The Review Zone – Phil Wickham : The Ascension @philwickham

Phil WickhamPHIL WICKHAM : The Ascension.   (Fair Trade – Adavance Release)

Disappointing. Yes, that’s my opinion. As much as I loved Phil’s last release, this one falls fairly flat, on the scale of excitement. The title track is simply glorious, while ‘Wonderful’ rolls along with a stunning chorus. But, in between those two songs, only occasionally do the songs rise above mediocrity. ‘This is Amazing Grace’ is a medium paced electro rocker. Hard to tell where the influences come from on that one but it shows that Phil isn’t afraid to experiment with his sound. There’s a big production on ‘When My Heart is Torn Mercy’ and I believe that his long time collaborator Pete Kipley may be behind that. I found it to be a very powerful song, focusing on the blood of Christ. Sadly, unlike his previous album, I felt that this one lacked cohesion, as well as consistency. For me, yes, disappointing.   5/10.

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The Review Zone – Various : Forever Reign

Forever ReignVARIOUS : Forever Reign.   (Benson Records : 84418-0910-2)

Here’s another one of those American manufactured compilation albums that has a rather grand sub-title “Today’s Best Known Worship Songs”. Sorry, but here in the UK, most of the ten tracks will be new to listener’s ears. From 1994, the unmistakable Michael W Smith whips up the audience with a typical, grand rendition of ‘You Are Holy’. Somehow, you feel safe whilst listening to Michael’s version, as you know, there’s a man who really carries the Lord’s message in every song he sings. Casting Crowns drive ‘Holy One’, with lots of guitars, whilst the title track is a glorious number by One Sonic Society, that should have everyone singing along. Other top tunes come from Third Day, and ‘King of Glory’ and Elevation Worship’s ‘For the Honor’ [US Spelling]. The former has a big production, complete with a choir joining Mac Powell for later choruses. Tenth Avenue North and Andy Cherry are also featured, before The Royal Royal close the album with ‘Praise Him’ – a sound that sounds uncannily like Coldplay. So, more good songs than bad, and easily worth 7/10. 

The Review Zone – Ernie Haase & The Signature Sound : Glorious Day @ErnieHaase

Ernie Haase & The Signature SoundERNIE HAASE & THE SIGNATURE SOUND : Glorious Day (Stow Town STR 3117)

Where have I been for the past ten years or so? Whilst southern gospel quartet ‘Ernie Haase + Signature Sound’ have evidently been around for this length of time and have released seventeen CDs and eight DVDs, this eleven track CD is my first experience of them! Settling down to listen for the first time and hearing it kick off with a male four part harmony vocal / big band arrangement of ‘When the saints go marching in’, I thought I knew what to expect for the next forty minutes or so. But no. Whilst there are common threads here, there is such a wide variety of styles that I’m not sure what to make of it! Common threads? The male gospel quartet, traditional/gospel lyrics, and lovely clean sound that shows many current releases how it should be done. Variety of styles? 40s swing, big band, blue grass, orchestra, guitar/acoustic, gospel, country/country rock/country pop, gospel rock. I fear that such variety may limit its appeal. And whilst those voices blend really well, when the bass takes the lead on ‘Scars in the hands of Jesus’ and ‘Two coats’ it exposes an excessive vibrato that borders on going out of tune. Interesting then, but no ‘standouts’ for me – and probably of limited interest, ironically as a result of trying to appeal to a wide audience. 6/10. Dave Deeks

The Review Zone – Fred Hammond : United Tenors @RealFredHammond

Fred Hammond United TenorsFRED HAMMOND : United Tenors.   (RCA Inspiration : 88765-45597-2)

Gospel star Fred Hammond has joined forces with fellow Gospel artists Dave Hollister, Eric Roberson and Brian Courtney-Wilson for this record. Over in the States, the album has already reached  #1 on Billboard’s Gospel album chart and #7 on Billboard’s 200 pop album chart. As you would expect, the quality of the songs are first class, with the RnB number, ‘Unshakeable’ being an early favourite. The tenors’ voices really come to the fore with the ballad ‘Here in Our Praise’. The harmonies are superb and it’s a lovely song. Similarly, ‘I’m in the Midst’ is smooth gospel at it’s best, were the voices gel together well. I found myself tapping my foot to ‘I’m Reminded’, while ‘Everybody Get Up’ reminded me of the Backstreet Boys in all their pomp. Gospel lovers will lap up this collection of songs, and others may well find a surprisingly good album.   7/10.

