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A Fusion of Passion and Praise | Posted October-08-2013
Fuzed Worship formed as the result of an unlikely partnership between Daniel Meyer and Nate Edmonds. Meyer had written lyrics about the injustice he'd seen traveling the world and had asked Edmonds to come back into music to put them to music. The two immediately clicked and thus were the humble beginnings of Fuzed Worship. 

The group has grown by several members since, with a mission to make music that transcends simple music to make a difference to hurting people. Now partnered with Joyce Meyer Ministries, the group leads worship at several of the organization's conferences, eagerly hoping to shine a light that will point people to Christ.

The group's third project, the By Your Blood EP, offers a worthy look into just what this act is capable of. Opening track "Forever You Reign" offers a solid pop/rock worship offering that has surprisingly upbeat and poppy instrumentation, and it definitely helps flesh out the track into feeling fuller and more lush than you might expect based on the title alone. "God Is Able" follows in similar fashion, offering a worthy message about the limitless of what God can do for us, with soaring melodies that carry the message to new heights. The music hits a sweet spot between catchy melodies and creating an uplifting atmosphere of worship, which is fitting given their chosen name. By this point, it's clear that the band's attempt to reach young people and bringing them closer to God is well-served by their rousing musical offerings.
 
The title track shows a slower and more intimate side to Fuzed. "By your blood / we overcome / we are wrapped up in Your loving arms" serves as a passionate moment of praise that can be viewed as sort of a caption for the entire EP, reiterating the simple Biblical truth to give context to all of the other worship. For even the praise we give to Christ is only possible by His grace.
 
"My Heart Burns For You" carries a sort of ballad-esque feel to it with its soft, piano-driven chorus and heartfelt cry of love for our Savior. With an intricate string backing lifting up the keys, the music can almost carry you away into a transcending worship experience. The lyrics cover well-tred territory, but the vocals and music make it feel like it's hitting your ears for the first time. Count this one up as another success for Fuzed. "Lost in You"meanwhile takes a fairly traditional approach to a straight-forward worship song, proclaiming, "Your glory as I bow at your throne / Your mercy washing over me / Your beauty captivating my soul / 'til I'm lost in you." The choral high point of the song is a strong way to close out the EP and leaves the listener with a Christ-centric impression and a deeply authentic appreciation for the greatness of our God. There's a certain genuine quality to all of the songs here that serve as a uniting glue to keep the listener engaged from start to finish. 
 
Closing Thoughts: 
Fuzed states that their passion is to create something that is more than music and this EP is a large step towards a solid "mission accomplished." With uplifting lyrics, passionate melodies, tight vocals, and an unflinching focus on Christ, the By Your Blood EP is a success on all fronts.


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Let for King & Country Take You Into the Silent Night | Posted September-23-2013
It's that time of year again; autumn is starting, the temperature is dropping, the nights are getting longer, and all of the Christmas products are being released. It's not just your talking Santas and pre-lit trees in department stores, but the new Christmas-themed movie and music releases are also going to be dropping little by little as the 2013 calendar winds down.
 
Christmas music releases have become such a staple of the industry that you can bet that in any given year, a lot of high-profile artists are going to be releasing some Christmas-themed projects. And this is especially true for the Christian music market, where Christmas is more than just a season to cash in on sentiment and goodwill. For what the secular world often forgets, Christians tend to be better at remembering: that this season isn't about any of the accessories but rather about the birth of a little baby boy who, some 33 years later, would be nailed to a cross to redeem us of our sin. 
 
As a result, while most of the secular Christmas releases fade into footnotes after a year or two, Christian Christmas releases tend to have a little more staying power in their respective markets. Still, lately, it seems like Christmas releases of some sort are becoming more and more obligatory and thus, even in the Christian market, there's been a trend towards cranking out a Christmas album that doesn't offer much in the way of memorable musical offerings. 
 
So when an artist does release a collection of Christmas tunes that offers the promise of meriting annual plays throughout every December, it's becoming a truly noteworthy and praiseworthy thing. With that in mind, we arrive at the Christmas EP from the duo that is taking Christian radio by storm these past two years, for King & Country, titled Into The Silent Night.
 
The brothers of famed CCM singer Rebecca St. James have made quite a name for themselves with hits like "Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)" and "The Proof of Your Love." Also, last Christmas season, they released a very well received Christmas single in the form of original tune, "Baby Boy." The song did well on Christian radio and even found its way onto the band's recently released live album. That song seems to be the cornerstone of this release, appearing in both studio and live versions. The song is definitely among a small handful of original Christmas tunes that truly have the potential to become classics. 
 
