The Good King
Ghost Ship Ghost Ship might be a band name that suggests some dark, alternative rock act. But in actuality, this is a worship band who adds a good deal of unexpected flare to praise music.
This Is Life
Hour6 Hour6 may not be a band on your radar, but a quick listen to their latest offering, This is Life, will give you a pretty good idea of why they should be. They do a great job at balancing an edgy, exciting,...
Love Stands Forever
Nathan Nathan Jess isn't (yet) a name that will likely ring many bells when discussing contemporary Christian music. But he has a couple of albums out and brings a familiar, yet intimate, sound to the table....
Folk Flair For Your Sunday Morning Worship | Posted June-17-2013
Ghost Ship might be a band name that suggests some dark, alternative rock act. But in actuality, this is a worship band who adds a good deal of unexpected flare to praise music.
While the song selection is definitely in line with an extended Sunday Morning worship set list, the sound is definitely not your typical Church music. Thematically, the album has an especially deep layer that goes beyond any individual songs that is best seen when the songs stand together as a cohesive collection.
The Good King opens with the peppy "Mediator," which sets the tone for much of the album. The lyrically simple songs makes catchy use of Christ's being our mediator to God. The song's "Mumford"-like folk sensibilities are enhanced with some well-placed banjos. The cheering vocals help to make it a good song to sing along to. "Lion Man" carries the stripped-down folk feel even further and ends up being unexpectedly catchy in the process. You can definitely picture this one being played live and up close, acoustically.
"The Truth" is a soaring praise anthem that stands as an album highlight. With one of the most energetic choruses on the album breaking forth, right from the get go, it's easy to get into this one. It praises what Jesus has done for us and who He is as sovereign king.
Next is "Holy, Holy, Holy," which is a rousing cover of the classic hymn praising the Triune God. It fits in well and keeps the flow of good music going. "Behold the Lamb of God" and "Son of David" are examples of slower, more reflective fare done well on the album.
Lyrically, the album is pretty straightforward in its use of popular Christian truths, stated simply and delivered in a heartfelt way (for example, "Jesus Christ is King / he will reign forever").
The power of the driving music propels tried-and-true (and in some cases, ancient) lyrics into worshipful freshness and relevance. The message is solid and the music complements it to form an uplifting worship experience.
It all builds on the theme of who the "good King" is and what He has done for us through His death on the cross and ministry. The collection of praise anthems work together to paint a greater picture of Jesus. The different titles used on the album—such as Son of David, The Truth, The Good King, Mediator—help reveal different facets that even then can just barely scratch the surface of who He is. He's a mediator, a savior, part of the sacred mystery of the Trinity, and so much more.
Each song builds on the previous to add another layer to Christ and culminates in recognizing that Jesus wants to be there for us as a friend and guide so that we can be with Him, eternally. And through life, the ultimate goal is to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. Whereas some albums are a collection of stories, or even one big story, this album is like one big picture, which each song being a different coat of paint that makes the image clearer.
Ghost Ship successfully infuse fairly traditional worship music with a fun and upbeat sound that makes for an overall fresher and more dynamic listening and worshiping experience than you might be used to.
Hour6 may not be a band on your radar, but a quick listen to their latest offering, This is Life, will give you a pretty good idea of why they should be. They do a great job at balancing an edgy, exciting, driving rock sound with accessible melodies. They definitely can stand toe to toe with many of the acts populating Christian Rock radio.
After a brief intro track, "Inside Out" kicks in and starts the album off with a strong rock entry full of catchy hooks and a head-banging beat. "Right Now" is a radio-ready ballad about devoting ourselves to Christ now and not waiting. The passionate chorus, "Right now I'm grabbing on / I'm holding on to You / Right now I'm giving all of me / I'll never let You go," makes this one a real standout.
"Fists on Fire" amps up the rock to its hardest level yet and produces an edgy guitar-driven burst of energy that is a true high point on the album. It's also a lyrical highlight with some honest portrayal of our need of God: "We're losing ground but gaining speed / we're tryin' to find out what we need / We're looking for you, we're tryin' to see / the truth is what will set us free / When all it takes is for one to fall / to set the chain that starts so small / Let's stand up tall with fists on fire come one come all."
