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SPRING HARVEST : Only the Brave.   (Essential Christian)

This album captures the faith and fervour of worship from Spring Harvest 2018. Featuring lead worshippers Bright City, Elim Sound, Kees Kraayenoord, and Pete James, it’s a very good live release. From the opening “Rise With a Roar” many of the songs are really engaging for the listener. Elim Sound’s highlights come in the shape of the popular “We Say Yes” and “One.”  In my opinion the former is a classic of recent times, and this live version is superb. Some great guitar sounds carry “Reckless Love,” while “Grace That Will Lead Us Home” sounded like a throwback to 80’s style pop gospel. Over the last fewe years, I’ve become a fan of Pete James, whether he’s leading worship or singing more performance orientated songs. On “Your Kingdom Come,”  he not only co-writes the track, but delivers a terrific contemporary song of worship. Later on, he’s back again with the beautiful “Thank You for Fathering Me” – a glorious track! In between, there’s a rather oddly out of place dance track called “This Is Jesus.” It stands out like a sore thumb on an otherwise splendid set of songs.   9/10.  

RELIANCE : Crashing Down.   (https://reliancepunk.bandcamp.com/releases)

Like a caged wildcat suddenly released, this album doesn’t hold back. It piles in good and hard, fast, proud, loud and with so much energy they probably glow in the dark. It’s solid riffing through and through: drums, bass and guitar creating one of the best punk walls of noise I’ve heard in a long time. The vocal sits on top, sung more than sneered – a band so comfortable and confident they don’t care if suddenly the backing vocals slip into harmonies. I saw them described as “melodic punk” and I think that’s a good description. They sound like the Ramones crossed with the Sex Pistols and then slip in some pop sensibilities a la 4 Seconds of Summer. I loved the guitar figures in tracks like “Broken Bottles”, the short but sweet solos, the manic riffing of “Not This Time’, the background full-band riffing of “Crashing Down” and the sheer solid musicality of it all – energy with direction. Lyrically they’re subtler about their faith than some bands, but it is there (“Once Blind” is a good example). If you like your music fast and loud, then this is right up your street. Best track: “Broken Bottles”   7/10.   Paul Ganney

LUKE & ANNA HELLEBRONTH :  Up & Alive.   (Integrity Music).

Luke & Anna, serve as worship pastors for the Gas Street Church in Birmingham, under the leadership of lead pastor Tim Hughes. This is the third single release from them in the last few months and it all begins with bright keyboards and guitars. The song tells of God’s creation and of Christ rising from the grave. Well-worn lyrics such as “you can break the chains” and “you’re the only healer” are given new life by this uplifting song. Luke’s vocals take the lead and his delivery is really good. The feel of the song is very much in the modern mould of Jesus Culture, and this one is head and shoulders above many of its genre.   9/10,

PASSION : Follow You Anywhere – Live!   (Capitol Christian Music Group)

The collection of music is perennially created for the thousands of 18 to 25 year-olds that unite for the Passion gathering, but the intention of each song is to empower worshippers around the world. Follow You Anywhere marks the first time a Passion record has been recorded at the conference's home base, Passion City Church in Atlanta. My first listen to the album didn’t really thrill me, but subsequent plays excited me more. Sean Curran sings with refrain on “Welcome the Healer,” which is met by the occasional power chords. The song, which lasts for over six minutes, quietens down towards the end, before building with great power. I especially liked “Lift Up Jesus.” The lyrics and production is very simple, but I soon found myself joining in praise. The title track is led by Kristian Stanfill, It swings along at medium pace and is quite glorious to hear. On a sour note, I found both “Hundred Miles” and “Yet I Will Praise You” to be my least favourites on offer. Both songs are sung by Crowder. The first came over as being quite abrasive, while the latter just sort of meanders into oblivion. However, despite that, I still found this album to be a very pleasing listen.   8/10.

