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
THE CITY CHURCH : Thankful Hearts. ()
'The City Church' hails from Canterbury and Whitstable, and this 11 track release is the first one by their worship group, under the direction of worship leader Olly Knight who also plays a major part in lead vocals. I say 'first one' as on this evidence I would trust and assume that we'll be hearing more! We kick off with the title track, an exception here with its female lead vocal, and this upbeat number sets a high standard for the rest of the album with its great lyrics and melody, and a chorus hook that stays with you for hours. 'Come let us sing' continues in a similar vein, this time with Olly on lead (a minor point, but I wish he wouldn't take a breath in the middle of high-yest!). 'Because of the cross' is just as strong, and then comes my standout track 'Mercy' with its shared vocals - the whole essence of the Christian gospel presented in an extremely effective way. 'Risen King' maintains the high quality of this album - the way in which Olly and his friends can come up up with such a progression of excellent melodies, hooks and performance is truly impressive. The band are capable and tight with a drummer like a metronome but with fills (that's a compliment!) and I found there was an essential 'musical' quality to the whole album that is hard to put a finger on but I'm sure many will know what I mean when they hear it. Continuing into the slow paced 'Jesus is the Lord of all', a simple but truly beautiful song, we then have the equally attractive 'Strength of my heart' with its female vocal and effective climax. Following 'You are the Christ', the next two tracks are where the album slips a bit, (although listeners of a certain age may like to listen out for the Duane Eddy guitar on 'Risen indeed'!), but the long and slow building closer 'Holy is the name' certainly redeems things and leaves you with the impression that you have just listened to an album of real class. It is rare in my reviewing experience that songwriting, production and musicianship are so consistently good. To top it all, sound quality is clean and undistorted - a little dull sounding on my hifi system but perfectly acceptable, and suiting my small bookshelf streaming system very well. One of the best albums I've reviewed this year and a definite 10/10. Dave Deeks
UNITED PURSUIT : Garden – Live. (United Pursuit)
It’s only 6 months since I had the displeasure of reviewing the original “Garden” recording. Then, I’m afraid that I found little to be positive about the songs. This live version is recorded, warts and all, but I’m not sure why? Vocals may be sincere in their praise but all too often, they’re painfully out of tune. Music is sparse throughout, often relying on the incessant strumming of just one guitar chord. Then, we come to the lyrics. Now, I understand that the United Pursuit sound is meant to be raw and spontaneous but repeating the same phrase a dozen or so times, does not make a song! “Heart is My Home” lasts in this style for over 7 minutes, and I found it painful to listen to. When I mentioned the warts and all recording, it includes the sounds of drumsticks falling to the floor and a thunderstorm raging overhead, during two tracks. ”Take Emptiness Away” is so unimaginative that emptiness did seem like the better option. And, if I thought that was bad enough, nothing prepared me for nearly 10 minutes of someone shouting “I long for your river,” which made up, practically, all the of song “One and Only.” By the time I reached the second disc, I was ready to wave the white flag and surrender. However, I stuck with it and was treat to more of the same. I don’t enjoy being negative about Christian music, but I just don’t understand what United Pursuit are hoping to achieve by releasing this album. 1/10.
BACKROOM STEREO : The One. ()
Backroom Stereo aka Mark Tiddy returns with a high energy ditty about love. In fact, I love the introduction to the song. Great, driving guitars in a sort of Blink 182 way. The musical theme continues throughout as Mark sings “You were the one I was waiting for; You are the one my heart was needing.” It’s amazing what love can do, and this time it’s resulted in Backroom Stereo’s best work yet. 9/10.
