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HILLSONG WORSHIP : What a Beautiful Name.   (Hillsong)

This is the song that (as I write) has been the #1 song on the Christian Airplay chart in the USA. Ben Fielding writes: "When we wrote this song, we imagined the power of declaring it at Easter – especially singing the bridge on Resurrection Sunday. At Easter we remember and declare that there is one Name that is above all others. Anything that can be given a name bows under the Name of Jesus.  In that one Name is immeasurable beauty, wonder and power. This song brings the message of Easter back to the very foundation of our faith, not just in WHAT has been accomplished through the resurrection, but IN WHOM." The EP has 6 versions of the same song. The Gospel version sees the piano backing the singers, with the collective voices providing added enhancement. The Y&F Remix features electronic sounds and an ethereal female vocal. I liked this version very mnuch. We, then, move to an acoustic style, were simple orchestral pads provide the backdrop to the words, sung as a duet. The 4th take, sees keyboards and guitars in control, as the song really builds in power, but it’s the live recording that really blew me away. I was lucky enough to watch the video on You Tube, and it is simply magnificent. Hearing thousands sing the song so beautifully made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The closing Selah rendition, is quite nice, but not really my cup of tea. Saying that, this song is bound to become one of the great Easter songs of our time.   9/10.

PLEADING GUILTY : Defacto. (Thumperpunk Records)

This band have a bit of a crossover sound - the vocals are punk, the drums and bass punk/thrash metal and the guitar is more metal, with some very nice melodic riffs in the style of Helloween or Theocracy (e.g. “Search And Rescue”) There are some very well executed pauses and rhythm shifts, too (such as the end of “Breaking Out”). These are clearly no "three chords as fast as I can" merchants. They describe themselves as "melodic skate punk" which I'd concur with. It's a relentless slice of boundless energy: even the pauses before the next solo/chorus/slab of musicality have something still running, be it bass drum or guitar in some form. After 7 of the 11 tracks I was worn out, which is my only criticism (and a minor one) in that something a little gentler, even if only an intro, would have been nice. Lyrically they're well within their genre and consist more of quick sound bites than long essays, e.g. "Breaking out - you are forgiven". They're catchy sound bites too, which must make their gigs great crowd-pleasers. Best track: “Away From Here.”   7/10.   Paul Ganney.

VINEYARD UK : Saved.   (www.vineyardrecords.co.uk)

Heartfelt worshippers Vineyard UK release their new radio single ‘Saved’, which captures their theologically rooted feeling of wonder at God’s grace. Originally recorded as part of the ‘All My Love’ EP at The Cause To Live For young adult conference, the track draws listeners into a moment of triumphant worship and gratitude along with hundreds of other voices that were captured in the moment. Led by Samuel Lane, the song plods along at walking pace, building into a cacophony of sound, that reminded me of Elbow. Sadly, Samuel’s vocals sound rather rough in places and, at times, get rather lost in the final mix. Originally recorded as part of the ‘All My Love’ EP at The Cause To Live For young adult conference, the track draws listeners into a moment of triumphant worship and gratitude along with hundreds of other voices that were captured in the moment. Unfortunately, listening to the track at home, it’ didn’t do a lot for me.   5/10.

CHRONICLE : I Believe When He Died.   (www.chroniclegospelgroup.com)

Chronicle is from Denham Springs, Louisiana and consist of group members Tim Kinchen and Missy Kinchen. The duo bring great southern and country gospel music along with praise and worship to its audiences. Their mission is to tell all through song and word about this man Jesus! His saving power, His precious cleansing blood, and that He can change their life. This new single is taken from their current album “My God is Faithful.” Tim’s saxophone playing is quite strong throughout this track, but it’s his wonderful tenor vocals that steal the show. Whether he’s singing of Christ’s journey to Calvary, or affirming the title of the song, his voice is excellent. Missy backs him on guitar, but I couldn’t hear her vocals anywhere on the track, which was a pity. It’s what I would call an “old fashioned” southern gospel number, and it’s bound to please fans of this genre.   7/10.

