Never for Nothing - CCM Record Reviews archive S

SA LLT : Light that Shines. (Integrity :NCMIWSH2007)
You may well ask, who or what is SA LLT? Well the LLT bit stands for Leadership Training Times, a ministry that offers week long training courses and is run by New Covenant Ministries. SA stands for South Africa, as it was at a South African LLT where this was recorded. There's a nice blend of original worship songs and some older hymns, such as "Holy Holy Holy" and "Be Thou My Vision". Although the latter has been done to death somewhat, at least it is done in the original 3/4 time signature rather than trying to force it into a cumbersome 4/4. I also really like the reworking of "Happy Day" - the gospel original not the Tim Hughes version! - which retains the original chorus but features a newly written verse section in a blues/rock style. However, the real outstanding feature of this cd is that it actually features an abundance of joyful, praise songs. Most worship cds seem to concentrate on more reflective, intimate songs but this cd strikes a glorious balance between the two. The end result is worship that not only works, but also works on a cd. 8/10 Robin Thompson (August 2009)
SALT OF THE SOUND : Journeys. (www.saltofthesound.com)
This duo are husband and wife team, Anita & Ben Tatlow. Both muscians from a young age, they met studying music at university in 2007 – Anita with a background in piano and vocal performance, and Ben having many years of music production and percussion experience. They feel that their music encourages spiritual reflection, and I’d quite agree with that opinion. In fact, I believe that this album is best suited for daily devotion. Take one track at a time, relax, mediate with the simple musical phrases and lyrics, and it really does help you focus. The music has been likened to that of Owl City, but I’m not so sure. True, the use of electronic sounds raise something of a similarity, but this collection of 11 pieces are much more original. ‘Free’ is the first track, and concentrates on being set free from your old life, by accepting Jesus as your saviour. ‘This Little Light’ tells how your light, of living like Jesus, can shine in this world, and I found this track particularly moving. Anita provides the vocals on all of the songs, but there are a couple of instrumentals too, such as ‘I’ll Wait’ Anita’s ethereal voice invites you to listen to God, in stillness and quiet, on ‘Listen’, and the music does draw you in, to that stillness. One track that is so different to the rest is ‘Coming Home’. Almost poppy in sound, it’s a catchy number that wouldn’t be lost on any radio station’s playlist. ‘Journeys’ is certainly an individual album. I’ve not heard anything like it for some time, and congratulations should go to both Anita and Ben on delivering something so welcome to the market. 8/10. (December 2013)
SALT OF THE SOUND : Through the Mist. (www.saltofthesound.com)
After scoring a very creditable 8/10 NFN rating with their debut album, ‘Journeys’, last year, Ben & Anita Tatlow return with this 6 track EP. Now based in Sweden, the couple have gained lots of radio time with their brand of ethereal sounding songs and musical pieces. The concept and inspiration behind the new EP comes from a verse in 1 Corinthians: We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1 Corinthians 13:12. The Message) ‘Where Do I Begin’ is a short, atmospheric piece that introduces Anita’s wistful, yet warming, vocals. In the past, I’ve likened her to Judi Tzuke, but she’s also a close match to Genie Nilsson, who made such a great album, ‘Whisper’, with her husband, Troy, in the late 90’s. ‘Make Me Wait’ is an appealing number that sounds like a prayer to God, and wanting to meet him. I said this last time, but I still believe that these songs are perfect for intimate worship. The electronic sounds are so relaxing and, listening, I sense a great closeness to Him. The ambient phrases of ‘Even the Wind & Waves Obey Him’ take you through the mist of a journey, with the light of God appearing at the end. Just because we can’t physically see God, that’s no reason not to believe in Him. ‘It Must Be Hope’ gets this message across so well. The Title track and ‘I’ll Meet You Where You Are’ end the track listing, with Anita’s vocals, once again, almost hypnotically leading you into a time of meditation. With this release, I am sure that it will only enhance Ben & Anita’s reputation for providing music to encourage spiritual reflection, both in church and personally. 9/10. (September 2014, Album of the Month)
SALT OF THE SOUND : Echoes of Wonder. (www.saltofthesound.com)
Echoes of Wonder is the latest album from husband and wife duo, Salt of the Sound (aka Anita and Ben Tatlow), a Kickstarter funded follow up to their 2013 debut album “Journeys” and 2014’s “Meditations, Vol 1”. Their aim is to create music that encourages spiritual reflection and is therefore calming and meditative in style. I’m hearing elements of Gungor, Mutemath and Enigma in this album as, whilst reflective, there are lots of electro-pop elements. Arrangements are piano or synth led with the occasional overlay of electronic drums where some extra depth is needed. The opener “Echoes” is a one minute instrumental prologue though I’m not entirely sure of its purpose. I think it would have worked better segued into track two “Did You Hear It?”, the first track to feature vocals, provided exquisitely by Anita. This is followed by another instrumental, “Dawn” featuring ethereal synth pads and a piano melody. There are four instrumentals on this album and this is the best one as it has a focus. The others tend to build to nothing and I find myself wanting some sort of resolution with them. The finest parts of this album are towards the end though. “Bring the Rain” is my favourite song, with a strong melody but I also like the final two songs, “Unveil My Eyes” and Dwell Among Us”. Both of these feature some really powerful harmony work which I would like to have seen featured on the earlier tracks. Overall, it’s a good album but does lack a little variety. There is a reliance on similar sounds throughout each track. This does allow it to achieve consistency but a little more creativity could have made this a stunner. 7/10 Robin Thompson. (November 2015)
SALT OF THE SOUND : Waiting For the Dawn. (www.saltofthesound.com)
Anita and Ben Tatlow have created quite a niche for themselves in the Christian music marketplace, with their electronic based albums. This Advent EP features 6 tracks of what can only be described as meditational pieces, rather than songs. Saying that, Anita’s haunting vocals on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is the nearest you’ll get to a run of the mill song format. The duo has been influenced by the Advent traditions on Nordic countries, and natural soundscapes, with programmed synthetic sounds providing a backdrop to Anita’s voice. I can only describe “Shine So Bright” as giving a feeling of “spaciousness” as I listened. The sounds seemed to echo within my head. “White Forests” is a short, atmospheric piece of music, while “From Afar” features multiple keyboard sounds and intermittent percussion, to accompany the vocals. The title track had me scratching my head. Try as I may, I struggled to understand what the ethereal sung lyrics were trying to convey. Finally, there’s more multiple effects supplied on “O Come Let Us Adore Him.” I’ve often thought of Salt of the Sound’s recordings as being a little weird and wonderful. Unfortunately, for this EP, the wonderful part is sadly lacking. 5/10. (December 2016)
SALVADOR : Into Motion by Salvador. (Word : CD0688613426)
The info that came with this CD describes it as "A pure pop sound with a smooth underlined funk" Which is probably about right. The songs themselves are ok as individual songs, but when taken as a whole this CD suffers from a severe case of over production. Yes it's smooth, but so smooth that all the life has been squeezed out of it and it becomes just a bland collection of forgettable songs. Word records, along with most of the other big Christian labels seem to be quite adept at this kind of thing. The songs are written/co written by the band's frontman, who goes by the name of Nick Gonzales, but there's nothing wrong with the material, the words are well written, and the band is very good. If It was me, I must say I would be a bit disappointed with the record company on hearing this CD. If you want something to listen to in the background while you're doing something else then this is ok, but to sit down and listen to it, well it's just hard work I'm afraid. 5/10 Andy Sayner. (August 2002)
SALVADOR : So Natural. (Word : 8863262)
With a blend of pop and jazz funk, Salvador are an 8 piece outfit who's sound, at times is reminiscent of 70's group, The Average White Band. But, unlike the AWB, Salvador tend to overdo things when it comes to production. Like, on the first track "Can You Feel", it gets all very messy with too many instruments fighting for their own space. Indeed, that happens quite a lot throughout the album. "This Is My Life" is a slow number that features some good vocals but, overall, I found the album to be a little tired in sounding. 2/10. (May 2005)
SALVADOR : Dismiss the Mystery. (Word : 8865122)
Something stirred in my memory after listening to this album a couple of times, and jotting down a few notes. Messy production, too many instruments battling on some of the songs - it all sounded a little familiar. Looking back on my review of Salvador's 2005 album "So Natural", everything came clear. I had made the exact same comments then, too. So, I presume that the band must be happy with their production and that I am in the wrong. It all starts with a Latin beat that accompanies "Now That I Have You", a song about owing so much to God. There's a lot of brass sounds, and it's all just a bit much for me. However, when the band play straight forward pop, as on "Shine" and Waterfall", there's much more cohesion about things. "Te Enaltezco Dios" is tough enough to say, but I challenge you to listen to it without comparing it to Santana! "You Are So Wonderful" is a lovely worship song using such simple words as "lovely" and "incredible" to describe a loving God. Maybe it's just not my thing, but I found the album very hard on the hearing and didn't really enjoy much of it. 4/10 (April 2007)
SAM COOKE & THE SOUL STIRRERS : The Hem of His Garment - 23 Gospel Gems', (Remember : RMB75124)
Whilst perhaps best remembered these days for his career in secular music, Sam Cooke first found fame at 19 when in 1950, as lead vocalist, he joined the Soul Stirrers - a close harmony gospel five-piece first formed in 1926. In the seven years that Sam was with them, they had a succession of gospel hits beginning in 1951 with 'Jesus gave me water'. Sam's life was a tragic one, losing an 18month son by drowning and then dying from gun-shot wounds aged only 33. His gospel music legacy was however considerable. The track sequence on this CD reflects the order in which the songs were recorded, the dates indicating that they are from six recording sessions from 1951 to 1956. Best tracks for me were 'End of my journey', 'He's my Friend until the end' (both with shared lead vocals) and the peerless 'One more river to cross'. Other stand-outs were the rocky 'Come and go to that land' and 'He's so wonderful'. The vocal harmonies are excellent, although listeners new to such a style may find things somewhat 'samey' if the whole album is taken in one go. Overall sound quality is good, the original recordings being nicely preserved without any of the rasping compression that seems prevalent these days, although later tracks tend to distort on Sam's often shouted vocals. Whilst this album does not represent the mainstream of my musical tastes, it does represent a great slice of 1950s gospel music history and I am happy to give it 7/10. Check out www.songsofsamcooke.com/albums Dave Deeks (March 2009)
SAMANTHA TAYLOR : Every Road You Walk. (over.yonder@ymail.com)
Samantha Taylor is a Nottingham based Singer, who has been singing from a very young age. Her journey with God has not always been easy, mainly due to her rebellious actions towards Him. But following a marriage break down, she was able look back and appreciate the hardship and discipline she received, and truly realized that God has never left her side. With songs written by Trevor Edinborough, Samantha comes over in a gospel style akin to that of Yolanda Adams. She has really strong vocals but, at times they suffer from a rather messy production. That’s certainly the case on “The World Needs Love”, were a slightly cluttered sound is joined by a detracting guitar. However, Samantha’s voice does shine on “Lord You’re the One.” Some nice multi tracking of the vocals is complimented by a fine saxophone accompaniment. On the title track, Samantha slips into lounge singer mode with some jangly piano backing. This track certainly sounds as if it’s come straight from a top American album, rather than an independent UK offering. “Paradise” is a choppy number that I’d rather have left off the EP. It’s doesn’t quite sit right with the rest of the tracks, and the mid-song rap by MC Spyda just doesn’t work. Finally, the ballad that is “Everlasting Love” shows this young lady’s vocals off to their stunning best. Samantha sounds as if she’s really at one with the song, and the whole thing just flows effortlessly. “For you’ve placed it [everlasting love] in our heart, so we will never be apart.” Simple lyrics, but given full meaning by the singer and the musicians. Overall, although the production needs a little polish, there’s enough here to see that Samantha Taylor is a welcome addition to the UK circuit. 7/10. (June 2016)
SAMMY HORNER : Inspired to Worship. (Kingsway : KMCD2591)
For me, my first listen to Sammy's music came in the early 90's when he fronted the band The Electrics. Celtic pop, a few reels and jigs, and the audience lapped it up. These days, Sammy seems to have settled down a bit and this offering is exactly what the title suggests, worship. There's still the odd inspired, catchy tune such as "Maker of the Universe" but I found most of this collection to be quite bland. "I Declare" on the other hand captures a mix of Celtic tradition with Southern gospel and the result is quite refreshing. "The Blessing" is an old Electrics song and I much preferred the original to this watered down version. After that, the tracks are very much the same as each other and I didn't find one song that stood out. Wish I could say more, but there just isn't about a very ordinary release. 5/10 (August 2005)
SAMUEL LANE : The Fire. (Elevation ELE1889D)
This twelve track CD comes only one Elevation catalogue number after the 'Worship Anthems' release I reviewed last month, but what a contrast in terms of musical content! The Fire is the first solo worship album from Samuel Lane, who is based at St Alban's Vineyard Church. Recorded in LA and accompanied by some of the best musicians in the industry, this really is an excellent debut by an artist who is surely going to be 'one to watch' - and the sound quality is good as well! When first listening to a review album I commonly write down 'key words' that come to mind. In this case I wrote 'genuine', 'credible', honest', 'original', personal', 'worshipful'. The arrangements are contemporary 'singer-songwriter' and tend to begin simply and develop slowly, with most of the tracks slow to medium paced - the 'rockiest' probably being the excellent 'You are with us'. I would imagine that fans of Ray Lamontagne will find much to enjoy in Samuel's voice and presentation (including sudden quiet words at the end of a phrase - check out track 4 'The Father' for instance), and I occasionally heard touches of Peter Gabriel. Lyrically there is little original here, but Samuel delivers the words in a way that draws the listener into the worship in a special way - he appears almost not to be 'performing', but allowing us to share his own personal 'quiet time'. In 'Glorious' the words are few but this simply adds to the effect - it is as though Samuel is lost for more words in his worship and we are drawn in as the song builds to a climax then drops back before it ends. Other standouts for me include the previously mentioned 'The Father', and 'Presence and peace'. Negatives? The cover artwork isn't very inspiring, and I found 'Fall afresh' too simple and underproduced when compared with the rest of the album. Overall however this is a debut to be proud of, and rates a definite 9/10. Dave Deeks (August 2013)
SANCTUARY - An Oasis for the Soul. (Integrity : 22032)
In a world filled with pressure and stress, find rest and solace in the soothing sounds and intimate lyrics. That's taken from the sleeve notes and unlike other releases this month, this album does achieve what it sets out to do. It's very relaxing, yet you can feel yourself being drawn into a love that can only be that of God. I unashamedly say that both the Martin Smith written songs are the best on show. "Lord You Have My Heart" is sung as a duet, and what a beautiful piece it is too. "Lead Me" also stands out but in a different sort of way. Then there's the opening "You Are Beautiful". Written by Gary Sadler, the words literally melt into you as you let the music drift all over. Other highlights include Don Moen's "I Will Sing" and Steve Merkel's "Flow Like A River". For those who prefer the quieter type of music, you'll like this…..a lot. 8/10. (May 2003)
SANCTUS REAL : The Face of Love. (EMI : SPD11974)
This is the third album release from the Ohio based rock band, Sanctus Real. Over the past year, they've suffered family bereavements and the loss of bass player Steve Goodrum. From all the turmoil comes "The Face of Love", a hard hitting album portraying universal themes of love, brokenness and the sometimes elusive sense of God's presence. I thought that the band's overall sound was very much like the latest Keane offering, with an edgy rock sound. "I'm Not Alright" is a powerful cry for help, and it opens things up nicely. Trying to live without God, is like trying to fly against the wind. That's the theme of track 3 called "Fly". One of my favourite tracks was "Don't Give Up", complete with it's driving rhythms and message to never give up on love. "ThankYou" are two simple words that convey what our heart feels about God coming into our lives as Saviour, and the song is intelligently written. "Magentic" is a more acoustic number, but then it's back to the guitar rock for the remainder of the listing. A competent, if not great, album. 7/10. (October 2006)
SANCTUS REAL : The Dream. (Sparrow Records)
Kicking off with the guitar-driven title track, then moving into electronica, this album gives you a good idea of the bases it’ll cover right from the start. Heavily echoed guitars, driving bass, wonderfully clear vocals. U2 and Delirious? inspired? Maybe (one of their “Number 1s” is a cover of U2’s “Beautiful Day” after all). There’s hints of other late 80s/early 90s classics there, too – such as Joe Jackson and After the Fire, plus Anathema and Snow Patrol from later years. It’s more gentle rock than driving rock, but very well done and deserving of more than one listen. It has the stadium-leaping-and-punching-the-air-together numbers too (such as “Same God”). Lyrically it’s very good, covering doctrinal faith as well as God-Person relationship and Person-Person relationship (as related to faith: “Shake ‘em off … at the cross where freedom is found” – “Lay It Down”, for example). “On Fire” does a nice shift from narrating regret over a fellow believer who has lost their spark and praying for it to return, to praying for that same fire for the narrator. It’s a good way to close an album (so I’m not sure what the 1 minute oddity “The Beginning (Outro)” was for – unless it links with other albums I’ve not heard, of course). The album drives nicely along, each track following nicely into the groove the previous has left for it. No new ground, therefore, but a nice addition to the genre. Best track: “Easier On My Heart”. 7/10. Paul Ganney (December 2014)
SANDI PATTI : These Days. Word : 080688602024)
"Jesus Loves Me, this I know - for the Bible tells me so". At two and a half years of age, they were the first words that Sandi Patty ever sang. Five Grammy awards, three dozen Dove awards, and 11 million albums later, they are STILL the words that resonate in the depths of her soul. "These Days" is her first studio album release for three years and what a comeback it is. There are so many good songs but, for me, the pick has to be 'Solo El Amor' (Only Love). Dueting with Latin singing sensation Miguel Angel Guerra, it's a tremendous song that tells of the time when God impacts the life of a person and makes them perfectly whole. 'All This Time' was co-written by Sandi, and her friend Cindy Morgan, as a touching tribute to her daughter, with her vocals caressing each word as only a mother speaking to her child can. It's an album that will appeal to a wide age range because, although pop orientated, there's plenty of different styles contained within. 'Go Without Knowing' has a Celtic tinge to it, while 'One More Song For you' is very reminiscent of the Carpenters. A lovely album from a lovely lady. 9/10. (March 2001)
SANDI PATTY : All the Best - Live! (Word : 080688617721)
After hearing Sandi's excellent 2001 release "These Days", I was truly looking forward to hearing this recording of a live event. So, what a disappointment, then, this is. There's no sign of the catchy songs that I enjoyed previously but, instead, big orchestral productions that, sometimes, go right over the top, leaving the listener rather confused. I suppose that I should listen to more of her albums and see if this release is the sound of the real Sandi patty. If that's so then, perhaps, I'm doing her an injustice here as I really didn't like this album from start to finish. There's a rip-roaring praise medley to start things off and I hoped that it wasn't a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, it was. Her duet with Ron (Patty) is karaoke bad - the sort of thing you would cringe at during a family get-together. "Sam's Rainbow" is a little story that had me yawning throughout, while the vocals on "How Great Thou Art" would wake the dead. No kidding. The audience are obviously loving every minute, and there were over a thousand present. They say that there's one in every crowd. this time, I must be THE one. 1/10. (March 2002)
SANDI PATTY : Take Hold of Christ. (Word : 06886210250
It's more than 20 years since Sandi Patty first captivated the church with her spirit of worship and inspiration. Since then, she's gone onto sell more than 11 million records worldwide and collect 39 Dove Awards. This album of new songs for the church sees her flex those vocal chords in typical fashion, as on the title track. This is a BIG production effort that I, personally, detest, yet I cannot deny I could never hope to duplicate her range. I like Sandi when she sings pure pop, or those timeless ballads, when her voice seems to caress every word. "Fields of Mercy" is one such song, "You Have Been So Good" another. In these, I believe, Sandi possesses great strength - shown again in the delightful "How Beautiful". No one can argue with what this lady has achieved over the years, so I guess it's another one of those occasions where it's a personal opinion. Nice album but could have been better. 7/10. (April 2003)
SANDI THOM : Smile... It Confuses People (RCA)
Sandi Thom you will know from the hit single (included here) "I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair)" which very much sets the tone for this CD, being folk-tinged pop in style and relies very heavily on Thom's vocal. It therefore matters rather a lot whether you like her voice or not, as it's the more acoustic-styled songs that work better - they're the ones that stand out - as opposed to the straighter band workouts. There's an element of early Melissa Etheridge in there (particularly "What If I'm Right") and a hint of the Beautiful South in some of the arrangements, too, especially "Sunset Borderline" and "Castles", but you keep coming back to her voice. If you like it (and I do) then this is a good CD. If you didn't like "Punk Rocker" then you're unlikely to like this, which means that the single has very much fulfilled its duty as a taster for the album (just like the old times that song harks back to). Standout track: "Time". 8/10 Paul Ganney (February 2009)
SANDRA GODLEY : Miracle. (www.sandragodley.org)
Born in Bristol, UK, of Jamaican parents, Sandra grew up listening to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Amy Grant, Jessy Dixon, Andrae Crouch and Anita Baker. Those influences have served her well and for this, her third album, she has recorded in Nashville. Indeed, the overall production of the album is first class, and the sound is as good as any of those previously mentioned stars. ‘The Big Song’ opens proceedings, with funky guitars and choppy vocals, resulting in a nice song. The fine keyboards on ‘Miracle’ bring out the best in Sandra’s vocals and I was absolutely gobsmacked to find out that those sounds were provided by the superb Gordon Mote. ‘Three Little Words’ is a medium paced number, giving thanks to God for even the simplest of things in your life. (Something we should all remember to do!) The whole album is full of strong songs, and Sandra revels in the company of some fine musicians. ‘Starting Again’ and ‘Innocence’ focus on self worth, and there’s a really good gospel version of ‘Amazing Grace’. The closing ‘I Give Myself Away’ starts very gently, but with the help of the FCC Choir, builds into a big finish. I hope that the major record companies take note of this album, because I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a finer British gospel record. 10/10. (August 2013, Album of the Month)
SARAH GROVES : All Right Here. (Authentic : 0688621926)
"All Right Here" is a collection of beautiful and tender songs. "Every Minute" is a hauntingly lovely song of friendship and love that gives me goosebumps when I hear it. "Less Like Scars" is a song of healing and God's power:- "And in your hands the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like character." From the beautifully simple love song "Fly" to the up-beat title track, Sara Groves pours out her heart into these lovingly crafted songs and the simple arrangements serve to enhance the compositions. From the busy-ness of the day expressed in "Just One More Thing" to the tale of forgiveness in the country-tinged "Tornado", this is one wonderful CD. Sara's clear voice and songwriting skills mean that "All Right Here" is far more than "All Right". It's brilliant. 10/10 Edward Booth (October 2002, Album of the Month)
SARA GROVES : The Other Side of Something. (INORecords : 000768291627)
Surfacing from what she describes a time where she felt "spiritually beat up", Sara Groves reckons that she has a more "sure footed faith despite life's uncertainties". The songs on this album reflect those feelings and the journey of the last year or so in this singer/songwriter's life. As well as personal changes, there's also been a change of direction in her sound too. Gone, on the whole, are the pop/country tinged songs, and in are more deep feelings and complicated productions. The latter may well come from the introduction of ace producer Charlie Peacock, but the result is a mish-mash of sounds and a hotch-potch of weak songs. "Compelled" is the most radio friendly song, while "Boxer" dives into 60's progressive rock and some very dark corners. "Roll to the Middle" is a nice song, with some sparse but effective backing but it's hard to pick out anything else that caught my imagination. After her previous release I think that this is a poor follow up. 3/10. (April 2004)
SARA GROVES : The Collection. (Fair Trade : 736211607690)
Since her 2002 release, ‘All Right Here’, which gained a stonking 10/10 NFN rating, I’ve found Sarah’s following albums to be a bit of a let down. For me, nothing has compared to that first album, although she has had her moments. This 2 CD collection contains 27 songs from the last 12 years, and does include the wonderful track ‘All Right Here’. It tells of the reason why she lives her life as she does, because she knows God as her Heavenly Father. The song itself is in pop/country style and I’ve played it over and over again during the past week. A similar track is ‘Setting Up the Pins’. A great, happy feeling song, it reminded me very much of the Andy Landis hit from the 90’s called ‘Watch Me Run’. Sometimes, Sarah’s voice sounds rather thin, but I’m not sure if that’s a production problem, because on songs like ‘Add to the Beauty’ and the pedestrian paced ‘Fly’, the vocals are perfect. ‘When the Saints’ is rather an oddball song, but I enjoyed it very much. This collection really does contain the best of Sarah’s recordings, but there are still a number of songs that pass by without leaving their mark. Sarah loves telling stories within the context of her songs, but maybe they’re just a little complex at times. I didn’t dislike this album, but I think it will be one that I will pick and choose which songs to play in the future. 6/10. (February 2014)
SARAH'S CHOICE : (Pureflix, PFE264)
For those of you who may not be aware, PureFlix is a US based film company who produce films with strong Christian content. This is a brave ministry, as there is definitely potential for such ventures to end up being rather cheesy or cringeworthy. This is the first film I have seen from them and it features well known CCM singer Rebecca St James in the lead role. The story centres around the character Sarah Collins, a career-minded woman who becomes unexpectedly pregnant and is considering abortion before God intervenes by giving her 3 visions. So, yes, it's a pro-life film but I found that the issues were handled very sensitively and non-judgementally. Indeed, there is a realism to the film that I did not expect. To be honest, it takes a while to get going - I thought the first twenty minutes were a little clumsy and I wasn't too sure whether it was going to descend into the tackiness I had feared. However, the film improves, along with Rebecca's acting, as the story moves along and I have to say that it is actually an enjoyable film. It's not as slick as a Hollywood production and the sound levels are a little bit variable at times but it is by and large well acted and well directed. I'm not sure how its American setting and context will work with a UK or worldwide audience but I didn't find it to be a problem but then, I am generally not put off by such things. 7/10 Robin Thompson (November 2010)
SARAH GROVES : Add to the Beauty. (INO Records : 36552)
When she released her 2004 album "The Other Side of Something", Sarah Groves said she had been feeling "spiritually beat up". The result was a rather poor album that did little to enhance her reputation. Two years on, and she's back on track with one of the best releases of this New Year. "Add to the Beauty" features a new and more confident Miss Groves, with a real warmth in her voice. The songs are, in the main, full of bouncy tunes that set your feet tapping and have you humming along. "Just Showed Up For My Own Life" was co-written with pop star Joel Hanson, and the result is a very catchy tune that is very radio friendly. "You Are the Sun" and "It's Going to Be Alright" are both super songs, and show Sarah's voice to be vibrant and fresh. Later on a couple of the numbers left me a little cold, but overall this album should win Sarah Groves lots of new fans. 8/10. (March 2006)
SARAH GROVES : Just Showed Up For My Own Life. (Nomad)
This DVD is about the efforts made by Sarah Groves, an American singer / songwriter to try and make a difference to a couple world situations. Basically it's a documentary type film about how she organised a truck load of aid, mostly baby clothes and food for the refugees from the hurricane that flattened New Orleans last year, interspersed with footage of a trip to Africa, the site of a mass grave in Rwanda to be precise, and a few clips of her singing. The documentary is ok I guess, it could probably do with being a bit shorter, to be honest, it did seem to drag on a bit after you'd got the idea what it was about, and it does jump between one place and the other all the time. I'm not really sure that there is much comparison with what happened in New Orleans and the ongoing tragedy in Africa, especially when you consider the resources available to the two countries, but then it's nice to see any American who is actually aware that there is life outside the USA. Anyway, some of the camera work is a bit amateurish, but being a Christian enterprise I guess there was not too much of a budget. There is an extra film on here of a concert that Sarah did. It starts off with a real "fingers down the throat moment", when her two small children wander onto the stage and announce her over the microphone. The rest of the show is pretty lifeless really, just her on keyboards and vocals and the rest of the band just sitting around playing along. It all seemed a bit lacking in effort for me. For me the whole thing was just a bit too "American" somehow. I can't really see that many people wanting to watch it really. The film depicts what was obviously a deep personal experience for Sarah, so perhaps it just doesn't work that well for anyone else. 5/10 Andy Sayner. (December 2006)
SARAH GROVES : Tell Me What You Know. (INO : 43022)
For someone with a such a distinctive voice, Sarah Groves' new album needs some better songs than most of those featured here. Well, that's my opinion, and it saddens me to relate it. But, that's how I feel. 'Song For My Sons' is very much in the mould of Amy McDonald and would do well as a single, but there, the quality fades. Topics such as the human soul, praying, and love are all tackled, but rarely do the songs rise above mediocrity. One that does is 'It Might Be Hope'. Here, Sarah intricately weaves the lyrics in such a way that they're hard to get out of your head for hours. 'You Are Wonderful' is nothing more than a middle of the road praise song, but I guess that it chugs along quite nicely. Overall, a pity that such a pretty voice doesn't get the songs it deserves. 5/10 (May 2008)
SARAH KELLY : Where the Past Meets Today. (Gotee Records)
This Grammy nominated artist says that this compilation of songs is a collection of her most sincere longings, a musing about pushing through life's hardest battles. It's a very personal album, as are a lot of Christian recordings, and has been produced by Mike Clink of Guns N' Roses fame. Her sleeve photograph may depict a sweet looking thing, but boy can she wail! Sarah growls her way through most of the songs in a style that can only be described as Alanis Morrisette territory. Indeed, I'd say that this is the album that Miss Morrisette is yet to make. Not that Sarah hasn't a warmth to her vocals. On songs like "About Midnight" and the brilliant "Fall Into You" she lovingly caresses each word, making them very gentle to the ear. "Out of Reach" sounds more prog' rock than anything, and the closing "Remember Me Well" has you thinking about leaving this life and moving into eternal life. With guest artists such as Slash and Lincoln Brewster, it's easy to see that Miss Kelly is highly rated. Certainly, this album isn't one for people of a delicate disposition. 7/10 (February 2007)
SARAH KELLY : Midnight Sun. (Kingsway : (5031330593264)
This latest offering from Sarah Kelly finds her in pop/rock mode. Kicking off with the song created for the Women’s Cancer Research Foundation, ‘Live Every Love Song’, you really need to read the lyrics to appreciate the love within them. Although she doesn’t exactly say that she’s singing to Jesus, I think that ‘Stolen My Heart’ is more about Him, than a secular lover. Her words, once again, are cleverly woven, to make you sit up and take note. ‘Good Day’ gets rather rocky, as does the following ‘Lift you Up’, but neither really lifted me. ‘Day and night’ on the other hand, is splendid song. Well writeen and performed, it has a strong chorus and reminded me slightly of Mary McGregor’s ‘Show Me Heaven’. Sarah’s voice is quite engaging, but I got to the end of the album feeling rather disappointed. Two stand out tracks fail to make a good album, and many of the songs were instantly forgettable. 5/10 (June 2011)
SARAH MASEN : Sarah Masen. (re:think/Alliance Music)
Here's a lady that made her real British debut at the smash Alliance Festival in October. She presents her own 'off the wall' indie rock style on here, complete with Stone Roses and Joan Osborne influences. The opener 'All Fall Down' is a catchy song which - if you get the CD version - is also featured as a multimedia video. Sarah has written all but one of the songs here and has the good fortune to have ace producer Charlie Peacock at the helm. Track 5 'Love' has an almost surreal effect for the verse that then links into an excellent chorus that had me singing it for days. 'Tuesday' is a ballad of distinction while 'Come In' is singalong and just made me feel happy. A good one. 8/10. (December 1996, Album of the Month)
SARAH MASEN : Carry Us Through. (re:think : 7243 8516322 7).
Following her successful debut release and subsequent tour of the UK last year, Sarah ditches pop and turns to 70's based U.S. east-coast music. To be honest, if I had only played this once, I wouldn't recommend it at all. However, on it's 4th play, I detected clever lyrics and carefully constructed songs. "Seasons Always Change" isn't instantly a strong opener but improves with age. The same can be said for "The Double" and "Wrap My Arms Around Your Name", a gorgeous little number. The bluesy title track, doesn't carry us through but the ethnic feel of "Beautiful Dream Vision" picks up the trail once more. Sarah sounds a lot like Linda Ronstadt used to (shows my age) and she's obviously not content to stick to one successful formula. Only time will tell if that decision is in her best interest. 7/10. (July 1998)
SARAH MASEN : The Dreams of Angels. (Word : 080688608521.