Other highlights include the energetic "Where It Starts," the edgy "Lesser Man," and the anthematic "Back From the Dead." The latter has another standout lyrical moment in the intensely delivered: "Bang, Bang, Bang / Nails in my coffin, holes in my soul / In the light slowly fades / It's a shipwreck rising / a return like none before." The cheers in the chorus help to lift this one to one of the more memorable tracks as well as one that utilizes the best of both the rock and pop sides of the band.
The album is start to finish a solid pop/rock release with enough crunch guitars and rock melodies to make it appealing to rock fans while more than accessible to those who prefer the softer side of music. Hour6 blends these two sounds nicely and the result is a very compelling release that could position them to take a hold of Christian rock.
These guys know how to rock and they know how to rock in a way that can satisfy both rock and pop fans. The music manages to feel fresh and relevant, making this a standout release. I'm curious to see where Hour6 will go next as this album is overflowing with potential and is on the cusp of something really good. Keep an eye on these guys. I think they're ones to watch.
Nathan Jess Fits Well Into The CCM Scene | Posted June-07-2013
Nathan Jess isn't (yet) a name that will likely ring many bells when discussing contemporary Christian music. But he has a couple of albums out and brings a familiar, yet intimate, sound to the table. Now with sophomore effort Love Stands Forever, he offers several chances for some potential hits.
Opening track "No Limit To Your Love" will probably resonate quickly with listeners of CCM. It's an upbeat track that still stays soft and soothing throughout. And to some slightly varying degrees, this is Nathan Jess' sound throughout the album.
With God always kept front and center and familiar phrases of praise, Nathan Jess produces very accessible music that's beautiful and simple. There seems to be a lot of influences in this album at various times, but none of them really stand out and thus it feels sort of like a fusion of a lot influences. I heard a bit that reminded me of Crowder, Tomlin, and other lesser-known worship artists at times. And this helps Jess keep a bit of his own musical identity.
There are fine moments throughout in songs like "Burning Heart" and "My Jesus." Jess' music remains constantly prayerful throughout and the melodies and music don't try to get in the way of the heart behind the music. "I Am Redeemed" proclaims: "So I will sing of how your love has washed me clean / I am redeemed / to which I'll sing / for you're my kind." And songs like "No Limit To Your Love" sings out, "There is no limit to your love and grace / greater than we'll ever know / you showed it on the cross." The album pretty much follows the same lyrical trends, praising God. It's all fairly familiar but it's still done in a heartfelt way to make it a very personal and intimate worship experience.
Nathan Jess fits comfortably in the soft AC radio sound and will undoubtedly be very appealing to fans of the genre. With Christ-centric lyrics and calming music to go with it, Nathan Jess offers a quiet worship experience that draws one's mind to Christ. With just enough influence from a myriad of popular artists, Nathan Jess has an inviting sound that should help to win him many fans.
Song to Download Now:
"No Limit To Your Love" (Get it on iTunes here.)
A Song to Bring Hope in the Midst of Tragedy | Posted May-23-2013
Suffice it to say, there have been some rough times these past few months. From the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary to the bombing at the Boston Marathon, we've seen the sad and horrific effects of a lack of Christ in our culture, and the devastation levied upon the innocent people caught in this violence.
However, in the midst of all the pain, we've seen heartwarming photos of the good that has shone through. While many of these pictures come in the form of the heroes who stepped forward to lend a helping hand, others come from seeing the glimpses into the lives of the victims. Seeing the snapshots of their lives is a bittersweet experience, but they still can inspire us, even though most of us never knew them and will now never get the chance to this side of heaven.
One such snapshot that has touched the hearts of many is of 8-year-old Martin Richard—the youngest of the three victims killed in the Boston Marathon bombing. After the tragic events, a picture of the boy holding a hand-written sign reading "No More Hurting People" went viral around the web. The boy's message is so simple and yet it seems like so many seem to have such a hard time keeping it. Nevertheless, the hope of that simple message has proved an inspiration for many, including Marc Martel of Downhere fame.
