T H E R E V I E W Z O N E
With grateful acknowledgement to: AUTHENTIC, ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN, CAPITOL CMG, INTEGRITY, McCAIN, PROVIDENCE & VERITY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS.
RECORDS OF THE MONTH
SPRING HARVEST : 40 Years of Live Worship. (Essential Christian).
This triple album is a tribute to the transforming power of song through 40 years of worship at Spring Harvest. Old songs are given the respect they deserve, alongside more modern tunes. If you try and listen to all these tracks in one sitting, then pack a flask and sandwiches! There are 50 songs here. Some you will be familiar with, while others may well be new to your ears. Notable highlights of CD1 include a 7 minute version of “Oceans” led by Cathy Burton, Leigh Barnard’s lovely version of “How Great is Our God,” and Lou Fellingham’s unmistakable vocals on the majestic “Everlasting Arms.” The second CD begins energetically with “God’s Great Dance Floor” and “Your Kingdom Come.” The former sees Nick Herbert take the lead, while Pete James performs his own co-written number. Robin Mark’s “Days of Elijah” gets an outing, with Trish Morgan on vocals. I’ve actually never heard a female voice leading this song before, but it worked well. One of my own, personal favourites from recent times, “No Longer Slaves” is featured, as is the Hillsong classic “Shout to the Lord.” Both are super versions. The third Cd is more of the same but I really enjoyed old hymns such as “Majesty,” “The Servant King,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” So many great songs, and the live recordings are excellent. 10/10.
JUSTIN UNGER : I Don’t Walk Alone. (Likewise Music Group)
Worship pastor of Bethany Bible Church, Pheonix, Arizona, Justin Unger brings us his latest offering, the seventh according to his website, the ten track 'I don't walk alone'. With one of my own albums entitled 'Walk with the One' I felt an affinity with where Justin was coming from before I pressed play! Whilst at the 'lightweight' end of what I usually listen to, I would imagine that those familiar with Justin's work will instantly recognise his attractive pitch perfect light baritone and his country/pop approach to spreading God's word, underpinned by an excellent band featuring slide guitar/fiddle/ukelele. Justin is one of those singers with the God-given ability to clearly communicate the truth and meaning of songs, and his love for the Lord is obvious. Here we have mostly self-penned 'personal relationship with Jesus' compositions, with the occasional traditional hymn thrown in for good measure - all featuring simple but effective melodies, nicely creative arrangements and excellent production. 'The good news' is possibly the weakest lyrically, but there is not really a poor track here. I would probably pick three as my favourites. 'I come to you' is a beautifully delivered prayer, shared with lovely female vocals. 'Psalm One' is exactly what it says - check it out! The superbly produced and delivered 'Blessed' has a repeating chorus that, as I type, has stayed with me for days. Sound quality is overall very good indeed. 'No friend like thee', 'Are you ready' and 'The good news' are worthy of special mention in this respect, on my hi-fi system sounding as though Justin is in the room! (I know sound quality is a particular 'thing' of mine, but PLEASE can other ccm releases take note?!). One slight downside is that the volume of the tracks varies a bit, which should have been picked up at the final mastering stage. An excellent release however, that I have surprised myself by enjoying whilst not being in my usual 'bag'. For listeners with the appropriate musical tastes, it doesn't come much better. 10/10. Dave Deeks
HILLSONG WORSHIP : King of Kings. (Hillsong)
Piano introduction is met with beautiful vocals by Brooke Ligertwood. Now, I’m sometimes rather critical of Hillsong for churning out song after song that sound very much alike. But, I firmly believe that this declaration of praise to the majesty of God will become an anthem for the church, right across the world. “In the darkness we were waiting without hope, without light; Till from Heaven you came running, there was mercy in your eyes.” As Brooke broke into the chorus, I felt a real presence of God as I began to sing along. Vocals multiply and the musical backing increases, cumulating into a rousing triumph. Once I played this song, I played it several times on repeat. Yes, it really is that good! 10/10.
