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SALT OF THE SOUND : Lent, Vol.2.   (https://echoesblue.com/releases/lent-vol-2/)

Here is the new EP from Hong Kong-based Christian ambient duo Salt of the Sound (Anita & Ben Tatlow). The release explores a variety of Lenten themes, including waiting, anxiety, and resting in the presence of God. As with much of the duo's output, the tracks range from contemporary ambient through to more cinematic sounds, with ethereal vocals throughout. As with their 2020 release ‘Meditations Vol.4’ there is a real soothing sound throughout the three tracks. Awake My Soul” is based loosely on the themes of Psalm 57; with both praise and gratitude. “Awake my soul before the dawn; Throughout the earth, your glories known; With love that covers everything I owe; In you made whole.” Ambient sounds provide the setting for Anita’s delicate vocals, and the whole thing just melts into a beautiful song. The second track, “Constancy,” follows suit, with lovely keyboard notes following the melody. Ben & Anita have really honed their skills in this genre of music and I, personally, find it a great blessing. The classic hymn “Abide With Me” also gets the Salt of the Sound treatment. Now, you might think “how can this well-known hymn work in ambient form?” Well, all I can say is that, yes it certainly does!” I love the way that Anita’s vocals are gently supported by both the music and additional voices. Once more, Ben & Anita bring much needed calmness and time for reflection on God’s love for us. I, simply, love it!   10/10.    

DAVID LYON : Love Like No Other.  (https://davidlyon.bandcamp.com)

I love CDs which immediately say; “Hello, you will like this.” This one shouted! Scotland based David Lyon’s latest release, his 5th, is a studio recorded worship album. There’s a feel of Celtic country about it, and he gently leads you in songs which would fit in any service. The musicianship is from this multi-instrumentalist, as well as many additional musicians. It was nice to hear the subdued guitar soloing behind the well- produced arrangements. David has recorded with many artists including Dave Bainbridge (Iona and The Strawbs) on ‘Celestial Fire’ and Gareth Davies-Jones. David’s vocals remind me of Colin Blunstone (for those of my generation!!) The album starts with 5 original songs followed by 5 more David has adapted from the old hymn catalogue. But, if you didn’t know them, you would never guess, as they are contemporary and refreshing. (‘I Heard the Voice; Take My Life; and Love Divine,’ being the most well- known. Lyrically, the songs are very good too, as is overall production. I would like to listen to more of his CDs.’Amazing Things’ was one song that stood out. Another was ‘Not My Will,’ which is a gentle piano based song sung by Yvonne Lyon. This leaves you wanting more as each track ends. It’s all very listenable and magnetic. Nice harmonies and song construction, plus, I particularly liked the bass, unobtrusive but just right. If he tours I would love to be there! Just a great album,   10/10 Noel Donaldson.

JORDAN SMITH : Great You Are.   (Provident Label Group)

Jordan became a household name winning Season 9 of The Voice USA in 2015. Since then, Jordan has honed his craft as a singer songwriter. He’s now feeling the call to return to his roots after growing up in the church. “Great You Are” is his debut single, and what a great song it is! I love his soaring vocals singing out the song’s title. But that’s not the only good thing about it. There’s traits of Danny Gokey in the song’s production, and that’s no bad thing. So, it’s mid-paced, contemporary pop, full of worshipful lyrics. “Let everything I am reveal the glory of how great you are; Let everything I am declare the story of how great you are.” I really thought this song was terrific!   10/10.

