Music Reviews

Everyone’s a critic! Well, I’m a music critic anyway. Below are some recent music reviews I’ve written for Nappaland.com, the FREE Internet magazine for families. Check out that site for book, movie and even more music reviews along with other high quality content that’s relevant, eternal and FREE! (all these reviews are owned by Nappaland.com so check with them for premission to reprint). Enjoy!

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Robert Pierre - Inside OutINSIDE OUT

Robert Pierre / Think About It Records

Fan Appeal: Tweenagers & Teens

Genre: Bubblegum Pop / CCM

In this day and age when arts programs seem to be the first budget cuts made when school funding gets tight, it’s good to see a success story for such a young performer. Even in most churches today, it’s difficult to find good teaching music programs – but not in the case of Robert Pierre. This young man has been singing from a very early age. At the age of five he joined the choir at his church where he eventually sang for over 50,000 parishioners in the church’s annual Christmas pageant.

With this kind of encouragement, Robert continued his musical journey through the age of 12 when contemporary Christian artist Al Denson came to lead worship at Robert’s school (how cool is that?). Al heard Robert sing and encouraged his parents to get Robert into a studio and do some recording. They did, and much to everyone’s surprise, this caught the attention of a local Christian radio station that began playing his songs on air. Other radio stations heard about it and before anyone knew it, the songs were being heard on hundreds of radio stations across the country. Seeing the remarkable success even without the usual formula of a marketing team, promotional kits and investment dollars, Mr. Denson encouraged the Pierre family to pursue the full-length project you’re reading about right now.

Inside Out is certainly very well produced. And, the songs are very appropriate for the target audience, which is 8 to 12 year olds. This is good news to many parents who share a concern for the type of inappropriate, confusing messages that are being marketed to our pre-teens today through music.

The songs here are fun and touch on themes of God’s love (“God Is Love”), the importance of knowing the difference one person can make (“Reach”) and walking out our faith [“On Faith Alone I Stand (Sola Fide)”]. The track “Think About It” also challenges kids to think about the controversial topic of evolution vs. creation.

The first radio single, “Eternal” is a polished, contemplative song that reminds us that the only thing that will last forever is God’s love. According to the website (www.RobertPierre.com), Robert was personally involved in picking out the songs that he could wholeheartedly believe in and those that represented the issues kids his in his age group are facing.

Robert Pierre’s voice is certainly unique. When I first heart it, I thought of Jon Anderson, the lead singer from the popular 80s rock band, Yes. Although Robert’s voice will change as he matures physically, you can tell his heart is in the mix. With this quality debut, it’s easy to get excited to see how this young man’s career develops.

If you’re a parent concerned about what your pre-teens are listening to on their iPods, I would encourage you to give a listen to Inside Out. My younger daughter has given it the thumbs up, and I think with the diversity of styles on the CD (there’s even a short Robert-rap!) your kids will really appreciate getting to know these songs. My hope is that in hearing Robert’s story, other kids (and parents) will be prompted to encourage young people to pursue an interest in the arts. You just never know what could happen…

MUSICBLOG RATING: B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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Bruce Gaitsch - SincerelySINCERELY

Bruce Gaitsch / Autumn Records

Fan Appeal: Guitar fans of any age

Genre: Instrumental / Acoustic

If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path – check out the upcoming release from Bruce Gaitsch. You may think you haven’t heard him before – but you’d probably be wrong. You see, this former Chicago music scene veteran has been playing and writing songs for a long time.

From an early age, Bruce had musical inspiration all around him. His father played pedal steel on the WLS Barndance for years and he owned a music store that was frequented by up-and-coming musical giants such as Ted Nugent, The Shadows of Knight, The Buckinghams and Chicago. This early exposure led Bruce to a musical career that includes more than 3,000 recording sessions in Chicago and the writing of songs for many well-known artists, including Timothy B. Schmidt of The Eagles, Peter Cetera, Chicago, Kansas, The Fixx Restless Heart, Poco, Philip Bailey, Tom Scott, Agnetta Faltskog (ABBA) and Lara Fabian.

A few career highlights you may immediately recognize include Bruce’s co-writing efforts on the Top 5 radio hit, “Don’t Mean Nothing,” recorded by Richard Marx, and his first number one hit, “La Isla Bonita,” which was co-written by Gaitsch, Patrick Leonard and Madonna.

His release, “Sincerely” is truly a treasure for acoustic guitar fans. Bruce’s meticulous pursuit of the art of recording the proper sound of an acoustic guitar really pays off and shines through on this project. His high praise of McPherson® guitars is fully justified upon listening through these tracks. “Usually, acoustic guitars are recorded mono, compressed and equalized so that they don’t interfere sonically with the other instruments to be recorded,” Gaitsch explains. “I wanted this guitar to be captured as I hear it while I play. It is the world’s finest sounding acoustic guitar, and the fidelity and feel of it as you play is an incredible experience.”

Gaitsch is joined by the soothing background vocals of his very talented wife, Janey Clewer, as well as his daughter, Samantha, on flute, and Howard Levy on harmonica. These four together have produced an unparalleled musical experience.

There is something different going on as you listen to these tracks. More to be appreciated as a fine wine after a long day, the melodies on this CD are expressive and contemplative – certainly much more than mere mellow background instrumental music. The songs invite you in, from the warm and melodic “Miss Sam” and the emotional “Jenny’s Dream” to the uplifting “Mia’s Day.” My favorite moment, however, is “Swamp Thang” where Gaitsch engages Levy in a guitar vs. harmonica duel from the bayou.

It’s all good!

If you’re a fan of acoustic guitar, you’re going to want to drink this in. Fans of jazz guitar music or perhaps Phil Keaggy will immediately resonate with the passion going on here. The effort put into producing this project also will certainly be appreciated and recognized. Easily recommended.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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John Reuben - Word of MouthWORD OF MOUTH

John Reuben / Gotee Records

Fan Appeal: Urban Teens, and Suburban Teens whowant to mimic them.

Genre: Hip-Hop

Columbus rapper John Reuben has been busy sharpening his wit for the upcoming release of his fifth and most enticing project, Word of Mouth (set for 2/6/07 release). If you’re not familiar with Mr. Reuben, or Johnreu as some of his MySpace fans call him, let me share some of the ways he describes himself:

“I’m an underdog. I mean, I came from nothing.”

“I’m a six-foot-one, kind of slim, chiseled, kind of mysteriously good looking guy from Columbus, Ohio who raps”

“I’m unorthodox, I’m a mystery.”

“I’m a professional, I’m fun, I’m left-brained, I’m creative, I’m totally inspired, I’m doing my thing.”

“It’s like a creative hip-hop thing, like not typical, like yo-yo-yo hip-hop.”

“That’s my schtick: Unorthodox type emcee from Columbus who does things differently.”

“I’m totally unique.”

I don’t know exactly how this will go over with his fans, but Johnreu really reminds me of a Napoleon Dynamite character who can rap. His sense of humor is his greatest appeal, and he even has a video mockumentary on his site that is very funny. With this kind of personality and background, you can appreciate his unusual style (and satire) a bit better.

Reuben has an almost cult following and he’s sold over two hundred thousand records thus far. His fans have come to appreciate his passionate, emotional (if a bit unusual) songs. Ruben’s biography (courtesy of Gotee Records) says it best: “Perhaps Reuben’s chief accomplishment and area of expertise is in his role as wordsmith. He excels in crafting spoken-word poetry with hints of activism and social commentary, yet always with a hop-filled spiritual twist.”

Word of Mouth is full of candor and tongue-in-cheek wit. It’s a hard-to-classify commentary of spoken word combined with a diverse presentation of beats and samples. It’s very experimental and very interesting. The title track here is a hypnotic song that teeters on the edge between dark and fairy-tale-cute that really makes you think about the words we say (you have to hear the humorous ending for yourself). “Miserable Exaggeration” is a trance-like commentary about how we waste so much time trying to impress others, complete with ambient keyboards and a French girl overlay. You never know what to expect!

The first cut, “Sing It Like You Mean It,” has whips, cheerleaders screaming “OHIO” and a James Bond guitar riff. “Good Evening.” throws in a disco-esque moment or two. And the song, “Make Money Money” has a banjo riff over a heavy hip-hop beat and a silly chant – a kind of cajun bayou meets gangsta. See? Always unpredictable.

I’d describe this project as very creative and insightful. Reuben’s words really make you think. He presents himself as cynical and critical, but always very clever. He’s listed among Christian artists and he does mention God on occasion. However, he’s more political and philosophical than overtly Christian in his content. According to his bio, his goal is “to motivate anyone and everyone to uncross their arms, drop any attitude, and join with him in enjoying the music.”

If you’re looking for a good, clean alternative to the likes of Eminem, or if you’re a fan of KJ-52, The Roots, GRITS or even Steve Taylor, you’d likely find plenty here to enjoy. But given Johnreu’s sense of satire and experimental style, don’t expect Word of Mouth to have universal appeal among the members of your family.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B-

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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Phil Keaggy - Dream AgainDREAM AGAIN

Phil Keaggy / Strobie Records

Fan Appeal: Parents

Genre: Adult Contemporary

Few artists have such a rich musical history as Phil Keaggy. His professional career started 35 years ago, while he was still in high school, and has since grown into a well-known legacy that boasts more than 50 album releases to his name, more than 27 awards and nominations, including 7 Dove Awards and several Grammy nominations. He’s even been hailed as one of the Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century by Musician Magazine. It’s a fascinating history and we are fortunate to have him among us.

