T H E R E V I E W Z O N E
With grateful acknowledgement to: 7CORE MUSIC, AUTHENTIC, CAPITOL CMG, ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN, INTEGRITY, McCAIN, PLANKTON, PROVIDENCE & VERITY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS.
RECORD OF THE MONTH
JENN BOSTIC : Take My Hand – Part 1. ()
Originally released last November, this is a six song EP, including five songs from a forthcoming album, as well as an original Christmas song, Tell Me Again (Immanuel). All the songs. were co-written with Lauren Christy (Avril Lavigne Jason Mraz, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears). The flavour of this release is rooted in praise and worship, but with a gospel element, too. I was taken by Jenn’s vocals when I reviewed her music for the first time, a few years ago. Now, at times, that voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand up! The opening title track is one such track. A slow, Dido-esque number, it’s a beautiful track. If that song was good, then, “wrestling” is truly amazing. I played it to a neighbour, who said “Is that Pink?” Beginning with just a piano backing, Jenn’s description of “wrestling with her faith” almost brought me to tears. A truly moving song that is lifted even more by the introduction of orchestral sounds. “God of Big Dreams” sees a choir consisting of singers from TV’s The Voice backing Jenn, in a gospel declaration of God’s greatness. I would love to see this song performed live, as I can easily visualise everyone joining in, as one. Bostic speaks openly about her faith and shares her vulnerability too. The gentle “Praise You,” unashamedly shows the singer’s love for God, while the closing “Tell Me Again” marvels is the wonderment of the holy night, when our Saviour was born. Being honest, this release took me a little surprise. I knew the quality of Jenn’s previous releases, but this is even better. The co-writes are certainly bringing out the best of the partnership, and production is first class. A super release. 10/10.
ANNA BENTON : Seasons E.P. ()
Anna says; “I wrote these songs a little over 3 years ago and began the recording process, but when my husband and I became foster parents we decided to press pause on the EP. After fostering our precious boys for the past year, we knew it was time to finish the EP. I’m praying that these songs will bring hope to those who feel like there’s not a way out. I know there’s someone who is broken-hearted, desperately needing to hear this truth.” Acoustic guitars take the lead on the title track, and what an uplifting number it is. It almost comes over as a bit of a hoe-down, praising Jesus as our Saviour. I really liked this song, but was slightly dismayed by the thin brass accompaniment. “The Story” is a more mellow number, sung as a duet – I’m assuming that it’s Anna’s husband providing the male vocals. Again, it’s all praise to Jesus, who brings hope to the hopeless, rest to the weary, and comfort to the broken. Anna possesses a strong voice and there’s terrific feeling in it, as she sings “Good, Good Love.” The closing “I Know a Father” begins as a quiet, reflective song that looks at our Father in Heaven, a Father for all. “He knows you. He sees you’re hurting. So just keep moving; with Him you’re free.” As the song builds, the glory of God the father is there for all to see, and hear. Just the four songs from Anna on this release, but they show great promise for the future. 8/10.
STILLMAN : Whisper. (The Creak Music/Integrity Music)
Jacob Stillman aka Stillman brings this 6 track EP to the table, after serving in various churches in the U.S as a worship leader. The title track is quite catchy, in a Danny Gokey sort of way. There’s a commercial pop feel about both it, and the following “Draw Near.” The latter tells of God and His wish for us to draw near to him. Stillman’s vocals become a little more aggressive on “Shook.” Thumping percussion and snyth’ rhythms rattle along, as the backdrop, on a track that I wasn’t too keen on. There is a definite theme to these songs – getting closer to God. The closing “Wherever You Are” is almost a prayer to find that closeness. I thought that this was the strongest track of the six, and enjoyed the FX vocal sound. A solid, if not mind blowing, release that I’m sure Stillman will build on. 7/10.