I was a big fan of Sarah's 1996 self-titled debut album, complete with it's folk/pop sound, but was quite disappointed with her "Carry Us Through" follow up, a couple of years later. Sounding more aggressive, it seemed - to me- that she was trying to be another Alanis Morrissette clone, and failing dismally. Thankfully, Sarah's returned to her roots with this new release and the result is very good. With writing credits for most of the songs, it seems strange that her latest single hit has been with the 70's Supertramp song "Give A Little Bit". However, it must be said that her interpretation of it appeals to me much more than the original. Here, Sarah sounds very much like Julie Miller, and that can't be a bad thing. "We Are A Beginning" does, indeed, begin proceedings and that light acoustic guitar strums us gently into Sarah's soft presentation. "The Valley" is quite a wistful number, while "Hope" includes a slight lean towards the blues. Fed up of all girl singers sounding like Britney Spears? Try Sarah Masen. 8/10. (March 2001)
SARAH PIERCE : Reality. (www.sarahpiercemusic.com)
Sarah and her husband, Mark, currently live in North Wales, where they head up the worship team at GloryFires Church Chester, For this collection of 5 self-penned songs, Sarah says; “These songs have an acoustic feel, quite raw sounding, and free flowing. We recorded my upright piano, which I love! My desire is that they draw you to Jesus, through the truth of the words and the depth of the music.” Well, I couldn’t believe the sound of that upright piano! As soon as the opening notes to ‘My Value’s in Your Blood’, the name Elton john came to mind. That sound from his “Your Song” days is quite spookily repeated on this song about Jesus’ death for us all. ‘Reality’ has an uptempo chorus, and the song is quite infectious, leading me to multiple plays. There’s some nice guitar playing on ‘Our God So Loved the World’, from Mark. This song sounds like a traditional hymn of yesteryear. Verse after verse fix your eyes on Jesus, and I’m sure that the likes of Fanny Crosby would have been very proud of this effort. The only problem with a 5 song CD is that it ends when, really, you want to hear more. Sarah’s vocals are very pleasing on the ear throughout and the sound production does give a raw edge to it all.‘Abba Father’ and ‘Proverbs 3:5-6’ are both nice songs, and conclude what is, a very enjoyable first release. 7/10. (August 2013)
SARAH POOLE : Hushabye.   (www.sarahpoolemusic.com)
One of the great joys of reviewing is that I get to hear some brilliant independent artists from around the world. On this occasion it’s UK singer/songwriter Sarah Poole, with her acoustic folk/blues recording of seven songs. She opens the mini album with ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, a song that she says is a “great opening song for a solo singer.” Immediately, I was impressed by her smooth vocal quality. On ‘Heart’s That Heavy’ Sarah looks at life through both rose tinted glasses one day, and then the next, everything is a deep shade of blue? This is the main bluesy number and really easy to sit back and listen to. Sarah’s guitar playing is quite delicate at times, and never more so than on ‘Black is the Colour’. Sarah has overcome many things in her life, depression being one, and I can see how God has used those trials to make her stronger. ‘Through the Night’ was written when her faith was being tested, but the resulting song is quite superb. I thought that ‘Better Days Are Coming’ sounded quite melancholy, but the sweetest sound comes on the final title track. Inspired by Sarah’s twin sister’s beautiful baby girl, the melody came to her in a dream, and reminds us all how much God loves His children. Overcoming her natural shyness by playing at various events, Sarah has given us just a taster of what’s to come. I think that small, intimate gatherings would suit her music best, while owners of the album can just relax and let her music minister. A very warm welcome to Sarah Poole.   8/10. (September 2012)
SARAH POOLE : Were You There? (www.sarahpoolemusic.com)
Less than a year since releasing her album ‘Hushabye’, Leicester based Sarah Poole returns with a 7 track CD containing 4 original songs and 3 new arrangements of traditional hymns. ‘I’m Working on a Building’ and the title track come from Julie’s early bluegrass interests. Her interpretations though lean more towards the folk genre, thanks to her acoustic guitar playing. ‘Don’t Cry’ is about the hope we have as Christians, even in death. Sarah’s vocals sound very sweet on this track, and I immediately fell in love with it myself. There’s a blues sound to ‘Knock at His Door’, which says no matter what problem we have, God’s door is always open – day or night. For ‘Can’t You Hear the Angels Sing’, Sarah looks to Luke 15:3-7 for inspiration. It’s a song that celebrates the parable of the lost sheep, and it has a catchy melody too! Finally, Sarah let’s just her guitar do the talking, with an instrumental version of ‘Amazing Grace’. It’s delicately played, and a soothing end to the CD. As a whole, this mini album shows that Sarah has a great deal of talent, and her ministry should continue to prove valuable to many. 8/10. (August 2013)
SARAH SADLER : Sarah Sadler. (Essential : MPCD40537)
Sarah Sadler is only 19 year of age, but her debut album sounds as if she's making records for years! It's nothing complicated, it's just pop music that is really nice to listen to, and is full of , sometimes, quirky, little riffs that stick in your memory. "Beautiful" and "Best Thing" open proceedings and they are simple in content, yet brilliant in production. As the autumn sun shone through my window, I found myself drifting away in a vision of a long hot summer's day, as I listened to the great sounds of "Orbit" - a brilliant song. Then, the gentle, Latin feel of "Dreams" came along, closely followed by the Natalie Imbruglia tinged "Running into You". "Simply Complicated" reminded me of an early Kate Bush track in a mysterious sort of way, from the "Army Dreamers" era. Sarah lost me a little during the middle of the album with the dance orientated "Say You Do" but she's certainly a young lady with plenty of good things to offer. 9/10. (November 2002)
SATELLITE : One Church, One Voice. (iTunes)
Satellite is the collective name for several Scottish worship songwriters from different denominations, brought together by David & Yvonne Lyon. ‘After the Darkness’, written by Stephen Hutchinson, is a gentle sound. Piano, fiddle and cello provide the backing to Ellyn Oliver’s sumptuous vocals. Indeed, Ellyn shows her versatility later on, with my favourite track, ‘Resurrecting Me’. It’s contemporary indie/pop and, at times, she sounds uncannily like Kylie Minogue. The song itself is written by Mark Cameron, and it really is something special. Back to the more normal styles of worship, and ‘Beloved & Friend’ swings along quite majestically. The accordion sound on the title track is very welcome, while ‘Beloved & Friend’, sung by Steph Macleod reminded me very much of Michael Card, in delivery. ‘Go Tell the World’ is another good song, but the vocals of Sam Gallagher sound nervy, as if he were holding back a little. To be honest, the overall sound of the album is very good. Production is lovely and bright, and a lot of the songs stand up well. ‘To the Lord of the Heavens’ has a Celtic feel to it, thanks to the fiddle of Seonaid Aitken, and I also liked the easy listening pop sound of ‘Sing’. Written by David Lyon, and sung by Sam Gallagher, it just has the right praise and worship feel about it, that would fit into any church’s repertoire. So, don’t be put off by the independent label release, this album is as good as any in the Christian marketplace. 9/10. (December 2014)
SATELLITES & SIRENS : Frequency. (http://satellitesandsirens.com/)
Unsurprisingly for a four-piece in which three of them are credited with playing keys, this has a distinct synth-rock feel to it. Two of them are also credited with programming, so the frenetic riffs aren’t a big surprise either. Don’t expect an 80s retro sound, though (even if a few bits are decidedly Ultravoxy (“Blacksheep”) with a bit of They Might Be Giants). This was clearly written and recorded in the last few years, with its incessant driving rhythm guitar work (“Tell It”, for example). Whilst there are odd bits that made me think “McFly”, it’s far more in a contemporary guitar-driven pop/rock vein such as Coldplay or Green Day. There’s also some undercurrents of symphonic metal such as Within Temptation. I particularly liked the way they use spaces and volume dips to emphasise the energy and to let certain riffs breathe (the intro to “Take My Hand” for example) – this is no “compressed to flat” sound at all. Lyrically they’re pretty straightforward (“Ready To Save” says exactly what you’d expect it to, for example), but in a no-nonsense genre that’s perfectly fitting. Vocally they remind me very much of Sum 41, but overall they’re themselves. It would be interesting to hear them live to find out if the variations in the CD sound got flattened out – it’d be a shame if they were, as this is a very good, very interesting, CD. It took me ages to decide on a “best track”, because there are just too many to choose from. In the end I settled on this – Best track: “Make a Mess”. 8/10. Paul Ganney. (July 2012)
SCOTT FAIRCLOFF : Scott Faircloff. (Pamplin : PMCD9820).
Right from the start, I could hear the influence of John Lennon ringing in Scott Faircloff's songs. Once, I had that thought in my head, I couldn't escape it. Don't get me wrong, it's not an album that just sounds like Lennon. Scott Faircloff is his own man and feeds us with personal songs, written from his own experiences. "Wrecking Ball Chain" is a jangly guitar song that is based on the Prodigal Son syndrome. "When God Whisper's" is a great track, mixing acoustic guitar and piano on a gentle ballad. This singer/songwriter has many albums to his credit but this is a first for me. Scott doesn't write songs that make you jump around , they tend to touch a bit deeper than that. Good album. 8/10. (November 1998)
SCOTT KRIPPAYNE : 'Wild Imagination'. (Nelson Word).
Well, I'm willing to put my reviewer's reputation on the line here and predict a fine future for this new artist. Sounding like a cross between Mike & the Mechanics and Go West, Scott's certainly got off on the right foot with Charlie Peacock as producer. As for the songs themselves (he has 8 credits), the title track is a catchy little number and "Hope Has A Way" swings quickly into pop action. His rock ballads include the splendid "Sometimes He Calms the Storm", while the pick of the bunch is "Wish List". There's just a couple of tracks that don't quite measure up to the rest but this is a highly recommended debut. 8/10. (April 1996)
SCOTT WAINWRIGHT : Every Man Has His Critics. (www.scottanthonywainwright.co.uk)
Zany, madcap, and off the wall, are just three of the phrases that I scribbled down, when listening to the latest album from the Yorkshire based artist, Scott Anthony Wainwright. He says that this album is the result of a nine year song writing cycle and, as an experimental artist, has "pulled his blues and folk influences through a more varied and colourful palette." It all starts off with a harmonica based blues number called 'Down the Line'. It's a basic beat that sounds like the backing music is being provided by a one-man band busker. The growling vocals are, sometimes, too low in the mix but I got the feeling that it's something that Seasick Steve might be proud of. 'Deal Me Another Hand' is just as whacky, with a distorted guitar phrase being added to a tuba driven bassline. It was during this song that the female backing vocals appear for the first time, in a Beautiful South sort of way. Certainly, the combination of these sounds with Scott's is very odd. Lyric wise, Scott says that we all have our critics and in the world today there is a "can't do" attitude. In response, Scott wants to prove that with Jesus, all things are possible. Whether he actually achieves that with these songs is another question. For instance, 'Whispers From the Undergrowth' consists of just over three minutes of the sound of rain lashing down, and a short banjo instrumental. I may be doing Scott a dis-service, but I completely miss the point of the 'No Shoes Blues'. The words a few and repetitive and it certainly became rather annoying after two or three plays. 'Kiss Like They Do In France' has a catchy tune but, once again, I found the vocals too low in the mix to hear the words. If you like to be entertained by something different, then this album is a must. The challenge, should you take it, is to decipher the lyrics and make sense of them. Sadly, I failed on all but 'Here For you' - a bit of a clue in the title? This song is a punky pop number and includes a bicycle bell, a bicycle pump used as a whistle, and a distorted guitar. When all is lost…..God promises that He is "here for you". I can honestly say that I've not had to concentrate so hard on a review album for a very long time. If you're visiting West Yorkshire, you should look out for one of Scott's live performances. 6/10 (September 2010)
SCOTT WESLEY BROWN : More like You (Alliance : 2800012)
Subtitled, The Worship Songs of..., this album is just full of excellent worship songs, written by the man himself. In a similar vain to Geoff Bullock, Scott Wesley Brown presents a programme of tracks that will lead you to a closer relationship with your maker and soothe any lingering doubts that you may have about Him being Lord of all. "You Are Lord" and "We Will Worship You" are medium paced numbers that are so powerful you can almost feel God's love drifting from your hi-fi. Slower, more gentle, songs like "More Like You" are enthused with such precision that you're soon drifting in a loving peace that makes you feel like you're floating on air. "Fill my heart with your desire" Brown sings "to make me more like you". If that was his prayer for this album consider it a prayer answered. A truely wonderful album. 10/10. (October 1999, Album of the Month)
SCSI : Crave. (Word : SP70004-2)
SCSI (pronounced Scuzzi) used to be called December Blue, and I remember seeing them at one or two events a few years ago. But, a change of name (and personnel?) has also seen a change of musical style that lends a little to the influences of Garbage and No Doubt. The pumping rhythms of "Crave" are quite infectious and the track is an early highlight. "Stunned" is a typical radio-friendly number that eases back on the aggressive attack of the previous songs, and is easily picked out a strong track. Either side, there's a slanted look at life from both sides of the Christian fence. "Right Here, Right Now" dissects lies in a relationship and the consequences of forgiveness, and is another song of inspiration. Sadly, I found most of the other tracks much of a muchness, in the way that each one souded too similar. However, the closing "Be the One" shows a wider degree of musical style as a simple song of worship. 6/10. (November 2000)
SEAN O'FARRELL : Life is a Teacher. (Rosette Records : ROSCD2073)
After a couple of years away from the music scene, Sean returned to the fore in 2006 by co-writing some of the songs for Daniel O'Donnell's 'Until the Next Time' CD. Sean, then, returned to Ireland to set about writing his own new album, and this is the result. Like O'Donnell and Charlie Landsborough, Sean is at his best with the easy listening style. There's a hint of country, but most of all, it's the quality of the songs that make this such an enjoyable listen. 'No One Holds the Door Back' is a duet with O'Donnell, and it asks "where have all the old fashioned values gone?" Sean's got a very smooth voice and it's really at home on songs like the foot tappin' 'When I Was in Your Arms' and 'Thanks For Talking to Me'. 'Forever Loving You' is a wedding day love song, while 'A Helping Hand' is a typical country music story about his father. I've got to admit, that listening to this album was a real joy and songs like the pretty love song 'The Door to My Heart' and 'I'm Gonna Change Everything' had me singing along. It's not an evangelistic album but the closing 'In the Garden' tells of a walk with God. While Daniel O'Donnell may be better known, this album should win Sean O'Farrell plenty of new fans. 9/10. (September 2007, Album of the Month)
SEAN SIMMONDS : It's Over. (Tyscot/XIST Records : TYS-984173-2)
"It's Over" is Atlanta singer/songwriter Sean Simmonds 2nd solo release & certainly looks the part of a true professional piece of work complete with glossy cover, but will the music live up to the appearance? Well, if R'n'B is your thang you will probably consume this by the bucket load with smooth vocals mixed in with lots of heavy urban drum/bass & refrains, the most bizarre of which is the Austin Powers mix in the title track 'Its Over'! This isn't what you'd class as innovative but it is good solid material that contains all the formula elements of the current crop in this genre including the now obligatory hey-ing & ho-ing that makes its way onto a great percentage of chart material. Sean has a great vocal range & he's not afraid to use his talents to tackle a wide range of subject matter from the gritty domestic abuse of 'Unheard Cries' to the challenge of following Christ on 'Don't Leave'. Tracks cover the full spectrum from the more chilled modern re-telling of the nativity story to the funky rap-styled 'U Did It' which amongst other wouldn't be out of place pumping loudly from a souped-up car stereo. Songs fit well together & quality is consistent all the way which is a huge bonus if success is going to be on the cards which I think it will be. You won't be disappointed as long as you're not looking for something revolutionary. 7/10 Simon Redfern (June 2009)
THE SECOND CHANCE : Integrity - Provident : 602341011297
The Second Chance is a film about two men - one from a white church in the well-to-do suburbs and one from a black church in the inner-city projects. Although founded by the same man, each church manifests its mission in a very different way. This film authentically tells the story of how a rebellious son and a street-smart pastor struggle to bridge the gap between their respective churches and cultures. More importantly, at its core, The Second Chance is about being willing to step outside your comfort zone and serve where you are called. Well, that's what the press release has to say, and it's a pretty good synopsis of what happens. Michael W Smith plays the part of the all singing, all dancing white pastor, while Jeff Obafemi Carr plays the other. The two men portray their characters really well, and they form a believable partnership on screen. These two are the main players, but the rest of the cast do manage to play their part in making an engaging story. To be fair, it's the American's taking a little bit of a shot at themselves and the lives of the money grabbing evangelistic outfits that make praising God into a TV show performance style, rather than true worship. The story is co-written by Steve Taylor and some of his whacky style does come through. I found myself drawn into the plot quite easily but was left disappointed by a rather weak finale. As far as Christian films go, this is one of the better ones. If you expect it to be all based around Smith's singing ability, then you'll be sadly disappointed. He does get the odd chance to flex his vocal muscle, but it's very small part of what the film is all about. Well, worth a look. 7/10 (November 2006)
SECRET ARCHIVES OF THE VATICAN: Reformation. (Private CD Recording: £10 from V.Millett, Broken Drum Records, 70 Birdhurst Road, South Croydon, Surrey, CR2 7EB.
"What is that?" asked my 15 year old daughter. Is it all Indian music?" said my 14 year old son. "I don't quite know what to make of it", answered their 40 year old dad. Secret Archives consist of Vince Millett and Louis Counter, with some guest musicians helping out, here and there. This is their first major release, which is an ecletic and original combination of styles as diverse as acid techno, Arabic & Indian, and psychedelic trance. 16 tracks and 70 minutes of music that I've never, before, come across in any shape or form. Make your mind up after one play and you'll probably never play it again. But, I think that you will want to. With the use of such instruments as mandolas, bouzoukis, and more, the sounds slowly filter into your brain and, it's then that you start to ask questions. IS "Godheadz" really about the trilogy? Is there a hint of revelation in "Dark Night of the Soul"?. No lyrics, but plenty of unusual and remarkable sounds that is capturing media attention far and wide. You've certainly got something guys, and more power to you!. 8/10 (April 1999)
SEEDS FAMILY WORSHIP : Seeds of Courage. (Kingsway : 883727177800)
Here's something of a novel idea for you. The focus of this album is how many sorts of seeds are spread and dispersed all over God's earth. Seeds Family Worship want the seeds of God's word to be spread far and wide in the hearts of families, through the 12 songs on this CD. How do you spread those seeds? Well, the album package includes two identical full-length CD's. One for you to keep, and one for you to share with a friend. Simple! With lyrics taken from the Holy Bible (NIV Edition), each song is based around well known verses. For instance, the opening 'Call To Me' is taken from Jeremiah 33:3, and and says simply that at anytime, you can call to God for His help. It's a pleasant enough song and the words come over quite easily. 'Ask, Seek, Knock', from Matthew 7:7-8 has a lovely female vocal, singing to a modern country tune, and it's a very attractive sound. Psalm 40:1-2 tells of standing firm, with a song called 'Out of the Mud'. It's quite rocky, in a Bryan Adams sort of way. Most of the other songs are fairly run of the mill message songs, and the inclusion of the small children's choir may grab the attention of younger listeners. Sadly, it all gets a little samey after a while and I, for one, lost interest. Mind you, I'll still be passing on my spare copy! 6/10 (July 2011)
SELAH : Hymns. (ICC : ICCD67630)
There's a lovely story behind this release of instrumental solo piano. The artist, Kris Baines, was diagnosed 6 years ago of having Repetitive Strain Injury in both of his hands, and that officially there was no hope of ever playing the piano again. Soon afterthat diagnosis, God intervened, healing and enablinig him to play to this day. The album is a collection of hymns plus one of his own compositions, "Nothing Shall Separate Us". All tracks are pretty similar, as you'd imagine, yet I can see the album being of great use by small house groups and for personal worship. "Just As I Am" is played in a lullaby sort of way and I found that to be the most pleasing track to my ears. Other well know tunes include "What A Friend We Have in Jesus", "Holy, Holy, Holy", and "I Surrender All". Not earth-shatteringly new, but a pleasant easy listening release. 7/10. (September 2002)
SELAH : Hiding Place. (CURB : 7151 8788342 0)
Selah have, it is said, established themselves as powerhouse performers in the inspirational-worship scene. Obviously, that's not one of my quotes, as I found them as empty as an old, deserted tenement building. On this, their 4th album, the threesome show rooms full of African rhythms, old fashioned hymns, ballads, and gospel music. The problem is, that the three artists who make up Selah, seem to be artists in their own right, rather than a group. Saying that, I did find the duet on "You Are My Hiding Place" to be rather good, which does show that they can work together at times. The African songs, "Esengo" and "By and By" work quite well, but that was it. Of the ballads, "All of Me" was the best, but that's not saying a lot. I'm afraid Selah left me without much inspiration at all. 3/10. (November 2004)
SELAH : Greatest Hymns. (Curb : 8788902)
Selah are a trio who have been around the US CCM scene for a number of years, and have a fine pedigree behind them, of creating very listenable albums. This new release takes a number of well known hymns, alongside some lesser known ones, and gives them the full Selah treatment. After the opening "Be Thou My Vision" and "Great is Thy Faithfulness", the album really fire's up with the simplicity of "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour". With just a piano accompaniment, the trio really launch themselves wholly into the song. One thing I didn't enjoy was the twice when they sing the blues. "Amazing Grace" must rank as one of the worst versions that I have ever heard, while "Precious Lord..." is almost as bad. By contrast, the lullaby version of "How Great Thou Art" works really well, and there's some terrific harmonies too. "His Eye is on the Sparrow" is one song that I hadn't heard before, but I thought it was very well performed. It's an unfussy album that many will find helpful to relax or meditate to, and that must be well worth a look. 7/10. (April 2006)
SELAH CHRISTMAS : Instrumental Solo Piano. (ICC : ICCD70930)
Recorded by Kris Baines at the Christchurch Music Centre in New Zealand, this album of solo piano work has the aim of bringing the listener to a place of peace and rest in the midst of Christmastime. Being just the one instrument on show, there is, therefore, not a lot to say about the musical presentation. Well known carols like "Silent Night", "O Holy Night" and "What Child is This", are played to their own, traditional tunes. Kris' piano playing is faultless and claming, yet the total track listing is a tad daunting, when played in one session. Other songs such as "Once in Royal David's City" and "Joy to the World" follow the same pattern. The arrangements could have benefited from something a little different but, I guess, the album does succeed in it's purpose. 6/10. (December 2002)
SELAH : Bless the Broken Road. (Curb : 8789442)
Five time GMA music award winning Selah release their latest CD, subtitled The Duets Album. This contemporary praise and worship group are renowned for their vocal prowess, and on this release, they're joined by some of their favourite contemporaries. The title track was originally a smash country hit for Rascal Flatts, and on this occasion, Selah are joined by Melodie Crittenden. It's a good song, with some very strong vocals shining through. A surprise for me was to see Barlowgirl featuring, but their collaboration on "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" is an excellent song of praise. Nichole Nordeman, Nicole C Mullen and Plumb are also featured while Jason and Adma Crabb belt out Russ Taff's "Ain't No Grave". "Be Thou Near Me" has to be my favourite song, although the pretty "Sweet Jesus" runs it a close second. It's predominantly and easy listening album with some fine vocals and good songs. 8/10 (April 2007)
SETH & NIRVA : Never Alone. (Integrity : B017SZK7ZW)
Widely-known for lending their acclaimed vocals on projects and tours by multi-platinum, GRAMMY, Dove and Stellar Award winning artists, husband and wife Seth and Nirva Ready have released their long-awaited, full-length debut album. Produced by Bryan Fowler, Seth says “Our sound—much like us as a couple and as individuals—doesn’t fit any traditional genre category very well. It’s a bit more diverse stylistically than a lot of artists and difficult to categorize, but this is who we are.” Indeed, there’s quite a mixture of styles on show, beginning with the really good pop song “You Are in Control.” The duo’s voices work well together, and the positive sound continues on the smooth RnB number “Pour It Out.” Toby Mac guests on The Brilliance written number “Brother,” while the ballad called “Should’ve Been Mine” again shows off nice harmonies. “Be With Us” falls rather flat, but the Katy Perry sounding “Unconditionally” raises the barre once more. The highlight of the album, for me, has to be “You Are With Me.” It’s all about giving glory to Jesus, and as well as some strong rhythms, there’s an excellent keyboard sound. The last track just goes to show what a mish-mash of styles this duo can produce, as it sounds something like boybands such as The Wanted might produce. It’s basically a dance tune with sampled sounds and vocals, but it’s quite enjoyable. It’s theme is about telling the world that God is moving and doing great things in our world today, and I can see this song getting quite a lot of airplay. It took me a few listens to appreciate this album, but it’s slowly growing on me. 7/10. (August 2016)
SEVEN PLACES : Hear Us Say Jesus. (BEC Recordings).
I liked this CD right from the start. It consists of guitar driven rock/pop songs with some nice strings thrown in here and there. To be honest there's not a lot that you can fault with this album, the band are enthusiastic, the music has a lot of energy, but there is enough variation to keep you interested. To be honest the only thing to moan about would be the fact that there is no contact address anywhere on the CD or the paperwork that came with it. All I can find out is the name of the record company, so although I would like to recommend it, I'm not sure how easy it will be to get hold of a copy. The name Seven Places comes from the seven places where Jesus bled to save us. i.e Hands, Feet, Side, Back, and Head. So if you like American pop/rock, and you can manage to track down a copy this is a cd worth trying. 9/10 Andy Sayner (March 2005)
SEVENTH DAY SLUMBER : We Are The Broken. (VSR Music Group)
Starting with huge overtones of the classic track “Inside” by Stiltskin, this CD has energy and loads to spare. They know how to do light and shade, lifts in choruses and so on, stripping back verses and piling in to keep raising the feeling of extra volume (even though you know digital stuff has a non-theoretical ceiling). It fits very well with its genre (21st Century Rock) in a Nickelback/Evanescence sort of way. It’s very very good without being groundbreaking: you’ve heard stuff like it before. If you liked that, then you’ll definitely like this as it is very good indeed. The title track is a great case in point: a clear guitar figure/hook with strong vocals, a band who pile in to raise the roof (and the moshing in the living room) and then suddenly stops, just leaving you wanting more (just as well it’s not the last track, then). Lyrically they address the hurting and lost (see “All She Wants” for a good example), reflecting well their frontman’s own path from a cocaine-fuelled suicide attempt to salvation in the back of an ambulance. One of the best CDs I’ve reviewed for a while, I just stuck it back on again when it did finish. Best track: “We Are The Broken”. 9/10. Paul Ganney. (August 2014)
7ENTH TIME DOWN : God Is On The Move. (www.7enthtimedown.com)
Opening with the first single from the album, the title track, the scene is set. The style is clear: its 2000-era stadium rock in a Coldplay vein, with a hint of Sum 41 and Bon Jovi (although “Revival” is more country-rock). It’s very familiar in style and if you like this type of music then you will like this one too as it’s very well done. The vocals are clear, the lyrical themes very faith-based, the guitar playing powerful, the bass & drums tight. It bears more than a passing resemblance (especially with the lyrics) to modern day worship: indeed, when I first started playing it I wondered if that was what I was in for. It’s very sing-along-able, but more of a stadium way than a worship type of way. It doesn’t break new ground stylistically but it was refreshing not to have to wonder whether it deserved to be labelled “Christian Rock” rather than just “mainstream”. “Always”, for example, has great themes of forgiveness and acceptance played over a fitting triumphant-sounding band (the kind of thing you’d have in a movie as the main character gains redemption, for example). The opening to “Pray It Down” deserves a special mention for making you sit up and listen and pay attention. It’s an object lesson in song arrangement that many bands could learn from, especially as the song lives up to the intro and keeps you interested all the way through the light-and-shade, the instrumental drop-outs, and the massive chorus. This is a band that also puts their words into action: partnering CURE, their “Club Awesome Tour” founded more than 38 surgeries (of the medical kind) in 27 countries worldwide. So, if you like American rock with jangly guitars and solid faith-based lyrics by a band that don’t just sing this stuff, this is an album for you. Best track: “Pray It Down”. 8/10. Paul Ganney. (June 2016)
SHANE & SHANE : Pages. (Inpop : POD1403)
Shane Barnard and Shane Everett are, apparently, not only the best selling Inpop Record's duo, but one of the most sought after bands on the US college scene. Recorded in their own Dallas based studio's, Shane & Shane give a vocal quality akin to that of Chris Rice. When they use their harmonies, they use them well, but I felt that the songs tended to sound quite alike. 'We Love You Jesus' is a song stating the obvious, no matter how low or how high we are feeling. 'Over the Sun' contains some of the best harmonies on show, while 'Psalm 62' tells of being safe in the arms of Jesus. One song that differs from the rest is the foot tappin' 'Bad Days Better'. It's a great tune and I really enjoyed the chorus. It's an album that certainly has it's moments. It's just a shame that they are few and far between. 4/10 (April 2008)
SHANE & SHANE : Bring Your Nothing. (Fair Trade : 3621160619)
Here are Texan duo Shane & Shane, with their 8th studio album. A mixture of jazz. Pop and worship, it’s reported that they recorded all the songs together in one room, rather than the ordinary one instrument at a time. It all starts off in a positive vein, with the foot tapping ‘That’s One You’ll Find’. It’s a great number and has some fine banjo playing, driving it along. The title track is rather over produced, with lots of brass sounds fighting for pole position. To be honest, I was glad when the track finished. ‘That’s How you Forgive’ is a okay, as a song, and it’s a pity that it’s not more memorable, as the lyrics are really good. The guys voices work well together, and never more so than on the pleasant pop ditty ‘I Came Alive’, which focusses on being saved. After the first play of the album, I had hardly written any notes for review. It wasn’t that I had a dislike for the songs, but I couldn’t say that any track really stood out, apart from the opening one. Sadly, that was still the case after another couple of listens. ‘Crucify Him’ did raise my hopes, but it turned out to be another false dawn, as the album finished with a whimper. I’ve read some other reviews that give this album a higher score but, for me, it’s worth nothing more than 5/10. (December 2013)
SHANE BEALES : Time. (www.shanebeales.com)
With a number of independent releases behind him, this is the new digital EP from Nottingham born Shane Beales. Now based in London, Shane wrote his first song when he was just 8 years old, and later studied music at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. This 4 track EP gives an interesting insight into his songwriting, including the gentle, simple lyrics and delivery of ‘Blackbird’. “The moon is shining all around”, sings Shane, until the morning comes, and the blackbird sings. He says that “Blackbird is subtitled 'a song about the moon' and is a metaphorical look at hope in the face of adversity”. It’s a likeable song and, perhaps, my favourite of the four. ‘Signals’ begins quite melodically, and then gains some progressive rock moves, in a Led Zeppelin sort of way, which I found very surprising. For most of the time, Shane’s vocals are quite restrained, but here, you feel the full extent of his range. On ‘Time’, I didn’t quite enjoy the song so much. It builds in power, but it failed to engage me until the closing section. Maybe that’s just personal taste. However, the Beatlesque sound of ‘PRSM’ gives the listener plenty of food for thought, about tomorrow. It’s a new day, and who know’s what’s going to happen. A colleague said that it sounded a little like Radiohead but, to me, there were some “Magical Mystery” sounds in there as well. It’s not your run of the mill Christian release, and that’s the strength of this release. Independent artists like Shane shake you from your slumber, and make you sit up and take note. Lyrically, there’s a hidden depth to this EP. It will confuse some, but will be welcomed by many. 8/10. (June 2014)
SHANE ROOTES : We Are Family. (Kingsway : KMCD2079)
The cover of this album states that this is All Age Worship. I found it pleasant to listen to, and relaxing. However, I did not feel that it would appeal to young people, or not to the young people I know. 'We Are Family' , the title track, is Shane's version of the old Sister Sledge hit - it is also repeated at the end of the album as a re-mix. My favourite track, 'You've Set My Heart Free', brought the album to life, as well as the previously mentioned chart hit, and 'Higher Higher'. 'Keeper of My Heart' and 'Room of Teddy Bears' are aimed at the children of the family, and both are rather dreary. For me, the worst track is 'Jesus We Lift Your Name on High'. The words are good but I didn't like the music. On the whole, a pleasant album to listen to, but lacking in drive. 6/10. Pam Robinson. (January 1999)
SHARON SEWELL : Metamorphis. (www.facebook.com/songbirdfly1)
Sharon comes from the north-east of England, and previously formed one third of the band Disciplemakers, who released and EP in 2015. Now stepping out as a solo artist, she says; “I want to spread the Gospel message through song. I believe trusting in and following Jesus is the only way.” The four songs on this EP are about the life changing and life giving decision of becoming a Christian, and the lyrics firmly adhere to that theme. “All Glory to You” is a worship song about redemption. You can’t fail to understand this, as the song words are rather repetitive. Similarly, “Fixing My Eyes on You” suffers in the same way. The song fails to have any changes in conveyance or structure, to lift it out of mediocrity. I don’t know where the EP was recorded, but although in tune, Sharon’s vocal quality in very thin in tone. Likewise, on “Give Me A Heart”, the drums (presumably programmed) are far too mechanical and have an odd feel about them. Saying that, the song itself is the best one on show. More thought has been given to the production and the song structure, which makes for a far more interesting listen. I especially liked the well placed keyboard sounds. Finally, “Wings to Fly” sees a return to tiresome, repeated lyrics based around “You give me life; you give me wings to fly.” The EP shows a lot of promise and Sharon should be encouraged to build on these foundations for future recordings. 5/10. (November 2016)
SHAUN GROVES : Invitation to Eavesdrop. (Rockettown : 080688612528)
Texas born Shaun Groves has his music rooted into his life and in the church's youth ministry. His debut album, therefore, contain many songs that were specifically written to draw teens to Christ. Like many albums, the first song "Should I Tell them" is a very strong number. Shaun shows off his attacking vocal prowess and there's some nice jangly guitars for accompaniment. The song itself tells of Shaun's own imperfections in the light of wanting to share Jesus with others. "Welcome Home" drew one passing comment from a work colleague, "Is that Ronan Keating?". Whether that's a good or bad thing I'm not sure, but the song was quite nice. Groves then twists a little bit of folk into "Two Cents" while the guitars are forefront on "Move Me". There then comes a bit of a poor section, where I found the songs quite bland but, the infectious "After The Music Fades" had me thinking that we're going to hear a lot more from this guy. 6/10. (September 2001)
SHAUN GROVES : White Flag (Rocketown Records : RRD3921)
This is Shaun's 3rd album release and his 1st attempt at producing. My message to him would have to be an encouraging "carry on, it's working". The target audience that he's trying to reach with this album (18-25s) should be well served by the varied musical influences, ranging from the 1st track "What's Wrong with this World" which has a distinct Busted feel to it with bags of energy to the Manics style "Only" & Coldplay -esque title track "White Flag" which also reaches a slightly more mature audience. These styles however don't overpower as Shaun writes all his own material, which in addition to his production gives the tracks the originality they need not to be dull copies of someone else's work. The lyrics are drawn from his personal life experiences & courses of scripture study which does lend to some powerful stuff if you listen intently. The only tracks where the musical / lyrical compositions don't strike a chord for me are "Sad Song" and "Heaven Hang On", which I found rather dull & heavy going. As a whole album though, it's a good 'un. It's a good "driving" album you can listen to at volume in the car & not get cries from certain family members of "not another happy clappy CD". An album that Christians & non-Christians alike could listen to without being overwhelmed. 8 ½ / 10! Simon Redfern(September 2005)
SHAWN McDONALD - Live in Seattle (Kingsway / Sparrow Records SPD63579)
Not having come across Shawn before, I had no idea what to expect musically. Looking at the cover though his remarkable resemblance to Enrique Iglesias gave me something to go on! The album is purely acoustic & vocal styles surprisingly enough lean towards the aforementioned artist combined with a bit of Marc James (Vineyard), which is a combination which really taxes the imagination! Track 2 "Take My Hand" has an essence of Cleo Laine to it which was even more bizarre! Other than that, the rest of the album was consistent with Shawn giving a brief testimony part-way through which was the best bit. Despite the quality of his playing & the obvious passion in the songs & performance, I found it very heavy going - my wife's comment: Not very "wow" is it? Just about sums it up really...can't get over excited I'm afraid. 4/10 - Simon Redfern. (October 2005)
SHAWN McDONALD : Ripen. (Sparrow : SPD11989)
Shawn McDonald's second studio album follows his 2004 critically acclaimed debutb "Simply Nothing". He says he wrote a lot of the lyrics for this new album before he wrote the music. Hats off to him for not simply churning out a safe album of sugary pop songs. Instead, you get a lot of personal, honest lyrics, in a mainly acoustic style, with some twiddly bits thrown in for good measure. Take the track "I Want to Be Ready", it sounds a little on the phsycadelia side of things - very strange. On "Reason", Shawn is pleading with God for a true relationship, while "I Am Nothing" is a shuffling number where he admits to being "nothing" without the Lord. By mid-album, I could hear traits of Chris Rice coming through, but I'm afraid that Shawn doesn't have the consistency in his writing to be as good. Mid way through the album there's an short, ambient piece of music, before the weird "Imago". Here, he turns to some Spanish guitar playing, with shouts of "Ole in the background. Not sure what the idea of the song is, but it just conjured up visions of bull fighting to me. A bit of a mixed as a result, and not one that I'd find myself playing again too often. 5/10. (August 2006)
SHAYNE WALSH : Some Kind of Wonderful. (www.hollandroadstudio.com)
Here's the debut album from a guy who was brought up on a tough council estate, dropped out of school, became a gang leader, got known for being very violent and has almost died several times due to illness, car crashes and fighting. He found Christ at the age of 16, but found it very hard to leave behind his previous life. Now, at the age of 28, Shayne Walsh is ministering to youth and churches, and encouraging people to learn from his mistakes. Now, he has finally recorded this album of self-penned songs and has gathered some of the finest session musicians in the UK. The front cover picture is somewhat misleading as it shows Shayne on his own, in worship pose, holding his guitar. I expected to hear a Martyn Joseph sound, but I wrong. Instead, we get a cross between the Hothouse Flowers and Deacon Blue, with a little American rock thrown in for good measure. The opening 'A Worshipping Man' is a great start, and the backing vocals of Didi Ward are especially good. The musicianship throughout is first class, but never better than on 'When All Is Said and Done'. Shayne's vocals mellow a little on 'All You've Got to Do is Pray'. Here, the theme is of the assurance of having a loving, heavenly Father, and the guitar sound incorporated works well. There are many high points to this album, but songs like 'Memories' and the superbly produced 'Sail off Into the Night' deserve a mention. Finally, 'All for You' closes proceedings. It's a piano led song that really opens and then gets into your heart. Shayne hopes to tour later this year, and become a full time musician in 2010. With music like this behind him, he has every chance of succeeding. 9/10 (April 2009, Album of the Month)
SHAZ SPARKS EP. (dtox cd13)
More often than not seen backing synth legend Howard Jones, Shaz Sparks is one half of progressive house duo dba, who released Bubble in 1996, Spectrum in 2001, and the remix album Twister in 2002. Her first solo collection sees her trading in those club chart-friendly whispers for in-your-face vocals that deserve to make needles jump all over the UK this summer. In the past songs like "3D", "Go with the Sun2 and "When the Light Has Gone" put across a Christian viewpoint without alienating the non-Christian listener, and to a large extent that approach is carried across - although the opening songs, "Love Me Love Me Love Me" and "Calling All Lovers", just simply capture common emotions, and of course give us something to dance to. The third track, "Heaven Give Me Words", is, by contrast, great for times of private worship: "Heaven give me words, heaven give me life, heaven let this message reach you." A stimulating version of Howard Jones' 1986 hit "All I Want" is followed by "The Language of Love", another dance epic that would do anyone from DJ Sammy to Dee Dee proud.This is quality music and suitable for anyone who likes to let their hair down in their own living room. (8/10) Howard Dobson (August 2004)
SHEFFIELD CELEBRATION CHOIR : The Hymns Vol.4 - He is the Lord. (Kingsway : KMCD920).