Now, is it just me or has 2006 been a busy year for the good Mr. Keaggy? In March, he released the highly acclaimed Jammed!, an instrumental album that showcases the guitar-rocker side of Phil. In July, he released Roundabout, a very unusual instrumental project of one-man-band creations that were captured on the road during sound checks before Keaggy’s shows. And now, much to the delight to his loyal, long-time fans, we find out that Keaggy has recently announced the January 30, 2007 release of Dream Again, his first original vocal project in six years.

As I listened to this CD, I became aware of an underlying theme of family and relationships that really drew me in. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Phil Keaggy is the sense that music is more than just melodies and words to him. He always includes in the liner notes or on his website lots of “behind the scenes” information to go along with the project. That way fans can find out the story behind the songs and what was going on when they were created.

As I read about this project on his website (www.philkeaggy.com), the theme was confirmed. “I feel that [Dream Again] was inspired by people in my life, who are near and dear to me,” Keaggy writes. “It’s a relationship album – about our relationship with God and with those who are near in our lives.”

I was also pleased to discover Phil’s family contributing to the mix of songs on this album. For instance one of the tracks, “Micah 6:8” features Phil’s daughter, Alicia, on vocals. This song is an interesting tune with international elements woven into the melody. It reminds us (as does the Scripture verse on which it is based) that to please God we must do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Phil’s son, Ian, is also featured on vocals in the contemplative song “Why.” And Ian plays lead acoustic guitar on “Revive Me,” a punchy rock offering where we find Keaggy evaluating his life and thinking about the remaining years.

The song “There with You” is dedicated to Keaggy’s daughter, Olivia, and is a window into their relationship and memories shared, including tea for two, dancing with the moon and listening to old 40’s tunes.

Phil Keaggy also wrote a song for his wife entitled, “It’s You and Me.” This song has kind of an early Elvis feel to it and declares their love for each other as they think about their life together after the kids have left the home. He even wrote “Kathy’s Song” and “How Can I Thank You” for his sisters.

And, since Dream Again is an album of love songs, Keaggy included a sweet ballad he wrote for friends called “Love is the Reason.”

In all, Dream Again is a refreshing, thoughtful treat for a parent’s ears and your heart. There’s just something soothing about all the dedication to family and relationships that is jam-packed into this 12-song package. Although not for everyone (for instance, your teenagers probably will want music with a harder edge), for fans of Phil Keaggy, this is a must-have CD. There’s plenty of musical variety so there’s something here for everyone. I think you’ll really enjoy this one.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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Michael W. Smith StandSTAND

Michael W. Smith / Reunion Records

Fan Appeal: Adults

Genre: Adult Contemporary

What can you say about Michael W. Smith that’s not already been said? With 21 albums to his credit, this CCM legend has influenced the Christian music industry in a big way – and he’s given the music critics plenty to write about since the early 1980s. I can still remember the day my good friend let me listen to Smitty’s first cassette on the way to church summer camp. It’s hard to believe he’s going to be 50 soon.

For me, though, Michael W. Smith has been a bit of an enigma. Each time I get one of his projects (and I think I have almost all of them), the same thing happens. I start listening and my first reaction is always the same: I’m not too impressed. But soon the songs grow on me and eventually I find myself wearing out the CD (or vinyl album or cassette in the case of his early projects). There seem to always be one or two songs from each album that I ultimately add to my list of all-time favorites. For example, do you remember hearing the song “Friends” for the first time? I thought it was the cheesiest song I’d ever heard. My friends felt the same way. But it quickly flew up the charts and we were all singing it over and over on the bus on the way home from camp.

I’m not sure if it’s the incredible hook-laden songwriting I love best, or the intensity I feel from him as he plays and sings his heart out on every tune. His gravelly voice has been both praised and criticized, but he has definitely shown himself to be a gifted, time-tested artist.

His newest project, Stand, is no exception to the rule. I listened to it several times before that familiar fondness started to kick in. There was something a bit different this time around, however, and I later discovered that much of the writing (or co-writing) was done by Smitty’s young protégé Leeland Mooring. In addition, Smith’s son, Tyler, wrote the upbeat “Escape Your Love.” I think we can look forward to more from him.

The project starts out with a pleasant piano-driven (if a bit redundant) “Cover Me” that reminds me of Smith in the early days. “Come To The Cross” is another upbeat tune with heavy piano presence that has a similar effect. “Open Arms” is a predictable ballad you’ve come to expect from Michael W. Smith over the years.

Two of the songs that may yet end up on my favorites list include “The Stand,” a very simple chorus that starts out with just a guitar and intensifies with each refrain, adding instruments and voices as it grows. The words are a powerful proclamation that somehow lit my heart on fire. The other favorite would have to be Smith’s remake of the Keith Green classic, “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful.” The dramatic minor-key arrangement really makes this tune come alive.

The one song I just didn’t get was the song Smith and Amy Grant co-wrote called, “How to Say Goodbye.” I found it very mechanical from a stylistic perspective and sappy from a message perspective. Not to mention that it ends way too suddenly. But, don’t forget how I first felt when I heard the timeless, “Friends” song.

Diehard Smitty fans will appreciate this project because after a few albums of Smith exploring different musical avenues (as refreshing and welcomed as they were), he has definitely returned to his roots. If you’re not familiar with Michael W. Smith, you’ll like it if you listen to the likes of Mark Shultz, James Taylor, or someone like Don Henley. Give this one a chance – if you’re like me it’s going to grow on you and you’ll end up with a few new favorites.

MUSICBLOG RATING:B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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Chris Tomlin See The MorningSEE THE MORNING

Chris Tomlin / Sixsteps (EMI)

Fan Appeal: Teens and Adults

Genre: Worship

What do you get when you mix a strong melody with simple, sing-able lyrics and a great musical hook? Well, a hit song, of course. Combine that with crazy musical talent, lyrics based on Scripture, and a passion for worship and you have EMI’s hottest new worship hit-machine, Chris Tomlin.

In a relatively short time, Tomlin has risen to the top rungs of the crowded ladder of worship artists. He currently has 17 songs on the CCLI list of top-performed worship songs, including three number one singles. He’s sold more than a half a million albums and he’s been awarded no less than five Gospel Music Awards. Literally millions of people are singing his tunes in church every week.

I was curious how he could follow up his 2004 project, Arriving, but See The Morning is at least as good, maybe better in some spots.

I love the title of the project, because many of my favorite Bible verses have to do with the morning, including Psalm 30:5 (“…weeping may go on all night, but joy comes in the morning”). Interestingly, there is no title track, but the liner notes explain. “The morning is a place of hope, a place of worship … I pray that these songs help you ‘see the morning.’ If you find yourself in the dark night of hardship, grief or circumstance, know that the morning is coming. And, if you find yourself in the best of times, praise God for the morning!”

If you’re familiar with Chris Tomlin, you’ve no doubt heard track number two, “Made to Worship,” on the radio already. If not, it’s a fairly laid-back, happy tune that answers the age-old question of why we were created. I also really appreciated the first track entitled, “How Can I Keep from Singing,” which Tomlin, Matt Redman and the album’s producer, Ed Cash, adapted from the traditional hymn. Additionally, the song, “Let God Arise” is one of the few worship tunes that you can really rock to, and I love the second verse lyrics: “His enemies will run for sure / The church will stand she will endure / He holds the keys of life, our Lord / Death has no sting no final word.”

Another bright spot on the project is “Glory in the Highest,” a sing-able anthem that starts out soft and low and grows in intensity. This song will surely lead many into the presence of God during worship in many churches. “Glorious” is also a favorite, although if you read the lyrics by themselves there’s nothing too earth-shattering in them. Still, Tomlin’s gift of unforgettable melody really makes up for the lyrical shortcomings and the end result is very worshipful and passionate.

In spite of all the others, though, the real ray of sunshine here is what Tomlin and co-writer, Louie Giglio, have done with the standard hymn, “Amazing Grace.” They’ve added a chorus to this timeless classic that really wakes you up (to continue the theme). You’ve simply got to hear this one.

If you like Delirious, the Passion worship band or Michael W. Smith, you are probably already familiar with Chris Tomlin’s music. If not, do yourself a favor and plug this one into your iPod. You’re in for a real worship treat.

MUSICBLOG RATING:A-

–Eric Jaqua Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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FACING THE GIANTS ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK

Various Artists / Reunion Records (Provident)

Fan Appeal: Teens and Adults

Genre: Soundtracks

I find myself compelled to include a review for a compilation CD soundtrack – something I would normally not be inclined to do. However, I am thrilled to be able to promote anything associated with the movie, Facing the Giants. I believe in what this entire project represents and I couldn’t be any prouder of the team responsible for making this all happen.

If you’re not familiar with this movie, Facing the Giants is an amazing independent project that was solely produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. The cast and crew consist completely of volunteers from the church, and the entire thing was created with a single camera and a lowly budget of $100,000. You have to see the movie just because of the how it came to be. Sure the acting is not too good. The story is fairly predictable and sports movies have never been all that interesting to me. But look to the future and what this project represents! I’d love to see more independent films like this, with a positive, unashamed Christian message, in the major movie houses!

Now, I must keep in mind that this is not the movie review…and so it’s with regret that I say there’s nothing all that remarkable about the CD soundtrack. It’s a fine collection of some great Christian music that any CCM fan would be happy to own, but there’s nothing here that you can’t find somewhere else. Unless, of course, you like one or two minute orchestral movie score moments. To me, these add nothing to the project.

Still, during my viewing of the movie, I remember several times noticing that some of my favorite Christian songs were playing in the background. I remember thinking that I might even have to break my rule and actually buy the soundtrack to this one, because on it you’ll get songs from best-selling groups like Casting Crowns (“Voice of Truth) and Third Day (“Come Together” and “Come On Back to Me”). And, you’ll hear “Completely” by Ana Laura, which I thought at first was Amy Grant, and “Never Give Up” by Josh Bates.

