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Unlimited by Unlimited by
Simon Orwell has grown accustomed to living in the dust of abandoned dreams. A college dropout from a prestigious university, Simon’s life has turned out much like his last great science project...
Fading West by Switchfoot Fading West by Switchfoot
“We play these songs because we believe in them. Whether or not they’re hits, or whatever that means. … this is our story.” ~ Jon Foreman, Fading West documentary   One...
Forbidden by Forbidden by
In a world as dark and foreboding as the fear that rules it, one man is entrusted with a centuries-old secret and awakened to a life forbidden for half a millennium. Having impulsively ingested a bit of...

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Fading West | Posted January-16-2014
“We play these songs because we believe in them. Whether or not they’re hits, or whatever that means. … this is our story.” ~ Jon Foreman, Fading West documentary
One characteristic you’ve got to love about Switchfoot is their honesty. In Fading West, designed as somewhat of a soundtrack to their documentary of the same name, Switchfoot delivers a new level of transparency, giving us a glimpse into their world while encouraging us in our own journeys. 
The album begins with Love Alone is Worth the Fight, the popular single that has made a splash on Christian radio charts in recent months. This catchy pop song is a reminder that nothing else in life is worth our time or obsession. Fear often holds us back from the one thing that is truly important, and that is love.
Who We Are starts off with a repeated count to five and a tangy guitar solo leading in to Jon Foreman and the well-placed vocal layering of a group of children singing “we were just kids …” The five-member band brilliantly brought their own kids into this track, effectively infusing it with a youthful flair as they sing about their early years as a band, discovering their own identity and style in the world of Christian music. This song is a great anthem for Switchfoot’s personal journey, as well as for any wide-eyed dreamers with the faith of a child, living more for a grand purpose than a paycheck.
When We Come Alive seems to, appropriately, flow with life and energy. It’s about a burning passion within us that, if set free, can set the world on fire. Frontman Jon Foreman says of this track, “For me, the verses enunciate the darkness where the fire shines the brightest. And the chorus reminds me that we have this spark, this ability, this beauty – when and only when we come alive. Truly alive. Not just breathing, but burning brightly, setting the world on fire with a light that is not our own.”
Upbeat, aggressive, and pulsing with soft rock, Say It Like You Mean It explores the challenges of living in the spotlight and finding the correlation between what you say and how you live.
Introduced with the chatter and laughter of African children, The World You Want abruptly transitions to a soft, almost mournful melody. The song makes the point that whatever we believe and however we choose to act – that is our “religion.” No matter what we do, we’re going to change or affect the world. Will we change it for better or worse? The South African children’s choir, Kuyasa Kids, lend their angelic voices to the chorus of this track, giving it an even deeper emotional pull.
Slipping Away is about the strange numb feeling that accompanies the loss of a loved one and the hope of life beyond this life.
Ba55 … musically, this may be the most unique song on the album. Grittier. It has a bit more of a late nineties rock sound than the rest of the album, in a way reminiscent to DC Talk’s Supernatural. This makes a great, high-energy introductory track to the Fading West documentary.
Let It Out is a fun, bouncy tune that challenges us to push past our fears and do what we were born to do. As some of the lyrics say, “From the day we're born, we are scarred and torn. We've been scared to sing out loud. But we don't care no more because we know life is short. We don't care who hears us now. Breathe it in and let it out.”
All Or Nothing At All explores the danger and ultimate joy of unconditional love. Loving through the pain, loving despite another person’s flaws. Loving although your heart may break. In a way, this song revisits the message of the album’s opening track and peers at it from a slightly different angle. But once again we hear the much-needed point that love is worth all the risk and effort that we put into it.
With a beautiful chorus that could double as a worship song, Saltwater Heart is about longing for God’s Spirit and love to wash through us like an ocean. As if it’s saltwater flowing through our veins. We often begin to feel stuck, in the middle of a dry spot, creatively or spiritually land-locked. This is a song about finding freedom and inspiration after the low times. Inspired by Switchfoot’s love of surfing, Saltwater Heart flows with two-fold purpose and meaning. It drips with a passion for real saltwater and with the metaphor of God’s love being as vast and cleansing as the ocean.
The final track, ironically titled Back to the Beginning Again, speaks of the fears and doubts that lurk beneath our dreams – and finding God in the midst of the insanity. Starting anew with the Creator as our focus. It’s a great wrap up to the album. A clincher statement, if you will, to reestablish the reason behind why these guys do what they do.
Ultimately, Fading West is a challenge. A challenge to love deeply, to pursue our driving passions and talents, to overcome the crippling effect of doubt and fear. To make a difference with the lives we live. It’s a challenge from others traveling the same road.  It’s not about thinking that you have arrived, it’s about the journey of discovery that we all take through life.
“I’m singing these songs as a person in transit. As a soul that has not arrived yet.” ~ Fading West documentary
In the end, it’s about finding who our Creator made us to be … and living that with everything we are.

