Thursday, January 29, 2015


Amy Grant was born on November 25, 1960 in Augusta, Georgia.  In 1977 she released her self-titled debut album a month before her high school graduation.  It included the songs ‘Old Man’s Rubble’ and ‘What a Difference You’ve Made’.  In 1982 she released the landmark recording AGE TO AGE which featured such songs as ‘In A Little While’, ‘Sing Your Praise to the Lord’, and ‘El Shaddai’.  It was the first Christian music album ever certified platinum!  That happened in 1985.  1985 was also the year Amy released UNGUARDED (A&M Records).  It was produced by Brown Bannister and was certified platinum in June of 1986.  That year Amy also won a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance, Female.

The album begins with ‘Love of Another Kind’, an upbeat pop/rock song written by Amy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Rich Mullins, and Gary Chapman.  Background vocalists include Bill Champlin and Tommy Funderburk.  It includes these optimistic lyrics: “They say love brings hurt/I say love brings healing/Understanding first/It’s a love of another kind/The love I know/Is a love so few discover/They need to know/Jesus’ love is like no other/They say love won’t last/I say love is never ending/’Cause in You I have/A love of another kind”.  ‘Find a Way’ was the first non-Christmas Christian song to reach the Billboard Top 40.  On it, Amy puts her hope and trust in God: “I know this life is a strange thing/I can’t answer all the why’s/Tragedy always finds me/Taken again by surprise/I could stand here an angry young woman/Taking all the pain to heart/But I know that love can bring changes/And so we’ve got to move on.../If our God His Son not sparing/Came to rescue you/Is there any circumstance/That He can’t see you through?”

‘Everywhere I Go’ is a pleasant ballad penned by Mary Lee Kortes.  It has a similar message as Psalm 139.  It speaks of God’s faithfulness: “Everywhere I go/I see Your face through the crowd/Everywhere I go/I hear Your voice clear and loud/Everywhere I go/You are the light that I see/Everywhere I go/You have found me/Where could my heart go/Where You wouldn’t know to find me?/Far, far from here/Still You are near to me”.  ‘I Love You’ is dedicated to Amy’s then husband Gary Chapman.  One of the backing vocalists is Richard Page who was lead singer and bassist for Mr. Mister.  This pop song is about commitment: “You were pretty crazy back when we fell in love/Wanting to be everything that I would be proud of/Hours we spent dreaming/How we’d beat the odds/Now the truth has hit us/Life is very hard/Life can be so hard/I love you deeper than I ever dreamed of/I need you/Staying here ‘til we can work it out/I want you/Knowing that through all the changes/I love you/Somehow I just had to tell you now”.

‘Stepping in Your Shoes’ is a song of gratitude to Jesus Christ: “Only through You/Sin on innocent shoulders/Could You undo/Darkness’ power to hold us/Once for all time/Choosing to die/I’ll never deserve You/And You cared about me now/Now and forever”.  ‘Fight’ is a pulsating rock number on which Paul Leim plays drums and Jon Goin and Dan Huff handle electric guitars.  It is about opening oneself up to God: “I’ve made up my mind now/I don’t want to lose out (unguarded)/Beginning to see now/What the fight is about (unguarded)/I gotta stay open/Keep defenses all down (unguarded)/Don’t want to be hiding/When the love comes around”.

‘Wise Up’, written by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Billy Simon, is one of the best songs on this album.  It is groovy and funkified and includes a saxophone solo by Larry Williams.  This one is about thinking seriously about our actions and their consequences: “Got myself in this situation I’m not sure about/Climbing in where there’s temptation/Can I get back out?/I never can quite find the answer/The one I want to hear/The one that justifies my action/Says the coast is clear/Something on the outside says to jump on in/But something on the inside /Is telling me again/Better wise up/Better think twice/Never leave room for compromise”.  ‘Who to Listen To’ again urges us to be wise: “You’ve got to know who to/Who not to listen to/You’ve got to know who to/Who not to listen to/They’re gonna hit you from all sides/Better make up your mind/Who to, who not to listen to”.

‘Sharayah’ was penned by Amy and Chris Eaton.  Shane Keister is responsible for synthesizers.  It is an adult contemporary invitation to have a personal encounter and relationship with God: “Listen to me now/He loves you/Listen to me now/He cares for you/Listen to me now/He wants you to come home.../Call His Name/That is all He’s asking/Let Him come down to where you are/You can have life that’s everlasting/Can’t you see this is just the start?”  The last song is an inspirational ballad called ‘The Prodigal’.  It is written from the perspective of one who is waiting for a wandering loved one to return home: “I face the day again/Against the window pane/I remain your closest friend/And wish you back again/You wonder how I feel/You think you’ve pushed too far/If only you could see this pen/Scribbling down my heart/I’ll be waiting/I may be young or old and gray/Counting the days/But I’ll be waiting/And when I finally see you come/I’ll run when I see you/I’ll meet you”.

With UNGUARDED Amy Grant proved that Christian artists could release albums that sounded just as sexy and cool musically as her mainstream counterparts such as Madonna and Michael Jackson.  She also provided a good example of how to convey a gospel message to non-believers without coming across as preachy or as a know-it-all.  I’m rating UNGUARDED 87%.  For more info visit:


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

i 2 (EYE)

Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia.  His debut album THE MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT came out in 1983 and included the songs ‘Friends’ and ‘Great is the Lord’, both of which were co-writes with his wife Deborah that would become very popular.  In 1986 Michael released what I would say is the album of his career.  Entitled THE BIG PICTURE, it was aimed at teens, and dealt with issues such as partying, suicide, and premarital sex.  His follow-up studio album was i 2 (EYE) which came out on Reunion Records in 1988.  It became his first platinum album and hit #1 on the Contemporary Christian Charts.  It was produced by Michael and Wayne Kirkpatrick and runs 56 minutes and 26 seconds.

