Thursday, June 14, 2018

BETTER QUESTIONS


Todd Wilson Agnew was born on March 15, 1971 in Dallas, Texas. His mother was Native American and he was adopted at birth by a white couple.  In the Fall of 1999 he helped run a Bible study for college students and singles called Metro Bible Study at Germantown Baptist Church.  He was also involved in forming Highpoint Church in Memphis.  In 2003 Agnew put out his debut album, GRACE LIKE RAIN, the title track of which, was very popular.  2005's REFLECTION OF SOMETHING birthed 'Unchanging One'.  Fast forward to 2007 and he released his fourth studio album entitled BETTER QUESTIONS (Ardent/INO). In the liner notes, he writes: "Thanks...to our Great God, the divine mystery. He who beckons us with questions beyond our understanding into an intimate relationship with One beyond our comprehension".  The album was produced by Todd and John Hampton.

1. Starting things off is a short piano based 'Prelude'. Here are the words from it that set the tone for the album: "I've got better questions than I have answers/Better dreams than I have plans/I've got better thoughts than I have actions/So I built my house on what I thought was solid ground/But I know it could be sand".

2. 'Still Has A Hold' is one of several tracks penned solely by Agnew. It's a great country/rock song complete with lap steel and fiddle. Agnew reflects on his spiritual life: "Sometimes I'm on the mountain holding on to Your hand/Sometimes I'm in the middle holding the best I can/Sometimes I'm in the valley and I let go long ago/When my hand is weak and tired/Your hand still has a hold".

3. Steve Selvidge plays guitar on 'Least of These', a meaty hard rocker directed at Christians: "I'm a druggie, I'm a pusher, I'm a one-night stand whore/Accuser, an abuser with nothing to live for/A devil, a deceiver and probably much more/But why does it have to define me?/Why do you always remind me?/Why can't I be free from who I've been?/Why can't you see me as one of the least of these?"

4. 'If You Wanted Me' is a ballad of reflection: "If You wanted me to walk on water/Why'd You make the solid ground seem so right?.../If You wanted me to love You only/Why'd You make the moonlight sparkle in her eyes?.../If You wanted me to die to myself/Why'd You make me fall so deeply in love with life?"

5. Fernando Ortega and Mac Powell wrote 'Our Great God'. Here, this modern praise and worship song, is a lovely duet between Todd and Rebecca St. James. There is a guitar solo by Jason Rooney. Strings are arranged by Jonathan Kirkscey and a choir is used. Here are some of the awesome words: "Let every creature in the sea and every flying bird/Let every mountain, every field and valley of the earth/Let all the moons and all the stars in all the universe/Sing praises to the living God who rules them by His Word/Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God!"

6. Rick Steff plays the Wurlitzer and Joy Whitlock sings backing vocals on 'Lovers in our Heads', a nice ballad that encourages us not to spend our time judging others: "Are we more concerned with the fruit of another/Never noticing our own barren branches?/Are we more consumed with casting stones at each other/While ignoring the lovers in our beds, our own beds in our heads?"

7. 'Peace on Earth' is a pop song that reminds us our compassion must extend to everyone: "As long as we say prayers for our children that we do not pray for others/There won't be/And as long as we take offerings for those in need/To appease our guilt over our greed/There won't be/There won't be peace on earth (3X)/There won't be, there won't be/Won't be peace".  The song includes a short rap break by Benton A. James of the Urban Sophisticates.

8. 'Funny' is a creative pop/rock song that draws from some Old Testament stories: "It's funny how a fish can obey You/How a plant can obey You/How the sun can obey You/And how a donkey can obey You/It seems like everything can obey You, but I can't".

9. 'Don't Say a Word' is a catchy pop/rock song with a message for us all to heed: "My mama told me when I was a child/Son, you've gotta keep a hold of your tongue/And if you don't have anything nice to say, my child/Well, don't say anything at all/'Cause every single thing that comes out of your mouth/Someone's listening/Taking as the truth every word that comes out/So don't, don't, don't/Don't say a word".

10. 'War Inside' is one heck of a rock song, drawing from the apostle Paul's words: "I do what I don't want to do/And don't do what I mean/I end up chasing all my nightmares/Abandoning my dreams/'Cause there's a war inside of me/Between who I want to be and who I am".

11. Todd co-wrote 'Martyr's Song' with author Ted Dekker.  This beautiful inspirational anthem runs over six minutes long and makes use of a children's choir and an adult choir (which includes Clay Cross). Strings are performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Here are some of the words told from God's perspective: "I've been waiting to watch you realize/What all your longing was for/And I've been waiting to show you the thread of grace/That ran through all your pain/And I've been waiting to let you drink the water of which your greatest joy on earth was just a taste/I've been waiting for the day when at last I get to say/'My child you are finally home!'".

12. 'On a Corner in Memphis' is a great bluesy story song: "It's 11:15 on Sunday morning/And I wish I was/On a corner in Memphis listening to the old man/Singing out his sorrows and laying down his pride/He's telling me his story or at least his side/With no need to pretend and nowhere to hide/Cause we are all broken here/And we are all ashamed/I couldn't fool you if I wanted to/Our stories are too much the same".

