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VARIOUS : All Hail The King – Texas and Tennessee: Fundraiser for Skip Brooks’ Family.   (Thumper Punk Records)

This is a punk/power-pop worship album by a genuine worship band (from Rise Above Ministries in Texas) that makes you wonder what their services are like (and certainly makes you want to attend one). Most songs were new to me, others like “I Saw The Light” and “Power In The Blood” very familiar. The purpose of the album is to raise medical and funeral expenses for Pastor Skip Brooks and was somehow missed off of the previous fundraiser (which, along with the somewhat fluid membership is why I’ve listed this as “Various Artists”). That album’s loss was this one’s gain as this whole album exudes such joy and energy and comes over as all being part of a whole rather than tracks donated to a project. The press release said “to move both your feet and soul” and it does that in abundance. There’s heads down straight ahead rock, clever riffing, spot-on harmonies, reggae chops, bass runs to admire and throughout it all a band as solid as the love of Christ they proclaim. As soon as it was over, I played a couple of tracks again (and “Sanctuary” another twice just for good measure), it was that good.   Best track: “Sanctuary”

10/10   Paul Ganney.

HEAVEN’S MOUNTAIN BAND : For A Moment of Grace. (Heaven’s Mountain Band)

Heaven's Mountain Band was formed in February 1986. Having sung at church revivals and gospel meetings, Roger and Deborah Johnson were asked to sing at a local benefit singing, they left that night with requests to sing at other places. Heaven’s Mountain was born. Over the last few years, Heaven’s Mountain Band has established themselves as one of Bluegrass Gospel’s top groups. This album left me with a feeling that the band members aren’t happy with both, today’s churches, and the way they worship. Indeed, a lot of the lyrics hanker for the days of old. On “Something’s Missing,” the band state that something is missing, and God is left out of modern worship. The tune itelf is quite mournful, and I guess that’s because Heaven’s Mountain Band are grieving! The banjo features greatly throughout the album, and begins on the opening title track. There’s a very distinctive lead, male, vocal who sings about being saved by Jesus. “Covered in Grace” is sung, purely, with just vocals and, again, they didn’t sound too happy about it. Things do brighten with some nice fiddles joining the banjo for “That’s Just the Way I Was Raised.” The band are soon longing for times gone by, once again, on the foot tapping song, “The Old Church Bell.” The lyrics tell that in days gone by, there were “Prayer warriors, praying for the lost. Praying ‘till their souls were saved from hell.” Now, all we do is shake hands with sinners. To be honest, listening to all this negativity was really getting me down.  But, then, I wondered – do they have a point? Are we watering down our religion? Is God really at the centre of our worship? In that respect, the lyrics did make me think. As for the style of the  songs, I wasn’t too impressed.   4/10

EVANS OGBOI : I Am Gifted.   (https://open.spotify.com/album/1iZFkwnWMvQ53FVf4zHff1)

Songwriter and producer, Evans Ogboi may be a new name to some of you but, with songs like this one, he’s going to be known to many in the future. Think, Kirk Franklin meets Fred Hammond, and you’ve got an idea of what to expect. Backed by some great singers and musicians, Evans sings gospel soul with great feeling. “I am gifted for my purpose. Gifted for my purpose I am gifted, Gifted for Your plan.” The lyrics are repeated several times during the song, but this doesn’t detract from its power and appeal. “I Am Gifted” comes from Ogboi’s forthcoming Koinonia Album Project which was recorded Live at the Iconic City Gates Church in London, and I, for one, Can’t wait for that!   9/10.

BRADY NOVOTNY : Passions Collide.   (MTS Records)

