New album from The Gentlemen.

gentlemenTHE GENTLEMEN have released their eagerly anticipated third studio album ‘Departures’, following a successful Pledge Music campaign to fund it. The 14-track album is described by the band as their “most exciting studio album to date”, and features recent single ‘Lights of Tokyo’ plus ‘New York Girl’ and ‘Words’. The Sheffield based band have been writing, recording and touring their own songs since 2005, and have gained a strong fan base throughout Europe and the UK.

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Review Xtra – Christopher Duffley : Eyes of My Heart @ChrisDuffley

Christopher Duffley Eyes of my HeartCHRISTOPHER DUFFLEY : Eyes of My Heart (Know Greater Love Ministries, Inc / Christopher Duffley : 884501994859))

On a first listen to the advance MP3s supplied for the review of this 11 track CD, there’s no denying the talent of young Christopher Duffley. He came to worldwide notice when, blind and autistic, at the age of ten a video of him singing ‘Open the eyes of my heart’ gained 3.9 million YouTube views. Two years later we have an ’11-song compilation of inspirational, patriotic and sacred songs’ produced by ‘9-time Dove Award-winning producer/songwriter/arranger Steven V. Taylor’, with Christopher backed by top Nashville session musicians. The arrangements and production are great, and Christopher’s not-yet-broken voice is clear and largely pitch perfect – although on some songs his vocals are pushed too high, to the point of shrillness. The standout for me is a slightly bluesey take on ‘Lean on me’, whilst the low point comes with ‘God bless the USA’ – which had my British toes curling! There are two broader points to be made however. Firstly, when a young male singer becomes famous their future career needs careful management as the hormones start to jangle and the inevitable happens to their voice. Secondly, I hesitate when someone’s disabilities are used to ‘push product’. The opener from the press release reads ‘Twelve-year-old YouTube sensation Christopher Duffley, who is blind and has autism, has released his debut CD ‘Eyes of My Heart’. Aspects of the release itself are also clearly designed to remind us of Christopher’s blindness. The title is the first example – taken from the aforementioned ‘Open the eyes of my heart, Lord’ – and he also sings ‘I can only imagine what my eyes will see, when Your face is before me’. Taking this CD purely on its merits as a musical experience however, what we have here is a largely enjoyable release, well arranged and played, and nicely sung by a young lad with obvious vocal abilities. If that’s what your music collection needs, you’ll love it.   7/10. Dave Deeks

Review Xtra – Shane & Shane : Bring Your Nothing @shaneandshane

Shane & ShaneSHANE & SHANE : Bring Your Nothing.   (Fair Trade : 3621160619)

Here are Texan duo Shane & Shane, with their 8th studio album. A mixture of jazz. Pop and worship, it’s reported that they recorded all the songs together in one room, rather than the ordinary one instrument at a time. It all starts off in a positive vein, with the foot tapping ‘That’s One You’ll Find’. It’s a great number and has some fine banjo playing, driving it along. The title track is rather over produced, with lots of brass sounds fighting for pole position. To be honest, I was glad when the track finished. ‘That’s How you Forgive’ is a okay, as a song, and it’s a pity that it’s not more memorable, as the lyrics are really good. The guys voices work well together, and never more so than on the pleasant pop ditty ‘I Came Alive’, which focusses on being saved. After the first play of the album, I had hardly written any notes for review. It wasn’t that I had a dislike for the songs, but I couldn’t say that any track really stood out, apart from the opening one. Sadly, that was still the case after another couple of listens. ‘Crucify Him’ did raise my hopes, but it turned out to be another false dawn, as the album finished with a whimper. I’ve read some other reviews that give this album a higher score but, for me, it’s worth nothing more than 5/10.

Review Xtra – Warr Acres : Hope Will Rise @Warr_Acres

Warr AcresWARR ACRES : Hope Will Rise.   (Dream Records)

An odd name to UK ears, Warr Acres is a city in Oklahoma and the band (formerly known as VMusic) started out as a high school worship team there. Lyrically their roots show (not a bad thing – there’s no doubt what they stand for), but the overall sound has developed to a more energetic pop/rock sound, in a Kelly Clarkson/Taylor Swift sort of way (the intro to “Light Up The Night” with its rock guitars and electronic whistle’d motif demonstrates this well). That said they cover quite a few genres, sometimes feeling more like a compilation album (but therefore never dull). I loved the string stabs and Muse-like keyboard riff leading into “Beautifully Complete”. There are some quieter numbers in here, the title track having a real uplifting chorus that I could imagine stadiums singing along to but “Psalm 27” is the best of these, led very well by piano and is very well arranged, working through energies and taking you with them. As with most pop/rock, there’s a feeling that you’ve heard some of it before (it’s called ‘popular’ for a reason after all) but I couldn’t help but feel I actually had heard “This Beautiful Life” before, complete with arrangement – and the intro to “So Much Greater” was pure Snow Patrol (but with a much better chorus). The whole CD is really well produced, played and arranged. They clearly know what they’re doing and they’re doing it well. Best track: “Beautifully Complete” (although I did spend a week with “This Beautiful Life” in my head).   8/10   Paul Ganney.

New Album from Casting Crowns

Casting CrownsOne of the world’s biggest selling Christian bands, CASTING CROWNS, are set to release their seventh studio album ‘Thrive’ on 28th January 2014. The album comes more than two years since the band’s acclaimed album ‘Come to the Well’ and includes the new lead single ‘All You’ve Ever Wanted’. Accompanying the record is Casting Crowns lead singer, Mark Hall’s newest book ‘Thrive – Digging Deep, Reaching Out’. The book hits retailers on 11th February 2014 and includes powerful stories and teaching for those looking to take the next step of faith.

Vini Contreas Sings Dylan.

Vini ContreasNFN friend and singer, VINI CONTREAS wrote to let us know that “The Dylan Thomas Show” (a solo acoustic tribute to the songs of Bob Dylan) recently debuted at The Dekker Center in North Battleford, Saskatchewan . . A video company, Bamboo Shoots, came in from Saskatoon to shoot the show for Sasktel Cable where it is running On-Demand at present. Here is a link to the opening cut from the show: “Blowin’ In The Wind” . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gksj2gCyvUs

The Review Zone – THE GREATER ALLEN CATHEDRAL : The Worship Experience.

The Greater Allen CathedralTHE GREATER ALLEN CATHEDRAL : The Worship Experience.   (RCA Inspirational : 88765-46912-2)

The record label biography states that The Greater Allen Cathedral of New York is an African Methodist Episcopal church located in Jamaica, Queens, New York. The congregation currently has over 23,000 members, making it one of the largest churches in the United States. Well, with 23,000 members, they must certainly be able to find some find singers amongst them! The album is typical black gospel and, while that isn’t a bad thing, a lot of the songs do sound exactly the same as any other album of the same genre. ‘Greater’ opens things up, and the lead singer shouts and  sings for all he’s worth, while the choir back him with angelic voices. ‘Psalm 63’ praises God in a similar fashion and features the weirdest lyric ever; “When I have a fungus, I will praise you.” Asking the Lord to ‘Fill This Place’ is Tamika Smith-Frederick. Just a piano and her silky vocals, make this a sumptuous sound. Delores Bowman takes the lead on ‘Jesus Christ is the Way’. It’s a softer sound than the opening numbers, and I liked this song very much. As well as the main singers, the choir must get a mention for their uplifting backing, especially on ‘Be Glorified’. I didn’t dislike the album, but I just can’t help thinking that there was nothing new, overall, to what’s gone before. Fans of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir will, no doubt, enjoy this one.   6/10.