Martel co-wrote a song named after Martin Richard's now-famous wish with longtime Downhere producer Mark Heimermann and recorded it. And now he's sharing it with us. "No More Hurting People" truly is a touching anthem reflecting Martin's message, and Martel's powerful voice adds another layer of earnestness to the song.
The song is packed with meaningful lyrics that resonate in our turbulent times: "A sign for love / a cry for peace / from a city's child / to the grieving streets / with simple phrase / the banner pleas / what heavy hearts want to still believe."The song offers hope that one day, Martin's wish will come true: "The tears will dry / the wounds will heal / we'll always leave with the loss we feel / make no mistake / we'll run again / 'cause the light won't ever let the darkness win."
When Martel sings, "I believe there will someday be no more hurting people," you find yourself believing it. We know we'll never get there without the love of Christ, but perhaps Martin's simple message can remind us that Jesus Himself said that we must become like little children. Maybe it's a childlike naivety to think that such a thing could ever happen, but it never will unless we are willing to do our part to fight against it by reflecting the Light of Christ in everything that we do. And of course, when Jesus restores all things in eternity, there indeed will be no more hurting people.
Marc Martel has done it again and crafted a meaningful song for our time. He's made it available on Noisetrade for donation. One-hundred percent of profits of the song will go to One Fund Boston Inc., which is providing support to those most impacted by the tragic attack at the Boston Marathon. So not only can you get a powerful song, you can donate to a worthy cause through it. It seems like a win-win to me.
Martel's songwriting ability is always magnificent and this song is no exception. Go pick up this song and give to a worthy cause. It's likely to fly under the radar as just another indie song floating around on Noisetrade but I hope we can help give this song and it's portrayal of Martin's message the exposure it deserves. It's definitely one of the best songs of the year and one well worth checking out, both for it's musical goodness and lyrics that speak to the heart in a time where every week seems to bring more tragedies.
When you think of the best albums of the mid-'90s, you probably will think of Jesus Freak or Take Me To Your Leader or Jars of Clay's debut or something else from a big name CCM artist. But here's an album you probably don't remember much, from an artist who you know little to nothing about, that can musically come at least very close to the greatness of some of these classic albums.
Nouveaux (prounounced noo-vo) was only around for two albums. And I've only ever heard one of them. This was one of the albums of my childhood. (And I mean childhood. I was 4 when it came out and my folks played it quite a bit for a while after that. So this album has a big nostalgic bonus for me, personally. But the music is great regardless.)
And despite touring with some recognizable names and having a slew of radio hits (including a pair of No. 1 songs), they seem to have been largely one of the overlooked acts of CCM in the '90s. And since they disappeared so quickly, they are little more than a footnote in CCM history. But taking a look at their second album, ...And This Is How I Feel, one has to wonder why. From start to finish, it's pretty stinkin' consistent in delivering quality pop/rock that is both refreshing and radio friendly.
The album opens with a quasi-intro track called "Nice" that showcases a sense of humor. But once the real first song gets into gear, it's clear that this album is no joke. "Maybe Tomorrow" is an emotional song about finding a wife one day. For those not currently in a relationship seeking to one day find that special somebody God has created for us, the song is a bittersweet wish of hope.
"Simply Beautiful" is next, beginning with a low and almost mysterious riff that with the pro-chorus escalates into a passionate anthem. "Never See The Day" is a passionate and emotional love song with a great chorus that has a line I've remembered clearly since childhood: "If a star fell from the sky every time I thought of you / there would be none." It's a bit on the cheesy side but it's sung with such passion by vocalist Paul Alan (yes, the same Paul Alan who released some solo albums in the 2000s) that it comes off as a serious declaration.
"You Breathe" is the first true slow song on the album and also the most blatant expression of faith on the album thus far. It's a great worship ballad and another fine entry on the album. "If Only" follows next and is the picture of a great radio anthem. With a string-backed chorus, this song about what the world would be like if the Earth could praise God with words, we'd all believe in Him: "If only the wind could whisper words / and carry the Truth / to all the earth / It would speak the name of Jesus Christ / The Great I Am, the Truth, the Life." It's another majestic moment on the album sung in a way that makes you almost picture this "if only" scenario.