Overall, the soundtrack is well produced and will provide fans of the movie tangible memories from the show. It’s nothing remarkable on its own, but there is some good music on this CD, and that might be enough.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B-

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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YOU ARE GOOD

Matt Papa / Spin360

Fan Appeal: Youth and Adults

Genre: Worship / AC Pop

He may be young, but the depth and maturity of this 22-year-old’s songs are beyond his years. Matt Papa is the first artist to be released on the new record label Spin360, founded by worship leader/recording artist Joel Engle.

Matt may be new to you, but he’s been leading worship since the age of 14. This accomplished musician has been touring the country performing in churches, colleges and coffeehouses, continuously crafting his musical gifts.

And, “musical gifts” is right when describing this artist. Papa plays all the guitar and keyboard parts on the CD. His voice is pure and strong. He’s the full package, sonically. But my favorite thing is how the songs on his debut CD, You Are Good, are so insightful and packed full of scripture references. What’s not to love?

The project provides a refreshing collection of 13 songs, with a nice balance of original songs, familiar hymns and new Psalms set to a cutting-edge, contemporary style with obvious Brit-rock and classical influences. For example, the title song (from 2 Chronicles 5 and 6) is a driving rock track that celebrates the glory of God dwelling within the temple (now the heart of believers). “Lead Me On” is a lively, upbeat song that comes from 1 Thessalonians 5 and reminds us “It’s not what you are doing, it’s who you are becoming.” Another of my favorites, “Dancing Generation”, speaks of “the overflow of our forgiven soul” that gives us cause to jump and shout because of the freedom we’ve received from Jesus Christ.

The highlight of the CD for me, though, is the last track simply entitled, “23.” This is the 23rd Psalm put into an amazingly simple, but powerful, piano musical bed. Similarly, another track, “95”, puts Psalm 95 atop an encouraging pop ballad track that invites us to worship our “Great God and Great King above all gods.”

I really appreciate this project on many levels. The production is top-notch. The talent is just right – nothing too “out front” as to distract from the main point of the project – worship of our God. The lyrics are Scripture-saturated and powerful to change lives just for having listened.

I love what Papa said in his press kit. “I’m a follower of Jesus first, a minister second, and an artist third. Music and everything of this earth fades away, but as Jesus says, the word of God stands forever. I feel a part of my calling is to share the gospel through music since sometimes songs can be more effective than pastors or teachers. They get in people’s heads and hearts, and if I can put the word of the Bible to music, then I can let God speak for Himself.”

If you ask me, this is a must hear artist and CD. I predict this project will do well as one of the year’s best. I am so impressed by the maturity and sing-ability of these Scripture tunes. Worship leaders, listen up. You need to utilize these tunes in your worship sets.

And, most pleasing of all, it seems Matt is genuinely pursuing a balance in his role as performer with his calling to continue his ministry priority.

If you like Coldplay, David Crowder Band, Delirious and Bloc Party, you’re sure to like this CD. If you want your kids to have music that they’ll not only enjoy, but that will feed God’s Word into their grey matter as they listen, then you definitely need this music in their iPods!

MUSICBLOG RATING: A

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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GOOD MONSTERS

Jars of Clay / Essential Records

Fan Appeal: Teens to Adults

Genre: Alternative Pop/Rock

I’m entertained by reading how all the reviewers attempt to categorize Jars of Clay’s new project. Some say this highly anticipated release goes in a completely new direction. Others call it a return to one of their previous roots. Some call is a risky endeavor and others claim it’s the best effort by the band thus far.

Well, I don’t know about all that, but I do know I like this project very much.

What can you say about a band who, for the past twelve years has been turning out interesting, edgy music that consistently provides listeners with catchy songs with challenging messages? Jars is one of the few bands who have enjoyed significant success, both in CCM and in the mainstream markets. I don’t notice anything particularly earth-shattering in their new release, Good Monsters. But, what I do notice is another collection of songs that are both fun to listen to and relevant to my personal life. That’s what continues to bring this band success.

One other thing I noticed as I listened to this project over and over is that it has a somewhat darker theme than usual…starting with the cover art. The guys look as though they’ve been rolling in motor oil and on the front they appear as a four-headed monster with their very interesting innards showing, which consists of things like an old table and turned-over chair, some leftover food, and various parts and gears and wires strewn about. Lyrically, there is a kind of emotional crying out to God in most of the tunes on this CD.

Lead-singer Dan Haseltine confirms with this explanation: “I was not sure how all of the experiences of the last few years would translate into music. There have been so many things to look at and describe. This record is part confessional, part euphoric love poem, part bitter separation, and part benediction. It was born out of many experiences and conversations between addicts, failures, lovers, loners, believers, and beggars. And so the language of recovery and the honest discourse about our attempts to live apart from God and apart from each other is a theme.”

Okay, let’s be honest. Do I get the whole “good monsters” thing? I think it’s a great hook with great marketing potential and they really play it up on their secondary website, www.good-monsters.com. There you can see strange video shorts of the band in various situations with multi-colored “monster-suited” people running around. It’s all very entertaining and edgy. It’s a collection of the kind of things that make people tell their friends to check it out and, for a while, cause quite a buzz. But, do I really get it? I think I understand what they’re saying. I mean, I could quote Scripture that I think is on-topic like “our best is as filthy rags” and I know we sometimes act like monsters. The “good” part could be as a result of God in us. I’ve read the lyrics over carefully to see if I’m even close, but to be blunt – it’s too much work. I don’t like to work that hard so I quit trying to understand it completely and just enjoyed the music.

As far as the music goes, what’s not to love? Since their debut release back on October of 1995, they have been giving us new music that continues to appeal to the masses. Their fresh, gritty sound and the unique vocal sound of Dan Haseltine resume their award-winning formula on Good Monsters. For example, “Work,” is a driving rock groove with the dead-honest lyrical line, “Do you know what I mean when I say, ‘I don’t want to be alone’?” “Dead Man (Carry Me)” is also a great song that reminds me of something from the 80s with a kind of David Bowie sound.

“There is a River” is a song that reminds me of Jars’ Redemption Songs project, and I like it because I don’t have to think so hard to find the message: “There is a river that washes you clean / There is a tree that marks the places you’ve been / Blood that was spilled although not your own / For all these things love will atone.”

The tune “Mirrors and Smoke” reminds me of last year’s Johnny Cash craze in the CCM circles, and it’s always a pleasure to hear the strong vocals of guest-artist Leigh Nash in this duet.

Without a doubt, my favorite moment on this project is the song “Oh My God.” It’s a moving song with two distinct parts. Dan starts out this tune with a smooth folksy, falsetto voice, crying out to God. Then, the song starts a slow crescendo building in intensity with lyrical groanings about deep inner thoughts concerning our conflicting relationships with God and this world. It ends all too suddenly if you ask me. But, what a powerful song.

If you’re not familiar with Jars of Clay, but are a fan of Coldplay or Counting Crows or even Toad the Wet Sprocket, you’d do well to grab a copy of Good Monsters. Unless, of course, you’re looking for an emotional pick-me-up because this is definitely not that. It’s a raw, honest series of tunes that will have you going back over the lyrics to grasp some kind of deeper understanding. It takes a lot of work, but for the diligent, it’s definitely worth the effort.

MUSICBLOG RATING: A-

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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WRITE MY SONG

Marcus Cole / Pure Springs Gospel – EMI Gospel

Fan Appeal: Adults

Genre: R&B / Gospel

Every once in a while, it’s good to just smooth out to some great R&B/gospel music. This month I was fortunate enough to grab a listen to the new debut project from the former lead singer of the male super-group, Commissioned. It’s called Write My Song and there’s lots to enjoy on this CD.

Mr. Cole’s ultra-smooth vocals glide along on a very enjoyable journey from old-school R&B to lively hip-hop, with several stops at stirring, fully-produced ballads along the way. His writing reflects maturity and a solid musical foundation, and his sincerity shines through. You can almost feel the passion as the melodies and lyrics weave a warm, fuzzy blanket to snuggle up in. Sounds cheesy, I know – but this CD has been the music of choice several times recently when I just wanted to relax and worship God privately and intimately.

For example, the title track, “Write My Song” provides a gentle rolling background with layered vocal harmonies as Marcus works his vocal magic above it all. The lyrics humbly remind us that our lives are His, and all we have should be used to bring Him, the maestro, all the glory.

Another favorite is the first cut, entitled “That’s Alright (Cause I Got You).” This gentle jazzy song is one of those that really gets in your mind and won’t let go. I found myself singing it throughout the day many times. And, what a great message to be stuck with – no matter what happens, it’s going to be alright. Cole’s love for worship shines through on “The Lord Has Been Good”, an old-school gospel number that defies anyone to sit still while listening.

The lively tune “I Don’t Know” provides an upbeat hip-hop sound, complete with a complimentary rap by 2Five. As a matter of fact, the project is laden with heavy-hitter, A-team guest players like Maurice Fitzgerald on bass (Fred Hammond), one of the funkiest organist/keyboardist in the country Bobby Sparks (Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams) and LaDell Abrams on drums (CeCe Winans, Usher).

I enjoy gospel music, and this project is going to be a favorite for gospel fans, especially the purist. If you enjoy the sounds of Kirk Franklin, T.D. Jakes, Barry White or Fred Hammond, you’ll most definitely need to pick up a copy of Write My Song. There’s enough here to make Marcus Cole a name to remember alongside the other gospel greats.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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BELIEVER

Javen / JCM – jRock Entertainment Group Inc.

