Saturday, November 24, 2018
Nichole Ellyse Nordeman was born on January 3, 1972 and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She put out her debut album, WIDE EYED, in 1998. All four singles from it, including 'To Know You', became Top 40 hits on Christian adult contemporary radio, according to Wikipedia.org. Her second album was 2000's THIS MYSTERY. What I am reviewing here is her third album, WOVEN & SPUN, which came out on Sparrow Records in 2002. It was produced by Charlie Peacock and Mark Hammond and executive produced by Brad O'Donnell. Reflecting on the album, Nichole writes: "These songs beckoned to me. Ushered me in to a place of deep reflection...I pray that this music will beckon to you as well. To your knees before the Father. And into the arms of His Son...To behold alongside you, the most befuddling, jaw-dropping kind of Goodness ever".
First up is 'Holy', one of two co-writes between Nichole and Mark Hammond. This pop song praises God: "And all You ever wanted/Only me, on my knees/Singing 'Holy, holy'/Somehow all that matters now is/You are holy, holy/Holy, holy". 'Mercies New' is one of two co-writes between Nichole and Charlie Peacock. Scott Dente plays acoustic guitar, while Bebo Norman and Nirva Dorsayint provide backing vocals on the adult contemporary track. It celebrates God's goodness: "And Your mercies are new every morning/So let me wake with the dawn/When the music is through or so it seems to be/Then let me sing a new song, old things gone/Every day it's true/You make all Your mercies new".
'Healed' is one of six songs solely penned by Nichole. This adult contemporary song uses The Love Sponge String Orchestra and speaks of our need for God: "Passed over and passed by until You claim us/Orphaned and abandoned til You name us/Hidden and disclosed til You expose our hearts/By Your death we live/It is by Your gift that we might give/That we might give/And by Your wounds we are healed". Nichole plays piano and David Larring mandolin on 'Legacy'. It's an adult contemporary song that speaks of living for more than today: "In the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides the temporary trappings of this world/I want to leave a legacy/How will they remember me?/Did I choose to love?/Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things?/I want to leave an offering/A child of mercy and grace/Who blessed Your Name unapologetically/And leave that kind of legacy".
Piano, violins, and cello are used on the easy listening number 'I Am'. It's addressed to God: "And when I am weak, unable to speak/Still I will call You by Name/Oh, Shepherd, Savior, Pasture Maker/Hold on to my hand/You say 'I Am'". Next up is a cover of Peter Gabriel's #1 hit 'In Your Eyes' from his 1986 album SO. This cover version finds Charlie Peacock on background vocals and piano. It's not as good as the original. It is a love song: "In your eyes/The light, the heat/In your eyes I am complete/I see the doorway to a thousand churches/In your eyes/The resolution of all the fruitless searches".
'Even Then' is about being honest with Christ: "So I put aside the masquerade and admit that I am not okay/Which may not be the thing to say/But I'm not ashamed to need You more each day/So, thank You Jesus/Even when You see us just as we are/Fragile and frail and so far/From who we want to be". Kenny Greenberg and Jerry McPherson play guitars, and Mark Hill plays bass on 'Never Loved You More'. It's a breezy, upbeat pop song with a fairly simple chorus: "I have never loved You more/Cause You have never loved me less/Than the day before or the day before/I have never loved You more".
'Take Me As I Am' is a song of spiritual surrender: "You're the only one that can take me as I am/At the end of myself/And the end of the day/I can find little else/But the courage to say/'I need You, that's all' (2X)". 'Doxology' runs under a minute, is acappella, and features these familiar words: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow/Praise Him all creatures here below/Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts/Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost".
Violins and cello are used on the adult contemporary ballad 'My Offering', on which Bebo Norman and Nirva Dorsayint sing backing vocals. It's a beautiful song of praise: "Open up the heavens, open up the skies/All of Your creation wants to testify/I have a song so let the earth sing along/Cause I just want to praise You". Last up is 'Gratitude', on which Gary Burnette plays electric guitar and Danny O'Lannerghty, the upright bass. It includes these prayerful words: "Daily bread, give us daily bread/Bless our bodies/Keep our children fed/Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight/Wrap us up and warm us through/Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs/Let us slumber safe from danger's view this time/Or maybe not, not today/Maybe You'll provide in other ways".