GLORIA GAYNOR : Testimony. (Gaither Music Group)
This gospel/blues/soul album offers a laid back experience, full of powerful truths from the scriptures wrapped up in a modern day, lyrical setting. Her pristine vocals settle nicely in the foreground cushioned by exquisite musical arrangements and at times backed by a small choir. This album “Testimony” was recorded at RCA Studio A in Nashville Tennessee, with guest appearances from Jason Crabb, Yolanda Adams, Bart Millard (whose song “I Can Only Imagine” is the best-selling single of all time in the history of Contemporary Christian Music) and Mike Farris. In the late 70s disco artist Gloria Gaynor’s career fully surfaced with her incredible classic disco track “I Will Survive” an anthem on all of our lips at the time regardless of age or whether we fully understood at the time what she was singing about or not, that didn’t matter. It was/is a track that takes us back to the place we first heard it. I was at an ice rink disco skating singing my heart out. Gloria is now 75 years old with a lot of life experience behind her, and of much we can glean from those experiences and her wisdom. She suffered sex abuse at the age of 12 which caused difficulties in later life in her relationships. At a concert in New York she fell backwards over a monitor and woke up the next morning paralyzed from the waist down. She walked again but this injury led to operations and years of chronic pain. She has also lost her parents and siblings, been married and divorced. “I Will Survive” has probably been a personal anthem for Gloria herself throughout her life. Throughout her new album “Testimomy” comes shining through what she has gleaned from her own personal pain to a great understanding of Jesus companionship, love and help as she has walked along her life’s journey. Through her pain she now offers us this beautiful uplifting encouraging album “Testimony”, and it sure is a great testimony of her faith that she passes on to us through these beautiful, encouraging, truthful, uplifting songs. Her track “Back On Top” enables us to hear where she is now. She’s “Back on Top.” Album highlights: From track to track you’re going to hear lyrics that will take you on a journey of your own life, where you have been, where you are and where you are going. “Testimony” will warm your heart and bring hope to your soul. Joy Comes In The Morning: “Joy comes in the morning/If you just be still/Joy comes in the morning/No matter how bad it feels.” He Won’t Let Go: “Take a look at me I’m living proof/Trust and believe He’ll do the same for you/It’s nothing we can earn, it just takes a little faith/It’s nothing we deserve, it’s just His amazing grace/And if you’ll hold on, He won’t let go, He won’t let go/Just put your hand in the hand, in the hand of the man with the master plan/and He won’t let go, He won’t let go/He won’t let go.” This album will bring you a sense of peace if you don’t have it. I’ll leave you with this thought, some people have praise music on in their homes quietly in the background all the time, they say it creates a peaceful atmosphere having words of scriptures, encouraging positive words filling the atmosphere constantly. This album is so relatable, truthful, gentle and laid back it will add to the peace in your life. Gloria Gaynor believes that peace is the greatest gift we can have, she has found it through her faith in Jesus, she offers a glimpse into her world and life through this album showing us that her hand is in the hand of the one with the master plan and our hand can be too.
Vivienne Neville 10/10
MISTER KEITH : Where Do We Go From Here? ()
It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything by Mister Keith (Ayling, former frontman of K and Kato amongst others) and this contains the attention to detail I recall – everything in the mix is there because it needs to be. And the song? It’s a very catchy singalong number (it’ll stick in your head – in a good way – for quite a while) with a very bouncy backing that reminded me of the Rend Collective and Mumford and Sons, with the “oo oo oo” bits in the chorus being stadium-level Coldplay. It’s very good and if there’s an album coming on the back of it then that is something I’d seriously like to hear.
8/10 Paul Ganney
FEAR NOT : For The Wounded Heart. (Roxx Records)
This 5-track EP from the re-formed and re-energised Melodic/Blues-Rock band comes a mere 25 years after its predecessor. They do have a new lead vocalist (the original, Larry Worley, contributes guitar and backing vocals) and that has changed their sound a bit – it’s more 90s rock and the guitar tones do match that feeling: crunchy, powerful and with screaming solos. It’s incredibly solid (and consistently so) and will certainly appeal to fans of bands such as Whitesnake, Blue Oyster Cult, Bon Jovi and Poison with its mix of in-your-face rock (“Don’t Want None”), power almost-ballads (“Carry Me” – this song providing the strongest faith-based lyric) and blues-based riffs (“Love Is Alright”). It’s very good and probably shouldn’t be judged against their former work – I just hope it’s not 25 years before their next one. Best track: Don’t Want None. 7/10 Paul Ganney
AVALON : Keeper of My Heart. (Red Street Records)
This is Avalon’s first new music for 10 years! An album is due out later this year. In the meantime, this single shows that the band are not just relying on their old sound, but have come right up to date. Greg Long, member of Avalon, says; “The song perfectly conveys an encouraging and inspiring message - that the God who created all that has been or ever will be traded heaven for earth and deity for flesh and blood just because He wants to have relationship with us.” The song thunders along with a great rhythm and choppy beat. The vocals are great too. One of the co-writers is Jordan Feliz, and you can hear his influences on this track. The song has already had a lot of airplay in the States, and bodes well for the full album. 8/10.