The album opens with a quirky sounding pop song musically.  Paul Leim is on drums and Terry McMillan contributes percussion and harmonica.  ‘Hand of Providence’ declares a belief in a Higher Power: “Oh, the Hand of Providence/Is guiding us through choices that we make/Oh, the Hand of Providence/Is reaching out to help us on our way/Providence, ever since/Any thesis ever entered man/The Hand of Providence/Has been our best defense/Tho’ His ways are sometimes hard to understand”.  ‘Secret Ambition’ is a terrific Christian rock song written by Michael, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Amy Grant.  Among the background vocalists are Chris Harris and Mark Heimermann.  The song speaks of Christ: “Nobody knew His secret ambition/Nobody knew His claim to fame/He broke the old rules steeped in tradition/He tore the Holy Veil away/Questioning those in powerful position/Running to those who called His Name/(But) Nobody knew His secret ambition/Was to give His life away”.

‘On the Other Side’ begins with these words of testimony: “I’m not how I used to be/When we hung around/Back when it was you and me/Tearin’ up this town/We used to live our lives running from change/Now we don’t see eye to eye/I am not the same/And you wonder where I’ve gone/Well, I’ve found where I belong/I’m on the other side/True-I used to walk your shore/But I’m not there anymore/I’m on the other side”.  ‘All You’re Missin’ is a Heartache’ is a slow rock number.  Two of the backing vocalists are Stryper’s Michael Sweet and Oz Fox.  It seeks to convince believers their lifestyle is the best: “You’re kissing the dark, you’re courting your pride/You wonder is it greener on the other side/(But they have nothing to offer you)/All you’re missin’ is a heartache/A disillusion for a keepsake/A life of living with your own mistake/All You’re missin’ is a heartache”.

‘I Miss the Way’ is a pretty ballad that uses a string quartet.  Ron Huff is responsible for the string arrangement.  This song is addressed to one who has fallen away from their Christian faith: “I miss the way His love would dance within your eyes/I miss the way His heart was the soul of your life/And somewhere in the saddest part of heaven’s room/Our Father sheds a tear for you/He’s missing you too”.  ‘Live and Learn’ is a peppy pop/rock song that uses horns and finds Tommy Simms on bass.  It encourages us not to keep committing the same sins over and over: “An engaging temptation had me doing time/’Cause when it starts a fire under strong desire/We are partners in crime/But hindsight is clearer/I can see where I’ve gone and never return/It’s a new man in the mirror/It’s a new freedom song to live and learn/Always living and learning (2X)”.

‘I Hear Leesha’ is a sentimental song dedicated to Leesha Heaston who lived from 1972 to 1988.  Here are some of the words: “Seems like it was only yesterday/She was living here, yeah, she was living here/Lord knows why He’s taken her away/It isn’t very clear, no, it isn’t very clear/Into every life a little rain must fall/And losing one you love is like a storm/But storms are passing/I hear Leesha singing in heaven tonight/And in between the sadness/I hear Leesha telling me that she’s alright”.  ‘Help you find your Way’ was penned by Chris Rodriguez, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Michael W. Smith.  Dan Huff, Chris Rodriguez, and Tom Hemby play guitars.  This song, that rocks hard in the latter half, is about friendship: “When it feels like you’re living in a box/You need someone who believes in you/A promise true when tried/I’ll be right here by your side/So whenever your need be/Know that you can lean on me/I’ll help you find your way (2X)/When you’re lost in all the madness/When you’re blinded by your doubt/When you need someone to be there for you/I’ll help you find your way”.

Up next is ‘Ashton’, a creative instrumental penned by Michael W. Smith.  It was inspired by Frank Peretti’s book ‘This Present Darkness’.  Mark O’Connor plays fiddles and mandolins.  Michael and Gary Moore wrote the next song `The Throne’.  It uses both an adult choir and a children’s choir.  These lyrics sound like a passage from the Book of Revelation: “Blessing! Glory! Sing Hallelujah!/Shout the saints of God alone/Honor! Power! and Dominion!/Praises gather at the throne/Oh, they gather at the crystal throne/Gather at the crystal throne”.  ‘Pray For Me’ finds Billy Sprague playing acoustic guitar.  It is an emotional easy listening song about parting ways: “Here is where the road divides/Here is where we realize/The sculpting of the Father’s great design/Through time you’ve been a friend to me/But time is now the enemy/I wish we didn’t have to say goodbye/But I know the road He chose for me/Is not the road He chose for you/So as we chase the dreams we’re after/Pray for me and I’ll pray for you/Pray that we will keep the common ground/Won’t you pray for me and I’ll pray for you/And one day love will bring us back around”.

Nowadays, Michael W. Smith is known primarily as a worship artist.  He is also respected for his several Christmas albums and tours.  i 2 (EYE) takes you back to a time when his music was more pop/rock in nature and directed at teenagers and some young adults.  I’m rating it 93% and recommending it to fans of Steven Curtis Chapman, Billy Joel, and Elton John.  I would love Smitty to make another more youth oriented album in the future, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen.  For more info visit:



Sunday, January 25, 2015


Let me start off by saying that there do exist some fine faith-based movies these days. As a prime example, I would point to the Love Comes Softly Series. They emphasize God's love and faithfulness to us, and gently teach us to treat others how we would like to be treated. I applaud these movies.

