however, see the duo move on musically and experiment with a harder sound that results in an intriging cross between DC Talk and Tubeway Army. The mystic sounding "Man of Blood" stands out high above the other tracks in both lyrical and musical content. The orchestral arrangement alone is superb but the track itself is a classic. Not that either "Waiting…" or "Hey Man…" are weak, they are, in their own right, good songs and, at this price, the CD is well worth investigating if you like something out of the ordinary. 8/10. March 1999.

LORIAAN SMITH-TAYLOR : Believe. ( Loriaan was born and raised in South Africa. Singing since the young age of 3, her earliest memory of singing, was when her father used to play Lionel Richie. She used to belt out at the top of her voice to, “You are my Destiny”. From that moment onwards she knew she wanted to be a singer. Loriaan’s contemporary gospel songwriting reflects everyday life issues and the joy of having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Indeed, it sounds like a very personal album, written from the heart. For the most part, it’s a pleasant pop collection of songs with a mixture of uptempo and slower songs. The opening ‘Everlasting God’ is very pleasing to the ear, as is ‘Hallelujah to the King’. The latter is quite catchy but suffers from a rather weak ending. The title track is a ballad and really shows off Loriaan’s vocal quality to the full. Praising Jesus, the song is performed with real feeling, and should be a hit with most listeners. With Phil Goss producing and providing most of the instruments, the album is quite a polished affair. Songs like ‘In Your Name’ and ‘New Sound’ are very appealing, and the gentle ‘It’s Your Love’ flows effortlessly and caresses each word. The simplicity of ‘You Alone’ is the song’s real strength, with Nancy Sawyer making a guest appearance on piano. Closing proceedings is another fine song. ‘Jesus’ has a great hook, a well thought out middle eight, and is just one of those songs you immediately want to play again. A couple of songs didn’t quite meet the grade but, really, maybe I’m being too picky. Well worth a listen. 8/10. December 2011.

SON OF NUN : Spiritual Flame. (Private Cassette Recording. £5.50 inc p&p from: R. Saggs, Lamplugh House, Thwing, Driffield, E. Yorkshire, England, YO25 3DY. I really haven't heard a demo like this for some time. Plain and simple lyrics, married to unfussy music which really lets the raw feeling filter from the tape. With all due respect to other bands, it is really nice to hear a band who don't instantly fall into the current Britpop or dance sound. Saying that, on the closing 'In the Garden', the vocal quality is very Beautiful South! Good song, and well performed. Bassist Dave Beere is the man behind most of the lyrics, and he uses clear biblical truths to form the backbone of ewach song. The opening 'Armour of the Lord' lacks a little in conviction but there is some rather nice guitar work contained within. Seven songs in total and a good effort for a first time out. Songs like 'Sixty Three' and 'The Lord is Marching' are bound to be popular wherever Son of Nun play, and they can be well satisfied with their offering. 7/10. January 1999.

SOUL ASCENDANT : 3 by Seven. (Private CD Recording, £2.50 from: P.Stoodley, The Vicarage, Park Road, Sowerby Bridge, HX6 2BJ) Some 9 years since I first met them, the group now known as Soul Ascendant, release their first CD. Naming James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and The Commitments as their main influences, you can get an idea of the sort of music contained on this 3 track EP. It kicks off rather slowly with Ruth Stoodley telling the story about finding Jesus in her life. Not a bad song but I would have, personally, preferred a livelier start. The pace does pickup for the second song, "Passin Thru", with the brass section leading the way. This is more like it and the James Brown feel makes it a sure fire dance hit."Can't Do Right" sees Pete Stoodley share the lead vocals on what he calls a "humourous cliché". Robb Sutherland plays some neat lead guitar and, all in all, if you like soul music, you'll like this CD. It may only be 3 tracks, so perhaps you should see them live. 7/10. December 2001.

SOUL ASCENDANT : Between Two Worlds. (CD £5 & £1 p&p from: Rev P Stoodley, The Vicarage, Park Road, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, England, HX6 2BJ). Is it really more than 10 years since I first met the rockin' Stoodley's, then known as Logical Bonds? It sure is and, during the proceeding years, I've been able to follow their musical development quite closely. Now, of course, band members have increased to seven, courtesy of Ruth's marriage to Robb, as well as Mike's to Caroline, and not forgetting drummer, Jonathan Birch. First plus point for this band is that they deliver the goods, Commitment style, with live instruments. There's great guitar licks on "It Was You" and a solid brass section chugging away on the re-worked "Brand New". Ruth does most of the singing and I've always liked her vocals best on the faster numbers. Saying that, although I don't think that "Flying" works too well for her, she has a real warmth when delivering the worship of "Lead Me To The Rock". "Can't Do right" is my favourite track, and it has a real groove to it complete with great saxophone phrasing. "Passin' Thru" is similar and there's the added bonus of some fine keyboard work in here. No surprises about the subject matter of the songs, but if you want to find good rhythms, with not a drum loop or sample in sight, this latest release finds Soul Ascendant in top form. 8/10. (September 2004)

