Monday, April 23, 2018

The Altar and the Door by Casting Crowns

Reviewed by Michael Ehret
"Casting Crowns comes out of the gate on The Altar and the Door with another of those 'smack-the-church-upside-the-head' songs they do so well."
Casting Crowns come out of the gate on The Altar And The Door with another of those “smack-the-church-upside-the-head” songs that they do so well. Previous discs have had similar songs, “If We Are The Body,” from 2003s Casting Crowns and “Does Anybody Hear Her” from Lifesong in 2005.
This time around, Mark Hall and the gang smack the church with the disc’s opening track, “What This World Needs.” And the lyrics are every bit as sharp and convicting as Casting Crowns has ever written:
What this world needs is not another sign-waving super saint that’s better than you / Another ear-pleasing candy man afraid of the truth / Another prophet in an Armani suit / What this world needs is a Savior who will rescue, a Spirit who will lead, a Father who will love them in their time of need.
And then for the church, for Christians who profess to believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
What this world needs is for us to stop hiding behind our relevance / Blending in so well that people can’t see the difference / And it’s the difference that sets the world free
This is using the scalpel of truth to cut out the cancer of complacency in the church. But Hall is far from done. His earnest, prophetic voice continues through five more amazing songs, back-to-back: “Every Man,” “Slow Fade,” first single “East To West,” “The Word Is Alive,” and the title track.
In this incredible suite of songs, Casting Crowns points out that the world is full of normal, everyday people who are listening, waiting for someone to speak words of hope (“Every Man”). With the children’s rhyme, “be careful little eyes what you see,” Hall addresses the moral failure of fathers in this generation (“Slow Fade”). But God’s forgiveness is an amazing gift, if only it is accepted (“East To West”) because God’s word, as Hall writes in the album notes, is “infallible, inerrant, inspired, and alive” (“The Word Is Alive”).
Because of the brokenness of this world and because of the sinful choices of man, God has provided the way (“The Altar And The Door”).
Musically, this is exactly what you’d expect from Casting Crowns – heartland rock and roll with power ballads mixed in. Listeners don’t come to Casting Crowns for platitudes about the beauty of the Christian life. Although that’s true, too. Hall and company want to have an impact. They want to move the Church to action. Specifically, to action that more closely fulfills Jesus’ call on those who claim His name – to go into all of the world and share the good news and minister to those who are hurting. That’s all the group wants – and it’s everything.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Kingdom of Comfort by Delirious

Reviewed by Susan Lloyd
 "Sonically fresh and lyrically challenging, the album features thirteen tracks that leave the listener wanting more…"
Listening to Kingdom of Comfort is somewhat of a bittersweet experience, because the latest offering from the UK band Delirious? was released shortly before the band announced that 2009 would be the year of its last tour. That makes KOC the last album of new material that Delirious? will ever put together. For fans of the enduring UK based band, the announcement must come as a shock, but they may be comforted by listening to what is arguably the band’s best album of its career. Sonically fresh and lyrically challenging, the album features thirteen tracks that leave the listener wanting more… and knowing that’s all Delirious? has left to offer makes one want to savor this CD.
The title track “Kingdom of Comfort” is a hard hitting honest look at the creatures of comfort we have all become. The plea to be saved from “The kingdom of comfort where I am King” is one we should all cry out, and the introspective view point of the song speaks volumes about the transparency of song writers Smith, Garrard, and Thatcher. Musically, the song has an interesting texture and marries acoustic instrumentation with experimental percussive sounds in a way that somehow manages to keep the lyrics pushed to the forefront. Lyrically, the three collaborating band members who wrote all the tracks on KOC seem to have laid bare their souls as they dig through their own struggles with materialism.
“God is Smiling” relies on a distorted guitar hook followed by an equally distorted bass line to lay the foundation for the more upbeat and hope laden song. Delirious? brings to mind the styling’s of U2 and the insanely popular Coldplay on this particular track, and haunting synth work serves to transport the listener to a solid European rock feel. The track is followed by the raucous “Give What You’ve Got”. Smith’s vocals seem to mirror Queen’s Freddy Mercury on this particular track, and the band manages to make the most of an earlier 80’s rock style that just gets inside your head and makes quite a statement.
Unique, far from manufactured, and passionate, songs like “Love will Find a Way”, “Eagle Rider”, and “Wonder” give full validity to every reviewer who has given kudos to Delirious for the sheer creativity of its songs. These songs in particular showcase intelligent lyrics as well as experimental instrumental layering that is seldom heard in more commercially successful music. Thankfully, even though the band was accused on several occasions of “selling out” in order to secure a higher mainstream profile, they truly did not sell out. These songs in particular explore content that isn’t so comfortable for the listener to confront, and the boldness of lines like:

“I stare in the eyes of this flesh and bone. I’m a tourist here so tomorrow I go home.

