Pieces of a Real Heart
Sanctus Real Since releasing Say It Loud on Sparrow records Sanctus Real has been a consistent voice is CCM. Hits like "Things Like You (Everyone's Everything)," "I'm Not Alright," and "We Need Each Other" have...
Breaking The Silence EP
The Letter Black Known as Breaking The Silence, The Letter Black or a Flyleaf/Fireflight re-make, one Tooth and Nail’s newest artists have now provided fans with their first project, Breaking The Silence EP. The band is...
Forget And Not Slow Down
Relient K Forget And Not Slow Down sis not a Relient K album. Yes, on the side of an album is says ‘Relient K’, but comparing this release to Relient K’s career is difficult. This Relient K uses five new weapons...
The Skinney | Posted June-03-2009
Over the course of every year there are many debut artists who come up out of the wood work and establish themselves as solid singers. Some of that success for new artists lies in good promotion but most of it lies in plain talent; both of which seem to be true of Lanae' Hale and her management. The Florida native offers opens the act of her career with her present pop debut Back and Forth. The track which sets the tone for the album is the title track; the guitar fueled pop song is filled with the charm of her vocals which adds a mature laid back sound which will attract a wide range of pop fans.
Although the music takes a very nice sound on the upbeat pop song “Beautiful Things”, but the album’s best edge maintains soft guitar led ballads especially “Lets Grow Old Together” and the emotional finale “Don’t Cry.” Even though there are some simplistic tracks mixed in the thirteen track album, most of the tunes remain very attractive. The lyrics don’t delve into terribly deep topics but throughout talking about relationships songs where the pronouns don’t necessarily point to God, Lanae’ Hale’s does make God’s presence known ("Burning Heartbeats" and "Estranged"). Overall Back and Forth is a good pop album which is sure to recruit fans of all ages.
In the Hands of God doesn't Go | Posted May-25-2009
It’s almost inarguable that Peter Furler’s departure from frontman duties of the long-time standing pop/worship group Newsboys was the biggest news of the first half of 2009. And when the year ends it’s possible that we will look back and find it the most significant news of the year. While most devastated fans must be happy to find that former dc Talk member Michael Tait will be filling Furler’s shoes it just won’t sound right when Tait tires to take the Aussie act to songs like “Not Ashamed” and “Where Ever We Go.” However after a few spins of the Furler’s last spotlighted performance on an a Newsboy’s album, In the Hands of God, it might have been a smart decision for Peter to allow the curtain of change to fall.
Although thankfully, it’s not an issue which engulfs the entire album, Furler’s vocals have seen better days. Furler’s gravelly vocals immediately show up on the opening track, “The Way We Roll”, and really hurt the upbeat, but not catchy, rough track. The trend continues for a little ways before settling down (especially in the old school rock song “No Grave” which features rough vocals in the chorus) with songs like the fine small techno influenced, pop title track. However In The Hands of God never finds the equilibrium that their last album GO contained. The modern worship/pop song “Glorious” isn’t spectacular while songs like “My Friend Jesus” and “Dance” blend to well as uneventful pop songs on the short, ten-track album. The quirkily sounding “The Upside” at least manages to stick out and so does the light rock/ballad finale “RSL 1984” which shows that Furler and band still has an inventive streak left in them.
Like many bands who don’t wish to stay complacent and blend in with their pears, bands like the Newsboys look for new ways to express their messages. Not that far ago after the band temporarily took a break from writing pop songs, and simplified their writing style to take a more praise and worship direction, the Newsboy’s revisiting the pop writing style on Go was solid and welcomed. Now instead of keeping the similar vein, the Newsboys sadly add more clichés than usual and also went to over the top on the occasional song. “Lead Me To The Cross”, “The Way We Roll”, “Dance” and “Glorious” all follow a repetitive and simplistic pattern which certainly won’t impress long time fans of “Take Me To Your Leader” and “Breakfast." But it’s not all bad as songs like “This Is Your Life” which goes deeper than it’s chorus to reject self (‘It can’t be repeated when your time is gone… This is your life/Treat yourself right/Treat others right/Live like you know you should.’) and the title track.
