T H E R E V I E W Z O N E
With grateful acknowledgement to: 7CORE MUSIC, AUTHENTIC, CAPITOL CMG, ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN, INTEGRITY, McCAIN, PLANKTON, PROVIDENT & VERITY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS.
***RECORDS OF THE MONTH
***KAT MILLS : Church Arise. ()
This is Kat’s latest album release, and what a corker it is, too! I’ve been fortunate enough to follow her musical career over the last 5 years or so, and she has constantly released high quality pop songs. Beginning with the joyous “True Majestic King,” Kat has been truly blessed with the gift of writing easy to follow lyrics, weaved together into engaging tunes. “Out of the Ashes” motors along as Kat sings; Out of the Ashes you bring me life; You rescue me through Your sacrifice; And I worship you. Her vocals have always been good, but this time there is something extra in her voice. Slowing the pace down, Kat is joined by Ellie Button on the sweet “The God Who Can’t Be Shaken.” Listening to these songs, I got a real sense of encouragement from them. We all have our doubts, fears, and worries, and this collection carries God’s word to provide comfort and hope during all these times. “I’m Grateful” reminds us to be “grateful for each breath” as well as the beauty and creation of the world. Released as a single in 2020, “The Everlasting God” scored a 10/10 NFN score. Reviewer, Dave Deeks, said; “From first play, I simply wanted to play it again.” After listening myself, I know exactly what he meant. “Let our lives reveal Your love” is the thrust of “God of Abundance.” I love the way this song builds. A foot tapping verse, is followed by an equally paced bridge. Then, the chorus shoots in with such great joy. (I think I like it more than when I first heard it!) Closing the album is the title track, co-written with Rob Westall. It’s one of the slower songs on view that calls on the church to arise and “see through the eyes of Jesus,” and love like He loves us. “Send us out in the power of the Spirit.” In my humble opinion, this is the best album that Kat has produced, so far. The writing, the music, the production, (not forgetting her accompanying book of the same title) is simply stunning. 10/10.
***MOSES RICHMOND : Holy. ()
“Holy” is the debut single from rising gospel singer and minister, Moses Richmond. The singer is a prolific and passionate worshipper in the body of Christ in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. The song “Holy” is an ECHO from the throne of Grace where the Almighty God rules supreme. It is the worship of the Holy Angels and the language of heaven. There’s a lovely musical opening to the song, courtesy of piano and violin sounds. But, when Moses begins to sing, you realise that this man has a superb voice. There is such feeling in his vocals that cries “Holy is the Lord, god Almighty.” With independent recordings, you sometimes find that backing vocals are too high in the mix, On this song, they are beautiful and sit well in the finished production. This song only reached me for review in the days after Christmas, and I’m so glad that I took the time to listen, so that I could include it in this month’s NFN. 10/10.
SPRING HARVEST : New Songs for the Church – Here Unleashed 2020. (Essential Christian)
Here is the latest in the New songs series, featuring 13 new songs of worship expressing faith and devotion to a majestic and magnificent God. Written by a wide variety of leading songwriters, they are a resource for churches, worship teams and personal devotion. Of course, with church gatherings being rather curtailed in 2020 due to the pandemic, a lot of these songs have yet to be heard by most people. However, “Way Maker” is one of the few that has previously made its way to NFN Towers. I guess that familiarity raised it above those that I was hearing for the first time. Probably my favourite worship song of 2020 has to be “King of Kings.” When I first heard it, I was moved to tears. I found it so beautiful and, months on, my opinion hasn’t changed. Whoever the female vocalist on this track is, she does a wonderful job. It’s one of those songs that I love to turn up loud! I wasn’t so keen on “This is Love,” though. Maybe it was because it reminded me of too many Jesus Culture/Bethel Music songs. It just seemed to drag on, endlessly. On the other hand, “Come Holy Spirit” soon had me singing along. Another good song is “There’s nothing That Our God Can’t Do.” Written by Brandon Lake, Jonathan Smith & Kristian Stanfill, there’s a real dynamic, upbeat, feel to this song. The closing bonus track, “Glow,” is an electro/dance number, and just sounds completely out of place, considering the rest of the listing. Summing up, this New Songs release didn’t quite thrill me as much as I’d expected. Yes, there are a few highlights, but quite as number of very ordinary songs, too. 5/10.