Is it a sign of old age? Has what street credibility I had left, flown out the window? Yes, it's true, Geoff Howlett gives a Traditional Hymn release his 'Album of the Month' award. Those taking part are drawn from 100 different congregations in and around Sheffield and have raised thousands of pounds for charity through sell-out concerts. Here, they treat us to a selection of well-known hymns dating back as far as Charles Wesley himself. The real bonus to this collection is that they don't sound just like any old choir, these songs are really alive. Take 'What Do We Hear?', with it's glorious trumpets and angle voices. The victorious marching of 'Down the Mountain' is soul lifting, while 'I Will Follow' is so gentle and relaxing. Some tracks are linked by Bible verses but the strength of this album lies truely in it's presentation and arrangement. 9/10. (February 1998, Album of the Month)
SHEILA WALSH : Hope. (Integrity : 14072)
In my own early days as a Christian, Sheila Walsh's music was essential listening. Now, following a long silence, she's back with an album under the banner of 'Women of Faith' - a group dedicated to helping women experience life to it's fullest. This doesn't mean, however, that the songs only talk to the female species, but I do believe it is they who will find the most benefit from listening. It's another one of these albums where a well known artist has decided to use a lot of Celtic instruments to set the songs to an ambient feel. Sheila kicks off with three very quiet and meditational numbers that do take some getting used to. Gone are her previous throwaway pop songs and in come a more gentle collection. The title track sounds like Iona but her rendition of Chris Eaton's 'God Is Faithful' is simply wonderful. I wasn't too sure about 'See Amid the Winter' but it grows on you. If you're expecting Sheila to simply carry on where she left off 5 years ago, you'll be sadly disappointed. On the other hand, welcome back Sheila. 9/10 (January 1999, Album of the Month)
SHEILA WALSH : All That Really Matters. (Integrity : 25222)
It's a long time since we heard from Sheila Walsh, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Was it the Sheila Walsh of the late 70's who sounded so exciting, or maybe the 90's version that sounded, at times, like a lost sheep, still searching for home? But no, say "hello" to the new Sheila Walsh, full of the spirit and just oozing with love. What a wonderful start we have with "Here I Am To Worship". That's followed by the pure pop sound of "More Than Life" which lends more than a nod in the direction of Michelle Tumes. And, just when you think it can't get much better, the violin's hauntingly play in Martin Smith's "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever". I thought that the last Delirious? version of this song was brilliant, but this takes that song to brand new heights - it brought a tear to my eye, it is so beautiful. From the way her voice caresses the ballads like "Adore" and "We Fall Down", to the way she turns "Fall Into the Arms", you sense that Sheila has found something extra special in the making of this album. She's had her own up's and down's over the last 10 years, but this is Sheila Walsh, back to her very best. 10/10 (May 2003, Album of the Month)
SHEILA WALSH : Celtic Lullabies & Gentle Worship. (Integrity)
For some time, Sheila Walsh says that she had "wanted to blend the soothing sounds of the traditional Celtic instruments of her homeland with the message of the tenderness of the love of God". Recorded, in the main, for young children and their parents, this album certainly put me to sleep! What I mean to say is that it's peaceful and, listening to it, I definitely snoozed and drifted into sleep. Thankfully, I've managed to stay awake since and give the Cd a couple of listens. "Hymn of Blessing" is a gentle opening, and "Lullaby" is sung in quiet Enya style. "The Lord is My Shepherd" was the only track I recognized, but others like "I Will Carry You" and "Sail Away" all had the desired effect. From my own experiences, I think I'd also recommend this recording for relaxation and meditation - it has that sort of ambience about it. 8/10. (August 2003)
SHEILA WALSH : The Best of…(Integrity Music : 29772)
You can view "Best of.." albums in one of two ways. Either you feel they are just a money making machine for the record company or a genuine attempt to present the best of an artist, ideal for those who haven't purchased previous collections. I'm never sure where I stand, especially as genuine fans can and do usually burn their own compilations. For me though, this particular offering represents very much the latter, as I don't possess any of the albums these songs are drawn from. There were two things that struck me on first listen. Firstly, that there are strong celtic influences in much of what Sheila does, and there are several tracks, especially "Blessings Flow" that are very Enya-esque. Secondly, there are many contrasting styles, from full blown operatic style hymn arrangements ("A Mighty Fortress is Our God") to classic pop tunes ("Always"). Often, when you get such an eclectic mix as this, there is a lack of coherency but this is not evident here. The variety here allows Sheila's versatile vocal talents to really shine through and also provides for a wide variety of tastes. There are not many artists who can achieve this successfully but Sheila Walsh is obviously one of those who can. There's a super version of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which I immediatley skipped forward to on first listen and thankfully, I was not disappointed. It is bold song to try in the first place and an interesting choice for this compilation. My favourite of all the songs here though has to be the aforementioned and sublime "Always" which is just fantastic in composition and execution. This is a must have in your collection. 9/10 Robin Thompson (June 2004, Album of the Month)
SHELDON BANGERA : 'Raaja Hai Mahaan. (Integrity Music)
Based in Mumbai, Sheldon Bangera has led worship at Worship Central India and sings classic worship songs in Hindi. His first album 'Nachoonga' was released in 2013 featuring twelve well known worship songs all translated into Hindi, and was said to 'provide a path from English speaking worship to the Indian community across the globe'. Here we have Sheldon's second album which contains much of the same, but slightly more inclusive this time in that three of the tracks are in English. Things get off to a fine start musically with 'Pause (God you are great)' - and this is probably the standout track, being straightforward western pop but sprinkled with a 'touch of Indian' and with a great hook-based chorus. Other particularly good tracks are 'Aye mere mann (O my soul)' and 'The upside-down Kingdom' - this last one delivering a 'last shall be first' message and having the strongest lyrics of the three English-sung tracks. The whole of the album is pretty strong musically, sound quality is good, and Sheldon's vocals are pretty nigh note perfect - but there's no getting away from the fact that I would find it all a much more attractive proposition if I understood what he was singing about most of the time! Note however that his aim is to provide a path FROM English speaking worship TO the Indian community - so his efforts are not really directed towards such as me, and I'm happy therefore to give this one 8/10. Dave Deeks (June 2015)
SHELL : Have You Heard. (Authentic : 1903222)
Shell Perris raised more than a few eyebrows when she left girl band tbc, to "go it alone". Judging by the songs on this album - all of which she co-wrote -, Shell obviously wanted to move into the adult market, and rocks it up a little. The title track is one of the best on the album, outlining the story of Jesus. On 'Now is the Time' I found myself comparing Shell to Britney Spears in style, although the song wasn't too strong. 'Barbie Girl' gives good advice to girls who think that they should copy the lifestyles of the latest fashion, while 'Made to Be Me' sees Shell tackle a ballad, without success. One trait that runs through the album as a whole is the lack of good songs. Lyrically, they're quite weak, after a basic message, and the tunes are rather bland. Now, whether that's down to Shell's writing or poor production I'm not sure. 'The La La Song' is repetitive and boring, and her efforts on the big ballad, 'Ordinary Day' are, indeed, rather ordinary. Not the best start to a debut career but time is on her side. 3/10 (February 2009)
SHERWIN GARDNER : Greater.   (Tyscot : B06WW7TTT4)
This is a 15 track live worship album and the 14th album from the Trinidadian Gospel singer. His style has been described as dancehall and patois, though ITunes classes it as Reggae. I can't say there is much reggae on this album though the reprise version of the track “Because of You” does have hints of said style. I would say the overall feel and sound is American Gospel, but there are plenty of departures from the usual motifs and cliches to make this quite a varied album. It's very lively for first three or four tracks , which is a big plus in my book – too much worship days sounds anything but joyful - before settling into to some gentler worship. The first of these quieter tracks is the aforementioned “Because of You”, an absolute peach of a track, and as an added and welcome bonus there are three versions of the song on this on this album - live, live reprise and a studio version. I like them all! I also love “Praises Never Stop” – good soul number with a driving, catchy and infectious refrain and “Praises Go Up”, a synth driven, dance number. By rights I shouldn't like this album – I really struggle to get on with American Gospel - but I do like it. Good songwriting and excellent musicianship are hard to ignore and this album has both in spades.   9/10.   Robin Thompson. (September 2017)
SHINEmk : Do It Right. Alliance : 1908162).
I never heard last year's debut EP but if this full album is anything to go by, it must have been good. Shine are four girls who's collective name reflects both God's glory and their commitment to the youth of Milton Keynes. However, this release will, no doubt, see them spread their wings and fly further afield. With the charts constantly filled with pop music by Britney Spears, TLC, Steps, and the like, ShineMK are Christiandom's 100% answer. Dance, jump, singalong, to brilliant tunes such as "Do It Right", "Do You Believe in Love" and the classic Stevie Winwood number "Higher Love". "Get A Life" is honestly as good - if not better - than anything in the charts at the moment and "Shine" is just as hot. It's not all uptempo stuff though, as the girls show that their just as at home with the lovely ballad "More Than Words Can Say". Play almost any track on commercial radio and no-one would know the difference between ShineMK and their secular counterparts. That is, until they listened carefully to the God inspired lyrics. ShineMK must be one of the UK's brightest lights for the future. 9/10. (May 2000)
SHIRLEY CAESAR : He Will Come.....Live. (Video) (Word : 8015275695).
One of the first albums I ever reviewed was by black gospel artist Ron Kenoly, and that has remained a favourite of mine. The female equivalent must be Shirley Caesar, and this live concert shows her in full flight, one rainy night in Georgia. Backed by her own singers, choir and band, there's lot's of pursed lips, mopping of brows, bulging eyes and not a white man in sight. Shirley whips the audience up into a mass frenzy with songs like "Looking For the Stone". There's an incredible ten minute song(?) where she tells the most bizarre story about the Christian and the atheist - I really thought she was going to explode! "If You Wanna Be Blessed" is quite a redeeming number, where the lady in red takes a back seat and lets the choir sing while she shakes hands with the audience. If you like this type of music, you'll be really moved by this lady. However, with my apologies to black gospel lovers everywhere, the only way I was moved was to reach for my VCR's eject button. 3/10. (September 1997)
SHIRLEY CAESAR : Hymns. (Word : 080688615420)
With a career that spans four decades, Shirley Caesar is undoubtedly one of the most popular and successful gospel singers. In that time, she's won 11 Grammy Awards, 18 Doves and 13 Stellars, as well as appearing on nearly 40 albums. She's had three sold out runs on Broadway, and has also been involved with four motion picture soundtracks. "Hymns" is a superb collection of traditional gospel songs, delivered in a way that only Shirley Caesar can. The track listing includes "Amazing Grace", "Holy, Holy, Holy", and "There is Power in the Blood", as well as many others. "Steal Away to Jesus" is a powerful duet with Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams, and quite beautiful it is, too. Produced by long time friend Bubba Smith, the album continues the phenomena that is Shirley Caesar. 8/10. (March 2002, Album of the Month)
SIDNEY MOHEDE : Louder Than Life. (Elevation : ELE1667D)
Louder Than Life is the latest in what appears to be a very long line of albums from respected Indonesian worship leader Sidney Mohede. Having been involved in the recording of no less than 35 albums since his return to his native country from the US, this is a pretty impressive track record by anyone's standards!! This is a live recording, complete with full backing band, orchestra & choir, containing a mixture of tracks in English & Indonesian which seems to work well for his home crowd, but I have my doubts whether this bilingual combo would prove to be a big hit here in the UK. Sidney has written the majority of material on here & performs a strong set with big dollops of professional showmanship but with lyrics that show a deep faith. However, I found the whole thing a little too glitzy & performance oriented to have value as an offering to lead to personal worship. The tracks are mostly energetic praise, with the title track "Louder Than Life" being a prime example with a couple of more relaxed numbers such as the familiar "When I Survey" & "My Simple Song". For me the arrangements were nothing spectacularly different or inspiring, in some cases being slightly dated. There is no doubt whatsoever of Mr Modhede's gifting but I really struggled to engage with this. 5/10 Simon Redfern (February 2012)
SIERRA : "Devotion". (Starsong/Alliance)
Let me say straight away that this release smacks of a hot summer with long, lazy, hazy evenings. Three girls from Tennessee who deal out a hand of superb pop songs, laced with fine harmonies and catchy hooks. The lead vocals are incredibly strong yet, at the same time, capture great emotion and style. Musically, there's the jingle-jangle guitars of Jerry Macpherson, which stand out from the norm. "Hold on to Love" starts things off in a pure pop sort of way, while the piano based "I Know You Know" is simply adorable. There's a dip in quality here and there but the album finishes with three excellent tracks. 8/10. (October 1996, Album of the Month)
SIMON GOODALL : Plugged in and Connected. (ICC : ICCD23230).
Leeds based Simon Goodall has released this EP featuring most of the solo acoustic songs that he has played, at concerts, over the last year or so. Indeed, apart from his simple guitar work, backing music is sparse but well used. Out of the six songs featured, he only takes writing credits on two, with the catchy 'As Long As You Believe in Me' being the best. His voice is very similar to Sir Cliff, and I mean that as a compliment! 'All By Myself' leaves a little to be desired. In it's very simple format it never quite reaches the heights of either Eric Carmen's original nor of Celine Dion's most recent version. However, the sweet and gentle 'Carolyn' is of the highest order, written by Wes King. All in all, my only complaint was the shortness of the recording. A nice addition to anyone's collection. 8/10. (February 1998)
SIMON GOODALL : Closer. (ICC : ICCD68330)
Whether he's performing at large events like Spring Harvest, or playing an acoustic solo set in a pub, Simon Goodall has the gift of God centred songwriting. His regular appearances on various religious tv programmes over the last few years are just proof that he is one of the most respected worship leaders in the UK, and this new album gives him chance to share 11 of his own songs. His voice has been likened to that of Sir Cliff (which I mentioned 4 years ago) and Gary Barlow, such is the quality. Songs like "All This World Has to Offer", "Always" , and "Can't Deny" are just three of the guitar led songs that result in pop praise at it's very best. "Keep Me" sees Simon accompanied by just a piano as the simple, true and majestic lyrics worship His Father God. "All For You" is a similar track, with the guitar replacing the piano, as Simon sings of wondrous love. Things dip a little in the middle of the running order, where I thought the songs weren't quite as strong but, there are some real quality songs here. 8/10. (November 2002)
SIMON GOODALL & ALI CROXFORD : Jesus You're the One. (Childrens Ministry : CHMCD045)
This cd is another high quality offering from the experienced children's ministry team. It features 12 brand new and original praise songs and includes the backing tracks for them all too - a great bonus for churches with limited resources. The songs are well written, presented in an engaging format and in language that can be understood by its intended worshippers. However, it manages to do this without too much dumbing down, giving this a broader appeal. I can imagine the opening song "I Worship You Lord Jesus Christ" with its uptempo rhythm and blues feel working well amongst us older types, and there are many others that would work this way too. Songs like the bluesy "Reach Up High" have enough in them to keep most worship teams happy and there are some more tender moments too with songs like "Father I Love You". What's more, it passed the usual test in that both my daughters love it and there can be no better appraisal than that. 9/10 Robin Thompson. (April 2007)
SING FOR JOY 2 : Cathedral Praise. (ICC : ICCD43430)
Now, here's a refreshing change! It's not often that I'm asked to review an album in this style of music but, as for this one, I'm glad I was. Recorded at Chester Cathedral, it features the choir singing 13 well known hymns. You may think that this style of singing might become monotonous but I certainly didn't find this. Indeed, as soon as it finished I started the CD again. Tracks include "Be Thou My Vision", "Make Me A Channel of Your Peace", and "Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart". Add to this, the most beautiful version of "From Heaven You Came", and you've got an album to grace any CD collection. Not everyone's taste, I know, but one that would surprise many if they took the chance to listen. 9/10. (January 2001, Album of the Month)
THE SITUATION : Beyond the Horizon. (www.facebook.com/thesituationofficial)
The Situation are four guys from Newcastle. Guitarist, Ross Hill, says; “We're all Christians and as a result the songs are written from that perspective. However our aim was not to make them overtly Christian and to appeal to the masses.” With that in mind, this 5 track EP should find a home with both Christian and secular fans alike. There’s a mix of blues and rock on ‘Tall Drink’. It’s a strong opener, and has both an infectious hook and has some nice guitar work. Gareth Brown’s vocals fit really well on ‘Ready To Ride’, and there’s also another guitar riff that sticks in your head after playing. The sound is comparable to 70’s bands such as Free and Bad Company, yet there’s more than a passing nod to Eric Clapton on ‘What’s Taking You So Long’. Written by Brown, he says “It's expressing how I sometimes feel about my future life partner but also just an honest expression of that comparable intimacy with God eluding me. Bit like you get in some psalms - being real with God". ‘Return of the Rhythm Railroad chugs along quite nicely, while some excellent keyboard sounds adds to the closing song, ‘Wandering Man’. The five songs show a lot of promise for this band, and I can see them going down well live. Hopefully, a full album will be next on the agenda. 8/10. (April 2014)
SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER : Sixpence None the Richer. (Squint: 7017032616).
One great song does not make a great album and, unfortunately, this is the case with Sixpence. All the hope I had of a brilliant release to push them further into the secular limelight has been dashed by, what is, a fairly ordinary collection of songs. That's not to say that it doesn't have it's moments. Apart from the delicious "Kiss Me", Leigh Nash's distinctive vocals literally hypnotise on the opening "We Have Forgotten" and "Anything". Mandolins, jangly guitars and violins are all featured on a sound that is, sometimes, reminiscent of Suzanne Vega."Puedo Escriber" rambles without getting anywhere, and "The Lines of My Earth" is a little ballad that owes more than a passing acknowledgement to Lou Reed's "Perfect Day". If you liked "Kiss Me" and are looking for more of the same then "East to Ignore" is the closest in style. Mind you, that's track 5 and from then on, it's mostly downhill. 5/10 (July 1999)
SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER : Collage - A Portrait of Their Best.(Flying Tart : 51416 5439 2)
A real portrait of their best, or just a marketing ploy by their old record company, ready to cash in on the band's new found success? A lot of the newer fans will have heard things like "Kiss Me" and "There She Goes" and, quite possibly, assume that the band have always sounded the same. However, a listen to this album will soon destroy that theory. Songs like "Angelthread" and "Love Salvation, The Fear of Death" are harder hitting sounds than the recent chart hits. It's alternative rock with a touch of indie thrown in for good measure. What on earth possessed them to record their version of the classic "Love Letters In The Sand" is beyond me. If ever there was a case for a song being murdered, this is it. "Spotlight" proves just what great pop songs Sixpence can deliver and "The Fatherless & the Widow" gives you great hope. A portrait of their best? Well, if this is their best, I wouldn't like to hear the worst! 3/10. (November 1999)
SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER : Divine Discontent. (Squint : 0688601027)
Until now, I hadn't heard a good Sixpence album. Oh yes, their last big release included the monster hit "Kiss Me" but the rest of the songs weren't really upto the mark. So, thankfully, I'm pleased to report that this latest offering is just so much better. The lyrics, too, are an improvement, and back to a more direct link to a walk with God. "Breathe Your Name" and the delicious "Tonight" set their stall out, as the opening numbers. A surprise inclusion is the Crowded House smash "Don't Dream It's Over", but what a great version it is - well worth playing again and again. "Still Burning" is another classy tune from the pen of Matt Slocum, and Leigh Nash's vocals never falter. The latter half of the album becomes a little more aggressive in production but, all in all, this is by far the best from Sixpence. 9/10. (February 2003)
SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER : The Best of… (Squint)
You always wonder if "best of" albums are, really, the best of an artist, or just a cheap way to garner some more cash from fans? I've got to admit that I've always had a soft spot for this band, although their albums have, sometimes, left me a tad short changed. I've always thought that Leigh Nash's vocals suited the jangly pop songs and it comes as no surprise that I was a big fan of "Kiss Me". But, this album has more to offerthan just one song. "Loser Like Me", "Us", and "Too Far Gone" are three previously un-released songs that are splendid offerings, and it makes me wonder if the band had really got to the end of their journey together? Cover songs include the quite brilliant "There She Goes", "Don't Dream It's Over" and the Abba classic "Dancing Queen". The most evangelistic song on show is "Brighten My Heart", where Leigh sings about opening her heart to Jesus. Couldn't get my head round "Angeltread" or "Within a Room Somewhere", but, for once, this really is a best of. 8/10. November 204)
SKATMAN MEREDITH : The Garden. (Mail Order £13.99 from Skatman Meredith, PO Box 444, Rockland, De 19732, U.S.A.`)
A tuneful Bob Dylan or a jig-less Eden Burning? That's about the closest I can come to describing the music of Skatman Meredith and his latest release. All acoustically driven, the songs tell of different times in your relationship with God. Admitting your sins and your pride is told by the enjoyable opener, 'Forgive Me', while 'The Garden' is were you are welcomed into His family. There's a folk tinge to the whole of the album but in a contemporary vain, rather than a 60's feel. On 'Hope For Us', Skatman and his friends put a little rock into proceedings and the result is extremely pleasing. There's an obligatory catchy hook, and a real dance feel to it. 'Sweet Dreams' contains a touch of REM, while I really love 'Big Idea'. This one sees someone trying to come to terms with a loved one who has given their life to Christ. Very thoughtful, very good, and so's the album. A great sound and much better than a host of big name produced U.S. albums. 9/10. (August 1998, Album of the Month)
SKATMAN MEREDITH : Skatman Meredith. (Mail Order £13.99 from Skatman Meredith, PO Box 444, Rockland, De 19732, U.S.A.)
From the first notes of the first song, I knew I would like this. "Strangest Places" is an inspiring song that builds to an anthemic conclusion. "Your Home", notwithstanding the American accent, reminded me of Peter Gabriel and Lindisfarne. With "Convenant Child", just when you think you know where the melody is going, it dips like Mike Nesmith's "Rio". "Blood on My Hands" starts with a haunting acoustic guitar riff - it's a song of redemption, of a God who "took away the chains and the burden of blood on my hands". The first half of the CD is the stronger, although it does finish with the fine "Bitter End". These are well crafted songs that don't stray far from the world of 60's style singer-songwriter folk harmony. Some might find the songs a little samey. It's unfashionable, solid, stirring in parts. Few surprises, but it's good stuff. 8/10 Geoff Allen. (August 1998)
Skillet – The Platinum Collection. (Ardent : B01K8L5MYY)
Compilations and re-releases are always interesting to critique, as the original releases have already been under the reviewer’s knife so to speak. They have also had time to prove themselves worthy additions to the Christian Music milieu so any further comment or criticism is rather academic and probably not necessary. However, I will attempt to take this 3 cd collection on its merits and for what it is - a fantastic summary of the Skillet story so far. Two of the cds are full previously released studio albums, “Awake” and Comatose”, of which I prefer the former even if “Comatose” was more critically acclaimed. The reasons for this is “Awake” is just a little more akin to the earlier Skillet sound and I prefer this sound to the more radio friendly Skillet of later albums. Which is why, of all the cds in the collection, it is the third one, a compilation of songs from earlier albums, that I find myself coming back to. From the grunt of the opener “Gasoline” to the uplifting “Best Kept Secret”, there is a raw energy, enthusiasm and a freshness that - even though these are “old” songs - they haven’t quite managed to replicate on later releases. It’s a sound not unlike Kings X, not surprising given that Skillet, like Kings X, started out as a guitar, bass and drums three-piece. However, all three albums are excellent and, if you like your music heavy and haven’t yet checked out Skillet, this is a good place to start. 9/10 Robin Thompson. (September 2016)
SKINFLOWERS : Skinflowers. (Private CD Recording. £2.50 from G.Leicester, 6 Hurcombe Way, Brockworth, Glos, GL3 4QP.
Although promoted as a three track single, this CD actually contains six songs. The extra three are provided by the inclusion of material previously only available on the band's demo tape. Of these, "Come Back Hungry" is the strongest, with it's definate REM influences. The new tracks, however, see the duo move on musically and experiment with a harder sound that results in an intriging cross between DC Talk and Tubeway Army. The mystic sounding "Man of Blood" stands out high above the other tracks in both lyrical and musical content. The orchestral arrangement alone is superb but the track itself is a classic. Not that either "Waiting…" or "Hey Man…" are weak, they are, in their own right, good songs and, at this price, the CD is well worth investigating if you like something out of the ordinary. 8/10. (March 1999)
SKINFLOWERS : Data in a Hurry. (CD £10 from: G. Leicester, 6 Hurcombe Way, Brockworth, Glos, England, GL3 4QP.
Since their previous release, the two brothers who make up Skinflowers have ditched their electronic wizardry for a sound much akin to what I used to call industrial. Lot's of incessant rhythms, thrashing guitars and lyrics that don't, on first hearing, seem to make much sense. As the guys say "we make music that is kind of twisted out of shape, the kind of music your car stereo might be playing after a particularly unfortunate car accident that leaves your car absolutely mangled but yourself relatively unharmed. Nonetheless, the car stereo keeps playing". It's then that you have to dig deeper into the words of each song and actually dissect what is going on in the world of Skinflowers. "I Don't Need More Money…" takes the old 'busy life - too busy for Jesus' syndrome' and reincarnates it beyond anything I've ever heard before. The opening "Transatlantic Love Song" reminded me of Placeabo and could well be hart material, if that's what they are aiming for. "I Suppose" is a more personal, reflective look at life and it's mellow sound is a welcome change from all the crashing tracks that have gone before. It's an album that you're really going to have to sit and listen to, to get the most from. Hats off to Skinflowers for creating something that no-one else in CCM appears to be doing, it's a brave release. 7/10. (September 2000)
SKIP EWING : Until I Found You. (Word : 7014712020)
Let me say, straight away, I didn't expect this to be my album of the month. The cover photograph of Skip is enough to put you off country music for life! But hey, what about the music? The lyrics are typically country. You know, plain old love songs, and no Garth Brookes type rock in sight. Not only does the album open well, with the bouncy "All That Matters To Me", I guarantee that you'll be singing along to most of these within a play or two. "Mary Go Round" is a play on words that has Skip telling the story of two sweethearts who met at the fair and stayed true to each other throughout their lives, with God at the centre. The title track is a simple song of praise that is just so full of love , and "Answer To My Prayer" follows the same sentiment. There's some great slide guitar featured and even a line-dance special called "Make Time". Don't let that put you off, this is the best country album I've heard for a few years. Give it a whirl. 9/10. (September 1997, Album of the Month)
SKYPARK : Am I Pretty. (Word : 080688542221).
If you're into a very tight, heavy rock sound with an indie touch, you'll like this one from the States. It's a serious album, but with all the minor dischords combined with a lot of distorted guitar, I came away feeling battered and depressed. The lyrics are deep, man, tackling everyday problems such as honesty, infatuation, self-worth, being real, sex etc., and included is a booklet expanding these ideas with helpful Bible references. While on the subject of lyrics, they are jargon free. Yes, really! Most albums start well and then end with a few throwaway tracks. This one does the opposite, with the exception of 'My Mirror' and 'Nondescript'. Skypark start to get a little funkier on 'Here Come the Bugs' which, for me, is the best track. Shame it's so short. So, if you're into late night philosophical discussions with lots of distorted guitar, this one's for you.

7/10 Julie Lord. (September 1998)

SLEEPY VOLE : Zzzzzzz
Putting this CD on worried me, given the band name and title. It opened very ambient, but then gave way to a single vocal & electric guitar (track 2: Powernappin, one of the better tracks on the CD). It’s not really Billy Bragg territory, though – the lyrics are less polemic and the guitar playing is more rock band. Sadly it does sound like it could have done with the rest of the band. The vocals are good, the guitar playing very good. It’s just not a very full sound. Sleepy Vole are (as you’ve probably gathered) one man and his guitar: the man in question being Martin Little. His myspace page describes the genre as “christian/pop/shoegaze” of which the first two are pretty accurate – it’s a bit too lively for the latter, as “The Glimpse” (probably the best track) clearly shows. It also shows that there’s more than a fuzzbox in there – a phaser too, at least. I’d have preferred to have heard this material with a full band – the songs certainly deserve the treatment. To be fair, Martin has done his “band dues” in Indafusion so I guess this was a conscious decision to play solo. Go to his myspace page and listen to “The Glimpse” – if you like that, you’ll like the rest. 6/10 Paul Ganney (January 2012)
THE SMITHTON OUTPOURING (Hosanna! Music : 15722)
The live praise & worship album is from the Smithton Community Church, a church in a small town (pop. 532) which has experienced an outpouring of God. This isn't a "Toronto blessing" type of thing, but a great sense of revival and the difference the presence of God can make in our lives. The songs very much reflect this. I've tried to assess the album on two fronts: 1) is it worth listening to; 2) is there anything useful for church worship? On the whole, the album passes test 1) quite well: the songs are well-recorded, well-played, well-presented with only one spoken introduction. The enthusiasm & the life in the recording would give many a black gospel choir a run for their tithe but for sheer power of performance the choir would win. That said, most of our churches don't sing like a choir, so how useful is this album as a resource for a P&W leader? 8 of the 13 songs are usable, although the "revival is happening" theme of many may not be where many churches are ("revival is what we need" is more common in the UK at present, I feel). The album follows that well-trod path of lively opening, slow/quiet section, final upbeat number (an anthemic "candles in the air" album-closer). Why an album of "live praise & worship" contains so many songs I'd regard as "performance pieces" is beyond me: but maybe that's not representative of the services, and is an attempt to answer my first criterion. Anyway, if you're into P&W, especially of a revivalist theme, this is a good album. If not, there's plenty of others out there to chose from. 6/10 Paul Ganney. (December 1999)
SOMMER FLOYD : Ray of Light. (www.sommerfloydmusic.com)
Born and raised in the Texas Hill Country, Sommer Floyd was voted Class Favourite and Most Talented by her high school classmates. However, since then she has battled through brokenness and has since found music as her sword for all life’s battles. This new album features pleasing melodies and a vocal quality that reminded this listener of Susan Ashton. The title track kicks things off, asong about God’s truth setting you free. It’s a light pop number with some nice jangly guitars playing in the background. “Drop and Run” was an early favourite, of mine, while “Chidlren of God” has one of those majestic choruses that really lifts your spirits. I liked the production of the orchestral sounds throughout the album such as on “I Need You” and the powerful “Let It Rain.” Sommer’s writing links words so well, and her story telling on “Little Boy” is exquisite. There’s a rather striking chorus to “Lighthouse”, while “He is Good” is simple praise of our Lord. Finally, there’s “Live Like Jesus.” The title says it all, but the song is cleverly done and it’s a reminder to us all. Sommer is obviously a talented young lady and this album should win fans from both sides of the Atlantic. 8/10. (December 2016)
SON OF NUN : Spiritual Flame. (Private Cassette Recording. £5.50 inc p&p from: R. Saggs, Lamplugh House, Thwing, Driffield, E. Yorkshire, England, YO25 3DY.
I really haven't heard a demo like this for some time. Plain and simple lyrics, married to unfussy music which really lets the raw feeling filter from the tape. With all due respect to other bands, it is really nice to hear a band who don't instantly fall into the current Britpop or dance sound. Saying that, on the closing 'In the Garden', the vocal quality is very Beautiful South! Good song, and well performed. Bassist Dave Beere is the man behind most of the lyrics, and he uses clear biblical truths to form the backbone of ewach song. The opening 'Armour of the Lord' lacks a little in conviction but there is some rather nice guitar work contained within. Seven songs in total and a good effort for a first time out. Songs like 'Sixty Three' and 'The Lord is Marching' are bound to be popular wherever Son of Nun play, and they can be well satisfied with their offering. 7/10. (January 1999)
SONGS OF DAVE BILBROUGH : Let There Be Love. (KMCD2188)
To celebrate the wonderful music ministry of Dave Bilbrough, a host of top British artists have got together to re-record some of his best known songs, giving them new life. Mind you, that's not my opinion. My opinion is that most of these beloved numbers have been literally murdered, albeit by some well meaning folk. The gospel groove of "Let There Be Love" had me cringing - tacky just doesn't enter into it. Sue Rinaldi is guilty of poisoning "So Freely", while Lou Fellingham and Alan Rose strangle "Be Free in the Love of God". "cleverly interpreted with a contemporary vibe" write Graham Kendrick on the sleeve notes. Clever? Not really. Contemporary vibe? Does that mean dreadful? Stuart Townend offers brief respite with "O Joy of your Forgiveness"and Sheila Walsh's "As We Seek Your Face" is just sheer beauty. What a pity such great songs have been treated this way. 2/10.