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Limitless Potential | Posted January-16-2014
Simon Orwell has grown accustomed to living in the dust of abandoned dreams. A college dropout from a prestigious university, Simon’s life has turned out much like his last great science project – an unfinished mass of potential, set aside, regarded as an impossible failure. Too broken to accomplish that for which it was created. Settling for the mundane, Simon believes he is unworthy and incapable of fulfilling his greatest dream. That of changing the world.
Summoned to Mexico by his elderly partner on the project that would have literally brought light to those living in darkness, Simon faces the bleakest prospect of a new chance. Perhaps not a chance rejoin the project and rebuild his career as a scientist – that hope has all but faded like the dim light bulbs of the poor Mexican town – but maybe, just maybe, a chance to remedy at least a few of his past wrongs.
Hope becomes an unreachable goal once again when Simon arrives in the tiny town of Ojinaga to the tragic news that his partner is dead. Natural causes of course. The same natural causes that now stalk Simon as a hunter stalks his prey. Simon is thrown from his unassuming life, thrust into a quest for answers as to who is behind the old professor’s death and what clues he left behind for his young protégé.
Now, taking refuge at a struggling orphanage, Simon must accept the help of some of his late partner’s closest friends if he is to find answers. Because maybe, the unthinkable really is possible. Maybe he, like his project, really does have more potential than he thought. Maybe even the ability to light up the world.
Least favorite parts:
The book was slightly predictable in a few spots, but overall that did not detract much from its readability.
Favorite parts:
Despite his own lack of confidence and vision for himself, Simon is enveloped by unmerited encouragement from the orphanage director (and friend to his deceased partner), Harold Finch. Harold pushes the unmotivated Simon to view his life as something more than what he has made it so far. To set goals. To believe in impossible dreams. Probably my favorite line in the book is when Harold tells him, “Son, that’s the power of dreams. If they’re not big, if they’re not impossible, they’re not worth investing your life.” (Unlimited, page 177)
At a time when I, like Simon, doubted my potential and the gift God has planted within me, Unlimited glimmered into my reading life with a challenge – “be more.” Channel that wasted energy and potential. Believe in the dreams that God has buried in your very soul. Believe in His ability to make the impossible possible. Believe that you are destined to light up the dark.
I believe this book will challenge you as well. Dare you to defy your doubt, to trust that when you allow God to direct your dreams, the results could be … unlimited.

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The Heart Can Bleed ... | Posted March-27-2013

In a world as dark and foreboding as the fear that rules it, one man is entrusted with a centuries-old secret and awakened to a life forbidden for half a millennium. Having impulsively ingested a bit of ancient blood with only a cryptic message as his guide, Rom Sebastian discovers an unknown power that lies dormant in every soul. A throng of emotions -- passion, sorrow, hope, love -- beautiful and terrible at once, but so vastly far above the simple life of fear known to every inhabitant of the decomposing earth.
   Now on the run from a fearful government who views him as "out of Order," Rom must choose either to live in the familiar clutches of fear or bravely seek out the truth behind these new emotions. To learn their purpose ... and his.
   Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee serve up a heart-racing thriller that'll engage your every emotion and leave you craving more while digesting a hard-hitting truth. The truth that true life is not one that sits back in pillow-fluffed ease while fearing the future. True life is one of seeking purpose beyond ourselves, no matter what the cost, and no matter what the pain along the way. "Because in life we risk death. ... The heart can bleed. And it will." (Forbidden, page 373)
   Once again, Dekker transports us to an alternate reality to help us better understand our own. Once again, he weaves a climactic tale of romance and redemption to remind us of a certain life-giving blood. Much like the power of that life-giving blood, this is a story that cannot possibly be understood through mere description ... it must be experienced.