ARLETHA A PATTERSON : Even in This. (Mosaic Sounds Entertainment)
Like the rest of the world, Gospel singer Arletha found herself impacted by the Covid pandemic. “We gave up the life as normal as we know it months ago,” she says. “As I was thinking about God’s faithfulness, I began to offer praise t0 God for all the wonderful things He has done. The Lord put a song in my heart that says, even in this, You’ve blessed me, even in this You’ve healed me, I want to say thank You Lord, even in this.” And so, this song was born. As it began with some lovely string sounds, Arletha’s smooth vocals were soothing to my ears. However, as the song goes on, her vocals get louder and louder, backed by a gospel choir. By the time we’re halfway through the number, she begins to vocally duel with featured artists Candace N. Potts and Brandon Gaites. Our songstress reaches some very high notes as she wails uncontrollably, much to the detriment of the whole song. Indeed, no matter how much I enjoyed the beginning of the song, I was glad to reach the end. 3/10.
HILLSONG WORSHIP : Take Heart (Again) (Hillsong)
The press release reports that; All three worship expressions of Hillsong (Hillsong Worship, Hillsong United and Hillsong Young and Free) came together to prayerfully craft an offering of songs, critical confessions about God’s unrivalled Lordship, His surpassing peace, the stillness of his presence and the hope that none but Jesus can offer. The recording starts with ‘Hosanna,’ a very familiar piece with a piano/voice arrangement which is pleasant but appears to be cut off at the end! The second song is, again, predominantly piano with a nice string accompaniment. ‘New Wine’ brings the sound of guitar in. It’s a blues based song with nice harmonies, but seems to go on and on. I found it rather repetitive. ‘Heart of God’ continues the slow pace. For me, the song is crying out for a beat. Or have I missed the point? The drums do appear but sound a bit muted or supressed. ‘Selah/All My Life’ is, for me, the best track yet. The harmonies are good and the looped guitar is nice and refreshing. Another good song is the title track. It builds well, before the guitar comes in. Once again, I thought that the lyrics were repeated too often, as the song closed. The keyboard sounds on “Broken Vessels/Life” create a lovey soundscape, as the tune also takes in a verse of ‘Amazing Grace.’ ‘Who Do You Say I Am’ is a song which is a favourite at the church that I attend, as is ‘Eagle’s Wings.’ The last track ‘Still – P E A C E’ (aka Oceans) is a favourite of mine. I like the hymn-like style, including the additional section, which I didn’t know. It was a great ending to the CD. Overall, I much preferred the second half to the first of this CD. With that in mind; 7/10. Noel Donaldson.
BETH KARP : Holy Night. (www.bethkarp.com)
Shropshire-based mother of four as well as singer-songwriter and producer, Beth Karp uses her music to “communicate her thoughts feelings and emotions in the most eloquent way she can”. Following pre-release singles during November, this four track ep 'Holy Night' is a shared project with “session musician Josiah Karp” (Beth's husband?). Consisting of “two original modern carols and a new contemporary arrangement of a traditional carol” and an instrumental, it is “dedicated to sharing the story of Christmas in a contemporary way”. First track 'Emmanuel' is a simple re-telling of the Christmas story (“Jesus Christ our king, his name Emmanuel”, with a nice melody set against an uncomplicated but effective arrangement. This turns out to be my favourite. 'O holy night' comes next – the traditional hymn, again with an effective arrangement. Two problems emerge however. Firstly, noticed in 'Emmanuel' but more apparent here is that Beth's otherwise beautiful voice can tend to be somewhat wayward in its tuning. Secondly the track is at a noticeably lower level than the opening one, and it turns out that neither of the two remaining tracks quite return to the volume of the opener. 'Glory came' continues to confirm the simple beauty of the melodies and arrangements here, but Beth's tuning again tends to be slightly off. The 'bell sound' keyboard instrumental 'Angelsong' closes things nicely – apart from a very sudden end! Sound quality throughout is very good, and my overall conclusion has to be that this is a potentially very pleasant release, with weaknesses that prevent a wholehearted recommendation. With these addressed however, I look forward to hearing more from Beth. 7/10. Dave Deeks.
CAROL LEE SAMPSON : Live in Lockdown – Volume 2. ()
During the first UK COVID-19 lockdown, Carol recorded a live song every day and posted them to her Facebook page - a mixture of well-known classic songs & some of her originals. Inspired by the response and requests she received from her posts, she released a selection on her “Live in Lockdown – Volume 1” a couple of months ago. Volume 2 is a collection of some of the spiritual songs that Carol also sang during lockdown. These versions are stripped back to feature just the singer accompanying herself on her keyboard or acoustic guitar. With each song, Carol shares a time to worship, praise and/or soak in the music. Well known tunes such as “Everlasting God; Here I Am to Worship; and As the Deer” are joined by new ones (to me) like the incredibly beautiful “I Will Praise Your Name,” and “Goodness of God.” Closing with a touching and gentle version of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” the album is a very intimate collection. Listening, I actually felt that Carol was singing just or me. Nearly 60 minutes of music and 13 tracks make this a delightful release. 8/10.