That being said, there are a lot of stinkers when it comes to Christian movies. A prime example is 2014's REDEEMED-GRACE ABOUNDS.  As my son Joshua would say "It sucks".  Firstly, the acting is awful, and I mean awful. My wife agrees with me on this point.  The worst acting of all is by Teri Copley who plays Beth. You may have seen her on 'The Love Boat' or in the movie 'Transylvania Twist', or maybe not!  Her acting is over the top, exaggerated, and sugary sweet.  Watching this is like watching a City Baby Blue movie without the climax! LOL! The main actor is Ted McGinley who was great in the tv comedy Hope and Faith as the husband of Faith Ford. In this movie he just appears dumb, but in his defense that is what the awful script calls for.  Here he plays Paul, husband to Beth.

As with various Christian movies, this one obsesses over the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:27 and 28.  I am not sure why modern day Christianity is so obsessed with sexuality. If you doubt me on this supposition, tell me how many gays and lesbians are in our evangelical congregations.  The subtitle of this movie is GRACE ABOUNDS.  Well, according to this movie grace abounds mainly if you come to church as you are and change your ways.  That is not the God I serve.  My God not only tolerates our sins and mistakes, but loves us completely whether we change our ways or not. 

Of course, I agree with the the premise of the movie that having an affair is wrong.  It is not healthy. But men, whether Christian or not, do not need to be made to feel less than a man, guilty, infantile, or stupid if they never reach sexual wholeness in their thought life. Let me expand that-no living being, male or female, needs to be made to feel that way by the church or by Christian entertainment. In the end Christianity is not about what we do or do not do. And that is frustrating to many evangelicals. We like to think that if we reach a certain standard then God is more pleased with us. In my opinion it just does not ring true.

Friends, and anyone reading this blog, you do not have to be perfect or have victory in Jesus to associate with me, or be called my brother or sister.  That being said, I do not encourage rebellion for the sake of rebellion either.

I am rating REDEEMED 1.5 out of 5 stars.  If you and your friends want a good laugh at a groaner of a movie I suggest this one. Otherwise avoid it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


When she was eight years old Brittany Jester sang ‘Away in a Manger’ in front of some seniors.  Soon after, she began singing at private parties, churches, festivals, and sporting events.  In 2001 she made her national TV debut on ‘It’s Showtime’ at the Apollo in Harlem, New York.  She has opened for the Atlanta Braves and shared the stage with the likes of Louise Mandrell.  Brittany’s bio says: “God loves you.  It’s in His love that we find freedom and forgiveness”.  Her self-titled debut EP was released in 2014 by 4S Ministries and was produced by Jeff Pardo.

‘Tell Me’, the first radio single, was written by Jeff Pardo and Lindsay Ciresi.  This modern pop/dance song finds God urging an individual to trust and confide in Him: “Why you hiding what you’re feeling?/Keeping it locked down somewhere below/Every question, every failure/Don’t you know that I already know?/I made your heart and I called it perfect/And you should know I don’t make mistakes/You’ll never fall where my arms won’t reach you/Just open up, let me in today/Tell me/I won’t turn away/Just tell me/You will see my love’s never gonna change”.  ‘Cry Alone’, was penned by Jeff Pardo and Brittany, as is the next song.  It is adult contemporary in nature and speaks of God’s faithfulness: “There’s a love that will not leave you/There’s a friend who knows your name/Even through the darkest shadow/He is with you all the way/And when the tears are falling, you should know/You don’t cry, you don’t cry alone/No matter where you are or what you face/His arms will hold you close always”.

‘I Will Follow You’ is an inspirational ballad that serves as a prayer: “My God, I come to surrender/My will, my dreams, for Yours are better/How could my heart turn away?/You are faithful, God, always/I will follow You/I will follow You/Through the fire, through the rain/Wherever You lead me to/I will follow/Follow You.../I will go where You send me, send me”.  Jeff Pardo and Molly Reed wrote ‘Let Your Love In’.  It is a peppy song of spiritual surrender: “I’m gonna let Your love in/I want to drop these heavy chains/I want to trust everything You say/Open up my heart/And I’m gonna let Your love in/I believe that/I’m forgiven/And You smile when/You look at me, so/I’ll let my fear go/I’ll let my faith grow/Let my life show/I’ve been redeemed”.

Brittany Jester’s short four song EP’s strength is that it should appeal to both youth and their parents, musically and lyrically.  Fans of artists such as Britt Nicole, Natalie Grant¸ Avalon, and Tammy Trent, should purchase this EP.  Brittany has a lovely voice and the songs are catchy and infectious.  I can’t wait to hear a full length album from her.  A couple of the photographs included with the EP are among the prettiest I’ve seen accompanying a CCM project.  I’m rating this one 90%.  For more info visit:


Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Natalie Diane Grant was born on December 21, 1971 in Seattle, Washington.  In 1999 she released her self-titled debut album.  She has won Female Vocalist of the Year an impressive five times at the Dove Awards.  Her latest and eighth studio album is HURRICANE (2013, Curb Records).  Natalie says the album “is a reminder that no matter how dark the struggle may seem, we’re not alone-and hope always wins”.  HURRICANE has been nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for the 55th annual Grammy Awards.  It was produced and arranged by her husband Bernie Herms.  In the liner notes Natalie shares: “Jesus-I exist to praise You, honor You, and make You famous”.

A great pop/dance track ‘Closer to Your Heart’ starts things off.  It finds Natalie conversing openly with God: “Help me be unafraid/Find my place where You are/Oh, You’ve always been enough/You’re the light in the dark/Afraid of giving up control/You are there, but I let go/You’re taking this brokenness/Making it beautiful”.  The title track ‘Hurricane’ is one of two songs Natalie co-writes with Matt Bronleewe and Cindy Morgan.  It is a song that offers encouragement: “Step out on the edge/Don’t be afraid of it/And when you feel the rain/Call His Name/He’ll find you in the hurricane.../There’s a place, there’s a place/You can run when you fall/And it’s all come undone/You’ll be safe in the raging storm/So just let go ‘cause you are held in His arms”.

‘For All of Us’ is an inspirational ballad that finds Luke Brown on backing vocals and uses a nine member choir.  It reflects on the atonement: “The mystery of the ages/Unfolded on a hill/With the ringing of a hammer/Hope is now revealed/The very King of Heaven/Comes as a spotless Lamb/Holding all our guilt and shame/In His outstretched hands”.  ‘Whisper’ reflects on our oft impatient nature: “I know I should pray/I know I should wait on You/But I’m always looking for the lightning/For the thunder crashing down/I’m always wanting easy answers/Wanna hear You speak out loud/I keep wanting something bigger/Sometimes I miss Your whisper”.

The adult contemporary ballad ‘Burn Bright’ was penned by Natalie Grant, Bernie Herms, Stephanie Lewis, and David Moffitt.  It has a similar message to Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’.  Here are some of the words: “You were made to shine/You were made for life/Even if you’ve lost your way/Turn and you will hear love say/You were made for more, so much more/Child of everlasting light/Made to blaze away the night/So baby burn bright/Burn bright”.  ‘This is Love’ is club dance floor ready musically and finds Natalie and Missi Hale on backing vocals.  It urges us to truly make a positive difference with how we live our lives: “Where there’s hatred/Show love, show love/Weak and broken/Lift them up, lift them up/If there’s despair, breathe in the peace/Help heal the wounds of another/Where darkness lives, bring forth the light/Release the chains/This is love (2X)/Let your life speak out loud/This is love/This is love/Let the heavens come down”.

‘Born to Be’ is a nice duet with Rascal Flatts lead vocalist Gary LeVox.  It is a cry for spiritual renewal: “Father, heal us now/God show us how/To get back to the life that we’ve been missing/Jesus, light the way/Teach us today/To be who we were born to be/We were born then made new/We were born to be the images of You/Like the sun and the stars/So beautifully reflecting who You are/Help us dare to be the beauty that You see”.  ‘Dead Alive’ was written by Sam Tinnesz and Kyle Lee.  It contains these words of praise: “With precious blood/My debt was paid/Crimson love that forgave/Conquered the grave/And making the dead alive”.

‘When I Leave the Room’ was penned by Natalie, Bernie Herms, and Nichole Nordeman.  It is dedicated to Natalie and Bernie’s three daughters-Gracie, Bella, and Sadie.  It is a quiet, tender song: “Goodnight/Five little fingers holding mine/Take flight/Into your dreams and lullabies.../Goodnight/There will be storms that we come through/In time/We will slay dragons, me and you/I’ll always wanna hold you tight/Keep you safe with all my might/So I will leave Jesus next to you/When I leave the room”.  ‘In The End’ sounds like an upbeat Crowder number.  It makes use of banjo, lap steel, upright piano, hand percussion, and acoustic bass.  It offers a hope-filled future to believers in Christ: “There’s coming a day the sun will always shine/He’s gonna wipe away every tear from your eyes/Hold on my brother, things are gonna get better/You’re gonna smile again/Cause we win in the end/It won’t be about streets of gold, pearly gates/Harps and wings, diamond lakes/All I know is that He’s gonna hold you, hold me/Heartache will disappear/Questions will become clear/Life will all make sense in the end”.

HURRICANE is a lyrically uplifting, encouraging album.  As always, Natalie’s vocals are spot on.  Few in CCM today can rival her in that department!  In some ways, musically, this album is like a female version of modern era Newsboys albums.  I am rating the standard ten song edition of this album 88%.  The iTunes Deluxe Edition contains four extra tracks.  It should also be noted that in 2005 Natalie founded Abolition International to help victims of sex trafficking worldwide.  For more info visit: and


Friday, January 16, 2015


The Beach Boys’ seventeenth studio album was originally called LANDLOCKED.  However, it became known as SURF’S UP (1971, Brother Records/Reprise Records).  It hit #29 on the Billboard Top LP’s chart and got decent airplay on FM radio.  In the UK it peaked at #15.  The Beach Boys appeared at a 1971 May Day anti-war rally in Washington D.C.  They also played a show in April at New York’s Filmore East with the Grateful Dead.  Bob Dylan was impressed with their performance.

‘Don’t Go Near the Water’ is a light rock and roll song that starts the album off by sharing environmental concerns: “Oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams/Have all been touched by man/The poison floating out to sea/Now threatens life on land/Don’t go near the water.../Toothpaste and soap will make our/Oceans a bubble bath/So let’s avoid an ecological aftermath/Beginning with me/Beginning with you”.  ‘Long Promised Road’ was penned by Carl Wilson (who sings lead) and Jack Rieley.  It speaks of the hard times we face in life: “So hard to lift the jeweled sceptre/When the weight turns a smile to a frown/So hard to drink of passion nectar/When the taste of life’s holding me down/So hard to plant the seed of reform/To set my sights on defeating the storm”.