13. Rick Steff plays B-3 on 'Family', a groovy and smoking song with a great message: "Who's my neighbor?/Who's my loved one?/Who's my friend/We are all family (2X)/If we're all under one Father, that makes us all brothers/We are all family/You don't have to look like me for us to be brotherly/You don't have to be like me for us to be family/You don't have to think like me for us to speak intimately/You don't have to agree with me/For us to be family".

14. 'Preachers and Thieves' includes this thought-provoking chorus: "As I'm standing here on this stage/Hanging from a cross that I have made/What you see is probably deceit/Only God knows the difference/The difference between preachers and thieves".

15. Rich Mullins and Justin Peters wrote 'Can I Be With You' which appeared as 'Be With You' on Mullins' 1987 release PICTURES IN THE SKY. The song here is presented as a great rock ballad with background vocals by Joy Whitlock, as well as group vocals. Here are some of the words: "And when my body lies in the ruins of the lies that nearly ruined me/Will You pick up the pieces that were pure and true/And breathe life into them and set them free?/And when You start this world over again from scratch/Will You make me anew out of the stuff that lasts?/Stuff that's purer than gold is and clearer than glass could ever be/Can I be with You? (2X)".

16. Last up on the standard edition of the CD is an unlisted okay cover of the praise and worship song 'Glorious Day'. It exalts Christ: "Suffering anguish, despised and rejected/Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He!/And one day the grave could conceal Him no longer/One day the stone rolled away from the door/Then He arose; over death He had conquered/Now He's ascended, my Lord forevermore!"

BETTER QUESTIONS is essentially a great rock music album, but you will also find five other musical styles on it, including adult contemporary, praise and worship, and blues.  Todd's voice is raw and gritty and equally suited to the fast and slower song presented here.  A main theme on the album is loving our neighbours. Our neighbour is defined as anyone alive really, regardless of economic status, race, location, religion, etc.  We are to love 'the least of these' like Jesus did.  We are not to judge others but focus on our own spiritual state.  Todd makes it clear that it is not easy to obey God when it comes to many things, but it should still be our goal.  God is praised for His greatness and worshiped for dying for our sins and rising three days later.  We have the hope of heaven and we will be given new 'bodies'. Fans of Seventh Day Slumber and Kutless should pick up this Christian rock album which I'm rating 95%. For more info visit: www.toddagnew.com or connect with him on Facebook.




Tuesday, June 12, 2018

LIVE: RADICALLY SAVED


Carman Domenic Licciardello was born on January 19th, 1956 in Trenton, New Jersey.  He became a born again Christian at an Andrae Crouch concert.  He released his debut album, GOD'S NOT FINISHED WITH ME YET, in 1980 and toured with The Bill Gaither Trio. As the years went on he became known for such cool novelty songs as 'Lazarus, Come Forth', 'Sunday's On the Way', and 'The Champion'.  Fast forward to 1988 and he released the live album LIVE: RADICALLY SAVED (Benson).  The first ten of the eleven tracks were recorded at the Brady Theatre in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Producers were Keith Thomas with an assist by John Andrew Shreiner, while Carman served as executive producer.  The album was Carman's 7th and in 1989 he won a Dove for the accompanying 'Long Form Music Video of the Year'.

1. The concert opens with applause and clapping and the words "Ladies and Gentlemen" being repeated a few times.

2. The first song is 'I've Been Delivered', one of eight tracks penned solely by Carman. Dann Huff plays guitars and Chris McDonald arranges horns on this energetic swing/rock 'n' roll song of testimony: "Jesus healed the blind man, made him see/Cast demons out the man from Gaderene/Cleansed the lepers too/He made the lame brand new/He put hope back in a hopeless life/I testify to you/I've been delivered (2X)/The hold the devil had on me/He ain't got no more/I've been delivered (3X)/By the hand of the Lord".

3. 'Lord of All' became a #2 hit for Carman and features backing vocals by: Kim Fleming, BeBe Winans, Chris Rodriguez, Mike English, and Keith Thomas. This one's a groovy sounding praise and worship song: "Lord, You are wonderful/Lord, You are glorious/You are Lord of all.../Jesus Christ is Lord of all/Every knee shall bow/Every tongue confess/That Jesus Christ is Lord of all/Lift up your eyes/Let the church arise/Jesus Christ is Lord of all".

4. 'Radically Saved' was a #1 hit. On it, Mark O'Connor plays the fiddle and Willie Davis the organ. It's a wonderful pop/rock song on which Carman gets his Pentecostal on: "Jesus Christ is Lord and God's still on the throne/There's power in the blood/And I'm saved to the bone/If the devil comes against me/He's gonna feel some pain/Cause I can bind him, bruise him, cast him out/By the power of Jesus' Name.../No longer on the outside/On the inside I now stand/Do you know what it's like to be sold out, the whole route?/How about born again?/I believe on the third day Jesus rose from the grave/The world thinks we're crazy/Our friends think we're crazy/Our family thinks we're crazy/But we are just what?/We're just radically saved".

5. 'No Way, We are Not Ashamed' was a #15 hit and includes background vocals by Chris Rodriguez, Lisa Bevill, and Donna McElroy. This song with a Caribbean feel to it is one of boldness: "No way, we are not ashamed of the Gospel or His Name/Holy hands are lifted high to the Name of Jesus Christ.../Do you know Christ is still the answer for the world today?/There is no other name so given/Unto a fallen man that he might be saved".