More than just a peppy holiday offering, the song reminds us that it was a baby boy who came to save us, and it's a baby boy that we celebrate at Christmas. Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in the Christmas routine that it's easy to forget to step back in awe at our Savior coming to earth not as a warrior on a warhorse but as a baby in a bed of straw. The song's passionate bridge stands as one of the most memorable lyrical and musical moments of any Christmas release of the past few years: "See, the King is coming down / And He's here without a crown / The Baby Boy without a bed / Giving life back to the dead / And hear the angels shout it out / As the people come and bow / Unexpected majesty / Alleluia, what a King!"
 
Apparently fueled by the success of that song, the band recorded three more Christmas tunes to make up this year's EP. Another original serves as the title track. While "Baby Boy" focuses on epic harmonies and soaring choruses, "Into The Silent Night" is a more refined and intimate approach. Intricate bells and Christmassy sounds polish off this Christmas love-song which proclaims, "sun and rain / life and change / but through it all love remains.
 
As the song sings of going "into the silent night / with you by my side / joy in a lonesome world / for this boy and girl / angels celebrate / as we stand face to face / with God's gift tonight," one is reminded of the need to not isolate ourselves in our observance of Christmas but rather to celebrate Christ's birth with those precious people he has placed in our lives.
 
The EP also offers two covers of traditional Christmas carols, which is a standard on most Christmas releases. While much of the time, these covers tend to be forgettable filler done the same way countless artists have done it before, the Smallbone brothers have managed to breathe new life into each of the tracks with their signature pop style. 
 
"Angels We Have Heard On High" seems to fit right in with the brothers' musical strengths, and it's even treated to a new bridge as "come adore on bended knee / Christ the Lord, the newborn King" is given the classic fK&C chant treatment. "Little Drummer Boy" seems a fitting complement to "Baby Boy" and it's not surprise when it's turned into a rather epic musical anthem.
 
Closing Thoughts: 
In an age where the market is saturated with forgettable and predictable Christmas tunes, it's truly refreshing to see a release that is not only musically memorable and enjoyable from start to finish, but one that also manages to keep Christ the prime focus throughout. Granted, this is much easier to do with a four- or five-song EP than with a full-length Christmas album. 
 
But I have high hopes that if for King & Country ever do decide to try their hand at a full-length Christmas release, it'll turn out just as good as this EP did. This is one Christmas release you don't have to think twice about adding to your regular Christmas rotation.


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The Exchange is a Keeper | Posted September-09-2013
With all the new acts regularly sneaking their way onto the Christian music scene in any given year, it's easy for many of the good indie bands to get lost in the shuffle. Yet every artist has to start somewhere, and there are often a slew of gems with a good deal of talent and potential waiting to break forth into the spotlight.
 
While it's not their first EP, the Exchange's self-titled release is essentially serving as the major introduction to them. Right off the bat, there are definitely familiar influences from both the rock and pop ends of the spectrum blended nicely into a fairly accessible package. 
 
"Feel It In Our Hearts" is a fine introduction to the band with a catchy chorus and a safe middle ground between the rock and pop. Given that the band is still fairly new, it's easy to forgive the overall safe feel of the track and most of what follows. There aren't too many stylistic risks but the sound the band offers is still likable and pulled off quite effectively. 
 
"Tell Me Your Story" opens with a key-driven intro with the pop chants joining in soon after. A worthy single candidate, the encouraging chorus lyrics are definitely album standouts: "Tell me the story about those scars / where you have been and who you are / feeling like we are worlds apart / but I will listen / like a ship that can't find land / I'll be your courage, here's my hand / give you the strength in which you stand / and I will listen.
 
"Brand New Day" continues the pop/rock feel and keeps the album's momentum going. "My Vision" offers an industrial rock opener that's especially ear-grabbing. The song itself follows a similar path to the previous songs, perhaps with the rock amped up a bit, which the band pulls off quite well. The added edge works well with the band's musical strengths. There's also a curious hair of screaming present in this (and in the next song) that is so fleeting that you could easily miss it both times. While it's commendable for the band to take the risk in an otherwise fairly safe album, it's also a bit out-of-place. It might satisfy some more rock-oriented listeners, but it definitely clashes a bit with the safe, polished sound that the band establishes throughout the record. Still, it's not even noticeable enough to worry much about. 
 