If fans were expecting another fun CD like GO or an epic pop/praise and worship album land-marking the departure of a warm face in CCM you can bet that many are disappointed. After a very lackluster performance of a very hyped, In the Hands of God, the change of scene will probably means that good days are ahead of for the now part Australian Group. But as Peter Furler leaves, it’s too bad that the record-making system seemed a little too rushed for an album which should have made him and Newsboy’s fans proud.
Press Skip | Posted June-02-2009
It’s been said you can’t be all things to all people. Politicians, movies and even music have all tried to debunk that theory and few if any have ever met with success. The new group from Los Angeles called Press Play makes an almost commendable effort to be all things to all people with their hybrid of hip hop/pop/rock/praise and worship. But like virtually all of those who have gone before them, Press Play’s debut Life is Beautiful doesn’t reach it and what’s even worse is they don’t even come close.
The album starts off by trying to duplicate the techno pop rock tunes similar to Skillet and their CD Invincible thanks to Dave Hanley’s vocals which are parallel to John Cooper’s of Skillet vocals. However watching talented and experienced musicians pull off something doesn’t mean it’s as easy as monkey-see monkey-do. “Break it out”, which has a little of Family Force 5 crunch mixed in, is a electronic influenced dance rock tune which, while upbeat, is not very catchy. “I give my love” follows the same vain and doesn’t fare much better than it’ predecessor.
Next style shift. The Hip-hop and rap portion pop up here and there but make its most infamous appearance in the short song “Say Say.” The co-singer Paige Adkins gives this song and others similar to it a hip hop sound like Group 1 Crew. “Say Say” also includes the guest appearance of rapper Irocc Williams who does add some life into a solid song but even he can’t shake the feeling that Press Play really isn’t a band to take seriously. Another song which isn’t complex and doesn’t even seem to aspire to be is “I love who you are.” The title track wraps up the tone of the album with its music (A bad impression of Group 1 Crew along with some average pop rock) and it’s ‘deeply’ theological lyrics (‘Cause you and me, will always be /We've got the best thing going on’).
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better (or worse) Press Play throws the listeners a curve ball: praise and worship music. But it’s not much of curveball because the modern worship used in Life is Beautiful are really generic. “Angels sing” sill appeal to the Chris Tomlin fans, but sadly, the lack of something new will lead to more Tomlin listening than Press Play. Smaller musical expansions include pop with a punk influence like Hawk Nelson on “I’m Alive” and the techno dance music on the enjoyable “sound of love” sounds like new band And Then There Were None.
The best song on the album is “One Life”, which is a fine inspirational ballad that uses a little rock to make it a little interesting. The song’s message, to live our lives without regrets or sorrys (‘When my life is over and I read through my own review/The meaning of my life with no regrets/No questions why/No sorrys for all the things i could have made/No sorrys I gave it all I didn’t say someday’), is also the strongest on the album but while that formula works, it’s hardly original.
I would usually discuss the lyrics more but it's almost irrelevant at this point. It will either take fans of the bands clichés and unchallenging simplistic song writing to pick Life is Beautiful up. Or it will take hard core fans of Press Play’s genre… which really isn’t anything specific. Sadly, there really isn’t anything Press Play is really good at, leaving a lot of would-be listeners hitting skip.
The Skinney | Posted May-22-2009
It seems that Trevor Mcniven is not the only one of the members of Thousand Foot Krutch who ambitious. It turns out that TFK bassist Joel Bruyere also has a creative streak and willingness to create side projects. Known as only the Drawing Room the self titled debut is full of innovative guitar driven rock tunes that lack any electronic influence. The alternative pop rock sound generates the complex and seriously tune “Keys (the Liaison)” which is the leader in the album. Great hooks drive the guitar led “Trip” to high stop on the album while “The Spy” is similarly good.
While most tracks are pleasing to the ear there are a few songs where the tune sounds a little forced. “Skeleton key” would have been better minus the prominent and annoying drumbeats, while the mellow “Pocket Watch” needed a spark to help its uneventful music. There are no epic songs on the Drawing Room which might discourage would be fans who want haunting songs. No song exceed four minutes and saldy with all the creativity put into the album not everyone is very interesting (“Salt In My Lungs”).