MATT REDMAN : Let there Be Wonder. (Integrity Music)
Any release by Matt Redman is looked forward to and a live recording is what has been offered in this recent release. Everything you would expect from Matt; good vocals, competent musicians, good recording and quality songs. The recording has 13 live songs, plus a single. Overall for me, there is too much reverb throughout. The audience was in the mix, rightly, and seemed to be on board with the songs. No songs stood out although my favourite was Send me Lord, - though I struggled with the 'singing oh oh oh oh, send me Lord' bit. I struggle with the oh oh oh oh bits in most songs, as it alienates part of the congregation who don't understand the requirement to include this and the 'whoa whoa's' in modern worship. There’s nothing lyrically too deep and I can imagine many charismatic churches, like mine, picking a few songs out for their services. One thing that did make me wonder was the chorus in 'We praise You' - 'This is what living looks like, This is what freedom feels like, This is what heaven sounds like.' I found it a bit presumptuous but to put it in perspective I included Matt’s own comments at the end of this review. The issue I have with such releases is you do not get the visuals of what is happening. Are people lost in worship? Are lives being changed? Are people being left out, seeing others in worship and not connecting with God? I guess you had to be there (as God was). The album is of good quality, if a bit samey, and for people who connect with God through this type of worship it is great. Matt says in the accompanying press release; “Worship songs will never be able to paint the full picture of God’s glory, but it’s so important that we aim high and give our best effort to conveying Him as fully as we can. When we do this, it’s much more honouring to God, and it’s much more helpful for us. My hope and prayer for this new record is that we’d find ourselves caught up in the life-giving worship of the true and living God. Let there be wonder!” Fair comment Matt. 8/10 Noel Donaldson.
ANDREW ROBINSON : My House. ()
Andrew is a singer-songwriter, based in Bedford, UK. Released at the end of January, this track came to my attention via social media. Andrew has quite an old fashioned vocal delivery, that doesn’t always sit right with the Cutting Krew sound of the 80’s. He writes songs about life and faith. The chorus to this one follows a predictable pattern, considering the title. “My house will stand, it’s made by your hand. My cornerstone, my welcome home, my resting place.” That’s not to say that it’s a bad song, but a little more originality in the lyrics, wouldn’t go amiss. Music-wise, the backing sounds programmed, and rather monotonous, courtesy of repeated phrases & percussion. However, I hope that Andrew will continue to write songs, and improve his skills as he progresses. 5/10.
20LB SLEDGE : Electric Exodus. (Bronze Serpent Media)
This album has been described as “funk-leaning with a nu-metal undercurrent” and I am not one to disagree. Lyrically it’s very clearly faith-based, with a clear vocal explaining their beliefs and encouraging you to share them (or at least investigate them). The vocal is half-rapped in the style of Linkin Park and Run DMC, with some nice sung parts (especially the choruses). There is very good guitar work moving effortlessly between grungy chords, effected picking and metallic riffing (the wonderfully named “Trauma Sutra” has possibly the best one, although the subject matter – date rape and human trafficking is not as light). All this is underpinned by very solid imaginative drumming and between these two layers sits the bass: at times pounding at times funk-slapped yet always sitting solid, occasionally leaping to the foreground then dropping back. There are some very good rhythmic shifts and chops – “Death Buster” being a great example, with its nu metal feel and prog-style (think folky Yes) middle section. It builds well too, showing a maturity in the musicianship. For another great example of this, listen to “Club Dead Walker” where all four parts are playing different rhythms yet the sum of the sound is solid and driving. It’s all very impressive and then they mesh into unity before moving apart again – great stuff. I really enjoyed this album – it has power, speed, energy, musicianship and enough twists and turns in the songs to keep you interested and listening. Best track: “Death Buster”.
8/10. Paul Ganney.