"The Earth Will Shake" still provides some fine energy to the EP with a heavier guitar sound driving the anthem. "Beautiful King" closes out the EP was a simpler and straight-up worship ballad that checks all the necessary boxes for a CCM hit and does so without sounding boring. This would be another good candidate for a radio single given its accessible nature.
 
Closing Thoughts: 
All of the songs here are enjoyable and pleasant offerings and there's definitely musical and lyrical talent for something truly great in subsequent releases. This is an act to keep an eye on. In the meantime, these six songs are a worthy place to dive in.
 
Song to Download Now: 
"Tell Me Your Story" (Get it on iTunes here.)


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Sampling Styles | Posted August-26-2013

I didn't really know what to expect going into Party At The End of the World by Hardie Avenue. It turns out the band's been around for a few albums already, but this was my first look into what they had to offer.


The opening electronic beats to the title track sounded exactly like what I'd expect from an album with such a title. The danceable rap number would seem to set the stage for an album perhaps comparable to Group 1 Crew. While the rap influence returns for several tracks such as "City of Rain" and "Help Us" and the electronic sound is present to some degree in every track, the album is actually considerably more varied than you might expect.


The above mentioned songs both follow a fairly standard rap verse/pop-rock chorus formula utilized by many in the genre, but this helps create a divide I sense on the album: the rap parts and the melodic parts almost feel like different bands. As an admitted non-fan of almost anything rap, I can safely say that these rap parts don't win me over like some other rappers in Christian rock might. Luckily for this listener, the melodic moments seem to dominate for the majority of the album.


When those melodic moments do come, I couldn't help but be a bit reminded of a softer Nickelback or Shinedown in terms of the vocals. But there is considerable more emotion and depth to just about everything about Hardie Avenue. The band's never ashamed of their faith and boldly displays it throughout the entire album, which is refreshing for rock acts today.


"So help me to live like you / help me to love like you / Until the last breath / to have love for all like you" from the emotional lead single "To Love Like You" is a standout lyrical moment on the release. The ballad is a good representative of the softer and more accessible side of this album.


While about half of the album seems to be solely for fans of an electronic rap sound, the other half is filled with some of the more powerful and memorable ballads released this year. "I Will Die By Your Side" is another fine example of such songs. The vulnerable declaration of love in the chorus is another fine standout lyrical moment: "I will die by your side / you are my beautiful one / we will walk through this life / like two roses in the garden of love." Admittedly, these exact same words could have been cringe-worthy in another song, but lead vocalist Yuriy Mayba completely sells the message as heartfelt and powerful.


This tends to be a fairly common trait of many of the album's ballads. The lyrics are solid, no doubt, but could have come off a lot triter if it weren't for the excellent delivery. "You Told Me I'm Your Son" and"Now I Say" follow a similar pattern.


"No Fear" is a fairly surprising track featuring Mayba's daughter (taking a page from TobyMac's book here by giving a child their own rap number on the record). The track's message is solid and it's definitely a fine delivery, although it does risk becoming a "novelty track" of sorts.


Closing Thoughts:

The band is not short on relevant Christian themes from outright praise, trusting in Christ, and the fight for unity over division. The electronically-driven music always keeps things at a solid pace and never lets the album veer off into boring territory. At just over half an hour and at a mere 10 tracks, the album comes off a bit minimalist in length. But there's still more than enough here to merit a listen for fans of either of the band's musical styles.


I liked my introduction to Hardie Avenue. I think the album's stronger moments are by far the more melodic ones over the rap ones, but that may be personal preference. While there is definitely a chance of different tracks resonating with different audiences, which could impede the accessibility of the album as a whole, this is still definitely one of the fall's solid releases.

Song to Download Now:

"To Love Like You" (Get it on iTunes here.)

 



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The Bravest Experiment | Posted August-16-2013
When Falling Up announced that their latest offering, The Machine De Ella Project, would be two albums (a soundtrack to an audio book and another new album), I imagine fans were speculating on how the two would sound. I personally expected this album to be more in the tradition of Your Sparkling Death Cometh, while I expected Hours to be very much tied to the story. And while it certainly was tied to the story, it actually ended up being the logical sonic follow-up to Your Sparkling Death. But did that mean that this album would sound just like it?

Early previews of these songs made it clear that the answer was a resounding "no." In fact, Midnight on Earthship is arguably the biggest curveball yet from Falling Up.

Apparently, before the album's release, Falling Up had promised that this would be a worship album that didn't sound anything like other worship albums. And that's actually a pretty good summary of what this album sounds like. While Hours seemed to be everything that we expect from Falling Up, Midnight seems to sidestep almost all of it (save for Ribordy's soothing vocals, of course).

