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FRANKLIN McKay : Solace.   (www.fanklinmckay.com)

Franklin McKay is a Billboard charting singer-songwriter from Toronto, Canada. He’s had numerous radio hits on the US Adult Contemporary Billboard Chart, as well as two on the US Billboard Christian AC chart with "Invincible" and "I'll Lift You Up (When You Are Down)". Both of these songs appear on this 6 track mini-album, and like the rest of the songs, they are of excellent quality. The latter song was so powerful and uplifting, that it brought tears to my eyes. “I’ll lift you up, when your world’s crashing down,” just gave me goosebumps every time Franklin sang that line. From the moment “A Gift From Above” began the album, I knew that I was listening to something very special. There’s a great sound and production behind each song. Style wise, Franklin’s music is a cross between classic Michael W. Smith and the more modern sound of someone like Danny Gokey. On “All the Things you Gave Me,” I was singing along with the chorus straight away. The song ‘s theme centre’s around the gifts of God, like “Hopes, dreams, faith, and love,” and it’s a terrific number. Vocally, Franklin’s voice is very pleasing to the ear and I’ve been playing these songs over and over again in the car. There might only be 6 songs here, but they are of such a high standard, that they leave you wanting more. The positivity in each is stirring and my only question is, “Why hasn’t a record label signed him up?   10/10.

PARAMORE : After Laughter.   (Atlantic : B07228RKVS)

I had a feeling I’d come across Paramore before and found them on “Now That’s What I Call Music 85” and “Kerrang! The Album 09” which seemed a bit diverse (but they are the same band, showing that their past was more riff-driven power-pop than at present). There is a very strong 80s influence at work on this album, with a Duran Duran/Curiosity Killed The Cat/Haircut 100/No Doubt type of vibe, from the style of backing vocals, little lightly-chorussed guitar riffs, drum patterns, choppy chords and so on. The opening track (“Hard Times”) is very well positioned in that it does give a very clear indication as to the rest of the album. It’s very well done and superbly recorded and produced, the songwriting is very strong and the performances spot on. Lyrically betrayal, disappointment and failure seem to be strong themes on this album whereas musically they’re far more up-beat and summery. It’s well paced, with the full-on dance/pop letting up after 4 tracks into the far more acoustic and downbeat intro to “Fake Happy” (which then moves to a more Avril Lavigne-style with the arrival of  possibly the most rocky chord section on the album). It’s a good album but just about every track reminded me of another one (mostly from the 80s and 90s) so it does rather wear its influences proudly (even the very different “No Friend” had me reaching for my Eminem list). If that was your era, then you’ll probably love this. If not, then I suspect it’ll rather wash over you. Best track: “Hard Times” (with a nod towards the more straight-ahead “Grudges”).

7/10.   Paul Ganney

GARETH DAVIES-JONES.   The Beauty & the Trouble.   (www.garethdavies-jones.com)

It’s 13 years since I first had the pleasure of hearing the music of Gareth Davies-Jones. I instantly likened him to Martyn Joseph, because Gareth does have the knack of writing songs that tell a story, and this album is no different. I really liked the bright sound of his acoustic guitar work – the mainstay of all the songs – that accompanies the lyrics he sings. “Lost” tells of life’s journey, and how sometimes, we can feel lost. But, keeping our eyes firmly on the Lord, He will find us and guide us. Gareth describes the title track as “a vivid description of the best and the worst of growing up in County Down.” It’s a poignant number, but so well delivered. One of my favourite tracks is “The Luminous Years”, co-written with poet, Stewart Henderson. Again, it’s a song about growing up and listening to the words, you get a brief insight into Gareth’s world as a youth. A minor moan, for me, would be that the pace of the songs remain almost the same throughout but, perhaps, I’m being a little picky here. There’s some effective mandolin playing on “This World of Mine,” while I found “Pastures of Plenty” to be one of those songs that really draws you in. Towards the end of the track listing, there’s a delicate rendition of  W B Yeats’ poem “Rosa Mundi” put to music, and I found that to be quite soothing. Gareth plays plenty of intimate gigs in his native north-east of England, and if you get the chance, he’s well-worth taking a look. As for the album, he can be well pleased with all his hard work.   9/10.