HAYDON SPENCELEY : Circles. (Knuci Records : KNUCI CD004) Haydon Spenceley’s brand of electronica and melancholic vocals remind me a lot of the Mutemath EP from a few years ago (no surprise as he states that Mutemath are an influence). There are even some Enigma elements too and on one track, “Heaven on Earth” the vocal line has hints of Duran Duran. All good comparisons in my book and all help to create an album that is markedly different from the usual CCM fayre. The former Freeslave frontman also keeps it lyrically fresh too. You have to listen hard to hear the Christian themes, but they are there and the effect is a cd that will build bridges and straddle boundaries. It’s also a well crafted album in its own right and not a mere imitation of Haydon’s influences. What I also like is the attention to detail – there are some real subtleties to the arrangements and production on this album which demonstrate that it has been put together with a caring and loving hand. All in all, an album that definitely lives up to its pre-release billing. 8/10 Robin Thompson. December 2008

HAYDON SPENCELEY : Heart Strings. (Knuci Records -due November 22nd 2010) Haydon Spenceley first made his name in ccm as the wheelchair-bound lead singer in alt rock band Freeslave. Here we have his second solo offering, the follow-up to debut 'Circles' which was released back in 2008. As with 'Circles', the guitar-driven sound of Freeslave is replaced by a much more synth based sound – if electronic pop melody is your thing, Haydon is your man. I have really enjoyed listening to this album. It has evidently been 18 months in the making, and it shows. Haydon has a way with lyrics as well as melody and it is obvious that this release comes from a man with a heart for Jesus. Good though 'Circles' was, the professional sound and feel of this latest offering represent a noticeable advance. Things get off to a rousing start with 'Heart Strings' – a hook-laden tune that will quickly worm its way into your consciousness! Other standouts for me are the slower numbers 'Lost my heart', 'Heaven on earth' and the excellent 'Crying' – but there are no 'poor' tracks here. The only criticisms I have are minor and concern the vocals – the effects tend to emphasise a slightly nasal quality in Haydon's voice, highlighted on some of the tracks by the fact that, to my ears, they are mixed a little high. It is obvious however that this album stands out as something original amongst today's run-of-the-mill ccm, and deserves a wide audience. Check out Haydon's videos on You Tube for full plays of 'Lost my heart' and 'Heart Strings'. Excellent. 10/10. Dave Deeks. September 2010. Album of the Month.

THE STEELS : My Energy. ( The Steels are three lads from the north-east of England who are creating quite a stir at live gigs. Previously known as Steel Machine, the new moniker sees them move into a fresh sound that compares well with The Rock n' Roll Worship Circus, and Audio Adrenaline. Saying that, "I'll Get Over you" sounds a lot like Busted did at their very best. It's a great song, and one I played again and again. The same can be said of the title track and, live, I can see this being a mosher's favourite. Sandwiched in-between these two is a slower number called "Won't You Stay". It's well written and flows nicely. "How Can It Be?" and "I Couldn't Go On" are both full of energy and I could really see this album crossing over well to the U.S. market. If I've one minor moan, then it's the quality of the recording. Occasionally, the vocals are lost in the overall sound, but on the plus side, it does sound like a live recording that really gets you involved. With the likes of Titus already powering their music into the lives of young people, the north-east of England can be proud to add The Steels to their roster. 8/10. March 2006.

ST JOHN'S NEW WINE : Eternal God. (Private CD. £5.50 from Geoff Waring, St John's Church Newland, Clough Road, Hull, England, HU6 7PA). The worry about reviewing something produced by old friends is that your honest opinion may hurt the feelings of those involved. But, as they say, honesty is the best policy, so here goes. A collection of well known praise and worship songs, recorded live, and with all profits going towards the church's building project. "Praise Him on the Trumpet" starts proceedings in a style that can only be described as a war-time pub singalong! "Beautiful Saviour" shows the vocals in better light, as does "Blessing & Honour", both with uncomplicated musical backing. Getting the sound levels right must have been quite difficult for the engineer in this live situation but he copes quite admirably. The downside comes from slightly off-key male vocal on many of the songs, and the tacky music that appears on "Our God Reigns". The title track, on the other hand, features a smashing lead vocal of distinct quality, abley supported by the rest of the group. "Lion of Judah" gets an outing, as does "We Sing your Mercies" and the delicate "It's All About You". It should certainly raise money around the church as a momento of live performances, it's just a shame that New Wine's efforts fall a little short in what they were trying to achieve. 6/10. December 2000.