Fan Appeal: Teens to Adult

Genre: Pop/R&B

Javen may be a name you’ve not heard of – yet. His latest release, Believer, is actually his fourth album. His debut single back in 2002, “Never Give Up On Love,” was well-received and charted in the top ten on Christian charts. It was followed up with a self-titled debut album with Word Records. His next, an independent project for 2004, entitled Change, showed promise and continued the momentum. Then there was his Christmas CD, Christmas With Javen.

Believer, released September 5, 2006, includes an impressive list of guest appearances, including Deitrick Haddon, Jamie Jones, Tim Miner and one of my personal favorite gospel artists, Israel Houghton. Several tunes on the project should continue the momentum and make believers out of gospel fans who can lay hands on a copy.

What you may not know about Javen is that he’s more than a very accomplished musician and writer. He’s the son of a preacher and this has given him many opportunities to perform musically and with the spoken word all over the world and perform with the likes of Kirk Franklin, Jerry Lewis, Reba McIntire, Bill Gaither and more. He is also an actor with reoccurring lead performances in the off-Broadway musical, The Rock & The Rabbi, and he stars in the upcoming move, One Night With The King, set to release in theatres on October 13th.

So what about the music? Well, I happen to feel, after working with him in The Rock & The Rabbi and seeing him knock audiences over, that what makes people believers in Javen is his powerful vocal intensity. When this man gets going, chills start flowing. He can really wail. Why he chose to hold back on a good part of this project is a mystery to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I happen to enjoy this project very much. The songs are all very pleasing to the ear and the message is clear and relevant. Javen’s falsetto voice is smooth and mellow. If you’re a real gospel / R&B fan, you’ll find some ear-candy on this project you’ll really appreciate. For example, the CD starts out very strong with an interesting upbeat tune called “All I Ever Wanted.” Next is a string of more mellow selections – all very nicely done, and Javen’s vocals are smooth and sincere. But where Javen really shines is the power vocals department. I found myself flipping through the tunes looking for such moments.

Even the punchy, upbeat “Celebrate” only comes close to where Javen cuts loose and wails. “Dance” offers a very interesting “Latinized” feel and picks up the pace a bit. But it’s not until you reach “Another Day” when you finally get a feel for the power of Javen with his sustained vocal range and intensity. This cut gives me chills and reminds me of moments in the show when Javen used to leave audiences with their chins on the floor and their hands in the air.

Probably my biggest disappointment was the duet with Israel Houghton. I know what both of these powerhouse gospel artists are capable of – so when I heard there was a duet, I skipped right to it. But, like many of the other tunes, it’s nice, but falls short of my hopeful expectations.

A few of the tracks may have been better off on the cutting room floor. “Sunday Morning” is a personal dedication to Javen’s family but it goes nowhere quickly and just lingers there. And, I was disappointed in the oversimplified lyrics of “I Find You.”

Overall, the project is definitely worth listening to. The various producers give the project an eclectic feel and each tune is certainly unique. The good moments are able to hold the project up and the others in between are sincere and very well produced. I only wish there were a few more tunes that showcase Javen’s real vocal ability. That’s what would have really made Believer true to its name.
MUSICBLOG RATING: C+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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WOW WORSHIP AQUA
Various Artists / EMI, Word, Provident

Fan Appeal: Preteen to Adult

Genre: Pop / Rock

I suppose I should start by saying I’m a worship-music junkie. (Some of you already know this, of course.) I listen to worship songs in my car, in my home, on my iPod and so on. Chances are if I’m not working or leading worship somewhere, I’m listening to it. So, unlike some who have grown weary of the flood of WOW CDs over the years, I quite enjoy these compilations and look forward to each one. Most of the time, I just enjoy having it in the background, but each one seems to offer something new that catches my attention.

WOW Woship Aqua is no exception. This dual-CD project combines a pretty good collection of 33 worship songs from well-known artists like Chris Tomlin, David Crowder Band, Rebecca St. James, Casting Crowns, Hillsong (featuring Darlene Zschech) and many more.

Now, I should also point out that it has been two years since the last WOW Worship CD (remember the Red one in 2004?). So, you’d think there would be plenty of new material to draw from, right? Me too. That’s why I’m a bit disappointed to hear recordings from years ago (some of which were actually on the Red WOW Worship CD set).

Still, there’s enough good music on these CDs to keep things interesting, including seven tracks that you can’t find anywhere else. I especially enjoyed hearing Avalon perform “Indescribable” and Big Daddy Weave’s cover interpretation of “Let It Rise”–which was as good or better than the original. I was also glad to see a cut by one of my new favorite worship leaders, Israel Houghton (see my recent review for Israel Houghton & New Breed’s “Alive in South Africa” for more this artist). His “You Are Good” is a welcome addition to the mix. Rebecca St. James contributes a fascinating new electronic pop rendition of Chris Tomlin’s “Forever” as well. This song is kind of dreamy with a comfortable, laid back feel. “In Christ Alone” from Natalie Grant is another treat for me – one of my favorite tunes by one of my all time favorite artists.

The tune from this project that got a lot of attention is Bebo Norman’s clever virtual duet with Rich Mullins on “Sometimes By Step.” It’s amazing what you can do in a recording studio. The two voices make for a very enjoyable addition to any Rich Mullins fan’s music collection.

So what’s not to love? You get more than two-and-a-half hours of great worship music by dozens of your favorite Christian artists, with seven exclusive tracks. Sure there’s a bit of filler, but somehow WOW Worship Aqua makes it back to my CD player time and time again anyway. If you’re a fan of worship music like me, you’ll might as well stop fighting it and go ahead and this to your collection. (You know you want to!)

MUSICBLOG RATING: B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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Music Inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Various Artists / Sparrow Records

Fan Appeal: All Ages.

Genre: Pop

Wait! Don’t go! You need to hear this one.

I know, I know, I thought the same thing – just some record label trying to get in on the hype. But, trust me; there are some real gems in here. Like most people I’ve discussed this with, I’m not typically a real fan of compilations – especially ones that are tied to a major motion picture. I mean, this isn’t even the soundtrack CD to the movie, right?

But, what this is will surprise you. Once I got past my initial objections, the impressive listing of high-profile Christian artists caught my attention. And then, it hit me – I have been profoundly affected by The Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis since I read them back in elementary school. Could it be that I’m not the only one whom this literary masterpiece has touched?

OK, so this CD is not the movie soundtrack; what is it then?

It’s actually quite an interesting project. CCM giants like Jars, SC2, Jeremy Camp, Rebecca, Tobymac, Nicole Nordeman, David Crowder Band and others have each contributed tasty original tracks that reflect their own unique response to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. You won’t hear these songs anywhere else. It’s kind of like a musical interview about the movie with all your favorite songwriters.

Upon listening, I knew I had found a sonic treasure.

Do you need to have seen the movie for the songs to make sense? Well, on few of the songs, yes. Some of the tracks require certain knowledge of the characters, such as Nicole Nordeman’s “I Will Believe,”—a haunting “Nordemanism” that explores each of the four main characters. Also, David Crowder Band’s “Turkish Delight,” is a tempting, disco-esque tune with obvious ties to the movie.

Other artists’ contributions don’t go as deep into the book’s theme, such as Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Remembering You” with its Celtic influence or “Stronger” from Delirious?, a love song with a definite classic Beatles sound.

My favorite selection, though, is Chris Tomlin’s “You’re The One.” The parallels between the movie and the Christian life really work with this tune:

“You’re the one I believe / A king, a friend has always been holding on to me/ You’re the one that I have seen / Your life and death the endless breath breathing into me / Just the mention of your name and I know, I know I found love / ‘Cause you’re the one”

Did I mention the disc is enhanced with links to information about the movie, the books, and the computer game (complete with cheat codes for you out there who are able to justify such a thing)?

If you’re looking for a fresh batch of power tunes, especially if you’re a C.S. Lewis fan, this is a unique collection of original works that you’ll not be able to find elsewhere. It’s much more than the typical add-on to a major flick. You won’t be disappointed.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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END OF SILENCE
Red / Essential Records

Fan Appeal: Teens to Adults

Genre: Rock

Let me just start out by saying this band completely took me by surprise. The words that come to mind as I listen to this newest addition to Essential Records’ rock band roster are “intense” and “passionate.” On their debut release, End of Silence, you’ll find that the lyrics are serious and heavy. The melodies are relentless, and the vocals are powerful and in your face. Yet, there’s something quite substantial going on just below the surface. This CD captured my attention from the first moment.

Hailing from Pennsylvania, this 5-piece band really knows how to rock. I think the thing that really gets me is how they mix in orchestral strings and acoustic piano so effectively amidst the grinding guitars and high-intensity vocals. Lately, that’s not a particularly original idea, I know, but somehow combined with the rest of the package, Red really pulls this off.

For example, the project starts out with this haunting, one-minute lo-fi piano introduction in a minor key. Then, the strings come in low and sweet, building momentum. You just know something is about to happen. All of a sudden, the gritty guitars smash through and the song, “Breathe Into Me” erupts. This song was their first single; you’ve probably heard on the radio, as it’s brought them some well-deserved attention.

From there, it just keeps getting better.

The lyrics throughout this project seem to reveal a journey to healing from a place of pain and suffering, something many of us can relate to. For example, on the song “Lost” you’ll find the words, “I’m here again / A thousand miles away from you / A broken mess, just scattered pieces of who I am” and “Then I’ll see your face / I know I’m finally yours / I find everything I thought I lost before.”

One of the more spiritually intense songs, “Break Me Down” contains the lyrics, “Break me down / Replace this fear inside / Take this nothingness from me / I want to fight / I want to shine / I want to rise / Break me down.”

