Never for Nothing - CCM Record Reviews archive F

FALLING UP : Exit Lights. (Bec : Bed63561)
Well, this must be the strangest album that I've come across for some time. Is it punk, is it rock, is it urban hip hop, or is it - as I think - an interesting experiment of all musical styles? It all starts off in an Evanesence sort of style, but with a male vocal taking the lead. The opening two tracks are both lengthy but quite good. "Broken Heart" subtitled "Ghosts of Seaside" is a prayer of worship, which is then followed by a short instrumental piece featuring nothing but a few sound effects. Featuring Solomon Olds from Family Force 5, "Moonlit" (neon Predator) falls into the hip hop category and almost into "Jesus Freak" territory. The style changes again with "Bittersweet" (A Jedi Force), as synthesizer sounds come to the fore. The most commercial track has to be "Searchlights". It's a good song and I can see it getting a lot of radio play. In their lighter moments, Falling Up sounded very much like a recent album by Leeland but overall, for me, it's an experiment that doesn't seem to have worked. 5/10 (March 2007)
FANNY CROSBY : Safe in the Arms of Jesus. (Elevation : ELE2079D)
2015 marks the centenary of the death of Frances Jane Crosby. This much celebrated American mission worker, poet, lyricist and composer is one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8000 hymns and gospel songs. This album features 20 of her best loved hymns that are still used in churches today. Saying that, there were quite a number of hymns that I had never heard before. Of course, favourites like ‘Blessed Assurance’, ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’, and ‘To God Be The Glory’, really stood out for me. Of the others, ‘Every Day & Hour’ and ‘Saved By the Grace’ were real highlights. All the hymns are sung in choral style, with organ backing. The organ sound itself is a little quiet at times but at least the quality of the voices can be heard quite clearly. Other tracks include ‘Pass Me Not’, ‘Moments of Prayer’, and ‘Rescue the Perishing’. This collection is a throwback to traditional church music that is rarely heard these days. Fanny Crosby must have been quite a lady. I wonder how many Hillsong and Planetshakers songs, will still be sung in a hundred years time? 7/10. (August 2015)
FEAR GOD : God Bless The World, Not Just America. (Thumper Punk Records)
Doug Jutras decided he needed clarity in his life – Jesus provided it and this CD reflects that. Released on the Thumper Punk label, whose tag line is “Jesus Christ Hard Core (JCHC) is spoken here. Fight like a man, scriptures in hand!” you know you’re not in for an ambient trance CD. It does indeed come out fighting, shouting lines like “Love God” over buzzsaw guitar – subtle it is not. It reminded me a certain amount of the Bill Mason Band, including the slower bits such as the spoken verses of “What Am I Doing Here” and the use of the bass guitar to provide the riff. Other bits are more Sham 69 meets the Sex Pistols (especially “Closer He Gets To You”). If anything I think the vocal was a bit high in the mix, which detracted a touch from the energy of the band. “Can’t U Be There” showed what happens when they do this, allowing the slightly psychedelic guitar figure to come through. Lyrically, for a genre that usually focuses so much on anger and injustice, Fear God focus very much on forgiveness and acceptance by God through Jesus, doing so in simple sound bites and repeated motifs (some of which would be very powerful to hear a whole concert hall chanting). It’s not all 100mph drumming as the acoustic (and powerful) “Kelly Testimony” and somewhat jokey countrified “Happy Birthday Dad” show. But mostly it is. Best track: “What Am I Doing Here” (although “Happy Birthday Dad” will be in your head for a week). 7/10. Paul Ganney. (May 2014)
FERNANDO ORTEGA : The Breaking Of The Dawn. (Myrrh : 701257268).
Fernando who? Well, we won't be asking that question for long, if this release is anything to go by! It's the first time in a long while since I wanted to give an album 11/10. How I missed his debut 'This Bright Hour' is beyond me, and there's no wonder it won him a 1998 Dove Award. This new release is just filled with superb music and lyrics that tell of his life and God's influence in it. Hints of Michael Card cast a magic musical spell on the listener, with songs like 'Creation Song' and 'Lord Of Eternity' being so beautiful. The 'Road Song' is just out of this world and the meditational intrumental 'Don't Take Me...' is breathtaking. Soft and gentle, is the only way that I can describe 'When All Mercies...'and I really think that this album should be a compulsary purchase. 10/10. (November 1998, Album of the Month)
FERNANDO ORTEGA : Home. (Myrrh : 7012685263)
Fernando Ortega is described as a 'veteran pianist and songwriter' but it's only the last couple of years that I've caught up with this talented man. Opening with the simple praise of "This Good Day", Ortega shows that - despite the passing years - he isn't afraid to experiment with more modern, upbeat sounds. His mellow, warm vocals are almost hypnotic, and songs like "Lonely Road" and "Winter Song" are sheer magic. The haunting background vocals of Kelly Willard and Cathy Schreiner only add to the brilliance of the finished product, which should appeal to fans of Michael Card. Classic hymns "Give Me Jesus" and "Pass Me Not" are given bright, new arrangements but new songs such as "on the Line" and "Virgina Rose" should not be forgotten. The former sounds like Simon & Garfunkle, while the latter, complete with superb fiddles, reminded be of Eden Burning. Easy listening? Yes, and it's lovely. 9/10. (May 2000)
FERNANDO ORTEGA : Live - The Home Tour. (Myhrr : 080688610234)
Let's get one thing straight from the start, a Fernando Ortega concert video is never going to be a visual extravaganza of special fx or screaming audiences. What you do get though is a brilliant pianist/songwriter, a tight array of backing musicans, and a video full of worship and love for his Saviour. As you might guess, most of the songs played are taken from his "Home" album, but one or two others do creep in along the way. "This Good Day" is one that I've personally played a lot over the last few months and it was really nice to sit and watch the man actually perform such a great song. The concert takes a little while for both the man himself and the audience to warm to each other but, once they do, there's a great rapport and bond. Between songs, his quiet humour comes out and provides another insight into a man who is not so well know in the UK. If you like his albums, you'll love the video but, if you've not yet caught up with Fernando, try this. Over 90 minutes of video footage with songs that will gently inspire and bring you closer to God. 9/10. (April 2001)
FERNANDO ORTEGA : Storm. (Word : 403610024115)
For his 10th studio album, Fernando Ortega looks at the storms of life that we pass through, and how certain people get through them. Here's a guy who's albums never disappoint me. You know the easy going style, yet each new release is different to the last. I instantly fell in love with the first track called "Traveller". It's mellow and calming sound is a prayer to the Lord for all those who travel or/and go astray. That's followed by an excellent duet with Amy Grant as they sing "Come Ye Sinners, Poor And Needy" - very beautiful indeed. Fernando then up's the tempo for a foot tapper, "Light of Heaven" and follows that with the title track. If you've never come across this brilliant artist then the nearest comparison I can give you is Michael Card. There again, as Card depicts Bible truths, Ortega writes about those truths in everyday situations. "This Time Next Year" is sung about yearly family gatherings and all that can happen during that time. There's an assurance that, although apart, God is always with us and makes us feel together. An album to relax and meditate with, an to share with others in need. 9/10. (March 2002, Album of the Month)
