Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Michael English was born on April 12, 1962 in Kenansville, Indiana.  He has been a member of The Singing Samaritans, The Singing Americans, The Goodmans, The Gospel Couriers, and The Gaither Vocal Band.  In 1991 he released his self-titled CCM solo debut album.  It included the songs ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ and ‘In Christ Alone’.  In 1992 he won the Dove Award for ‘New Artist of the Year’.  Four years later he had some success with ‘Your Love Amazes Me’, which reached #10 on the mainstream Adult Contemporary Chart.  I quite like his 2012 album SOME PEOPLE CHANGE.  Fast forward to 2015 and Michael has returned with his 10th studio album, WORSHIP (Daywind).  Of it he says: “I have chosen praise songs that touched me as I worshiped in church.  I feel if these songs really touched me, they are probably going to bless others as I pour my heart into them”.  WORSHIP was produced by Michael and Kevin Stevens, and executive produced by Dottie Leonard.

Starting things off is ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ which is one of my favourite praise and worship songs of all time.  Matt and Beth Redman wrote this happy song of one determined to praise God no matter what one’s circumstances are: “Blessed be Your Name in a land that is plentiful/Where Your streams of abundance flow/Blessed be Your Name/Blessed be Your Name when I’m found in the desert place/Though I walk through the wilderness/Blessed be Your Name.../You give and take away (2X)/My heart will choose to say/’Lord, blessed be Your Name’”.  Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin wrote ’10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)’.  It is a sweeping modern worship anthem that declares who God is and offers a fitting response: “You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger/Your Name is great and Your heart is kind/For all Your goodness I will keep on singing/10,000 reasons for my heart to find/Bless the Lord O my soul, O my soul/Worship His holy Name/Sing like never before/O my soul/I’ll worship Your holy Name/Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul/Worship His holy Name”.

‘A Little More Jesus’ has a peppy, countrified vibe to it with good use of harmonica.  It declares reliance on Christ: “I need just a little more Jesus/To help me along my way”.  Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio wrote ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)’.  This one is a powerful ballad of personal testimony: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.../My chains are gone, I’ve been set free/My God, my Savior has ransomed me/Like a flood His mercy rains/Unending love, amazing grace”.

Next up is ‘Everybody Clap Your Hands’, a joyful black gospel number that exalts Jesus: “Everybody clap your hands/This is the way we praise Him/We praise You O Lord/We magnify Your Name/We worship You O Lord”.  Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Miller wrote ‘O The Blood’.  It is a reverent song that expresses deep gratitude for salvation: “Savior, Son/Holy One/Slain so I can live/See the Lamb, the Great I Am/Who takes away my sin/O the blood of Jesus washes me/O the blood of Jesus shed for me/What a sacrifice that saved my life/Yes the blood, it is my victory”.  ‘Let it Rain’ is a prayerful, soulful gospel song that includes these words: “Open the floodgates of heaven/Let it rain/Lord I need Your rain/I feel the rain”.

Fred Hammond and Alvin Moore wrote ‘No Weapon’.  It is the song of one who is confident and ready for spiritual battle: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper/It won’t work/God will do what He said He would do.../He will stand by His Word/He will come through.../I won’t be afraid of the arrows by day from the hand of the enemy/I will stand my ground with the Lord on my side/For the snares they have said will not succeed”.  ‘He’s Able’ is a light pop song of encouragement: “Exceedingly, abundantly above all, all you could ask or think/According to the power that worketh in you, in you/God is able to do just what He said He will do/He’s gonna fulfill every promise to you/Don’t give up on God cause He won’t give up on you/He’s able”.

Jennie Lee Riddle’s ever popular ‘Revelation Song’ follows.  It is an all out rousing song of praise: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty/Who was and is and is to come/With all creation I sing/’Praise to the King of kings/You are my everything and I will adore You’”.  Last up is ‘Hallelujah For The Cross’ which was the title track from Newsboys’ 2014 hymns project.  The song reflects on the crucifixion and the atonement: “Up to the hill of Calvary/My Savior went /And there He bled and died for me/Hallelujah for the cross/And on that day the world was changed/The final perfect Lamb was slain/Let earth and heaven now proclaim/Hallelujah for the cross!/Hallelujah for the war He fought/Love has won, death has lost/Hallelujah for the souls He bought/Hallelujah for the cross”.

Michael English has long been one of my all-time favourite male vocalists.  WORSHIP solidifies my admiration.  He is truly a talented singer!  The backing vocals on this CD are great too.  WORSHIP blends the best of modern worship, black gospel, and pop sounds.  The result is an artistic masterpiece!  The lyrics clearly tell of a deep trust and faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ.  All glory is given to God.  This is an album full of hope and life-giving messages.  It truly is anointed!  It should appeal to young and old alike.  The CD booklet includes some great classy photos of Michael.  I’m rating WORSHIP a perfect 100%.  For more info visit: www.michaelenglishmusic.com and www.daywindrecords.com.


Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Sara Groves was born on September 10, 1972.  She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in History and English in 1994 from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.  She taught high school in Rosemount, MN for four years before recording her first album PAST THE WISHING in 1998.  CCM Magazine named her ADD TO THE BEAUTY Album of the Year for 2005.  I loved her 2011 offering INVISIBLE EMPIRES.  Sara has been nominated for seven Dove Awards.  She is also an advocate for International Justice Mission, an organization that helps victims of human trafficking.  Now she is back with her twelfth album overall, FLOODPLAIN (2015 Fair Trade Services/Sponge Records).  A press release quotes Sara: “One main idea that appears a few times on the record is reality and escape.  Joy and sorrow are both mixed in our cup.  We can see our reality as a burden and try to escape it, or we can drink our cup.  Whether it is depression or poverty or caring for an aging parent, these challenges are realities of life.  If I avoid the cup, I also miss joy and provision.  If I drink it down, I will ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’”.

Starting things off is a co-write with Ellie Holcomb (who provides backing vocals) called ‘This Cup’.  It was inspired by ideas shared by Kate Harris at Laity Lodge in 2013.  The song speaks of a desire to live life to the fullest: “How many hours have I spent watching this shining TV/Living adventure in proxy in another person’s dream?/How many miles have I traveled looking at far away lights/Listening for trains in the distance in some brilliant other life?/This cup, this cup/I wanna drink it up/To be right here in the middle of it/Right here, right here/This challenging reality’s better than fear or fantasy”.  ‘Expedition’ is a warm song of invitation: “Meet me at the river, oh/I’ve fashioned us a raft and oar/We’re going on an expedition/We’re looking for lost time (2X)/Spread the map out on the raft/Scenes appear like photographs/While we search the starlings play/Reeds on the shoreline nod and sway/They don’t toil to be that way”.

In a day and age where anyone can post almost anything on Facebook and Twitter, these thoughts from ‘Second Guess Girl’ are very relevant: “Is it time for a speech or for silence?/Are you calling for peace or defiance?/Is this darkening counsel or wisdom?/Are we all perpetrators or victims?/Is this childlike simple rote history?/Is it complex deciphering mystery?/Is this blessing or ill gotten wealth?/Am I speaking for God or myself?”  Sara says the title track ‘Floodplain’ is “first a metaphor for my journey with anxiety and depression, and then in sympathy for people caught in cycles of generational poverty and violence”.  Here are some of the wonderful lyrics: “Oh, the river it rushes to madness/And the water it spreads like sadness/And there’s no high ground (2X)/Closer to the danger and the rolling deep/Closer to the run and the losing streak/And what brings us to our knees/Closer to the life and the ebb and flow/Closer to the edge of I don’t know/Closer to ‘Lord please send a boat’/Some hearts are built here”.

