T H E R E V I E W Z O N E
With grateful acknowledgement to: AUTHENTIC, ELEVATION, CAPITOL CMG, INTEGRITY, McCAIN, PROVIDENCE & VERITY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS.
DONNA TAGGART : Jealous of the Angels/Guiding Light. ()
Despite a glowing press release of Donna’s musical achievements, I’d not heard of her before. But, after listening to this double A-side single, it’s a case of better late than never. “Jealous of the Angels” is a song about losing a loved one. But, more than that, it’s about coming to terms with the grief. Donna sums it up so well with the line “God must need another angel around the throne tonight.” Donna’s silky vocals are a joy to listen to, and the song itself is both moving and beautiful. It certainly brought a lump to this reviewer’s throat. Meanwhile, “Guiding Light” portrays the singer’s faith, in that when you need to get home, Jesus will show the way. Once more, Donna’s vocals are so enticing that you are drawn in, immediately, to the lyrics. How this young lady is still unsigned to a major label is beyond me. Only two songs on show, but a stunning release. 10/10.
GEOFF EVANS : Paper Planes. ()
UK singer/songwriter Geoff Evans marks his debut release with this 4 track EP. Much in the mould of Frank Turner, he relies on his acoustic guitar to convey most of the songs. “Carry Me” opens the recording. Its simple message is that God really does carry us, especially when times are hard. Geoff’s vocals sound well until mid-song, when he really seems to struggle with his ad-lib phrases. Showing more promise is “Future Song.” He says that the song itself is written to inspire people in their lives. With modest lyrics, the song is straight to the point, and vocally much better. The highlight of the EP is “Gloria.” Yes, it’s a cover song, but the use of more instruments, seems to give Geoff more confidence in his delivery. After singing a version regularly in a church surrounding, Geoff says that it “Really helped me spiritually,” and wanted to record it. Finally, the title track comes along, and it suffers from a poor recording. There is some nice guitar work on show, but the sound is rather muffled and every finger slide is so magnified that I found it detracting from, what is, a good song. Overall, Geoff shows enough moves, musically; to indicate that with better production, his ministry could prove to be very beneficial to both himself and other. 6/10.
TOM READ : Dead Things to Life. ()
It’s been a 5 year wait, but UK based worship leader Tom Read returns with new single ‘Dead Things To Life’ taken from the upcoming Lament EP. Moving from Hong Kong and settling in the UK, Tom has become part of St. Aldates Church, Oxford. In the years since his chart topping 2013 worship album Compass Tom has worked extensively in the secular music market- becoming an in demand song-writer and producer whilst releasing his own music with the CHARIOTS project. This single opens with the lines; “Though I have nothing, my life is an offering. I lay me down.” As the song opens, Tom’s vocals are quiet and gentle. But, like a flower, it blooms as it grows. Musical backing is sparse, at first, but it, too, reaches a crescendo. “Dead Things to Life” was written after the miraculous birth of a friend’s child- a baby that stunned medical professionals who had earlier advised termination during the pregnancy. Tom reflects- “This song is a prayer for those times when it seems hopeless in the world's eyes - a prayer that God would breathe his life on us”. I await the album with interest. 8/10.
JULES RENDELL : Imagine ()
On the evidence of this debut solo album I am sure we'll be hearing much more of Jules Rendell. Open about her health problems, she reports “through my own mental health struggles, I’ve had to change the way I think to push through the barriers of low self-worth to even make this album". I'm glad she did. Here we have an emphasis upon superbly produced contemporary soul pop, several tracks utilising sampling/sequencing. Jules is a gifted singer/songwriter. Often reminding me of Joss Stone (including a tendency to an American accent!) - the spoken 'mini testimony' of the title track confirms her as a Brit. With lyrics that are well written and original, tracks 1-5 and 7 are really enjoyable soul pop. Standouts for me are 'Let go' with its contribution from an excellent though anonymous male vocalist, the blues/jazz flavoured 'Fixed', and the slow ballad 'Troubles'. Tracks 8 'Remember' and 10 'The return' are lovely piano/vocal performances that really show off Jules' voice. Track sequence-wise however these would have been better interspersed between the earlier ones - and it's a shame that 'Remember' is mastered at a noticeably lower level. The spoken title track 6 'Imagine' is sort of ok the first time you hear it, but for me doesn't bear repeat plays. The track 9 re-mix of track 1 'Old friend' sounds somewhat contrived. These are details. Jules Rendell is clearly a hugely talented lady. I wish her well and will certainly be looking out for her in future. 8/10. Dave Deeks
JOHN FROUD with ABI BAYLIS & CATH : The Mary Songs. (2a Norwood Road, Shipley, UK, BD18 2AZ).