(February 2000)
SONGS OF FELLOWSHIP : Volume 5. (Kingsway : SFCD322)
With tracks drawn from the Songs of Fellowship Songbook, there's something for everybody on this new album. However, for me, there was nothing until Matt Redman's "Friend of Sinners", which appears as track 7. What goes before is a collection of tepid, non-descript songs that raised the cringe factor to 10. Mind, you, after that, everything improves dramatically, including stirring versions of those great hymns "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "And Can It Be?". For lovers of more recent music, there's a great version of "The Day of the Streams" and "Welcome, King of Kings". 20 songs and 70+ minutes of music. Something for everyone, maybe, you might not be as picky as me. 6/10. (May 2000)
SONICFLOOD : Sonicpraise. (Gotee : 4728272)
Hailed as something "out of the ordinary" I put this CD into my player, expecting something a little bit special. Live alternative worship from a band who, themselves, are praised from afar. "Open the Eyes of My Heart" explodes with superb guitars, reminiscent of U2 at their best. "I Want to Know You" carries things on well but the vocals are rather weak. I couldn't help thinking that someone like Martin Smith would do it much better. Things, to coin a phrase, "get a bit messy" before the ceilings lifted with "You Are Worthy of My Praise". Now, what is spontaneous worship? I've never really been sure, but track 7 is called just that. What you get is some mind numbing guitar music and pounding drums that just gave me a headache - I suppose that was pretty spontaneous! I guess that the live event was much better than just listening to the CD, although "Before the Throne of God Above" did have me worshiping along. Special in an OK sort of way. 7/10. (June 2001)
SONIC FLOOD : Cry Holy. (Integrity music)
I've not really heard anything by this band before, although I know that they've been around for a while. It's a rock worship CD, and a good one at that too. I'm not really a fan of worship CD's in general, too many of them are full of overused cliches, and sound as though their creators are just going through the motions. However I liked this right from the start. Especially "Here I am to worship" which is a song that I've found myself playing in church a lot myself lately so I guess most people will be familiar with it. The style of music goes from a sound that in some places is not unlike the Stereophonics. While there is a hint of Delerious in there too at times. All the songs are played well and arranged well, and you get the impression that the band are enjoying what they are doing. No sense of going through the motions here. All in all then a good CD, In fact I'd even pay money for it myself! 10/10 Andy Sayner. (August 2003)
SONGS FOR SOAKING : In God's Presence. Kingsway : KMCD2536)
Here's a collection of 22 songs with instrumental interludes, to help you rest and relax in the spiritual equivalent of a good soak in the bath! Indeed, I tried listening to some of the album whilst in the bath, and it was quite a pleasant experience. But, perhaps, where I was most appreciative was in the workplace on a typical stressful day. With this double Cd playing in the background, there was a desired effect. First song to make a difference was "In Christ Alone", which has a celtic feel to it, due to the use of several pipes and wistles. I also enjoyed the peaceful sound of "Dear Lord & Father of Mankind, and "I Come to Bow Down", where the latter gave me visions of a sun-drenched beach, with the sea gently lapping around my feet. Praises are raised somewhat on songs such as "If This Life's Just These Few Days" and "In Your Presence", but I think that this collection does achieve what it sets out to do quite well. 7/10. (June 2004)
SONGS 4 WORSHIP (GOSPEL) : God is in the House. (Integrity: 23252)
"Before there was jazz, therewas gospel. Before there was rhythm and blues, there was gospel. Before there was soul or funk, there was gospel. It is impossible to consider the history of American popular music without acknowledging the fundamental role played by the sounds of the black church". So, says the sleeve notes, and who am I to disagree. This 2 CD collection includes typical gospel flavours from the likes of the Colorado Mass Choir, The Motor City Mass Choir, Vickie Winans, and Israel Houghton. There's the usual whooping and hollering, but above all there's some time honoured, good old gospel music, as only the black church can provide. "We Lift Up Your Name" by Radical for Christ, and Alvin Slaughter's "Speak Lord" are two brilliant numbers, but it was hard, for me, to pick out anything else special. As popular as Anointed are, I just couldn't help but dislike "Adore You" and similarly, Dottie Peoples' "I Exalt Thee" just made no impression on me at all. I think that I can honestly say that I've heard better gospel than on this collection, but time will tell if I'm right or wrong. 4/10. (January 2004)
Songs of Taizé Volume 6 - Jesu Redemptor (Jesus, Redeemer) Kingsway KMCD2934
This CD is the latest release of chants from the French-based Christian community of Protestants & Catholics, with the words of each song having been written by the community & set to music. If you've never come across Taizé before, think Gregorian Chant sung in a mixture of French, English & Latin with the addition of female voices plus the occasional subtle instrumental interjections then you won't be too far off the mark. Certainly not what you'd call mainstream! The vocal performances from the Coventry Singers are excellent with some beautiful harmonies adding a lot of atmosphere to the pieces, which are sung in a mixture of English, Latin & French. However if like me your musical diet is more along the lines of rock/pop worship, then you may find it slightly difficult to deal with the often highly repetitive nature of the chants (especially those in foreign languages) which can often just be 1 sentence or even 1 word over & over again: this is of course unless you are in a particularly reflective frame of mind whilst listening. Fans of more serene classical church music & regular Taizé listeners will probably appreciate this far more with a CD of well produced chants that help listeners engage with a more meditative style of worship. 7/10 Simon Redfern (September 2009)
SONGS FOR WORSHIP : RevelationSongs. (Integrity : 27047-D50612)
Here's a collection of worship songs that is sub-titled "Today's Most powerful worship anthems". There's a mixture of UK and American artists featured and, on the whole, the formula works well. The opening 'Your Love Never Fails', is greeted by a screaming and cheering audience, and the guitar rock sound is obviously approved of. The following track, 'Your Grace is Not Enough' is sung by Jared Anderson, and although in similar style to the first, I liked this a lot more. Kari Jobe takes the lead on 'Revelation Song' , and a fine job she does too, until the backing vocals get rather too busy for my liking. 'Everlasting God' contains a Bon Jovi style guitar solo, while Dave Lubben delivers a glorious version of 'How Great Is Our God'. The mix of old and new songs is a real bonus to this compilation, and it stands out from many similar releases today. Robin Mark and Tim Hughes give rousing versions of 'Blessed Be Your Name' and 'Beautiful One', respectively, while Travis Cotterell's vocals on 'In Christ Alone' is one of the most powerful vocal performances I've heard in along time. And, if all that's not enough, then the album finishes with a high octane, live version of Tim Hughes' 'Happy Day'. A welcome addition to any record collection. 8/10. (October 2012)
SONICFLOOD : Glimpse (INO : 40102)
This album has the sub-title "Live Recordings From Around the World", and the songs come stitched together to play as if at one live event. The sound production is excellent and even with a rock worship style, you can actually hear every word that is being sung. The guys in the band certainly know how to whip up the crowd into a passionate frenzy, and it's easy to see why this group is so popular. "Your Love Goes On Forever" and Open the Eyes of My Heart" are just two of the powerful praise and worship songs that appear early in the track listing. Almost immediately, I found myself really tuned into the worship and that doesn't happen often enough, for me, with live albums. Other highlights include "Cry Holy", "Everlasting" and "Lord of the Dance", before the album closes with a couple of studio tracks that are a little lack lustre after all that's gone before. Still, there's plenty here to keep the listener happy. 8/10. (April 2007)
SOPHIA DADY : Closure. (www.sophiadady.com)
Sophia Dady is a UK singer/songwriter/musician with a diversity of influences which derive from trad jazz, pop, folk, and strong ties with Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Having grown up in a household rich amidst the arts Sophia inherited the creative side of her parents from an early age, and through this gained many years of experience to become an accomplished musician and singer. It wasn’t until after Sophia had raised her family that she has recently pursued this passion to create, and as a self-taught songwriter wanted to project her real life experiences of love, lust, power, and pain! This 5 track EP, sees the piano featuring predominantly, providing accompaniment to Sophia’s rather dusky vocals. “Yesterday” is the opening song, and tells of saying goodbye to your old-self by making today, better than yesterday. “Reach You” plods along at a pedestrian pace, and has a musical backing that I found quite dark and menacing. Four of the five songs sound very much alike and I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not, on this occasion. “Mountainside” sees Sophia singing of a journey towards her dream, with some nice cello sounds bringing warmth to the song during the break. The funky jazz sound of “Living the Dream” was a welcome change of sound to the song listing, before she returns to a rather melancholy number called “Anna’s Song.” It’s quite a deep thinking collection of songs that you really need to take time and listen, to get the full benefit of Sophia’s lyrics. Certainly, she brings something a little different to the musical table. 7/10. (April 2017)
SOUL ASCENDANT : 3 by Seven. (Private CD Recording, £2.50 from: P.Stoodley, The Vicarage, Park Road, Sowerby Bridge, HX6 2BJ)
Some 9 years since I first met them, the group now known as Soul Ascendant, release their first CD. Naming James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and The Commitments as their main influences, you can get an idea of the sort of music contained on this 3 track EP. It kicks off rather slowly with Ruth Stoodley telling the story about finding Jesus in her life. Not a bad song but I would have, personally, preferred a livelier start. The pace does pickup for the second song, "Passin Thru", with the brass section leading the way. This is more like it and the James Brown feel makes it a sure fire dance hit."Can't Do Right" sees Pete Stoodley share the lead vocals on what he calls a "humourous cliché". Robb Sutherland plays some neat lead guitar and, all in all, if you like soul music, you'll like this CD. It may only be 3 tracks, so perhaps you should see them live. 7/10. (December 2001)
SOUL SURVIVOR LIVE: The Heart of Worship (Survivor Records: SURCD006)
Featuring the talents of Matt Redman, Kevin Prosch and Tim Hughes, this is an album exhibiting a fair bit of what I would term "performance praise". That doesn't mean it's P&W to watch, but rather a collection of songs that are strong enough to be listened to as well as joined in with. The opener, "Believer" is a case in point, having a vocal line that felt like it came from a dance anthem (more M People than "Lager Lager Lager"). The backing, though, is fairly standard P&W. Well executed, but nothing unusual nonetheless. But then, this is a P&W album. So how does it stand up in that light? Not being (or having been) at the event, I didn't really feel drawn into the worship that the large-sounding crowd were obviously experiencing. As the album settled down into a more worshipful style, I even felt rather left out. Overall, a well-recorded album of new P&W songs, the more up-tempo of which I actually quite enjoyed (there's even a version of Delirious' "History Maker" - the original is far better). How many of these songs would be of use in the local church is debatable (although I have sung "What a friend I've found" locally). If you're after an introduction to this sort of album, then the 14-day exchange offered by Survivor Records makes it worth trying. If you already have many P&W albums, then this will probably blend in with the rest quite comfortably, so it'll be a case of how many of these songs you wish to add to your collection. 7/10. Paul Ganney. (December 1997)
SOUL SURVIVOR : The People's Album 2. ((Soul Survivor : SURCD032)
Following on from last years successful release showcasing brand new song writers, Soul Survivor gathers the likes of Martin Smith and Matt & Beth Redman to present the music. However, the first track is a Matt Redman number called "Thannk You For the Blood". It's a strange song who's arrangement doesn't really know whether it's a 19th century hymn or a pop song for the millenium. Great vision in the song, and words that just pull you into praise and worship. Unfortunately, this song is so good that it put the rest in the shade. It would be easy to say that it's all downhill from there on, but Laura Baker's "Father God" does lift spirits- albeit briefly - with a nice chart sound song. All too often I played this album and got to the end without remembering much more. Lyrically, the rest of the songs fail to offer anything new. Too many times you could actually guess what the singer was going to sing next, so predictable is some of the writing. Not a patch on Volume 1. 2/10. (October 1999)
SOUL SURVIVOR : Led To The Lost. (Soul Survivor : SURCD033)
During the three Soul Survivor summer festivals of 1999, over 800 young people in the UK became Christians, and it was all in the context of worship. The album, as the sleeve notes say, "reflects the passion and the intimacy, the praise and the intercession" of those events. With the likes of Matt Redman, Tim Hughes and Martin Layzell as worship leaders, it really is hard to pick out one vocalist from the other. For instance, the Tim Hughes sings on the stirring "Jesus, You Alone", but until I read the inlay, I thought it was Matt Redman. For me, the album contains lots of new worship songs, including the acoustic led "A Life of Love" and superb "Joy". Coupled with those are favourites like "Thank You for the Blood" and one of the best renditions of "Undignified" that I've ever heard - it's easy to see how the Lord moved during this time. If you weren't there, you probably should have been and this album will give you just a taste of what you missed. 9/10. (January 2000)
SOUL SURVIVOR : The Message - Live from Manchester. (Survivor: SURCD045)
This summer over 11,000 young people from many nations invaded the city of Manchester for a 10 day mission. In the evenings, the Gospel was preached and thousands responded, all in the context of worship. Here, then, is the album recorded at that event. Featuring Matt Redman. Tim Hughes, and Martyn Layzell, we're immediately carried into power praise with Matt Redman singing "Salvation". Next comes Redman's "Holy Moment" but, in this instance, sung by Tim Hughes. Mind you, he sounds so much like the songwriter, you can hardly tell the difference. "King Jesus, I Believe" is another driving song, written and led by Layzell and, of course, Paul Oakley's "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" is also included. Maybe it's me, but I always find it difficult to capture the worship feeling on CD when things go quiet. Somehow, it just doesn't seem to cross over from the real thing to a recording. Perhaps that's just a personal thing, otherwise it's an "ok" album. 7/10. (November 2000)
SOUL SURVIVOR. Re-Mixed. (Survivor : SURD5166)
Mixed by Al Sweetenham and Dave Plumb, this 7 track CD sees well known songs tweaked, bleeped and fuzzed up to emerge as God-soaked floor fillers. Well, so much for the press release blurb. Now, if I'd not known any of these songs, I might have agreed that the tracks stand on their own merit as dance orientated. But, the fact is, these mixes rip the heart out of great songs and leave them begging for mercy. 'Dancing Generation' gets a completely new sound with a pounding beat. I wasn't impressed. Tim Hughes' 'Happy Day' is ruined beyond recognition and the vocals sound totally alien to the freshly mixed track. Similarly, 'Blessed Be your Name' loses all it's power with a limp mix and falls like a wilting flower. The only glimmer of hope came from a track that I didn't know, 'We Will Dance'. But, even then, I was clutching at straws. One to leave well alone. 2/10 (December 2009)
SOUL SURVIVOR & MOMENTUM : Light the Sky. (Kingsway : KWCD3150)
Here’s a 2 CD package featuring music from both the Soul Survivor and Momentum events of 2010. Although no-one can deny the success of these events, the new music chosen for these to Cd’s fall rather flat to a listener who witnessed nothing of the amazing summer of 2010. Saying that, I was impressed by the voice of Beth Croft on the exciting version of ‘Holding Nothing Back’. Beth also provides excellent vocals on ‘Found in You’ and the classic ‘’Nothing But the Blood’. Indeed, she is a lady to watch out for. Alongside these great tracks are mediocre tunes such as the epic ‘Praise Overflows’ and the performance orientated ‘Saviour of the World’. From the Momentum Cd, I thought that Tim Hughes’ ‘Never Stop Singing’ was good but, again, was more aimed a s a performance song than one of joint worship. There’s only 6 tracks on this CD, and ‘All Glory’, ‘Beautiful Beyond Description’ and ‘Our Hope’ does give chance for worship. I guess you had to be there to really appreciate the music. 6/10 (April 2011)
Live Worship From Soul Survivor (DVD, Kingsway)
This DVD reminds me very much of those video albums we used to get back in the 1980s; no frills, no extras, just a collection of songs with pictures ... in this case film of the songs being sung live at Soul Survivor 2011. The staging is interesting with a large band and "choir" leading in the round, and there are a number of different worship leaders featured. Sadly, however, in spite of the variety of leaders and musicians the songs all sound a little 'samey' and there is no indication anywhere on the disc or the packaging as to who the worship leaders are. A small point maybe, but a disappointing omission from my perspective. There are some good songs here, highlights being Phil Wickham's ' You're Beautiful', John Mark McMillan's 'How He Loves' and 2011's ubiquitous Redman/Tomlin collaboration 'Our God', and the recording and presentation of the music is first rate but, for me, there isn't anything here to get really excited about. On top of that, whilst the presentation of the disc is unfussy, slick and professional, I would have appreciated a little less of the choppy MTV-style editing, and an option to have lyrics/subtitles on screen as an aid for joining in would have added real value to the disc. After all, joining in is, surely, the point of a live worship CD or DVD. Ultimately, this is well packaged and well produced, and will probably be greatly loved by those who were there. For the rest of us it is really nothing more than a competent live worship album. With pictures. 6/10 David Cooper (October 2011)
SOUL SURVIVOR : Worship Mix. (Kingsway : KWCD3256)
The likes of David Guetta has, in recent times, given the mix CD a new lease of life in the secular charts. Here, Soul Survivor gets in on the act, with 7 tracks of varying quality. ‘Never Stop Singing’ gets a good treatment from Ardent Al, with a good beat and repeated samples. Vocal samples and loops are at the forefront of ‘Found in You’, while the simple phrase “Jesus Saves” goes to make up most of track three. Now, although the rhythms are quite entertaining for a while, I was at a bit of a loss to understand whether I should be worshipping God, or just dancing to the music. I found the former quite difficult, and while I also gave the latter a miss too. There’s a chill-out version of Phil Whickham’s ‘You’re Beautiful’, and a very hypnotic version of ‘Not Ashamed’. Closing the Cd is a very thoughtful interpretation of Brooke Fraser’s ‘Hosanna’. It’s an interesting experiment from Soul Survivor and only sales figures will prove if it’s been a success or not. 6/10 (January 2012)
'Soul Survivor & Momentum Live 2011' (Kingsway : KWCD3273)
Here we have a 2CD release of live performances from Soul Survivor and Momentum events in 2011, featuring worship leaders Beth Croft, Tom Field, Matt Redman, Jamie Rodwell and Tim Hughes. It's a bit surprising that it stretches over 2 CDs as there are only 15 tracks in all – 10 on CD1 from Soul Survivor, 5 on CD2 from Momentum. Somehow the Soul Survivor disk in particular seems to capture the energy that must have been experienced by any who were there, and happens to include all my favourite tracks. It gets off to a rousing start with two similarly upbeat deliveries – from Beth Croft and “Matt Redman feat. Jorge Mhondera”. The third track is my first standout – nicely delivered by Tom Field, the beautifully written 'One thing remains'. This includes a repeating chorus riff 'Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me' that stays in your consciousness long afterwards. The following two tracks – the reflective 'For us' and the more powerful 'You never give up', both featuring Beth Croft, are also well written songs, well performed. My second standout however – another Beth Croft performance – is 'Arms of grace' with its beautiful lyrics and melody, excellently arranged and performed. The following track, Tom Field with 'Chains are broken' is also a good one. Altogether this is a worthwhile release, although the Momentum disk is weakest songs-wise. The main downside for me is that sound quality is of the usual over-compressed kind, so can sound pretty dire on a good system. 7/10 Dave Deeks. (April 2012)
SOUL SURVIVOR : Love Takes Over - The Remixes EP. (Integrity : B01I6UK0ZA)
This 5 song EP contains remixes of popular songs from the 2015 live album Love Takes Over. With contributions from the likes of Beth Croft and Tom Smith these songs would sit well alongside any other tracks being played in the local clubs. Top producers Willie Weeks, Dan Weeks, This and Eikon all contribute towards the unique sound of this album. Beth Croft delivers a fab vocal on the Tim Hughes and Ben Cantelon song The Way even going for a bit of spontaneous worship in part of the song. This was my favourite track. At times I found the arrangements to be a little mismatched for the songs which is the danger with remixing. I’m not sure how much this album adds to the worship experience but if you’re a fan of this genre of music then I’m sure you’ll enjoy listening to it. 6/10. Angie Lendon. (September 2016)
SOUL SURVIVOR : Never Gonna Stop (Live). (Integrity : B01M8K5J47)
26,000 young people gathered over three weeks of Soul Survivor, to celebrate and experience God’s presence. This live album features the best of the songs, featuring worship leaders Beth Croft and Tom Smith. “The Lion and the Lamb” must have been part of the staple diet of many events, as this is the song that kicks off proceedings here. There’s a terrific version of “This is Amazing Grace” with Croft taking the lead vocals. She also takes centre stage on “O Praise the Name.” This song is quite lengthy but in a majestic sort of way. Unlike some live recordings, you can actually hear the worshippers joining in with the songs, and that, for me, adds to the atmosphere. “King of My Heart” and “Good, Good Father” are quite good, but it was “Broken Vessels that really stands out from the crowd. Mixing new lyrics with those of “Amazing Grace”, it works really well, with some superb keyboard sounds that add authority to the song. Croft returns again to give stirring vocal performances to both “This I Believe” and “Forever”, before Smith’s highlight comes with the closing “Sinking Deep.” Throughout the album, the word that came into my head to describe it was “power.” The power of the music and singing is high, as is the power generated by the worshippers. Highly recommended. 9/10. (February 2017)
SOULJAHZ : The Fault is History. (Squint : 0688619923)
Bringing a message of hope, empowerment and salvation to the world is a pretty tough job, but that's just what the Washington children hope to do with their first major release. They use the hip hop sound of today and blend it with r&b and rock. The result is an album of songs that I instantly disliked on first play, was instrigued on the second, and really began to enjoy on the third. "Let Go" is the first song on the album, and it's strong message of releasing all those things that tie you from a full loving relationship with God, works well. As regular readers will know, I'm not a hip hop fan, so maybe that's why this release took a few plays to get through to me. I found the middle section of the album to be it's purple patch with "Reflection" and "Beneath the Surface" being true high spots. "Souljahz Don't Stop" probably rates as one of my favourite hip hop tracks of all time, and that's saying something. If I give this album a high mark, you know it's worth a listen. 8/10. (November 2002)
SOUND OF WALES : Acappella. (Elevation : ELE1983D)
Sound Of Wales (SOW) is a ministry devoted to celebrating the spiritual musical heritage of Wales, training and developing communities of worship and revealing the glory of Jesus on earth through gospel-centred music. From that ministry comes SOW Acappella, a project comprising of Hannah Barnes, Jessica Morgan and Cath Woolridge. Let me say, straight away, that we have three lovely voices on show here. Usually, musical instruments can change the whole sound of each song. Here, the ladies are limited to just their vocal prowess, and I’m not sure that there is enough scope in their voices to stop one song sounding very much like the next. ‘O Come Let Us Adore Him’ is a straight forward, no thrills version, while ‘Dacw ‘Nghariad’ (presumably Welsh language) shows little imagination, either. The first, real vocal acrobatics comes on ‘Bread of Heaven’, were production becomes more technical, with delightful harmonies and backing. ‘Joyful Joyful’ is a very jolly little ditty, while there’s also a creditable version of ‘Gloria’. After that, I just lost interest in the whole thing. One song drifted into another and I was totally bored. Acappella songs are all very well if performed well, but this collection shows little imagination in production. 3/10. (April 2014)
SOUND OF WALES : Wide Open Spaces – Live Worship.   (Elevation : ELE2054D)
There is a growing momentum of prayer and creative energy within Wales and part of this momentum fire is being fuelled by Sound of Wales - a collective of artisans, linked into churches and organisations. I wasn’t too sure about the opening ‘Ancient Wells’, as the production seemed rather poor, were the vocals were concerned. However, that was the only track that suffered in this way, so maybe it was my hearing. The title track really captures the essence of praise and worship so well. “I look upon the face, of him who took my shame; I’m sheltered from disgrace, by Jesus”. The female vocals combine perfectly on ‘O Love That Will Not Let Me Go’, while the gentle guitar on ‘Come and Stay’ is equally flawless. I have to admit to being completely blown away by ‘Because of the Cross’. It is such a powerful song, that you can easily imagine thousands of voices raising the roof in worship. Written by Cath Woolridge and Rachel Mathias, I expect to be hearing this song quite a lot in the future. Christian Carpenter must get a mention, for his expert guitar phrases on various songs. He doesn’t hog the limelight, but adds just enough sound to positively add to each track. . If you like your worship music, more Keswick Convention than, say, Soul Survivor, this will be right up your street!   8/10. (June 2015)
SOUTHERN RAISED : Another World. (Stow Town Records : STR3188
Southern Raised are committed to the Lord, each other and to bringing their music to the people. These words defines this phenomenal group of three sisters and a brother that are sweeping America with a sound that has been described as “ The Other Side of Amazing.” Banjos, fiddles and guitars provide much of the backdrop to the songs on this album, with Emily, Lindsay, Sarah, and Matthew Reith taking it in turns to provide vocals. When the girls sing, the sound is a cross between Alison Krauss and The Dixie Chicks. I’ve always been a sucker for some good banjo playing, and this album is filled with such expertise from Sarah. On “Up All Night” fiddles join in too, for a very tasty opening song. The tempo of the first song drops immediately with “Instead.” A nice number about being grateful for the blood of Jesus it is, perhaps, a little too early in the track listing for my liking. Andy Leftwicz provides a stunning fiddle solo on “Letting Go,” while Matthew Reith makes a rare lead vocal appearance on “Beautiful Moments in Time.” A very strange inclusion is a version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Completed with banjo, fiddles and guitars, the result is quite a messy sound that would have the writer turning in his grave. This album took a few listens to warm too, with “Wanna Be” improving with every play. It’s great to see more southern gospel being played in the UK and Southern Raised are a welcome addition. 7/10. (November 2017)
SPEAK BROTHER : Speak Brother EP. (www.speakbrother.co.uk)
The Rugby trio’s music has earned comparisons with Mumford & Sons and Athlete, and features “driving melodies and infectious hooks... [which] stay with you long after hearing them” (Loretta Andrews, Premier Radio). They have appeared across the UK from coffee shops to the city-wide Birmingham Artsfest and Coventry Godiva Festival. This 4 trasck EP was released at the back end of 2014 but, for some reason, has only just made its way to NFN. Certainly, James Herring’s vocals are direct and a little raw at times, but they sit well with style of each song. The rousing, folk/celtic ‘Dry Bones’ is the opening track, and what an engaging sound it is. Listen, and you will soon start stamping your feet, or taping your fingers, along to the driving rhythms. ‘My Love’ tells of the promise of God’s love. It’s a quieter, and more cherished sound, before ‘Break In’ starts up’s the tempo again. This time, the story tells of leaving your old life behind, and stepping out into life with Jesus. The only downside to these songs, in my opinion, is the lack of percussion but, maybe that’s being to picky. The final song features just a mandolin as backing, and what an epic it is. ‘Two Bands of Gold’ tells of an old couple who, for them, marriage has been a lifelong bond. The promise of their marriage vows have been the backbone of their lives together. It’s one of the most touching songs that I’ve heard for a long time, and worth the purchase of the EP on its own. Apparently, there’s more releases planned for 2015 and this taster should wet many an appetite. 8/10. (April 2015)
SPEAK BROTHER : Light Runs After Us (www.speakbrother.co.uk)
This trio hailing from Rugby in the Midlands is no stranger to hard work, gigging extensively all over the UK and playing such festivals as Greenbelt and Wychwood. It's no surprise then that their first EP earned them Airplay across the UK. Light Runs After Us is the second EP of this popular folk rock band who describe this project as "packed with rousing and anthemic tunes full of passionate songwriting drenched in rich vocal harmony." I have to agree as the vocals blend well together creating a warm sound against a solid instrumental backdrop. The opening track on the album Slow To Now is a heartfelt song with honest lyrics reminding us to slow down and appreciate the moment and those that are in it. This was my favourite track. Lion's Roar is a song written specifically for the sporting legacy of Rugby their hometown. It was picked up by Wasps RUFC and gave the band the opportunity to showcase it live on local TV. With lines like "And as the men we were, we lost our tongues and hearts. As the men we were we forgot what's ours. Well I say no more" it's a rousing anthemic song that I can imagine people singing united behind their team. Full arrangements and stripped back songs like See For Miles make this a really enjoyable album and I can see why these guys are making waves in their genre. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more from them. I certainly hope so. 10/10 Angie Lendon (April 2016, Album of the Month)
SPECIAL GIFT : Special Gift. (Starsong : SSD0126).
This is one that I somehow overlooked last month but it's been well worth the wait. I can't tell you anything about the four girls, but they do have an incredible vocal range. The style is very much based around their tight harmonies but includes forays into rap, gospel/soul and accapella. At times they even turn their hand to some 1940's swing as in 'Someday', and the stunning 'Happiness Is'. It's here that Special Gift excel and they produce much to be admired. Once or twice the ideas seemed to be just a little too complicated for the girls but overall, this is an album with a difference. 8/10. (February 1997)
SPINAROUND : Face the Groove (Pamplin : PMCD2230)
Jason McKinney and Alan Moore are the two guys who, together, make up the outfit known as Spinaround. Their youth aimed album consists of 10 tracks, mostly written by the boys themselves. It begins with a happy, go-lucky, number called "Girl She Used To Be", and it tells the story of just how someone can change for the better - or worse for that matter! It's got nice guitar rhythms and keyboard sounds, and it's a recipe that's repeated well later on with the song "Say Anything". These are by far the best two tracks on the album and it's a pity there weren't more of similar standard. A mix of rap and indie appears on "Face the Crowd", which I didn't like and then there's a few MOR songs that are nothing special. Towards the end of the listing, the guys get back track with a nice ballad called "Sweet Lullaby" but, for me, there's far too many 'fillers' for it to be anything better than….5/10. (September 2001)
SPLIT LEVEL : glo.bal (Organic/Pila : 27295-2).
After a lengthy absence, Split Level are back on the scene with a brand new album. Guitars blaze into action with the opening 'Everything', which builds to an explosive chorus and sound. 'Twister' is a song that will have been heard before but it's the band at their rocky best. A change of direction for the band means that the pace decreases until the final live track 'Got My Number' - the old Undertones hit. In between, the guys serve up a feast of songs like 'Healed' and the reflective 'Things I Do', an REM clone. I really liked the way that the lyrics of the songs described life through the eyes of your average believer. You know that perfection is out of reach and, sometimes, even your best is pretty awful, but God will never leave you. Glo.bal is not just another music album, it could be your life story. Thank God there's hope. 9/10. (June 1997, Album of the Month)
SPRING HARVEST : Live Worship 98. (ICC : ICCD25030)
Recorded at both Minehead and Skegness, this recording features some great tracks . Instant highlights are Robin Mark's 'Lion of Judah' and 'Revival', so full of worship that you can almost feel the power generated. It's not all the 'up and at them' approach though, there's some good old fashioned worship with 'Be Thou My Vision' and 'Here Is the Risen Son'. They, along with 'No Scenes of Stately Majesty' blend effortlessly alongside other contributions from Dave Bilbrough and Chris Bowater. It takes all sorts to please the average Spring Harvest worshipper and, basically, that's what we have here. Something for everyone. Of course, there's even time for a hoe-down with a version of Matt Redman's 'Undignified'. This album is more than just a memory for those present. 8/10. (October 1998)
SPRING HARVEST : New Songs for 2000. (ICC : ICCD43730)
New songs for 2000 are exactly what you get on this new release from Spring Harvest. Gathering the songwriting and musical talents of many of today's top British artists, the resulting 12 tracks are quite varied in their production. David Lyle morris sings, and co-wrote, the opening "Jesus, King of the Ages", which owes more than a passing acknowledgement to Chris Eaton's "Saviour's Day". However, always a sign of a good song, I soon found myself singing along and enjoying it too. Y-Friday's Ken Riley provides "I Thank You For the Cross" with Morris, once again, taking hold of the lead vocals. Another good song, and well written. Julie Costello appears on so many of these albums that I wonder why she doesn't actually produce her own album. Again, on this recording, she sings Sue Rinaldi's "Restless Pilgrim", with such great feeling. Two tracks later, she's there again with Nathan Fellingham's "Awake, Awake O Zion". These are the real high spots of the album, although I'm willing to admit that others are beginning to grow on me. 8/10. (June 2000)
SPRING HARVEST : Praise Mix 2000. (ICC : ICCD43830).
The live sounds of Spring Harvest are really something that most people take away with them as memories. To the sounds of the Message Tribe, and others, sweaty bodies jump up and down, and just enjoy dancing with the Lord and praising His name. This album, however, fails miserably in capturing any that live feel and results in a pretty forgetable CD. It does have it's moments, not least the Trbe's "Frantik" and David Gates' "Praises" - sung by one of the most under- rated voices in the UK at the moment, Kate Simmonds. But, there are some real monstrosities too. Ken Riley's "All Over The World" has been totally mutated, while the same writer's "I Thank You for the Cross" has lost all the beautiful feeling that the original version portrayed. "Thank You For the Blood" raises hopes again with some twangy guitar sounds but it's all too little, too late from saving this album from a watery grave. 4/10. (July 2000)
SPRING HARVEST : "Kids Praise & Little Kids Praise". (ICC : ICCD47430)
For 12 years "Kid's Praise" has showcased songs written by the likes of Doug Horley, Ishmael, Sammy Horner, and Jim Bailey. Now, the "best of" collection has been put together on this 2CD package. Actually, for someone who's 40 something, I found quite a few of the tracks well worth a listen. Of course, the age groups we're looking at really are 4-7 & 8-12 year old, so I'm way passed it. However, I can see what the tracks are trying to achieve and, on the whole, they stand a great chance of attracting the kids they're aiming for. "As For Me & My House" is one of those songs that I repeatedly play on the radio, so I never get tired of that. "Prayer Phone" is a simple message that says that children can use prayer like a telephone to talk to God - a point some grown ups need to remember! For the younger ones,, simple repetitive choruses like "Father I Praise You" and "Wobble Your Knees" (honestly) should be easily learned and used in Sunday schools. For the harassed young people's leader, this album is a boon. 8/10. (November 2000)
SPRING HARVEST : New Worship Songs 2001. (ICC:ICCD52930.