KANE ADAMS : Undercurrents. ()
At 14, Kane Adams discovered the two biggest loves of his life: music and God. The music he produces is very poppy, in the style of latter-day Take That meets Tom Chaplin with a sideways glance towards Coldplay, meaning that the overall effect is very atmospheric and by no means throwaway. There are ringing guitars (drifting slightly into U2 territory), solid but not foreground drums and bass, strings (or keyboard pads), over which lies a clear vocal with some held soaring elements. Kane has a pleasant vocal with enough edge to avoid being bland. He’s also strong enough to hold things on his own, as the stripped-back “Captain” demonstrates. Lyrically the songs are experiential describing his relationship with God (as you might expect from the first sentence of this review). The arrangements are good, building then dropping then moving in order to keep the listener interested. There are, of course, the big singalongable choruses- “Midnight Promise” being possibly the best. There’s some good understated solo instrumental work too, especially on “Telescope” that sits well within the song, without taking over. Overall, this is a decent album with some very good high points that invites repeated listening. Best track: “Love Goes On / Undercurrents”
7/10. Paul Ganney.
MARK TEDDER : Stay. ()
Quiet acoustic guitars introduce Mark’s voice to this pretty, little song. The vocals, in fact, are very gentle throughout, even when other instruments join in. The lyrics are inspired by Psalm 27, which tells us that the Lord will hide us, keep us and hear our cries. In my opinion, it’s a lovely song for meditation, and the break gives the listener the chance to add their own words of prayer. 8/10.
CASPAR McCLOUD : Game Changers. ()
America’s minister and rock musician, Caspar McCloud, returns to the scene with a brand new album featuring 10 tracks, all written by the man himself. His previous releases have shown his love, not only for God and Jesus, but the incredible guitar solos that are a trademark of his records. The opening “Kingdom of Darkness” is a bit of a plodder. Distorted guitar sounds lead the way, with solid drums provided by Carlos Merced. Caspar’s vocals are as individual as his guitar riffs, in that they are instantly recognizable to listeners. To get a taste of what I mean, imagine a Stryper musical sound, but without a more melodic Michael Sweet. That’s what I thought about “Under the Blood.” A song about our sins being washed away, it also includes a terrific guitar break. On “We Shall Be Changed,” I detected a more progressive rock sound to the production. Similarly, “Jesus First” would fall into the same category. After some consideration, I thought this sound landed somewhere in between Deep Purple meet Tangerine Dream. (That shows my age!) For rock fans who like a bit of head-banging, “Highway to Holiness” is the one for you. Turn it up loud, and you won’t be disappointed. Funnily enough, I wasn’t so keen on the title track. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it didn’t seem to have the same edge as other songs. “Beautiful Feet” is a fine instrumental track, again, showing off this guitar virtuoso’s talents, while the closing “Heavenly host” has a lighter sound. Here, Caspar pays homage to the Father, Son & Holy Ghost” in a simple song of praise. Caspar always releases a good selection of songs but, for me, this album has the edge over his previous one. 8/10.
IAN YATES : Forgiven. ()
This is Ian’s second single release from his forthcoming album, “Mystery.” Ian has become quite a maestro of the contemporary electro/praise song, and this one has quite a kick. ‘Forgiven’ is a celebration. Celebrating and declaring that we have been forgiven, that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus and there’s nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. The tempo is just right for people to join in with the praise, and I really enjoyed playing the song again. 9/10.
MANDISA : Overcomer – The Greatest Hits. (Capitol CMG)
Mandisa’s singing career really took off after competing in the American Idol competition in 2006. In 2013 she won the Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for Overcomer at the 56th Grammy Awards. This is the first time that I’ve really heard a collection of her songs, so I listened, expecting great things. The title track is absolutely stunning. The message is “don’t quit, don’t give in, you’re an overcomer,” and the exciting beat reminded me of songs from Ariana Grande. “Bleed the Same” is a song that joyous reminds us that, whatever our skin colour, we are all the same inside. On this tracks, Mandisa shares the vocals with Toby Mac and Kirk Franklin. “Unfinished” and “Stronger” carry on the excellent quality of songs on show, and these are followed by the feel good track “Good Morning.” Celebrating waking to to a brand new day, with Jesus by your side,” Mandisa’s vocals soar, while Toby Mac provides a rap mid-song. I never liked the song “Shackles (Praise You”) and Mandisa’s version didn’t change my mind. Of the rest, “He is With You” is a nice reminder of God’s love, while “Voice of a Saviour” is a ballad that closes the album perfectly. Why I’ve never had the chance to review Mandisa’s music before, I don’t know. But, better late than never, and I’m impressed. 8/10.