Nichole shares: "This record is dedicated to my best friend and husband, Errol. Very few people will every fully know and understand the level of sacrifice and love you have offered me over these last months". Whereas Nichole's previous album found her struggling and wrestling with doubts and questions about God and life, WOVEN & SPUN definitely finds her more at peace. She praises God for His holiness, mercy, healing, and faithfulness. She thanks God for loving us as we are and for being trustworthy. She expresses her love for God and her desire to leave a Christian legacy to those who follow after her. Light pop and adult contemporary sounds make up this record which is on the quiet and reflective side of things. I would have liked a couple more faster songs included that had more energy. Still, I'm rating WOVEN & SPUN 88%. For more info visit www.nicholenordeman.com or connect with her on social media.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Soulbreather describe themselves as "ambient indie folk rock for believers". Husband and wife duo Mark Gersmehl (WhiteHeart) and Brynn Gersmehl (Rachel Rachel) make up this duo. Mark goes by 'gersh' by the way. In 2012 they released their debut album SEVEN POINT EIGHT and in 2014 they released ALMOST INSTRUMENTAL. Fast forward to 2018 and they are back with COME ALONG, dedicated to their now deceased beagle, Hammy. Most of the songs here were written by Brynn and gersh during a week in the winter at a friend's cottage on Lake George. Brynn is responsible for acoustic guitar and vocals, while gersh is responsible for keyboards, drums and percussion, programming, and vocals. Mark Hill also adds his guitar talents, as does a former WhiteHeart member, which you'll see if you keep reading.
First up is the atmospheric pop ballad 'Come Along'. This title track is terrific and is a song of spiritual invitation: "I'm going to a land of peace/Come along with me/I'm going to find release/Come along with me/I'm going to a secret place/Come along with me/I'm going to seek His face/Come along with me". 'Over the Edge' is a moving adult contemporary number about placing oneself totally in God's hands: "Now the waters rise and fall/But there's a reason for it all/I am trusting You with my survival/And as I am letting go/I can feel the healing flow/You are leading me to my revival". 'God is Love' is a co-write between Gordon Kennedy and gersh. Kennedy plays electric guitar and sitar on this pleasant praise and worship number: "Gloria in excelsis deo/Sing with the angels and say so/Glory to God/He is love/Praise Him/His mercy is deep as the oceans/Towering steep as the mountains/Glory to God/He is love".
Next up is 'To Be With You', a reverent ballad desiring intimacy with God: "How far would I go to be with You/And feel the healing glow/To be with You/And let my spirit flow/Into the sea of You/I want to be with You (2X)/Oh, I want to be". 'On the Journey Home' is an easy listening, romantic love song: "Here, here we are again/The very best of friends/Seems as if no time has even passed/The room is warm with light/We could stay all night/Make each and every moment last/We're sharing together/A life that is better than we were hoping for". 'Wishing Well' is a call to come to Christ: "You don't want to be alone/But the love you've known has come and gone like the setting sun/But I, I want to let you know/Living Water's flowing/It doesn't matter all the things you've done.../If you come and drink it in/You will never thirst again".
'Go' is a quiet ballad that is prayerful: "I'll follow where Your light has shown/By myself but not alone/And I will let You lead this dance/Nothing will be left to chance/I want to go (4X)". This is followed by 'How the Light Comes Down', an easy listening ballad about heaven coming down to earth: "When the One True Light is on my face/Then everywhere I go's a sacred space/And the world is gonna be a better place/They'll see (2X)". Last up is 'Opening Wide', a song of testimony: "I can feel Your presence filling this place/Your splendor and Your majesty/And when I look upon Your beautiful face/You're changing me/Veil after veil is falling away/And what I couldn't see before/Is shining in the light of Your glorious day/And I want more".
COME ALONG is simply a spectacular album! Brynn's sweet vocals mesh well with gersh's hauntingly compelling vocals. The music presented on these nine songs is soothing, calming, and relaxing. The lyrics are devotional and meditative. It is clear that this husband/wife duo's relationship is anchored by Jesus Christ. In Him they find their meaning and their peace. The lyrics on this album make it clear they want others to give their lives over to God as well and find out who they truly are. I'm rating COME ALONG a perfect 100%. The album photography by Deby Dearman is beautiful. For more info visit www.soulbreather.com and/or connect with them on Facebook.
Monday, November 19, 2018
Natalie Diane Grant was born on December 21, 1971 in Seattle, Washington. Her self-titled debut album came out in 1999. She followed this up with 2001's STRONGER. Her third album was 2003's DEEPER LIFE (Curb), which I'll be reviewing here. It peaked at #25 on the US Billboard Christian Albums chart.
First up is the title track, 'Deeper Life', written by Christine Dente and Jim Cooper. It's a peppy pop/dance song that uses a choir and clappers. On it, Natalie sings of her true desires: "It's a Kingdom and it's hidden deep inside/I will be living for much more than meets the eye/Cause I need the deeper life/Where the love of God runs far and wide/I need the deeper life/I will give Him all my heart and mind/I won't be swept away by every changing tide/I believe in the deeper life". 'Days Like These' is a light pop song featuring The Nashville String Machine. It's a song of gratitude: "Days like these, so graceful that I'm falling/On my knees and thanking God/For all the little things that make me wanna say/'How I wish I had a million days like these'".