Sara co-wrote ‘Enough’ with Julie Lee and Sarah Masen.  It speaks of God’s goodness to us: “Really we don’t need much/Just strength to believe/There’s honey in the rock/There’s more than we see/In these patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow/There’s enough for today/There will be enough tomorrow”.  ‘Native Tongue’ includes these poetic lines: “Looking for a language that is older still/The taproot of a living Word/Resonating echoes of an Eden song/Waiting to be heard”.

Matt Slocum plays cello on ‘I’ve Been Here Before’ and Lori Chaffer provides backing vocals.  This one reminds us of God’s faithfulness to us: “Oh, I’ve been here before and I’ll tell you what I’ve seen/The hand of grace reaches down to me/A voice inside says that I can be free/I’ve been here before/Quiet in a pasture, honey on my tongue/Resting by still waters/I’ve been here before/Feasting at a table in a barren land/Sayin’ ‘I’ll never doubt, never doubt again’”  ‘On Your Mark’ is a downer: “What could be stronger in time than fears and thoughts?/On your mark, set go (2X)/You can go far in denial/Fall right asleep on that train/Wake up and you don’t recognize a thing.../Tomorrow never really comes now does it?/So we’re sailin’ up ahead/SS Good Intention full of everything you said/You ever wanted, wanted”.

The duo Jenny & Tyler Somers sing backing vocals on ‘I Feel the Love Between Us’, a song Sara wrote for  her husband Troy.  It reflects on their mature romantic relationship: “I feel the love between us (2X)/We just walked into some history/You can’t ignore a beautiful past/Full of redemption and mystery/Holding up the things that will last/I feel the love between us (4X)/Love is a diamond hidden in mountains/Covered in danger and dirt/I’m on the outside digging and digging/I’ve seen and I know what it’s worth”.  ‘Signal’ is a love song to Sara’s kids Kirby, Toby, and Ruby.  The song includes these lyrics: “All the clichés about how fast kids grow are true/I woke up this morning eye to eye with you/The love songs and adages couldn’t explain the whole/Of all you’re becoming, body and soul/Your heart goes out/I can hear your song/Your signal is getting stronger, your signal is getting strong.../All the clichés about how much I love you are true/As big as the sky and up to the moon/A million, a zillion, infinity plus one”.

‘Your Reality’ is another song for husband Troy: “You, when I cannot trust myself/When the soundings are deep and lonely/And I seem to have lost my way/Your reality is my good medicine/Tell me who we are and who I am/The only part of this that throws me off is you’re too good to be true”.  ‘My Dream’ was inspired by something Sara’s Grandpa Lloyd Colbaugh shared with her during Christmas 2013.  The song depicts God as a loving Father: “I have lived a life of faith/I have felt and heard the Spirit/Still the darkness brings its weight and assurance is gone/But as I fall asleep I have a waking dream/You are standing in the driveway/As I come up the street/I can tell by Your movement/You’re not angry/You are waiting there.../You are running now, you are running”.  Last up is ‘Expedition Reprise’.  It was arranged by Dan Phelps and Aaron Fabbrini plays pedal steel on it. 

FLOODPLAIN is a quiet, laid back, meditative, reflective, thoughtful, and insightful soft Christian folk/pop album.  Themes on the album include relationships between God and humankind, and relationships between human beings.  Sara’s songs dealing with her family members are particularly strong on this project.  This really is an album about one woman’s life experiences and how they affect and have affected her.  Sara’s vocals are charming and pleasant.  Her band on this effort is The Redwoods (Steve Brewster, Matt Pierson, Scott Dente, and Dan Phelps).  They sound great!  I’m rating FLOODPLAIN 98%.  Sara is one of the greatest and most creative artists of our time!  Be sure to pick this CD up! For more info visit: www.saragroves.com and www.ijm.org.




Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Hilary Erhard Duff was born on September 28th, 1987 in Houston, Texas.  She starred in the hit TV show ‘Lizzie McGuire’ from 2001-2004 and became a teen idol.  She has also appeared on TV shows such as ‘Law and Order: SVU’, ‘Gossip Girl’, and currently stars on ‘Younger’.  Films she has starred in include: ‘A Cinderella Story’, ‘The Perfect Man’, ‘Cheaper By the Dozen’, and ‘Material Girls’.  She is also an author.  Hilary released her debut solo album in 2002. It was a holiday offering entitled SANTA CLAUS LANE.  The next year she released her first non-holiday album METAMORPHASIS.  Hilary’s latest and fifth studio album is BREATHE IN. BREATHE OUT.  (2015, RCA Records). 

Starting things off is the album’s first official single ‘Sparks’.  It is an energetic dance number that finds Hilary being quite forthcoming with a guy: “You can promise castles, treasures, babies/I don’t care/Cause for now you’re just enough for me/I want you near/Like a fairytale to feel your breath right on my neck/You remember what I love, so baby take me back/Turn the lights down low and kiss me in the dark/Cause when you’re touching me baby I see sparks”.  ‘My Kind’ is a strong pop song but is not exactly about a lifelong commitment: “I let my walls come down tonight/Will let you waste my time/I don’t care if it’s all a lie/I’m with you for the night/You’re taking me, taking me high/You’re loving me, loving me right/Think you’re one of my kind/You’re one of my kind/And so for now/Don’t want you, don’t want you to stop/I promise I won’t get enough/Think you’re one of my kind/You’re one of my kind”.

‘One in a Million’ contains these words of one who is quite confident: “I’m one in a million (2X)/You’re going down without me/Wishing that you had someone like me/I’m one in a million”.  ‘Confetti’ finds Hilary infatuated: “I’m slipping under/Soon as I thought never again/Oh no, no, no, no/If I fall you better catch me/You’re turning me into confetti/I can’t sleep/My head is heavy/You’re turning me into confetti/I’m free-falling through all of the twilight/Every piece of me holds on for daylight/You freak out/You side-affect me/You’re turning me into confetti”.

 Next up is the title track ‘Breathe In. Breathe Out’.  This pop ballad is about the end of a romantic relationship: “X marks the spot where we left our hearts in/X marks the spot where we fell apart in/X marks the spot where we left our hearts in/I know, I know/I made a top ten list of all the things I miss/Your lying eyes and lips/They didn’t make it/And when I’m cold at night/I know that I’ll survive/Until I feel alright/I’m gonna fake it/Breathe in, breathe out (6X)”.  ‘Lies’ is another song about a relationship breaking up: “We’re falling apart, we’re falling apart/Like a house of cards/And I know in my heart, I know in my heart/That this has gone too far/I’m done with your lies (2X)/Do you hear me? Do you hear me?/Can’t you see that?/Can’t you see that?/I’m done with your lies”.

‘Arms Around a Memory’ is a sultry pop song that is at times quiet and at times loud.  The song conveys loneliness: “Hot sweats in cold sweaters/I feel a little lost since you’ve been gone/The blame helps you feel better/Until you run across the cloud I’m on.../You can’t put your arms around a memory (2X)/And now I’m wishing you were here/As much as I wish you would disappear/So will you remember to forget me?”  ‘Stay in Love’ is a dance track that finds Hilary speaking to a love interest: “Stay in love/Give me a reason/Holding on just for the weekend/Crave the world/We’re barely breathing, oh/Stay in love/Give me a reason/Do you remember when I said, I’d die for you?/Every single day pretend it’s true/And you remember when I said I’d die for you?/Holding on for the weekend”.