FERNANDO ORTEGA : Hymns of Worship. (Word : WD2A-886247)
I always smile to myself whenever I receive one of Fernando Ortega's records to review. Why? Because, I'm rarely disappointed by the content, and his music never fails to bring a warmth within. This Cd sees him collect the best of his own compositions of hymns and worship songs, together with one or two well known tunes. "Creation Song" is a lovely song and I remember it well from it's original release. "Children of the Living God" is sung in a nursery rhyme style, while "All Creatures of Our God & King" has a distinct marching fell to it. The latter is of highest quality and very uplifting to the soul. Your not going to get any rock n' roll from Fernando, but what he does best is to quietly tell a story such as the gentle "Jesus, King of Angels". He's received two Dove Awards and had six No.1 hit radio singles, yet he remains, in the UK, one of the greatest undiscovered talents. 9/10. (April 2003)
FERNANDO ORTEGA : The Shadow of Your Wings. (Curb : 8789522)
As a great fan of Fernando's music over the years, I have to say that I was a little disappointed by this new release. Previously, he's married intricate tunes with catchy lyrics and choruses to bring together a delightful mix of songs. Here, he concentrates on worship, with quiet songs of meditation and prayer. Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood for this when I reviewed it, but the songs quietly drifted past me. "Grace & Peace" is just that. It's a graceful little number and has peace written right the way through it. "All Flesh is Like the Grass" and Let the Words of My Mouth" float quietly by. "Come, Let Us Worship" is a medium paced number that calls on us to bow down to God, while Fernando then goes on to give a nice version of "All Creatures of Our God and King". His own interpretation of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" comes next, and I'm sure it will meet with approval even by the staunchest supporter of old hymns. I don't think that this is a particularly brilliant album, but these are the words and songs of a man who truly knows what it is to live for God. 7/10 (May 2007)
FEW LEFT STANDING : Wormwood. (Solid State Records)
After hearing this album you can definitely tell why they are named 'Few Left Standing'. Definitely not a band for the feint-hearted as their adrenalin packed music throws everything at you; insane drumming, screaming vocals and amazing guitar riffs that will leave your ears ringing. If you don't listen to the lyrics it is hard to imagine that they are a Christian band, purely because it is not the stereotypical Christian-rock that we have come to know. However when you actually listen to what is being said in the songs, you can tell that they are really trying to get the message across in a way that today's youth can relate to. With more and more young people listening to bands such as 'Slipknot' and 'Linkin Park', it is a perfect time for bands like 'Few Left Standing' to get out there. As I went to look on www.fls-online.com to see if they had any previous releases I sadly discovered that 'Few Left Standing' has now split up to concentrate on other areas of their ministry. Nevertheless, in spite of this split, Wormwood is definitely worth a listen for those hard-rock fans. 8/10. Richard Howlett. (June 2002)
FEW LEFT STANDING : Regeneration Of Self. (Solid State Records) www.solidstaterecords.com
I reviewed "Wormwood", the band's previous release, and, being the intrepid reporter that I am, tracked down their website. I did enjoy their last release and so it was to my utter dismay that I found out they had split up! So here I am with their next release… Ok, so somehow I messed up. But at least we get another album and that's all that matters. Now I'm not usually a fan of screamed vocals that you can't really understand, as I usually like the kind of lyrics you can sing along to. However there will be no sitting round the campfire singing the likes of "Blistered Spirit" or "Tears Of A Fallen Man". The offerings from this band may not be to my usual liking but there is just something about them that captivates the ears. What's more the music is not just a backing for these intense vocals from Christopher Stafford, it matches his ferocity beat for beat, you only have to listen to some of the drumming on "Restoration" to discover this. Combined with the impressive guitar and bass work this makes for a very good album. Like I said last time, not for the feint-hearted but an extremely good tool in spreading the good news to the youth of today. 8/10 Rik Howlett. (October 2003)
FFH : I Want to Be Like You. (Essential : 83061-0498-2)
Three guys and a girl make up this Crowded House style band, with a twelve song album that is uncluttered, and very well produced. The songs are based on acoustic guitar, which are then cleverly added to, making a very polished end product. The tracks themselves are quite strong throughout without being spectacular. "One of These Days" starts things off, followed by "Take Me As I Am" - a cry to Jesus - both bouncing along at a steady pace. The title track is in a similar, easy, vein, but "I'm Alright" leans more towards the lbues, andis a turn off as far as this reviewer is concerned. The male vocalist works better than the female and "Wholly To You" shows him in great form, with a beautiful song. As I say, not a spectacular release but certainly one of the better offerings on show this month. With a debut like this, FFH should be around for some time to come. 8/10. (April 1999)
FFH : Still the Cross. (Essential Records)
It's a while since we've heard from FFH, but the wait has really been worthwhile. This is one of the best pop praise albums that I've heard for a long time. There's loads of catchy hooks and the guitar playing just has a certain edge. There's so many potential radio hits on this album it's one glorious song after another. "You'll Drive I'll Ride" would be my pick of the bunch, but it's a hard decision t make, because the songs are just so good all the way through. "Without You" praises God for all He does in our lives, including those things that we take for granted. "Still the Cross" is contemporary praise at it's best while, the knowing that God is with you, every moment of the day, comes to the fore on "In This Moment". There's a theme of personal relationship running throughout the listing, but it's not just God that's praised. A loved one is given praise, too, on the delicious "Another Day With You". Believe me, it will be hard to find a better pop praise album out at the moment. 10/10. (January 2005)
FICTION FACTORY : Fiction Factory. (EMI)
This is a difficult CD to place, Acoustic guitar led rock music probably is the best way to describe it, but it has influences from so many different people in the music. It's actually a really interesting album, the opening track "When She's Near" has some very nice harmonies on it, and there is a definite mid '60's Beatles sound to them. Then the next couple of tracks are very much in the style of "Crowded House" "War in the Blood" is very Simon & Garfunkel, and the final track "Look For My Baby" is pure Bob Dylan, and yet with all this acoustic music there's the occasional sound effect thrown in that Pink Floyd would be proud of. The variation of styles seems to keep this CD fresh, and unlike a lot of acoustic albums, it doesn't run out of steam half way through. You could stick this on just as background music, or you could sit down and listen to it in detail. Certainly one of the best CD's I've heard for a while. You can get it from here. http://store2.bandfarm.com/fiction-family 8/10 Andy Sayner. (February 2009)
FIGHTING INSTINCT : Fighting Instinct. (Gotee Records)
