With grateful acknowledgement to: AUTHENTIC, ELEVATION, EMICMG, FIERCE, INTEGRITY, JOININGTHEDOTS DISTRIBUTION, McCAIN, SURVIVOR & VERITY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS
ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
MARILLA NESS : Best Ever Songs of Worship and Adoration. (www.marilla.com)
Just receiving this album brought a smile to my face. Some 15 years have passed since I first reviewed a Marilla Ness album, and I have yet to be disappointed. There’s something quite comforting about her warm vocal tones and, as soon as the opening song began I was, once more, transported to that place. To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten just how beautiful ‘Abba Father’ was. Marilla caresses each word, with worshipful musical backing. All the songs come under the banner of ‘worship and adoration’ and include titles such as ‘Dwelling Places’, ‘God of Comfort’ and ‘Tender Mercy’. Marilla’s music is very easy to listen to and thousands have seen her concerts over the years – a testimony to her continued popularity. There are too many songs to individually hold up, but ‘I Want To Worship the Lord’ is simply majestic, while ‘I Believe in You’ is quite beautiful. I don’t think that I will ever tire of hearing Marilla sing. Join me, and bathe in the delights of this wonderful collection of songs, soaking in the presence of the Lord. 10/10.
MATTHEW JAMES McKAY : You Raise Me Up. (www.matthewjamesmckay.com)
It’s been a great joy to follow the fledgling music career of 12 year old Matthew James, over the last 18 months. With singing engagements all over his native Scotland, and Ireland, tis young man is certainly in demand. For this, his third, album producer Paul A Gardiner pulls the strings once more, and provides guest musicians to compliment his own talent. The opening ‘God’s Not Finished With Me Yet’ is a foot tapping, country gospel number, written by Matthew’s mother, Roseanne. His voice never falters on ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ – a great vocal gift for one so young. He duets with his former choir master John Buchannan on ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Burdens Are Lifted’, and both songs are pure quality. ‘God on the Mountain’ is a medium paced song that you just can’t help singing along with. I found it very infectious. Roseanne’s second writing credit comes on ‘Tested By A Trial’. The music on the album is great throughout, but at it’s best on this very personal song. The big surprise for me was Matthew’s version of the Julie Miller classic ‘How Could You Say No To This Man’. I’ve never heard anyone else sing this song, but Matthew gives it new life. Old gospel songs seem to be staple diet for this young man, yet he also gives a fine rendition of the more modern title track. With his family guiding and encouraging, Matthew James looks set to make a fine name for himself and his ministry. 10/10.
TRAVIS RYAN : Fearless. (Integrity : 00076850642)
This is a no nonsense collection of rock worship songs, dealing with several issues that confront most of us at some point in life. The theme of the album is mainly around the fact that perfect love casts out fear, and on his website Travis says that the whole album is really a prayer that the church would live out 1 John 4:18. The opening track gets off to a powerful start with the intro to the first track “Love That Has Won”. Which is about the battle being already won before we fight it. There is a really good track called “Jesus Precious Jesus, which is a simple worship song that could easily be used in any church worship time. “Awaken Us” has a very U2 like guitar riff running through it. This CD is a real change from the endless repeats of the usual songs, which seem to make up most worship CD’s these days. It is very well written, well recorded, and played with great sensitivity throughout. There aren’t many worship albums that I’d give anything like full marks, this one though deserves in my opinion more than ten points. It really is that good. You need to buy it. 10/10. Andy Sayner.
