Thursday, June 30, 2016


A press release says: “Though a new band, The Union of Sinners and Saints combines members from two of the best-selling Christian rock bands in history.  Petra and Whiteheart collectively have sold more than 12 million records, charted 25 No. 1 songs and garnered numerous Grammy and Dove Awards”.  On their self-titled debut album which was released on Suite 28C Records  in 2016, The Union of Sinners and Saints is comprised of John Schlitt (Petra-lead vocals), Billy Smiley (White Heart-guitar, keyboards, vocals), Anthony Sallee (White Heart-bass), Jon Knox (White Heart and Adam Again-drums), and two younger, newer talents, Jason Fowler (guitar and vocals), and Jonathan Crone (guitar, keyboards, vocals).  In the liner notes, Schlitt writes: “Most of all, thank You, Jesus!  Please take this project and use it for Your glory!”

The album opens with the Smiley/Fowler composition ‘Rise Up’.  It is a melodic rock song with a nice electric guitar solo by Dann Huff.  It offers great hope: “I’ve been calling You in life to fill this empty space inside/You are the way, the truth, the life/Bringing me to my Father/You’re everything I need to fill me up and make me see/The day You opened up my eyes to shine/Rise up and rise up again/Oh, let the journey begin/Rise up and rise up again/It’s time to let the love in/One! One!/We can be one together forever”.  ‘Brother to Brother’ is one of 3 songs penned by Smiley and Schlitt.  It is a terrific classic rock number with a great electric guitar solo by CCM pioneer Phil Keaggy.  It encourages unity and working together as believers: “It’s up to us to bring it on/Gone are the days we sit around, the time is now/From a man who has loved through many years/To the one who will face uncertain fears/We stand/Brother to brother/Arm in arm, hand in hand/We raise a flag across the land/We will make a change, a change/Brother to brother”.

Next up is a vibrant cover of White Heart’s 1990 classic ‘Independence Day’ with Schlitt and Smiley sharing vocal duties.  Brian Wooten and Jonathan Crone provide cool electric guitar solos on this anthem about spiritual freedom: “The world can crown another hundred kings/But I believe in a better dream/They may call it slavery, but the biggest chain I knew was me/So let the idols tumble down/The walls of lies crumble to the ground/I know where salvation can be found/Let the idols tumble down!/Call it independence day! (2X)/Let the rockets blaze across the sky/Raise the flag of faith up high/Let the doubters call it what they may/It’s independence day!”  Billy Smiley and former Newsboy Peter Andrew Furler wrote ‘Now Not Never’.  Furler plays drums and contributes some vocals, while Jonathan Crone plays a slide guitar solo.  It is a classic rock ballad about companionship and perseverance: “You’re not on your own/We’re here together/Chasing down a dream/It’s now not never/Following our hearts/Through storms together/Almost made it there/It’s now not never”.

Michael W. Smith plays the B3 on ‘Lone Soldier’.  It is a classic rock gem that prodigals who have come home will be able to relate to: “Teach me Father/There’s so much I can learn/Teach me Father/Walk me through every turn/I’m oh so ready/Please take me through this land/This land of hope is where I stand/Don’t turn away/Don’t toss the hope of a lone soldier/Cause it ain’t over/Till you find what is there for you/Don’t look around, just keep the way straight as an arrow/The path is narrow, but it’s wide enough for you”.  Billy Smiley and John Ellis (Tree 63) wrote ‘The Things We Do’.  Ellis and Schlitt sing lead vocals.  Ellis provides a guitar solo and Michael W. again plays the B3.  It is a bluesy, mainstream rocker about heartache: “You came along and you broke my heart to pieces/Yes, you did!/You came along and you broke my heart to pieces/Oh yeah!/Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

Steve Brewster plays drums and Anthony Sallee plays bass on ‘Old Guys Rule’.  It really rocks!  Vocally and musically it’d fit nicely on Alice Cooper’s 2005 album DIRTY DIAMONDS.  Here are some of the lyrics: “Don’t let people try to put you down/Cause everything will always come around/We saw it then like we see it now/It’s so cruel/Old guys rule!/We ain’t fools!/Old guys rule!”  ‘The Call’ is a ballad of reflection: “Every time I seize the day is one more time to see Your face/Yeah!/Every time I seize the day is one more time to see Your face/Whoa!/It’s the call, yeah!/It’s the call, whoa!/It’s the call”.

Next up is an updated cover of Petra’s 1990 hit ‘Beyond Belief’.  Bob Hartman plays a guitar solo and slide guitar solo and John Lawry plays B3.  The song is about growing into spiritual maturity: “There’s a higher place to go/Beyond belief, beyond belief/Where we reach the next plateau/Beyond belief, beyond belief/And from faith to faith we grow/Towards the center of the flow/Where He beckons us to go/Beyond belief, beyond belief”.  Blair Masters of Dogs of Peace plays B3 on ‘My Offering’.  It is a beautiful adult contemporary ballad of spiritual surrender: “So take me, use me, mold me and make me/Into the one I should be/And teach me, show me, lovingly change me/Into the one I can be/So take me, use me, mold me and make me/Into the one I can be/This is my offering”.

Chris McHugh plays drums on ‘Bittersweet’, while Dann Huff provides a guitar solo, and Jason Fowler and John Schlitt sing lead.  It’s a pulsating modern rock song of spiritual realization: “Yeah, it’s bittersweet/The things we need/The truth that makes us whole/Oh!/It’s bittersweet/The key we need, the love that brings us home/Yeah!.../So open your mind/And don’t believe the lie/So open up your mind/Open up your soul/And don’t believe the lies/Time to come back home!”  Last up is Charles Wesley’s classic hymn ‘Christ the Lord is Risen Today’.  The arrangement here is by Billy Smiley and Dave Ellefson (Megadeth).  Brennan Smiley provides a blazing electric guitar solo.  This is a song of praise that rocks hard enough to raise your ancestors from their graves!  The last verse here reads: “Love’s redeeming work is done/Alleluia!/Fought the fight, the victory’s won/Alleluia!/Who endured the cross and grave/Alleluia!/Sinners to redeem and save/Alleluia!”.

