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Archive for the ‘music review’ Category

See Part 1 of my reminiscent ramblings here.

I didn’t plan on my nostalgia turning into more than 1 post, but that’s what happens when I get going.  This post focuses on a handful of Christian albums from my youth (think, mid-to-late 90’s) that I still listen to somewhat regularly (except for the first) but have probably been forgotten or never known by the majority of people.  So, you won’t find the most popular bands here, but perhaps those I consider the best.  I’ll provide links (for MP3 download, except the first two) and track listings.  Bonus points for picking out the two bands with names inspired by C S Lewis.

Five O’Clock People, The Nothing Venture

Lunar
Sorry
Blame
So Far Gone
Glass
Now I Sing
Remain
Same Old Line
This Day
Living Water
Fall Silent

Admission: I don’t actually own this album any more.  It was stolen out of my car some time ago, and it’s been hard to find a replacement.  I pretty much refuse to buy physical cds anymore, but maybe I’ll make an exception here since I can’t find it for download.  So I’m going off memory here.

These guys were really folky, relying on mostly acoustic guitars (with a touch of mandolin) and good vocals.  In a sense, they road the wave created by Jars of Clay and their acoustic rock, but were a bit more melancholy lyrically (if memory serves).  Anyway, find it and enjoy it.

Curious Fools, Read

Con Con
(You're) Dangerous
Angel
Love (Is Believing)
Heaven
Se7en
Gold
Slow
Magic
Stone
Mess
Take Me Back
Pull
Murder

Once you get over the fact that the lead singer is trying to sound like Bono (listen to se7en, you’ll get the idea), this is a really good album.  This was Curious Fools’ second album, normally a band’s worst but their best.  They had a pretty decent debut album, but I think the wheels began to fall off with their third, where every song sounded like it was trying to be a radio hit, down to the fact that every song fits into a radio-friendly 3:– rather than some of the extended songs from Read.  At any rate, Read’s pretty straight forward rock, with some good guitar work, tight playing and memorable songs. 

Sixpence None the Richer, This Beautiful Mess 

Angeltread
Love, Salvation, The Fear of Death
Bleeding
Within a Room Somewhere
Melting Alone
Circle of Error
The Garden
Disconnect
Thought Menagerie
Maybe Tomorrow
Drifting
I Can't Explain

I know, I know.  Sixpence ended up becoming super popular.  Not only that, they became popular for Kiss Me, which ended becoming something of a teen-pop sensation when it was included in She’s All That.  Having your song featured in a Freddie Prinze Jr movie is pretty much the kiss of death to your street cred.

But before that song became big, they were known to a smaller group of fans for Matt Slocum’s unique music and lyrics.  Even Kiss Me feels entirely different when you listen to it in the context of it’s album.  Anyway, my favorite album is This Beautiful Mess.  It’s aggressive but mellow, quirky and just all around cool.  I have to admit that I’ve never been big on bands with female lead singers, but this is one of my all time favorite albums.  Listen to this album and you’ll never understand how they became famous they way they did. 

Waterdeep, Sink or Swim 

Sink or Swim
No One Told You
Not Enough Time
I Know the Plans
Lonely Sometimes
And
Go
Both of Us'll Feel the Blast
Legend of Vertigo
18 Bullet Holes
I'm Afraid I'm Not Supposed to Be Like This
You Knew
Down at the Riverside
I Am
[Hidden Track]

Like Sixpence, Waterdeep is actually fairly well known to people listening to Christian music about a decade ago.  Unfortunately, most people only know their two albums released on a label, Everyone’s Beautiful and You Are So Good to Me.  It’s not they are bad albums (although You Are So Good to Me is my least favorite, even if it did give the world a pretty good worship song by that name), they just aren’t their best. 

I don’t know a single long time Waterdeep fan that wouldn’t say that Sink or Swim is their best studio album.  Good music, great lyrics.  The husband-wife duo of Don & Lori Chaffer will always hold a special place in my heart.  In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say it.  If I could only take one band’s music with me on a desert island, Waterdeep would be it.  They capture something of the ebb and flow of life- the joys and the heartache- better than just about anyone. 