‘Brave Heart’ is a pretty and light pop song that contains these words of self-talk: “Gotta let go even though I’m scared to death/I’m here alone, but I still got one thing left/I’ve got a brave heart (2X)/I got a brave heart”.  ‘Tattoo’ has a very commercial pop sound and focuses on the fallout of a break-up: “You’re under my skin/Running in my bloodstream/These scars are the way that you loved me/I guess that you had to leave a tattoo on my skin”.

‘Picture This’ is a steamy song that effectively uses whistling for sound effects: “Half-dressed, sunrise/Late night, your eyes/Heartbeat, your bed/Sound out what we said/Drink after drink, watch you lean into me/I stare at the floor, bring our eyes up to me/It’s all I don’t know, your words make me weak/I’m new from the start, you’ve taken me”.  ‘Night Like This’ is a great duet with Kendall Schmidt.  It is another steamy affair: “Our hands fit just the right way/Our legs tangled up in this small space/The world outside feels far away as I get to know you”.

The Deluxe Edition of the album comes with two additional tracks.  ‘Belong’ is a happy sounding pop song that offers these words of advice: “You can dream or you can wish upon a star/And toss your coins into a well/Or you can stare down all your fears right in their eyes/Leaving an echo that will yell.../Belong, oh-ooh-oh-oh/We’re right where we belong”.  Larry Goetz plays guitar and mandolin on ‘Rebel Hearts’.  It is a song of boldness: “I was born and I’ll die with a rebel heart/No, won’t apologize for the way that I shine/I’m a work of art/Now I wanna find that deep, dark kind of love/That ‘frick your mind up’ kind of love”.

In her thanks in the CD booklet Hilary writes: “What I’ve learned the most is accepting that life is not always fair and going to be exactly how you plan or imagine it.  But there is beauty in acceptance and growing through all of it.  Sometimes it takes a minute to understand that.  Support and love is everything we need, it seems.  Let’s always exude and spread that.  You count, you matter, cheers to you!”  BREATHE IN. BREATHE OUT. is a smart, sensible, non-trashy, pop/dance album for youth, young adults, and those who are young at heart.  I recommend it to those who enjoy the musical sounds of Britney Spears, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Madonna.  Themes on this record are relationship dynamics and self-esteem.  Hilary’s vocals are great, as is the instrumentation presented here.  The photos of Hilary accompanying this CD are hot and appealing.  I’m rating BREATHE IN. BREATHE OUT. 95%.  For more info visit: www.hilaryduff.com and www.rcarecords.com.


Thursday, October 29, 2015


Stryper’s bio begins with the following words: “Heavy metal certainly has no shortage of rebels.  It seems like everybody’s rebelling against something, and that’s part of the genre’s allure.  However, the most rebellious thing anybody can do is to hold steadfast to personal beliefs and never waver.  Stryper indisputably do both.  They’re not shy about their Christian beliefs, but they’re also consistently as heavy as any of the genre’s pillars”.  FALLEN (2015, Frontiers Records) is their eleventh, and latest, full-length original album.  It was produced by Michael Sweet and executive produced by his wife Lisa Champagne-Sweet.  Stryper is: Michael Sweet (lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitars), Robert Sweet (drums, visual timekeeping), Timothy Gaines (bass, vocals), and Oz Fox (lead and rhythm guitars, vocals).  On this album, Paul McNamara is responsible for keyboards, synth, and Moog.

First up is ‘Yahweh’, the album’s longest song, coming in at 6:21.  Michael Sweet and Clint Lowery wrote it, while Laura Manzi contributes additional vocals on the chorus.  The song was inspired by the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and recalls His torture and death: “A crown of thorns, it was placed on His head/They clothed Him in purple and stated their case/’He is the King of the Jews’/As they slapped His face.../And so, the soldiers took Jesus/Dragging His cross to a place where He knew/They hung a sign that would read/’The King of the Jews’/They nailed His flesh to the wood/He said ‘It is finished’/And laid down His life/Gave up His Spirit for all/He was crucified/Yahweh”.  The title track, ‘Fallen’, is one of eight songs penned solely by Michael Sweet.  It speaks of how Lucifer was cast out of Heaven and is now doomed: “You used to be so blameless from the day you came to be/Unrighteousness, it reared its evil face inside of you/You were once anointed, when you walked the music played/Like lightning from the sky/You were forever thrown from Heaven too/Now you’re fallen, fallen, fallen/The end is calling, calling, fallen”.

‘Pride’ talks of relationship restoration and one factor that can stand in the way: “Two friends who shared the past/No one could have guessed that it wouldn’t last, no/I know it can be restored/If forgiveness is something that’s never ignored, no/We can’t let fear and jealousy take everything that we should be/We can’t let life just pass us by/We’ve got to let it ride/Tell me why?/Pride!/Tell me why (3X)”.  ‘Big Screen Lies’ objects to how Christians are depicted in movies: “You’ve got to love how they portray Christianity/Just a freak, another fool for the world to see/Twisting and distorting all, making money too/Mocking everything that’s said/They don’t have a clue/No!/Big screen lies, it’s no surprise/I’m getting wise to the big screen lies”.

‘Heaven’ is all about grit and determination: “I’m still standing even though I’ve been to hell and back/Taking off and landing with my heart in place and faith intact/I won’t give up, even though the odds they tell me to/I’m here with a purpose/Every word I say and thing I do/My destiny will never die, no/I’ll never guess or wonder why/I choose Heaven!/Accession/I choose Heaven!”  ‘Love You Like I Do’ is one of two songs Michael Sweet and Oz Fox co-wrote.  This one finds God talking to us: “You’ve only seen just a glimpse of Me/So you just can’t leave Me now/I want to show you the world I see/But you just can’t leave Me now/I’ve got it all, what you want and need/But you just can’t leave Me now/No one will love you like I do/If only you’d just believe that/No one will ever look at you/The way that I do/Love you like I do”.

‘All Over Again’ is a touching modern country/rock ballad: “I’ve made my choices and I’ll take the blame for everything I do/My heart rejoices cause there ain’t no shame when you let love through/No matter how high or low/I’ve gotta let you know, baby/If I had the chance to do it all again/I wouldn’t change a thing, no I wouldn’t change a thing/I’ve lived the life of a thousand men/With the honor of a king/And I’d do it all over again”.  Next up is a cover of Black Sabbath’s 1971 song ‘After Forever’.  It is certainly thought provoking: “Have you ever thought about your soul/Can it be saved?/Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead/You just stay in your grave/Is God just a thought within your head or is He a part of you?/Is Christ just a name that you read in a book/When you were in school?.../Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say if they knew you believed in God above?/They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to love”.

‘Till I Get What I Need’ is a first person story song: “I came in in sixty three with a song in my head/I grew up impatiently thinking too far ahead/With no choice I started to voice everything I believed/I knew young that I was the one who would never retrieve/No, till I get what I need (2X)/Till I get what I need”.  ‘Let There Be Light’ is drawn straight out of Genesis 1: “On the first day He made Heaven/Then Earth and said ‘Let there be light’/And then He separated the water from the sky/The ground becomes land and water became the seas/And He was pleased/Trees would take root, live to bear fruit/Let there be light, day and a night/Stars shining bright/Let there be light”.