Straight after reviewing “Nichey” (last month’s NFN) I turned to this album by the same band, hoping for more classic songs expertly rendered but with rewritten lyrics to tell Biblical stories and themes (for background, read that review first). I was not disappointed. “Can’t Buy Free Love” addressed my comments on their ability to produce a convincing 60s sound. The riffs are spot on (“Ignorant Song”), the lyrics brilliantly reworked (“An Old King In The New Age” from “Anarchy In The UK” and the aforementioned “Can’t Buy Free Love”) and the overall feel was joyful. Too many bands that have tried this sort of thing make the error of losing the rhythm of the lyrics which are such an important part of the overall sound. This lot nail that side of things brilliantly (especially in “You Gotta Go”). This is a very competent bunch of musicians at the top of their game, well recorded and great to listen to and admire. A special mention is deserved of the guest vocal on “You Gotta Go” doing a very convincing Alanis Morissette – so good that when I played it to my wife it took a while for her to realise that it wasn’t her. There’s the odd one that doesn’t quite work as well as the others, but that just serves to show how high a bar they’ve set for themselves. Buy both and treat them as a double album then hurry to find more – they’ve a mere 54 albums on their web site to choose from. Best track: You Gotta Go. 9/10. Paul Ganney
KORYN HAWTHORNE : Enough. (Provident/RCA Inspiration)
Billed as an up-tempo summer song “Enough” was written for the soundtrack for the movie Overcomer, and focuses on finding our identity in Christ. Koryn Hawthorne says this song comes from a place of asking ourselves: “Who am I when I take away my gifts, my abilities? Do I still know who I am? You’re still enough because of his love… Your identity is in the love of God.” This is gospel RnB at its best, in my opinion. Style wise, Koryn’s delivery is similar to Tasha Cobbs. The song has a great melody and the rhythms are superb. I’ve not come across Koryn’s music before, but I’ll look forward to hearing more in the future. 9/10.
SPRING HARVEST : Newsongs for the Church 2019 – Unlimited. (Essential Christian)
This series continues to bring new songs, written by both new and well-known songwriters and artists. For 2019, this Cd contains 11 songs for use in the church today. First up is a bright musical introduction that lends more than a passing nod to Tim Hughes in style. Written by Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham and Jonathan Smith, “Praise Him Forever” is exactly what you’d expect from such a writing team. Nice and energetic, yet not too fast so that you can’t singalong. “Who You Say I Am” swings along, while I found “Hallelujah – Lives in Me” to be rather dreary. Certainly, the same cannot be said about “Hope Has a Name.” This is a good song, with a powerful chorus, and excellent production. With the emphasis on the vocals to carry the song, Lou & Nathan Fellingham are joined by Sam Blake as co-writers of “Wonder of the Cross.” Again, the quality of the writers shines through on a wonderful song. Sam Bailey and Matt Redman’s “Love All Along” follows in similar vein, quality wise. Not quite so well-known artists, such as David Lyon and Allan McKinley, also stand out. Their song “Companion” stands out due to the simplicity of the musical backing. I, sometimes, tire of Hillsong and Planetshakers who seem to think that the more instruments they include, the better the song. Here, the song is all the better for less instrumentation, resulting in a terrific song of praise. All in all, plenty of food for thought, if you’re looking for some new songs for your church. 8/10.
DONALD LAWRENCE PRESENTS THE TRI-CITY SINGERS : Goshen. (RCA Inspiration)
This release is Donald Lawrence’s 25th Anniversary project, commemorating the years since his debut “A Songwriter’s Point of View” way back in 1993. Donald says: "To pray Goshen is to pray God's supernatural protection for you, your loved ones, and those connected to you. May God's Goshen be with you. In the hard times we are living in today, we pray Goshen over you! "Although I, sometimes, struggle with gospel music, I think that I’ve mellowed over the years. For instance, I loved Marvin Sapp’s 2018 release, “Close,” and Fred Hammond’s “Best of…” album. Here, track after track features excellent vocals from the backing singers. What spoils numerous songs is the thing I loathe the most, incessant hollering and wailing by the featured vocalist. Why do they do it? At times I can’t even tell what they’re supposed to be singing! The title track features Donald, speaking over the top of the choir. Mid-song Sheri Jones-Moffett takes over, screaming like a banshee. Why? “Jehovah Sabaoth” starts off so sweetly but eventually suffers from the same fate. For part of the song, Sir the Baptist raps over “He Heard Me Cry.” Then, there seems to be a battle between a couple of vocalists, to see who can shout the loudest. On “YHWH” there’s some more great vocals form the backing singers, when they sing; “I speak your name, every time I breathe.” Their voices are a real delight. Did I like any of the songs? Yes! Blanche McAllister Dykes’ delivery of “The Voice of the Blood” is superb. Unlike others on the album, she’s in control of her voice and each word can be heard. And so, I return to the question that bugs me over gospel releases like this. Is there any need for the whooping, screaming and hollering, when the lyrics are inaudible? Answers on a postcard……..4/10.
