Never for Nothing - CCM Record Reviews archive M

THE MACCABEES : 21st Century Spin. (www.spiritmusic.co.uk)
I never heard a single thing from this band when they were known as Dissident Prophets, so I'm not able to say if and how their music has changed. The press release says "think Velvet Underground, The Ramones, and Lamb all thrown together." Well, I can definitely hear the Ramones influences, especially in "Run For Your Life" and the absolutely brilliant title track. The song is pure gold. Simple lyrics that tell of how we're brainwashed into following today's culture, instead of the truth's of Jesus. I've played it so many times that, it just has to be a radio hit - are reading this Cross Rhythms?. The band have obviously worked very hard at putting this album together and the finished product is first class. As well as those previously mentioned, I thought there was a bit of the late lamented Television in songs like "Keep My Lamp Burning", and the jangly pop of "Do You Know Love At All". Not quite my album of the month, but pretty close. 9/10. (August 2003)
MACCABEES : Modern Man. (www.maccabees.co.uk)
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)
THE MADDY LEIGH BLUES BAND : Nickles & Dimes. (CD £10.95 from: Maddy Leigh Ellison, 29 Chapel Lane, Walton, Liverpool, England, L9 2BY)
Well, it's taken some time but this album has finally winged it's way to NFN towers. The question is, was it worth the wait? Fronted by Maddy Leigh herself, the band name sort of gives away the type of thing to expect. It's 60's blues with a millennium twist. Take, for instance, the opening "Faith to Follow". Great Hammond organ from Ted Gardner, and extreme slide guitar on the part of Jeff Scheetz. "Impossible Things" sounds like a jam session rather than anything previously rehearsed but the result is quit epleasing. "Heaven Sent" gives you visions of being in a New Orleans bar, as Maddy's vocals tastefully praise God's gift of Jesus to all. You know when you hear people moan who never seem to be satisfied with what they've got? "Moan, moan, moan" asks those people if they'll ever be happy. Marc Ellison plays some catchy guitar riffs throughout and he's backed by some quality muso's. I felt that, once or twice, the songs were a little too samey, although "Takin' It Easy" seemed to owe a lot to the Beautiful South's "Rotterdam". Oh yes, before I forget, and I wish I could, please don't make me listen to the version of "Amazing Grace" again. Apart from that, yes, this album was worth the wait, and is a must for serious blues fans. 8/10. (April 2003)
MAGNIFY : In Wonder. (Parachute Records - PMD 029)
This debut album for New Zealand based Magnify kicks off with four extremely strong and engaging songs. The opener "Glorious" has as catchier a chorus as you are likely to hear and contrasts well with the more hard-edged title track "In Wonder". "Love Divine" (not the traditional hymn) takes the tone down a notch before the band returns with all guns blazing in "Blown Away", complete with rap interlude. After that, it changes direction and becomes a more Vineyardesque affair, somewhat confusing in a sense and leaving me wondering just exactly what is the sound of this band? At times, its Y-Friday, other times Delirious all with a vocal style reminiscent of Bono in the higher phrases. Having said that, this is a good album and I found myself singing these songs after just a few listens - always a good sign. Lyrically, its pretty light, with simple sentiments succinctly expressed but they still have room for the odd great line, like the one in the song "Fallen for You" - 'Your heart is an ocean of love and devotion'. So I'm still going to rate this album highly because, even though it might not be entirely original or completely coherent, it is a great listen and one to keep playing. 9/10 Robin Thompson. (July 2006)
MAINSTAY : Well Meaning Fiction. (BEC : BED74433)
Mainstay are made up of Justin Anderson, Ryan Deyounge, and Dan Ostebo. They've been together for a few years and were influenced by the punk scene in the home city of Minneapolis - where they also went to college. There's still traces of that punk element on this recoding, but on the whole, it's a smoother, more rounded affair that greeted my ears. In fact, I thought they sounded a lot like Savage Garden. "These Pages" is a melodic, guitar pop song about how the rest of the world see Jesus. "Yesterday" has the same kind of beat, but "This Could Be" speeds things up a bit, with some catchy hooks. There's some nice guitar work on "Overnight on Nicollet", while "Danger" takes a look at the grace of God. The album's produced by Aaron Sprinkle, who's previously worked with Kutless and Pedro the Lion, and there's a certain polish to the finished product. My only complaint is that the some of the songs tend to drift into one another as they sound very much alike. It's a pleasant listen, without being terrific. 7/10. (August 2006)
MAIRE BRENNAN : Perfect Time. (Word : 7019965601).
The voice behind Clannad releases her first Christian album, using the sound and formula that has made them so renowned throughout the world. From the opening moments of the first track "The Big Rock" you are simply carried along by the wonder and beauty of God's gift of music. The title track tells of His perfect timing in your life, while "The Light On the Hill" can only be described as terrific. (Excuse me while I play it again). All the famed styles of Clannad are there including the predominantly vocal "Na Paisti", sounding a little like "Harry's Game". The pipes, the whistles, and fiddles are all to be heard, as well as Maire's moving harp playing on the instrumental "Doon Well". I don't posess a single Clannad album in my collection yet, after the first play, I couldn't wait to play "Perfect Time" again. All too often, the CCM release of a well known secular artist falls a long way short of it's hype. On this occasion, the album more than lives up to the press release. Buy it, and prepare yourself for something special. 10/10. (April 1998, Album of the Month)
MAIRE BRENNAN : Whisper To the Wild Water. (Word ; 7012632267)
Building on the success of her last album, plus the Top 10 UK hit in collaboration with Chicane, Maire releases another crop of Celtic style music. In all honesty, there's no surprises in the resulting album, it's all cleverly produced and in the same winning formula that has proved so poular with fans the world over. "Follow the Word" is a good opening piece and sounds as if it should be a film score, rather than just another song. It's medium pace is soon slowed down the "Where I Stand" and "Hard to Break the Seal" - more haunting in melody. "Ageless Messengers" moves the pace on again and I found myself re-playing this track more than any other on the album. As I say, "Whisper…" doesn't break any new ground for Maire but, then, why disappoint the fans? 8/10. (December 1999)
MANAFEST : The Chase. (BEC Recordings : 829982115195)
I have a love/hate relationship with Christian Rap. I love the fact there are Christians out there providing a welcome antidote to the negative and potentially destructive subject matter often associated with its secular counterpart but hate the style of music. However, this album might just be the one to fix that. As with much of the genre in recent years there are distinct rock overtones, the crunching riff on "Supernatural" being a prime example and I can definitely hear shades of Kutless and Relient K throughout the whole cd. This provides the album with a colour and variety and prevents it from becoming overly tedious. There are some great hooks in the refrains and Manafest demonstrates that he's a half-decent singer. "Married in Vegas" seems the obvious hit to me and, though he has already enjoyed limited US chart success with "Avalanche", and also released "Np Plan B", I think there are better tracks on here that could and should, if there is any justice, do even better. 10/10 Robin Thompson (September 2010, Album of the Month)
MANCHESTER VINEYARD: Reach. (ICC : ICCD63830)
Manchester Vineyard was planted in 1989. Their goal - ministry to young adults. Described as an exciting, vibrant place to worship God and to be challenged by his word. Looking at their website I notice that this is a very active church involved in various ministries and especially with young people. This is an excellent C.D. Vocals, music and lyrics superb, and consistent throughout. These were all new songs to me, and after having listened to the album a few times can do no other than give it a good review, which it well deserves. It has been put together very professionally. The style of Manchester Vineyard is very similar to that of the Vineyard Music Group. If this is the style of music you like, then I would recommend this album to you. My favourite tracks are:- No.2. All I Can Bring - female vocals and heartfelt worship and praise; No.4. Your Love O Lord - male vocals, a praise song, and No.8. Who May Climb - male vocals, worship and praise. I notice that most of the songs have been written by members of this very talented music group. The lyrics say everything. An excellent worship and praise album. Pam Robinson 10/10 (June 2002, Album of the Month)
THE MANDATE : All For Jesus (Kingsway : KMCD2166)
Now I have to admit that I'm not a worship CD lover as quite often the atmosphere of the occasion isn't captured on the recording, and this one is no exception. The Mandate was a conference for men held at the Waterfront in Belfast, and the worship was led by Robin Mark, Northern Ireland's premier worship leader. All the way through the album, the arrangements are very Irish folk with an accent on accoustic guitar, fiddle and penny whistle - a kind of male Corrs playing worship songs and hymns! Particularly good are 'There Is A Place Of Commanded Blessing' and the medley which immediately follows it of 'Amazing Grace/No Not By Might/AreYou Washed?'. As the album progressed however, I found that each song/hymn was given the same treatment - moderate to slow, folky sound which dragged. The only exception was one of Robin's own, 'As Sure As Gold (Revival)'. I was beginning to wonder why Barry Bynum was credited with lead guitar, but I could just hear him on this track. It seems to have been a tremendous evening live, but just doesn't make it onto CD. Of course, I'll not be able to go to the next one, it's all men. Now there's a thought ... 6/10 Julie Lord. (May 1999)
MANIFESTO : We Believe. (Integrity : 00076850712)
Here's another collection of modern worship songs for today's church. Rather infuriating, again, is the fact that there are no artist credits given - why do they do that? 'Awaken Me' praises the King of Glory and it's a tune that really gets into your head. On the downside, it's a rather lengthy number, as is the title track. I find that when songs are strung out for too long, they lose their impact somewhat, but that may be a personal thing. 'Your Great Name', written by Michael Neale and Krissy Nordhoff is a powerful song, and is equaled in it's intensity by a great ballad called 'O The Blood'. On 'Rooftops' there's a fine female vocal performance by someone, who's name escapes me. She has a rather annoying, nervous laugh at the end of some of the lines of the song, and that can be quite off-putting. Some of the songs, I would find difficult to join in with for worship, as they sound more like a performance than an act of worship. However, there should be something here for most lovers of modern, contemporary worship. 7/10. (October 2012)
MANSION OVER THE HILLTOP - A Tribute to the Legendary Ira Stanphill. (Daywind Records : DAY 1288D)
I'm not really sure who this Ira Stanphill is, but he's not legendary around North Yorkshire as far as I know, so I was expecting another collection of sickly American worship songs. However there are enough different styles of music on here to keep it interesting, ranging from acapella gospel choirs To jazz bands and most things in between. There are several different people playing on this album, including various members of the Stanphill family. However the only one that I have heard of before is Johnny Cash, who does a track called Suppertime, apparently this is the original recording. Most of the tracks on the CD are in a different order to the sleeve, so it's a bit awkward to work out who is doing what, especially with the instrumental tracks, but this is an advance copy, so I guess they will have sorted that out on the release version. Most of the songs are a bit corny to be honest where the lyrics are concerned, but despite this it's still worth a listen just for the contrasting styles. 6/10 Andy Sayner. (January 2004)
MARANATHA MUSIC : Communion.
Before I begin, I will confess to knowing next to nothing about Marantha Music, apart from being something akin to the Vineyard Music Group. This pre-release copy came with no sleeve or any other details. Initially, when I put this CD on I was a little taken aback as I really didn't think that this was quite my taste in music at all. My husband had very similar thoughts. The first track is verty traditional, male voice choir, Holly, Holy, Holy. But, then, the second track "I Will Remember Thee" has a celtic touch to it. This change of traditional to contemporary runs throughout the album. As I continued to listen to the album I found myself quite enjoying these different styles. This CD is quite unique to me and has been put together very professionally. The vocals, instruments and lyrics are all excellent. My favourite track is "My Soul Finds Rest" and has a Middle Eastern flavour. I doubt that this collection would appeal to the younger generation but, otherwise, there is something for everyone. I like this CD very much. 9/10. Pam Robinson. (July 2001)
MARC JAMES : Surrender. (Survivor : SURCD5169)
Just in case you don't recognise the name, Marc James is the lead singer for the rock band Verra Cruz. This is his first solo album, and it's style is pop/rock, compared with the heavier stuff of his aforementioned band. The opening 'I Worship You Now' rocks things up from the start, declaring the "You (God) are high and lifted up". In 'Father Above', Marc takes part of the Lord's Prayer for the chorus, and moulds it well into a fine song. The title track was, apparently, written some 11 years ago, but it sounds very fresh to me. I really enjoyed the searing guitar within the song and it took me back to the heady days of Bon Jovi in the charts. Marc is also a worship leader in the Vineyard Church, and you may well catch him this summer at various Soul Survivor Events. If you do, I'm sure that there will be a good helping of songs from this album on show. 'Your Love Endures forever' and 'Blessed Rain' are good songs, but 'Everything That I Am' has a great beat, and celebrates God's love and mercy. I must say, that I found a lot of the songs to be uplifting, and that's not often that a rock album does that these days. 9/10 (August 2010)
MARGARET BECKER : What Kind of Love. (Sparrow : 7243 85171628)
Whenever I see the name of Margaret Becker, my mind wanders back to one of the first CCM albums I ever bought, her debut called "Never For Nothing". From it, not only spawned the idea for this fanzine but, two roc k bands. The next two or three years saw further excellent releases but, since then, the product quality does seem to haveslipped somewhat. Unfortunately, this collection of brand new songs is nothing out of the ordinary. With her sleek, smooth voice, Margaret delivers light soul music that is perfect for playing in the background. "Friend For Life" is the first track, and there's no big kick to launch the album. No, this is Margaret at her best, gently bringing thelistener closer to God. The title number slips by without notice while "I Won't Be Persuaded" shows what soul music is all about. There's more of a groove feeling to "Hope in a Hopeless World", that reminded me of several Simply Red numbers, while the odd jazz and folk elements shine through on others. With this, her tenth album , Margaret Becker will still disappoint fans of her ealry work. 6/10. (January 2000)
MARGARET BECKER : My Refuge. (Kingsway : KMCD2492)
Readers with long memories will, no doubt, remember all the times that I've mentioned that an effect Margaret Becker's first album had on my early Christian life. The title track became the inspiration for this publication, and another spawned the Hull based band Giants Will Fall. Since then, I've longed for another one of her albums to have that same effect. "Immigrant's Daughter" came close but since then, nothing. This album sees her respond to requests for an acoustic type recording, featuring some of her songs from the last 10years. As much as I'd love to wax lyrical about it, this album doesn't do much for me at all. It was, however, nice to hear one of my personal favourites again, "Just Come In", but in this form, it's lost a lot of quality. There is a good version of "Hear All Creation" - which featured on the New Irish Hymns collaboration, but those are two highlights in an, otherwise, disappointing affair. 3/10. (July 2003)
MARGARET BECKER, MAIRE BRENNAN, JOANNE HOGG : New Irish Hymns. (Kingsway : KMCD2329)
With the pedigree of these three ladies, you know that by putting them together, the result is going to be something quite astounding. Composer, Keith Getty, is the man responsible for most of the music, while each of the singers contribute to the words. It's sometimes a little difficult to tell the voices apart but that didn't stop me enjoying the opening "Your Hand O God Has Guided", nor the following upbeat "With the Early Morning". If I tell you that the musicians include Terl Bryant, Tim Harries, Phil Keaggy and Troy Donockley, you'll also understand just how good the sound is. As it's written by her, I'm sure that it's Becker's lovely vocals that take the lead on the lament "Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer" - 4 minutes of pure joy. "Hear All Creation" picks up the pace again while "In Christ Alone" builds into a crescendo of celtic beauty. Each track could be described individually for it's wonderful content, such is the quality of this release. It's one of those collaboration albums that comes along every so often and is truly a gift of God. 10/10. (December 2001, Album of the Month)
MARGARET BECKER, JOANNE HOGG, KRISTYN LENNOX : New Irish Hymns 2 - Father, Son & Holy Spirit. (Kingsway : KMCD2490)
The first of this series was a storming success. Now, Keith Getty presents a follow up that is bound to follow in it's predecessors footsteps. There's no Mairre Brennan this time, but the voice of Kristyn Lennox more than makes up for that loss. I had to listen to the first album again to confirm that this one begins with much more power in it's presentation. Co-written with Stuart Townend, Getty let's the heaven's open with "See What a Morning - the Resurrection Hymn. I've used this word a few times lately, but this song is truly awesome. Then, it's "I Will Trust", lots of energy and reminded me of something from Riverdance. "Join All the Glorious names" swings along nicely before we, finally, pause for breath with the gentle lament "My Heart is Filled". Both musically and vocally, I can't fault this recording, it's been a real listening pleasure. 10/10. (December 2003, Album of the Month)
MARGARET BECKER, KRISTYN GETTY, & JOANNE HOGG : New Irish Hymns 3 - Incarnation. (Kingsway : KMCD2564)
As a fan of the first two albums in this series, I was really looking forward to hearing this one, dedicated to Christmas. I was slightly put off by the opening prologue, but settled down, undaunted, to listen. The striking thing about those previous albums has been the spark of life contained within each song, that dances effortlessly through your mind. Sadly, on this release, that spark seems to have been lost. What I did find is that a lot of the tunes from the first releases have been re-sampled to give an air of newness but, to the well trained ear, it's fooling no-one. "Holy Child…" is an acoustic based tune that is gentle in both spirit and presentation but I found the rest of the album to lack any real passion. Certainly, there's no feel of a joyous Christmas, and I cannot commend this album to be on par with that of it's predecessors. 3/10. (December 2004)
MARGARET BECKER, KRISTYN GETTY & JOANNE HOGG : New Irish Hymns 4. Kingsway : KMCD2650)
Here we are, then, with the 4th release of this series. I must admit, that I thought the last album was sounding a little tired so I wasn't sure what to expect this time. What you do get, is a collection of 12 songs that range from the power ballad sound of "The Power of the Cross", to the worshipful "Speak O Lord". "Your Glory Be Ever Known" has a typical Irish/celtic feel to it, but the song is rather short in length. "When Trials Come" lends more than a passing nod to the tune of "Be Thou My Vision", while "Light of God" commands great respect as a hymn. The vocal talents of the three singers are unquestionable, but I do think that Keith Getty is slowly running out of ideas. "Every Promise" shows that the man can diversify with his sound, a slow march which tells you to stand on every promise of God's word. I have a minor moan about the printed lyrics, which are almost ureadable, being of red print on gold background. 7/10 (April 2006)
MARGARET BECKER, MAIRE BRENNAN, JOANNE HOGG & KIRSTEN GETTY : New Irish Hymns - The Complete Works. (Kingsway : KMCD2858)
With four releases before this one in the 'New Irish Hymns' series, here we have a 3CD compilation of the previous tracks. More than 'hymns', think in terms of female-vocal-led, superbly written, performed and produced 'new Irish pop ccm' and you get the idea. Keith Getty is the co-composer throughout, tracks varying from rock-pop to slow and reflective - all with high class instrumental/orchestral arrangements. The four vocalists have outstanding though quite different voices, but unfortunately the songs are not individually credited - so to know who is singing what, you need to be familiar with them. Margaret Becker first made a name for herself as a solo artist, more recently joining the 'Out of the Grey' duo to become part of Ashton, Becker and Denté. Máire Brennan and Joanne Hogg became famous as the lead singers of Clannad and Iona respectively. Kristyn Getty issued a cassette and CD as Kristyn Lennox before marrying Keith Getty four years or so ago. Stand-out tracks for me from CD1 were 'In Christ Alone' (probably Keith's most famous co-composition, with Stuart Townend), 'Join all the glorious names', and 'Oh for a heart'. Favourites on CD2 were 'Prologue', the waltz-time 'Over fields of green', and 'See what a morning'. By the time I reached CD3 I was getting a bit tired(!) but found the rocky 'Hear all creation' to be particularly strong. It is worth checking out www.gettymusic.com. All very good, worth 9/10. David Deeks (June 2008)
MARGARET TANDOH : The Jesus Project. (www.facebook.com/margarettandohmusic/?fref=ts)
Zambian born Margaret took a break from recording from 2005, as she got married and then had two beautiful girls in quick succession. Last year, she released the EP “I Turn To You,” and now she’s back with “The Jesus Project.” I must admit that I don’t get many UK gospel acts to review, so this was a welcome addition. First of all, let me say that Margaret has a terrific vocal range. On the ballad “Jesus I Turn to You” she really belts out the words, whilst at other times, she can be soft and gentle with her voice. From the off, you can tell that you’re listening to a very well-produced album. The sound is first class and the gospel choir backing is nothing short of wonderful. With “Free” Margaret’s vocals soar, while she gives glory and praise to Jesus on “He Reigns.” There’s a call for God to send His sprit on “Holy Ghost”, with the plea to “Move among us, revive us.” “Lift Up His Name” finds Margaret with a more uptempo tune, that has quite a modern dance feel to it, while “No Other Name” is quite a catchy number. If I have to be picky, “Victory” didn’t quite match up to the other tracks, in my opinion. Perhaps the sound was a little too much like one of the previous songs, I don’t know. What I do know is that Margaret’s new release will be a blessing for those who love gospel music that communicates Jesus’ love for us all. 8/10. (August 2016)
MARIA GILPIN : Giving It All. (www.7coremusic.co.uk)
Maria Gilpin is a talented singer songwriter from Portadown, Northern Ireland, and leads worship alongside her husband Mark at Portadown Elim Church. Drawing influences from artists such as The Civil Wars, Foy Vance and The Lumineers they travel from place to place with their music, hoping that people can relate to the songs they sing. Maria says; “Through our music we hope and pray that people will find peace in Jesus and see that they aren’t in their journey alone.” This 5 track EP gives a taste of what to expect from a live performance, kicking off with the title track. It’s a piano led song that tells of surrendering all to Jesus to find a new life. “You Give Life” follows that theme with a light, shuffling rhythm. You can hear real feeling in Maria’s voice during this song, which is accompanied by some nice acoustic guitar sounds. On Lead My Way”, she attacks the song vocally, and her delivery reminded me of classic Alanis Morrisette tones. Plodding on at pedestrian pace is “Fashioned By”, my least favourite track. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I found the song to be less appealing than the rest. Finally, the closing “Overflow” sees Maria tackling a big, powerful ballad, and she comes out on top. Vocally perfect, as she sings “Take my heart and let it overflow,” it’s a good end to a nice recording. 7/10. (November 2016)
MARILLA NESS : How Can I Keep From Singing. (Video) (Merciful Love Music).
