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.
JOHN NICHOLAS : What My Eyes Failed to See. ()
John Nicholas takes the inspiration if the likes of Foy Vance and John Meyer as he releases his latest EP. There are 5 tracks and I found most of them to be really enjoyable. The opening “What Love Is” has already gained plenty of airplay in the UK, and that comes as no surprise to me. I thought his vocals on this track were a little like Sam Smith, and the production is first class. The following “Run Away” opens with dampened guitar chords, and takes a little time to get going. However, once it does, it proves to be a winner, in a Bryan Adams sort of way. The tempo slows a little for “No Man Is An Island.” The backing is terrific, and I especially liked the well thought out ending. I wasn’t so enamoured by the simple acoustic traits of “I Care.” John’s vocals try to be both delicate and with feeling, but I didn’t think that he really succeeded here. For the closing “Rely”, John says; “Rely is based on the simple concept that sometimes in life we cannot do everything on our own, even when we really try to, you need somewhere else there to help and guide you. Looking outward and trusting in somebody who can be there for us no matter what, regardless of how independent we are. This translates the question of who we as people can rely on unless we trust in God.” This is a very thoughtful song, and John delivers it well. A good, solid release that only encourage him to make more music like this.
COLIN BUCHANAN : Colin’s New Testament Big Bible Story Songs. (Authentic Media)
Australian Colin Buchanan has recently toured the UK with his children’s show, full of songs about the New Testament. I expect that many of the songs on this album will have been sung at his concerts, attracting the younger age group of church families. Listening to these songs, I have to forget about my age, and put myself in the shoes of those youngsters that their aimed for. “The Ballad of Farmer Bill” (complete with sheep noises) tells the story of sowing seeds on he good soil to see the crops grow. The bluesy piano and guitar of “On the Mountain of Transfiguration” is a noisy affair, but I can just see the children dancing and jumping up and down to this one. Colin has to be applauded for the number of musical styles he uses during the album. From the Elvis honky tonk of “Nicodemus” to the Neil Young infused “Damascus Road”, he puts his heart and soul into everything. Of course, there’s a story to each song, and Colin’s lyrics are easy to follow and understand. The rocky “Man of the Tombs” and “Doubled-Edged Sword” get a bit manic at times, but it’s all in good fun. If you want a quiet afternoon with the children or grandchildren, this is not the album to play. But, let them off the reins and these songs will soon have them playing and singing in their element. 8/10.
NEW WINE WORSHIP : You Restore My Soul. (Integrity)
Back in 2016 I reviewed a compilation of New Wine Worship songs from the previous 20 years. So here we are two years later, and I'm pleased to report that with this eleven track release New Wine Worship are still at it! With an ever-evolving roster of talented worship leaders, the names from that 20 year compilation such as Tim Hughes and Matt Redman have now made way for the more recent ones to take the stage. Whilst we still have Nick Herbert, he is joined by Abi Johnson, Alfred Nygren, Chris Lawson-Jones, Lauren Harris, and Tom Read. All are very capable singers. My 'new find' standout on this release is Swedish pastor Alfred Nygren - on first listen to his 'What a Saviour' I scribbled the comment 'what a voice'! Abi Johnson's 'Yes and Amen' and Lauren Harris with 'You restore my soul' (the closer is an acoustic version by Tom Read) also deserve special mention. In typical New Wine fashion the songs are mostly original tunes with great hooks that stay with you, and the arrangements, production and performances are largely excellent. Downsides? The commendably Bible-based lyrics have a tendency to be generic/formulaic, and the sound on the MP3 samples supplied for review were mostly heavily compressed/distorted, robbing the music of its emotion and dynamics - hopefully the 'full fat' CD quality versions will be better. In summary? An enjoyable and worthwhile release, let down by the sound quality. 8/10. Dave Deeks
MERCY ME : I Can Only Imagine. (Fair Trade : 3621185059)
Well, what plaudits haven’t already been said about this “Very Best of” album from possibly CCM’s most popular bands? And who am I to disagree? The band say that this compilation of songs is like a “musical Scrapbook” of their career so far. There are thirteen songs on show, and it all begins, and ends, with the title track. The former version is, apparently, the one used for the soundtrack of the, much maligned, film of the same name. Personally, I liked the revisited version best, complete with excellent orchestration. “Here With Me” plods along like an old fashioned 45rpm vinyl B-side, even though it’s chorus sounds uncannily like Duran Duran’s “Ordinary world,” in parts. The best song, for me, has to be “Flawless.” It doesn’t matter what life throws at you, the cross has made you flawless.” It’s the most catchy song on the listing, and head and shoulders above the rest. Some of the tracks didn’t quite raise my enthusiasm enough to make this a ten star release. For instance, the funky “Shake” came across as a bad 80’s disco number. “Move” also failed to move me. The drum driven track seemed to lose cohesion with the vocals. On the plus side, the big worship song “Bring the Rain” works really well, with a myriad of voices joining in. An interesting track was “Dear Younger Me.” What would you say to your younger self if you could go back, with all the knowledge you have now? Superb lyrics here, and not a bad song either. So, no, it’s not a 10/10 from me, but 8/10 isn’t bad, is it?