No need for any introduction to this fine series of worship songs, the quality is always good. What is nice to see on this album is that as well as the likes of Matt Redman and Stuart Townend, lesser known writers like Kathryn Scott and Ken Riley get in on the act. Mind you, when I say "lesser known", I know that Ken is fast becoming an accomplished writer and performer. On his "I Can Feel Your Arms" the vocals are taken by Esther Alexander & David Lyle Morris, and the delivery is first class. Meanwhile, Scott's opening "Devotion" is far from outstanding but has a distinct quality that improves with each listen. Since hearing the album "Higher" from the Abundant Life Centre in Bradford, I've become more aware of Lara Martin's music, and her performance of "Your Grace Covers Me" is a touching and thoughtful rendition. Marc James' "Surrender" gives power to some acoustic worship with Lyle Morris doing the honours on vocals once more. Mostly, a positive outlook for this album and, therefore…8/10. (June 2001)
SPRING HARVEST : Live Worship 2001. (ICCD53330)
Thousands of worshippers at Spring Harvest 2001 experienced spectacular moments of high praise and interludes of intimate worship. And, in all honesty, ICC manage to capture a lot of that on their annual "live Worship" releases. This year's no different as 13 tracks from leaders such as Dave Bilbrough, Malc Garda, and Graham Kendrick lead the way. "Holy mountain" starts things rolling with a happy, clappy start. This is closely followed by Bilbrough's "Yours is the Kingdom" and, Sue Rinaldi singing "Creation Praise". Robin Mark performs "Outrageous Grace" in the way that only he can. Taking Godfrey Birtill's classic song, Mark is at his anthemic best, leading the worshippers in powerful praise. Personally, I found Kendrick's "What Grace" not a patch on his album version, and "Keep Me" also falls rather flat. There again, all is redeemed by Paul Oakley's finishing "I Kneel Down", and all is well. 8/10. (September 2001)
SPRING HARVEST : Praise Mix 2002. (ICC)
Praise Mix has built a strong following with it's edgy guitar vibe, and this year's release brings us new songs performed especially for this year's album by some of the UK's most popular Christian bands. Straight off, can I say that Quench's Jamie Hill stands out by the quality of his vocals on the tracks that he sings. "As We Come" is very Toploader in style while "Every Day" is more of a mosher sort of thing, leaning towards Wheatus. And, for the second time this month, a great worship song is murdered. Graham Kendrick's "To You O Lord" gets the guitar treatment of UK hopeful's Kindle, complete with an unbearable chorus of giant proportion. Then, Andy Flannagan sings his own composition "You Are the One", to which a passing colleague asked "Is that Robbie Williams?" - a compliment, I think. I keep asking myself if I'm getting too old for some of these albums but, in hindsight, I guess, after all, this is just one man's opinion. Excellent in parts, not so good in others. 5/10. (June 2002)
SPRING HARVEST : Praise Mix 2002. (ICC : ICCD64130)
I put this album into my CD player with a degree of trepidation - calling anything "Something Mix" always conjures up images in my mind of those ridiculous "let's string all the songs together with one bland drumbeat" albums that we used to see far too many of. Fortunately this is nothing like that, and is actually an odd mixture of Spring Harvest Praise meets Delirious meets Linkin Park. Lots of swirly organs, driving bass and distorted guitar. At times it works brilliantly, such as on Heat's "One Sacrifice" and Andy Flannagan's "You Are The One", which for me are the real stand out tracks. At others it borders on disastrous - one case in point being Kindle's version of Graham Kendrick's "To You, O Lord". I have not been a fan of Graham Kendrick's recent songs, but I do like this one, however Kindle's hard rock version sails way too far into the waters of self-indulgence for my liking. Yfriday are also here, but their contribution "Joy" is also a disappointment. If you can get past the obvious flaws this is not a bad listen, but if this type of music is your thing you would be better served by dusting off that copy of "Glo". 6/10 David Cooper (August 2002)
SPRING HARVEST : New Songs 2002: Various. ICCD64030
This album contains a good selection of songs - some I have heard before and others quite new to me. There are songs by Robin Mark, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, Sue Rinaldi and Steve Bassett and others. Mal Pope, Esther Alexander and Julie Costello lead the vocals, while Mark Edwards provides keyboard and Hammond organ etc, Neil Costello plays electric guitars, and Dave Clifton takes acoustic guitar. The singing and music are all good and noticeably the tracks have been put together starting with Jesus rescuing us, us recognising who Jesus is, praising Him, following Him, the price He paid for each one of us, and waiting at the cross. My favourite songs are "No One Like You Lord"; "There Is A Hope So Sure", "Praise To Christ, The Lord Incarnate", and also Chris Tomlin's "Forever". These songs are all sung by Mal Pope with backing vocals by Julie Costello and Esther Alexander and Mal himself. I don't recollect having heard Mal before. He has a really good singing voice. The songs are all included in Spring Harvest Praise 2002 Music Book. This is essentially a praise and worship album, but probably wouldn't appeal to the younger generation. All in all this is quite a nice album containing some really good new worship songs, and worthwhile taking time out to listen to. 7 / 10 Pam Robinson (August 2002)
SPRING HARVEST : Live Worship 2002. (ICC : ICCD64430)
I know what you're thinking. "How can Spring Harvest turnout album after album, year after year, of good quality worship?" Simply, I believe, because they know the right formula for the initial live event, and both the writing and worship leader qualities are of the highest standard. I think it's true to say that if you were at the live event, the album will mean a lot more to you. But, then, isn't that the same if you go to a gig? This year's release follows tradition and brings us some great songs like "God Is Great", led by Steve & Velveta Thompsn, as well as some typical Graham Kendrick led worship. My pick of the bunch would be the sole contribution by Robin Mark "Everything Cries Holy". I would just ask, "why wasn't there more of him?" No, you didn't have to be there to enjoy this release, it stands up for itself. 8/10. (October 2002)
SPRING HARVEST : Kids Praise 2003. (ICC)
I used to hate worship albums, not because I didn't like contemporary worship music (just the opposite in fact) but because the congregation were always audible above the worship leader and sometimes even the band. Thankfully, things have changed; most now have the emphasis firmly fixed on the Worship Leaders, and the quality of the songs and the musicianship is allowed to shine through. Unfortunately, this cd suffers from a case of the former, with children playing the congregation role here and I'm afraid it spoils it for me. It also makes some of the songs difficult to learn, as the children, a school choir in fact, struggle with some of the more difficult rhythms and have a tendency to make the melody line sound "mushy". Some of the songs on the album are quite good, but a lot are a little second rate and even twee which means it's a bit of a patchy affair. A few songs do stand out, notably the Doug Horley number "I'm Gonna Jump up and Down", the imaginative "Splodge Me a Colour" and the rocky "Lift You High", a song which would work well in an all age setting. However, I got the feeling that most of the songwriters on this album are capable of better and the kids have been given second best. Having said that I'm sure that most 5-7 year olds will probably enjoy this collection, especially if they've been to Spring Harvest, but I reckon you can do better for your money. 6/10 Robin Thompson. (July 2003)
SPRING HARVEST : Little Kids Praise. (ICC : ICCD74330)
Will adults enjoy this album? I don't think so. Ah, but will adults who are children's leaders enjoy it? Now, you're talking! Tried and tested for this year's Spring Harvest, this collection of songs for "Little Kids" mixes all the right elements. There's simple, repetitive songs, some fast ones, and some slow ones. We're not talking 10 and 11 year olds here, more like 4 to 7 years. With writers like John Hardwick and Ishmael leading the way, there's enough quality and quantity to keep the kids amused, whilst learning about God. "Don't Delay" tells them not to put off loving Jesus, while "God Cares" explains that whoever you are - rich, poor, big or small - God loves you. It's simple, it's catchy, it's fine. You can't ask for more than that. 7/10. (August 2003)
SPRING HARVEST : Newsongs 2003 (ICC : ICCD74030)
I'm sure I say this every year but, I'm always astonished at the quality of songs featured in this series. Let's not beat about the bush, Esther Alexander's rendition of "Pierced" is just wonderful. I've heard her sing songs like this before and she sounds like an angel. Written by Phil Hart & Joanne Hogg, it's a tender song of intimate worship. Vocals elsewhere are shared by Mal Pope and Eoghan Heaslip and they shine on numbers like "Holy holy" and the closing lament, "How long". In between, Alexander, again, soothes your ears with the Judy Bailey penned "Jesus First " - a choppy sound with a catchy chorus - and "Lost in Wonder". Sorry to say that no-one has captured my spirit with "Above All" more than Michael W Smith, so no matter how well it's done here, it just doesn't compare. There again, don't let that put you off. 9/10. (August 2003)
SPRING HARVEST : L:ive Worship 2003. (ICC : ICCD : 74430)
For everyone who says "not another live worship album!", I have to point out that, if they weren't successful, the record company's wouldn't keep making them. This one sees Spring Harvest and ICC promote 17 live worship songs, old and new. Mark Tedder is a name I'm not familiar with, but I enjoyed his voice leading songs like "Forever" and "Beautiful one". Graham Kendrick is there, and "Do Something Beautiful" really seems to catch the gathered audience alight with praise. I thought that his version of "Thine Be the Glory" was pretty good as well. Trish Morgan gives a more than ample performance with "Above All" and Geraldine Latty's "You're King and You Reign" is really good. Whether you were there or simply want to listen to what you missed, the album carries the live feeling throughout. 8/10. (October 2003)
SPRING HARVEST : New Songs 2004/5. (ICC : ICCD84030)
Year after year, Spring Harvest produces some great songs and, so, here's this year's collection. I've got to say that the first half of the album is stronger than the second although, saying that, it's not bad. Early on the Eoghan Heaslip song "King of The Ages" stands out, as does Martin Smith & Stuart Garrard's epic, "Majesty". The former I especially enjoyed and found myself playing it over and over again. "Ashes to Beauty" is sung in similar style to Dido and that works well. The pop sound of Graham Kendrick's "Psalm 148" chugs along nicely, before the slower "To the One God" finishes things off. Other songwriters featured include Reuben Morgan, Dean Salyn and Steve Hindalong on a release that is well up to previous standards. 8/10. (June 2004)
SPRING HARVEST : Kids Praise 2004/05. (ICC : ICCD84230)
With names like David Lyle Morris lending their vocals to this Cd, and Paul Field providing instrumentation and production skills, you know that the overall quality is going to be good. Song wise, the older I get, the more difficult it's becoming to relate to these albums especially for kids. But, there again, I've got to say that as much as I disliked the condescending approach of Ishmael's "Grace", I did like the happy, exciting start brought by John Hardwick's "Let's Sing Praises". Other writing credits go to the likes of Doug Horley ("May God the Hope"), Dave Godfrey (You're Wonderful"), and Trevor Ranger ("Anyway"), and these songs are quite passable, even to this old man's ears. Working in a school, as I do, I understand just what hard work goes into teaching young people, so my hat goes off to Spring Harvest for consistently providing new material like this. 6/10. (August 2004)
SPRING HARVEST : Evolution. (ICC : ICCD84130)
Evolution is Spring Harvest's response to the needs and hearts of young adults and students. Aimed at all who are exploring the church's evolving place in post-modern culture. The album is part of this exploration, and features songs at the heart of the Evolution programme. Right, that's enough of the sales pitch! What I will say straight away is that fans of current bands like Keane and Snow Patrol will find 3 of the last 4 tracks on the listing, right to their taste. Melancholy at it's best, I think is the way best to describe them. Mid way through the album, I felt thoroughly miserable as I listened to "This is You" and the monotonous "You Are Holy". Both songs can only be described as boring. I also wonder just why so many younger worship leaders think that they have to sound like Martin smith? "Consuming Fire" is just one of several instances where the singer drones in such a way that it's like listening to the TV show Stars in Their Eyes - a tribute to Delirous?. It's a patchy, rather than a polished affair and, therefore deserves no better than…..5/10. (August 2004)
SPRING HARVEST : Ultimate Kids Praise. (ICC)
There appears to be a growing trend for ever larger compilations at the moment. It used to be double cd collections but now many labels are opting for triple sets. This falls into the latter category and, unless you are under 10 years old, it is quite a marathon of a task to listen to. This album features many well known children's worship songs from the last 15 years, featured originally on the SH series of collections. Such respected children's composers such as Doug Horley, Dave Godfrey, Ishmael etc all have works featured, so you really are getting the best of what has been happening in this area of Christian music over the last decade and a half (the inclusion of children's vocals aside). Given its voluminous nature, it's better considered a resource for dipping into rather than something you listen to from start to finish (unless you're 5 years old!) and to that end, if you possess most or all of the Spring Harvest Kids Praise cd's, you will probably be wasting your money with this one. If, on the other hand, you have a young family and have not needed to purchase childrens worship before, this is a good an introduction as any . Ultimate kid's praise? Not quite, but a good place to start. 7/10 Robin Thompson. (December 2004)
SPRING HARVEST : Kids Praise 2005/6 (ICC : ICC0862D)
I don't normally like kid's worship to be honest. (Who does if they're over twelve?) However there have been the odd occasions when I've helped out Dave Godfrey when his bass player hasn't been available, so I do know that kid's who are at the age where Praise Parties are still cool to go to really get into this kind of stuff. Basically it's what you'd expect, lots of songs by different worship leaders with lots of small children singing (flat) in the background. Most of the songs are quite bouncy and have upbeat arrangements. Paul Field is probably the most well known of the main vocalists. However I do happen to know that on the track "I Love Ya" one of the lines was changed from "Hairy toes and a wiggly bum" which is the line that all the kid's love to shout out as loud as they can, to "Wiggly Thumb" which doesn't quite have the same effect, but does still rhyme with "Tum" from the previous line. This was all because the school where the choir came from didn't think "bum" was PC. Still it's nice to know that our schools know what's important in life. The best track on here by far is "66 books, 1 Author" which basically lists all the books in the Bible in a catchy tune that does however seem to owe rather a lot to "Spirit in the Sky" but hey, at least it sounds like a proper song! Personally I hate this CD, but having seen the reaction of kid's to this kind of thing I'm afraid I'll have to grit my teeth and recommend it. I might have given it 10, but because they gave in and changed the words, 8/10 Andy Sayner. (June 2005)
SPRING HARVEST : Sing 20 Newsongs. (ICC : ICC0860D)
Here's a 2 CD set that is presented in two styles. The first contains new worship songs, while the second has stripped-down acoustic arrangements, which shows how songs can be successfully translated into the smaller setting. Taking the lead vocals on these songs are Esther Alexander, Nigel Briggs, Cathy Burton, John Perry, and Mal Pope, backed by an array of enthusiastic musicians. The songs on disc one aren't anything extreme in their newness. "Lord of the Harvest" has an awful droning guitar sound, while "Praise the Lord in All the Earth" sounds like a hundred songs I've heard before. In fact, the latter statement could be said of most of the songs on this CD, there's just nothing to set them apart from what's already out there. Saying that, highlights include "How Great is Our God", and the sweet female vocals on "Countless Are the Mercies", were the song really flows well. Another song to stand out was the "With All I Am", powerful in both presentation and content. The second CD is more successful as in, the disc itself could be used to lead small groups of worshippers. Songs like "Love Mercy" and "King of Kings" are produced well enough to serve this purpose. Maybe I was expecting more from this release but, sadly, I was rather disappointed. 5/10. (July 2005)
SPRING HARVEST : Little Kids Praise 2005/6 ICC0863D
I have not always been kind to the childrens worship offerings produced by the Spring Harvest stable. They have been variable in quality to be honest - some collections have been superb while others have made me cringe with embarrassment. This, I'm glad to say, falls mainly into the former category with some excellent songs paired with interesting, contemporary arrangements. Also included are a couple of kids classics, "Wide, Wide as the Ocean" and "Jesus' Love is Very Wonderful" - I wouldn't want to sing these with older children but given that this is for "Little Kids" their inclusion is warranted. As a criticism though, not just of this but of Spring Harvest's children's resources in general, it isn't clear exactly what age range this is aimed at. I'm guessing at under 7's, but some guidance would be useful. The real arbiter in this however, is whether kids love it. So on this matter, I have to defer to the opinion of my 5 year old daughter. Her opinion? "It's great, Daddy!". So there you have it. Who am I to argue? 7/10 Robin Thompson. (July 2005)
SPRING HARVEST - Distinctive Sounds : Glory. (ICC : ICC0861D)
Playing this CD in both the car and at home, I was struck by just how much I enjoyed it - even on first listen. It's high energy and powerful messages were just what I needed to give me a personal lift in my daily walk. "Giver of Life" is an infectious start to the album and it's followed by great songs such as "One Way" and "Glory" - all with driving music behind them. "Extravagant Worship" slows things down a bit and the competent female singer gives a good performance on this, and "Lord, I Receive Your Love". Mid-album, there's a trilogy of splendid pop orientated songs, before we come to a song and delivery that even U2 themselves would have been proud of. "My Everything" is just superb, and would be a real crowd pleaser at any live event. But, the album's not over, and there's even time for a punk approach to "Jesus Frankly You rock". All in all, it's a number one album. 10/10. (August 2005, Album of the Month) SPRING HARVEST : Live Worship 2005. (ICC : ICC08770) "Great!", I thought, as I glanced at the sticker on the cardboard sleeve of this album. "A Cd AND a DVD in one package". It was only when no pictures arrived through my DVD player that I realised that I hadn't read the smallprint. Disc 1 his an audio CD, while Disc2 is a Surround sound disc. Still, after that disappointment, it was good to listen to the uplifting praise of "Touching Heaven" led by Kate Simmonds, and "Hope of the Nations" sung by Geraldine Latty. These two songs really set the stall out for the rest of the album, as it's well produced throughout. Graham Kendrick leads a fantastic version of his own song "To You O Lord", while my favourite praise song of recent years, "Above All" gets an airing thanks to Mark Tedder. It's really a very good collection of praise and worship songs with other highlights being the more worshipful "Psalm 23", and "My Glorious". 9/10. (January 2006)
SPRING HARVEST : Walking the Way of Christ. (Elevation : ICC1246D)
Here's some live worship for you to get your teeth into. 21 tracks on a double CD package from Spring Harvest 2009. Lots of well known worship leaders on display and it all starts with Ben Cantelon's 'One Way' - a high octane start. Vicky Beeching provides two of the highlights on the recording with her gentle worship on 'Breath of God', as well as the great song 'Jesus is My Best Friend'. I wasn't so keen on the gospel interpretation of 'Friend of God' but the first Cd certainly gains momentum with songs like 'Call the Seeker' (Graham Kendrick), 'Knowing you' (Mark Beswick), and 'Give Us Your Courage' (Tim Hughes). Cantelon's 'Dance, Dance' was rather irritating on first play - too much like a children's song. But, after a couple of plays, I became aware that, after all, we are all God's children, and I started to enjoy it's energetic style Towards the end, Kendrick returns with a lovely song called 'Love Each Other'. Even if you didn't attend Spring Harvest 2009, I still think that you will enjoy the worship. 8/10 (January 2010)
SPRING HARVEST : Walking the Way of Christ. (Elevation : ICC1246D)
Here's some live worship for you to get your teeth into. 21 tracks on a double CD package from Spring Harvest 2009. Lots of well known worship leaders on display and it all starts with Ben Cantelon's 'One Way' - a high octane start. Vicky Beeching provides two of the highlights on the recording with her gentle worship on 'Breath of God', as well as the great song 'Jesus is My Best Friend'. I wasn't so keen on the gospel interpretation of 'Friend of God' but the first Cd certainly gains momentum with songs like 'Call the Seeker' (Graham Kendrick), 'Knowing you' (Mark Beswick), and 'Give Us Your Courage' (Tim Hughes). Cantelon's 'Dance, Dance' was rather irritating on first play - too much like a children's song. But, after a couple of plays, I became aware that, after all, we are all God's children, and I started to enjoy it's energetic style Towards the end, Kendrick returns with a lovely song called 'Love Each Other'. Even if you didn't attend Spring Harvest 2009, I still think that you will enjoy the worship. 8/10 (February 2010)
SPRING HARVEST : Route 66 - 22 new songs for the Church. (Elevation : ELE163OD)
This is a double CD, and comes with a songbook containing 100 songs, and a CD ROM with a software version of the songbook. First of all then the CD. Although it's billed as 22 new songs for the church this isn't actually quite true, the CD kicks off with "Our God Is Higher" which I managed to find on two other CD's, and I suspect it's on a few more too. This is not the only track that has been around for a while either, in fact two of the first six songs are well known already. As far as the CD goes, I quite like the music that's on it, and if it was just another worship album then it would be fine, but this collection is supposed to be a resource for worship teams wherever they are, and speaking as someone who is involved in playing worship music most weekends, there is nothing at all on this CD that you could use in church on a Sunday morning. All the songs on here are big production numbers, and you would find it almost impossible to translate them to a couple of guitars and a piano, which is what a lot of churches have. The second CD contains more acoustic style songs, which you'd think would be more accessible, but once again the songs on it just won't work with a congregation. The music book that comes with this CD is quite a good quality one, and it's spiral bound too, which means that you can stick it on your music stand without having to break the spine to stop it falling off again. All the songs on the CD are in the music book, although quite a few of them have different titles in the book to the CD, so if you aren't familiar with the songs, you'll have to flick through it and try and spot the lyrics. There are chord charts in the back of the book, which may be useful if you wish to know what G#m add b6 looks like. There's also a few pages of bridges to get from one key to another, also there is both scripture index, and a thematic index. The CD ROM contains a digital version of the songbook, and a program called "Powermusic". The major selling point of this seems to be that if you want to play a song in a different key to what it's written in, you can transpose the chords and send them to monitor screens as "Digital music stands" for each musician. Not sure what planet these people live on really. Still you can print off the scores if you only have access to the normal (Analogue?) music stand like most of the inhabitants of the real world. You can only transpose the chord letters though, not the actual score, so if your pianist actually needs to read the music, the whole transposing thing becomes a bit academic. It does mention in the text though that maybe they'll be able to do this in the future. Not sure what the big deal with this is, there has been software around that can transpose music for years. You can upgrade to the full version of Powermusic for a price, which gives you the option to add and edit your own songs and import PDF files. So, to sum it up. The music book is quite good, there are some useful bits and pieces in it. However the CD ROM is probably not going to be of much use to most people to be honest. The actual CD itself is quite good, and if you get the chance to buy it on it's own it's worth a listen. I'll give the CD 8/10 The worship resource package as a whole gets 5/10 Andy Sayner. (July 2011)
SPRING HARVEST 2011 : Route 66: 22 New Songs for the Church. (Elevation)
There are, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, a lot of worship CDs out there. It therefore takes something to make one stand out from the crowd. This package is certainly complete: a 2-disc CD of recordings of the songs (one full band arrangements, one more acoustic arrangements), a songbook and a digi-songbook. Doing all of this justice is not going to be easy, but here goes. CD1 is probably aimed more at those that like to listen to worship CDs (and judging by the amount that NfN gets per month to review, there’s a lot of people in this category) and it’s well-produced and does the job well. It’s probably of use to worship leaders who were at SH11 as a reminder of how the songs go, but I didn’t find it inspired me to learn any of them (but then I wasn’t there so this may not be a fair reflection of their worth – I do recall church members coming back from SH in previous years with lists of songs they wanted us to do in church). The overall problem is not with the songs or the worship leaders, just that these CDs are getting very samey these days. It’s a good one, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd (although the arrangement on “Christ In Me” is pretty good and “Revelation Song” builds nicely). If you like listening to full-band worship CDs then this would be a good addition to your collection. If you don’t, then this won’t change your mind. CD2 is, as publicised, a more stripped-back approach. It’s certainly more relaxing but I actually found it less inspiring to listen to. Sadly it suffered the same criticism as the first CD: none of the songs made we want to reach for my guitar, dig out the song book and learn them. Again, not having been in the congregation singing these is probably the root cause as there’s nothing basically wrong with them. So, onto the songbook. There’s 100 songs in here, so there’s far more than on the CDs. 75 of them, the cover claims, are new. I have no reason to doubt that, given that it took me ages to find one I knew. So, as an additional resource to add to a musician’s SH repertoire, it scores. As a book to run a service with, not so (unless you have a congregation who like to learn all the songs as they go along) – but, to be fair, not many (if any) churches using this kind of worship would even try, so it’s not that much of a criticism. Which leaves the digi-songbook to look at. I wasn’t too inspired when the opening dialog was encouraging me to upgrade to a “full version”, but the software install was easy enough and the software looks fine. At first I thought there were more songs in the software than in the book, until I realised they’re all in there twice (once prefixed by the number in the book, so I guess it makes sense). It works OK, displaying the words and chords fine and has a full-screen mode so you don’t lose any screen real estate. I’m a fan of electronic music displays (having written my own as I didn’t like any on the market at the time) and this one functions as you’d expect. The transpose function is pretty easy to use, although the capo didn’t seem to do anything to the display. The different tabs for the words or words & chords were a nice touch and the suggested arrangement tab also good. The tempo indicator was good, the search function worked, the playlists listed. Its biggest problem is the repertoire. You’re unlikely to run a service from the book, so you’re unlikely to use the digi-songbook for a full service either. You can add your own songs, but if you’ve already got a system (as I and many musicians who’d go for the concept have) why would you want to convert all your stuff? Maybe if you do upgrade, it solves a lot of these problems, but I wasn’t convinced. The concept is very good, but overall, it comes down to the songs. If you enjoyed singing them at SH11 then this will help you enjoy them again. If you (or your congregation) weren’t there, then I’m not convinced there’s enough here for the worship leader. However, there’s more than enough for the person who enjoys listening to worship songs, so it probably depends on where you’re coming from. 7/10. Paul Ganney. (August 2011)
SPRING HARVEST : Pre-School Praise 6. (Elevation : ELE1633D)
Now, here’s one that I wasn’t looking forward to listening to! It’s a long time since either of my children were at the pre-school age but, with my regular reviewers in the same boat, I swallowed hard, and took the plunge. And, I’m glad I did, because I was pleasantly surprised. On the whole, the songs have been written by not so well known writers. Saying that, the opening ‘Five Thousand Men’ was penned by veteran kids artist, Dave Godfrey. Steve Abley’s ‘Child of God’ sees Cathy Burton take the vocals, and it’s a very catchy little number, that I can see pre-schooler’s loving. ‘We’re Gonna Clap Our Hands’ is a typical action song, while the inclusion of a smooth jazz version of the classic ‘Father God I Wonder’ sounded just a little out of place. ‘Read All About It’ sounds like a Bible promotion song, telling you exactly how good it is, and the Chris Medway calypso ‘For God Loved the World So Much’ is a classic re-working of John 3:16. The bonus on the this CD is that you get backing tracks to all twelve songs, and that must be a real plus for small churches. This Cd is not going to set the world alight, but it should keep youngsters happy while at the same time helping them to learn a little more about Jesus. 7/10 (August 2011)
SPRING HARVEST : Kids Praise Party 6 - C'mon Everybody. Elevation : ELE1632D)
I was pleasantly surprised last month by a kid's album, and this one has continued the trend in much improved children's praise. Only once or twice did the cringe factor raise it's ugly head, as I listened and enjoyed this album. If you compare it with the music that children hear on the TV and radio, then the opening 'God Is Here' stands up well. It's bouncy, energetic, and is bound to enthuse young people up to early teen years. The title track is written by Damian Herbert and sounds like something that Take That would have done during their first incarnation. Dave Godfrey's '66 Books, 1 Author' just lists each book of the Bible, to a tune that bears more than just a passing resemblance to Norman Greenbaum's 'Spirit in the Sky'. A possible law suit in the offing? 'Holy spirit' is a lovely song for prayerful praise. It comes from the pen of Chris Jackson, and I can see adults singing this one too. Doug Horley's 'So Many Ways' is an action song, while Pete James' song 'Giant of Faith' just improves each time I hear it. Brownie points go to Spring Harvest and Elevation for including a second CD with all the backing tracks on - a much needed resource that will be welcomed by kid's groups everywhere. 8/10 (September 2011)
Spring Harvest : Route 66 – Live Worship from Spring Harvest 2011. (Elevation : ELE16340)
Like a well known brand of wood preservative, this does exactly what it says on the tin! A collection of 15 songs recorded live at the various weeks & events of Spring Harvest, led by an array of established worship leaders & the Trent Vineyard band, each bringing their own very different styles to the proceedings. The CD begins in true worship album style with the uplifting & powerful “Saviour of the World” from Ben Cantelon, which if you’re familiar with Ben & Worship Central you’ll latch on to straight away, capturing a great atmosphere from the event. Vicky Beeching follows on in a similar style with “Nothing is Impossible”. There’s a pretty drastic change in style when Noel Robinson brings in “Let the People Say” with a very distinct & funky South African / Gospel style rhythm – you can certainly tell Israel Houghton has had his hand in here! We’re then back into familiar territory with the Trent take on the recent classic “Our God” which I have heard done in many different ways in recent times – Trent do a good job but I can’t say it’s the best rendition I have come across. We also have 2 songs from Geraldine Latty whom I know to be good but I can’t honestly say I was grabbed by either “First” or her version of the golden oldie “To God be the Glory” which were devoid of anything noteworthy if indeed a bit on the dated and cheesy side. That said however, the rest of the CD is consistently high quality with 1 or 2 noteworthy tunes & some excellent musicianship. Ben Cantelon’s rendition of the classic hymn “How Marvellous / I stand Amazed” is fab example & sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it – still packing a punch after many years! Overall a worthwhile addition to the CD collection that should appeal not just to Spring Harvest devotees & people that went to the event. Only the odd “blip” but out of a CD of 15 songs, that’s way better than any secular compilations have managed that I can ever recall. 8/10 Simon Redfern (November 2011)
SPRING HARVEST : Live Worship – Actually.   (Elevation : ELE1734D)
With worship leaders like Vicky Beeching, Mark Beswick, Pete James, Geraldine Latty and Cathy Burton on show, you know that this collection of songs are going to lift your spirits. Of course, there’s an uplifting opener, and on this occasion it’s Brian Johnson and Jeremy Riddle’s ‘You Are Good’. Expertly sung by Pete James, it has a worshipful verse, followed by a great chorus of praise. Vicky Beeching sings her own song, ‘Better Than Life’, and somehow manages to weave a verse of ‘Amazing Grace’ seamlessly into it. ’Praise the Lord With Me’ has few words but is strangely infectious and really draws the listener into praise. I’m always on the look out for those songs that can easily be used in  a church environment, rather than just a big top celebration, and Samuel Lane’s ‘Adore Him’ is one. Cathy Burton sings it, and does a great job, too. Unlike some live recordings, the sound quality is very good throughout, and it’s also nice to hear some of the audience singing gloriously along to songs like ’My Heart Is Singing Loud’. Well done everyone, this is a very good album.   9/10. (November 2012)
SPRING HARVEST : Acoustic Worship 2. (Elevation : ELE1881D)
This is the latest offering from Spring Harvest, were they put together what they feel are the best new worship songs introduced for their events over recent times. It’s a 2 Cd package and features the writing credits of Paul Baloche, Vicky Beeching, Ben Cantelon, Tim Hughes, and many more. Individual vocals tracks aren’t credited, but the likes of Cathy Burton, Nicki Rogers, and Sam Cox are all included. I must say that most of the songs were new to me, but after several listens, I found it difficult to pick out more than two or three that left their mark. The acoustic sound is all very well, but I thought that this left some songs without any real passion. ‘Rise Up’ and ‘The Lamb Has Conqurerd’ are quite pleasant, but the first song of real quality has to be ‘Today is the Day’. Lovely vocals from a female singer, carry this tune along with a majestic feel, making it one of those to remember. The simple guitar picking on ‘More of You’ is very well done, while ‘Bringing the World To Life’ has a touch of sixties folk about it. Saying that, it still rates highly with me. As for the rest of the songs, I can’t see any of them ending up as regular church favourites. 5/10. (July 2013)
SPRING HARVEST : The Big Start 2. (Elevation : ELE1833D)
The Big Start 2, following in the heels of last year’s first volume is, according to the official website, “a brand new resource for all-age worship, helping families and congregations to start their day with a huge healthy dose of faith and feelgoodery”. Again it features songs from a variety of authors, some who are specialists in the genre, others who will be more familiar in a more adult oriented worship environment. So on the one hand we have songs from Doug Horley, such as “I Love You” (though Doug doesn’t do it in the funky way presented here) and Trevor Ranger (“You Rose Again”) mixed with songs such as Darlene Zschech’s “My Jesus, My Saviour”. The latter is quite a good version of the song with an original arrangement and an American gospel feel. I was also surprised to find that the version of “Happy Day” is not the Tim Hughes rewrite but the Edwin Hawkins original. It’s actually done quite well and the children’s backing choir make a commendable job of it. My favourite track though is “The Way That You See”, written be Steve Squires. This has been doing the rounds recently, not surprising as it’s a very good song, and the version here is as good as any you will hear. If I have one criticism it is that album all seems rather serious, lacking the more fun elements usually present on albums of this type. So whilst it hits its intended target in terms of faith it’s not quite there with the feelgoodery. Not a bad effort though. 7/10 Robin Thompson. (September 2013)
SPRING HARVEST : The Source. (Elevation : ELE1830D)
As we leave summer festival season behind so we move into the inevitable plethora of follow up cds and songbooks of which this is one. Indeed, should you feel so inclined you can buy a 2013 Spring Harvest Praise songbook to go along with this. You may feel that this writer does not feel too excited about the prospect and you would be right. I was, and have in the past welcomed the opportunity to be reminded of what is happening in the Christian Worship scene but this cd has reminded me that it isn’t always good. Let’s start with some positives. You get two cds, one featuring full band arrangements, the “electric” disc if you like, the other featuring a more acoustic and stripped back feel. That makes it good value and creates two different ambiences and feels. On the bad side, the electric disc is generally poor with little to offer in the way of genuinely inspiring new material. It may sound harsh but after listening once I did not feel it warranted a second listen. It’s good “musak” but that’s about it. The second, acoustic disc, is much better with some songs that are least memorable. “Faith is Rising” has a fresh chord sequence and movement to it even if it starts to get little bogged down melody wise in the chorus. Graham Kendrick’s “Oh The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” is the strongest and stand out track of the whole two cd collection and it kind of feels like the old experienced head is showing everyone else how it is done. This CD uses the tagline “Bottled at the source”. The problem with using a water cycle analogy is that it is just that – a cycle. And just as a spring source provides and recycles water that once fell as rain, so this cd presents and recycles songs that once rained down on our worship. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Shame, because their needs to be. 5/10 Robin Thompson. (November 2013)