THE STILL TIME BAND : The Gospel According to Gershwin. ( Many years ago my imagination was captured by the Pasadena Roof Orchestra who brought classic songs from the 20's, 30's and 40's back to life, and too a whole new audience. In some small way, I get the feeling that The Still Time Band is doing exactly that with their jazz sound. Their 2006 concert in Dagenham was recorded for both radio and Cd release, with the former winning the CBC Award for "Best Christian Music Programme" 2006. The Cd contains two discs, the first being that very concert in all it's glory. There's a mixture of songs on it, with some being written by artistic director, Mike Roberts, and the rest taken from the catalogue of the Gershwin brothers. "God isMuch Bigger" is a laid back original song of Mike's, who also narrates between songs to give the audience some background information and links the evening together well. By the time, however, you hear "Facsinating Rhythms" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me", you realise just how many Gershwin songs you do actually know. Mid concert, Lindsey Danvers takes over the lead vocals from Mike, and what a great jazz voice she has. It certainly works well on songs like "There's no-one Else" and "It Won't Be Long" - an Andare Crouch number thrown in for good measure. Disc 2 is a mix of live and studio tracks titled "Gratuitously Gershwin", and there's no talking in between. Even though I'm not particularly a jazz fan, I still enjoyed the collection of songs and especially the live concert. Something a little different from the Still Time Band, and well worth adding to your collection. 8/10. March 2007.

TABLES OF STONE : Engraved. (Private Recording. CD $20 from: TOS, PO Box 36067, 1318 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1Y 4V3). Another Canadian outfit for me to get my teeth into, and what a band they are! Having just played the New England Music Festival alongside the likes of Petra, and The Newsboys, plus a host of radio stations playing their songs, TOS look like a band we'll be hearing a lot more of in the future. Sound wise, the album is reminiscent of Jars of Clay with a little DC Talk added in for good measure. The result is a collection of songs that will inspire you as well as asking you a few home truths. Lead singer Colin Genereux has a great voice and a fine way of writing most of the tracks. 'Choose To Live' opens proceedings with some great guitar riffs and superb vocal harmonies, answering the age old question of which road to follow. The repentant Christian is the feature of 'I Believe in You', a quiet acoustic number that flows right through you. 'Forgive My People' is another track that is filled with awe and worship for God. Getting the message of the Gospel over to the youth of Canada is number one on the bands list of priorities. Canada is most fortunate to have TOS. 9/10. October 1998.

HELEN TURNER : Permission. (CD £11.50 inc p&p from: Helen Turner, c/o Tollbooth Music, 8 Clarenden road, Reading, Berks, England, RG6 1PH). I must declare from them outset my allegiance to Helen's musical cause, and a certain amount of bias. We have been friends for 8 years, and have collaborated together on various musical projects, although I had nothing to do with this album - so some element of objectivity does still remain! Helen was previously the singer for York based quartet The Rumours Are True, an Iona tinged band that favoured high drama and excellent musicianship. However, as good as Rumours were, "Permission" is a huge step forward, due primarily to the fact that the songwriting is warm, distinguished and frequently beyond what many bands ever achieve. Anybody who enjoys singer-songwriters, or generally honest and sincere music, will find something to enjoy here. Helen puts her heart utterly into her music, and songs such as "Grass Is Greener", "Lye-di-Dy" and "Helium" showcase not only her ability as a writer, but also some stunning vocal, where she manages to come close to the intimate grandeur of Sarah MacLachlan. Best of all is "Raynbird Street", a very moving and poignant song that's enough to soothe a raging Oasis fan at 100 yards. "Permission" heralds the arrival of a tremendous talent. Recommended. 9/10. Miles Cain. June 2000

VARIOUS : Declare His Glory! (Jarrod Cooper Ministries : JCM006) This brand new release features, not only, Jarrod Cooper, but singer/songwriter Paul Hemingway, and vocal worship group Shekinah. With almost all the writing credits falling to the two solo artists, it's a mixture of songs that lacks a little continuity but has many highlights. The mixture of live and studio recordings work well and it's in the former style that "He's Alive" begins the listing. A typical opener, with lots of clapping & praising, it would grace any gathering. "I Rejoice…" is rather too short in length and finishes before it really has chance to shine. Indeed, this was my disappointment with many of Paul's songs. "I Surrender" is a lovely acoustic number and Felicity Cooper's "A Ti Sea La Gloria" provides the listener with a great sense of God's peace. On the whole, another winner from this fine ministry. 8/10. March 2000.