The mysterious track "Larisa" is next and serves as a sort of intro to "Listen," the song from which the album title is taken. There's a guest female speaker for this and the track is entirely spoken, and in what seems to be several different languages. The only English comes in the form of the album's title being spoken at the end, and I presume this is what was being said throughout in different languages of the world. "Listen" serves as one of the darker tracks on the album, crying out our need for Christ. "Well, this heart is bleeding, broken, needing / Slowly dying, hardly beating / Listening, are you listening / Like the air that I breathe, I need You / This image is so surreal / I don't want to live without you Lord / And this is how I feel." It's another powerful moment on the record.
"Through Heaven's Fields" follows and if you thought it'd be time to slow down by now, you'd be wrong. In fact, this song could be one of the strongest on the album. Spoken from the point-of-view of Christ, it's an emotional plea to let go of ourselves and surrender ourselves completely to Him. "Footsteps, Heartbeat / can't cry, can't sleep / Colors fading - winter sky / Miles before you, miles behind / Darkness laughing, close your eyes / I'll be waiting with arms open wide / The perfect picture of the day I died / Take my hand / I want to lead you to the other side of forever / Follow me / I want to run with you through Heaven's fields of gold." It's another emotional track that picks up some pep during the bridge.
"I'll Cry Too" is another slower emotional entry about God's desire to be with us in our pain. "Wonder" picks up the pep one last time before a solid cover of the haunting Kansas ballad "Chasing Shadows" (written and originally sung by John Elefante who also co-wrote a few of the other tracks on this album).
The album is musically and lyrically top-notch in just about all areas. It's mind-boggling how it wasn't ten times bigger than it was in 1990s CCM.
How Does It Hold Up Today?
So the question remains, is this just a fine nostalgic trip down memory lane or has this album held up well after over 15 years? I'd say it's a mixture of sorts. While the nostalgia may make anything from the era feel a bit "dated," there is an undeniable "90's CCM flare" to the music. That said, there's nothing I found overly outdated here, either. The lyrics and music are perfectly relevant today. So if you don't mind at least a moderate degree of throwback, this is a great release to check out today. It might've aged a little bit, but I think it's aged quite well.
What Is The Band Up To Lately?
The band disbanded after 1997. Lead singer Paul Alan released two solo albums about 8 years apart during the 2000s, and scored some moderate radio hits including "To Bring You Back," which still seems to fit naturally with how he sounded on this album. He currently is a staff songwriter for Word records.
I spoke to founding member Steve Ashley and he filled me in on what the rest of the band is currently up to. Ashley has been working with fellow Nouveaux member KC Smothers on some new music as well as recording songs for use in TV placements. Other members are still involved in music-related tasks ranging from teaching music, doing audio production, and doing small projects for local musicians out of a home recording studio.
Ashley is active on the newly started FB page commemorating the band. So give it a like if you want to follow the current goings-on for Steve Ashley as well as receive nostalgic nuggets of info about Nouveaux, check it out here.
One thing's for sure, music is still very much a part of their lives, even if they're keeping quiet, away from the spotlight.
Check this album out, if you can find it. This is a severely underrated gem of 90's pop/rock that has been locked up tight in the back of the CCM vault. There's a lot here worth rediscovering and I hope that somebody, some of these hidden classics might somehow get a little bit more recognition.
Great Collection to Close an Era | Posted May-10-2013
It should come as no surprise that after the David Crowder*Band announced their breakup--which sent shockwaves through the worship music industry--a great hits collection would soon follow. Here we are over a year later and that Hits collection is finally surfacing, and all the top songs are represented.
Such collections have always faced an uphill battle, but I think there's even more challenges facing them in the age of digital music where everyone already has their own personal "greatest hits" playlists for an artist long before the artist ever releases an official one. These collections always run at least two huge risks: the fact that most loyal fans already have most (if not all) of what's being released, and the fact that any band with a remotely lengthy discography will likely be unable to cover even all of their biggest hits, let alone every fan's favorite songs. From the start, at least some fan-favorites will not escape being left out of such collections, which will alienate some potential buyers. And that's assuming they'd consider shelling out the money for the collection anyway if they have most of these songs already.
