Out of the Ashes - Fears, Secrets & Lies (Out of Ashes Music/Resound Media, £12)
It’s taken me a while to get to this new release from Gloucestershire-based Out of the Ashes, headed by main songwriters Penny Lyon and Kevin Washburn, but I’m glad I did.
Everything about the 14-song collection oozes class and sophistication. The musicianship is excellent, vocals top notch and the production (not always the case with some Christian releases these days) delicately balanced.
Principally leaning towards bluesy, soulful, chilled jazz, there are some great tunes and some punchy lyrics. Some of the songs (Wake Up, Fears Secrets & Lies, It’s A Through Road) look at the challenges we face individually and as a Church, and point the listener back to Jesus, while others (Tipped Off The Table, Good Place To Be, That Ain’t Livin’) are more evangelistic and outreach-based.
My favourites were the gospel-tinged That Ain’t Livin’, the ridiculously catchy Tired Donkey Song (actually one that could be used in church at Christmas), the Latin-tinged Pole Pole (slowly slowly in Swahili), and the beautiful nativity ballad So Silently. The latter two give the band the chance to show they’re at home in other styles than the jazzy blues gospel vein. Blues legend Paul Jones even pops up with some tasty harmonica on three songs.
My only slight quibble with Out of the Ashes is the style of music they major on and the lyrical content of some of the songs can feel a less than perfect fit at times. The hot jazz jauntiness of Do That Thing You Do is great to listen to but the lyric feels a bit throwaway in describing Jesus’ ministry. Similarly, Crazy Love is a delivered in sultry, bluesy style with real panache but a hard-hitting lyric on the crucifixion jars somewhat with the vibe.
Minor quibbles overall – this is one classy album that suggests Out of the Ashes live would prove a highly entertaining and engaging proposition. Highly recommended.
Sussex-based session musician and performer Richard Lane has an extensive CV, having played and recorded around the world, gigged with the likes of Kool & The Gang and Canned Heat, and written music for a range of top companies’ radio and TV advertisements.
Now he’s put together an 11-track album - mixed in Florida and mastered in Brazil - charting his own faith journey. It’s an engaging mix of songs of faith, songs about lack of faith, hypocrisy within the Church, the struggle to commit, and the search for a God of love and mercy.
Being honest, the mix of heavily produced AOR pop-rock and ballads isn’t quite my thing, but it’s immaculately played, superbly sung and powerfully delivered, and I’m sure there will be plenty who love his polished and highly melodic approach to songwriting. The lyrics are powerful and heartfelt, and there will be many who find Out of the Shadows an engaging and faith-fuelling listen. Available from Niltava Music.
The Rock Mass (CD and Booklet £13.99)
Mention the Christian faith and musical productions and most people will wax lyrical about whether they prefer Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell or Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. They're the West End big hitters and tend to dominate the musical landscape, despite smaller scale work over many years from the likes of Roger Jones, Paul Field, Graham Kendrick, Phil Baggaley and others.
A new twist comes in the shape of The Rock Mass, the brainchild of Czech composer Daniel Kyzlink and Prague-based English lyricist and guitarist John de Jong. Premiered in May 2013 by the Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra, directed by Martin Lebel, it's an unusual piece of work blending a full orchestra, a rock band and singers.
Live performances featuring London-based singers Kirsten Joy and Gaz Twist were very well received, and now a CD plus accompanying booklet has been released. It is a strong blending of styles, delivering musical and lyrical breadth that ranges from evocative classical passages to punchy brass sections and grungey guitar-driven rock.
As a fan of prog rock, I enjoyed it, and there are certainly powerful performances from the two main singers, and the host of musicians populating rock band and orchestra. Listening on headphones helped me concentrate and appreciate the progression of the music, and flicking through the 60-page booklet, which includes lyrics, meditations, commentary and some excellent photography, was an additional devotional aid.