The Review Zone – 1 Girl Nation @1girlnation

1 Girl Nation1 GIRL NATION : 1 Girl Nation.   (Reunion : 02341-0179-2)

Carmen, Kelsey, Lauryn, Lindsey and Kayli are five young teenage girls who want to have a voice in today’s world, with God firmly with them. Perhaps I was the wrong person to review this album, being of the male sex, and some forty years older than the girls, but I listen with an open mind. ‘While We’re Young’ is an anthemic number that I can see going down well with teens. ‘Vertical’ is a complete rip-off of a Cascada track from a few years ago, and it’s a real pity, because it’s a catchy tune. There’s also more than a passing nod to Nikki Minaj and Lady GaGa on songs like ‘Live For You’ and ‘Count Your Rainbows’. The band Royal Tailor join the girls for ‘Love Like Crazy’. It works well, with the message that we should all follow Jesus’ example and share the love of God. The rest of the songs are pretty run of the mill, but the chart friendly title track certainly could become a radio hit. At times, 1 Girl Nation sound like five angry young girls at times, but perhaps that’s just the opinion of a grumpy old man. There’s a few highlights, but I’m not sure there’s enough there for us to look forward to a second album.   5/10.

The Review Zone – Rosie Meek & The Open Road @OpenRoadMusic

Rosie Meek & The Open RoadROSIE MEEK & THE OPEN ROAD : Rosie Meek & the Open Road.   (Authentic Media : 5060256820918)

Rosie Meek is part of a musicians collective from Derby called Open Road Music. Although their Christian faith is very important part of their lives they would describe themselves as musicians who are Christians. Consequently the lyrics to the songs reflect their Christian outlook on life and experience rather than being overtly religious or didactic. The first thing that strikes you about this album is the use of instruments, like the melodeon and ukulele. Then, there’s Rosie’s sweet and oh so charming vocals. The opening track mixes all three, and brings a taste of Paris to the table on ‘How the Mighty Fall’. No, not overtly religious but still a reminder about how we should put others first. There’s more melodeon on ‘Hollywood’ as the song looks at glamour and materialistic wants, while the ukulele springs into action on the summer sounding ‘Counting Butterflies’. The album is rather refreshing. There’s a pure sound about it, overall, and it’s quite different to 95% of religious music I get to review. ‘Books That I’ve Not Read’ is a super title, and gently nudges you to say, you may have missed opportunities in your life, but don’t miss the one to ask Christ into your life. It’s not a stunning album, and I didn’t get excited about it. But, for relaxing, it’s the perfect company.   8/10.

The Review Zone – Hawk Nelson : Made @hawknelson

hawk nelsonHAWK NELSON : Made.   (Fair Trade : 60519)

This is a CD of upbeat guitar led rock / pop songs, There are some good songs on this album, dealing with the turmoil and general angst of life as a believer that most of us will be familiar with. The lyrics are very honest, and explain well how the character in the songs are feeling, the tunes are quite catchy too, and there is no feeling of every track being the same. The band are a very tight outfit, and I should think that they would be worth checking out live, although I’m not sure that there would be much chance of them leaving America to play here. There are a couple of outstanding tracks, “Every Beat Of My Broken Heart” is a worship song about finding a closer walk with God. “Words” is an interesting track, about the way words can build up or knock down, and I reckon it’s the best song on the CD. This is a CD that is worth getting hold of.    10/10   Andy Sayner.