TINA DIVINE : Nobody Like You Lord.   (https://open.spotify.com/album/3N4TtLArluVesrF9MJ9kF0)

Tina is a Gospel Singer/Songwriter, Minister, Classical music award winner, Microbiologist, Clinical practitioner, Wife and Mum. This EP is a little odd, as there is only one track listed, but there are two definite breaks. It’s all a little confusing. The first track begins with sumptuous vocals from Tina. A real velvet touch in her voice. “I searched all over, couldn’t find nobody; Nobody greater than you.” The spontaneous counter melody, mid-song, does tend to spoil the overall song though. The next part, starts well, but suddenly reverts to the previous song’s chorus. At this point, I really wasn’t sure what to expect next. Some lovely piano playing acts as the backdrop to those rich vocals, as Tina sings; “Hosanna, in the highest; Let our King be lifted up.” The lyrics are quite repetitive, but they don’t become annoyingly so. I’m not sure if this recording was made live, but there certainly seems quite a rawness to the production. Maybe that’s the area where Tina’s music needs improvement.   4/10.

THE FREE ZONE :  Mammon.   (theradium88@yahoo.co.uk)

Here's a bit of an unusual one - a recent 15 track remaster of an album first released around 30 years ago, with 3 'bonus tracks' added to the original 12, with a release date of March 15th. The Free Zone evidently "played at a few Christian festivals around the UK" but the album "didn't receive any kind of digital release at the time", and the band "feel it merits not to be entirely forgotten". The Free Zone were Tim Thwaites and Pete Scarlett, citing influences such as U2, The The, The Waterboys, The Bunnymen and Icicle Works. From the evidence here they certainly sound like a capable band/duo, and the remastered sound is very good. It is clear from the recent press release however that they weren't only out to entertain people. The often political messages of the lyrics were an important component of their output, with Mammon said to centre around "... the idea that Mammon (the worship of money) ultimately dehumanises ... ". It is particularly disappointing therefore that much of the time the punkish vocals are set too low in the mix. Perhaps the otherwise good quality remastering was simply done from the original stereo master, making it difficult to sort this? A shame however, as I was unable to follow the lyrics. I also found the vocal style irritating, and for some reason even after two or three listens I didn't find any of the melodies particularly memorable. Overall therefore I cannot mention any 'standout tracks'. Having been producing my own music around the same era, I so wanted to be able to recommend this release by 'fellow Christian artists' of the time. Sadly however, it wasn't to be. Regretfully, 3/10. Dave Deeks.

KIM HARLEY : I Choose You.   (Kim Harley Music)

Kim Harley currently leads worship at her home church in Brooklyn. This song begins with the trill of a bright piano and a guitar solo. The tune, then, settles into a mid-tempo gospel number, where Kim joyfully sings the praises of the Lord. Mid-song, there’s an altar-type call for “people of God” to make a declaration that no matter what’s going on in today’s world, “We choose God.” That’s when the song loses direction, for me. The last 70 seconds of the song revolves around the backing singers chanting the title, while Kim cries the same words, but louder! Earlier, the song is bright with an interesting sound, and great vocals. Such a shame about that ending.   6/10.

DIVINE NATURE : Real Talk.   (Divine Nature)

Celebrating more than 20 years in urban ministry, the four members of Divine Nature sing soulful songs, filled with faith, encouragement, and inspiration. Smooth numbers like “Focus” and  “Picture on the Wall” drift along, with great harmonies backing the lead vocal. “I wanna be all that I can be, be a soldier in your army.” That’s the opening line to the funky “War Cry” Whether it’s fighting your own battles, or the war against the devil, it’s good to know that God is with you, always. I wasn’t too keen, mid-album, on the songs called “Pain” and “I’m Going Through It.”  Vocally, they both came over as a bit of a strain for the lead, and it just didn’t sit well at all. Thankfully, things are much better with the bouncy number, “Somebody Touched Me.”  When asked about this release, group member Toussaint Lipton    said; “This album has the unique ability to capture all ears and not just one genre. This body of music is an example of what Paul said to the Corinthian church – this music is all things to all people that we might save some.” While this release didn’t actually blow me away, there are some really good songs. And, after 20 years in the ministry, Divine Nature must be doing something right!   7/10.