Fighting Instinct are a new American band from the good ol' US of A. Gotee have a good pedigree for finding fresh, innovative talent and providing the world with ear candy, but unfortunately this record is more miss than hit. First though, the positives: T.J. Harris (vocals and guitars) has a searing vocal which, like his apparent idol Eddie Vedder's, will never go out of style. While Fighting Instinct are by no means simply a Pearl Jam/Creed/Lifehouse etc copy cat band, Harris's vocal stylings do, for the most part, give rise to that obvious comparison. However, there is diversity in this record. Beginning with the slightly Eastern sounding rifforama of "I Found Forever", with its Zeppelin-esque overtones to "You Don't Know", the album's standout cut, which sounds closer to grunge, all the way through to closer "Just to Please You", "Fighting Instinct" showcases an obviously talented and tight band, with some top production from the ever-dependable Skidd Mills. Sadly, though, there's virtually nothing which could be called "new" or fresh on this record and it is therefore difficult to see it truly standing out amongst the plethora of Christian rock releases of 2006. Solid, but disappointingly unspectacular. 7/10 Haydon Spenceley. (January 2007)
FIKE : The Moment We've Been Waiting For.  (Integrity :  50572)
This is the debut CD by husband and wife worship leaders Richie and Dana Fike, from Colorado. Slickly produced pop ccm, some tracks feature Dana on lead vocals, others Richie. Both are accomplished, note-perfect vocalists (with no discernible auto-tune present(!) – Richie's voice a typical 'tenor with gravel' and Dana's clear and pure. The overtly 'Christian message' lyrics can be easily followed, and are also included in the CD insert. Opening with the title track, Dana takes lead vocals on what is in effect Fike's equivalent of Phatfish's 'There is a day' – i.e. about Christ's second coming. This is a good album overall, but three tracks stand out for me. I wasn't surprised to discover that the bouncy 'Wait', with Richie on lead, was evidently released as a single – I'm blowed if I can remember the artist/band that this track reminds me of,  but it's very good! Dana's slow, worshipful delivery of 'Glorious You are' is very effective, and the slow and bluesy closer 'That's why I praise' best shows what Richie can do vocals-wise – excellent. Downsides? Only one really – with mostly good sound quality, it is a pity that one or two tracks sound thrashy and compressed. I must mention however that the front cover features a clock ('the moment we've been waiting for – geddit?!) that has its hands out of alignment! Significant, or what? A worthy 8/10. Dave Deeks (November 2012)
FINCHLEY : No Clouds. (ICC : FM0002)
For those of you not up to date with the UK Christian music scene, Ian Finch is currently cutting his teeth as a solo artist after years of being part of the Liverpool outfit Supervision. This son of a Baptist minister has taken a few risks and produced an entertaining, if not spectacular, debut in the adult rock scene. After a solid opening couple of tracks, he gets into the purple patch of the album which begins with the energy of 'This Journey'. There's some good guitar work in this song, and the same can be said later on in proceedings with 'Prodigal'. My favourite track has to be 'Contraflow', a song about growing up as a man. Musically, it reaches into the territory of A-Ha, and the vocals really work well. Of the other songs, 'Sun Spots' is worth a mention, as is the closing 'Struggle On'. It's as if God were crying to one of His lost sheep, struggling with life under their own steam. I found it wistful, yet quite moving at the same time. For a debut album, there's a bright future predicted for Finchley and I'm sure he will only improve with time. 7/10. (June 2008)
FINDING FAVOUR : Finding Favour. (Gottee : 669447004417)
Blake Nee Smith (lead singer,vocals), Dustin Daniels (bass,guitar,vocals), Josh Duckworth (drums) and Allen Dukes (guitar,vocals), make up this South Gerogia based band. The first song, ‘Shake the World’ has a good singalong chorus, which tells us how we should all sing and march for Jesus instead of conforming to the secular world. It’s a good opening song, and probably the best of this 6 song album. ‘Love Stepped In’ tells of how God can change your life. It’s slightly slower in tempo, and seemed to remind me of another song, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The overall sound of the group is quite pop orientated and I thought, at times ,Finding Favour sounded like Philips, Craig & Dean, from a few years back. ‘Hallelujah We Shall Rise’ tells of the day we will meet Jesus face to face, while the case is put forward for Jesus to be our ‘Hero’ on the following number. I found the album to be a bit bland with it’s sound. Smith’s vocals are quite good, but the MOR songs left me a little disappointed. 5/10. (November 2013)
FINE CHINA : You Make Me Hate Music. (Tooth & Nail Records)
Yeah … me too. Cheap joke I know, and probably unfair, but by the time this album reached the end of its first play I was about ready to chew my own foot off!! To be fair to Fine China, there is nothing here that I would describe as "bad", it is just terribly dull and lives, musically, in about 1985. Half the tracks sound just like "The Cure", another couple like "The Smiths" and even one like Hull's "The Housemartins". If you were into those bands (and I never was) you may well like this album but, for me, it doesn't get out of 2nd gear. Subjective tastes aside, the major irritation is one of production. The vocalist "can't sing" in the same way that Robert Smith (of "The Cure") "can't sing" and it suits the backing quite well, but his quiet voice just gets lost in the jangly guitars, and it is impossible to hear what he is singing about - something that is very high up my list of priorities where Christian music is concerned. On the positive side, the middle two tracks ("You were a Saint" and "Boo to the Freaks") are pretty good, and break the general monotony by introducing some nice acoustic guitar playing. Unfortunately, whichever way you look from there it is downhill all the way. 4/10 David Cooper (June 2002)
FIONA POULSON : Stay. (www.fionapoulson.com)
Based in the UK, singer songwriter Fiona Poulson says; “My growing awareness of the main call on my life to write song and my passion for mission led to me step out into the uncertain but exciting world of worship leading wherever asked – increasingly prophetic worship – writing songs whenever I get the opportunity, and finally getting some songs recorded.” Let me say straight away that this is not your ordinary worship album. Listening, I got the impression that this is very much a concept album, with more than just a passing nod to the styles of Florence and the Machine and Gungor. “Liberty” is a strong opening number, with Fiona’s piano playing at the forefront of the song. “I Wait for You” is a quieter song, where she sings of Jesus. Fresh and bouncy are two words that describe “How Infinite”, celebrating God’s love. “Wonderful, this love that rescues us” – how simple, but so true! “Compelled By Love” shows a completely different side to Fiona’s singing. Gone are the sweet poppy sounds and in, come a “gnashing of teeth” vocal, which comes over very alien to the rest of the album. There’s an atmospheric sound to “Stay”, while “Feathers” returns to that more easy listening sound that I think suits her best. “Reigning Now” didn’t quite light the blue touch paper for me, but “Vast Ocean” really does convey that feeling of prophetic and spontaneous worship. It’s well produced and is a highlight of the album. Finally, Fiona ends with a folky rendition of one of my childhood favourite hymns “When A Knight Won His Spurs”. Keeping enough of the original tune, she adds her own twist and breathes into it, new life. Hats off to this lady for not producing just another, run of the mill, worship album. To get the most out of this release, you need time to sit and listen carefully. 8/10. (January 2016)
THE FIONA SIMPSON BAND : Seasoned With Salt. (Private Recording) Details from: Brenda Adams, 15 Foxhall Road, Timperley, Cheshire, WA15 6RW).