Waterdeep was, in my opinion, always a better live band than a studio band- and that’s saying something.  In light of that, I was tempted to put Live at the New Earth on this list instead of Sink or Swim.  If you insist on having perfect production quality, then Live is not for you.  But if you’re like me and you prefer the feel of a live show at the expense of perfection, then you must get it.  This is especially true if you like extended rock jams with a dose of funk.  And if you really like live bootlegs, I’ve got a few I’m willing to spread around (for the record, Waterdeep encourages bootlegging).

Poor Old Lu, Sin

Complain
Bones Are Breaking
My World Falls Down
Slow
I Am No Good
Thoughtless
Hope for Always
Where Were All of You
Bliss Is
Cannon-Fire Orange
Ring True
Sickly
Come to Me
Necklace

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why this band wasn’t more popular.  When I’d bring them up in college, I felt like there were two responses: most people had no idea who they were, those that did thought they were amazing.  Everyone who did like them seemed to have a different favorite album, but Sin is mine (go here for more stuff on them). 

It’s hard to describe this album.  They’re definitely in the alternative genre, but there are a few different influences going on here: a Western themed (think: Rawhide) Hope for Always, a Spanish themed Cannon-Fire Orange, and a lot of hopeful angst (if that makes sense).  Ring True and Sickly will go down as a couple of my favorite songs, but I never skip a song on this album.  So why didn’t they garner more attention?  Perhaps it’s because CCM wasn’t ready for a group of young guys (they started together as high schoolers) who didn’t fit the boy band profile.  They were a little grungy, definitely moody.  I think they sounded more jilted than they really were.  Even when they have a happy song like Ring True, it’s “ugly” enough that some might not notice.  Sickly has some pretty inspired lyrics about dealing with pain, but it ends up (like the lamenting psalmists) in a place where it’s given over the God.  Besides all this, I never thought they got the credit they deserved for their musical abilities.  Great band, great album. 

Dryve, Thrifty Mr. Kickstar

Whirly Wheel
Nervous
Stay
Thrifty Mr. Kickstar
She Ain't Ready
It's My Fault
Rain
Television
Heart of This
Manifold

Dryve is the best band you’ve never heard of.  I promise.  Three guitars, drummer, bassist, hammond organ.  Throw in an occasional harmonica and accordian and what you get is a wall of sound.  I can’t think of another Christian band like them, which is probably why they never made it big.  This is the only release on a label, although they did have a previous one called Hum.  If you’re looking for your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumentation-chorus arrangement, go somewhere else.  Great guitar work?  Cool organ action?  This is your place.

This album is the most listened to album on my iTunes.  There isn’t a song I don’t like.  From the angry (Television) to the worshipful (Rain, which I’ve heard played as a worship song, minus the harmonica, organ and extended guitar solo), I love it all.  I love the organ, cascading in some places (Manifold) and fun in others (Whirly Wheel).  Pretty much every song makes me wish I were a lead guitarist in a rock band.  But they broke up roughly a year after this album came out, and that was it.  This cd was one of those stolen from my car many years ago, but I had to go out and download the album on MP3.  It was every bit as good as I remembered it.

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Note: I’m in a reminiscing stage of life, so forgive the break from Bible geekery (which hasn’t been happening much anyway) for a couple days of rambling.  If nothing else, read this post for the links provided.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  Thank you for your time.

I’m a nostalgic person; I have been since I was little. I would pine for the “old days” when I was barely a teenager, so you can imagine now that I’m in my 30’s (gulp) I’m even worse. It’s not that I want to go back, of course, since my life is better now than it ever has been, but I do remember fondly certain experiences from my youth. One of those areas is the music I discovered as a teenager.