Bernie Herms and Lowell Alexander wrote 'Love Without Limits'. Michael Ripoll plays the nylon guitar and horns are used also on this catchy pop/dance song that praises God: "He loves without limits/Sees us every minute/Wherever we are walking, He is near/His Spirit is relentless/His hope for us is endless/I know, I know/He loves without limits". 'Within Me' is an adult contemporary ballad of testimony: "Within me/You wiped away all my tears/There's nothing to fear/Your love's within me/You give me the strength to believe/All that I am and that all I'll ever need/Is within me".
'I Will Be' is the first of five singles from the album. This cheerful adult contemporary song features The London Symphony Orchestra and these wonderful words: "One heart, one voice/Living out love in this world of noise/My dream and my joy/Giving You all, I have made a choice/Desperately I'm wanting to answer to Your calling/I will be a candle in the darkness/I will be the hand of heaven above/I will be a mirror that reflects Your endless love". Nichole co-wrote 'Always Be Your Baby' with Stephanie Lewis and George Teren. It's dedicated to her father, Arnold. It's a tender ballad: "Your faith, your love/And all that you believe/Have come to be the strongest part of me/And I will always be your baby".
Next up is 'That's When I'll Give Up (On Loving You)', an upbeat pop love song: "When the earth is finished spinning around/When it's raining up instead of down/When a dream can't come true/When the rivers all run out of blue/That's when I'll give up on loving you". 'Salvation' is one of two songs on the record solely penned by Natalie. This R&B song finds her sharing the Good News: "Come on and sit next to me/I'll tell you 'bout a Man who can set you free/Died when He was thirty-three/He gave His life on Calvary/It's undeniable/His page in history/So incredible/This human deity".
'I Desire' was written by Natalie, Bernie Herms, and Cindy Morgan. It's a praise and worship ballad: "The one thing I desire is just to know You more/To live a life that moves and breathes and loves to bring you joy/So fill me with a fire that burns away my doubts and all my fears/Into a place where You are all I hear/It's the one thing I desire/To do what You require is the one thing I desire". A choir and The Love Sponge Strings are used. 'Live For Today' was the last of the album's five singles. It's a pop song of one living with a purpose: "I'm gonna live for today/I'm gonna follow in Your way/I'm gonna let my little light shine like there's no tomorrow/I won't worry about the past/I know my future is intact/So I'll choose to live my life one way/I'm gonna live it for today".
Tim Davis, Michelle Swift, and Lisa Cochran provide backing vocals on 'I Am Not Alone'. This adult contemporary ballad speaks to God's faithfulness: "You walk beside me/Giving strength I've never known/And I am not alone/You walk beside me/I am not alone/Wherever the road leads". Last up is the Bonus Track, 'No Sign of It' (The Humberto Gatica Radio Mix), from the film 'View from the Top'. It includes these words of positivity: "No sign of any rain/My skies are clear today/I keep bracing for that hit/But there's no sign of it/No obstacles in sight/My skies are clear tonight/I keep thinking I might see that cloud arrive/Oh, but there's no sign of it/No sign of it".
In the liner notes Natalie writes: "First and foremost, thank You, Jesus, for loving me. You've entrusted me with so much. I pray You are pleased. This is all about You". The music on this album can largely be divided into two categories-pop/dance, and adult contemporary. There are an equal number of fast and slow songs. Natalie celebrates life and being alive, and God's love for us. She desires to have an intimate, vibrant relationship with Him. She wants to share God's love with the world. There's also a standout love song addressed to her Dad. I'm rating DEEPER LIFE 97% and recommending it to fans of Tammy Trent, Michael English, and Jaci Velasquez. There are several pretty pictures of Natalie included with this CD. For more info visit www.nataliegrant.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Nichole Ellyse Nordeman was born on January 3, 1972. She was raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She released her debut studio album WIDE EYED in 1998. All four singles from it became Top 40 hits on Christian Adult Contemporary radio. Her second album, THIS MYSTERY, was released by Sparrow Records in 2000. It was produced and arranged by Mark Hammond and executive produced by Grant Cunningham. In the liner notes, Nichole writes: "'Walking On Water' by Madeleine L'Engle should be, in my opinion, required reading for anyone who has ever tried to navigate the murky waters where the worlds of faith and art still swim around together. Ms. L'Engle has given me a gentle nudge to remember and reclaim the innocence, naivete, and mystery of my faith long before it got lost in the land of adult reasoning".