For those wondering whatever happened to actual Christian ROCK music, look no further than this awesome album!  Those of you who are long-time fans of groups such as Petra, White Heart, Mylon & Broken Heart, and DeGarmo and Key should be very pleased with this album!  The Union of Sinners and Saints are every bit as talented musically and vocally as their secular counterparts.  This is an album you could give your unsaved friends and not be embarrassed by doing so.  The album presents Christian themes, but in a non-preachy, non-judgmental manner.  There are also a couple tracks that are lyrically suited for mainstream radio.  If these guys record a follow-up album, I hope they re-record the classic songs ‘Hit You Where You Live’ (Petra) and ‘Inside’ (White Heart).  I’m rating this debut album 95%.   For more info visit: and


Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia.  He released his solo debut MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT in 1983 and followed it up with MICHAEL W. SMITH II in 1984.  In 1986 he released one of my favourites, THE BIG PICTURE.  THE LIVE SET, his fourth album, was released on Reunion Records in 1987.  It was recorded in Iowa and Georgia, and curiously includes not one song from MICHAEL W. SMITH II.  Michael’s band members are listed as being: David Huff (drums), Chris Rodriguez and Wayne Kirkpatrick (guitars), Chris Harris (bass), and Michael and Mark Heimermann (keyboards).

Starting this concert off is a soulful remake of Robert Lowry’s classic 1876  hymn ‘Nothin’ But the Blood’.  It is about the atonement: “What can wash away my sins?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus/What can make me whole again?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus/This is all my righteousness/It’s nothing but the blood of Jesus”.  ‘Lamu’ was written by Michael, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Amy Grant.  It is the album’s longest track at almost 8.5 minutes and is a great experimental rock song!  It reminds us that earthly pleasures don’t ultimately satisfy: “So here we are on an island in the sea near the coast of Africa/And when it’s right, Lamu nights/They can be so inviting/Heaven here on earth/Oh, I hear you telling me this is everything you need/Well, I don’t think it’s true/Cause the way you feel isn’t real/You attempt to try and fill the void that’s digging through and it’s killing you when you run to Lamu/Far away”.

‘You’re Alright’ is an energetic rocker about struggles with self-esteem: “Down on your confidence/It’s a fight that won’t let go/But you’ve got to realize/That you’re alright/Cause under your rubble/Lies a heart the Father holds/And when you see your life through His eyes/You’re alright”.  ‘Could He Be The Messiah’ is one of four songs on this album co-written by Michael and his wife Debbie Smith.  It is told from the perspective of a contemporary of Jesus Christ: “Been here for days/I’m amazed at this teacher, carpenter, preacher/Lost in the crowd, I hear Him now/He’s praying, still He’s saying/’God feed them all’/5000 men, all of His friends are worried/Find bread and hurry/Five loaves and fish, what can He wish?/He’s praying, still He’s saying/’God feed them all’”.

‘Rocketown’ has a long tropical music instrumental introduction and then places Jesus in a contemporary scenario: “The drinks were 2 for 1 inside the crowded bars/The girls would make their run out on the boulevard..../There came a certain man, a stranger to the crowd/We didn’t understand what He was all about/He walked a different pace/So out of place in Rocketown.../He said it’s in the heart, this change that comes to be/Now He had done His part/The choice was up to me”.  ‘Emily’ is a beautiful ballad that was later recorded in a studio setting for 1990’s GO WEST YOUNG MAN.  It encourages young gals: “You going through this stage/It’s a restless age and young and insecure/But still, there are doubts to fade/Moments to be made and one of them is yours/On the wire/Balancing your dreams/Hoping ends will meet their means/But you feel alone, uninspired/Well, does it help you to know that I believe in you/You’re an angel waiting for wings-Emily”.

‘I Know’, another new song, was released to radio as a single.  Christians in the public education system will be able to relate to these lyrics: “Everybody’s talkin’ about a good time/Something tells you something isn’t right/But when you’re lonely and the pressure’s on you/It’s really hard to stand and fight/Well, I know, I know how you feel/Torn between the mind of the crowd and the matters of the heart”.  ‘Friends’ is, of course, Smitty’s signature, heart tugging ballad: “And friends are friends forever/If the Lord’s the Lord of them/And a friend will not say ‘never’/Cause the welcome will not end/Though it’s hard to let you go/In the Father’s hands we know/That a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends”.

‘Old Enough to Know’ is a wonderful pop song that speaks out against pre-marital sex: “In the passion your heart is abused/He is pushing you, you have to choose/Oh, Rebecca love is never easy anymore/Oh, Rebecca so afraid of losing what is yours.../You’re a breed of few and far between/Holding on to your romantic dream/Oh, Rebecca, love is patient/Love would understand/Oh, Rebecca, your decision is your only chance”.  ‘Pursuit of the Dream’ is one of five songs here penned by the duo of Michael and Wayne Kirkpatrick.  It offers this advice to young folks: “Break down the barriers but don’t bend the rules/Never forget your roots as you head for something new/Ride through the shades of desire/Letting the light be seen/And He’ll steer the heart in the pursuit of the dream”.