Every Christmas, there seems to be a new Foster & Allen, or Daniel O'Donnell video for us to buy our respective parents. Sound familiar? In a similar mould comes the sweet sound of Marilla Ness, whom we meet for the first time in NFN, despite 5 album releases. This video would never win prizes for it's originality but, nevertheless, it does the job. Marilla is seen, and interviewed, at various locations in both Northern Ireland and Cheshire singing such well known songs as 'Be Still' and 'Jesus We Enthrone You'. There's also some new songs there, 'What Colour is the Wind' being one of my favourites. Christian music videos are few and far between and Marilla Ness should be congratulated and encouraged by this release. 8/10. (December 1996)
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 vocalist. 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, Album of the Month)
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. (October 1999, Album of the Month)
MARILLA NESS : On Holy Ground. (Merciful Love Music : MLM302) - Video
By now, regular readers of NFN will have learnt that I AM a Marilla Ness fan. In the three, or so, years I have listened to her music I've been constantly amazed at the way she can deliver such beautiful numbers such as "Holy Is His Name" and "Jesus the Healer". Both tracks are now featured on this video which joins Marilla on a trip through the Holy Land. Here, she sails on the Sea of Galilee, wanders through the garden of Gethsemane, and many other historic places which help to depict the life of Christ. As well as the fifteen songs, there's readings from the Gospels, plus her own thoughts, to gently take you on a memorable journey. One of my favourite songs "Beautiful Scandalous night" is included, as are "I Am the Bread of Life" and "Holy Ground", all sung as only Marilla can. 80 minutes of pure bliss that finishes with the triumphant "Alleluia He Is Coming", signifying our risen Lord to all. What more can I say? This video will minister to many, in countless ways, as well as aiding personal worship. 10/10. (April 2000)
MARILLA NESS : Jesus My Joy. (Merciful Love Music : MLM126).
My local newspaper recently, rather unkindly, described the listeners to this type of music as the "grey cardigan brigade" - presuming that they all fall into the Over 60 category. Artists falling into that category included Daniel O'Donnell, Charlie Landsborough, and, of course, Marilla Ness. But, why do people have a problem with this style of easy listening music? Certainly not I, as I can testify after attending one such concert and feeling so inspired and touched by God's spirit. And, in the same way, I can only say, once again, just how Marilla's recordings have brought such joy and pleasure to my family over the last few years. Everyone knows her style, typified by that gentle voice and warmth that carefully caresses each song. Backed by her superb musicians, Marilla sings songs old and new on this latest release. "Goin' Home" is sung to the tune of Dvorak's "Morning", and the medley of "I Want to Worship" and "Come Lord Jesus" is simply beautiful. From the Gaither stable comes "Because He Lives" and this song, I found particularly excellent. "Do You Love Me", "Softly & Tenderly", and Robin Mark's "Days of Elijah" are all included by an artist who never fails to deliver. While I don't possess a grey cardigan, I do find great comfort in knowing that this music will minister to many. 10/10 (September 2001, Album of the Month)
MARILLA NESS : Your Song To Me (Merciful Love Music)
It's an old cliche I know but, in a world that's constantly changing, it's a real blessing to have the soothing, constant ministry of Marilla Ness. After initially joining the local prayer group, Marilla first bought a guitar and taught herself three chords so that she could accompany them in song. As she later sang at healing services, members of the congregations began to ask if she could record her music for them. From that initial recording, Marilla has now recorded more than a dozen albums, complimented with a couple of videos and a song book. A minor surprise this time is the introduction of three country tinged songs. All are classics in their own right but "One Day At a Time", "What A Friend We Have in Jesus" and "Amazing Grace" are all given a new lease of life with a fresh sound. "Guardian Angel" was written by an Irish nun and, therefore, it won't surprise you when I tell you just how gentle and peaceful the song is. "At the End of the Day" is filled with simple, beautiful truth, and "Lady of Knock" re-kindles fond memories, for me, of an old Dana recording. For lovers of this style of music, I thank God for likes of Marilla and husband Brian. 10/10. (April 2003)
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 'Holiding 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 (May 2008, Album of the Month)
MARILLA NESS : Best Ever Songs of Worship and Adoration.   (www.marilla.com)
Just receiving this album brought a smile to my face. Some 15 years have passed since I first reviewed a Marilla Ness album, and I have yet to be disappointed. There’s something quite comforting about her warm vocal tones and, as soon as the opening song began I was, once more, transported to that place. To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten just how beautiful ‘Abba Father’ was. Marilla caresses each word, with worshipful musical backing. All the songs come under the banner of ‘worship and adoration’ and include titles such as ‘Dwelling Places’, ‘God of Comfort’ and ‘Tender Mercy’. Marilla’s music is very easy to listen to and thousands have seen her concerts over the years – a testimony to her continued popularity. There are too many songs to individually hold up, but ‘I Want To Worship the Lord’ is simply majestic, while ‘I Believe in You’ is quite beautiful. I don’t think that I will ever tire of hearing Marilla sing. Join me, and bathe in the delights of this wonderful collection of songs, soaking in the presence of the Lord.   10/10. (December 2012, Album of the Month)
MARILYN BAKER : Overflow of Worship. (Kingsway : KMCD2061)
Marilyn Baker is one of the best-known and loved Christian musicians in Britain with a long list of quality, easy listening releases behind her. This album, however, is her first worship album with songs written especially to draw us nearer to God. It's the first Marilyn album I've heard in quite a while and it's quite a low key affair. By that, I mean that the record starts and finishes without ever really either lifting your spirits in any sort of way. Towards the end of the 14 songs, "The Love of God" and "Jesus is Lord of All" begins to stir your soul but, by that time, all you really want to do is make a cup of tea. By Marilyn's previous standards this is rather a disappointing release and one that I hope won't damage her wonderful ministry. 3/10. (May 1999)
MARILYN BAKER : Changing Me & Overflow of Worship. (Kingsway: KMCD2388)
Marilyn Baker has been around, what seems like, for years. I hope she doesn't mind me saying that but, she has! Her music ministry has taken her the length and breadth of this country, as well as many others and she's as popular today as she ever was. Her easy going style is enjoyed by easy listening fans of all ages and this double CD brings us two of her previous albums in one package. For those of you with hissy cassettes to replace, or introducing yourself to Marilyn's music, this is a perfect buy. highlights of disc one include "The Day of the Lord" as well as the slow pace of "Can A Mother". Going back as far as 1982 for the writing credits, Marilyn's writing is centred on gospel truths and never more so than on disc two where "Seeing Is Believing" and "Who Paints the Skies" stand out. Twenty-five songs for you to enjoy and use for personal worship. Just what the doctor ordered. 8/10. (July 2002)
MARILYN BAKER : All That I Am. (Authentic : 50141 82033621)
Now to a lady who needs no introduction to the thousands who have attended her concerts or bought her albums over the years. She is, simply, Marilyn Baker, and her songs are, simply, written from within. "Open My Eyes" tells of the glory of knowing that she has a real, living relationship with Jesus. "Unconditional Love" tells of just that, while "If You Understood" let's you know just how close God is when he's by your side. From the songs, I got the feeling that the theme for this album was personal renewal. There again, maybe it was just speaking that way to me. "All I Hoped For" is a beautiful little song, and Simeon Wood's crafted flute playing on "Son of Man" makes for wonderful listening. Physically, Marilyn may be blind, but spiritually she sees so much. 8/10. (September 2004)
MARILYN BAKER : Christmas with… (Authentic : 8203872)
Although Marilyn seems to have been making albums for years, this is her first Christmas production. But, as she says, she didn't just want to release standard recording of Christmas songs. Instead, Marilyn has lent her own arrangements to well known carols, hymns and song, giving them a new lease of life. Graham Kendrick's "Thorns in the Straw" is a nice song that I don't remember hearing before, while "Long Time Ago in Bethlehem (Mary's Boy Child) works well in it's new guise. "The usual "Once in Royal David's City", "Away in a Manger" and "While Shepherd's Watched", are all on there, but Marilyn's easy listening style adds just that certain something. No doubt, her army of fans will lap up this festive release. 7/10. (December 2005)
MARK EDWARDS : Hymn to Grace. (Kingsway : KMCD2882)
If Mark Edwards is new to you as a performer, you may have come across him as co-writer of a number of contemporary Christian compostions including 'There is a hope' (with Stuart Townend - who says some kind words about the album on the insert), and 'Creation song' (with Kate Simmonds). Both of these songs are included, and feature the excellent vocals of Lou Fellingham. Otherwise however, this CD is an instrumental set - for Mark happens to be an ace piano player, a highly regarded musician and producer on the Christian music scene. This being his debut as a solo performer, he has been able to gather a great group of musicians around him, including Ben Castle on saxophones and clarinet. For me, the first two tracks do not get the album off to a good start - being rather expressionless and soporific versions of 'Great is Thy faithfulness' (solo piano) and 'Oh to see the dawn' (piano, keyboards, cello). Things change considerably for the better however with a superb full-group version of 'Abide with me' done to a gentle jazz rhythm. Other stand-out tracks include 'How deep the Father's love' (great gentle jazz groove), the above-mentioned 'There is a hope', 'Father God I wonder' (set to an almost bossa beat), and 'Lord, how majestic you are'. I found 'Creation song' to be strangely disappointing when compared with the Phatfish version on their 'Unplugged' CD, which features co-writer Kate Simmonds as guest vocalist. Sound quality is superb. A more than worthy first album from Mark then, albeit with the odd track that might best have been left out. 8/10 Dave Deeks (December 2008)
MARK EDWARDS : 'The Mark Edwards Swing Gospel Jazz Orchestra': (Elevation : ICC 1279D)
Towards the end of last year I had kind words to say about Mark Edwards' solo debut 'Hymn to Grace'. Here he returns with his 'Swing Gospel Jazz Orchestra' - this description pretty well describing what we have here, i.e. a largely instrumental album that successfully combines the three styles. Mark continues to show himself excellent at the black and white keys, and is again surrounded by a redoubtable band of talent. Things get off to a rousing start with 'Battle hymn of the republic' followed by 'Wade in the Water'. This may be best known by people of a certain age (mine, that is!) from Alexis Korner's 'CCS' hit in the early seventies. Mark's more laid-back 'Dave Brubeck-like' jazz interpretation makes it the first track in the running order that showcases the talents of bass player Andrew Cleyndert (who has an impressive pedigree, including playing with the Ronnie Scott quartet and sextet). Other tracks that stood out for me, with Andrew's bass again contributing particularly strongly, included 'Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galiliee' and the closing track - the beautifully played 'How great is our God'. 'How I got over' features excellently delivered female gospel vocals, although we aren't told who they are. A shame also that the collaborative writing of Mark with Kate Simmonds on 'Home into your arms' cannot be completely appreciated because this short track is delivered by unaccompanied wordless vocals. A very enjoyable listen however. Production is spot-on, and sound quality superb. Check out www.essentialchristian.com/product_info.php?products_id=29373 . 9/10 Dave Deeks (September 2009)
MARK FERGUSON BAND : Hidden.  (www.markfergusonband.com)
Opening with a gentle hum and a piano run that sounds suspiciously like “Abba Father” you do fear the worst. But as it develops there is a really nice Irish lilt to the tune and it does build well, so it’s worth sticking with, as is the whole album. This is a fairly sparse recording – the drumming is very restrained in sound for example and the album reminded me a bit of bands like Ben Folds Five, Hothouse Flowers and Divine Comedy. The lead vocal is very good – a very clear treble that will lead congregations easily (as is their aim). I did feel that the arrangements were a bit sparse: they felt very mid-service reflective without the big crescendo a full service requires. Even “In This Place” which lyrically (I felt) cried out for a Hillsongs over-the-topness felt restrained. Better in this respect was “Newness” which had a very good lilt to it, complete with some great background fiddle work. Lyrically, it’s very much what you’d expect from a worship-focussed band but “Beneath the Cross” deserves special mention as this is where it seems to all come together, the lyrics sitting brilliantly with the backing, especially as they sing “the cross is not the end” at first gently then triumphantly. It won’t break much new ground, but it is very well done and deserves a listen.   Best track: “Beneath the Cross”.   6/10   Paul Ganney. (October 2016)
MARK HARRIS : The Line Between The Two.