‘The Calling’ is a song of encouragement: “When all the lights go out/And it’s impossible to find your way, yeah/We start believing doubt/All our weaknesses are on display, yeah/It’s as good or as bad as you want it to be/Keep running for the line/And looking for a sign/The planets will align/Because you have the calling”.  Last up is ‘King of Kings’.  It includes these straight up lyrics: “Do you believe in God?/Do you accept His mercy or is He just a fairytale?/Is Christ a fake or a fraud?/Or is He true and worthy?/Is He the One you choose to hail?/He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords/He died at Calvary so we can live forevermore”.

FALLEN is, simply put, a perfect Christian album!  The lyrics leave no question who the band puts their faith and trust in.  This album extols Jesus Christ as Lord and God.  He shares His sovereignty with no other gods.  Not only did He create the planet we call home, but He is still actively involved with His creation and creatures today!  This album also leaves no doubt as to the fact that Satan is our enemy, but he has already been defeated in the grand scheme of things.  Musically, the majority of the 12 songs here are heavy metal and hard rock in nature.  Blazing electric guitars, Michael Sweet’s signature screams, occasional group harmonies, and an overall passionate delivery prove that Stryper has still got what it takes and is not slowing down at all.  Lyrics are included with the CD, but for the most part, you can decipher them without needing to read them.  The cover artwork of Lucifer being cast out of Heaven by God’s hand is splendid, and is in keeping with the TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL theme the band is widely known for.  I’m rating FALLEN 100%.  For more info visit: www.stryper.com and www.frontiers.it.


Thursday, October 15, 2015


When Ontario, Canada’s The Kingsway Quartet released their album GENERATIONS (2007), their members were Sharon and Terry Whitfield, and Kelly and Mark McMillan.  The album was recorded at The Music Room in Kerwood, Ontario.  It was produced by Glen Teeple and Mark McLellan.  In the CD booklet you will find the following words among others: “We’d like to dedicate this recording to all of those who have supported our music ministry since our formation in 1989.  This CD includes a collection of songs, old and new, representing our past, present and future.  We pray it will be an encouragement to all who listen to it”.

’Sing, Shout, Dance’ joyfully anticipates Heaven in an upbeat Southern Gospel manner: “Some mornin’ when the darkness fades, we’ll all be goin’ home/Together in the air we’ll meet and never more to roam/Oh what a happy time t’will be when we gather on that day/The light of Christ will ever shine and never pass away/We’re gonna sing, shout, dance in the morning light/We’re gonna walk all over the land where there’s no night/The lion and the lamb lay down when sun is shining bright”.  ‘Precious Memories’ is a sentimental ballad written by J. B. F. Wright in 1925: “Precious memories, how they linger/How they ever flood my soul/In the stillness of the midnight/Precious, sacred scenes unfold/Precious father, loving mother/Fly across the lonely years/And old home scenes of my childhood/In fond memory appears”.

‘His Name Was John’ is a cheerful Southern Gospel song that reflects on how John the Baptist fit into God’s plan: “And he was John, his name was John/He baptized with the water till Jesus came along/Then the Holy Ghost from Heaven descended like a dove/Like the prophecy was given/By John, his name was John”.  Paula Stefanovich wrote ‘Jerusalem’ and The Hoppers popularized it.  This beautiful anthem is over five minutes long.  It finds the group longing for Heaven: “John saw the lion lay down by the lamb/I want to know everything about that land/John saw the day, but he did not see night/The Lamb of God, well, must be the light/He saw the saints worship the Great I AM/Crying worthy, worthy is the Lamb/I want to go to that city he saw/New Jerusalem/Jerusalem/I want to walk your streets that are golden/And I want to run where the angels have trod/Jerusalem/I want to rest on the banks of your river/In that city, city of God”.

‘Operator’ is a fun, but cheesy song all around: “Oh, operator/Give me information/Information, give me Jesus on the line/Operator, information, give me Jesus on the line/Operator, information/I’d like to speak to a Friend of mine/Prayer is the number/Faith is the exchange/Heaven is the city and Jesus is His Name/Now operator, information/Give me Jesus on the line”.  ‘Freedom Band’ penned by John Rowsey and Daryl Williams, was the happy title track of a 2002 Gaither Homecoming album.  It begins with these words of invitation: “Come along and join this journey with the freedom band/Sing the song of Zion as we march to gloryland/Can’t you see the home lights burning?/Every day my soul is yearning/Come and join us on this journey with the freedom band”.

‘What a Beautiful Day’ is a lovely country gospel number that looks forward with gladness to Christ’s return: “I can’t help but keep a watch toward the Eastern sky/And I wonder if the trumpet will be the next sound that I hear/What a beautiful day for the Lord to come again/What a beautiful day for Him to take His children home/How I long to see His face and to touch His nail-scarred hands/What a beautiful day for the Lord to come again”.  ‘I Mean to Be There’ again reflects with glee on Heaven: “When the names had been announced John looked and found to his amazement a thunderous sound/Saints in purest garments clad/Singing worthy is the Lamb/I mean to be there when my name’s called out from the Book of Life/I’ll rise to shine/Oh glory to the Lamb/Redeemed I’ll stand/I mean to be there when my name’s called out”.

The Imperials and Gold City are among those who have recorded the inspirational ballad ‘It’s Still the Cross’.  It reminds us what our focus should truly be on: “It’s not conservative or liberal/However they’re defined/It’s not about interpretation or the judgment of the mind/It’s the opposite of politics, power, or prestige/It’s about a simple message and whether we believe/It’s still the cross/It’s still the blood of Calvary that cleanses sin and sets the captive free/It’s still the Name/The Name of Jesus that has power to save the lost/It’s still the cross”.  ‘Shouting on the Hills’ is an all out, fast-paced, Southern Gospel song of celebration: ”There’ll be shouting on the hills of glory/Shouting on the hills (2X)/When we reach that land of which we heard the story/There’ll be shouting on the hills of God/There’s a happy time a-comin’ when we reach our home in Heaven and the burdens that we bore we’ll wear no more/When old Gabriel sounds his trumpet calling us to those bright mansions/There’ll be shouting on the everlasting shore”.

If I had to pick out one central theme on GENERATIONS, it would quite obviously be Heaven.  What born again believer in Christ doesn’t eagerly look forward to that eternal home where there is no pain, sorrow, or death?  It is where we will at long last meet our Heavenly Father and all our questions will fade away.  The Kingsway Quartet deliver their vocals with skill on this mainly Southern Gospel album.  There are several songs here you will want to listen to over and over.  They will help you forget your troubles and put you in a more content frame of mind.  I’m rating GENERATIONS 95%.  For more info visit: www.kingswayquartet.com.

Kingsway Quartet released the album FEELS LIKE HOME in 2013. It was recorded at DePrice Is Right Recording in Fort Gratiot, MI and was produced by David E. Price and Mark McLellan.  On this album the group’s roster was: Mark and Kelly McLellan, Sue Hamilton (now married to James Tomen, formerly of The Nations Quartet), and Charles Earl.

Starting things off is ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ which was written by George Frideric Handel in 1741.  The version here has a dated praise and worship feel to it and includes these now so familiar, majestic words: “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord/And of His Christ (2X)/And He shall reign forever and ever/King of Kings/Hallelujah, hallelujah!/Forever, hallelujah!/And Lord of Lords/Hallelujah, hallelujah!/Forever, hallelujah!”  ‘Keep Coming Back to the Well’ is a cheerful Southern Gospel song that reminds us where we should draw our strength from: “Jesus made a well at Calvary/For healing, cleansing, and victory/How its joy overflows, no tongue can tell/I thank God for the well/I keep coming back to the well of grace/Great is its power, sweet is its taste/Whenever temptations and trials I face/I keep coming back to the well”.