‘Be Strong and Courageous’ is a pop/rock song that draws inspiration from the Old Testament: “My servant, now your time has come/You’ve got a job to do/I have a people to be led/And a willing heart in you/So I give you strength and courage/And I’ll hide you in My hands/For Joshua, you gotta live for your call/Take my people to their land/So be strong and courageous”.  Last up is ‘You Need a Saviour’.  It clearly points out our main need as humans: “You really need a Saviour/Somehow you’ve known it all along/You really need a Saviour/You know you’ve heard it for so long/You really need a Saviour/Someone to come and lead you on/You need a Saviour (2X)/It’s time”.

At the time of its release, the concert THE LIVE SET was essentially a greatest hits package with three new songs.  The crowds are enthusiastic on this dandy album!  The songs exalt Jesus Christ and encourage young people to give Him their all and live totally for Him.  If you long for the days when Smitty could rock out, this project is for you.  I’m rating THE LIVE SET 90%.  For more info visit:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Cheri Louise Anderson was born on August 29, 1968 in Los Angeles, California.  She married Phil Keaggy’s nephew Eddie, and released her solo debut CHILD OF THE FATHER, as Cheri Keaggy in 1994.  She was nominated for ‘New Artist of the Year’ at the 1995 Dove Awards, but lost out to Jars of Clay.  She put out her second album MY FAITH WILL STAY in 1996 on Sparrow Records.  It was produced by Charlie Peacock and executive produced by Peter York.  In 1997 it was nominated for ‘Inspirational Album of the Year’ at the Dove Awards.

The title track, ‘My Faith Will Stay’, is up first. Brent Bourgeois, Molly Felder, and Michael Mellett sing backing vocals on this upbeat adult contemporary number.  It speaks of spiritual resolve no matter what comes: “The water comes, I try to float/I feel alone without a boat/But then I look across the sea/And find a rope reaching to me/And in that moment there’s no doubt/When You come in, the fear goes out/And then the truth, I finally see/Through the storm, I still believe/My faith will stay, my faith will grow/Sometimes fast, sometimes slow/Through the wind and through the rain/By Your grace, my faith will stay”.  ‘Keep on Shinin’’ is the only song Cheri has a co-writer on, that being Randy Stonehill.  This is a country-pop tune of spiritual encouragement: “Keep on shinin’/Remember what you believe/Keep that light in your eyes/When the world has you down on your knees/Hold on to the hope of heaven/Don’t lose sight of the/Glory above/Keep on shinin’, shinin’ love”.

‘Lay it Down’ is the only song over 5 minutes long.  It offers hope to the hurting: “It’s things like pride and anger and bitter seeds/They rob us of our freedom and keep us from peace/But things like love and patience and a forgiving heart/That’s where the healing can start/God won’t let go of your heart/He won’t let go of your heart/He won’t let go, no/’Cause there’s a source of help in every need/There’s a place to dwell down on your knees, yeah/And if I could tell you just one thing/You’ve got to lay it down/Come on, come on”.  ‘Sweet Peace of God’ is a lovely ballad that is prayerful: “Sweet peace of God/Come over me like a gift from heaven/Sweet peace of God/Take hold of me before I lose it forever/For I haven’t been thinking much about You/And I know I live my life in vain/If I live without You/Sweet peace of God, come over me”.

On ‘He Will Look After You’ the players are: Steve Brewster (drums/percussion), Jimmie Lee Sloas (bass), Gordon Kennedy (electric guitars), Gary Burnette (acoustic guitars), and Pat Coil (keys).  It is an adult pop song that assures us in times of doubt: “I see the sparrow sitting in a tree/And in the eyes of God/He looks a lot like you and me/Well, if God can see the sparrow and meet its every need/Don’t you think He can take care of you and me?/He made the sun and the moon/And the land and the sea/God will look after you and me/With the mountains high and the oceans wide/Can’t you believe that it’s true?”  ‘Heavenly Father’ is a simply beautiful song all around: “Father, Heavenly Father/Have I told You I love You today?/Have I told You I need You?/Father, Heavenly Father/If I have not, then I’m telling You now/I love You, I need You/I know I would be lost without Your love/Father, You are my God/You are my God/Heavenly Father, be God again today”.

Tim Akers plays Rhodes and B3 on the warm praise and worship song ‘We All Need Jesus’.  Here are some of the words: “We come to this place of worship/We come with a heart of praise/We know that the Lord is with us/We’ve come to hear what He might say/He’s calling us, can’t you hear it?/The angels rejoice above/He’s sending His Holy Spirit/And opening His arms of love/He’s opening His arms of love/For we all need Jesus more than anything/Only He can free us/So we lift our voices up and sing/We lift our voices up and sing”.  ‘Beautiful Little Girl (Sarah’s Song)’ is a song gratefully dedicating Cheri and Eddie’s daughter back to God: “Lord, help us do our part/To give her a godly start/Teach her what she must learn/And guide her until she’s ready to turn/Into a woman who loves her Maker/And who knows what she’s living for/So that nothing can harm or take her from You”.

Michael Mellett, Tabitha Fair, and Joey Richey sing backing vocals on ‘The Love of God’.  It is a pop song that celebrates who God is and what He’s done for us: “The love of God is an endless river/Flowing down to our hearts/Reaching high as the sky/The love of God goes on forever/We need the ever staying, never changing love of God/We need the love of God/All of us carry some scars/But He has given us new life/All of us have come so far/Cause we have seen a Holy Light”.  The album closes with ‘In Remembrance of Me’.  Tom Howard conducts The Nashville String Machine on this wonderful communion song: “This is my body given for you/This is the cup that holds the blood of the new covenant/This is forgiveness, simple and true/This is the way that I have made for you/Before you eat, before you drink/Take a long look inside/And tell me what you see/He said ‘Do this in remembrance of Me (2X)’”.