I try to make sense of the things I’ve seen between the poverty and the five star dream”
are concrete evidence that Delirious? is not as interested in selling a song but as in serving a Savior.
Another standout on the track listing is “All God’s Children”. The rolling synth and stark use of guitar work gives the song a landscape feel that lends itself well to the worshipful attitude of the song. However, as stunning as “All God’s Children” is, the real jewel on this CD is “How Sweet the Name”. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a song that treats the name of Jesus with such awe and reverence and at the same time makes the person of Jesus seem so real and close at hand. The song begins by going in a more traditional praise chorus direction and tends to stay there throughout both verses and the initial chorus. But when Smith’s voice jumps an octave on a choral repeat, the song begins to take a more dramatic turn that explodes into a soaring compilation of well woven sound. The climax of the piece showcases all that Delirious is capable of on a musical level, but somehow it manages to usher the listener into a holy moment where he is forced to reckon with his own desperate need for a Savior.
There are so many well crafted, well engineered songs on Delirious?’ last CD, and there is no question in my mind that “How Sweet the Name” is the piece de resistance. I’m left to wonder if Delirious has not stopped their work together long before they should have because of the richness of the music they’ve put together for this last session in the studio. But, if Delirious? is going to call it quits, it’s a good thing to be able to go out on a high note leaving fans with a CD that justifies the years they’ve followed this impressive, cerebral, and always faithful band. If you don’t own any music by Delirious, Kingdom of Comfort is the one Delirious? CD that belongs in your collection. It is a fine example of how music can be transcendent, timeless, and cerebral without becoming obtuse and misunderstood. God bless the members of Delirious? as they go their separate ways. We are grateful for the years this band has spent creating music that brings us all closer to the One who loves us best.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How Can We Be Silent by Barlowgirl

Reviewed by Darcie Gudger
"How Can We Be Silent rocks. Hard. This album will be sure to rise to the 'most played' list in your music player."
We can’t – be silent, that is, especially about this incredible new release. Believe me, if you liked BarlowGirl before, you’ll love them after listening to their new release, How Can We be Silent.
How Can We Be Silent presents the trio of sisters at their very best. The lyrics, musical style and diversity reach a higher plane of maturity than previous albums BarlowGirl and Another Journal Entry. Styles range from hard rock (“Million Voices”) to a surprising “One More Round” which is a funky jazz number complete with the coolest walking bass line. I can’t help but punch the “back” button on my iPod to replay that track over and over again.
Lyrically, my favorite song is cut 2 – “I Believe In Love”. Most, if not all of us, will walk through long periods of time where we notice the excruciating absence of God. Ponder these faith-building words for a minute - I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining, I believe in love. Even when I don’t feel it, and I believe in God. Even when He is silent and I, I believe…
What separates BarlowGirl from the rest of young female vocalists is their understanding of the reality of walking with Christ. Being a Christian is hard. Sometimes it downright stinks. Jesus himself says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33).” Barlow Girl captures the emotions for these seasons offering hope. Their tight vocal harmonies and deeply textured instrumentation pull the soul of the listener into the presence of God.
In “Keep Quiet”, lead vocalist Alyssa challenges us to be bold in sharing our faith, Jesus, Jesus, why’s your name offensive? Why are we so scared to tell this world you saved us? When all of our hope, all the world’s in your name – why are we so scared to say Jesus? The driving electric guitar and beat help drill the question into our brains while making it obvious Lauren, Alyssa and Becca aren’t afraid to say His name.
Most importantly, BarlowGirl practices what they preach. They are great role models for teens struggling to stay pure and focused on Christ in a postmodern world. Take time to read their thoughts on their website
How Can We Be Silent rocks. Hard. This album will be sure to rise to the “most played” list on your music player.

Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman

Reviewed by Bert Gangl
"Chapman opens the depths of his soul, harnesses the grace and strength that have waited within, and reflects them back to God and his audience."

At first blush, the image of Steven Curtis Chapman standing, arms upraised, on a barren mountainside overlooking the ruins of a village ravaged by natural disaster might seem an odd – not to mention decidedly less than photogenic – choice to grace the front cover of his latest release. Those familiar with Chapman's most recent comings and goings, though, will quickly realize that perhaps no other picture sums up the last year and a half of his life more accurately or succinctly.
On May 12, 2008, Chapman and his wife were wrapping up a four-week visit to China when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the country's Sichuan province, killing nearly 70,000 people and leaving 4.8 million homeless. Although the Chapmans were far enough from ground zero not to even feel the quake, they soon suffered a crushing setback of their own less than two weeks later, when their youngest daughter, Maria, herself a Chinese adoptee, was killed in a tragic automobile accident at their home in Nashville. Chapman returned to China in July of this year to attend the grand opening of an orphanage named for his daughter, and performed a concert in the Sichuan province, where the cover photo was taken.
Not surprisingly, the better portion of the new project mirrors the inevitable bleakness Chapman and his family have experienced in the wake of his daughter's passing. While many an singer places their faster, more rousing material at the beginning of their records, the somber, nearly percussion-free, album opener, "Heaven is the Face," is not so much a case of an performer leaping out of the starting blocks and declaring, "Here I am!" as it is a snapshot of an artist deep in the midst of contemplation and recollection, completely oblivious to the outside world. In the title track's lack of a pronounced verse/chorus/verse structure , one can almost hear the sound of a soul meandering in search of an emotional anchor point amidst its anguish. And the absence of layers of studio gloss on the stripped-back, acoustic guitar-based "Just Have to Wait" and "God Is It True (Trust Me)" seems only fitting in light of those songs' bleak, emotionally raw, subject matter.
Given its lo-fi, largely understated nature, the musical portion of Beauty can tend to fade into the background at times, coming across as almost an afterthought. Of course, one can only imagine that, this time out, Chapman was far less intent on finding the perfect hook and melody than he was on simply chronicling his own sadness and uncertainty. To that end, he has succeeded brilliantly. "February 20," which details young Maria's salvation just before her death (As she prayed, "Jesus, Can I come live with You?"/ We could never have imagined/ She'd be going there so soon), is a spellbinding mixture of temporal loss and eternal triumph. The likewise engrossing "Our God Is In Control" and "I Will Trust You" (I don't even want to breathe right now/ All I want to do is close my eyes/ You're all I've got) find Chapman piercing his unrelenting heartache with encouraging slivers of hope. Most impressive of all is the masterfully-penned "Questions" (God/ How could You be so good and strong/ And make a world that can be so painful), which stands out as arguably the most unflinchingly honest song Chapman has ever committed to disc.
Given that they were penned in the wake of such unimaginable grief, one can only guess that the songs on Beauty came to Chapman without much conscious thought or deliberation. And it is arguably this direct, unaffected approach that ultimately renders the album his most gripping outing to date. At first glance, it would seem almost ironic that a release whose subject matter is so closely tied to one specific event should, at the same time, be Chapman’s most universally accessible. But, even those who haven’t experienced the agony of losing a child have surely, at one point or another, longed violently for an end to their pain, regardless of its source.
Unlike so many of his previous records, which seemed to be composed with one eye inclined to those who would eventually hear them, the new project finds Chapman aiming, not for the entertainment of those who will ultimately hear it, but simply for his own catharsis and eventual healing. While it isn't his most instrumentally engaging effort, it is, without question, his most unique and absorbing – a lyrical masterwork through which Chapman opens the depths of his soul, harnesses the grace and strength that have waited within, and reflects them back to God and his audience. Suffice it to say that both parties are certain to be well pleased with the end result.