Make no mistake: this still sounds like Falling Up. But even a glance at the titles of the songs gives you an idea that this will be quite a different album. For one, many of the titles seem to avoid the perplexing and almost absurd phrasing that most of their songs have. Songs like "Who We Are," "Down Here," and "Summer Song" are the last titles you'd expect to see on a Falling Up album. Songs like "Sky Circles" and "Tomorrows" keep the mysterious titles alive somewhat, but even they seem more subdued, especially compared to the lion's share of titles from their other albums. And to add to all of it, most of these titles actually make sense as titles for the songs, even appearing in some of the choruses. It all seems to play a lot closer to the "rules" of music.

Despite how surprising the straightforward titles are (and how much they sound more like a pop album than a Falling Up album), the biggest change here is the music. Falling Up is no stranger to quiet songs and ballads, but they've yet to release an album composed almost entirely of these songs. While Hours unapologetically follows the experimental rock tradition Falling Up has established for themselves, Midnight on Earthship is even farther in the other direction. Perhaps that is why Hours feels like it rocks even longer than previous efforts, as Falling Up was intentionally keeping the two sides of their sound somewhat separate. And thus, this album is a lot more subdued than we've ever heard Falling Up before.

So how is the music? Quite great, actually.
"Sky Circles" was a smart choice to open the album as it feels familiar enough to let us know that we have the right band. The chorus is soothing and uplifting, although the song is overall a sober one admitting brokenness. Maybe I am reading a bit too much into what the second verse talks about, but the image I am getting is quite dark and there doesn't seem to be a satisfactory resolution. This leads well into "Home," which even features some acoustic guitar. A lot of the songs are quite stripped down to almost border on acoustic.

Songs like
"Bruise" keep some of the Falling Up ambiguity alive, but songs like "Greying Morning" and "Who You Are" are more direct than anything Falling Up has done before. The latter is an encouraging love note from God, proclaiming, "Who you are is golden / Who you are has always been enough / Who you are is such a miracle / You're such a miracle." Fine lyrics indeed, but not something you'd typically expect from a band fond of mysterious phrases and abstract ideas.

"Down Here"
continues this trend with some truly fine poetry: "All that I have / To all that you gave / Is laboring breathing / To blood in my veins / And gold like the blood / That had to be suffered / So I could spend it away." The track's simple acoustic guitar backing is so unlike the band, and yet Ribordy sells it completely.

"Summer Song"
and "Rooftops" follow in a similar mellow feel with uplifting moments sprinkled in. "Voices" strikes a nice balance between the abstract and the straightforward, such as with "Just cause I'm free it doesn't mean I'm not bound to love / I'm bound to grace so desperate / We're all a people of an injured heart / But that's what makes it perfect." The song carries a beautifully haunting melody with some light violin backing at times that gives it a soothing and somber veneer that feels like vintage Falling Up while still feeling at home in this uncannily soft approach to the album.

"Tomorrows"
has a beautiful bridge to close out the album, and it's a perfect summary of the album and features the band's most direct and worshipful lyrics yet: "Oh Lord Jesus / I'm still trying / Wait for me / I stay today / And I'll run tomorrow / But I know you wait for me." It's a beautiful thought to close out the album, and the music rises to the occasion as well. The final ambient notes remind you one last time who you're listening to. And as they fade out, you get the feeling that you've just heard a band take a big sonic risk and totally pull it off.

Closing Thoughts
:
The album art and title of this album feel totally right for Falling Up, and yet it's so different. There's enough here to make this feel right for the band, but the stripped back and straightforward approach most songs take is a welcome change. While the album might drift a tad too far into the mellow at times, it's a breathtaking musical venture. And as the second half of The Machine De Ella Project, it's a perfect complement to Hours.

 

Song to Download Now:
Who You Are” (Get it on iTunes here.)



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Falling Into Hours | Posted August-16-2013
Falling Up has proven that bands that have "broken up" aren't necessarily gone for good. It's easy to forget that shortly after they released Fangs in 2009 and departed their label home at BEC Records, we officially said goodbye to the experimental rockers. And yet, within a year, they were among the first of what would be many Christian acts to start a Kickstarter to fund a new album. This produced one of their most critically acclaimed bodies of work in the fascinating musical masterpiece that was Your Sparkling Death Cometh.