VARIOUS ARTISTS : Eurochrist Sampler 1. (CD £10 from: NSC, West Down, Cheriton Bishop, Exeter, England, EX6 6HG). Over in Norway, two small record labels have come together to produce a fine sampler of tracks from European CCM bands. Sarepta and 1340 Records have taken tracks from As If…,NSC, Skellig, and many more to feature an insight into 18 different bands/artists. If there's one thing that's constant throughout the album it's the driving guitar. From the Wheatus sounding Maybe June and through the bonus American contribution Wonderboys, it's the stringed instrument that's to the fore. Mind you, As If's experimental "Full Bloom" doesn't mean to say that they've changed their style, perhaps just continuing to grow? Debby Barnes' "Three in One" is Garbage, and I mean that in the sense that the finished product sounds like the band! Target's "Perseverance" features their bright pop style that was so evident in their Cd release of last year, while Ascension's "Goats" is another track lifted from a successful album. Of those I'd heard before, it was good to hear NSC's "Breakpedal" again and, while not a personal favourite of mine, it's very popular live. For something completely different, Nancy Sawyer's "Dancing on the Inside" is a welcome relief, with her lighter, folk/pop and sweet voice. There again, if moshing's your sort of thing, check out the German band Woodencross. "Ghandi" is wonderful. Starting with a terrific brass section, it's then head's down for some music. Interesting collection and one that does show what unearthed talent lies across Europe. 7/10. June 2001.

SCOTT WAINWRIGHT : Every Man Has His Critics. ( Zany, madcap, and off the wall, are just three of the phrases that I scribbled down, when listening to the latest album from the Yorkshire based artist, Scott Anthony Wainwright. He says that this album is the result of a nine year song writing cycle and, as an experimental artist, has “pulled his blues and folk influences through a more varied and colourful palette.” It all starts off with a harmonica based blues number called ‘Down the Line’. It’s a basic beat that sounds like the backing music is being provided by a one-man band busker. The growling vocals are, sometimes, too low in the mix but I got the feeling that it’s something that Seasick Steve might be proud of. ‘Deal Me Another Hand’ is just as whacky, with a distorted guitar phrase being added to a tuba driven bassline. It was during this song that the female backing vocals appear for the first time, in a Beautiful South sort of way. Certainly, the combination of these sounds with Scott’s is very odd. Lyric wise, Scott says that we all have our critics and in the world today there is a “can’t do” attitude. In response, Scott wants to prove that with Jesus, all things are possible. Whether he actually achieves that with these songs is another question. For instance, ‘Whispers From the Undergrowth’ consists of just over three minutes of the sound of rain lashing down, and a short banjo instrumental. I may be doing Scott a dis-service, but I completely miss the point of the ‘No Shoes Blues’. The words a few and repetitive and it certainly became rather annoying after two or three plays. ‘Kiss Like They Do In France’ has a catchy tune but, once again, I found the vocals too low in the mix to hear the words. If you like to be entertained by something different, then this album is a must. The challenge, should you take it, is to decipher the lyrics and make sense of them. Sadly, I failed on all but ‘Here For you’ – a bit of a clue in the title? This song is a punky pop number and includes a bicycle bell, a bicycle pump used as a whistle, and a distorted guitar. When all is lost…..God promises that He is “here for you”. I can honestly say that I’ve not had to concentrate so hard on a review album for a very long time. If you’re visiting West Yorkshire, you should look out for one of Scott’s live performances. 6/10 September 2010.