By their own admission, The Fiona Simpson Band are not really going to have mass appeal to your run of the mill teenager or person in their early 20's. But, for the last 3 years, the four members of the group have played God's music to countless folk around the UK. The album was made as a result of pressure from concert audiences and part financed by faithful supporters. If you're going to pick a fault, then the overall production is not quite in the same league as, say, Avalon. There again, we're only talking about a budget which is a fraction of that used by our Atlantic brothers & sisters, and that should be taken into account. What you get is 10 tracks that cover such songs as "Champion of the World", Sir Cliff's "From a Distance", and "Come and See". Fiona's vocals are very much in the Marilla Ness style (recorded at the same studio) and are very warming to the ear. I really loved the version of "We Are More Than Conquerors" and will continue to play it over and over again. Graham Kendrick's "Thorns in the Straw" is simply beautiful and the clever delivery of Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise" gives the listener a sense of peace and tranquillity that only God can give. A lovely album. 8/10. (May 1999)
THE FIONA SIMPSON BAND : All About Love. (Private CD £11; Cassette £7 inc p&p from: Tel: England 0161 928 6672. E-mail: brenda-adams@ukgateway.net)
Radio 1 listeners and local IRL Station listeners will, no doubt, turn away from this release. However, for those of us who like the more melodic tones of Radio 2 and BBC Stations, the new FSB album will go down like tea and scones on a June afternoon. Hopefully, that June afternoon will be bright and sunny, because that is just what this release reminds me of. The content is a mixture of cover versions and originals, the latter showing just how the band members, themselves, are beginning to mature. The opening "Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again" is a Kendrick number that immediately shows off the warmth and depth of Fiona's vocals. "Shout For Justice" is the first 'home grown' offering and is, perhaps, the weakest track on offer. Sentiments about N. Ireland and Bosnia are touching but the finished article sounds rather dis-jointed. However, "Why Me?" proves that their songwriting talent is emerging with this gentler sound. Concerts over the last 12 months have only served to improve the musicianship of the FSB and, together, they prove a solid outfit. "I Saw You There" is a catchy little thing that I had never heard of before, and "All You Have To Do", is a lovely song with a simple message on how to accept the Lord in your life. 9/10 (May 2000)
THE FIONA SIMPSON BAND : Dance. (CD : www.thefionasimpsonband.co.uk)
How lovely it is to hear the warm and charming voice of Fiona, accompanied by the band, in fine form once more. Following a nasty bout of pneumonia, Fiona has recovered well to give her best on this new release. To me, the track listing sounds more like a live gig set. It begins with the bouncy "All that You are" which is followed by the Beth Nielsen Chapman/Eric Kaz song "All I Have is All I Need". The band seem to have looked at a few country influences this time as Leanne Womack's wonderful "I Hope you Dance" is also included. Original songwriting continues to improve from the band and Fiona, along with Brian Adams (no, not that Brian Adams) present the teriffic "Resurrection Angel". Likewise, Graham Jackson's "Love Flowed Over Me" has a wonderful quality, as the Lord is praised for all His goodness. The FSB continue to minister to the easy listening audiences up and down the country, but this new album does see them successfully stretch themselves both musically and lyrically. 8/10. (November 2003)
FIONA SIMPSON & BRIAN ADAMS : Grateful. (www.fionaandbrian.org)
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)
FIREFLIGHT : Now.   (Essential : 83061-0933-2)
I haven’t heard a rock album like this for some time. It’s raw, it’s powerful, and still manages to put God at the forefront of each song. With lead singer Dawn Michele belting out the lyrics, she’s got fantastic support from the rest of the band. Crunching guitars reminded me of Evanesence, or more recently The Pretty Wreckless. The current single, ‘Stay Close’ starts things off, asking to know more of God. The duet on ‘Escape’ has Dawn’s vocals soaring, while she is more controlled on the lighter ‘He Weeps’. On this song, the lyrics asks where God is, during our trials? ‘Keeping Me Alive’ loses some of the band’s angst, but ‘Stronger Than You Think’ soon puts the band back on track. I must admit that I haven’t listened to a lot of rock over the last few years, but this album has really re-ignited my interest. Fireflight may rock, but they still can put in catchy hooks on songs like ‘Prove Me Wrong’ and the classy ‘Rise Above’. The title track ends the listing at breakneck speed, and it’s worth reflecting on just what the band have given in just over 36 minutes. More of the same please Fireflight!   9/10. (May 2012, Album of the Month)
FIRST CALL : Second Birth. (Elevate Entertainment : B01GUA9AQ8)
I’ve always been a fan of the tight harmonies of vocal group First call so I was delighted to be asked to review this, their reunion album aptly titled Second Birth. The opening track O Sifuni Mungu is a re worked version of a popular song from one of their 80’s albums. It has the tight harmonies you would expect from this vocally gifted group. However there was nothing fresh about this version. There are covers of popular worship songs like Mighty to Save and In Christ Alone as well as an interesting version of the old spiritual Wade in the Water. This was the stand out track for me. I can’t fault the vocals etc but this album felt a bit stale. I would have liked to hear some original songs rather than covers and a fresher, more modern sound. I had great expectations for this album which sad to say weren’t filled and I was somewhat disappointed. 3/10 Angie Lendon. (September 2016)
THE 500 SERIES : Volume 5. (Kingsway : KMCD2432)
My second triple box set review this month, consists of "50 of the most popular praise & worship songs sung in churches today. On these sort of compilations, you usually find the same musicians and singers appearing time after time, and this is no exception. Simon Goodall, Ingrid DuMosch, and Calvin Bottoms all flex their vocal talents, while Andrew Green's keyboard and programming techniques beef up the music. As for the songs, there's nothing to really dislike, it just depends on your preference of church music. There's too many songs to list individually here but I did enjoy hearing the likes of "So Freely", and Be Still and Know" for the first time in ages. Then, there's "I Will Call Upon the Lord" and "Holy Holy", both great songs in their own right. My only other advice would be to check out the full listing before buying and weigh up just how many of the songs you like. 6/10. (July 2003)
FLAME : Our World Redeemed. (CMR : 8-81413-00302-0)
This is the second instalment in Flame's two-part audio novel, and sequel to his album 'Our World : Fallen'. The two-part album captures the story of Flame befriending a non-believer and pointing him to the cross of Christ, while examining the fallen condition of the world. This second part sees Flame teaching and encouraging his friend in Christian life, from ethical values to Biblical principles, and certainly the lyrics are sound. Influenced by the hip hop culture, Flame seems to have gone for the Eminem approach of vocal delivery. I got the feeling of a lot of aggression in songs like 'Who Can Pluck Us' and 'Hold On'. I'm not sure if this type of music is still big time in the States, but listening to the current UK charts, I don't hear a lot of music to compare this too. 'On the Cross' talks about Jesus dying for us, while '2nd Coming' depicts just that and asks if you're ready for Jesus' return. I think I'm right in saying that Flame's delivery is every bit as good as similar artists in the past. I just wonder if it's, now, a bit dated? 6/10. (April 2008)
FLOW : Sense (ICY/ICC : ICCD21230).
I first bumped into this lot at last year's JAM Festival and filmed a couple of songs, they were quite impressive. This album has now been dusted, polished, and fine tuned by ICC and it is a good debut. Today's music critics will liken them to Sleeper but I, as a mature student of the arts, think they've got the Blondie panache. "I Never Said" has that such style about it, crossed with the Brit feel that I think it's Top 10 material. Nesse Hodges' vocals carry an eerie resemblance to Debbie Harry and this shines out on "Limelighter". "Zion" is another strong song which is only one of many that is driven by purposeful guitars and rhythms. With the right media push, I can sense Flow growing. 8/10. (July 1997)
FOCUS ON THE FAMILY : For Such A Time As This. (Starsong :7243 82021520).