IKOS : Christmas Carols and Songs. (Little Room : LRMCD05)
Originally seeing the light of day in 2002, this CD has just come my way for review and so must be out for re-release. I missed it first time around, and being a bit of a ‘bah, humbug’ when it comes to Christmas music I really didn’t expect much after it dropped through my letter box. Finding it described however on Amazon as ‘a major work in its field of music’, on listening I discovered it to be much better than I originally feared! IKOS main men are David Clifton on lead vocals and guitars and Mark Russell on keyboards and programming, and the group are here supported by orchestra, soloists and the choirs of Peterborough Cathedral. With David and Mark also responsible for production, they have created a notable contemporary re-interpretation of Christmas favourites. Other vocals are provided by Lizzie Dean and also, I was interested to note, by Canadian singer Jane Siberry – her 1989 album ‘Bound by the beauty’ has long been a favourite in my collection. But I digress! Before hearing these 14 tracks I had given up all hope of ever listening to musically satisfying arrangements of ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ or ‘In the bleak mid-winter’. In the main Mark and David have pulled it off, although even they have struggled with some of the particularly twee tunes(!) – including ‘Away in a manger’ and ‘Rejoice and be merry’. Such down points are however balanced by some really beautiful moments, and it is evident that much thought and creative care have gone into this project. The arrangements are excellent, as are the performances, production and sound quality. Those who particularly enjoy such Christmas favourites are sure to rate this album highly. For me, it’s still worth a comfortable 7/10. Dave Deeks
J. BRIAN HILL, LIVING HOPE & CANDY KLESS. Christmas With… (www.nadezhdamusic.com)
Proving that all is well between UK and American relations, Hull based duo, Living Hope have teamed up with US artists J.Brian Hill and Candy Kless, for this 6 song Christmas offering. It contains 4 traditional hymns and a couple of original songs – one of which is superb! It’s the American twosome that starts things off vocally, with a straight rendition of ‘Silent Night’. Music throughout the track listing is provided by Robin Thompson, while his wife, Squil, leads the singing on ‘Little Drummer Boy’. There’s no real surprises on the opening two songs, but Robin’s rock background sees ‘Joy to the World’ getting a more modern treatment. The real highlight of this mini album is the Thompson written ‘Ring Out The Bells’, which Squil sings admirably. This song alone begs for bigger production, with it’s great verse structure and singalong chorus. I love playing this song! J.Brian Hill co writes ‘Love Was Born’ with his wife Cathy. It’s an old fashioned Christmas sound and lends a nod or two to the great hymn writers of the past. Finally, Squil proves her worth once more, taking the lead vocals on “tongue tripping” ‘Carol of the Bells’. A pity that the song list is short, because this Cd is a real joy to listen to. 8/10.
THE COLLINGSWORTH FAMILY : Feels Like Christmas. (StowTown Records : STR3122)
As I write, I have no internet connection and, therefore, can tell you nothing about the background of the Collingsworth Family. However, after listening to this album, I can say that they area very talented bunch of singers, with Phil and Kim also excelling on trumpet and piano respectively. Indeed, Kim seems to have arranged most of the vocals throughout the album. There’s a mixture of Christmas standards and American “Holiday” songs, and it all starts with a melody of ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Sleigh Ride’. From this first song, you can tell that there has been a lot of work put into producing some fine harmonies. Phil and Kim are in their element on the brash instrumental version of ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’, while smooth vocals and delightful orchestral backing are the backbone of ‘Overture/Silent Night/What Child is This’. I’d never heard ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem’ before, but what a lovely song it is. Similarly, the Troy Keaton/Kim Collingsworth written ‘Peace on Earth’ is sure to bring a lump to the throat. It tells why Jesus was born, as well as why soldiers are trying to keep ‘Peace on Earth’. Some Christmas albums don’t travel too well across the Atlantic, but this is one that I think has made the trip worthwhile. 8/10.
October Baby (DVD, Provident Films)
Hannah (debutant Rachel Hendrix) is an asthmatic, and epileptic, 19 year old student who, after collapsing during her university stage debut, discovers not only that she is adopted but that her illnesses are the result of her birth Mother’s failed attempt to abort her and the twin brother she knows nothing about. The revelations lead Hannah on a literal, emotional and spiritual journey to discover who she is, with best friend Jason (Jason Burkey) providing support along the way. The trail leads to a series of emotional (not necessarily in a positive way) reunions culminating in the tracing of her birth mother and a powerful encounter with a local minister in the Catholic Church. Hendrix gives a solid and convincing performance in the lead role, Hannah’s adoptive parents are well played by Jennifer Price and John Schneider (none other than Bo Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard) and Burkey does well carrying the friend and mentor load but the film as a whole feels like it doesn’t really know what it is. While poignant, regardless of which side of the abortion debate you are on, the central conceit of the story (Hannah’s late second trimester abortion attempt) comes across as an incredibly unlikely turn of events and leaves an uncomfortable feeling that you are watching a clumsy piece of pro-life propaganda dressed up as a movie. In fact, remove the abortion part of the storyline altogether and you still have the same movie about the journey of a teenage girl who discovers that she is adopted. On top of that, the movie is probably 10-15 minutes too long, at around 1 hour and 50 minutes, and suffers from a soundtrack that tries too hard to anticipate what your next emotional response should be. If this is an issue you are interested in, you may find something of value here, but it is only a very average movie in its own right. David Cooper 5/10
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN : Joy. (Reunion Records : 02341-0177-2)
So, this year, it’s Steven Curtis Chapman’s turn to release a Christmas album! Every year, at least one major CCM artist seems to think that it’s all we, the listening public, have wanted to hear. But, is there anything here that is any different to Christmas albums that have gone before? The answer is yes……and no. There are nice versions of ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘We Three Kings’, while the RnB style of ‘Christmas Time Again’ doesn’t really work, for me. Again, the jazz orientated version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ may have been a good idea, but it all gets a bit too busy, musically, for my liking. However, there are some positives too. Chapman’s ‘Christmas In Kentucky’ and ‘Christmas Kiss’ are both well worth listening too, with the latter featuring some Michael Buble type vocals. The best song is also an original. ‘Christmas Card’ tells of the lost, lonely, and broken hearted at Christmas, and is cleverly written to tell them that they are never forgotten, and never alone, because God loves them. Hats off to Steven for that song, because it really is a winner. It’s just a pity about some of the others! 6/10.