VARIOUS : Kill The Ill.   (https://shawnbrowningfundraiser.bandcamp.com/album/kill-the-ill-a-benefit-compilation-for-shawn-browning)

Opening with a prayer (and not one set to music either) the purpose of this CD is set from the off - a benefit for Shawn Browning, a leading light in the punk/metal/hardcore scene who has done so much to support the Christian hard music scenes. This compilation features songs donated by 80 bands from these genres to raise money for medical expenses for the owner of Rottweiler Records and lead singer of the band Grave Robber.  Shawn only asked for prayers, but this fundraiser reflects an outpouring of love and support for him. With 91 tracks, you are getting both value for money and a clear view of the respect in which Browning is held. These aren't throwaway live tracks either, but are top-class studio ones (it includes "Breaking Out" from Pleading Guilty, who I reviewed just before this album, "Vivente" by Aggelos that I made special mention of on "Meltdown" and "Teeth" by A Broken Line that I thought the best track on their recent album). There's a shedload of styles here and my best attempt at illustrating this is to say (illustrating each with only one example - there are loads of each) that there's the metal (Hand Of Fire), classic punk (The Kings Kids), skater punk (Pleading Guilty), thrash/speed (The Hoax with a classic 39 second song), non-English (Soldados De Deus), hardcore (Doomsday Hymn), pop punk guitar riffs (Dismissed), doom (Skald In Veum), opera (Aggelos), electronica (Blindfold Execution), ambient (Kneel), acoustic (Abby Nicole), worship (Johnnyboy), pop metal (Vamoosery), "power worship" (Peter118 feat. Lisa Cox), pop punk reggae (No Lost Cause), Ramones-style USA punk (The Plank Eyed Saints), Sex pistols rifferama (October Bird Of Death), spoken word (Ospreyshire) and rockabilly (The Altar Billies). Listing the bands that I was reminded of would take even longer. There's a stronger emphasis to the punk end of this particular musical spectrum and all the genres mentioned above should be interpreted in the punk/metal context (even some of the acoustic stuff). Naturally there's not going to be an overall theme on such an album, but I would like to mention the lyrics to "Drive Thru America" which I thought very good, especially the middle section. And if you've ever wanted to hear "Jesus is the King of kings and we will praise his holy name" screamed over a death metal backing, then Abednego won't disappoint. If you've ever heard music on the Thumperpunk label then you know the lyrics won't be subtle – “I AM That I AM” is essentially a sermon and altar call over music (but a lot better than that makes it sound). Four hours of music for ten dollars (or more if you feel so led) is certainly value for money. Personally I found the continuous onslaught of guttural vocals in some sections a bit wearing, longing for someone who'd just sing for a change - just to lighten up before hitting you again. Maybe this is an album to play on shuffle, especially as generally tracks have been grouped together by genre in the playlist. There were some superb guitar riffs (“Awaken The Warrior”, the ending of “Trust In You”, “Bloodlust”), keyboard work (“The End Of Emnity”), interplay of the two (“Awaken The Warrior”), a fabulous introduction on “O Plano” and so on. I was more attracted to the metal end of the overdrive guitar spectrum on display here, but if you like your guitars loud and drums pounding then there'll be more than one track here for you. I certainly enjoyed the variety and the sheer number of new bands it introduced me to. At about 10p per track, what's to lose (apart from your hearing)? It took me a long time to settle on my “best track”, because there were just too many to choose from! So, with honourable mentions to “Loud And Proud” by True Liberty, “Andar De Skate” by Soldados De Deus, “Hard Day” by Dismissed, “Burning Of The Last Bible” by Forfeit Thee Untrue, “The Vision” by Eleos, “Vivente” by Aggelos, “Awaken The Warrior” by O Wretched Man, “The Trail In The Snow” by Immortal Souls,  “Smile” by Kneel, “Follow Me” by Abby Nicole, “BRKN” by Light The Way, “Trust In You” by Vamoosery, “Keeping Up Appearances” by The Plank Eyed Saints, “I Wanna Kill You” by The Ben Aldrich Project, “I AM That I AM” by Blindfold Execution, “Long Long Road” by The Altar Billies, I finally settled on this one. Best track: (and this certainly reflects my musical taste): “Great I Am” by Peter118 feat. Lisa Cox.   8/10.   Paul Ganney.