This band has caused quite a bit of industry buzz already with their edgy website, their huge success with their MySpace page, which quickly accumulated over 20,000 friends (it’s closer to 30,000 as I write this), and their already infamous antics on-stage that ended up breaking Anthony’s guitar and sending Michael to the ER due to a head injury. And, you might find it interesting to know that bass guitarist Randy Armstrong and guitarist Anthony Armstrong are identical twins.

This fascinating blend of styles and refreshingly meaningful lyrics has had me reaching for this CD for drive time fairly regularly. My older daughter is a big fan, too, so the music is appealing to a wide age range.

Their influences include Linkin Park, Chevelle, and Muse, and I’m sometimes reminded of the band, Evanescence as I listen. With the frequent blending of piano and strings, I almost hesitate to classify this as “hardcore rock” but there are many moments of unleashed metal mania, so if gnashing guitars and an occasional screaming vocal are not your thing, you might want to first listen to a few samples before you invest. But, I must also add that at some points, when Michael is crying out to God, the result is quite worshipful.

Enjoy!

MUSICBLOG RATING: A-

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–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

ROUNDABOUT
Phil Keaggy / Strobie Records

Fan Appeal: Adults

Genre: Inspirational / Instrumental

Go Phil! On the heels of his recent instrumental release, Jammed! (March 2006), comes another very unique and interesting instrumental release, Roundabout, aptly named because at a roundabout, you go around and around until you want to turn off – or in this case skip to the next track.

What do I mean? Let me try to explain. With the exception of one track, this project consists of a collection of musical “sketches” or loops that were created by Phil at his sound checks before his concerts. In other words, these are completely improvised and unique one-of-a-kind performances that his sound engineer, Brian Persall, would record on the fly, while out on the road, before the doors were opened, in front of no one but the crew.

If you still don’t get it – try to imagine a one-man band with a little help from state-of-the-art digital effects technology. Phil would start a pattern on his acoustic guitar, and hit his Line 6 DL4 digital delay and that loop would play by itself. Then, Phil would play another loop that went along with that, and hit the delay again. Sounds would be created in layers, one on top of the other. Then, once he had a nice bed of sounds, he’d take off with a tasty solo lead or melody over all that. Kind of like silky icing on a nice round chocolate cake.

Have I lost you? Well, don’t get too hung up on all the technical stuff. That’s just me and my fascination with electronic gadgets getting the best of me. Phil was kind enough to describe in painstaking detail each piece of equipment and the order in which it was connected in the liner notes (very generous, Phil!).

But, even for non-musical Keaggy fans, the uniqueness of each of these tracks will certainly keep you interested. Keep in mind, however, that these one- to five-minute moments are created with loops…repeating loops. By definition, these songs can start to sound redundant after a bit and you might want off the merry-go-round occasionally. Just skip to the next track and you’re sure to find something even more interesting.

As for musical styles, Phil plays his James Olson acoustic guitar or one of his other acoustic guitars, with lots of foot pedal effects. He also incorporates an occasional shaker or finger cymbals or some other percussive item for a rhythm track. The songs range from mysterious rhythmic trances to intricate, funky little ditties that will have you bobbing your head.

You’ve just got to hear what I’m trying to describe. Phil Keaggy is a monster guitar player and listening to this CD allowed me to imagine being there watching the master at work. You’ll hear stuff you’ve never heard of before and you’ll wonder how one man made such a rich amalgam of tonal textures. It’s really quite something.

True Keaggy fans will have no problem appreciating this diverse collection of imaginative creations. If you’ve not heard of Phil Keaggy but you appreciate true guitar talent and unique types of instrumental music, this is definitely something you’ll want to pick up. If you are one who needs more traditional song structures and lyrics that rhyme, you might want to check out other Phil Keaggy projects. It’s not mainstream, but perhaps you’re feeling a bit daring? Give it a spin – you might be surprised. MUSICBLOG RATING: B

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–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

JAMMED!
Phil Keaggy / TAG Artist Group

Fan Appeal: Teens to Adults.

Genre: Instrumental / Rock

Considered one of most admired musicians on the music scene today, Phil Keaggy has been wowing fans for more than 30 years. He has released nearly 50 solo albums, been honored with seven Dove Awards, and even garnered a Grammy nomination. His concerts continue to sell out all over America. It’s official – he’s a legend.

His latest release, Jammed!, is a truly unique project that is sure to bring a smile and a couple of “angry-face” air-guitar moves for admirers and fans. This collection is quite a showcase of some of Phil’s well-known, amazing guitar talent. There’s a little something for fans of all kinds of instrumental electric guitar music, including rock, blues, funk and even fusion and jazz.

For the most part, this disc ROCKS! It’s one of those you will want to crank up and cruise around town with the windows down. Even if you’ve never heard of Phil Keaggy (where have you been hiding?) you’re sure to appreciate this project if you’re a fan of rock guitar virtuosos like Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Jeff Beck, or Steve Vai.

This impressive instrumental collection features nine remixes of songs from Phil’s Premium Jams project (1999) as well as three brand new tunes. And, you can expect the unexpected with every track, from smooth blues (“Zee Blues”) to flat-out rock (“Phlanagan’s Flow”). One of the surprises for me was “Prehistrobie K-18,” a haunting minor-key track from the 70s when Phil was with the band Glass Harp. I really enjoyed “Joyphil” which is Phil’s interpretation of that easily-recognized melody of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

And, there are other nice add-ons to this project as well. On the liner, you get production notes written by Phil himself that give you his thoughts and personal stories behind each of the songs. And, the guest appearances by many of Phil’s lifelong friends make this very interesting (and very tasty!) for those who follow particular players in Keaggy’s distinguished career such as drummer Keith Carlock (who plays with Sting and Steely Dan), bassist Spencer Campbell (Amy Grant), and co-founder of Glass Harp, drummer John Sferra.

If you’re a fan, this is a must-have collection – no question about that. If you just enjoy a good foot-stompin’, head-bobbin’ rocking good time, this would be a worthwhile investment. If you’re concerned that there are no “Christian lyrics” you may want to steer clear – but for me it was absolutely refreshing to be able enjoy a rockin’ good time from a brother musician who loves the Lord. I think you’ll be glad you did.

MUSICBLOG RATING: A-

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–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

COMING UP TO BREATHE
MercyMe / INO Records

Fan Appeal: Adults and Mature Teenagers.

Genre: Rock/Worship

Can you remember the first time you heard it? I remember vividly. I was alone in my car driving on the highway, my mind already in the slow lane, when the words “I can only imagine…” came through the speakers. As I listened, my soul began to cry out inside, “Yes! That’s exactly what I want to know.” With the wild success of that song, I was apparently not alone.

The pre-release marketing push told me that “Coming Up To Breathe” from MercyMe was going to be equally as spectacular. I mean, hey, what’s not to love when you get a free MercyMe t-shirt or fan-pack when you pre-order! I have enjoyed each of the band’s offerings thus far and have incorporated many of their songs into my worship sets with tremendous success. When I read that this project was a more realistic representation of the band’s true style, I was even more excited. Then, I read that they engaged one of my favorite producers, Brown Banister, my expectations when through the sunroof!

So – did it live up to my elevated expectations?

The answer is a resounding yes – and no.

Don’t get me wrong, the songs are great and the lyrics are as powerful as ever. I’ve listened and listened to the disc waiting for something to kick in as I enjoy each track, but what I was expecting just didn’t make the final mix. The thing I love about this project is not that it contains a powerhouse mega hit to follow up “Imagine” (though I was somehow expecting that), but the passion and pleasure that comes through from Bart and the band. It’s difficult to put my finger on – but I can hear a new bold confidence that only comes with continued dedication and anointing (a producer like Mr. Bannister doesn’t hurt either).

The first thing I noticed is how the tracks are all a bit more edgy, with more of a rock flavor. You can almost see the smiles on their faces as they grind through the guitar riffs and solos. Track 9 “Last One Standing” is a good example. It’s a driving grungy head-bobber that speaks about fighting the good fight in the power of Jesus, who has already won the battle. “Hold Fast” is rock anthem of encouragement to “everyone who’s hurting, to those who’ve had enough, to all the undeserving, that should cover all of us.” Another fun head-banger cut is “So Long Self,” a no-tears goodbye song for the old man with a yummy Brit-rock/Beatles flavor.

A few surprises are in store, too, like “One Trick Pony,” an entertaining swamp-blues number complete with slide-guitar and impromptu vocal shots. And, the bonus track is one of my favorites, with its guitar-driven message of a man’s worshipful response to the music of God in his life. I won’t even mention the hidden track on the bonus track. Oops, I mentioned it – well, it’s just plain funny.

And, if the artistry and message didn’t seal it, the thirteenth track, “I Would Die for You” is dedicated to the memory of BJ Higgins, who came down with a mysterious illness while on the mission field, and all money generated by this song goes to send students into the mission field to pick up where BJ left off.

MUSICBLOG RATING: A

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–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

ALIVE IN SOUTH AFRICA
Israel & New Breed
/ Integrity Gospel

Fan Appeal: Teens to adults

This project redefines what I thought possible in a live worship album. It crosses all stylistic boundaries with something for everyone including funk, gospel, R&B, rock and world genres, and weaves them together into a worship experience you will return to again and again. When I first heard it, it played in my CD player continuously for weeks. I listened to nothing else as I explored every nook and cranny of this double-disc set.

Everything about this music left me wanting more. The band is unbelievable and would give even Earth, Wind & Fire a run for the money. The New Breed singers wail and raise the hairs on my neck. Even the occasional speaking between songs is tasteful and adds to the overall experience.