ZACH WILLIAMS : Rescue Story. (Provident)
Zach Williams is back with his first single from his next album – “Rescue Story.” The song tells Zach’s testimony and will remind listeners that nothing they do will ever be greater than God’s grace because He sent his son to rescue us from all of our sins! Indeed, Zach begins the song with a vocal quality that cries to Jesus. “And now where would I be without you
Where would I be? Jesus.” The song has a mid-tempo pace and builds with the added addition of some great backing. From that initial cry in his voice, Zach praises Jesus for all He has done. The result is a very personal song that I’m sure many of us will relate to. 8/10.
THE FAMILY TABLE : Conversations Around the Family Table. ()
This Norwich based collective are a creative agency that tells “better stories” and collaborates with like-minded creatives to produce excellence. Whether it's through film, music, photography, writing or design – “we connect the right story with your audience.” There are six tracks on offer here, divided into four folk style songs and two spoken word, with musical backing. The latter see the Rev. Ian Mizen recite rhymes, were the theme revolves around the kitchen table. This, he says, is the ideal place to welcome people and share our faith, amongst other things. “Home” is a slow, plodding number, sung by Ben Lawrence. “Come home my tired child, [and] lay your head on my shoulder.” Nice words and nicely sung. Sarah Bullard sings the title track, with some excellent violin and other acoustic instruments. Her vocals are crisp and clear, and she repeats this performance on “Veins of Life.” This song appears to be a reminder to spend time with God, so that your life is enriched by His presence. The tune is good, and the musical backing, once more, is first class. “Hollywood” sees Lawrence return to vocal duty. Here, sings a warning to those who believe that the “Hollywood lifestyle” is the one to aspire to. The recording has quite a raw and honest sound, and I like the feeling it gives. I would compare this release, loosely, with those made by United Pursuit. However, in my humble opinion, The Family Table achieve much more with this recording. 6/10.
AMY SYMONS : The Journey. ()
UK based Amy Symons has been singing and writing songs from a very young age. In 2012, she was part of the group, Nova, who released “Shine Your Glory,” and played at many Christian festivals. This solo debut features five contemporary songs, originally recorded under the name of Amy Sanders. “The Great Shepherd” begins with a bright keyboard sound. Production is very good, as Amy sings praises to Jesus, complete with catchy chorus. This is followed by lyrics well-known to us all; “you’re the way, the truth, the life.” Piano and orchestral sounds give excellent backing to Amy’s sweet vocals. These opening songs are very good, but the next two tracks raise the barre even higher. “We Run” opens with a rather refrained vocal that occasionally gets a little lost in the mix. However, once Amy breaks into the chorus, her vocals simply soar. “We run, into your arms. We sing, to the melody of your love.” My notes on this song simply say; “This is an exceptional song.” I’m not quite sure how to describe “Beautiful Love.” It’s a medium paced, guitar led song that is basically a song of thanks for Jesus’ love. But, by mid-song, I had tears in my eyes. The lyrics and whole song just blew me away! A gentle bridge leads to the chorus once again, and I knew that this song just had to be played again. Finally, with just piano backing, Amy presents “Ocean of Grace.” Sung as a prayer of praise, it’s the perfect ending to a terrific EP. 10/10.
DAVID & THE GIANTS : What Are You Waiting For? (Giant Records)
This album (their 18th studio one) by this classic melodic rock band was full of pop with rock and country leanings that reminded me at times of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Lyrically they are very clear about their faith, from “All That Matters” which extols a Biblical theme to the title track which addresses the listener directly and “I’m Saved” which is a straightforward statement of faith. The vocal is pop with a power ballad tinge and the band pop with a rocky edge, sitting solidly and coming forward when required (such as the guitar licks in “I Wasn’t Raised Like That” and the organ work on “I’m Saved”) and rocking beautifully in songs such as “Good Fight Of Faith” which kicks off, picks a direction, settles into a groove and kicks it all the way to the final crashing chord. They’re pretty versatile too, from the U2 riffs in “Don’t Mess With Israel” to the reggae chops of “All That Matters”, the latter also having a very singable chorus. Overall a very good album, from a very good band that still know how to write and play to the highest standard. Best track: Good Fight Of Faith. 8/10. Paul Ganney
HEATHERLYN : Being Breathed. (Heatherlyn Music)
Colorado singer-songwriter Heatherlyn’s long awaited EP will be released on Tuesday July 9th. Inspired by the irresistible way music can connect and carry us, Heatherlyn has built an international community around songs, poetry and gatherings designed to pull listeners deeper into their own stories and the stories of others. There’s an ethereal sound to the opening “Be Here Now.” Many years ago, a husband and wife duo called “Troy & Genie Nielson” recorded an excellent album of similar music, and this song is just as good. “You’re the Song” is a light pop number. The radio friendly “Ever” is my pick of the bunch. Of the song, Heatherlyn says; “My favourite part is this section that says: "May we choose courageously. May we hope defiantly. May we love outrageously. And walk on lightly in humility." because it's the part that emphasizes these beautiful gifts are ours for the sharing!” Heatherlyn’s vocals are excellent throughout but it’s this last song were I think she really shines. I was just sad that there were only three songs. 8/10.