DAVID BALOCHE : Labyrinth.   (Integrity)

The son of worship leader/songwriter Paul Baloche, New York-based David is a high school teacher as well as talented multi-instrumentalist - contributing piano, acoustic guitar, clarinet and trumpet on his first solo release featured here, with dad as executive producer. Described as an 'ambient post-rock' exploration of a range of scriptures, it is intended to be the first in a series - the ten tracks here focusing on anxiety and stress. I personally enjoy a wide range of music and as a reviewer always try to strike a balance between personal tastes and the tastes of those to whom I feel a release is targetted - but rarely have I found it so difficult as with this example. Positives? The scriptures are certainly well selected for those experiencing anxiety and/or stress e.g. 'Nothing can separate us from God's love', 'Lead me to the Rock', 'The peace of God' etc. Scripture references are usefully given for each track, and David's diction is clear so that every word can be heard. His voice seems to lack emotion/conviction however, sounding 'deadpan', bored. The tracks are all of a similar tempo, so the album lacks variety in this respect. The sounds seem in many instances to get in the way of the message, and I found some of them 'unpleasant'. The piano tends to sound as though the sustain pedal is permanently pressed. I began to skip some tracks part-way through because they were becoming literally headache inducing, including track 5 'Those who hope' which features a long drone that runs through the song. As I type, track 8 'As a father carries his son' is playing and I am finding the 'sawtooth' sounds painful to listen to. Whilst this release simply isn't for me therefore, I must acknowledge that it has had good reviews elsewhere - so how to rate it? For the well selected scriptures and the fact that, without the music playing, I enjoyed a personal Bible study based on them(!), 10/10. As an overall listening experience however, apart from a nod to track 6 'Lead me to the Rock' as my one standout, I can only scrape 4/10. Dave Deeks.

LUCY GRIMBLE : Overcomer.   (https://lucygrimble.com)

Lucy is a London based singer/songwriter, who released her album “Created to Worship” recently. She has been writing songs for the church and leading worshippers for many years, both as a solo artist and with her talented band of musicians. Her desire is to create space for anyone to encounter the love of God. Lucy’s own worship flows from a place of personal intimacy and consecration to God, out of which she writes songs that carry a message of freedom, hope and identity. This new single tells of giving thanks through during disappointments and “hopeless places”, as well as asking Jesus for help to see through times of sorrow. It’s a rather choppy affair, musically, that drifts from one tempo to another. Lucy’s voice reminded me of Florence Welch, so that’s no bad thing. The recording was done live and, at times, during the choruses; Lucy’s vocals do get rather lost in the mix. However, overall, it’s a bright number that should garner plenty of radio play.   7/10.

DOUG HORLEY : Oomph!   (Elevation : ELE2174D)

Doug Horley is back with a brand new collection of fun and funky praise and worship songs for kids. I’m not sure where the album has been hiding, but its October release features a smashing Christmas song called “All the Angels Sing.” As usual, there’s lots of musical styles on show, but there does seem a leaning towards RnB in the main. Both “Are You Ready?” and the title track fall into this category, with the latter sounding like a Mary Mary song. I was pleased to see that Doug hasn’t lost his sense of humour, and both “Dollop” and “Who Da Da Da Diddly Day” are typical of this. The thing I like about his kids songs is that they’re not complicated to understand. “You Write My Name Upon Your Hand” is one such song, were it’s so easy for kids to hear that God loves each one of them. There’s an African feel to “Never Gonna Give Up”, while I thought the banjo playing on “Tidal Wave” worked really well. On the downside, I wasn’t keen on the noisy “You Might See Miracles.” The female vocalist sounds like she should be leading a black gospel choir, and her voice doesn’t really suit the song. I often think that Doug must have been a punk rock fan, he never fails to include fast and furious paced guitar led songs like “God is There in Ev’ryday Stuff.” It’s a classic and, along with most of the album, makes this child of God smile.   8/10.

