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SANDRA GODLEY : Reflections.   (C&C Music Group)

Coventry based, World renowned Recording Artist Sandra has released her highly anticipated sophomore recording project, 'Reflections.' A gospel favourite across the UK and around the globe, she has been nominated for countless awards, and continues to expand her reach by sharing her gifts. 'Reflections' consists of raw, emotional lyrics from the pen of Sandra that reveal her life's journey. The hills and the valleys...the heartache and happiness...the tears and the joy. And, musically, this lady has moved out of her comfort zone with a more modern approach than her previous release. The opening track “Beautiful” is such a good one to begin with. Vocally, she is spot on with her delivery, as she thanks God that He calls each and every one of us, beautiful. The style has a little dance feel about it, as does the following “Cry.”  The guitar break on “Sorry” is sumptuous, as Sandra shows the gentle side to her voice. The first single from the album is called “Grateful.” It’s a very personal song about being shunned by people for various reasons, but being so grateful that God counted her in and put His arms around her. There’s a choppy rhythm to the song, and that helped to make the track stand out. On this recording, Sandra occasionally sounds like Karen Clark-Sheard, as on the smooth “I Love Him” and “What Do You Say.” Then, on the dance orientated “Do You Believe,” I thought there was a touch Yolanda Adams there, too. It’s always nice to hear that an artist, such as Sandra, isn’t just resting on her laurels, and I’m sure that this release will win her many new listeners.   9/10.

SINGTOHEAVEN : Jesus.   (Miyeh Records)

This song is the story of a manic depressed, suicidal girl, meeting her personal saviour, Jesus. He transformed her from the darkness to light, filled with hope and light. It’s a very naive and rough recording, but there is a nice little song fighting to be heard. Most of the music is provided by acoustic guitar and some rather sparse percussion. The female singer has quite a pleasant voice, as she sings; “You are the one who taught me genuine love; I’ll sing your praises to the world.” This lady has obviously a great story to tell and, hopefully, her songs will be heard by a wider audience.   5/10.

LAST OF THE SPOKEN : Ocean of Dreams.   (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfvRDx2hL7w)

Amanda Roche (aka Last of the Spoken) describes herself as a singer, songwriter, artist & content creator, and is based in Stoke-on-Trent. How refreshing it is when new artists like Amanda release songs that immediately make you sit up and take note. A medium paced number, with electro music backing and chorus that buzzed around my head all day. It begins with the lyrics: “Oh what a feeling, now that I’m healing. Something changed in me, I’m awake and free.” I just felt that the whole thing was captivating, backed by some equally well thought out verses. More please Amanda!   9/10.

TEMITOPE : Okan.   (https://open.spotify.com/album/6O1p2XzLGBev022x8mVH7T)

Temitope (Teh-ME-toh-PEH) is a worship project. The name, originating from the Yorùbá tribe in Nigeria, means “mine is praise” which is the heartbeat of this project. Every lyric, every melody and every note is offered as a praise offering to God. Temitope “Tobi” Peters is the son of immigrants from Nigeria and England. He’s got a really nice voice, and uses the piano to great effect on this collection of songs. “Calling All” is just that – a call to all that God welcomes everyone with open arms. “God You Reign” is a simple song of worship, while I thought that “Mercy Song” made more of an impact on me, personally. He says that “These songs aren’t merely meant for listening. They are exhortations inviting the listener to become a participant.” Indeed, for personal mediation and prayer, I think these songs are ideal. “Give Me Your Eyes” is a super song, lyrically. “When I have my doubts, give me your eyes; I want to see how you (God) see me.” We all beat ourselves up from time to time, unable to see the beauty of us, as individuals. God sees us as one of His children, “wonderfully made.” The final song is a little different, as electric synth’ pads and drums greet “There Is Hope.” Duetting with Emily Hamilton, Temitope brings forward an excellent, contemporary, song that would be lost on many praise and worship album. It’s a joyous sound, with driving guitars, that join the throng and brings the EP to a close. This is definitely an artist to watch out for in the future. 7/10.