DANNY GOKEY : Haven’t Seen It Yet?   (Capitol Christian Music Group)

America watched closely as Danny Gokey battled tragedy and won millions of hearts on his way to the finals of American Idol Season 8.  His story was no secret: a onetime truck driver from Milwaukee, he’d married his high school sweetheart Sophia only to lose her, a victim of surgery gone bad, just a month before auditioning for the smash hit talent show. That was enough to transfix viewers week after week. Add to that his singing — expressive, soulful, driven but yet in command of emotions that would have overpowered practically anyone else. The result was a performance that moved audiences to tears and inspired many to face adversity with greater courage. Today Danny Gokey stands at a different place, wiser, stronger. He’s married and has become a father. Once paled by  clouds, his world now bathes in a brighter light. “Don’t lose hope in your prayers. Maybe you just haven’t seen it, because all His promises are up ahead.” These are just some of the words of this new release from Danny. It a smooth, uptempo, R&B groove, that fans of artists such as Smokie Norful and Kurt Carr will appreciate. It’s radio friendly and full of good hooks. An excellent single.   9/10.  

UNITED PURSUIT : Garden.   (United Pursuit Records)

This album came out last year but, due to illness, I’ve only been able to listen to it now. It must be two or three years since their last album, and this release is very different. I wracked my brains to come up with another, similar sounding record, but failed. The tracks all have just one word titles. This, I guess, is supposed to give you some idea of what each piece is about. Musical sounds are ambient or chill-out, while lyrics, on the whole, are few. The title track is about trusting in God, but it’s repetitive nature didn’t float my boat. On “Rest,” Andrea Marie’s wistful vocals, sometimes, get lost in the production, making it difficult to hear what she’s singing. I believe that these tracks are meant for meditative worship – hence, the gentle sounds, whilst focussing on few words. There again. “Emptiness” was one of the most miserable 7 minutes that I’ve ever spent, whilst listening to an album. Things didn’t get much better with “One.” Unimaginative synth’ loops, just became more annoying, as the time went on.  Was really beginning to wonder if I was missing the point of this album? I found it very tiresome, and challenging to use anything for my own worship. However, “Beautiful” did come along and saved the day. I’m  assuming that it’s Andrea Marie again on vocals. “You’re the lifter of my head, now my heart will follow.” It’s a really nice song and her voice sounds a little like Kim Walker-Smith. I can’t speak highly enough of this track, as it is just so much better than anything else on the album. Overall though, it’s a disappointing release.   3/10.

IAN YATES : Hope Beyond Hope.   (7Core Music)

Is there hope when hope is taken away? Is there hope when the situation seems hopeless? When human hope dries up, God alone keeps hope flowing. God is a God of hope, even when hope is lost. And, it’s from those words that an takes his inspiration for this new track. It’s the third single in this series from Ian Yates and fires in an attack minded percussion introduction. From then, there’s a mix of guitars and synths, which gives the song a definite 80’s vibe, in the mould of Heaven 17. (The bridge is fabulous, by the way!) I get the feeling that Ian is experimenting with a slightly new sound overall, and it’s good to hear that he’s not resting on his laurels. It will be interesting to hear his mini album ‘Deconstruction Vol 1’ due for March 19 release.   8/10.

CHRIS TOMLIN : Holy Roar.   (Capitol CMG)

One of the foremost Christian songwriters of our age and with 19 Dove Awards to his name, Chris Tomlin surely needs no introduction to NFN readers. Holy Roar is Chris's 11th studio album, released towards the end of last year together with his 'Holy Roar' book, co-written with Church Of The City pastor Darren Whitehead. Here we have twelve tracks almost equally divided between the reflective and the worshipful, with mostly strong melodies - although several will probably remind listeners of other well known Tomlin songs. Chris delivers them in his usual capable way, mercifully missing the false emotion 'cracks in the throat' that some of his contemporaries use. The standout for me is the beautiful, original, moving, question and response 'Is He worthy', which I added to my Tidal 'Top Tracks' playlist and subsequently found to be the only one not written by Chris! I found other strong ones to be a creative re-write of Psalm 23 entitled 'Goodness, love and mercy', and 'I stand in awe' - delivered by a sadly uncredited female vocalist. Most of the rest of the tracks however tend to be lyrically unoriginal, sprinkled with stock phrases, arranged to a well-worn formula, and in my opinion overall a bit of a let down when we consider what Chris is capable of. For me then, one very special track, other high points, but altogether a rather disappointing.  6/10. Dave Deeks