VARIOUS : Do You Hear What I Hear. (Benson : 84418-0902-2)
Here’s a brand new Christmas collection featuring some of the top US artists, around today. The unmistakable voice of Mac Powell is the first to be heard, with Third Day’s contribution of ‘Joy To The World’. It’s well sung, as you would expect, and makes for an intriguing listen. Matt Maher produces a nice version of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, before Kerrie Roberts gives a beautiful rendition of ‘O Holy Night’. It’s all sounding good so far, but then we hit the buffers. Top marks to Anthem Lights for trying their own arrangement of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ but it just doesn’t do the song justice. Similarly, ‘Deck the Halls’ by Tenth Avenue North sounds more like a pub singalong. And, just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, The Rhett Walker Band deliver the gloomiest version of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ that I have ever heard. Tobe perfectly honest, this Christmas album did not “float my boat”, and I can’t see me returning it to my CD player in the near future. 5/10.
JESUS CULTURE MUSIC : Emerging Voices. (Elevation : ELE1814D)
Jesus Culture Music are, according to their official website, “a new breed of emerging revivalists”. There are many artists and worship leaders involved and on this particular collection you will find Derek Johnson, Mary Kat Ehrenzeller, Nate Ward and Justin Jarvis. If I’m honest, I was therefore expecting something with a unique flavour and sound but this live worship cd is pretty much par for the course. The overall sound is pretty much in line with sub-Delerious/U2 style that abounds at the moment. In that respect the appeal of this collection is to a certain generation. The songs are fine in themselves, but nothing particularly outstanding. My favourites are “Who Can Compare” which starts as a slow fingerpicked number before building up to the inevitable crescendo and “Where You Are” which is by contrast up-tempo, heads-down, and give it some welly! Added to that I find the whole recording lacks some punch and definition – at some points it just seems to be a wall of sound. There’s also one song where one line is repeated ad-infinitum which probably worked in a worship context but gets tiresome on a cd. So, overall, a album with potential which doesn’t really deliver for me. It would probably a good purchase if you like this sort of thing and are happy with more of the same otherwise I find it difficult to recommend. 6/10 Robin Thompson.
THE WASHINGTON PROJECTS : Space Time Continuum – The Flatline Remixes. (Save the City / Provident : 859707602587)
Since the break up of their previous group known as Souljahz, brother/sister combo Jekob & Rachael Washington have continued to produce music under the moniker of The Washington Projects. Space Time Continuum is a collection of remixes of the material from their previous 2 albums, bringing a mixture of hip hop, R&B, funk, pop and bass-thumping tunes that can hold their own amongst the best bangin’ club tunes out there – thankfully with lyrical content that won’t make the bleep machine go in to overdrive! You guess there’s something a bit out of the ordinary when there’s a De Lorean on the front cover of the album. The track selection kicks off with “Work”, which infuses pop, club style beat and buckets of bass. The first few seconds you could almost be listening to an Ibiza club anthem from someone like Paul Oakenfold, but it doesn’t quite turn in to the rave you might expect from the intro. “Time” follows on with similar style beats, but with vocals moving on from a pop style to hip hop when we get to “Diamonds”. Great tunes but for me the vocals are more engaging when the lyrics are sung in the more traditional sense as opposed to the ‘ho & yo’ chants of the current hip hop crop. Yes I am getting old!! These guys can certainly sing though and can produce some stonking tunes that are best served up good ‘n’ loud with the bass high. The majority of the tunes on CD 1 are fast-paced club anthems with the odd sprinkling of more relaxed numbers like “My Dream” to break the energy fest up a little. The bonus CD “Light Up The Dark” is a reworking of a previous album that never made it to full CD release. You get the sense that this has been twiddled with a lot less than CD 1 and has a more raw R&B / hip hop flavour with much more relaxed tunes being prominent. No bad thing as it will give your sub woofer a bit of a rest as well as allow you to focus more on the lyrical content, some of which are loaded with attitude. Overall a good value offering which stands its ground against the secular competition. By no means perfect but lots to offer if you like it loud, thumpin’ and you want to give your subs a good workout! 9/10 Simon Redfern.