ICF WORSHIP : Fearless. (Integrity Music)
It was back in June 2016 that I last reviewed an ICF release for NFN - i.e. 'Valleys and Wonders (Live)'. I had discovered at the time that ICF Zurich was a non-denominational church founded in 1996 'with over 2,800 weekend attendees spread across five different locations, and one of the biggest church movements in the German speaking area, with 36 churches in Switzerland and throughout Europe'. Whilst that earlier release was a full length album, here we have a six track ep. It kicks off in similar fashion, with loud audience applause leading into the upbeat male vocalist led pop/rock title track followed by the similarly paced and delivered 'Love you now'. The mid-paced third track 'God of life' is a strong one featuring shared male and female vocals and hookey chorus. What comes next is possibly even better. 'You hold the victory' is excellent lyrically and musically, well delivered by the female vocalist, and with an arrangement that builds beautifully before easing back to a reflective ending. 'You're in control' follows and is a good song, but I feel that its simple solo acoustic guitar accompaniment would have benefited from some input from the band, as the singers seem to strain to build drama without any such support! The last track stands out like a sore thumb, being a 'house style' re-mix of 'Love you now' that adds nothing in the context of this release. It's fine - it's just that it's on the wrong album! It is also at a higher level than the rest of the ep, clearly an oversight during final mastering. Sadly, my sound system also frequently exposed a nasty digital 'edge' to the sound of this release, particularly around male vocals, and confirmed on nice quality headphones. Some misgivings sound-wise then, and would have been better without the last track, but good songs here delivered by a band with evident enthusiasm and ability, to an obviously appreciative audience. 7/10. Dave Deeks
FOLDING LIGHTS : Perfect. (www.7coremusic.co.uk)
This is Belfast singer songwriter Foldinglights (Michael Peter Ball) latest release from his debut forthcoming album ‘Subterranean Hum.’ Perfect talks honestly of growing up with insecurity, lack of self-confidence, unable to look in the mirror due to acne and eczema and the realization that finally all this will pass away, as all things will be restored and we are made perfect in Christ. It’s promoted as a chilled piano / electro driven track, and contains some very laid back vocals. Only during the last minute does the song really break from its melancholy delivery. Foldinglights continues to experiment, I feel, with sounds, which finds him still searching for the right formula. Once he does, I expect greater things to come. 6/10.
VARIOUS : Reckless Love – The Best of British Live Worship. (Essential Christian)
This a collection of 30 songs of worship, expressing thankfulness at God’s abounding, extravagant love. Recorded at a wide variety of events, it features an array of worship leaders and songwriters. Although I didn’t dislike the first CD, I did find that many songs sounded very much alike. The title track seems to drag on, led by Bright City. Cathy Burton and Lou Fellingham provide highlight The former’s delivery of “Beautiful Things” is lovely, as is Fellingham’s contribution on “How Deep the Father’s Love.” I must admit to being a bit of a Pete James fan. Whether it’s his own song, or those written by someone else, he seems to make each song “come alive.” “My Heart is Singing Loud” has a real bounce to it, while the gentler “Gracefully Broken” provides time for soaking in God’s love. I don’t think that I’ve come across Andy Smith before as a worship leader, or songwriter, but his input of “Revelation 10” is really good. Ben Cantelon leads on “Remain,” while there’s no mistaking the voice of Stuart Townend on “The Power of the Cross.” One recording that left me in disbelief was Graham Kendrick’s performance of Matt Redman’s “Nothing But the Blood.” The vocals sound like Graham is at the bottom of a wishing well, and the production results in the song sounding like a dirge. I guess everyone has an “off” day. Still, overall, there’s quite a selection modern songs for you to enjoy. 7/10.