DUPREE : Never Forget.   (Good Reception Music)

DUPREE is turning heads with their fresh, distinct sound and BOLD Christian message of belonging and anti-bullying. The multi-talented duo led by mother Lauren and son Dylan based out of Orlando, Florida are also songwriters and music producers. Dupree's upbeat music includes smooth harmonies and feature Dylan’s {left-handed} jaw-dropping guitar solos. Dylan's solos have been compared to the styles of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. And, straight away, you get a taste of those guitar solos on the opening song, “Mighty.” The following “Lean In” is a smoother song and, actually, I thought Dylan’s Satriani-type guitar work sounded out of place on this one. The vocals are shared between the duo and really complement each other well. Overall, the sound reminded me of the Cocteau Twins, especially on “Never forget” – song remembering how Jesus carried the cross at Calvary. “Praise Be” is unashamedly a song of praise to Jesus and Dylan, once again, shows his love by more, intricate, guitar work. A slight change in sound comes with “Chapel Song.” Not vocally, but the song took me back to early Bon Jovi tunes. Great chorus and crunching guitars. I think that my favourite track has to be “Perfect Love,” were Lauren’s lead vocals are just terrific. It would certainly be my choice to add to a playlist. Although there’s no doubting Dylan’s skills, I did find his playing rather intrusive and unnecessary on some tracks. Listening, it came across as “let’s put a guitar solo in” just for the sake of it! I must admit, for me, it became rather tiresome.   6/10.

YETUNDE OLOMOLAIYE : We’ve Come to Give Thanks.   (https://www.facebook.com/IamYetundeOlomolaiye)

Yetunde Olomolaiye, Nigerian born worship leader and song writer, releases her single ‘We’ve Come to Give Thanks’ which is also the title of her debut five track EP.

The song begins with Yetunde speaking, and telling the listener that despite all the bad things and trials we’ve been through, God has been with us all the way. And, we should give thanks. Keyboards, then, provide the main backing, as the song moves into its melody. There’s a nice rhythm and luscious backing vocals, while Yetunde’s voice leads the way. Mid-song, there’s another little bit of preaching, before she returns to singing. Lyrically, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here. It’s all about giving thanks to God, and, Amen to that. But, the tune is rather ordinary, and doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.   5/10.

THE BEENES : Keep Looking Up.   (Stow Town Records)

Brandon and Chrysta Beene are music veterans who possess rich musical talents. Their music ministry has afforded them the opportunity to travel for two decades. Adding their teenage daughter Savannah, The Beenes now minister as a family with these songs which highlight their journey of faith. This is their debut release with Stow Town Records, and the band say; “We started this project at the beginning of the pandemic and we wanted to record songs that would bring people hope, encouragement and joy.” The opening “Taste & See” has a bright feel about it, with the vocals carrying the song along, over laid back music. The tempo picks up with “Right Here,” which is really enjoyable. “Unstoppable God” suffers from some odd vocal tones, while “It’s Not Over” shows Chrysta’s vocals off to their best. Young Savannah gets the lead on “How Big,” and I was surprised at how good her voice sounded. There’s a few styles of song on show with this album, including the poppy “Thank You Lord” and the mid-paced, country feel of “I Can Do All Things.” Was there a downside to the album? Well, if I was picky, I’d have to say that the closing “Breathe” didn’t quite have the same feel as the rest of the album. There was something about it that just made me grimace, as I listened. Still, one song doesn’t make a bad album, so I’m pleased rate this one as very good.   8/10.

SANDRA LUKE : Great Are You Lord.   (Little Robin Music)

‘Great are you Lord’ is the debut single by Sandra Luke, a Worship Leader and co-pastor at Praise House in central Croydon. Produced by Tribute Gospel Band, Churchboyz and Paul Bruce, it’s the first single to be released by their newly launched label, Little Robin. The song is a slow moving worship number that Sandra hopes will encourage listeners to trust God when they are experiencing challenges in life. Sandra has a really good voice and is backed by some excellent musicians and backing singers. And, unlike some other songs in this gospel genre, Sandra’s vocals stay true and tuneful, without any shouting or hollering! A really nice performance.   7/10.