INO Records. 000768336526 I really enjoyed this CD right from the word go, it's an album of fairly middle of the road American Rock/pop songs, but the lyrics are the thing that really stood out to me. Most of the songs are about moving on with God, taking that step of faith into the unknown, you get the idea that all of these songs are written from personal experience, and most of them are quite challenging, and make you stop and think. I would think that most people would b able to identify with these songs. According to Mark's website this is his first solo CD, hopefully he won't just disappear from the scene after one album. If you go to www.markharrisonline.com the tracks from the CD stream automatically in high quality audio while you are browsing, so you can hear them for yourself. These are the full tracks too, not just snippets. So have a listen I reckon you'll probably like it.10/10 Andy Sayner. (August 2005, Album of the Month)
MARK LOWRY : The Best of… (Authentic : 6178 8425592 3)
Even though the sleeve said "Gaither Gospel Series", looking at the photograph of Mark on the front cover, I guessed that this was going to be an American comedy CD. Wrong! Saying that, Mark does try and be funny on the song "God Help the USA" where he takes the role of a presidential candidate. Sadly, the humour doesn't come over that well. On the whole, it's an album of typical Gaither easy listening, gospel music. But, every now and again, Mark Lowry shows just what a great voice he has, especially on "Things to Do". Here, his powerful vocals sound very much like those of Mark Schultz, and the song is just wonderful. The first track, "Bein' Happy" and the ballad "Home" are both sung in southern gospel style, and you can really get your feet tapping to the former. It's one of those albums that I find difficult to enjoy, yet can't say that I dislike it for any reason. I guess that means if you like Gaither music, you'll enjoy this. 5/10. (November 2004)
MARK MALLETT: Let the Lord Know. (CD from: www.markmallett.com
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(September 2005)
MARK PIERCE : Mpfree. (Free download from: www.markpiercemusic.com)
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. (March 2008)
MARK PIERCE : Sing. (www.markpiercemusic.com)
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 www.markpiercemusic.com. 7/10 David Deeks (September 2012)
MARK PIERCE : Catapult. (www.markpiercemusic.com)
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Mark’s music over the year’s and I’ve got to say that this is his finest collection of songs, so far. He writes some really clever songs, weaving lyrics that you don’t often hear in your “run of the mill” pop. ‘Some Place Now’ is a pleasing number to open proceedings, while ‘Gold in These Hills’ has some nice string accompaniment, which adds depth to the bright acoustic guitar. There’s a sound of 70’s band The Sutherland Brothers, on ‘Face the Sun’, I especially liked the way that the verse moves into a faster paced chorus. ‘Too Beautiful’ is a song about (I think) Jesus talking to a lost daughter, or broken spirit. It’s a really touching song, and features Mark’s wife, Sarah, on piano. So many people leave things unsaid or undone in their lives, and ‘Sing’ says, “don’t leave it too late to do those things. Sing out, and sing it loud. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith. Sarah’s piano appears again on the pretty love song ‘Flower in the Summer Sun’. Written by Mark before they were married, it’s a lovely dedication and encouragement to his wife. ‘Life of Miracles’ sounds a little out of place on the album because it’s a rockier sound than the other tracks, but ‘Park Bench Lullaby’ gently brings things to a close, as the song asks God to watch other a child and keep them from harm. On the whole, the album is really well put together, and Mark’s songwriting and production is at its best. An impressive release by a multi-talented man. 9/10. (June 2014)
MARK SCHULTZ : Song Cinema. (Word : 080688613624)
Mark's debut album rewarded him with 7 Dove Award nominations and numerous other industry accolades, such as 3 No.1 singles - including the delicious ballad "Remember Me". His follow up album begins with "When the Mountains Fall". The song proclaims God's glory but, after it's initial power, the song degenerates into a cacophony of noise that sounds like the engineer fell asleep during the final mix. However, "Back in His Arms Again" redeems the failings of that first song with a real polished performance by all. The duet with Rachel Lampa, "Think of Me", is quite nice and things really start to get stronger with "I Have Been There". Schultz's vocals are very strong throughout but don't carry the same conviction on "Kyrie Eleison" as elsewhere. The songs reveal the constancy of God's presence even in the most troubled of times and, although not brilliant, Mark Schultz can count his second album a success. 7/10. (April 2002)
MARK SCHULTZ : All Things Possible. (Fairtrade Services : Pre release)
It’s a long time since I heard anything from Mark Schultz, but I do remember his knack of writing songs that tell a story. The title track is one such song, as it tells of a small church struggling financially but through faith and prayer, God provides. Musically, the album is power pop – not quite reaching the realms of rock. ‘One Day’ brought a smile to my face, with the promise that the day will come when Jesus returns to this earth, and makes everyone whole again. What a promise! There have been lots of songs written about yearning for the material things in this world, and ‘I Gave Up’ is another. But, don’t pass this song by. It’s a happy song about the gifts stored up in Heaven for each one of us, and has an infectious chorus. This is Schultz’s first album since her left Word/Curb Records, and having the production skills of Seth Mosley and Pete Kipley working with him, has brought out the best in this man’s performance. ‘More To You’ is about accepting yourself for who you are, and not how TV & Media glorify beauty and self worth. With such a forceful message, it’s great how the song builds in power. It’s certainly an album that is worth taking time to listen to all the lyrics, as Mark has so much to say. 8/10. (March 2013)
MARK TEDDER : Pilgrims Journey. (Kingsway : KMCD 2724)
This is a quality collection of worship songs from a worship leader whose name is new to these ears, as well as this august publication. Mark Tedder has quite a story to tell, having been sent out from his worship duties in the comfort of suburban America to become the worship leader of BICF (Beijing International Christian Fellowship). The liner notes contain an emotive story of his journey, which also serves as an explanation of the album's content. That content is strong, as befits a release from the popular Mission:Worship series, particularly "All For Jesus" and "Let us Be Broken", both of which are as strong a pair of examples of congregational worship as you'll hear all year. There's a good version of Tim Hughes "Be Me Everything" and the title track, a co-write with our own Paul Oakley, is another quality tune. The band of Nashville sessioners, and production by John Hartley, are both top rate, but this is musically fairly standard stuff. The power is in the lyrics, however, where passion and thirst for truth shine through. This is a great resource from the Worshiplanet pioneer. 7/10. Haydon Spenceley. (May 2007)
MARK TEDDER & THE WORSHIPLANET BAND : The Door - Live Worship from Beijing, China. (Integrity : 845121000436)
Hats off to Mark Tedder. Not only did he go to China to make this epic recording, he actually took his wife and lived in Beijing for two years, whilst organising the event! Born in Arkansas, this Spring Harvest regular gathered musicians from all around the world to play alongside Chinese musicians, complete with ethnic instruments. The music starts with a rousing song called 'Tomorrow'. Everyone joins in, and it's an easy chorus to pick up. I found this to be a bit of a false dawn, as the tracks became a little too pedestrian in beat, and fairly uninteresting. However, if you feel the same as me, watch the accompanying DVD of the live concert, and the same songs suddenll have new life. 'Falling' is about falling in love with Jesus, while 'More of You' offers the listener a real peace, and a time to get close to God. This is the first ever live worship album to be recorded in mainland China, and it's proved to be successful. But, for me, if it hadn't been for that DVD, the rating might well have been quite low. 7/10. (October 2009)
MARTIN COOPER : Rock of Ages. (Elevation : ELE2026D)
Based in Eastbourne, Martin Cooper currently divides his musical talents as a solo artist, and as the frontman of the band, Thorntree. Previously, he was a guitarist with the Paul Oakley Band, and fronted a group called Chasing Cars. This guitar driven release finds him in fine form with a mixture of what I would call “concert songs” and “congregation songs”. From the opening ‘All For One’, I loved Martin’s rocky sound. The song tells of our salvation, and it’s one of those numbers that I’d love to play loud, driving down the motorway. ‘My God Regins’ is a similar song, in sound, with the guitars taking centre stage, as backing to Martin’s great vocals. Keyboards come more to the fore on ‘Rise Up’, while ‘You Are Lord’ is more medium paced in tempo. “You are Lord, and no-one can take your place”, he sings. A simple truth, but one that really hits home via the song. There’s a feeling of The Scorpions on the slow rock of ‘Beyond This Life’. Even the lead guitar work would fit nicely on one of the German band’s numbers. ‘Hallelujah’ is one of those songs that anyone can join in with. There’s a great feeling to the song and it certainly lifted my spirits. Listening to the album, I was impressed by the overall sound and song quality. Throughout, I had the feeling that Martin was one of those Christian artists that I’d like to see in concert. Closing with another rock effort, entitled ‘Always Faithful’, and the acoustic ‘God of Heaven’, this is a fine album. 9/10. (August 2014)
MARTIN SMITH : God’s Great Dance Floor Step 02. (GloWorks Ltd : B00ED2EMKA)
This is the second full-length studio album from Martin Smith, former front man and driving force behind Delirious? I say “full-length” as 8 of the 11 tracks were previously released as the mini EPs “Movement 3” and “Movement 4”. There’s no mistaking who it is, though. That voice. Those lyrics. Those melodies. Those arrangements. It’s just a bit more electronic in places, really. Which is fair enough – while so many other bands are trying to sound like Delirious? used to, Smith is busy trying to sound different. He’s stayed true to his roots, but moved on a bit. If anything, this CD is closer to Delirous?’s (apologies to the apostrophe police – is there a right way to punctuate that?) early material (“Redemption Day” and “God Is Coming” would have sat very comfortably on “King Of Fools”, for example), that threatened to take over Spring Harvest songbooks in the same way that Graham Kendrick had swept all aside earlier. His voice still drives it all along, though, and he has (wisely) decided against a Kate Bush-style vocal disguise so you could well be listening to lost Delirious? recordings: it’s moved on, but not quite as far as 2012 (although “Only Got Eyes” has a vocal chant reminiscent of Bastille – but then I thought that reminiscent of Red Box from the 1980s). Better is the slower “Great Is Your Faithfulness”, with its sweeping vocal, majestic chorus and great use of light and shade. There are quite a few slower ones (such as “Grace” – very atmospheric, but I wasn’t sure it really counted as ‘Dance Floor’ unless this was an end-of-night number) and several that are more personal than church-fillers (no bad thing, but not what you may have expected from the opening songs). It’s a good album, with Smith at the top of his game in places, but not world-changing. But then he’s done that once already. 9/10. Paul Ganney (December 2013)
THE MARTINS : Above It All. (Spring Hill)
After many years of music ministry, and travelling down some of life's toughest paths, The Martins have garnered six Dove awards and a Grammy nomination to become one of Christian music's most critically acclaimed and best-selling vocal groups. Consisting of sisters Joyce McCollough, Judy Hess, and vocalist Paul Lancaster, The Martin's manage to tell of God's truths in song, without sounding condescending. "For the Love" tells of the crucifixion and has nice mandolin sound to accompany the excellent vocals. "I Can't Help Myself" is a little more modern country in style while "Somebody Give Me a Stone" is a light pop number depicting the story of David & Goliath. The Martin's may have spread their wings since their conception, but they still keep a sight of their southern gospel roots, as in the song "Glory Days". It all adds up to a very pleasant listen. 7/10 (April 2004)
MARTYN JOSPEH : Far From Silent. (Alliance : 190198 2)
I've a l ot of time for this guy because, although he's been given something of a slating by so-called Christians, he's actually never once side-stepped the subject of his faith. So he once signed for Sony in the hope of bigger and better things? If things had worked out, I would have sooner listened to his thoughts than the rantings of someone like George Michael. Anyway, now settled back in the safety of Alliance Music, Martyn has created a wonderful album, full of typical Joseph-type songs that will thrill fans old and new. There's a laid back version of Joan Osbourne's "One of Us", sang with great feeling, and "The Good in Me is Dead" features just his voice and guitar. For me, the six and a half minute "Mayor of Candor Lied" didn't appeal, although the story line was quite good. All in all, Martyn Joseph pulls no punches and doesn't surprise anyone by sticking to the tried and trusted formula that works, for him, so well. "Another Chance" is a beautiful love song that really should be put up alongside such classics as Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" but, sadly, it won't. Instead, those who pack smaller venues up and down the country to see this gifted artist will be treated to one of the most special songs of the last twelve months. 9/10. (January 2000, Album of the Month)
MARTYN JOSEPH : Thunder & Rainbows (The Best We Could Find) 1988-2000.
Just over a year ago, I reviewed Martyn's "Far From Silent" album and made it my album of the month. 15 months on, he's here again and I have to give him the same "accolade". This time, it's a compilation of more than a decade of his best songs. For me, it's goosebump time as he sings that classic "I Will Follow", in a live setting. "Change Your World" is simply acoustic guitar and vocals, but what an impact it has. "Gift To Me" is really catchy, while "Let's Talk About it in the Morning" keeps the listener on the edge of their seat, clinging on to every word of the story which focuses on marriage. Fans of Martyn will tell you that "Dolphin's Make Me Cry" should have been a massive hit and it still has that quality after all this time. The second of this two CD release moves into the later half of the nineties and highlights include "Dic Penderyn" and "Hang the World". "In Between Rounds Girl" has a country feel to it, while then new "This Is Us" is an instant favourite. For many, Martyn's concerts are like being in someone's front room - lovely and intimate. This album is no different and Martyn's back catalogue makes a lovely album. 9/10. (April 2001, Album of the Month)
MARTYN JOSEPH : Live Don't Talk About Love.
I must admit that on first glance I was a bit disappointed on reading the track list of this album. There is little here that is not on the (fantastic) Thunder and Rainbows "best of" double CD. That said, the live arrangements of many of these songs give a greater understanding of the writers' original meanings and I soon found myself drawn into the music. Whether it adds enough to make buying both of them worthwhile would depend on how huge a fan you are. My favourite song would have to be the title track (partly, I admit, because I remember the Greenbelt concert that it was recorded at). Musically it blends seamlessly into an inspired cover of the chorus of Tracey Chapman's "Revolution" and back out again. Lyrically it shows off Martyn's talent at combining theology with social commentary, and his willingness to point out the logs in the eyes of the church. Martyn has a distinctive voice that suits his guitar-based soft rock style, and I never fail to find his cynical idealism refreshing, challenging and entertaining. This album was recorded at concerts between 1992 and 2000, and begs the question: When will we get some new material? This is a good album, great if you don't have Thunder and Rainbows, but it doesn't scratch the itch that many MJ fans have to hear his new work. Martyn Joseph live is an experience no recording could ever really capture, but this comes far closer to giving glimpses of his humour and intimacy with the audience than could have been expected. 6/10 (if you own Thunder & Rainbows) 9/10 (if you don't) Rachel Ganney. (May 2002)
MARVIN SAPP : I Win.   (Verity :  88697-97017-2)
In the years that I have been doing reviews, every now and again a release has popped up that simply demands to be heard. This is one of them. If and when you're in the mood for over an hour of high impact gospel soul, this album will be just the job. Recorded live in October 2011, Marvin Sapp's black gospel voice, choir and band certainly know how to deliver. Beginning with the rockin' gospel soul of 'Teach my hands to war' followed by the mid-tempo but similarly high energy 'I belong to you', the scene is set for a slickly produced, professionally delivered, well recorded musical experience. The title track 'I win' is a slow number that includes Mr Sapp utilising his considerable vocal gymnastics to great effect. The songs are largely well chosen, with strong melodies and well considered 'adult' lyrics. The slow 'Deeper' is a superb song and the highlight of the album for me. Also worthy of special mention is the similarly slow but heavily building ten-and-a-half minutes 'My testimony' – the only song where Marvin is credited as a (co)writer, recounting his presumably personal experience of 'making it through'. With countless repeats of 'so glad I made it', by the end of such a long track I was glad that I had(!) – and by the sounds of the audience they were clearly carried along so this was obviously very effective live. Downsides? The lowest point on the album is 'The hymns medley' which to my ears is nine minutes of lovely hymns overly 'messed up'. I found the occasional 'mini sermons' between and within songs a bit of a distraction. Finally, the cd insert does not include printed lyrics. From the pics within the insert however I do have one question that absolutely demands an answer – Mr Sapp's pin-sharp hair lines are remarkable, how does he do it? Exceptional hair care? Photo re-touching? Black felt pen? The world needs to know!! 9/10   Dave Deeks. (September 2012)
MARVIN SAPP : You Shall Live.   (RCA Inspiration : 88875-06471-2)
In a recent interview, Marvin Sapp said "I was in a very transparent space when I recorded this album. I wanted to deliver something that was going to encourage those who are in the valleys of their lives, to let them know, I get it. "I know what it feels like to have your heart ripped out of your chest. But I also needed them to know that no matter the heartbreak, God's got us and even the most painful experience can be overcome." This is Sapp’s 10th studio album, and continues in the black gospel style that has made him so popular in America. I’ve got to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of this music personally, but you can’t knock a guy who’s had numerous Dove Award Nominations in recent years. Backed by a gospel choir, Marvin soulfully sings on tracks like “Greater”, “Honor and Glory”, and the delicious “Live”. Sometimes, the lyrics get a little repetitive, as one line is sung over and over again, and the 7 minute number “Holy Spirit Overflow” just didn’t work for me. I prefer his vocals on the thoughtful “Yes You Can”, were Marvin’s voice is warm and mellow. There’s a version of “The Old Rugged Cross” that includes an evangelistic message. The singing is good, but the message irritated me, with a TV evangelist type delivery. So although this isn’t my sort of thing, I can still appreciate the music ministry of this man. Certainly, as far as black gospel music goes, Marvin’s the man.   7/10. (October 2015)
MARY BARRETT : 'A Breath Away...' (Thank You/Kingsway Music).
