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KINGSDOM : 'Kingsdom EP.   (https://kingsdom.bandcamp.com)

An 'alt rock' worship band based in Bendigo, Australia, Kingsdom have been releasing one track at a time since March 2017. Having reached track 4, here we have their 'EP'. The whole project is very well produced and performed. These are also well crafted songs both melodically and lyrically, featuring riffs that tend to stay with you for hours. With an overriding theme of Christian commitment, we kick off with the rousing 'Vultures', with distorted guitars and the repeating lines "It's time to let go of me, I need You more, I need You Lord". This is followed by the slower 'Voyage', - "I'll sail away into the course You've set before me" - and there is also an accompanying YouTube video for this track. At a similar tempo is the very effective 'Forged' - "Through fire and flame You forge me". The eight minute closer 'Oh Father' is a slow and reflective song of praise - "I'll sing a new song that glorifies Your name" - which manages to sound original despite featuring such a common theme, and builds to an effective climax before dropping away at the end. If pushed, I would select this track as my standout - but all four are excellent. If they can maintain this standard I am sure that Kingsdom have a great future ahead of them and I look foward to hearing how their musical ministry develops. My first 'full marks' for a long time, then! 10/10. Dave Deeks

THE COLLINGSWORTH FAMILY : That Day is Coming.   (Stow Town Records : STR3148)

This is the third album from The Collingsworth Family,  see that this long established family outfit are finally getting consistent distribution, here in the UK. With high quality vocals and harmonies, there are no surprises on this album. If you’ve heard music from the Collingsworth’s before, then it’s more of the same. The opening “Awesome, Magnificent” is a truly joyful song that is carried by those close harmonies. The ladies of the group, then, take control on the 60’s sounding “I Love Living in Love With Jesus.” I always get a feeling of happiness when listening to this family’s songs, but I would have liked to have heard one or two more faster songs in the track listing. Talking of the songs, quite a few of them are written by relative newcomer to the scene, Rachel McCutcheon. “You’re About to Climb” is probably one of her highlights, co-writing with Helga Kaefer. The vocals on this song are pure gold. Of the lead vocal talents, Olivia sings with great feeling on the ballad “Wherever You Are,”  while sister Courtney shines on “Gotta Get to Jesus.” All in all, it’s another fine release from one of southern gospel’s favourite groups.   8/10.

RICH JENSEN : Psalmody.   (https://richjens.bandcamp.com/album/psalmody)

This is Aberystwyth based Rich Jensen’s third release of the year. His previous albums have met with positive response from NFN reviewers. Of this new release, he says; “The psalms show us such a wide range of ways in which we can respond to God and our own circumstances. This album is really a little snapshot of some of these to encourage you in whatever is happening in your life right now.” Now, many have tried to turn the Psalms into modern day musical numbers, but how many have succeeded? Sadly, in my opinion, Rich’s efforts fall somewhat flat in the ratings. By remaining faithful to the wording of the Psalms, he’s guilty of creating his own shackles to his vocal delivery to a number of songs. “Dwell” (Psalm 1) is pedestrian paced, with just a keyboard and guitar for backing. Repetitive musical phrases and an occasional trumpet sound greet “Wait” (Psalm 27) but the bluesy tune soon gets tiresome. A change in musical direction comes with the 80’s Depeche Mode sounding “Ascribe”, based on Psalm 29. It’s electro-pop and does brighten up proceedings. On the other hand, Rich’s attempt at a punk styled “Shout” (Psalm 33) is quite disastrous. The vocals are extremely weak and not suited to his voice. Thankfully, Rich does show promise on the slow tempo, but  melodic, “Trust”. Musical instrumentation is kept to a minimum here, and his vocals are excellent. There are 14 tracks in all but, sadly, they don’t compare with his previous collections. 3/10.

RETA WATKINS : That Christmas Feeling.   (wwwSuite28records.com)

"I've waited my whole life to do this record," says Reta. "My father passed away 10 years ago. I loved my dad so much, and one of my fondest memories was of us singing Christmas carols together. Dad was an outstanding tenor who grew up in the heyday of the big band/jazz era. We would sit together, listening to and singing along with the greats--Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby.” With all that in mind, Reta’s Christmas album is full of jazz and big band renditions that bring great joy to the holiday season. Right from the off, Reta’s vocals are superb, whether she’s belting out “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or smoothly singing “Mary Did You Know.” Listening, you know that she is enjoying herself, and that feeling passes straight to the listener. Well known songs like “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas” are a delight to hear, all complete with fantastic orchestral backing. Quite a surprise inclusion is Reta’s interpretation of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I wasn’t sure it would work at first, but this talented singer makes the song her own. “Behold Emmanuel” begins with a delicate piano sound and, once again, the vocals are simply exquisite. As debut albums go, lovers of this musical genre will find none better this Christmas.   9/10.   

