Monday, January 22, 2018

HYMNED NO. 1


Bart Marshall Millard was born on December 1, 1972 in Greenville, Texas.  He is best known as the lead singer of MercyMe who put out their major label debut ALMOST THERE in 2001.  It included their now mega-hit 'I Can Only Imagine'.  Before she died Bart promised his grandmother he would record a hymns album.  The result was HYMNED NO. 1 (2005, Simple/INO Records).  It was produced by Brown Bannister and Bart Millard.  In the liner notes, Bart writes: "May every part of this project bless the heart of God".  Here are my thoughts on the album:

1. Starting things off is a jazzed up version of 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee'.  Tim Lauer plays accordion and four backing vocalists are used.  The lyrics are prayerful: "Just a closer walk with Thee/Grant it, Jesus, is my plea/Daily walking close to Thee/Let it be, dear Lord, let it be/I am weak, but You are strong/Jesus, keep me from all wrong/I'll be satisfied as long, oh/As I walk , let me walk close to Thee".

2. Bart and Barry Graul wrote the sentimental country song 'MawMaw's Song (In the Sweet By and By)'.  Sam Levine plays the tin whistle while Gordon Kennedy is down for banjo and guitar solo.  This is a sentimental country song: "Seven years old up on my knees/On the third row pew, trying to see/My grandmama sing 'In the Sweet By and By'/It wasn't the sweetest sounding thing/But there's something about when grandmama sang/That moved your feet and stirred something up inside/To see her grin from ear to ear/One thing for sure was very clear/This wasn't just a song it was her life".

3. A pleasant version of 'Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior' with Vince Gill on backing vocals follows.  "Pass me not, O gentle Savior/Hear my humble cry/While on others Thou art calling/Do not pass me by/Let me at Thy throne of mercy/Find a sweet relief/Kneeling there in deep contrition/Help my unbelief".

4. A rootsy version of Cleavant Derricks' 'Have a Little Talk with Jesus' is up next.  Becca Bramlett and Perry Coleman are on backing vocals.  These lyrics admit life isn't always easy: "Sometimes my path seems drear, without a ray of cheer/And then a cloud of doubt may hide the light of day/The mist of sin may rise and hide the starry skies/But just a little talk with Jesus clears the way".

5. Next is a bluesy version of Thomas A. Dorsey's 'Precious Lord, Take my Hand'.  It uses horns and a choir and finds Russ Taff on guest vocals.  The song calls on the Lord for help: "Precious Lord, take my hand/Lead me on, let me stand/I am tired, I am weak, I am worn/Through the storm, through the night/Lead me on to the light/Take my hand, precious Lord/Lead me home/When my way grows drear/Precious Lord, linger near".

6. 'Softly and Tenderly' is presented in an adult pop fashion.  It offers hope: "O for the wonderful love He has promised, now/Promised for you and for me/Though we have sinned/He has mercy and pardon/Pardon for you and for me".

7. 'Sweetest Name I Know' was penned by Luther B. Bridgers.  Here it is given the experimental treatment, with Dan Needham on drums.  This is not my favorite version ever of the song.  It does give testimony though: "All my life was wrecked by sin and strife/Discord filled my heart with pain/Jesus swept across these broken strings/And stirred these chords again".

8. For 'Power in the Blood', Shane Keister plays B3 and Paul Franklin plays dobro.  Anthony Evans Jr. and Nirva Dorsaint are on backing vocals.  It's all about true forgiveness: "Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?/There's power in the blood, power in the blood/Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow/There's wonderful power in the blood".

9. 'My Jesus I Love Thee/'Tis So Sweet' is a nice combination of two ballads about spiritual submission: "My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou are mine/For Thee all the follies of sin I resign/My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou/If ever I love Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now/'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus/Just to take Him at His Word/Just to rest upon His promise/Just to know/'Thus saith the Lord'".  Derek Webb is a guest vocalist.