Here's a lady who's been making great easy listening worship music on both sides of the Atlantic for years. Recorded in Ontario, Canada -makes a change from Nashville- Mary Barrett plays us 10 songs, of which 7 give her writing credits. Quiet numbers such as 'The Great Shepherd' and 'Only For You' are complimented well by the more uptempo 'It is Done'. 'In My Heart' mixes both of these styles with a finger lickin' guitar break for good measure. Fancy a change in your music collection? You'll be pleasantly surprised by Mary Barrett. 8/10. (September 1996)
MARY DUFF : Love Songs. (Rosette : ROSCD2085)
Mary Duff seems to have been around the music scene for years. Her nice and easy tones have warmed the hearts of many, and this album looks set to do the same. There are twenty love songs on show - some well known, some not. Mary sings them all in her inimitable style and makes the hits of others, her own. Buddy Holly's 'True Love Ways' was an early favourite for me, and Mary delivers it well. Also, 'Torn Between Two Lovers' and 'Talking in Your Sleep' may well melt a few hearts. But, perhaps, her highlights are the big hits, like 'The Power of Love' and Hopelessly Devoted To You'. On 'Have You Ever Been Lonely', Mary duets with Daniel O'Donnell, and strangely, that was possibly the weakest track on the album. 'The One You Slip Around With' was a completely new tune to me, but it has a good country beat, and made it a most enjoyable song. For lovers everywhere, get romantic, with Mary Duff. 8/10 (May 2008)
MARY KATHRYN : Dreams & Visions. (Rhythm House : RHD-7190)
Well, if the festive season has left you wanting something different to the norm, this may well be the one for you. Mary Kathryn's 4th album blends elements of soft pop, rock and folk with world music influences and delivers a delightful array of sounds. She says that she wanted to "create a spiritual experience through music", and I certainly felt that whilst listening. At times, there's a little of the Enya sound, as in 'My Father's World'. It's a sweet song of praise and worship, but there's more to it than just being "another song". There again, I could imagine Fleetwood Mac performing "You Are There" - during their "Rumours" era. It's a smoothly written number, and pulls you into it's warmth. Recurring themes of love, peace, faith, prayer and worship permeate 'Dreams and Visions'. Songs like 'Flying Toward the Sun' and 'Eve of Your Return' have you resting in God's presence, as well as being excited for Jesus' return. Both songs are well written and produced. I wasn't too keen on the sombre sound of 'Wailing Wall' but, there again, I guess it suits the mood Kathryn is trying to portray. In the world of disposable pop music, Mary Kathryn is a breath of fresh air. 8/10. (January 2008)
MARY-KATHRYN : Wonders in the Deep. (Rhythm House Records)
Hailing from the USA Mary-Kathryn’s PR describe this her fifth album as “a blend of the elements of soft pop, rock and folk with world music influences as diverse as the continents to create a spiritual amalgam that transcends musical boundaries. Sophisticated without being elitist, understated without being simplistic, Mary-Kathryn displays an emotional depth that can only be described as ethereal.” With 16 tracks this CD is certainly very different from the usual female vocalist offerings at the moment. With some interesting percussive sounds and beautifully sung vocals I found this album to be quite refreshing. If you listen very carefully you can hear similarities to both Julie Meyer (track one Hear My Cry) and Susan Ashton (track four Ships) which is no bad thing! In part this album has a very Mediterranean feel in its instrumental arrangements. I can imagine myself being somewhere hot listening to this. It’s relaxing, easy on the ear and perfect for chilling to. The only negative would be the overkill of electronic effects. Her voice stands well on its own. I found these effects somewhat overshadowed her and at times irritating. Favourite tracks for me would have to be Ships. Based on Psalm 107 it has a somewhat jazz feel in its arrangement. I also enjoyed Hear My Cry which demonstrates Mary-Kathryn’s clear vocal beautifully as it sits on a tight instrumental arrangement. All in all a well-balanced album of songs and an enjoyable experience if you’re looking for a laid back non-intrusive album. 8/10 Angie Lendon. (November 2015)
MARY MARY : Mary Mary. (My Block : 520469 2)
Mary Mary are in fact Erica and Tina, and let's get one point out of the way for a start - these girls can sing. Oh yes. Secondly, they are not shy about declaring their Christian faith. This is the pair who had the massive world wide hit with 'Shackles'. This latest is their third album and is again produced by Erica's husband Warryn 'Baby Dubb' Campbell, who also shares most of the writing credits, as well as doing some rapping on 'Save Me'. It gets off to a cracking start with 'Believer', a song with a pounding urban rhythm and a hook that'll have you singing along in no time, which stays with you long after the album's finished. The excellent sound quality of this opener continues throughout - and there is a lot of variety here, with the second track 'Biggest, greatest thing' being delivered in a 1930's big band 'Ella Fitzgerald' style. Other stand out tracks include 'Yesterday' (no, not the Lennon and McCartney one!) which is a blues ballad with particularly brilliant vocals featuring a chamber orchestra and horn section, and 'The real party' - again with an urban groove. Definitely worth checking out - try www.mary-mary.com (strangely, not found by any search engines I use) to find out more about Erica and Tina, their Christian faith, and this album. 8/10 Dave Deeks(September 2005)
Simply ... MARY McKEE AND THE GENESIS : "By the Rivers of Babylon" (Kingsway KMCD2593)
This triple album is one of the first to be released in Kingsway's new 'Simply...' series, which re-releases tracks by early CCM artists. The sleeve notes remind us that Mary McKee and The Genesis were gospel music pioneers in their native Northern Ireland back in the seventies. A highpoint is the (very short) opening title track, featuring excellent unaccompanied close harmonies. This proves to be untypical of much of the rest of the album, which is 'light country', featuring slide guitars. Mary's voice is beautifully tuneful and harmonious with a pronounced falsetto that overall reminds me of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, although their music is more individual and original than what we have here. Apart from the title track, songs that stand out for me include "Enduring Love" and "Over There". An irritation is that lyrics tend to be twee, with well-worn and dated Christian terminology - how about 'what joy it did afford... together in one accord... praising the Lord' for an example! If country music is your thing however, or if you were a fan of the band back in the seventies and have lost your original vinyl or tapes, you could find this a welcome addition to your collection. Tracks can be sampled via www.kingsway.co.uk . 7/10 Dave Deeks (April 2005)
MAT KEARNEY : Bullet. (inpop)
When the accompanying press release read "the album features everything - hip hop beats…." My heart sank. I very rarely get on with hip hop beats, so I wasn't looking forward to this album at all. But, life is full of surprises, and this album turned out to be one of them. Because, along with those hip hop beats are some interesting marriages of style. Take, for instance, "Undeniable", where a great chorus makes for a great song. If The Streets can make it to No.1 in the UK charts with a song like "Dry Your Eyes", then this one should topple it forevermore. "Trainwreck" and "Girl America" both have similar sounds, in that Mat raps his way through the verse but then entwines you around his little finger with a pop chorus that just draws you in. Not sure about his take on the song "Renaissance". Here, he talks about a car crash and I'm not able to fathom out whether there's a message to be found or not. Maybe I was looking too deep for something? By the end of the album I was ready for another rap, but what does he do? Mat turns into a ballad singer, and does it well to the sweet sound on one piano. You could do a lot worse than to give Mat Kearney a whirl. 9/10. (January 2005, February 2005 Album of the Month)
MAT KEARNEY : City of Black and White. (EMICMG)
Mat follows up his 2006 album, "Nothing Left to Lose" with this 12 track collection of original songs. Mat's sound hovers close to the standard CCM sound but has a slightly harder edge to it, with more aggressive guitar sounds and a slightly grittier feel. It's an enjoyable listen but I found that the songs don't seem to stick around once the stop button has been pressed. After several listens I can just about remember the opener "All I Have" but after that my recollections are a bit more hazy. It's a shame because Mat has such a good pedigree and overall, it is pretty good, but just not memorable. Added to that, the overal sound is a bit thin, with lots of middle and not a lot of bottom end. It could do with a bit more guts to it to better emphasise the overall feel. 7/10 Robin Thompson (August 2009)
MATT BROUWER : Imagerical. (Reunion : 02341-0024-2)
In the Spring of 1996, two friends at Bible College in Alberta, Canada joined together to form a band that would inspire themselves and their fellow students to grow closer to God. Matt Brouwer and Tim Milner were those two friends and from it, grew Monday Night Worship. Since then, the guys have played other colleges and toured widely. This album puts a collection of their songs together under Matt's name, who signed for Reunion in September last year. As an overview, I'd say that it's a similar style to Matt Redman married to that US/Canadian rock sound. If I'm honest, it's taken two or three plays to start appreciating the songs like "Rivers of Mercy" and "Sanity". Instant favourites would include "New Beginning", "Water", and the catchy "A New Song". Matt's got a good voice, the guitar driven sound is good, and the overall production is sound. Of the slower tunes, "Lead" is probably the best and I'd like to hear more of those. 7/10. (August 2001)
MATT HILL : Masterpiece. (Absolution Records)
After touring as guitarist for worship leader Noel Robinson, Matt Hill spent 5 years serving as Worship Pastor at !Audacious Church, Manchester. Now he is 'going solo' with this 11 track debut. Being new to Matt's music but reading glowing references from those who have worked and worshipped with him, I was keen to have a listen. Opening with the title track, we have a guitar/bass/drums bluesy mid-paced groove overlaid with Matt's attractive and note-perfect vocals (“we are your masterpiece, we are your workmanship”). 'Million words' then describes our wonder at what God has created and promises our faithfulness (“I won't back down” - hands up those who thought of Tom Petty!) - the pace and drum riff being pretty much identical to track 1. Track 3? - a 'jam' of track 2! Whilst all good stuff, it isn't until the slower and heavier rock of the sixth track 'Guiding light' that there is any real musical variety, this one reminding me somewhat of Larry Norman's heavier output. Then comes 'Safe surrender' - my standout, beginning quietly and reflectively and developing into slow pop rock featuring effective grungy guitar and some great drumming and bass figures. 'Search me' is another good-un', as is the acoustic guitar-led 'Still waters', which brings added variety. 'After the rain' features excellent blues guitar and a rock solid drum groove in similar vein to the first three tracks - and the closer is a 'jam' of it, so is more of the same. For those of us who still listen to albums right through(!), I feel the track sequence could have been better. Strong songs however, lyrically and musically - particularly if you appreciate well played blues rock whilst at the same time being encouraged in your Christian faith. 8/10 Dave Deeks. (February 2015)
MATT JR HURLEY : Pebbles. (Plankton Records : PLANCD017)
Matt is the son of a church pastor, and only seriously began songwriting last year. Matt writes honest, vulnerable and engaging music about life and about God’s love with soulful, poetic lyrics. This single was written following the sudden and unexpected bereavement he suffered and he hopes that the song will help people connect with God and His love when perhaps God seems a long way away. Musically, “Pebbles” starts quietly with an acoustic guitar leading the way, and Matt’s clear, crisp vocals over the top. Mid-way, orchestral pads join in, helping to fill the sound. In style, I couldn’t help comparing it to something that Snow Patrol might have released. Indeed, the opening vocal phrases sound uncannily like those of “Chasing Cars.” Matt plans to release an EP in June and this taster is a welcome sample of things to come. 7/10. (May 2016)
MATT JR HURLEY : Raising Questions. (Plankton Records : PCDN171)
Following on from his recent single “Pebbles” Matt JR Hurley has released his first EP. Coming through some trying situations in the last few years, Matt explores how we face and react to the tough questions of life and our faith, trust and belief in God. On the opening song “Shout to the Sky”, acoustic guitar and violin take centre stage, musically. Here, Matt relates how we often don’t hear the answers God gives us, to the questions we ask. “My Soul Sings” suffers from the vocals being far too loud in the mix, and I found this quite annoying. A pity really, because the overall song is quite pleasing. No matter how we try to live our own lives, only by turning back to God do we really begin to live. That’s the message of “Spinning Circles”. “Pebbles” is probably the pick of the EP, a song about loss. Nice acoustic guitar married to some ethereal orchestral pads gives it a real warmth. Finally, we come to the grandly titled “The Promise of Redemption and Hope.” Built on a gentle pulsing march, the song makes the point of no matter what we may encounter or do in and with our lives, there is actually an eternal promise of something more for everyone to hold on to. I feel that Matt’s songs are occasionally, to wordy and that interrupts the flow. However, for someone who only began songwriting a year ago, he shows great promise. 7/10. (August 2016)
MATT MAHER : Alive Again. (Essential : 83061-0906-2)
Matt Maher's latest release can be best described as a football match. Why? Because it has two halves. The first five songs are all uptempo numbers of contemporary praise but, then, Matt moves into gentler sounds of worship, culminating in the magnificent 'Communion Song'. I certainly would find this song keeping with the tradition of taking Holy Communion. In fact, I'm going to recommend it to my minister! But, back to the beginning, and the title track pops around with the exclamation, "I'm Alive". Similarly, 'Shout of the King' has a pop sound, and Matt's vocals are very engaging. 'Hold Us Together' proclaims the first day of the rest of your life, after accepting Jesus as your Saviour, and it's a really joyful song. God knows that we are far from perfect, yet He loves us unfailingly. 'Flesh and Bone' is a prayer of thanks that acknowledges our failings and embraces His love. There may be two halves to this album, but it's a match that works well, and Matt proves a worthy music minister. 8/10 (March 2010)
MATT MAHER : All the People Said Amen. (Essential : 0830610982)
This is a compilation of Matt’s best known songs, plus four brand new tracks. Some of the songs have been recorded live, but this isn’t always a good thing. The closing ‘It Is Good’ is so annoying. Full of ad-libs and contrived Jewish “Hava Nagila’ style speed, it’s simply awful. However, at the other end of the spectrum comes the opening title track. A great sound and a really good song. Of the new songs, ‘Lord, I Need You’ is a classic for the future. Sounding like a great Wesleyan hymn, put to a modern setting, it is stunning. I couldn’t get Bruce Springstein out of my head when listening to good, solid songs like ‘Great Things’ and Turn Around’. Super guitar driven songs, that need turning up loud to appreciate it fully. ‘Hold Us Together’ sounds like it’s been recorded in a downtown bar somewhere and, if I’m honest, it should have stayed there. The songs all tell of the need for Godin our lives, and what a fortress He is. I’ve no argument with the sentiments, and Matt gets them over well. For new Matt Maher fans, take a listen. 7/10. (November 2013)
MATT McCHLERY : Fly. (www.mattmcchlery.com)
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)
MATT McCHELERY : All Things New. (www.mattmcchlery.com)
This is the third recording from Matt McChlery and is a collection of songs that focus on the theme of freedom and Salvation. Indeed, he’s also written a book which also focuses on the theme of salvation and gives a biblical outline as to why we need salvation, as well as an invitation to it. However, back to this 6 track EP. ‘Won My Heart’ was co-written with Ryan Barker-Barnes, and has an 80’s electro sound to it. Declaring God’s amazing power to save, it has a catchy chorus, that is easy to learn, and one that the listener will enjoy joining in with. Starting with those immortal words from John 3:16, ‘Emmanuel’ carries another pleasing chorus, and finds Matt at his best, vocally. Indeed, his vocal prowess sometimes reminds me of a cross between Stuart Townend, and Welsh singer, Phil Lewis. I particularly liked the way that ‘Fingerprints’ reflects upon the idea that God is involved in every part of our lives. He leads us to salvation, takes care of our future, and gives us hope. The lyrics are lovely, but I felt that the song didn’t quite live up to the happy and joyous sound I expected. The title track and ‘Forevermore’ are quite attractive to the ear, while the closing ‘Thank You Jesus For Loving Me’ gives us more food for thought with lyrics such as “Thank you Jesus for loving me, thank you for the price you paid for me”. Focussing and giving thanks to God for the amazing gift of salvation, it reflects quite strongly upon the cross and the broken state of sin that came in as a result. Matt tries to fit a lot into just six songs, but I feel that he does this quite well. Some songs, I can see being used in church for collective worship, whilst others are meditative. All in all, Matt can consider this project quite a success. 8/10. (August 2014)
MATT McGEE : Worship Through the Valley. (Visionring 757754012246)
This is an album full of fairly personal worship songs, which are obviously written from experience. It's a fairly laid back type of style on the whole, the kind of thing you can put on in the background while you're doing something else. It's mostly a kind of acoustic guitar led rock album. There is one really annoying track which has a kind of reversed tambourine being hit at the end of every line which goes from one side to the other, it's tedious after the first couple of times because you always know it's coming. Apart from this, and a couple of songs that never seemed to know when to end, this isn't a bad CD. So, not the kind of worship that you can sing along to really, but an honest attempt to explain what goes on inside. 6/10 Andy Sayner. (April 2004)
MATT REDMAN : The Friendship and the Fear. (Survivor : SURCD001).
Matt needs little introduction to most people, as he is one of the most popular praise and worship leaders in the country today. However, like his stable mates Delirious?, I personally find his songs quite bland. This release begins with the tried and tested "There is a Louder Shout to come", and is followed by the uptempo style "Believer". "Bowing Down" left me cold and I didn't really feel anything until "Can We Walk Across the Water". There's nothing theologically wrong with the lyrics and I am not denying that many find this man's gift inspiring, but it's not for me. "Deep Calls To Deep" is another highlight on an album that has too many instantly forgettable tracks. 4/10. (September 1997)
MATT REDMAN : Intimacy. (Survivor : SURCD008)
I must have been one of the few people who didn't think that his previous album, 'The Friendship & the Fear', was anything out of the ordinary. Therefore, I wasn't expecting too much from this new release. However, as on many occasions over the last three years, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. Matt's idea with this release was to get a reverent closeness with the Lord, and what better way to start than 'Let Everything....'. This song is very upbeat and leads into a great time of worship. The second half of the album is, by far, the best. The superb 'The Heart of Worship' is really brought to it's peak by Matt's songwriting abilities. 'Now to Live...' is very good, but the depth and quality of the 'Hallelujah Song' is just something else. If this album launch is to project Matt's music into America, they just may well succeed. 8/10. (July 1998)
MATT REDMAN : We Shall Not Be Shaken. (Survivor : SURCD5136)
Matt Redman has always written from experience - whether the earliest reflections on a childhood where he "didn't have much luck with fathers' to the trials and troubles that often accompany the transition to adulthood - and parent-hood. This album sees Matt in a rockier mood than previous releases, and sees a theme of praising a loving father. The title track really does rock, and makes a declaration of a faithful God. 'You Alone Can Rescue' proclaims that He is an unfailing God and deserves the highest praise, and this is thae start of a real purple patch in the track listing. The uptempo rhythm of 'The Glory of Our King' is one song that I can see making it into worship gatherings all over the country, while 'How Great is Your Faithfulness' swings majestically along. It took a couple of plays to really appreciate the album but I grew to love tracks like the triumphant 'For Your Glory' and the terrific praise of 'Gloria'. Although collaborating with various people in the writing of this album, Matt doesn't disappoint. 9/10 (January 2010)
MATT REDMAN : We Shall Not Be Shaken. (Survivor : SURCD5136)
Matt Redman has always written from experience - whether the earliest reflections on a childhood where he "didn't have much luck with fathers' to the trials and troubles that often accompany the transition to adulthood - and parent-hood. This album sees Matt in a rockier mood than previous releases, and sees a theme of praising a loving father. The title track really does rock, and makes a declaration of a faithful God. 'You Alone Can Rescue' proclaims that He is an unfailing God and deserves the highest praise, and this is thae start of a real purple patch in the track listing. The uptempo rhythm of 'The Glory of Our King' is one song that I can see making it into worship gatherings all over the country, while 'How Great is Your Faithfulness' swings majestically along. It took a couple of plays to really appreciate the album but I grew to love tracks like the triumphant 'For Your Glory' and the terrific praise of 'Gloria'. Although collaborating with various people in the writing of this album, Matt doesn't disappoint. 9/10 (February 2010)
MATT REDMAN : Ultimate Collection. (Survivor Records : SRCD5184)
Matt Redman has made a significant contribution to contemporary praise and worship, writing some of the most popular worship songs now used in our churches. Which regular worshipper isn't now familiar with such modern classics as 'Blessed be your name' and 'Let everything that has breath'? Here we have a 'best of the best' compilation - and such is Matt's popularity that most reading this will know what to expect! Whilst I agree that many of his songs are good-uns and he sings well enough, for some reason I find much of his recorded output to be strangely unemotional, disconnected, unmoving - and it proves the case here. I think the often heavily processed lead vocals are partly to blame because they add an artificial edge to the voice, but I also find his arrangements tend to be uninventive and formulaic - 'Dancing generation' is perhaps the worst example on this release. 'Shine' is effective however, 'When the music fades' is excellent - and so are 'I will offer up my life' and 'The Father's song'. The best track is kept until last - the closer 'Yes and amen' is an excellent arrangement of over 6 mins that builds nicely before dropping back into a reflective ending. For me then, a mixed bag. Worth an average of 7/10. David Deeks (March 2010)
MATT REDMAN : Ultimate Collection. (Survivor : SURCD5184)
Although I've obviously heard Matt Redman's music down the years, it still surprised me when listening to this collection, just how many of his songs are sung in the church today. But, there were a few new ones to my ears, and the opening 'You Never Let Go' was one. Not instantly memorable, it does grow on you after a while. 'Blessed Be Your Name' is done really well and builds in power. I particularly enjoyed the extended live version of 'Once Again' - a song that I've taken to heart more recently in my own walk with God. Everyone seems to get very excited with Matt's rendition of 'Dancing Generation', but 'The Heart of Worship' is filled, with pure worship. Of the rest of the worship numbers, then 'I Will Offer Up My Life' and 'The Father's Song' are performed with great passion, while Matt also plays a rousing version of 'Let Everything That Has Breath'. For once, the album title fits the bill precisely. 9/10 (September 2010)
MATT REDMAN : 10,000 Reasons. (5099996785324)
Well, unless you’ve been living on Planet Zog for the last 10 years, Matt Redman needs no introduction to lovers of contemporary praise and worship music. Already a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic, this album is a live recording, made at the Lift Live Event, which took place in Atlanta, Georgia. The album starts with Matt Redman in techno mood! No need to worry though, as all the usual Redman traits are there to make ‘We Are the Free’ a smashing song. ‘Holy’ is quite a lengthy number, but it does seem to embrace those gathered. ‘120,000 Reasons’ is set to become a Redman classic in my opinion. It’s presented in the style of Charles Wesley hymn, and there is such power in the words. It’s those words that Matt has the knack of putting into song. On ‘Never Once’ I just felt that he was putting into song, the words that I wanted to say to God. In my opinion, the best are left until last. Both ‘O This God’ and ‘Endless Hallelujah’ are destined to become church favourites all around the world. Once more, Matt delivers the goods. 9/10 (November 2011)
MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : The Lovely Face of Jesus. (Roseanne.mckay2@btopenworld.com)
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. (wwwmatthewjamesmckay.com)
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. (November 2011, Album of the Month)
MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : You Raise Me Up.   (www.matthewjamesmckay.com)
It’s been a great joy to follow the fledgling music career of 12 year old Matthew James, over the last 18 months. With singing engagements all over his native Scotland, and Ireland, tis young man is certainly in demand. For this, his third, album producer Paul A Gardiner pulls the strings once more, and provides guest musicians to compliment his own talent. The opening ‘God’s Not Finished With Me Yet’ is a foot tapping, country gospel number, written by Matthew’s mother, Roseanne. His voice never falters on ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ – a great vocal gift for one so young. He duets with his former choir master John Buchannan on ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Burdens Are Lifted’, and both songs are pure quality. ‘God on the Mountain’ is a medium paced song that you just can’t help singing along with. I found it very infectious. Roseanne’s second writing credit comes on ‘Tested By A Trial’. The music on the album is great throughout, but at it’s best on this very personal song. The big surprise for me was Matthew’s version of the Julie Miller classic ‘How Could You Say No To This Man’. I’ve never heard anyone else sing this song, but Matthew gives it new life. Old gospel songs seem to be staple diet for this young man, yet he also gives a fine rendition of the more modern title track. With his family guiding and encouraging, Matthew James looks set to make a  fine name for himself and his ministry.   10/10. (December 2012, Album of the Month)
MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : My Gospel Journey. (www.matthewjamesmckay.com)
Regular readers of NFN will know that I’m a big fan of this young man. Over the last three years, he’s released three CD’s and now goes that step further for his debut DVD. Produced by Christian Faith Ministries, it features 12 songs previously available on CD, with Matthew James (aka MJ) singing whilst on location at such sites as the coastal town of Gardenstown, and breath-taking scenery from the Isle of Skye and around the north east of Scotland. Yes, it’s been done before by the likes of Daniel O’Donnell and Marilla Ness, but that doesn’t detract from this very good production. MJ’s vocals are smooth and soothing all the way through and the opening ‘The Haven of Rest’ sets the tone for the rest of the collection. ‘God on the Mountain’ has always been a favourite of mine. It has a lovely, country feel about it, and I’ve played it on air a few times in the past. I smiled at ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’ as MJ strums his acoustic guitar – an instrument that almost looks too big for him, and reminds me that he is still only just a teenager. Including a couple of duets, songs of note are ‘Burdens Lifted At Calvary’, ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘In Christ Alone’. A minor moan might be that the pace of each song hardly changes. Saying that, the formula is tried and tested, and has thrilled his listeners in his native Scotland, as well as Ireland. The DVD is a terrific piece of work and will bless many. Long may MJ continue his gospel journey. 9/10. (March 2014)
MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : Reason Enough.   (www.matthewjamesmckay.com)
It’s been a great pleasure to follow Matthew James’ (MJ) singing ministry over the last five years. From his debut Cd release as a ten year old boy, he has developed into a very talented young man, with a big heart for God. With Irish producer James Strange at the helm, this new 12 track release sees MJ tread a path in the light country mould akin to that of Daniel O’Donnell and Charlie Landsborough. First up is the foot tappin’ “Wouldn’t Take nothing For my Journey Now.” That’s followed by “I Want to Stroll Over Heaven”, which is a slower song, were MJ’s warm vocal tones easily glide over the lyrics. Most of the backing music is provided by the talented James Strange. However, MJ shows his prowess on both acoustic and electric guitars. There’s a honky tonk feel to the duet (with Strange) on “Where Could I Go”, while some pleasing orchestral sounds provide the backdrop to “What a Day.” Production is first class throughout, and this easy listening album easily slips from one song to the next. “Praise the Mighty Name of Jesus” shuffles along, with MJ’s brother James Scott on drum, sister Hannah Louise on ukulele, and his mother, Roseanne, on piano. “Far Side Banks of Jordan” had me comparing the sound to something from the Grand Ole Opry, and it’s got real Nashville style to it.. MJ’s vocals have obviously changed as his tender years have passed, but his deeper sound gently caresses each word. “Christ For Me” is another a lovely song of praise, where MJ provides his own harmonies, as well as the lead vocal. I soon found myself singing along to this one very quickly. “Tears Are a Language”, “Till the Storm Passes By” and “If We Never Meet Again” provide the closing songs to, what is, a charming album.   9/10.   (October 2016)
MATTHEW MACAULAY : As for Me. (Authentic : 8204792)
Matthew is a worship leader based in Chorleywood, UK, and this is his debut album featuring 11 original worship songs. As a young and upcoming worship leader one might expect something with a unique sound, edge and approach but, surprisingly, I found this album to have none of those. Matthew is credited with demonstrating a maturity beyond his years, which is great, but unfortunately this seems to manifest itself on this album by giving us 11 songs that sound rather dated, if I'm honest. The first two particularly, "With all my Heart" and "God you are my God", echo the eighties worship albums from Spring Harvest with a little bit of Matt Redman thrown in. Things start to get a little more Vineyard in sound as the album progresses but then so many others are trying to emulate that, so I was still hoping for something fresher and more unique. Maybe expectations have coloured my perceptions of this album - maybe this really is excellent but I can't see because I'm disappointed - I'm willing to accept that it may be the case. However, whilst I cannot doubt that these songs are probably a hit in his home church, I have to wonder if they have the potential to have a wider appeal than that. 6/10 Robin Thompson. (December 2008)
MAYFAIR LAUNDRY : Scrub. (Pamplin/Word : CD ORCD9725).
