Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Casting Crowns began in 1999 as a CCM band led by youth pastor Mark Hall in Daytona Beach, Florida. They released their self-titled debut in 2003. It was a huge success and included the song 'Voice of Truth' which spent fourteen back-to-back weeks at #1. In 2005 their album LIFESONG came out. The title track was a #1 hit for nine weeks. Their third album THE ALTAR AND THE DOOR (2007, Beach Street/Reunion) debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 and at #1 on the Hot Christian Albums chart. Band members were: Juan DeVevo (acoustic and electric guitar), Melodee DeVevo (violin, bgv's), Andy Williams (drums), Chris Huffman (bass), Hector Cervantes (electric guitar), Mark Hall (vocals), and Megan Garrett (piano, keyboards, bgv's). In the liner notes the band writes: "This is where we all live as believers-somewhere between the altar and the door." At the altar, everything makes sense. We know how to live and what direction to take. Everything is black and white. But somewhere between the altar and the door everything leaks out and we go nuts! God is calling us to take what He gives us..."
1. Starting things off is 'What this World Needs', a strong rock track that offers answers for our troubled world: "What this world needs is not another one hit wonder with an axe to grind/Another two bit politician peddling lies/Another three ring circus society.../What this world needs is a Savior who will rescue/A Spirit who will lead/A Father who will love them in their time of need/A Savior who will rescue/A Spirit who will lead/A Father who will love/That's what this world needs".
2. Mark Hall, Bernie Herms, and Nichole Nordeman wrote the adult rock song 'Every Man'. It's the album's second single and ultimately strikes a positive chord: "There is hope for every man/A solid place where we can stand/In this dry and weary land/There is hope for every man/There is Love that never dies/There is peace in troubled times/Will we help them understand?/Jesus is hope for every man".
3. Mark Hall wrote the album's third single, 'Slow Fade', an adult rock song that serves as a strong spiritual warning and is one of the group's best songs ever: "It's a slow fade when you give yourself away/It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray/Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid/When you give yourself away/People never crumble in a day/Daddies never crumble in a day/Families never crumble in a day/Oh be careful little eyes what you see (2X)/For the Father up above is looking down in love/Oh be careful little eyes what you see".
4. 'East to West' is the album's first single and spent sixteen consecutive weeks at #1. It is an adult contemporary ballad that serves as a prayer: "Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west?/'Cause I can't bear to see the man I've become rising up in me again/In the arms of Your mercy I find rest/'Cause You know just how far the east is from the west/From one scarred hand to the other".
5. Hall co-wrote 'The Word is Alive' with Steven Curtis Chapman. It begins by describing how God has taken the initiative to have a relationship with us: "Looking out from His throne, the Father of light and of men/Chose to make Himself known and show us the way back to Him/Speaking wisdom and truth into the hearts of peasants and kings/He began to unveil the Word that would change the course of all things/With eyes wide open, all would see/The Word is alive and it cuts like a sword through through the darkness/With a message of life to the hopeless and afraid/Breathing life into all who believe".
6. Next up is the title track, 'The Altar and the Door', penned by Mark Hall. It is a pop song about the struggles of faithful discipleship: "Lord, this time I’ll make it right, here at the altar I lay my life/Your kingdom come but my will was done, my heart is broken as I.../Cry, like so many times before/But my eyes are dry before I leave the floor, oh Lord/I try but this time, Jesus, how can I be sure I will not lose my follow through/Between the altar and the door"?
7.'Somewhere in the Middle' is an adult contemporary ballad that includes these transparent lyrics: "Somewhere between my heart and my hands/Somewhere between my faith and my plans/Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves/Somewhere between a whisper and a roar/Somewhere between the altar and the door/Somewhere between contented peace and always wanting more/Somewhere in the middle You’ll find me".
8. Jeff Chandler wrote 'I Know You're There'. It is the song of one with great faith: "I, I know You're there/I know You see me/You're the air I breathe/You are the ground beneath me/I know You're there/I know You hear me/I can find You anywhere".
9. 'Prayer for a Friend' is a quiet, sincere song of intercession: "Lord, I lift my friend to You/My best friend in the world, I know he means much more to You/I want so much to help him, but this is something he has to do/And Lord, I lift my friend up to You/Cause there’s a way that seems so right to him/But You know where that leads/He’s becoming a puppet of the world, too blind to see the strings/Lord, I lift my friend up to You/My friend up to You".