The entire album was recorded live over two nights in Cape Town, South Africa. However, I thought that would have more of an influence on the project, but the location is mostly incidental.

This project is best listened to all at once, from start to finish. Otherwise you’ll miss some of the “magic” moments tucked in at the end of many of the tracks. I found myself having church during my normally hectic 45 minute commute in Tampa traffic. The energy and the powerful brass licks in the funky first track “Alive” and the non-stop crescendo of key changes of “Favor of the Lord” make it hard to sit still. As a matter of fact, many of the 31 tracks on this project are just plan fun to listen to. I especially enjoy the interesting reprise treatments to many of the songs. The momentum never stops.

One of my favorites, “Not Forgotten,” is difficult to classify (Latin?, African?, with a little Egyptian flavor thrown in for interest?) but what a joy! Even my eight year-old daughter asks to hear it when we get into the car which usually results in loud singing and laughing. And, what a great message: ‘I am not forgotten/ I am not forgotten/ I am not forgotten/ God knows my name/ He knows my name.’ Fans of Israel Houghton will appreciate a few tasteful medleys of well-known worship tunes and a few of his older original worship pieces.

I highly recommend this two CD set. Clearly, Gospel music fans and those who enjoy Fred Hammond or Bishop T.D. Jakes will need to get their hands on this. But those who enjoy energetic praise in the presence of God will not want to miss this either. I would easily expect to hear several of these great worship tunes in churches very soon and for a long time to come.

MusicBlog Rating: A

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–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

LIFEGIVER
Hyperstatic Union / RKT Records

Fan Appeal: Teen to Adult

Genre: Rock

Fresh.

That’s the word that comes to mind first when I think of what to say about Hyperstatic Union’s debut release, Lifegiver. Bold lyrics combined with a unique, fresh sound. I found myself completely drawn in as I listened to this new band’s first offering.

It appears I’m not the only one. Third Day front-man Mac Powell heard them and chose to use this four-piece band from Camas, Washington (near Portland) to be the first act to come out of Third Day’s newly-formed Consuming Fire Productions. Powell also produced the record.

In their press kit, Powell says of HSU “Hyperstatic Union is unlike any other band out there. Shawn Lewis is hands down the most talented guy I know. And still, it’s not just one of those bands with a main guy surrounded by whoever just to fill in the holes. Each guy brings such a vital part that adds to an exciting sound and live performance. People can expect to be rocked by the music and challenged as well by a lyric that is not compromised or stale. This is something totally original.”

Now, I’m all for fun music. I believe that there’s music for all different occasions: worship moments, cruising with the top down, rocking out, chillin’ and snugglin’ just to name a few. Even Christian music doesn’t always have to be deeply spiritual or profound. But as I listened to HSU, I kept thinking to myself – this is…fresh! (There’s that word again…) The musical trail they blaze is all their own: quite diverse with something new around each musical corner. The lyrics are bold and meaningful, not just slopped together. Yet, the message is clean and simple – the way the gospel should be. And there’s a little something for everyone in the eclectic roadmap–from gritty guitar-driven to funky ditty to bouncy electronic feel to 80s rock styles…sometimes all in the same song.

For example, the title track provides a cool bed of funky guitar countermelodies and a rocking chorus with stacked vocals singing about how we’re nothing without God. Also, I liked the message behind “Overhead” because I find myself promising to make God more of a priority in my mostly-selfish life, but the distractions (overhead noise) can sometimes get the best of me.

“Praying for Sunny Days” is my favorite cut on this CD, with its catchy chorus that reminds of the truth that life is not going to be without an occasional storm. No … wait, I want to change my mind now. “Can’t Leave It Alone” is my favorite because of its bouncy beat and a flatout unclassified sound – somewhere between Spin Doctors and Queen, I think. Hold on a minute, I forgot about “Now That It’s Over” a syncopated, funky, stacked vocal, guitar-nasty concoction all blended and smooth to drink. Maybe that’s my favorite..

Well, I just can’t decide. I guess you’ll just have to pick this up for yourself and pick your own favorite(s). I promise you won’t be disappointed. These guys credit the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, The Foo Fighters, Jamiroquai, Red Hot Chili Peppers and James Brown as the influences for their sound. Quite a lineup, no? And don’t be in too much of a hurry on the last track (if you know what I mean…wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Alright, for all you slow readers out there – there’s a hidden track. (Why do they do that anyway?) The point is, you’ve got to hear it – it’s a great communion song unlike anything else on the project. It’s a beautiful song for use in a worship service.

OK, enough gushing. I like this band if you couldn’t tell. And, since I’m the MusicBlog editor at Nappaland.com, I get to gush. So hats off to Mr. Powell and the folks at RKT for recognizing something a bit outside the norm that just seems to work in Hyperstatic Union’s Lifegiver. Thank you.

MUSICBLOG RATING: A

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–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

IF YOU WANT ME TO (THE BEST OF GINNY OWENS)
Ginny Owens / Rocketown Records

Fan Appeal: Teens to Adults

Genre: Pop / Inspirational

No doubt about it – people love a story. Marketers discovered a long time ago that between two otherwise equal products, the one with a story – a colorful tag with a history, or a charitable cause – will significantly outsell the other.

Now, I enjoy music of all kinds, but I’m particularly drawn to artists who can tell me a story with their songs. Ginny Owens has been a favorite of mine since I first heard her in 1999. I remember when I first listened to the song “If You Want Me To.” I needed to know who that was singing. I needed to know more about her story. And, as it turns out, Ginny has quite a story.

That song, “If You Want Me To” later became a nominee for Song of The Year in 2001, and her CD entitled “Without Condition” (from which I heard the song) won her a Dove Award for Best Artist of the Year, so it looks like I’m not the only one who likes Ginny’s story songs.

So, needless to say I was looking forward to a good listen to Ginny’s first “Best Of” project.

Before I go on, I feel as though I must opine a bit about “Best Of” projects in general. Is it just me, or has the thrill and anticipation all but disappeared from “Best Of” projects? It’s certainly not like days gone by when a “Best Of” project was a highly anticipated event and when you finally received it, all your waiting was rewarded with tons of little extras in the liner notes, photographs, quips and additional information about the artist or band. Do you remember? Today, many “Best Of” projects feel more like the record company has thrown something together simply to fulfill contractual obligations.

However, in defense of this project, I must say that the collection of songs is pretty good – I’m glad I’m not the one who had to choose which of Ginny’s songs should be included. Plus, Ginny offers just a taste of days gone by with a short paragraph in the liner notes that tells the story behind each of the songs, or how a song came about, or what it means to her. See, that’s the story I’m talking about. People want to know this stuff!

Anyway, you’ll be drawn into Ginny’s world with thirteen of her amazing songs when you listen to this “Best Of” CD, including “Free” (#1 Adult Contemporary and Top 15 AC Single of the Year) from her 1999 Without Condition project and “I Am” (#3 Adult Contemporary and Top 5 Christian Hit Radio) from her 2002 release, Something More.

There’s also a new track entitled “Open Arms” which is an upbeat, kind of funky pop number that reminds me of something someone else would do – which puzzled me as to why it was included on a “Best Of” project. It’s a new song that Ginny didn’t write, and perhaps as a result was clearly not as exciting as one of her original songs.

Another puzzling song choice had me scratching my bald head, too. There’s the song “Remember Me” on which you can hear Ginny singing backup to Mark Shultz. I love this song, but Mark wrote and performed it. Why is it on Ginny’s “Best Of?”

A few interesting surprises include a clever cover of U2’s “40” and a live version of Ginny’s #1 hit, “If You Want Me To” from the A Night In Rocketown CD. I enjoyed the live conversation as Smitty introduces Ginny, since it gives a charming glimpse of her true personality, and a story about Ginny’s life – see, there’s that story thing again!

If you like the contemporary pop sound of Amy Grant, Nicole Nordeman or Sara Groves and you’re not familiar with Ginny’s sonic storytelling, you’re going to want to have this CD in your iPod for sure. If you’re already a Ginny fan, don’t get rid of your other Ginny CDs just yet as the “Best Of” song selection might be up for debate. But, you just can’t go wrong with any of Ginny’s projects. Enjoy!

MUSICBLOG RATING: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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OFFERINGS II: ALL I HAVE TO GIVE
Third Day / Essential Records

Fan Appeal: Teens, College Age, Parents

A follow up to their very successful first worship offering, 3D fans will appreciate OFFERINGS II: ALL I HAVE TO GIVE. As the question on the liner notes asks, one might wonder, “Why are you making another Offerings record?” For fans, a quick listen will satisfy that question.

Like the first, this project includes both live songs and studio cuts. As others have commented, this mix somehow works better on this CD. The band doesn’t break any new sonic ground here, but the worship is just as energetic and profound as previous releases.

From the beginning, Third Day’s unexpected success has been attributed to the broad appeal of their guitar-driven southern rock style that appeals to rockers young and old. Combine this with the vertical nature of their worship songs and the powerful mellow rock-ballad arrangements, not to mention Mac Powell’s unique throaty vocal quality, and you have a genuine worship experience just waiting to happen. This project is certainly no exception.

The project begins with “Sing A Song,” a simple rock tune expressing Powell’s desire to follow the advice of the authors of Psalms and sing of the joy of a relationship with our God. “You Are So Good to Me,” a powerful rock-ballad written by Waterdeep, is a favorite of mine and testifies to the goodness of our Lord.

Another few highlights worth mentioning are 3D’s remake of Rich Mullins’ “Creed and “Nothing Compares” with special guest Michael Tait of TAIT/DC Talk. I really like the medley of “Give/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus/With or Without You (U2)/Your Love, Oh Lord.