The lyrics also lack as they dive into foggy places where it’s difficult to decipher most of what Bruyere wanted to convey. Messages do encourage those to act within the short time we have left in this beat up world (“Keys (The Liaison”)) while similarly “Peddle” asks what if ‘staying inside the line’ all came down to nothing. But if God plays a key role in the lyrics, He mostly takes a back stage seat with the clearest of mentions arise in (“Windsor For The Winter”). Overall while the Drawing Room is a complicated listen, those who will take some time will enjoy the side project.
City of Black and White... and maybe some Grey too | Posted May-25-2009
While Mat Kearney was an underrated artist when his first CD, Bullet, came out, his singles from then on forward got significant air play (though Kearney still wasn’t high on the totem pole). During that period, and even after Kearney released his patch job of Bullet’s songs and new tunes labeled Nothing Left to Lose, Kearney made a big impact with the title track from both discs. Now after a three years and with a handful of his songs promoting various television ops, Kearney has resurfaced with his third album City of Black and White.
Due to Kearney’s progressive relevance in the mainstream media, it apparently became essential to simplify both his lyrics and his musical direction some. I’ll start with the musical aspect first because it will make the most of an impact of Mat Kearny fans. The City of Black and White’s music is mellower that previous projects, but it doesn’t have much to do with the tempo as much as the chemistry of any given song. The element which made Kearney’s music so distinct and attractive was the rap and sometimes hip hop flavor which he would mix in every other song flawlessly without any simplistic compromise to the beats or the artistry of the music.
His latest effort contains almost nothing of the rap component, and even though Kearney is still a remarkable musician and still gives fans a healthy dose of cutting edge adult contemporary/pop, City of Black and White is less without it. Eliminating the urban factor from the album causes the songs to mesh a little too much especially towards the end of the CD leaving a little verity to be desired.
Still there are a few stand-out tracks and none rank higher than the first single “Closer to Love.” Every facet of the song is finely tuned including the classy piano intro and the catchy upbeat pop chorus. Kearney’s vocals are strong as always, and provide defining roles in songs like “Annie” and the emotion filled “Fire and Rain.” Kearney’s soft handed approach to pop sound makes an inseparable connection to adult contemporary which never really shifts from one style to the other but stays together. The contemporary pop tune “All I have” is very artistic and the guitar driven “Never Be Ready” is similarly good but it lacks a little diversity. Almost every song on the album is at least good, but I was excepting a something more on the title track which ends up being an uneventful ballad with a fine instrumental ending.
Mat Kearney’s occasionally spiritually vague lyrics often left fans reading between the lines, but he made is clear who he was singing for (look back to “Undeniable” or “Girl America”). I was fearful that with more mainstream exposure Kearney’s lyrics would shirt to a more secular position, but even with a slightly more laid back song writing City of Black and White should drop enough hints to make even unbelievers ponder eternal things. However while, Bullet and Nothing Left to Lose peered into aspects considering life closer to the street, City of Black and White is mainly discuss’ relationships and broken people.
Weaved into his songs of heartbreak are a couple clear biblical references and a few tracks which devote themselves to conversation which could go either way. During a case of disaster where Kearney adds an insightful tidbit ‘I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees’ “Closer to Love” suggests turning to God in rough situations (‘Prayin' Lord come through/We're gonna get there soon/Oh it's your light/Oh it's your way/Pull me out of the dark/Just to show me the way.’). Similarly “Annie” includes trouble concerning a girl who has taken the wrong road in life, but the singer eventually realizes that salvation is in the Lord; ‘Tell me there's something we can say/Help me to find a light/Something that's worth living/Theres one love in the morning/Add three days in the grave/Fall back in the evening/Now our lives will change.’ But when “All I have” remarks ‘Every step/Every moment/I’m looking for/All I have/Is yours’ is it an absolute mention to Christ? And how close is the connection between “Fire and Rain’s” message of a prodigal son and the Bible?
Discretion is advised, but unlike some edgy lyrics in Kearney’s previous two works, there are no serious disclaimers in his strong songwriting (Other than “New York to California” implying that the couple is living together with no marital context). However on the melodic side of things while the charm is still there, the aura of diverse and unique music that Mat Kearney used to own is not so prominent. Sure City of Black and White a strong album and should call to more listeners, but the nagging feeling left with older fans will be ‘I wish he would have explored those streets more.'