6. Next up is a true novelty song 'Soap Song', which is a ballad on which Carman plays guitar. The lyrics are fun including these ones: "If we want true contentment/Peace in our homes/With an end to marital strife/We must live for Jesus Christ, the only 'Guiding Light'/Not one but all the 'Days of Our Lives'".

7. 'Celebrating Jesus' has a fun, upbeat late 50's/early 60's rock 'n' roll feel to it, complete with Elvis style vocals. Christ is exalted: "We're celebrating Jesus/That's what Christmas means to me/It's the birthday of the One/Who makes the blind to see/He purchased my salvation/Way back on Calvary/I'm celebrating Jesus/That's what Christmas means to me.../There's presents round the tree/One for you and me/But the greatest gift of all/Is still a soul set free".

8. Carman and John Rosasco co-wrote 'Bless God'. Jimmie Lee Sloas plays bass and Guy Penrod is one of six background vocalists on this inspirational praise and worship ballad: "Bless God for all He's done/Bless God for Christ His Son/Let us magnify Him/For He's holy, holy/One voice in unity/One voice of praise to Thee/With hearts of love and worship/We will sing 'Bless God'".

9. Carman and Keith Thomas co-wrote 'Jericho: The Shout of Victory' which runs over 7.5 minutes. Robert Wynne provides narration at the beginning of this story song. A choir and orchestra are used on this track as well. Here are some of the words: "So with the confidence of warring angels Israel stood stone ready/To obey Joshua/Speak to their mountain and shout/For God was giving them the city/Six days they marched around Jericho/And the last day they marched seven/While the Caananites jeered from their evil walls/Israel's faith reached heaven".

10. John Andrew Schreiner plays keyboards on 'I Feel Jesus'. Carman speaks and says God can heal us of our sicknesses and backslidings. Here are the words to this reverent chorus: "I feel Jesus, I feel Jesus/I feel Jesus in this place/Yes, my soul does burn within me/I feel Jesus in this place".

11. Last up is 'God of All Nations Medley' which imagines seven songs from seven different geographical locations including Germany, Mexico, Italy, and the U.S.A. This final track which includes talking and singing and elements of humor runs 21.5 minutes long! Here are some of the words: "The Spirit of Jesus is living in me/Praise the Lord, praise the Lord!/The Holy Spirit the world cannot see/Praise the Lord, praise the Lord!.../God is with me, God is for me/But I tell you most of all/He's in my heart.../I need You more than ever now (2X)/Lord, I need You more today than when I first believed/I need You more than ever now.../We're not drunk as you suppose/We're just filled with the Holy Ghost".

LIVE: RADICALLY SAVED is a live record that clocks in at 64 minutes and 24 seconds.  On it, you will hear a variety of genres of music: rock 'n' roll, pop/rock, easy listening, and praise and worship.  There are songs of testimony. There is power in the blood of Jesus unto salvation. Jesus delivers us from sin, Satan's grip, and strongholds. God is loving and faithful towards us. Carman lifts up Jesus on this album. He is worthy, wonderful, glorious, and powerful. He gives peace and contentment and is the only Way to God.  He is the Answer for the world and ultimately every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess Him as Lord.  After listening to this album you will be encouraged to be strong and bold in your Christian faith.  There is also a good story song about the Israelites, with God's help, taking Jericho.  I'm rating this live CD 90 %. For more info visit: www.carman.org or connect with him on Facebook.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

MARK SCHULTZ


Mark Mitchell Schultz was born in Kansas on September 16/70 and was adopted when he was two weeks old.  Around eight years of age he started teaching himself piano by ear.  While a student at Kansas State University he traveled with the Kansas State Singers. Later on, he became a waiter in Nashville.  For eight years he was a youth director at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville.  In 2000 he released his debut self-titled album on Myrrh Records.  He wrote all eleven songs, while the album was produced by Monroe Jones and executive produced by Dan Posthuma.

1. 'I Am the Way' is a power-pop song that finds Christ speaking words of assurance to us: "When you're down, look around and you'll see/I am with you/Look to Me and you'll see I will be there to guide you/Take My hand and I can lead you on/For you know/I am the answer/I am the way/I am the promise/I have called your name".

2. 'Let's Go' is another power-pop song (but shorter) that encourages mission work: "Let's go to the foreign shore/Find a way to give like we never gave before/Let's go, going far and wide/Pack your bag and leave it all behind/What are we waiting for?/Let's go!"

3. Mark wrote the album's debut single, 'He's My Son', in the middle of his friend John's son's year long battle with leukemia. This moving piano based adult contemporary ballad begins with these words: "I'm down on my knees again tonight/I'm hoping this prayer will turn out right/See there is a boy that needs Your help/I've done all that I can do myself/His mother is tired/I'm sure You can understand/Each night as he sleeps/She goes in to hold his hand/And she tries not to cry/As the tears fill her eyes".

4. 'When You Come Home' is a beautiful ballad about a mother's love: "When you come home/No matter how far/Run through the door and into my arms/It's where you are loved/It's where you belong/And I will be here/When you come home".