SEAN CURRAN : Bigger Than I Thought. (Capitol CMG)
This 6 track EP is the first solo endeavour for Passion worship leader Sean Curran. Sean was the front man for worship band Bellarive for several years before moving to Atlanta and joining the Passion Movement. Kicking off with the energised I Can’t Live Without You I had a sense I was in for something special and I wasn’t disappointed. Curran gives his all in both performance and penmanship. Every song is full of truth and at times vulnerability at others strength and always full of faith. The title track is a beautiful stripped back arrangement that gently builds as it progresses. Honest lyrics like “speak to me when the silence steals my voice, you understand me” and “come to me in the valley of unknowns” make this is a song that many will relate to. The final song Step Into The Light was recorded live at Passion 2019 and is a good example of the talent of this emerging songwriter and worship leader. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more of Sean Curran. I found this album to be a breath of fresh air that I think you’ll enjoy listening to. 9/10. Angie Lendon.
APOLOGETIX : Doves In Snakes’ Clothing (Parodudes)
ApologetiX are a “Christian parody” band, which means that they produce cover versions of famous songs with the lyrics re-written to portray biblical truths – sometimes re-telling Bible stories, sometimes conveying themes. So far so “been done before.” The difference here is that ApologetiX do it really really well. They’re a band at the top of their game. Which means that the music is superb, the lyrics have been re-written with a real feel for the rhythm of the words (check out “Brash, Impulsive” for an excellent example and the way they re-use the word “Angel” in “Manifold” is smile-inducing) as well as the message and overall it’s a package that is really good to listen to and contains a lot of fun – it’s stuff you want to play to your friends and makes you smile just to hear it. They’re prolific too – 54 albums on their web site at time of writing. Of course, it does help if you know the original versions – unlike others of their albums I’ve reviewed I didn’t know these as well but I was still impressed (listen to the solo on “Try And Try Again” for example). While I suspect they’re more comfortable on the harder rockier numbers (such as “Lily-White Boy”) they still sound more than competent on gentler stuff (such as “A Fool Can Sound Intelligent”). The music is lovingly done, the lyrics are well crafted and the overall album is a delight to sit and listen to. Just don’t look up what the originals are before you listen to them – the surprise is all part of the fun. Best track: Manifold
8/10. Paul Ganney.
LZ7 : These Are Better Days. (Light Music)
This recently released new album from LZ7 features several guest appearances including Silento, , Daniel Eduardo, Ad-apt and others. Throughout this album the band share through their lyrics experiences from their own lives, that enables all who listen to hear clearly what is an important message that they want to convey, which is predominantly a positive cry from their hearts encouraging and seeing the best in the younger generation. Their positive messages have brought LZ7 worldwide respect and support of their music, which balances between huge radio play, tours, missions and school tours with one aim, to tell young people all about Jesus, and encouraging them to seek Him and turn to Him in a world that is confusing right now. The first single ‘Legends’ was released in May 2018 with featured vocals from “Silento”. alongside lead singer Lindz West. The music video was filmed in New York by Lindz. This is a great opening track which you will find yourself pursing your lips and nodding your head at 1min onwards “Go for it” fab opening track. Towards the end of this album are another two remixes of this track which are a refreshing take on this stand out track featuring a DJ Pioneer and TJ Remix and a Wideboys remix. Next track is “G.O.A.T” which stands for ‘Greatest of All Time’ ft Ad-apt “LZ7 frontman Lindz West and LZ7 family member Ad-Apt unleash their inner grime animals on GOAT”. Next track ‘UP’ encourages the listener that no matter where you are in life even in the depths, the way is UP from there The message is loud and clear, Even though I walk through the darkest of night / I’ve got my eyes on you/ Still looking UP/I’ve got my eyes on you. This is a brilliant chorus ahead of a fabulous beat that kicks in. Great lyrics from 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out fear” ‘I Give My All’ is a great summer anthem. ‘Giant Killer’ is a very touching song an honest, personal story from Lindz West of how his adopted son found his forever family. A few tracks further along this album another standout track “Breakthrough” with a change in mood and a great lyric 'Cause we're gonna live our love out loud/We're gonna prove it's true no doubt/In a world gone mad love is all we have/That breaks through. Keelie Walker is featured on this great pop track. I’m sure this album will be a constant on radio playlists throughout the summer. It has a great, happy vibe throughout, “These Are Better Day” will be a remembered album of the summer of 2019 and far beyond. Sitting in the sun while reviewing this album is the first place I’ve heard this album from, and I’m sure wherever you decide to listen to this album will be a happy memory for you too. Put your headphones on, go lay on the grass somewhere, enjoy. Vivienne Neville 9/10.