TOM READ : Falling.   (Bespoke Records)

“Falling” is the 3rd single from Tom, with Bespoke Records. I instantly liked the atmospheric backing, and Tom’s voice fits perfectly. “Your love is where you find me deep into your heart I’m falling.” In style, I thought there was an Ian Yates sound going on – and that’s no bad thing. I think that this is the best song I’ve heard from Tom.   9/10.

ABBY EATON : Anchor.   (Abby Eaton Music)

Abby tells of suffering with post-natal depression, following the birth of her son, Beau. The vulnerability that Abby felt, eventually led her to writing the title track, sharing her feelings and expressing it is okay not to be okay. She reveals: “It’s been a real journey for me. I still battle with anxiety at times but music is a huge healing process.” It’s a nice song but, obviously, has a very serious subject. “Selah” has a more prayerful sound, with delicate piano, carrying both Abby’s voice, as well as backing vocals. “We join with the angels, singing Selah. Show me what my life is for?” How many times have we asked God the same question? Millie Tilby joins Abby in asking God for help in trusting Him, on the song “Trust You.” I especially liked the uncomplicated production, which let the sweet voices sound so pure. My ears instantly pricked up with the next song. With, surely, a nod to Dolly Parton, “Go To the Mountain,” bounces, infectiously along. Telling of God’s fountain that never runs dry, and leaving all (your) fears and worried behind. It’s a song that just can’t fail to make you feel good! Finally, there’s a song that proclaims our “Awesome Saviour.” The song sums up, perfectly, how Abby personally feels about her Saviour, and has an “awesome”feel to it, too. This is another bright, British release to start the New Year.   8/10.

RIVER VALLEY WORSHIP : Hope Has a Name.   (Essential)

River Valley Worship is the expression of worship, through song, written for River Valley Church. It is led by Lead Worship Pastor, Ryan Williams, and the rest of the River Valley Church Worship team. They say; “Our music is inspired by what God is doing in our church and is our response to Him.” On the whole, the songs are very similar to Bethel or Jesus Culture. Indeed, “Edge of Heaven” sounded very much like Kim Walker-Smith on vocals. The opening “I Am Healed” begins quite gently, and sounded really good at first. My heart sank though towards the end of the song when, dramatically, a whole crescendo of instruments joined in and resulted in the sort of contemporary worship that we’ve all heard a hundred times before. It’s not to say that there aren’t any good songs on show. “Hope Has a Name” is a powerful song about fixing your eyes on Jesus, while “Your Presence” is quiet and reflective. Mid-album, the electro sounds used on “All This Time” and “Chain Reaction” made a nice change. The latter, I found to be a very exciting. The last three tracks are much of a muchness. In fact, I was quite surprised when the album finished – tracks 9, 10 & 11  seemed to all run into one. Another listen didn’t really change my mind about any of the songs. But, if you enjoy this type of contemporary worship, I guess it’s no worse than what is already out there.   6/10.

VERRA CRUZ : Stingray’s Last Stand.   (VC Records)

This is a 6-track solid rock live EP (their full set recorded at the Big Church Day Out in 2018) so it has all the energy you’d expect while lacking some of the subtler bits you can slip in while in the studio. The recording quality is top notch though and very well mixed so all elements are clear and nothing is muddied or conflicting. The vocals are strong, the melodies inviting you to sing along, the drums solid, the bass driving and the guitar a sheer tower of energy. The pieces come together in a fast and uplifting mass of excitement. Lyrically as uncompromising as the music, it’s mostly faith-based with some issue-based ones. It had the feel of guitar-driven rock from the 90s such as Black Stone Cherry and it was hard to pick a best track as all were so good – a great gig, well captured. The title comes from the sad fact that it was the last time frontman Marc James played his Musicman Stingray 2 guitar before it was stolen – I hope he found something as good (or better) to play, as he deserves it. Best track: Soul Collides. 8/10. Paul Ganney.

CASTING CROWNS : Voice of Truth – The Ultimate Collection.   (Reunion/Beach Street).