5. 'When You Give' is a peppy pop song with gospel-like influences. It's all about Christian service: "When you give/When you love/When you serve/You do it unto Me.../He lived a life of love/Gave away all He'd been given/Sent from the One above/And then He gave His life/To love, serve/He came down from heaven to spread the word/To teach, pray..."

6. 'Fall in Love Again' is an easy listening romantic song of longing: "Never dreamed of letting go/But now you're gone/It feels so wrong.../I believe in faith above/In giving everlasting love/I believe there is a chance for us".

7. Next up is 'Cloud of Witnesses', an easy listening ballad that speaks of how our parents and teachers who go to heaven before us are eagerly watching and waiting for us: "A cloud of witnesses that would see them through the years/Cheer them with a smile and pray them through the tears/A cloud of witnesses that would see them to the end/And shower them with love that never ends/A cloud of witnesses".

8. The next song is 'Learn to Let Go'. Of it, Schultz writes: "This song was inspired as I watched a mother and father pray for their daughter as she was leaving for college". Here are some of the words: "And when I walk in your bedroom/The memories that I keep/Are bedtime stories/And rocking you to sleep/And as I held you/You'd drift off to dream/And I know it might sound crazy/Now that you are grown/But yesterday still feels like the day we brought you home".

9. Schultz says 'I Saw the Light' was written about Charles who "was a blind elderly man I met in a run-down infirmary in Jamaica". This upbeat pop song includes these words: "We met and my eyes could not hide how I felt/When I looked at him tattered and torn/But he captured me with a smile that seems so out of place/From the pain he'd endured/And he told me of a sacrifice/That had given him eternal life/He was not alone/He spoke about a greater plan/And I began to understand/My life was not my own".

10. The pop/rock story song 'Legend of McBride' was written around a campfire. It's a fun track you've got to hear to fully appreciate!

11. Last up is 'Remember Me', one of three #1 songs on the album.  It's a lovely duet ballad with Ginny Owens: "Remember Me when the color of the sunset fills the sky/Remember Me/When you pray and tears of joy fall from your eyes/And age to age/And heart to heart/Bound by grace and peace/Child of wonder/Child of God/I've remembered you/Remember Me".

MARK [SCHULTZ] is a terrific debut album.  It covers a variety of topics.  The unconditional love of parents is praised here. We love our children when they are healthy and when they are very sick. We love them when they are still at home and when they go away to college or university.  Our arms are always open to welcome them home if they go away.  The importance of Christian service and overseas missions is also presented here.  Christ is pointed to as the ultimate Way and ultimate Answer for humanity.  God longs that we remember Him and love Him though we can't currently see Him. The main musical genres on this project are pop/rock, easy listening, and adult contemporary.  Fans of Michael W. Smith, Billy Joel, and Matthew West should acquire this album which I'm rating 93%. For more info visit: www.markschultzmusic.com or connect with him on Facebook.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

DAYS OF GRACE


Gregory Alan Long was born on December 12, 1966 in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  His folks were traveling evangelists. Greg gave his life to Christ when he was just four and sang and recorded with the family group.  Fast forward to 1994 and he released his debut album CROSS MY HEART.  One of the radio hits from it was 'How Long?', a duet with Margaret Becker.  He followed this album up with DAYS OF GRACE (1995, Myrrh). It was produced by John and Dino Elefante and executive produced by Judith Cotton.

1. Starting things off is 'Love All Around the World'.  It was penned by seven, yes seven, people: Greg, Joel Lindsey, Kevin Shorey, Dino Elefante, Greta Garner-Hewitt, Julie Adams, and Marty Hennis, and became a #24 Christian radio hit. Anointed sing background vocals on this catchy pop/dance song with something to say about the kind of people we should be: "Love all around the world/Love for every boy and girl/Love came down for you and me/Love created our history/Love all around the world/Love from His holy Word/Love is all that we believe/Love is everything we should be/Love all around the world/Love is a decision/You and I must make/In how we live our everyday lives".

2. John Elefante sings harmony vocals on the adult contemporary song, 'Thankful'. It offers these words of testimony: "Oh, even when my faith seems to be darkened by my fear/I look for You and You're always here/And I don't understand why You would give this all to me/I only hope that You will see/That I'm so thankful/Words can never be enough/I'm so thankful/That You've given me Your love".

3. 'All You Need to Know' is an easy listening number that finds God speaking words of reassurance to His children: "Don't forget I chose you before creation was ever spoken/Heaven and Earth will pass away/Before my promise is broken/Right at the edge of your circumstance/You'll find mercy's open hand".

4. Ty Lacy, Steve Siler, and John Elefante co-wrote the title track, 'Days of Grace'. It's a pleasant adult contemporary song of spiritual invitation: "To all those who feel like there's no one who cares/To those who can't see past the end of despair/He's waiting/With open arms/To all those who feel like they've missed their last chance/There's always a place in the Savior's plan/There's mercy right where you are/'Cause these are the days of grace/Where our deliverance waits/And anyone who seeks His face/Will never be turned away/'Cause these are the days of grace".

5. 'You'll Get Through This' is an easy listening ballad of encouragement: "When doubt starts tearing at the faith deep/You don't be afraid/Just remember what I said/Nothing formed against you will succeed/As long as your heart's turned toward me/You'll get through this/You'll break new ground/When you're lost within your weakness/Hope is waiting to be found".