10. Steve Fee wrote the now popular upbeat modern worship testimony 'All Because of Jesus': "And I am alive because I’m alive in You/It’s all because of Jesus I’m alive/It’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ/That covers me and raised this dead man’s life/It’s all because of Jesus I’m alive
I’m alive, I’m alive". A strange hidden track ends off the album.
THE ALTAR AND THE DOOR won a Dove Award for 'Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year'. It was produced by Mark A. Miller and executive produced by Terry Hemmings. Christ is presented as our Savior, our Hope, and our Peace here. We are reminded that God's Word is as relevant as ever today, and that we are to remain spiritually alert and do our best to follow Jesus Christ. The depth of God's forgiveness is pointed out. There are also a couple of praise and worship songs on this record. The album's first four cuts, three of which were radio singles, are splendid. Unfortunately the rest of the album doesn't quite match that quality. The remaining songs are okay or average. That being said, I am rating THE ALTAR AND THE DOOR 78 %. For more info visit: www.castingcrowns.com.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born on April 24, 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas. On September 4, 2002 she won Season One of 'American Idol'. Her debut album, THANKFUL, came out in 2003. Over the years Kelly became known for hits such as 'Miss Independent', 'Since U Been Gone', 'Catch My Breath', and 'Piece by Piece'. MEANING OF LIFE (2017, Atlantic) is her eighth studio album. It debuted at #2 on the US Billboard 200 and peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Digital Albums chart, and at #4 on the Billboard Canadian Albums chart.
1. Starting things off is 'A Minute (Intro)', a short song snippet about needing time alone: "Sometimes I need just a minute just for me/I need a minute just to be/I need a minute just to breathe/Sometimes I need a minute that's my own".
2. 'Love So Soft' and 'Move You' were the album's dual lead singles. 'Love So Soft' was written by Jesse Shatkin, Priscilla Renea, and Maureen 'Mozella' McDonald. It's a soulful pop song featuring The Regiment Horns and the Earth, Wind and Fire Horn Section. The song was nominated for a Grammy for 'Best Pop Solo Performance' but in my opinion has a corny chorus: "Love so soft/You ain't had nothin' softer/Break it, then you buy it, and it's sure gonna cost ya/Love so soft/That you can't rub off/You gon' love it, if you try it, gotcha hooked, now you're caught up/Love so soft, so soft (2X)".'
3. 'Heat' is a pop/dance track with another corny chorus: "Oh, come turn this around/Oh, no no, don't let us down/I need more heat from you baby/Make me feel weak for you babe/Oh, wanna feel alive/Oh, like my heart's in the wild/I need more heat from you baby/Make me feel weak for you babe".
4. Next up is the album's title track, 'Meaning of Life', written by Jesse Shatkin, Ilsey Juber, and James Morrison Catchpole. Strings were arranged and conducted by Larry Gold. Kelly sings the praises of a guy: "You show me love, you lift me up/You take me higher and higher/The truth is I'm in love/Can you feel us?/We're flyin' higher/ Meaning of life/You show me the meaning of life".
5. 'Move You' is a soulful ballad: "Like a symphony at sundown in the middle of July/When a lyric really gets ya and it breaks you down inside/Like the home that you were raised in/Like faded photographs/Like the thrill of Christmas morning/Yeah, I wanna move you like that/Ooh, I wanna move you like that".
6. Kelly co-wrote 'Whole Lotta Woman' with five other folks. It's a self-centered upbeat R&B cut: "I got what you want/I'm aimin' to please/I got what it takes/I sure got the means/I got what you want/Sugar, honey, iced tea/All eyes on me, oh, oh, baby...I'm a strong, bad ass chick with classic confidence, yeah".
7. 'Medicine' features very uncreative lyrics: "I ain't even thinkin' bout you (2X)/Don't talk about ya/Almost forgot about you/Said I ain't even thinkin' bout you/I ain't even thinkin' bout you/Don't talk about ya/Almost forgot about you".
8. Andre Davidson, Sean Davidson, Jessica Ashley Karpov, and Pat Linehan wrote 'Cruel'. It finds Kelly thinking aloud about her relationship: "Am I being jealous?/Are you being selfish/Runnin' round 2, 3 o'clock in the mornin'?/No, no, no you better believe me/Lovin' you, it ain't easy/I'm halfway to losin' my mind/Don't be cruel/It's taken all of me to love someone like you".