The first album in this series "Renewing the Heart" not only ministered to many, but also won a Dove Award for the best Praise & Worship release. Here, Kim Hill is, once again, the woman at the forefront of things for this second collection. With contributions from writers such as Matt Redman, Martin smith, and Brian Doerksen, we're treated to songs and hymns, old and new. In typical fashion, the album begins with a couple of fine bouncy praises. "Come, Now Is the Time To Worship" sets things off, and "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name" continues the great feeling of what it really means to be a child of God. You know the formula with these live albums and everything is just what you expect. They slow things down for some gentle worship, and then it's back to the joyful sounds of "For Such A Time As This" and, my favourite, "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever". Apart from the dreadful version of "Blessed Assurance", all the old songs are given just respect and delivered well. Another successful release. 9/10. (July 1999)
FOCUSFEST 2000 : Thank You For the Cross. (Kingsway : KMCD2281)
4200 ladies met together from many churches in Ireland and from other parts of the world, to worship and hear God's word at this ecumenical event, Focusfest 2000. Geraldine Latty, once again, skillfully leads worship combining a superb collection of, mostly, modern p&w songs. The album opens with an old favourite "Amazing Grace", and then "All Heaven Declares" (Noel & Tricia Richards). My favourite track comes next, "Lord, I Come", written by Latty herself. This is a beautiful, heartfelt, prayerful song. It is the most recently written song on the album and, therefore, I had not heard it before. There's a good selection of songs, put together well, and well supported by the singing and music. Writers such as Matt Redman, Stuart Townend, and Graham Kendrick, all feature on an album that mixes quiet and reflective times with lively numbers such as "Lord I Lift Your Name". All in all, a very nice, live worship album. 9/10. Pam Robinson. (December 2000)
FOCUSFEST 2001 : The Sound of Grace. (Kingsway : KMCD2349)
When 5000 women join in exuberant praise and intimate worship, it can only be the sound of a live recording from this year's Focusfest Event. Led by Geraldine Latty, there's also contributions by Maire Brennan and Kristyn Lennox. Using Celtic, gospel, traditional and contemporary styles of music, this is an album that the male population will also enjoy. It's a little slow to get started but once you've listened to the medley of "What Can Wash Away My Sin" and "Have You Been to Jesus", you'll be worshipping along with the rest of the album. Brennan sings a lovely version of "O Jesus Friend Unfailing" in that old folk style while "Over All the Earth" will have you singing it for days. Using a good celtic drum beat, there's a new feel to that old favourite "Praise to the Lord God Almighty". "Forgiven" is sung with such feeling by Lennox and accompanied by the gentle piano playing of Jonathan Rea. So, whether you're male or female, this album should fulfill everyone's taste in praise and worship. 9/10.
(November 2001)
FOCUSFEST : Perfect Love. (Kingsway : KMCD2652)
More than 2000 women from Ireland and beyond gathered together in Belfast for the annual Focusfest event to explore themes of identity, intimacy and impacting their communities for Jesus. Under the leadership of Geraldine Latty, this album captures a glimpse of the celebration and awe that was experienced within the worship as the women expressed their thankfulness and praise to the God of perfect love. There's something about an album of pure female voices that results in a freshness in the sound and the album itself seems to gather momentum as the listing proceeds. "Almighty God My Redeemer" and "Everlasting God" are two early highlights but it's "Jesus Hope of the Nations" which really sets this recording alight. From then on, the songs literally jump out at you, embracing you in the Father's love and soaking you with the spirit. The accapella version of "Immortal Invisible" is very moving, while "Faithful One" exudes a warmth of praise. Certainly, this is one recording worth adding to your praise and worship collection. 8/10. (December 2005)
Focusfest 2007 - There is a Higher Throne (Kingsway KMCD2820)
As the title suggests, this CD is a live recording from the annual Focusfest women's event held in Belfast with Bristol based Geraldine Latty leading worship as she has done successfully for a number of years. The tracks are well known CCM with such modern classics as Townend/Getty's "In Christ Alone", "Strength Will Rise (Everlasting God)" and Matt Redman's "Blessed be Your Name". The Irish influence is never far away in most songs, with some great fiddle & penny whistle motives dotted around giving it a bit of a lift from the otherwise quite bland arrangements. Don't get me wrong; the band play well together & vocals are OK, but there's a bit more of a lift needed to appeal more to those listening to the recording. I have no doubt the event itself was fantastic & that the 2000+ women there were greatly blessed by the worship, but it just doesn't translate too well onto CD. Personally I have very mixed feelings about live worship albums; I have heard some real corkers with great & passion where listening is about as close to actually being there. Others however are somehow missing that vital depth element which is the case here, which makes it pretty average as a recording. 5/10 Simon Redfern (January 2008)
FONO : Goes Around Comes Around. (Reunion : 02341 0011 2)
Ever since these guys were picked to play support to Bon Jovi in Milton Keynes, it seemed certain that it was just a matter of time before they made it big, in Christian Music. With all songs written by Guitarist and vocalist, Del Currie, this is the big debut. What's it like? It's like Jars of Clay meets Radiohead, with Therapy overtones. It's loud, and it's quiet. It's brash, and it's bold. "Under My Skin" is an obvious track for a single and would go down well on both sides of the Atlantic. Driving guitars run alongside Currie's raw vocals in a cocophony of radio rock. "Something Must Be Happening" continues in similar vain but "Strangest Thing" slows things down for the first time. It's aplodding number that is very Radiohead, although not an instant favourite. The obligatory acoustic rocker comes in at track 7, "Now She's 24", a number that tells of a girl full of hurt finally giving her life to Jesus. It really is a bout time that another British band took the CCM market by storm and, with the Gig Guy's help, Fono could well be the ones. 8/10. (November 1998)
FONO : Too Broken to Break. (H5D Records H5DCD02. www.fono.net )
It seems to have been ages since I came across a Christian CD with a bit of energy about it, but this one certainly has that in large doses. I know that in the CCM press Fono are being talked about very positively, and this CD shows why. It's non stop Rock and Roll from start to finish, and I enjoyed every track. The final track "January Rose" was the most outstanding song for me, maybe because the intro reminded me a lot of the Beatles "Tomorrow never knows" as it has the same rhythm, and one of the other tracks has a keyboard riff in it which is reminiscent of The Motors "Airport". The words are well thought out, and I would think that most people would be able to identify with something on here. There are some tracks off this CD on Fono's Myspace page so have a listen for yourself, Without a doubt though, this has to be the best CD I've reviewed for a long while. 10/10 Andy Sayner. (July 2008)