TAUREN WELLS : Citizen of Heaven. (Capitol CMG)
Being new to Michigan-based Tauren Wells, I browsed the 'net whilst listening to this new release and discovered Tauren to be the former frontman of the American Christian rock band Royal Tailor. This outfit evidently picked up Grammy nominations and the Dove 'New Artist of the Year' award over a five year, two album career. Solo since 2016, this thirteen track 'dance/pop/rock' release is Tauren's second full length album - and it's a good one. Here we have great melodies, infectious hooks, slightly (but effectively) processed lead vocals, excellent production - and good sound! Tauren is a very capable vocalist who soars effortlessly into falsetto, with spot-on timing and loads of 'funk' when the occasion demands - which is often! Kicking off with the very enjoyable title track and followed by the joyful 'Like You love me' ("Nobody loves me like You love me"), as the album continues it is evident that this is a classy release featuring not only great music, but also great songwriting ability. My top track is the extremely funky and tight Michael Jackson-ish 'Miracle' ("I thank You for every miracle"), and my two other standouts come before and after this. 'Done' ("Thank God I've been forgiven, it is done, done, done"), and 'Until Grace' ("I didn't know I could be free until Your grace found me") are both slow but effective builders. The power ballad 'Love's worth the fight' is also worthy of special mention, and 'Carry on' is an appropriately chosen closing track ("I know Your hands are there right there holding on .... I need You to carry on"). There are, though, a couple of downsides. I found Pastor Stephen Furtick's spoken 'Prelude' introducing the subsequent track 'Closer' to be simply an irritating interruption, and the gimmicky delivery of 'Millionaire' doesn't sit well against the general excellence of the album. These apart, I look forward to hearing more from Tauren Wells. 9/10. Dave Deeks.
TINA BOONSTRA : Out of My Depth. ()
Industrial percussion greets the listener to this new song from Tina Boonstra. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. The whole song seemed to come over as if Tina was a very angry person. In fact, that is the case! When you listen to the lyrics, you find that Tina has had to rise to many challenges. The sparse, but almost detuned guitars add to the singer’s fury. She says that the song is about a “a period in my life when just getting out of the house felt like an insurmountable challenge. I was in a set of circumstances that I felt ill-equipped to deal with and worst of all, I felt like I was dealing with them completely on my own.” The song pulls no punches, as Tina gives a vocal performance reminiscent of Avril Lavigne. 7/10.
JEREMY CAMP : I Still Believe – The Greatest Hits. (Capitol CMG)
In anticipation of the release of the Jeremy Camp biopic, I Still Believe, on March 13th, this Greatest Hits collection has been released, which includes re-recorded versions of “I Still Believe” and “Walk By Faith.” If you’ve never heard Jeremy’s music before, this is a super introduction to his music. “dead Man Walking” is the first song to play. Released as a single last year, it’s still as powerful 12 months on. The lyrics tell of the journey of walking without God, to walking with Him. “Word of Life” is a strong song, but “My Defender” is even better. Jeremy sings of being saved by the blood of Jesus, and knowing Him as Saviour. “Walk By Faith” and “He Knows” reminded me of Third Day songs, in style, and both are very good. Jeremy’s vocals suit each song perfectly, whether on the uptempo numbers, or slower ones like “Same Power.” There are 15 tracks here, that take you on a journey, mapping Jeremy’s career. And, even if you are already a fan, having these songs all together is a must for your collection. 9/10.