Brady has a wide range of experience in the music business. His experience ranges from the Pittsburgh rock scene to national tours.  He has worked as a Pittsburgh session guitarist, Worship leader, and guitarist at several mega churches. He has also taught guitar at clinics and universities. Brady says; “I hope the music will inspire you to pursue your dreams and passions in life. I even pray that some of the melodies cause healing in your heart.” The tracks are, mainly, instrumental, containing very clever rock guitar solos, crunching rhythms, and the occasional acoustic flamenco – a style he says he “immediately fell in love with, [as well as its] passion, virtuosity and rhythm.” The opening title track, and “Ancient Romance” fit those descriptions and style. On “Redemption’s Cry”, Brady’s wife, Jennifer, provides vocals, with a quality reminiscent of Femme Fatale’s Lorraine Lewis.  There’s more rock guitar and super solos on “Heart’s Fire,” while I felt that “The Journey Home” came over like a triumphant film score. Brady, himself, sings on “Blue Rose” – a poignant number on the theme of loss. The closing solo took me back to days of Joe Satriani and his “Surfing With the Alien” days. So, while not always appreciating guitar albums, I’m the first to admit that Brady’s skill is first class, and will be welcomed by lovers of this genre.   9/10.  Editor’s note: After writing my review, I asked guitar aficionado and artist, Matthew James McKay for his thoughts on Brady’s album:  “Seriously impressive stuff, really did like what I heard. By listening to his playing, you can tell that he is influenced really heavily by a lot of 80s neoclassical virtuosos, like Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Satriani, classical music, which he manages to fuse really greatly together. I also really like the seamless transitions between Brady playing electric and classical in some songs, makes for an interesting, almost progressive rock vibe to it. One track that stood out particularly to me was Redemption's Cry, the track has a very bluesy vibe to it, reminiscent of Gary Moore or Joe Bonamassa, and this crossed with Brady's classical influenced playing and natural feeling makes for a great combination.”


KIM WALKER-SMITH : Insatiable.   (Jesus Culture Music)

At one time, when a new, powerful worship song came out, sung by a female, everyone said, “Oh, it must be Darlene Zschech.” And, while she is still a wonderful singer, Kim Walker-Smith has proved herself to be every bit as good, and blessed with a wonderful voice. (Mind you, I wasn’t always a fan). This new song sees her vocals carried along by a wave of sound, created by her musicians. “"Your love is an all-consuming fire; And all that you ask for is surrender. Insatiable. My heart and soul, you’ll never stop, until you have it all. Insatiable.” Yes, that is just what Jesus wants us to freely give Him, and to receive His love. Listen and surrender,   9/10.

MELISSA BRADY : Shine.   (65South Label)

Melissa’s enthusiasm for ministry, excitement about the Lord and genuine love for people has influenced hundreds of people around the world. In the past few she has performed on the Gaither Homecoming Concerts with her husband Jim Brady – who has co-wrote many of the songs on this album, with Melissa. It’s the first time that I’ve heard any of Melissa’s music but, let me tell you, she has a great voice. The opening “Finest Hour” sets the standard, high, for most of the songs. It’s followed by a lovely ballad called “The Warrior is a Child.” The song is about the armour of God, and how it can protect you. There’s a bright gospel sound to “It’s Your Song Lord,” but I  wasn’t taken by the duet with David Phelps, “Just Beyond the River Jordan.” It took me a while to try and choose any comparisons with other singers. But, eventually, I imagined the style of Sandi Patti, with a hint of Amy Grant pop. The latter certainly came out on the wonderful “Because of You.” My favourite song was “You Are.” It begins as a pretty little ballad, but builds dramatically with vocals and instrumentation. Melissa sings that God is her everything. “You are my joy, my hope, my peace.”  A super song! Finally, sounding like something from a Disney film, there’s a song about what “Heaven” is going to be, when we get there. So, to sum up, this is a really good album, and it’s about time that the UK woke up to Melissa Brady.   9/10.

DAVE CLIFTON : Fruit of the Spirit.   (https://burningshed.com/store/littleroom?utm_source=Newsletter+05+09+2019&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=N ewsletter+05+09+2019)