WONDER IHIERI : Elevation.
Describing his sound as alternative Christian, Nigerian artist, Wonder Ihieri, combines elements from different genres to express his faith and devotion to God. The songs on this EP are about love, belief and empowerment and looking outside of yourself. Fusing elements of pop, R&B and rock, Wonder Ihieri uses music to channel and express his faith and share his message with the world. The title track has a sparse, ambient, musical backing, and Wonder’s vocals have a slight echo as he sings about not wanting to be “misunderstood” for his beliefs. “Peter’s Heart” includes some nice cello and violin sounds, while the singer gives a gentle vocal delivery. I’ve not come across this artist before, and I must admit to being impressed with his original sound. The pick of the four songs, has to be “Greatest Love.” There’s a little more instrumentation here, and I especially liked the acoustic guitar sound. Wonder sings of praise to His Saviour, The Greatest Love, and gives thanks for everything like all the stars of the universe, the land and the sea. Yes, that song is quite special. Let’s hope that there’s more from Wonder Ihieri in the future. 7/10.
I AM THEY : Faithful God. (Provident)
“There’s been a total energy shift between this record and the last record,”(2018’s Trial & Triumph) vocalist, Abbie Parker shares, “which is due to seeing God’s faithfulness to this ministry. Even when it’s felt down and out and over, it keeps getting a new life over and over again. Every new season we go into is just a level up of energy and enthusiasm.” This is my first review for this band, and I was immediately impressed by the first, two songs; “Delivered” and “Promise.” On the former, there’s a great cry of “I’ve been delivered” that sounds like such a victory. Meanwhile, the latter, motors along with a great pop sound. The title track was inspired by a true story of a friend battling cancer. Jane received a final diagnosis that was sudden and devastating. But in faith, she rose up and continued to declare the character of God throughout the entire treatment process, band member Matt Hein explained. She knew her story was not over because God was for her. I was really enjoying this album, and my anticipation for each track grew throughout. “Lift My Eyes” is such a touching song of worship. “You (God) are were my help comes from,” in times of worry and troubles. Brandon Chase shares vocal duties with Parker, and they both sound ‘spot on’ all the way through. Chase leads the vocals on “All Along.” It’s another smashing song that assures the listener that God has been with them since their first heartbeat. 9/10.
TOM READ : Stabal Session Live. (Bespoke Records/Stabal Music)
Oxford-based Tom Read is a singer-songwriter and producer “who has written and collaborated with western and Asian artists, as well as performing and releasing his own music”. Following Tom's last full length release 'Compass' and two EPs, 'Stabal Session' is a seven track live project. Described as a “‘warts and all’ capture of what happened on the night”, the short opener entitled '__restore__' features repeats of the phrase “You restore my soul” and gets things off to a rousing start. Medium paced 'Masks' follows (“no pretending”), a strong song with an earworm chorus. As things continue it is evident that Tom is a capable rock/pop vocalist backed by well sorted musicians, and production and arrangements are to a high standard – appreciated by a small (Covid19 related?!) but enthusiastic audience. Slow ballad 'Dead things to life' (“out of the ruins you're making me whole”) is possibly my standout, being beautifully delivered and building effectively before falling away at the end. The upbeat 'Borderless' (“borderless, breaking down barriers, nothing's going to keep me in, or keep out”). The similarly paced 'Falling' is followed by 'Gravity' (“there's a gravity to Your grace”), and then the slow and lyrically powerful 'We're only human' ends the set. It may be just me, but I found both of these last two songs somewhat disjointed – each sounding like two songs joined together? Overall however, I enjoyed this release and am happy to give it 8/10. Dave Deeks.
THE GUARDIANS : It’s Still Good News. (Stow Town Records)
Dean Hickman, John Darin Rowsey, Pat Barker and Scott Mullins, collectively known as The Guardians, are a southern gospel quartet with a unique sound, tight harmony and a passion for sharing the gospel through their music. And, as I’ve come to know over the last few years, groups like The Guardians provide some of the best vocals that you could wish for. Contemporary music fans might pigeon-hole this music as “old fashioned.” Well, I’d like to pint those people to the history of southern gospel, as well as the number of new bands of that genre coming out of America. Thus, proving how popular this type of music is. This album has ballads, foot tappin’ numbers, and mid-tempo ditties, which are all enjoyable. The opening “Holy is Thy name” is rather a slow song to start things off, but the following “I Wish I Could Tell You” really bounces along. There’s a great trumpet sound accompanying “Just to Know,” which I really liked! Mind you, I can’t fault the rest of the music either. Whether these guys are belting out the title track or caressing each word of the smooth and relaxing “Someone to Care,” its classy stuff throughout. Yes, The Guardians are on top form from start to finish. 9/10.