APOLOGETIX : That’s Too Bad. (Paradudes)
ApologetiX are a “Christian parody” band, which means that they produce cover versions of famous songs with the lyrics re-written to portray biblical truths – sometimes re-telling Bible stories (e.g. “Bad Foreign Girls” about Jericho), sometimes conveying themes (e.g. “Soakin’ In The Lord’s Book” and the wonderfully-named “Everybody Burps”). As you’ll know if you’ve read my reviews of some of their other albums (there are 54 so I’ve still got a lot to go!) the difference between ApologetiX and every other attempt I’ve heard to do this is that Apologetix do it really, really well, with a replication of the feel of the original (the harmonies on “Bad Foreign Girls”, the spoken piece on “Dumb Questions” and the explosive opening line of “Bible O’Really” for example) as well as a real desire to share the Gospel – it’s stuff you want to play to your friends (don’t tell them and watch their faces) and makes you smile just to hear it. The musicianship is top-notch too – covering many styles and genres (although I still think they do rock better than others, but that may just reflect my musical taste of course) who do so much in setting the tone that if the vocal isn’t quite mimicking the original 100% then you don’t really notice (“Campaign To Jehovah” shows this well where the vocal is lacking a certain sneer but the band are spot-on, carrying the whole thing off with aplomb). As a Brit with little interest in American Football the last two tracks passed me by somewhat (although I did like the sentiments expressed in “On The Road Away From Home” once I’d looked up some of the references – given the original song, a Manchester United/City theme would work very well). This is a band who clearly had a lot of fun making this album and I did listening to it too. Their web site says that they are inundated with requests to “do” different songs and I can see why. Best track: Bad Foreign Girls. 8/10 Paul Ganney
WE ARE MESSENGERS : Power. (Messenger Music)
The band say that they hope this song is "a reminder that we need the Power of God to transform our lives. We need that Holy Spirit Power to be unwavering in our love for God and his people." The song itself reminded me of 80’s UK band, Private Lives, with an excellent beat, carrying it along. I’ve not heard anything from this band before but I thought that the FX vocals of Darren Mulligan to be a little quirky. The actual power of the song comes from the chorus. It hits hard and works its way into your brain so that you find yourself singing it at certain times of the day. With that in mind, it’s well worth an 8/10.
KIRK FRANKLIN : Long Live Love. (Fo Yo Soul/RCA)
This release marks the 13-time Grammy Award winner’s 13th studio album. Whereas, some artists in this gospel genre shout and yell their lyrics, Franklin comes across as both a minister and encourager. His awesome choir often take centre stage, while Kirk, himself, adds the important words, just at the right time. “F.A.V.O.R” is a great track to kick things off, with that choir singing sweetly, to a beat that reminded me of MC Hammer and “You Can’t Touch This.” In similar style, “Love Theory” also rolls along at pace, with the main lyrics being “I don’t wanna love nobody but you,” [Jesus]. Again, the choirs vocals take control of the smooth sounding “Just for Me,” while there’s hardly a word from Kirk throughout. “Father Knows Best” is a reminder that our Father God will guide us, love us, and continue to work on us, as we walk with Him. My favourite track has to be “OK.” Kirk and the gang just hit the right spot with this one. The message? Even in the midst of trouble, our God is bigger than anything. And I [you] will be ok.” Another highlight is “forever/Beautiful Grace.” It begins as a sweet piano led ballad, but builds into a fusion of great vocal prowess and orchestration - a powerful song. When I struggle to understand certain gospel albums, I am thankful for releases like this one. Kirk’s style really appeals, and this album is one of his best. 9/10.