It wouldn't have been a surprise to fans if that were the last we'd heard of them. But then they came out with a quasi-remix EP of sorts in Mnemos. The band continued to prove that being independent (and semi-sorta inactive) didn't mean squat when it comes to their ability to deliver new music to fans. Late last year, the band announced The Machine De Ella Project, which was essentially a dual-album release that the band would incrementally deliver song by song to those who pre-ordered, with plans for a later physical release.

Several months after all of the songs had been premiered, we finally have the street release. The two albums are Midnight on Earthship and what was said to be a soundtrack to an audiobook, Hours. These titles sound very much like Falling Up's signature brand of mysterious ambient rock, and thus fans were left with much to anticipate.

Given that Falling Up seems to have settled into releasing concept albums in recent years, having an album be a companion to an audiobook seemed a logical direction to go, especially considering the stories in the albums could often be vague and hard to comprehend. Taken by itself, one could probably go through Hours several times without picking up on any story or realizing that it's meant as a soundtrack. The audiobook is not reviewed here, so this review is focused purely on the music.

From the very first notes of "The Contract," this feels exactly like what we've come to expect from Falling Up– a title with seemingly little connection to the lyrics, lyrics that can border on beautiful nonsense to casual listeners but which relay much deeper (and often spiritual) meanings to those who devote the time to dig, and a haunting and somewhat electronic ambient rock sound backing Jessy Ribordy's instantly recognizable vocals.

"The Climb"
continues on the eerie feeling and opens with the familiar "float by open windows" line that opened an earlier album, Captiva. Falling Up has always tied the world of their songs together by reusing lyrics, and there are several instances of that trend here. "Finn Hatches A Plan" follows with another solid tune.

"The Rest Will Soon Follow"
opens with an almost music-box feel that drives the ballad. It creates a whimsical atmosphere that is easy to get caught up in. The chorus is simple and yet intriguing with the almost heavenly repetition of "it carries us / it guides us to earth." "Aeva and the Waving World" brings back the rock with a fierce beat and electronic backing. Lyrically, the story seems to continue the story and the theme of being strangers on earth. It has both relevance to the sci-fi story and yet still some symbolic meaning as Christians.

"On Growing Things"
proves to be a surprisingly epic track, slow-building to a near-screaming finish. Thematically, it's actually one of the more comprehensive cuts on the album. Its chorus has a lot of spiritual lyrical meat to chew on: "Like a light that they've cast far away / We will use what they have thrown / Then they'll finally see / And fall to their knees / We were born to always grow." It's another good examples of how the band's story songs can still provide lots of thought-provoking spiritual themes, even if they require several listens and some deep digging to unearth at times.

The pounding beat of
"Intro to the Radio Room" instantly grabs your attention and the song never lets it go. The song ends up being one of the most emotional and memorable entries yet. It's very cinematic in it's approach, with an extended (but fitting and never feeling extraneous) instrumental outro.

Then comes
"The Outsider" with a total 180 in its vibe. The foot-tapping beat of the intro feels totally fresh and unexpected. It carries an almost defiant feel fitting of the title. Maybe it's just me, but I also get a tad of a Western mood from it, but in a very subtle way, and all the while remaining unmistakably Falling Up.

"Blue Ruins"
opens with an edgy rock riff reminiscent of something we'd have heard from the band in their early albums. This song boasts another beautifully melodic chorus that take Ribordy's vocals to new heights. "Transmission" proves itself a worthy rock track with an insanely catchy rock chorus with lots of surprisingly poppy hooks scattered throughout.

And of course, it all fits in perfectly. One thing that's clear by now is that Falling Up is more than capable of taking just about any musical element a song needs and making it fit in while still keeping their unique experimental sound.
"Prillicians" continues with the rock edge, a nice change from the recent trend of Falling Up albums to slow down a bit in the latter quarter. But the rock energy is as strong as ever at this point.

"In Echoes Forever"
breaks straight into the vocals and somehow feels very familiar, and yet still very fresh. Perhaps it's because the song's structure is similar to a lot of the songs on their last album. And maybe it's just me, but I keep hearing the song's title in the post-chorus hook. It's almost as if those bars were arranged to shout out that title. The song itself presents a complex man vs. self conflict in its rocking chorus: "So you want deliverance that fourteen years couldn't bring / Or you want to bury all the evidence so far down / Or your dreams are always coming true / Either way you still find you take a life for a life for life." Musically, it's a fine way to close out the album.