This new project from Dave Clifton has been a labour of love stretching back almost 10 years one way or another. It's his first modern piano and string quintet project. He began work on the first two meditations following time at Holy Trinity Brompton. He then spent 5 years at St Mark’s Tollington Park, and it was there that he began to explore more modern classical composition, writing string arrangements and arranging. Dave says; I have always been somewhat challenged by the Fruit Of The Spirit! It is one of those passages in Scripture that “trips” brightly off the tongue, yet involves a lifetime of Spiritual discipline!  It has been a joy to compose, record and produce this album and I do hope listeners enjoy it. Ambient meditational music like this is hard to attribute to any particular artist that I’ve come across over the years. The Stockholm based duo, Salt of the Sound do something similar, but their music is primarily made up electronically. This recording as a string quartet offers listeners, in the UK at least, musical pieces that wouldn’t sound out of place on either Classic FM or BBC Radio 3. Piano, cello, violins, viola, and double bass are used very sympathetically to play mellow music and provide a backdrop to meditation on the different fruits of the spirit. “Patience,” is followed by “Gentleness,” which, in turn, is followed by “Faithfulness.” All the pieces are of similar, gentle, tempo – as you would expect. This gives space and time for personal reflection, and I think that Dave has succeeded in his plan. It’s difficult for me to pick out one tune over the rest but, “Love” did remain in my memory for some time. It’s tranquil sound, with super strings, over piano phrases, was quite special for me. For those times when you need a time of prayer or/and meditation, I’m sure that this album will be well appreciated.   8/10.  

PLANETSHAKERS : Rain.   (Planetshakers)

Reviewing anybody’s work is always subjective so when I listened to Rain I did wonder where this fitted in the musical spectrum. I glanced at the YouTube version to get perspective as this is largely a live recording and it confirmed my first impressions. If I could say tent praise and youth event it would reasonably be accurate. Musically and technically it is really good, if I was to suggest it was trance/dance music of which you would hear in a Mediterranean hotspot with short repetative stacato phrases with little depth lyrically in the main. Certainly praise music with a couple of songs which move into worship. There are some very nice instrumental sections, especially in Rain Your Glory Down. The best song for me is Beautiful Saviour. It’s definitely a worship song, although the vocals drift into performance at times before reverting back to worship. God is On the Throne shows the singer’s vocal range well and throughout, there are very good harmonies. The drums do sound electronic and maybe that is down to the venue and atmosphere. Overall, well produced and performed. I would suggest the album is aimed at the young people market.   7/10.   Noel Donaldson

S.O. : Augustine’s Legacy.   (Lamp Mode Recordings)

Hip Hop artist S.O. releases his fifth album, featuring the thought-provoking lead up singles, the social media commentary“ Goals ” and controversial “ White Jesus ” that have already sparked engaging online discussions. This Nigerian-born, UK-raised and San Antonio-based emcee’s varied artistic stylings include Afrobeat rhythms and emo rap. The last hip-hop album I reviewed was truly awful. However, despite my misgivings about that album, S.O does provide plenty of Biblical food for thought. The opening title track is named after S.O’s late father. The artist acknowledges his legacy and prays protection for his baby daughter. On “I See Giants,” the message is that we will see the devil fall. I honestly don’t know what to think of the “White Jesus” song. S.O sings of having the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost but questions the way that Jesus is portrayed? He says that Jesus couldn’t have been white, and the one WE worship today, isn’t the one that he reads  about. “Do you know how hard it would be to find a white dude walking around the streets of Galilee in the 1st Century?  Real Jesus was a middle eastern Jew.” I’m no theologist, but I can’t say that I agree with S.O’s take on things. Back to the music, and there’s a lovely duet with Mallory Jackson, called “The Only One.” Lucy Grimble lends her vocal talents to the catchy “Goals,” while “Headwrap Diaries.” a beautiful serenade, acknowledging deeper symbolism behind the adornment. There’s a simple message on “Open Arms.” ‘I gotta say, that you love with open arms.’ This is probably my favourite song on the album – featuring less rap! Fans of Lecrae and Bizzle will enjoy this release but, even I found plenty to enjoy about “Augustine’s Legacy.”   7/10.

TENTH AVENUE NORTH : No Shame.   (Reunion)