STEPHEN KEECH : I Never Left You. (https://open.spotify.com/album/3UP4pYqjMolgI4zyBYVVQu)
Stephen Keech is an American film composer and producer based in Nashville, TN. He has been professionally writing and performing music since 2006 when he began his career by joining the rock band, Haste the Day. After years of touring internationally, Stephen settled down in Nashville where he expanded on his passion by producing records and composing original music for film and tv. It’s quite an odd release, in the fact that it isn’t a pure instrumental, as in, say, Jean Michelle-Jarre album. I’m not sure if there is an overall theme to the pieces of music, so I’m left to my own interpretation, given the titles. The opening “Born of Wild Wonder” is what I would call an “ambient” piece of music, and it’s quite soothing to listen to. “I Never Lefty You” has a joyful sound to it, relying mainly on the sounds of piano and orchestra. I especially liked the cello and glockenspiel sounds on “Memoriam,” and the total makeup of “Celebration.” The latter features plucked strings and good use of several percussion sounds. “Mountain” came across as a very serious track. Simple piano chords and phrases are joined by various string sounds, and it’s my belief that this track tries to recreate (musically) our trials in life. Sometimes, we struggle, as if we have a mountain to climb. These struggles may be tough but, with God’s help, we can conquer our mountains. So, as I say, quite an odd release but, nevertheless, interesting. I didn’t love it, but it certainly wasn’t a chore to review. 7/10.
NEWSBOYS : United. (Fair Trade)
When talk of Newsboys members old and new getting together for a few concerts, fans went wild. Two years and more than 150 dates later, here’s the album that everyone’s been waiting for. Over the years, the band’s music has progressed from those early days of “Take Me To Your Leader,” and that’s no bad thing. This album has a more up to date Newsboys sound, with pop/rock tracks being predominant. I liked the opening two tracks, as they were a wonderful declaration of faith. “Greatness of Our God” and “Symphony” have super vocals, and lots of energy. “Never Setting Sun” and “Only the Son” race along at break-neck speed, but I wasn’t so keen on either. Bible truths that we’ve all heard before are the crux of “Worth Fighting For.” Love your neighbour as yourself; Treat each other kind. Why do we find that so hard to do? I really liked this song and can see it getting plenty of radio time. Another highlight, for me, is “This I Know.” It’s got a lighter feel to it, and, again, I found the lyrics very moving. This I know, at the whisper of your name; there is peace I can’t explain. I am fearless, I am safe, her with You. In fact, thinking of the song, I’m playing it again now! There are 10 songs on the album, coming in at just 37 minutes in total. But, as they say, its quality that counts, not quantity. 8/10.
THE KINGSMEN : Victory Shout. (Horizon Records)
For more than a half a century, no group has secured such a far reaching legacy like that of The Kingsmen Quartet. Since 1956, this group has risen from humble beginnings in the mountains of western North Carolina to one of the most beloved and innovative groups in Christian music. The current line-up consists of Alan Kendall, Chris Bryant, Ray Dean Reese, Brandon Reese, and Chris Jenkins. This latest release has already seen the title track hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Southern Gospel chart, and I can see why. The production is excellent on all the tracks, but particularly stands out on “Victory Shout.” As you would expect from a group of this magnitude, the vocals and harmonies are superb. The bass vocal on “I’ve Ever Been Glad” is especially good. “Just Climb” is one of the big ballad numbers, which basically tells you not to give up climbing “your” mountain, with God at your side. The piano led “It Still Changes Me” tells of no matter how many times you read the passages of the Bible, you’ll always find something new to help live your life as the Lord intended. There’s no guessing what “Prodigal Son” is all about, but the foot tappin’ tune is very catchy. The album is a very good release in its genre, and I’m so glad that groups like The Kingsmen are finally being heard in the UK. 7/10.