6. Greg, Phil Sillas, and John Elefante co-wrote 'Joy', an adult pop song of testimony: "You have been a healing in a world so unkind/When I rest in You Lord/I can finally find/Joy, the kind that comes from above/That only comes from Your love into my life/What about the joy/The kind that I know is real?/Doesn't matter how I feel/You're on my side/I'm trusting in Your words/Believing all of the time/Even in my weakness it's the strength of my life/Everyday in every way/It's joy!" Glenn Pearce plays some great electric guitar here.

7. 'All the World to Me' makes great use of strings and is a reverent praise and worship ballad: "Your goodness is a treasure/I am so unworthy of/And I commit my fragile heart/To the mercy of your love/Your truth and Your forgiveness/My soul can not resist/And all I've said and done/Come down to this/Jesus, You are all the world to me/Without Your love I wouldn't want to be".

8. The Elefante brothers, John and Dino, wrote 'Love the Lord' which Greg took to #5 on Christian radio. It's a catchy, well written pop/dance track with a simple, but true chorus: "You've got to love the Lord with all of your heart and all of your mind/Love the Lord with all your soul and all of your strength". Mark Douthit plays sax here and Eternity provide strong background vocals.

9. 'I Promise You' was penned by Greg, Londa Hentges, and Pam Thum. It's a good adult contemporary ballad appropriate for weddings: "I'll stand by you/Through good and bad/I'll be right here/To hold your hand/His love is the reason I say/I promise you/As sure as oceans are blue/I am gonna love you forever/I promise you/No matter what you go through/We are gonna make it together/I promise you".

10. Last up is 'What Would I Be'. It`s a song of gratitude: "What would I be without Your love in my life making it worthwhile?/What would I do without Your tenderness that's teaching me to smile?/ Who I am today is not who I would have been/In You my heart's more full of hope than I've ever dreamed/Oh Lord, without Your mercy covering me/What would I be?"

DAYS OF GRACE points to God as a refuge in times of trouble and doubt. We should be ever grateful for His love, faithfulness, and tenderness towards us, ultimately displayed at Calvary.  Our response to God's love should be a desire to live for God with all we've got and to abide in Him.  This album encourages us to persevere in our faith in times of hardship. As well we are urged to love others as God has loved us. There is also a romantic wedding song thrown in for good measure.  The main musical genres here are pop/dance, adult contemporary and easy listening, with the slow songs outnumbering the fast ones.  Greg's vocals are smooth and soulful. Fans of Bryan Duncan and Michael English should enjoy this project which I'm rating 88 %. In 2003 Greg became a member of Avalon. He is also a worship leader at Woodland Church in Texas. For more info visit: www.greglong.com or connect with him on Facebook.

Monday, June 04, 2018

I WILL PRAISE YOU


Rebecca Jean Smallbone was born on July 26, 1977 in Sydney, Australia.  In 1990 she opened for Carman on his tour stops in that country when she was just twelve.  In 1991 she put out the independent album REFRESH MY HEART.  Moving forward to 1996, she released GOD, a terrific album that was nominated for a Grammy for 'Best Rock Gospel Album'.  Its successor PRAY had more of a dance feel to it and won a Grammy for 'Best Rock Gospel Album'.  Her career signature song would have to be 'Wait for Me', which encourages youth to save sex for marriage.  Rebecca's last studio album was 2011's I WILL PRAISE YOU (Beach Street/Reunion).  It was produced by Mark A. Miller and executive produced by Terry Hemmings.  In the liner notes Rebecca writes: "Jesus, thank You for Your gracious love for me. And thanks for the privilege of serving You. Use this album to honor Yourself. I love You".

1. Rebecca, Jonathan Lee, and Fred Williams wrote the album's title track and second single, 'I Will Praise You'. I love these beautiful opening words to this pop/dance song: "Joy comes in the morning/The sun is rising/And I wait for You/Streams flow in the desert/There's an oasis/And I wait for You/Whatever the storm, whatever is lost/Whatever it takes, whatever the cost/I will praise You/I will praise You".

2. A cover of Matt and Beth Redman's 'You Never Let Go' is next and dates back to 2005.  It's a melodic modern worship song that places great confidence in God: "I know You are near and I will fear no evil/For my God is with me/And if my God is with me/Whom then shall I fear?/Whom then shall I fear?/Oh no, You never let go/Through the calm and through the storm/Oh no, You never let go/In every high and every low/Oh no, You never let go/Lord, You never let go of me".

3. Rebecca and Jason Ingram co-wrote the lead single, 'Shine Your Glory Down'.  It's a  catchy pop/dance song that serves as a heartfelt prayer: "With each breath, fill me/With each step, free me/When I love, Father love through me/Oh Majesty.../Light of the world, light up this day/God, I long to see Your face/Oh shine Your glory down/Light of the world be on display/And every heart will sing Your praise/Oh shine Your glory down".

