Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2

Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
"...if you enjoyed the first installment you’ll probably enjoy Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2."

If you saw the first Beverly Hills Chihuahua movie, you’ll have a good idea what to expect in this straight to DVD sequel. Cute dogs, silly antics, an outrageous plot, and did we mention cute dogs? Lead pooches Papi and Chloe have just gotten married and soon have a brood of five little pups to keep them on their toenails. Dad Papi (voiced perfectly once again by George Lopez) takes it all in stride and every night, with the best of intentions, tells his little ones stories of the Chihuahua warriors of long ago. The only problem is the puppies take the stories literally and get into all sorts of mischief. Poor Papi ends up in the dog house more than once for filling the puppies’ heads with grand ideas.

But it’s not the dogs that need saving this time around. The parents of Papi’s owner Sam are about to be evicted from their beloved home. After several attempts to make things right with the bank, it's not looking good. But when a pack of determined Chihuahuas is on your side, how can you lose?
With the original grossing almost 95 million in 2008, it was at first surprising to see the sequel going straight to DVD. But with little of the same star power attached, it makes sense. At least Papi kept his original voice. Chloe and Delgado did not, though it’s not too distracting as their new voices are similar enough. However, it was disappointing to see no human actors reprise their roles from the first film. Susan Blakely takes over for Jamie Lee Curtis as Aunt Viv, but she only appears briefly in one or two scenes. Most of the human acting was actually rather wooden, but there were a few supporting characters who made things interesting, namely Elaine Hendrix as the owner of a snotty French Poodle and the cat loving bank clerk. Also, Morgan Fairchild does justice to a dog show commentator alongside French Stewart.
The best part of the movie was seeing cool German Shepherd Delgado again. The subplot involving his two estranged police dog sons was a nod to every melodramatic father/son movie ever made, but it actually worked here and was a touching addition.
All in all, if you enjoyed the first installment you’ll probably enjoy Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, especially if you’re a dog lover or a kid. It’s clean entertainment with a good message about love and family. Just don’t expect too much, and you’ll have an enjoyable family movie night.



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Beautiful You by Jonny Diaz

Reviewed by Caleb Newell
"Jonny has put together an intelligent album whose lyrics are of great depth."
Jonny Diaz went to college on a baseball scholarship, but God had other plans. Jonny soon picked up his guitar and the buzz went out nationwide. Jonny is the fourth of four brothers to go to college on a baseball scholarship, so you can only image how big a decision it was to go the music route. Matt Diaz, Jonny’s brother, currently plays for the Atlanta Braves as a left fielder. Jonny released his debut album in 2003, and has since produced four albums, the latest being “More Beautiful You”.

The title track, "More Beautiful You", starts out the album and explores how most women have low self image. This song states that beauty is what on the outside but what/ who is on the inside. This verse says it the best, “So turn around you’re not too far/ To back away be who you are/ To change your path go another way/ it’s not too late you can be saved/ If you feel depressed with past regrets/ The shameful nights hop to forget/ Can disappear they can all be wash away/ By the one who’s strong can right you wrongs/ Can rid your fear dry all you tears/ And change the way you look at this big world/ He will take you dark distorted view/ And with his like he will show you truth/ and again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl.”
“Love like You Loved” is a catchy tune, and a personal prayer to be more like the Messiah and less like ourselves. “Waiting Room” shows the condition of the human heart toward prays answered the way we don’t want them. Jonny probably wrote this from his personal decision to become a singer instead of a baseball player. “See the Wind” is my favorite song on the album. It describes how through this life and its hectic uniform, it tends to drown out God’s every day miracles---for now we can’t see him but one day we will see the un-seeable.

Jonny has put together an intelligent album whose lyrics are of great depth, all songs having been written or co-written by Jonny. This collection of tracks from Jonny Diaz is a must have. As Theresa Ross said, “Jonny’s sound is ‘now’”.