LOCAL SOUND : Sunday School. (Integrity Music)
Former Nashville College students, LOCAL SOUND have released their second EP, Sunday School, on July 19th. True to the title, Sunday School takes five of the group's favourite worship songs from their childhoods recorded with Local Sound's pop worship spin. The band must be congratulated on reworking these songs but, I wondered, does it work? The result is, that the jury’s undecided, here at NFN Towers. “Angus Dei/The Heart of Worship” is done very well. Beginning with acappella FX vocals, the song moves into an electronic bridge, before resting with one single voice. It’s pure, and it’s simple, but well done. The band seem to like their atmospheric sounds, and they’re quite prominent in their version of “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.” It’s a bright, pop version, yet quite different to the Delirious? Style that we’ve all come to love and know. I’d not heard of “Let My words Be Few” but Emily Wyant’s vocals are so sweet. Indeed, this was my favourite song of the EP. Paul Baloche lends his vocal prowess to “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” but somehow it comes out as a very weak number. Finally, Local Sound try their hand at “Shout to the Lord.” I wish they hadn’t. There’s nothing wrong with Wyant’s vocals again, but the backing music is so disjointed that it sounds very messy overall. Summing up, the band have had a great idea. Some songs worked, but others didn’t. I’ve not heard any of their other music, so it will be interesting to see those bright ideas put to original material. 6/10.
LYDIA SIMONDS : Lately. (http://www.lydiasimondsmusic.com)
Lydia is a singer-songwriter and musician from McDonough, GA. Lydia did not grow up with a musical family, but she did grow up in church, which gave her a love for encouraging others through music. She learned piano and then self-taught herself guitar when she was 15. Lydia plays local gigs and just made the decision to do music full-time in January 2019. The opening track of this release is a cheery number that has a great banjo sound running throughout. The next song also sounds bright, with Lydia duetting with Jack Settle. “Broke My Own Heart” is a lovely country song, and really well thought out, in a Martina McBride sort of way. There’s a poignant theme to “One More Time,” (studio & live versions) that looks back at growing up, from childhood. “Life keeps rolling on,” sings Lydia. But, oh to live those memories one more time. So, a short and sweet release from a very talented lady who shows great promise for the future. 8/10.
ST ALDGATES WORSHIP : Until You Do (Live). (https://open.spotify.com/album/5jJ6zEEqRDTyju754g7ATF)
Based in Oxford, according to their website 'St Aldates is a busy city centre church with three services every Sunday and a packed midweek programme of events, groups and courses'. 'St Aldates Worship' has become a brand in itself, and here we have their latest live offering. The first of the thirteen tracks features an impassioned spoken voice over music that builds in the background - it's one of those 'you had to be there in the audience' events that I found quite irritating listening to on my own, and would certainly skip past on subsequent plays. From track 2 however 'Until you do' settles into being a pretty standard rock pop worship album, featuring a lineup of keyboards, electric guitar, drums and bass and a variety of worship leaders on vocals supported by a clearly enthusiastic congregation/audience. Several tracks in, 'Gravity' is the first that takes my attention - a well written and delivered song, although spoiled somewhat by heavy-handed drumming. Tracks 8 - 10 are however my standouts on this album, forming a sort of trilogy concerning our relationship with God that can be summarised as 'Come', 'Hide' and 'Trust'. The first of these is 'Come to the water' and features Lauren Harris on vocals. This is a beautiful song with a lovely arrangement that seamlessly becomes the similarly good 'Hiding place' nicely delivered by Jamie Thomson, that builds before the trilogy ends with title track 'Until you do' delivered by Ester-Jane White. Sadly, as is so often the case these days, sound quality is this album's main weakness - ok when nothing much is going on, but descending into over-compressed 'mush' when things build. Overall 7/10. Dave Deeks.
FOLDINGLIGHTS : Subterranean Hum. ()
This is the debut album of Belfast singer/songwriter Foldinglights aka Michael Ball (no not that one!) Says Michael, 'This album was created as a complete story. It's a snapshot of my faith from a child to now. This is as honest as I've ever been. I see Subterranean Hum as the natural next step from my EP Exiles. Exiles driven underground. Exiles waiting. Exiles with a voice not yet silenced. It’s a pure sounding set of songs which reflect his journey of faith with honesty and reflection being the key themes. A number of the songs have been previously released as singles so for some they’ll be familiar. Songs like American Jesus with its atmospheric synth production and the well-crafted song Roses. My fave song is the opener Whispers with lyrics like “I’ve seen my friends grow into enemies, I’ve seen grown me, brought down to their knees” and I remember how he left us here.......Michael has a chilled tone to his voice and often reminded me of David Gray. A very pleasant album well put together that will bring out different revelations the more you listen to it. 8/10. Angie Lendon.