MY FAITH WILL STAY is an amazing album that combines light pop music with worship and adult contemporary sounds.  Cheri’s vocals are sweet, warm, and inviting.  One really could listen to these ten songs all day long just for that reason alone.  The messages most conveyed here are that God loves us all and that in return we should love Him with our words and deeds.  Our love for God should not be motivated by an unhealthy fear of what God will do if we don’t love Him, but by gratitude for who He is and what He has done for us and continues to do on our behalf.  The pictures of Cheri included with this CD are pretty.  I’m rating MY FAITH WILL STAY 95%.  For more info visit:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Steve Green was born on August 1, 1956 in Portland, Oregon.  MORNING LIGHT: SONGS TO AWAKEN THE DAWN (1999, Sparrow) was his fourteenth English language solo album.  His previous albums had included HE HOLDS THE KEYS, WHERE MERCY BEGINS, and THE FAITHFUL.  Of MORNING LIGHT, Steve shares: “This album is dedicated to my mom, whose love for the Lord shines bright every morning.  My earliest recollection is of you sitting in the kitchen with your Bible and a cup of coffee.  Forty years later, nothing has changed, except now it’s decaf.  This is for you, Mom”.  This album was produced by Phil Naish and executive produced by Peter York and Bill Baumgart.  A devotional entitled ‘Morning Light: Meditations to Awaken the Dawn’ was released to go along with the CD.

The first song, ‘In the Morning’, is a Steve Green composition.  It’s one of four songs that uses a choir whose members include: Lisa Bevill, Travis Cottrell, and Marabeth Jordan.  It is a beautiful inspirational ballad of intimacy with the Father: “In the morning, I bring my request/In the morning, each care is confessed/In the morning, You quiet unrest/In the morning/Hallelujah! (3X)/In the morning, I listen and wait/In the morning, faith anticipates/In the morning, You make my way straight/In the morning”.  Steve co-wrote ‘All that You Say’ with Wes King.  Twila Paris provides harmony vocals.  It expresses a sure desire to follow God: “All that is true, all that’s right/All that is pure, radiant light/All of Your heart here for me/All that You say is all that I need/And blessed are the ones who will listen/Blessed are the ones who will hear/Speak, Lord, while I am waiting/Speak while my heart is near/And Thy Word is a lamp to my feet/And a light unto my path”.

Michael Card and Phil Naish wrote ‘Morning Star’.  Darwin Hobbs is one of the vocalists on this light adult pop song that invites God in: “Come rise and shine in Your holiness/Oh, radiant Son of righteousness/And warm Your people both near and far/And shine through me, oh Morning Star/Shine through me, oh Morning Star/Your compassion’s new every morning/It fills us up so we can sing/So we can sing”.  Marty McCall of First Call sings harmony vocal on ‘I Offer Myself’.  It is a song that dedicates one’s life to the Lord: “I offer myself to You/Presenting every part/Pure and holy, set apart/I offer myself to you/I offer my hands to You/May labors great or small/Be done in answer to Your call/I offer my hands to You/To be holy, holy, holy like You (2X)”.

‘Doxology’ is a majestic inspirational anthem of faith that benefits greatly from the use of The Nashville String Machine: “Direct, control, suggest this day/All I do, design or say/That all my powers with all my might/In Thy glory may unite/Praise God, praise God/All creatures here below/Praise God, praise God/From Whom all blessings flow/Praise the Father, praise the Son/Praise the Spirit, Three in One”.  Next up is a wonderful acappella rendition of the Christian classic ‘Morning Has Broken’ featuring Steve and the choir.  Nature lovers will like these lyrics: “Morning has broken/Like the first morning/Blackbird has spoken/Like the first bird/Praise for the singing/Praise for the morning/Praise for them springing/Fresh from the Word/Sweet the rain’s new fall/Sunlit from heaven/Like the first dew fall on the first grass/Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden/Sprung in completeness/Where His feet pass/Hallelujah! (4X)”

Phil Naish co-wrote ‘Selah’ with Steve.  It is a pretty instrumental just a few seconds shy of four minutes in length.  Psalm 107:1 is the inspiration for ‘He is Good’, a simple song of praise penned by Frank Hernandez and Jeff Nelson: “He is good, He is good/His love endures forever/Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good/He is good, He is good/His love endures forever/Give thanks for He is good”.

Marty McCall is a backing vocalist on ‘Lord of the Dawn’, a cheerful adult pop song on which Phil Naish plays keyboards, Sonny Lallerstedt plays acoustic guitars and mandola, Jerry McPherson plays electric guitars, Mark Hill plays bass, and Scott Meeder is responsible for drums and percussion.  These are words of petition: “Lord of the Dawn, shine Your light/Chase the darkness where fear dims our sight/Make one more new day bright/Lord of the Dawn (2X)”.  ‘Awaken’ includes both English and Spanish lyrics and among other instruments used are marimbas, pantera, and shekere.  Fans of Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan will enjoy this upbeat number.  Here are some of the lyrics: “I will awaken the dawn/Be the first voice of praise with a song/’Til the morning joins in and creation begins/To awake to the sound of this song/High as the heav’ns above/So great is the Father’s love/Love unconditionally/Rejoicing over me”.

Rob Mathes wrote and provides harmony vocals on ‘Listen’.  Buddy Greene provides a harmonica solo.  This is a ballad of spiritual resolve: “I will wait in quiet, earnest anticipation/And I will listen to You/Listen close, listen deep/Way beyond the silence/Listen to what You speak/I will pray Thy kingdom come/I will pray Thy will be done/And I will listen”.  Last up is ‘Breathe on me, Breath of God’, which makes requests of God: “Breathe on me, breath of God/Fill me with life anew/That I may love what Thou dost love/And do what Thou wouldst do/Breathe on me, breath of God/Until my heart is pure/Until my will is one with Thine/To do and to endure”.