The Skinney | Posted May-21-2009
The new independent group Awaken, North Wind! represents not only a fine up-and-coming alternative rock but so far already offers one of the years debuts in Doubt. What makes the indie album click are engaging lyrics and unforgettable tunes. The first song with lyrics, “Intentions”, is a solid ambient rock tune which is improved even more with low screeching guitars. The driving guitars in “Grace” make it a fine alternative track, and the incredible epic rock flair towards the end of the previously light “prayers” is spectacular. Even the instrumental title track has a truly haunting sound.
The ballads are usually a music treat also as Awaken, North Wind! blends the acoustic guitar and the piano well. The finale “Shadows” is a little bland but the smooth light tune of “Melody” is impressive. The marathon called “Afraid” mixes a verity of different styles together in the course of the 11+ minute song featuring some low, rough hard rock vocals. The bands approach to song writing is similar to Cool Hand Luke in that each song is well written and meaningful. With the exception of the angst and questioning approach shown in “Prayers” Doubt lifts God up in “Breathe” (‘there is a God who breathed inside of my lungs’) and throughout the course of the album. Those who are fans of ambient rock with fall in love with Awaken, North Wind! and believers will love the lyrics even more.
New Outlook. New Life | Posted April-29-2009
Over the past ten years Thousand Foot Krutch has been among the most popular, and successful, rock groups in Christian music. Channeling similar success to a side project is not easy but Thousand Foot Krutch band mates Trevor McNevan and drummer Steve Augustine have turned ite an achievement with its first entthe third FM static installment moving into the top 25 download albums on Itunes and being labeled "Rockers on the Rise" by Billboard. What is the secret to Dear Diary’s success? It could be that FM Static has mixed the right chemistry.
The plot of the album isn’t that impressive, but then again how many other CD’s do you own actually contain a story line? Based off a fictional story from McNevan’s brain we find the main character entering a new town with a surprisingly optimistic outlook on his supposedly final year of high school. Predictably, he hits it off with a rocket-moving Christian girl (who sounds remarkably like Tricia Brock of Superchic[k]) at his school. As things start to look even more optimistic, tragedy things arise in the from Brock’s character’s family, and our hero starts to doubt if God loves him. Naturally there is this big musical number at senior dance ending the musical on a less satisfying note but, overall the cliché concept album does take its stab into the dark on complex issues that FM Static previously never dared to explore on previous shallow efforts.
Instead of sticking with fast paced punk tunes, FM static explores the genre in a verity of ways without lowering the catchy quotient that is essential to such albums. The opener “boy moves to town with optimistic outlook” isn’t driven by blaring guitars but rather by charm generated from the ordinary guitar intro driving the infectious and smooth tune. The hardest tune on Dear Diary is the aggressive rock track “Boy Meets Girl (And Vice Versa)” which does use some big riffs which is a little out of place but it does match the moment in the concept. The first six tracks are upbeat and all contain catchy beats and in the case of "Man Whatcha Doin'?" the music is brilliant. Highlighting the first bundle of songs is the incredibly fun upbeat “The Voyager Of Beliefs” which sports Brock’s vocals which, along with McNevan, moves along quickly and outstandingly.
One problem with the album is the song structure. The first several songs represent nearly flawless punk tracks but after “The Voyage Of Beliefs” the CD goes down a quieter and solemn path. The lone exception is the “The Shindig (Off To College)” which is a disappointing punk rock/dance beat that falls short of being an eye-pooping finale. Both good ballads, “Her Father’s Song” and “Dear God”, have light hints of punk/pop but neither is emotional enough to be memorable epics. However “Take Me As I am” is an artist song which progresses musically, and succeeds at catching the listener’s attention without the use of a fast-paced beat.