Starting things off is one of eight songs Nichole penned alone, 'This Mystery', the title track. This bouncy pop song is addressed to God: "Do You wish, do You want us to breathe again?/Say goodbye to the lines that we've colored in brown and grey/From day to day, hey, yeah/Do You cry, do You hope for all things made new?/Try and try to invoke us to live in You/That we might be/The hands and feet of this mystery, oh". 'Tremble' is a funky adult contemporary ballad about Nichole's relationship with God: "Have I come too casually?/Because it seems to me/There's something I've neglected/How does one approach a Deity with informality/And still protect the Sacred.../Oh, let me not forget to tremble (2X)". 'Fool For You' is a beautiful song of spiritual dedication: "I would be a fool for You/All because You asked me to/A simpleton who's seemingly naive/I do believe You came and made Yourself a fool for me".
Next up is 'Help Me Believe', a quiet song that longs for a more innocent time: "Take me back to the time when I was maybe eight or nine/And I believed/When Jesus walked on waters blue/And if He helped me, I could too/If I believed/Before rationale, analysis, and systematic thinking/Robbed me of a sweet simplicity/When wonders and when mysteries/Were far less often silly dreams/And childhood fantasies". Fernando Ortega provides harmony vocals on 'Small Enough'. It's an easy listening number that includes these prayerful words: "Oh great God/Be small enough to hear me now/Oh great God/Be close enough to feel You now/There have been moments when I could not face Goliath on my own/And how could I forget we marched around our share of Jerichos.../Just wanna know that everything will be alright".
Nichole co-wrote the pop/R&B track 'Lookin' At You (Lookin' At Me)' with Mark Hammond and Jill Tomalty. It has very relatable lyrics: "I'm not tryin' to set an expectation/I'm not askin' for the moon/I just need a little confirmation, something true/Lookin' at you/I'm lookin' at you, lookin' at me/Lookin' for love that comes with a guarantee/What if I knew all that I need/Is held in a hand that'll always offer me this love". 'As' is a cover of a 1976 Stevie Wonder song. Geoff Thurman provides backing vocals on this upbeat pop/R&B song of romance: "As around the sun the earth knows she's revolving/And the rose buds know to bloom in early May/Just as hate knows love's the cure/You can rest your mind assure/That I'll be loving you always".
Nichole co-wrote 'Home' with Mark Hammond. It's a nice pop song of testimony: "And the mystery of Your love for me/Is not as hidden as it seemed to be/Should have known then when You said to me/'Seek and you will find'/It was right here all the time". 'Please Come' is a song of spiritual invitation: "There is room enough for all of us, please come/And the arms are open wide enough, please come/And our parts are never greater than the sum/This is the heart of the One/Who stands before an open door and bids us, 'Come'".
'Every Season' is an easy listening ballad about seeing God in nature: "And I notice You in children's games/In those who watch them from the shade/Every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder/You are summer.../And still I notice You when branches crack/And in my breath on frosted glass/Even now in death/You open doors for life to enter/You are winter". The Nashville String Machine is used to good effect. Last up is the Bonus Track, 'Why'. In 1998 it won Nordeman a songwriting competition sponsored by the Gospel Music Association (GMA) and led her to receive a recording contract. Here, on this live version, Roger Ryan plays piano and John Catchings plays cello. Much like Ray Boltz's 'Watch the Lamb', this is a moving ballad that sees Calvary through a child's eyes: "So I said, 'Daddy, why are they screaming?/Why are the faces of some of them beaming?/Why is He dressed in that bright purple robe?/I bet that crown hurts Him more than He shows/Daddy, please, can't you do something?/He looks as though He's gonna cry/You said He was stronger than all of those guys/Daddy, please tell me why/Why does everyone want Him to die?'".
On THIS MYSTERY Nichole Nordeman wrestles with her questions and doubts such as: Who is God? Where is He? What is her relationship with Him to be like? The lyrics are very thought provoking and some Christians might not appreciate her being so inquisitive, but I believe God can handle it. In the end, she finds God to be loving and true. Fans of the pop, adult contemporary, and easy listening sounds of Sara Groves, Sarah McLachlan, and Jann Arden should check this one out! Though there are a couple times where the album gets sleepy, I'm still rating it 92%. For more info visit www.nicholenordeman.com and connect with her on Facebook.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Paul Lester Overstreet was born on March 17, 1955 in Vancleave, Mississippi. He released his self-titled solo debut in 1982. His second solo album, SOWIN' LOVE, birthed five straight Top 10 hits on the country charts, including 'Love Helps Those', and 'Seein' My Father In Me'. Paul had a #1 hit with 'Daddy's Come Around' from 1991's HEROES. Fast forward to 1992 and Overstreet put out his fourth studio album LOVE IS STRONG (RCA Nashville). It peaked at #28 on the Billboard Christian Albums chart. The album was produced by Brown Bannister and Overstreet.