4. 'You Still Amaze Me' is a great ballad that uses strings arranged by John Mark Painter. It testifies: "Oh how beautiful the sound that has saved a wretch like me/I was lost but I am found/I was captive till You made me free/It was grace that taught my heart how to marvel at Your Name/Breaking all my fears apart/Taking all my doubt and shame/And it all comes down to this/Yeah it all comes down to/Your grace is amazing to me/Your love is still such a wonder/Your cross is still bringing me to my knees, oh God".

5. 'In a Moment' was written by Rebecca's worship pastor Michael Neale and her brother Joel Smallbone. It's a modern worship ballad that uses group vocals to good effect and anticipates Christ's return: "In a moment everyone falls silent/To hear the mighty trumpet/Split the eastern sky/Just imagine the King of all creation/Riding through the heavens/Returning for His bride/Alleluia, alleluia/Hear the sound of Heaven ring/Alleluia, alleluia/All the earth will bow and sing".

6. 'The Kindness of our God' is an inspirational song that touches on both Christmas and Easter: "The angels sang a song of peace/For unto us a child was born/And with Him came the earth's release/This is the mercy of our God/We drove the nails into the cross/He took the weight of sin for us/Because of love He paid the cost/This is the kindness of our God".

7. 'When the Stars Burn Down (Blessing and Honor)' eagerly anticipates the future: "God of all mysteries, Lord of the universe/Righteous King/There will come a day standing face to face/In a moment, we will be like Him/He will wipe our eyes dry, take us up to His side/And forever we will be His".

8. Stu Garrard, Paul Mabury, Jon Thatcher, and Jason Ingram wrote 'Almighty God'. This atmospheric pop song grows in musical intensity and offers hope: "There is a river/It's overflowing/The presence of our Lord is here/There is a river/Our joy will rise as we draw near/Almighty God is our fortress/He is with us/ And God is with  us/Almighty God will not fail us/He is with us/God is with us".

9. 'You Hold Me Now' is a Hillsong cover. It's a lovely modern worship ballad that looks to the future: "I'm believing for the day/When the wars and violence cease/All creation lives in peace/Let the songs of Heaven rise to You alone.../For eternity, all my heart will give/All the glory to Your Name".

10. Rebecca co-wrote 'You Make Everything Beautiful' with brother Luke Smallbone, and Fred Williams. It's a quiet piano/keys driven number that finds Rebecca talking to God: "Lifting open hands to You my Savior/Beautify my soul/Knowing You redeem my pain and failure/Purify my soul/Beautify my soul".

I WILL PRAISE YOU is mainly a modern worship record with the slower songs outnumbering the faster ones. The first three songs are more pop/dance in nature but then the album quiets down overall.  Rebecca's vocals and use of background vocalists are a highlight on this album.  Rebecca is determined to praise God no matter what the circumstances. He is to be praised for His faithfulness, care, kindness, creation, grace, the cross, and salvation! There are songs that long for and celebrate God's presence here on earth, and there are many references to the end of time as we know it when Christ will return and we'll be enjoying eternal life in heaven.  I'm rating I WILL PRAISE YOU 90%. For more info connect with Rebecca St. James on Facebook. I hope if she does ever put out a new album it is rock oriented in nature. Right now she is enjoying being a wife and a mother. Her brothers Joel and Luke are for King & Country.

Friday, June 01, 2018

I DO BELIEVE


When The New Gaither Vocal Band was formed it was comprised of Bill Gaither and Gary McSpadden (two-thirds of The Bill Gaither Trio) and background singers Steve Green and Lee Young. They released their self-titled debut album in 1981.  By 1985 The Gaither Vocal Band was comprised of Larnelle Harris, Michael English, Gary McSpadden, and Bill Gaither.  Now fast forward to 2000 and the group's roster was David Phelps (tenor), Guy Penrod (lead), Mark Lowry (baritone), and Bill Gaither (bass). This was the year they released I DO BELIEVE (Spring House), which won a Dove for 'Southern Gospel Album of the Year'.  In the liner notes you will find these words: "This collection of songs, some old and some new, voice once again the unchanging truth of the Gospel of Christ.  It`s not complicated or dissonant-it`s just God`s perfect melody sung by a few sinners saved by grace".

1. First up is 'He's Watching Me'.  Tina Sadler wrote this upbeat song which won a Dove for 'Southern Gospel Song of the Year'.  It speaks of God's care and concern for us: "He's a busy God but on His list of things to do/His number one priority is watchin' me and you/He's takin' care of business, feedin' birds and makin' rain/But He'll stop what He's doing when I speak His Name/Cause He's watchin'/He's watchin' me".

2. 'Hide Thou Me' uses the B-3 to good effect and includes these honest thoughts: "Sometimes I feel discouraged and I think my work's in vain/I'm tempted oft to murmur to grumble and complain/O but then I think of Jesus and all He's done for me/Then I cry O Rock of Ages/Hide Thou me".

3. Suzanne Jennings and Woody Wright wrote 'Where the River Flows', an upbeat country song of spiritual invitation: "Where the river flows (2X)/Bring all your troubles/Take off your heavy shoes/Tired of the hustle/Let it wash away your blues/Where the river flows (2X)/Wade in the water/Step off the dusty ground/If it gets hotter/You can cool your spirit down/Flow from heaven/Flow down over me".