While similar in many ways to Dekker's Circle series (and personally, I believe that Thomas Hunter plays an unseen role in this story, *wink, wink*) The Books of Mortals trilogy takes it up a notch on the violence scale. Okay, maybe several notches. (Think head-chopping violence and mega-creepy villains from Green and rack up their frequency a bit.) Also, the spiritual analogies are slightly more vague, at least in this first book of the series. But dig deep and think hard ... the content is rich.

You can also view or comment on this review at my blog:

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Amazing! | Posted June-28-2012
I've always thought of Ted Dekker as a writer whose genre wasn't really for me. His novels looked a little too dark and gruesome for my taste, but knowing that his books have a Christian message, I would always recommend him to people who like things a little on the darker side.
One of these people happened to be my brother who subsequently became a huge Dekker fan and began telling me all about the amazing novels he was reading, one of which was the Circle series. He assured me that this was one Dekker series I would love. Curious, but not totally convinced, I borrowed this comic book version from a friend, thinking it would give me a pretty good overview of what was in the books. Let me tell ya, my brother was right! The Circle is filled with astounding spiritual metaphors that are impossible to miss, not to mention action, suspense and romance that keeps you on your toes and flipping pages as fast as you can! I can't wait to get my hands on the actual novels!
The comic version is great if you're wanting to get a glimpse of the Circle or if you're a fan already and want to see the pages come to life. According to my brother, they leave a lot of stuff out in the comic version, including some violence. So this might be a good thing to get for young readers who might not be comfortable with the violence or who may get lost in a really deep storyline. They'll still benefit from the super rich spiritual metaphors without having to read the novels.
For those who like to dig deeper, I suggest delving into the novels as well. Which is totally what I plan to do ... see you in the Circle. ;)