Based in California, USA, Mayfair Laundry formed over 2 years ago when the critically acclaimed band Clay House drew to a close. Three of the band have now been joined by Shannon Woolner, who's vocal contributions to this album lean very much towards the sound of No Doubt. The opening "Bucket Brigade" begins with a brass ska sound that is only once more visited in "Wavy Gravy". There's almost a mad feeling about "I Want lovely Feet" - to follow in Jesus' footsteps - and "Swing Your Partner" but it's the acoustic based "Wonderful Wonder" that makes you really sit up and take note. Catchy, simple, easy going, and one you will want to play over and over again. It's guitar driven pop, on the whole, with the aim to reach teens and encourage the church. Not an instantly likeable album., but it has started to grow on me. 6/10. (June 1998)
MELANIE : Deep. (Maranatha : 50285 1903012 2)
So, following the recent chart success of Stacie Orrico, we find another young lady trying to capture the teen market, with pop songs based around the Britney Spears sound. Melanie has, it appears, been recording for years, but this is her first major release. The songs are, sometimes, rather quirky but each one carries a simple gospel message. The opening "1..2..B With U (see how the spelling's done?) is one of the best on the album and is a testimony of the Lord she wants to follow.. also high on the list of goodies, is the slower "Do They See Jesus In Me?", where she questions how she lives as a teenager in today's world. "@ the C" has an infectious Arabic sound to it while "U 4 Me" has a more rockier feel. Both songs are quite catchy and I can see the younger market enjoying as a whole. 7/10. (June 2004)
MELISSA HUBERT : Jericho. (www.melissamusic.co.uk)
This is Brighton based singer/songwriter Melissa Hubert’s second solo album. Like its predecessor, it’s been produced by former Phatfish keyboard man Mike Sandeman. Melissa says that “Most of the songs relate directly to bible characters in a story-telling format that aims to make their perspectives more relatable to a modern audience”. However, ‘I Surrender’ sees Melissa baring her own soul on a song were her vocals simply soar above some wonderful musical backing. The title track tells of a battle and to “stand fast”. I actually thought that the rocky music didn’t do her vocals any favours, as Melissa’s voice is so melodic and pure. ‘Rock of Ages’ is based around the traditional hymn of the same name. With twists and turns, she makes this song into a classic of the future, whilst still remaining faithful, in parts, to the original. There are some lovely musical waves on ‘Rachel’, while ‘The Watchman’ creates a sound like a film score. Production is excellent, and I simply love Melissa’s vocals in this one. ‘You Made Me So’ has a glorious chorus, while ‘Why O Why’ lends just a passing nod to the pop harmonies of The Corrs. Certainly, it’s a very catchy number. Sandeman produces some fine orchestral sounds for ‘The Prophet’, lending all his years of experience to Melissa’s lyrical depth. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to hear some fine, independent releases by female UK artists. Nancy Sawyer, springs to mind, as do Catherine Francis and Helen Sanderson-White. Melissa Hubert is up there with them, as a very talented young lady. 9/10. (January 2015, Album of the Month)
MERCY ME : Almost There. (INO Records : 080688613327)
Formed in 1994 Mercy Me were originally based in Oklahoma City. At the invitation of an evangelist friend in Dallas, the band moved to Texas and quickly found themselves playing as many as 200 dates in a year, with their and worship with a modern rock/pop flair. For this 7th studio album, Mercy Me combine layered guitar work, with plenty of synths, and percussion that, I believe tries to produce an attack minded CD. Does it work? Well, no! It took me three listens to pick out anything positive about the finished product, bar the lyrical content. Their rock approach is just so dated - a sort of early 90's version of Split Level without the polish. Personally, I eventually found their slower numbers like "Cannot Say Enough" and "House of God" to be the best. "Almost There", for me, just turned out to be one of those albums that really meant very little. Sorry. 2/10. (August 2002)
MERCY ME : Spoken For. (Integrity : 621827)
When I received this album it showed me just how jaded and cynical I have become - my first thought on seeing the picture of the band was that "they must be Christians because they don't look like they just stepped out of a magazine". Hmmm … But enough aesthetics, what about the music? Well, Mercy Me have 3 Dove awards under their belt as a result of their debut album, "Almost There", and this follow up has garnered five further nominations so the pedigree is certainly there, and the sound is certainly slick and well-presented. There are a few shades of Delirious? in there, as well as a smattering of other influences, but it never seems quite sure where it is going and too many songs sound too similar particularly in the first half. The quieter songs are the highlights, with some excellent use of melody and harmony, and "The Love of God" especially is a beautiful, worshipful song. Overall impression - lyrically strong? Yes. Uplifting? Certainly, but all a bit too "CCM by numbers" for me to get really excited. 7/10 David Cooper (April 2003)
MERCY ME : Coming Up To Breathe. (INO : 38722)
How many times do you play a CD for the first time, and simply sit there with a satisfied smile on your face? This is undoubtedly the best album that I have had to review for NFN. Mercy Me are a rocking Canadian band led by the tremendous voice of Bart Millard. Regular readers may recall that Bart's 'Hymned' project gained a fairly lukewarm review from me a while back. Here he heads something entirely different, and this is clearly where he belongs. Going mainstream in 2001, Mercy Me have evidently become one of the most popular Christian bands across the pond. Whilst I understand that previous offerings have featured a pop/rock sound, here they head into full-on rock territory whilst still including some slower numbers. The impression throughout is that the Mercy Me members really know how to play off one another. All aspects of the performance are so tight and simply 'together', and production (by the justifiably well-known Brown Bannister) and mixing so professional, that it shows other bands how it should be done. As well as delivery being so spot-on, writing is grown-up and polished - including lyrics that skilfully reflect personal crises that some of the band members have evidently been through recently. It is difficult to pick stand-out tracks because the whole album is so good. For me, 'Safe and Sound' came over particularly well on first listen, and I found 'I would die for you' to be an especially strong arrangement. 'One trick pony' doesn't quite measure up to the rest in my view, but it's a close thing. What a boatload of talent. And they even have an excellent web site www.mercyme.org. Excuse me while I press 'play' again .... 10/10 Dave Deeks. (September 2006, Album of the Month)
MERCY ME : Almost There Platinum Edition. (Ino Records)
Alright, hand on heart time, I'll admit it: I was pre-disposed to slate this record. I hate the (seemingly) cynical way in which record labels release an album, wait a pre-decided period of time and then re-release said album, perhaps with a few extra songs, maybe even a hastily-shot dvd, all the while safe in the knowledge that the devoted fans of said album will rush out and purchase, the re-released album, which is essentially the same product but with different packaging. All of which is not to say that "Almost There" the debut INO Records album for American band Mercyme is no good. Far from it, the album contains several top songs, including "I Worship You", the stonking "House of God" and of course, "I Can Only Imagine" which, in part at least, seems to be the reason for this re-release. What you actually get with this package is the whole original album, plus a bonus disc with three versions of "I Can Only Imagine" which differ in varying ways from the cut on the album, along with illuminating song by song and history of the band chats with lead singer Bart Milliard, and the video for that song. If you're a fan of Mercyme, you probably already have the album. I wouldn't be sure whether to recommend this release to you or not, as while the interview segments are interesting, and caused me to see the band in a much more positive light, they probably don't say anything utterly groundbreaking. I did find myself being drawn in to the band as I went through this release, however. Overall, points to the band for originally making a thoroughly essential modern worship album, but major complaints to the label for its cynicism in pushing another edition of the album on an already-saturated record buying public. 6/10. Haydon Spencely (March 2007)
MERCY ME : The Generous Mr Lovewell. (INO : 48132)
Mercy Me have more than cemented their place as one of the top bands in Christian music today, and this is their 7th studio release. They've also been named as Billboard magazine's "Christian Song Artist of the Decade. However, if my memory serves me right, this collection of songs is much more pop orientated than their previous outings. God's love seems to be the theme of this album, and it all starts to fall into place with 'This Life'. It's a super song and tells that each one of us is meant to shine for God. The title track is a superb radio friendly number but, even that can't touch 'Crazy Enough' in the "best song" stakes. It has a slight Latin feel to it, is well sung, and is so catchy. We can all work together to change this world, is the message, and why not? Most songs appear to be written by Mercy Me and Dan Muckala, and it's a marriage that has produced some fine songs. Both 'Back To you' and 'Remain the Same' have been replayed on my player, and I just feel that this is a really good album. 9/10 (October 2010)
MERCY ME : The HURT & THE HEALER. (Fairtrade Services/Provident).
