T H E R E V I E W Z O N E
With grateful acknowledgement to: AUTHENTIC, ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN, CAPITOL CMG, INTEGRITY, McCAIN, PROVIDENCE & VERITY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS.
RECORD OF THE MONTH
ELIM SOUND : Send Revival. (Elim Sound)
Send Revival’ was recorded live at the Elim Leader’s Summit 2019 in Harrogate, UK. This is the third live album recording from the Summit capturing passionate, beautiful and raw moments of worship. And, straight away, I’ve got to say how good the actual recording is. On many of the tracks, I felt like I was part of the collective worship. (Gold Star to the production team). “Be Praised” kicks things of with an energy filled beat – much in the style of their well-known song, “One.” The lyrics to both “Send Revival” and “You Are Steadfast” are very simple but I found the songs to be very powerful for the act of worship. “You Shine” is a guitar led praise song that reminded me of Delirious? at their best, while “Glorious Day” is such an engaging track. Basically, the song is giving thanks for Jesus calling your/our name. Listening, His love literally flowed out of my speakers. There are strong vocals all around, but the female voice on “Return of the Fortress” deserves a special mention. The recording also lets you hear the audience/congregation joining in with the songs. That, in itself, is wonderful, and one of the reasons why this album stands out from the crowd. All too often, these mega-church albums come over as performance orientated. Not, this one! Take, for instance, the closing “Living Hope.” The musicians, vocalists and those gathered sound as one, worshipping the Lord. If I had to find one negative point, it was the refrained version of “Be Praised.” It may have been spontaneous, but it stuck out like a sore thumb from everything else. That said, who am I to judge? 10/10.
MARK TEDDER : Like Mercy. (7Coremusic)
This is the first single from Mark’s forthcoming album, “Psalms, Sonnets and Meditations,” and is based on Psalm 40. Mark says; “Mercy is an interesting combination of forgiveness, empathy and compassion. It’s not until we’ve hit the wall or experience trauma or pain in our lives, that we fully understand mercy.” There’s some nice slide guitar work during the introduction to the song, a laid back country ditty. Mark’s vocals have a little grittiness to them, which really stand out from the crowd. “Ain’t nobody but you can free me; You have the power to change.” We’ve all heard similar lyrics before, but Mark’s song sounds fresh and inviting. If this is a taste of things to come, then listeners are in for a treat when the album is released. 8/10.
THOMAS MUNDELL : Perspective. ()
Here’s a single release from Suffolk-based worship singer-songwriter, Thomas Mundell. In the song, Thomas asks God to change his perspective of his relationship with Him. “Change my perspective, your love changes me; Open my eyes and let me see who you are.” It’s with these words and the chorus that Thomas’ voice fits best. On the opening verse, he sounds very nervous, and the vocals do tend to go off key, at times. Musically, things are good, with some nice piano playing especially. By the time we get to the outro, the singer/songwriter is in his element vocally, and the improvement in his delivery is massive. Listening to one of his other songs, it suffers from the same vocal problem, which is a pity. “Perspective” is quite a good song overall. Perhaps, more care is needed on those quieter vocals. 6/10.
ELEVATION WORSHIP : At Midnight. (Elevation Worship Records)
Recorded live at the Elevation Church, the songs on At Midnight tell a timeless message: God is in control even when we aren’t. Pounding drums and chants begin the first song, “Gone.” From there, keyboard sounds fill the air, as the crowd join in to sing “Now my sin is gone,” as a mighty declaration of what the blood of Jesus has done for us. “It is So” is a slower number, with a female vocalist leading the worship. Following on, comes “See a Victory” – a reminder that God will fight our battles if we invite Him in. Rather off-putting is the occasional laughter by the vocalist, in a similar way that Kim Walker-Smith did, a few years ago. And, with that in mind, I felt that I was listening to just “another” contemporary worship album. I’m sorry, but songs like these just seem to be churned out without much originality. Sadly, neither “Love Won’t Give Up” or the closing (10 minute) “With You” failed to change my view. 5/10.
