NFN Review – NAOMI RAINE : Journey.   (Tribl Records)

Naomi is an artist that I have not heard before, so I was not sure what to expect. Looking at the running order of the album, it has 22 tracks, some as short as half a minute. The title track has a keyboard and harp backing amongst sound effects. It does sound a little like a ‘free’ song worship. Perhaps an off the cuff, spirit lead piece which you could expect in a ministry time. As yet, I cannot see the purpose of it on the album, though the message could be relevant to the listener. Track 2 brings in Sparkies magic piano, which is all I remember. That, and the vocal ‘I’ve got pending emotions’ – all 49 seconds of it. Naomi has a great voice and the songs are well put together, with good backing voices and interesting backings. You are waiting for the “but”! For me, a more conventional backing band on the first few songs would have helped concentrate on the message I believe Naomi is wanting to share. Included in the track listing are what are called Car Chats. These are short one way conversations which are giving spoken advice or comments. Again I’ve no problem with the chats’ content, but why put them on an album? I wondered if Naomi was presenting these in documentary style, linking the songs together. ‘Not Ready’ is the first conventional contribution, more of what I was looking for. The style is Jazz gospel. It’s very well done, with nice nice guitar work, and I love the bass lines. I really like this song! ‘Safe’ follows in similar style and I could listen to this over and over again. (I also liked the unusual backing vocals in this song, too). As the album went on, I found myself enjoying it more. ‘Choosing Myself’ has some really interesting pads on the backing track. Of the lyrics, I guess Naomi is right, she is who she is, and that is how she is made. The message; We all need to make the right choices. At this point, I thought “maybe I am getting the concept, it could be a documentary about her to herself?” We seem to be looking into a person’s life, doubts, positive messages spoken to herself, yet open to let others walk in the shoes she has worn to lift them too. The album ends with 3 more good songs which are full of positivity. You know Naomi is ok and going to be an influence to those she ministers to. So after a bumpy start, I finally quite like this album. For me, maybe better as a documentary, but still an interesting listen. Noel Donaldson 7/10.

CITIZENS : A Thousand Shores.   (Integrity Music)

Having not heard anything by Citizens previously, I listened to this EP of 5 tracks with complete freshness. The title track had me wondering who they were singing about? I could easily guess from the reasonably standard Christian speak we all use in the church, but someone unaware could hear it as a love song to their other half. It’s not until after 3 minutes they sing the name of Jesus. I only mention this as many years ago we had a song we sang in church, which was a favourite of mine. Someone, then, pointed out it could be to anyone as no name was in the lyrics. Musically, I really like it. The stereo keyboard patch that bounces left to right throughout made me listen more to the instrumentation as I tried to pick out the various parts. It’s a very dance culture based track and put together well. ‘Hide No More’ has, again, many keyboard layers and the modern reverb atmospheric overload filling a large tonal range soundscape. I like the sentiment and the vocal style which is right for the song to me. The drum track is interesting in itself, as it dominates the early stages and is absorbed by the aforementioned keyboard pads. I didn’t like the start of ‘Lovelight,’ with its backward keyboard sounding loops, moving into a drum break before the beat is established. Then, it progresses with a pleasant vocal and almost traditional band track. There’s a nice bass and balance of sounds which then goes into the chorus – which for me lets it down. A minor moan here. There appears to be no attention to diction on ‘I’m waiting for the Light, as it sounds like  ‘I’m waiting for the lie’ which for the none lyrics reader puts the song in a different light (no pun intended). The number, then, moves into glorious reggae and what a guitar solo! Magnificent!.It’s the best song by for so far for me despite of previous remarks. ‘Imagination’ is a mix of sounds which shouldn’t work yet they seem to pull it through. Must be a youth thing! Finally, we come to ‘Everything And More,’ which is mixture of sound patches knitted together. The chorus which is the title repeated is a great sentiment and a lasting memory of a well produced EP. 8/10 Noel Donaldson.

NFN Review – KATY WEIRICH : Out of the Blue.   (https://katyweirich.com)

A six song offering from Katy, begins with an in your face, wall of sound worship song, which I couldn’t help but like. As I pulled the arrangement of ‘Majestic One’ to bits. to look at the construction. There, I found partially hidden gems, such as the backing vocals which punctuate, sounding like plucked violin or harp strings “prince of peace.” The arrangement does seem a little heavy for Katy’s voice, but I found it endearing. It reminded  me a little of the UK band Phatfish vocally, where Lou Fellingham’s audial smile is always heard. ‘More’ is a change of pace, which is simplified for the final track as a piano version. Guess I like the piano version, which is stripped back but includes the orchestration – which is worth examining on its own. Well written and well produced.  Lyrically, the EP  is very Christian-phrased, full of church language but fits perfectly in the context of a personal worship album. Katy shares her faith within the worship and is drawing you in to a closer place. ‘Fear Not’ is a prime example of this, plus it is just a beautiful song. ‘Blue Jay’ hits so many buttons on my list of likes. Again, when it builds, the backing vocals are superb, as well as the orchestral arrangement. I could listen to this again and again! After listening to this release, it left me wanting to find out more about Katy and her music. This collection contains well written songs and a great voice. Just one fault…….it ends too soon!  10/10 Noel Donaldson.