MORNING LIGHT: SONGS TO AWAKEN THE DAWN is an excellent inspirational album, with influences of light adult pop music.  Steve Green’s vocals, as ever, are a delight to listen to.  On this particular project he sings quietly, tenderly, and reverently.  He does not belt it out (which he can do magnificently) because these songs simply don’t require that type of performance.  These songs here are ones that express and cry out for an intimate and personal relationship with God.  Clearly Steve wants to be in the center of God’s will.  He wants to be holy and to encourage us to aim for that as well.  Purity is greatly valued by God.  There are a handful of nice photos of Steve included with this project which I’m rating 93%.  For more info visit:

Saturday, June 11, 2016


In 2000 Sparrow Records released TAKE US TO THE RIVER-ACOUSTIC WORSHIP 1.  At the time of its release it was said to feature “the best new and rising songs from the United Kingdom and United States” and that it could “be used as a soundtrack for personal worship or as a source of new songs for your worship teams or small group gatherings”.  The album was produced by John Hartley and Derald Daughtery.  Derri serves as lead vocalist on this project.  He was born on October 13, 1958.  He is lead singer for The Choir, a Christian alternative rock band who were originally known as Youth Choir.  They put out their debut album VOICES IN SHADOWS in 1985.  In 2000 The Choir released their tenth studio album, FLAP YOUR WINGS.  Derri Daugherty is also a member of the supergroup The Lost Dogs. 

TAKE US TO THE RIVER begins with ‘Jesus, We Celebrate Your Victory’, a light pop song of Christian testimony: “His Spirit in us releases us from fear/The way to Him is open/With boldness we draw near/And in His presence our problems disappear/Our hearts responding to His love/Jesus, we celebrate Your victory/Jesus, we revel in Your love/Jesus, we rejoice You set us free/Jesus, Your death has brought us life”.  Matt and Beth Redman wrote ‘For the Cross’.  It is a song of deep gratitude to Jesus Christ: “I will love You for the cross/And I will love You for the cost/Man of sufferings, Bringer of my peace/You came into a world of shame/And paid the price we could not pay/Death that brought me life, blood that brought me home (2X)”.

Sarah Sadler sings lead vocals on ‘How Deep the Father’s Love for Us’.  It is a beautiful ballad about Calvary: “Behold the man upon a cross/My sin upon His shoulders/Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice/Call out among the scoffers/It was my sin that held Him there/Until it was accomplished/His dying breath has brought me life/I know that it is finished”.  Noel Richards wrote ‘You Laid Aside Your Majesty’.  It testifies how great and how good Christ is: “You laid aside Your majesty/Gave up everything for me/Suffered at the hands of those You had created/You took all my guilt and shame/When You died and rose again/Now today You reign/In heaven and earth exalted”.

‘All Hail The Lamb’ is a short, heartfelt worship chorus: “All hail the Lamb, enthroned on high/His praise shall be our battle cry/He reigns victorious, forever glorious/His name is Jesus/He is the Lord”. ‘Take us to the River’, penned by Robin Mark, is the easy listening title track with a message of peace: “Take us to the river/Take us there in unity to sing/A song of Your salvation/To win this generation for our King/A song of Your forgiveness/For it is with grace that river flows/Take us to the river in the city of our God.../For the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon us/This is the year of the Lord”.

The next two songs were covered by Christian rock group Petra on their 2001 Inpop Records release REVIVAL.  Matt Redman wrote ‘Send Revival, Start With Me’.  It serve as a sincere prayer: “We’re looking to Your promise of old/That if we pray and humble ourselves/You will come and heal our land/You will come, You will come.../Lord, send revival/Start with me/For I am one of unclean lips/And my eyes have seen the King/Your glory I have glimpsed/Send revival/Start with me”.  Stuart Townend wrote ‘How Long?’  It boldly petitions God: “Now we’re standing in Your presence/More hungry than before/Now we’re on Your steps of mercy/And we’re knocking at Your door/How long before You drench the barren land?/How long before we see Your righteous hand?/How long before Your Name is lifted high?/How long before the weeping turns to songs of joy?”

‘Holy River’ is a happy song of complete spiritual surrender: “And I will jump into the holy river/I will lose myself to my Deliverer/I will jump into the holy river/I will lose myself to my Deliverer/In this holy place/I can see Your face/Messiah/Jesus, Your passion is filling this temple/Jesus, Your mercy is drawing me closer”.  The album comes to a conclusion with ‘Heal Our Nation’.  This pretty ballad cries out to Father God: “Lord, we long for You to move in power/There’s a hunger deep within our hearts/To see healing in our nation/Send Your Spirit to revive us/Heal our nation (3X)/Pour out Your Spirit on this land”.