What really separates Dear Diary from other FM static albums is the way that God is weaved through the songwriting. Instead of occasionally mentioning Christ’s name (which the album does several times) to remain a recognizable Christian artist or simply devote entire songs speaking of the Lord, Dear Diary uses everyday experiences and humor to make God relevant. For example, in the middle of a girl/guy cliché (“Boy Meets Girl (and Vice Versa)”) the song mentions that ‘Says she loves her Jesus, and she loves herself’ before adding ‘Wish I wasn’t wearin’ this shirt’. “The Voyager Of Beliefs” takes causal look at Church and the golden rule but takes a serious look for a relationship with God (‘What if I stumble? What if I fall?/When I’m on my way to You,/What if I need You? Who do I call?/How do I know I’ll get through?/Because I don’t wanna ride the fence anymore’).
One might say that the punk music isn’t cutting-edge overall but the tunes are solid and the music for each song meets the theme well. More importantly it’s a huge step for FM Static step out and take a relevant stand with their Faith and sing to ‘And if we take our time, I bet we can all find/The things in life worth living for’ and ‘I need to build my faith sometimes/But I am so comfortable in line.’ Dear Diary is a treasure and a must have for fans of the punk genre along with being one album which deserves praise.
OH Snap! Another EP! | Posted April-20-2009
With three previous EP’s under their belt, touring with bands like Capital Lights, MxPx, and Gasoline Heart, working with producer Rob Hawkins (Fireflight, Jackson Waters, and Esterlyn), the pop punk act Philmont is poised to release their most daring project: another EP! Philmont’s years of work has now come to fruition after re-releasing the Oh Snap EP, which was originally available digitally (minus the acoustic version of “The Ascension”).
It’s easy to categorize Philmont as just another pop punk group arriving late to a scene which doesn’t lack upbeat cliché-ridden rock bands. Those who are willing to take a chance on the Oh Snap EP, or are just looking for the next slightly-big-thing in pop-punk, will be pleasantly presented with a solid selection on songs. The flawless starting track, “I Can’t Stand To Fall”, uses typical fast-paced punk tunes to attract those who are looking for something to dance to. Philmont’s brief adoption of Relient K vocal style in the bridge may inspire criticism, but at least the young group is taking notes from the best. “I Can’t Stand To Fall” metaphorical play on ‘Tear down this wall’ with ‘Tear down these walls/I'd climb but I can't stand to fall without You’ is just one of the symbolic lyrics used by Philmont which is common among other clever punk rock artists. The best of these is “My Hippocratic Oath” which takes an emergency medical situation and turns it into a portrayal of salvation: ‘(Patient:) "There's a pain in my chest and I'm told by the best/They can't save me/What make You think You can?/"(Doctor:)"The drugs they prescribe and procedures they try/Will not save you/But I swear to you I can."’ “My Hippocratic Oath” is very guitar driven and takes on the most intense rock role on the EP.
What stands out about “The Difference” is that it doesn’t. Despite its strong message to stick out in this world (‘It's gotta be significant/If You're really inside changing my life/You would shine, You would be evident/’), the punk rock beat is rougher than “I Can’t Stand To Fall” and the song, overall, sounds too generic. The early vocals on “The Ascension” are reminiscent of David Josiah Curtis (Run Kid Run), and the piano-fueled acoustic version is surprisingly artistic. The other progressive light-pop ballad gets most of its aid from lead singer Scotty McTaube and its lyrics--which speaks from God’s prospective on forgiveness (‘You have all been livin'/A life I have forgiven’). The catchy song "Photosynthetic" isn’t the most cutting-edge track on the album, but it sports an attractive pop punk tune.
Ever since the band’s birth in 2005, little has come from the Philmont studio. Although the acoustic version of the “Ascension” is a nice addition to the Oh Snap EP, the project isn’t one that will inspire more fans to jump on the Philmont bandwagon. However, even though no ground breaking was done, and there is little real indication of future progression in that area, I think we can at least expect a positive full-length album whenever Philmont releases one.
A fun Fall | Posted April-15-2009
Ever since Jars of Clay’s self titled debut in 1995, the band have been one of the premier Christian artists. From frequently reaching the top of Christian music charts to reaching across to the mainstream aisle, Jars of Clay has been consistently putting out cutting edge music that appeals to a large crowd. Their latest album, The Long Fall Back to Earth, is a wonderful example of why the group has reached so much success. The first of many artistic singles to come “Two Hands” displays that time hasn’t worn down Jars of Clay’s soft-handed approach to piano fueled pop rock.