Shipley’s John Froud is back with another collection of songs, mostly written by the man himself. This time, the songs tell of Jesus’ life, through the eyes of His mother. Interspersed between the songs, are appropriate Bible verses. Introducing the track listing is John’s version of The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” I wasn’t sure about its inclusion at first, but by the end of the album, I knew that it fitted perfectly. Musical backing throughout is simple but, then, it sounds just like a John Froud concert! Abi & Cath share vocals with the main man on various songs, and they work well. The highlight of these has to be the poignant “Despised,” telling of the story leading up to the crucifixion. Lovely vocals and very well written. Most of the songs are of similar tempo, but “Song of An Exile” raises the beat. There’s a folky style about its delivery and it really stands out. Jesus tells us to “love one another” and His love is the subject of “This Thing Called Love.” Sung as a duet, it’s quite beautiful, with both voices in perfect harmony. After Mary’s pain and grief at witnessing the crucifixion in songs like “Mary Stood” and “Friday Night/Where You There,” the mood is lightened somewhat by the closing “Soon and Very Soon.” Written by the late Andrae Crouch, the song is an uplifting gospel number, and a fitting end to an interesting album. 7/10.
EDU NMZ : 3 Song Acoustic. (Thumperpunk Records)
Edu TMZ is the guitarist and vocalist of Sao Paolo, Brazil’s JCHC (Jesus Christ HardCore) band No More Zombies, and operator of music webzine and record label Cristo Suburbano. He’s recorded this 3-track 7” single as part of Thumperpunk’s “3 song acoustic” series. With only three tracks it’s hard not to review each one, so I’ll just do that. All three tracks have a feel of being recorded live: one microphone and away we go. As such it’s a little rough at times. “Where Do I Go” has a good rhythm to it, with a slightly spoken verse and sung chorus with a clear belief in Jesus’ ability to heal as he chants “Christ can make me walk again” repeatedly. “Make It Worth It” suffers a bit from a vocal line that isn’t always in tune. “Rasteira No Saci (English Version)” either has an overdubbed backing vocal or some friends have turned up to join in the fun and give thanks to God for what he has done. It’s OK but really only for fans, I feel, who may well have electric versions of these songs which these complement. Best track: Where Do I Go. 4/10. Paul Ganney.
HELEN JAYNE McKELLAR : The Last Minute. ()
I had to check my diary when I received this EP, as I couldn’t believe that it was 1994 when I first saw this Welsh songstress in concert. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and, for Helen, health struggles. However, the songs for this release began almost a year ago, when her writing began to flow. Some of the 6 tracks are co-written with Judi Tzuke, who lends herself to various backing vocals. She also takes the lead on one of the verses to Helen’s new rendition of her song “Ladies Night.” The track itself brings new life to what was, always, a classic song. By Helen’s own admission, the songs here are secular in content, and most seem to refer to broken or difficult relationships. The title track starts off with bright keyboard sounds, and shuffles along nicely, with a catchy rhythm. “Twisted” comes across as a lively, modern country number, with the lyrics sung from a hurt person’s point of view. Helen’s voice hasn’t suffered over the years, and it still has a lovely quality about it. On “You’ve Come Home” there’s just her vocals and a piano backing. An unassuming soundscape, but a terrific song. “Let Me Let You Go” is a poignant “break-up” song, while the closing “Always By Your Side” benefits from some smooth, bluesy, keyboards. The latter number took me back to 1994 and that concert, leaving me with a smile. It’s good to hear Helen back to her best, and I hope that her writing continues to flourish. 9/10.
SLEEPING GIANT : I Am. (Facedown Records.)
Click play and immediately we’re off - hard riffing guitars with half-shouted vocals (although I rather liked the long held vocal in “Hosanna”). All this over a solid drum and bass foundation (and I mean solid - the rhythmic twists are tighter than a tourniquet – “Haunted” is a very good example of this). It’s a bit Faith No More with some Black Sabbath style riffs (e.g. “Fly. Fight. Crow.”), with nods towards the likes of Linkin Park and Slayer. The opening track is called “Preachcore Lives” which is a clear indication as to what you’re in for. Preach it certainly does and metal core it does equally as well. It doesn’t let up for a moment with riffing of the highest order. When they chant “someone paid the price for me” on “Second Chance Kids” you have no doubt who they’re singing about – if you do have any doubts then the other tracks provide plenty of hints. (The same track also contains a repeated “no compromise” which fits their overall sound well). The closest they come to light and shade is probably on the closing “No Sleep Pt. 2” which has some excellent mood changes within it. This album’s not subtle – either musically or lyrically – and when it’s done as well as this, that’s a good thing. It’s a shame that it’s their final album but if you’ve got to bow out, do it like this. Best track: “No Sleep Pt. 2” 8/10. Paul Ganney.