‘Tell me the Story’ is a sentimental easy listening tune: “Tell me the story of Jesus/Write on my heart every word/Tell me the story most precious/Sweetest that ever was heard/Tell of the cross where they nailed Him/Writhing in anguish and pain/Tell of the grave where they laid Him/Oh tell how He liveth again”.  ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is a feet-stomping Southern Gospel track.  It recalls a well known Old Testament story: “Listen to me/You know God walked down by the mighty sea/He beheld the evil of sinful man/Declared that He would destroy the land/Well, He spoke to Noah, Noah stopped/He said ‘Lookey here Noah, build me an ark/I want you to build it big and strong/Build it 300 cubits long, 30 high, and 50 wide/I want it to stand my rain and tide”.

You may be familiar with Gold City’s version of ‘There Rose A Lamb’.  The song has a great, victorious Easter theme: “He chose the place, He chose the hour/That He would rise by His own power/A sacrifice three days ago/And now/Praise God the Lamb arose!/There rose a lamb in Jerusalem/He was the Son of the Great I AM/He proved to be my victory/There rose a Lamb in Jerusalem”.  ‘Good News from the Graveyard’ features a neat bass lead vocal.  It is an Easter song of celebration: “Good news from the graveyard/Good news from the tomb/What was His final resting place is now an empty room/Hell is in an uproar/The devil’s in despair/Good news from the graveyard/He’s not there!”

Karen Peck & New River’s ‘I Wanna Know How It Feels’ is up next.  This nice modern country ballad finds the group longing for Heaven: “Sometimes I get weary from this life that I live/It seems that peace is something I’ll never find/I try to lighten my load when all that I’ve got to show/Is 700 things on my mind/Oh, well I’m seeing visions of a crystal clear river/Where sin’s forgotten without a trace/More than I’ve ever dreamed/My soul longs to see/The look of love on my Savior’s face/I want to know how it feels to make my way down the streets of gold/I want to know how it feels to have a talk with the saints of old/I want to know what it’s like to rest my feet by the River of Life/I’ve heard of Heaven and I know that it’s real/I want to know how it feels”.  ‘Unseen Hand’ is all about God’s faithfulness to us: “There is an unseen hand to me/That leads through ways I cannot see/While travelling through this world below/This hand still leads me as I go”.

‘Heaven in the House’ is an upbeat Southern Gospel track.  Pentecostals will appreciate these lyrics: “Once there was 120 gathered in the upper room/They tarried for the Holy Spirit/They knew He’d be coming soon/Finally the place was shakin’/No one in the room stood still/When the count was finally taken/Everybody in the house was filled”.  Eddy Raven penned ‘Thank God For Kids’ in 1972.  It is a pretty, heart-tugging ballad: “If it weren’t for kids have you ever thought/There wouldn’t be any Santa Claus/Or look what the stork just brought/Thank God for kids/And we’d all live in a quiet house/Without Big Bird or Mickey Mouse/And Kool-Aid on the couch/Thank God for kids/Thank God for kids, there’s magic for a while/A special kind of sunshine in a smile/Do you ever stop to think or wonder why/The nearest thing to Heaven is a child”.

FEELS LIKE HOME will appeal to fans of Southern Gospel music, country music, and older praise and worship music.  The themes are diverse and include our relationship with Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and gratitude.  Several of the songs are strong and well performed, while others are of average quality.  The group’s voices go well together and there are some stand-out solos.  The cozy photos of the group accompanying the CD were taken at Clovermead Bees and Honey in Aylmer, Ontario.  I’m rating FEELS LIKE HOME 86%.  The Kingsway Quartet is now retired, but a website remains at: www.kingswayquartet.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


When the Beach Boys released BEACH BOYS PARTY! on November 8th, 1965 on Capitol Records, believe it or not, it was their third album that year!  Capitol wanted a Beach Boys album available for Christmas present purchases and this was the result, as PET SOUNDS was not yet completed.  Brian Wilson shares: “One night in June of 1965, I and the other Beach Boys invited some friends to the recording studio to take part in what was to be the first and only live party album.  We even had some beers for everybody...The party album was a challenge for us to try our hand at spontaneity.  It worked...So call some friends and sit down and join the party as you listen to this one.  Have a good party”.  Author David Leaf notes: PARTY’S instrumentation, with the exception of a bass guitar, was all acoustic.  Basically, it’s just bongos, guitars and exuberant vocals and voila, a top ten LP”.  The album reached #6 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart!

The party begins with Mike Love singing lead on ‘Hully Gully’.  It is a rock and roll song all about having a good time: “Well, there’s a dance spreadin’ ‘round like an awful disease/Hully, hully gully/You just shake your shoulders and you wiggle your knees/Hully, hully gully/Well, there’s a dance spreadin’ round from coast to coast/Hully, hully gully/Well, when me and my baby do it that’s how we do it the most/Hully, hully gully/Mama, hully gully/Papa, hully gully/Baby, hully gully too”.  There are three John Lennon/Paul McCartney tracks here.  The first two are from A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.  ‘I Should Have Known Better’ is about puppy love: “Oh, oh I should have realized what a kiss could be/That this could only happen to me/Can’t you see?/Can’t you see?/That when I tell you that I love you, oh/You’re gonna say you love me too/And when I ask you to be mine/You’re gonna say you love me too/You love me too (3X)”.

‘Tell Me Why’ is a peppy rock and roll song of one experiencing heartache: “Well, I gave you everything I had/But you left me sittin’ on my own/Did you have to treat me, oh, so bad?/All I do is hang my head and moan.../If there’s something I have said or done/Tell me what and I’ll apologize/If you don’t, I really can’t go on/Holding back these tears”.  ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ is a fun, non-sensical crowd favourite: “The funniest sound I ever heard/Papa-oom-mow-mow (2X)/But I can’t understand a single word.../The weirdest sound/I can’t figure it out/Wee, this sound makes me slap and shout.../Papa-oom-mow-mow”.

Johnny Rivers took ‘Mountain of Love’ to #6 in 1964.  This great rock and roll song uses harmonica to good effect.  It is a song of longing: “Standin’ on a mountain lookin’ down on a city/The way I feel is a doggone pity/Teardrops fallin’ down the mountainside/Many times I’ve been here, many times I’ve cried/We used to be so happy when we were in love/High on a mountain of love.../Wedding bells are ringin’ and they should’ve been ours”.  ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ is from the Beatles’ HELP! soundtrack.  Dennis Wilson takes the lead on this pretty, melodic song of heartache: “Here I stand, head in hand/Turn my face to the wall/If she’s gone I can’t go on/Feeling two foot small/Everywhere people stare/Each and every day/I can see them laugh at me/And I hear them say/’Hey! You’ve got to hide your love away’ (2X)”.