TAKE US TO THE RIVER-ACOUSTIC WORSHIP 1 is a soft, gentle, tranquil, intimate, lullaby-like album that will help you both adore and make requests of your Maker.  Derri Daugherty’s vocals are warm, smooth, and personable.  Background vocalists nicely used are: Felicia Sorenson, Derald Daugherty, Christine Bird, John Hartley, and Sarah Sadler.  Instrumentalists used to good effect are: Ken Lewis (percussion), Chris Donohue (bass), Derri (guitars), and Phil Madeira and Jamie Kenney on keyboards.  If you are looking to deepen your relationship with God, this album could be a very helpful aid.  I’m rating it 95%.  For more info visit:

Friday, June 10, 2016


Crystal Lewis was born in Corona, California on September 11, 1969.  Early on, she was a performer in a musical called Hi Tops.  When she was sixteen she put out an album with Wild Blue Yonder on Frontline Records.  They were “a pop/country/rock-a-billy band of sorts”.  She released her first solo album BEYOND THE CHARADE in 1987 when she was eighteen.  Crystal married Brian Ray in 1989.  After her third album LET LOVE IN in 1990, she and Brian started their own company, Metro One.  She performed at several Harvest Crusades and taped the show ‘Roundhouse’ for the Nickelodeon Network.  She continued to release solo albums, including THE BRIDE in 1993.  GREATEST HITS (1995, Metro One/Myrrh) is what I’ll be reviewing here.

First up is ‘Come Just as You Are’, written by Joe Sabolick.  John Andrew Schreiner plays keys and accordion, while Crystal and Annie Barbour sing backing vocals.  It is a pretty inspirational ballad of spiritual invitation: “Come just as you are/Hear the Spirit call/Come just as you are/Come and see, come receive/Come and live forever/Life everlasting/Strength for today/Taste the living water/And never thirst again”.  Bill Baumgart, Tim Heintz, Michael Campion, and Craig Friberg wrote ‘Frustrated’.  It is a pop/dance number that deals with life’s ups and downs: “Your life is like a roller coaster climbing to the very top/I think there’s something you should know sir/You’re headed for the deepest drop.../Frustrated, aggravated/Each time you fall/Frustrated, simply stated/Wait on His call”.

‘Precious Lord’ is a reverent prayer: “When my way grows drear/Precious Lord, linger near/When my life is almost gone/Hear my cry, hear my call/Take my hand lest I fall/Take my hand, Precious Lord/And lead me home”.  Hal Spencer and Loren Stalnecker wrote ‘Bloodstained Pages’.  It is a gospel song of great Christian testimony: “Oh the pages have been stained by the blood He shed for me/Praise God, I can’t read them/Neither can He/What’s been forgiven is forgotten and impossible to see/Bloodstained pages stained by blood/Shed for me”.

Jackie Gouche wrote ‘You Didn’t Have to do It’.  It is a slow R&B song of gratitude to Christ: “You didn’t have to suffer/You didn’t have to give Your life/You could have come down from the cross but You chose to die/You said ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’/And when they pierced Your side/You just hung, bled, and died”.  ‘Let Love In’ is one of four songs on this compilation written by Brian Ray.  It is a groovy R&B song with a nice electric guitar solo, that includes these Scriptural thoughts: “If you lose your life you will gain it back surely in the end/What you’ve done unto the least of men/You’ve done it unto Him/If we all can open up and let love in”.

‘I Must Tell Jesus’ makes it clear Crystal knows just where her help comes from: “I must tell Jesus all of my troubles/He is a kind, compassionate Friend/If I but ask Him He will deliver/Make of my troubles quickly an end/I must tell Jesus (2X)/I cannot bear these burdens alone/I must tell Jesus (2X)/Jesus can help me/Jesus alone”.  Graham Kendrick’s 1987 classic ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ is next.  Peter Jacobs and Scott Blackwell produced this fun dance version of spiritual longing: “Shine Jesus shine/Fill this land with the Father’s glory/Blaze Spirit blaze/Set our hearts on fire/Flow river flow/Flood the nation with grace and mercy/Send forth Your Word/Lord and let there be light”.

‘I Now Live’ is a catchy pop song featuring the hip-hop stylings of Peace 586.  It serves as a testimonial: “Many people in the world will never truly be set free/The only reason that we live is/Christ came down and died for you and me/I now live because Christ died and though He had suffered/He suffered it all for me”.  Crystal and husband Brian Ray wrote the gorgeous ballad ‘Remember’.  It is centered around the events of Easter: “Early Sunday morning came/The stone had been rolled away/They stepped inside the empty grave/Alone in dismay/They were thinking He was gone/They were not believing/Death of the Lamb did bring/Forgiveness and healing/Why do you seek Him here among the dead?/He is risen!”

‘Only Fools’ contains these words for us to ponder: “I no longer see things controlling me/You have spoken, I have listened/Only fools believe in only what they see/The wise are rich indeed/What a friend we have in Jesus/He hears all our cries/But if you listen/You’ll hear Him crying too”.  ‘You’ll Be Back for Me’ is a terrific rock song of great spiritual anticipation, with great electric guitar work: “Here He comes to claim His chosen bride/All the redeemed and the purified/An unmistakable sound/Shining in Your glory/There will be a thousand years of peace/All the pain, sorrow, and sin will cease/An unmistakable sound/Shining in Your glory/You’ll be back for me (2X)/I will be ready/Waiting for Your return”.

‘Amazing Grace’ is delivered in a mostly traditional manner.  The last verse here anticipates Heaven: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years/Bright shining as the sun/We’ve no less days to sing my God’s praise/Than when we first begun”.  Last up is John Willison’s ‘My Redeemer Lives’ (1993, Vineyard/Mercy Publishing).  It is a lovely song of praise and victory: “For I know my Redeemer lives/And in the end He will stand on the earth/For I know my Redeemer lives/And in the end He will reign on the earth/Though my flesh it be destroyed/Yet with my eyes I will see God/For I know that my Redeemer lives and I will stand with Him on that day (2X)”.