One of the perks about being a media reviewer is, that you sometimes get hold of albums before their official release date. This was the case with the new Mercy Me album, and I was keen to give it a whirl. The band have become one the leading Christian bands over the last ten years, and lead singer, Bart Millard has an exceptional voice. The title for this new release emphasises the deep need for healing, and the God who provides it. The opening ‘You Know Better’ is a strong song, about following Christ instead of your own way. The guitars chug along, and Millard’s vocals never waver. On ‘You Don’t Care At All’, I thought that the band had a similar sound to Maroon 5 and, the more tracks I heard, the stronger that feeling got. The title track wasn’t an instant favourite, but the more I heard it, the more I liked it. ‘To Whom It May Concern’ has a lighter feel about it, while the declaration of God’s love in oneself on ‘You Are I Am’ is a timely reminder of just how much we owe God for being in our lives. Mid-album, there’s a long, drawn out track called ‘Take The Time’ that just didn’t work for me. Indeed, the album had begun brightly, but seemed to have faded somewhat by the time I go to the end of the track listing. ‘Hold On’ was the best of the latter numbers, with it’s jangly guitars, but I finished this review feeling just a little disappointed. 7/10. (June 2012)
MERCY ME : The Worship Sessions. (Fair Trade : 000768504123)
This is a collection of popular worship songs, classic hymns and original tunes from the early days of one of CCM’s most popular bands. There’s quite a few well known songs featured, but also one or two that were unfamiliar to me. Kathryn Scott’s ‘Hungry’ gets a simple piano based backing, and the result is a very touching version. That’s followed by a great version of Hillsong’s ‘Hosanna’ and a light rock version of ‘Mighty to Save’. In between those songs is a rather luke warm version of Delirious’ ‘My Glorious’. Somehow, it just doesn’t do the song justice, and lacks the passion of the original. The acoustic led backing for Phil Whickham’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ is just perfect but, then, I’ve always loved this song. Songs like ‘Hearts Sing Louder’ and ‘Psalm 139’ didn’t go down quite so well, but I did like Mercy Me’s rendition of ‘In Christ Alone’. Not an album to push back the frontiers, but quite enjoyable nevertheless. 8/10. (June 2013)
MERCY ME : Welcome to the New.   (Fairtrade : 696859309328)
Well, better late than never, I finally received a copy of Mercy Me’s 8th studio album. It was originally released last year but, for whatever, reason, my copy went AWOL. For those of you who didn’t catch up with it either, then it’s a little bit of a change in style for one of CCM’s most popular bands. Yes, there’s still some guitar led moves, as on “Gotta Let It Go”, but there’s also some electronic synth’s being used too. “Burn Baby Burn” for instance almost goes into Europe and “Final Countdown” territory. I had to smile at the title track because both the rhythm and beat reminded me of the theme tune from the TV series Friends! I must admit that I liked the lighter sounds on the album the best. “Greater” and “Flawless” are both easy on the ears, looking at God living inside you, and the power of the cross, respectively. “Wishful Thinking” has a touch of soul about it, while I really liked “Dear Younger Me”. Have you ever thought about what you would say to your younger self? I’ve been doing just that recently, and this song really pulled my heartstrings. It goes without saying that this album has already been well received by fans and media alike. Although not a big fan myself, this album certainly didn’t disappoint.   8/10. (October 2015)
MERCY OVER ME : Catch the Fire, Toronto. (Kingsway : KMCD2531)
Ten years after the first Catch the fire conference, the largest gathering in it's history took place in October 2003, to show that God's business is still very much at the top of the agenda in Toronto. Worship leaders Robert Critchley, David Ruis, Tom Lane, and Jeremy Sinnott are joined by a cast of thousands for this latest recording. Now, I've always enjoyed these albums in the past but I found this one to be a little tiresome. There's no excitement during the first two songs, and the new version of "O Worship the King" wasn't much better. Indeed, it's track 5 before any real spark ignites the fire. Tim Hughes' "Beautiful One" really sets the place alight and you really believe that those gathered have "caught the fire". There's some nice guitar and keyboard work on "Jesus Shall Regin" but it's the last song that will stay in my memory. "Can't Help" is just full of praise and power and reminds me of Robin Mark first singing "The Lion of Judah" a few years ago. A patchy, rather than a polished, affair. 5/10. (April 2004)
THE MESSAGE TRUST : Jesus, the One Who Saves. (Elevation : ELE2168)
The Message Trust is a Christian charity working to improve the lives of young people in Greater Manchester, UK, and beyond. With a history of great musical initiatives such as The World Wide Message Tribe and LZ7, it is no surprise that new songs and sounds are flourishing. Worship leaders and musicians gathered in Manchester in September 2015, together with a packed crowd, and this album is the resulting recording. For most of it, this album had me tearing my hair out, because the songs sound exactly the same as countless releases from, say, Planetshakers, Life Church, and Hillsong. Lyrics are predictable, and on many songs I was preempting the next line of the song correctly. “I Hear the Drums” drives along quite nicely, while the messy production on “Our Light Has Come” totally obliterates the vocals at times. There are three spoken word tracks included. The first, “Intro”, is inaudible for the most – and, yes, my hearing is sound. The last of these spoken tracks sees a soapbox type epistle that, although sincere, most people would cross the road to avoid. Thankfully redemption is one hand towards the end of the album. The title track has excellent structure and really did touch me for full on worship. “How Sweet the Sound” sounds as if it was written like a traditional hymn, before beautiful female vocals lift the whole proceedings with “You Place Your Hand Over Me.” Maybe I hear too many of this type of worship album, but the main content just doesn’t differ. It’s as if everyone is writing the same half a dozen songs. Come on guys, it’s time for a change. 6/10. (June 2016)
MIAMI VINEYARD : Live.   (Vineyard : ELE1771D)
Quote from the sleeve notes; “What happens when a group of people steeped in their own musical traditions of Black Gospel, Latin, Caribbean and Anglo come together to create a new tradition and sound?”  My answer? It all sounds like they are trapped in a 1980’s bubble, listening to Bob Marley and Gloria Estefan. Among the 2000 people who attened the Miami vineyard Community Church, there are over a hundred singers, instrumentalists and songwriters, so it’s obviously very popular. For me, I just couldn’t get over the fact that this type of music hasn’t been heard on the UK shores for many a year. Those gathered are obviously impressed and enjoy the rhythmic beats but I found songs like ‘Holy Spirit Come’, ‘Everything to Me’ and ‘With All My Heart’ to be dated and old hat. Even the Latin feel given to ‘Lord Reign in Me’ left me cold. There’s a quite touching version of ‘Breathe’, and I also thought that ‘I Love Your Majesty’ had an infectious chorus, but these songs were light relief from the tedium of the rest. I may be wrong, but I don’t see this kind of music rearing it’s head in the UK again.   4/10. (April 2013)
MIC : Good Night...God Bless. (Integrity : SARCD137)
MIC were giants of the South African youth music scene until they ended their career at the end of 2007. Now just over 1 year on & they have released Good Night...God Bless; a greatest hits compilation, featuring 10 of their best loved tracks. Instead of just plonking 10 golden oldies onto a CD, their founder Steve Rothquel recruited 8 former band members & re-recorded the lot, keeping the production much more fresh and relevant than they might otherwise have been. The music generally has a commercial dance/pop flavour & the formula has worked particularly well on tracks such as "Brand New Day" & "Lollypop" making for some very catchy & addictive beats which can have you humming/singing along before you know it! The is a slight downside in that some tracks can blend in to one another & touch on being slightly cheesy / boy band-ish which can get a bit irksome after a while ("Catch Me" being a prime example). You certainly can't knock this package for value as there's also a DVD containing a documentary, music videos , live footage AND 50 of MIC's hits in MP3 format which is corking value for your hard-earned cash. I saw these guys live in 2007 at New Wine just before they disbanded & they really did get the place rocking with kids & adults alike getting fired up for Jesus which was an awesome experience. Unlike many bands formed in the 80s though, it's doubtful there'll be a series of reunion tours, etc so the likelihood off seeing anything else from these guys is slim. Such a shame! 9/10 Simon Redfern (May 2009)
MIC - Re-Invention. (All Access Records : SARCD110)
This is the 12th album from the South African based trio MIC (although, rather confusingly, there are four in the band on this album). The first track "Re-invention" is pretty good, and has a Duran Duran meets Depeche Mode sound to it. This is by far the strongest track, the rest unfortunately not really reaching the same standard. This album is strongly rap oriented, but lacks the catchy hooks and melodic influences that characterise the current direction of this genre even though they make a valiant attempt with "Bottlerocket". Lyrically it's good, but musically it doesn't excite. The band took a different approach to this album and I'm left with the feeling that in this case, it didn't quite work. 4/10 Robin Thompson. (May 2006)
MIC : Snapshot (Integrity : SARCD124)
Over the course of many years, and a dizzying number of lineup changes, South Africa's MIC, led by Steve Rothquel, have proven themselves a durable and creative force in the dance/pop scene. More than that, it's apparent that the strong ministry values at the core of the organisation have led to many thousands of lives lastingly changed. Like compatriots Tree63, MIC are a prime concern in their homeland, but remain relatively under-appreciated over here, despite regular visits to summer festivals. After their recent stellar DVD release, the new album from the current lineup (completed by Theran and Pete), is another strong entry in their growing canon of groove-laden pop music. Mixed by former Tribe aficionado Zarc Porter, there's not a weak cut here, from the opening party starter "Get Up", to the guitar-laden "Sake of Love", right through to the soulful "Don't Change", this is R&B infused with the hooks and harmonies so beloved in the charts at the moment and, unsurprisingly, with the production values to match and even surpass their more vaunted contemporaries. Lyrically, this is aimed squarely at the teen/young person's market, but that does not suggest by any means that the more experienced listener will struggle to find candy for the ears and food for the soul. Closed out by a couple of remixes, as well as tracks from "The Captain" and "Steve Solo" which appear to be signs of things to come from forthcoming solo records out on the bands' label, All Access Records, this is a strong package. Apart from anything else, the ministry undertaken by bands such as MIC should be applauded and supported, but the sheer quality of this record means it should be sought out on its own merits. 8/10. Haydon Spencely (February 2007)
MICAH CHALLENGE : You Have Shown Us. (Kingsway : KMCD3130)
Micah Challenge is a special campaign focusing on the promise of world nations to halve global poverty by 2015; 'You Have Shown Us The Way' features 15 songs that focus on that theme and God's heart for the poor, justice, mercy & humility. There's a comprehensive list of major artists featuring here with Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Martin Smith and Stuart Townend to name but a few. Given credits like these my expectations couldn't really be anything but high! If bounce & energy are your thing, then maybe this isn't the one to pull out of the CD collection but if you're looking more towards contemplation and depth from the words then this is a strong choice. From the outset in the opening "You Have Shown Us", the mood is distinctly chilled. I found myself listening to the verses with great intensity only to sink at the sound of the chorus, which I found a bit bland in its delivery. For me the song just didn't really get going. Godfrey Birtill follows on with "Lord Turn Your Footsteps" which has a little more get-up-and-go in it, building nicely in the chorus. The chill factor hits strongly again with "Beyond Us", with some lovely relaxing vocals from Cathy Burton mixed with a mild smattering of country & western flavouring with twanging guitars but thankfully minus the depressing lyrics! After all this, Delirious' live "Now Is The Time" came as a bit of a shock to the system with a fantastic anthemic chorus and plenty of zing - very catchy indeed. Apart from this & "Love Mercy" from Andy Bromley though, chill-out is definitely the order of the day. Some good quality material on here without a doubt but I would really have to be in the right mood to listen to this. Some songs were so relaxed they were practically horizontal which I found a touch dull & draining after a full CD. Maybe picking out songs as needed is a better approach to this one. 7/10 Simon Redfern (October 2010)
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 www.michaelharcus.com . 7/10 Dave Deeks (July 2005)
MICHAEL ANDERSON : 'Love Is the Hard Part'. (Forefront/Alliance).
He's been around for years but this is the first album that I've ever heard from Mr Anderson. He starts of with a song that could have had me believing that I was listening to Michael W.Smith, - the title track. An upbeat number with a catchy chorus. There's a great jingly jangly guitar opening to my favourite track 'I Know It's Not the Rain', but he then goes completely off the rails with a rock ballad that is simply dreadful! Great messages of faith in the lyrics of 'Shot Down' and 'Fighting to Surrender', but Michael shoots himself in the foot again with the moody six and a half minute 'Revival' - more like 'Relapse'. It's not a bad release but, again, I feel he could do a whole lot better. 6/10. (August 1996)
MICHAEL CAMERON : Fragile. (New Dawn : NDD003).
New Dawn Music's 3rd release comes from an Irishman who, on the whole, is largely unknown in mainland Britain. Mind you, who had heard of Robin Mark a couple years ago? In contrast to Mr Mark, Michael Cameron is a little more folk orientated but not in an old fashioned style. With Louise Wilson's excellent backing vocals, it's hard not to compare the resulting sound to a stipped-down Deacon Blue. Great harmonies, wrapped within some very catchy lyrics, will have you tapping your foot along with songs such as 'Someone Who Can' and 'Anywhere'. 'Rescue Me' is a song that pleads for forgiveness, to a heavenly Father that we've let down so many times, and the title track continues the feeling. Michael himself, is a t ease with most of the vocals and he certainly has an engaging voice. I just thought that the quality of the some of the songs dipped a little and, therefore, made a good album of what could have been even better. 7/10. (January 1999)
MICHAEL CARD : Strarkindler - A Celtic Conversation Across Time. (Alliance)
Michael Card's 20th album sees this prolific writer turn his hand to Celtic music as he uses ancient melodies and traditional lyrics from a cross the centuries to reset 8 hymns. The album includes only one of his own compositions, the title track, which is one of the highlights for me. The album contrasts with his usual style of folk songs, with layers of vocal harmony, by using traditional Celtic instruments, some of which he plays himself and a softly sung vocal. The album begins and ends with 'Be Thou My Vision' and was not quite what I was expecting from Card, but it is definitely listenable and very suitable as mellow background music with a lilting style and timeless lyrics. The other highlights for me are 'Jesus Lover of My Soul' and 'I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say' which have upbeat themes. The record represents a worshipful conversation and recognises God's authorship of creation. 7/10. Rose Waring. (December 1998)
MICHAEL CARD : Telling the World! Word : (TIME029)
Michael Card's light-folk style has always promoted his clean cut, wholesome, Christian values. I first came across his music in 1990 with the release of the wonderful "The Way of Wisdom". This budget priced release is a compilation of some of his earlier work and includes classics like "El Shaddai" and "I Have Decided". Despite the fact that the whole thing begins with a little kids song, the quality of the songs are quite high. You can tell how Card's songwriting abilities have improved over the years but there's still plenty to get your teeth into here. "Abba Father" sounds incredibly like REM's "Losing My Religion" and "don't You Know had thinking along the lines of an early Beatles sound. The prize track, in my mind, is "Jesus Loves Me". Upfront, unashamed lyrics, and a tune that will have you foot tapping straight away. From full blooded orchestral backing to simple acoustic led songs, Michael shows that his song - on the whole - have stood the test of time. 7/10. (June 1999)
MICHAEL CARD : Scribbling in the Sand. (M? Communications)
With the sale of over 4 million records and 400,000 books over his twenty (20) year career, Michael Card's response to God's creation has clearly impacted many, but with his new project Scribbling in the Sand (CD/DVD/VHS), Michael Card invites his audience into the creative process which has inspired him. A live album featuring some of the best of Michael Card's classic material, Scribbling in the Sand is accompanied by a companion video of the private concert taped in Nashville in the Fall of 2001, (July 2002)
MICHAEL CARD : Scribbling in the Sand. (M? Communications)
With the sale of over 4 million records and 400,000 books over his 20 year career, Michael Card's response to God's creation has clearly impacted many. "Scribbling in the Sand" is a live album featuring some of the best of his classic material, recorded at a private concert taped in Nashville in the Fall of 2001. It kicks off with the classic "El Shaddai" and then tumbles from it's great height with dull and uninspiring offerings such as "Immanuel" and "Soul Anchor". Guest artists appear every now and again, with Phil Keaggy adding to the album's purple patch - including "The Poem of Your Life". As a fan of Michael Card, I found this live album to fall rather flat with previous favourites like "Love Crucified Arose" and "Sunrise of Your Smile" just not making the grade. To be honest, you'd be better off paying more but buying the original albums. 3/10. (August 2002)
MICHAEL ENGLISH : The Prodigal Son Comes Home. (Curb : 8790262)
I guess most people will remember Michael's, much publicised, fall from grace a few year's back. The title of this new album tells of his renewed relationship with God, and the thanks for a second chance. Indeed, both 'Sanctuary' and 'The Prodigal Son' must be very personal songs, and Michael sings them with great passion. 'Feels like Redemption' is self explanatory, and I loved the song 'The Only Thing Good in Me (is Jesus)'. His voice seems to be better than ever, and he effortlessly caresses ballads such as 'Redeem Me' and 'Time'. I remember feeling very sad when Michael disappeared from the CCM scene, but this album see's a reborn Michael English doing what he does best. 7/10 (April 2009)
MICHAEL GUNGOR : Bigger Than My Imagination. (Vertical Music : 28172)
Michael Gungor is the son of a pastor and worship leader. A student of music since the age of 10, he has led worship since his high school days. Michael credits his musical development to his parents in particular, but also worship leaders such as Israel, Tommy Walker and Darrell Evans. Personally, I found his sound to be very much like that of Chris Tomlin, grasping those Bible truths and wrapping them within an up to date sound that can stir the listener. "Friend of God" could be sung in any church, and easily learnt. I'm sure it would be very popular wherever it was performed. The title track sums up just what God means to him while "Move Me" prays to be brought closer to Him. Mid-album, Michael seems to loose his way a little with some jazzy and latin effects that aren't as good. "Little Kingdom" lasts for more than 6 minutes and fails to inspire but "Beautiful Face" lays bare the face of the Lord for a true act of worship. Apparently Michael used to suffer from shyness, speaking and singing to large groups, lets hope this album sees his music get the recognition it deserves. 7/10. (March 2005)
MICHAEL HARCUS : Take A Moment. (www.michaelharcus.com)
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, Album of the Month)
MICHAEL HARCUS with FRIENDS : One Day I'll Know. (www.michaelharcus.com)
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, Album of the Month)
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. (May 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. Secure server: www.stairway.org/mhart2/michael.html).
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 : www.stairway.org/michaelhart)
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, Album of the Month)
MICHAEL NEALE : No Greater Audience. (Integrity : 41752)
Recorded live at the 11,000 member Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida this album sees Dove nominated worship leader Michael Neale's 4th Integrity release. And, what a fantastic release it is too! After a short introduction, Michael launches into the powerful "You Amaze Me" - a song that would grace any God centred gathering. "As For Me" is unashamed, buoyant praise while the brilliant "I Am Yours" feels so full of the spirit as you submit to God in your life. Michael doesn't use fancy words to convey his message but he cleverly uses every day language to praise and worship and almighty Lord. There's strong worship in "I Will Dwell" and, just when you think it can't get any better, what a terrific song "Beautiful King" is. The songs on this album are just pure quality. They moved me very much, and how I wished I had been at the live event. A must have album if ever there was one. 10/10. (August 2008, Album of the Month)
MICHAEL SPEAKS : "Praise At Your Own Risk" (Word: 080688605)
This is the debut gospel album from a remarkable vocalist/composer/producer Michael Speaks. His singing career was launched in 1995 when he was discovered singing in a New York subway system/ His critically acclaimed album "No Equal" positioned him as an R&B/pop star. Now, he's returned to his roots and this son of a Pentecostal preacher delivers music in similar vein to that of Mary Mary and Destiny's Child. I'll come straight out and say it that the album is not my type of music - never has been. There again, the recent Tonex album was a real pleasure to listen to. Michael Speaks gives gospel funk and hip hop in the shape of "Jump" and "Born Again". The opening "I Just Wanna Dance Now" won't fail to get your feet tapping and he delivers the same message throughout the 10 songs. His lyrics are very strong and, sometimes, very simple. If you got a problem, that's no worry, just "Praise Your Problems Away". In similar vein the title track says that you "Praise At your own Risk" - don't be surprised at just what wonders God will do when you really start to praise. No, not my cup of tea, but strong songwriting on show. 6/10. (February 2001)
MICHAEL SWEET : 'Real'. (Nelson Word)
For me, the name of Michael Sweet still conjures up those exciting days of finding my first CCM rockers, clad in their yellow and black spandex and playing some great songs. Following his first solo album, Sweet is back with an album that his record company compare to Bon Jovi. Well, let me tell you, there's no way Jon Bon Jovi would want to be compared with this. If that first solo album was disappointing, then this one is even more so. He does give a good account on the revamped 'Always There For You' and the Stryperesque "Second Chance", but there's so much weak material here, it's hard to pick out any more worth listening to. Sorry. 3/10. (April 1996)
MICHAEL W. SMITH : Live the Life. (Reunion : CD10007Y).
One thing you can be sure of, a quality recording from Smitty. Yes, this is no exception as the No.1 best selling male artist produces another fine album of songs. Pop, at it's very best, is apparent from the start, especially with the opening 'Missing Person', which asks why your child-like faith has to disappear as you grow? The hit US single, and title track is another top tune that oozes class and shows just why it was such a smash. Pairing up with the likes of Brent Bourgeois and Wayne Kirkpatrick, the quality of the writing never dips on other greats as 'Don't Give Up' and the truely tremendous 'Hello, Good-Bye'. This is an album that you'll play over and over again. 10/10. (Album of the Month, July 1998)
MICHAEL W.SMITH : Christmastime. (Reunion : 02341 00152).