10. Last up is George Bennard`s classic `The Old Rugged Cross'.  This version is quiet and finds Andrea Zonn on fiddle and background vocals.  It begins with these traditional words: "On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross/The emblem of suffering and shame/And I love that old cross where the dearest and best/For a world of lost sinners was slain/So I'll cherish the old rugged cross/Till my trophies at last I lay down/I will cling to the old rugged cross/And exchange it some day for a crown".

On HYMNED NO. 1 Bart gives these hymns a contemporary sound while mostly keeping the original melodies. Bart's vocals are easy to listen to-he doesn't do vocal acrobatics here. There are a variety of eclectic musical styles here, but it is not a MercyMe record by any stretch.  This is an album you will want to play over and over again.  It will encourage you in and strengthen your walk with God.  I`m recommending it to fans of Clay Crosse and Michael English.  I rate this CD 90 percent.  For more info visit: www.bartmillard.org, www.mercyme.org, or look them up on facebook.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

FOR GOD AND GOD ALONE


Steve Green was born in Portland, Oregon on August 1, 1956.  His folks were missionaries and he spent a lot of time early on in Argentina.  He has sung backup for the Bill Gaither Trio and was part of the Gaither Vocal Band.  Briefly, he was the lead singer for Christian rock band White Heart.  He released his self-titled solo debut in 1984.  In 1985 HE HOLDS THE KEYS won him a Dove Award for 'Male Vocalist of the Year'.  In 1986 he put out FOR GOD AND GOD ALONE (Sparrow) produced by Greg Nelson. It is that album I am reviewing here:

1.  The album starts with 'Call to Worship/The Majesty and Glory of Your Name', a reverent ballad that uses a choir: "O blessed Master, author of salvation/I lift my hands, and bless Your Name/Eternal is Thy glory/Eternal is Thy pow’r and might/You are the source of life/Alleluia, alleluia/The majesty and glory of Your name/Alleluia, alleluia/The majesty and glory of Your name".

2. Next up is the title track 'God and God Alone', penned by Phil McHugh.  Bobby Taylor plays oboe on this powerful praise and worship anthem on which Steve gives a great vocal performance: "God and God alone will be the joy of our eternal home/He will be our one desire/Our hearts will never tire of God and God alone/God and God alone is fit to take the universe's throne/Let everything that lives reserve it's truest praise for God and God alone".

3. 'I Will Lift Up' was written by Denise and Dwight Liles.  It is an upbeat tune extolling Christ: "Lord, Your artistry fills the earth/In wisdom You made it all/Seas and rivers give glory to You/With thunderous voice they call/Mountains rise to declare Your strength/As valleys kneel to the King/Now I join as creation worships and sings/I will lift up my eyes, I will lift up my voice/I will lift up my heart to You, Lord/I will lift up my praise/I will lift up my love/I will lift up my life to You, Jesus".

4. 'Higher Ground' is a Christian pop song about the importance of a solid spiritual foundation: "In the world, but not of it/Caught in the storm, we've got to rise above it/Waves of ungodliness eroding the shore/It's a treacherous sea, too wild to ignore/Build your house above the ocean/Build your house on higher ground/Build above the world's commotion/And its mesmerizing sound".

5. Gary Driskell and Mike Hudson wrote 'We Have Seen God's Glory' which clocks in at 5:56.  It's an inspirational number about the importance of fulfilling the Great Commission: "Here we are again/The witnesses of Jesus take their stand/
May it never end/Through us let God keep stretching out His hand/Reaching those who doubt/Touching those who cry/Lifting up the word of God/As we testify/
Walking with our God/In such a living way/That when we share our faith in Him/
We can truly say/'We have seen God’s glory/We have lived and walked with Christ the King/We have seen Him heal the wounded/We have heard the brokenhearted sing'".

6. 'Let Us Praise the Almighty' clocks in at 1:59.  It's a peppy praise track: "Let us praise the Almighty for what He has done/He has given new life through the Son/He’s uniting His family making us one/Let us praise Him for what He has done".

7. Next up is the now famous duet with Steve's wife Marijean, 'Household of Faith', which has been performed at many a wedding!  It was penned by Brent Lamb and John Rosasco and is a pleasant ballad: "Here we are at the start committing to each other/By His Word and from our hearts/We will be a family in a house that will be a home/And with faith we’ll build it strong/We’ll build a household of faith/That together we can make/And when the strong winds blow it won’t fall down/As one in Him we’ll grow and the whole world will know/We are a household of faith".

8. 'Only Jesus/Calvary's Love' speaks of the atonement: "Only Jesus, Only He
brings redemption, full and free/There’s a yearning, in all our lives/That only Jesus satisfies.../Calvary’s love, Calvary’s love/Priceless gift Christ makes us worthy of/The deepest sin can’t rise above/Calvary’s love".

9. Jon Mohr, Steve, and Greg Nelson wrote 'Enter In', a song of spiritual invitation: "Dearly beloved we are gathered here/To be a holy bride/And daily cross death’s threshold/To the holy life inside/Enter in, enter in/Surrender to the Spirit’s call/To die and enter in/Enter in, find peace within/The holy life awaits you, enter in".

10. Last up is 'You Want To...Now Will You', an easy listening song about conviction: "You want to, now will you?/You want to, now will you?/The truth that burns within you/Like a bed of fiery coals/Contains that power to liberate/A thousand captive souls/But if the truth will ever set you free/Depends on you/You want to, now will you?/You want to…now will you?".

As a work of art, this is a terrific album!  It is enhanced by the use of The National Philharmonic Orchestra of London and Carl Gordetzky and The Nashville String Machine, as well as backing vocalists such as: John and Beverly Darnall, Marty McCall, Melodie Tunney, and Bonnie Keen.  I'm rating FOR GOD AND GOD ALONE 95% and recommending it to fans of Twila Paris, David Phelps, and more traditional church music. This is a work of excellence. For more info visit: www.stevegreenministries.org or look him up on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

THE ANSWER


Jeremy Thomas Camp was born on January 12, 1978 in Lafayette, Indiana.  His major label debut was 2002's STAY.  His first wife died young of ovarian cancer.  Camp married his second wife, Adrienne, on Dec 15th, 2003. They have two daughters and a son.  In 2014 he released I WILL FOLLOW which peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Christian Albums Chart and at #25 on the US Billboard 200.  Fast forward to 2017 and he put out THE ANSWER (Stolen Pride/Sparrow) which I will be reviewing here.  It peaked at #2 on the US Top Christian Albums Chart and at #33 on the Billboard 200. Here is my review:

1. 'Word of Life'. It's the album's techno pop lead single penned by Jeremy, Colby Wedgeworth, and Ethan Hulse.  It's a song of testimony: "You called me out from the grave/So I can live like I've been changed/There is a new song in my soul/And it begins when I breathe in/Your Word of life.../The old has gone away/Only Your love remains/I am alive today/Cause You called me out".

2. 'My Defender'.  It's a modern worship number: "You're my Defender/You fight for me/I will remember/You're all I need/You are my Healer/My remedy/Against the power of the unknown/And I will not stand alone/Cause You're my Defender.../I'm saved by the blood/I'm saved by the blood of Jesus".

3. 'The Answer'.  An inspirational ballad/anthem penned by Jeremy, Ed Cash, and Scott Cash.  Background vox by Jason Eskridge and Nikki Conley.  "I know the answer to every question/The one solution to every fear/I know my help and where it comes from/Jesus, He is the Answer/He sees our sadness/He feels our sorrow/And in our weakness, He is strong/He holds the weight of/All our failings/Great is our sin but greater the cross!"

4. 'Storm'. Invites God's presence into our lives: "Come like a storm/Come like a crashing wave/Oceans will roar/As we lift high Your Name/Come like a storm/Come like a storm/Come like a storm/As we lift high Your Name/Rushing wind usher in Your presence/Heaven's rain push away all fear/Mercy flow breaking over my heart again/How we need more of You".

5. 'My Father's Arms'.  A lovely adult contemporary number.  "My Father's arms are wider than the sea/And I'm standing on the shores of majesty/No matter how far I run I can never outrun His love/My Father's arms are holding me.../Here my fears are gone/Here I'm safe from harm/There is nowhere else that I would rather be/Here, only here".