‘Devoted to You’ was a Top Ten hit for the Everly Brothers in 1958.  Brian Wilson and Mike Love sing lead on this tender ballad which finds a guy making several promises to his girl: “I’ll be yours through endless time/I’ll adore your charms sublime/Guess by now you know/That I’m devoted to you/I’ll never hurt you, I’ll never lie/I’ll never be untrue/I’ll never give you a reason to cry/I’d be unhappy if you were blue/Through the years my love will grow/Like a river it will flow/It can’t die because I’m so/Devoted to you”.  Brian says ‘Alley Oop’, a fun rock and roll song, is “about a guy of ancient times that nobody ever fooled with”.  It really could be a children’s song given these silly lyrics: “He’s the toughest man there is alive/Alley Oop/Wears clothes from a wildcat’s hide/Alley Oop/He’s the king of the jungle jive/Look at that caveman go/He’s got a chauffeur that’s a genuine dinosaur/Alley Oop Oop, Oop (3X)/And he can knuckle your head before you count to four/Alley Oop Oop, Oop (3X)”.

Phil Spector and Leroy Bates wrote ‘There’s No Other (Like My Baby)’.  It is a romantic doo-wop ballad with good harmonies: “Walkin’ down the street/In a crowd/Lookin’ at my baby/Feelin’ so proud/Well, there’s no other/Like my baby, oh, no, no, no/Woah, there’s no other/Don’t mean maybe, oh, no, no, no/While I was dancing/My baby by my side/Whispered to her/Someday she’ll be my bride”.  Next up is a playful mash-up of two of the group’s rock and roll hits, namely ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Little Deuce Coupe’.  The songs still deal with cars, but include some alternate lyrics: “I’m getting awfully mad driving down the street/Ow!/I just don’t want to be bugged sitting next to my sweets.../She’s got a competition clutch with the four on the floor/And she purrs like a kitten till baa-baa-baa”.

Al Jardine takes the lead on Bob Dylan’s folk protest song ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’.  It reminds us that every generation has their own strong beliefs and opinions: “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/And don’t criticize what you can’t understand/Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’’.  Last up is ‘Barbara Ann’.  It was penned by Fred Fassert and was a success for the Regents.  It went on to become a #2 hit for the Beach Boys in 1966.  Brian shares lead vocal duties with Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean.  It is a song about being infatuated with one girl: “Went to a dance looking for romance/Saw Barbara Ann/So I thought I’d take a chance/Barbara Ann, take my hand/You’ve got me rockin’ and a-rollin’/Rockin’ and a-reelin’/Barbara Ann/Tried Betty Sue/Tried Betty Lou/Tried Mary Sue/But I knew it wouldn’t do”.

What could have easily sounded like a hastily thrown together, rather stupid collection of songs poorly performed, does not.  Instead, on PARTY! you still get the signature Beach Boys vocals, but this time accompanied by a genuinely raucous, fun-loving, carefree vocal ensemble in a room that largely seems to be made up of females.  This album truly does sound like a live party, with lots of laughter and chit-chat going on during and between songs.  How many people were actually intoxicated during the recording of this album, we may never know.  I’m rating BEACH BOYS PARTY! 98%.  For more info visit: www.thebeachboys.com.

On August 19th, 1968 the Beach Boys released their third album of that year entitled STACK-O-TRACKS (Capitol).  When it was originally put out, it included a sixteen page book with the lyrics, lead lines, bass lines, chords, and photos.  Years later, writer David Leaf would note: “STACK-O-TRACKS, unlike any official LP ever released by any other group, presented only the backing tracks of many of the Beach Boys’ records, putting forth the concept that Brian’s great music, even without the surf and car lyrics and more importantly, even without their incredible vocals, was worthy of consideration”.  I would say that nearly all of these songs stand up pretty well in their instrumental versions.  They would be good to perform karaoke to, or to perform seriously with you and your friends on vocals at a talent show.  This was the first Beach Boys album not to make it onto the U.S. or U.K. charts, but it is a neat collector’s item.  Musicians who played on Beach Boys records over the years include: Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell, and Leon Russell.  I’m rating STACK-O-TRACKS 85%.  For more info visit: www.thebeachboys.com.



Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Julie Elias’ bio states: “Appearing regularly on shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘CSI: NY’ and even in films with the megastars like Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts made for some great experiences but left her empty in the long term”.  So, Julie ended up going into music ministry.  Her debut album A WILD ROSE came out in 2012.  She followed it up in 2014 with the worship project LOVE RAIN DOWN.  Julie’s latest album is UNBROKEN (2015).  Of it she says: “I created this CD to have a special connection to teen girls and as a companion piece to my Aurora Conferences, day-long events that focus on building self-esteem among girls in grades six through 12”.  Julie’s musical influences include: Sara Bareilles, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Bethel Music.

Starting things off is ‘Burning Bright’, a pleasant sounding adult contemporary song written by Julie, Sarah Mentzer, and Casey Roberts.  It is meant to encourage us when we are going through hard times: “Jesus, sent for us/Light of the world/Brilliance through the night/Victory revealed/The light shines in the darkness/The darkness will not overcome/You won’t be defeated/The Savior has already won/Don’t be afraid/Stand in His strength/Shine a light/Burning bright”.  CCM veteran Al Denson co-wrote the Christian pop song ‘Home’ with Julie.  It is the album’s first single and speaks of God’s enduring faithfulness to us: “In the greatest storms You guide me/In the darkest place You find me, so why do I even try to hide?/In my weakness You have held me/In my heartbreak You will heal me/Always right by my side/Need to get rid of my blinders/Needing a reminder where I go from here/Dropping my distractions/Focusing my actions/Conquering my fears/Heading home”.

The title track ‘Unbroken’ is one of four songs solely written by Julie.  It is a cool sounding rock song with neat vocal effects.  It reminds us just where our true identity lies: “Putting back the pieces/Straightening the creases/Trust it all to Jesus/’Cuz I know where my hope is/I am His and He is mine/Unbroken/Unfrozen/I let the damaged pieces lie/Unshaken/Not forsaken/I’m held by love I can’t deny/I’m forever strengthened/Confirmed by grace from Heaven/Beyond all comprehension/You’ve given me redemption/Deliver me!”  ‘Butterfly’ is a tender ballad addressed to everyone who struggles with self-esteem: “Butterfly, fly away/Always on display/With a beauty and a grace that’s all your own/When so many stop and stare/It’s easy to compare/But no one else is quite like you/Though you feel alone/Lost among the stars/You’re so much more than what they say you are/Oh, butterfly, guard your heart/Know that you’re a work of art.../Show the world your heart today”.

‘I Will Love Again’ offers hope to those experiencing heartache and heartbreak: “There is no reason to this rhyme/There is no easy fix this time/The hourglass is empty but it’s not broken/Nor am I/It’s not the last lesson I’ll learn/Yet I can’t help but feel it burn/When smoke of sadness is rising/I’ll wipe the stinging from my eyes/Cuz this won’t be my story’s end/A chapter’s done but there’s no damsel in distress/And this won’t be my only chance/To see a childhood dream finally come true/I will love again (2X)”.  ‘Stop Before I Start’ warns of the power of the tongue: “Like an untamed horse that’s reeling/Wild and carefree/My momentary weakness/Unleashed an ugly me/What was only for a second caused a life to change for worse/And I can’t believe I caused all this with just some careless words/I need to stop/And breathe/Nothing else needs to be said/Let the silence fall like rain/My hurting heart will heal/Won’t cause others pain/I’ll let it go and stop before I start”.