I'm sure it must have seemed like ma good idea at the time but what possessed Smitty to record this album is beyond me. Just how many versions of 'Jingle Bells' and 'O Come O'Come Emmanuel' can one stomach? 'The Happiest Christmas' reminds you of those tacky American TV Christmas shows were the artist mimes to a record while happy families frolic merrily in the surrounding snow. There is, however, a plus side to the album. The title track was is written by Joanna Carlson and is one of the best, new Christmas songs to be released in ages. Full choir backing, gives it an old fashioned sort of feel and Mr Smith does the rest. It's great and should be a massive hit. 'Carols Sing' is another highlight amongst this rather bleak offering that I certainly wouldn't want to find in my stocking! 4/10. (December 1998)
MICHAEL W. SMITH : This Is Your Time. (Reunion : 02341 00412)
Studio album number 13 finds Michael in his usual fine form, producing a collection of songs ranging from pop ballads to guitar driven anthems. "Hey You It's Me" is a prime example of the latter, co written with 80's chart man, Nik Kershaw. The title track was inspired by the tragedy of Columbine High School, Colorado, and Michael challenges us to live every moment and leave nothing to chance. Chris Rice, Cindy Morgan, and Wayne Kirkpatrick have all helped Smithy to produce some excellent songs and keep to the standard that we come to expect from the "King of Christian Pop". Even the throwaway love song "I'm Gone" is nothing short of a classic as he really gets over the message of what true love is all about. Another hit, no doubt. 9/10. (February 2000, Album of the Month)
MICHAEL W SMITH : Freedom. (Reunion : 02341-0002-2)
When you think of Michael W Smith, you immediately think of classic pop music. But, for nearly two decades, Michael has dreamed of making an instrumental album, and this is it. Using a famous letter written by a soldier in the American Civil War, he has written pieces that tell of the bloodshed, the battles, and the love contained within. The title track itself is on such example where you can almost hear the bitter struggle of guns and cannon's firing. "Carol Ann" has to be my favourite piece of music, totally inspired by the death of a close family friend. It's a beautifully orchestrated piece, led by great piano playing. In fact, it's so good that it sounds as if it's come straight from an epic film score. "Hibernia" is more like "Riverdance". Close your eyes, and you could almost visualise hordes of Irish dancers, kicking and leaping across the stage. "The Call" gets a wee bit messy for my liking, especially when a rogue guitar is let loose, quite spoiling the whole effect. But, with other pieces like "The Giving" and "Thy Word", Michael has produced a something that will surprise many. 9/10. (February 2001)
MICHAEL W. SMITH : Worship. (Reunion : 602341002523)
A crowd of nearly 8,000 filled Carpenter's Home Church in Lakeland, Florida to take part in Michael's live praise and worship album. Artists such as Amy Grant, Mark Schultz and a host of others joined him on stage as part of a 23 voice choir. The result is one of the best contemporary praise and worship albums that you're ever likely to hear. I'd already heard "Above All" and what a great track that is, so powerful. Even Matt Redman's "The Heart of Worship" has new life with a quite moving and astonishing version. The middle part of the album is the real purple patch which includes "Let It Rain", "Angus Dei", and truly awesome version of Rich Mullins' "Awesome God". As I listen to albums, I jot down notes and, as I read mine for this album, words like "brilliant", "wonderful" and "excellent" constantly appeared. I guess that sums up this release perfectly. 10/10. (November 2001, Album of the Month)
MICHALE W SMITH : TheChristmas Collection. Reunion : 02341-009142)
I'm a big fan of Smithy, so it's very hard to give this review as I am going to. A two album collection, packaged together, featuring songs recorded nearly 9 years apart. "Christmastime" is the most recent of the two collections and it sounds no better than it did when it was first released in 1998. The title track stands head and shoulders above any of the mind numbing renditions of carols like "We Three Kings" and "Away in a Manger". Indeed, on it's own, the song would have made a splendid single. As for "Christmas", recorded in 1989, I'm afraid it's more of the same. "Anthem For Christmas","First Snowfall", "Christ the Messiah", all fall into the "trash at it's most highest" category. It's bad, and I wouldn't waste your money on this package at all. 2/10. (December 2004)
MICHAEL W SMITH : Healing Rain. Reunion : 4100732.
Five years. It's seems an eternity since we had a studio pop album from this man. There's been some cracking praise and worship songs from him in that time, but this release has been eagerly awaited. So, was the wait worth it? In a word, no. Oh, it's not a bad album, but a lot of the songs sound very dated. "HangOn" for instance includes some very 1980's Howard Jones type synthesizer sounds, and "Fly to the Moon" follows a similar pattern. It's an outdated, 2nd rate Euro-rock song that should be confined to some American TV Show, like Baywatch. It's not all doom and gloom though. The title track is typical Smith at his best. Big production, classy vocals and a song that literally rains down on you. Later on, he also manages to stamp his mark on the classic "Bridge Over Troubled Water", and these two songs show that there is life in the old dog yet. Let's hope when he returns again, that Michael has left the 80's far behind. 6/10. (March 2005)
MICHAEL W SMITH : Stand. (Reunion : 602341010924)
In the late 80's and early 90's I bought everything that Michael recorded. His music was like a breath of fresh air to this relatively new Christian. Indeed, as I write, I've just played his version of "Above All" on the radio - a version that I believe is the best I've heard. But, when it comes to this new album I found myself listening and drifting. Drifting, because so few of the songs captured my interest. "Come to the Cross" has lots of layered guitar sounds on it, and the result is a very full sound. "How to Say Goodbye" and "Be Lifted High" are two, gentler sounds that have worship in mind and are quite passable. But it's songs like "Cover Me" and "Grace" that seem very ordinary and lack any real spirit. "The Stand" is a strong number, but the big production sound of "Come See" probably brings out the best in Mr Smith. The album's title calls for the listener to stand for what you believe in but listening to this, I'd need a bit more persuasion. 5/10. (May 2007)
MICHAEL W. SMITH : It's A Wonderful Christmas. (Reunion Records)
Recorded at London's famous Abbey Road Studios with a 65 piece orchestra and four choirs, this is Michael W Smith's offering for Christmas. If, like me, you were expecting an album of songs containing Smith's trademark lyrics and melody's, then you will be sadly disappointed. Instead, the maestro has gone for big, orchestral moves which, at times, sound more like film scores than anything else. It all starts with, for me, the best track on the album - 'Christmas Angels'. Both orchestra and choirs are at their peak, with Smith's vocals adding to the performance. 'Song for the King' is, in fact, an instrumental, showing off his piano skills. Right out of the blue come the bagpipes on 'A Highland Carol'. It just doesn't work, and the sound tails off into oblivion. I suppose that Michael should be applauded for trying something different with this album but the finished product is as weak and watery as the winter sunshine. It left me quite cold. 4/10 (December 2007)
MICHAEL W SMITH : New Hallelujah. (Reunion Records : 602341013321)
I am not a big fan of live worship Cd's in general, it always seems to me as if they are an attempt to re-create a moment that's gone, and unless you were there at the time I don't think they mean that much. However, there are a few albums that I find enjoyable, and this one will be added to what is, I admit, a fairly short list. I wasn't too sure when the album kicked off with a drum solo, but once things got going I found this to be an excellent CD. The title track is obviously one of the best known songs on here, but there are also impressive versions of "Healing Rain", "The River Is Rising" and "Amazing Grace" There's also a version of Delirious' "Majesty (Here I Am)" which works well. The standout track for me though is "Mighty To Save". There's a couple of guests on here too. The African Children's Choir, Israel Houghton, and Coalo Zamorano help out on three of the songs. There's one track called "MWS Shares" which you may feel the need to skip, but otherwise this is one of the best CD's I've heard for months. 9/10 Andy Sayner. (March 2009)
MICHAEL W SMITH : Wonder. (Reunion : 602341015325)
The opening phrases of this album instantly brought a smile to my face. It heralded the start of a new Michael W Smith album, and I knew that it was going to be special. This guy gives such a polished performance to ‘Save Me From Myself’, that it really does show just what lengths he goes to, to make a record. Some reviewers talk about certain American albums being “over produced”, but that’s not the case here. Each sound has been carefully put together, and the result is pure perfection. I raised an eyebrow when I first heard ‘I’ll Wait For You’, as Michael’s vocals take on a gravel tone, but it works so well. His adult pop style is forgotten on the rocky ‘Wonder’, where Michael sings about Jesus, never being far away, in all your troubles. ‘Rise’ is quite an epic number but what follows in one of the most beautiful love songs, you’re ever likely to hear. ‘You Belong To Me’ is co written with Michael Olson and Matt Maher, and it honestly brought a tear to my eye. It’s a breath taking album that concludes with the prayer ‘Take me over’, which contains some lovely orchestral sounds. This is a winner! 10/10 (January 2011, Album of the Month)
MICHAEL W. SMITH : Decades of Worship. (Reunion : 02341-0168-2)
More than 20 years ago, I bought a Michael W. Smith concert video. As a young Christian, I thought he was one of God’s superstars. But, while he performed with all the skill of a great artist, he also brought the massed audience into a tremendous time of praise and worship. No, he’s not a superstar, but I still remember how humble he was on stage and, in those ensuing years, his faith and commitment has only grown stronger. With hardly a blemish on his recording career, I have personally bathed in Michael’s music over the years, and this collection of worship songs is a cracker. Where does it all begin? Well, how about the instantly recognisable ‘Awesome God’ – a live recording, so full of power. Then, he stamps his own trademark sound on a vibrant rendition of ‘Mighty To Save’. ‘You Are Holy’ was a new song to my ears, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Then, it’s time for ‘Above All’. Written by Lenny Leblanc and Paul Baloche, no-one, in my opinion, does it better than Michael W. Smith. He, somehow, produces such beauty within the song, that it melts my heart each time I hear it. A superb version of ‘Here I Am To Worship’ is included, as well as the magnificent ‘Healing Rain’. What a collection! 10/10. (August 2012, Album of the Month)
MICHELLE TUMES : Listen. (Sparrow/Alliance : 72438515462 1).
So far this year, I raved about albums from Maire Brennan, Janis English, and Gemma McQueen. Now, a fourth lady has won my musical heart with her debut album. Born in Australia but now living in the U.S, Michelle's release has been produced by Charlie Peacock. Her voice is sometimes like that of Enya and, then again, sometimes like 80's starlet Judi Tzuke. Music is so carefully put together and used to it's full potential for Michelle's beautiful vocals. The title track literally drenches you in a lovely feeling of God, which is carried on by the following number, "Healing Waters". How may times I wanted to describe a track as, simply, "beautiful" I don't know but that is exactly how I felt about this album. "Please Come Back" is a song that is lyrically drawn from the parable of the prodigal song, while "Life is Beautiful" directly sums up Michelle's own spiritual and emotional journey. No matter how I try, "beautiful" is the only word for this album. 10/10. (May 1998, Album of the Month)
MICHELLE TUMES : Center of My Universe. (Sparrow : 7243 85169625)
I must admit to being very excited when I heard that this album was on its way. I simply loved Michelle's debut release and couldn't wait to play this brand new offering. "Centre of My Universe" opens with one of those songs that give you a lift, no matter how down and depressed you may be feeling. "Deep Love" is filled with deep love, and a joy of knowing that God is with us, always. "Lovely" is a more refrained number, but "Do Ya" is a snappy, guitar, pop song that is more in the style of Natalie Imbruglia. It's hard to compare her with the likes of Clannad but there is that sort of sound to most of the songs. Vocal wise, Michelle sounds a little like Genie Nillsson, especially so on the very beautiful "Missing You". The monasticism "Chant" is something a little different and just provides another twist in the delights that await any listener of this rather delicious and sensitive release. 10/10. (May 2000)
MICHELLE WILLIAMS : Do You know. (Sony : 5151152)
While Beyonce Knowles has become one of the hottest properties in the secular music market, her Destiny's Child sister, Michelle, has stayed true to her faith and recorded her first gospel album. The result is rather a tepid affair with some watered down DC sound's and second rate song writing. Unlike some recordings, the more the played this album, the less I liked it. Tracks like "The Movement" just grated on me and it was a relief when it finished. Michelle does posess a silky, warm voice and her smooth vocals on "Never Be the Same" are a real joy to listen to. It may be just coincidence that the two songs I thought stood out, were both written by someone called T.Sims - they stood head and shoulder above anything else. "15 Minutes" is a personal retrospective of her life with DC and time in the media spotlight, and I had the feeling that it was very Yolanda Adams inspired. Hats off to Michelle for her beliefs and stance, but she needs stronger songs if she's going to make an impact on the Christian scene. 3/10. (April 2004)
MIGHTY MYKELL : Fly Away/I’m Gonna Make It. (http://mightymykell.com)
Mighty Mykell, aka Mykell Wilson is an entertainer, author and motivational speaker from Southern California. The two tracks “Fly Away” and “I’m Gonna Make It” are from his upcoming debut six track EP, “Sometimes I Sing”. There’s just a third of the full EP here but on the evidence what is presented here, it should be a strong debut. Funk, pop, R’n’B and soul are the clear influences here with a vocal sound lying somewhere between Prince and Michael Jackson. It’s an uplifting blend, lilting and melodic which is a fine foil for the brash synth stabs on “I’m Gonna Make It”. The acoustic guitar running through it is great too, and there is a real balance to the track. “Fly Away” is a little more floaty, with some interesting off beat synth rhythms that remind me very much of Mutemath. I do find myself wanting more, and it’s a shame I only got sent two tracks. On the strength of those though, Mykell may well be right – he is gonna make it. 9/10 Robin Thompson. (May 2017)
MIKE BURN : Get Into the Word. (ICC : ICCD81930)
Here's a new idea from Mike Burn. A two Cd presentation for children. CD1 is a normal audio CD, while CD2 is an interactive CD Rom containing a simple overview of the Bible, a fun quiz, and lots more. The songs range from the simple nursery rhyme type to some solid musical numbers. "I'm Putting on God's Armour" and ""Don't Be Like the Hypocrites" are both simple, repetitive songs that younger children will enjoy. The older ones will like songs such as "Do Your Best to Present Yourself" and "Get into the Word". The latter opens with a guitar riff that sounds like the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up", and what a good song it is. As for CD2, I had no-one but myself to try it on, but I think that it looks like an ideal, fun thing for young people. All in all, Mike Burn presents quite a hit. 8/10. (November 2004)
MIKE ROBERTS : Still Time. (CD Recording £11 inc' p&p from: Still Time Music, 5 Carlton Avenue, Feltham, TW14 0EE, England.)
How often do we get Christian jazz music to review? Once in a blue moon, that's how often. But, here we find talented pianist and composer, Mike Roberts conveying God's word in a style that, unfortunately, get's pushed aside all too easily. As he says in his biography, "the relaxed style cuts across all generations". Indeed, listening to this album I was instantly transported back in time to the late 40's (before my time, honestly!) and those smokey bars were all the best dressed people used to meet. With excellent musicians gathered around him, Mike has produced an album of jazz that may well fill a hole in the music market. From the piano led "See What God Can Do" to the lovely title track, there's a real quality to the sounds. "No One Can Take the Place of Jesus" is a straight forward praise of the work of the Lord in his life, but Mike's stlye, somehow, makes it all sound so fresh. Do not worry, is the message behind "God Is Much Bigger Than You", complete with it's gripping trumpet solo. Nostalgic, yes, it certainly is but I'm not so sure about it's appeal to the younger age group. Jazz musos will have to go a long way before finding something better on the British scene. 8/10. (February 2000)
MIKE SCOTT : Still Burning. (Chrysalis/Steady)
For those unfamiliar with both Scott and The Waterboys, where have you been? It's not too late, and if you can find this import it is a good place to start as any. You can expect uncommonly good, high energy rock and roll with influences as far reaching as Van Morrison and Big Country. Also, like Bill Mallonee of Vigilantes of Love, Mike Scott's voice is atypical. With respect to his Scotish heritage, he sounds as if he might have a bit of the leprechaun in him, such is his gutsy, yet higher-pitched pixieish trolling. The rest of the sound is fleshed out with elexctric guitars, drums, bass, and some interesting additions, including horns, pianos, a mellotron, RD500 synths, Hammond and Wurlitzer organs, a Bellzouki, and something called a rainstick. There is also some lush orchestration on one track. The result is a batch of ten songs ranging from the full-throttle rocker that is opener "Questions" all the way to the hymn-ballad hybrid of "Everlasting Arms". There's nary a dull moment in between. 8/10. Steven Baldwin (Courtesy The Phantom Tollbooth e-zine http://www/tollbooth.org ) (March 1999)
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)
MILES CAIN & THE LOST MARBLES : Live Form Planet Hull. (Private CD recording £7.99 from: M.Salter, 32 St Matthew Street, Boulevard, Hull, England, HU3 2UA.
To celebrate his 10 years of musical performance and recording, Miles Cain has produced this live album containing the best of his repertoire, so far. Already pigeon holed as a cross between REM, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springstein, his music is based around his acoustic guitar but is more than ably accompanied by his electric colleagues. "The One I Love" is so REM, you might even search your collection to see if he's nicked the track, but he hasn't. That Michael Stipe drone is there and the backing is sheer delight. "Mystery Girl" rocks well, while "All Of Our Lives" and "Not Everybody Makes It Into the Light" slows things down and makes you sit and ponder just where you are in your life. The pick of the album has to be "Song For Becca", written in memory of a dear departed friend but, once again, celebrating her life and being thankful for it. "Fairground Town" (his single from last year) features well towards the end as the overall quality begins to fade. 13 songs for under £8 from a guy who also busks to the late night club crowd of Hull. Now, how many of you would do that? 7/10. (October 1999)
MILES CAIN : 3 Songs. (CD : £4.50 from 8 Ambrose Street, Fishergate, York, England, YO10 4DR.