NFN Review – CASPAR McCLOUD BAND : Walking in Authority.   (https://www.casparmccloudmusic.com)

I remembered reviewing an earlier release by Casper McCloud and his band, and I REALLY liked it. Being a classic rock/prog rock fan, the sound was right where I wanted to be. So, when I was asked to review this new release, I quickly found time to listen. Just for the uninitiated, Caspar McCloud is an accomplished portrait artist, an equestrian, a virtuoso guitarist, singer, and songwriter, as well as an ordained minister, and author. Caspar presently pastors a church called, “The Upper Room” in Roswell, GA, when he is not out traveling as a musician and a guest speaker. Instantly, I was hooked by this 24 track, 2 disc release. My immediate thought was it is reminiscent of Dave Flett (Manfred Manns Earth Band) and Thin Lizzy, among other bands and his style of guitar playing – plus occasional touches of Eddie Van Halen, too. Throughout the album, the listener is treat to driving beats, loud guitars, guitar soloing and spiritual lyrics. Not necessarily songs to have on in the car driving through a slow-down zone, but windows down, singing top of your voice! So, to the song themselves. ‘Up to Something’ has direct lyrics that challenge the devil on his actions and crimes against humanity. Alongside Caspar’s vocals, are thundering guitar riffs and drum breats, before his trademark solo sound appears during a short break. Then, we mustn’t forget the Rene Truex’s electric fiddle playing! The following ‘Gather’ is a slightly lighter tune that is calling us to gather around Jesus and the simple truths; ‘He is willing to deliver and receive us’ ‘Knowing the truth makes you free.’ Track 5 is a change of feeling. There’s a more positive set of riffs, a brighter sound, and great bass lines. If that’s not enough, there’s some great, vocal harmonies, as Caspar asks if you are ‘Unredeemable?’ The song is a reminder that no-one is beyond redemption. It’s a simple gospel message, with a violin rock solo, which then makes away for more screaming guitar licks. As I write, I’m not a quarter of the way through the CD and I already want to start it again, as it is so good! I would love to comment on each track but the review would be just too long. Just an acoustic guitar and strings are used on ‘No Eye Has Seen.’ The feel is almost McCartneyish, yet distinctly Caspar. Lyrically, you could imagine it being pulled from scripture as it is portrayed as a psalm. Yet these are Caspar’s own words.  ‘What You’re looking For’ has a touch of  The Travelling Wilberys about it. Close my eyes, and I could visualise the likes of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan singing this one! I try not to find group styles when describing tracks here and there. But, I guess, we have similar musical roots and it brings so many memories of great bands, and this band is no exception! The second disc continues with a mix of Rock, Country rock and, now and again, good pop songs such as ‘Darker and Lighter.’ Lyrically, the song tells of the darkness of this world, but also offers the light of the world in the shape of our Saviour. Another highlight of the track listing is ‘Watch and Pray.’ It’s back to pure rock with a great arrangement. Once again, those violin sounds flow over grungy guitars, while Caspar reminds us to watch and pray. There are so many great tracks, and even an instrumental or two! Joined by his musical comrades, Carlos Merced on drums, Donovan SL on keyboards, the previously mentioned Rene on violin, Caspar’s band are unique, yet so familiar at times. As well as during the sung lyrics, you can feel the joy of being able to convey God’s love in such a way.  I would love to see the band live. In the meantime, I look forward to listening this again and again.  10/10 Noel Donaldson

NFN Review – IAN YATES : Between The Joy And The Sorrow (Part 1).   (www.7coremusic.co.uk)