Devoted fans might have been upset that two songs from the Closer EP made the cut, but both the haunting ballad “safe to land” and the infectious, upbeat, synth-influenced sound of “closer” are terrific songs and hardly interrupt the other twelve brand new songs. The progressive piano sound of the instrumental opener “the long fall” transitions well to “weapons”, a fine track which unfortunately lacks the complexity to be a highlight. Even though there is a large amount of diversity on The Long Fall Back to Earth there are a few spots there the attempt to be original falls over the top. After a long intro the upbeat “Scenic Route" hits a bump with its attempted innovative bridge and the small techno influence “don’t stop” isn’t convincing. Still most of the album remains fresh with great songs ranging from the genius ballad “headphones”, to the slightly edgy pop tune “heaven”, to the solemn finale “heart”.
Whether it’s “tea and sympathy” or “mirrors and smoke” or “love is a protest” Jars of Clay has always been aware of the frustrations of love and it’s that topic which the album centers on. Both “Forgive me” and “safe to land” speak of the need for forgiveness (The latter states: ‘I’m in no weather for apology/I need your runway lights to burn for me’) because to the singer ‘the long fall back to earth is the hardest part.’ Fans will probably consider “There Might Be a Light” and “Heart” to be more cliché ridden than most Jars of Clay songs, but when the band switches topics strong stuff arises. “Boys (lesson one)” gives advice to young men ranging from revenge to leaving home ‘you’re not alone/Not since I saw you start breathing on your own/You can leave, you can run, this will still be your home.’ The most spiritually influenced song is “two hands” which talks about a conflicted relationship with our creator (‘I’m a liar who thirsts for the truth…I use one hand to pull you closer/The other to push you away’).
The lack of God centered lyrics might be a little disconcerting (“Hero” rightly states that ‘we need a hero/To save us from ourselves’ but suggests maybe God isn’t listening to us), but there is should enough to keep fans thinking about war, mercy, and eternity. On the musical spectrum, Jars of Clay keeps producing outstanding new music which will have old, and perhaps, new fans alike jumping after The Long Fall Back to Earth.
While I'm Waiting | Posted April-03-2009
John Waller’s sophomore project, While I’m Waiting, contains only nine new songs. Yes there are twelve tracks, but the title track was originally on Waller’s debut CD The Blessing which eliminates the ending “Fireproof remix” which includes sound bites from the popular Christian film. Also the guitar driven “priestly blessing” is a simple alternate version of the popular benediction originating from Numbers 6. Removing the title track takes a lot away from the album, but John Waller’s attempts pulls things together early on balances out the lacking second half of his contemporary pop album.
Starting off the CD is “Hands of the healer” a more convincing worship song than most, which is followed by the inspiration filled “faith is living”. The guitar driven “Cling to the call” has southern roots and “perfect peace” is too light to be a epic ending song. “Our God reigns here” is the most interesting song because of it’s out of place riffs which fade into a heavier than average praise and worship tune. John Waller takes no risks but does a good job making the upbeat “quest” an enjoyable listen even though the album as a whole lacks something new.
Thankfully John Waller does take a Biblical prospective to writing most of his songs which include passages of scripture frequently. For example “Dead Man’s Song says ‘I am crucified with Christ’ along with ‘if we try to save our life we will lose it’ and “Faith is Living: ‘It’s the evidence of things I cannot see/faith is the evidence of things I cannot see… you never live until you live by faith’. Waller takes on the traditional idea that “we go to Church” on “house of God”, and Waller writes a fine song regarding the Savior of men and the “quest”. The weakest songs are “hands of the healer” and “our God reigns here” which are typical worship songs.
Contrast John Waller’s While I’m Waiting with Warren Barfield’s Worth Fighting for back in May of 2008. Both albums featured song on Fireproof and Barfield’s “Love is not a fight” was even the song which backed the trail along with ending the film. However over the months While I’m waiting has since become the theme song for Fireproof as well as his album. What does that mean? It means that if you liked Barfield’s album you will love Waller’s because the depth of the lyrics flows almost as well as Waller’s album cover.