Crystal Lewis has one of the most powerful, distinct, piercing voices in all of music!  She could likely hold her own with Christina Aguilera.  GREATEST HITS is everything a greatest hits package should be.  There is a nice mix of slow and fast songs, drawing from gospel, inspirational, pop/rock, and R&B music.  Crystal belts the Gospel message out when appropriate, and sings in softer, gentler tones when it is called for.  Jesus Christ is presented as our Redeemer and loving Friend and Ultimate Victor on this record.  Listening to these songs will grow your faith and trust in Him.  The CD packaging is beautiful and flowery.  I’m rating GREATEST HITS a perfect 100%.  For more info visit:

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


Jars of Clay released their self-titled debut album back in 1995.  REDEMPTION SONGS (2005, Essential Records) was their sixth full-length studio album.  It won ‘Recorded Music Packaging of the Year’ at the 37th GMA Dove Awards and was nominated for ‘Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year’, but lost out to Casting Crowns’ LIFESONG.  In the liner notes, Jars write: “You have in your hands a collection of very old words set to almost completely modern music.  The music comes from a place of true reverence and appreciation for the richness of our past and an attempt to leap across years and articulate that past in a language that could be embraced by us as 21st century people of faith”.

The opening song ‘God Be Merciful to Me (Psalm 51)’ has an old country twang to it and offers these prayerful words: “Make me pure, Thy grace bestow/Wash me whiter than the snow/Gracious God, my heart renew/Make my spirit right and true/Thy salvation’s joy impart/Steadfast make my willing heart (2X)”.  ‘I Need Thee Every Hour’ admits total dependence on God: “I need Thee every hour/Most gracious Lord/No tender voice like Thine can peace afford/I need Thee every hour/Stay Thou nearby/Temptations lose their power/When Thou art night/I need Thee, oh I need Thee/Every hour I need Thee”.  Andy Osenga and Laura Taylor sing with the band on ‘God Will Lift up your Head’.  It is an upbeat pop/rock number that places total confidence in our Maker: “Through waves and clouds and storms/He gently clears the way/Wait because in His time/So shall this night/Soon end in joy (4X)/God will lift up your head”.

A rootsy rock version of Albert E. Brumley’s ‘I’ll Fly Away’ featuring Sarah Kelly’s vocals, follows.  This is a song of great hope: “Oh, how glad and happy when we meet/I’ll fly away/No more cold iron shackles on my feet/I’ll fly away.../Just a few more weary days and then/I’ll fly away/To a land where joy will never end/I’ll fly away”.  ‘Nothing But the Blood’ features The Blind Boys of Alabama.  This version has a highly celebratory and fun feel to it, albeit with a different melody than most are used to: “Nothing can for sin atone/Not of good that I have done/This is all my hope and peace/This is all my righteousness/Oh, precious is the flow/That makes me white as snow/And no other fount I know/Nothing, nothing, nothing but the blood of Jesus (3X)”.

‘Let us Love and Sing and Wonder’ features Martin Smith of Delirious.  This ballad glorifies Jesus Christ: “Let us love and sing and wonder/Let us praise the Savior’s Name/He has hushed the law’s loud thunder/Called us by His grace and taught us/Gave us ears and gave us eyes/He has washed us with His blood (3X)/He presents our souls to God”.  ‘O Come and Mourn with me Awhile’ reflects on the crucifixion: “Seven times He spoke/Seven words of love/And all three hours His silence cried/For mercy on the souls of men/Jesus our Lord is crucified/O love of God, O sin of man/In this dread act your strength is tried/And victory remains with love/Jesus our Lord is crucified”.

‘Hiding Place’ contrasts light with darkness: “But when Thy Spirit shines within/Makes me feel the plague of sin/And how I long to see Thy face/Tis then I want a hiding place/Lord Jesus, shine and then I can/Feel sweetness in salvation’s plan/And as a sinner plead for grace/Christ, the sinner’s hiding place (2X)”.  John Catchings plays cello on ‘Jesus, I Lift my Eyes’.  It is a nice worship song: “Here let my faith unshaken dwell/Immovable the promise stands/Not all the powers of earth or hell/Can e’re dissolve the sacred bands/Jesus to Thee I lift my eyes/Jesus, I lift my eyes/To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires/Jesus, I lift my eyes/To Thee I lift my eyes”.

‘It is well with my Soul’ here sounds like it would have if the Beatles had recorded it.  It includes these words of spiritual contentment: “Though the devil will ruin/Though trials may come/Let this blessed assurance control/That Christ has regarded my helpless estate/And He shed His own blood for my soul/It is well with my soul/It is well/It is well with my soul”.  ‘On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand’ again features The Blind Boys of Alabama.  It is a tender sing-a-long song of happiness that anticipates Heaven: “When shall I see that happy place/And be forever blessed/When shall I see my Father’s face/And in His bosom rest/And I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the promise land/I am bound, I am bound/I am bound for the promise land”.

The writers of ‘Thou Lovely Source of True Delight’ are Anne Steele and Kevin Twit.  This song petitions Christ: “Jesus my Lord, my life, my light, oh come with blissful ray/Break radiant through the shades of night and chase my fears away/Won’t You chase my fears away?/Then shall my soul with rapture trace the wonders of Thy love”.  Last up is ‘They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love’, a folk song penned by Peter Scholtes and dating back to 1966.  It begins with these peaceful words: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord (2X)/And we pray that our unity may one day be restored/And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love/Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love”.

REDEMPTION SONGS combines several classic songs of the Christian faith with some newer ones, actually resulting in an intriguing and cohesive album that is reverent and sacred.  These songs affirm that God is an ever present help to us both in the good and the bad times of our lives.  He is our loving Father who has a great eternal home prepared for those of us who love Him.  Stylistically, this album utilizes elements of gospel, pop/rock, folk, roots, and church music to get its message across.  This is truly a splendid album!  I’m rating REDEMPTION SONGS 97%.  For more info visit: and

Wednesday, June 01, 2016


Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia.  In 1992 he was named one of People magazine’s ‘Most Beautiful People’.  His album WORSHIP AGAIN was released on October 22nd, 2002 on Reunion Records.  It was recorded at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and was a follow-up to 2001’s very successful WORSHIP.  In 2003 Michael W. Smith won Male Vocalist of the Year at the GMA Music Awards.