I sometimes feel sorry for my friends who missed out on evangelicalism in the 90’s. I feel sorry for them because they miss out on all the inside jokes the rest of us share, especially regarding music. When I drop a “who’s in the house? (JC!)” reference, you can generally tell who got stuck listening to cheesy CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and who didn’t.  (But seriously, stop and click on that link above and watch the video.  It’s awesome on so many levels.)  It’s worth it just for the jokes.

In some ways I got a front row seat to CCM.  My older brothers, when they weren’t sneaking Metallica cassettes into the house via Sandi Patty covers (hey, the statute of limitations has run out, I can talk about it now), got me hooked on Petra and Stryper.  We wore out Petra’s This Means War! cassette, so much so that there was an unbearable screeching throughout (oh, wait, that was John Schlitt’s voice?).  I heard some of this album not too long ago and still remember a lot of the lyrics, which is amazing since it had been over 20 years since I had heard it.  But that was my older brothers’ music, not my own.  (My favorite- the Rap Sures, a painfully awesome mid-80’s rap group.  Thankfully, someone discovered their song about Jonah and put it on Youtube- whoever you are, you have quite the mansion awaiting you in heaven.  Now if someone can find their song about Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors…)

When I was 16 I started working for the Christian bookstore in my home town and became the “music guy” along with my buddy, Big Dave.  Big Dave and I listened to hours and hours of music, some good and some awful.  I listened to an album titled Brown by an unknown band called P.O.D. and thought they’d never make it big.  When Third Day came out with their first album I thought they were the best thing since swiss cheese.  I was working there when Jars of Clay and Caedmon’s Call came out with their national debut albums.  I loved Caedmon’s right away, but Jars took a bit to grow on me (until Good Monsters came out I thought their debut was their best).  I could probably rattle off dozens of bands that most people have never heard of.  (Now is a good time to plug CCM’s Best 500 Albums of All Time, written by a CCM industry insider.  He has his biases, and I disagree with him strongly in some places [anyone who thinks Everyone’s Beautiful is Waterdeep’s best album clearly doesn’t know Waterdeep, but more on that later], but it’s a fun to list to read.)

And of course there was the concert scene.  New England didn’t get a lot of Christian concerts, so when someone came through we would hit it up like it was the last concert we’d ever see.  Some of them were truly excellent.  DC Talk consistently put on some of the best shows I’ve ever seen; regardless of what you think of their music you’d have to admit they knew how to perform (I saw them at the Strand in Providence on their last show right before Jesus Freak came out- best concert I’ve ever been to).  Audio Adrenaline was a great concert band (We’re a Band was awesome live), as was All Star United (all their songs sounded exactly the same, only they kept you entertained so you didn’t care).  And then there was the Newsboys.  I remember taking a non-Christian friend to see them my senior year of high school, on their Take Me To Your Leader tour (I think he had a crush on one of the girls going with us, so he went).  He was a huge music buff, one of those guys who had hundreds and hundreds albums and saw everyone in concert.  Even he admitted the Newsboys was one of the best concerts he had ever seen.  (Note: Newsboys is still around, only Michael Tait from DC Talk is now their lead singer.  Why don’t they just name their next album “Come On, You’re an Evangelical in Your 30’s, Buy Our Stuff for Old Time’s Sake!”?)

The interesting thing, though, is that the big name CCM bands of that day are the ones I hardly listen to now.  I started listening to Newsboys Going Public the other day and realized just how painfully bad some of their lyrics are.  Same thing with their Take Me To Your Leader (seriously, listen to Breakfast and the title track sometime).  Mind you, they were capable of really good song writing (Elle G and Lost the Plot from those two albums are great examples), but I guess what counts as a radio friendly hit single one decade is laughable the next.

Anyway, I almost never listen to those big name bands anymore, except the occasional run at DC Talk, and even that’s mostly nostalgic.  But I still listen to a lot of music I discovered at that time.  So my next post will recommend some great forgotten albums from my youth, ones that I still appreciate and think you will, too.