SPRING HARVEST 2014 : Newsongs For Unbelievable Worship. (Elevation : ELE1930D)
Here we go, then, with the annual collection of songs from the year’s Spring Harvest event. Two Cd’s for you. Individual songs aren’t credited for the singers, but taking part are the likes of Cathy Burton, Nicki Rogers, Sam Cox, Doug Walker, and Dan Wheeler. There have been so many songs written containing the phrase ‘He is Risen’ but this song, written by Graham Kendrick and Paul Baloche is a lovely song. The female vocalist caresses each word, and I found myself singing along very quickly. ‘All God’s Children’ is another good song, but I found the repeating chorus a little too much, at the end.If you’re a fan of 80’s power ballads, then ‘Mystery of Faith’ should be right up your street. There’s great vocals, as the song centre’s around the phrase that God will “always be there”. Other highlights of the first CD include ‘Magnificent Kindness’, and the excellent congregational song ‘Always Good’. The second CD is acoustic and a more intimate affair. Pete James’ ‘All or Nothing’ gets a lovely treatment from the female vocalist, while the classic Wesley hymn ‘And Can It Be’ is re-worked, musically, by Steve Parsons. Sadly, the majesty of the original version is completely lost, and the new version did nothing for me. If you like your quiet worship times, then the acoustic sounds are gentle and mellow, and will appease sufficiently. I just got the feeling that rather too many of them sounded alike. But, on the whole, you can’t knock the collection of new songs, and for that Spring Harvest must be applauded. 7/10. (July 2014)
SPRING HARVEST : The Big Start 3. (Elevation : ELE1933D)
The CD says that this album is “sizzling with 12 amazing songs to get all generations singing!” The weakness here is that it tries to cater for all ages, with definite divisions in the song type. This makes for a rather disjointed affair. For instance, ‘Sing & Shout’ is for kids. A happy, bouncy song that early teens will love, celebrating the reasons to love God. It’s well written, but I can’t see many adults, beyond youth group leaders, wanting to join in. ‘Alive’ has some rather dated 80’s synth’ sounds, while ‘Let It Be Known’ is carried by some funky guitar rhythm, and brass sounds. It’s a sound that isn’t a million miles away from being comparable to last summer’s big hit for Daft Punk, but young children may well find it unappealing. Now, I’ve always been a big fan of Doug Horley, but ‘Hi 5’ must rate as the most awful thing that he’s ever written. Its rap, with an Eminem leaning, married to the worst Glee song you can imagine. It’s all about putting your hands in the air to praise God but, for me, is a total embarrassment. ‘Faithful God’ is contemporary adult worship, and sounded like a Matt Redman song. However, reading the sleeve notes, it’s actually penned by Will Rowe, Andy Spens, and Nathan Fellingham. It has a real quality about it, and is one of the highlights of this album. I would have liked a stronger vocal on space orientated, ‘Shine Like Stars’. The song reminded me of 90’s electro pop outfit DBA, but the female vocals are rather weak. ‘God Can Do Anything’ is one of those silly, throwaway songs for 5 year olds, while there’s an element of Owl City on Martin Smith and Chris Tomlin’s ‘Jesus of Nazereth’. I think that it’s very difficult to produce a whole album for all age groups, but there’s a little bit for everyone here. 6/10. (August 2014)
SPRING HARVEST : Unbelievable – Live Worship. (Elevation : ELE1934D)
First of all, and this is not meant to be an advertisement, I just want to say how well Elevation and Spring Harvest manage to consistently capture such brilliant live sounds at big top events. The UK market may not be as large as the US, but I know who’s recordings sound the best! The album contains 15 songs, ranging from upbeat and dynamic to reflective and faith-inspiring. It all starts with Cathy Burton leading the worshippers in ‘This is Amazing Grace’. It’s a glorious and powerful start, and one that’s carried on with high octane sound of ‘Let It Be Known’. I simply loved ‘Build Your Kingdom Here’. Great rhythm, excitement filled, and what a vocal! It was only when I looked at the sleeve notes that I found that it was none other than Pete James leading. I think I’m becoming a big fan of his, as I also liked ‘Sing and Shout’ were, once again, Pete’s vocals excel. Indeed, I’d love this song to be given a real celtic treatment by Keith Getty. What a song that would be! ‘Ready For You’ is a Coldplay-clone number, but I was quite disappointed with the Nick Herbert version of ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’. Although the worshippers lap it up, it just didn’t sparkle enough for me. Towards the end of the album, it’s time for some slower numbers, and it’s great to hear everyone gathered, in such fine voice. ‘The Same Power’, ‘God I Look To You’ and ‘The Cross Stands’ are just full of pure, magical worship and praise. Of course, those who were there will love this album. But, for those who weren’t there…..this will show you a glimpse of just what you missed! 9/10 (August 2014)
SPRING HARVEST : 35. (Elevation : ELE1975D)
Spring Harvest has been equipping the church for action for 35 years. This 3 Cd Box set reflects the worship journey of one of the most popular and long running UK Christian events. All the recordings have been made from the live events, and the sound quality does vary quite a bit, due to the equipment used many years ago. Vicky Beeching opens CD1 with a song that I hadn’t heard before. ‘Death Is Beaten’ is a really uplifting number, and well delivered. There’s a great togetherness of those gathered, captured on songs like ‘How Great is Our God’ and ‘Servant King’, and they are just two tracks that truly seize the act of worship. Graham Kendrick, on the other hand, leads the most pedestrian and lethargic version of ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ that I’ve ever heard. It lacks all the feeling that I’ve come to know over years of singing this song, and it is very disappointing. ‘Above All’ has always been a favourite of mine and, here, Mark Tedder leads a lovely version. Sue Rinaldi’s vocals are instantly recognisable on ‘Mighty To Save’, while NFN fave, Pete James belts out ’10,000 Reasons’ in fine style. It wouldn’t be Spring Harvest if Robin Mark didn’t lead everyone in the triumphant ‘Lion of Judah’, and that song still sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it. Other highlights include Trish Morgan’s version of ‘Days of Elijah’ and the accappella version of ‘Amazing Grace’. Whether you’re a Spring Harvest veteran or not, this collection has something for everyone. 7/10. (September 2014)
Spring Harvest Praise 2014 Digital Songbook : (Spring Harvest/Elevation SHM1935B)
I love digital songbooks. The convenience is excellent – having everything in an electronic format ready to print out or load into a tablet or whatever song software we like to use. In fact they are infinitely preferable to their weighty and bulky paper-based counterparts. This collection features 100 songs all written within the last three years from writers such as Ben Cantelon, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, Martin Smith etc. Even Graham Kendrick gets a look in! The added benefit of this collection is that it comes with a copy of Power Music Essentials which you need to install in order to see and use the songbook. In fact, the disc contains just the software – not the songs. Once you have installed the software you then download the songs using the enclosed voucher code. The advantage of this is that you can download future collections or any other song compatible with this system. The software itself is pretty easy to use and quite flexible, so if you want to change the key of a song this is easy to do using the transpose function. If you want to print out the capo chords for guitar, this is just as easy, using the Capo function. You can also manually add songs if you wish, import from text or pdf files and there is even an inbuilt guitar tuner. All useful stuff. The package also comes with a hard copy of the songbook containing the chord sheets for all the songs but this has limited use as it is not very big (but you’re not buying it for that!). Beginner guitarists may find the guitar chord charts useful though. On the whole, a good package and a worthwhile investment. 9/10 Robin Thompson. (August 2014)
SPRING HARVEST : Kids Praise Party 2 DVD. (Elevation : ELE1932A)
A couple of years ago Spring Harvest released the Kids Praise Party DVD and what an excellent DVD it was too. I believe I gave it 9/10 at the time. So, it was with great anticipation that my youngest daughter and I opened up this DVD to see what Percy Penguin had to offer this time around. Once again the songs are backed up with cartoon animations and feature optional subtitles and sign language. It features a variety of musical styles from rock to rap across 10 well known songs such as “Every Move I Make”, “I Love Ya” and “King of Majesty”. Beware, the version of “Happy Day” is not the Tim Hughes version, but the traditional song, though that isn’t a problem – it’s actually nice to hear that version for a change. Once again, it’s upbeat and joyful most of the way through with some fantastic musical arrangements and musicianship, which leads me to ask, why does this have to be confined to children’s worship? Anyway, what I think is largely irrelevant. What about its target audience. I’ll let my daughter answer - “I thoroughly enjoyed watching most of the songs on this DVD. The good thing is that I knew some songs on it and sang along! But there also is a bad thing to it. I didn’t like the song 'Shackles'. Apart from that, it was really good!!” 9/10 Robin Thompson. (October 2014)
SPRING HARVEST : Newsongs for the Church 2015. (Elevation : ELE2030D)
I often worry that new songs aimed at use in the church, tend to alienate the older members of the congregation. Why? Well, although there’s nothing wrong with contemporary pop/rock songs, do we really cater for the older generation? Take this album, for instance. Songwriting credits include Chris Tomin, Matt Redman and Ben Cantelon, and they do write fine songs. “At the Cross”, “Anchor”, and “Lord Have Mercy” are just three of the future church hits. I liked “Immeasurably More” as a song, but I just can’t see it being used by a gathering of adults aged over 50. I, certainly, wouldn’t! “Christ Be All Around Me” is a more worshipful number, while “Your Great Love” has all the traits of being another Celtic hymn from the home of the Getty’s. However, Colin Webster is the songwriter here, and what a fine job he has done. The female vocals are exceptionally good. If one song really touched me, it was “Jesus is Alive”. It’s a classic, modern hymn and one of the best of its kind. I’d heard “Wide Open Spaces” before, but it was still good to hear this epic piece once again. There are certainly some smashing songs on this album, including the powerful “Calvary”, and the larger, contemporary churches will welcome them with open arms. 8/10. (September 2015)
SPRING HARVEST : New Songs for Kids.   (Elevation : ELE23031D)
You can always count on Spring Harvest to come up with a decent collection of songs for kids. These 12 energetic and imaginative songs have been crafted by some of the best worship songwriters around. For instance, Sue Rinaldi and Becky Frith are behind the happy and joyful opener, “The Word of God”. “Beautiful Day” is a bit of a throwback to those of us, old enough to remember Kool and the Gang. The third track testifies that God can do “More Than I Imagine”, and it’s an easy song for kids to pick up and join in. I would say that most of the songs are aimed at early teens, but there’s also one or two that are more suitable for younger children, such as “Jetpack” and “Jesus Doesn’t Live in a Caravan”. Trevor Ranger’s “So Much More” stood out for me. I just thought that the song itself was head and shoulders above the rest, and Jen Jarvis’ vocals are excellent. “Know More God” gets a 90’s Kylie treatment, while “Wake” sounds like one of those Ibiza summer dance hits, that appears each year. Of course, all the lyrics are God focussed, so there’s no excuse for churches and schools not to welcome this collection.   8/10. (October 2015)
SPRING HARVEST : Immeasurably.   Elevation : ELE2034D)
Featuring a host of worship leaders, this new collection from Spring Harvest contains songs written over the last couple of years. Ben Cantelon starts things off with a modern dance sound, “The Way”, that lends more than a passing nod to Martin Smith’s “God’s Great Dance Floor.” In similar lively fashion is the next song, “Emmanuel”, written by Nick Herbet, Martin Smith, and Matt Redman. After listening to both of these songs, I wondered if I was going  to be listening to an album of dance songs but, thankfully, that was not the case. Sarah Bird sings on “You Make Me Brave”, and I found this song very difficult to imagine being used for collective worship. She sings well enough, but it really came  across as a performance song, rather than worship. There is some lovely worship on “God is Able” (Pete James) and “At the Cross” (Cathy Burton), before the rather mournful sounding “King of Compassion” had me reaching for the “off” button on my player. Cantelon rises again with “Can’t Stop Your Love”, while the old maestro Graham Kendrick sings a lovely, gentle version of “Remember Me”. Dare I say, one of his best of recent times. Most of these songs will be new to the listener, but after a few listens, a number of them become quite memorable.   8/10. (February 2016)
SPRING HARVEST : Newsongs For the Church 2016.   (Elevation : ELE2130D)
Here’s a selection of 12 songs of worship and proclamation to inspire faith and stir hearts into action. Written by a variety of leading songwriters, I enthusiastically listened to see which songs I might use myself in the future to lead worship. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. Both of the opening numbers are very strong. “Every Giant Will Fall” has a superb chorus that tells that nothing is impossible with Jesus. I very much liked the fiddle sound on David Lyon’s “I Will Hope.” It’s a bouncy song that has just a hint of Celtic traits about it. “In God We Trust” sounded so typically Hillsongs that I had a quick look at the writing credits. It was no surprise, then, to find that Reuben Morgan was one of the co-writers. I recently wrote highly of Christine DiMarco’s latest album and from it comes “Eyes on You.” It’s a terrific song and one that I highlighted as being perfect for church use at the time. That track starts a real purple patch for the album. Next up, the pure acoustic sound of “Alleluia He Has Loved Us” hit just the right note with me. This is followed by Simon Brading’s “Alive With Worship.” I’ve got to say that this song had me singing along straight away. The chorus, especially is so catchy. Vocals of the album have to come from the uncredited female on “Never Gonna Stop Singing.” What a great sentiment! Her voice drives the song along and is accompanied by some well played banjo sounds. Social media was recently complaining that there weren’t enough new, powerful songs for the church. Well, I’d like to point those people who made those comments to this release. Twelve new songs and some very good ones, at that!   9/10. (July 2016)
SPRING HARVEST : Gamechangers.   (Elevation : ELE2134D)
Here’s one of the annual collections of songs from this year’s Spring Harvest. It contains 16 songs featuring lead worshippers Cathy Burton, Ben Cantelon, Lou Fellingham, Nick Herbert, Chris McClarney and Sound of Wales. It’s Cantelon who starts proceedings, with a song called “Lion and The Lamb.” There’s bright guitars, that lead to a typically modern worship song, but with the added bonus of an over long bridge. “Hallelujah” features Fellingham on vocals and I was surprised just how squeaky her voice sounded. However, most of the album suffers from rather poor vocal production, which surprised me, as Elevation are usually so good with live recordings. On “Highway to the Heavens” Burton gives a gentle, laid back vocal, while McClarney gives a very lethargic performance on “No Longer Slaves.” Even though the song does improve towards the end, it just doesn’t hold the power of the Newsboys recent version. Sound of Wales offer, possibly, the best tracks on the album, with “Wide Open Spaces” and “Here is Love.” Both songs contain excellent vocals, and the latter is, for me, simply glorious. Of the rest of the songs, Nick Herbert shows great feeling on the particularly engaging track “Lord I Need You,” and Cathy Burton receives great audience appreciation on “Great is Our God.” Of all the live Spring Harvest albums I’ve had the pleasure to listen to, this one just seems to lack a little of the magic.   6/10. (October 2016)
SPRING HARVEST HYMNS : Great Is Thy Faithfulness. (ICC : ICCD69430)
Got to admit that this one caught me by surprise. Why? Well, I thought it was going to be just one of those standard compilations, but I was wrong. Keeping the rich heritage of hymns, alongside encouraging new worship songs, Spring Harvest has never failed to meet everyone's need/taste in music. This studio album gives a fresh feeling to hymns that worshippers old and, not so old, will recognise and embrace with open arms. New life is breathed into 12 songs, including "Be Thou My Vision" and "What A Friend We Have in Jesus". The album begins with "Thine Be the Glory", a compelling version that lifted this reviewer's spirit in moments. There's a fine rendition of "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" and a triumphant call on "Send the Fire". Not so sure about "How Great Thou Art" but splendid versions of "In Christ Alone" and "Great is Thy Faithfullness", soon brings things back on track. Yes, I'm sure that even traditionalists will enjoy this captivating album. 9/10. (May 2003)
SPRING HARVEST HYMNS 2 : To God Be the Glory. (ICC : ICCD82030)
As well as the smashing contemporary songs that Spring Harvest collects each year, they never forget the more traditional hymns. Maybe, they've got a more modern arrangement than they used to have, but the main sound remains the same. This year's collection is no different and there's some rousing tunes, as well as one or two more mellow moments. One of my favourite hymns opens things up, "O For A Thousand Tongues". As soon as it started, I couldn't help but join in, and that was the same for "Crown Him with Many Crowns". BY the time I got to "And Can It Be", I was really enjoying myself and realised just how powerful and true some of the older hymns really are. Others featured include "Holy Holy Holy", "The Lord is My Shepherd" and "To God Be the Glory", but in total, there are 12 smashing renditions. Fancy a good old sing? Try this release for size. 9/10. (January 2005)
SPRING HARVEST HYMNS 3. (ICC0876D)
The sleeve notes to this album tells you that "this collection of live band treatments and simpler piano arrangements has a flavour of the Spring Harvest Big Top with a style that will fit many local churches. And, indeed, that is true in my humble opinion. Listening, I never got the feeling of being overawed by any over the top arrangements, and that made for an enjoyable listen. "All Creatures of Our God And king" is sung with real feeling as is "Christ the Lord is Risen Today". The quality of the female's velvet vocals on the gospel version of "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and that proved to me my favourite track. Other songs include "Stand Up, Stand Up, For Jesus", "At the Name of Jesus" and "ON A Hill Far Away". All in all, a very pleasant listen throughout. 7/10. (February 2006)
SPRINGHILL WORSHIP : Beautiful Wounds. (Springhill : 7890 4210992)
Subtitled "New Songs Today for the Church Tomorrow", this is a collection of tracks with Joe Beck contributing to a lot of the songwriting. It's good to hear brand new songs, but my problem with this album was just how many of them seemed totally unsuitable for collective worship. For instance, Charity Von sings "Revival" with great gusto, but I just can't imagine any congregation joining in at any point. It's a performance orientated piece, and no more. The same could be said of Carl Cartee's "Don't Let Me Miss the Glory" and the title track, beautifully sung by Jan L'Ecuyer. For a real feeling of togetherness, there's only one song on the album that did it for me. Cole young's "My Heart Belongs to You" features everything a good praise and worship number should have. I thought that J. Nicholson had a great voice on "The Worship You Are Worthy Of" but, again, I lacked that collective feel. Wayne Watson provides a Don Moen style ditty with "Glorify your Name", while Taken provide a medium paced foot tapper with "Immeasurable". Quite a reasonable collection of songs, but I feel it doesn't actually meet the sleeve's claims. 5/10. (February 2007)
SPRINGHILL WORSHIP : Back to You. (Springhill : 4211212)
This is the 6th release in the Springhill Worship series, and it focuses on going back into a meaningful relationship with God. None of the artists featured are household names in the UK, so I had no preconceptions about the album. John Waller starts things off with a lively song called "I Choose You". Anadara treats us to a gospel sound, with her pleasant vocals providing the power. Am I right in thinking that I'd heard of Reggie Stone before? Not sure, but he gives a strong vocal performance on "I Give To Christ My All". There's joyous declarations of love, and anthemic praise, while "Back to You" and "I Will Stand" give hope when you've got doubts and feel lost. They, for me, were the best songs on the album. I wasn't too keen on the closing gospel number by Buddy Greene but there's enough moves on this album to keep your average listener satisfied. 7/10. (May 2007)
SPUR58 : Sleepwalkers. (Authentic : 0700012)
Here's a rock worship outfit from Tennesse who took their name from a road in Texas. After several independent releases this is their big time debut. What intrigued me about this collection, is that so many songs have easy to understand messages. "Always Been There" unashamedly talks about running to God's waiting arms, while "The Wonderful" depicts a wondrous God. There's a mixture of guitar and piano led songs here but none of them really made say "Wow, I've got to play that again". Jesus gives us strength is the message in "Sustaining Me", and "Kyle's Lament" has one thinking about one's own sins. If I were to pick out one track, then it would have to be "I Am Yours". It's about giving oneself to God, and it's quite radio friendly too. Horror track, has to be "All To My God And King". When they titled it "All…" I think that they meant they had recorded every instrument and vocal they could think of. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time but the result is a cacophony of noise, and I have no idea what the song was about. Nothing out of the ordinary here and I'm not sure I'll be playing the Cd again. 5/10. (July 2007)
SPY GLASS BLUE : Shadows. (Organic/Word : ORCD9704).
This has to be the most innovative release for some time. Taking in the current sounds of David Devante and mixing it with Talking Heads type style, Allan Aguirre gives us something that is alternative and loud. Distorted and dis-tuned guitars are married to samples and midi generated music that can only be pigeon-holed as a throwback to the punk era. Experimental and bold, are two words that come to mind to describe the overall feel of the album. The songs themselves are also a strange mixture of tunes. "Thin & Leaner" starts with that well known phrase "to be, or not is the question - to live and die is not a muse". I kid you not, some people will find the 'in your face' attitude of this album a little disconcerting. "Stygian" is a rip off of an punk classic called "Is Vic There?" by one hit wonders Department S, but the twist is it's ending. Suddenly, the pace changes and your transported into another world and I'm reminded of the Munsters theme tune. I've got to admit, I don't understand many of the titles and Come Patmos" is another that doesn't seem to fit the actual lyrics of the song. Strange sounds, strange album, and very out of the ordinary. 6/10. (March 1998)
Live Worship from St Aldate's Oxford (featuring Martyn Layzell) I Stand In Awe (Kingsway KMCD2824)
Stand In Awe is the latest offering from the worship band at Oxford based St Aldate's Church, led amongst others by established & successful CCM recording artist Martyn Layzell. Recorded live in May 2006, this CD brings us a collection of 13 of the most well known contemporary worship tracks by the likes of Matt Redman, Tim Hughes Brenton Brown & of course Martyn Layzell! Those of you who are not big fans of compilations fear ye not - you're unlikely to find this as just another one of the masses. I have listened to many such offerings in recent months & have been sorely disappointed but this is one that stands out from the crowd, not only from the choice of songs but on the sheer quality of the music, vocals & delivery especially within the live setting (which is never easy). There's not a duff note, floundering lyric or missed beat to be found! The CD kicks off with a rousing rendition of Paul Baloche / Brenton Brown's "Hosanna" followed by an equally energetic "Praise Awaits You" and then another Matt Redman track "Dancing Generation". The pace keeps up until tracks 6 & 7 "Arise" & Speak To His Heart" (Neil Bennetts), rounding off with the title track, Martyn's own "I Stand In Awe". The live aspect gives a very real feeling, not being over produced and fiddled with like so many & it stands out a mile that genuine & sometimes spontaneous worship is actually happening there & then - awesome! I'd certainly part with cash for this - more please!! 10/10 Simon Redfern (November 2007, Album of the Month)
ST JOHN'S NEW WINE : Eternal God. (Private CD. £5.50 from Geoff Waring, St John's Church Newland, Clough Road, Hull, HU6 7PA).
The worry about reviewing something produced by old friends is that your honest opinion may hurt the feelings of those involved. But, as they say, honesty is the best policy, so here goes. A collection of well known praise and worship songs, recorded live, and with all profits going towards the church's building project. "Praise Him on the Trumpet" starts proceedings in a style that can only be described as a war-time pub singalong! "Beautiful Saviour" shows the vocals in better light, as does "Blessing & Honour", both with uncomplicated musical backing. Getting the sound levels right must have been quite difficult for the engineer in this live situation but he copes quite admirably. The downside comes from slightly off-key male vocal on many of the songs, and the tacky music that appears on "Our God Reigns". The title track, on the other hand, features a smashing lead vocal of distinct quality, abley supported by the rest of the group. "Lion of Judah" gets an outing, as does "We Sing your Mercies" and the delicate "It's All About You". It should certainly raise money around the church as a momento of live performances, it's just a shame that New Wine's efforts fall a little short in what they were trying to achieve. 6/10.
(December 2000)
ST.PAUL SOUNDS OF PRAISE CHORALE : Not the Same. (Proclaim/Alliance : PRD3006).
One thing is quite certain, you either love or loathe this type of chorale music. Hands wave frantically in the air and thoughts of the late Kenny Everitt waving those gigantic sponge hands come to mind. All new tracks, as far as I'm aware, and presented in time honoured fashion. The weirdest thing is the way that the odd Stevie Wonder tune keeps appearing to link some of the songs together. If this is your bag, then it's a classy produced album. If not, leave well alone. 6/10. (January 1997)
ST THOMAS' CROOKES : Generation of the Cross. (Private CD Recording. £13.99 from Colourful Media, 42 Evelyn Road, Crookes, Sheffield, England, S10 5FF.)
16 songs and over 75 minutes of music, on this album from - I believe - two sets of musicians. With original material, the people from St. Thomas' give their all in offering a brand new collection of worship songs for use within the church. Starting well enough with the Kendrick tinged "The Lord is Riding Out", it soon degenerates with track two, "Higher". This, along with two other tracks, are written by the same people, has a bluesy funk feel, and left me cringing at the thought of trying to sing them in my church! However, all is not lost. In Joannh Oyeniran's singinig and songwriting they have a real gem. The most beautiful vocals imaginable appear on "Who Is like You" - reminiscent of dkf's Debs Mohabir. The formula is successfully repeated on "Desperate For the Truth", which tells of the need for God in your life. Other highlights include the piano led "Love and Compassion", "Carry Me" (complete with string quartet), and the closing "Deep Peace". If you're looking for a change from the usual worship writers,, give this a try. 6/10. (November 1998)
STARFIELD : Beauty in the Broken. (EMI : SPD11573)
Canadian band, Starfield are made up of brothers Tim and Jon Neufield, Gordie Cochran, and Shaun Huberts. Their mission is to fuse their talents and challenge their generation to strengthen their faith and make it their own. With album production from Matt Brownlee, it's little wonder that traits of Jars of Clay are to be found on many of the songs. However, whereas Jars of Clay are some way down the line with their ministry, Starfield are really only just setting out. The album opens with a big production number called "My Generation", which is often filled with too many instruments all battling for their own space. "The Hand That Holds the World" has a Delirious feel about it, while "Son of God" is a lighter sound and features Chris Tomlin. I preferred the lighter sounds to the heavier rock styles and was particularly impressed with "Captivate". It's a good song, and contains some nice harmonies. "Great is the Lord" has some U2 elements in it, while "Unashamed" is a quieter worship number that marvels at God's mercy. Sadly, that's were the album seems to run out of steam, and I found the last four songs to be rather dull. The band have won several Canadian music awards, and that only garners well for their future. 6/10 (November 2006)
STARFLYER 59 : My Island. (Tooth & Nail Records, TND64004)
Starflyer 59's vocalist and guitarist Jason Martin has never had one of the most joyful of voices yet on this cd he seems to have reached new heights (or should that be depths?) of despair. Imagine a failed scientific experiment between Morrisey and REM and you're getting somewhere. The opening track "The Frontman" is solid enough and the sprightly bass riff on the next track "Nice Day" give the impression that this album might go somewhere. Yet with the exception of the Rolling Stones style guitar riff on "Mic the Mic" it remains stuck in a dark pit of despondency. Has salvation really come to this house? If it has, one wonders if its really worth having. I do not know who to credit with good bits since the sleeve notes omit any details of the musicians. Given the transient nature of the band's line-up that's a pretty poor show. This band might be big and they might have been around for a while but that just makes this album even more disappointing. 4/10 Robin Thompson. (June 2007)
THE STEELS : My Energy. (www.the-steels.com)
The Steels are three lads from the north-east of England who are creating quite a stir at live gigs. Previously known as Steel Machine, the new moniker sees them move into a fresh sound that compares well with The Rock n' Roll Worship Circus, and Audio Adrenaline. Saying that, "I'll Get Over you" sounds a lot like Busted did at their very best. It's a great song, and one I played again and again. The same can be said of the title track and, live, I can see this being a mosher's favourite. Sandwiched in-between these two is a slower number called "Won't You Stay". It's well written and flows nicely. "How Can It Be?" and "I Couldn't Go On" are both full of energy and I could really see this album crossing over well to the U.S. market. If I've one minor moan, then it's the quality of the recording. Occasionally, the vocals are lost in the overall sound, but on the plus side, it does sound like a live recording that really gets you involved. With the likes of Titus already powering their music into the lives of young people, the north-east of England can be proud to add The Steels to their roster. 8/10. (March 2006)
THE STEELS : Supreme. (Kingsway : KWCD3161)
These 3 guys from the north-east of the UK have been gigging together for a number of years now, but this is their first release on a major label. Adam Carmichael, Simon Napper, and Matthew Chambers make up the band and offer most of the writing credits. However, a sneaky look at the inner sleeve will also reveal that some songs were co-written by Ken Riley, of Yfriday fame. It’s basically a pop/rock worship album, with sounds that reminded me of the most recent McFly album – that’s a compliment guys! The title track is a rousing declaration that Jesus is all we need. Similarly, ‘Steal My Heart’ shouts that worldly trappings will never turn them away from their Saviour. Adam provides some fine lead guitar playing, and his vocals are top notch too. Simon and Matthew provide bass and drums respectively, and their time together has resulted in a really tight sound. It’s not all loud guitars though. Both ‘Glorify’ and, the closing, ‘Disposable’ shows the band in a slightly different light, giving the listener more time to wallow in God’s love. But, I’ve got to admit, it was the faster numbers that drew most of my attention. I can see ‘Sing If You’re With Me’ going down well at a live gig, while the choppy verse of ‘Better Not Dance’ throws the song wide open to a dynamic chorus. Fans have been waiting a while or this release, but the wait was definitely worth it. 9/10 (January 2011)
STELLAR KART : Expect the Impossible (Word Records : 8872962)
I must admit that when I looked at the sleeve of this CD, with a picture of four guys in swimming gear, holding surf boards, I did fear the worst. However this turns out to be a pretty good album really, proving that you can't judge a CD by the cover. It's pretty straight forward rock / pop music, with no frills, nothing too heavy, nothing too slow. The tunes are quite catchy, and well written, It reminded me a little of "Smash mouth". You get the impression that this lot really enjoy what they are playing. The lyrics are fairly light praise songs, nothing too deep and meaningful, but well written all the same. I'd sum this up as simply, a very straightforward enjoyable CD. 8/10 Andy Sayner. (February 2009)
THE STEPHENS : I Plead the Blood. (www.thestephensmusic.com)
The Stephens are a dynamic southern gospel trio from Northport, Alabama. Years of combined vocal experience along with unmistakable family harmony affords an exciting yet Spirit filled service. The Stephens’ heart desire is to proclaim God’s word in testimony and song to encourage the believer and to see the lost saved. This single is taken from their latest album “Just Pray,” and I’m not sure that I’d pigeon hole it as southern gospel. To me, it crosses over well as a pop ballad. I believe that it’s Melody who sings lead vocal, and what a great voice she has. Backing is given by Thom and Bethany and the whole sound is very pleasing. The lyrics are simple and centre on the blood of Christ on Calvary washing us all clean. The Stephens’ are a new name to me, but I wouldn’t mind hearing more, if this single is anything to go by! 7/10. (June 2016)
STEVE : Falling Down. (Forefront : FFD5298).
Newly signed to the Forefront label, Bristol based band Steve have been growing in stature for the last 4 years. Originally known as Bleach, they had to change their name when confusion ensued between them and an American band with the same name. Since then they seem to have gone from strength to strength but this is the first time I've head anything from them. Steve blend "elements of technology with their pop/rock worship sound", so say the sleeve notes, and that sums them up nicely. The title track is the strongest cut and bears a passing nod in the direction of a certain James Bond theme tune. However, that apart, it's a challenging song. "My Ever My all" talks about God being everything we ever need to satisfy us - why look for anything more? It's an edgy guitar sound that makes Steve just that bit different from either Delirious? Or K. "Fine" is a little more laid back in presentation but it still works well. I found "Smile" and "Hunger" a little messy but the piano enhanced "I'm Here" is a clever little number that adds a certain little something to a band who are growing all the time. 8/10.
(September 2001)
STEVE GREEN. 'The Letter'. (Sparrow)
The album cover photograph shows fair haired Steve Green lit in glorious, shimmering light - almost angelic. The record itself shows the same man in fine form, as one of the undesputed kings of Contemporary Praise & Worship. From the moment 'Love One Another' bursts from your speakers to the strangely mysterious, latin American 'All Over the World', you're treated to a fine release. Most of the music is piano based but the acoustic guitar on 'I Am in God's Hands' is terrific. Track 8 'Oh, I Want to Know You More' is my favourite as Steve sings of a relationship with the Lord and just how we let Him down. (Been there, done it). There's almost a touch of black gospel about some of his vocals that I didn't care for, along with two or three poorer songs, but on the whole.........8/10. (July 1996)
STEVE GREEN : The First Noel. (Sparrow/Alliance).
Here we go with the first of 3 Christmas releases. 10 tracks from the man who made worship music accessible to ,millions. Steve has a superb voice and treats well known songs like 'What Child is This' and 'Away in a Manger' with the respect they deserve. 'Rose of Bethlehem' is the most outstanding number with it's light acoustic backing., while 'Jesu, Light of Lights' runs it a close second in my books. The only problem with this release is that so many other people have sung most of these songs in the same style. If you want an album of Christmas worship songs, there's no better but, if you have a few already, save your money. 6/10. (December 1996)
STEVE GREEN : Woven in Time. (Sparrow : SPD51725)
Steve's recording history includes 6 Dove Awards, 4 Grammy nominations, and many No.1 singles. This is his first release since 1999, and not only carries on the rich legacy of his music, but also reveals a dynamic faith born of a deep commitment and devotion to God. On pure, carefully crafted songs such as "Holding Hand", his voice is soft and gentle. Yet, on titles such as "God of Wonder" and the poppy "If We Answer" he's just at home. And, if that's not enough, his depth of vocal ability is stretched once more on songs with a classical feel, like "I Will Go" and "Non Nobis Domine". His old-time country style on "O Pilgrim Come", left me a little cold but the worship of "Sacrifice of Praise" draws the listener close to the Lord. For me, Steve Green is never going to be a big CCM star but, he's faithful to his call and true in his words, and you can't ask for much more, can you? 8/10. (June 2002)
STEVE JAMES : Voices in the Desert. (Private CD Recording £13 from: Steve James, St Andrews Church Office, The Rectory, Highcroft Avenue, Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside, L63 3EX).