NATASHA OWENS : Treasure. (Radiate Music)
Winner of NFN’s Album of the Year Award for 2019, Natasha returns with her new single.
It’s a lovely, bright intro, before Natasha begins to sing a medium paced pop ditty.
Synths and keyboards provide most of the backing, as she sings “You’re the treasure in my heart; Oh how wonderful you are; Only you satisfy, Jesus, you are the prize beyond measure; You’re my treasure.” On first listen, I was a little disappointed. But it’s one of those songs that grows on you, after a few plays. 8/10.
CHAOS CURB COLLABORATION : More Than Anything. (https://www.facebook.com/chaoscurb/)
To quote the publicity material, "Chaos Curb Collaboration is a music project led by Dave Griffiths. Formed in 2012 with a vision to create 'different sounding' worship music, with an outward looking focus in the lyrics, the collaboration also brought together musicians from across the UK". Released in 2014, “the debut, self-titled album garnered much praise from the Christian press and the live version took to the road that year in the UK and overseas”. It’s been a while in coming then, but here we have the follow-up single. With an effective melody, it features female lead vocal with male harmony and long synth wash chords, underpinned by drums n’bass. Sound quality, performance and production are all excellent. Lyrics of this simple worship song major on the repeated phrases "Lord you know I want You more than anything, more than anything I want You. Lord you know I love You more than anyone, more than anyone I love You". At 6min 23secs it is perhaps a tad long and repetitive, but it is beautifully executed and most certainly worth a listen. 8/10. Dave Deeks.
BRIGHT CITY : Change. (Integrity Music)
Brighton-based worship movement Bright City are back with single hinting that new horizons are being explored by the team as they head into a new decade. The song was recorded live at St Petr’s Church, were Worship Pastor Paul Nelson says; “"We believe that evening was a prophetic moment laying the ground for the next season in our city. That night we lifted up a shout of praise in the heart of Brighton and we believe it opened up a way for a move of God in our city." The song is a bit of mid-tempo plodder, that centres around the phrase, “We can see a change coming.” There’s some nice keyboard sounds that carry the song along, while the vocals fail to really set it alight. To me, it sounded rather dull as a standalone song. With Paul Nelson’s comments in mind, I guess that you had to be there to appreciate it. 5/10.
AARON V GRAHAM : Guiding Light. (https://open.spotify.com/album/1XIjyPNd6pPLM7Vd7shaKu?si=6mJf55cLT4qQMd MaY7pwzg)
Northern Ireland based singer/songwriter, Aaron V. Graham has been recording music since 2003. However, it’s really in the last 3 or 4 years that his songs have reached a greater audience. Now signed to American label, Raven Faith Records, “Guiding Light” is his latest release. Aaron describes his style as rock worship, and that’s certainly the case on the opening “Come Holy Spirit.” Chugging guitars accompany the rock beat, on a really catchy song. The vocals are excellent, as Aaron asks the Holy spirit to “touch our lives, once again.” “Powerful Cross” is a little more sedate in sound, but “Let Go, Let God” latches on to that rock sound again. I’m not sure if it’s Aaron, or his producer, Felipe Gonzalas, who plays the guitar solo, but it reminded me of Richie Sambora at times. A couple of songs sounded rather odd additions to the track listing. “Psalm 86” and “So Near, Tet So Far” both sound like old fashioned hymns, in lyrics and vocal delivery. However, neither seem to sit comfortably with the rock orientated, musical backing. I smiled to myself when the intro of “Found” began. The guitar sounded as if it was about to burst into Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” However, it doesn’t, and the song really rocks with Aaron’s impressive vocals taking centre stage. A nice change in tempo comes with the piano led “They That Wait.” Based around Isiah 40:31, it proves that Aaron can turn his hand to writing more than just rock songs. A little tighter production here and there might be needed but, on the whole, a solid release with some great tracks. 8/10.
