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: www.theunionofsinnersandsaints.com and www.suite28records.com.