MusicBlog Rating: B+. I’m usually not a real big fan of live albums, but this combination of studio and live cuts has really grown on me. Fans of southern rock and those who like modern rock bands like Creed will really like Third Day. I would recommend this CD to youth age as well as us “older” rockers who can get excited about power-chord-driven worship and a good guitar lick.

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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THE BEAUTIFUL LETDOWN
Switchfoot / Sparrow Records

Fan Appeal: Tweenagers, Teens, and College+

Genre: Rock / Pop

It was with great anticipation that I received the new Switchfoot project, THE BEAUTIFUL LETDOWN. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for bands with a fresh, original sound, and this album is fresh. Switchfoot is well known for being unique. “We’ve never fit in any of the genre boxes, so we did our own thing, not in an attempt to be different but simply trying to be ourselves.” My fourteen-year-old daughter, who is a big fan of Switchfoot, had a difficult time when asked to explain who they sound like…which I always appreciate.

Their third release, THE BEAUTIFUL LETDOWN has a much more mature sound than previous efforts, and they continue to press on into unexplored musical horizons. Lyrically, the band has interesting things to say about the “tension of being human” and deals with very real issues we face daily, but with a positive outlook.

The familiar “More Than Fine,” which has already received much radio play, has a comparatively laid back feel with clean guitars and a no-compromise message of expecting more than the ordinary out of each day. It even adds the unusual tasty accordion touch…again uncommon goodies abound.

Jon Forman’s clean, unique voice wails and the music is edgy. Each of the members comes from a different musical background, which makes for extremely interesting music…not just the same song track after track. This band makes for a good listen particularly if you’re fond of the likes of U2…not bad for a bunch of surfers from San Diego (really…the name itself comes from a surfer term). give this one listen…chances are good you’ll not regret it.

MusicBlog Rating: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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A BEAUTIFUL GLOW
Rock and Roll Worship Circus / INO Records

(Note: In 2006, this band changed its name! The band now goes by “The Listening.” Be sure to check out their album “Rock and Roll Worship Circus Becomes…The Listening” to keep up on their growth as a music group!)

Fan Appeal: Tweens, Teens, Adults

With all the great music being released recently, it has been difficult to fit them all into three choices. Therefore, the review for this project, A BEAUTIFUL GLOW by Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus, is a bit late. However, I didn’t want to pass it by because it has so many of my favorite elements…psychedelic rock and oldies stylings from the 60’s and 70’s, Northwest grunge and modern alternative rock flavors, God-focused lyrics, fun, and a group of Christians who take worship seriously. Although not quite as all out fun as their previous releases, this one is a definite testimony to their growing maturity, both musically and spiritually, that can only come from extensive touring and time spent with the Lord.

If you like upbeat music of the Beatles, Monkees, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, and even a little The Cure, you should check out this band. They somehow manage to blend this sonic cornucopia into some of the most interesting rock worship you can get your hands on.

For example, the title track, A Beautiful Glow, is a punchy 80’s/90’s grunge praise tune asking God to open us up and let us shine God’s love in this world. “Love Colour” and “Morning Glory” are fun, bouncy tunes that immediately bring to mind The Monkees or Beatles.

One of my favorites, “Blessed Tune,” has a very interesting dreamy texture and sounds like something you might find on a Pink Floyd LP, except for the fact that the song directly quotes from the Bible and the beatitudes. (for all you musicians reading this: for an interesting experiment, try counting this tune in 6/8 time…it fooled me for weeks).

I also really love the narration on “Gift of Cool.” It’s a very clever thought about how this generation is really seeking to serve God, regardless of stereotypes and how they may look or dress…very fun tune.

They’re a cool group of rockers with a heart for worship, whose passion comes through in the music and the lyrics. Parents, this is one I’d encourage you to introduce your young rockers to…it might just expand their world of worship and inspire some of their own godly passions. If not, it’s still a lot of fun to listen to…and you might just like it, too.

MusicBlog Rating: A

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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HERE IN AMERICA
Rich Mullins / Reunion Records

Fan Appeal: Older Teens to Adults

If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending an intimate concert with an artist who really let’s down their hair and gets real, you’ll know what I mean when I say this can be one of the most memorable concert experiences. And that’s why you’ll enjoy Rich Mullins’ HERE IN AMERICA.

This set is a compilation of more than two hours’ worth of previously unreleased Rich Mullins material on a CD, along with a bonus DVD. The audio portion contains 13 live recordings and songwriting demos taped between 1984 and 1987. It is raw, but fascinating. You can even hear a few mistakes as Rich plows through piano parts and strums on a slightly out of tune guitar. For a moment, I was there at a concert with Rich.

The interesting part is when Rich tell stories to live audiences before the songs. You’ll even hear him teach an audience the words to “Awesome God,” one of Rich’s most beloved melodies, just days after it was written.

The DVD contains both live concert performances and a set of 12 very rare interview sessions. The concert portions feature Rich and the Ragamuffins in a concert recorded in my home town, South Bend, IN, just months before Rich’s untimely death. There are plenty of extended musical breaks and completely unique arrangements.

The Q&A sessions are really cool, as Rich takes questions from the audience about his life, his art, and his God. He answers them in a down-to-earth, matter of fact style that makes you wonder why God chose to take him at such a young age.

This project is a no-brainer, must-have for Mullins fans. I would also recommend it to those of you who may have missed out on Rich the first time around. This is the opportunity for you to really appreciate his heart and his songwriting. You’ll find that he had quite a lot to say. Plus, buying this project will help underprivileged children and families, as all artist royalties are being donated to Kid Brothers of St. Frank, Co.

MusicBlog Rating: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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READY TO FLY

FFH / Essential Records

Fan Appeal: Tweenagers through Parents

With trademark tight vocals and snappy lyrics and tastefully appealing production, the new FFH project, “Ready to Fly” is sure to appeal to all ages. The familiar acoustic-driven pop flies off into some unexpected territories as well, with some fresh piano-based tunes and a few other surprises.

The entire project remains consistent with FFH’s main purpose, to reach their audience for Jesus. I found all the tunes refreshingly encouraging, with a clear focus on the freedom that is found in Christ.

“You Found Me” is an addictive syncopated pop tune that really leaves the hook embedded firmly as the listener is left contemplating how God sought us out and “found us in our places of loneliness” and “captured us with tenderness.” The rock-pop “It’s a Good Day” encourages us that no matter what, “Jesus is Lord, and I’m saved so, say hey, it’s a good day.”

On the more solemn side, FFH gives us a beautiful piano-based ballad with “Follow Love,” which encourages us to leave the familiar and “make the most of every day” as we follow our heart full of dreams. The heart cry, “Here I Am” touches a chord of repentance and forgiveness that surrounds the listener with rich vocal harmonies and orchestral moves that at some points almost feels like being in the very arms of mercy and grace the song sings of.

MusicBlog Rating: A-. This one has overall broad listener appeal and ministry potential. Highly recommend for listeners from tweenagers up. I have enjoyed it over and over and my teen-age daughters have told me they, too, have enjoyed experiencing “Ready to Fly!”

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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KISS OF HEAVEN

Darlene Zschech / INO Records

Fan Appeal: Teens and Adults

Genre: Pop / Worship

If you’re like me, when you hear the name Darlene Zschech, you immediately smile and think, “Hillsongs worship album!” But wait…this is not that…at least not completely. It’s Darlene’s pop solo debut.

Yes, you read that right. Don’t worry, she hasn’t given up her role as worship leader, this is just something she’s wanted to do all her life. And you will not be disappointed. If you like Celine Dion, Avalon, or Point of Grace, this will be sheer enjoyment for you. Imagine all the intensity and power you’ve heard in her worship projects set to big-budget, first-class production.

“Pray” really spotlights Darlene’s powerful vocals above a slick programmed pop track that really gets the feet moving and the head bobbing. The title track, “Kiss of Heaven” is a personalized worship testimony about how God’s love is heaven on earth.

The song that Darlene is most known for, “Shout to the Lord” also makes a surprise remake appearance on this project and is a nice arrangement, if a bit more laid back and acoustic feeling. And while we’re on the subject of worship remakes, be sure to check out “Beautiful Savior.”

Another unexpected treat was “Walk On,” a remake of a 2001 U2 hit, performed with Martin Smith of Delirious.

I enjoyed listening to Darlene’s debut solo project. Her vocal control and intensity could make the most uninteresting song leap with life. The production is top notch, and every track leaves you wanting more. If you’re not familiar with Hillsongs, I encourage you to pick up some of their CDs. If you’re already a fan, and if you enjoy a good pop album, this one’s for you.

MusicBlog Rating: B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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GRAVITY

Christafari / Lion of Zion Entertainment

Fan Appeal: Teens to Adults

After a four years hiatus, Christafari founder and gospel reggae pioneer Mark Mohr returns in full force with the release of GRAVITY. And, what a powerful comeback it is. The entire project is jam-packed with tasty surprises and appealing, Scripture-based ear candy.

For many, the mention of the word reggae brings to mind repetitious, three-chord progressions that sometimes go on and on. GRAVITY is anything but that. The delicious hybrid of ska, jungle, hip-hop, soca, calypso, jamoo and even elements of jazz give the reggae roots a fascinating interest and create anticipation for each new cut.

For instance, “Lion of Zion” provides addictive, sampled trip-hop jungle beats and cool brass interludes to go with prophetic lyrics about the victorious return of Jesus to “break every chain.”

The title song, “Gravity,” reminds me of a Marley tune with the smooth female backup singers, and it reminds us that someday every knee will bow. “Cannot Hide” is a bit more of a traditional reggae number with plenty of brass and a bass line that keeps the subwoofers thumping.