There’s no denying that Casting Crowns have become a flagship band for Christian music. My own thoughts on their previous albums have been mixed. “A Live Worship Experience” scored a 10/10 rating, while “Only Jesus” only gained a 5/10. So, what was an ”Ultimate Collection” going to rate? I’ve got to admit that I prefer the band’s guitar led songs, rather than those with orchestral production. With that in mind, the opening “If We Are the Body” and “Only Jesus” sounded excellent. “Glorious Day” finds the band at their best, in my opinion. It’s an engaging song that just hits the right note with this reviewer. “Oh My Soul” comes over in an anthemic sort of way, while I loved the ballad “Who Am I?” Of the other songs “Courageous” and “Thrive” deserve a special mention. Fans will have their own views of what songs might have been included on this release but I, for one, was well pleased with the selection.   8/10.

IAN YATES : Loved By You.   (7CoreMusic)

This new release is taken from Ian’s full-length album 'Mystery' set for an April 2020 release. Its intimate stripped back feel is, apparently, the perfect pointer of what to expect from Ian's new album. It begins as a gentle, acoustic number, with guitar and piano providing the backdrop for a song of worship. Mid-song, percussion and more instruments join in, as worship turns to praise. Ian says; “My prayer for this song is that it will minister to many who have struggled with loss, grief, pain and facing the mysteries of this life. Sometimes we don’t know why things happen and sometimes we can’t always see the bigger picture. In all that we face I pray that we can fully know this simple yet powerful, biblical truth that God is good and we are loved by Him.” Although rather different to his previous recordings, I really liked the way that the song was put together. A really good track.   8/10.

DIRE PITAN : Overcome.   (www.iamdire.com)

Dire’s music is influenced by a range of genres including but not limited to soul, contemporary r&b, contemporary worship music, hip hop, world music, etc.  His deeply soulful voice has drawn comparison to a younger Seal. This new single is quite different to his EP “Nowhere Else” that I reviewed a few years ago. Indeed, style-wise, I liken his sound to Rag n Bone Man. There are some great backing vocals, but Dire’s voice soars above them all. The song talks about life’s struggles and the singer’s declaration that (with God) he has overcome them. The song is quite short at 2:39 minutes, but the quality is very good. 8/10.

HTB WORSHIP : What a Saviour.   (Bespoke Records)

Recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall, this is the latest song from Holy Trinity Brompton’s Worship Team. Co-writer, Ann Hamilton says; “The song simply tells the story of Jesus’s victory over death and is a response to all He has done. Our hope is that this song unlocks a deeper cry of praise in our hearts, and points us to the One who is the answer to every longing felt by man – to Jesus Christ, the true King and Saviour of the world.” The gentle verses lead into a louder bridge, before launching into the big chorus. And, when I say “big,” it really does sound as if every instrument that could be found has been thrown in. The result is that the sound becomes rather mushy and, in my opinion, quite messy. In style, the performance is very much on a par with Bethel Music or Jesus Culture. Whether a studio recording would be better, I don’t know. But, for me, a song of great promise left me rather disappointed.   5/10.

CITIZEN WAY : Love is a Lion.   (Fair Trade)

Chicago based Citizen Way return with their 3rd album. My heart sank when I saw the title of the first song; “The Lord’s Prayer.” I hoped that it wouldn’t be just another rip-off, lyrically, of the sacred prayer. Sadly, my fears were realised, with a completely bland, middle of the road, pop song. I, certainly, won’t be playing that one again in a hurry. The opposite of that would be the title track. It almost steps into Casting Crowns territory, style wise, and has an excellent anthemic chorus. Vocally, I can’t fault the performances. I just felt that the majority of the songs were nothing new. Neither “Mountains” or “You Loved Me Anyway” were bad songs, but neither did they leave any lasting impression on me.  On “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” you can probably guess that the trio used part of the Lord’s Prayer again for the chorus.I may have missed the point of this album, as all the songs come with a Bible reference. But, come on guys, please try and be more original than this! 4/10.