Monday, March 26, 2018

To the Foundation by Christafari

Reviewed by Lori Fox
"Christafari hasn't missed a beat ... To The Foundation will please old fans and new."
After nearly 20 years of making and producing Gospel Reggae, Christafari hasn't missed a beat. Their new album To The Foundation will please old fans and new.
While To The Foundation doesn't reach the same power and heat that Soul Fire (1995) had, it rocks just a bit harder than Valley of Decision (1999), which had an easier, more Caribbean sound. It isn't until Gravity (2003) was released that Christafari began to reach this matured, grounded sound.
While I do miss the deep, growling sound vocalist, producer, and founder Mark Mohr had, most notably in Soul Fire, the passion that fuels him comes through all the stronger for the lack of shouted vocals, and for the first time I've been able to fully appreciate the motivation behind each song.
The song that demonstrates this best is track 14, “Too Many Cannibals”. It wasn't until I heard the phrase "it seems the sheep are more dangerous than the wolves" that the meaning of the song really clicked for me. As Christians, it's so common to bicker among ourselves, attack each other, and try to bring each other down. We do more damage to ourselves and each other than anyone else could ever do. Skillfully, Mark points this out in such a way that you can't miss it if you actually listen to the words.
As for the sound, I found “Rooftop” surprisingly danceable despite the deeper nature of the lyrics, and “Never Give Up” has a nice, slow groove to it. There are a number of featured artists such as Avion Blackman, Mr. Lynx, and Ace Winn, among others, that lend each song its own flavor, while still blending smoothly into one strong album.
For those who are unfamiliar with Christafari, but who enjoy reggae as a whole, I noticed some outside influences. Much of that comes from the featured artists, but I did notice that “Triumphal Entry” and “Never Give Up” seemed to have a bit of influence from the Black Eyed Peas. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Christafari has been highly influential in the music world for many years and some of the influence may have come full circle.
In all, I rate this CD very highly for fans of Christafari. Their music has evolved over the years, but while I would rate their early work no lower than To The Foundation, neither would I consider To The Foundation as anything less than their early albums. If you already like Gospel Reggae, you will not be disappointed.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Letting God by Bread of Stone

Reviewed by Caleb Newell
"This CD is laced with hard hitting issues we face everyday..."
From having the privilege of sharing the stage with artists like Petra, DecembeRadio, and Casting Pearls to Toby Mac, Jars of Clay, and Chris Tomlin, Bread of Stone (BOS) has captivated audiences everywhere with astonishing performances as they expand their boundaries. They are infused with an energy that finds its source in their passion for bringing others closer to Jesus, and they have a unique sound that’s all their own. Having released two CDs, they are fine tuning their message and honing in on their God-given talents. When questioned about their name Bread of Stone, they stated, “We are merely stones that God turns into bread to feed the hungry and that without Him, no one can accomplish good in this downfallen world.” Their new project, Letting Go, is filled with the message of complete surrender.

BOS’s foreman and song writer, Ben’s, journey into a deeper relationship with Jesus as he came to the conclusion that the only way to have true friendship with Christ was to humble himself, is the basis from which Letting Go is tailored. “Everyday” is a chance at new life and says that we can only be made beautiful in Christ. “Letting Go” speaks on how we as Christians want to have less of ourselves and be consumed by Him. A declaration, “Somewhere”, is a song of how God is somewhere out there and that at the end of this journey we’ll see out savior’s face, be at his side, feel his warm embrace, and we will never be the same again. “I Want” is a declaration and longing to know the existence of God, and to be with Him someday.
So many have been persuaded by the tribulations and lies of this world, states “Life of Truth”, and we need to take them by the hand, showing them God through our life. “Not My Own” states how this life goes by so quickly and how the only way we can make a difference is if we humble ourselves before God and allow Him to guide our life. We can’t do anything on our own accord to deserve or not deserve God’s love through anything within ourselves, says Mark through “Never Buy Your Love”, but it is through God’s grace and mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice that we can be saved. All we have belongs to God and everything we have should be used for His glory, states “Obsession”, and God is our only true obsession, to use His possessions, that have been lent to us, for his glory. “One More Time” is a plea that God will use us one more time, even though we have turned our back on Him. “Frozen In Time” is a call to action, for the hurting and lost people around the world; “So what/ What are we waiting for/ Can we see the tears that fall down/ Are we frozen in time.” We want to change our life and ways but we can’t seem to ever get to that changing point, states “Take My Life”, a plea for God to take our life as our offering.