I suspect it's at its most powerful in live performance, but the logistics of taking this kind of production on tour mean that for the moment you'll have to experience it via CD. Definitely one to investigate. Available from www.therockmass.com
Love Can Be A Bumpy Road - Out of the Ashes (Resound Media RMOA1501)
Out of the Ashes comprise Gloucestershire-based husband and wife duo Penny Lyon and Kevin Washburn, and this is their follow-up to 2012 debut release The Garden.
The press blurb describes them as "eclectic, enthusiastic and unabashedly old-school" and that's a fair description of this 12-song package that mixes incisive lyrics on the trials of life with a cocktail of laid-back bluesy, jazzy soul. Penny's voice is strong and the backing band led by Kevin know their way around the genres they tackle with warmth and zing.
My only quibble is occasionally the slinky, jazzy style doesn't always fit the subject matter of the lyrics. I found the chilled groove of the music meant I didn't always find the truth of the words hitting home. You might think differently. Well worth a listen.
Echo – Bought Not Souled (Plankton Records)
The idea of taking worship out of the church and into streets, pubs, parks, theatres, festivals and more is not new, but East London/Essex band Echo have devised a refreshing new twist on it.
Essentially, they take classic Motown and soul songs and deliver them faithfully, with top quality musicianship, adding a lyrical twist to make them God-focused. The result, on this album's evidence, is a joyful celebration of some of the great music from Motown, Atlantic, Stax, Chess and more made famous by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Jackie Wilson, but turned into a dance/worship celebration.
Standout tracks include (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, Say A Little Prayer, I'll Take You There, Something Inside (So Strong) and Dancing In The Streets.
Great vocal performances from Marie Da Silva, Juliette Georges and Marion Rowe, are propelled by tight and soulful arrangements from the band: Paul Crick (piano/keyboards), James Bardwell (guitar), Greg Nash (bass) and Jamfool (drums/percussion). The mix of live and studio tracks is a reminder that ideally you want to experience Echo live, on a dancefloor.
Yes, occasionally the sound is a bit 'thin' compared to the classic Motown/Stax sound, and it would have been nice to have a brass section rather than the digital equivalents, but overall this is a fun and uplifting listen. You'll be singing along and dancing around the kitchen, I bet.
VeggieTales – The League of Incredible Vegetables (DVD)
VeggieTales have been around for years (this is episode 48!) and it seemed the only sensible way I could get an informed opinion on their latest DVD was to take it to an appropriate viewing audience – my four children aged between 2 and 11. All four thoroughly enjoyed it with the two little ones particularly captivated. I have to say also that I found it very enjoyable and it is one that bears repeated viewings. Imagine James Bond meets Mission Impossible meets Batman and you’re getting close.
It’s the story of the vegetables’ attempts to stop villain Dr Flurry and his evil assistants (three penguins) from freezing the town of Bumblyburg in fear. It’s the second VeggieTales episode looking at the area of fear following Where's God When I'm S-Scared?. The soundtrack is provided by The Newsboys and the DVD has a host of bonus material.
Well worth your money!
Citizen Way – Love is the evidence
On the evidence of this debut album from Illinois-based rock outfit Citizen Way, they have a big future ahead of them. There is an energy and strength to their music that promises big things, and standout tracks for me included the title song and their first single Should Have Been Me, which speaks of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Songs like Where Would I Be Without You and Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us) show where the band’s heart is at.
Citizen Way have already supported some major CCM acts, and all the evidence suggests they’ll soon be filling venues in their own right. I’m already looking forward to their next offering.
Hawk Nelson – Made (Authentic)
Canadian rock outfit Hawk Nelson have gone through a few lineup changes since their debut album Letters to the President back in 2004, and the band comprise a three-piece these days of Jonathan Steingard (guitar, lead vocal), Daniel Biro (bass, backing vocal) and Justin Benner (drums).
Their sixth album Made follows familiar territory with the three opening rock/pop songs, strong on riffs and air-punching choruses, so it's a refreshing change when Elevator delivers a danceable stab of electro pop with a rap middle delivered by Bianca of Group 1 Crew.
Every Beat of My Broken Heart is a thoughtful mid tempo song honestly admitting God is often found in the toughest times, even when we don't understand what's going on. It's a consistent theme in other songs, too – hanging on to God when life's a struggle. And it makes for a lyrically intelligent album with a little more depth than many stadium-pleaser CCM efforts these days.
Darlene Zschech – Revealing Jesus
Darlene Zschech is well known for being the worship leader at Hillsong Australia and the writer of Shout To The Lord and a number of other classic worship songs, yet Revealing Jesus is the first of her albums I’ve heard. And to be honest it took me a few listens to get into it, and it didn’t grab me in the way I expected it to.
Yours Forever, featuring US singer-songwriter Kari Jobe is probably my favourite track on the album, and top CCM artist, Michael W Smith pops up on I Am Yours. The album also features the song Victor’s Crown which has received extensive airplay and a number of positive reviews. As live worship albums go it’s fine, but not an offering at the very top of the tree.
Red – Release the panic
Red are a US metal/rock band with an uncompromising style and this album is not for the fainthearted. My taste in music is very diverse and I enjoyed this. It depends on whether you prefer the hard hitting Release the Panic or Damage or the more melodic tracks such as Hold me Now and Glass House later on in the album.
Maybe not an album for the majority of believers if you like something heavier which still presents the positive message of Jesus, then this is definitely worth a listen.
Audio Adrenaline – Kings and Queens
US CCM rockers Audio Adrenaline were big news in the late Eighties before disbanding in 2006. They reformed last year with the unmistakeable voice of Kevin Max, formerly of DC Talk as their new front man. This is a cracking album and grabs you immediately with the opening He Moves You Move. There are no fillers in this compelling collection and standouts for me were 20:17 (Raise a Banner) and The Answer. There’s also a song – Fire Never Sleeps – co-written by Martin Smith of Delirious? Fame.
Great album, well worth investing in.
8/10 CLICK HERE TO BUY
Casting Crowns – The Acoustic Sessions
Rock outfit Casting Crowns have been one of my favourite bands for a long while and the Acoustic Sessions is a move away from their normal style.
Featuring mainly reworked songs from their earlier albums, with songs such as East to West, Praise You in the Storm and Set me Free, this is an excellent album.
The band launched in 1999 when youth leader and singer Mark Hall brought together a few of his leaders to form a band in his church. Life has snowballed since. With numerous awards and more than five million record sales they are well worth a listen. Highly recommended.
9/10 CLICK HERE TO BUY
Capital Kings – Capital Kings
This album appeared in my review pile and something about the cover and the fact it was a Gotee records production (Tobymac) inspired me to listen.
I'd never heard of them before even though they have been around since 2010, mainly doing remixes of Tobymac songs, and the sound that emerges mixes pop, hip hop and electronica. Lyrically they are vey good, and likely to be a hit with young people particularly.
Even at the grand old age of 40, my musical taste is quite varied and I thoroughly enjoyed this (as did my 10-year-old). The album also features other Christian artists Tobymac, Royal Tailor and Britt Nicole.
Tenth Avenue North – The Struggle
With a title like this, it’s a little ironic that I actually found the album a bit of a challenge to start with. The more I listened though, the more this it grew on me.
Tenth Avenue North are a contemporary Christian pop/rock outfit from West Palm Beach in Florida and this is their third album. Lead vocalist Mike Donehey says: “Our desire for The Struggle is that listeners will walk away with these two truths ringing in their ears and burning in their hearts: we are free to fail because there’s an ocean of grace that we fall into, but also, we have the promise of a power so strong that it raised Christ himself. So we know that, mystery of mysteries, we’re also not struggling to be free.”
The album clearly covers these themes and the lyrics are clear and to the point. Repeated listens usually unearth the treasures for me, and The Struggle certainly rewards persistence! The cover design is also interesting: it’s Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and features 14 people instead of the expected 13 (Jesus and the 12 disciples). It is believed that Rembrandt added himself to show that Biblical events apply to us all …
Well worth a listen.
8/10 CLICK HERE TO BUY
Stuart Dearsley is Head of Customer Services/HR at CPO
Third Day – Miracle
Easy to recognise from the familiar tones of lead singer Mac Powell, Third Day have been stalwarts of the CCM scene since 1991 and Miracle is their eleventh offering. I have a couple of their past albums and have to say that I am very impressed with Miracle – the first track is Hit me like a Bomb, and it certainly does!
This really is a good album and Third Day fans will enjoy it, even though it is less rocky than normal and fans of CCM rock will also like it. Miracle has had mixed reviews because it’s slightly different to what they put out in 2008 and 2010, but my take on it is unfailingly positive.
Stand out tracks are Love is Like a River, For the Rest of My Life and Miracle. The album ends with another surprise in a Third Day reworking of the popular classic Morning has Broken – and it’s a cracker.
8/10 CLICK HERE TO BUY
Stuart Dearsley is Head of Customer Services/HR at CPO
Mercyme – The Worship Sessions (Provident Integrity Europe)
I am always a bit wary when it comes to contemporary Christian music bands recording worship albums, as people tend to expect ‘performance’ rather than worship. But this, the second of Mercyme's albums I’ve reviewed, is impressive. It comes across as worship and not performance-based at all.
The album is a collection of well known favourites such as Hungry, Hosanna, Mighty To Save and In Christ Alone as well as the 80s retro sounding Hearts Sing Louder which makes the album worth listening to just for that.
The album also includes a reworking of the 18th century hymn Come Thou Fount which has also been covered by the David Crowder Band and Jars of Clay. You can clearly hear that this album is Mercyme, but the fact that this is a worship album clearly comes through.
9/10 CLICK HERE TO BUY
Stuart Dearsley is Head of Customer Services/HR at CPO
Who Was And Is And Is To Come – Lenny Smith (Great Comfort Records)
OK, first a confession: I'd not heard of Lenny Smith, so when the invitation to download and review this album arrived, I wasn't initially captivated. Then I noticed the invite had come from Sounds Familyre, home of Sufjan Stevens, Danielson and a stack of other engaging left-field music, so I took a look.
Turns out Lenny wrote the classic 70s worship song Our God Reigns and is a stalwart of the folk worship scene of that era. He came to attention again in the mid 90s with his Deep Calls To Deep album, riding on a wave of fresh interest in Americana and songcraft following the Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash recordings.
Lenny's now 70, and this 13-song collection has an earthy, relaxed, rough-hewn feel to it. All are worship songs drawing heavily on Scripture, and the album is produced by Lenny's son Daniel (from Danielson). The songs featured range from the 70s to the present day, and feature all five Smith children, friends and grandchildren along with a stack of musicians wielding guitar, organ, bass, drums, piano, violin and ukulele.
It's simple and innocent stuff which grows on you with each listen: songs of a seasoned writer and believer about the Maker, his people and their world, woven with an assurance that love will triumph, healing will come and the goodness of God is irresistible. You'll find singalong choruses, a real sense of enjoyment and family plus a little wry humour.
Cutting edge? No. It doesn't need to be. Folk-country worship with a good heart, a delicate touch and a warmth that invites you to praise. Lovely stuff.
Come To The River – Rhett Walker Band (Provident)
I’d not heard of this Christian rock outfit prior to receiving this album, but I’m certainly now a fan. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, the band only formed last year and Come to the River is their excellent debut.
Single When Mercy Found Me is currently riding high in the Christian charts and in Rhett’s own words is the testimony of the struggles that he went through as the teenage son of a preacher. He has a very distinctive voice and is equally at home with rock numbers or ballads.
This album has already become a real favourite in our house, including our one-year-old who nods his head along the music. My particular favourites are Get Up Get Out and Can’t Break Me, but to be honest the whole album is top quality. Highly recommended.
ONE STEP LANTERN – 5 + 2
One Step Lantern feature songs by Oli Nicholls, a UK worship leader from Birmingham. The choice of band name is inspired by Psalm 119:105 whilst the album name comes from the story of the feeding of the 5000.
When you pick the album up you’d be forgiven for thinking quite a few cover versions are in store, with titles such as Amazing Love and Shine Jesus Shine. However, these are original songs with the same title and excellent tracks in their own right.
All in all I did enjoy listening to what is a good debut worship album from an as yet unsigned artist. The songs range from up tempo rock sounds to slower pieces and they are all easy to pick up and sing along to. The words have been carefully thought through and are very much Scripture-based.
Certaionly worth a listen and hopefully Oli gets himself a deal soon. For more information go to http://onesteplantern.com/
World Lullabies – Justine Wheeler & Louise Raven (available on iTunes or from www.worldlullabies.co.uk)
There is something immensely powerful about the human voice when used unaccompanied by any other instrument – a capella. And one of the most instinctive uses of the human voice is mothers singing their baby to sleep.
So when singers Justine Wheeler and Louise Raven were hooked by a combination of the spellbinding appeal of a capella and the tender nature of mother and child bonding, before they knew it they were off on what turned into a four-year international adventure, sourcing rare traditional lullabies from around the world.
This CD features lullabies learned by ear and passed down in 15 countries around the world, ranging from Ghana, Indonesia and India to Norway, Iceland and New Zealand. There is an intimacy and beauty about the melodies, and the harmonies the pair weave around each tune. And the CD pack includes lyric translations, showing the breadth and variety from different cultures, some telling a story, others drawing on local myth and folk tales.
A lovely gift for any parent of young babies and children – and lovers of world music.
MercyMe – The Hurt and The Healer (Authentic 2012)
Award-winning Texas rock band MercyMe have been making waves over the past eight years and their new release – album number seven – had me hooked from the start. Opener You Know Better and particularly the first line “You think I’d know by now who’s running the show” is something we can all identify with.
The intriguingly titled You don’t care at all talks about past mistakes and the fact that God has thrown them all away and does not care about them! And the title track is equally brilliant and currently riding high in the CCM charts.
My children, aged 1-10, love this album as does my wife and there isn’t a bad song on here. My only worry is that I left the CD in my wife’s car and it’s unlikely I’ll see it again!!
10/10 CLICK HERE TO BUY
Stuart Townend – The Ultimate Collection (Kingsway)
The best way to describe Stuart Townend is that whilst you may not know who he is, you can be sure you will know most of his songs. Stuart’s material has become increasingly popular with churches over the last 15-20 years and this album features 16 of his best-known songs and hymns, many of which have been written in conjunction with Keith Getty.
Included are Across the Lands, How Deep the Father’s Love and other well-loved classics such as In Christ Alone and Psalm 23. The styles range from a folky beginning to the album to the more contemporary style that we are familiar with.
Thoroughly recommended. 8/10
Dad's 50 Favourite Worship Songs (Kingsway)
I was, I have to confess, a bit sceptical with a title like this as to me it appeared to be a good marketing ploy to sell this for Father’s Day. But as a dad and a worshipper, I guess I’m the target market!
Having now listened to this 3-CD album (featuring songs by Tim Hughes, Ben Cantelon, Noel Richards, Matt Redman, Stuart Townend, Robin Mark and Martin Smith to name but a few), quite a few times, it’s clear the songs have been carefully selected to reflect the title.
While you have some of the more popular songs on here (Happy Day, God of this City, and Be Thou My Vision for example), some of the songs are clearly male orientated (Men of a Certain Age) and some were completely new to me.
All in all, there’s a wealth of great inspirational listening. And an excellent cover, too!
David Saylor – Calling to Heaven (Gap Music)
I had never come across David Saylor previously and have enjoyed listening to this album. David is someone who has worked with the likes of Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Edwin Starr and Jon Secada.
This successful US singer-songwriter hails from Norfolk, Virginia and first came to prominence in the early Nineties and with Calling to Heaven he provides a gospel album with a Latin twist. The songs are vibrant and encouraging and would appeal to an audience that would not put gospel at the top of their chosen genre.
My favourite tracks include Child’s Eyes and the title track Calling To Heaven which gets the album off to a strong start. 7/10
Cathedral Carols (Elevation)
When it comes to Christmas, I can be a bit of a 'bah humbug' what with all the commercialism that seems to follow it these days, but what a difference this CD made.
As a Christian, Christmas should be a joyful time and within a few minutes of listening to this I was in a far more positive place!
This album is quite simply fantastic and features the BBC Welsh Chorus, the Kansas City Chorale, Salisbury Cathedral Choir and St John’s College Choir, Cambridge, singing all the classics you know and love.
The production is exceptional and uplifting and my personal favourite is a lesser known carol called Gabriel’s Message. 9/10
WOW Hits 2012 – 2 CDs (EMI, Provident, Word)
Being an avid listener of 20 Countdown Magazine on UCB, I was familiar with a large number of these tracks before I had this album to review. This album features 33 songs and is a fantastic cross section of top Christian songs and has something for everybody.
The artists include popular worship leader Chris Tomlin and also well known bands such as Casting Crowns, David Crowder*Band, and Third Day. There is also the first solo release from Peter Furler of Newsboys fame. Other bands of note include Sanctus Real, Mercyme, The Afters, Leeland and Tenth Avenue North as well as newer artists such as Royal Tailor and Dara MacLean.
If you are not familiar with what is out there in terms of Christian music then I would recommend this as an excellent starting point, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Jeremy Camp, Natalie Grant, Mark Schultz, Matt Maher, Brandon Heath and Francesca Battistelli who also feature. To date this album has sold 17 million copies. I could go on … 9/10
I Have A Dream (It Feels Like Home) – The City Harmonic
The City Harmonic originate from the US and this is their first full length album following on from their successful EP Manifesto. It is listed under the genre of ‘Worship’ which it most certainly is with powerful and deep lyrics that make you reflect although ‘Rock Worship’ is closer to the mark. It did not take me long to start singing along to some of the tracks with particular favourites of mine being Mountaintop and Holy (Wedding Day). The song Spark also features an extract from a speech by Martin Luther King and follows in the footsteps of great Christian artists such as DC Talk who have also successfully featured him.
For those of you who like Casting Crowns, Third Day or for those further back Petra, then I would say this is one for you. 7/10
Declaring His Name All Around The World – Muyiwa & Riversongz (Riversongz Music 2011)
Muyiwa is probably best known for his regular gospel slot on Premier Radio (Monday to Saturday 10pm to 1am) and this is the first time that I have experienced one of his albums. The title of the album does ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ and is a collection of songs with influences from around of the world, including the Caribbean, India and China and Muyiwa and his fellow artists are clearly having fun.
It took me a few listens to get into it and for those of you who love a mixture of gospel and praise and worship, I am sure that this is something that you will enjoy. Particular favourite tracks of mine are the opening three of The Name Of The Lord, Jehovah Jireh and Only You Be God. 7/10
My Soul Yearns – Live Vineyard Worship (Vineyard Records UK, 2011)
The first time I heard this album I will confess it didn't grab me. Around 20 consecutive plays later on the CD player in my car and I am hooked! Sometimes the growers turn out to be the best, and this is one of them. The album begins with the excellent title track My Soul Yearns, and alternates between up tempo praise songs and more melodic contemplative worship. There are a number of songs that I particularly enjoyed such as Love Rain Down and Sweetly Broken, although there is something for everyone on this album and there isn't a weak track to be found. Another bonus is the breadth of styles thanks to the good mix of songwriters featured. Recommended. 8.5/10
Together as One (11 songs for all age & family worship) – Trevor Ranger (Elevation, 2011)
This album is a mixture of songs aimed at families and all age worship, and on one of our days out over the summer we had this on the car. I found that my younger children enjoyed this more than my older ones, although I would add that a lot of the vibrancy is probably lost when played on a CD in the car, rather than in a house or through your headphones. The words are carefully thought through, well constructed and easy to pick up, and the children did end up singing along to some of them! Worth a look. 7/10
Stuart Dearsley is Head of Customer Services at CPO, and has also reviewed music for Crossrhythms
Russ Bravo is editor of Inspire magazine, and has reviewed music across a wide range of genres in Christian and mainstream media over the last 30 years
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