T H E R E V I E W Z O N E
JACI VELASQUEZ : Trust. (Absolute Marketing : B06VWWPL37)
It’s 5 years since Jaci’s last studio album, and this time it’s a worship orientated release. Saying that, the album is packed with great pop songs that really put a smile in my day. “Trust You” sets the standard high, with some excellent synth sounds, and a superb tune. Her vocals simply soar on “God Who Moves the Mountains,” and “Great is Your Faithfulness.” There’s a strong message in “It’s Never As Dark as It Seems to Be.” It’s basically another “Jesus is the light” song, but it’s done so well. In fact, it was so heart-warming to hear plain and simple truths sung in such a vibrant way. “At the Cross” is a very powerful number. No matter what your problem, worry, or fear, take it to the cross. Here, you will find healing, peace, Jesus, and all that you will ever need. In fact, I get goose bumps just thinking about that song. “Rest” sounds like a 60’s ballad, while “Praise the King” benefits from a well-executed chant, towards the end of the track. This album gives the listener both the chance to worship the Lord, as well as understanding to His many powers. A terrific release. 10/10.
THROWBACK KID : Throwback Kid. (7Core Music : 7CEP00106)
This is a five track EP consisting of very catchy acoustic rock / pop songs, written by Pete James, who is a well known worship leader. These songs are quite lively, and bounce along quite nicely, just the kind of thing that would give you a lift if you were feeling down. These are the kind of songs that will have you singing along in no time. Kicking off with a track called "Bluebells and blossoms" which is reminiscent of Badly Drawn Boy, as are all the songs on offer here it never goes downhill, personally my favourite song on here is "Colour Of Love" which has the feel of something that Lindisfarne would have put out in their later years. I really enjoyed this album, and I don't think that there is any one track that lets it down at all. I found it to be well written, and well recorded. I would have liked to have heard more tracks than just five, as it leaves you feeling somewhat short changed in a way. Just as you are getting into it, it ends. Other than that though, this is an excellent EP, and definitely worth checking out. 10/10 Andy Sayner.
BRIGHT CITY : Hello Maker. ()
Following on from their critically acclaimed 2015 debut, the family of artists from Brighton’s St Peter’s Church bring us their new release. The sultry vocal that begins “Maker of the Moon” immediately pricked up my ears. What a voice! Sleeve credits aren’t song specific, so I’m not sure the vocals belong to Sarah Bird or Lizzy Coulson. The song itself is about the God of time and space, which cleverly links to the album’s title. It’s one of those number’s that builds in power as it goes along, and is really well produced. “You Are the One Thing” has to be my favourite track. Give Evanescense sound an electro twist, and you have a terrific song. Writing credits are too numerous to mention, but there’s a welcome sound, overall, that differs from the monotony of Hillsong, Jesus Culture, and Planetshakers music. “Father” is a song of thanks, with the promise that “I will never leave your loving arms.” “Come, Holy Spirit” is a 7 minute epic that dries to god to show His glory, while “Fly” is given a hi-energy dance feel. It was good to hear some guitars driving the praise filled “You Reign” – another excellent song. The closing “Song For A Dreamer” starts off rather atmospherically, before transforming into a cacophony of electric sound. Just when you expect the song to pick up again it, disappointingly, fades to an end. There’s a lot packed into this album, and the family that is, Bright city, can consider this album a success. 9/10.
ELEVATION WORSHIP : There is a Cloud. (Elevation Worship Records : 6 47946 99984 7)
This is North Carolina's Elevation Worship’s tenth full-length release, and was recorded live at Elevation Ballantyne. Elevation Worship has become an influential voice in churches around the world with CCLI charting songs such as “Only King Forever,” “Give Me Faith,” and “Unstoppable God.” This record follows the chart-topping 2016 release Here As In Heaven, and looks set to follow in its popularity. It’s full of big production numbers, with those gathered in the audience lapping up each song of worship. The make-up of a lot of the songs is very much in the mould of Hillsong. To that end, although there’s nothing wrong with those songs, I did think that some of them sounded very much alike. Exceptions to those come in the album’s “purple patch,” with “Uncontainable Love,” “None” and “Grateful.” Sadly, there are no vocal credits given, but the female voice on the former is simply divine. The song is shorter than most, but that doesn’t take away anything from the quality. “Nothing can change your love; it’s uncontainable.” It’s simply wonderful. Of the other songs, “Do It Again” lasts far too long, and its 3 minute reprise is definitely something that I could have done without. With the driving force of Mack Brock now removed from the Elevation Worship line up, it will be interesting to see how the team progress. 8/10.