NOEL ROBINSON : I Surrender. (Integrity Music)
I liked the album overall. It has nice variants of styles yet retaining a consistent feel, moving from Gospel to funk/rock and calypso. I particularly liked Longing For You. In my notes while listening I wrote ‘almost sat waiting for it to arrive’ – it’s just a great track for me. Build My Life - Love the voice and takes away the predictable lyrical rhymes. The tracks for me are for corporate as opposed to individual praise and worship, very little seems a personal statement with the exception of My Heart Beats which has an acoustic start and finish, as well as fantastic pads after verse 1 until the final few lines. I Surrender, the title track, has a great arrangement and harmonies. In his notes Noel says he “wanted to sing about surrendering my will, purpose and desires”. This, I think, he has achieved yet has left it communal as opposed to about ‘Noel and Jesus’. People can dip in and be a part of the surrender as they listen and are drawn nearer to God as a result. 8/10 Noel Donaldson.
GRAVE ROBBER : Escaping The Grave. (Rottweiler Records)
Grave Robber have created a fast and furious concept album - aside from the opening, very atmospheric instrumental scene setter, it’s high speed, high energy all the way. The band are solid: riffing where they need to, powerchording and pounding where required, punctuating the chops in the rhythm accurately and together, creating a solid wall of noise that manages to be musical and uplifting without being overpowering. Vocally it’s mostly sung but there is a very dramatic/theatric tone to his voice that conjures up the Damned and Bauhaus. Overall the feel is of the Sex Pistols with Meat Loaf on lead vocals (a combination I found really good). The backing vocals are mostly chanted and fit the themes well, all riding above the band somehow without sounding like they’re fighting to be there. The tracks are all short (4 minutes is an epic for this band) and all last exactly as long as they need to - a credit to the songwriting on display. They’re not a shouty band, despite the punk label. The chorus to “Lips Of Blood” is a good example of this, being very singable (although I doubt Cliff will be covering it any time soon). I’ve not enjoyed a punk album so much for ages and will be looking out for more from this talented bunch. Best track: “Lips Of Blood.” 8/10. Paul Ganney.
SEAN CURRAN : All of Us (Live). (Capitol CMG)
This recording captures 8 live performances during a night of worship in Atlanta. It follows his “Bigger Than I Thought” release of a few months back, so I was expecting great things. Unfortunately, I found most of this EP to be mediocre at best. Songs like “Be Ready” and “All Praise” come across as raw, impromptu worship, similar to that of United Pursuit. On “Live Again” there’s a cacophony of musical instruments mid-track that is most annoying. “Good Grace” begins with the audience joining in the words of praise, and the sound is sweet. But, again, the ad-lib form of worship detracts from the quality of the song. Of the rest of the songs “The Great Migration” is probably the pick of the bunch. Sadly, I thjink that this release is one of those “you had to be there” recordings. 4/10.
APOLOGETIX : Loaded 45s. (Paradudes)
I loaded up this album with a mixture of joy and trepidation. Joy because I’ve really enjoyed the other albums of theirs that I’ve heard, but trepidation because I wondered whether they could really keep hitting the high standard they’d set for themselves. I need not have worried. For those unfamiliar with ApologetiX, they’re a “Christian parody” band, which means that they produce cover versions of famous songs with the lyrics re-written to portray biblical truths – sometimes re-telling Bible stories, sometimes conveying themes. I love the accuracy of the musical backing, the skill with which the lyrics have been re-worked to keep the rhythm of the words, keeping some and finding others that sit so well (“no-one knows ya” in place of “Nova Scotia” in “You’re So Plain” for example) as well as conveying a theme that sits so well with the new title. The titles sometimes give a hint as to the what the original song was, but others are just a complete surprise (“Talk And I’ll Walk” was not “Walk This Way” but I won’t spoil it by telling you what it really is - “Take Jude” was much more obvious). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these albums are a joy to listen to, sing along to and reflect on. There are the odd bits that don’t quite work (the falsetto isn’t quite there) but such little things are so easy to forgive. My favourite lyric was in “Take Jude” (about the Epistle): “remember it’s 25 verses long, so is this song”. Another great album. Best track: We’re Not Goin’ To Canaan. 8/10. Paul Ganney.