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I’m taking a break from Bible geekery today to plug a couple albums I’ve been listening to.  Now, I’m generally a rock/blues kind of guy.  I like guitar solos, loud drums and extended jam sessions (think: Clapton when he was with Derek & the Dominos, Phish and Waterdeep).  But once in a while I just need to unwind with some mellow music.  After all, as awesome as a Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar solo is, relaxing it is not.

First, there’s Brooks Ritter’s album, The Horse Fell Lame.  I first encountered Brooks Ritter as one of the worship leaders at Sojourn Community Church, whose worship album Before the Throne is one of my favorites (see review here).  A couple of those songs made me think, “wow, that guy can sing!”  So, it wasn’t hard to convince me to get his album (do people still call them ‘albums?’).  At any rate, it’s really good and serves the “mellow acoustic mood” very well.  Highly recommend.  My only problem with it is that it shows up on my iTunes as “country.”  Since my wife subjected me to the Country Music Awards last week (which is husband torture on the level of being Notebooked), I’ve vowed never to own any country music.  Needless to say, it has been appropriately adjusted to “folk” (which is actually more accurate, anyway).

Second, and more personal, I highly recommend the latest from Todd MacDonald, Pilgrims Here.  Todd is a friend from my Gordon-Conwell days, now living in Nashville.  You can listen to the entire album on his site.  For those of us who enjoyed Todd’s music back in the “old days,” you’ll be glad to hear some longtime treasures (“Lesson from an Ant” is one of my favorite from the Gordon-Conwell coffee houses).  One of my favorite memories of seminary was listening to Todd practice, his voice and guitar echoing in the stairwell.  What makes this album stand out to me even more is knowing that Todd has been battling cancer for almost a year now.  (He has recently received some very encouraging news regarding this, you can see here.)  Hearing the expressions of his faith set to music has been an encouragement to my soul.

For those who have heard me teach in our training school, you’ll remember Todd as the guy who convinced me to change my mind about Romans 7 at Brian’s wedding reception.  Worlds colliding!  And for what it’s worth, my 7-month old daughter loves Todd’s music.  You can’t go wrong with that.

So, I realize you didn’t come to BBG to get music recommendations, but there you go.  I hope you take the time to listen to these 2 men use their God-given talents for His glory.

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I’d like to recommend a couple relatively new worship albums.  One, that I heard about only recently, is by Phil Wickham that you can download for free(!) off his website.  Apparently this album has been out for some time, and I’m just late to the game.  That’s not surprising, since I don’t really keep up with all of the latest worship (to be honest, I don’t know how anyone finds the time to keep up with the massive production of worship albums).  This album has a mix of Wickham songs (I knew a couple from church) and some hymns.  I highly recommend it.

Another is one I mentioned a while back put out by Bob Kauflin from the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference.  For the month of February Sovereign Grace Ministries is selling the cd for only $6, or you can download the album for $9.  I recommend you take advantage of the sale while you can.  This cd is a collection of hymns, both old and new, done in a fairly straightforward manner (though you may not love Kauflin’s periodic interjections: “yes!”, “all our sin!”, but I’ll leave that to your personal preference).

But the real reason I’m recommending these worship albums is that they share a similarity that is unique amidst the myriad worship albums released this days: congregational singing.  Both of these albums feature a simple “band”: the worship leader and his instrument (Wickham and his guitar, Kauflin and his piano), and the voices of crowds singing along.  There is no back up band, no guitar solos, no frills.  A man, his instrument and the voices of the gathered redeemed.

It’s telling that such an approach is novel in today’s worship.  Worship has become a highly produced business, complete with tours featuring smoke machines and lazer light shows.  It’s interesting (to me, at least) that even in live worship albums, you only hear the crowd singing at certain points.  But in Wickham’s and Kauflin’s offering, the masses truly carry the day.  Sure, you hear Wickham and Kauflin, but they aren’t the stars of the show.