ELIM SOUND : You Are Worthy.   (Elim Sound)

You are Worthy, featuring Rebecca Sivalogan and Sam Blake, is the first song to be released from Elim sound’s newest project ‘God Is Still Moving’ (release date: 07/05/21). “You Are Worthy” is an upbeat, vertical, praise song that reminds us that when we praise God we join with the angels and all of creation declaring the truth that has been sung through all generations that God alone is worthy to be praised. Both vocalists sound great throughout the song, which has a feel of mega-church influence behind it. Saying that, the production here is far better! A lot of those big church songs seem to be sung to a sound that, sometimes, sounds as if it’s just noise. Here, the music is guitar led, and you can hear every instrument quite clearly. The song motors along nicely, and I can see it going down well at many live events, once re-opened.   8/10.

ADAM LAMB : 46.  (Adam Lamb Productions)

Phoenix based, Adam Lamb uses his musical testimony to portray the power of God’s faithfulness in the midst of the trying times of life. As a grateful 23 year old, he’s always known that music is just the vessel that holds his true calling: encouraging and empowering people to live compelling lives of sacrificial love. He embodies this vocation through his progressive Christian pop compositions, knowing that music was never meant to be the mission. This collection songs is his latest release, and begins with the electro-pop song, “Better.” As I listened, I thought that the song had a “summer” feel to it, and brightened up a very wet and dark day outside. The following “For Me” has traits of Owl City in its sound. Of the song, Adam says; “When God allows you an increased awareness of just how incredible the love of Christ is; I truly believe it is the most inspiring, and life-changing reality for a human being to discover. This song is my best attempt so far at expressing that reality.” Adam’s overall sound is quite enjoyable, and I thought the bouncy chorus of “Find My Way” was excellent. “Keep Runnin’” centres on running away from the devil’s temptations, while the title track reminds us all of God’s power and love. 46 is an interesting release, and one that I was able to listen to several times, and still enjoy. 7/10.

MACK BROCK : Café Sessions (Sparrow Records)

Mack Brock will be a name familiar to many as a founder of Elevation Worship, the musical arm of Elevation Church in North Carolina where he was also a music producer and key worship leader for over 10 years. Having served there for over a decade, Matt sensed God calling him a couple of years back to move on to other ministry projects which led to him beginning his solo career in 2018. The “Café Sessions” follows hot on the heels of his most recent live worship album “Space” released in late 2020. This EP is a collection of acoustic material produced in conjunction with Worship Together, featuring songs released within the last year or so including tracks from the aforementioned Space album. Having heard laid-back, acoustic versions of songs and albums many times in the past which for me haven’t always worked too well, I approached this release with a mild sense of trepidation but from the opening track titled ‘Come Now’ my fears thankfully subsided. It’s a fairly gentle guitar and piano-led track with the words creating a tangible sense of expectation of what God is doing and can do. As tends to be the formula for many modern worship tracks, it starts pretty low key and builds towards the mid-section with some subtle but noticeable bass and percussion, fading away again towards the end. The opening guitar riff of ‘Even the Impossible’ has echoes of some of Brenton Brown / Vineyard’s older material which for me is great as it’s the stuff I grew to love in the earlier days of my faith. The female harmonies are smooth, well balanced with Mack’s voice and give the song great atmosphere. The following ‘Song of Heaven’ is the longest track on the EP and is just a little more low-key overall but still atmospheric, although for me a little long in isolation. I did especially enjoy ‘Prophesy your Promise’ which was co-written with Jesus Culture’s Bryan and Katie Torwalt. The opening lines of “I found you in the middle of my mess, you’ve been there all along” I can sure relate to right now but this is a song of great hope and truth about who we are in Christ…powerful stuff many of us will benefit from being reminded of now and again! Some lovely female harmonies (possibly Katie Torwalt) adding great texture and real feeling to the words. ‘You Reign’ follows on which I can imagine being included in a large-scale worship set. ‘Bless the One’ was produced in collaboration with Matt Maher who features on vocals and is a gentle track with prominent vocals and reduced instrumentation which is followed up with what are probably the most lively tracks from the EP ‘Saviour of the World’ and ‘Your Church is Alive’, ending on an upbeat note of Christ’s victory. Café Sessions does, I think, achieve what it sets out to do which is take us away from the busyness of life and reconnect us with the gospel and some of the truths therein. One I can imagine listening to again whilst in the kitchen cooking…just better be careful I don’t get carried away and come out with a burnt offering! 9/10 Simon Redfern

