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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


WE THE KINGDOM : Live At The Wheelhouse.   (Sparrow Records)

6 track EP by a multi generational group. Before I listened and saw the members of the band I knew recording and musicianship would be extremely high. Not surprised I was correct. What I didn't expect was to absolutely love the songs. I have recommended it already to our worship leaders!Country - country rock with one unashamedly happy clappy song (I loved it even though I wouldn't generally like happy clappy). Lyrically fresh, no predictable phrases, the do get the doxology in! Praise, worship and declaration with total focus on God not performance.If someone had asked me to listen to it just to listen I would have smiled and forgotten about it. Glad I didn't! If you like Sue Renaldi, Lou Fellingham leading worship then this is a must.Sorry for going on but this is the best I have heard for a long time and sadly I can only give 10/10.   Noel Donaldson.


XIII MINUTES : Obsessed. (https://thirteenminutes.bandcamp.com/album/obsessed)

Over a very theatric metal rhythm (it reminded me of Dream Theatre in places) sit two vocals: the guttural (but not grating) and the sung. It’s very effective and the interchanges complement the shifting music well. The guitar-driven rhythms, riffs and themes are nicely overlaid in order to create a very powerful whole. I loved the riffs in “Blue Flame” and “Obsessed” and the bass guitar work on “Water Vice” made me take notice as it shifted effortlessly from driving headlong to a brief punctuating foreground riff and back again. The gentler (for this band - there is still an undercurrent of power and potential menace about it) “Out Of Time” gives the sung vocal a chance to shine, with a nice guest vocal to bounce off as well. Lyrically they’re solidly faith-based, clearly seen on songs such as “Reckless Love” about the love of God, touching on the idea of being sought for by God as well as Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It’s a track that also builds beautifully as it emphasises its theme, working its way through the dramatic, the powerful and the powerfully dramatic, closing the album on the chorally sung “I don’t deserve it”. Solid, powerful, excellently put together. Best track: “Obsessed.”   7/10   Paul Ganney.


A MARTYR’S OATH : Ignorance Is Woe.   (https://amartyrsoath.bandcamp.com/album/ignorance-is-woe)

Opening with some heavy riffing and solid rhythmic chops, I was not quite ready for the vocal on this three-track EP: it’s spoken. Not rapped, shouted or grunted but spoken. It’s effectively a lecture on problems with evolutionary theory (and an interesting sociological viewpoint on the change in American culture since a major educational syllabus change in 1963). Musically it’s both solid and interesting. Lyrically it has a few flaws of its own but the philosophical points hold up best, the general thrust being that if we evolved from nothing then questions of the meaning of life are meaningless. I did like the point that both evolution and creation say that matter came from nothing, but one is treated as religious and the other scientific even though they say the same. I loved the music, was intrigued by the vocal but am not sure I’ll go back to it very often. Best track: The Plummet Of 1963.   6/10.   Paul Ganney.


PAUL BALOCHE & KIM WALKER-SMITH : Behold Him.   (Integrity Music)

Co-written with Mitch Wong, “Behold Him” has been released ahead of Paul Baloche's upcoming album, Behold Him, due to release February 7, 2020.  "Behold Him" calls hearts to a place of inspiration to worship and praise Jesus as well as give a sense of awe and wonder to the listener. “In a day and age when busyness and distractions rule our lives, it’s essential to ‘Be still and behold Him’…to ponder and wonder with child-like anticipation. There is much freedom in surrendering control – being still – and beholding God, acknowledging that He alone is God," says Paul. It’s a quiet, acoustic led start, and I wasn’t too impressed at first. However, when Paul & Kim’s voices come together, the whole song is lifted. “Jesus, alpha and Omega, our God the risen Saviour. Be still and Behold Him.” There’s no doubt, that this song will prove very popular with many congregations. 7/10.


THE ERWINS : What Christmas Really Means.   (Stow Town Records)

Although a new release, this album appears to be a compilation of some of their previous festive recordings. But, if you’re like me, many of you will be hearing these songs for the first time. A plus point to any festive album for me, is the fact that only two of the usual, recycled hymns and tunes -  “Joy to the World” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Standing proud amongst the other songs is “Good Will.” It’s really joyful number and shows off both the individual and collective voices of The Erwins. “Grown Up Christmas List” is sung in tenor tones but, unfortunately, there are no credits to indicate which of the two male members of the band gets the plaudits. Many of the southern gospel vocal groups seem to use big orchestral backing on their tracks, and The Erwins are no different. Certainly, on “His Name Shall Be Called” this is the case, with the music almost drowning out the vocals at times. Two songs focus on Jesus as a baby; “In the First Light” and “Ordinary Baby.” The former is quite nice, but I found the latter ballad, quite bland. The vocals were good, but the lyrics just seemed to meander along. Of the rest of the songs, I picked out “The Season of Love” for a mention. It’s quite a chirpy tune and centres on people giving from the heart, for that true Christmas meaning. Possibly a disappointing release for fans expecting something new from The Erwins but, for new listeners, a very pleasant festive album.   7/10.


