DO YOU WANT TO BE SHOCKED? Listen to one track from the new Avalon album and get ready to throw any preconceived notions out the window! For a group with 21 chart topping singles, 6 Dove Awards, 3 Grammy nominations and even an American Music Award, it would be easy for Avalon to rest on their laurels and continue cranking out their slick brand of vocal pop. While the critically acclaimed foursome is certainly proud of the past, their first proper studio CD in over three years, Reborn, truly lives up to its title in both spiritual outlook and overall stylistic composition. Sure, you’ll still be listening to Christian music’s premiere vocal group, but the similarity between any previous Avalon albums and their most recent release ends right there thanks to this completely new, cutting edge, enthralling and unequivocally original record.
“Reborn is really a fitting title because it signifies the birth of something new and exciting, which is certainly true of the current season of Avalon,” explains an exuberant Janna Long. “We signed a new record deal earlier this year and found ourselves planning a fall tour, which meant a new album in between. It was a really exciting whirlwind that forced us to all get in high gear and give it our best.”
One of the most instantly apparent changes comes in the credits, which for the very first time in the group’s illustrious history unites the group with producer Ian Eskelin (All Star United, Krystal Meyers, Stellar Kart, Francesca Battistelli). It’s a curious choice indeed considering his respected rankings in the modern rock spectrum, but one that helps cement Avalon’s latest endeavor as arguably their most ambitious to date.
“I’m not going to lie about Ian- he was absolutely over the top but incredible,” ventures Jeremi Richardson with a chuckle. “As a songwriter, he absolutely killed it with phenomenal lyrics and melodies and he truly became part of the team rather than just treating it like a gig. He had his moments of antics and goofing off, but was also constantly challenging us and encouraging us. That balance is the mark of a great producer and I think listeners will be able to feel that energy firsthand. There are some killer throwback moments to some overlaying of melodies and octaves, plus tons of atypical harmonies that have made Avalon sound so unique all along. But Reborn is the 2009 version of all that and it’s very aggressive with a lot of guitar driven moments, not so much where the instruments ever overwhelm the vocals, but to a very passionate peak. Everyone I’ve played it for so far says they’d never expect it, but at the same time, they can totally tell it’s Avalon, which to us is the ultimate compliment.”
Another noticeable advancement within the group legacy is the introduction of brand new member Amy Richardson, who just so happens to be Jeremi’s wife, allowing the quartet to now be comprised of two married couples. As a result, the collaborative intuition and uncanny chemistry between these sky-high singers is immediately apparent, yet unmistakably Avalon.
“I’ve actually already toured with the group on occasion and have been singing in church for as long as I can remember, so it’s been a very comfortable transition for us all,” Amy assures. “After traveling with a lot of choirs and vocal groups in college, I started recording and touring as a background singer for a variety of worship leaders and then this opportunity opened up, which allows me to minister alongside my husband and the incredible foundation Janna and Greg have laid for the group. Not only are we both able to identify with one another as married couples, but between us all, we have four girls on the bus all under the age of five and they’re quickly becoming best friends as well!”
The Reborn era is indeed a full circle journey for founding member Janna, a lifelong singer who first embarked upon her music ministry in Truth before launching the dream known as Avalon fourteen years ago. Though she’s also known for a solo sidestep on occasion, her true musical ambitions have always been cemented in group settings, though she’s simultaneously surprised and humbled by this troupe’s unceasing longevity.
“To be able to be around for a decade and a half is just awesome and I had no idea God would allow us to have the success we’ve had,” she ponders. “It’s definitely bigger than I ever dreamed, especially in these times when people are being so much more selective of where they spend their money and time. The fact that they continue to take two hours a night to spend with us and support our projects from the studio is really rewarding, and I appreciate it even more now that I have a family.”
Of course her husband and long-time group member Greg Long is no stranger to the spotlight, starting out as a revival singer with his evangelistic family and eventually spring boarding to astounding solo success. His inspiring string of singles includes seven number ones, alongside an ASCAP Writer Award for “Song of the Year” behind “Mercy Said No,” plus a pair of Dove nominations. Though he often continues to write, record and tour individually, Greg’s been primarily committed to Avalon since 2003.
“As a solo artist, I’m a singer/songwriter, but when it comes to my part in Avalon, for me the first priority is being a member of the family,” he says both figuratively and literally. “If I wouldn’t have made this decision when the invitation was granted, my life would’ve been fine, but I would’ve been apart from my wife and kids a whole lot more. But God opened that door and the whole history of recording and touring has been nothing short of spectacular. Avalon fans have been so gracious and supportive to both the group and me individually no matter what the season.”