The theme of this album refers to shame or, rather, good shame, which convicts us of our sins. Opposing this is toxic shame lies, telling us we are useless and unforgivable. The title track is about talking to God and not feeling that we can’t be honest with Him. His grace allows us to be the person He made us to be. There’s a great line in “Someone to Talk To.” Which says that church should be like a “hospital for sinners.” In fact, that line really stuck in my mind for some time, and the song was quite good too! Style-wise, I got the feeling that the songs came over like something Newsboys would record. It’s a very adult sound that I think young people might not take to.  There’s an atmospheric, slower number, in the guise of “Greater Than All My Secrets.” It features some nice keyboard phrases behind, what is, a song of worship. “The Future” sounds very similar, musically, but tells you to look to the future and reach out, whatever comes your way. Towards the end of the album, there are two songs that are very different to the rest of the listing. “Paranoia” is a rocky affair that questions many things that we’re encouraged to believe in today’s world. And, though opinions can differ, it doesn’t mean that we can’t work together in life. Then, there’s “Reaching.” Funky, brass sounds are joined by a rhythm and vocal attack that come straight out of the Bruno Mars’ school of music. Although, I didn’t actually dislike any of tracks, only one really stood out. And, in all honesty, I found the album to be rather flat.   5/10.

MY EPIC : Violence.   (Facedown Records)

This is the second half of My Epic’s diptych, the first being “Ultraviolet” which I reviewed in June 2018. That one dealt with some of the more difficult aspects of faith, dealing with things which are beyond sight and understanding, with the second (this one) slated to explore the darker corners of faith, asking “What do we do when we don’t have a good explanation for difficult circumstances? And how do we think of God in the midst of things that are so obviously contrary to what we think God should be like?” I’ve spent a lot of my time reviewing My Epic trying to work out where they sit in the stylistic pantheon and think it’s easiest just to take each album as it comes. This one sits at the more pleasant end of doom metal, with definite similarities to bands such as Anathema with the unsubtle but incredibly solid drumming, the distorted riffing guitars, the massive underpinning bass, the vocals that sound like they’re a bit too thin (and often very effects-laden) to hold their own against the backing and yet, amazingly, do. The vocal reminded me of Tim from the Polyphonic Spree with the guest vocals on “White Noises” sounding more like I’d have expected an album like this to have, but somehow that made the track stand out less, showing how well balanced the band actually are. I loved the psychedelic feel of “Spit and Blood” too, shades of which crept into other tracks making it feel a definite part of the whole album rather than a throwaway bit of light relief which a less competent band would have been guilty of. Lyrically they’ve some nice turns of phrase with “I won’t hate you – you are not my enemy” from “Bloody Angles” and “it leaves you cursing when you want to pray” from “Black Light” standing out to me and showing how they have tackled the lyrical brief they set themselves. Musically they go from almost gentle to 100mph (“Spit It Out”) without either sounding out of place. That is also a credit to the production: each track has multiple elements, all clearly there, nothing dominating to the detriment of others. I have previously said that this is a band best listened to under headphones in order to enjoy all the elements and this album continues that, producing a very satisfying whole. Best track: Bloody Angles.   8/10. Paul Ganney.

BACKROOM STEREO : Stay Positive. (https://backroomstereo.bandcamp.com/album/stay-positive)

Now based in Essex, Backroom Stereo (aka Mark Tiddy) is back with his latest album of original songs based, loosely, around the life of a twenty-something year old male. A lot of the songs are based around love and relationships which, I guess, are close to his heart. “I Can Still Remember” starts the track listing, driven by a pounding bass line, before breaking into a melodic chorus with rock guitar. There’s a great guitar riff that bursts into life for “I’m Not Rock and Roll.” Mark tells that his lifestyle is not what the media portrays. He’s not out getting drunk every night, and the only needles he uses are the ones in his sewing kit! It’s a great song, and I love the energy of it. It’s a similar story for his last single release, “The One.” It’s Blink 182 meets the Undertones. Crunching guitars, break-neck rhythms and boy meets girl storyline. “Every Guy” lowers the pace a little and came across as an Oasis-angst number. “A Little Less Aware” is a bit of a plodder that asks if we’re being made too aware of everything going on around us, thanks to the 21st century media and technology?  Mark certainly knows how to write songs about the oddest of topics. On “Tall People,” the song is about waiting months to see your idol/band at a concert, and then not being able to see the stage, due to all the tall people in front of you! If you’re looking for a Christian message in all of this, then the title track is for you. Stripped back to just acoustic guitar accompanies Mark’s vocals. “Cos if you’re always looking for the worst in everything then you’re sure to find. So change your heart.  Look for the stars in the darkest nights. And you’ll find your way.” Definitely, the best collection from Backroom Stereo, so far!   8/10.

