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THE CATHEDRALS : Radio Days.   (Stow Town Records)

This album was originally released in 1996, but has now been given new life by the Stow town Records “Vault Series.” There are ten songs on the CD, which finds The Cathedrals paying homage to the Southern Gospel quartets that featured on American radio between 1930 and 1950. The keyboard playing of David Huntsinger is at the fore of most of the tunes, and his performance is first class. The songs are a mixture of foot tapping numbers and ballads, with some great harmonies on show. “Ride That Glory Train” is an immediate appealing song with some fine baritone vocals. Meanwhile, “Mansion Over the Hilltop” is sung so gently, that you‘ll close your eyes and visualise that mansion. I’ve really come to like a lot of the recently released albums in this genre and songs like “Echoes From the Burning Bush” and “I’m Gonna Serve My Lord” really stand out. We all know just how beautiful God’s love is, and “The Love of God” is one of those songs that can melt any hardened heart. Finally, “I’m Looking For Jesus” reminds us all that we should keep ourselves ready for Jesus’ return, with a bouncy melody that’s sure to raise a smile. This is super collection of songs, and one that I’ll be certainly playing regularly.   9/10.

NOEL DONALDSON : Reflections.   (noelonbass@yahoo.co.uk)

Huddersfield based musician and promoter, Noel Donaldson, has released this 13 track album of original songs, with the help of a number of vocalists. The bright and breezy “Maybe Another Day” kicks things off, dealing with why people put off accepting Jesus as their Saviour. “King of My Heart” is an uptempo song of worship, and I guarantee that it’s simple chorus will be buzzing around your head for hours. Vocally, the male singers are much better than the females. I’m not sure if it’s the production, or whether the latter voices are just not good enough, but it is a problem throughout the recording. Prime examples are “Lord Open Our Eyes” (with the singer slightly off-key) and “Song For Elizabeth” (thin vocals that get lost in the mix, at times). However, Noel does seem to have good ideas for different types of songs. Following those couple of slower recordings, “We Give Thanks For Your Mercy” simply races along. There’s a great keyboard sound during the song and it’s just incredibly catchy. Simon Roberts provides excellent vocals on this song, and repeats the feat on “One Day.” Alex Tracey offers an over indulgent guitar solo on “The Rainbow or the Thunder” which simply sounds quite out of place to the rest of the song. However, there are many bright and positive numbers to highlight, such as “Spring Always Comes” and “Climbing Higher,” were Lisa Jayne Ball performs by far the best female vocal. So, a few minor moans here and there, but that shouldn’t take away the positives of, what is, a collection of well written songs.   7/10.

BRUCE COCKBURN : Bone On Bone.   (True North Records : B071S7RPSX)

If you're already familiar with Cockburn (and if not, where have you been for the last thirty years?) then you know what you're in for. Intelligent lyrics (he's never going to chant "I love your body" for three minutes, is he?), half-sung, half-recited over very accomplished (mostly) acoustic guitar playing (see the instrumental "Bone On Bone" for a particular example of his skill), plus band, but they generally sit back letting the main man take the lead, adding flourishes here and there, all very good in a Dire Straits/Neil Young/Johnny Cash sort of way. Opening with the country-rock-by-numbers "States I'm In" (the first single from the album) and "Stab At Matter" (the latter with a shoutalong chorus), the album kind of finds a groove that it likes and then mostly sits there. "Looking And Waiting" has a nice shuffle to it and "False River" some musical licks that grab your ears. Lyrically there are hints of a faith making sense of the world aroundabouts, but mostly it seems to reflect on the journey of life: as the statement at the top of his web site puts it, “Part of the job of being human is just to try to spread light, at whatever level you can do it”, which is a fair summary. "Al Purdy's" has some nice lines ("I'm the product of some parents the sort who shouldn't breed") and "Jesus Train" is reminiscent of Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" material in terms of metaphors (and not just the railway references). I was thinking "Twelve gates to the city" was getting a bit repetitive until ultimately he sang "doesn't matter what tribe you're from there's a way in for you" and it suddenly made sense. Every song reminded me of something else (not by Cockburn), which somewhat detracts from the songs themselves as you spend  time trying to work out what it is you're thinking of rather than listening to the track itself. The album displays an artist very comfortable with where he is: there's an effortlessness to the playing and arrangements that is very smooth, but lacks some of the edginess that made Cockburn stand out in his early days. It's very well done but is somewhat eclipsed by what precedes it. Best track: “Al Purdy's.”   6/10.   Paul Ganney