VINI CONTREAS : Jesus King of Kings.   (https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/vinicontreas/jesus-king-of-kings)

This single from Nashville based Vini Contreas begins with a heavenly choir sound. From there, solid acoustic guitar accompany the sung first verse. Building on this, orchestral pads join in, carrying Vini’s voice for the chorus. “Jesus King of Kings, Help us to lift our hearts in glory to your call; And we will sing, we’ll lift our hands in praises ‘till you take us home.” The lyrics are packed with praises to Jesus, and the song does portray the magnificence of God’s own son, who came down to earth to save us. An electric guitar solo, adds a slight refrain until the powerful chorus returns once more. It’s a great sound, and one of Vini’s best songs.   9/10.


SAME BOAT MUSIC : Good News.   (www.sameboatmusic.com)

Under the leadership of Andy Harsant, the 'Out Of The Ark' music catalogue has for many years been providing quality children's Christian music for use in schools. On the associated 'Same Boat Music' label, here we have a Christmas release featuring seven best-selling tracks from 'Out Of The Ark'. Featuring as usual the considerable song writing talents of Mark and Helen Johnson, all the songs have been given new treatments with new vocal arrangements - this time incorporating children and adults singing together. Whilst I am not usually one for 'Christmas albums', I found this to be an enjoyable release. All the songs are to a high standard lyrically and musically, as well as in terms of performance and production. With regard to the latter however they do vary somewhat in approach, with some sounding 'mostly produced on a programmed keyboard' whilst others feature more obvious 'real instruments' including piano and clarinet. The first two tracks and the last one are very much in the former camp. It is the four in between where things seem to step up a notch musically and production-wise, and it is difficult to pick a standout between 'O Holy Night (stars have come out)', 'Child in a manger born', 'Hope of Heaven', and 'The Gift'. Vocals throughout are bang on the note and very 'musical' (amazingly good performances, as usual, from the children!) and sound quality excellent - even from the MP3 files supplied for review. A bit brief, at only seven tracks? Perhaps but possibly a bit picky, as to top all this it's available online FREE until Christmas Day! 8/10 Dave Deeks


MICHAEL SWEET : Ten.   (Rat Pack Music)

For his 10th solo studio Album, Michael Sweet enlists the assistance of numerous metal guitarists to guest on individual tracks. Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy), Todd La Torre (Queensryche) and Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake) are just three of those names. I laughed as I heard the opening bars of “Better Part of Me,” as its sound took me back to the first time I heard “To Hell With the Devil.” Seering guitars, that Michael Sweet vocal scream, and unmistakable solo all create a belting song. The opposite can be said of “Forget, Forgive.” A lack of substance to the body of the song leads to self-indulgence of overlong guitar solos that, quite frankly I found to be tedious. The title track refers to both the album being Sweet’s tenth, as well The Ten Commandments. It’s rather a plodding song but quite good too. “Shine” sounds more like your typical Stryper number, which is a song of encouragement. I really liked this one and it probably gets my vote for best song on the album. Rarely does the pace of the track listing drop. However, “Let It Be Love” proves that a good metal song doesn’t have to run at break-neck speed all the time. On this song, there’s even some great vocal harmonies too. If you’re wondering about the content of the lyrics, well, “Never Alone” should leave you in no doubt to the fact that Sweet’s beliefs are as strong as ever. In our life and in the words of the Bible, God is always with us, no matter how alone we may feel. It’s a similar theme on “With You Till the End,” – God’s promise. As the album closes, it’s full steam ahead with pounding drums and machine-gun rhythm, declaring that Jesus, Son of Man is coming back again. For me, one or two of the early tracks didn’t quite hit the spot. Perhaps they were too heavy for my taste. But there’s no denying that after 4 decades of rocking the world for God, Michael Sweet is as good as ever.   9/10.