LE’ANDRIA : Bigger Than Me.   (RCA Inspirational : 889854129323)

Le’Andria is a new artist to my ears, but a well-respected gospel singer in her native America. This album marries classic gospel with some more pop orientated RnB, as on the successful title track. Carrying a musical bass line, similar to a Whitney Huston hit, Le’Andria soon shows off her big voice. On “Come Through” she harnesses that vocal prowess to deliver a sure-fire radio hit that is pleasing to the ear. “All I Got” was inspired by the death of her brother last year, and you can tell that it’s personal. The message is that even in your darkest despair, Jesus’ love can conquer all. For me, it’s the RnB numbers that I liked the most, such as the smooth “Wait on You.” What I wasn’t so keen on was the Shirley Caesar style gospel on both “Change Is Now” and “Holy Ghost.” For me, the sound is quite dated, but I understand that it’s still popular in the U.S. The big ballad on the album is “Gone Too Long”, where Le’Andria declares that she’s been gone too long from God’s presence. She sings from the heart, and is joined by a great sounding choir throughout. This is an album that will introduce Le’Andria to new listeners in Europe, and I’m sure that there’ll be plenty to add this record to their collection.   8/10.  

SOUL SURVIVOR : The Promise.  (Absolute Marketing : B074VVLY78)

This is a live worship CD, featuring Beth Croft, and Tom Smith, plus Rend Collective, whose frantic rhythms can be heard throughout the whole thing. This starts with a song called "What A Beautiful Name" which sounded quite promising to start with, a nice slow build up to what should have been a powerful worship song. Unfortunately as soon as the bass and drums come in they ruin the whole thing, as they are mixed so loud that in places they drown out the vocals so much that you can hardly hear them. Unfortunately the rest of the album is no better. I thought perhaps I was being unfair, so I asked someone else to listen, and they said exactly the same thing. Perhaps the acoustics of the venue were bad, but to be honest, nowadays when it's possible to create professional standard work with a laptop there's no excuse for it. There are some good songs on here, although like a lot of worship albums nowadays, they come over more as a concert than a worship event. It's all very polished and lacks any kind of spontaneity. The general sound does seem to feature Rend Collective's rhythmical stamp on it, so if you like that sound then you might like this CD, but for me it's a good opportunity spoiled by bad mixing. 5/10   Andy Sayner.

DISSIDENT PROPHET : Strange Days.   (https://dissidentprophet.bandcamp.com/album/strange-days)

This album opens with the dodgy-sounding title track. By which I mean it reminded me of Dodgy, so was a great start. It also reminded me of the best bits of the recent Monkees album and some of After the Fire's more guitar-led numbers with some definite Dr Feelgood chops. The album cover screams quirky yet clever and they are, in a Kaiser Chiefs meets Talking Heads kind of way. It's choppy and crashing guitars, poppy vocal lines (often drawled in a Johnny Cash style), massive choruses, neat spaghetti western-esque guitar figures (e.g. "Wait for the City") and such a tight rhythm section (e.g. "Shadowlands") and so well produced - everything is in its place never domineering but always adding to the whole. Lyrically I loved all the pop references in "Major Pepper" and faith-based lines in "Only One Name". My only negatives were that I felt "Run to the Mountains" could have had a full-on over the top guitar solo (of approx five minutes) and that it would have been a better album closer than the folk-pop "Where are you going?" (although lyrically it was probably the right choice). I was shaking my head and stamping my feet as the album played - I've no idea what the others on the plane thought but I was having a great time. I loved their two previous albums but this is just so much better than either of them. More please. Best track: Wait for the City.   9/10   Paul Ganney.

SOUL SURVIVOR : 'The Promise - Live 2017.   (Absolute Marketing : B074VVLY78)

Soul Survivor is a very well established outreach for teenagers originating in 1993 out of the 'New Wine' movement. Most CCM fans will be familiar with their 'house style'. With this being the fourth release of theirs that I have reviewed I can confirm that here we have the usual high energy live worship performances. Featuring worship leaders Tom Smith and Beth Croft but also including a couple of tracks led by The Rend Collective and a contribution by rapper Guvna B, in common with previous Soul Survivor releases the twelve tracks capture well the energy that must have been experienced by those who attended the events. Whilst the press release emphasises new songs however, I find most here to be somewhat formulaic, lacking originality in terms of melodies, arrangements and lyrics ("Jesus you're everything", "on that tree ... you died for me"). It was track 9 'Sing your glory' that was the first to stand out for me musically and in terms of arrangement, and a couple of tracks later we have Beth Croft with the beautifully sung 'What a beautiful name' that builds to an effective climax. The title track is also worth a mention ("I'm not afraid, even in the storms I will call your name"). Regrettably, as usual with Soul Survivor releases, the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired - manageable on my small computer speakers but not via reasonable headphones or my dedicated sound system, which clearly expose the extreme sound compression applied in the mastering. Some worthwhile listening therefore, but in my view not enough for a twelve tracker. 5/10. Dave Deeks

PHILIPPA HANNA : Come Back Fighting.   (Resound Media)