SHAYNE WALSH : Some Kind of Wonderful. ( Here’s the debut album from a guy who was brought up on a tough council estate, dropped out of school, became a gang leader, got known for being very violent and has almost died several times due to illness, car crashes and fighting. He found Christ at the age of 16, but found it very hard to leave behind his previous life. Now, at the age of 28, Shayne Walsh is ministering to youth and churches, and encouraging people to learn from his mistakes. Now, he has finally recorded this album of self-penned songs and has gathered some of the finest session musicians in the UK. The front cover picture is somewhat misleading as it shows Shayne on his own, in worship pose, holding his guitar. I expected to hear a Martyn Joseph sound, but I wrong. Instead, we get a cross between the Hothouse Flowers and Deacon Blue, with a little American rock thrown in for good measure. The opening ‘A Worshipping Man’ is a great start, and the backing vocals of Didi Ward are especially good. The musicianship throughout is first class, but never better than on ‘When All Is Said and Done’. Shayne’s vocals mellow a little on ‘All You’ve Got to Do is Pray’. Here, the theme is of the assurance of having a loving, heavenly Father, and the guitar sound incorporated works well. There are many high points to this album, but songs like ‘Memories’ and the superbly produced ‘Sail off Into the Night’ deserve a mention. Finally, ‘All for You’ closes proceedings. It’s a piano led song that really opens and then gets into your heart. Shayne hopes to tour later this year, and become a full time musician in 2010. With music like this behind him, he has every chance of succeeding. 9/10 Album of the Month : April 2009

JEAN WATSON : Everything Can Change ( Jean Watson is a classically trained singer and violinist. She’s visited the UK shores on several occasions for short tours and has been awarded Praise and Worship Artist (USA) by the UK’s New Christian Music Alliance on no less than 3 occasions. The opening title track features some lovely guitar work, as Jean’s vocals soar into a wonderful song. The Celtic –folk style changes for the second track, with more warm vocals working well to a dance beat. On ‘Horse Dreams’, we move back to celtic inspiration, and the simply beautiful ‘Fly Again’ has to be played over and over again. I fell in love with this song earlier in the year when I heard it, and it’s become a firm favourite. Vocally, I found it difficult to compare her to anyone, but my wife thought there was a definite similarity with the UK’s Barbara Dickson. ‘The Dance’ and ‘He Is Here’ are both what I would call “pretty” songs, while there’s a brilliant version of the classic hymn ‘Praise to the Lord’, also on offer. Originally released in 2009, this album is a real treasure. 9/10 Album of the Month. July 2011

WHITEWINGS : Wings Over Heaven. (Private Cassette Recording £6.99 from: Whitewings Christian Singing Group, Hall Cottage West, Main Road, Ballabeg, Arbory, Isle of Man, M9 4LE). Formed in 1996, Whitewings consist 8 girls aged 12-17years and, as the notes state, "3 recycled teenagers", while. As well as local concerts, the girls sang at last year's Easter People in Bournemouth and have already been invited to appear at this year's event in Blackpool. This debut cassette contains 13 songs of which several are very well known. 'Holy, Holy, Holy' is given a special kind of freshness with it's simple, yet effective, arrangement, and 'The Angels Around Your Throne' continues the feel. 'You Shall Be Holy' features a lovely solo part and 'O Righteous God' is simply beautiful. Where the sweet, young voices don't work so well is the uptempo 'Rise Up', which sounds rather thin throughout. However, with backing music provided by Kingsway (slap on the back for them), and Tony Turvey's leadership, Whitewings look certain for greater things. 8/10. Janaury 1998.

WOODENCROSS : XXX. (CD from: Zentgrafenstr.16, 69198 Schriesheim, Germany. Together for more than 5 years, Germany's Woodencross first came to my notice on the excellent 1340 Records "Eurochrist Sampler". Their featured track was called "Ghandi" and, sure enough, it's the opening song on this 1999 release. To be quite honest, I've never heard anything quite like Woodencross. They're punk, ska, a little bit of pop, and a lot of….well, Alien Ant Farm! The guys say that they put a lot of fun into their music, and it's very evident throughout. "Ghandi" kicks off with some great brass before Daniel Meisinger's biting vocals attack. "How" is definitely in the Linkin Park mould, looking at the question of whether you should stick to 'going with the flow' or standing up as a follower of Jesus. "Human World" is a ska/punk number that changes pace well and has lyrics that tell you that the Lord is waiting for the lost with arms open wide. If you want to know more about the band and their beliefs, then "Checkout" will tell you everything. It's another sharp and powerful song that, nevertheless, had me smiling throughout. Some songs are sung in their native tongue but don't let that put you off. It's not usually my sort of musical taste but, in this instance, Woodencross really hit home. 9/10. December 2001.

WORLD WITHOUT END : Bridge. (Private Cassette £6.00 from: Paul Monkhouse, 24 Barley Way, Attleborough, Norfolk, NR17 1YD, England). Guitar driven rock in a Simple Minds sort of way. 6/10 March 1996.

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