DAVID SCOTT-MORGAN : Wall to Wall. ()
David Scott-Morgan is a writer and rocker from Birmingham, England – a lover of many different styles of music and once part of the cosmic British band ELO. He’s released numerous recordings over the years, but this album is purely evangelistic. Style-wise, I kept been drawn back to Tom Petty, and maybe a touch of the Travelling Wilburys, thrown in for good measure. There’s a message in most songs relating to how God or/and Jesus can change your life. On the opening “It’s Alright” David says that you shouldn’t worry about anything because God loves you. It’s a quite infectious little tune and one that sticks around in your head, once you’ve heard it. There’s a dash of blues about “Numbers 23,” while “Jabez” contains an interesting mix, with acapella pieces breaking up the normal song structure. The best track has to be “No-One Else.” Once again, there’s a hint of blues behind the music, as the song chugs along at a nice pace. “Thank you,” sings David, “for what you’ve [God] done, for sending you’re only son.” I especially liked the guitar sound on this track, which plays some nice hooks. The title track left me a little flat, but the short interpretation of “Abide With Me” was very enjoyable. Vocally, David switches from smooth to a gravel tone delivery, depending on the song, and I much preferred the former. I’m not sure that I completely understood “Matthew 24” as I’ve always found it a very complex chapter of the Bible. The message I got from this song was that we should help each other and tell the world about Jesus. Acoustic guitars carry this song along, and runs “No-One Else” close as the best song on the album. Closing, David uses keyboards and vocal pads as a backdrop to a gentle song expressing “All True Love.” It’s an album that I enjoyed more with each listen, and David can be well pleased with this creditable release. 8/10.
COMRADES : Lone/Grey. (Facedown Records)
Interesting riffs and musical textures, powerful and lyrical vocals – what more could you want? Some of the musical structures are a bit prog-rock (which sat very well with me but may not with a solid hardcore audience), some of the riffs might grace a Marillion album (the riffs on “Infinite Scale” are lovely, courtesy of guitarist Joe McElroy), but the drums and bass wouldn’t. Neither would the power (i.e. guttural) male vocals. The interplay between the two vocals (the other is a gentler female one with celtic overtones) reminded me a bit of Amaranthe mixed with Anathema, especially when Ben Trussell sang instead (e.g. on “Shepherd’s Hymn” and “Underground Queen” – two tracks where it really does all come together, making Laura McElroy’s vocals sound a full equal to Ben’s (elsewhere she does sound a bit lost at times)). Lyrically they’re chronicling the story of the confusion, frustration, loss, gratefulness, growth and elation when the human condition collides with the living God of Creation. It’s an album that bears listening to more than once – the better tracks towards the end of the album lead you into a fresh appreciation of the early ones on second listen. As Ben has now left the band, it will be interesting to see where their next album takes them. Best track: “Infinite Scale”.
7/10 Paul Ganney
NYASHA T : Just the Beginning. ()
Just the Beginning is the debut release from “up and coming singer, songwriter and worshipleader”, Nyasha Thondhlana. It features six songs with a strong worship focus. The opener, “Tell The World” provides an early indication of what to expect and the style and sound of Nyasha’s music. The opening few chords pull you into a world of hiphop and rap and you think you know where it is taking you before slamming that door firmly shut with a burst of gritty electric guitar. You end up with a pop rock anthem which, although nothing remarkably new, is very well done and has a great sound. The EP continues largely in that phase until you get to “Ndimi (You Are)” which has much more of an African feel to it and demonstrates a welcome degree of versatility of style. Nyasha’s website describes his sound as a “unique blend of Rock, Afropraise and Contemporary gospel” and that does indeed pretty much sum the feel of this collection of songs. The overarching sound remains contemporary worship but there are enough of those other influences to make it interesting and that is what I like most about it. It’s not radical lyrically or musically, but it is solid and uplifting and I would say well worth the fiver it will cost you to download it from Nyasha’s site. Definitely one to check out. 7/10. Robin Thompson.