‘The Choice’ is one of four songs penned by the trio of Al Denson, Julie, and Robert White Johnson.  This pulsating, youthful rocker cautions us to make wise decisions in life: “Caught up in a real good time/Careful how it ends tonight/One moment could change your life.../It’s a choice/Whatcha gonna do?/Which voice will you listen to?/The choice/It’s up to you/The world is spinning upside down/Will you look above or to the crowd/It’s not too late, the time is now/You reap what you sow”.  ‘Why’ is a pop song about empathy: “Have you lost who you really are?/Always on display/So desperate, so self-aware/But trying hard to play a part won’t fix your broken heart/I wanna know why, why, why do you hurt this way?/Try, try, try find the words to say/I, I, I want a brand new hope in both our lives/I wanna know why”.

‘I Won’t Cry’ is a manly rock number that is a fave of mine.  It describes what our attitude should be when we’ve been wronged: “The hurt and pain you caused me/It must have come from something/I can’t explain (2X)/So let the heavens open wide and put an ending to your pride/Punishment I can’t give/I’ll find the strength to forgive/I know I can’t condemn you/And only God can save you/Judge and jury step aside/Heaven’s justice will abide”.  ‘The Love of the Lord Endures’ is a Joy Williams cover that is a long-time favourite of Julie’s.  It is a lovely praise and worship song: “When I stumble, when I fall/When I’m walking ten feet tall/Your love is there day after day/Oh, even at the worst extremes/Or after I have been redeemed/Your love is there and it won’t let me go/The love of the Lord endures/Oh, the love of the Lord endures/If there’s one thing I can be sure/It’s that the love of the Lord endures”.

The album ends with two bonus tracks.  ‘Breathing Room’ was originally the first track on Julie’s 2012 album.  The song serves as a prayer: “Lord, I need some breathing room/My life’s keeping me from You/Take away my foolish pride but leave the truth/And Lord, I need to take some time to change this selfish heart inside/Only You create this space, my breathing room”.  ‘It is Well’ is a 2013 Kristine DiMarco composition that is combined here with the classic hymn.  The result is an almost eight minute long, beautifully orchestrated song of faith: “Far be it from me to not believe/Even when my eyes can’t see/And this mountain that’s in front of me/Will be thrown into the midst of the sea/And through it all, through it all/My eyes are on You/And through it all, through it all/It is well”.

On UNBROKEN, Julie Elias proves that she is a very diverse artist.  Her vocals are equally amazing whether she is singing pop/rock music, inspirational ballads, or praise and worship fare.  The skilled players on this project are: Jeff Roach, Jason Webb, Dave Cleveland, Steve Brewster, Gary Lund, and Rob Hawkins.  I would categorize these twelve songs as mainly music for youth and young adults.  They are songs that will encourage and build you up.  They will also point you to God, your Maker.  They will deepen your faith.  The photos of Julie included with this project are stunning.  Fans of Natalie Grant, Elizabeth South, and Cheri Keaggy will like this album.  I’m rating it 98%.  For more info visit: www.julieeliasmusic.com and www.auroraministries.com.


Friday, October 02, 2015


Crystal Lynn Lewis was born on September 11, 1969 in Corona, California to a pastor and his wife.  She released her debut solo album BEYOND THE CHARADE in 1987.  She is married to record executive Brian Ray.  They have two kids-Solomon Ray and Izzi Ray.  Crystal has sung with the likes of Yolanda Adams, Donna Summer, and Steven Curtis Chapman.  Some of her best known songs are: ‘I Now Live’, ‘Beauty for Ashes’, ‘People Get Ready...Jesus is Coming’, ‘God’s Been Good to Me’, and ‘Lord, I Believe in You’.  She has won multiple Dove Awards and has been a Grammy nominee.  Crystal’s latest album is simply called CRYSTAL LEWIS (Metro 1 Music, 2015).

Starting things off is ‘Be Alright’, a cheerful R&B number featuring Anthony Evans, who was a contestant on Season 2 of ‘The Voice’.  The song points to God’s faithfulness: “Contemplating seasons of my life/I marvel as I realize every step had purpose/Every lesson learned was for my good/And I’m convinced that I stood up every single time/Underneath the weight of all the pressure because it was in His strength, not mine/Oh, this is my testimony, the story of my life/His yoke is easy and His burden’s light/It’s gonna be alright, be alright”.  ‘Faithful’ was the first song Crystal completed for this album.  It has a groovy disco feel to it and includes strong, effective backing vocals.  Of this radio single, Crystal says: “The song was prophetic, I think, because what I needed to hear was...this isn’t about what YOU can accomplish, it’s about what the God of the Universe has done, can do, will do”.  Here are some of the lyrics: “Your Name is faithful and true, no reason not to trust You/Your promise permanent, forever/Kinda like a tattoo/Your peace always surpassing, beyond my understanding/I barely dare to wrap my mind around Your precious blessings/New mercies every morning/Redeeming and restoring/My heart is at home/Even in the middle of the storm”.

Another radio single follows.  ‘Love Each Other’ is a funkified Christian rock song with great electric guitar work.  Penned by Crystal, Jonathan Korszyk, and Michael Wofford, it offers this great biblical advice to us all: “Try showing some real respect/Caring more about what you’re givin’ than what you get/Learning to love others more than you do/Loving your neighbors just as much as you’re loving you.../What if we put self aside?/What if WE was more important than I?/Check your motive/Leave your pride at the door/There isn’t room for it anymore/Jesus said to love each other”.  ‘Let Go’ encourages us not to get stuck in a ‘victim mentality’ with these words: “The hurts that we harbor/The bruises and wounds that we wear/They increase in power to paralyze, weaken, and snare/The longer we cling to, agree with, and feed them/The greater our fear/It’s in letting go we gain ground/Moving forward our freedom appears/Let it, let it, let it go”.  ‘In Your Name (For Your Glory)’ is a beautiful R&B ballad featuring Christon Gray.  It documents a struggle against pride: “I’ve lived so many days trying to get my way, on my own crusade/I’ve grown fond of my name/Waving banners in my honor at my own parade/But that was yesterday/A lot has changed, I’m not the same/And I stand here unashamed/Just to say/’It’s only in Your Name/In Your Name we boldly run, we boldly run/By Your strength the battle’s won, the battle’s won/For Your glory, Your kingdom come, Your kingdom come’/We proclaim ‘Your will be done’”.

‘Move On’ is one of two songs solely written by Crystal’s daughter Izzi Ray, who is a solo artist herself.  Izzi also sings background vocals on this cry for God to direct one’s path: “Drive me onward, urge and cause me to move/Impart motion to everything You’ve called me to/Confide in me/Show me Your plan graciously/I won’t waste another day, trying to do things my own way/I’m moving on (5X)/Please lead the way and I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will follow”.  ‘Beginning Again’ reminds us not to stay in a place of regret: “For so long it was the same song/I sang it over and over again/The pull of the past was holding me back/Seemed that story would never end/Every time, every time/I’d try to break the tight hold, it wouldn’t let go/Till in my mind I left behind/The weight of yesterday/Now I’m finally free to say/Over and over/I’m beginning again”.

Crystal co-wrote ‘Seat at the Table’ with Chris Lizotte.  It features sax, trumpet, and baritone sax arranged by Frank Lenz.  This soulful, upbeat track joyfully anticipates the afterlife: “I’ve been invited to dine with the bride and the Lamb/To share the bread and new wine with/The Great I AM.../I’ve got a seat at that table/To meet the good and faithful/Saints and sinners both restored.../With open arms I’ll be welcomed/A reunion so sweet/In unison we’ll sing our song/Like thunder, loud and free.../If you get there before I do/Won’t ya save me a spot next to you?”  ‘Run’ is one of four songs produced by Peace586 whose real name is Rene Vasquez.  He has worked with the likes of SFC and T-Bone.  This song instructs us not to compare ourselves to other believers: “We are all in different places/Running our own separate races/Gaining strength with faith and patience/Fix your eyes on Jesus/Run (4X)/See, if I can do it, so can you/If you can do it, I can too”.