SIDELINE : Front and Centre. (Mountain Home Music)
Sideline is a pedigreed six-piece powerhouse whose style has set the pace in Bluegrass for over two decades. Founders Steve Dilling, Skip Cherryholmes and Jason Moore can all claim their own historical significance to the genre as members of highly awarded groups, multiple international touring. This brand new 12 track offering is bound to please lovers of this musical genre. With great vocals and perfect harmonies, the songs are all backed with fine musical accompaniment. The album opens with the #1 Bluegrass Today chart single, the compelling "Thunder Dan." Superb banjo playing drives the song along, with the story telling of the life of an outsider. On “Frozen in Time” one of the vocalists sounds a little like Alan Jackson. It’s a favourite of mine already, and well delivered. A lot of the songs are what I would call “high energy,” and the foot tapping “Old Time Way” is just one such example. “Bluefield W.V. Mountain Girl” is another quality song, and I defy you not to find yourself dancing around the living room to this one! There are so many wonderful bluegrass tunes here, that I could write about each one. But, the twisted love story of “All Because of Me” and the plea to the Lord to save you from “Satan’s Chains” deserve a special mention. Without a doubt, “Front & Centre” is the best bluegrass album I have heard for a very long time. 9/10.
SARAH GROVES : Abide With Me. (Fairtrade Records)
This recording marks the 20th anniversary of Sara’s ministry. It’s a live recording, with traditional hymns given a bare, acoustic production under the watchful eye of John Mark Nelson. I guess that some of the songs are more traditional in the US than here in the UK, as there were a few that I didn’t recognise. “Fairest Lord Jesus” is one such hymn. Sara’s vocals are pure and unassuming, as she sings in awe of the Lord Jesus. On some tracks, a choir adds to the vocal content. And, the sound really works well on “Praise to the Lord.” There’s a sympathetic version of the title track, with piano accompaniment, while “The Love of God” is delivered with a lumbering rhythm. As well as producing, Nelson can also be found performing backing vocals and playing guitar. He does both, admirably, and with distinct quality. “To the Dawn” was another song that I didn’t recognise. It’s a pretty song, and one that sees Jesus calling and gathering His people. Closing the album is a version of “He’s Always Been Faithful.” It’s a song that means a lot to Sara, and she’s been singing it at concerts throughout her career. If you’re expecting the usual Sara Groves pop, then you’ll be disappointed. However, as a standalone record, this is a lovely addition to anyone’s collection. 8/10.
NICK & BECKY DRAKE : All Through History. (Essential Christian : 5021776229438)
For the past ten years Nick & Becky Drake have been writing songs to unite all ages together in worship. This compilation presents their best loved songs. Now, I’ve got to say immediately, that I’m not sure these songs are actually suited for “all ages.” Indeed, most of them seemed to be aimed at teenagers. However, the simple bible truths of the lyrics, do serve as a reminder of just how great and wonderful God is. Perhaps, we all need reminding from time to time. Nicky takes on most of the vocals, with the infectious “God is Here” leading the playlist. It’s a happy, bouncy song that is excellent in it’s make up, and a formula that is repeated on “Creator God.” The songs all sound very modern and should appeal to the younger age group. On “Big Family of God,” the theme is that God loves everyone He’s made – differences and all. Lyrics such as “Some of us like reading books, some of us like feeding ducks” should give you an idea of the age level the song is aimed at. There’s a stomping bass drum to accompany Nick’s vocals of “God Be Glorified,” while the title track looks at different characters of the Bible, such as Noah, Moses, David, and Daniel. “Sign Your Cross” has a very summery feeling about it, sound-wise but I felt that it was one of the weaker tracks overall. Top marks has to go to “The Angels Knew.” Yes, it’s a Christmas song, but it is up there with the best. Great production and lifted by some great choir sounds. So, I think that more mature people would struggle to worship with these songs but, for younger ones, this would be a real help. 8/10.
CHLOE ELLIOT : 3 Reasons. (Resound Media)
At just 16 years of age, Worcestershire based Chloe Elliot is already attracting interest from Universal and Warner and has received support from BBC Introducing. She has been working hard gigging and promoting her music and now has a 4 track EP available for our listening pleasure. The first track “Possession” has a good beat, a great bassline and sounds catchy but it didn’t quite grab my attention as much as I might have expected. It’s a good song, but very typical of its genre. The next song, “One”, is a great contrast, a ballad with a bit of a Celtic feel at times which shows some versatility from Chloe. Next up is “3 Reasons”, another soul funk number which has a more memorable hook than the opener – I can still remember it as I type. It does however remind me of something though I cannot think what. Answers on a postcard please. The final track, “Don’t” is an anthemic ballad and wins the award of best song on the EP. This is the earworm - one that sticks with you and you find yourself singing throughout the day. All in all, it’s not a bad debut. The quality is 100% and cannot be faulted, there is one great song, one good one and two ok ones. It’s early days for Chloe, but they’re good early days and they’ll only get better. 7/10 Robin Thompson.