JEMIA : Jemia.   (https://open.spotify.com/album/2Wi8kG7BuN6ezK74XOIut4)

Jemia has been leading praise and worship in multi-cultural settings for twenty years.  She’s also worked as a background vocalist and has recorded vocals for artists like Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Deluge Band, Jonathan Stockstill, and others; as well as sharing the stage with CeCe Winans, William McDowell, David and Nicole Binion, and others. There are just 5 tracks on this mini-album, beginning with “Take Everything.” Jemia sings of giving up everything for God, and that her prayer is for Him to take everything. The tune is quite good, and her vocals reminded me of Martha Munizzi. “Abandon” tells of getting closer to God, while the piano led “Secret Place” is a pure song of worship. “You are beautiful, glorious, King of all of us.” My favourite track is the smooth sounding “Your Love.” The laid-back song has some really nice harmonies that I found to be excellent. Finally, there’s an acoustic number called “Rescue My Heart.” From the lyrics, you can tell that the singer has been hurt in love, more than once. Singing to her Father in Heaven, all she asks for is to find a love like His. It’s a very sweet song, as well as being very personal, too. Lyrically, I can’t fault Jemia’s words. However, musically, at times, I did find the songs to be rather bland. Hopefully, there’s better things head.   6/10.

ERIC LEE BRUMLEY : The Devil Goes Fishin' Too: A Gospel Anthology.   (https://open.spotify.com/album/5odmwHExmudC5HIqzDB25P)

Every now and then an artist comes along bringing something new to CCM. On the strength of this ten track release, in some ways Eric Lee Brumley is a great example. Rather than 'new' however, in Eric's case I should strictly use the word 'different' as he harks back to a very much earlier music scene. "Raised on old time delta blues, gospel, and soul" and becoming a Christian at the tender age of five, he began writing songs at twelve but by his teens was heading for a life of drug taking, theft and prison. Acording to the press info, "his musical influences and incredible vocal talent mixed with his story of redemption and recovery from hard drugs, makes for a powerful debut album". Released by Old Bear Records, the company has also released a mini-documentary on the making of the album. Whilst all the tracks were evidently recorded in the same studio, the recorded acoustic varies quite a bit - sometimes sounding quite low budget and 'live', on other occasions presenting a contemporary, clean and overall good quality sound, whilst 'Wolf in sheep's clothes' sounds like it's been re-mastered from an old 78! Whilst perhaps a deliberate ploy to emphasise the authentic nature of Eric's sound, I nevertheless found the level of vocal reverb to be excessive on some tracks - particularly the closer. He certainly has a powerful set of pipes however, equally able to deliver rockers and 'blues/gospel rock ballads', his musical influences being obvious. The stripped-back instrumentation heavily features tightly delivered organ, drums and bass, sometimes replacing organ with piano, and often featuring effective 'black gospel' backing vocals. 'Train up your child' is a great gospel rock blues track and probably the strongest. Other standouts for me include the ballads 'Open my eyes', 'How can I not', and the upbeat title track. On this evidence, Eric proves himself to be an intriguing new arrival on the 2019 Christian music scene. 8/10. Dave Deeks

KURT CARR : Bless Somebody Else.   (RCA Inspiration)

Kurt returns with his first new music since 2013’s ‘Bless This House’. Carr is noted for weaving lush live instrumentation and jaw-dropping vocal arrangements into his music ministry. ‘Bless Somebody Else’ speaks to the current season in Carr’s life, and to a message that he feels compelled to share with the world. The title track, and the surrounding body of work, was inspired by the life of Carr’s long-time assistant, Dorothy King, who passed away suddenly. On many of the songs, Kurt lets everyone else take the lead vocals. He seems happy enough to join in every now and again, or lead them with encouraging cries. What is really annoying are some of the female vocalists, who wail like a banshee, making listening pleasure minimal. Like many of these gospel albums, the backing choir are first class, and add some sweet voices to proceedings. “I’ll Make Sure You’re Lifted Up” is the first song to suffer the banshee type vocals, but is soon followed by “Something Big, Something Marvellous.” The latter is quite a good, uptempo song, until the female vocalist reappears. The title track is a nice ballad, which seems to feature various singers. Roosevelt Griffin gives a creditable performance, leading on “Thanksgiving Prelude,” while the purple patch for the album follows. “Blessing After Blessing” and “I Owe You Praise” came over as music to my ears, with both the choir and vocalists in fine voice. When the artist sings like this, it makes me wonder Le’Andria Johnson has to literally scream on “Grace Brought Me Back/Love Lifted Me?” Being totally honest, if she’d sung like that in my church or at a concert that I was attending, I would have got up and walked out. Thankfully, the sweet vocals of Timiney Figueroa saves the day on “Say all is Well.” Proving that a loud volume doesn’t make you better singer, Timiney shines brightly. All in all, I can’t give this release more than 5/10.   