4. 'Where No One Stands Alone' is a ballad whose chorus serves as a prayer: "Hold my hand all the way/Ev'ry hour ev'ry day/From here to the great unknown/Take my hand/Let me stand/Where no one stands alone".

5. 'Oh, What a Time' is credited to Lucy Matthews and dates back to 1950. It's a real Southern Gospel toe-tapper that anticipates heaven: "In that fair land/There will be no more night/ No sun or moon/For the Lamb of God is light/It's good to know/That He's prepared the way/To a bright and endless day".

6. Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote the title track circa 1980. 'I Do Believe' is an easy listening song of testimony: "I do believe/You are the One/The home I've longed to find/My only hope/God's only Son/I do believe/I touch, I see/That all along you've longed to be/My Lord, my God".

7. 'More than Ever' begins by reflecting on being a new Christian: "When I started my journey in fresh childlike trust/I believed that the Lord's way was best/I would read in His Word how He mothered the bird/And grieved when it fell from its nest/How I felt His delight when I chose to do right/And I prayed I would not make Him sad/We would meet on the way in the cool of the day/What a pure sweet communion we had".

8. 'On the Authority' is an upbeat Southern Gospel celebration of one who belongs to God: "On the authority of the Holy Word/I rise up and take my stand/I'm a blood bought child of the living God/Who is the Great I Am/I'm an heir to all that heaven holds/And no principality/Can ever take away my royal crown/Given on His authority".

9. 'The Love of God' dates back to 1949 and was penned by V. B. Ellis. It's a slow, but powerful song about one of our God's main characteristics: "The love of God is greater far than gold or silver ever could afford/It reaches past the highest star and covers all the world/It's power is eternal/Its glory is supernal/When all this earth shall pass away/There'll always be the love of God".

10. Mark Lowry delivers his vocals with humor which I quite enjoy on the great country song 'Steel on Steel'. The song encourages unity in the body: "I really need what you bring to the party/Differences here ain't no big deal/Cause all this rub just makes us better/We sharpen each other like steel on steel..../When the smoke clears I know you're a brother/We'll follow this through to the bitter end/If we stick around we might learn something/Something about how to be a good friend".

11. Suzanne Jennings and Michael Sykes wrote 'Make it Real', an easy listening ballad with lyrics that are very relatable: "There must be some good reason why You brought me here/Through valleys where the shadows hover close/And down here there's a mask to cover every face/But Your sweet face I long to see the most/So if You think there's just the slightest hope for me/In spite of all my questions and my doubts/Then let me hear Your still small voice speak out my name/And let me know what others talk about".

12. 'Sinner Saved by Grace' testifies: "I'm just a sinner saved by grace/When I stood condemned to death/He took my place/Now I live and breathe in freedom with each breath of life I take/Loved and forgiven/Back with the living/I'm just a sinner saved by grace".

13. Suzanne Jennings, Michael Sykes, and Guy Penrod wrote 'One Good Song'. It's Southern Gospel and speaks out against materialism: "Well I used to believe that the more you had/Got you through these days/Made your poor heart glad/But I'm paring down/I've been cutting back/And I don't even miss/All the things I lack/I'm learnin' how to separate the wants from the needs/The good life now consists of just a few simple things/Jesus in my heart/And a place to belong/A few close friends/And a one good song".

14. Last up is the Southern Gospel ballad 'Something to Say' on which Bill Gaither takes the lead. It speaks of the importance of having a personal faith in Jesus: "I've sung along with some pretty good singers/And I've been in churches where the sweet Spirit lingers/But you've never lived/'Til the words become true/'Til forgiveness and mercy mean something to you/And you've never cried/Til the tears come from faith/You've never lived/Til you have something to say".

I DO BELIEVE contains six fast paced songs and eight slower songs. The main musical genres here are Southern Gospel, country, and easy listening. Musical instruments used include: piano, B-3, harmonica, fiddle, mandolin, strings, and brass.  Penrod, Lowry, Phelps, and Gaither all take turns singing lead, with the older of the four, Gaither, doing so the least.  There are songs of testimony here. They speak of how we are free and forgiven children and heirs of God. There are songs that speak of a desire for intimacy with God-to live in His presence with His power. God is seen as loving and caring on this project.  People are invited to become Christians and call heaven their eternal home.  'Steel on Steel' is a standout song about Christian unity and helping each other grow.  I DO BELIEVE clocks in at 54 minutes and 45 seconds. I'm rating it a perfect 100 %. Lots of great harmonies here. For more info visit: www.gaither.com or connect with the group members on FACEBOOK.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

SPEECHLESS


Steven Curtis Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky on November 21, 1962.  He released his debut album, FIRST HAND (Sparrow) in 1987.  The song 'Weak Days', a co-write with James Isaac Ellliot, became a #2 hit for Chapman.  Fast forward to 1999 and Chapman released his ninth studio album SPEECHLESS (Sparrow).  It won a Grammy for 'Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album' and a Dove Award for 'Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year'.  It was produced by Brown Bannister and Chapman, and executive produced by Peter York and Dan Raines.  In the liner notes, Chapman writes: "Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving us ears to hear the sweet sound of Your amazing grace. May our words seem more and more inadequate as our hearts become more and more aware of how astonishing the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is".