I was aware of Ian Yates through Elim Sound, but this is the first time I have listened to his solo music It is a 2 part recording, with part 2 to be released in September. Starting with a song of less than a minute, (The Way) it shows me Ian is not afraid of conformity when it comes to recording. It would seem to be a very introverted album, not the praise and worship I would normally associate with him. He moves from reviewing his life so far, the need to grow even closer to God,  to walking with God, as on ‘Orange Skies.’ ‘40 Years’ starts off with acoustic guitar, before it moves into an almost spatially haunting soundscape. These sounds compliment the softly sung lyrics, leading you to listen and look at your own life. I love  ‘Don’t Leave Me Here.’ I like the guitar start, and when the piano arrives there, maybe, a touch too much reverb. But, it’s still very effective. I also enjoyed how the 1234 strumming gets picked up by the piano. It some respects, it’s a very empty song musically, yet filled by the heartfelt vocals. ‘Without Love I Am Nothing’ is based entirely on 1 Corinthians 13. My initial listen found me liking the first wo minutes. Then, I was waiting for it to develop into fresh lyrics and music, giving the song a more personalised content from the man himself. There’s a more upbeat feel about ‘God You’ve Never Failed Me.’ Musically, the track builds really well, with the drums/percussion only appearing towards the end. With them comes more instruments. Ian’s vocals on “God You’ve never failed me” certainly calls for the crescendo of sound and are very fitting. Previously the drums are either very well hidden or just absent. I did listen carefully throughout and their absence was refreshing. The final track Sit At My Feet’ is sung from God’s point of view. We have been busy, preoccupied etc and Ian sings; “And I know you don’t mean to be far away.” It reminds me of how life gets crowded and we lose sight of God, whether we are doing good things or not. God is saying spend time at my feet. I, simply, love how the music, then, continues without vocals giving the listener time to sit at Gods feet. Ian’s wish for the album is honesty – his and ours. With this collection of songs, he’s got it right for me. 10/10 Noel Donaldson

NFN Review – BRANDON HEATH : Enough Already. (Centricity Music)

As I start this review, it may help the reader to know that I am old. This album would probably be better suited for my children, but, I will continue with my thoughts. The release has a very contemporary sounding start, with lots of repeated vocal lines. And, that is how it grows on you! There are nice harmonised vocals throughout – just enough, not overbearing. I quite like. For me, by track 3 (‘This Changes Eveything’), the reverb is bugging me. There’s just too much. It seems to be an attempt to give a slightly live feel, but I wasn’t keen. Pleasingly it disappears as the album goes on. ‘That’s Enough’ is the best track so far. The hook on the chorus works very well, and the lyrics are good, with a simple message:  “God is good and that’s enough.” I would have liked a little more guitar coming through but the arrangement is full and well- constructed. ‘See Me Through It’ has a jazz/gospel feel and works quite well, while ‘Another Song About Love’  reminded me of Sparky’s Magic Piano on the chorus! The backing vocals appear to be through a processer giving a Fender Rhodes sound. ‘He is Not Worried’ is more of a ballad and I really liked this one. No, it’s than that. I really, really liked it! It’s a song which encourages and strengthens you through a few different scenarios. Good arrangement and, bearing my earlier comments re age, it speaks to all generations. Great song. The title track reminds us that God takes us as we are. We are enough already and don’t have to try impress Him. Finally, ‘Human Nature’ is an acoustic version of the first track and more in line with my tastes. Overall a good album, with interesting songs  – and I like the non-cliché lyrics. A good, honest release, which will speak to many people. 7/10.   Noel Donaldson.

NFN Review Zone – JORDAN ST. CYR : Jordan St. Cyr (BEC Recordings)

‘Jordan St. Cyr’ is a 2022 release by father of 2 Jordan. Pop influenced, it would appeal to a younger audience particularly, not that it would exclude us older ones! There’s a happy, go lucky, pop sounding start to the album with clear vocals which come over very well. ‘Weary Traveller’ deepens the mood and draws you in, reminding us all that we were not made to travel this road alone. And, someday soon, we are going make it home. I liked that track a lot. There is very little ‘Christian cliché’ lyrics, which is refreshing, with all five opening songs being very radio friendly, youth anthems and well produced. (A minor niggle: there are a lot of clap tracks but I guess that is par for the course) I liked the guitar work on ‘Yours,’ which showed a change of tempo, moving into a bit of jazz blues in 6/8 and becoming more anthemic progressively. ‘Fires’ seemed to be the outstanding track on the album. There’s a big production, gospel choir backing, lots of reverb, and a positive message that we are never being left alone when struggles try to overwhelm us. “You’ve walked me through fires, pulled me through flame.” As with the other tracks, this is a very uplifting song. This is a very enjoyable and, as I have already said, uplifting album. There does appear to be a regular formula to the songs, consisting of a fairly empty section, a pause, full backing, before again reverting to the quiet section and pause. I guess that there’s nothing, basically, wrong with that but, it does seem to be every track. Jordan has produced lots of thought provoking lyrics, while the title of the last song,  ‘Let Go, Let God,’ (final track) is something we all need to remember. A good album. 8/10.   Noel Donaldson.