InSalvation : All Eyes on You.   (Integrity Music)

'All Eyes On You' is the first single from the Dutch Worship Band InSalvation - a track lifted from their forthcoming album 'Exodus'. InSalvation (founded in 2006) has become a solid part of the Christian worship landscape in the Netherlands. The passionate pop and rock band is known for songs like ‘Fill This House with Your Glory’, ‘Neon’, ‘Power in the Blood’ and ‘God Who Saves’. The song begins with a throbbing bassline and vocal cries of the title. A simple verse is quite forgettable, but the bridge and chorus really brings the song to life. “You radiate with perfect love; “We seek your face ‘til Kingdom come.” Guitars sound powerful and drive the song, with the vocalist really taking ownership as the song goes on. I must admit, after a few more plays, I liked the song a lot more than on my first listen. Well worth giving it a listen.   8/10.

GENE MOORE : Tunnel Vision.   (Motown Gospel)

This is the first time that I’ve heard any of Gene’s music, and I’ve got to admit, he’s got a great voice. His style is gospel, but more in the style of someone like Craig David, rather than Kirk Franklin. The theme of the album is, predominantly, giving thanks to God for all He has done for us. With “Won’t Be Moved,” Gene sings how we should put God’s love into action. Even the smallest act of kindness can show that love. I liked the smoothness of some of the songs, such as “Love Like You” and “Ask For Rain.” The former is piano led and aks God to help us to “Give grace to my brother, and help my sister.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that when Gene sings the songs with more of an upbeat motown style, he does sound, a little, like Stevie Wonder. “Take Care” would be one such song. On the ballads, “Depending on you” and “Always Jesus,” Gene’s vocals are sublime. The latter has to be my favourite track on the album. No matter the “trains and tears,” there’s always Jesus. Great voice and some fine songs make this an enjoyable listen.   8/10.

CRYSTAL LEWIS : Rhapsody.   (CLR)

Crystal Lewis released her last album four years ago. She has been nominated three times for a Grammy and is a Multi Dove Award winner. She has released over 20 albums.  Her new album Rhapsody sits within the Jazz genre world, and also features swing and soul tracks throughout the album. This album is now available worldwide and later this year there will be a release also of an exclusive vinyl edition for vinyl collectors out there. Rhapsody consists of 10 songs just over 40 minutes in listening time. The album was inspired by the work of Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin with the lyrical content consisting of “heartbreak and loss, love and imagination, hope and life.” Crystal has had over three decades of success and of this album she says; “I've been waiting a long time for this, I've made the record of my dreams. It's evolution meets growth, age meets wisdom. It's opportunity meets imagination and divine timing meets experience. It's where soul and swing intersect... It's the most ME collection of musical art I've ever created." She is comfortable in many different styles of music including, Gospel, Contemporary Christian Music, Spanish Pop, Children’s Music and in this project Jazz Music. The instrumentation, arrangement and her pure vocals are beautiful. If songs of heartbreak, loss etc are your listening choice, you will enjoy this album. If you’re expecting Crystal’s Contemporary Christian Music sound you won’t find it here. This is a mainstream album. The last track on the album is my standout track “Sunrise” with a positive message “Sunrise means another chance/It'll be alright, it'll be alright/Rain or shine, breathe and dance/It'll be alright, it'll be alright.” I recently watched an interview of Crystal talking about her divorce. This album skates throughout that issue with track titles such as “Hey Heartbreak” “It’s hard to say goodbye.” 6/10   Vivienne Neville.

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