FALLSTAR : Sunbreather.   (Facedown Records)

This Fallstar’s first album in 6 years. For those who don’t know this band, you might be in for a shock. Their music is classed as metalcore, indie rock, & hip hop. So, I guess we’re talking of similar artists such as Limp Biskit or Korn – not the usual stuff I listen to. After the opening attack of “Chroma,” I tired my best to listen, objectively, to “Cloud Chamber.” I scribbled a few notes down, and came up with the view that the lyrics were, possibly, describing what it’s like to live with depression. That feeling was amplified by the next song “Ssri Feel Better Already” and lyrics like “God I’ve got a broken mind.” The vocalists shout their way through each song and, sometimes, I did find it hard to hear the lyrics. Crunching guitars and heavy drum beats, accompany most songs. My listening ears did get a break with the more melodic “Waiting.” Proving that the singer can sing without screaming, it soon became my favourite track on the album. It reminded me, a little, of My Chemical Romance. Then, the songs returned to the metalcore theme, and my hearing struggled once more. “I exist somewhere in between the lion and the lamb,” are a few of the words from “The Prism Glass.” I’m guessing that this song is about finding your way in the Christian life but, try as I might, I couldn’t distinguish a single word of the bass singer. And so, to sum up, this is an album that you won’t find me playing again. It’s not my taste at all. However, comparing it to the likes of Limp Biskit, it stands up well in sound. Hopefully, Fallstar’s music will find the right audience for their message.   7/10.

NATHAN HOOD : Fount.   (Kenilworth Records)

20-year-old singer/songwriter and worship leader, NATHAN HOOD, is based in Southampton, UK. He’s just released his debut EP ‘Fount,’ which is an acoustic/intimate worship album for those looking for reflective times with God and a chance to draw close to Him. On hearing the EP’s title track, I was immediately impressed. With simple guitar picking and carefully placed, orchestral strings, Nathan’s crisp vocals are, also, engaging. The song itself recognises that Jesus is the fount of life that won’t run dry, and His love is endless. Piano sounds are added to “Breathe Again,” as Nathan worships Yahweh. “My world comes alive in your presence.” This is one of those collections that you will find best to listen to in the quietness of your day. Nathan’s lyrics aren’t complicated, and I think many will be able to relate to them. Whether he’s singing of the infinite love of God in “Inexhaustable,” or soaking in the lyrics of “Holy and Dearly Loved,” the singer’s voice has great feeling. Only 4 tracks here, but 4 very good ones.   8/10.

AGHOGHO : Aghogo The EP.   (Aghogho Music)

For Aghogho, the music journey started way back in her years of growing up as a child. A passion she shared with her mother who encouraged her to first focus on her academics, after which she could pursue her music passion. After serving at churches in Nigeria, she recorded her first song in 2018. This 6 track EP is my first taste of Aghogho’s music, so I settled back to listen. “Who You Are” is a quiet, laid back number, with the singer’s vocals having a little quiver that was, strangely, attractive. The song is a mixture of singing and preaching, with the message “He knows your every move; You are who you are.” “Need You” instantly reminded me of Ce Ce Winans work, in both sound and style. This made for a classy song. The listener is then treat to “The Tomorrow,“ which includes some nice brass instruments. This song has a more funky feel to it, while “Get Up” is quieter and reminds us that time waits for no man, and that we should “Get up and make life what you want it to be, and walk with God. I struggled with the next song, “I Believe,” as Aghogho’s vocal delivery made it quite difficult to hear a lot of the lyrics. But, things were back to normal for the closing “Connected.” So, here we have a lady who certainly has plenty of talent, and this EP is a fine offering that show great promise.   7/10.