NFN Review Zone – SKILLET : Dominion.   (https://skillet.lnk.to/Dominion)

Dominion by Skillet is their eleventh release and taking tremendous hits on the album charts. The title track video has had over 3.8 million plays! Looking at their website they play some serious arenas over the pond so it was with anticipation I listened to this release. My immediate thought was; Oh! How do I describe this?” Metal as a starting point, with a wall of noise broken by the occasional drop out of guitars and drums revealing interesting sequenced sections. ‘Standing in the Storm’ sounded quite applicable to the overall sound. The title track followed and was my favourite so far as it conformed more to my classic rock background. Then came ‘Valley of Death’ with its piano and cello intro. Like  most of the songs on the album, the message clear and concise. On this song, verse 2 sees more piano and great string sounds. There’s also a superb chorus arrangement, over the top orchestra, and band reflecting the vocal style. I love the honesty in the chorus; “Now that I walk through the valley of death, You’re the light to guide me. When I’m lost and can’t see I’m holding on with all my strength say you won’t forget me ‘cause sometimes I don’t believe that I am not alone in the valley of death.’ Then the declaration that I am not alone in the valley of death.” Absolutely brilliant. Play it over and over! ‘Beyond Incredible’ declares the wish to be taken away into a higher place. This album grew on me the longer I played it. ‘Destiny’ is a good follow up to the previous track, reminding me of Delirious at times, yet musically heavier than they ever got! I can imagine driving with this on at full volume and singing away with all I have. Again, I loved it! The album continues with a flavour of the bands styles, ‘Forever or the End’ ventures into 6/8 slightly more classic rock than the earlier songs and produced with tremendous vocals. Overall, after the initial shock, I came to really like this in places. All songs were well done and lyrically sharing their faith, hopes and beliefs. If you are into metal this is going to be on your play list. Lots of videos on their website too! 9/10.   Noel Donaldson.

NFN Review Zone – 32 AD : Enough For Me.  (https://32admusic.com/home)

32AD are an American rock band, offering worship with attitude and something fresh with the songs. For those who find most worship albums tame, this should awaken the earbuds, with heavy guitars and clear lyrics. I’m not sure where I would put this? Rush (the bits I like) came to mind, as did Res Band. There’s classic rock vibes too, four chord riffs and screaming guitars. What’s not to love? Track 2. ‘Back Wave,’ is crying out for a bridge, plus the lyrics are a bit unclear. ‘Enter Rest’ has nice guitar separation in the solos. It has a nice construction, with the quieter section speaking the truth that nothing in this world compares to you. [God]. ‘Glorify Magnify’ is a gentler song and, for me, the best so far. (Although I’m not sure about the sudden ending! With overdubbed acoustic guitars, ‘Don’t Leave Me’ is more of a ballad, lasting over 8 mins but still keeping the listener’s interest. The final track ‘Clouds and Darkness’ is subtitled an ‘Improvised Jam.’ While it also fills the album track listing, it also shows where some of the track ideas came from. Overall, this 8 track collection is well put together and listenable. I would be interested to hear the other albums. 7/10. Noel Donaldson.

NFN Review Zone – JIM & MELISSA BRADY : Ever Faithful. (Daywind Records)

Not knowing anything about the artist is often a good way of listening to a CD when reviewing. I had a brief outline –  the duo working with top writers and producers. And, I wondered what was going to hit the ears? Track 1: ‘To The King’ is very upbeat and listenable. I liked the way the vocals were in unison, then split. Jim sings what you would call lead, but Melissa holds her own with strong vocals and harmonies. To be honest I was expecting a Southern Gospel album and was pleasantly surprised with the sound.  Good guitar and drum driven rock/pop/country. Track 3: ‘Great God Of My Joy’ reminded me of Andre Crouch. Melissa leads this Gospel inspired funky track, which is played over some magical organ and keyboard riffs. Not my thing but just touches the spot.  As we drift into ‘Jesus Stays,’ the use of a clap track (intermittent in this song) is beginning to seem repetitive. Having said that, once the track get going the orchestral accompaniment and choir is really good if slightly over powering. Returning to a more upbeat tempo is ‘Good Things.’ This is followed by the gentler ‘He Will Carry.’ Track 8 is called ‘Ever Present, Ever Faithful.’ It has a nice gentle entrance, and I liked how the strings come out of the chord expanding the soundscape. This is what I was expecting when I approached this CD. It’s well produced, arranged and performed, but not my cup of tea. I cannot fault it, it’s just my taste! ‘Covered’ contains what I would call ‘Christian Lyrics’ – Cover by the blood, sanctified, crimson flow. Anyone outside the church would wonder what they were talking about. It’s a personal dislike but, after all,  these are my honest opinions. Overall, ‘Ever Faithful’ is a good release. It’s nothing outstanding, but an easy listen. 7/10.

Noel Donaldson.