With much of this new album written in Nashville, Philippa has brought together a range of pop, country and gospel influences for this recording. Amongst the great stars that she’s toured with is Anastacia, and I get the feeling that a little of her style has rubbed off on Philippa. On both the title track and “Do the Unthinkable” the Sheffield starlet displays a more aggressive vocal delivery, which works well. The much played single, “Off the Wagon” is a pure delight. Already described as “Dolly-esque,” it’s a joyful country ditty describing the old adage of each time you fall, get right back up and try again. “The Hero” is a good pop song but, for me, a real highlight of the album is the poignant “Getting on With Life.” Sometimes, we get so busy in our lives that one thing we forget to do is to forgive others. As I’ve said in previous album reviews from Philippa, her vocal delivery is very much like that of Alison Krauss. Her take on the classic Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” is excellent. Great rhythms and excellent backing really makes the song stand out. On “Million Flowers” and “Always on My Mind” the backing music is stripped down to simple acoustic sounds, and Philippa’s voice is pure gold. The album topped the iTunes Country Chart on the day of its release, and it’s wonderful to hear of a UK Christian artist making such waves.   9/10.

MATT REDMAN : Glory Song.   (Universal Music : B07596G8SD)

It’s amazing to think that this is the thirteenth album from arguably the UK’s favourite worship leader and song writer, Matt Redman, a journey that started back in 1993 with “Wake Up My Soul”. Matt starts this one very strongly with a very memorable and melodic song, “All Glory” which features American gospel singer Kierra Sheard. I can imagine this one being used in a church near you very soon. In fact, there a number of songs on here that are pretty strong and may well feature as part of several churches’ worship repertoires. “It is Finished” is a resounding anthem guaranteed to raise the roof and your spirits – obviously you can imagine it as a great Easter song, but like the Easter message in general, it is a truth worth singing about anytime. The closer “Your Ways” is another on here that would be easy to learn and sing by your average congregation. It’s not just about simplicity though; for example the graceful “One Day (When We All Get To Heaven)” has a hymn like quality and a little more musical complexity. The sentiment however is simple and hopeful and for that reason, I think people will love it. It’s not a perfect album. Whilst it does strive to include different musical motifs (“Still I Will Sing” being a good example) and it is certainly a different sound to that heard back when Matt started, I think it could be a lot bolder musically. Just a little more variety and risk taking  would see this one get top marks. As it is, it fits the expected mould and it sings alongside any Hillsong or Bethel offering but what sets it apart and makes it worthy of consideration is a very good batch of songs.   7/10   Robin Thompson.

ROB PARKER : Awakening the Coastlands.   (www.robparkermusic.com)

It’s 5 years since Rob’s “Light in the Land” album, so I was keen to hear how his music had progressed since that time. Style-wise, on the uptempo numbers, it’s hard not to think of The Waterboys or Sammy Horner. On the other hand, his more worshipful songs reminded me of Michael Card. You may guess from those comments that there’s a hint of Celtic sounds within the songs, and you’d be correct. Rob says that “This album takes you on a historical yet prophetic trip around the nations of the UK, leaving you hungry for more. Indeed, on “Awake You Who Sleep,” England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all get a mention. It’s a melodic tune that benefits from bagpipes, mid-song. Ben Couper provides music from the violin throughout the album, and it’s his instrument that drives “Call to the Sea.” “You Set My Feet on Fire” is a rousing affair, that centres around being “alive in Jesus.” I can certainly see that song going down well in a live setting. Rob, then, moves into a quieter, and more reflective mood, with “Jesus I Surrender” and “Jesus Redeemer.” Both songs are well conveyed, and add a different slant to the rest of the tracks. A favourite on mine on the album is “Come Welcome the King.” It starts off quite gently, but suddenly quickens in pace as the joy of welcoming Jesus’ return is described. Here, finally, Rob’s fine guitar playing energizes proceedings. Rob’s vocals have matured well over the years, and his song writing has great depth. The theme of the album is a call for revival, and listening to this is a great encouragement.   9/10.

VINEYARD UK : Fearless.   (VineyardUK)

Live worship albums are generally a bit of a mixed bag: classics (that you already have fine studio versions of), new gems and "you'll never do this in church with only an acoustic guitar" songs; stuff that captures the event wonderfully and stuff that only works if you were there. This album is mostly songs I'd not met before, which is to its credit. How many I'd want to lead in church is a different question, but I'd certainly want to give a couple of the faster ones a go. If you've been to a vineyard event or bought one of their albums then you've a good idea what you're in for: full (pop rock) band arrangements bearing a certain resemblance to recent Stereophonics material, lots of energy (visualising the tent bouncing up and down in unison is easy), very clear vocals (male on the guitar-driven ones, female on the keyboard-led ones), U2-style slapback echo guitar riffs, simple melodies, arrangements that either start up-tempo and stay there or start quiet, build to a cresendo and then drop back, the freeform bits and the quieter ones towards the end. To be honest, an album like this does exactly what it says on the cover: you already know whether or not you're going to like it before it starts. It is one of the better ones, though, hitting most of the good bits and avoiding the pitfalls of the genre. I especially liked the arrangements on "Take Heart" and "Sovereign Over Us". Best track: Let it be known.   6/10   Paul Ganney.    

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