This CD is laced with hard hitting issues we face everyday, and praise to Him. The album is highlighted with unforgettable melodies and genuine lyrics that speak the truths for life. Through BOS’s ministry/outreach, they have seen numerous others letting go and coming to Christ.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Love and War by Barlowgirl

Reviewed by Dale Lewis
"...a must-have for all BarlowGirl fans! It is their most musically adventurous album to date.""...a must-have for all BarlowGirl fans! 
Rebecca, Alyssa and Lauren of BarlowGirl present to us an overt dichotomy: bold and aggressive contrasted with tenderhearted transparency. They have a warrior-like approach to their music. It is this passionate obedience reverberating throughout their third release, Love and War.

At first listen, Love and War appears contradictory . . . but listen a little closer and you’ll find the songs embodying the hope and love we have for God and for those who are experiencing unbearable difficulties.

Alyssa states that, “The time is now to rise up and to get what God has for us. The time is now to rise up and learn what it means to be loved by God, to learn what it means to be set apart, to learn what it means to embrace our destiny and embrace our calling to the extreme. That is the thread running through all of these songs.” The piano introduction to a couple of their songs is a perfect way to enter into the richness of the lyrics.

The sonic sounds of Love and War closely align with earlier BarlowGirl titles while still remaining true and strong with their lyrical content. The revealing ballad 'Beautiful Ending', their heartfelt plea in ‘Stay With Me’ and the Beatles-like ‘Our Worlds Collide’ certainly has hit potential, although that isn’t important to the three sisters. Six years into their musical ministry, Lauren can’t imagine making these memories with anyone else . . .“I’m just so blessed to be able to live this life with my family.”

With its haunting piano introduction accented by the staccato of the percussion, “Beautiful Ending,” is a revealing ballad displaying an emotionally weighted story as well as the sisters’ gorgeous, harmonizing vocal blend.

The achingly beautiful ballad “Tears Fall” touches on the very sensitive subject of abortion, and yet God’s truth is clearly presented in this emotionally driven song: “ . . . And all our claims to freedom have become just heavy chains and in the name of rights, we keep filling nameless graves.” This song is a very poignant call to action and repentance.

Love and War, produced by friend Otto Price, is a must-have for all BarlowGirl fans! It is their most musically adventurous album to date. Alyssa states, “We feel like this is our coming out CD. It’s like something happened to us that we can’t totally put into words yet, but we’ve grown up.”

Monday, March 19, 2018

Beyond Measure by Jeremy Camp

Reviewed by Katie Hart
"Each song sparkles with excellence."
Jeremy Camp has ranked up an impressive line of accomplishments in the four years since his label debut in 2002: five Dove Awards (including Male Vocalist of the Year twice in a row), his past three studio albums certified gold, and nine #1 singles. Yet in his latest release shows his humbleness and gratefulness for where God has brought him. The title track proclaims, I know that I’ve been given more than beyond measure. I come alive when I see beyond my fears. I know that I’ve been given more than earthly treasure. I come alive when I’ve broken down and given You control.
As he thanks God for his beautiful life, he doesn’t mention the accolades and awards, but his family. After losing his wife to cancer when he was only 23 (his powerful story of hanging on to faith through loss spills out in the song “I Still Believe” in Stay), Jeremy married Adrienne (Adie) Liesching, formerly of Benjamin Gate. They now have two daughters, and Adie has recently released her own album, Don’t Wait.
Beyond Measure branches out past Jeremy’s earlier releases musically. While each song still has the signature style fans have come to love, with Beyond Measure he seems to have freed himself to experiment a little more. The album opens with a hard-hitting song of dedication in “Tonight,” then mellows out by the end to wrap up with the worshipful “Give You Glory” and the simple “Give Me Jesus.” The lyrics are as strong as ever: Sometimes I feel a fight to release the grip and trust that everything will be alright. It’s been so real to feel the peace that you start unfolding when I let things go. Jeremy wrote or co-wrote nearly every song, and Adie adds backing vocals to three of them.
It’s difficult to choose a favorite song from the mix of catchy beats and melodic tunes. Each time I settle on one, another reminds me of its delightful facets. But that’s one of Jeremy Camp’s trademarks – he doesn’t settle for a couple good singles, then pad the album with okay fillers. Each song sparkles with excellence, worthy of addition to any music lover’s collection.