Friday, November 21, 2014


Sara Groves was born Sara Lee Colbaugh on September 10, 1972.  She is married to Troy Groves.  The couple have three children.  Sara received a Bachelor of Science degree in History and English from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri in 1994.  She was a high school teacher in Minnesota for four years.  Her debut album was 1998’s PAST THE WISHING.  Two of my favorite albums of hers are 2005’s ADD TO THE BEAUTY and 2011’s INVISIBLE EMPIRES.  In 2008 she released O HOLY NIGHT (INO Records/Sponge Records).  Musicians appearing include: Zach Miller, Ken Lewis, Troy Groves, Aaron Fabbrini, and Tyler Burkum.  Ben Shive serves as the producer.

This Christmas album begins with ‘Star of Wonder’, a short, gentle track that makes the following request: “Star of wonder/Star of Light/Star of royal beauty bright/Guide us/Oh, guide us/Won’t you guide us?”  ‘It’s True’ was penned by Sara and starts and ends with her son Toby reading in a cute voice from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  This pretty song reminds us just how good the Good News is: “In your heart you hope it’s true/Though you hold no expectation/In the deepest part of you/There’s an open hesitation/But it’s true/Kingdoms and crowns/The God who came down to find you/It’s true/Angels on high/Sing through the night ‘Alleluia’”.

‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ takes us back to when Christ was so wonderfully born: “’Peace on the earth, goodwill to men/From heaven’s all gracious King’/The world in solemn stillness lay/To hear the angels, to hear them sing.../Sing, Sing, Sing/Still through broken skies they come/With peaceful wings unfurled/And still their heavenly music floats/O’er all the weary world/Above the sad and lowly plains/They bend on hovering wing/And ever over Babel sounds/The blessed angels, the angels sing”.  A soft, newly imagined version of ‘O Holy Night’ follows.  These words from it, speak of the transforming power of Christ: “Truly He taught us to love one another/His law is love and His gospel is peace/Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother/And in His Name all oppression will cease.../O Lord when You came to the earth/O my soul, my soul felt it’s worth/O my soul, my soul felt a thrill of hope”.

‘To Be With You’ is a soothing folk song written by Sara, Ben Shive, and Andy Gullahorn.  It reflects on the atmosphere of Christmas Eve: “We set out milk and cookies/The kids are quick to bed/They know St. Nick is coming/And nothing need be said/We gather by the fire/Reminiscing by it’s light/The kids will be up early/But it’s hard to say goodnight”.  A subdued version of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ is up next.  Jeff Taylor plays accordion and John Mark Painter plays trumpet.  It includes these lyrics: “Angels we have heard on high/Sweetly singing o’er the plains/And the mountains in reply/Echoing their joyous strains/’Gloria, Gloria, Gloria/In excelsis deo’”.

‘Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ includes these well wishes for one and all: “May your heart be full of gladness/And the peace that covers sadness/May your joy be overflowing/And your many blessings growing/May you have the time you’ve longed for/With the people that you love/May you have yourself a Merry Christmas now”.  ‘Toy Packaging’ was written by Sara Groves and Ben Shive.  This bouncy pop song is a humorous offering: “Nothing makes me lose my cool like/Toy packaging.../I guess it’s anger management/Toy packaging.../I’m drawing up a battle plan/To extricate this robot man/My self-esteem is in the can/Toy packaging.../I hope to have it by tonight/Nevermind this dynamite/Toy packaging”.

Sara, Ben Gowell, and Aaron Fabbrini wrote ‘Peace Peace’.  It takes a realistic approach message-wise: “Peace, Peace/It’s hard to find/Trouble comes like a wrecking ball/To your peace of mind/And all that worry, you can’t leave behind you/All your hopes and fears (3X)/Are met in Him tonight”.  The ballad ‘A Cradle in Bethlehem’ is decidedly about the nativity: “A mother tonight is rocking/A cradle in Bethlehem/While wise men follow through the dark/The star that beckons them/A mother tonight is rocking/A cradle in Bethlehem/’A little child will lead them’/The prophets said of old’”.

