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PAUL POULTON PROJECT with JEANNIE : Heaven.   (www.paulpoulton.com)

This is Paul’s 15th album and contains 11 cover songs that have an air of 50s & 60s music about them but enough groove and ideas to let the listener know that these are present arrangements of past songs that speak of the future. For this recoding, Paul is joined by Nic Burrows on drums, Chris Smith on keyboard and bass, Jeannie sings harmonies and lead, while Paul gels everything together by playing guitars, bass, percussion, organ, lead vocals and harmonies. When I read the press release, I wondered how the album was going to pan out. However, after one listen, I knew that these songs were perfect, given their new arrangements. “Milky White Way” was a million seller, back in 1947. Here, Paul produces a shuffling, gospel number, with a sympathetic guitar solo, thrown in for good measure. “I Say A Little Prayer” is probably my favourite Bacharach and David composition and Jeannie’s lead vocals are spot on. Paul joins her for harmonies and this makes for an excellent sound.  There’s a change of sound for “I Stand Amazed.” It’s undeniably got a reggae feel and really brings new life to this classic hymn. I challenge anyone not to smile when listening to “I Believe in the Man in the Sky.” There’s a hypnotising melody and clever use of an organ to carry the song along. Other songs include Corrine Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” Stuart Townend’s “You Are My Anchor,” and George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.” I’ve been playing the album for a couple of days now, and it’s giving me a real warmth, even in this cooler weather. Paul rarely disappoints with his releases and this is another musical success.   9/10.

GEOFFREY EVANS : This Place.   (https://geoffreyevans.bandcamp.com/track/this-place-original)

Following up his EP “Paper Planes,” North Wales based singer/songwriter Geoffrey Evans is back with a brand new single. He says; “When we go through tough times our first response is usually to shout out for help, usually to God. I've found that even if we don't have faith this is where we usually end up at some point in our lives. This track is a response to that crying out.” The slow piano intro is very nice, and Geoffrey’s vocals slip seamlessly in the verse. For the chorus, things pick up a little with the arrival of percussion and guitars. I was a little put off by the strange guitar solo that seemed rather alien to the rest of the song, but that maybe the producer coming out of me. And, talking of production, Geoffrey has put great effort into for getting the overall sound just right. His EP was a bit of a struggle, but he’s learnt from his mistakes. A nice song of worship that this singer/songwriter should be very pleased with.   7/10.

JACKIE HILL PERRY : Crescendo.   (Humble Beat Records : 736211850898)

I fall for it every time. A rap/hip hop record comes around for review, and I simply can’t say no. In all honesty, I can’t remember that last recording of this genre that actually liked. But, still, I keep trying. This is Jackie’s first album for over 4 years and its theme is all about life’s journey and your walk with God. A lot of my personal problems with this record is that her lyric delivery is so fast, that can’t tell what she’s talking about. The packaging also has a total lack of song lyrics, so there’s no help there. “From the moment “Lamentations” begins, it’s a battle between my hearing and Jackie’s vocals to come together. It’s the same throughout the recording. The music plays a very simple tune, while she and featured guests such as Natalie Lauren and Joseph Solomon rap to their hearts content. “Melodies” brings some relief from the constant verbal attacks, but it’s a short measure of less than 2 minutes. “Mustard Seed” is quite an interesting number. If I’ve heard right, Jackie reveals that she’s got a therapist and bundles her way through her feelings when asked about certain questions. I’m afraid that this release has done nothing to change my mind about rap and hip hop. Maybe it’s time for me to move on.   4/10.

FRED HAMMOND : The Best of…   (Verity : 190758436029)

Multi Grammy Award winning gospel star, Fred Hammond, has been wowing audiences for over three decades. This compilation features some of his best known hits, plus there’s three brand new songs included. If it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it! That can be said of Fred’s style of music, which hasn’t changed much during my time as a Christian. He hollers over sweet backing music and choirs, as if he’s thinking “the louder I sing, the easier it will be for people to understand.” Unfortunately, the result is 12 songs that, for the most part, sound very much alike. “I’m Grateful” declares how he feels about having God in His life. There’s some nice brass backing on this track that really stands out. “The devil is defeated” is the main drive of “We’re Blessed,” with Fred giving his all, vocally. “You Are the Living Word” starts off very smoothly, both musically and vocally. But, just as I was starting to enjoy the sound, Fred’s voice booms it’s way over everything and almost drowns out the backing. Most of you will know the praise song “This is the Day.” This version starts off well enough but diffuses into three tunes, all being sung at the same time. It’s quite bizarre! But, let me repeat myself. Fred’s been doing it this way for over thirty years. And proved by all the awards and popularity, he must be doing something right. If this type of gospel is for you, then introduce yourself to Fred Hammond with this “Best of…” album.   7/10.