MIGHTY MYKELL : Fly Away/I’m Gonna Make It. (http://mightymykell.com)

Mighty Mykell, aka Mykell Wilson is an entertainer, author and motivational speaker from Southern California. The two tracks “Fly Away” and “I’m Gonna Make It” are from his upcoming debut six track EP, “Sometimes I Sing”. There’s just a third of the full EP here but on the evidence what is presented here, it should be a strong debut. Funk, pop, R’n’B and soul are the clear influences here with a vocal sound lying somewhere between Prince and Michael Jackson. It’s an uplifting blend, lilting and melodic which is a fine foil for the brash synth stabs on “I’m Gonna Make It”. The acoustic guitar running through it is great too, and there is a real balance to the track. “Fly Away” is a little more floaty, with some interesting off beat synth rhythms that remind me very much of Mutemath. I do find myself wanting more, and it’s a shame I only got sent two tracks. On the strength of those though, Mykell may well be right – he is gonna make it.   9/10   Robin Thompson.

LOU FELLINGHAM : This Changes Everything.   (Integrity)

Two years after the release of her last album, Fascinate, Lou Fellingham returns with This Changes Everything. Recorded live at the Old Market Theatre in her native Brighton, Lou’s sixth solo album captures her in her element: worshipping with a full band, among old friends, using new songs to communicate timeless truths. A lot of the tracks sound very much like similar releases from Jesus Culture. Were as they have Kim Walker Smith, Lou takes control of these song with her own, fine, voice. “Praise the Name of Jesus” is the first song, and is quite quiet in presentation. The other extreme is the pace of which “The Final Say” races along. Lou sings of the promise that God is with you at all times on “Turn My Life Around,” while “Strong to Deliver” sees her duet with a male singer. Then comes the albums ‘purple patch.’ “Everlasting Arms” sounds like one of the great hymns of our past in presentation. It flows majestically with lyrics such as “Lean on the everlasting arms” and “Your mercy flows like a river.” In similar vein, “Lord I Need You” comes across with great power within. Sandwiched between those two tracks is the gentle “Speak”, which is all about listening to God. These three  songs are, for me, the pick of the album. Of the others, “Tapestry” starts off okay, but seems to go on forever, losing its way, halfway through. Then, there’s “Sweet Surrender.” It’s repetitive chorus and unimaginative lyrics are laid on a bed of funky rhythms that sound like some 70’s disco tune. It’s not a bad album, but I’d preferred to hear more songs that didn’t sound the same.   7/10.

RACHEL KIMBLER : Breathe.   (www.facebook.com/rachkimbler/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf)

Sadly, I don’t have any background details of this singer/songwriter, so I’m not sure where she’s from. This single is “doing the rounds” on social media and has garnered 5,000 listens so far. The production of the song is quite poor, as Rachel’s rather thin vocals, almost disappear at times. The percussion, too, is quite off-putting, as it sounds as if it’s been played to a completely different tempo to the vocals. Lyrically, because of the indifferent production, it was difficult to hear a lot of the words. But, I believe the song to be about being worthy to be loved by God, and breathing in the beauty and mortality of life. A better production would benefit the Rachel’s efforts, and maybe that’s where she should get help for her next recording.   5/10.

HELEN YOUSAF : Custodians of Fire.   (Elim Sound)

It’s been seven years since Helen’s last studio album. Her brand new album ‘Custodians Of Fire’ is a compilation of some of the prophetic songs Helen has been singing out over the past two years.  Ian Yates and the Elim Sound team partnered with Helen to gel these fragments of prophetic ministry into songs that would encourage the body of Christ and speak a word in season to the atmospheres we find ourselves living in for His glory! I found the album quite difficult to review because, on the whole, these aren’t songs that you can singalong to. Kristene Mueller came to mind, when comparing Helen’s vocals sound but, maybe, the album is in similar style to Angie Lendon’s “Be Still.” The opening “High Horse” tells how we should choose to love the way that Jesus loves, even if that means loving our enemies. With little more than piano backing, Helen weaves her lyrics to  powerfully get the message across. The title track explains that we are all “Custodians of [God’s] Fire” and that we are living to carry on His glory in this world. “I Come Alive” moves into mid-tempo territory, while the epic “I Pitch My Tent” sees the singer almost crying in worship. At the end of the album, both “Generous Father” and “Hope Remains” turn out to be “normal” songs. The former has a catchy tune, while the latter is quite sweet in delivery. Helen’s powerful voice speaks to those in pain, or feeling a lack of purpose. These songs of honesty, hope and heartfelt passion will draw the listener in, encouraging, uplifting and inspiring in their personal journey knowing they are carrying God’s glory into every area of their lives. 7/10.

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