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FANNY CROSBY : Newly Discovered Hymns & Songs.   (Stow Town Records : STR3204)

Frances Jane “Fanny” Crosby was born March 24, 1820, in Putnam County, New York. Having lost her eyesight at the age of 6 weeks, Fanny grew up learning from her grandmother about nature, animals, and the Bible. She wrote her first hymn at the age of 45 and gained worldwide fame through the distribution of her hymns, poems, books and secular songs. Several of her unpublished writings were discovered in recent years. This album is the result of collaboration of today’s finest songwriters. There are 15 songs on the track listing and some are real beauties. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound are the first o be heard with a song called “Shout Hosanna.” The music is provided by a church style organ, but the vocal harmonies are a wonder to behold. “I Know the Sweet voice of the Shepherd” is a lovely song. Sung by southern gospel stalwarts, Legacy Five, it’s splendour pours out through your speakers. Banjo and mandolin sounds greet Rhonda Vincent, Lizzy Long, & Sally Berry on “Beside the Cross,” while the acappella voices of Triumphant masterfully bring you “The Isles of the Deep.” To be honest, this is a really lovely collection of songs. Fanny Crosby must have been quite a woman, and it’s testament to her writings that her hymns have stood the test of time. Other artists lending their voices to these new songs include The Collingsworth Family, The Erwins, and a whole host of top singing stars. Whoever took the time to put this package together deserves a huge pat on the back.   10/10.

TOSE UMOBUARIE : Broken People. (www.toseofficial.com/music)

After taking two years out following the release of her debut EP to focus on her family, London singer / songwriter TOSE returns with a new sound and official video. The heart-felt ‘Broken People’ talks about different types of broken people and how we all need God in every aspect of lives. The song gives hope and reassurance to not give up and that in some way or form we’re all broken without God. It all begins with a lovely piano intro, and  Tose’s gentle vocals caress each word. Then, as the song opens up, her voice simply soars to give an excellent vocal performance. Style-wise, the song reminded me a little of Gabrielle, with a pop feel. “At the end of the day, we are Broken people in need of a saviour.” The message is so true, and the song is a little masterpiece. 10/10.

PHIL WICKHAM : Living Hope.   (Fair Trade : 736211851093)

This album sees a change style in Phil’s music, as he fills the track listing with numbers that could all be sung in churches. The impact of some of the songs is immediate. The title track, for instance, has already been covered by numerous artists. It sounds like it could almost be Wesleyan hymn of epic proportions. Listening to “Great Things” the sound and delivery reminded me of a live concert I saw in the 90’s where Michael W.Smith led the whole audience in worship – very powerful stuff. As anthems go, “How Great is your Love” is simply amazing. Closing my eyes and listening, I could visualize just how deep and personal this, nd other, songs must be to Phil. His duet with Hollyn, “Song in My Soul” follows suit, while “Wild River” is another that begs to be sung by myriad voices. “Tethered” wasn’t one of my favourites, but that maybe just personal taste. Certainly, Phil Wickham has pushed the quality bar of worship songs higher than ever with this release.   9/10.

JERUSALEM : Can’t Stop Us Now (Legends Remastered).   (Retroactive Records : RRCD1469)

I well recall this Swedish band at Greenbelt, with the two guitarists walking around one another and slowly turning their guitar leads into a roadie’s nightmare. They were great crowd pleasers and fitted the era well, although their evangelistic lyrics and hard rock sound did mean they found it hard to get places to play. So how does the material stand up so many years later? Quite well is the answer. The source recordings (especially the drums) are trapped in the time they were recorded, but with so many bands looking over their shoulders for “authenticity” that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Kicking off with the rocking title track, I was expecting a heads down no nonsense album, but that wasn’t what I got. Instead it’s more guitar rock bookending a more keyboardy central section. With the former, the band powers along, distorted guitars and riffs to the fore, lyrics clear in meaning and overtly faith-based and generally evangelistic. Some of the backing harmonies are prog-rock influenced and some vocal inflections bear more than a passing resemblance to flower power, but it works. This is a band that were solid: their playing slotted together seemingly effortlessly, each part there to make the song work and work they do. Even the swirly keyboard-driven “Read Between The Lines” sits well in the context of the album, the riffs now being in the background but still there. The album is a mix of late 70s guitar rock and early 80s keyboard power pop (most evident on the poppy “Let’s Go (Dancing)”), although the organ work on “Time” is solidly 70s. It contains two bonus tracks from other compilations, one of which is an alternative mix (“Heartbeat”). The album catches the band at a time when musical genres were mutating: rock was incorporating more synthesisers as the technology stabilised and bands were producing more in-studio material than they were ever likely to play live, due to the complexity or subtlety. These tensions meet best in the well-worked and arranged “Mourner’s Parade” and “Tomorrow’s World” where the riffs are carried by the synths. Overall I preferred the more straight ahead rock material, drenched in reverb and carrying a level of excitement. Best track: “The Waiting”.   6/10.   Paul Ganney