MARK TEDDER : We Call you Jesus.   (7coremusic)

Oh wow, this sounds like Mac Powell and Third Day! That was my immediate thought, when I played this song. Guitar led, the song also contains some nice slide guitar too, as it “chugs” along. The overall sound is bright as Mark sings; “We call you Jesus, we call you healer, we call you saviour, we call you friend.” This is Mark’s second single from his forthcoming album “Psalms, Sonnets & Meditations.” Co-written with Nashville Songwriter Michael Farren (Lauren Daigle, Michael W Smith, Reba McEntire). It's a worship song inspired by Psalm 23. Mark says; I pray that "We Call You Jesus" is that song that brings comfort, a knowing that there's a refuge in the storm, peace in the night hours, a hope that it's gonna get better, and that certainty that He’s forever faithful’. Another top notch song.   9/10.


LAURA STORY : I Give Up.   (Fair Trade)

This 5 track EP contains some of the best pop praise that I’ve heard for some time. It is a reflection of her journey to learn that she no longer wants to be in control of her life. She wants to be rooted in the God who is in control. Discover a deeper life of worship, a fuller life of joy, and a freer life of true surrender as you open your hands to God. And give up. “Not My Life” is the first song on show. Surrendering to God, and living for His glory, is the message. The production is first class, and makes for a polished track. A piano is the main instrument behind “You Cannot Be Stopped,” although others do join in, eventually. Lyrics such as; “Jesus has triumphed over the grave,” and “Nothing can stand against our God,” remind us how grateful we should be. My favourite track has to be “Holy.” This song is a pure delight, and I simply loved it when the choir joined in to sing the chorus. “I Give Up” and “Nearness” are two slower songs, but neither lack in praise and wonder of our God. Vocally, Laura is faultless throughout, and this release features, in my opinion, some of her best work.   9/10.


CHRIS TOMLIN & WE THE KINGDOM : Christmas Day.   (Capitol CMG)

Here’s a brand new Christmas song that will light up many hearts this year. It’s a bright, mid-tempo number that swings along in both verse and chorus. The lyrics tell how Jesus came to earth. “For He is good; He was born to conquer the grave; Light of the world; The reason for Christmas Day. Musically, engaging, and those added festive bells made me think,; “Yes, Christmas is here.”   8/10.


DANNY GOKEY : The Greatest Gift – A Christmas Collection.   (Capitol CMG)

There never fails to be a Christmas re-hash of standard festive songs at this time of year. This time, it’s Danny Gokey, a guy whose voice I’ve admired over the last couple of years. And so, songs such as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Silent Night,” “ Joy to the World,” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him,” all get outing in one shape or another. Indeed, “Silent Night” gets reprise, sung in Spanish with Danny dueting with David Archuleta under the title “Noche De Paz.” The original version of the song is also a duet. This time, Kari Jobe joins Danny for a rather “Controlled” vocal delivery. It all honesty, it felt a little laboured. “Until You” is quite a good, new song. Focussing on the real meaning of Christmas morning, it’s a very good tune. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of “The Holidays Are Here.” (Don’t get me started on why the Americans can’t say “Christmas is here!) The song itself is simply twee and awful. Both the lyrics and the tune are so contrived, that I never want to hear that song again. On “Christmas Night,” Danny sounds like a late night lounge singer – it doesn’t do him any favours at all. Production isn‘t great on some songs either. Natalie Grant joins Danny for “The Prayer,” were lots of instruments are thrown into the mix. A similar statement can be assigned to “Joy to the World.” On the latter, it just sounds as if the producer has run out of ideas and then says; “I know. Let’s use more musicians!” By the closing song, I was pretty much fed up of listening. It’s not awful, but is a rather plain release that won’t be finding its way on to my playlist again.   4/10.


HIGHLANDS WORSHIP : Shine Heaven's Light (Highlands Creative Publishing/The Fuel Music)

To start with anyone who uses a full orchestra for a recording has to grab the attention. After a year or so of the release of Elvis/Carpenters/Roy Orbison with Orchestral overdubs this is refreshing. 6 tracks, a mixture of well-known Carols and new songs. The melodies remain but the arrangements are fantastic. As some carols wash over in the hustle and bustle of Christmas this grabbed my attention.Vocally very good, recording mix excellent and the band blends in perfectly. Nice beat behind O come o come Emmanuel and Born in Bethlehem (O little town of Bethlehem) with addition worship lyrics.Joy to the world with a well played funky guitar is good. Go tell it on the mountain blended in too. (A performance arrangement which features all the vocalists’ talents.) Funky Gospel?The earth stood still is new well written and arranged.Let there be peace - stomping beat with lots of whoo ohs for those like them.He has come. Gentle song well performed. Very enjoyable. 9/10. Noel Donaldson.