As I’ve listened to these as I’m working, I’ve had to stop quite a few times because I was powerfully moved by the voices of the crowds (3000 in the case of Wickham, 5000+ for Kauflin) singing praises to God.  I have to admit, I rarely stop working and get on my knees in worship, but have done that while listening to both of these.

Of course, I’m not anti-worship band.  I certainly am moved by the worship at our church (featuring world class drummer and my co-blogger, Brian).  If I didn’t want to hear a band, I’d find a different church.  That isn’t the issue.  But I do wonder if we’ve become dependent on worship bands.  Do we need a power packed band to lead us to a place that we feel like we’re worshipping?  Have we lost the simplicity of letting our voices be our main instrument of praise?

Anyway, I hope you take the opportunity to get ahold of these albums (hey, the price is right) and see what you think.  I encourage you to listen to the voices of those singing together in worship.  It might just give you a small glimpse of what it was like for John to hear the masses singing God’s praises in Revelation.

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I’d like to venture out of my comfort zone of book geekery for a moment to review a worship album released last year by Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.  Though I love music, I don’t know much about the intricacies; I don’t recognize many of the important things the trained ear will notice (Brian is the trained musician of BBG), nor am I really a great judge of poetical quality, though I’d like to think I know a bit more about that.  My friend A-Rock reviews music for PopMatters, and he uses words like “sublime” or “transcendent”, whereas I’m more prone to use “cool” or “wicked awesome.”  Alas, here we go.

 

I ventured upon Sojourn’s album, Before the Throne, earlier this year and have joyfully  weaved it into my regular rotation of worship.  The album consists of 10 songs written by Sojourn members, and 1 great hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above”.  While much of modern worship would probably be classified as “pop” musically, this album has a rootsy-folk feel, incorporating other styles such as a little rock (“My Maker and My King”) and a jazzy Norah Jones-esque tune (“I’m Coming Back”). 

 

There are two things that set this album apart from most of what I’ve heard in recent years.  First, the lyrical quality is very high, and not just the hymn.  “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” is the kind of song that can excite even the most ardent hymnophile, including yours truly.  “I’m Coming Back” and “All I Have Is Yours” are two fabulous tracks, as are “Lead Us Back” and “There Is a Peace.”  You can check out the lyrics on the Before the Throne Page.

 

Second, I noticed that this album incorporates a number of themes, only to find out later that Sojourn intentionally used a liturgical format for this album (see the comments here).  Thus, it incorporates lament & confession (“Lead Us Back”, which I’ve written about on my previous blog), a communion tune (“All I Have Is Yours”), a benediction (“All Good Gifts”), etc.  You don’t have to be aware of this to enjoy it, but it helped me appreciate all the more how much thought went into this album.  With so many albums these days feeling like a collection of disconnected radio-friendly singles, I feel like this is the kind of album that could benefit a church seeking to have a well-rounded repertoire of worship songs. 

 

As for critiques, I suppose the one thing I can think of is that a couple of the songs seem like they’d be difficult for congregational singing (“My Maker and My King” and “Evergreen”), though I’ve been wrong about that in the past.

 

I couldn’t recommend this album highly enough.  The songs “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” and “Lead Us Back” are #s 1 and 2 Most Played on my iTunes, and their version of “Before the Throne of God Above” is my favorite of recent renditions.  And in an age of celebrity worship leaders, who go on tours with laser light shows and smoke machines, I’m excited to see a church taking the time to write songs for their community.  You can download the entire album (11 songs) from iTunes for $9.99, but if you want to try it out, check out their Before the Throne Page and download the 4 songs they offer for free (I noticed that I can’t download them on my wife’s Mac, though that may be due to my technological incompetence).  While you’re there, check out the other albums they have (many more free songs!), as well as their terrific blog.  For anyone who leads worship, either in a church service or in smaller groups, their website will be an excellent resource (hence its inclusion in our “Worship” links to the right).  And for those of us who don’t lead worship, you just might learn something too.

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