MERCYME : Lifer.   (Fair Trade : 69685931095)

This is MercyMe’s 9th  studio album, as they continue to evolve their musical style. Removed from their last release, are the electro-synth sounds, and in come brass and layered guitars. The title track has quite a funky feel about it, while the song itself is a reference to the promise of accepting Jesus in your life is forever! “You Found Me” races along but I was put off liking this number due to the drawling vocals. Similarly, I wasn’t too keen of the rap mid-way through “Grace Got You.” For me, it just spoilt a good song. Of the slower songs, “Even If” seemed to meander along without really getting anywhere. However, the same can’t be said of “We Win.” This is a classic pop song that uses the sport of boxing as an analogy. If you’re “down for the count,” or thinking of “throwing in the towel,” with God as our Father, we will win. I find MercyMe to be a bit of an enigma, as they seem to change their sound with each release. Maybe that shows how they’re maturing as musicians, I’m not sure. This album does have other highlights, such as “Heaven’s Here” but at times I found the overall content to be a little dis-jointed.   7/10.  

JESUS ARMY : The Journey.   (New Creation Christian Community : B06XFR5ZTH)

This CD comes out of a live event to celebrate God’s faithfulness to the Jesus Army featuring songs written throughout their history. Whether this is a recording of that event isn’t completely clear – some of the recording is rough enough, but there’s barely a hint of an audience. The tracks are in chronological order, which is a good choice as it shows the progression both musically and thematically that has been followed, from the folky amazement of “God loves even us” through the importance of community, to the lessons learned in God’s service and joy at His faithfulness ending in solid contemporary worship. The chronological approach also means that some lyrics that now seem clichéd are forgivable once seen in their timeframe. Compared to modern worship albums it is not very well polished (although the last two tracks seem better) and the songs are unlikely to be known outside of the Jesus Army (which means that you’re not listening to yet another version of whatever your least favourite worship song is). It’s mainly guitar, piano (“Come And See” has some nice figures), drums (plus banjo I think) and voices (some of the backing vocals deserve especial mention as they’re so nicely done – e.g. “This Is My Home”) and they work through 70s folk (“Many Waters”), hymnody (“My Heart Is Held And Planted” – which also features some nice underpinning guitar work), country rock (the Blue Brothers riff on “A New Revolution”) and contemporary worship (“A Song Of Worship” and “Take Me To The Edge” – which would have a much larger audience if Chris Tomlin had written them). It’s varied in quality (there’s more than one reason why you may not have heard these before) but has a few good ones in there. If you’re after some reasonable worship songs you’ve never heard before, were involved with the Jesus Army at some point over the last 40 years, or would like a worship album where there is no doubt over who is being sung to/about (a particular annoyance of mine in modern worship) then this is worth checking out. Best track: “This Is My Home.”   6/10   Paul Ganney.

SHERWIN GARDNER : Greater.   (Tyscot : B06WW7TTT4)

This is a 15 track live worship album and the 14th album from the Trinidadian Gospel singer. His style has been described as dancehall and patois, though ITunes classes it as Reggae. I can't say there is much reggae on this album though the reprise version of the track “Because of You” does have hints of said style. I would say the overall feel and sound is American Gospel, but there are plenty of departures from the usual motifs and cliches to make this quite a varied album. It's very lively for first three or four tracks , which is a big plus in my book – too much worship days sounds anything but joyful - before settling into to some gentler worship. The first of these quieter tracks is the aforementioned “Because of You”, an absolute peach of a track, and as an added and welcome bonus there are three versions of the song on this on this album - live, live reprise and a studio version. I like them all! I also love “Praises Never Stop” – good soul number with a driving, catchy and infectious refrain and “Praises Go Up”, a synth driven, dance number. By rights I shouldn't like this album – I really struggle to get on with American Gospel - but I do like it. Good songwriting and excellent musicianship are hard to ignore and this album has both in spades.   9/10.   Robin Thompson.

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