Every track is a new hybrid concoction. There is something here for everyone, even if you’re not exactly a reggae aficionado. My teenagers love it, too. I would highly recommend this as a fun CD to pop in when you just want to smile and bob to the beat.

MusicBlog Rating: A

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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RUN THE EARTH…WATCH THE SKY
Chris Rice / Rocketown Records

Fan Appeal: Everyone from Teens to Adults

After two successful instrumental releases, singer/songwriter Chris Rice returns to his tremendous writing and singing roots with his sixth album, RUN THE EARTH…WATCH THE SKY. In stores March 4, 2003, this latest project has already received chart-busting response with the clever cut “The Other Side of the Radio,” which jumped into the top 10 on R&R’s Christian Adult Contemporary chart within it’s sixth week on the radio.

With more than 1 million albums sold in his relatively short career, the 1999 Dove Award-winning Male Vocalist of the Year has caught the attention and affection of teens and adults alike with his down-to-earth, word pictures and catchy melodies. Fans who appreciated Rice’s soul-stirring masterpieces from his first three projects will not be disappointed with his latest collection of thought-provoking offerings.

Perhaps a bit more light-hearted than previous projects as a whole, the project is delightful and soothing. His bouncy “8th Grade” gives us a glimpse of Chris’s childhood experiences and exhorts us to continue to trust in the Lord despite how things seem to get more and more complicated as we grow up. “Untitled Hymn” provides evidence of the deepness of Rice’s journey of faith, with a full-circle tale of the joys and pains of the Christian walk.

RUN THE EARTH…WATCH THE SKY has it all, from light-hearted (but always very clever) tunes, to lyrically profound musical stories. If you’re not familiar with Chris Rice, I highly recommend you pick up this project. His songs are anointed and powerful and appealing to most everyone from the young to the young at heart.

MusicBlog Rating: A

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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THRONE ROOM

CeCe Winans / Epic Records/Wellspring Gospel

Fan Appeal: Adults

The highly anticipated THRONE ROOM from CeCe Winans is destined to be one of my all time favorites, I’m sure. The six-time Grammy Award winner has done it again with this soulful project, on which she wrote or co-wrote nearly every song. Her smooth, hearty tones captured my heart as her passion poured forth from the first note. Plus, this project comes with a bonus – a free DVD including an interview, videos and never seen before performance footage with the first 100,000 copies purchased.

The CD is split into “Songs of Worship & Reflection” (tracks 1- 8) and “Songs of Praise and Adoration” (tracks 9-16). With so many tracks, there’s a little something for everyone, although much of the project is a bit more reflective, aiming this project a bit more at the older teens or adult audience. For a worship experience, however, even the younger ones will appreciate the spirit of this project.

“Jesus, You’re Beautiful” is the first cut, and this one really won me over from the start. The beautiful acoustic and orchestrated intro leads into CeCe’s powerful interpretation. As a songwriter, I found myself mumbling something about how I wish I could have written this beautiful offering of praise. It says it so well.

CeCe’s arrangement of the familiar “How Great Thou Art” is definitely worth a listen. It’s very strong and majestic. Another favorite, “Thirst for You,” is a great vertical worship song that was a bit too distracting in the car the first time I heard it.

“Mercy Said No” is such a powerful song with a powerful message, that only CeCe could have done it like this. I was so moved and relieved to hear it because it really sums up the cry of a Christian’s heart. “Life and death stood face to face, darkness tried to steal my heart away…Mercy Said No.”

What a great experience. If you’re new to CeCe, you’re in for a real treat. If you like Shirley Caesar or Yolanda Adams, CeCe will fast become a new favorite. I highly recommend it for those times you just want to sit and worship. Great vocals, gospel choirs, even some fun gospel funk to liven things up a bit.

MusicBlog Rating: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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BEYOND BEAUTIFUL
Brother’s Keeper / Training Union Records/Ardent Records

Fan Appeal: Adults

Genre: Adult Contemporary

Since their debut in 1999, two-time Dove award nominee Brother’s Keeper seems to have been seeking a niche. While this makes them a bit difficult to categorize, it is interesting to listen for what’s coming next. Their newest release, Beyond Beautiful, is for the most part a good collection of adult contemporary sounds that could be compared to the likes of NewSong or 4Him, and I found them to be worth listening to.

My favorite tracks are “Passion,” a fairly intense, driving tune that sticks in your head all day long and “Walk with Me,” which features some of CCM’s all-time greats as voice-over guests, including Bob Carlisle, Todd Agnew, David Phelps and Russ Lee. Being involved in men’s ministry, I was immediately struck by this song because of its message of the need for accountability and encouraging each other to walk the narrow road.

Other notable songs include “Beyond Beautiful,” the first radio single off this project that hit the Top 10 on the R&R AC Indicator chart. “He Took the Scars” is a powerful piano-based message reminding us of Christ’s love for us, and “Cross of Christ” is a moving worship song (in 6/8 time and a minor key) that be an excellent fresh sound for any contemporary worship service.

Also included with the CD is a DVD that provides several video segments showing highlights of their recent mission trip to Honduras. There are several clips of the group performing in the streets and prisons.

Overall, this reviewer found the project enjoyable. Several of the songs will make it to my “frequently listened to” list. I really liked the extremely tight vocals and felt that the production of the project was top-notch. I also appreciate what these guys stand for, and their passion comes through in their performance. I would recommend this CD as one you pop in the CD player when you need a quick spiritual lift.

MUSICBLOG RATING: B

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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FIELDS OF GRACE
Big Daddy Weave / Fervent Records


Fan Appeal: Tweens to Adults

Big Daddy Weave is Fervent Records best-selling band. In 2002, their debut CD, One and Only, debuted in the top-5 at Christian SoundScan and stayed on the charts all year long. ( I can hear “In Christ” echoing in my head as I write this!) As a result, everyone is wondering how they will follow up with their next project, FIELDS OF GRACE. Let me tell you, there is no comparison. I enjoyed the debut CD, but there’s something really special about this disc.

With an edgy, live sound–perhaps as a result of Fervent allowing them a hand in the production of the album–FIELDS OF GRACE will not disappoint BDW fans. From driving worship anthems, like “Everything You Are” to a beautiful acoustic ballad, “Completely Free” you will be moved by the music and more so by the inspired lyrics.

“Set Me Free,” the first track, is a fun, syncopated rock piece that demonstrates the band’s experience with real vulnerability as a Christian, but with the knowledge that God is only a prayer away, and big enough to break the chains that bind us to our sinful ways. The peppy “Why” gives us a new take on Romans 7 and how we constantly end up doing the things we don’t want to, and not doing the things we do want to. “New Every Morning” is equally animated and it’s hard to sit still when it’s playing. The lyrics are encouraging and hopeful, and it’s just plain fun.

The whole project is fun and captivating and will surely end up on your must-have list. I can see many worship leaders incorporating these songs into their worship services as well. I highly recommend BDW and FIELDS OF GRACE to anyone who likes FFH and Dave Matthews Band or even Sting.

MusicBlog Rating: A-

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

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ANOTHER JOURNAL ENTRY
Barlow Girl / Fervent Records

Fan Appeal: Teens to adults with a taste for clean girl-rock

With their self-titled debut success, fans of this sister-act trio wondered what to expect with their sophomore release, Another Journal Entry. The project has been criticized as having less radio-appeal as their first effort, which was definitely a tough act to follow. Still, I have come to appreciate a more personal side of Becca, Alyssa, and Lauren Barlow. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for solid girl-rock harmonies, but the more I listen to it, the more it grows on me.

Upon first listen, many of the tracks caught my attention lyrically. As I looked into it further, I found out that many of the songs on this album were pulled from their personal journals – thus the title.

The album starts out hard with “Grey,” a no-compromise message based on Revelation 3:15 and “Let Go,” a punchy question of personal trust in the faithfulness of the Father (and a number one hit). “I Need You to Love Me” is a no-surprise rock ballad, but I found it captivating. Apparently so did lots of people as this became the second track on this project to top the charts.

At first I enjoyed the remake of Chris Tomlin’s praise powerhouse “Enough” because I just love that song. But, the more I listened to those crisp vocals that are so easy on the ears, I found myself hitting repeat more often than not.

The real gem on the CD is “Porcelain Heart,” a piano-driven, haunting prayer to The Creator. I kept expecting it to go somewhere else musically, but the lyrics and melody had me on the edge of my seat. “Five Minutes of Fame” is fun to listen to and there is a special acoustic mix of their number one smash hit, “Never Alone.” I still prefer the original, but enjoyed the fresh perspective.

If you’re not a real fan of girl-rock, you may not appreciate this project, but when I feel someone’s heart and soul in a project, it gets my attention right off. The personal nature of the lyrics and even the extra content on the enhanced CD section make me feel like I know these girls a bit better, and I sense a genuine longing to know and follow God. If you like Plumb, Superchick, or Evanescence you may grow to really appreciate this project like I did.

MusicBlog Rating: B+

–Eric Jaqua

Copyright © Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission from Nappaland.com “The Free Internet Magazine for Families.” Visit us on the web at: www.Nappaland.com

  1. #1 by Aaron Stratton on August 9, 2007 - 12:45 am

    Dude! Awesome blog! I would have to say that I agree with you concerning the reviews of the recordings I have heard. Refreshing! Pretty cool that you reviewed one of Bruce’s albums… I’ll have to pick that up!

    It’s really great getting to know you. I look forward to hanging with you more on future gigs!

    Sincerely,

    Aaron Stratton
    aka Paul the Apostle ;^)

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