'Take Another Run' is upbeat country when it comes to the music. Paul Franklin plays steel guitar and pedabro, while Rob Hajacos plays fiddle. It's about persevering in relationships: "Sometimes the mountain looks so high when we're standing at the bottom/But once we've made it to the top we can't see the problem/Right now it hurts a little bit but we've never been the kind to quit/And I know we'll make it over, we'll be rolling in the clover/Let's take another run at it baby, take another run at our love". 'Still Out There Swinging' is the only song Paul wrote alone here. It's an old school country and western song that tells a story: "So she gave him enough rope to hang himself/Now he's still out there swinging/He's all over town/He can always be found anywhere there's a cowgirl singing/She said that she hoped he might change, but she don't think that thought has ever entered into his thinking/So she gave him enough rope to hang himself/Now he's still out there swinging".
'Me and My Baby' is one of two co-writes with Paul Davis. Strings are arranged by D. Bergen White and background vocalists include Kathie Baillie and Lisa Bevill. This light pop love song was a #22 hit. Here's the chorus: "Me and my baby got a good old fashioned love/We ain't giving it up for nobody when the times get tough/As long as the world keeps spinning around/This is where I'll be found/Here with my baby, got a good thing going/And it keeps on growing/Got a good old fashioned love, oh yeah, uh huh". Paul and Taylor Dunn wrote 'There But For the Grace of God Go I'. It includes backing vocals by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Christopher Harris and won a Dove Award for 'Country Recorded Song of the Year'. This great mid-tempo country song encourages us to remember and help the least of these amongst us: "Oh there but for the grace of God go I/How without compassion can we pass them by?/Oh, it could be you and it could be me the world has locked outside/There but for the grace of God go I/Oh the time has come for everyone to learn to help another/We could turn this whole wide world around if we'd only love each other".
Next up is the title track, 'Love is Strong', a country ballad with these beautiful words: "Love is strong (2X)/It can move a mountain/It can roll away the stone/Love is strong (2X)/But never demands its own way/No love never demands its own way". Steel guitar is played by Paul Franklin and strings are arranged by Archie Jordan. 'Head Over Heels' is the song of one smitten by a lady: "I'm still head over heels in love with you/Just like the first time that we met/I know I never will forget/I knew right then that it was real/I still get a thrill when I think about you/Don't ever doubt the way I feel/I love you now and always will/I'm still head over heels".
Paul co-wrote 'What Goes Without Saying' with Jeff Borders. Supporting vocals are provided by Paul, Glen Campbell, Susan Ashton, and Kelly Willard. This is a sentimental country number: "He stood there looking at his father who was 85 years old/He remembered all the ball games they played so long ago/Then he put his arms around him and kissed him on the cheek/He said 'Dad, it's time I told you what a friend you've been to me'". 'Take Some Action' is a groovy sounding country song that includes this story: "Now Harry, he was married to his work and his wife/Had to decide which was first in his life/He traded some money for some more time at home/Now his wife calls him 'honey'/The romance is back on".
Paul and Randy Travis wrote 'Lord, She Sure is Good at Loving Me'. It's a country and western ballad of gratitude: "Lord, she sure is good at loving me/I know You had a hand in this/Cause it's been so plain to see/That I've been blessed with the very best that love will ever be/Lord, she sure is good at loving me". Last up is 'Till the Answer Comes (Gotta Keep Praying)'. Matt Rollings plays piano and Kelly Willard and Buddy Greene are background vocalists. It's an upbeat country song encouraging spiritual persistence: "Till the answer comes you gotta keep praying/Keep praying till the answer comes/If you knock one time and there's no answer/Well, don't turn away from the door/You've got to knock again until you've been let in/Sometimes it only takes once more"
To be truthful, to this day, there isn't a lot of great Christian country music out there. LOVE IS STRONG is a splendid album of country music, with some country and western music mixed in. There are more fast songs than slow songs. There are ones about happy, fulfilling, romantic, committed relationships, and ones about the value of working on relationships. God's tender, but strong, love for us is spoken of and we are reminded to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. We are reminded as well to be a people of prayer. I'm rating this album, which runs 38 minutes and 42 seconds, a 100%. Paul's vocals are easy to listen to. For more info visit: www.pauloverstreet.com and connect with him on Facebook.