JIM DREW : If Guitars Could Speak. ()
All 12 tracks on this album are acoustic guitar and vocal alone. As good as Jim Drew is (and he’s both a very good singer and guitarist), I did wonder whether it might benefit from a full band in places, if only to provide more sonic variety. The material is a bit C&W in approach - some of the vocal phrasing and acoustic guitar playing hints that way, although there are some moments of rock influence in line with Bryan Adams or Bruce Springsteen. On the quieter numbers the influence is more Neil Diamond, demonstrating just how well Jim Drew can sing. Thematically it’s a set of scenes of life: stories such as “This Old Guitar” about a father (presumably his), “The Lady Understands Me” and “All Your Fault” about (presumably) his wife and also includes faith-based items: the opening “Dr It Up” starts out talking about repairing/pimping cars but turns instead to patching up our lives and the way we present ourselves. These meet nicely in “Moments In Time”, which speaks greatly of forgiveness. There’s some nice melodies in here such as “Many Faces Of Fire”, in which the guitar playing is more functional, giving space instead to the vocal. Described as “soulful acoustic rock”, this is a very good album that I suspect will find great favour with fans of Bruce Cockburn et al. My favourite lyric was “he wrestled all the parasites that politics could breed” (“ITJ Loves Australia”). Best track: “Many Faces Of Fire” 7/10. Paul Ganney.
TOM SMITH : Everyday. ( Integrity Music)
This is a six track EP, and is Tom's first EP for integrity, but he was featured on last years Soul Survivor album "The Promise". The EP starts with a fairly straightforward pop song called "You in my life". it's quite a catchy tune, and bounces along quite pleasantly. This is followed by more of the same in "1000 years" before the title track, which is a kind of power ballad type worship song, this is followed by "Jesus I love you", which is another slower worship song. The EP concludes with an acoustic song called "Obey", which takes a different direction in style completely, using just a single acoustic guitar, and vocals. This is easily the most intimate song here, and is the one that I liked the most. In fact I found the last four slower tracks to be much more listenable than the faster songs at the beginning, but this is just my personal preference, there is nothing particularly wrong with the faster songs, in fact all the songs have thoughtful lyrics, and are obviously coming from the heart. All in all this is a good collection of songs, and it will appeal to anyone who likes modern pop arrangements. Definitely worth a listen. 8/10. Andy Sayner.
MARTIN SMITH : Love Song For a City. (Integrity)
Martin Smith, the man whose songs redefined worship in the 1990s with Delirious? has recently signed to Integrity and his first album for them is this one, recorded live with his band “Army of Bones” (who are excellent, by the way). The album is full of songs of which Smith says “I knew they were the wrong songs to be singing in a church on Sunday morning. But I knew they were so right as well.” Recorded over 2 years and in 20 countries, they’ve certainly been worked into the set – no recording in the studio and then working out how to play them live. They’ve been mixed together as though they’re a single gig, which helps them flow a lot. Some of these you may have heard before (“God’s Great Dance Floor”, for example and when he sings “Over the mountains, over the sea” in “Song of Solomon”) but others are new. Despite his remarks, “Come Holy Spirit” and “I Will Sing” do sound like something you’d want to sing on a Sunday morning – with a very good melody and simple words, making it easy to pick up and they repeat over and over, something like modern Taize chants. “Leap of Faith”, an edit of which is the single that was released ahead of the album, is very, very good. This is Smith as I want to hear him – band full of energy, a glorious melody and an overall feeling that the presence of God is an exciting place to be. If this were any other artist I might be critical of the very definite Delirious? influences, but as this is the man who created them, they sit perfectly with his song writing and voice. The recording here is so crisp that I didn’t believe it was live at first – until the spoken bit that was edited out of the single came in. In other places (such as “Song of Solomon”) the live-ness is evident in the way that Smith leads the congregation/audience through the song, but the recording is still just as crisp. It soars (“Jesus Only You”) and it rocks (“Leap of Faith”). Smith is back and a welcome return it is too. Best track: Leap of Faith. 8/10. Paul Ganney.
IAN YATES : Blackout. (7 Core Music)
Ian is a Christian singer/songwriter/musician from Liverpool who is building a reputation as one of the best Christian artists in the country, garnering favourable praise from respected names in the business such as Martin Smith of Delirious? and Tony Cummings at Crossrhythms. Blackout is a single release from Ian and, according to his website, is the first of 3 singles to be released over the coming months. You know what? I like it. It’s a guitar powered song with a driving rhythm, the very sort of song that normally floats this reviewer’s boat. It has a Stone Roses vibe to it, so more Britpop than rock, but nonetheless I love the aggression and attitude within the song. Lyrically it reminds me of the stuff Paul Poulton writes being intelligent and poetic with some clever phrasing. There are some good dynamics too, with a strong vocal lead and tight rhythm section. It’s bold, brash and brave and all the better for it. I can’t wait for the next two. 9/10. Robin Thompson.
DENS : No Small Tempest. (Facedown Records)
Sitting nicely in with stablemates My Epic, this is the second album from DENS after their self-released debut. The guitar work drives the overall sound and is very goth – it reminded me of Fields of the Nephilim, The Cult and so forth with its mix of distortion and chorus, together with the little riffs and flicks. The bass has a level of distortion reminiscent of the Stranglers, whereas the lead vocals are mostly sung and veer between a Delirious? worship style and more psychedelic rock a la Toploader, with occasional bursts of early Bono. The shouted stuff was just the right side of Metal in order to convey energy while still being listenable. Overall the sound comes together well and made me think of an edgy Polyphonic Spree without the shambolic stuff that dogged their work. A very enjoyable (if short) album (although it is 20 minutes, which in vinyl terms is a full side). Something I missed first time round but did like when it was pointed out to me: the first three tracks morph into hymns. It’s so well done you’d not know unless told (like I had to be) and does make sense of the description I saw that they take the “reverent nature of modern worship bands and injects it with the thoughtful brand of indie-rock”. Best track: “Deadrise”. 6/10. Paul Ganney