‘Take a Load off Your Feet’ is an outtake from the SUNFLOWER album.  This playful rock and roll song was written by Alan Jardine and Gary Winfrey.  It begins with these humorous words: “I do them when I’m down in the tub/With avocado cream they’ll take a rub/They wrinkle like raisins if I stay too long/I wouldn’t want to do it wrong/They’ll put you in the driver’s seat/And to the table when you want to eat/But when you go to sit down in your chair/Something else has got to put you there”.  ‘Disney Girls (1957)’ was authored by Bruce Johnston, who also sings lead.  This sleepy ballad uses mandolin and finds the group daydreaming: “Patti Page and summer days/On old Cape Cod/Happy times making wine/In my garage/Country shade and lemonade/Guess I’m slowing down/It’s a turned back world with a local girl/In a smaller town/Open cars and clearer stars/That’s what I’ve lacked/But fantasy world and Disney girls/I’m coming back”.

‘Student Demonstration Time’ is based on ‘Riot in Cell Block #9’ by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  Mike Love wrote the new lyrics.  This terrific electric guitar and siren driven rock song waxes historical and offers advice: “America was stunned on May 4, 1970/When rally turned to riot up at Kent State University/They said the students scared the Guard/Though the troops were battle dressed/Four martyrs earned the new degree/The Bachelor of Bullets/I know we’re all fed up with useless wars and racial strife/But next time there’s a riot, well, you best stay out of sight.../Stay away when there’s a riot going on”.  ‘Feel Flows’ uses flute, guitar, and keyboard effects.  It begins with these poetic words: “Unfolding enveloping missiles of soul/Recall senses sadly/Mirage-like soft blue like lanterns below/To light the way gladly/Whether whistling heaven’s clouds disappear/When wind withers memory/Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away/Feel flows/Feel goes”.

‘Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)’ is a story song about a guy going through hard times: “Now Bess and me were feeling bad/And all the good jobs they were had/I had to take to sweeping up some floors/Well, I don’t mind that so much/Or the changing of my luck/But you know I could be doing so much more”.  Brian Wilson and dj Jack Rieley co-wrote ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’.  Lead vocal duties are handled by Rieley, Van Dyke Parks, and Al Jardine.  The song is, if you can believe it, about a depressed tree: “For years my limbs stretched to the sky/A nest for birds to sit and sing/But now my branches suffer/And my leaves don’t bear the glow/They did so long ago.../Now my branches suffer/And my leaves don’t offer/Poetry to men of song/Trees like me weren’t meant to live/If all this world can give/Pollution and slow death”.

‘Til I Die’ is an easy listening song.  Brian Wilson says: “I was feeling kind of small, and I wrote a song about how small I feel...It’s just a humble song”.  Here are some of the words: “I’m a cork on the ocean/Floating over the raging sea/How deep is the ocean? (2X)/I lost my way.../I’m a leaf on a windy day/Pretty soon I’ll be blown away/How long will the wind blow? (2X)/Until I die”.  The title track ‘Surf’s Up’ was meant to be on the SMILE album which didn’t appear a few years earlier.  This Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks composition includes these mysterious lyrics: “The glass was raised, the fired rose/The fullness of the wine, the dim last toasting/While at port adieu or die/A choke of grief heart hardened I/Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry/Surf’s up/Aboard a tidal wave/Come about hard and join/The young and often spring you gave/I heard the word/Wonderful thing/A children’s song/A child is the father of the man”.

It would be an understatement to say that SURF’S UP is far removed from the sound and lyrics of early Beach Boys hits such as ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘I Get Around’.  SURF’S UP reveals a more mature group with deeper, more adult lyrics.  Some of the songs really work and will grab your attention.  Others fall flat and are boring.  This project both hits and misses.  I’m rating SURF’S UP 82%.  For more info visit:


Thursday, January 15, 2015


The Beach Boys released their sixteenth studio album SUNFLOWER (Brother Records/Reprise Records) on August 31, 1970.  It only reached #151 on Billboard’s Top LP’s chart in the four weeks it was on it.  It did, however, reach #29 on the UK Top Album Chart in 1970.  The picture of the band on the cover of the album was taken on the golf course at Dean Martin’s Hidden Valley Ranch near Thousand Oaks in Ventura County, California.  It was shot by Dean’s son Ricci.
The album begins with ‘Slip on Through’, one of two songs penned solely by drummer Dennis Wilson.  It is a bold rock ‘n’ roll declaration of romantic feelings: “Baby, come on won’t you let me be/By your side from now and eternity/Cause I love you/Baby I do and now/Can’t you see/What has come over me?/Oh my life is growing like a big oak tree/Cause I love you/Baby I do.../Now you relax, let your mind go free/You won’t regret the feeling you receive”.  Brian Wilson wrote ‘This Whole World’.  He says: “This is a real spiritual tune”.  It begins with these words: “I’m thinking about a-this whole world/Late at night I think about the love of this whole world/Lots of different people everywhere/And when I go anywhere I see love (3X)”.
‘Add Some Music to Your Day’ is a nice easy listening tune penned by Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Joe Knott.  It praises the benefits of music in our lives: “The Sunday mornin’ gospel goes good with the soul/There’s blues, folk, and country, and rock like a rollin’ stone/The world could come together as one/If everybody under the sun/Add some music to your day.../At a movie you can feel it touching your heart/And on every day of the summertime/You hear children chasing ice cream carts/They’ll play it on your wedding day”.  ‘Got to Know the Woman’ is a groovy rock ‘n’ roll song about the charge of vibrant male sexuality: “I just met a woman on my way home/She just blew my mind/My heart was a-pumpin’/I mean all the way home/Got to know the woman/Whoa, I got to know the woman.../Baby, I’m gonna tell you somethin’ right now/You got so much soul you blow my mind”.
Bruce Johnston and Brian Wilson penned ‘Deirdre’.  It uses flutes and is conversational: “You’re back again, you still have all your friends/And they used to ask me why’d you go away, Deirdre/What could I say?/That you ran away/Don’t you think it’s time that you stayed right near me?/These nights, pretty nights, that were meant to be/With you and me/It’s the way that we always had our love, Deirdre/I love your red hair”.  ‘It’s About Time’ urges us to truly love our neighbor: “It’s about time we get together/To be out front and love one another/Brothers, sisters, everybody/We better start to help each other now/We need it now/When we’re sharin’ our love, brother/That’s when we know we can shape another world”.
‘Tears in the Morning’ uses Parisian accordion, horn, and piano.  It is the emotional song of one whose spouse has left them: “So you moved out up to Europe/You packed your warmth and you took your soul/Well, I hope you do what you’re damn sure of/A lonely bed here takes on the cold/Lose a wife, change my life, we’re not together/A canceled future, well, it’s hard on me/Gone, you’re gone, are you gone forever?/Hope you love the baby/I’m never gonna see”.  ‘All I Wanna Do’ is a mellow song that contains these heartfelt words a newlywed might say to their spouse: “All I wanna do/Is always be good to you/To give you all the love I can/And help you in whatever you do/Sure as the sun will come around again to start off another day/You can be sure that in my heart and soul/I’ll love you in every way”.
The next song is ‘Forever’.  Brian Wilson says it “has to be the most harmonically beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.  It’s a rock and roll prayer”.  Here are some of the words: “If the song I sing to you/Could fill your heart with joy/I’d sing forever/Forever (2X)/I’ve been so happy loving you.../Let the love I have for you/Live in your heart/And beat forever (together my love)/Forever (2X)/I’ve been so happy loving you”.  ‘Our Sweet Love’ is a soft, pretty song of innocence: “Like a child with his new toy/My heart is filled with joy for/Our sweet love/Honey, it’s heaven/Our sweet love/Lord knows I love her so/I feel it down inside my soul/A precious love like this can flower/There’s nothing in this world like/Our sweet love/Should last forever”.
‘At My Window’ is an experimental track penned by Alan Jardine and Brian Wilson.  It reflects on our feathered friends: “Birds fly up/And down spinnin’ round/Flyin’ all around/From my window/A little brown sparrow came flutterin’ down.../He came to my window”.  ‘Cool, Cool Water’ runs five minutes long and uses snaps and sonic experimentation.  It is a song about getting refreshed: “When I’m just too hot to move/Cool, cool water is such a groove/In a shady spot when I’m layin’ down/Only thing movin’ are the ants on the ground/When I’m thirsty I reach for a glass/Cool water tastes like such a gas/From the mountains on down to the sea/Cool, cool water keeps on coolin’ me”.
On SUNFLOWER, in many ways, the Beach Boys sound like a completely different group than that which released numerous hits including ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ and ‘California Girls’.  Various group members take the lead vocally, but the group’s signature harmonies are still there.  The music is decidedly less commercial and catchy, and more artistic and creative.  This album reveals a certain maturity about the group.  I would call this album a success, but in a different way than that of their early works.  I’m rating SUNFLOWER 86%.  For more info visit:


Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Newsboys released their debut album READ ALL ABOUT IT in 1988.  They have released two worship albums-2003’s ADORATION and 2004’s DEVOTION.  Fast forward to 2014 and they released their first hymns project HALLELUJAH FOR THE CROSS (First Company Management/Capitol Christian Distribution).  Seth Mosley produced it.  Lead singer Michael Tait shares: “Hymns are important to me.  We picked through songs that went way, way back into my past and my dad’s Baptist church.  I love modern worship but I just love that old stuff because they were written in such desperate and perilous times, and out of great pain comes great resolve, I think”.

‘All Creatures of our God and King’ has a happy feel to it musically and extols God unashamedly: “Let all things their Creator bless/And worship Him in humbleness/O praise Him! Alleluia!/Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son/And praise the Spirit, Three in One/O praise Him! O praise Him!/Alleluia! (3X)/Hands go up, heaven come down/Givin’ Him praise is the only sound”.  A more energetic pop version of ‘Where You Belong/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’ than that which appeared on the group’s 1992 album NOT ASHAMED, follows.  It includes these words of testimony: “I was used to the cold for so long/That I couldn’t feel anything/And I shivered and stared like a beggar/Who won’t lift his hands/I was numb until You touched me/I was deaf until He heard/I was senseless ‘til I met the One/Who understands”.

‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’ was penned by Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel in 1905.  It is a song that places full confidence in God: “And I sing because I’m happy, and I sing because I’m free/Oh, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me/’Let not your heart be troubled’, His tender word I hear/And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears”.  The title track ‘Hallelujah for the Cross’ was written by Ross King and Todd Wright in 2013.  This powerful modern worship anthem zeros in on the atonement: “Up to the hill of Calvary/My Savior went courageously/And there He bled and died for me/Hallelujah for the cross/And on that day the world was changed/A final, perfect Lamb was slain/Let earth and heaven now proclaim/Hallelujah for the cross”.