TODD AGNEW : 'From Grace to Glory - the music of Todd Agnew. (Provident : B06Y35Q7NG)
I am getting used to the fact that my advancing age makes time pass ever faster - but I was still amazed to discover that it is almost twelve years since I favourably reviewed Memphis-based Todd Agnew's debut album 'Grace like rain'. Since then I have somehow lost touch with his progress, but here we are seven albums later with Todd said to be 'still focused on ministry, using his music to proclaim the gospel'. In the original review I described Todd's voice as a sort of cross between Chris Rea and Brad Roberts (of Crash Test Dummies fame). If anything, the most recently recorded tracks show that it has become even gruffer with the years - but he does a great falsetto that he really should use more! This compendium of new and old tracks begins with one of the best tracks 'Glory to our great redeemer' and ends with the excellent title track of his original very successful album. 'Our great God' is shared with Rebecca James and has a great chorus. 'His eye is on the sparrow' is a particularly strong track with an excellent riff that develops into a bluesy groove at the end - again shared vocally, but with a brilliant singer whose name we don't get to know. There is wide variety here, from quietly reflective to a full-on cover of U2's 'When love comes to town'(!) and from fully produced to the odd demo - and to an extent, the album suffers from this variety. For me, the first six tracks are excellent but I found myself losing interest in some after that - and I can't help wondering if twelve good ones may have been better than the full sixteen on offer. Regrettably, music lovers listening through good headphones or sound systems will find that sound quality varies from passable to poorer than that. A fascinating 'catch up' on Todd's ministry however - there is some very enjoyable music here. 8/10 Dave Deeks
PAUL MURPHY : Built to Last. ()
Kicking off with the first single from the album, “Money Train”, the album settles into a very pleasant country groove with bluesy overtones. With licks that wouldn’t be out of place from Mark Knopfler (courtesy of lead guitarist Mick McCarney) this track leaps from the speakers and makes you want to listen to the rest of the album – a great choice of opener, therefore. Lyrically, Paul Murphy is very gospel infused without being chunks of scripture set to music. He tackles loss, redemption, relationships, deceit and worship all through a filter of God’s promises to us. It’s gentle overall, with the title track a good example and does showcase Murphy’s vocals well. He has chosen well for the other musicians on this recording too – although I wasn’t caught up in the vocals of “So Close, So Far”, for example, the guitar work (this time by Dave Molloy – who also shines on “The Kingdom”) did grab my attention. It’s all very solid and very well produced, with a good range of pacing despite not really getting far beyond mid-tempo and floats well from the more bluesy “Money Train” to the definite country “Unconditional”. U2 are cited as influences, which does rather show on “Let The Truth Cry Out”, which would have sat well on “Rattle and Hum”. The album does just come to an end though and I felt the rock-out of “The Kingdom” would have closed things better that “Watching Over You”, although the lyrical content was probably a better closer. A solid album that does things well without breaking much new ground. Best track: “The Kingdom”. 7/10 Paul Ganney.
PAUL POULTON : Genesis for Ordinary People – Second Edition. (Resource Publications)
Long-time Christian blues musician, speaker and author, Paul Poulton, returns with a second edition of his excellent commentary on the first book of the bible. Paul has included various additions and reworkings to the text – 17 in all - to provide updates and clarity which increases the number of pages from 189 to 199. This is a balanced amount of revision that ensures the flow is maintained whilst at the same time managing to bring a clearer understanding of some of the arguments and points made.
This is a book that acknowledges that there has been a serious lack of understanding regarding the book of Genesis from both sides of the debate. Scientists and atheists have been quick to dismiss it as unscientific, irrelevant and erroneous, whereas Christians have failed to understand its main truths, interpreting things either too literally or through a modern day lens, rather than understanding the cultural, intellectual and spiritual climate in which it was written. For example, as Paul is wont to point out, nowhere does the bible or Genesis make reference to a literal seven days, nor does it mention a global or worldwide flood. At the same time it has an authority and certainty and when we look at the timelines and the evidence from archaeology and other contemporary writings we see just how accurate the book of Genesis really is.
Paul’s mission is to strip away our preconceptions and misunderstandings of this important yet controversial book. As we begin to look at it as we should, we start to see that there really is no controversy at all. Rather there is much that God has told us if only we take the time to seek it out. Many times in the book Paul reminds us that “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search them out” – Proverbs 25:2, cited by the author.
Paul has done an excellent job of revising what was already a superb and accessible commentary on the first book of the bible. Whatever your beliefs or feelings on the matter, I would implore you to read it and allow yourself to be challenged by it. For sure, no single work will ever answer every question or fully discover exactly what has been concealed, but a work like this can only serve to positively advance our knowledge and hopefully, go beyond that to increase our wisdom and understanding. 10/10. Robin Thompson.