HEATHERLYN : Songs of the Season.   (www.heatherlynmusic.com)

Following the last summer release from Heatherlyn (Being Breathed), she returns with this intimate 3-track Christmastide tribute. It’s a deeply honest and personal solo acoustic EP , which is quite refreshing and in such a contrast to the many over festive releases. On “Winter Cardinal” she tells of the “most difficult years, living the starving artist story.” Hardly able to pay bills, or afford gifts, she even questioned her calling to make music and sing. But, Winter Red Cardinal birds kept appearing to her and reminded her of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:26. The song is quite sad, but has a wonderful message of hope. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day2 was originally written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863. Written about the American Civil War, the words are quite poignant, and Heatherlyn’s vocal interpretation is splendid. Indeed, after hearing her summer release, I instantly recognised the same high quality in her voice throughout the three songs. The final track is called “Warmth of Your Eyes.” She says that it’s been a comfort to “many folks who are missing someone they love, especially during this season.” It has to be my favourite of the three songs. Musically, I think it flows well and emanates that “warmth” that is mentioned in the title. It’s a short and sweet recording, but well worth a listen.   8/10.


BRADDA BRIGGS : Let Us Gather Round. (https://youtu.be/FpMMUhcupAE)

Written by reggae artist, Bradda, the song promotes family time and giving thanks to God. He sings that Christmas time is the best, enjoying traditional food with lots of laughter and fun. It’s a very simple tune and sadly, Bradda’s vocals do struggle at times. Sleigh bells add a festive feel to the music, but the percussion sound is some of the worst I’ve heard in many a year. The idea behind the song is admirable but the finished project doesn’t live up to the expectations. 3/10.


RILEY CLEMMONS : The First Christmas.   (Capitol CMG)

The title track to this EP is a brand new song that is a remembrance of hope in the midst of the bustling holiday season. It’s one of the best original Christmas songs I’ve heard this year. Riley has a great voice and oozes quality and warmth. One of my least favourite yuletide songs is Wham’s “Last Christmas,” so I sighed when I saw that Riley had included it here. But, what a surprise! It’s basically the same song but with a modern production and I love it. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” comes next. Again, Riley puts her own spin on this classic, which results in a very nice version. Closing the EP is her version of “Silent Night.” The basic tune is the one we all know, and Riley performs it well. Have a listen and enjoy this 4 track festive release.   8/10.  


PHIL WICKHAM : Christmas.   (Fair Trade)

The cynic in me wonders if all Christian record companies ask their artists to record Christmas classics at least once through their career? If not, then, how come I have 25 albums by “top” artists featuring “Hark the Hearald Angels Sing, Away in a Manger, and Joy to the World?This time, it’s Phil Wickham who gets the chance to sing his versions of Christmas favourites. And, to be fair, his near acoustic versions of “Hark….” And “What Child is This?” are very good. On “Joy to the World,” I simply loved it when a myriad voices joined Phil’s own vocals. I’d not heard of “This Year for Christmas” before, so I’m guessing it’s a new song. There’s a definite doo-wop feel about it, and it really did sound like one of the better festive songs around. I wasn’t so keen on his version of “Star of Wonder.” Phil’s vocals are put through some type of FX unit, resulting in a track more akin to Owl City. Without wishing to stumble over more reworked classics, the 1920’s feel of “The Christmas Waltz” deserves and honourable mention. Production wise, there’s nothing too wrong with this record but it’s lack of originality, for me, lets it down.   5/10.


CHRIS McCLARNEY : Fill This Place - Live.   (Capitol CMG)

This new EP features songs that are a call for God to take centre stage in our lives and speaks to His faithfulness in every circumstance. The opening song, “Valley,” is particularly strong. The tune drives along, yet there’s still chance for the listener to join in with the praise. More worshipful in style is “What a Friend.” I loved the lyrics; “You’ve seen me at my worst, but never held it against me.” The song tells what a friend we have in Jesus, and is pure delight. In similar vein, “Centre Stage” lifts Jesus high. Put everything else in your life into place and invite Jesus to be “Centre Stage.” Hollyn joins Chris for a duet on “I’m Listening.” I’ve always thought that Hollyn has a very individual drawl to her vocals and it works well here. For me, this music is the best I’ve ever heard from Chris McClarney.   9/10.


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