‘It is Well’ is one of my wife’s all-time favorite hymns.  This version has a pulsating dance beat to it, which works quite well.  It looks ahead to Jesus’ return to earth: “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight/The clouds be rolled back as a scroll/The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend/Even so, it is well with my soul”.  ‘Jesus Paid it All’ shares the Gospel message: “Jesus paid it all/All to Him I owe/Sin had left a crimson stain/He washed it white as snow.../Oh, praise the One who paid my debt/And raised this life up from the dead”.

‘I Surrender All’ is reverent and has been used at many an altar call over the years: “All to Jesus I surrender/Humbly at His feet I bow/Worldly pleasures all forsaken/Take me, Jesus, take me now.../All to Jesus I surrender/Make me Savior, wholly Thine/Fill me with Thy love and power/Truly know that Thou art mine”.  ‘What a Friend we Have in Jesus’ is given an atmospheric light pop treatment.  It urges us to take our trials and concerns to God and lay our burdens down at His feet: “What a friend we have in Jesus/All our sins and griefs to bear/What a privilege to carry/Everything to God in prayer/Oh, what peace we often forfeit/Oh, what needless pain we bear/All because we do not carry/Everything to God in prayer”.

Dianne Sheets provides additional background vocals on ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’.  It is a beautiful song of praise: “Holy, holy, holy!/Lord, God Almighty/Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee/Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty/God in three Persons, blessed Trinity/Holy, holy, holy!/All the saints adore Thee/Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea”.  ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name’ is an effective, mostly acappella song.  It appropriately treats Jesus as royalty: “Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race/Ye ransomed from the fall/Hail Him who saves you by His grace/And crown Him Lord of all!/.../Let every kindred, every tribe/On this terrestrial ball/To Him all majesty ascribe/And crown Him Lord of all!”

In the liner notes Newsboys note: “The writers of many of these majestic pieces wrote them during very painful, trying times of distress but Redeemed places”.  Newsboys are: Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips, Jody Davis, and Jeff Frankenstein.  On this album, the vocalists are: Michael Tait, Jody Davis, Ben Backus, and Seth Mosley.  This album runs 36 minutes and 18 seconds.  Newsboys don’t toy too much with the melodies of these sacred songs.  Any lyrical additions are minor and don’t seem out of place, in fact, sometimes they strengthen the original words.  In many ways, this is a modern worship album with lyrics from a past era.  All praise and glory is given to God on this project.  I’m rating HALLELUJAH FOR THE CROSS 85%.  For more info visit:


Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Izzi Ray is the daughter of CCM legend Crystal Lewis and producer/record label executive Brian Ray.  She began playing guitar and writing songs at the age of eleven.  In 2012 she released her self-titled debut.  A press release says: “Her rich, warm, and vibrant voice brings a clear message of faith, hope and love through her songs.  With great poise and zeal, this 18 year old writes and sings with the precision and depth of someone twice her age”.  Izzi shares: “I want to be a voice in my generation that stirs revival”.  Now, Izzi is back with her second album MAKE MUCH OF YOU (2014).  It was produced by Blaine Stark.

The first song ‘Rend the Heavens’ is one of five she wrote alone.  It is a good rock song that utilizes B3, mellotron, and piano.  On it, Izzi cries out to God: “Oh, that You would rend the heavens/Oh, that You would come down and change us/We tremble before You/Oh, that You would rend the heavens/Oh, that You would come down and change us/We’re desperate for You/I need to see Your face”.  ‘My Song’ is one of five co-writes with Blaine Stark.  This strong rock song utilizes Wurlitzer, B3, omnichord, mellotron, strings, and harmonium.  It is a song of testimony: “Keep me from being conceited/I will gladly boast of my weakness/So You would be greater glorified/Jesus is the only Name that I will lift high/You are, You are/My love, my song/You hold my heart/Though I’m weak, You are strong”.

‘Something New’ contains both words of confession and request: “I’m sinking deeper/Down into the depths of negativity/Can’t reach the surface/I’m losing consciousness/At war with arrogance/So take my withering heart/Make me something new/Search me and convict/Only to be like You/Shatter all my pride/I lay me at Your feet/For the sake of Your great Name/Forgive my iniquities”.  Next up, is the title track, ‘Make Much of You’.  It is a ballad with an 80’s pop feel to it.  It is a song of humility: “We are all the same/Proclaiming Jesus’ Name/With one voice we will sing, with one voice we will sing/Humble me, humble me/You have set me free so You can use me to make much of You/It’s not about, not about/How much honor we receive/Even my own faith was gifted to me/All I am, all I am/I will lay me at Your feet/Destroy every bit of pride in me/Everything, everything, I want everything I do/To be used to make much of You”.

‘Soon’ is a lazy love ballad that uses pedal steel guitar and bells: “If my dreams come to life/I just wanna be by your side/You’re men among men/Being near you makes me sing/Can’t contain the joy you bring/I’m blessed beyond belief/I can’t wait to see you again/I miss you, I miss you/I love you/And I’ll see you soon”.  ‘Ezekiel 16’ is a song about Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness and God’s faithfulness: “You saved me, made me stunning, legendary beauty/But I trusted, abused, and relied only on my beauty/I completely defiled and degraded everything You gave me.../Yet You put aside all Your wrath, all Your anger, all Your jealousy/You remembered our covenant/And showed me grace undeservingly/You redeemed me and restored me/Gave me life, love, and atonement”.