HILLSONG INSTRUMENTALS : Piano Reflections Volume 6&7. (Hillsong)
As the title suggests, this 2CD package features instrumental versions of songs you know or, perhaps, don’t. I found the tunes to consist of nice, reflective music, to have alongside your meditations, or in the background as you get on with your daily life. Song titles include; King of Kings; So Will I 100 Billion X; What a Beautiful Name; From Who All blessings Flow (Doxology); as well as Holy Ground; Awake My soul; and I Surrender. They are all well played and recorded, with a gentle sounding piano. It’s quite a slow moving album and although nothing stood out, all the songs are worth listening to. In a world where worship songs tend to have highs and lows, but generally noisy, this is an album for contemplation and brings you back to what matters - the time we spend in closeness to our God and Lord. 7/10. Noel Donaldson.
Mr PRAIZ : Ibuchim. (Gospel Tunes Records)
Mr Praiz a fast rising artist from the eastern Nigeria. This is his debut single titled IBUCHIM (You are my God), reminding the Christians all over the world that no matter what one faces in life, that God is still God. He does not change. With the crash of a gong, the track begins at a steady pace. A little too much echo on Mr Praiz’s vocals, at times, make some lyrics inaudible. But, mostly, his vocals are strong. “When the storms of life hit me, you are My God.” This is the thrust of the song, which does get repeated quite a lot. The backing vocals are good, and help the song along. For a first outing, I think that Mr Praiz has released a very decent song of worship. 6/10.
BENNY DiCHIARA & EMPOWERED : Three Days. (www.Rockin4Jesus.com)
This high-powered pop/rock 5-track album doesn’t just leap from your speakers but threatens to tear them off the wall in the process. I thought the opener (“Listen To The Children”) was pretty powerful (you may recall reading about it in October’s NfN) but then the title track arrived and it has such a catchy hook line you’ll sing it just by reading the title. Lyrically they’re very up-front about their faith (“Three Days” is very clear that it’s the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday and the defeat of sin and the Devil accomplished then). The songs are very well written, played, recorded and produced. The musicianship is superb, the vocals powerful yet clear. Brilliant stuff. It dips a bit in “Jeremiah 29:11” but even that has some great bits – the acoustic guitar work in this case. The fourth track “Rock Bottom” is also good but doesn’t quite hit the heights of the opening two – it has a nice hook but doesn’t quite hit the bar set earlier. This album is worth it just for those two opening tracks. Best track: “Three Days”. 8/10
MARTIN FRYLINK : Behold the Man. (https://martinfrylink.weebly.com)
Australian, Martin is a former pastor, turned singer/songwriter. His lyrics are born from his faith, which has grown stronger following dark times of clinical depression and acute anxiety. He doesn’t dismiss the pain experienced in life but acknowledges it. It then points to the God of all comfort whose grace and love can carry us through anything and everything if we let Him. To some echoing guitar picking, Martin’s vocals rise with a real “twang” to his delivery. A full production follows, including a distorted guitar, and some sweet backing vocals. On first listen, I found it quite an aggressive style – especially when the female vocals join the throng. It was, then, I read more of Martin’s background, and understood the sound better. I guess that there’s a blue element in the music but, also, there’s a touch of rock. The song is one of worship, but not as we know it. In fact, as I write, I can’t think of another artist of similar genre. And, that makes Martin all the more interesting! 7/10.
VARIOUS ARTISTS : Brothers With Soul. (Zoe Records)
Zoe Records’ ‘Brothers with Soul,’ is a live recorded album from their popular London-based Gospel music event, Zoe Nites. Brothers with Soul features Singer/Songwriters Seth Pinnock and ANT, Steve Samuels, Zoe Records very own Dennis Parkes, and rapper Snatcha. The album also features open mic entries from Keisha Reed and Saint CJ. Sadly, the copy I received for review fails to say which artist performs which song. “Peace of Mind” is the first track – a slow, hip hop trip song that didn’t really inspire me. A lot brighter is the reggae influenced “Reign.” The song flows well and is really enjoyable. The well-known worship song, “This is the Air I Breathe” gets a six and a half minute outing, were the vocalist treats us to a gospel version that I found rather tiring. Things don’t go much better on the elongated “You Are Welcome.” The male vocals are okay, solos by two females are, at times, way off key. Similarly, the fifteen minute “Worship Medley” puts rather a strain on the ears. I was getting rather dismayed by the quality of this album by this stage, but there were still another ten songs to endure! Lyrically, I found nothing wrong with any of the songs, but so many of the vocals were poor in quality. In fact, when the final song played, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I know that this was a live recording but, honestly, this is not a good recording. If I’m doing an injustice to the singers then, please, next time, sort out the production. 3/10.