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Playing With Fire | Posted June-18-2012
Powering into their work with heart and emotion comes as naturally as breathing for Indie band, Phao, whose second full-length album drops on Tuesday, June 19th. In fact, Playing With Fire captures some pretty raw emotion in its Anberlin-sounding rock. Centering primarily around broken and strained relationships, this Canadian band’s new album definitely delivers on their goal to create tangible and relatable songs to their audience. In a society gushing with severed ties and broken hearts, no doubt there will be no shortage of listeners who can nod their heads in some form to what Phao has to offer.
A press release on Phao’s website said this about Playing With Fire: “The record explores catharsis and the struggle to cleanse from the past and constantly set and reach higher goals.”
In this way, the record seems to have been therapeutic for lead singer Mike Gnandt, who says that it “got him through a lot.” And it is his hope that these songs will do the same for listeners.
Commencing the journey with Too Late, the album starts out with catchy electronic rock and dives into a song about a friendship broken by pain and betrayal. At first listen it appears to be a story of unforgiveness, but closer scrutiny of the words may reveal something a little deeper. Here we have the story of a person who’s trying desperately to get their life out of the gutter, when a “friend” pulls them back again. (Back into a life of sin, perhaps?) From this viewpoint, it’s not so hard to see why the chorus surmises “it’s too late to be friends,” since the betrayed person may not be refusing reconciliation out of hatred, but out of a desire to steer clear of the wrong crowd.
 Playing With Fire, the title track, delves into the power of song and the fact that lyrics can be damaging if misused. In a sense, making music can be like “playing with fire” since it has such an influence on people’s lives. It’s up to the artist or band whether they use that power to make a difference or to plant damaging thoughts in a listener’s mind.
Know Your Name is about a girl who doesn’t want to get in a serious relationship with the singer (or main character) of the song and his angst following her “I’m not ready for a man in my life” declaration. The good points are: he explains that he isn’t trying to “find a hotel room” and doesn’t want a one-night-stand. The confusion enters in when he also declares that he has no ring to offer and isn’t trying to walk her down the aisle. He just wants to know her name. That is, to be her friend. If the song didn’t start out with him trying to kiss her on the lips, the chorus would be much more believable. As it is, the song shows us the guy’s double-sided turmoil, with the verses revealing his inner thoughts about wanting to have something deeper while the chorus is his reassurance to the girl that he doesn’t expect any more from her than her name.
The next song, Brought Me Back, is almost like a sequel to Know Your Name, with the guy still wondering how he can find the courage to start a relationship with the girl who makes his heart do somersaults in his chest. One verse preceding the chorus says, “… we’re so afraid to lose that we might never even start.” It’s a song about searching for the obstacles that are keeping two people apart and trying desperately to leap over those obstacles in order to discover the next level.
Drag You Down asks the question, “What are you gonna do with you life?” It offers a choice: let go of what’s holding you back and keeping you from moving forward in life or it could drag you down. This song has a strong “shout with me” anthem feel to it which drives the challenge home with umph and moxy.
Sporting probably my favorite phrase on this album, Live to Fight proclaims, “If we only live to fight, we’re gonna die someday.” In the world’s eyes, you may have every reason to fight, to hold a grudge, to bring your offender down for all they did to you. But in the end, if revenge and bitterness becomes your life, eventually it will backfire. If fighting is your only purpose, you can expect it to lead to death.
In Backbone, rather than being pegged as the victim in a failed relationship, the singer takes the offense, saying “show me what you got.” Basically, an “I can take it if you can dish it out” approach.
More of a pop/punk rock song than most of the others on the album, the carefree, slightly Hawk Nelson-esque Anything We Want explores the plight of a couple caught up with all the troubles of life and just wanting to take a break to get away from it all. It suggests that because “one life is all we got” we shouldn’t let its problems completely consume us. Which is so true … Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”
Probably the softest and most romantic song on the record, Worth It sounds like it would make a perfect addition to the soundtrack for The Vow. Though I doubt that this song is actually about a girl with amnesia, some of the words remind me of the undying love portrayed in that movie. Particularly parts like, “You’ve forgotten everything you ever knew about me and you,” and “why pretend when I’m hurting? ‘Cause baby you’re worth it. Baby you’re worth it to me.” In any case, it’s about a girl who’s worth waiting for even though she doesn’t feel as strongly about their “relationship” as the guy does.
For You is a song written for fans, revolving around the exhausting, yet rewarding lifestyle of a touring artist. It would be a great number to perform live as the song itself gives you the feeling of singing along at a concert. The fun thing about this song is that it puts the band on the same level as the fans. (“Tonight, we are one and the same…”) Ultimately, it’s about putting everything you have into what you’re passionate about. This song also makes a brief Scripture reference to Matthew 26:41 with the line, “I’m willing, but my flesh is feeling weak.”
Faking Love is about being in a relationship with someone who’s only in it for recreational dating, seeking entertainment rather than love.
Topping off the record is Something Cold, the title track of Phao’s April-released EP. With a similar “plot” to that of Too Late and Backbone, this song is probably the most bitter and might I say “coldest” song on the album, about a girl who gains a strange, sadistic enjoyment out of causing emotional suffering.
Phao’s style and sound do indeed show a great deal of promise for them in the pop/rock world. They have a palpable talent that, like the flaming bird on their album cover, may take flight and catch some of the world afire. In that case, it’s good that they understand the power they possess. The power of song. The power to make a difference or to lead astray. Just as their title track declares, they know that they’re playing with fire.