9. Bridget Sarai and Nicole Hurst sing backing vocals on 'Didn't I', a soulful pop song about being done with a relationship: "I'm over this tug of war/I've told you so many times before/Now I'm finally lettin' go of the rope/Yeah, well this game is too ugly boy/And these hands are tired from keepin' you up/And my heart hurts from holdin' out hope".
10. Kelly and Greg Kurstin wrote 'Would You Call That Love'. It calls a former lover to reflection: "When you look back on love do you think of us?/When it's all said and done, was it all enough?/When you weigh the loss to all you've gained, tell me, does it all add up?/When you look back on us/Would you call that love?"
11. Kelly pats herself on the back on 'I Don't Think About You', a decent adult contemporary ballad: "It used to bother me/Thought I could never leave/After all that I've been through, nothin' left to prove/No, no, no, I don't think about you/Weighing down on me/I lost my sanity/And now that we are through, nothin' left to lose/No, no, no, I don't think about you".
12. 'Slow Dance' finds Jason Halbert of Sonicflood fame on piano and B3 and includes a nice electric guitar solo by Jeff 'Gitty' Gitelman. The song begins with Kelly sizing a guy up: "You're tall, dark, and handsome/You're charming and then some/Know how to romance 'em/But I see through it all/You do everything too fast/You move like a whiplash/You're missin' the romance/And I see through it all".
13. 'Don't You Pretend' includes these words: "Don't you run and hide/Let's find out tonight/I got a feelin' that you wanna fall/Tell me yes or no/I can't take no more/I want the real thing or nothin' at all".
14. Kelly, Jesse Shatkin, and Maureen 'Mozella' McDonald wrote 'Go High'. It's the album's closing track and is forgettable: "High as the note that I sing/High as the kite with no string/High is what I have to be/When you go low I go high just to breathe/High as the smoke that you blow/High as you think I can't go/High as this lonely road/When you go low I go high just to breathe".
MEANING OF LIFE is definitely a musical departure for Kelly Clarkson and it's a departure I could do without! I'm not digging this soulful R&B pop side of her. I prefer her inspirational anthems, straight up pop, and gritty rock offerings. The lyrics here are quite weak as well. They are most certainly not thought provoking. Any of a number of artists could have sung and/or written these songs. Also, at times it sounds like Kelly is trying to be cool and a bit younger than she really is. Lastly, this album doesn't showcase her terrific vocals as much as some of her other albums. I'm rating MEANING OF LIFE a 70 percent. For more info visit: www.kellyclarkson.com.
Thursday, February 01, 2018
Casting Crowns released their self-titled debut for Beach Street Records in 2003. It produced three #1 singles: 'If We are the Body', 'Who Am I', and 'Voice of Truth'. In 2005 the group released their follow-up project LIFESONG (Beach Street/Reunion Records). Group members were: Hector Cervantes, Juan and Melodee DeVevo, Megan Garrett, Mark Hall, Chris Huffman, and Andy Williams. The album peaked at #1 on the Billboard Christian Albums chart, won a Grammy for 'Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album', and won a Dove for 'Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year'.
1. Starting things off is the title track 'Lifesong', which is one of six songs on the album penned solely by lead vocalist Mark Hall. It was the album's first single and first #1 hit. It's an upbeat modern worship track: "May the words I say/And the things I do/Make my lifesong sing/Bring a smile to You/Let me lifesong sing to You (2X)/I want to sign Your Name to the end of this day/Knowing that my heart was true/Let my lifesong sing to You".
2. 'Praise You in This Storm' was the album's second single and #1 song. It is one of three compositions on the album penned by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms. It won a Dove for 'Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year'. It speaks of spiritual determination: "As the thunder rolls/I barely hear You whisper through the rain/'I'm with you'/And as Your mercy falls/I raise my hands and praise the God who gives/And takes away/And I'll praise You in this storm/And I will lift my hands/For You are who You are/No matter where I am/Every tear I've cried/You hold in Your hand/You never left my side/And though my heart is torn/I will praise You in this storm".