‘Silent Night’ is a timeless lullaby: “Silent night, holy night/All is calm, all is bright/Round yon Virgin Mother and Child/Holy Infant so tender and mild/Sleep in heavenly peace/Sleep in heavenly peace”.  An acappella version of ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ closes things off.  It urges us to tell others about the glorious Incarnation: “Go tell it on the mountain/Over the hills and everywhere/Go tell it on the mountain/That Jesus Christ is born”.

In the liner notes one can find the following: “We would like to dedicate O HOLY NIGHT to our friends at International Justice Mission who have helped us to see that the slave is our brother, and that there is hope against oppression...”  Sara Groves is right at the top of the list in the CCM world when it comes to artistry and creativity.  O HOLY NIGHT is no exception.  Several holiday classics are here set to new tunes and melodies, all the while remaining reverent.  The original songs are well-composed.  Most of the album is easy listening in nature.  Sara’s voice is warm and inviting.  This album is by no means Christian rock.  Fans of Sarah McLachlan and Michelle Tumes should buy this record.  I’m rating O HOLY NIGHT 90%.  For more info visit: and


Thursday, November 13, 2014


Taylor Alison Swift was born on December 13, 1989.  She was raised in Wyomissing, PA and when she was fourteen moved to Nashville to pursue a career in country music.  The rest, as they say, is history.  She has won 7 Grammy’s, 12 Billboard Music Awards, 11 CMA Awards, and 7 Academy of Country Music Awards.  Some of her more popular songs are: ‘Tim McGraw’, ‘Love Story’, ‘Mean’, ‘Red’, and ‘22’.  Her latest album 1989 came out on October 27, 2014 and is her first all out pop album.  She was inspired by the likes of Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Annie Lennox, Madonna, and Fine Young Cannibals.  It sold over a million copies in the first week and debuted at No 1 on the Billboard 200.  Here I will be reviewing the Deluxe Edition of 1989 which contains 15 tracks.  In the liner notes Taylor writes: “In the world we live in, much is said about when we are born and when we die.  Our birthday is celebrated every year to commemorate the very instant we came into the world.  And a funeral is held to mark the day we leave it.  But lately I’ve been wondering...What can be said of all the moments in between our birth and our death?  The moments when we are reborn?”

The album opener ‘Welcome to New York’ is a co-write with OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder.  It has a decidedly 80’s pop feel to it and is based on Taylor’s relocation to the Big Apple and opens with these words: “Walking through a crowd/The village is aglow/Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats/Everybody here wanted something more/Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before/And it said/’Welcome to New York/It’s been waiting for you/Welcome to New York (3X)/It’s been waiting for you/Welcome to New York’”.  Taylor’s co-writers on ‘Blank Space’ are Max Martin and Shellback.  This song includes shouts and stomps and these intriguing lyrics: “Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane/Cause you know I love the players and you love the game/Cause we’re young and we’re reckless/We’ll take this way too far/It’ll leave you breathless/Or with a nasty scar/Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane/But I’ve got a blank space baby/And I’ll write your name”.  ‘Style’ is a smooth-flowing pop song that includes these frisky lyrics: “He can’t keep his wild eyes on the road/Takes me home/Lights are off, he’s taking off his coat/I say ‘I heard-oh/That you’ve been out and about with some other girl’/He says ‘What you heard is true, but I can’t stop thinking about you’/And I said ‘I’ve been there too a few times.../Take me home (3X)’”.