4 HIM : Obvious. (Benson : 84418-2205-2).
Four guys, and four superb voices are the main product behind the name 4 Him. Actually, it's the first time that I've come across them and I was expecting a rather dull offering, judging by the cover photograph. But, as the saying goes, never judge a book by it's cover! Some lovely vocal harmonies are backed by the cream of US session musicians to give a good, finished product. I had to look closely at the songwriting credits as on numerous occasions, I could swear it sounded like ex-ELO man, Jeff Lynne. 'Songs and Wonders' being just one of those to instantly make the mark. 'Let the Lion Run Free' is more US pop and a strong number to start. The album tends to fade towards the end, with the funky 'Who's at the Wheel' sounding distinctly odd compared to the rest of the songs. Ballads such as 'Great Awakening' and 'The Hand of God' will make sure that 4 Him have a hit record on their hands. 8/10. (September 1998)
4 HIM : Best Ones. (Benson : 84418-2395-2)
Nine years since their first album, and seven albums to their credit, 4 Him have now produced a collection of greatest hits. I have to admit that when I was asked to review this CD, I had never heard of this band before. I am pleased, however, that I was asked as they are good and have produced a quality recording, with excellent vocals, music, and lyrics. I would compare their sound with some of the boy bands in the charts at the moment. My favourite track is "The Basics of Life", a similar sound to Boyzone - my husband disagrees, he says they are better than Boyzone. I also track 9 "Before the River Came". The words are soul searching and I imagine they would echo the feelings of most Christians. The whole album is good and well worth listening to. 9/10. Pam Robinson. (July 1999)
4 HIM : Walk On. (Word : 080688615321)
As producer Brent Bourgois says on the sleeve notes, 4 Him are "the finest man band in a sea of boy bands". Quite a claim, but one that seems to have stood the test of time. Indeed, time and again, this quartet have come up with polished, God centred pop music that just draws you in to the sincerity and passion of the band. The slick harmonies are on show throughout but shine even brighter on tunes like "Let The Healing Begin" and "The Waiting". "Surrender" is 'pop perfect' - what a brilliant song. I cringed a little on the rocky "I Know you Now" as it felt really out of character to the rest of the track listing but that was soon forgotten as the guys belt out classics such as "One Foot in the Water" and "Eyes of the World". The only other disappointment was the closing "Love Boomerang" which got a bit bluesy and a messy towards the end. Otherwise, another hit for 4 Him. 9/10. (April 2002)
4 HIM : Visible. (Word Records)
4 Him are four good old American boys who have constantly made good pop albums over the last few years, such as the excellent "Walk On". "Visible" continues the success story but relies, somewhat, on a format, perhaps, too similar to the last two releases. "Fill the Earth" is the strongest cut on offer and is very radio friendly. I can see that being a No.1 hit all over the US. There's a happy feel about "the Final Word", as well as the slow stomping "Candle in the Rain". The usual harmonies work well and the musical background is sound without being OTT. The title track and "Let Your Kingdom Come" are rather weak in presentation but, otherwise, it's another polished affair. 7/10 (January 2004)
FOR THE SAKE OF THE LOST - Passion and Purpose Worship Series. (ICC Records)
Expectations were high, and I got the distinct impression that this was going to be a Vineyard-like CD, which meant that it was going to have a lot to live up to. Featuring the Worship Leaders from the Detling Summer Conference, (which I must admit to having never heard of before). The album starts well enough, with a meaty guitar intro to the first song "Whatever it Takes", which is a good, strong and well put together, as is the second "My God is Strong", - although it never quite reaches the same level. After that, it all goes a bit downhill I'm afraid, with only one other song, "Everybody, Everywhere" really worthy of mention. Having begun strongly, it loses it's edge, the guitar disappearing well back into the mix to be replaced by piano and keyboard. This means that the whole thing slips into standard worship album mode, and a little too clichéd for my taste, offering nothing in terms of originality. This is a shame, because I feel that with a little more thought and experimentation, some of these songs would really shine. The overall feel is not helped by some of the vocals having a "Cliff Richard" type quality, which doesn't really suit what I think they are trying to achieve, or by a female vocal that suffers from some poor intonation on the higher notes. The vocals, on the whole, are a bit of a let down. However, one of the biggest mistakes they make is in ripping themselves off. The hook lines to both "Mercy" and "Thank You" are practically identical (and they both sound like a Boyzone song) which is a bit unforgivable. So sorry folks, I really wanted to like this album, and its only a few steps away from that, but I couldn't warrant spending my money on this over the latest Vineyard release. 5/10 Robin Thompson (December 2003)
FOREVER JONES : Get Ready. (EMI : 5099969472824)
When doctors told Dewitt and Kim Jones that they couldn't have children, that wasn't what God had planned for them. For, some thirty years later, the happily married couple have released their debut album, along with all five of their children! From Shreveport, Los Angeles come the Jones Family with an album that has already scored them a number 11 hit on the Billboard Gospel Charts. Think Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Jackson's, and you'll get an idea of some of the funky sounds that are used on the songs. I'm afraid that their take on gospel didn't hit the right note for me, as I couldn't hear most of the words on the title track. However, on the delicate 'He Wants It All' and 'Heavenly' one of the female singers does make some really sweet sounds. 'Jubilee' has a touch of "The Way You Make Me Feel" to it, while the summer sound of 'Adoration' is quite catch, too. It's a praise and worship album that all fits together quite well, and I'm sure that we'll be hearing more from the Jones family in the years to come. 7/10 (February 2011)
FOREVERAFTER : Foreverafter. (Word : 080688597825)
Not too sure what to make of Foreverafter. Sometimes they can be quite poppy, sometimes they can be downright morbid. Mind you, on "Holy Spirit" it's dancey, it's club, it's the sort of thing that wouldn't be lost on any WWMT release. "The One For Me", on the other hand, is more industrial in sound and the vocals get a bit lost in the mix. "Oasis" changes things, yet again, and is a lovely relaxing number with great vocals and harmonies. Based on Psalm 23 it tells of hope, peace, and the unconditional love that only God can bring. "You shouldn't worry about what you don't know, rather what you do know and how you live", so says "Who You Are". It's a light pop production but quite effective nonetheless. It's not a brilliant release but it's not bad either. 7/10. (December 1999)
FOUNDATIONS OF THE FAITH - The Holy Spirit. (Kingsway : KMCD2075).