Crystal, Izzi, Blaine Stark, and Jared Rich wrote ‘I Will Sing’ which has a slow R&B groove to it.  Many of us can relate to these down to earth confessions: “I confess I let the wool get pulled over my eyes/I have fallen prey to make believe, malicious lies/I admit that I agree with accusations sometimes/Allowing evil to manipulate my state of mind.../Oh how easy it can be to stumble and to stray/Oh how quickly I can slip not watching what I say/I find myself back in the pit forgetting how to pray/And just like that I’m back to bondage, having lost my way”.  Last up is ‘Brave’, on which James Raymond plays piano.  It is a sincere, heartfelt worship song that declares God victorious over all: “Hallelujah, God has won/He fights for all of us.../Kingdoms are falling but I know You surround me/Nations in uproar/But Your voice has the last word”.

CRYSTAL LEWIS is an absolutely wonderful Christian R&B project.  Listening to it, it is evident that this CCM veteran can clearly still ‘bring it’.  Her vocals are distinct, captivating, and top-notch!  They are at times piercing, and at times, calming.  Crystal’s love for Christ and her gratitude for His work in her life shine through without question.  These songs here are living and breathing.  If you are a fan of great R&B music with just the right doses of pop music mixed in (Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Natalie Grant) go out right away and buy this album!  I’m rating it 93%.  For more info visit: www.crystallewis.com, or connect with her on Facebook.


Thursday, October 01, 2015


The Cathedral Trio released their debut album in 1963.  At the time the members were: Bobby Clark (tenor), Glen Payne (lead), and Danny Koker (baritone/piano).  By 1964 they became The Cathedral Quartet, with the addition of bass vocalist George Younce.  The quartet was in ministry through to December 1999 in one form or another.  In 1990 they put out the album CLIMBING HIGHER AND HIGHER (Homeland).  On it, Payne and Younce were joined by Mark Trammell (baritone), Ernie Haase (tenor), and Roger Bennett (piano).

First up is the title track, a contagious, cheerful Southern Gospel song that speaks of God’s work in our lives once we open the door and let Him in: “Once I was sinkin’ in sin, my soul was troubled within/A ladder was sent down from Heaven/After my sins were forgiven/Started out for higher ground/So I climbed the ladder round by round/Well, I’m climbin’ higher and higher and I won’t come down/The first round was regeneration, the second justification/Still climbin’/The third a happy confession and then the Holy Ghost took possession/Still climbin’/The next round was great tribulation/That leads your soul to glorification/Still climbin’/I’m climbin’ higher and higher and I won’t come down”.  ‘The Man I Used to Be´ is one of two songs here written by Bill Flurry.  It is a pretty Southern Gospel ballad on which Terry McMillan provides harmonica and percussion.  These lyrics draw inspiration and encouragement from a much beloved New Testament character: “Just like Paul of old I keep pressing toward the goal, forgetting all the things that lay behind/But instead I’ll look ahead and I’ll go where I’m led/Toward the mark for the prize that will be mine/And I know I’m not the man that I oughta be/Many times I fall short of what You want in me/And I’m surely not the man I really want to be/But thank God I’m not the man I used to be”.

Ernie Haase’s high pitched vocals really stand out on ‘I’m Too Near Home’.   It is the peppy Southern Gospel song of one with a clear goal in mind: “I would not give up in the race/I’ll continue here by the Lord’s grace/I’m too near that wonderful Home beyond the blue/I’m too near home to my Lord to miss sweet Heaven’s reward/I’m not returning to sin/I’ve made my vow/There’s nothing to go back to/O praise God, Heaven’s in view/I’m too near Heaven, my home/To turn back now”.  William J. Gaither wrote ‘I’m Free’ in the late 1960’s.  It is a ballad of praise: “I’m free from the fear of tomorrow/I’m free from the guilt of the past/For I traded my shackles for a glorious song/I’m free/Praise the Lord, free at last!.../When I met Jesus He made me complete/He forgot the foolish man I used to be”.

Marvin P. Dalton wrote the moving inspirational classic ‘What a Savior’.  Ernie shines on this song that extols Christ: “O what a Savior, O Hallelujah!/His heart was broken on Calvary/His hands were nail scarred/His side was riven/He gave His life’s  blood for even me”.  ‘Read the Book’ has a happy gospel quartet feel to it.  It shows an appreciation for the Holy Bible: “God made the rules and He wrote ‘em all down/And He’ll give ‘em to all mankind/You can live your way but sooner or later you’ll pay if you try livin’ over the line/There are a lot of good books that’ll make you anything from a lawyer to a gourmet cook/But my friend I want to tell that when all else fails/Why don’t you try readin’ God’s Book?”

Glen Payne takes the lead on ‘Thus Saith the Lord’.  It finds God calming and assuring us: “My child fear not for you are redeemed and I have called you by My Name/Make no mistake, evil can’t take what’s rightfully Mine/So walk through the fire, wade through the flood/Rise up in power, washed in the blood/Keep fighting on/I’ve already crossed your victory line”.  Albert Spaller wrote ‘Led out of Bondage’ in 1953.  It is a very fast-paced Southern Gospel ditty that reflects on the escape of the Israelites from Egypt: “God promised to lead His children out of bondage/He said He’d free them from Pharaoh’s evil hand/He said He’d guide and protect them on their journey and lead them to the promised land”.

‘The Lamb Has Prevailed’ is a nicely orchestrated inspirational song that builds in intensity.  It shows a desire to share the Good News with all people: “If I could climb a mountaintop reaching high above the nations/I’d lift my voice in a mighty melody/If my song could reach around the earth and get the world’s attention/I would sing about the Lamb that set men free/Hallelujah! (2X)/Sin has been defeated!/The enemy has failed/Hallelujah! (2X)/Redemption is completed!/The Lamb has prevailed!”  Mark Trammell wrote the album closing ‘What Will You Do For Jesus’.  It includes this touching spoken word piece featuring George Younce: “Lord, You said ‘Greater love has no man but that He lay down his life for a friend’/And then you call me friend and laid down Your life/I don’t know if I understand love enough to die for a friend/But Lord, help me to love enough to lay my life on the line for You as I live/Help me to take risks, reach out my hand/Open up my heart for those in my life for love of You/Give me greater love”.

It is hard to believe that here in 2015 only two of the five group members are still with us.  Glen Payne died in 1999, George Younce in 2005, and Roger Bennett in 2007.  The two remaining members have formed new groups respectively known as Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and The Mark Trammell Quartet.  CLIMBING HIGHER AND HIGHER is a solid Southern Gospel album that includes a nice mix of hand-clappers and more reflective pieces.  The vocal solos and harmonies are terrific.  Thematically, this album points us to Jesus Christ as a loving Saviour who wants an active, living relationship with each of us as individuals, and to God’s Word for guidance.  I’m rating this one 90% and recommending it to fans of The Watchmen Quartet and The Nations Quartet.  For more information visit: www.cathedralsfamilyreunion.com or look up ‘Cathedral Quartet’ on Facebook.

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