Steve James has recorded a number of albums, including some that were produced in Canada, where he worked as a curate for 4 years. He now lives and works, as Rector, in the Wirral, as well as performing his songs at many local venues. 'Voices in the Desert' has been produced by Roy Salmond, who also provides some of the most memorable guitar playing that I have heard in recent months. Either he, or Dane Deviller, delivers a terrific acoustic display on 'My Heart May Fail'. Couple it with Steve's fine vocals, it's a marriage made in Heaven. 'Angels' is a strong, rocky opener that makes good use of a catchy hook and pricks up your ears. 'That Night' tells the story of Christmas with great power yet, at the same time, simplicity. Steve's writing is very accessible and the musicians around him are first class. The only comparison I could make would be Garth Brookes meets Michael Card. One or two songs aren't as strong as others but the beautiful piano & guitar to 'Winter' leaves you well satisfied. 8/10. (January 1998, Album of the Month)
STEVE LEACH : Right Here in This Room. (Elevation : ICC1259D)
Steve Leach is a DJ based in Bournemouth, and has been working in the business for many years. The press release says that he draws musical influences from the likes of Fat Boy Slim, Basement Jaxx, Groove Armarda, Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers. I listened to the album once and that was hard work. I hadn't heard anything like it before. I tuned into the local dance radio station on several occasions during the week and never heard anything that was similar in sound. Steve mixes other people's music to create new sounds, and then throws in evangelistic vocal samples from the Likes of Louie Giglio, Steve Chalke, Mike Pilavachi, and Cris Rogers. The resulting sound is a cocophony of noise that often sees the music and spoken word fighting to be heard. On 'Free For All', I would describe it as "space" music with an uptempo drum beat. 'Dry Bones' gets rather repetitive, and I wondered if this was some sort of trance track. Feeling "out of it", I even asked my neighbour to give the album a listen. She wasn't impressed either, and said that the clubs she goes to certainly didn't play anything like it. I think that the sound is very experimental and Elevation need to be congratulated on taking a chance with this one, even though it fails to rate highly. 3/10 (July 2009)
STEVE LOWNDES : Design For Life. (CD from: www.cdbaby.com/stevelowndes or www.stevelowndes.co.uk)
This is the debut album from Skegness based singer, songwriter, bassist and all round musician Steve Lowndes and is released on his own Pots and Pans label. The album contains ten self-penned songs themed around Gods unique plan for our lives and, although an eclectic mix of songs, it hangs together well. It opens with the infectious "Something Different" which demonstrates Steve's innate ability to fashion good pop hooks. But there are some more reflective moments too, as in the wonderfully profound "Gethsemane" and the celtic sounding "A Sacrifice of Praise", the latter demonstrating some subtle acoustic guitar work. Although primarily a bassist, Steve plays all the instruments on this album, showing that he has a diverse range of musical talents, including a rich baritone voice. Comparisons can be made in style and sound to Dave Bilborough and Michael Card, so if those artists are your thing, you wont be disappointed with this. All in all, a good introduction to an artist with clearly a lot of potential, a real heart for God and an honest approach. 8/10 Robin Thompson. (February 2006)
STEVE McMANUS : Come In Out of the Rain. (www.mclind.co.uk)
After many years touring the world, as a sound engineer, working with the likes of ArcadeFire, Kanye West, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Dionne Warwick, Sheila Ferguson, ELO Part2, Rick Astley & Art Garfunkel, Hull based artist Steve McManus has been letting his creative juices flow again. This 10 track country rock album of original songs is the result. The title track starts things off, and begins with opening musical phrases that reminded me of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”. The song itself is very laid back in style, unlike “Days of Our Lives”, which is much rockier. Like all of Steve’s songs, it tells a story. This time, it’s all about finding love, from being in the depths of despair. There’s a nice fiddle sound too, that I really liked. “Just Dreaming” gets a bit melancholy, as it reflects on a lost love, while the quirky “Darleen” raises a smile or two with lyrics like “barbecued ‘Gator, on the side.” Guitar wise, Steve’s in his element on “Fairy Tales & Princes”, and rocks things up, Keith Urban style, on “The Chosen Few.” Vocally, everything is fine, apart from on “Dreams Come True” where they fight to sit right with the musical backing. There again, perhaps that’s just a personal opinion. As the album comes to an end, “Cherry Tree Blossom” shows off some fine fiddle and bright guitar sounds, telling the story of losing a loved one and the thoughts you are left with. This is the first UK country album that I’ve reviewed for some time. The overall sound is modern, and Steve should count his return to recording as a success. 8/10. (June 2016)
STEVE McMANUS : Lost Island.   (www.mclind.co.uk)
It’s rare, these days, that an instrumental album comes along for review. But, here’s a welcome addition from Hull based artist Steve McManus. He says that the tracks are to help you wind down. He goes onto explain; “The album takes in influences from many of the artists I have worked with. There is a lot of  percussion throughout the album. I put this down to the late great Bongo Eddie. Percussionist with the Legendary Kid Creole & the Coconuts.” On the title track, it opens with a piano sound, accompanied by the sounds of the ocean and exotic birds. It’s built on simple musical phrases, backed by occasional guitar. It certainly reminded me of sunshine. “19 Disco” is totally different, and I kept expecting Kool and the Gang to start singing. It’s 70’s disco boogie, and my only negative point would be that I thought the track was too long. After watching clouds on a summer’s day, Steve was prompted to write “Nylon Strings.” Here, there’s a few spoken phrases in the background, but the acoustic guitar playing does lend to that summery feeling. With more than a passing nod to the story of the return of the Prodigal Son, “Welcome Home” comes over like a film score. I love the pounding rhythms and the uplifting finale to the tune. Steve is obviously a very talented musician, full of ideas. Perhaps those ideas vary a little too much that the tracks are very individual and don’t link too well. From the over enthusiastic drums of “Seduction” to the overlong “Learning to Walk”, I thought that the theme of “winding down and relaxing” was a little lost. However, on “Majestic Walks”, the sound sums up perfectly, the feeling of the incredible view & feeling of euphoria that get after walking to the top of a hill. Certainly, if you like chill out music and want to relax, “Lost Islands” is well worth a try.   7/10. (July 2016)
STEVE PARSONS : Hymns to Light the Way. (Elevation : ELE1985D)
“The album was really birthed out of a desire to take some great old hymns and deliver them in a more intimate, soulful, singer/songwriter style”, says Steve. “My hope is that the album will firstly appeal to people who love old hymns, and that the new arrangements will make them sound like songs you're hearing for the first time.” An interesting idea, and one that, on the whole, works really well. First of all, Steve has a great voice, and a vocal quality that reminds me of Mac Powell (Third Day). On ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’, those vocals are superb, as is his version. Similarly, ‘O For a Thousand Tongues’ is simply delightful. The title track has a backing of just piano and viola, but the song still hits you with reassuring power. ‘Man of sorrows’ is a nice ballad, while Nicki Rogers duets with Steve, on a gentle version of ‘Abide With Me’. The album ends with a hymn that was my favourite at primary school, ‘To Be a Pilgrim’. I can’t remember the last time I heard it, so it was with great joy that I joined in with this one. Occasionally, the song style is a little too pedestrian, but I can’t see anybody not liking what Steve has produced. 8/10. (March 2014)
STEVE TAYLOR & THE PERFECT FOIL : Only a Ride. (Splint Entertainment.)
So it’s been since 21 years since the last Steve Taylor album. Yes, really. Since then he’s been dabbling in film making and producing and writing for other artists. But earlier this year, Steve announced a crowd funding campaign via Kickstarter to record a new album. He hit his target and then some, leading to a US tour into the bargain. The much delayed album is due out in November but in the meantime is this single release “Only a Ride”. Like with the previous album “Squint” gone is the eighties keyboard driven pop-rock and in is a harder more alternative sound. Steve has never been one to follow the Christian music trend and this tougher edge suits him. The backing band includes the Newsboys’ Peter Furler, complemented by Jimmy Abegg and John Mark Painter. Together they make a great sound and Steve sounds refreshed and raring to go. If the new album is as good as this we’re in for a treat. 9/10 Robin Thompson. (October 2014)
STEVE TAYLOR & THE PERFECT FOIL : Goliath. (Splint Entertainment)
21 years. That’s how long I’ve been married. It’s how long it has been since a new, complete studio album from Steve Taylor. It’s been a long wait. Even this 11 track album itself has tested the patience of fans. This Kickstarter funded project was due to be released back in April, but a desire to create something rather special pushed its release back until now. Thankfully both of those waits were worth it, and then some. This album kicks off with the single (and previously reviewed) release “Only A Ride”, a brash, driving stonker of a song that sets the tone for what is to come. Next up is “Double Negative”, another track with a hard-edge, but with a distinctly Steve Taylor flavour to the melody. The title track “Goliath” is a bass driven, aggressive stomp (with an excellent accompanying video which is worth searching for on-line). My favourite song is probably “Happy Go Lazy”, a bluesy number but with the quirky, alternative feel that pervades the album. “You’ll go crazy if you think you can change a man” warbles Mr Taylor. Quite! As for the closer “Comedian”, this is probably the album closer Steve has been trying to write for years but has never quite managed. It’s a super observation on the futility of the plans of man and the wisdom of this world, showing Steve has lost nothing of his bite when it comes to writing lyrics. In fact, Steve sounds revitalised and refreshed throughout the whole album and is quite possibly his best album yet. Jimmy Abegg (guitar), John Mark Painter (bass) and ex-Newboys singer Peter Furler (drums) provide a superb underpinning and are probably the best collection of musicians that Steve has worked with. Without a weak song in sight Goliath is catchy, infectious, and an absolute gem of a record. Buy it! 10/10 Robin Thompson. (December 2014, Album of the Month)
STEVE TAYLOR & THE DANIELSON FOIL :  Wow to the Deadness.   (Splint Entertainment)
Steve Taylor albums. They’re like buses. You wait ages for one to come along and then two come along at once. Well, ok, it’s been over a year since “Goliath” was released but, given that we had to wait over 20 years for that one it certainly feels like “Wow to the Deadness” is hot on its predecessor’s heels.  This six track EP, recorded by the legendary Steve Albini on gloriously retro analogue tape, features the same backing band with one addition, Daniel Smith from the US group Danielson. Daniel’s addition brings another creative input to the group, in terms of lyrics and vocals, and provides a springboard to take what was achieved with Goliath to the next level. And what a level it is! More raucous, more boisterous and more punk inspired, it is by nature less accessible and not at all for the middle-of-road types, but because of this it is also a glorious evolution and a wonderful sign that Steve’s resurgence is not short lived. The opener and title track “Wow to the Deadness” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Goliath but by the time you get to track six “Drats” you’re left with no illusion that this is not just more of the same. In fact, what Steve has managed to achieve is an album that doesn’t sound like previous albums yet still sounds very much like Steve Taylor. It’s new and fresh yet at the same familiar and expected. It’s been available to Kickstarter backers for a month now but is released I’m told, to an unsuspecting public on February 5th. The public has been warned. Steve’s still here, and he’s making his point louder than ever. 10/10   Robin Thompson (February 2016, Album of the Month)
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : Greatest Hits. (Sparrow/Alliance :724385163029).
Somehow, a 'Greatest Hits' album for a CCM artist just doesn't seem right. Unless you're a dedicated fan of the man, just how many tracks would you recognise? Me, I knew one 'Lord of the Dance', and this re-recorded version is still as bad as it was then. Musically uninspiring and mixed far too high so as to let the words reach your ears with any meaningful content. Oh, oh, is this a slating review? No, it isn't but, personally, I feel that Steven's older work far outshines the most recent inclusions. 'The Great Adventure' is solid and rocky, with a punch that hits you hard and true. 'His Eyes' slows the pace down with an acoustic folk feel, while many will shed a tear at the love song to his wife 'I Will Be There'. Perhaps Steven is moving on with his music but, if I were buying a new album of his I would certainly lean towards his older stuff. 'Heaven in the Real World' is a foot tappin' song but the pick of the bunch has to be the 11 year old 'Hiding Place'. A strong, powerful ballad and a great vocal track. 6/10 (February 1998)
STEPHEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : Speechless. (Sparrow : 7243 85169526).
I've never been much of SCC fan before, so I knew there was something special about this new release the moment I heard the first track., "Dive" is just so good! "Take a leap of faith and…dive in" he says, and, boy, does he mean it. No, it's not just a one-off classic, the title track is equally as good and "Whatever" shows off just what has happened to his writing over the last couple of years. Of course, old fans will still enjoy the typical pop of "Fingerprints of God" and "Next 5 Minutes" but Chapman's writing has grown. "The Change" looks at many people who profess to be of the faith by wearing slogan t-shirts, chains, and car bumper stickers but, he asks, is that as deep as it goes? Where and what Stephen Curtis Chapman has been since his last release should be made available from your pharmacy. A new outlook, a fresh feeling for God in your life, and a soul that just wants to tell the world of what's waiting for them. 9/10. (September 1999, Album of the Month)
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : All Things New. (EMI : SPD76897R)
So many things have been written about Steven Curtis Chapman over the years, that it's hard to think of something new to say about him. In the same light, after all the albums he's produced, you wonder if he can surprise anyone any more with his sound. Well, he's certainly given it a try on this album, working with a host of new musicians and producer Brown Bannister. The result is a bit of a mix really. Some of the tunes work, while others just don't suit the delivery. "Much of You" suffers from an OTT production while "Coming Attractions" tries to rock things up, and fails. Mediocre songs follow and I was preparing myself for a wasteful album. Then, he closes with three brilliant songs. "Angels Wish" is a ballad that speaks a thousand words, and "Treasure of Jesus" should be, treasured. This piano led number is a lovely little song and I wish there had been more like it. Credit him for trying something new, it's just a pity that, on the whole, it hasn't worked. 4/10. (February 2005)
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : This Moment. (EMI)
For his 17th album, Steven Curtis Chapman returns to his former glories with a great album of rock and pop tunes. Gone are the wishy-washy number that filled his 2005 release, 'All Things New', and back come the non-stop hits of 1999's 'Speechless'. He's been away from the recording scene for a couple of years, and the break seems to have done Steven no end of good. From the moment 'Miracle of the Moment' plays, you know that you're listening to something special. What a classy song it is, and a brilliant opener. 'Cinderella' is more of the same, while 'Yours' takes a look at the whole world and it's maker. 'Something Crazy' just won 'best on album' for me. It's a real sharp sound and links well with the next song, 'Children of God'. I got the feeling that the theme of this album was one of encouragement, and several of the songs spoke to me whilst listening. There's a choppy piano sound to 'Definition of Me' and Chapman's vocals soar at their best on the closing 'One Voice'. Early days, but this could be one of THE albums of the year. 10/10 (Feburary 2008, Album of the Month)
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : Beauty Will Rise. (EMI : 5099922651624)
This poignant album is Steven's response to the tragic death of his young daughter, last year. I guess, it's his way of dealing with the tragedy, and how his personal faith has brought him through it. The title track is extremely powerful and shows how beauty can rise from the ashes of a situation. 'See' is a song of personal restoration, while 'Just Have To Wait' is one of the most moving songs I have ever heard. Here, Steven cries out to his daughter and tells her that of God's promise that they will see each other again in Heaven. As the tracks continue, Steven goes through how he trusts in God, (Questions') in every situation, even though he always doesn't understand. He knows that God is in control ('Our God Is In Control'), and hears the Lord calling back to him, "Trust Me" (God is True'). It's a very sad collection of songs but, within them, are words of hope and love. A genuine album of faith. 8/10 (April 2010)
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : Joy.   (Reunion Records : 02341-0177-2)
So, this year, it’s Steven Curtis Chapman’s turn to release a Christmas album! Every year, at least one major CCM artist seems to think that it’s all we, the listening public, have wanted to hear. But, is there anything here that is any different to Christmas albums that have gone before? The answer is yes……and no. There are nice versions of ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘We Three Kings’, while the RnB style of ‘Christmas Time Again’ doesn’t really work, for me. Again, the jazz orientated version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ may have been a good idea, but it all gets a bit too busy, musically, for my liking. However, there are some positives too. Chapman’s ‘Christmas In Kentucky’ and ‘Christmas Kiss’ are both well worth listening too, with the latter featuring some Michael Buble type vocals. The best song is also an original. ‘Christmas Card’ tells of the lost, lonely, and broken hearted at Christmas, and is cleverly written to tell them that they are never forgotten, and never alone, because God loves them. Hats off to Steven for that song, because it really is a winner. It’s just a pity about some of the others!   6/10. (December 2012)
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : The Glorious Unfolding. (Reunion : 02341-0185-2)
"I shut everything down creatively and musically to slowly see what's going to come from this. Am I ever going to feel like I can write another song," he said, speaking upon the death of his young daughter in 2010. Eventually immersing himself back in music, he’s since created some of the best music in his 20 year career. This new album is just full of listener friendly songs! The title track is a reminder that we should all hold to God’s promise, that will lead us to His glory, while ‘Love Take Me Over’ cries for God to be at the centre of our lives. Both songs are equally engaging, and you just can’t help but be drawn into joining in. ‘Take Another Step’ reminds you to trust God in everything you do, whilst ‘Only One and Only You’ is a simple love song backed by piano and orchestral sounds. The most exciting track on the album is ‘A Little More Time to Love’. The song and energy of the production fits perfectly with the excitement we have, about Jesus’ return. Chapman told The Christian Post it's the album where he got his smile back. People have told him the "joy and celebration" is back in his voice. That, is so true. 9/10. (May 2014)
STEVEN NEWBY : Delight To Do Go9d's Will. (Marantha : UPC738597132629).
This album was recorded at an event featuring the Antioch Bible Church, where Steven is the Pastor and Worship Leader. His church is committed to destroying all denominational, cultural, and vacial walls. He is gifted in The Word, as well as vocally, and is expected to lead over 100,000 people in worship this year. To fully appreciate the impact of this live album, I fell that you would have had to have been there. I would describe the style as "exuberant" worship, and not really what I am accustomed to. Personally, I prefer a few more quiet times for prayer and reflection but, for someone who likes this type of worship, it would be really good. The message of reconciliation between all people is put across clearly and well. Track 13, "We Declare Your Majesty/Let It rise" is exceptionally good. 7/10. Pam Robinson. (August 2001)
STEVEN SPROAT : Watersmeet. (On Ice Records : CDSSDP701)
Steven Sproat is a singer/songwriter, guitarist, ukulele exponent and best selling author. His recording career began in the 80’s and he has so far released 5 albums, with several songs garnering airplay on BBC Radio 2. As well as playing festivals all over the world, he has also appeared at many theatres and clubs across the UK. 2016 finds Steven embarking on a change of direction and recording classical arrangements of some of his own songs with the expert help of pianist and arranger Paul Crump. This first single release is described as “a haunting Debussy style piano piece inspired by the well known meeting of two rivers near Lynton and also by Steven’s personal faith”. What you get is just over 6 minutes of gentle and relaxing piano, which stands up well against piano classics. Paul is obviously an accomplished pianist, and he tenderly treats Steven’s writing as his own. With an inspired classical album in the offing, this is a welcome piece of music to soak in after a stressful day. 7/10. (November 2016)
STEVENSON & SAMUEL : Gracenotes. (Gold Records : GRCD005)
Now, if there was an award for the most 'out of the ordinary' album of the year, this one would be a strong contender. The two guys involved with this project are Sam Hill - guitar and vocalist - and Steve Stockman - poet. The press release says that the "acoustic guitars and gentle piano are enhanced by Celtic influences and an intimate production feel, that creates an album that works on different levels, impressing when first heard but revealing it's true gravity only over time." So, I can only presume that I haven't listened to it enough, yet, to appreciate the finished product. From the opening "Sprinkle" I was dreading what was to follow, hoping that things would improve. My hand is firmly held high. I admit, that I am not a great lover of modern poetry and none of Stockman's waxing has led me to change my mind. His brogue becomes monotonous as it fights against Hill's gentle voice, which pops in from time to time on that opening track.. "Soaked In A Dearer Wine" was quite nice but, then, it is a song rather than mixed with poetry. I, along with others I played it too, found it quite hard to listen too and, certainly, it rates quite low in my opinion. Then, again, perhaps I'm just not intellectual enough to appreciate? 2/10. (February 2002)
STILL BREATHING : September. (SolidState Records : DPRO17046)
The sleeve talks about life being full of endless possibilities, and the decisions that we make. Still Breathing say that they have chosen a moniker that symbolizes a hope for a brighter tomorrow, and to better ways of living. This debut album, apparently, is in the style of Sepultuta, Turmoil and the Deftones but, having never heard anything by these bands I cannot comment. What I can say about "September" is that, at the risk of showing my age, it is the most certainly the worst album that I have ever come across. Of the 13 tracks, I just cannot understand any of the vocals as Dacey Buntin (a female, but you'd never guess) growls her way through utter garbage. The song titles give little or no clue to what the songs are about, as the drums, guitar and barely audible bass, fight against each other. Listening to this, you need to pray that Dacey's vocal chords will heal, and that you're never unfortunate enough to hear anything like it again. 0/10. (September 2002)
STILL STANDING Standing - Live worship from Grapevine. (Kingsway : KMCD2555).
This is a compilation of worship music from the 2004 Grapevine International Festival, and features worship led by several different people, Chris Bowater, Godfrey Birtill to name two. There is a label on the front plugging the fact that Delirious are featured, presumably with the aim of to helping with the sales, but to be honest I thought that their song "There is a Light" was the one track on the CD that didn't really fit in. However, there is an excellent versiion of "Here I am (Majesty)" which is probably one of the best tracks that delireous have produced recently. The version on this CD is led by Andy Bromley. Most of the worship CD's that I get to hear come from America, and to be honest most of those are awful. I'd quite like to be able to play this CD to some of those responsible, just to say " Hey! This is how you're supposed to do it. OK!" The arrangements are all well done, some of them are quite powerful. The CD is on the whole fairly up tempo, and I have to admit that I've listened to it almost every day since it arrived, which says a lot for it. Most worship CD's tend to bore me rigid. So, I recommend that you give this one a try, I'm sure that you won't be disappointed with it. 9/10 Andy Sayner (April 2005)
THE STILL TIME BAND : The Gospel According to Gershwin. (www.stilltime.com)
Many years ago my imagination was captured by the Pasadena Roof Orchestra who brought classic songs from the 20's, 30's and 40's back to life, and too a whole new audience. In some small way, I get the feeling that The Still Time Band is doing exactly that with their jazz sound. Their 2006 concert in Dagenham was recorded for both radio and Cd release, with the former winning the CBC Award for "Best Christian Music Programme" 2006. The Cd contains two discs, the first being that very concert in all it's glory. There's a mixture of songs on it, with some being written by artistic director, Mike Roberts, and the rest taken from the catalogue of the Gershwin brothers. "God isMuch Bigger" is a laid back original song of Mike's, who also narrates between songs to give the audience some background information and links the evening together well. By the time, however, you hear "Facsinating Rhythms" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me", you realise just how many Gershwin songs you do actually know. Mid concert, Lindsey Danvers takes over the lead vocals from Mike, and what a great jazz voice she has. It certainly works well on songs like "There's no-one Else" and "It Won't Be Long" - an Andare Crouch number thrown in for good measure. Disc 2 is a mix of live and studio tracks titled "Gratuitously Gershwin", and there's no talking in between. Even though I'm not particularly a jazz fan, I still enjoyed the collection of songs and especially the live concert. Something a little different from the Still Time Band, and well worth adding to your collection. 8/10. (March 2007)
STOMP TOWN REVIVAL : Stomp Town Revival.   (Provident : 8 59708 39503 7)
Stomp Town Revival are Brandon Bee and Gabe Martinez. Their music is classed as American Blues, but listening to this 6 track EP, I get the feeling that there’s quite a wide selection of influences within. There’s a mixture of acoustic and rock guitars present on the songs, but some of them lack the distinct rhythm of a bass sound. ‘Guiding Me Home’ is semi acoustic and nothing much to write home about. ‘Waiting For The Man’ is all about Jesus’ return and features the best vocal harmonies from the duo, as well as some mean harmonica playing. There’s some distorted guitar on ‘Anthem of Love’ but with such sparse instrumentation, it sounded totally out of place with the vocals. Talking of vocals, Martinez is also the lead singer with acclaimed US band, Circleside, but these songs are totally different to those of his band. Sadly, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get to grips with this collection of songs. The pair of musicians appear to have been given carte blanche when it comes to recording and production and the result is a disappointing debut.   4/10. (February 2013)
STONELEIGH LIVE : Re.Vive - Dare to Believe. (Survivor : SURCD044)
The second of this month's Survivor releases captures some of the passionate moments of Praise & Worship at this year's Stoneleigh Festival. This time, it's Paul Oakley, Blaze, Rhys Scott, Tree, and Phatfish on show. I remember Tree's last album with fondness, and the feeling that I was listening to Sting and The Police, so similar was the sound. Live, it's no different and "Before Your People Worshipped" would sit nicely on the famous "Reggatta…" album. Nathan Fellingham's "Holy Holy" looks as if it will never leave his side, and why should it? Here, there's pounding drums that builds the song into epic proportions and has everyone praising the Lord, as one. Blaze's "We're on A Mission" stomps along vquite nicely, while Paul Oakley's best moment comes with "All Around Your Throne". Here, the pace is taken down into a sort of Delirious? sounding way, complete with plenty guitar work. Of the two releases reviewed this month, this is my favourite but, no doubt, others may tell you different. 9/10. (November 2000)
STONELEIGH : "Chosen From the Nations". (Kingsway: KMCD2288).
This year's Stoneleigh International Bible Week was a timely reminder of God's great unstoppable plans for His church, and thousands gathered to celebrate their part in God's purposes for the future. "Chosen From the Nations" features worship led by Stuart Townsend, Kate Simmonds, and Tommy Stanley, kate being one of my own, personal favourite's. From the pen of Hillsongs' Reuban Morgan comes "Your Light" and this was such a good song that I immediately played it again. The version of "Amazing Grace" slips nicely into some really deep worship and I found it a comforting performance. The best is kept until last. The closing "There's A People" is co-written by Terry Virgo and Stuart Townend and is such a powerful finale that you can almost see god before your very eyes. Yes, the rendition of this song IS that good. Even if you weren't at Stoneleigh, you'll love this album. 9/10. (December 2000)
Stoneleigh 2001 - The Father's Embrace (Kingsway)
I haven't always been that kind to worship CDs, I must confess. However, this one is rather good. It contains loads of (if not all) songs that I've never heard before - and there's not a duffer amongst them. It kicks off with the very up-tempo "Jesus You Alone" (and if anyone can tell me which 80s pop hit the intro sounds like, I'd appreciate it) and keeps going well, mixing up-tempo and reflective material. Then it picks up for a real purple patch in tracks 5 to 8 (especially the hymn-like "In Christ Alone" which I was whistling for a week). Sadly it all comes unstuck in the last track: a reading of the nations of the world over a slow backing. Now, I can see how this would work live (I'd even do it myself in leading worship) but on a CD it doesn't. One poor choice amongst 14. Shouldn't complain, really. Buy it if you like worship CDs. Listen to tracks 5-8 & (probably) buy it if you don't. 8/10 Paul Ganney. (December 2001)
STORM : Storm. (Soul Survivor : SURCD015).
Here, is the long awaited debut from Beth Redman and friends at the Soul Survivor stable, with most songs written by Beth and husband, Mattt. No, you couldn't ever see the latter performing any of these numbers, it's a case of Message Tribe cloning from start to end. The overall theme is a club orientated sound that will go down a storm with today's youth culture. Mighty, thumping beats are joined by programmed sounds to add weight to the - somewhat repetitive - vocals, to give you a fine debut. The songs all search your life and define the difference between living for yourself or for God. "There's more to life than meets the eye" -taken from 'More to Life' - the lyrics are simple but work well. Maybe it shows my age, but my favourite track was the closing ballad, 'This Love' - delicious. 8/10. (October 1998)
STORYSIDE:B : Everything and More. (Silent Majority : CTD83029)
StorySide:B are evidently gaining a name for themselves in the States, and their first album "Everything and more'' has now made it to the UK. A quick check on the web soon finds testimonies from fans saying that they go down a storm live, including playing support for bands like Jars of Clay and Out of Eden. The best track is probably the closer 'Off the ground', with a particularly good lead vocal by front man and guitarist Lucio ("Lu") Robino - who, incidentally, also takes production credits for the album. Other stand outs are 'More to this life' (nice acoustic introduction), 'You're not alone' (featuring a particularly memorable hook), 'Breathe', and the well arranged 'Dance to me'. Enjoyable though these are, StorySide:B do sound like many other CCM bands Stateside at present - sort of Jars of Clay but with more raw edge. Other negatives are that whilst the lyrics largely carry a worthy message they rely overmuch on simple rhyming couplets, Lu's 'throw everything into the pot' production could be more varied, and those who dislike the distorted fizz of over-compressed sound may wish to steer clear. These guys are new to their trade however, and there is enough here to suggest that their progress may be worth watching. Vistors to the www.musichristian.com web site can listen to samples and, as I write, purchasers are being offered a free sampler CD. Overall, 6/10. Dave Deeks. (June 2006)
STORYSIDE :B We Are Not Alone. (Gotee Records : TD80416)
This band hails from Florida, and is apparently the newest big thing to appear on the scene. This CD consists of typical high energy guitar led rock / pop songs, and I did like the music on offer here, the one thing that I did find though is that the style of music, while very well played, was a bit "In your face" somehow. When it got to the fourth or fifth song I found myself thinking that it was getting a bit boring. Perhaps there could have been a few more variations in tempo here and there, rather than the almost constant pace that seems to carry on right through the whole thing. "Sister" is the first real track where the pace lets up, and that's track 8. In isolation though, the songs on here are all pretty good, they are all well played, and well written, just a bit too much to handle all at once. You can listen to tracks from this at www.storysideb.com and you can also buy it on Itunes. All the details are on their website. 6/10 Andy Sayner. (November 2007)
STRYPER : Rebron. (Big3 Records : 804983677927)
One of the first albums I bought when I became a Christian back in the 1980's was Stryper's "To Hell With the Devil". I simply couldn't belive that such a band could be Christian, I loved their music. Now, after a gap of far too many years, they're back, with an updated sound, and a mission to play for God once again. Maybe it'sbeen too long, because it took me two or three plays to warm to this album. Robert Sweet's vocals sound as good as ever and there's the trademark Stryper harmonies on songs like "Open your Eyes" and "When Did I See you Cry". Mid-album, I thought that things went a bit awry but the band pick things up again with the sure-fire radio hit "If I Die". "Wait For you" is the predictable Stryper ballad, with Sweet's vocals really caressing every word he sings. Then comes "Rain" and you feel as if the band have really arrived. "10,000 Years" includes the strains of "Amazing Grace", before the album closes with a blast from the past. Motoring like they've never been away, Stryper play "In God We Trust", an anthem that says, Stryper are back! 9/10. (January 2006)
STRYPER : Second Coming. (www.stryper.com)
Ah, Stryper… in the 80s you couldn’t miss them. They blazed a trail for Christian glam metal across the globe and did it very very well. Then they called it a day whilst still at the top of their game. Reformed groups go one of two ways: great or dire. You’re either really grateful they’ve come back or really embarrassed that you ever liked them. This CD features 16 tracks: 14 re-recordings of old classics plus 2 new ones. They’re possibly more energetic and more powerful-sounding than before (major plus), Michael Sweet can still hit the high notes (the last one of “Soldiers Under Command” is a case in point, although his voice sounds a little rougher than I remember it), the harmonies are still tight (if a little further back in the mix than I recall). So, without looking over padded shoulders too much, is this any good? Oh Yes. Oh very Yes. If this was a new CD from a new band they’d be so hyped you could build an army of stack heels out of it and still have enough left over to build a couple of careers on. The guitar work is excellent (both rhythm and lead), the drumming tight, the bass driving, the vocals reaching out and grabbing you and forcing you to listen, the choruses big and singalongable in a full-stadium way. They also know how to pace an album, slipping the gentler “First Love” in after pummelling you for four songs (if there’s any major criticism of this CD, then it’s that it could have done with a bit more pacing like this). But what of the 2 new tracks? They fit in very well on the CD (and could have been contained within it rather than being left for the end). “Blackened” is possibly the better of the two, but they’re both good. If you were into Stryper in the 80s then you owe it to yourself to check this out. If, like me, you were only aware of them through friends’ albums, then you need to hear this as it’s so much better than those memories. It’s good to have them back. Best track: “Reach Out”. 9/10. Paul Ganney. (June 2013)
STRYPER : Live at the Whisky. (www.stryper.com)
Stryper? Where to start? 30 years ago… or a just a couple when they reformed? I tried to just sit back and take this CD as it is – a live set recorded in 2013 at the legendary Whisky A Go Go, but I couldn’t help but keep comparing with their past glories. Amazon has this listed as a CD/DVD package, but I only had the CD so that’s all I can review, I’m afraid. And it’s a good CD. It’s very live and leaps snarling from the speakers. The musicianship is as good as you’d hope from seasoned pros. The harmonies aren’t quite as sharp as their studio output, especially as the gig progresses (but whose are – unless you go back and re-record them?) but Michael Sweet is unmistakable as he hits his high vibrato and the way the voices combine is Stryper through and through (eg ‘Calling On You’): if anything it was this that set them apart when they first burst on the scene and it’s good to hear they’ve still got it. The intro and solo to “Loud and Clear” shows they’ve not slowed down on the fretwork, either (and the traded solos on ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ are a delight). It’s good, also, to hear the clarity of conviction that amazed people at the time: as they sing “I will follow you because you died for me” (‘More Than A Man’) it’s the kind of simple Christian message critics said couldn’t be delivered in mainstream rock. How wrong they were. If there’s a criticism of the CD, it’s that it is so full-on. There’s no real light and shade in the first half: at a gig you don’t really care, but listening at home it does. Maybe this is an “in the car” CD, therefore, where subtlety doesn’t get heard. They do slow down for a run of tracks in the second half, giving them a chance to show a more melodic side to the guitar riffs (and the audience a chance to belt out the choruses). After the recent “Second Coming” which saw their greatest tracks re-recorded, a live set may seem superfluous. But it has tons more energy than that release and gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for should you be lucky enough to see them live. Best track: The Way (if only because I picked ‘Reach Out’ from ‘Second Coming’). 7/10. Paul Ganney (November 2014)
STUART MENZIES FARRANT : Revival. (CD 11.60 from visionland@stuartmenziesfarrant.co.uk)
Here's a guy from Bradford who, since becoming a Christian 10 years ago, has been ministering and evangelising in his local area. "Revival" follows on from his previous "Revival Songs" EP and features 12 songs. Having not met the guy, I'm not sure of his age but I'm sure I detect some 80's traits within his music. When you listen to as much praise and worship music as I do, it's always refreshing to hear a different interpretation to the norm. Here, Stuart uses his guitar skills to lead the way with his computer aided backing. I felt that his uptempo songs were better than his slower ones, and the title track proves the point. It's just pure pop that is easily memorised and pleasing to the listener. "Make Me Blind" has a lighter feel, but it's very uplifiting nevertheless. The 7 minute epic called "More Than A Prayer" is a song for the street children of St Paulo and, what a good song it is. "Have no doubt that God loves you and has forgiven your sins". That's the message in the brilliant track "No Doubt" where Stuart's guitar work really shines. Mind you, it does again on what I'd like to call his "tribal song" - aka "Hope Inside". As I say, I thought some of his quieter songs weren't so strong but, Stuart should see a lot of outside interest with this release. 8/10. (April 2003)
STUART MENZIES FARRANT : Presence. (www.stuartmenzies farrant.com)
It's taken two years in the making, but Stuart's follow up to his successful "Revival" album sees the artist move on, musically, in his ministry. Right from the off, it's an edgy, harder sound on tracks like "Carry Me" and "You Got a Hold on Me". Mind you, then comes the more mellow sound of "You're the One", complete with it's 'full-on' chorus - a good song. "Look At Him" sounds like a cross between Stryper and All Star United, as Stuart looks at global politics over the last 5 years. There's nice guitar work on "Heal Me Now" before "Jesus in the Street" turns to a funky style proclaiming Jesus as Saviour. To me, Stuart certainly seems to have changed his target audience to the youth element. His infectious and energetic songs, like "Running Man" will appeal to rock fans of today's youth culture. "Kingdom Come" casts aside any thoughts about faith being a religion or a vision, and vents frustration, recognising that sometimes that's all the church seems to be about. I, personally, didn't enjoy the funkier numbers so much, but thought that Stuart's rock style shows a more confident artist who is still spiritually and musically growing. Certainly, this album shows just why he's been nominated for several gospel music awards over the last couple of years. 8/10. (July 2006)
STUART PENDRED : Benedizioni. (ReBorn : 001)
Stuart Pendred is a classical singer and actor. He recently performed alongside the likes of Sting, Beyonce and Lionel Ritchie at the Royal Albert Hall. The sleeve notes say that Stuart has, for some time, wanted to record an album that reflects his personal faith. Style-wise, you're looking at a similar sound to that of Andrea Bocelli and Red Hurley. His voice is warm and smooth, and suits the songs down to the ground. However, for me, I found it quite difficult to give a thorough review of the songs as most of them seem to be sung in Italian. The music, by the way, is super and I enjoyed the sound immensely. Stuart sings such songs as 'Bambino Mio', 'A Chi Ha Sete' and 'Pace Il Mior Cuore', plus another 9 in his spirited way. What I can say about Stuart's album, is that it rates as highly as those I have heard before in this genre, and it's no wonder that it has already won "Album of the Month" awards in far away lands such as New Zealand. 8/10 (December 2008)
STUART PENDRED : Angus Dei. (Kingsway : KMCD3073)
Following the success of his debut release, ‘Benedizione’, classical tenor, Stuart Pendred has released this stunning offering. Co-writing several of the songs, he shows that not only does he have the voice, but also the words to convey his faith. After opening proceedings with the Michael W Smith penned title track, Stuart’s mellow tones embrace ‘Prayer’, a lovely song based around the Lord’s Prayer. I’m pleased to note that with this release, the sleeve notes do contain the lyrics to the songs. And, although I do not speak Italian, it does help to read along as Stuart gives a sweet rendition of ‘Refiner’s Fire’. His vocals never falter, and songs like ‘Guardami’ and ‘Be Still’ seem to flow effortlessly with the accompanying music. What a wonderful song ‘Everything’ is. Written by Tim Hughes, once more, Stuart lifts this song to new heights and meaning. Warm vocal tones treat the classic ‘How Great Thou Art’ with true reverence, while ‘One Zero 3 is, perhaps the best of the new songs on offer. Albums like this make reviewing worth while. 10/10 (May 2011, Album of the Month)
STUART TOWNEND : Say the Word. (Kingsway : KMCD2002).