Greatest Hits by Avalon

Reviewed by Jennifer Bogart
"...a highly pleasing album that provides not only an enjoyable listening experience, but one that leads its audience into an interactive state of worship."
Over the past thirteen years Avalon has become a mainstay in CCM. Their blend of pop, dance, and R&B inflected songs that invariably bring the honor to God are both infective and musically solid. Newcomers to the group can’t go in wrong in starting with The Greatest Hits, a generous sampling of sixteen of their most well known offerings.
Hard-core Avalon fans already in possession of the groups previous hit-filled compendium Testify to Love: The Very Best of Avalon will find a large amount of overlap between the two discs. As a newcomer to the group myself, each song is fresh and previously unheard, but long time fans will find only five tracks difference from the previous collection. In fact, the tracks that were recorded specifically for The Very Best of Avalon such as “New Day,” and “Everything to Me” have been taken from that disc directly into this one.
Still, dedicated fans may be able to justify the purchase. A new song, “Still My God,” proves to be a real tearjerker, highlighting God’s unchanging nature through our trials and challenges. The last four tracks on the disc: “All,” “You Were There,” “Orphans of God,” and “In Christ Alone” have been swapped in from previous albums.
“Orphans of God” is a particularly moving inclusion from Stand – a symphonic, tender song of reassurance that celebrates God’s unending grace. “All” is a somewhat more two-dimensional tune, exhibiting a bounty, R&B influence. “You Were There” is an introspective, mellow song with a surprisingly forceful chorus.
“In Christ Alone” draws from the vein that is ever popular amongst CCM artists – covering traditional hymns with their own distinctive arrangements. A beautiful rendition, Avalon’s take on the hymn features heart-plucking harmonies, big, bold vocalizations, and poignant guitar accompaniment in the simpler sections that bursts into an array of strong percussion back up during the chorus.
The classics that were previously included in the last greatest hits collection are clearly appearing again for a reason. “Testify to Love” is an addictive headliner that pops into my head throughout the day and demands to be sung. “Knockin’ On Heavens Door” proves itself as a perennial favourite on account of it’s chorus that depicts the insistent, never-ending prayers of a believer confident in her position as a child of God.
Personally, I could have passed on “Give It Up” from the oldies but goodies section of the disc – somewhere between the heavy reliance on synthesizers and the embellishing “na na na’s” I tune out. Likewise the dance-style rhythms of “Wonder Why” generally leave me cold. “New Day” rounds out the trio of tunes that I wouldn’t have missed if they’d been left out of the compilation.
There are some true Avalon classics included that make the album. “Take You At Your Word” is an insanely catchy, upbeat song that catches me every time and finds me belting out the chorus at full volume. “Can’t Live a Day” makes me cry more often than not as I’m reminded of my complete dependence on Jesus, “The Glory” is a story song that recalls Jesus’ life and sacrifice, and “Adonai” is a slow song with understated accompaniment that nonetheless a heart-rending cry to the creator.
I’ll admit that at first listen, the music struck me as somewhat fluffy, but after repeated listening many of these songs have become woven into my life. I’ve come to appreciate their theologically sound, yet still entertaining perspective (not always present in CCM), the variety of represented moods, and the clear vocal abilities of the group’s performers.
Avalon: The Greatest Hits is indeed a highly pleasing album that provides not only an enjoyable listening experience, but one that leads its audience into an interactive state of worship. I’d be hard pressed to number the times the songs I initially viewed as simple have led me to tears of repentance and rejoicing. This resulting emotional response and turning towards God in a listener should be the highest praise an album can receive.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018


What do you call a pig that does karate? A pork chop.


Why do seagulls fly over the sea? Because if they flew over a bay, they would be bagels.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

City of Black and White by Mat Kearney

Reviewed by Susan Lloyd
"Kearney bares his heart and soul in several songs, writing with an honesty that is sometimes missing in music that is destined for mainstream success..."
Mat Kearney’s City of Black and White is the follow up to this singer-songwriter’s massively successful second album Nothing Left to Lose, and Kearney fans will be thrilled to find that while he doesn’t veer too much from his laid-back punchy acoustic style, he does bring his music to the next level. According to the bio on his homepage, Kearney’s been on the road since NLTL hit the airwaves, and the songs he’s chosen for City of Black and White’s track listing are a reflection of the time he’s spent touring.

Kearney has a knack for soothing a listener with his distinct voice while at the same time getting the pulse racing with intricate rhythmic patterns. “Fire and Rain”, the second song on the album line-up is the perfect example of that kind of musical command. Kearney’s vocals are solid throughout while the song slowly builds with a pounding percussion line that doesn’t overpower and steal the spotlight from poignant lyrics.

It’s easy to forget that a piano is truly a percussive instrument, but Kearney effectively uses it as such on “Closer to Love” as the bell-like tones of a piano punctuate the verses. “Closer to Love” also features a persistent acoustic guitar that isn’t always at the forefront of the track but peeks out at just the right moments, reminding listeners that Kearney could perform these songs with just that one instrument and they would still be solid.

We hear the comfortable strum of the acoustic open “Lifeline”, and coupled with Kearney’s easy tenor, the song promises to be one that has impact. Kearney seems to have mastered the ability to relate to everyman’s struggle, and the lyrics on “Lifeline” prove that. Kearney finds common ground with his fellow man during this honest musical conversation about struggling with circumstances, looking for answers, and maintaining hope. Lyrically, this is the song I find most appealing on the album.

Kearney does a better than average job with lyrics throughout the majority of the album, but there are times when things seem a little sub-par in the poetry department. For example in the stripped down ballad-esque “New York to California” the song moves along beautifully and paints the picture of the vulnerability that exists when two people are truly in love with each other. And while Kearney fits the words and images together throughout the verses and the chorus, things get dicey on the bridge with “la la la la la la Oh it’s not too far la la la la la la la Oh to where you are” making that section of the song seem out of place.

Just two songs later on the track list is the stirring “Annie”. I love the vibe of the song and there’s something about it that really feels a lot like something Chris Isaak would write. There’s a drum backbeat that also whispers of Johnny Cash, but it’s Kearney’s poetry that really shines on this one. He has such a knack for writing a song-story, and “Annie” is one of his best.

Kearney bares his heart and soul in several songs, writing with an honesty that is sometimes missing in music that is destined for mainstream success, and the acoustic driven “On and On” is probably the most transparent song in the collection. It may end up being one of my favorites as I listen more, and it will be a favorite simply because of the honesty that shines through it.

Kearney has definitely put together an impressive album in City of Black and White, and I hope it receives the airplay it deserves. “Lifeline” can be a solid hit on Christian AC radio, and I can see songs like “New York to California”, “City of Black and White” being mainstream AC hits. The album feels a lot like something Bruce Hornsby would have put together in the late 80’s, and reaching back into the archives seems to be a musical trend across all genres of music that is paying off for artists. It may be Kearney’s vocal similarities to Coldplay’s Chris Martin that will cause new listeners to sit up and take notice, but anyone who digs deeper into Kearney’s song catalog will be won over by his style and consistency. City of Black and White adds to that catalog in a way that makes Kearney’s body of work more impressive.

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.