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FOLDING LIGHTS : Exiles.   (www.7coremusic.co.uk)

Taking musical influences from fellow Irish bands like The Frames, Snow Patrol and Foy Vance, Mochael Peter Ball writes about faith, love, death and everything inbetween. Drawing inspiration from God, Poets and Scholars alike, he is equally at home performing on the stages of music venues around his native Belfast as he isleading worship in his home church. This 5 track EP offers listeners a peak inside Michael’s musical world with songs that will lift your spirits, as well as posing one or two questions. “Fear the night” is the first single to be lifted from the EP, and it’s a comforting song about the love of Jesus. Michael sings;  “The safest place I’ll be, is when I’m close to you.” The verses are well put together, and the chorus chugs along melodically. There are some deep toned piano tones on “Noose,” which tends to give the song quite a dark and marose feel. Lyrically, I wasn’t too sure about the story behind the song and, hence, it became my least favourite here. Michael seems to like his piano sounds, and they provide the backbone to each song. “Nehemiah” takes the Bible story and gives Michael the chance to interprate it in song, while “Let My Head Decide” is an open and honest take on how we respond to what life throws up at us. Vocally, Michael has a clean, crisp voice, and it reminded me, at times, of George Michael. Finally, “Rebuild” is pure worship and a cry to God. “Heal this broken heart, heal this mind, heal this fractured world.” It’s the one song that I can imagine being sung by a congregation with shouts of “Hallelujah.” Comparing the release to his secular counterparts, I think that Michael can be well pleased with his efforts.   7/10.

VARIOUS : Good Good Father.   (Elevation : ELE2212D)

This 2 Cd collection features 30 contemporary worship songs that are inspiring and building the church today. Maybe I’m missing something, but around two thirds of these songs were brand new to my ears. “Good Good Father,” “At Your Name,” and “Friend of God” lead proceedings, and they’re all pretty good versions. “Wide Open Spaces” has become a firm favourite with me. Meanwhile, people may moan, but I still think that “Once Again” and “10,000 Reasons” are smashing songs to worship with. Indeed, I led the former at my own church only a few days ago. “Guardian” was one of the new songs to grab my attention, with the theme of God, our great defender. Sung by Nick Herbert, it soon had me reaching for the lyric booklet so that I could join in. Mark Tedder sings “Above All” very well, while Martyn Layzell kicks off the second CD with “Happy Day.” The next few songs fialed to ignite my passion. In fact, “I found the song “Canons” to be quite torturous to listen too. However, the tide turns with “The Same Power” and “Here is Jesus.” Both songs are quite beautiful, yet powerful at the same time. To end, there’s a rousing, contemorary version of “How Great Thou Art,” led by Pete James. There have been a number of worship collections of late and, although not the best, this one does have the added bonus if those new songs.   7/10.

NEW IRISH CHOIR & ORCHESTRA : 10,000Reasons to Sing.   (Elevation : ELE2102D)

The New Irish Choir & Orchestra are a vibrant group of Christian musicians who aim to present Christianity through the arts. Led by Jonathan Rea, they are now in their 20th year, reguarly selling out concert halls in Ireland. This Cd contains 14 tracks of well know contemporary songs and given the full choir and orchestra treatment. Guest vocalists include Stuart Townend, Aaron Keyes, and Vicki Schmidt, who gives a gentle, yet moving rendition of “No Longer Slaves.” The choir sound excellent throughout, although I did notice that male solo’s were few and far between. “This is Amazing Grace” sounds as fresh as the first day it was heard, as does “Cornerstone.” The latter has some really nice orchestral strings, and I enjoyed that immensely. On the other hand, I found “Your Name” to be rather meloncholy, despite Paul Baloche’s inclusion on lead vocals. Othe songs of note include “In Christ Alone,” “10,000 Reasons,” and “At The Cross.” All three songs are excellent in production. The mission of the group is to encourage people to worship God, whether they are lifeling Christian believers or unaware of the love of God. This album certainly carries that banner high.   9/10.

REND COLLECTIVE : 'Build Your Kingdom Here (A Rend Collective Mixtape)' : (Integrity Music)

It is a few years since I first came across the Northern Irish 'Rend Collective Experiment', giving a favourable review to their release 'The art of celebration'. With a strong Tony Campolo endorsement behind them and a couple of albums on (one studio, one live), here we have a fourteen track compilation of selected songs to date - now with the 'Experiment' part of their name gone, implying that they must consider themselves fully proven! Being a compilation, existing followers will know what to expect. For those yet to catch up with the band, the Rend formula consists of well developed arrangements that usually build to a climax, featuring Gareth Gilkerson's slightly raspy but note perfect vocals. These are usually set over repeating guitar riffs with a variety of other instruments coming in as the climax develops, all driven along by prominent drumming. There are a lot of well written songs here - lyrically (majoring on a personal relationship with God) and musically. The standout for me is probably their 2014 hit 'Boldly I approach (The art of celebration)', but others I specially enjoyed were 'My lighthouse', 'You bled', and 'Alabaster'. 'You are my vision' is particularly effective - being a slight modification of the the hymn 'Be Thou my vision'. The original of course is a request to God, whereas the Rend twist makes it a proclamation of faith! Sadly, with so much good about this release, sound quality is a let-down. Volume levels also vary noticeably, one example being track 7 'Second chance' which is at a much lower level than tracks 6 or 8. Having first listened to the review MP3s I checked Tidal and found no difference. This is inexcusable really, and should have been sorted at the mastering stage. Great music then, poor sound. 8/10. Dave Deeks