PHIL KEAGGY & REX PAUL : Illumination.   (Strobie Records)

Phil Keaggy requires no introduction aside from to say that he is one of the most respected guitarists in the world, being cited by many as an influence. And this album shows that he’s not lost his touch. There’s solid chord work, brief perfectly in place solos (sometimes overlaid) – always leaving you wanting more, fast acoustic runs (with some nice 12-string work). The style is pop/rock of the 80s and 90s – Kansas, Journey, Gordon Giltrap, Snowy White, Joe Satriani, Yes and so forth. Lyrically it’s very faith-based and the feel is of Biblical quotes spliced together more than a story or expounded theme. It’s not the most imaginative lyrics you’ll hear, but the guitar work is. Every time I thought he’d peaked, I found out he hadn’t. If you’re a guitarist and haven’t heard Phil Keaggy then you need to. Best track: “Calling Us Home”.

9/10. Paul Ganney

KINGSDOM : Weathered Love.   (https://kingsdom.bandcamp.com)

Back in late 2017 I reviewed the 'Kingsdom EP', describing them as an 'alt rock' worship band. Apologies for that (!), as I now discover that Kingsdom is in fact the solo project of one Jarod Meadows. Hailing from Bendigo, Australia, he describes Kingsdom as "a Christian melodic rock project that explores the facets of God through reflective lyrics, maintaining a deep desire to examine human motives and experiences and release truth over the sons and daughters of the King". Here we have the latest Kingsdom release - a three tracker this time. Much more stripped back than the earlier offering (that earned a rare full marks from me), on first play it came as a bit of a surprise and I actually found myself getting bored and wanting to skip to the next track. Whilst things did improve with repeat playings and I have no problem with 'stripped back' where appropriate, in contrast to the previous release I cannot help but feel that the first two songs in particular sound more like demos than finished articles. 'Grow' brings us nearly 6 mins of almost no variation from single note/chord synth overlaid by slow piano chords and featuring lyrics that I had difficulty understanding e.g. "you're out of time, crossed that bloody line". 'Weathered Storm' is a beautiful personal psalm ("I will wait upon the Lord and His mercy") featuring finger picked acoustic guitar accompaniment with some synth and piano towards the end. Electric guitar picked chords and long synth notes begin the almost 7 minute closer 'Love has come down', continuing until almost halfway through when things transform into the Kingsdom of the 'Kingsdom EP' - too little, too late? Jarod is obviously a talented guy, but to this 'weathered' reviewer (see what I did there?!) it seems that this release would have benefited from more development. 7/10. Dave Deeks

InSALVATION : EXODUS.   (Integrity Music)

The story of the people of Israel told in the book of Exodus serves as a metaphor for Dutch worship band InSalvation’s new single and upcoming album. It’s very different to the tracks I’ve previously heard from this outfit. Previously standing as a pop/rock sound, this one comes across as a dance/Ibiza holiday track. With a cry of “We will follow you,” the chorus leads into David Guetta territory, complete with synth’ sounds. It’s quite a commercial track, only spoilt when guitars take over, towards the end of the song. 8/10.

VARIOUS : Worship Anthems 2020.   (Essential)

Worship Anthems is a unique and unparalleled series, featuring inspiring songs of worship recorded live at a wide range of international Christian festivals and conferences.This excellent collection includes songs led by Kim Walker-Smith, Elim Sound, Tim Hughes, Phil Wickham, Kees Kraayenoord, Lou Fellingham, United Pursuit and others at significant events including Worship Central, Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, New Wine, Keswick and the Jesus Culture Conference. Includes the rousing 'Raise A Hallelujah', 'Stir A Passion', 'Tremble', 'Goodness Of God', 'Yes & Amen' and many other favourite, faith-fuelled anthems. I’d not heard of the opening track “Raise a Halellujah” before. It’s a typical, high tempo praise song that starts really well. It’s a gripe of mine when the worship leader seems to think that it’s okay to repeat the same lyrics over and over again. And, sadly, this is the case towards the end of this song. Still, better things were to come, with the unmistakable voice of Kim Walker-Smith on “Freedom.” Here’s a singer who has really improved, vocally, over the years. As on many of her songs, this one sees her totally convey the passion of the lyrics. “Almighty” has that feel of “doesn’t this sound like…..?” Not one of the better songs from Anna & Simon Brading.  I felt more positive about “Living Hope” - a song so full of praise and worship – as well as “House of the Lord.” The latter was a bit of a surprise as the sleeve lyrics don’t match what is sung! Other highlights include Phil Wickham’s “Great Things” and a rather melodic version of Elim Sound’s “One.” There are 31 tracks on 2 CD’s but, unlike recent compilations, I thought that the quality of a lot of songs was rather mediocre. “Goodness of God” sounded out of tune at times, and the 8 minutes of “Stir A Passion” was totally boring. Therefore, I can only give this collection a 6/10.