SPRING HARVEST : Newsongs For the Church 2018.   (Essential Christian : 5021776228233)

If you’ve never come across this series of albums, these annual releases contain songs, written by a variety of leading songwriters. The aim is to provide new songs as practical resources for churches, music teams and individuals. When I looked back at the NFN reviews for previous releases, I found that they have been received consistently well, scoring an average of 8/10. This collection is no different. I liked some songs more than others, and found the big production of “Fresh Outpouring” quite unimpressive. “Rock of Ages”, on the other hand had me singing along quite quickly. The male singer (individual credits aren’t given) has a great voice and the chorus is really catchy. Similarly, “Gracefully Broken” is all about surrendering to God, and the song is very strong.  As for “So Will I,” I thought that it was a good performance song, but not one that I’d actually see being sung by a church/festival gathering. My favourite track has to be “In the Name of God the Father.” It sounds like a traditional hymn that has been put to a modern tune. The female vocalist carries a superb melody and the result is rousing! These collections contain quite a variety of songs, which is one of the series’ strengths. Therefore, it’s worth, once more, 8/10.

PAUL BELL : First Light.   (Https://paulbellmusic.com)

I remember seeing Paul Bell live in Cottingham a few years ago and can remember being impressed with a fantastic fusion of skill, talent, poignant songwriting and humour. I’m glad to discover that on hearing this album, he hasn’t lost any of that. The style is very akin to Martin Joseph – acoustic driven with folk overtones the latter being evident most strongly in the second song “Down the Middle”. It’s a sprightly number with a skiffle edge and some great lyrics – “I was broken from the start, Everyone’s a broken work of art” just one of the sublime lines that pervade the song. Mostly though it’s pretty chilled and laid back – even the opening number “Beautiful and Brave”, a song about changing the world with acts of kindness, is mid-tempo, though it manages to maintain an upbeat tone nonetheless. Laid back doesn’t have to mean uninteresting, as Paul proves. I was expecting some humour along the way and the album doesn’t disappoint with the witty “Things No-One Knows”. What other song asks all important questions such as the destination of tupperware lids or the point of Jar-Jar Binks? Paul’s songs are an abundant microcosm of life and its unavoidable challenges, suffusing sadness loss and grief with hope, grace and humour. That’s why they work. You do need skill and talent too, and Paul has those in spades. This is definitely one to get hold of. 9/10.   Robin Thompson.

JOHNNYSWIM and DREW HOLCOMB & THE NEIGHBORS. : Goodbye Road.   (Goodbye Road)

I’ve noted the style of this album as “folk”, by which I mean Mumford & Sons or Rend Collective, or for older listeners Fairground Attraction. The harmonies are the first things to leap out at you: they are simply superb. Then there’s the range – joyful bounce (“Ring The Bells”) meets gospel soul (“Goodbye Road”). This is a true collaboration, with two bands coming together to write and record together – not just one artist guesting on another’s album. The songs came as a response to events such as the racial assaults in Charlottesville, the loss of rock & roll icon Tom Petty (whose “I Won’t Back Down” is covered here – it fits so well that if you didn’t know otherwise you’d assume they wrote it), and the attack on an audience of music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Their web site claims it has given us “a record that not only doubles down on swooning, sweeping melodies, but also offers messages of hope and resilience. It's bright, clear-eyed music for cloudier times.” It’s hard to disagree and the backing vocals humming “Amazing Grace” that slip into the title track display this message of hope well. It’s a lovely EP and it’d be great if they did this again. Best track: “Ring The Bells”.   8/10.   Paul Ganney

HOPESTREAM : I Sing. (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/i-sing-single/1391972646?i=1391972713)

Sue Crossman is the writer and lead vocalist on this single from new Somerset based band, Hopestream. She has been writing and leading worship for many years. Alongside her, she has former professional musician Ben Axford on guitars, Polly Axford-Checkley providing backing vocals, and Steve Richards who doubles up on drums and bass guitar for this recording. Polly says; “We are united because we just love Jesus and love to express this through music.” Well, with “I Sing” I think that they’re on to a winner. The jangly guitar sound is really good, and the song has an excellent rhythm. The words are simple but, nevertheless, lyrically strong. It’s all about singing and worshipping Jesus, and the chorus is quite infectious. Vocally, Sue and Polly are first class, and backed well by their co-band members. The reprise towards the end of the song is quite special and the overall sound is one of pure joy. With this release, Hopestream have set a high level for future recordings to match. I have no doubt that they will do just that.   9/10.

