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ANDY SAYNER : Still Amazed.   (andysayner@gmail.com)

York based worship leader Andy Sayner has released his 2nd solo album, which features 12 original tracks. The odd one out, is his rendition of the hymn “I Stand Amazed.” Twittering birdsong greets the listener on “Joel.”  Following that is “Come, Let Us Go (to the house of the Lord).” It’s simple call to worship, much in the mould of, say, Graham Kendrick. There’s also a feel of 60’s pop in songs like “I Will Never Leave You” and “Your Love Still Amazes Me.” A minor moan on the former, is that the guitar solo is rather too high in the mix for my liking. On the latter, Andy sings of God’s amazing and infinite love, and it’s a really good song. Vocally, I thought that Andy performs admirably on each number. He says that he thinks God gave him the words of “Don’t Let Your Heart Grow Hard” whilst writing another song. The subject was a situation that was happening in his own church, and the resulting song is very pleasing. Andy has used snyth’ sounds on many of the tracks, and they work well. On “In the Beginning” he has layered sounds depicting God’s creation of the world from nothing, to its glorious completion. Andy says; “I always thought that you could write a worship song without words, and just let the music speak.” The result is “Communion” which includes a guitar solo that is reminiscent of Gary Moore’s “Parisienne Walkways,” before moving into Rick Wakeman synth’ territory. I really liked this track, and I feel that Andy may well be suited to exploring his genre further. Some of the songs on this album are already being used  in church services, and they’re easy to learn. Others may be more suited to individual meditation and, on the whole, this is a fine release.   8/10.   

TAUREN WELLS : Hills and Valleys.   (Provident : 02341 0209 2)

Following the success of his solo EP “Undefeated,” former Royal Tailor frontman Tauren Wells presents his debut album. After several listens, I can’t shake the feeling that these songs are aimed at teenage fans. Why? Well, when I do take a look at today’s secular chart songs, most of Tauren’s would fit perfectly alongside. For me, however, I found most of them leaving me cold. His inclusion of a couple of rap artists do nothing to excite me, but there is some relief on his duet with Hollyn. “All About You” is Christ centred, and how He lives in you. The tune is quite catchy and is the highlight of the first half a dozen tracks. The guitar and rhythms of “Known” reminded me of Mr Big’s “To Be With You.” The verses are really good, but the chorus is rather weak, and really let’s down what could have been a very good song. I like Tauren’s voice, and on the dance orientated  “Love is Action” and “All My Love” I found myself comparing him to Justin Bieber. My favourite song comes towards the end. God’s Not Done With You” is a lovely ballad that, musically, stands head and shoulders above anything else on the album. So, a rather disappointing release, that I can only give 4/10.

VARIOUS : Punk for the Gospel Volume 3.   (https://thumperpunkrecords.bandcamp.com/album/punk-for-the-gospel-benefit-compilation-volume-3)

Opening with a punked up version of “Amazing Grace” (Living Fire (feat. JohnnyBoy)) and followed up by “Blessed Assurance” (False Idle) you quickly get the idea – a load of classic hymns (some of which I didn’t recognise until they started) done in a punk style. Basically, hymns played with the energy, enthusiasm and tempo that I’d have loved when I first went to church at 17. It reminded me a lot of the classic “We do it our way” compilation of punked pop songs from the late 70s –some work so well you wonder whether the speed and phrasing was what the original author had in mind (e.g. “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by Quick and the Dead). Not all are in English (e.g. Onyx8’s “Porque ele vive (Because He Lives)”) but that doesn’t at all detract from the enjoyment through the sheer energy and enthusiasm of these bands. There’s a good range of punk styles on display too, mostly Ramones-tempo stuff, some nice riffing, Damned-style sneering, brief guitar solos (The Bricks’ “Standing On The Promises”), chug-alongs and the more-metal-really of UntilWeDie’s “It Is Well”. Some of them don’t quite work and nearly nine minutes seems a bit long for a punk track (Timoratus’ “Leave It There” – probably more an atmospheric/industrial track than punk as we now know it), but overall I loved it and would really love to be at a service where these bands were playing this stuff – it’d be amazing (especially if it closed with the Doxology as Spirit and the Bride do it here)! Liven up your worship with this CD. Best track: Quick and the Dead – “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”

7/10   Paul Ganney.