Closing Thoughts
:
Getting back to the fact that this is the soundtrack for an audiobook, it's actually amazingly enjoyable as a standalone. While I am sure a lot of the lyrical ambiguities and abstractions will make a little more sense in the context of the story they go with, they still are great food for thought here. As albums go, Your Sparkling Death Cometh was definitely better at balancing accessibility and musical artistry (this one, like Fangs, seems to be skewed a bit too far towards the latter, although this is a lot closer to accessibility than Fangs was), but this is without a doubt a standout release of this year and a definite musical experience well worth your time. It's one half of what could be one of the most unique projects released this year. Falling Up has done it again, and hopefully, they'll continue to pop out of their retirement to bring us great music every few years.

Bonus tidbit: 
I ran the text on the front through Google translator (my exposure to some traditional elements of Christianity made me recognize it as Latin right away) and while some of it is a bit nonsensical and incoherent, here is the loose translation I got: But it is not easy to speak unto you I was listening to, because it was already dead years ago. That's when flashlights dim, flicker and die. Ryan, if the idea of getting food, Max goes out to try to hide in the barn clover.They quickly went to the man who greatly delights enemy because there is a place where she has lost more than his bike. Is safe, and we do not say crossed the lagoon, so that it does not attract even more violent with his teeth, the flip over us, thou something. If the medium is the same that it is for the first time that there is no consideration of the second is to the absolute.

Song to Download Now:
"On Growing Things" (Get it on iTunes here.)



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This City's Got Heart | Posted August-08-2013
The City Harmonic has been making a name for themselves in the CCM arena with popular radio hits such as "Manifesto" and "Mountaintop." Their signature harmonic sound has poised them to become a major player in the industry, and just another hit or two could easily launch them into the top tier of their genre. Their latest release, Heart, definitely comes full of such potential hits.
 
One thing you'll instantly notice about The City Harmonic is that their big appeal is explained in their name. On paper, the band seems like any other straightforward contemporary Christian pop act. Everything from the songwriting to the melodies could easily give you the impression that these songs could be sung by just about anybody in the business. Yet, when you actually hear how the band does it, you begin to understand the uniqueness this band brings to the musical table.
 
After a brief piano interlude, the first track "Here and There" kicks into a rousing orchestral anthem. The song balances delicate quiet moments in its beginning with the soaring instrumental and choral segments that come in later to form an excellent opener that grabs your attention and prepares you for the album that is to follow. And so we see the "harmonic" part of the band's name accurately describes the music. Not only are there spine-tingling vocal harmonies throughout this song (and the entire album), but the music seems to harmonize both a light rock sound, an orchestral anthemic sound, and a softer ballad sound. Together, it creates quite a unique and powerful listening experience.
 
"Praise The Lord" continues this pattern, and the result is an inspiring worship track that benefits from the big sound the band has crafted and stands out a lot more than comparable tracks in the genre. "Strong" has an emotional piano intro to a song that from the first verse promises to be a standout track. With a great balance between an inspiring chorus and beat-driven verses, this is an excellent option for radio. Definitely another potential hit here and I'm hoping it sees radio play down the road. Born out of band member Eric Fusilier's struggle with cancer, the song is a passionate and heartfelt reminder of how "when I am weak / You're strong." The message itself is one we're used to in CCM, but the heartfelt story behind this gives it a new layer of depth. 
 
"Take Heart" and "Alive, Alive" both continue the soaring potential hits and keep the album's momentum speeding along. "Love Heal Me" and the borderline interlude "Songs of Longing, Joy, and Peace" offer a nice slowdown to the big sounds with a more acoustic sound driving each. However, there's still enough of the harmonies to keep this "breather" interesting. The latter leads into the surprisingly peppy "Glory." The tune's chorus has the band's signature harmonized vocals displayed to perfection and, coupled with the pep of the verses, it makes another standout track worthy of radio. This is something I could've seen The Newsboys doing back in the day.
 
Lead single "A City on a Hill" follows with lyrics inspired by The Beatitudes and is a fine example of everything there is to love about The City Harmonic, making it a great single choice. As the chorus proclaims, "Like a city on a hill / Lighting up the way / For the glory of the lord / Rise and shine," one can't help but feel that theme radiating throughout much of Heart, the theme of lighting up the way for the glory of Christ, who lights our way. This one is easy to picture on the radio while still feeling fresh and passionate. 
 
"Long Walk Home" and "Brand New" return to the stripped-down sound and show that The City Harmonic is perfectly capable of excelling at a slowed down approach as well. The songs offer a more intimate portrait of Christ's presence in our lives.
 