‘Heaven is Your Throne’ is a cheerful song of praise with claps by Blaine Stark and Izzi, and additional vocals and claps by Crystal Lewis.  Here are some of the lyrics: “My Lover, Comforter/You teach me through my trials/The Victor, Defeater/You triumph in my troubles/Heaven is Your throne/Can’t help but stand in awe/You bring me to my knees/I’m on my face/Everlasting Light striking through the sky/I’ll see the Son of God come back again”.  Solomon Ray, Izzi’s brother, contributes keys and programming to ‘Lead Me On’.  This energetic pop/dance number is one of dedication to God: “I’m spreading the fragrance of Your ways/Take me Father by the hand and lead me on/Bind my wandering heart to Yours forevermore/Though I make plans, direct my steps to bring You joy/I want Your will so have Your way/My life is Yours/So lead me on”.

‘Grace’ speaks of one of God’s greatest attributes: “I’ve run away/Hidden from guilt and in shame/Turned from Your love, betrayed Your trust in me/But You found me, tired and on my knees/Love of a Father, grace of a Savior/Fall on me.../I’m redeemed, filled with a peace so deep/I am forever changed so I will see/I’m restored, showered with grace like a storm/Pardoned from all my past/Rescued from death”.  ‘Still Hope’ ends the album on a quiet, positive note: “I know that You are strong/I know that You are loving/You satisfy my soul/I find rest in You alone/I know that You’re my refuge/My anchor through the storm/I know that You are mighty/I trust You through it all”.

Two things are quite clear upon listening to this record.  Izzi Ray takes her relationship with her Creator God very seriously.  To her, He is an active, living Presence in her life.  Secondly, Izzi Ray is very serious about putting out top quality music.  Fans of Natalie Grant and Kelly Clarkson should pick this one up.  I’m rating MAKE MUCH OF YOU 100%.  For more info visit: and


Tuesday, January 06, 2015


 A press release says that Jimmy Brown “created the idea of Jupiter VI, a band that in a science fiction setting would be sent from Earth to the planet Mars to find notoriety, fame and acceptance.  He loosely based the story of Jupiter VI on his experience in the Christian Music Industry with the band Deliverance”.  The debut album from Jupiter VI was 2006’s BACK FROM MARS.  Their second and latest album is mOVEABLE WALLS (2014, Roxx Records).  It is said to be “a conceptual piece based on his experience in the work force and the travels he had experienced”.  Here, I am reviewing the standard edition of the album.  There is however a limited edition five song bonus EP, which includes a cover of Alanis Morrissette’s ‘Thank U’.

The album begins with the lengthy (19:54) ‘Sleepless End Pt I-IV’.  To start, it sounds like a thunderstorm occurring in the galaxies.  It features terrific guitar work and later sounds like you are standing on a sea shore.  These lyrics from it, are about self-discovery: “Ohhh, they invited you in, but you’ll never be in, to them it’s a sin/While the trumpets blow to announce your arrival, it’s minutes and seconds before the reprisal/Crisis marks the links that connect you to it all/Forgone conclusions, it sets the tone/The virus that eats down to the bone/You’re caught up in it all before you realize you’re lost, and can’t find your way home.../Life moves on (2X)/Don’t you slow down!/Don’t you stand still!/Because light and life, it moves on, it moves on”.  Jimmy P. Brown II writes all the songs solo except for the next one called ‘Wasting Away’, a co-write with Rick Mester.  It is a rock ballad about relationship woes: “Life is fading away, failing to breathe, wasting away/She said she loved me still, never believe, want to believe/It happened when I closed my eyes, one last time, then the silence/I hope she can forgive me/I have fallen, I’m lost outside”.  ‘Running’ is a passionate song about a spiritual journey: “Feeling overrun, like the night won’t seem to end/Feeling paralyzed and the notes don’t seem to bend/Feeling lost, with no bearings on where I am/Somebody help me/I’ve done all that I can/And I’m running but my feet they don’t touch the mirrored glass/And I’m running with the promise that this too shall pass.../Lie so very still/Waiting for Your voice/Echoing the words, you’ve done it all by choice/Now I’m in and the race has just begun/I can’t grow weary and undo what has been done”.

‘Face in the Sky’ is the album’s lead single.  It is a good rock song from the perspective of one who is longing: “Eyes open and I stare across the room that seems like miles/Hoping to hear a sigh or a breath from you/It’s then I realize that I’m alone, sobriety comes to wake me from my sleep and I gaze at a picture of you.../And now I’m missing you, like I’m drawing my last breath, and my senses are numbing like I’m going blind and deaf/This feeling of anguish and panic are taking me for a ride, feelings subside/I’ll see you soon and feel your breath, but for now all I have is your face in the sky”.  The album ends with the twelve minute and sixteen second long ‘A Message From Home PT I’.  It has an experimental musical feel to it from the start.  It seeks to connect humans with the Divine: “There’s a message from home, can’t you hear the telephone?/A message from home saying we feel all alone, did you hear it?/Did you hear it?/No offense is meant when there is no return, silence completes the interstellar burn/There’s no answer”.

On this project, Jupiter VI is Jimmy P. Brown II (vox, gtrs, drums, bass and keys) and Jeff Ceyba (electric lead, slide, baritone and clean guitars).  mOVEABLE WALLS is an incredibly brilliant, artistic album both lyrically and musically.  I absolutely love the abundance of guitar solos and Jimmy Brown’s deep, smooth vocals are well suited to this project.  For best effect this 48 minute, 33 second album should be listened to as a whole.  This is ethereal, progressive rock in the vein of Pink Floyd.  I’m rating mOVEABLE WALLS 95%.  For more info visit: