Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Heat by Needtobreathe

Reviewed by Susan Lloyd
"NEEDTOBREATHE's debut disc, Daylight, made me sit up and take notice, but The Heat made me a fan for life."
To say that NeedtoBreathe’s latest effort, The Heat, is one of my favorite CD’s of the summer would really be an understatement. It’s one of my favorite CD’s of the year. This four man band hailing from my home state of South Carolina has grown by leaps and bounds over their last CD. Their debut disc, Daylight, made me sit up and take notice, but The Heat made me a fan for life. Musically and lyrically, the band has produced a solid effort that hopefully will earn some much deserved critical acclaim
Brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart have done a great job with song writing, and as always, bands who write their own material seem to earn my respect immediately. I love the southern rock undertones of stand out songs like “Run Away” and with lyrics like:
It’s easy to find potential in the before, but we look the same in the afters…
listeners are challenged to think about what they’re hearing. “Run Away” actually happens to be my favorite track in the collection and features an impressive acappella breakdown in the middle of the song that builds nicely into the final repetition of the chorus. There are layers and layers of sound on this particular song, and the first time I heard it, I hit repeat before the song was even over.
The songs are well crafted musically, and a variety of instruments are brought in to create sounds that are reflective of the musical tapestry the Rinehart brothers were exposed to growing up. Subtle southern rock with a tinge of the blues (The Heat), bold gospel inspired soul (Washed by the Water), big brass similar to the sounds of the 70’s band Chicago (Movin’ On) and lilting acoustic (More Time, Second Chances) are all painted beautifully over a canvas of impressive lyrics. I can’t say enough about the distinct southern crawl (that’s not a typo… listen to the man sing and you’ll know what I’m talking about) of Bear Rinehart’s voice. Honestly, his voice is so well textured and so flexible that it is arguably the most impressive instrument on the album.
I was most moved by the song “Return”. The lyric reminds me of the story of the prodigal son, and the plea “return to me” is repeated in the closing bars of the song over a very sparse instrumentation. Gorgeous. Equally moving is “Streets of Gold”, a surprisingly upbeat song about losing someone to a protracted illness. The line,
All of the time it takes to figure it out could be the moments you can’t live without is one that anyone who has loved someone with a terminal illness can fully appreciate. The whole song is underpinned with a strong bass line and has a very nice percussive break in the first verse.
Another topic tackled is the typical commitment phobic behavior of the modern male. “Looks like Love” will earn the favor of all women who hear it because of this one line;
Our hearts can only shake when there’s risk that they could break. Yeah it’s a chance that I will take
I can hear the sighing now. The song is a refreshing reminder that some men “get it” where relationships are concerned, don’t go the way of the world, and can commit to what is right in relationships.
Nestled in the center of the album on track eight is the stunning “Signature of the Divine”. There is no question that this is a praise song. It reminds me of something that the Newsboys might do, and placing it in the center of the CD I believe is no accident. It has potential to be used in many churches due to the overt praise centered lyrics, easy chord progression and readily learned melody line. I definitely plan to find a way to incorporate it into our church’s contemporary service!
There are so many other songs that standout on this album and each track is unique. I had trouble writing this review, not because there wasn’t enough say but because there is too much to say! The CD is incredibly rich and deserves a Dove award nomination this year. I’ll even go so far as to say that I believe it deserves a Grammy nod. I have the pleasure of attending a NeedtoBreathe concert in the very near future and I am really looking forward to hearing these songs performed live. And yes, it’s true that part of the reason I was initially drawn to this band IS because they are from tiny Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, but their musical prowess and attention to lyrics are the reasons I’ll stick around to hear what they do next. 


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hymned Again by Bart Millard

Reviewed by Dale Lewis
"...a diversified smorgasboard offering the listener New Orleans influenced horn-driven jazz to Texas blue-rock guitar to bluegrass to... country. "
Most of these hymns on Hymned Again date back to the 1800s and talk about sharing one’s faith during the era when evangelism was on the rise. Bart states, “These are the songs that were a huge part of my upbringing.” As a pastor’s kid raised in The Salvation Army with these powerful hymns, I would agree wholeheartedly!
Bart Millard, of the band MercyMe, teams up with producer Brown Bannister as he did with the first release, Hymned. Millard shares his passionate vocals with a sweet, supporting line up of studio musicians. Hymned Again is a diversified smorgasboard offering the listener New Orleans influenced horn-driven jazz to Texas blue-rock guitar to bluegrass to . . . country. Don’t let this scare you non-country fans from buying this CD!
One of my favorite cuts is “I Stand Amazed” performed as a simple melody without the instrumentation consuming the powerful lyrics. It was a needed reprise amongst all the other hymns. Others I liked were “What a Day That Will Be,” “Victory in Jesus,” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which is showcased in a 1970s funk-soul arrangement. The horn section has a Denver and the Mile High Orchestra flavor especially on “What a Day That Will Be.” The clarinet and ukulele share the spotlight also in these modern day arrangements.
Deep within there is a part of me longing for the hymns of old to remain untouched — left as originally performed for no better reason than out of reverence and respect for the lyrics. And there is part of me that thoroughly enjoyed these new arrangements, (well, most of them) . . . listening to the joyful noise while drawing a new appreciation for the message of these God-ordained lyrics.
Thanks Bart for stepping out again and reminding us that the songs of the past need to find new life in the present, (although I would consider deleting that musical saw in “What a Friend”). I can’t wait to get to heaven to sing these hymns, in whatever version, to God’s glory! I might even pick up my trumpet and join in on the worship

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.