Lastly, "My Jesus, I Love Thee" wraps things up fairly quietly, with a piano intro and a softer ballad approach to the song, the signature harmonies returning once more towards the end to properly conclude the album. As a simple moment of praise to Our Lord and Savior, the song excels and helps wrap the "heart" of the message up nicely, serving as one last reminder of where ours hearts should be always focused: on knowing, loving, and serving Christ.
 
Closing Thoughts:
With many potential hits and an uninterrupted inspirational feel, Heart may prove to be one of the strongest contemporary Christian albums released in the second half of the year. The band seems to know who they are and what they want to do, and this shows in how well they do the music. Heart excels where it's supposed to and reinvigorates the promise this band has shown in the past.
 
Song to Download Now:
"Strong"


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Offering an Alternative | Posted July-19-2013
I won't profess to be an expert on the current mainstream pop market, but what I do hear is awfully discouraging. There seems to be an overabundance of both musical and lyrical garbage. That makes it exceptionally refreshing when a Christian artist offers a sound that is accessible to young people who may be drawn to secular pop while also being able to garner parental approval and offer some more healthy messages. Former Superchick singer Tricia is here with her first solo pop effort to give young girls just such a record.
 
Radiate hits all the right notes and has songs that can bring some fresh tunes to Christian pop radio, and even a few with crossover potential. Opening track "Everything As Loss" has "radio hit" written all over it. The song is a strong introduction to the record musically and lyrically it's got some draw also, as evidenced in the chorus: "What could hold a candle / what could come close / what could overshadow all you are? / Let my life prove that compared to what you finished on that cross / I count everything as loss.
 
The first half of the record continues the streak of positive electronic-beat pop hits. "Enough" and the title track are fast-paced standouts that could definitely give Tricia quite the launching pad for building up a following. "Good to be a Girl" and "Daughter of the King" are "girl" songs offering encouragement to young ladies. Ultimately, while the first half of the record is pretty safe and accessible, it's still solid and arguably does everything that it needs to.
 
"Love Will Not Let Go" slows things down (in a positive way) with a powerful and moving ballad. The piano-driven song reminds us of the endurance of love and is a definite album highlight. "Different" continues the pop trend of the first half of the record. In the standout lyric "you can't make a difference without being different" it offers an important truth for modern youth to learn. 
 
"Adding Up To A Miracle" is one of the album's catchiest numbers, offering a terrific chorus with enormous hit potential. "Without You" is a strong ballad speaking of how aimless life is without Christ. There's no potential "Jesus or my significant other" interpretation to this one as the chorus turns this into an unashamed praise song. 
 
"What I Know" is a worthy follow-up, offering a strong and emotional ballad. "Little Rose" is a touching bonus track, a loving lullaby to Tricia's young daughter.
 
Closing Thoughts: 
Lyrically, the album treads territory covered by many before, but it still feels fresh and relevant to the issues that young girls face every day. It should definitely meet with the Christian parental "seal of approval" while still being relevant and catchy enough to appeal to its target audience. 
 
With techno-pop beats that could rival anything on mainstream radio and solid, Christ-centered, encouraging messages relatable to the youth of today, Radiate is a worthy late-summer release that should meet with family-wide approval. While it's not offering anything that will shake up the state of the genre, it holds its own and presents well what is expected from a pop album. The album is overall a solid entry with several potential hits that could help establish Tricia's solo career as one to watch in the CCM scene.

Song to Download Now:
"Enough" (Get it on iTunes here.)


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Smitty's Forgotten Album | Posted July-19-2013
Michael W. Smith is arguably one of the faces of CCM from its early years straight through to today. His name is well known in both the mainstream and Christian markets. He's got enough chart-topping hits to fill several compilations and still have some hits left over. 
 
It all started with his first CD, The Michael W. Smith Project, in 1983. The album produced some of Smitty’s classic hits in "Great is the Lord" and "Friends." It was the start of what would be a long and exciting career in music that is still going strong today. However, there was an album that came about a year after his debut that is often overlooked.
 
Michael W. Smith 2 has a simple title and is arguably a sequel to his successful debut. Perhaps it being viewed as a bit of a sequel is partly to blame for its lack of recognition, as well as the success of hits that came from the next album. But whatever the reason, the songs on this album are likely to be the least known to the more casual Smitty fans, for the most part. 
 