THE WORLD WILL BURN : Nothing As Real As It Seems.   (www.theworldwillburn.com)

My own historical musical likes do bring something to this review. I haven’t listened to very much Heavy Metal although I did see Black Sabbath back in the day and more recently I have a CD by British metal band Stairway. I tend to listen more to Prog Rock and classic rock. So with some interest I played this release. Musically, it’s very good and well produced. I like the arrangements, metal and prog’ rock fusion in places. The guitar work is excellent,and the drums interpretation of the songs is good and nice to hear  - what a metal head would want with positive lyrics (more later). Not everyone wants Saint Cliff or Dana, but if you are looking for head banging aggressive music this is really good.Not wishing to patronise at all, the lyrics are clear, if a bit too fast to take in on first listen. (I was listening to UCB and they were playing recordings of hymns and I couldn’t make out the lyrics in those!) Their web site has the lyrics and make interesting reading, with some really great lines. In Love and Life the line ‘Love is life, without love there is no life and death is the cloak that you wear’ and in perspective in the song it reflects true confession. The more I read the lyrics the more I start to love them. As you would expect from HM there is a lot about hell – ‘No one believes in hell’ being one title, ‘Listen to the symphony’ lyrics are fantastic, the concept of ‘No on sings’ there is a line ‘Can you tell me is there a song in hell?’ and the song ending ‘No one sings in hell’ is a message in itself. ‘New creation man’ is challenging. I would recommend reading the lyrics when listening first time round and if you are not a fan of HM then just read some of the lyrics as poetry. For me just not quite my cup but as an option for HM fans this is excellent. 8/10.   Noel Donaldson.

CAT REA : Freedom Reign.   (www.stabal.com)

Originally from Middlesbrough, UK, Kat has previously been signed to various dance record labels, as well as releasing two pop albums, and performing with a Nashville Gospel Choir. This song tells of a very dark time in her life, before crying out to God. The revelation she had was a chance to leave the old life behind and start to rebuild it. The track relies heavily on a choir of great voices and well-produced percussion, to back Kat’s vocals. The press release mentions Lauryn Hill as one of her inspirations. Similarly, my thoughts turned to Mary J Blige when I heard Kat’s performance. She oozes real feeling when she sings; “I’m free again. The freedom reign, and the melodies sing. And I’ve got joy and peace and love. I’m free again.” Now, I’m not one who usually likes rap, but the mid-song inclusion, featuring Joshua Luke Smith, does add a certain something to the whole track. Well done Cat, this is a fine song.   8/10.

LUTHER BARNES & the Restoration Worship Centre Choir : Look to The Hills.   (https://soundcloud.com/shanachie-1/rev-luther-barnes-and-the-restoration-worship-center-choir-look-to-the-hills)

This is the lead single from Luther’s forthcoming album, due out in the Spring. I’ve not come across his music before but, after listening to this song, I want to hear more. Luther has a great voice and is backed by a terrific choir and musicians. Unlike the Kirk Franklin, who sometimes just hollers the odd word, this man really sings! The song tells that in all our hopes and trials, we should look to the hills. “All of my help, cometh from the Lord. It’s gonna get better for me; Look to the hills and be blessed.” It’s a song of hope and a message of inspiration, all wrapped up in an excellent production.   9/10.

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