GATEWAY : Monuments.   (Gateway Music)

This collective is born out of the rich heritage of Gateway Worship and features multiple Dove Award winner and GRAMMY® nominated Mark Harris as well as Matt Birkenfeld, Anna Byrd, Austin Benjamin, Lauren Dunn, Maddison Harris, Cole Novak, Levi Smith and others making up the voices and songs. The songs are much in the mould of Bethel Music and Hillsong and, therefore, there are no big surprises in the finished article. However, that’s not to say that this album doesn’t have its credit. For instance, the title track is a particularly strong song. “I Am Found, I Am Free” travels into Coldplay territory, musically, complete with piano at the fore. I must admit that I preferred the songs performed by the female artists. “For All My Days” gets a disco treatment and the vocals by Maddison Harris are excellent. Meanwhile, the final, big production numbers, “Let My Soul” and “Wilderness” see, first, Lauren Dunn and, then, Anna Byrd literally soar with their voices. On the negative side of things, there are a few songs that didn’t really hit those high spots. “Won My Heart” in particular was one such song. Monuments was supposed to bring something new to the worship table, then I don’t think that it’s really succeeded. However, lover s of this generic type of worship will love it.   7/10.  

TINA BOONSTRA : My Concrete Heart (Will Beat Again) EP.   (7CoreMusic : 7CEP00105)

Growing up as a songwriter in a missionary family, Tina expected her songs to find their home in the church halls she was so familiar with, but it wasn’t until she began performing on the London open mic circuit that she cut her teeth as a performer and honed her craft into a treasure trove of songs with a depth and emotional intensity reminiscent of Damien Rice, PJ Harvey and John Mark McMillan. This EP starts off with “Prodigal.” No prizes for guessing what the song is about! Tina’s vocals are very refrained and rather delicate here, but there’s great feeling within them. Were the musical backing is rather sparse on the opening two tracks, “Occupy Me” features some very nice electric guitar phrases. The song tells of getting rid of all the rubbish in your life and making room for Jesus instead. If a little one-paced at times, there’s a pleasant uplifting chorus towards the end. My favourite song has to be the title track. It reminded me, in style, of Marina & the Diamonds, with an indie sound. Here, Tina prays for people with hardened hearts, that they might find and accept Jesus’ perfect love. Meanwhile, “Only A Human” finds this lady producing a very thought provoking ditty, questioning our responses to people such as homeless and those with mental illness. All too often we make the excuse that they are not our problem, instead of reaching out to them with God’s love. I liked Tina’s writing very much. Closing with the intimate “Castle”, she sings “You are my strength, my safety. You are all that I need.” When you think about it, that’s all any of us needs, isn’t it?   8/10.

IMARI TONES : Jesus Wind.   (Kitchen Knife Records : B077CHCP3F)

This is the fifteenth album from this band, which leads me to ask how come I’d not come across them before? Some very impressive riffing opens the album and we're off - pounding drums, pulsating bass, roomfulls of reverb, long held vocals at the limit of human hearing (see "Repent" for a great example of the latter - probably the best vocal performance on the album). It's Germanic metal in a Helloween/Stryper/Axxis style, not quite fast enough to hit Dragonforce comparisons, except on the odd solo, but fast enough to keep the excitement level up. I was especially drawn to the rhythm/riffing guitar work, which is exemplary throughout, especially on “Jee-You”, “Saints Seeking Salvation” and “The Wave” (which is more Gary Moore/Def Leppard than the previous reference points). It's fast, furious, throttling forwards and back as the song demands, clear even at top speed and has more energy than it has a right to, even veering dangerously close to punk on "Don't Stop Walking" (with a lovely chanted closing line) and "New Jerusalem" whose main riff had a hint of "London Calling" about it. Some prog bands release instrumental versions of their albums as bonuses - here's one metal band that could do so. Even on the gentler "Peace" it sounds like they've fed the acoustic guitars through a Marshall first. It works, giving the solo a chance to shine, without fighting the riffs going on behind it. Overall very accomplished and makes me want to hear more. Best track: “The Wave”.   7/10   Paul Ganney.

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