Lifelong Avalon listeners also accepted Jeremi with open arms from the very first day he entered the full time foray in 2007. Outside of Reborn, his fingerprints are scattered throughout The Greatest Hits, most notably, his glistening contributions to the number one smash “Still My God.” It’s been quite an inspiring ride to say the least for the soulful singer, who grew up a preacher’s kid, sang consistently throughout his upbringing, entered college on a full music scholarship and graduated to a highly coveted gig at Walt Disney World. “I’ve literally listened to Avalon for as long as I can remember,” Jeremi asserts, “so I can tell you both as a member and a fan that people’s jaws are going to hit the ground when they hear Reborn.”
Much of that aforementioned freedom comes from a brand new tag team with E1 Music, which was previously known as Koch Records and already hosted the diverse likes of The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, Ashley Cleveland, Twila Paris and Bishop E. Long. Along with the new partnership came a completely open creative canvas where the group was encouraged to stretch themselves further than ever before with no strings attached.
“They took all the reigns off and basically said, ‘you’ve been doing this for awhile, so just do what you do,’” recalls Greg of the E1 experience. “In other words, no one was ever looking over our shoulders talking to us about core demographics, which gave us the chance to just focus on the artistic side. We love our history and are grateful for everything God’s given us, but that type of freedom also allowed us the opportunity to experiment and have a lot of fun in the process.”
From Janna’s vantage point, Reborn will give the dedicated a new twist on the group’s renowned formula, while expanding their appeal to a much wider audience than ever before. “Over the last three years, we released a hymns record, a covers record and a retrospective record, plus had some members change,” she reflects. “So between all of that and the fact that life was just happening right alongside it all, there’s a really pivotal change and evolution. Sure, the vocal standpoint is consistent with the Avalon sound, but the rest is much more varied. This is definitely not your Mom’s Avalon record!”
Avalon Reborn Review| Posted May 18, 2010
I’ve been a really big Avalon fan for a couple of years now. I am particularly fond of the records from “The Creed” on. The thing that I find most enjoyable is the vocal talent of the band, and how they always seem to put their hearts into singing. So needless to say, I was thrilled when I found out that they would be releasing an album entitled, “Reborn”. I had heard that it would be completely different from any other Avalon project to date. This week I added “Reborn” to my CD collection. This latest Avalon album is the first full-length album to include married couple Jeremi and Amy Richardson. At first, I was disappointed with the album, particularly because I couldn’t tell the difference between Janna Long and Amy Richardson’s voices. But after listening, I loved it. In fact, now I think that having two new members really adds to the band. It became apparent to me that the style in fact is different from previous records, but there is some similarity to “The Creed”. “Reborn” opens up strongly with the title track. All four Avalon members offer their musical talents in this song. It is this song that explains the cover art of the album: “Like a summer rain making a desert bloom/ You’ve opened my thirsty heart/ and now I have been renewed.” This song explains a grateful heart to God for capturing our hearts with His love. This song was actually a little surprising, because it features a little guitar work that Avalon has never had before. This same feature appears several times in the album. The second song on the album, and definitely my favorite on the album is totally unlike Avalon, but I am addicted to it! This song is entitled, “Alive”. I love the lyrics in the chorus: “I can feel my heart beating with fear/ finally I’m breathing again/ won’t let this chance go by/ watch me while I come alive/ every second You awaken my soul/ rushing over me/ taking control/ right before my very eyes/ watch me while I come alive.” I really can’t get enough of this song! It’s more faced paced singing than Avalon is used to. “Feel” is another excellent song that shows off Amy’s voice. This is another song that doesn’t fit in the Avalon pattern, but is excellent! This song speaks of wanting to actually have a real love for God, stating that “I’m tired of apathetic love”. “Destined” is one of two songs that I could tell for sure was Janna on the main vocals- probably the reason it was at first listen, my favorite song. This song’s lyrics share why a relationship with God was destined from the beginning of time. The following track, entitled “Stay” is sung almost entirely by Greg himself. In this song, God is speaking to someone who is at their lowest point. The part of this song that gets me every time is, “I know you feel that what you find here is less than the world has to give/ But when did the world ever lay its life down so that you might live?” “Angels” is a gorgeous song depicting the glory of God when He comes to take us home. My favorite part of this song is the second verse (which sounds like Janna Long). The second to last song on this album is creatively named, “California”. It is definitely one of my favorites, and it is asking God to send us somewhere far that we may share the gospel. “California/ far from me/ across the desert to the sea/ a million miles away/ to somewhere I don’t know/ lift my feet from where I stand/ down the street to foreign lands/ anywhere You lead me I will go.” Finally, the last song on this album is, “Holy”. This song is very special to me, because it is the story of Isaiah, after he saw the glory of the Lord, and said, “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips”. This passage in Scripture is special to me; so is the song!
This album is excellent! It seems to me like Greg and Janna (also married) let Jeremi and Amy take the lead vocals so that Avalon members could get used to the change. The style is very different from previous efforts, but I am addicted to the change! I have actually listened to the album so much that I’m a little tired of it, yet it is still my favorite album! This album is definitely a 5- star album! This album is one that you will want to add to your collection if you have been an Avalon fan for years, or are interested in their radio singles. Get this album!