‘Out of the Woods’ is a co-write with Jack Antonoff, who also provides backing vocals.  This highly contagious pop ballad is likely about Taylor’s failed romance with Harry Styles of One Direction: “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon/20 stitches in a hospital room/When you started crying, baby I did too/But when the sun came up/I was looking at you/Remember when we couldn’t take the heat/I walked out/I said ‘I’m setting you free’/But the monsters turned out to be just trees/When the sun came up, you were looking at me”.  ‘All you had to do was Stay’ is addressed to an ex-partner: “Here you are now calling me up/But I don’t know what to say/I’ve been picking up the pieces of the mess you made/People like you always want back/The love they pushed aside/But people like me are gone forever/When you say ‘Goodbye’”.  ‘Shake it Off’, written with Max Martin and Shellback, is the album’s debut single that has a swell video to go with it.  This infectious pop/dance number makes use of trombone, saxophone, trumpet, claps, and shouts.  The lyrics are directly addressed to Taylor’s critics: “I stay out too late/Got nothing in my brain/That’s what people say...mmm (2X)/I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay/At least that’s what people say...mmm.../And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate/Baby, I’m just gonna/Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake/Shake it off/Shake it off”.

‘I Wish You Would’ is a song of regret: “I wish you would come back/Wish I never hung up the phone like I did, wish you knew that/I’ll never forget you as long as I live/And I wish you were right here/Right now it’s all good/Wish you would”.  ‘Bad Blood’ is a pulsating pop song that reminds us of the serious harm that we humans can inflict on each other: “Did you think we’d be fine?/Still got scars on my back from your knife so/Don’t think it’s in the past/These kinds of wounds/They last and they last now.../Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes”.  ‘Wildest Dreams’ is an airy, atmospheric ballad with strings arranged by Mattias Bylund and Taylor Swift credited with ‘heartbeat’.  The song finds Taylor frolicking with a guy: “I said ‘No one has to know what we do’/His hands are in my hair/His clothes are in my room/And his voice is a familiar sound/Nothing lasts forever/But this is getting good now/He’s so tall and handsome as hell/He’s so bad but he does it so well...”.

‘How you get the Girl’ is a catchy pop tune that offers advice: “Remind her how it used to be/With pictures in frames of kisses on cheeks/Tell her how you must have lost your mind/When you left her all alone/And never told her why”.  ‘This Love’ is the only song on the album written solely by Taylor.  Nathan Chapman plays electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums.  This quiet ballad looks at relationships as marathons and not as sprints: “This love is good/This love is bad/This love is alive/Back from the dead/Oh, these hands had to let it go free/And this love came back to me.../When you’re young, you just run/But you come back to what you need”.  ‘I Know Places’ speaks of how hard it is to preserve romantic relationships that are always under the microscope of the public eye: “I can hear them whisper as we pass by/Bad sign/Something happens when everybody finds out/See the vultures circling, dark clouds/Love’s a fragile little flame/It could burn out (2X)/Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes and guns/They are the hunters/We are the foxes/And we run”.

‘Clean’ closes out the standard edition of 1989.  It is a co-write with Imogen Heap who plays several instruments on the song, including the vibraphone, and performs backing vocals.  This one is about letting go of another person: “Rain came pouring down when I was drowning/That’s when I could finally breathe and by morning/Gone was any trace of you/I think I am finally clean”.  Two bonus tracks are found on the deluxe edition.  ‘Wonderland’ has an R&B influence and recalls a modern tragedy: “I reached for you but you were gone/I knew I had to go back home/You searched the world for something else/To make you feel like what we had/And in the end in wonderland/We both went mad”.  ‘New Romantics’ has a happy pop sound and includes these optimistic lyrics: “We are too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet/Baby, we’re the new romantics/The best people in life are free”.

With 1989 Taylor Swift has done something few artists can do effectively with ease.  She has changed musical genres, in her case, from country to 80’s pop.  These new songs are pure magic musically and vocally.  They will draw old and new fans in alike.  Her songs still tell stories to good effect and that is what makes her music so relatable and endearing.  Taylor is easily my favorite female mainstream artist.  The pics of her (and there are many) included with this deluxe edition of 1989 are beautiful.  I’m rating 1989, the deluxe edition, 95%.  For more info visit: and