JERUSALEM : Warrior.   (Retroactive Records).

Originally from 1982, this is the era of Jerusalem’s music that I recall best – just the track listing takes me back to Odell and sitting in a field enjoying a rock band that barked their faith at you over a compelling set of distorted guitar riffs. They were one of a number of bands doing this sort of thing – most of them Scandinavian – but listening to this material after so long, they have stood the test of time well (and probably better than the others that I also remember fondly). The remastering has cleaned up the sound a bit, but the source is still the same: crunchy guitars, solid bass, pounding drums, tight guitar solos (the twin lead on “Man Of The World” is especially good – it’s also the track with the best soaring synth lines). “Ashes In Our Hands” has a strong Quo boogie about it which I liked a lot. There is quieter acoustic stuff on here too, but it’s the in-your-face rock material that stands out. Not that it’s a one-riff album: there’s loads of variety within the genre to enjoy here, from the boogie to the riffs to the atmospheric and over it all some of the boldest declarations of faith and challenge you’ll hear outside of mainstream worship. Check out “Sodom” for a great display of layered songwriting and arrangement with an interesting take on the theme. If you are considering one of the Jerusalem reissues then I’d suggest that this is the one to start with. “It’s Mad” (about the fall of Jericho) stuck in my head for weeks, but was narrowly beaten by Best track: “Man Of The World.”   7/10.   Paul Ganney.

JASMINE MURRAY : Fearless.   (Fair Trade : 736211851291)

This is former American Idol Finalist, is Jasmine Murray’s debut album. It’s full of modern pop/dance moves that are reminiscent of Ariana Grande. From the opening “No Other Love” the album is full of encouragement to love and trust Jesus as your Saviour. That opening song is a wonderful piece of work. Keyboards and rhythms are excellent, and the song is every bit as good as those topping today’s secular charts. The title track has already been a massive hit Stateside, and I can see why. The song announces that Jasmine wants to be fearless in her walk with Jesus, whatever it may bring. It’s not just the dance songs that stand out though. Both “You Belong” and “Every Step” turn into big, powerhouse ballads, with this young lady showing the full range of her vocal prowess. The ten track album closes with two more accessible radio tunes, “Who You Love” and “Rest of My Life.” This is a great debut, and just a pity that the album only lasts for 33 minutes. Jasmine Murray is one to watch.   9/10.

APOLLO LTD : Out Of Body.   (Residence Music)

A modern pop EP with bags of energy, it kicks off with a chorus (“Heaven”) so hi-NRG it threatened my speakers. This EP has a magnificent production ethic: everything is there for a purpose – that opening, the bass line in “One In A Million”, the Beatles-ish keyboard on “Tired Of LA”, the Queen-like bassline on “Man I Used To Know”, the falsetto “All Right!” on “Supernatural”; they’re all there to lead your ears into the song and make sure they don’t leave. There are riffs and flicks all over the place, making this far more sonically interesting than me calling it “modern pop” might lead you to believe. But is it more than a glossy surface (albeit one that’s several inches thick)? It certainly is. The songwriting and performance is top notch. Modern pop, of course, survives on two things: the chorus (very singable, especially “One In A Million”) and whether it makes you want to dance (not me, but I can easily visualise others doing so). The overall sound reminded me a lot of Tears For Fears (production), early Take That (melodies) and Thomas Dolby (the way they use the keyboards) – very 80s stylistically, but brought bang up to date sonically giving rise to comparisons with the likes of Jason Derulo and The Wanted. I found it never let up and craved for a breather – others may be glad it never dips. Best track: “One In A Million”.   7/10.   Paul Ganney.

HOMEGROWN WORSHIP : First Fruits.   (www.homegrownworship.com)

Regular readers to the NFN blog cannot have missed out on the chance to hearing brand new songs of worship from the pen of Chief Enthusiast, Andy Baker. It’s a devotional journey and one that aims to share songs on a daily basis in a variety of styles, genres and languages from churches, writers and artists all around the world. “First Fruits” is a collection of those songs. The variety of styles is there for all to see, and it kicks off with the Matt Redman infused “Fill Up the Skies.” It’s a joyful sound and one that’s well delivered. I thought that “Back to Life” had rather a weak melody, but “Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength” is quite the opposite. A slow, song of worship, it focuses on the lyrics “Lord, you are worthy of my love.” A good, standalone song is “Ready.” I wasn’t too sure about it being right for corporate worship, but it has to be my favourite of the album. Andy’s vocals are sound, throughout, and fit the songs really well. “Home” and “Have Mercy” are two more good songs as the album comes to a close. It’s taken a lot of time, effort and faith to get Homegrown Worship to this place and I’m sure that there’s more to come.   7/10.

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