1. Starting things off is 'Dive'.  It is one of eight songs solely penned by Steven Curtis Chapman. It won a Dove for 'Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year'.  On it Chapman plays the dobro, while he and Scott Sheriff provide backing vocals.  These are some of the adventurous lyrics: "I know there is no turning back/Once my feet have left the ledge/And in the rush I hear a voice/That's telling me it's time to take the leap of faith/So here I go/I'm diving in, I'm going deep in over my head/I want to be caught in the rush, lost in the flow, in over my head, I want to go/The river's deep, the river's wide, the river's water is alive/So sink or swim, I'm diving in".

2. The title track, 'Speechless' is one of two songs penned by Chapman and good friend Geoff Moore.
It is essentially a praise and worship song that makes great use of The London Session Orchestra and a choir. Here are some of the lyrics: "I say so many things trying to figure You out/But as mercy opens my eyes/My words are stolen away with this breathtaking view of Your grace/And I am speechless, I'm astonished and amazed/I am silenced by Your wondrous grace/You have saved me/You have raised me from the grave/And I am speechless in Your presence now/I'm astounded as I consider how/You have shown us/A love that leaves us speechless".

3. 'The Change' is a dandy pop/rock number written by Chapman and James Isaac Elliott. It points out that having Jesus merchandise is not enough: "Well, I got myself a T-shirt that says what I believe/I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID/I got the necklace and the key chain/And almost everything a good Christian needs, yeah/I got the little Bible magnets on my refrigerator door/And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor.../What about the change?/What about the difference?"

4. 'Great Expectations' is an adult contemporary song about faith: "We've been invited with the Son/And we've been invited to come and believe the unbelievable/Receive the inconceivable/And see beyond our wildest imagination.../Lord, we come with great expectations".

5. Chapman and Adam Anders wrote the peppy pop song 'Next 5 Minutes' on which Randy Pearce plays electric guitar.  It's about treasuring the time we have: "Every moment God is giving is precious/Every heartbeat, every breath I take/We'll never have them back once they've left us/There will never be another right now/So right now/I'm living the next 5 minutes/Like these are my last 5 minutes/Cause I know the next 5 minutes/ May be all I have".

6. Steven wrote 'Fingerprints of God' for his daughter Emily.  The song uses handclaps and Scott Sheriff plays the B-3.  It's one of seven singles from this album that made it to #1 on Christian Contemporary radio.  It's a real self-esteem booster: "Just look at you/You're a wonder in the making/Oh, and God's not through, no/In fact, He's just getting started and/I can see the fingerprints of God/When I look at you/I can see the fingerprints of God/And I know it's true/You're a masterpiece/That all creation quietly applauds/And you're covered with the fingerprints of God".

7. Chapman plays the mandolin on 'The Invitation', an inspirational ballad that could serve as an altar call: "The King and His only Son are inviting us inside/This is our invitation/Come sinner as you are/Come find what your soul has been longing for/Come find your peace/Come join the feast/Come in, this is your invitation/This is our invitation/This is the invitation".

8. Next up is the upbeat pop/rock song 'Whatever'. It speaks of how God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours: "So strike a match, set fire to the list/Of all my good intentions, all my preconceived ideas/I want to do Your will no matter what it is/Give me faith to follow where You lead me/Oh, Lord, give me the courage and the strength to do whatever, whatever You say".

9. Chapman and Chris Eaton sing backing vocals on 'I Do Believe'. I like this verse from this energetic track: "Now these can be confusing times/The skeptics posing as the wise/It's hard to see the light/Through all the shadows of the doubt/But You keep saying all the while/It takes the vision of a child/Looking through the eyes of faith to see reality/So once again I will say/I believe You're the life/You're the truth, You're the way".

10. 'What I Really Want to Say' is a romantic ballad written for Steven's wife Mary Beth: "I say I love you, I say I need you/I try so many ways to say how my heart beats for you/I say I'm always thinking about you/There's no way I'd want to face this life without you/And even though these words come from deep inside me/There's so much more I don't have the words to say".

11. 'With Hope' is a soft adult contemporary ballad about death and heaven: "We can cry with hope/We can say goodbye with hope/Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no/And we can grieve with hope/Cause we believe with hope/There's a place by God's grace/There's a place where we'll see your face again/We'll see your face again".

12. 'The Journey' is a lovely orchestral piece of music penned by Chapman and J.A.C. Redford.

13. Shane Keister plays piano on the worshipful closing number 'Be Still and Know'.  It includes these words: "Be still and know that He is God/Be still and know that He is faithful/Consider all that He has done/Stand in awe and be amazed/And know that He will never change/Be still".

SPEECHLESS is quite a solid album indeed!  Pop/rock and adult contemporary are the main musical genres presented, with there being almost an even number of faster paced and slower songs.  This is a lengthy album at 55 minutes and 25 seconds but there's nothing that I would call 'filler' here.  This album is about being fully alive in God and living with a sense of wonder. We should obey God and make the most of every minute we have on this earth.  Christ should make a noticeable difference in believers' lives.  There are a couple of praise and worship songs on the album and there's one about heaven being our ultimate hope.  I'm rating this project a perfect 100 % and recommending it to fans of Michael W. Smith and PFR.  For more info visit: www.stevencurtischapman.com or connect with him on Facebook.