This record is one of three in a new series exploring the great themes of the Christian faith. Reflections, Scripture, quotes and songs help groups or individuals to meditate on the fundamental aspect of the Gospel. The inlay notes with this release include extracts from the best selling book by Dr Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. The songs themselves contain no surprises though with 'Purify My Heart', 'Send Us the Rain, Lord', and 'River of God' being only three of this well known collection. Saying that, the songs are all carefully and soundly arranged, giving a first class result.. If you use daily Bible notes, I think that you will find this album quite helpful but, if not, why not give this a try? 8/10. (December 1998)
FOUR KORNERZ : Soulectric. (UB1 Music :1903212)
Four Kornerz have recently entered into a groundbreaking tie-up with Youth For Christ, which will see this outrageously talented aggregation showcasing their music and faith to the young people of the nation. Right now, there is no band on the UK scene better placed for this work. Soulectric is a funk-filled 72 minutes of great grooves, soulful vocals and songs which are just plain good. Not "as good as what's on the radio", they're good in their own right. This isn't some 'mainstream alternative', this is something fresh and artistic in its own right. They have all the bases covered: "Soul Flower" and "ClapClap" have dancefloor filling choruses; "Gonna Make It" features some top class rapping, while "Conquerers" slows things down to soulful ballad territory, with some delicious guitar licks. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. This band should be huge. Enjoy the music and support the vision. 9/10. Haydon Spenceley. (September 2007)
FOY VANCE : The Wild Swan (www.foyvance.com)
It’s not every day I get a CD to review that I’d just walked past in HMV so I was interested in what this might hold, knowing nothing more than the artist’s name (and clearly being behind the curve on this one). Recorded in Nashville with Tom Waits’ producer, executive produced by Elton John and released on Ed Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man label, this CD has pedigree. Quality-wise, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s expertly written, played and recorded. It drips with Southern charm – “Blues” was the best I could find as a category to place it in. It has a sliver of Richard Hawley (especially on the wonderfully-named “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution”), hints of Dr John (“Upbeat Feelgood”), echoes of Hothouse Flowers (“Fire It Up”), memories of Van Morrison (“Be Like You Belong”) and a nod towards the Eagles (“Unlike Any Other”) [Hothouse Flowers and Van Morrison are the strongest overall]. All this is without losing its own identity: the tracks all feel like they belong together. They are not a set of cultural references gathered together, but a single work of art. It cruises along nicely without really breaking into a full-on sweat and as such I found few tracks leaped out to grab my attention. Foy has a lot of fans so I may well be in the minority there. Best track: “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution”, for that wonderful shuffle beat. 7/10 Paul Ganney (September 2016)
FRANCESCA BATTISTELLI : Hundred More Years. (Fervent/Curb : 080688808624)
This is Francesca’s second album, following a three year break from her debut release. During that break, she’s found time to get married, and give birth to her first child. Many good things were said about that debut, and the wait for fans has been greatly anticipated. The first single, ‘This is the Stuff’ reminded me of Philippa Hanna’s latest music, with plenty of country influences thrown in. the track’s lyrics tell of all God’s blessings, despite every days distractions that can turn our heads. ‘Angel By Your Side’ is a lovely ballad, and well performed. If I had to pick one song out for airplay, then this would be the one. It flows well, and you’re eagerly waiting for the chorus to start again so that you can enjoy it. The style is pure pop, but it’s a little more grown up than Francesca’s first record. Her voice is warm and I was instantly aware that the style was in the Susan Ashton/ChristineDente mould. ‘Motion of Mercy’ and ‘Emily’ are both good songs, with David Banes duetting on the latter. ‘So long’ has traces of U.S East Coast sounds, as the song tells us of the long wait to find God. It’s an album that I believe shows the beginning of a transitional period for her, as both her singing and songwriting matures. Certainly pop fans will enjoy this outing. 8/10 (August 2011)
FRANKLIN McKAY : Motley’s Anthem Deluxe. (www.facebook.com/franklinmckaymusic/)
Despite a couple of tracks having “Dance” in brackets after their names, this is overall a gentle CD. The beats are there, but very much in the background: more a 3am wind-down than a 10pm wind-up, with occasional pop blasts. Franklin McKay has enjoyed chart success, in the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart (4 times, no less). Vocally he’s gentle, too, with a style somewhere between Tears For Fears and Christopher Cross but mostly Robbie Williams / later Take That (“Without Your Love” is so much in this vein that I had to check that the outro vocal wasn’t by Robbie). Lyrically he’s less a commentator on faith and more a commentator on life and relationships (e.g. “Connected”, all about how we are all connected and yet not really so, missing out on the person we might want to sit and watch the world go by with; “What Might Have Been” about how you can’t look back on what might have been). The songs are well crafted (as you’d expect) and executed and are very listenable and the album grows on you the longer it goes on, as though he’s getting more comfortable with his material, dipping slightly at “Someone (Dance)” which may have benefitted from the removal of the keyboard riff. There are three different versions of “Destiny”, a good song, but not the best on the CD. That honour goes to “More Than A Memory”. 7/10. Paul Ganney. (June 2016)
THE FRANKS : Love Drunk Soul (www.thefranksonline.co.uk)
Kicking off with a bass line that sounds like it came straight from “You Can’t Hurry Love” this CD gets off to a cracking start with “Nobody Loves You”. It’s very much classic Motown/Early Soul in style (“R&B” is the closest I could get from CR’s genre list). Lyrically they’re mainsteam, singing to/about human love rather than heavenly (plus failed love, as in “Lies” and “Take A Long Look”). Vocally The Franks are very good, sharing lead duties around and the harmonies plus backing are superb (check out “Take A Long Look” for a great example). The brass work (from the Blackjacks Horns) is classic and the guitar nicely understated. I loved the bass rhythms, like on “Lies” and the cover of “The Night”. Sadly the vocals here didn’t have the power such a song requires, a rare exception. Their rock and roll medley “Jenny Takes A Ride” was fun, but not as polished as the earlier stuff. Overall they’re much better at the Motown/Soul styled material with which they really do hold their own and they would be a great band on a summer festival stage. Best track: “Take A Long Look”. 7/10. Paul Ganney (November 2015)
FRED HAMMOND : God, Love & Romance.  (Verity : 88697-80990-2)
As original co-founder of the RnB gospel group Commissioned, Fred Hammond’s career span more than twenty years. This latest 2 CD package contains a mixture of romantic ballads with traditional, worshipful gospel originals. There are also a number of spoken Bible verses that relate to the following song on the track listing. The first disc concentrates on human love and relationships, especially marriage. ‘When I Come home to You’ declares the joy of a husband being so grateful for the love of his wife. It’s a nice song, and a very smooth sound. ‘I’m In Love With You’ needs no description, it’s just a very simple love song, in the Teddy Prendegrass style. I must admit that the dialogue between songs didn’t help the flow of the music but it did show that a lot of thought and prayer had gone into the make up of the album. The second CD is basically praise and worship, and includes the hit single ‘I Feel Good’. Again, the music is smooth RnB and works well on songs like ‘I Will Lift Him Up’ and ‘You’re Gonna Make It’. U.S gospel doesn’t always make the transition to the UK but this one is worth a listen.   7/10. (November 2012)
FRED HAMMOND : United Tenors. (RCA Inspiration : 88765-45597-2)