Greatest Hits have always seemed to target casual fans who follow a band's singles but not their whole albums. And they also traditionally throw on a few new goodies to attract those who have the songs to consider purchasing the collection.
So how does this album fare in these terms? Pretty much exactly as I just described. Many of the bands most recognizable radio hits are here. "O Praise Him (All This For A King)," "Our Love Is Loud," "Wholly Yours," "Open Skies," "Here is Our King" and "Everything Glorious" are all included. There are a few lesser-known cuts such as "The Glory of It All."
There's the excellent cover of the John Mark McMillan breakout classic "How He Loves." These are all excellent songs and great reminders of why it is we love DC*B and are so sad to see them go. All of their major albums seem to get as fair representation as possible given the tracklist. And yes, there are some new goodies. Some of the bands new songs get new remixes and included here. And lastly, there is a sneak preview track from David Crowder's forthcoming release under his new moniker, Crowder.
The new remixes sound exactly like remixes. If these are your things, that'll definitely be a plus for this collection. However, those who aren't fans of remixes already will probably not be won over by these. (Although "No One Like You" has an interesting new musical approach that adds some fine emotional layers to it.) The songs are still good but one cannot help but wonder if their originals would've made for more accessible inclusions when the number of regular hits is fairly small at just 10--excluding the bonus goodies.
The collection closes with the aforementioned new track from Crowder. "This I Know" has a bit of a country sound to it and is definitely a new musical direction for Crowder, while the chorus still has some hints of where he's been with his band. Lyrically, Crowder is just unashamed of Christ as ever: "Lift me up to feel your touch / it wouldn't be that much for you / this I know." It'll be interesting to see what the final product looks like. It should be a fine new chapter is one of CCM's most recognizable names.
Listeners will have to determine for themselves if this hits collection is worth their purchase or not. While DCB fans will likely want to check out the new track and perhaps the remixes, if they have all of the other songs already, they might be content with just hitting up digital retailers for the new stuff. However, if somebody has only been a casual DCB follower thus far, this is a solid collection of hits and they might consider giving this hits collection a shot.
Song to Download Now:
"This I Know" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Building 429 Shakes Up Their Sound | Posted May-01-2013
Building 429 has long been a sort of second-tier staple of CCM for about a decade now. They haven't been the arena headliners or consistent chart toppers that some other acts have been, but they've also been a consistent presence on compilations and radio station playlists, with big hits such as "Glory Defined" and "You Carried Me" getting significant airplay.
The band seemed to take a step up with the release of their 2011 hit, Listen to the Sound. While the title track did well enough on its own, it seemed that follow-up AC single "Where I Belong" was the true star of the show. Not only did it go No. 1 on several charts, but on the Billboard Christian Audience Chart, it stayed there for a record-smashing 15 weeks. Combined with a spot on the ever-growing WinterJam tour in 2012, this seemed to be the perfect chance to propel the band to new heights.
This leads us to the release of the much-anticipated We Won't Be Shaken. At first look at the album cover and the lead single/title track, it seems like it could be a natural sequel to Sound. The logo established on the last album cover returns, and seems poised to be for Building 429 what the flame symbol is to Thousand Foot Krutch.
As for the title track, "We Won't Be Shaken," it's peppy and fits well within 429's sound, making for another worthy single. Its message of not being shaken from our faith and resolve in Christ is a fitting one within the identity the band has established for themselves. But don't let that fool you into thinking that this album is just going to be only more of the same from the band.
Intro track "Get Up" is a foot-tapping mover of a track that doesn't really sound much like Building 429 at all. It reminds me of some other bands in CCM (maybe the Newboys? Manic Drive?). I can't put my finger on it. It's familiar, but it's definitely not what I expected from Building 429--but it's good. And they keep just enough of themselves in the song to make it recognizably them. It's a rousing number with a message of getting up and living our faith and not just being pew-warmers. It's definitely an interesting new direction for the band sound-wise, and they keep it up for several tracks of the album.