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How It Ends | Posted November-01-2011
The comeback kid is back for another round, and in keeping with classic B. Reith candidness, he tells you exactly how he got there. Born out of a host of struggles and trying circumstances, along with a few “beautiful experiences,” the theme running through this record is that of persevering through hard times.
Starting out in the fast lane, “Next Move” introduces the album with fun and funky Reith rap. Probably the jumpiest song on the record, this is almost a dance/pop sequel to Brian’s summer single “Knocking on My Door.”
Transitioning from “Next Move” comes the silky, romantic strains of “Simple Days,” a song about a couple wanting to get back to their first love and focus more on each other than on the various “things” that they’ve acquired.
“Lonely Hearts Club” melds B.’s melodic voice with his top-notch rapping for a ditty about love gone wrong. Or … love that’s run away.
“2 Steps Forward” is another catchy beat with clever lyrics and the story-telling style reminiscent of “Go On” and “Comeback Kid.” One of those totally honest behind-the-scenes peeks at the life and business struggles of B. Reith as he navigates the choppy waters of the music industry.
Lecrae and Lisa Gungor join in as the first of the album’s cameo artists on “Made For More.” Lisa breathes out the hauntingly beautiful chorus while Lecrae’s familiar rap style takes over a few verses.
“Moments Like This” is for anyone who’s ever stepped back and wondered if following the dream of their heart is really worth all the trouble. Those who know they have an extraordinary calling on their lives, but can’t see how they’ll ever make it through the fog. Having weathered through a few of those moments recently, B. said in a video interview, “I’m really learning how in my weakness God’s ability is made known to me. That doing what you’re best at doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s so worth the fight.”
Another cameo, PJ Morton brings a jazzy, R&B feel to “For Once in My Life.” He and B. blend well in this smooth-textured song about making our life count by standing up and taking action.
The lovely “New Found Love” is about encountering the extravagant love of our Savior in a brand new way, while “I’ll Get By” speaks to all those coping with life’s most difficult circumstances and gives hope that God can help them through.
The title track is a perfect sum-up for the theme of How The Story Ends and a soothing encouragement to anyone who doesn’t understand the current situations in their life story. It urges us to hold on because “the Author of your story had the end in mind when He wrote this page.”

“Not Who I Am” issues a challenge to become more than who we are at the moment. It’s a challenge to refuse mediocrity and to always push ourselves to be more of the person God made us to be. Dave Barnes makes a great addition to this track.
So how does the story end? I think it ends with victory. Not only B. Reith’s victory in producing another album of amazing music, but the victory, the hope, that is available to every believer who chooses to trust God for their next move.
Brian said it this way: “I think making this record is a parallel to living life. It’s a series of obstacles. It’s a series of coming face to face with our biggest challenge which actually is one of our biggest opportunities.”
We know how the story ends. And it’s good. So good.

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EXCITED!!! | Posted July-07-2011
YYYYYEEEESSSSSS!!!! :D CAN'T WAIT!!! Obviously, being a mega Toby freak, I've been excited about this Christmas album ever since I heard him mention that he was working on it in a behind-the-scenes interview at the Dove awards. I can't wait to snag it in a few months and write a review here about how awesome it is. ;)

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This is Your Cue | Posted July-05-2011
Ready for an eclectic mix of hip-hop awesomeness? That’s what you’ll get in Shonlock’s latest lyrical serving.  If you love hip-hop, you’ll simply eat up Never Odd or Even.
You may have heard a few of his past singles or seen him on the road as a backup singer/choreographer for TobyMac. But whether you’ve known Shonlock’s stuff from the beginning or are just being introduced to his music, his newest solo work (and first full-length album) should give you a taste of his true talent.

The musical mood ranges from the flowing, gorgeous God-love-songs “Could U Be” and “Something in Your Eyes” to the upbeat craziness of “Simple Man” and “Bet Ya House.”  As always, Shonlock has no problem switching between singing and busting out a rhyme. He also covers a wide gamut of topics on this album. “Scarred” is a rather deep song speaking on the hurt that sin leaves behind and the healing grace available through Christ. “Cheers” was written on a personal level, dealing specifically with the relationship between Shon and his mother. “Monsta” is slightly eerie, which is appropriate for a song that focuses on subtle demonic influence. The song leads off with Shonlock reading Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The Scripture adds great effect and perspective to the song.
“Get Free” narrows in on the subject of breaking away from the chains of sin while the soothing title track “Never Odd or Even” explores the unchanging nature of our God. “Hello” is a fun, sunshiny song that challenges all those listening to shoot for their dreams and aspirations. And according to a behind-the-scenes interview with Shonlock, that is the biggest theme that threads its way through the entire album. You wanna change your lifestyle? You wanna change the world? Despite what the naysayers declare, despite what they tell you to break down your goals, you can make that change today. Not by your own strength, but by the power of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 4:13) Whatever they say you can never do, let that be your springboard into the amazing work that God has in store for you.
Yep. It’s Never Odd or Even. Consider this your cue to go get it.

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A Shoulder To Cry On, a Hand To Comfort | Posted October-31-2010
What’s your story about His glory? Whatever your situation, you may be able to relate to the stories creatively portrayed by award-winning artist, Matthew West, in his new record.