Gospel star Fred Hammond has joined forces with fellow Gospel artists Dave Hollister, Eric Roberson and Brian Courtney-Wilson for this record. Over in the States, the album has already reached #1 on Billboard's Gospel album chart and #7 on Billboard's 200 pop album chart. As you would expect, the quality of the songs are first class, with the RnB number, ‘Unshakeable’ being an early favourite. The tenors’ voices really come to the fore with the ballad ‘Here in Our Praise’. The harmonies are superb and it’s a lovely song. Similarly, ‘I’m in the Midst’ is smooth gospel at it’s best, were the voices gel together well. I found myself tapping my foot to ‘I’m Reminded’, while ‘Everybody Get Up’ reminded me of the Backstreet Boys in all their pomp. Gospel lovers will lap up this collection of songs, and others may well find a surprisingly good album. 7/10. (October 2013)
FREDDIE BRUNO : The Ballpoint Composer. (Uprock Records: 1708)
Freddie Bruno was one half of a hip hop duo that surfaced in America during 2000. now, he's on his own and this album features 15 songs, still in that style. As I've stated many times before, this is not my favoured style of music but I do try and listen beyond my personal tastes, and get to what the artist is conveying. The songs are very much standard - the sort of things you hear on the radio these days. Nothing seems to really grab your attention especially, but "Miss Bonita" comes close. If I'm right, it tells the story of a lady of the night, and why you should keep away from her. "Rock the Beat Within Your Heart" tells you to keep the faith, and to do what's right in your heart, not your head. So, there's messages there and, if he's preaching to hip hop fans, then Freddie Bruno looks to have got it right. For me, though, it's just another album. 6/10. (September 2002)
FREE CHAPEL LIVE with Ricardo Sanchez : Moving Forward (Integrity Music 42302)
The name Free Chapel conjures up visions of a small town church but in this case we couldn't be further from the truth. This August release comes live from a 14000 strong multi-cultural church in Georgia USA & that's well - pretty huge! Much of the material is written by worship leader Ricardo Sanchez & the award winning Israel Houghton which means at least the recipes are original, not recycled. The international nature of the congregation is evident from the first song 'Great God' through to 'Celebrate' at the end with Spanish lyrics & salsa rhythms. 'Great God' has a cracking 1 minute intro absolutely bursting with flavours including Arabic rhythms, Indian Sitar accompaniment and a thumping drum rhythm. With the song setting off at such a strong pace however, I couldn't help but be slightly let down by the rest of the tune which although it was a very reasonable live pop worship song, didn't follow on smoothly from the intro. The tunes of 'Say So' and 'Awesome God' follow in a similar vein with energetic pop/rock worship, occasionally bordering on Vineyard styles & slowing down nicely mid-album in typical worship album fashion. The musicianship is excellent throughout with some impressive orchestral arrangements in 'Moving Forward' and vocals are polished from the leaders & the enormous list of backing singers, but even so I just couldn't get over-excited by this CD. Impressive ingredients this CD may have, but I think somehow they were just a little overdone to excite the musical taste buds & set it apart. 5/10 Simon Redfern (December 2007)
FREESLAVE : Project Freedom. (CD £5 & £1.50 postage www.freeslave.org.uk)
Regular readers of NFN will know that Haydon Spenceley is a teenager who has cerebral palsy and has been given an award by Whizz Kidz, a national charity who provide mobility aids for disabled children, and the Millennium Commission to record and produce a CD. The 5 track Cd isn't perfect,let's not deny it, but it does have it's moments. The opening two songs "Fly" and "Real Love" are a mix of 70's rock and The Smiths. Indeed, Haydon's vocals, at times, do have that Morrisey inflection. "All I Want is You" on the other hand, doesn't work and Haydon's vocals become quite ragged at times. The music quality needs tightening a bit but there's nothing to suggest that a few more live gigs won't put that right. Haydon says that the band aims "to show the world that whatever ailment or disability a person may have, or think that they have, be it physical, emotional or whatever, it is possible to achieve your dreams," and "to show people the one true way to freedom - through faith in and life with Jesus.". Freeslave have done just that, and now need to build on this promising debut. 6/10. (October 2003)
FREESELAVE : 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. (www.ambiencerecords.co.uk)
"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 www.freeslave.org.uk 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)
FRIENDS OF CEDAR CHURCH BIRMINGHAM : Love is the Heart of Christmas Time. (www.cedar.church)
Along with his wife Sarah, Andrew Kisumba ministers at the Cedar Church in Birmingham, UK, and is the songwriter behind this festive song. He says; “Christmas can be a sad, lonely, tense and uncertain time for many people around the world. [But] for 2016 years and counting, [God’s] truth has continued to bring hope, joy and freedom to countless souls. Over the ages, a vast array of Christmas traditions have developed around the globe, but if you reach into the season you will find love is the heart of Christmas time.” And there we have the theme of this single release. Sung and produced in the style of Mary Mary, it’s a gospel song that captures the essence of what Christmas should be. The lead female vocalist has a great voice and it’s complimented by an excellent choir. There’s a melodic tune and easy to learn chorus, and numerous traditional carols get a name check. Mind you, I had to smile at the line that says; “Don’t mind Mariah Carey blaring everywhere you go.” The CD version comes with the full version of the song, plus radio, instrumental, and backing track edits. The latter is especially useful if you’d like to sing a new song in church this Christmas. 8/10. (December 2016)
FUNKY FROG : Praise Songs 4 Kidz. (Kingsway : KMCD2886)
Wow, what a wild cover! A vivid green cover with 'Funky Frog' dancing away on the front greets you on this 4 CD kids compilation from Kingsway - certainly grabs your attention! It is pretty obvious from the presentation (plus that cursed "trendy" spelling) that this is squarely aimed at the younger children, so who better to tell me what they think than my own darling offspring? Well, it kept them reasonably occupied on a long car journey which on its own is worth a bundle! For much of the time, both of them (5 & 10 years old) were jigging along & making up actions which was great to see. There were some "oh Dad, turn it off" comments from them (or words to that effect) & after repeated listening I was more than happy to oblige. It is a very odd mix of tracks & styles which has a plus side as kids get bored quickly, but what did let it down mostly were the variations in the quality of the musicians, recording & vocals. This went between extremes with some cracking rhythms on tracks like "Blessed Be The Name of the Lord" which was very different to any version I've heard before - kind of Bad Manners meets St Winifred's & a wonderful tune I didn't know called "Grace Is", which had a very catchy South American rumba beat complete with full band, rhythm section - the works! At the other end of the spectrum, there's a quite a number of grim renditions - prime examples of this being "God Made You" (Casio-tone keyboard sounds, off-key kids vocal & cringey lyrics), the well-known "Not by Might" (over-pronounced vocals & badly executed pseudo-reggae style) & Jump (very formal violin accompanied - a bit '50s Playschool). You certainly get a lot for your money, because as well as the tracks themselves each CD has all the backing tracks so they could used as "karaoke" versions which is an excellent idea. This album has a lot to offer & does a reasonable job for the target audience, but personally I would have put a little more focus on the quality than quantity. 5/10 Simon Redfern (November 2008)
THE FURROWS : I’ve Come too Far. (www.thefurrowsmusic.com)
The Furrow Family has been known for their ministry through the Word and song for over 100 years. Greg, Paul, and Sarah make up the latest rendition of a legacy that has impacted many lives. This family group brings the best of classic southern gospel with a unbeatable family harmony dynamic. Their latest album is called “Here & Now”, and from it comes this single release. The bright opening piano sound is crisp and clear and soon, Sarah’s voice floats into song, to lead the way. Harmonies are tight, as you would expect from these seasoned professionals and provide the perfect backdrop to the lead vocals. The theme of the song is clear for all to hear. Travelling along God’s road; “I’ve come too far to ever turn back. I’m pressing on, I’m staying on track.” It’s southern gospel at its best, and this song is available as a free download at their website. 7/10. (April 2016) Forward to the next archive
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