Produced by Paul Davies, this 3 track single is a taste of things to come from a guy who's spent an awful long time recording his latest album. Previously, his style fitted into the REM and Crowded House mode but that seems to have evolved this time round. "Don't Care About the Weather", written by Rosario & Tomlinson, is a great song, and spot on for radio play. And, if Miles ever fancies an entry on TV's Stars in their Eyes, then he's got to do Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue. "Waking Up With the House on Fire", on the other hand, has one of the most dark, depressing feelings to it that I've ever heard. Not quite sure that I understood this one, but Miles tells me that he doesn't just sing about the good times in life. And, finally, "The Other Side of Midnight". This is more like it. Nice guitar work, and the quality of the voice oozes out. Helen Turner's accompanying vocal is very Annie Lennox and works well. Nice taster Miles, so please finish that album soon! 7/10. (May 2003)
MILES CAIN : Different Destinations. (CD £13 from M.Salter, 8 Ambrose Street, Fishergate, York, England, YO10 4DR)
Recorded and assembled over a period of nearly 5 years, Miles certainly doesn't rush when he's making an album. Over the years, I've pigeon holed him as a Ricky Ross soundalike, and this release does nothing to make me change my mind. That Deacon Blue sound comes to the fore on songs like the distinctly pop sounding "Don't Care About the Weather" and the relaxed vein of "All of Our Lives". On both tracks, Miles' vocals are complimented by the passionate harmonies of Helen Turner. The oddly titled "Ozymandias" is, perhaps, one of the most commercial tracks on show and there's some nice mandolin sounds used effectively. Topic wise, Miles looks at relationships, wealth & poverty, and the wonder of life itself. Indeed, the latter is born on the final track where it's a case of Pink Floyd meets War of the Worlds. Mainly guitar based, it's an album of which you need to take careful note if you're to get the best out of it. It's not one for just putting on in the background, you really do need to listen as Miles carefully weaves his lyrics and hooks into each individual song. For those of you who like something different to the norm, try this cleverly produced piece of art. 8/10. (June 2004)
MIRIAM WEBSTER : Made Me Glad. (Kingsway : KMCD2973)
Miriam may not be a name that instantly leaps out of your CD collection, but serving as one of the main worship leaders at Hillsong in Sydney there is a jolly good chance you have been singing one or two of her songs for a while without knowing it. The best known of these probably being the title track "Made Me Glad" which instantly struck a chord (no pun intended). Indeed a number of big names in CCM have covered her material such as Martin Smith, Don Moen & New Breed. As you would expect from someone with Miriam's musical pedigree, you get a very slick CD with faultless musicianship and some emotionally charged vocals from the lady herself - nothing wrong with that at all. What you don't get however are any surprises - if you know Hillsong then you've got a pretty accurate picture of what you're going to get with this. The opening track "Mercies" is a mid-paced praise track which leaves you sitting thinking "where have I heard this before?"; "Angel of the Lord" follows on in similar vein by which time my interest was beginning to fade a little with some serious deja-vu. Lyrically we have some pretty solid material with lots of Psalm snippets interwoven which can lead to some thought provocation which is never a bad thing, but I still found myself wishing for something a little less run-of-the-mill, certainly where the faster numbers are concerned. The slower, ballad-style songs work much better like "Loving Kindness" and "Draw Near" showing off Miriam's vocal gifts more clearly. Overall then a solid no-nonesense offering from a very talented singer & songwriter, but alas no x-factor to lift it above the masses. 8/10 Simon Redfern (March 2010)
MISS ANGIE : Triumphantine (Myrrh : 080688587826)
Now here's an interesting album. This is the follow up to 'One Million Eyeballs', an album that surely must have won an award for the title. (I'm thinking of calling my next album 'Two Million Ear Drums'). Myrrh describe Miss Angie's unique style as Techno Rock but there are touches of Indie here. Heavy on the synthetic effects, lots of distorted guitar and some great pumping rhythms give this album the edge. Miss Angie's vocals remind me a lot of Nina from The Cardigans, but the music couldn't be more different. It's a shame that some of the vocals are covered over by excess use of effects as in the opening track, 'Jesus Get Me', but that aside it's an album that definitely grows on you. 'Let's Get Together', 'Dancin' In My Head', and 'Doom' particularly stand out for me - they've got that indie touch but a very commercial, polished production. Clever lyrics too, but I can't understand why some of the tracks are so short. There are 10 tracks on this album with a total running time of 31mins 32 secs - and this is a full priced album at £14.99. Ever get the feeling that we're being ripped off? Message to Myrrh - this is good stuff, so give us more for our money! 8/10 (would have been 9 if there was more of it) (October 1999)
Miss HIV (DVD,Kingsway)
I have spent the best part of the last decade and a half working with a local charity founded on the desire to support and help those living with HIV and AIDS, as well as working to educate and prevent the spread of the virus among young people, so it is fair to say that this is a subject close to my heart. Narrated by former US gospel singer and actress Revd Della Reese (Touched By An Angel, among many others), and with contributions from HIV positive people, activists and doctors, this powerful documentary provides a stark vision of why this is an issue that should not be ignored or marginalised, in the way it often has been, even in the West. Contrasting the situation in Botswana, where HIV/AIDS was not talked about and, as a result, reached a point where almost half of all pregnant women were HIV positive, with that in Uganda where a determined and open policy of communication reduced such infections to just 6%, the film examines the clashes between international AIDS policies and local culture and, in passing, provides insight into how Western governments and agencies pour money into transplanting ineffective Western solutions into sub-Saharan Africa. The tone is not overly negative though, and the film is framed by the story of two young Botswanan women who enter an HIV positive pageant (hence the title) in a bid to raise awareness and remove the stigma that led to such out of control HIV infection in their nation. As a piece of documentary film-making Miss HIV is excellent: tightly edited, well shot, thought-provoking, informative and narrated with real heart for the subject. As a window into an issue on which the church has always felt uncomfortable, tied up as it is with sex and sexuality, it provides genuine insight and a real kick in the pants. Seriously ... watch this film! 10/10 David Cooper (July 2011)
Mission Worship - Hymns Kingsway KMCD2772
Although I am well aware of the Mission : Worship series, I have to be honest & admit I wasn't expecting great things from this CD as like many, I often think of hymns as powerful yet rather dreary old tunes that you really have to be in the right mood for. Nevertheless, this long-held opinion was quite rapidly turned on its head by the contents which really do prove a book shouldn't be judged by its cover! The performances on this CD are by major contemporary artists Paul Oakley, Andy Bromley, Lou Fellingham, Stuart Townend, Godfrey Birtill & Brenton Brown & on the whole give a refreshing new perspective on classics such as "Before The Throne of God Above" & "Lift Up Your Heads". As well as this, we also are treated to a batch of contemporary hymns from the likes of Townend/Getty & Robert Critchley. Things start strongly with "Sometimes it's Hard (Well With My Soul)" from Brenton Brown/Danieil Ornellas which whilst remaining powerful & energetic it is less hectic than other versions I have heard which gives it certain edge. "O Church Arise" slows the pace a touch but stirs with the uplifting lyrics, with the pace relaxing still further with "My Troubled Soul". The only disappointment on here is track the revision of "Take My Life & Let It Be" from Paul Oakley - I am a great fan of Paul's but I am sorry to say that the annoying & repetitive piano refrain for me detracts my attention from an otherwise great tune. The musical arrangements & quality are what you would expect from such prominent artists, breathing new life into the hymn genre that may often be overlooked in favour of more modern worship songs. This CD is an enjoyable listen & does a good job of combining old with new in a highly effective way that bridges generations. 9/10 Simon Redfern (June 2007)
MITCH McVICKER : Without Looking Down. (Spindust Records : 0688623128)
This is an acoustic rock album, which it took me a few plays to get into, but it was worth the effort I think. The lyrics are the thing that I found a bit strange. There's nothing wrong with the content, but Mitch sings the words as if he were speaking in conversation rather than how you'd expect a song to sound, which does give the album quite a unique style. The words are on the whole very well thought out, although a few of the songs left me a bit unsure as to what they were about. The sleeve notes describe this as an album of "Progressive acoustic driven songs that encourage the listener not to look down on their fears and doubts, but to focus on God". I guess that sums it up nicely really. Mitch received a Dove award for "My Deliverer" which he co-wrote with Rich Mullins, whom he described as his mentor. In fact Mitch was in the car with Rich when the accident occurred and this is his first serious piece of work since. It reminded me a lot of Soul Asylum, and it's certainly worth a listen if you can find a copy. 8/10. Andy Sayner. (February 2003)
MIX : Acoustic. (Spark : SK708)
MIC are South Africa's biggest and brightest CCM act, best known for their dance/pop productions. Here, however, is a 7 track CD that sees them stripped down to an acoustic guitar and a little percussion thrown in for good measure. It's not a well produced release and it's all done very much "off the cuff" to try and get that spontaneous feeling across. "Superhuman" is the title track from their last full length album but fails to live up to what many fans will know and love. Cover versions of Crowded House's "Weather With You" and Matt Redman's "I Will Offer", also come through as limp as a wet lettuce leaf on this, what is overall, disappointing release. Plenty of artists can make an un-plugged album sound really good but MIC have a lot to learn. 4/10. (May 1999)
MONDAY MORNING : Fool's Paradise. (Selectric : Sel0501)
Here are four good old American boys presenting their own slant on the Bible, God and Jesus in the modern rock genre. You know the type of thing I mean. It's got heavy guitar rhythms, thumping drums, and a lead vocalist who seems intent on being as inaudible as possible. Maybe I'm getting old, but I do prefer to hear the words being sung, rather than have to sit and follow every word from the sleeve notes. To that end, my favourite song, therefore, was "Wonder of It All", when the words COULD be clearly heard. "These Eyes" tells of one putting on an outside show that all is well, while inside we're burning up. The prescription is easy, open up, and give it to God, HE can see everything anyway - so why try and hide it. In recording terms I think that Building 429 are similar in style, and maybe Monday Morning should take a leaf out of their book and get the vocals sorted out. Perhaps, then, they might go places. 3/10. (March 2006)
MONTREL DARRETT : Chronicles Of The Soul (EMI Gospel: 7243 8202202 2)
If you're into modern R&B/rap stuff, you'd better check this out, bro. I find it difficult to get into this style, but if you like Fugees and Boyz II Men, you'll find elements of both on this album. Montrel's voice is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder in parts, and really comes into its own on the slower ballads, especially 'So Sorry'. All tracks tend to be on the slow side, with the R&B rhythms dominating a superb production. I found myself wanting a faster number to break up the album, but alas, it was not to be. The opener, 'Tough Love' is a kind of R&B 12 bar which works well, apart from some of the backing vocals which really made me laugh! The main criticism I have is that the lyrics are generally masked by the ornamentation of the singing. Why sing one note when five will do? And they're excellent lyrics, it's a shame we can't hear more of them. The other thing that bugged me was the length of the tracks. Eight out of thirteen tracks are over four and a half minutes long, and I found myself getting bored. I quite like long tracks if the music is interesting and my attention is kept by variation, but these tended to just keep going on the same tack. But then, that's the nature of modern R&B. Full marks to Montrel for using a topical idiom for Christian music. It's a risk that can have dire consequences, but he definitely succeeds. Check it out.
MORIAH PETERS : I Choose Jesus. (Reunion : 02341-0164-2)
“The overall theme of the record is about making a choice,” says Moriah. “All of these songs are songs about being in different circumstances and choosing Jesus in each circumstance. I know that God has a blueprint for every single one of our lives. He has a plan and a purpose, and He wants to make His Son known through us. If we trust Him in every situation, if we choose Him in every situation, God will give us the desires of our heart.” And that is the total feel of the whole album. Moriah’s voice has a vibrant, slightly quirky feel to it, and it’s a real delight to hear. Moriah is only 19 years old and is still studying at university, but she has found time to co-write almost all the songs on the album. My favourite song is “Well Done”. It has one of those choruses that sticks in your head for ages, and is a very pleasing sound. “Sing In The Rain” and the title track are also strong tracks. The latter is a ballad, but there’s something rather special about how she delivers it. Other songs include “Haven’t Even Kissed”, “Glow” and “No Shame”, and they are all radio friendly in style. I hope that Moriah gets the support she deserves, because she is one of the brightest female CCM singers I’ve heard for some time. 8/10. (January 2013)
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) 7/10. Julie Lord. (July 1999)
MOWGLEE : Go! (CD. £6 from : Kingship ltd, PO Box 7981, Birmingham, England, B23 5PL)
Mowglee are 4 childhood friends from Birmingham's inner city, who have played together in bands for the last 10 years, and who's talents have been matured in the church. This 6 track EP shows some of those talents from brothers George, Marcus, and Patrick Masih, and Bobby Frank. I was a little surprised by the style of the music on the record, as so many of today's independent guitar bands are very similar. Here's, although not as technically gifted, there's a definite Simply Red undertone running throughout the listing. There's good harmonies on the poppy "Crazy", while "Beautiful Lord" (recorded in two guises) is more worshipful and laid back. The opening track also gets two outings, firstly as a funky number, and latterly with an "R'n'B mix". I get the feeling that they couldn't decide which version to use, therefore, Mowglee recorded them both. That's the slight downside to the album, as I would have liked to hear different songs rather than just different mixes. Saying that, Mowglee do a fine job that would, if I'm honest, benefit from a bigger production. There again, many independent recordings would fall into that category. Nice to hear from the boys in the Midlands and they should be very pleased with their debut efforts. 7/10. (August 2003)
MOYA BRENNAN : Two Horizons. (Universal Reords)
She may have changed the spelling of her name, but Moya Brennan hasn't surprised anyone with the sound of this latest CD. All the ethereal Celtic sounds are there, just as in her previous releases. In fact, if you played her old albums alongside this one, you wouldn't be able to tell what was new and what was old. Rarely does she get out of first gear as Moya ponders on various aspects of life to the accompaniment of various whistles and pipes. Dreary, was one word that came to mind whilst listening to the songs. Most of them blend into one another so easily that it becomes a bit of a release when you do realise that a track has finished. "Tara" brings momentary freshness and the jungle drums of "Sailing Away" break up, what is, an otherwise monotonous album. 3/10. (September 2004)
MOYA BRENNAN : An Irish Christmas. (Fierce!)
In the history of Celtic music, one of the legendary names must be that of Clannad. In case you didn't know, Clannad means 'family' in Gaelic, and it has truly been a family affair since the early 1970s, with cousins, uncles and the like, as well as perhaps the best known relative, Moya's sister Enya. Moya's parallel solo career in the field of more up-front Celtic Christian music took off in 1998 with the release of her album 'Perfect Time', which she followed up with an equally stunning CD, 'Whisper To The Wild Water'; she has also been involved in various projects with other people, notably her contribution to Graham Kendrick's 'Millennium Chorus' album in 1999, a truly awesome reading of 'No Scenes Of Stately Majesty' which never fails to raise the goose bumps every time I hear it, and her collaboration with Margaret Becker and Joanne Hogg on 'New Irish Hymns' in 2001, another landmark release. So, with that track record, if the lady wants to do a Christmas album, I for one wouldn't stop her, and this is the inevitably classy result. She's gone on record as saying that, instead of doing yet another 'Celtic' Christmas album, she wanted to do something more obviously Irish, hence the title, and it's a delight from start to finish. Well-known (some may say well-worn) carols and Christmas pieces ('Deck The Halls', 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', 'In The Bleak Midwinter', 'Joy To the World') sit alongside less familiar stuff ('The Wexford Carol', 'Carol Of The Bells', and an original piece 'I Still Believe'), and Moya adds Celtic lyrics to 'Do You Hear What I Hear' and 'Silent Night'. And to all that, add arguably one of the best female voices in any sort of music, let alone Christian music; stir in several truckloads of authentic Celtic ambience; and you have just about the best Christmas album I've heard this century. Buy with confidence. 9/10 Trevor Kirk (December 2005)
MOYA BRENNAN : Signature. Fierce : Fiercd91)
Now that Mairre has changed the spelling of her name to Moya, I wondered if she'd also changed her style of singing. It's her first new album in quite a while, so I was excited to hear what moves she was about to make. Well, it got to track 3 and I was already very bored. "Purple Haze", "No One Talks" and Merry Go Round" are all so uninteresting. Moya's listless vocals are a sure cure for sleeplessness as they manifest almost apologetically over the music. "Tapestry" shows some light relief, as the use of fiddle playing livens things up a bit. "Black Night" is a gentle folk song, and "Hear My Prayer" deserves radio play. The one new thing Moya does try is a little Messianic praise with "Many Faces", but the likes of Barry and Batya Segal do it so much better. "Hidden Stories" carries the repetitive phrase "I'm Running". Unfortunately for Moya, she seems to be running in circles, as the song just goes nowhere. Still promoted as the voice of Clannad, I'm afraid that Moya is light years away from repeating her previous success. 4/10. (January 2007)
MOYA BRENNAN : Heart Strings. (Fierce! : FIERCD43)
Recorded at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and in Germany during October 2007, this sees Moya's first ever live solo recording. The track listing draws three songs from Moya's days as "the voice of Clannad", including 'Harry's Game', as well as numerous songs from her more recent albums. There's no mistaking her voice but on this recording, I did strain my hearing at times to actually hear the words that the lady was singing. 'Tapestry' and 'Perfect Time' show Moya's celtic roots, but I found little to get excited about. Indeed, by the time she performs 'Molly Fair', the music sounded very laboured and uninteresting. By mid-album the most enjoyment I'd got was from the fiddle playing on 'Sailing Away'. The 'Tunes Medley' is a strange concoction. It begins with Moya playing the harp beautifully, and then degenerates into an awful jazz jamming session with every instrument under the sun, thrown in for good measure. The high spots for me on the album came from 'I Will Find You' and 'Merry Go Round'. Both songs were ultimately stronger than those which had gone before, and were much more listenable. The audience cheer and clap enthusiastically throughout but, for me, the album is little more than luke warm. 5/10. (November 2008)
MR KEITH : Record of Wrongs. (www.misterkeith.com)
Former Brit-pop performer, Keith Ayling has returned to the recording world with a totally different sound. He classes it as Victorian Pop and describes the songs as being “charming, bittersweet and darkly romantic collection of life stories.” It’s certainly different to anything else that I’ve heard in either the Christian or secular market, and that’s a great strength. Of the 14 tracks, there are three Interludes, that contain musical instruments from the world of brass, and keyboards. Interlude III sounds like it could be taken from an old fashioned murder mystery TV series! “It’s a Good Year” is an instantly endearing song, while “Only Love” was the first number to get me thinking about the lyrics. “Only love can break your heart, only love can show how fragile we are.” Keith correctly defines how powerful love is in our lives. Indeed, the subject raises its head again on “Love Is Strong”, where the real love can beat anything that life throws at you. I thought that “The Circus” sounded more like a 40’s jazz style but it still fitted in well with the rest of the album. I simply loved the ukulele sound on “Healing Tonight.” I liked this song straight away and, at times, Keith’s vocals simply soar. How many artists use old fashioned brass sounds to record these days? Well, on “The Confession”, Keith employs the Eastbourne Salvation Army Band help give depth and empathy to this reflective track. Keith goes on to say that “A number of the songs were firmly influenced by the loss of my father, uncle and father-in-law to cancer, all within three years of each other. It takes you to dark places of the soul and yet something brings you back to imagine hope again.” And that’s the secret to the success of this album. The lyrics do make you think about life’s situations and, out of the darkness, there is light. 8/10. (March 2016)
MUDHEAD'S MONKEY : 'Shout!' (Private Recording. CD £10.50 Cass £6.50 from : Paul Loader c/o Counterslip Baptist Church, 648 Wells Road, Bristol, BS14 9HT).
Fancy a good meal? Try this. It's raw and it's meaty. It's tangy, and it's quite hot. This is the debut offering from Bristol's Mudhead's Monkey. 12 tracks to feed on here, starting with the tempting version of the old Donna Summer hit, 'Unconditional Love'. Prepare your tastebuds for the main course which consists of a stonkin' good title track and a guitar driven gourmet's delight. Of course, you need a good wine to accompany this and I personally recommend the vintage ballad 'Ashes'. Feeling like a wickedly fattening sweet? Both 'He Died For Me' and 'Johnnie's Song' are specialities of the house and guaranteed to get you excited. There's one or two bland servings on the menu but you'll soon pass them by and loosen your belt a notch or two, well filled. Tasty. 8/10. (June 1996)
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)
MUTEMATH : Reset. (Word WD2A-886325)
It is very rare as a reviewer to get a recording that is so good you want to play it to everyone you know. It is also rare to get a cd that lives up to the hype printed on the sleeve. However, this is cd is just one of those. The cover states "Reset is guaranteed to be THE most innovative new project in Christian music this year" and it would be difficult to argue with that. A fusion of many styles ("jazz, rock and electronica"), from the Police/Sting sounding "Peculiar People" to the Lemon Jelly type instrumental "Reset", this EP is nothing short of stunning. Succinct and poetic lyrics supported by original and exciting melodies raise the standard of Christian Music to a new level, making much of what has been termed great in the past seem uninspiring. What is more, this is just a taster of the full album due out sometime next year. Buy this and then buy the album as sson as you can. Sublime 10/10 Robin Thompson (January 2005) Forward to the next archive
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