3. 'Does Anybody Hear Her' was the album's third single and #1 hit. It's a moving adult contemporary story song: "She is yearning for shelter and affection/That she never found at home/She is searching/For a hero to ride in/To ride in and save the day/And in walks her prince charming/And he knows just what to say/Momentary lapse of reason/And she gives herself away/If judgment looms under every steeple/If lofty glances from lofty people/Can't see past her scarlet letter/And we never even met her".
4. 'Stained Glass Masquerade' was written by Mark Hall and Nichole Nordeman. It's a great rock song that begins with these pointed lyrics: "Is there anyone that fails?/Is there anyone that falls?/Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small?/'Cause when I take a look around/Everybody seems so strong/I know they'll soon discover/That I don't belong/So I tuck it all away, like everything's okay/If I make them all believe it, maybe I'll believe it too/So with a painted grin, I play the part again/So everyone will see me the way that I see them/Are we happy plastic people under shiny plastic steeples/With walls around our weakness and smiles to hide our pain?"
5. 'Love Them Like Jesus' speaks of compassion: "Lord of creation holds our lives in His hands/The God of all the nations holds our lives in His hands/The Rock of our salvation holds our lives in His hands/He cares for them just as He cares for you/So love them like Jesus, love them like Jesus/You don't need the answers to all of life's questions/Just know that He loves them and stay by their side/Love them like Jesus (2X)".
6. 'Set Me Free' is a rock number about a man Jesus cast demons out of in Matthew 5: "Morning breaks another day/Finds me crying in the rain/All alone with my demons I am/Who is this man that comes my way?/The dark ones shriek/They scream His Name/Is this the One they say will set the captives free?/Jesus, rescue me/As the God man passes by/He looks straight through my eyes/And darkness cannot hide/Do you want to be free?/Lift your chains/I hold the key/All power on Heav'n and Earth belong to Me/You are free! (3X)."
7. 'While You Were Sleeping' is very thought provoking: "United States of America/Looks like another silent night/As we're sung to sleep by philosophies/That save the trees and kill the children/And while we're lying in the dark/There's a shout heard 'cross the eastern sky/For the Bridegroom has returned/And has carried His bride away in the night/America, what will we miss while we are sleeping?/Will Jesus come again and leave us slumbering where we lay?/America, will we go down in history/As a nation with no room for its King?/Will we be sleeping? (2X)".
8. Mark Hall, Chad Cates, and David Hunt wrote 'Father, Spirit, Jesus'. It's an energetic praise and worship number: "Rescued from darkness/We are walking in marvelous light/For we are children of the King!/SING/You are worthy of all honor/Glory, praise, and power/King of the nations/You are holy God Almighty/Clothed in brilliant majesty/Father, Spirit, Jesus".
9. 'In Me' is an adult contemporary song about obedience to God: "If You ask me to leap out of my boat on the crashing waves/If You ask me to go preach to a lost world that Jesus saves/I'll go, but I cannot go alone/'Cause I know I'm nothing on my own/But the power of Christ in me makes me strong/Makes me strong.../To reach out with Your hands/To learn through Your eyes/To love with the love of a Savior/To feel with Your heart/And to think with Your mind/I'd give my last breath for Your glory".
10. 'Prodigal' is the longest song at 5:41. It is a touching easy listening story song: "Daddy, here I am again/Will You take me back tonight?/I went and made the world my friend, and it left me high and dry/I drag Your Name back through the mud that You first found me in/Not worthy to be called Your Son/Is this to be my end?/Daddy, here I am/Here I am again".
11. Closing things out is 'And Now My Lifesong Sings', a tender song of testimony: "I once was lost, but now I'm found (2X)/So far away, but I'm home now/I once was lost, but now I'm found/And now my lifesong sings/I once was blind, but now I see (2X)/I don't know how, but when He touched me/I once was blind but now I see/And now my lifesong sings (3X)".
LIFESONG was produced by Mark A. Miller and executive produced by Terry Hemmings. Musically, there is a mix of pop, rock, adult contemporary, and modern praise and worship found on this record. A main theme is making the church a place where we are sensitive to the needs of others and where we are non-judgmental of those who come. We are to love others. And we are to be ourselves in church, not wearing masks. Easier said than done. Another theme is wanting to live for God and praising Him even in the stormy seasons of life. We need Christ's power in us to accomplish things on this earth. I am rating LIFESONG 95%. For more info visit: www.castingcrowns.com or look them up on facebook.