THE ISAACS : Favourites Revisited by Request. (House of Isaacs)
The Isaacs are a multi-award winning family group who began singing 35 years ago. The vocalists are mother Lily Isaacs and siblings Ben Isaacs, Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Rebecca Isaacs Bowman. The Isaacs have a unique style that blends tight family harmony with contemporary acoustic instrumentation that appeals to a variety of audiences. Their musical style has been influenced by many genres of music including bluegrass, rhythm and blues, folk, and country, contemporary, acoustic and southern gospel. This album takes recordings from many years and presents them in a sort of “Best of” compilation. Vocally, the group are spot on throughout the track listing. My only concern was the occasional melancholy choice of song. Both “Is Not This the Land of Beulah” and “He Never Failed Me” would fall into that category, with the former being rather depressing. On the plus side, and there are many, are songs like “He Ain’t Never Done Nothin’ But Good” and “I’ve Come to Take You Home.” The pace of the “He Ain’t Never….” Takes the song along at break-neck speed, as do the vocals. Meanwhile, “I’ve Come….” Is a lovely song that conveys the message of how God’s love can conquer all. The Isaacs are obviously very popular in their native United States, and this album would serve well for new listeners. 7/10.
JEREMY CAMP : The Story's Not Over. (Capitol CMG)
Few people familiar with the CCM scene haven't heard of Jeremy Camp. California-based, an ordained minister now with eleven albums and five Grammy awards under his belt, he consistently delivers high energy, quality rock/pop with intelligent and original lyrics. Married at 23 but soon losing his first wife to cancer, his subsequent writing drew on this tragedy and often continues to reflect a life of ups and downs. Now remarried and father to three children, he and his wife have also suffered the sadness of a miscarriage, and the title track of this latest eleven track offering is just one example of his continued honest approach to lyric writing. The only negative aspect here (that regular readers will identify as one of my pet hates!) is that, consistent with much current rock/pop output, Jeremy's vocals throughout sound to me over-processed with a saw-tooth 'autotune' edge. Despite this I found myself enjoying this album, the sound being otherwise high quality, with a cleanly recorded driving bass. Production is slick, arrangements faultless, melodies infectious, and scattered with riffs/repeating choruses that I found myself humming long after the music stopped. Overall there really isn't a poor track here. For me the 'house' beat title track is worthy of special mention however, as are 'Keep me in the moment' ("help me live with my eyes wide open, I don't want to miss what You have for me") and 'You don't' (a song about God's unchangeable nature - "Things change, but You don't") - although its 'rap' interlude adds nothing in my view. The pleasant surprise is that the track sequence keeps the best until last - the standout for me being the closer, the powerful 'Wilderness’ (with its ear worm "If you're God in the good in the promised land, You'll be God, God in the wilderness"). Long may Jeremy Camp's output of quality pop rock continue. 9/10 Dave Deeks
VARIOUS : Overcomer – Music From and Inspired by the Original Motion Picture. (Reunion/Sony)
Overcomer is a faith-based sports drama from Christian filmmaker Alex Kendrick, who also stars. The story's central theme is forgiveness, which is demonstrated on many levels -- the greatest of which is God's atonement of man's sins through Jesus' death and resurrection. This album features an array of artists, as well as four musical scores – the best being “Medal Ceromony,” in a Chariots of Fire sort of way. Koryn Hawthorne sings “Enough,” an excellent RnB ditty about finding our identity in Christ. I’d not heard of the group Bonray before, but their energetic pop style on “Wildfire” is really catchy. Tauren Wells brings back more RnB styles with “Known.” It’s a great song that declares that God knows each and every one of us. A similar theme is used by Tenth Avenue north on “Control.” Despite all our failings, God still wants us and loves us. Hillsong worship provide “Who You Say I Am” as their inclusion, before Mandisa ends the track listing with a super, dance orientated title song. Yes, there’s plenty to shout about on this album. A joy to review. 9/10.
VASHAWN MITCHEL : Elements. (Fair Trade)
“When the world is in a constant state of crisis, the soul desires comfort in the face of chaos” says Mitchell. ELEMENTS represents my heart’s response to the cry from the earth for answers in the middle of tumultuous times.” The music guides listeners to examine the fundamental principles of the believer’s walk. It serves to encourage and inspire to continually walk “by faith” allowing confidence in God to become truly foundational in the interpretation of life’s issues.
I’ve reviewed quite a number of these type of gospel albums this year, and this one stands up with the best of them. Saying that, I do have trouble understanding why, at times, the featured female vocalists scream the lyrics at such a shrill level? Vashawn, himself, leads the gathered background singers perfectly. On the upbeat “Anything is Possible,” the sound is excellent. Those singers are on top form again, on “Set A Fire.” The song quality improves as the listing goes on. “We Receive” features Monet Shelton and Samantha Howard. The lyrics tell of God bestowing His blessings on us, “more than we ask for,” and the track is delicious. I’m sure that we all know that feeling of waiting for God to answer our prayers in His time, not ours. Featured vocalist, Ron Poindexter, gives an exceptional performance on “May Have to Wait,” while Khaya Mthethwa sings well on the lovely “Oh My God.” Strangely enough, the album ends with, what I can only describe as, a gospel/dance track. It’s really odd, considering all the other songs, but is still quite good, in a Jordan Feliz sort of way. Vashawn has produced songs for other artists, such as Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Smokie Norful, but shows here that he is a powerful artist in his own right. 7/10.
BRAD ALDEN : New Soul. (Bridge Music)
L.A based Brad Alden describes this EP release as “fun songs celebrating an authentic life with Jesus at the centre of everything. I think this is the most fun we’ve ever had! Words can’t explain the joy we feel sharing songs that express our worship authentically.” There’s certainly a bright, celebratory feeling to the opening “Good Day.” Guitar led, it’s an instant feel good song about Jesus being the light of the world. “More of Your Love” has a choppy rhythm that took me back to the eighties, remembering Daryl Hall & John Oates. Vocals are crisp and clean as Brad praises his Saviour, and results in another good song. The final track is “Praise the Lord.” Although still guitar led, keyboards are prominent too. The song has a blues flavour to it, mixed with a touch of gospel. Here, I enjoyed the lyrics, but wasn’t too keen on the musical genre. However, as the old song goes; two out of three ain’t bad. 7/10.
MDSN : Who We Are. (Integrity Music)
"'Who We Are' was written to be a revelation to an insecure generation," shares MDSN about the new single, "A lot of us know who we are generally, but we don't really KNOW to the depth of what we should know. 'Who We Are' is a reminder of identity, and I'm happy to be the voice that brings it." This young lady performs this song with more than a passing nod to Ariana Grande. The style is sugar-coated pop that WILL appeal to teens, so, I’m sure that her message will be heard by many. “We are called to lift the culture out of sin’s debris; we Won’t live silently; Jesus is our everything; This is who we are.” Hopefully, we’ll hear more of MDSN (Madison) in the future. 7/10.
TORN SKY : Torn Sky. (https://tornskymusic.com/music)
This is the first album by a new band but with a decent pedigree. The Haynes brothers at the heart of the band previously comprised XD Out but due to an evolution in their sound have decided to change name. The music has indeed evolved, getting a bit gentler in tone and melody, but still with the complexity I previously enjoyed. It the metal riffs (bordering on the funky at times) which morph into guitar figures, prog-style picking, good strong vocal with singable choruses and solos that are melodic as well as powerful. There was more than a hint of Faith No More in there too (the intro to “Breathe” being a good example), but overall the sound is lighter than their previous incarnation – “On Our Way” is almost 60s Californian pop in feel (albeit with modern production and tones) – I especially liked the solo on this one. There seems to be more emphasis on the vocals as well, which is amply demonstrated by the two covers on the album: The Beatles’ “The Word” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” (which displayed some magnificent harmonies and interestingly also turned up on another album I reviewed recently by Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – 2 quite different versions). The punchy riffs of “The Fight” are possibly the strongest link to their previous material but overall they do, indeed, seem to have evolved. The album closes with a tribute to their father who passed away in 2013. It’s poignant and well done without being cloying or maudlin and contains a really good arrangement as it builds towards its crescendo. A very good album – it will be interesting to see where their development takes them next. Best track: Hope. 7/10. Paul Ganney.
THE MAKER & THE INSTRUMENT : Instrumental Songs of Worship. (Riverside Holdings)
Chris Tomlin and Tommee Proffit have teamed up to create an instrumental project called The Maker & The Instrument and just released a full album of songs called Instrumental Songs of Worship. The record is a collection of instrumental worship songs created intently to carry a listener to deeper places of worship through prayer and praise. There’s a mixture of well-known and, not so, well-known songs covered here. The mix between quieter and fuller sounds is almost 50/50 and I’ve got to admit to enjoying the former, more than the latter. A piano is the main instrument used on “Good, Good Father” and “How Great is Our God” – both sounding very nice. I particularly liked the production on “What a Beautiful Name.” It begins with a gentle acoustic guitar, before leading into a more powerful sound, late on. “This is Amazing Grace” suffers from the some of the worst sounding electronic drums that I’ve heard for some time. Very thin and tinny. FX guitars are used on a pleasant rendition of “10,000 Reasons,” while ethereal female vocals make a brief appearance on the “We Fall Down/Angus Dei” medley. The closing “Famous One” suffers from too many instruments being played at once, in my opinion, and the main tune is lost along the way. I always like the idea of an instrumental album of praise and worship tunes and, at times, this one works well. 6/10.
TOM READ : Borderless. (Bespoke Records)
“This song is a protest against tribalism, and those that would seek to divide us up” Tom reflects, “What if we choose not to accept those borders and the walls that have been put up between us. Whether you take these words literally or figuratively, I believe that our hope can be found in unity.” Listening, the song definitely gets the message across. While it was playing, my friend said; “Is that Damien Rice?” The more I thought about it, the more I agreed that there was a certain similarity. A nice refrain, mid-track, is good, and I think this is the best thing I’ve heard from Tom. I look forward to hearing the forthcoming “Reorient” EP. 7/10.
LEAGUE OF LIGHTS : In the In Between. (https://open.spotify.com/album/1TF2F8oB8op6VJSCU2k0MI)
Richard and Farrah West are better known as League of Lights. Of their new album, their bio says; “In the in Between” showcases Farrah’s sublime and enchanting vocals across 14 new original songs with a sound that makes room for electronic rock, synth pop, piano, cinematic soundscapes and everything in between. I wasn’t too impressed by the opening “Shockwave.” I found the marriage between pure piano sounds and crashing synth’ sounds to be too abrasive for my liking. The piano sound is a stand-out feature of the album, as on the track “On A Night Like This.” It reminded me a little of Robert Miles’ nineties hit “Children,” and very radio friendly. I really liked Farrah’s vocals on most of the songs, but the title track is especially good. On “Spectrometer” the rather robotic percussion took me back to the sounds of Kraftwerk, but with great orchestral pads, added. My favourite songs were “Strong Enough” and “Kings & Queens.” The former bounces along in pop fashion, while the latter has a very atmospheric feel to it. I found it difficult to find any sort of religious tones within these songs but, perhaps, “Kings & Queens” came close with a theme of passing from this world and into Heaven. So, a very different type of release from this duo and, musically, rather challenging for this reviewer. 7/10.
WE THE KINGDOM : Live at The Wheelhouse. (Capitol CMG)
We The Kingdom is a multigenerational family band of producers and songwriters comprised of Ed Cash, Scott Cash, Franni Rae Cash, Martin Cash and Andrew Bergthold. Their debut EP, Live At The Wheelhouse, is out now featuring six live recordings blending vulnerability and worship. I was instantly struck by the freshness of the songs – they didn’t sound like just another mega-church release! “Holy Water” begins with a male vocal that sounds very much like Bryan Adams – it has that sort of quality. Focussing on God’s forgiveness, the song really comes alive when multiple voices join together. There are two versions of the same song on the EP, which was a slight annoyance to me, as the live version sounded exactly like what I take to be a studio version. I just didn’t see the point. “Dancing on the Waves” is simply beautiful. A lovely piano sound carries the song along, with excellent vocals again. There’s a super energetic vibe to “Sing Wherever I Go.” It almost has a feel of an Celtic jig to it, declaring how great God has been in your life. Those gathered at the live recording shout and cheer enthusiastically, and are keen to join in throughout. The closing “God So Loved” is another joyous sound that I really liked. I hope that We the Kingdom can keep up the quality of their songs with a full album soon. 9/10.