RAMBO McGUIRE : Rambo Classics.   (Stow Town Records : STR3170)

Rambo McGuire is an acclaimed family group that has a long legacy of singing Christian music. The group began over 30 years ago as a husband and wife duo with GRAMMY and Dove Award-winning artists and songwriters Dony McGuire and Reba Rambo-McGuire. The duo dynamic continues today, but mostly they perform as a trio with their daughter Destiny Rambo McGuire joining them on vocals. Dony and Reba’s son Israel Anthem McGuire adds to the family mix by playing percussion. This release features 14 new recordings of favourite Rambo McGuire songs, and is an ideal place to start for new listeners of this group. Primarily a southern gospel outift, the members of the group also tackle soulful numbers, such as “Precious Jesus”, and big production songs like “For What Earthly Reason” and “He Looked Beyond My Fault.” Vocally, they can’t be faulted. Both lead vocals and harmonies are superb. “Sheltered in the Arms of God” is a touching song. Reba caresses each word of the song, especially when she sings the line “He Walks with me.” Praising the Lord with “There’s Nothing My God Can’t Do,” the band declare that “Mighty God can take a heart and make it His own.” I’ve been looking forward to hearing this album for a little while and I’m pleased to say that I haven’t been disappointed.   8/10.

HAZEL PARKER STANLEY : Through the Good and the Bad.   (www.hazelparkerstanley.com)

Hazel has a heart to worship and to see lives changed. She is dedicated to the cause of Christ!  She began singing with her dad at the age of 7 or so. She fell in love with Gospel music, and has been inspired by singers and songwriters such as Andre Crouch, Candi Staton, Jimmy Swaggart, Quinton Mills, Dudley Smith, Crystal Lewis, and The Crabb Family. This single has been released and it’s quite an enjoyable little ditty. The lyrics are simple; “Through the good and the bad, I will follow You.” The tune plods along and I kpet hoping that the chorus would liven things up a bit. Sadly, it doesn’t. It’s all one pace and, for me, there’s a little something lacking. Saying that, I still found myself listening to it again later in the day, and the tune does buzz around your head. Visit Hazel’s website and listen for yourself.   7/10.

RIVERS & ROBOTS : Still. Volume 1.   (Integrity Music)

Integrity Music have begun a new series of instrumental worship albums, each featuring the unique sound and aesthetic of a guest producer, beginning with Still Volume 1 and the critically acclaimed UK band Rivers & Robots. Infusing modern worship songs with a vibrant, chilled aesthetic, Still delivers the perfect backdrop for moments of devotion, prayer and meditation for individuals and churches. From creating an atmosphere for soaking prayer to offering a sonic oasis during the rush hour commute, this series calls listeners to still their hearts before God. I must admit that I enjoy some quiet times, with gentle music for accompaniment. This album contains 16 tracks, running for a total of some 45 minutes. While it was nice to hear some well known tunes, such as “Majesty” and “Saviour of the World”, it was good to hear brand new tracks too. Piano phrases and orchestral sounds make up “King of My Heart,” while there were some nice atmospheric guitar sounds on “Good Good Father.” Cello’s and violins provide the main thrust on many of the tunes, as on “Interlude 2” and the closing “Revelation Song.” It’s not an album to get excited about, but I think that it certainly does meet up with Integrity’s plan.   7/10.

RICHARD JENSEN : Joy Complete. (https://richjens.bandcamp.com/album/joy-complete)

This album starts off with the title track, which is based on 1 John 1. It starts with a quite dissonant sounding organ with acoustic guitar and then builds up from a quiet meditational worship song until, just before the end, an electric guitar solo takes you completely by surprise and completely changes the whole song. Most of the tracks are based on 1 John though a couple are based on the Psalms and other scriptures. The third track, "The World Is Passing Away," reminded me of early Pink Floyd it has that ethereal feel to it very much in the vein of Syd Barrett. "See The Love" is probably my favourite song on this collection based on 1 John 3. It has a pleasant piano line running through it backed up by some nice strings. There is only one song here that is not written by Richard. "Loved With Everlasting Love" in which the lyrics are a traditional hymn written by George Wade Robinson. There are ten songs on this album and I quite liked all of them. The arrangements were well done and there is enough variation in the songs to hold the interest. Most of the songs are straight rock / pop songs. The only thing I didn't care for too much was the evidence of "Autotune" being used on the vocals throughout the album. It's an effect that has been done to death and I reckon after listening to this that Richard is quite well able to hit the right notes without it. Other than this minor gripe though I liked this album a lot. There is much about it that is a bit different from the usual run of the mill worship music that's around at the moment. It's available from all the usual download vendors iTunes amazon googleplay etc. Give it a try you won't be disappointed.  8/10 Andy Sayner.

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