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hits in here. "A Way" is a strong enough opener that likely has some name recognition. "I Am Sure" is arguably the biggest hit from the record, if only for its inclusion on his hits compilation from his first decade of music. The song is definitely among the better tracks on the album, boasting a memorable chorus: "I am sure there will be a day/But it will not be like the nations say/The Lord will come when this life is through/And His deep desire is to be with you/Hearts will fly when the new world starts/And joy will rise like the morning star/God will meet every cry of the heart/And it's my prayer/I want you to be there." The song, as a whole, has one of the more classic melodies heard on the album. 
 
"Hosanna" is another well-known classic from this release, arguably a worthy successor to the aforementioned "Great is the Lord" from his debut. Both songs are very choir-driven worship anthems closing an album, and both have that classic Smitty feel to them.
 
A collaborative ballad with Amy Grant comes in "Restless Heart." Needless to say, this would hardly be the last time these two CCM legends would collaborate. Two instrumental tracks, "Musical Instruments" and "Wings of the Wind," offer some interesting moments, but on an already slim 10-track listing they make the record feel a tad too short.
 
There's still everything you love about Smitty here. For diehard fans, this is definitely one to check out.
 
How Has It Held Up? 
The album definitely comes with a dated feel. The guitars, the production, the synths, all of it carries a definite 80s feel. Especially compared with Smitty's later hits, this one shows its age a bit more, even on the hits, than most of his other releases.
 
What is Smitty doing now? 
Check out the interview he did for NewReleaseTuesday to see what Smitty’s been up to as of late (find it on YouTube here).
 
Closing Thoughts:
There's a good deal of worthy material here that is at least worth a listen. While Smitty’s best work was obviously ahead of him and his debut project was arguably stronger, this is a satisfactory sophomore release. Perhaps it deserves a little more love and a more recognized place on your Smitty playlist.
 
Song to Download Now: 
"Hosanna" (Get it on iTunes here)


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Trust Meece to Provide a Dynamic Experience | Posted July-19-2013
David Meece was one of the greats in early CCM, having some notable success from the 70s through the early 2000s. He's still playing music, although he hasn't had a new studio release in over a decade and he seems to have been largely forgotten by the CCM crowd. Which is a real shame, because his music, while obviously quite dated now, is still one of the most intense listening experiences early CCM ever gave us.

David was trained in classical music from a young age and was performing in symphonies as a teenager. As a result, his music is an unmatched fusion of an 80s pop/rock sound and classical pieces.

Learning To Trust was released right at the end of the 80s, when CCM/Rock was just beginning to come into its own as a serious music genre. The album starts with a brief prelude that leads into the 80s rocker "When I Was Seventeen." The song is a good opener and helps get the listener used to Meece's voice before throwing them full fledged into Meece's signature sound. The title track is next and is a classic Meece ballad, not surprisingly about learning to give up the need to control things and trust in God.

"To Know Him" gives us the first taste of what Meece can really do. The song is a rousing anthem about knowing Christ with a memorable chorus. "The Man With The Nail Scars" is a passionate and emotional ballad, with simple lyrics about following Christ.

Meece's true musical power is best displayed on 3 tracks that are definite classics. "To The Glory of God" has Meece at the top of his game vocally. "The Rest of My Life" comes with a children's choir that helps add even more power to what was already a fantastic song to close out the album. But Meece's talents are best displayed in the musical masterpiece "This Time." Meece's classical training is on full display in the song that blends classical piano melodies against a passionate rock song. 

An interlude of Chopin's "Etude in C Minor Op. 10 No. 12" proves that this guy can really play. Meece has told about how this piece always used to trip him up as a student, but it's flawless on the album and helps make this song one of the best of his career. The theme about not living in the past but living for Christ in the present is a timely theme that still rings true today: "And when regret closes in / I don't see what might have been / I see grace and I know whatever comes, He'll make a way / This time / this is what counts / this is what our life is about." If you check out no other songs from this album, give this one a listen. 

Several songs from this album are definite Meece classics. While the tracklist comes up a bit short with two of them being interludes, there's definitely enough here to enjoy and make this one worthy of a listen.

Closing Thoughts:
David Meece was already pretty established when he made this album. But I think it marked a definite progression of his sound that helped him make the jump to a whole new level of musical greatness. This album has several of Meece's strongest cuts, which stand among the better contributions to classic CCM. If you're looking for a throwback listen that goes beyond what you'd expect for the genre, or if you're just curious to see how the fusion of 80s pop/rock and classical music sounds, definitely give David Meece a listen. And if you decide to check him out, Learning To Trust is a great place to start.

Song to Download Now:
"This Time" (Get it on iTunes here.)


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