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.