6. 'Never Stopped Loving'. Penned by Jeremy, Joshua Silverberg, and Jess Cates.  This one is an adult contemporary ballad about God's faithfulness to us: "You kept on calling my name through all my darkness and haze/Even when I fell apart You held me close to Your heart/When I had gone astray/How You would chase me/How You would chase me/When I was so afraid/You would embrace me/You would embrace me/You never stop loving/Never stop loving me/You never stop loving/Never stop loving me".

7. 'Tell the World' includes this cry for revival: "I wanna see Your people set on fire/I wanna see the nations on their knees/The only hope, the only hope/Is found in the mercy of the King".

8. Jeremy, Adam Cappa, Ed Cash, Jonathan Smith, and Casey Brown wrote the adult contemporary anthem 'Heaven's Shore'.  It anticipates eternal life: "I will run like a child to the arms of Your love/I will sing with the tongues of angels/With those who've gone before/When I look upon Your face/The very moment I have craved/In Your presence, forevermore/On heaven's shore/To leave this place is to leave my fears/And step into the light of the glory of my King/I'll see in full and bow in awe/In the presence of my Savior's majesty/I can't wait, no I can't wait".

9. 'Carriers' acknowledges our need for the Holy Spirit's power and guidance when witnessing: "Fire of heaven/Fall down on us/To be carriers, carriers/Filled with Your power/Filled with Your love/To be carriers, carriers/Into all the world we'll go/Until every nation knows/The Name of Jesus/The Name of Jesus".

10. Seth Mosley is a co-writer on the catchy pop/dance track 'Love So Great'.  The lyrics are pretty uncreative but I still like the song: "How could I not proclaim the power of Your Name?/It's flowing through my veins/Your praise I cannot contain/I cannot contain/What a love so great/What a price You paid".

11. 'Awake O Sleeper'.  A rootsy rocker penned by Nicholas Kirk and William Wilkerson.  "Do you hear the Lion roar?/Wake, o, sleeper/Stand with me, we'll fight the war/Wake, o, sleeper!/Let no man bring me harm/I bear the marks of Jesus/Let no man bring me harm/I bear the marks of the Lord/I said let no man bring me harm/I bear the marks of Jesus/Let no man bring me harm/I bear the marks of God".

THE ANSWER is a great album that you won't easily tire of. I'm rating it 84 percent as there are a lot of great songs here.  Fans of daytime CCM radio will enjoy it most.  Fans of Camp's rockier efforts will be let down by this record.  I would give the album an even higher mark, but it really doesn't show much growth as an artist in this case.  For more info visit: www.jeremycamp.com. As usual his vocals are great!

Monday, January 15, 2018

THE UNMAKING


Nichole Ellyse Nordeman was born on January 3, 1972.  She released her debut album WIDE EYED in 1998. Following that she released three more full length albums.  In 2015 she put out a six song EP entitled THE UNMAKING (Sparrow). Here are my thoughts:

1. First up is the title track, 'The Unmaking'.  It is one of four co-writes with David Hodges.  It's a great adult pop song about spiritual restoration: "This is where the walls gave way/This is demolition day/All the debris, and all this dust/What is left of what once was/Sorting through what goes and what should stay...This is the unmaking/The beauty in the breaking/Had to lose myself/To find out who You are/Before each beginning/There must be an ending/Sitting in the rubble/I can see the stars/This is the unmaking".

2. 'Not to Us' was penned by Nichole, Matt Brownleewe, and Christopher Stevens.  It is a beautiful modern worship number featuring Plumb: "Let not any passion be for kingdoms we have fashioned in our own name/For our own fame/Not to us/Not to us/But to Your Name be glory/To Your Name be glory/Not to us/Not to us/But to Your Name be glory/To Your Name.../So let us not be fooled/And let us not be disillusioned/Let our eyes see You clearly".

3. 'Name'.  A catchy pop song about our true identity in Christ: "You are still a promise/The heartbeat of God/You may have forgotten/But He has not/You are not your ashes/You are a flame/Do not ask the shadows/The Light of the world knows/Knows Your Name.../You're a friend of God, daughter, son/Blameless and forgiven one/You're a slave no more, finally free/Saints and heirs now redeemed/Your beautiful and broken heart/Is safe and sound in His arms/You are chosen, you are His/So remember this".

4. 'Love You More'.  An inspirational ballad: "I keep thinking there's a limit/Sure I must be getting near it/When I've used up every pardon and regret/But You promise there is freedom/Gathered up the broken pieces/Scattered them as far as East is from the West".

5. 'Something out of Me'.  A cheery sounding pop song with nice backing vocals.  It's about the miracle working power of God: "You lifted bread to the blue sky/They said they watched it just multiply/But in the back of a long line/Oh, I want/to believe/There's enough left for me.../You take all kinds of nothing/Turn it right in to something/I see impossible but/You see a basket full of/A little bit of this sounds crazy/A little bit of just maybe/You take every doubt and/You make something out of me".

6. 'Slow Down'.  Penned solely by Nichole.  It's a touching ballad from mother to child: "Slow down/Won't you stay here a minute more?/I know  you want to walk through the door/But it's all too fast/Let's make it last a little while/I pointed to the sky and now you wanna fly/I am your biggest fan/I hope you know I am/But do you think you can somehow/Slow down?"

Nichole Nordeman is a beautiful lady with a heart for God.  In the liner notes she writes: "Really grateful, in an ever changing industry, to still be an artist at Capitol Christian Music: there's no place I'd rather be".  I love this six song EP from Nordeman.  She's one of the best female vocalists and songwriters in CCM today.  I'm rating THE UNMAKING 90% and recommending it to fans of Natalie Grant and Sara Groves.  In 2017 she would release the full length album EVERY MILE MATTERED which features a new and awesome version of 'Slow Down' with her daughter Pepper Ingram. You'll want to check that out. For more info visit: www.nicholenordeman.com.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

GOOD THINGS


The Proverbs just recently celebrated 50 years of music ministry. On their brand new album GOOD THINGS, they have really 'knocked it out of the park' so to speak! This is a great follow-up to SAY AMEN. It's somewhat hard to categorize the musical styles found on GOOD THINGS. I would say there is Southern Gospel, soulful jazz pop, and easy listening represented here. Songwriters include Wayne Haun, Sonya Isaacs, Justin Wells, Gerald Crabb, Rachel McCutcheon, and Scotty Inman. Themes presented include: having a positive attitude during the hard times in life, trusting in God's faithfulness to us, dedicating oneself to God, the majesty of Christ, and anticipating heaven. This is an album that will greatly encourage you in your Christian faith walk and it is one you will want to listen to time and again. If you liked Natasha Daw's lead on last album's 'I Pray', you will like her taking the lead on 'Here's My Everything' here. She is a wonderful young lady who has Down's and loves Jesus Christ. This is my ninth Proverbs cd. I'm rating GOOD THINGS 95%. To pick up your copy visit www.theproverbs.com and click on 'Contact Us'. You can also connect with the group on Facebook. They also have a Christmas cd you can order. I hope to pick up more of their back catalogue in the future.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

FAITHFUL


I want to thank my dear Mom Debbie Alward for buying me the new Torchmen cd FAITHFUL (2017), as part of my Christmas gift. It's my seventh cd by the group. Songwriters on the album include: Rebecca J. Peck, Luther G. Presley, Tim Lanier, Rodney Griffith, and Janice Crow. Here is my track by track summary:
1. 'It's an Everyday Thing'-About the importance of daily intimacy with Christ (upbeat musically).
2. 'Faithful Father'-About God's faithfulness and care (a ballad).
3. 'Crown Him King'-Exalting Christ and gratitude for Calvary (upbeat).
4. 'What if Someone'-The sadness of a life without Christ and the importance of witnessing (ballad).
5. 'I Want to Live Like Jesus'-A desire to be Christlike and follow Him (upbeat).
6. 'The Warrior is a Child'-A nice cover of a Twila Paris classic about God as our Refuge, and our vulnerability as humans (ballad).
7. 'Good Things'-Living life anticipating God's blessings (upbeat).
8. 'Reunion with You'-About grief and anticipating heaven (ballad).
9. 'Wonder Working God'-About God's miracles (upbeat).
10. 'I'm Gonna Keep Praying'-About the importance of constant prayer (ballad).
11. 'What Kind of Man'-The uniqueness of Christ (ballad).
12. ''When the Preacher Gets to Preachin'-About salvation and revival (upbeat).
12. 'Oh What A Price'-The Atonment (ballad).
This is a simply terrific recording! The harmonies presented here by Sandy MacGregor, Jeff Tritton, Mike Moran, and Jon Hisey are awesome. If you like groups like Gold City and the Nations, you've got to pick FAITHFUL up! I'm rating it 98 percent. For more info visit www.torchqt.com.