"Bonfire" is next. It opens with an electro beat and is quite the danceable number with rousing vocals and an absolutely infectious beat. There's still some good rock in this too. It's quite the dynamic sound, and should be fun in concerts.
"Press On" starts quietly with just a subdued drum beat and guitar backing the vocals. The song stays pretty reserved compared with the opening tracks. It keeps enough of the new sound to keep the slow going but it also feels a little more like the Building 429 we've come to know and love. Guest vocals from the increasingly prolific Blanca Reyes of Group 1 Crew help add another layer to the song's musical appeal.
"Set A Fire" is poised to follow "Where I Belong" as the band's next big worshipful hit. It would sound great on radio and is a great slower moment on the record. "Revolution" brings back the addictive new sound established in the opening tracks for another great danceable rock number.
"All I'm Holding" has a beautiful piano-driven opening that propels the song into a classic Building ballad that stands next to the best the band has offered to date. "Best and Worst" carries a similar feel and is another great entry. "All The Glory" closes the album out appropriately with a great and upbeat worship entry.
Lyrically, the band stays in the unashamed-of-the-Gospel territory in which they've always been. They have exciting messages of Christians standing up for what they believe in songs like "Bonfire": "If I was born to be a flame, then I wanna light a bonfire /…gonna burn something down if you get in my way."
There are honest moments of worship and pleas for God to work in us in songs like "Set a Fire": "Set in a fire in me / bring me to my knees / like a rushing wind / consume this heart again … Turn a spark inside of me into a holy flame." Lyrics also talk about the fact that this life isn't about us but about giving God "All The Glory": "You lift me up just to live you high / it never was about me / you get all the glory / and if I stand it's only that I am in your hands." The songs are all solid and relevant to Christians today and help round out these finely crafted songs with some deeper meaning than you'd get from secular acts.
Building 429 has kept everything that you loved about them: the Christ-centered lyrics, the upbeat light rock, the rousing chants to get crowds hopping, and the thoughtful introspective side that shows that these guys possess a deep love for their faith and a heart for Christ they long to share in their music. On top of all of this, they've gone and explored some new sounds to effective results. Overall, this is a fine album full of potential hits and is sure to raise the bar for them next time around.
A Rocking Song Admitting Self-Weakness | Posted April-29-2013
"Not Right" is the third of the B-sides single series from The Rocket Summer. The song is the most rocking of the three. There's a lot of guitar-driven energy and fierce vocals driving the chorus. The end result is an exciting and foot-tapping song about how our sinful natures makes each of us "not right" and in need of a savior. More of Avary's clever lyrics abound, such as, "I need someone to untangle / cut the wires inside / If we're honest, I am not quite right."
It's an effective message that is done often in Christian music, but which Avary helps give a fresh coating of paint.
Like it's two predecessors, this is a worthy song that transcends being a b-side and soars to qualities many artists never reach.
An Honest and Moving Display of Heart | Posted April-29-2013
"Anna" is the second single in The Rocket Summer's B-sides single series. The song carries a bit of an emotional and reflective presence from the start, although with the first chorus it picks up the pep a bit. The song seeks to reach somebody struggling with an honest display of one's own struggles. With lyrics like: "I didn't know real pain until I fell down / I never knew how to swim until I nearly drowned / …I didn't know hindsight until it broke my heart," it's another hit for The Rocket Summer.
Like with the first single, "Anna" is a song whose quality is worthy of being on any album. It's status as a B-side should not be a deterrent from adding it to your playlist.
A Great Song For Starting Over | Posted April-29-2013
“Cars and the Pixies” is the first of the B-sides singles series for Life Will Write the Words from 1-man-band, The Rocket Summer (that 1 man being the uber-talented musician Bryce Avary).
The song is everything you’d expect from an established and respected class act like The Rocket Summer. There’s some nice guitar hooks, a catchy melody, a worthy theme about getting a fresh start, with clever and meaningful lyrics to back it up (“who says it has to be the new year to start a new year?”).
This is the kind of standout material you’d usually see on a main album. To know that it’s just from a The Rocket Summer b-sides release should be a good indicator for the caliber of talent that Mr. Avary brings to his music.