EMERY : Eve.   (BC Music)

15 tracks in 42 minutes? I was sure I was in for a solid slice of punk rock, but no, instead I got some very succinct poppy power prog rock. Or I think I did – this band are very hard to pigeonhole, which is a good thing. It’s got the feel of power pop in places (think Wanted, 5 Seconds of Summer) but then throws in some prog-style vocal phrasing (Spock’s Beard sprang to mind) underpinned by some slightly off-kilter drumming and then it’s all heads down and screamed vocal, then back to pop prog (the anthemic “Safe” has some definite early Pink Floyd riffs in there and the guitar pattern on “Streets Of Gold” also – although the Simon and Garfunkel vocals made it fresh – and then they changed style again. Twice). An unusual mix, but one that I rather liked and you certainly can’t claim that it all sounds the same. Add in influences such as Artic Monkeys, Sum 41 and Third Day (let alone the harmony vocal work on “Shame”) and I think it’s fair to say that this is a band with a sound of their own and who are very happy to declare their faith in whatever style best suits the song. Other reviewers more familiar with the band’s work have commented that this is “more of the same”, whereas I (not being so familiar) found it refreshing compared to other albums around at the moment. Best track: Safe

7/10.   Paul Ganney

VARIOUS : Gracefully Broken.   (Essential Christian)

This 30 track collection is said to feature some of the most popular contemporary worship songs today. Listening to the 2 CD set, There were only a few that I could honestly say that I’d heard before. The sleeve notes contain some of the most horrible font colour, that I’m afraid  can’t tell  you whether these songs are performed by the original artists or not. However, on the plus side, the collection is quite good. “Sound of Adoration” is a very bright and joyful song, and is quickly followed by the equally enjoyable “Your Kingdom Come.” I thought that the title track was a little over produced. For me, I would have liked a more stripped back affair. The music seemed rather cluttered. Of course, everyone must have heard and/or sung “What a Beautiful Name” – the Hillsong mega-hit. This version is every bit as good as any other recording. I’d not heard of the Rend Collective’s “Every Giant Will Fall” but it made an instant positive impact with me. If you’re looking for some new songs to sing at your church, this release does showcase some top tunes. “Never Gonna Stop Singing” is a terrific song, as is “Sinless Saviour.” David Lyon’s “I Will Hope” ticks all the right boxes when it comes to a touch of the Celtic sound. Lovely fiddle playing carries a very catchy tune. All in all, a well thought-out release.   8/10.

SWITCHFOOT : Native Tongue.   (Fantasy Records)

Native Tongue is the 11th album release from Switchfoot and what an album with a great message weaving through track after track. This album was mostly recorded in their hometown of San Diego California. As you would imagine the title track “Native Tongue” is a great anthemic piece followed by an array of musical styles including reflective songs such as  “Joy Invincible” a highlight track in my opinion, I love this track with beautiful lyrics “Hold to what’s real/Everything heals/We are children of the promise/Open your heart”. “Voices” was a co-write and produced alongside their friends from the group One Republic whose questioning style of lyrics in their tracks reflect the many questions posed in this “Native Tongue” album. “Prodigal Son” track is also a highlight on this album.  “I’m a prodigal son and I want to come home/I can’t make it alone won’t you bring me home”.  A beautiful picture of God’s arms always open to us waiting for us to return home to His warmth, love, comfort and safety.

Let the words of Native Tongue echo in our hearts and remind what the most important aspect of life is, in the words of the title track “Native Tongue”  “I want the world to sing in her native tongue/To sing it like when we were young/Back before the pendulum had swung to the shadows/Love is the language, love is your native tongue. This album moves through empathy and introspection leaving many questions and answers, but one indelible truth to ponder and decide on, is love our language? its most definitely the language of God. Can we as individuals release the innocent language of love, drenching every corner of our world.  That is a wonderful message to take away from this album.  Listen to it and form your own opinion, you won’t be disappointed.   9/10 Vivienne Neville.

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