JOHN SCHLITT : Go. (4K Records)
For those unfamiliar with the name, John Schlitt spent many years as lead vocalist with Petra, before embarking on a solo career (he’s also singing for a couple of bands, so you may have met him through one of those). He therefore has a long and rock-solid pedigree. This is his first album of original material for seven years, so was it worth the wait? Schlitt’s vocals are as strong as ever – clear and powerful, holding his own over a hard-rocking band. The band vary a bit track to track, but feature some very good guitar work, both rhythmic and lead (“Feel It” has a very good solo) and some great keyboard work (the line through the chorus of “Let’s Go” lifts it beautifully), with very solid bass and drum work underpinning it all. Song-wise Schlitt retains his good sense of singable choruses – “Go” is a good example of a song that seems to have peaked and then suddenly throws in a massive chorus. Lyrically the songs are very faith-based along the lines of “this is what I have found and believe” (for example, “Where Would I Be” which is very testimonial). There are some nice arrangements to the material that keep you interested and listening (e.g. “Feel It” which kicks off feeling it’s going one way, then swings another, then back again and then rocks out big time). There is a penchant for long blues-style rock riffs that reminded me of Led Zep (from early eras (“Takin’ It Higher”) to later (“Fake News”)) and ZZ Top. The only downside for me was “Fighting The Fight”, which felt a bit ballad-by-numbers and had rather more lyrical clichés in it than I liked (mind you, others say it’s their favourite track…). There’s a good mix of styles and influences too – the “Spirit in the sky” styled riff of “Just Let Go” is going along nicely when they slip in some Beach Boys style harmonies, which lifts the song at just the right moment and then there’s the West Coast vibe a la CSN&Y in places (most obvious on “Find A Way”). Each track has its moments (even that ballad) and overall this is an album that grooves along very nicely with some very good flourishes in there. An album deserving many repeat listens. Best track: Fake News. 7/10 (would have been 8 but for that ballad). Paul Ganney.
InSalvation : Exodus. (Integrity Music)
Exodus is the brand new album from InSalvation and is out now. Dutch worship band InSalvation after the release of this new album they will then lead into a two-nation tour across the Netherlands and Belgium. This is the first release from Netherlands InSalvation through their work with Integrity Music. Exodus is aptly named and echoes the story we are all so familiar with of the Exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land. A theme on the lips of many prophets around the world today that God is going to set his people free and move us into the promised land. How that freedom will be accomplished we will see in time. But many feel on the horizon of a great move of God toward this true freedom. Exodus is a breath of fresh air with a collection of differing eclectic tracks and soundscapes being added into the worshipping arena. "It is an album of conviction and clarity, showing further growth of the Dutch collective that started almost fifteen years ago and has since grown into one of the leading worship bands in the Netherlands".
We have all experienced a lack of freedom in our lives at one time or another with a great yearning to move from that place and away from the bondage in whatever that may be and moving across to the promised land. The world is aching for that move at this time as we see everything groaning awaiting a fresh move of God towards the promised land. Jafeth Bekx the lead singer has said “Everybody has an ‘Egypt’ in their life, We can leave it behind and join as one people, making our way to the land, representing the future that is promised to us.”
The album features some amazing co-writes from Ian Yates, Kees Kraayenoord, Matt Hooper and Tom Smith, this wonderful collection of tracks will be heard far and wide on the forthcoming tour.
The producer Trevor Michael has crafted some wonderful soundscapes on this album with many standout tracks including "Holding Onto Your Love" heavily drenched in worship to "Let The Heaven's Be Open" which features Leeland as worship leader. The album has a very personal feel in the track "Await" which is a testimony track that was inspired by Jafeth and his wife Sifra when they experienced the difficulty of knowing whether they would be able to have a baby. "All Eyes On You" and "Banner" hit you with powerful proclamations. These tracks and lyrics will inspire and create a new experience of God within you.
Treat your heart and ears to this amazing album and may your Exodus be just on your horizon. Be strong and wait for the Lord. 9/10. Vivienne Neville.