SINGING NEWS : Top 10 Southern Gospel Songs of 2017.   (New Haven Records : 8119-2)

This is a great taster album for those who are new to the Southern Gospel genre. It’s a celebration of the music and features some of the top names around. Brain Free & Assurance were a new name to me, but they kick things off with a bright number called “Somebody’s Miracle.” Karen Peck & New River declare that if you’re at a crossroads in your life, then listen to His call. “Calling” is the title of the song, and it’s a top notch sound. If a good old ballad is your thing, then Greater Vision’s “He Does” features some fine voices. Mid-album, The Nelons provide a happy sound, with close harmonies on “My Father’s House,” while Legacy Five provide vocal excellence on “Still.” It’s been a good year for Southern gospel music in the UK, as Authentic Media have worked hard in distributing some fine acts. Also featured here are Wilburn & Wilburn, Triumphant Quartet, and The Hoppers, who belt out a foot tapping number, with their take on what Heaven must be like, with “If We Ever Gotta Look.” Some impressive performances here and well worth an 8/10.

XD OUT : Better Day.   (Xd Out 191061801924)

XD Out have the feel of a band that hold their own amidst metal bands such as POD: power drumming, solid bass work, the power chords, slightly chorussed overdriven riffs (plus harmonics), quick-fire solos, the slightly straining vocals on the edge of possibility, long held notes all screaming "sing along". It's got a huge amount of energy that is infectious. The opening track ("We Love You Lord") comes in at just under six minutes and doesn't have a huge amount of lyrics beyond the title, but it doesn't feel overlong at all, just right and never really wanting it to end. There's more than a nod to the Seattle grunge scene ("Worthy" has a verse that typifies this), together with some rather more distinctly British Iron Maiden style riffing ("Just One Day", "Deeper") and frantic chord work. It all sits as a wonderful bedrock for the vocals to glide over. Lyrically they're unashamed of their faith and are as uncompromising as the riffs (they describe themselves as “hard music with a hopeful message” which seemed very apt). They're not stuck in a rut though and the album shows a degree of variety: the opening and closing tracks could sit on a modern (rock) worship album easily, the title track has more of a pop rock feel to it, but a lot more on the rock side than say, the Wanted could ever hope to be, whereas "Free" is more punk in nature (with a riff the Buzzcocks would have been proud of). There's even a radio version of "Everything" as a bonus track to close the album, which is as energetic as the album version but with a few of the elements dialled back a little. Best track: Free.  7/10   Paul Ganney.

MATT MAHER : ECHOES.  (Essential : 83061-1078-2)

The accompanying press release tells that this album is totally born out of the recent loss of his father. If Matt’s records weren’t personal enough before, this record sees him lay his heart wide open. Piano led, most of the songs have a simple formula, but that could be the album’s undoing. I found that many of the tracks sounded very similar. “Awake My Soul” and “Faithfulness” are just two that spring to mind. This deluxe edition features extra tracks called “Echoes One” and “Echoes Two.” Personally, I found neither of them to be very memorable. “What A Friend” races along, declaring that Jesus is faithful and that He is our friend. The song is okay, but nothing special. In fact, that was my feeling about most of this release. Exceptions to the rule are “Won’t Let Me Down” and “The Cross Forever Speaks.” The former is a catchy, pop number that you will be singing for days. Meanwhile, the latter is quite majestic in its production. However, some media report that the song expresses the “subversiveness of Christianity’s most revered emblem. I didn’t read anything into the song myself but, perhaps, that’s something lacking in me. So, there’s some good tracks, and some not so good. Therefore, I can only give this album  6/10.

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