Stuart is another worship leader who has become renowned for his work, particularly, at Stoneleigh.. This is the first collection of his work that I have actually heard and, I was very impressed. One or two tracks are well known, such as "Lord, How Majestic You Are", but new songs like "My First Love" and "We Have Sung..." are just as accessible. Based on a passage from Song of Songs, "From the Sleep..." is a song of love with a signalling chorus of praise. The reviewers favourite track had to be "The King of Love", complete with it's early 80's style feel, and keyboard sounds. Start sweeps you along on a wave of p&p that carefully leads you into your own meditation and prayer. Psalm 139 provides the basis for the last track "Woven Together", and that is exactly how you feel after listening to this album. 9/10. (December 1997, Album of the Month)
STUART TOWNEND : Personal Worship/Say the Word. (Kingsway : KMCD2627)
This is a re-issue of Stuart's first two albums in one two-cd collection, and contains many of his well known songs, such as "Say the Word", "How Deep the Father's Love For Us" and "From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable". Perhaps his most well known song, "In Christ Alone" is unfortunately too recent to feature here. The first cd, "Personal Worship" suggests acoustic numbers and this is what you get. It can be difficult to create enough variety when you have just one instrument and vocal but Stuart's songs and arrangements are strong enough to pull this off effectively. For me, this is extremely well put together and is the better of the two albums. "Say the Word" on the other hand features a full band, which complements the first cd but doesn't quite have the same impact. The highlight is the title track, given an interesting and unexpected pop/funk arrangement, with the aforementioned "How Deep..." coming a close second. In summary, it is great to hear these songs performed by their original composer, one could almost say as they were originally intended, and it is certainly worthwhile having a copy of this in your collection if you don't already own the original releases. 8/10 Robin Thompson. (June 2005)
STUART TOWNEND : The Best of...Live. (Kingsway : KMCD2795)
The talented Mr Townend has made a major contribution to contemporary Christian praise and worship, including titles such as 'In Christ alone', 'How deep the Father's love', 'The power of the cross' and 'All my days'. This 2 CD set provides an opportunity to hear these plus another 27 of 'the best' written from 1995 to 2006, delivered by the man himself. The sleeve notes proclaim that it 'takes us on his journey as a writer from the early songs to the new' but they are actually mixed up date-wise, which is a shame. Stand-outs for me include 'We have sung our songs of victory' and 'Oh to see the dawn'. The arrangement of 'All my days' is particularly noteworthy, as is the bluesy 'Our God is strong and mighty', featuring an effective 'gospel choir' sound. As is usual with Stuart's output however, the majority of the tracks feature a 'sing-along congregation' - with Stuart sometimes announcing the first words of lines. I tend to find such aspects irritating in a finished recording and especially so in Stuart's case - for whilst his talents have found a particular 'home' in writing for and leading corporate praise and worship, he is a good singer and piano player and I much prefer hearing him in 'performance' mode. 'My God' with its solo intro, beautifully arranged backing vocals and excellent lead vocal delivery is an all too rare example - if my memory serves me correctly, rather than being 'live' this is the version from Stuart's 2006 'Monument to mercy' studio album. Good songs then, but less 'audience participation' would have been preferred. 6/10. www.missionworship.com. Dave Deeks (September 2007)
STUART TOWNEND : There is a Hope (Kingsway : KMCD2826)
There is a Hope is a collection of live worship tracks recorded across 2 days at the sell-out performances in November 2007 at the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine in Northern Ireland. Although his base in in Brighton, Ireland has almost become a 2nd home to Stuart hence the choice of location. The venue itself is not huge, seating around 300 & the benefits of this more intimate setting come across in the recording with a richness in the sound quality which you sometimes don't get in bigger venues. Humble the venue may be, but there was no skimping with the band, consisting of talented musicians such as the drummer Andrew Small (Massive Attack, Kylie) + Troy Donockley (Iona) on uilleann pipes, flutes & whistles, with guest appearances from US worship leaders Kelly Minter & Aaron Keyes who perform their co-written songs with Stuart. Stuart is best known for his powerful hymns & fans of this genre will not be left dissappointed with the CD comprising 14 tracks, ranging from his more well known material such as "In Christ Alone" to very recent material such as the title track "There is a Hope" & "My Soul Will Sing" (based on Psalm 103). There is a distinctively celtic feel to the CD & this does give it a slightly different feel & makes it more unique than many of the live offerings on the market which is certainly a bonus in anyone's book! Although lyrics are strong & powerful, it's unlikely to appeal to those who prefer bucket loads of zest & energy in their music, but there's plenty of useable tunes in here that will make it's way onto many a church's song sheet & which many of us will be singing along to very soon. 8/10 Simon Redfern (May 2008)
STUART TOWNEND : Creation Sings. (Kingsway : KMCD2979)
From well known lyricist, Stuart Townend, comes an album of old and new songs. It's rare to find someone with the poetry and penmanship of this man. For proof just remind yourself that 'In Christ Alone' remains the most popular song to sweeten the air of churches across the UK. A lot of these tracks were brand new to me, including 'Come, People of the Risen King'. What a start! It's really enjoyable worship, with a Celtic feel. The re-recorded version of 'Creation Sings' is uncluttered, but results in a wonderful version of this wonderful song. 'All My Days' is just full of praise, while Cathy Burton takes lead vocals on the very listenable 'The Light of the World'. There's more Celtic influences on 'O Church, Arise', and the foot tapping 'My Heart is Filled With Thankfulness'. The bonus DVD sees Stuart performing 5 songs in the studio setting, whilst the interview section gives insight into the songs themselves. All in all, a very nice package. 9/10 (September 2009, Album of the Month)
STUART TOWNEND : There is a Hope. (Kingsway : KMCD3087)
'There is a Hope' is a CD and DVD package from modern-day hymn writer & worship leader Stuart Townend recorded live in Ireland. If you think this sounds a little familiar already then you'd be right! This title was originally released a couple of years ago as separate CD and DVD and is likely to be already feature in the collection of many of Stuart's fans. With an enviable portfolio of familiar tunes including "How Deep The Father's Love" and "In Christ Alone" to his credit, there's no doubting Stuart Townend's credentials; Indeed many of us will have used his songs in corporate & possibly personal worship time. Yet in spite of all this, I have to admit though that I found 'There is a Hope' somewhat flat and uninspiring. Much as I may have tried, I just could not get in to it. As you would expect, the band and production are of an excellent standard with a range of styles featuring from very strong Irish flavour in the opening "You're the Word of God the Father" "Let the Earth Resound" to slightly rockier "My Soul Will Sing". I can imagine the appeal of this release leaning towards a slightly more mature audience...it's certainly not one for those of us who prefer a tad more bounce and energy in our music. For many, I am sure the CD/DVD combo will be great value for money although I am personally not too sure the DVD added any spice to the dish. It isn't a bad album - there's just a lot more in my CD collection that I would chose before this one. 6/10 Simon Redfern (August 2010)
STUART TOWNEND : The Journey. (Kingsway : KWCD3214)
Renowned songsmith, Stuart Townsend returns with a new album of songs, that is bound to be welcomed by all his fans. However, it may just take a few listens for some of the songs to make their way into your hearts. On first listen, there was only one stand out track for me, 'It Is Well With My Soul'. I think that it's Bryn Haworth's mandolin that plays throughout, on this medium paced foot tapper. Certainly one for the radio! So I persevered and played the album a few more times, and began to enjoy songs such as 'O My Soul Arise and Bless your Maker', which sounds a little like a country hoe-down. 'By Faith' is a celtic plodder, and comes as no surprise that it was co-written with Keith and Kristyn Getty. Ruth Notman provides some lovely vocals on the duet entitled 'The Man Who Calmed the Sea', and reprises her vocals on 'Simple Living'. The latter song compares the material things of this life with the riches that await us in Heaven. Those reader's of a certain age will remember the singing style of pianist, Peter Skellern. On 'Never Failing Love', Stuart revisits that style with piano, strings, and brass sounds providing a backing to his emotive voice. As I say, not an instant hit, but an album that is becoming more enjoyable with each play. 8/10 (September 2011)
STUART TOWNEND : Ultimate Collection. (Kingsway : KWCD3313)
This “Ultimate Collection” takes songs from seven of Stuart’s previous recordings for fans old and new. Of late, I seem to have heard lots of his Celtic style songs, so it was nice to hear some other styles too. Saying that, I’m not about to slate the happy sound of ‘Come People of the Risen King’, complete with fiddles and pipes. It’s a great song and sets the album off nicely. The live recording of ‘Across the Lands’ swings along, before there is quite a long version of ‘In Christ Alone’. What more can be said about this song that hasn’t already been said. Perhaps Stuart himself can sum it up. His thoughts on ‘In Christ Alone’ reveal his thinking that “maybe one of the reasons the song is so popular is that it can stir up our emotions but the emotion is not the central feature of the song. Because the lyrics stay fixed on the unchanging truths of our salvation, it not only provokes emotion, but engenders faith, strengthening our spirits, not just stirring our souls.” With just a piano backing ‘There is a Hope’ sounds like an old school assembly, and it made me smile. There’s the joyful sound of ‘See What A Morning’, as well as the foot tapping ‘My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness’. Both are quality numbers, while ‘Creation Sings’ just has something reassuring about it. One or two songs towards the end of the listing were rather overshadowed by the earlier ones, but I’m sure that this will be a welcome addition to many CD collections. 8/10. (July 2012)
STUART TOWNEND : The Paths Of Grace. (Integrity Music : 000768619728)
This album has a strong Folk / Country feel about it. From the opening track “Promise of the ages” which reminded me a lot of Don Francisco, probably because it has the same tune as one of his songs. (Presumably unintentionally) we go into a more Celtic feel for the next couple of songs, a similar style to Robin Mark. All of the songs are quite pleasant and easy to listen to, with several styles of music on offer, which keeps the interest up. The version of The Lord’s Prayer is quite an interesting arrangement, with some more traditional sounding folk instruments, like the flute, and possibly a Bodrahn. The album is based on Isaiah 11, when the Kingdom is established, and the Messiah has established His rule, and everyone is living in harmony, which does come across quite well when you listen to the words. If you are looking for some music with a lighter feel than a lot of the other worship CD’s out there, then this one may well be a good choice. 8/10 Andy Sayner. (July 2014)
STUART TOWNEND : The Best of…..Live. Volume 2. (Integrity : 64382)
Nearly 8 years after the release of Volume 1, comes this latest collection of songs from Stuart Townend. 26 songs are featured, and it actually surprised me that I knew so few of them. Stuart’s Celtic style has become a favourite of many over the years and it’s at the fore on ‘Creation Sings’, ‘Come People of the Risen King’ and ‘The Promise of the Ages’. The latter also has some very enjoyable fiddle playing in, too. ‘There is a Hope’ came over, more like a Wesley hymn, and I wasn’t too keen on this one. I also found it strange that some tracks had female lead vocals. One was Kristyn Getty, and I can only assume that Stuart himself was playing an instrument somewhere along the line. On ‘Oh How Good It Is’ you get the real feel of a live event, as those gathered sing their hearts out, alongside the man himself. ‘How Deep the Father’s Love’ gets brass band accompaniment but, again, there’s no credits for who it is. There’s more Celtic pipes and rhythms on ‘Let the Earth Resound’ and these sounds that I enjoyed the most. Even the classic ‘In Christ Alone’ is sung by someone else, and it left me feeling a little short changed. After all, the album title is The Best of Stuart Townend Live, not The Best of Stuart Townend, Kristyn Getty, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It’s still a nice collection of songs but my misgivings over the different vocalists took a little of the shine off things. 7/10. (August 2015)
STUART TOWNEND & ROBIN MARK : Not by Might - The Best of The Mandate. (Kingsway Music : KMCD2857)
For those of you who don't know, The Mandate is a Northern Ireland based ministry aimed at helping men to live as God intended. This 3cd set features a compilation of worship from the Mandate conferences, with the worship leaders being Robin Mark and Stuart Townend. The first cd features worship led by Robin, the second Stuart and the third is entitled 'Mandate Hymns' featuring both worship leaders. I'm not a big fan of the third cd - I prefer singing hymns rather than listening to them - and much prefer the first two. In one sense it surprises me, since it's not really groundbreaking and the sound is a little reminiscent of worship albums from the 80s and 90s but, in a marker swamped by Vineyard clones, it's actually quite refreshing. Perhaps this is largely to do with the quality of the worship leaders - I have to confess to being a bit of a fan of Stuart Townend particularly as his collaborations with Keith Getty have produced some of the best modern worship songs available. So, although I can hear the congregation a little too much for my liking on occasion, I still find that this is an eminently listenable cd. 7/10 Robin Thompson. (September 2008)
SUE RINALDI : Promised Land. (Survivor : SURCD005).
It's almost ten years since I first came across Sue Rinaldi, then playing in the band, Heartbeat. Since then, she's become better known as a solo artist and a regular visitor to various festivals. What a shame, then, that this release does little to raise the rating to no more than mediocre. The opening and last track sound very Delirious in style but are nowhere near as infectious. "Time & Again" tells of God's overwhelming kindness and forgiveness, and could be a classic. Unfortunately, instead of building into a mass of power, it drifts into nothingness before a zealous drum beat takes it down even further. "Redemption Street" is a rocky number that brings hope but the title track........! I sincerely hope that the Promised Land is better than this. No matter how I tried, the album started and ended with too few memorable moments. I sincerely pray that others find one of Britain's hardest working CCM artists album more inspiring than I. 5/10. (May 1998)
SUE RINALDI : Soundtravels. (Kingsway : KMCD2544)
This double CD collection includes songs from 3 of Sue's studio albums and a number of live tracks (some of her own songs and some classic worship stuff from other writers) recorded at various events, including 'Champion of the World' at Wembley Stadium. This kind of retrospective often proves to be a mixed bag, and this is no exception, however the good stuff here is very, very good, particularly 'Cry Mercy' and Maggi Dawn's 'I Will Wait' - two of my wife's favourite songs of all time, incidentally. Top marks too for the live recordings, which very successfully capture the spirit and atmosphere of the event at which they were recorded, especially Stuart Townsend's 'The King of Love', and possibly the best versions of Martin Smith's 'Hands of Kindness' and Jude del Hierro's 'More Love, More Power' that I have heard. On the downside, disc 1 is a little flat, in the sense that it feels a little 'samey', with no real changes in sound or feel, and the bonus video clip (from the Wembley Stadium event), whilst being a nice gimmick, is presented in such low resolution that it is hard to watch except when the picture is minute. These reservations aside, this is an excellent album - and an ideal starting point for newcomers to check out Sue Rinaldi's music. 8/10 David Cooper (August 2004, Album of the Month)
SUMMER MADNESS 2000 : True Intimacy. (ICC : ICCD48230)
This is the album that was recorded live during the Big Top Worship at this year's Summer Madness Festival, Ireland's premier Christian Youth Event. Led by Eoghan Heaslip and Ian Hannah, the recording delivers no surprises but concentrates on solid worship songs. "Shout to the Lord" opens proceedings and is followed by "Thank You For the Blood". Both of these songs are well known but they aren't just your run of the mill arrangements. Time is given for worship during the songs, resulting in expanded versions. The musicianship is quite good, without being outstanding, and those gathered certainly make enough noise to show just how well the live event went. Matt Redman's "O Sacred King" is one that I hadn't heard before but it really is a good song. Other tracks include "How Deep the Father's love", True Intimacy" and "Beautiful Saviour". A good buy for worship fans everywhere. 8/10. (October 2000)
SUMMER MADNESS: Keeping it Real (ICC)
I've been rather sceptical, even cynical about live worship albums. Not so much about their value per se, more about their value when there are so many of them. But they keep producing them, which means the public (you) must keep buying them, otherwise they'd stop. So, given all that, is this one worth adding to your collection? It was recorded at a festival in the centre of Belfast, which must have given the opening song "What Can I Do", a song of longing to praise and a longing to repent, even more poignancy at the event. It's rather well done, too: full of Celtic overtones. The rest is fairly predictable: a mix of songs (new & old) with the tracks having a more "Irish" feel (such as "How Does it Feel") being particularly strong. Of the rest, "I Will Never be the Same" is excellent. The album's well recorded and well performed. If you like live worship albums, this one will not disappoint you. 7/10 Paul Ganney (March 2002)
SUMMER MADNESS 2002 : Making your Mark. (ICC : ICCD69530)
The annual Summer Madness Youth Festival, Belfast, hosts thousands of young people from all over Ireland. Gathering to celebrate, laugh, reflect, play, pray, and to sing. This live recording of some of the highlights endeavours to capture some of the energy exuded. It's an exciting start, too, with Ian Hannah leading everyone in "No Other Name". It's a song filled with exuberance all the way through but, sadly, the band seem to get a little carried away towards the end, and the overall sounds develops into nothing more than "mushiness". "Holy, Holy, Holy" suffers from the same fault, the music all becoming a noise, rather than an accompaniment. The middle of the album is the best, with "In Christ Alone" and "God We Praise You" rising up like an almighty flame. The former really draws you into the worship for the first time, while the latter is a super rendition of an old hymn. Andy Flannagan is the other worship leader and his own "Open Arms" caused me some despair. Nothing wrong with the song overall, but it's not one that you can really get your teeth into. The verse is so "anti - singalong", yet the chorus is a real blessing. Cant' figure it out Andy, sorry. Nothing out of the ordinary, overall, but an average p&w album. 6/10. (April 2003)
SUMMER MADNESS : The Journey. (ICC : ICCD76830)
I didn't care too much for last year's Summer Madness album, but this is a great improvement overall. The worship leaders are Rebekah Sullivant, Luke Sullivant, Andy Flannagan, and I an Hannah, backed by a competent musical outfit. You know just how a live p&w album's going to start and this one's no different. "O Sacred King" comes out of the blocks like a sprinter in the 100 metres race, and fairly shoots along. Rather surprisingly though, track two slows things down so quickly. "This is the Air I Breathe" is a great, sincere rendition, and Rebekah has a super vocal track on this one. I like the album mostly, when the leaders' and band rock things up a bit. "I Will Not forget You" excited me and began to draw me into the actual event. Likewise, "Lion of Judah" and Blessed Be your Name" are filled with power. There's a very personal prayer of confession and hope called "Help Me Hold On", and that is a very special song. Sounds like Summer Madness 2003 was, a very special time. 8/10. (February 2004)
SUPERCHIC[K] : Karaoke Superstars. (inpop : POD1237)
Superchic[k] is about not caring who laughs..it's about trying new things, It's about learning to fly, instead of crawl, it's about letting go of all the bricks we carry around in our mental backpacks. Superchic[k] is about changing the world, making noise, living life to it's fullest and finding the incredible destiny that God created us for. Well, that's all taken from the band's website, and who am I to argue with that! This is a retro review really as I somehow missed out on this album last year. One thing that immediately struck me about this album was the energy of some of the songs. It's jumping up and down music in a new wave meets indie pop sort of way. "Barlow Girls" is about girls who may not have model looks on the outside, and that boys should look at what's on the inside. "Big Star Machine" follows a similar pattern through friendship and the friends we choose and discard. They're both brilliant songs and filled me with such great feeling. There's one or two moments when I didn't quite get that same feeling but Superchic[k] are so cool, they're a refreshing breath of fresh air. 9/10. (October 2002)
SUPERCHIC[K] : Last One picked. (inpop : POD1257)
The band or collective that are Superchic[k] return to blast our ears with sounds aimed at today's young people. Saying that, wasn't it this 40 something year old who made their last release his album of the month? "Karaoke Superstar" was filled with energetic, electricity, that sounded fresh and bright to my old ears. This one, on the other hand, takes a few plays before having that same effect. Then, it's halfway through before that same feeling kicks in. "One & Lonely" is about your self worth, and the feelings of worthlessness. It deals with the fact that sometimes you feel better about yourself than others. That's okay, accept it. But remember, that God loves you all the time, for who you are - not who you could be. "Hero" and "Na Na" get things really moving and I began to enjoy things once more. "Song 4 Tricia" is a two minute wonder, while "Rock Stars" is a great little number. Not as strong as the previous release but not that bad either. 7/10. (April 2003)
Superchick - Rock What You Got. (Fierce!)
Chicago's Superchick first hit the music scene supporting Audio Adrenaline almost 10 years ago, releasing their 1st album Karaoke Superstars in 2000. Since then, they have enjoyed terrific success with a further 4 albums totalling over 700000+ sales as well as having their music featured in films & even video games! They're often described as having punk/rap/rock styles but from their latest offering "Rock What You Got" I would've said rock/pop in that order - certainly no punk in the true sense that I could detect! This is a pretty energetic album with the title track being quite a poppy number with rap style vocals which for me didn't set the tone - it was a bit of an anomaly against the remaining tracks & was more V*enna style teen pop. 'Alive' follows this as an energy-packed light rock track which has some real fast-paced rock guitar & drumming which will set the pulse racing a little more! One of the best tracks on the album is 'Hey Hey' which for the 1st few seconds draws you into thinking it's a lullaby with tinkling fairy bells until it launches skyward with some pretty heavyweight "durgey" rock guitar amongst the lively american rock choruses - not a natural combination by any means but it really does work! The slower numbers such as 'Breathe' are good in their own right with some great harmonies from the girls, but they strayed so far from the style of the rest of the album I was confused - could've been listening to 2 completely different bands! On the whole, it's a bit of an oddball with such a massive variation in musical style. You wouldn't buy this for deeply spiritual lyrics, but for the rocky tracks & the enthusiasm it conveys alone, it is worth the investment. 8/10 Simon Redfern (November 2008)
SUPERHERO. (Fierce : Fiercd04)
The UK Christian guitar band scene hasn't seen such life for years. Bands like Delirious, Kato, Quench, and Superhero are all doing their stuff up and down the country. This album sees Superhero with the backing of Fierce Distribution trying to blaze their way to a wider audience. I must say that I found it a very energy filled album with a lot of aggression coming through the music. "Blame" is quite intriguing, both lyrically and musically, while the single "Stars" IS the obvious choice for an attack on the charts. But, after a while, all the songs blend very much into one another and fail to live up to the earlier promise. Not that it doesn't it doesn't have it a brighter moment - "Invisible" being a shining star in an otherwise cloudy release. 4/10. (November 2003)
SUPERHERO : Fake Lunar Landing. (Fierce)
Since their debut release, this band have, it's said, matured. What that means, exactly, is anyone's guess. The fact that each member of the band has aged slightly, goes without saying. What has happened to the band is that, for me, their sound has evolved into a more aggressive sound. Both "Secret of Trees" and "Big God" are both energetic numbers, but the production is very messy on my "un-mastered" pre-release copy, and doesn't help to create a positive start. The Press release states that the band may sound a little like Snow Patrol, and that is certainly the case on the medium paced "Goodbye". The best song by far, sees the band roll along with real power on "Don't Let the Day Escape". The guitar rhythms on this song are infectious and it's more like the previous Superhero of old. Not sure what their fans will think of this one. I, for one, wasn't too impressed. 4/10. (January 2006)
SUPERVISION : Day of Small Beginning. (Elevation : ELE0009D)
These former winners of UCAM's Best New Band, and Ultimate Events Battle of the Bands have been around for a little while, wowing audiences up and down the country. When I saw them, I remember commenting on how much like The Stereophonics they sounded, with their pacey guitar sound. Well, this album sees the boys moving on with the musical direction lending more than a passing nod to that of Placebo and Muse. With it has come a more aggressive sound which, at times, I felt was rather threatening. I'm not sure, either, if the screaming vocals actually benefited the songs or the singer himself. I found most of the songs very hard on the ear - possibly a sign of old age - and this really detracted my concentration, somewhat, from the lyrical content. However, I did pick out a couple of gems in "Small Beginnings" and "The Sound of Your Voice". The former rocks really well, while the latter is more melodic and has an instant appeal, even though it lasts for nearly 7 minutes. Personally, I found the album, as a whole, to be rather disappointing. 4/10. (May 2005)
SURE CONVICTION : The Best Of… (Get Ready Records : 664241025460).
Without any “hit songs” how do you compile a “best of”? The approach taken here is for the two founding members (Paul and Matt Liffengren) to pick their favourites and/or the ones they played the most live (which is probably the same list, really). The era does show in the sounds here (especially the drums) and the arrangements – it’s a product of its time, but has worn pretty well (unlike some retrospectives I’ve been passed). Think Heart, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi etc. “Are You There?” contains some good guitar-work punctuating the vocals; the track has a slight theatrical feel to it (Meat Loaf could have covered it, you feel) that I rather liked. The best tracks seem to come from the CD “54 and Change” (although I wasn’t too sure about some of the guitar work on “Sacrifice” – a bit too much Van Halen without quite nailing it) and overall you can see why these songs were live favourites (especially the ballad “Time Will Tell”) – although I should point out that these have been remixed for this compilation. Lyrically, “Man In The Middle/Remember Me” is probably the best – it’s a telling of the story of the thief crucified alongside Jesus. Overall? If you missed them in the 90s then this is a very good introduction. If you’ve got the original albums, you probably don’t need it (although the remixing and remastering probably gives them more polish). Best track: “Are You There?”. 7/10. Paul Ganney. (August 2014)
'Survivor – celebrating 15 years' : (Kingsway : KWCD3204)
Here we have a fifteen track CD said to represent fifteen years of Survivor Records – although the songs actually date from 1998 to 2009. If your taste is for a predominance of heavily hit drums and distorted guitar you will find much to enjoy here! With my somewhat more staid approach to worship I also found some pleasing tracks, although I did have to wait until the seventh for what I would consider to be a proper 'arrangement' – i.e. the medium-paced 'My God how wonderful You are' by Nick Herbert. The subsequent two tracks are equally well done i.e. the slower 'Extravagant Worship' nicely delivered by Vicky Beeching, and Soul Survivor's 'Love came down' with it's anthemic chorus. I had to be patient to find my stand-out – undoubtedly track 13, being Tree63 with 'A million lights' – a great song, great arrangement, well sung, with a repeating synth line that stays in your head! Then came Martyn Lazell's 'I stand in awe' – also a good song, sensitively done. Two overall negative comments however. Firstly it is a shame that no lyrics are included – perhaps it is assumed that the familiarity of most of the songs make this unnecessary. Secondly, as is unfortunately common these days, the 'heavier' tracks in particular are compressed within an inch of their lives, bringing distortion and losing most of the dynamics of the music. As with many compilations then, a mixed bag – moments of excellence but worth an average 6/10. Dave Deeks (August 2011)
SUSAN ASHTON : A Distant Call. (Sparrow/Alliance)
New name? Not to me it isn't, I'm pleased to say that Susan is one of my favourite artists. She sings in a very light country style that has tinges of early Linda Ronstadt about it. It's a good release, without it actually being a classic. Here, Susan has the likes of Wayne Kirkpatrick and Michael Omartian producing, with the former taking some of the writing credits too. 'Body & Soul' is one those, which also credits the talents of Britain's Chris Eaton. 'All Kinds of People' would be my tip for a single release, with it's strong message and catchy hook. There's a sweet ballad halfway through called ''Spinning Like A Wheel' as well as the infectious 'Send A Message' - co-written with Amy Grant. Susan Ashton sounded so fresh when I first saw her live, and she still has that edge. Another 8/10. (December 1996)
SVENTH DAY SLUMBER : Picking up the pieces. (Authentic music)
I liked this CD right from the start, it's one of the best rock albums that I've heard for quite a while. It reminds me a lot of Whitecross, especially on some of the slower songs. The track "More" has a feel of Lynard Skynard about it, and several of the tracks you could imagine someone like Neil Young singing. I have to say that there's nothing much to dislike about this CD at all. If you like straightforward no nonsense Rock music then you'll like this, it's as simple as that. 10/10 Andy Sayner (June 2003)
SWEET DELIVERANCE : Sweet Deliverance. (Acappella/Word : CD7019933602).
These 4 guys have gone back to their rock n' roll roots to come up with a release that I wasn't looking forward to hearing. Ten tracks of acappella songs? Not a synth' or drum beat in sight? What a relief it was, then, to listen to the opening "I'm Here to Tell You", with it's strong message and catchy hook. I simply loved the bass parts to "Defending Your Life", a song that puts you in front of God to defend your life on earth. Uptempo numbers are complimented well by quieter ones such as the delicious "Father, Please", and there's even a 'doo-wop' sound to "You Need Love". "Move Over" made me chuckle as it's a complete rip-off of Elvis' "All Shook Up", but it still worked well. A different sound, and a different outlook is possibly just what we need. Sweet Deliverance is on offer to you all. 9/10. (July 1997, Album of the Month)
SWITCHFOOT : Nothing is Sound (Sony EMI SPD 11383)
Buy this one...it's a corker! It's rare to start a critical review of an album in such a way, but this really is worth the spending of hard-earned cash on. From the cd going on, to the volume being cranked up high was a very short space of time indeed as the songs just scream "turn me up" at you. This is San Diego based "alternative rock" band Switchfoot's 5th studio album and builds on the success of their previous releases, although saying that their last album didn't get an enthusiastic reception from the mainstream UK press which I find highly surprising. The 12 track CD is well produced but not overdone, keeping that slightly "gritty" edge in the music, "Lonely Nation" being a good example of this. Another track which struck a chord was "The Shadow Proves the Sunshine", one of the few slower tracks, which strikes a great balance between getting the message across without delving into the book of clichés for inspiration. If you liked Nirvana, you'll love this. It's a must for my collection. 10/10 Simon Redfern (February 2006, Album of the Month)
SWITCHFOOT : Oh Gravity. (EMI : SPD 70113)
From Califorina, USA, come Grammy nominated band, Switchfoot and their brand new release. They've been around for over ten years and are instantly recognisable by their post grunge/power pop sound. Layered guitars are the name of the game and the instruments are pout to the test on opening songs like "American Dream" and "Dirty Second Hands". "Awakening", for me, is the most commercial sound and is obviously chart material. By track 6, "Amatuer Lovers", I got the feeling that there was a little New York Dolls influence creeping in, which took me back a few years! Singer, Jon foreman provides some excellent vocals throughout and his powerful sound stands out well on faster numbers like "Burn Out Bright". If I have one gripe about the album, its that many of the songs sound alike, but perhaps that's just the Switchfoot sound. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, this album has plenty of bite. 7/10. (April 2007)
SWITCHFOOT : The Best Yet. (Credential : 5099923584327)
Here's a band that have been around for more than a decade, and have 6 successful albums behind them. In total, they have sold more than 5 million units and toured all around the world. This "best yet" collection features songs from their whole career working with both Columbia Records and Charlie Peacock's Think label. After a couple of mediocre rock tracks to begin with, 'Stars' makes a splash with it's catchy guitar phrases. The lighter sounding 'This is Home', from the Prince Caspian' movie, is much more commercial, and I really enjoyed this track. I wasn't too keen on the heavier music, such as 'Dirty Second Hands', but thought that 'This is Your Life' was much better. Switchfoot have been likened to the Foo Fighters in style, but I thought that fans of Audacious may well enjoy this one. I thought that some of the band's lyrics were quite difficult to follow, but 'Company Car's' tongue in cheek look at the material world made me smile. If you've heard of the name Switchfoot, but have yet to purchase one of their albums, then this is the one for you. 7/10 (April 2009)
SWITCHFOOT : Hello Hurricane. (Credential : 509992145824)
Well, this album nearly slipped through my fingers. I'd got it out to send to one of my regular reviewer's, and then misplaced it. Luckily, I found it again, and I'm really pleased I did. This has got to be one of Switchfoot's finest releases, and there's been a few! The band have cultured a fine sound over the years, but there's a real, rocky edge to some of these numbers. Super sounding opening numbers like 'Needle and Haystack Life' and 'Mess of Me' fire off this album into high gears. The pounding drums and driving guitars are prominent on 'The Sound', and it's a good one to drive too. The lyrics are all profound, and I particularly liked 'Enough to Let Me Go', and the cry to be set free from a sinful life. If you've been longing for a good Christian rock album, then this one will suit you right down to the ground. 9/10 (February 2010)
Symphony of Psalms. Revera. (Kingsway : KWCD3208)
This album is a bit different from most of the other worship CD's I've listened to lately. The songs are all backed by a string orchestra rather than the usual band setup. All of the songs are inspired by the psalms, as the title suggests, although my favorite track is "The Lord's Prayer" so there are other influences going on here too. I haven't managed to listen to this CD all the way through in one go yet, because I fall asleep by about the fourth or fifth track. This isn't a criticism though, it's just that the style of the music is pretty much as laid back as it gets, and it is a rather good listen if you feel a bit stressed. On the sleeve notes the album is described as meditative and inspirational, which it is, just that in my case meditative means sends you to sleep. I do actually quite like this album, although it took a while to grow on me. It's nice having the proper string arrangements, rather than a synth adding a few pad sounds in the background, and on a large set of speakers the depth of the sound is quite impressive. Apart from the track I mentioned earlier there are a couple more tracks that stand out, "God be in my head" is probably the most upbeat track, and "Deep to deep" is a powerful song. There's not really a weak track on this CD, I'd recommend giving it a listen if you get the chance, though possibly not in the car. 10/10 Andy Sayner. (October 2011, Album of the Month) Forward to the next archive
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