JASON NELSON : The Answer.   (RCA Inspirational : 889854485627)

Jason Nelson hails from Baltimore, and has had a long urban gospel career. Writing, or co-writing, most of the tracks, his style is very much in the mould of Donnie McClurkin. There’s quite a few live recordings on this album, and the opening “Jesus is the Answer” is one. My problem with this type of music is that while the backing singers constantly repeat the same line, Jason hollers and shouts like one of those old-time preachers. It just does nothing for me, personally. “Never Go a Day” is similar. Repetitive in content, it lasts for well over 7 minutes. Obviously, Jason wouldn’t be popular if everyone had the same opinion as me. It goes without saying that his appeal is with gospel lovers. However, for me, “Stripes” shows him in quieter mode, with a slower song that I found really enjoyable. The best song comes near the ends of the album. “He Touched Me” is a lovely song, and shows Jason’s vocals to be both smooth and warming. What a pity that the same can’t be said of the 8 minute epic that is “Forever.” Yes, it did seem to go on for ever! I do like the occasional gospel album, but this isn’t one of them.   4/10.

HILLSONG : There is More.  (Absolute Marketing :  B0794L26K3)

Church worship songs have never been the same since Hillsong came on the scene. Writing and recording some of the most sung songs in churches all over the world, they now present us with 12 more. From the off, it’s an album of declaration of our great God. “You alone have made a way for us” comes from the song “You Are Life.” It’s not only rousing, but exciting too. “Our chains are gone, our debt is paid.” Now, how many times have I heard those lyrics in a Christian song? However, this mid-tempo number stands up well, with Brooke Litergwood providing the vocals. Mid-album, I found “Be Still” and “Remembrance” to be a little bland. However, “Valentine” picks things up again, with quite an endearing melody. The strength of Hillsong albums is the consistency in writing good, accessible songs. “Touch of Heaven” is a big worship number, while “The Lord’s Prayer” benefits from some fine keyboard sounds, and good production. Finally, there’s the epic “So Will I (100 Billion X). Sung by Taya Smith, it epitomises everything that has made Hillsong a phenomenon in the world of Christian music.   9/10.

7 CORE MUSIC : Sonics 3.   (www.7coremusic.co.uk)

This is a 12 track album, featuring bands from 7 Core, which is a UK independent label. It kicks off with a rocking track called "Concrete Heart" by Tina Boonstra. Which is followed by a heavier rock song by Ian Yates called "Blackout", which set the mood for the rest of the album very well. Being a compilation, there are various styles of music on show here, from Rock / pop to more ballad style music, electronic music, and even the odd folkish song. I'm not familiar with most of the artists on here, but as a showcase of the label's output, it works well, with each band contributing two songs. The variety of styles on this album helps to keep your attention throughout, and I didn't find any of the songs let the side down at all. This album is available from all the usual download and streaming sites, although I'm not sure if there is an actual CD available or not. It's certainly worth having a listen to this in my opinion, as it makes a change from the more, well established bands.   9/10   Andy Sayner.


PAUL POULTON : God and Primordial People.   (Resource Publications : ISBN 9781532640230)

This is Paul’s fourth published book, and it explores further some of the themes discussed in his earlier work “Genesis for Ordinary People” (and to a lesser extent its sequel “Exodus for Ordinary People”). Here Paul explores the origins of man by looking at evidence from primarily the bible but also from other reliable historical and archaeological stories. It is important to note that Paul is keen to consider what the bible actually says, not what we think it says, removing the layers of dogma and preconception that may have accumulated over many years of belief, or even unbelief. As the author himself points out in Chapter 24, Bone and Flesh, “We have to take care that current popular doctrines don’t infiltrate the truth of the Bible and ‘death entering the world after the disobedience of Adam in the garden’ is dogma that has entered some quarters of the church. Even Bible translators can be pulled into interpreting, and consequently translating, the Bible in the light of their church’s doctrine rather than what is actually written”. To that end this is not a book to read if you want confirmation of your own preconceptions; Instead, prepare to be challenged and unravelled by this thoughtful, insightful and erudite piece of work. Once again Paul explores our pre-held notions of who Adam and Eve where, the nature of sin and death, and the very origins of the fall of mankind. Were Adam and Eve the first humans? Paul’s answer is an emphatic no and as you follow the logic of the argument and the evidence presented you are able to arrive at that conclusion for yourself, to see that Bible never makes that claim and that the original readers of the Biblical texts would never have drawn that conclusion either! It’s not just about Adam and Eve though. We are shown how the Bible cleverly uses the word Adam to mean both a man and all mankind and in doing so it is revealing a picture of who we are – spotting the correct usage when reading the Bible makes all the difference to your understanding of it. And beyond this, as readers we are taken on a journey through Sumerian culture, the possible relationships between homo sapiens and other homo species (such as Neanderthals) and how God has been with us from the beginning, providing and caring for us and how we turned our back on that to go and our way and how we sought to become self-sufficient in more ways than one. This is another excellent book from Paul and is highly recommended if you want to be able to find answers to some core questions about our origins and the Biblical accounts of them.   10/10.   Robin Thompson.

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