In what he describes as the “sequel” to his 2008 album Something To Say, Matthew delivers a touching array of songs that will humble you, convict you, challenge you, and undoubtedly bring healing to many hurting hearts.

Inspired by the true stories of thousands of fans, The Story of Your Life digs into deep topics with a freshness and sincerity that’s often hard to come by. It tactfully covers issues like divorce and abuse, as well as a few tough questions people ask about life and the purpose behind it.

Above all, this album offers hope in the midst of hurt. To me, it’s the model of how Christians should comfort those who’ve been through rough times. It may be another follower of Christ or it may be someone who’s just searching for someone to love them. But when they cross our paths, what should we do? We should leap out of our comfort zone, out of our own safe little world, reach out our hand and say, “I know it hurts. You’ve been through a lot, but your story can have a happy ending.” That’s what this record does. It’s like a shoulder for the broken to cry on, and then it gently lifts their face and says, “This is the hope you can have in Christ ...”

Through his music, Matthew shows that whatever your story, Christ can be your hope and your healing.

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Lift-Off to Love | Posted September-27-2010
Group 1 Crew is back from their “outta space” studio with an album that transcends earth’s atmosphere.

It’s not too hard to decipher the meaning behind the new album name. In an interview with CCM, Manwell described it this way, “God’s love is so big that it does not fit on this earth. It’s literally out of space. It surrounds the earth.”

On top of creating a record that portrays God’s unimaginable love, the crew was determined to serve their audience something fresh and out-of-the-box. Though the songs from Outta Space Love are replete with the style that fans have come to love and expect from G1C, they certainly give you a taste of something new.

“Live It Up” initiates our space ride with carefree lyrics that encourage you to live your life to the fullest. This song could possibly be misconstrued to mean “living it up” in a life of sin, but if you really listen to the lyrics you’ll find that’s as far from the meaning as you can get. It’s about making your life count, having fun, enjoying the little things. Basically it’s a call to be happy and content with what God’s given you and to realize that everything about your life “is blessed and oh so evident.”

“Need Your Love” and “Walking On The Stars” are beautiful love songs to the Savior, appropriately more mellow than some of the other tracks and perfectly worshipful.

With a message about life a little deeper than that of the opening track, “Let’s Go” reminds you that although life isn’t a box of sweet delights, it’s given to us for a reason and it’s up to us to use it to change the world. A cameo appearance by the legendary TobyMac makes this song an extra treat.

“Lean On Me” (not another cover of Bill Withers’ popular song) is about Christ-like friendship. Being there to hold someone’s hand through the tough times, to listen to their problems, and encourage them with the hope of Christ. This is followed by the light-hearted “Beautiful,” which persuades girls to view themselves in a positive light and know that God sees them as beautiful in the way that He made them and in the way that they serve Him by showing kindness to others.

“Transcend” is probably one of the best hip-hop tracks, a definite dance number that boldly claims the group’s goal to rise above the jabs of critics and love them no matter what. This flows in nicely to the title track, a metaphor about taking people to outer space to experience God’s love.

The desperately intriguing “Please Don’t Let Me Go” will take you back to earlier Group 1 Crew days with a sound and meaning similar to their popular “Forgive Me.”

Hopeful romantics will adore the song “Wait.” This catchy tune is a perfect theme song for people waiting for the Lord to bring that special someone across their path.

The first song ever released from the album (even before the Spacebound EP) is the mega-fun “Breakdown.” Group 1 Crew describes a breakdown as the part of a song that you can’t wait for –- your favorite part. So how creative is it to write a song that’s one big breakdown? It lives up to its name and is likely to be one of those songs that always has you holding your breath in anticipation.

As the album wraps up, it certainly doesn’t wind down, keeping you movin’ to the very end while “telling you what the goal is” with “Manipulation.” This is the crux of the record, the very heart and reason behind all of Group 1 Crew’s music. They produce hot beats and rhymes not to get famous, to get attention, or to get recognition. Their music is a ministry. They make stuff that Christians will love and can share proudly with their friends, saved or unsaved, being confident that the message will make its way to the heart by way of a highly pleased ear canal.

Believe me, this is a record and a group that you can trust to that end.

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