PAUL PAYNE837 & DMSTRY : Chop. (@PaulPayne837)

Paul Payne837 is a Zambian award winning recording artist, songwriter, motion graphics designer based in Lusaka, Zambia. He is known for his versatility on multi genres ranging from afro beats to hip hop & dance music etc. Of this song, the artist says; “Love is a beautiful thing, chop when things are going well & stay strong when times are hard. The world has survived many tragedies, this too shall pass.” So, what do we have? The track begins with a nice rhythm and keyboard sounds. Predominantly, the vocals are performed in true hip-hop style, which includes lyrics that are totally inaudible to the human ear. When I could make out what Paul was saying, I did manage to pick out words that seemed to relate to love and marriage – although I may be completely wrong. The chorus includes the song title, repeated, and what sounds like “The good life, jive with me. The sweet life, jive with me.” The actual melody is quite catchy, but I’m left scratching my head at those lyrics.   4/10.

NATALIE LAYNE : Steady.   (Rixon Entertainment Group)

Acclaimed singer/songwriter and worship leader Natalie Layne is stepping confidently into a new season with her latest single, “Steady.” The upbeat pop anthem - contrasting the fallible nature of humanity with the certainty of a Saviour who anchors us. “We wrote this song last March when quarantine had just begun,” Layne shares. “I think all of us were feeling the chaotic state of the world - and of our own hearts - and wanted to write about God breaking into that uncertainty. In a world that feels shaken, we need hope more than ever, so it’s my prayer others will receive peace in knowing there is certainty in the person of Jesus and all He has done.” A mid-paced RnB sound, Natalie sings; “Every day you prove, you are the rock that does not move.” The pace of the song is constant throughout, and the vocals reminded me, a little, of Sarah Teibo. The song is quite memorable, as I had the hook running through my head again, the next day. Very radio friendly, too.   8/10.

FALCONE RISING : Tableturner.   (John L. Falcone)

John Falcone wears many hats--mostly a surgeon's cap during the day and a baseball cap at night.  While he is a general/vascular/trauma surgeon to some people, he is a husband, a father of three, a brother, a son, an uncle, and a friend to others.    Music has been a part of John's personality and essence since he was young.  Out of that passion for music and after being saved, Falcone Rising was born. Falcone Rising is a music-based ministry.  Its mission is to help fulfill the Great Commission by using music to lead others to Jesus.  I mean no disrespect to what Falcone Rising is doing, but my thoughts turned immediately to Stryper comparisons, as soon as I listened to this album. Pounding beats, chugging rhythms, and some searing guitar licks thrown in for good measure, too. The opening two songs were instant favourites, “Heart of Stone” and “I Found My Voice.” John has got some excellent musicians with him, and the voice of Jason Fowler is perfect for the genre. The title track tells of how Jesus will turn your life around. “His light shines true forever.” Songs like “In the Fire” and “3 Arrows” keep the pace racing along, until “The Road to Emmaus” comes along. I’m not sure if it was just the change into tempo, but I thought it lacked a certain something. The more pop orientated “I Am” is another good song. Lyrics include; “I am not defined by yesterday, because I am a forgiven lamb.” It may not be as raucous as earlier tracks, but I really enjoyed it. Closing the album is the acoustic “An Engagement Song.” It’s quite a change in sound but, somehow, it still works. This is a really solid rock album, and well worth an 8/10.   

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