Friday, January 12, 2018

UNIFIED


Sweet & Lynch released their debut album ONLY TO RISE in 2015.  Fast forward to 2017 and they released their second album UNIFIED (Frontiers Records). The band lineup is the same: Michael Sweet (lead vocals), George Lynch (guitars), James Lomenzo (bass), and Brian Tichy (drums). Here are my track by track thoughts:

1. 'Promised Land'-It's a hard rocker that begins and ends with Sweet's signature screams which Stryper fans love!  I was pleasantly surprised at the overt Christian lyric with this being a mainstream release: "Don't let the Devil rob your soul/You've got to know/He'll always try to take his toll on you".

2. 'Walk'-A rocker with melodic moments. Lyrics include: "Take the high road to be free/Walk with the wise and be wise/Run with a fool, never rise/Do what is right/Lead the race, take the prize/Walk with the wise to be wise".

3. 'Afterlife'-A bit of a spooky rock feel to it musically.  Seems addressed to God: "You don't owe me a thing/I owe you my own life/You gave me everything/On this earth and in the afterlife".

4. 'Make Your Mark'-Includes a great electric guitar solo.  Lyrics include: "Shine bright in the dark/Let the light make your mark/You know what's gonna save you/Take the power that God gave you and you show them how it's done".

5. 'Tried and True'-A lovely rock love ballad: "When you walk into a room/Every head turns to you/You're beautiful and I'm blessed you are mine/You're every dream and every prayer/I promise you, oh this I swear/You've got me baby/Till the end of time".

6. 'Unified'-The title track.  An inspirational rock ballad/anthem: "We all bleed red/Despite what's in our head/Have we done all we can to be unified?/We all have our own views/And that will never change/From the Gentiles to the Jews/The normal to the strange".

7. 'Find Your Way'-A slow rocker.  "Don't believe what hate can say/Thank the Lord/Everything's going to be okay/When love's explored/You know you'll always find your way".

8. 'Heart of Fire'-A faster paced rocker.  A bit self-serving: "You've gotta know your soul can shine brighter than the sun/And you can be the eyes for the ones who are blind/Heart of fire/Oh will you be one to inspire and to set hope free?".

9. 'Bridge of Broken Lies'-A bit of a sleeper musically. Lyrics include: "Know that I feel bad for you/I'd love to see you heal/You need cement, some kind of glue//So you can start to really feel again/You've built a bridge of broken lies/You always wore the perfect disguise/Apologies will never minimize/Your bridge of broken lies". Makes me think of the friction between Stryper and former bassist Tim Gaines, but may not be about that at all.

10. 'Better Man'-A mid-tempo rock number.  A bit sappy: "I am the lock and you are the key/I'm gonna spend my life loving you/When I'm with you baby/I wanna be a better man/When you're not by my side/I think about you and when I'll see you again".

11. 'Live to Die'-A rock song of encouragement: "We're here to be defenders of the faith forevermore/Explorers who surrender/To the dreams of every shore/There are no limitations/If we conquer and believe/We're beautiful creations/Who are crafted and conceived".

My assessment of UNIFIED is that it is a wonderful rock album, but not the kind you bang your head to or pound your fist in the air to. It's a solid effort which I will rate 88 percent.  The lyrics are written in such a way that both Christians and non-Christians should be able to get something out of them.  For more info connect with the band on facebook or at www.sweetandlynch.com where you can see the video for 'Walk'.