Track one is a flawless, rousing combination of Beaker’s classic ‘Step by Step’ and a new Smith composition called ‘Forever we will Sing’.  The lyrics to the latter unashamedly exalt Christ: “Hallelujah!/We honor You Lord Jesus/And forever we will sing/Hallelujah!/For You alone are worthy/And forever we will sing/Hallelujah! (4X)  ‘You are the Lord’ was penned by Michael and his wife Debbie.  It is a beautiful song featuring Skip Cleavinger on the Irish flute.  It includes these words of declaration: “Worthy, we stand/Saved by His hand/Great is Your Name/In all the earth/Worthy alone/Christ on the throne/Your Kingdom will reign forever/You are the Lord, Most high”.

‘The Wonderful Cross’ is credited to Chris Tomlin, Isaac Watts, JD Walt, and Jesse Reeves.  It is now a congregational staple about the crucifixion and our response to it: “See from His head, His hands, His feet/Sorrow and love flow mingled down/Did e’er such love and sorrow meet/Or thorns compose so rich a crown/Oh the wonderful cross (2X)/Bids me come and die and find/That I may truly live/Oh the wonderful cross (2X)/All who gather here by grace draw near/And bless Your Name”.  ‘Ancient Words’ is a tender ballad that includes the use of pipes and reflects on the importance of Scripture: “Words of life/Words of hope/Give us strength/Help us cope/In this world where’er we roam/Ancient words will guide us home/Ancient words ever true/Changing me and changing you/We have come with open hearts/O let the ancient words impart”.

Steve Merkel wrote ‘Lord Have Mercy’.  This version features Sarah McIntosh on vocals alongside Smith.  It is a pretty ballad of confession: “I have built an altar where I worship things of man/I have taken journeys that have drawn me far from You/Now I am returning to your mercies ever flowing/Pardon my transgressions/Help me love You again/Lord have mercy/Christ have mercy/Lord have mercy on me”.  ‘The Sacred Romance’ is a piano and string based instrumental a bit shy of 2 minutes.

Michael W. and Debbie Smith wrote ‘I Can Hear Your Voice’ with their daughter Whitney.  It sounds like a lullaby and has a message of spiritual comfort: “I can hear Your voice as You sing over me/It’s Your song of hope breathing life into me/I can feel Your touch as I come close to You/And it heals my heart/You restore and renew”.  ‘I Give You my Heart’ is a well known song of spiritual surrender: “Lord, I give You my heart/I give You my soul/I live for You alone/Every breath that I take/Every moment I’m awake/Lord, have Your way in me”.

Next up is Lenny LeBlanc’s 1991 love song to Father God, ‘There is none like You’.  Witness these words: “There is none like You/No one else can touch my heart like You do/I could search for all eternity long and find/There is none like You”.  Rich Mullins’ ‘I See You’, also from 1991, follows.  It is the longest track at just under 7 minutes.  It is moving and inspirational.  Nature lovers will appreciate these words: “And the eagle flies and the rivers run/I look through the night/And I can see the risin’ sun/And everywhere I go I see You (2X)/Well, the grass will die and the flowers fall/But Your Word’s alive/Will be after all”.  The song features a cool electric guitar solo.

Mark Imboden and Tammi Rhoton wrote ‘You are Holy (Prince of Peace)’.  It is a sunny pop song that declares who Jesus Christ is: “You are Lord of Lords/You are King of Kings/You are mighty God/Lord of everything/You’re Emmanuel/You’re the Great I Am/You’re the Prince of Peace/Who is the Lamb/You’re the living God/You’re my saving grace/You will reign forever/You are Ancient of Days/You are Alpha, Omega/Beginning and End/You’re my Savior, Messiah/Redeemer and Friend”.  Three studio cuts end off the album.  The first is a version of ‘Lord Have Mercy’ featuring Michael’s long time friend, Amy Grant.

‘Here I Am to Worship’ is a splendid worship song penned by Tim Hughes: “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down/Here I am to say that You’re my God/You’re altogether lovely/Altogether worthy/Altogether wonderful to me.../I’ll never know how much it cost/To see my sin upon that cross”.  ‘There She Stands’ is a co-write between Smitty and Wes King.  It is a highly patriotic song with a Youtube video tribute to September 11th: “When evil calls itself a martyr/When all your hopes come crashing down/Someone will pull her from the rubble/There she stands/We’ve seen her flying torn and tattered/We’ve seen her stand the test of time/And through it all the fools have fallen/There she stands/By the dawn’s/Early light/And through the fight/She stands”.

According to my Collins Pocket Webster’s Thesaurus, synonyms for the verb ‘worship’ are: praise, adore, exalt, glorify, honor, pray to, revere, venerate, love, idolize, and put on a pedestal.  Keeping that in mind, I believe WORSHIP AGAIN succeeds in its goal of giving much praise, glory, and honor to the Lord God.  As per usual, Michael W. Smith’s vocals are amazing!  The multiple background vocalists and the accompanying vocalists add a great choir like feel to this beautifully performed album.  The instrumentation is a real treat as well.  This is a worthy follow-up to Smitty’s 2001 WORSHIP project.  My only beef is that there aren’t two or three faster paced songs on the record for variety.  I’m rating WORSHIP AGAIN 90%.  For more info visit: