Redemptive and Moving | Posted April-11-2018 What You Need to Know:
GMA Dove Award-Winning singer-songwriter Christa Wells is best known for writing the song "Held," which was recorded by Natalie Grant, along with co-writing "Need You Now" and "God Help Me," which were recorded by Plumb. Christa released two of my favorite indie-pop "gourmet" projects of the past decade, How Emptiness Sings (2011) and Feed Your Soul (2013), which both ranked in my top 5 albums of the year. After a covers album in 2015, she returns with a seven song album titled Velveteen.
What it Sounds Like:
Opening track "Down Down Low" is an engaging song, with Christa's passionate vocals setting the tone for this exceptional album. The song is an unashamed declaration observing that "everybody wants to talk, nobody wants to listen." Christa hooked me with the lyrics in the bridge, "hear the whisper of humility, love will write a sweeter melody," which is essentially the thesis statement of this redemptive, personal and moving album. Christa's engaging music and thought-provoking lyrics are something to truly savor, and her soothing vocals will remind you of Brooke Fraser ("What a Beautiful Name"), Sara Groves ("It's Me"), JJ Heller ("What Love Really Means") and Lady Gaga ("Million Reasons"), both in vocal tone and subject matter.
"Come After Me" features prayerful lyrics proclaiming "I need to know Your love will come after me." "One Day" has Christa confessing, "and you only keep moving by the grace of God... you'll do it one day, one breath, one prayer, one thing at a time." "Holy Ground" sings the Psalm 103 inspired lyrics, "all that is within us, all that is without, all of life is holy ground... holy, holy, holy." "Velveteen" captures the essence of being a Proverbs 31 woman: "If my beauty starts to fade, I've been held in a thousand ways... if perfect turns to perfect mess, I'm as real as real can be, call me velveteen."
Best Song on the Record:
This album is filled with several of my new favorite songs by Christa Wells, which is saying a lot since I've had her prior albums in heavy rotation since they released. I generally rank my favorite songs based on how they move me emotionally. On this album, that includes the standout songs "Down Down Low," "Hold This House Up," "One Day" and "Velveteen." I actually can't listen to "Hold This House Up" or "One Day" without welling up, and you'll get emotionally swept up in the opening lyrics in "One Day:" "it's hard to sing when you're crying... it's hard to sleep when you're fighting for your life." For me, "One Day" is the standout song on this exceptional project.
Christa Wells is an anointed singer-songwriter, and she has a profound way of examining the deeper feelings buried in my heart and bringing me closer to God with her poignant words and tender singing. If you are looking for the words to express your feelings to God in times of hurting and pain, these songs are a wonderful companion. These are the most transparent, vulnerable and authentic songs I've heard in quite a while. If you like the folk-style "gourmet" singer-songwriters Ellie Holcomb, JJ Heller, Sara Groves and Audrey Assad, you need to check out Velveteen, my top album of the year.
The Best Hillsong Yet | Posted April-05-2018 What You Need to Know:
Following up their standout worship album Let There Be Light, which featured their popular, Grammy-winning song "What a Beautiful Name," churches and believers around the world celebrate the release of Hillsong Worship's latest There is More on April 6th. I have consistently been blessed by each album from Hillsong Worship, with their staples "Mighty to Save," "Hosanna," "Stronger," "Forever Reign," "Cornerstone," "God is Able," "This I Believe (The Creed)," "O Praise the Name (Anástasis)" and "What a Beautiful Name" all being sung at church worship services worldwide and putting the Word of God into the minds, mouths and hearts of Christians everywhere.
What it Sounds Like:
If you've always enjoyed Hillsong's corporate worship anthems, you're in for a treat with this album. It has a great balance of male and female-led vocals, and it is chock-full of songs for the Church and songs for personal reflection and worship. Many of the songs are arranged in a very singable and catchy style, such as the gorgeous Brooke Fraser-led song "Who You Say I Am," which is filled with great statements of faith, celebrating our freedom in Christ: "Who the Son sets free, oh is free indeed. I'm a child of God, Yes I am, in my Father's house, there's a place for me."
"Who You Say I Am" is a biblically-inspired standout. I'm really engaged by the emotional vocals and the deep, prayerful lyrics throughout the album. "I open up my heart to You now, do what only You can, Jesus have Your way in me now" are the biblical cries of worship in the heartfelt and soul-stirring song "Touch of Heaven." "The Passion" and "New Wine" each feature tender and powerful vocals and takes listeners on an emotional and spiritual journey with every lyric sung about faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus.
Best Song on the Record:
There are several standouts. "New Wine" is an instant classic, and "Touch of Heaven" stirs my heart into an immediate state of worship and takes it up a notch with the Brit-rock guitar riffs. "The Passion" is biblical and congregational. "So Will I (100 Billion X)" is gorgeously led by Taya Smith. The song I can't get out of my head is the Brooke Fraser-led "Who You Say I Am," so I'll highlight that song as the must-download track, but you'll want the whole album.
There is More is loaded with several stirring new worship songs that set me in the proper mindset to praise God for His love. I really enjoy the exciting musical vibe of this album, loaded with stellar vocals, catchy melodies and solid lyrics reflecting unashamed faith in Jesus. If you're looking for additions to your Sunday morning set list, I especially recommend "The Passion," "Remembrance," "Valentine," "Touch of Heaven," "New Wine" and one of my top worship songs of the year, "Who You Say I Am." I eagerly await each new Hillsong release, and There is More is a truly stellar offering of worship, my all-time favorite Hillsong album. There is More is a wonderful reminder that there is immeasurably more to our God that we can think or imagine, and this album captures that sentiment.
Light That Can't Be Dimmed | Posted March-29-2018
Following up her stellar worship offering Undone, which was one of my top 10 worship albums of 2014, Bethel Music's Steffany Gretzinger returns with Blackout on Good Friday, 2018. On last year's Starlight by Bethel Music, you can hear Steffany singing on "King of My Heart" and "Extravagant." Keeping that momentum going, this album also features an empowering theme of the Lord reigning in our hearts and shining like a city on a hill in song after song.
What it Sounds Like:
Blackout is best described as an intimate personal worship experience with an ethereal tone. If you enjoy After All These Years by Brian and Jenn Johnson, Where His Light Was by Kristene DiMarco and Brave New World by Amanda Cook, this album is an excellent addition to your praise and worship collection.
Steffany has consistently impressed me with her mature faith, and a sincere desire for the presence of God and to see His Kingdom on earth is found in every song. Each track is about proclaiming her dependence on God, which stirs my heart, mind and soul to bow before Jesus, our Savior. The album is designed to be listened to in track order as you'll go on the journey with Steffany, from the opener "Save Me," with the confession "I tried to be the hero for a day / But all my super powers failed to save / So I turned in my ego and my cape," to the closer "Blackout," with the declaration "In a blackout / We will illuminate the dark / They won't escape the beaming / We will glimmer, we will glow." I am moved by the reminders that we can't save ourselves, and once we are redeemed by Jesus, we shine light that can't be dimmed. Let your light shine and "illuminate the dark."
Best Song on the Record:
I can't get enough of "Save Me," which sets the tone for the entire worship experience with the beautiful declaration of dependence on God's provision in our lives: "It all starts with breathing You in / Breathing You in Deeply / I've been drowning under my skin / No one but You can save me." I get swept up in the vertical praise and worship to our Savior.
Blackout is about proclaiming the majesty of God and crying out in awe and wonder for His Presence. All of the songs are memorable, personal and worshipful. These moving and reverent recordings are poignant songs of adoration. Every song is completely anointed, Spirit-led and emotionally captivating. Steffany's powerful and gorgeous vocals keep me hanging on every word she sings. The standout songs each feature an engaging and emotive musical style while phrasing her prayer-filled songs in a creative and personal way, making it one of my top worship albums of the year.
The Reckless Love of God | Posted February-20-2018
Passion's songs are some of the most popular in modern worship music, with many of their songs sung in churches all across the country including staples "10,000 Reasons," "One Thing Remains," "My Victory," "Even So Come" and "This We Know." The live releases drawn from each year's conferences have been highly anticipated since the first edition in 1998. 2018's Passion: Whole Heart marks the latest edition and features the most balanced lineup yet, with new standout songs by Kristian Stanfill, Crowder, Melodie Malone, Sean Curran, Brett Younker and Matt Redman.
"Whole Heart" featuring Kristian Stanfill has become my personal worship anthem, and it is already one of my top worship songs of the year. "Your love / It comes with no conditions / You give us Your whole heart / My hope is in the blood of Jesus / I know who I am / Because of who You are" are Stanfill's cries of praise set to a worshipful upbeat Brit-rock musical arrangement that will have you singing along.
"God, You're So Good" and "More Like Jesus" are led by Kristian Stanfill and each feature emotive vocals and stirring lyrics. "God, You're So Good" also features Melodie Malone and includes the sincere and emotive lyrics of submission in the bridge: "I am blessed, I am called, I am healed, I am whole, I am saved in Jesus' name." "All My Hope" by Crowder features Tauren Wells and is yet another great song for the Church, which I hope I'll be singing with fellow believers. The song has a great worshipful chorus, with Crowder and Wells singing "All my hope is in Jesus / Thank God that yesterday's gone / All my sins are forgiven / I've been washed by the blood."
"Reckless Love" is a gorgeous offering by Melodie Malone. The song was written by Bethel Music's Cory Asbury, proclaiming "Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God / Oh, it chases me down fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine / I couldn't earn it, I don't deserve it, still You give Yourself away." You can sincerely pray these words along with Melodie. Like her great Passion recordings, "Forever" and "Simple Pursuit," you'll worship our King Jesus right along with her and express your eternal gratitude for God's reckless love.
The Bottom Line: These passionate worship songs are sung with vocal sincerity and reverence, with Biblically based lyrics. For your worship setlists, I especially recommend "Whole Heart," "God, You're So Good," "More Like Jesus," "All My Hope" and my worship song of the year, "Reckless Love." All of the songs are catchy, exciting and worshipful. I'm impressed by the consistent quality and fresh, worshipful songs that come from Passion. This album is no exception. Passion: Whole Heart is about proclaiming the "reckless love" of God and crying out for His Presence throughout this incredible worship experience.
The Best News | Posted January-22-2018
Fresh off the success of As Family We Go, Rend Collective's newest album Good News is available everywhere January 19. Listening to the opening tracks "Life is Beautiful," "I Will Be Undignified" and lead single "Rescuer (Good News)," it's clear that the themes of clinging to the Good News of the Gospel and coming together in unity regardless of our differences runs throughout this excellent album, the best overall album by one of my favorite bands in any genre.
Good News will have you hooked right from the opening notes of "Life is Beautiful," which really sets the tone for the album. The upbeat song is a reminder that our worship of God should not be based on our circumstances, but based on who God is. Commit your life to Jesus and offer Him your heart and your life as you sing along with this great song: "Life is beautiful, You are the color, life is wonderful, You are the wonder, rejoice, rejoice, in the sunshine, in the sorrow, in the trial, in the trouble, oh my soul rejoice!"
"I Will Be Undignified" captures the energy and sentiment of David dancing undignified before the Lord in a similar exciting musical style as "Celebrate" and "Burn like a Star." You'll find yourself instantly worshipping along with the band during this album, with "I will be undignified" appropriately capturing the joyful essence of their music ministry.
In "Rescuer (Good News)," Christians can all relate to our unending second chances offered by God, captured in Chris's vulnerable and sincere crying out throughout the celebratory song. "Counting Every Blessing" is a surefire hit song which uses the truth of Scripture as reminders of God's goodness. No matter what obstacle and anxiety you are facing, you can count on God's promises in His Word. I get choked up when I pray along with the prayerful lyrics: "I am counting every blessing, surely every season You are good to me."
Chris's vocals in "Nailed to the Cross" are emotive, prayerful and honest, which makes the words he's singing all the more powerful. Similar to past songs "Simplicity," "One and Only" and "Immeasurably More," Chris cries out "I will preach the Gospel to myself, that I am not a man condemned, when Jesus Christ is my defense. My sin is nailed to the Cross."
"Resurrection Day" is an encouragement, reminding that regardless of our circumstances, we need to truly be free in Christ. I love when artists take concepts from the Bible and turn it into a catchy song filled with truth: "because You stand in victory, because You crush the enemy, I can get up off the floor. This is my resurrection day... nothing's gonna hold me down."
"Weep with Me" is achingly beautiful, both musically and perhaps even more so lyrically. The song poignantly sings "Yet I will praise You, yet I will sing of Your name, here in the shadows, here I will offer my praise, what's true in the light, is still true in the dark." The beautiful melody and lyrics are sincere and moving as the song cries out "Lord, I believe You weep with me."
Good News is one of the most meaningful and uplifting albums I've ever heard. In this era of bad news, it is so refreshing to hear a celebration of God's Word, of the truth that Jesus gave His life to redeem all that was lost. This album includes a solid mix of folk-style indie tinged worship. The musical and lyrical excitement of Rend Collective's engaging live performance is perfectly captured in these recordings.
The Bottom Line: Good News is Rend Collective's best overall album to date. Do yourself a favor and buy this album immediately.
Christ-Focused, Imaginative Story-song | Posted December-23-2017
In the song "Jesus is King," Bradley Bridges lays out his need for Jesus. The song is a bold declaration about the transformation that takes place in the hearts and lives of people who encounter the love of Christ, with references to learning the 66 books of the Bible and growing up in a Christian home.
"Jesus is King" is a prayerful and catchy song reminding listeners to live life to the fullest in praise and adoration of our King, Jesus. This song is sure to connect with all listeners who like songs filled with truth and yearning for God. If you like folk-pop style melodies and story-songs from artists like Matthew West, Josh Wilson and Jason Gray, then you should really enjoy Bradley Bridges.
Bound As Believers | Posted November-17-2017 Abide With Me by Sara Groves is a fresh take on the timeless hymns of the church, recorded in Sara's signature style at a 105 year old church converted into a studio, Art House North in Minnesota. These stripped down musical arrangements help these deep and meaningful songs to shine.
"For The Beauty of the Earth" is a gorgeous offering to God, setting a reverent tone for the album with its poignant refrain "Lord of all to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise." Don't miss her gorgeous renditions of "Fairest Lord Jesus" and "Praise to the Lord." Both songs are absolutely incredible prayers, flawlessly delivered by Sara's sweet and sincere vocals layered over textured musical arrangements.
Whatever struggle or depression you are facing, you can know that God is with you, always. The comfort and rest offered by Jesus is beautifully captured in "Abide With Me," where Sara tenderly sings "in life and death Lord, abide with me." "The Love of God" is a gorgeous worship sung with a stirring passion behind prayerful lyrics. You'll worship our King Jesus during the song, in particular the chorus: "O Love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong, it shall forevermore endure, the saints' and angels' song."
I'm emotionally moved by the prayerful songs "Song of Blessing," "What A Friend" and "To The Dawn" as they proclaim my heart's cry to worship Jesus. Those songs and their dependence on God have perfectly poetic biblical descriptions of God and His friendship with us. The call to unity and friendship is found woven throughout, also giving us insight into Sara's walk as a fellow believer. Many of the songs, like "Tis So Sweet" and "Lead On Oh King Eternal," also offer emotive and poetic descriptions of what Jesus did for us.
My personal devotional prayer has been to have more faith, and "He's Always Been Faithful" is my heart's cry and anthem to sing in praise to the Lord, regardless of my circumstances. So many people can relate to the message of this great song, which convicts me to know in my heart the biblical truth from Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:22-23: God's mercy is new each day, and it is not based on our performance. He pours out His mercy despite what we've done; there's nothing we can do except trust in His Son Jesus. Remember the gift of His grace that as followers of Jesus we are sinners saved, morning by morning. The song is a constant reminder for me that "In serving God only and trusting His hand, all I have need of His hand will provide, He's always been faithful to me."
These songs all have biblically-based lyrics that poignantly capture life's simple yet vital messages. I'm really engaged by the emotional vocals and the prayerful lyrics found in these sacred songs. Sara's vocals will soothe your soul, and the vertical lyrics will direct your attention and focus on Jesus. There are several personal songs that melt my heart, especially "Abide With Me" and "Lead On Oh King Eternal." There are several instantly sing-able and worshipful arrangements of classic hymns that you'll want to add to your Sunday morning setlist. I especially recommend "Fairest Lord Jesus," "Praise to the Lord," "Tis So Sweet" and one of my top worship songs of all-time, "He's Always Been Faithful."
The Bottom Line: All of the songs are catchy, reverent and worshipful. Abide With Me is a must-have for your praise and worship collection. This is a great album, a moving and prayerful listening experience which reflects how we are bound together as believers in faith.
Song to Download Now:
"He's Always Been Faithful" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Poignant Songs of Adoration | Posted September-14-2017
Aryn Michelle explored multiple different aspects of the music industry before deciding that, more than anything, she wanted to go wherever God would lead her. The result was her debut album Depth, which featured the standout songs "Do the Same" and "Nothing Else Matters."
Sophomore release The Realest Thing is a concept album inspired by the Christian apologetics book Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. Each of the songs on the project focus on a different philosophical argument for the existence of God and evidences for Jesus Christ as His Son.
The album picks up with Aryn's desire to provide words for believers to sing about our Lord, to edify and build them up with her anointed voice and transparent faith. In that way, opening song "The Realest Things" reflects her heartbeat to sing about the attributes and arguments for the existence of God and make an offering of praise to Him, as "If something could be greater than God, it would be God. It would be God, it would be God."
This thread of God's sovereignty runs through every song. Don't miss "The Question," "Order" and "Good." All of the songs have excellent messages, flawlessly delivered by Aryn's sweet and sincere vocals layered over textured and powerful musical arrangements.
I'm moved by the prayerful song "Miracle Man" as it proclaims my heart's cry to worship my King, Jesus with evidences for Jesus Christ as God's Son. All of these songs and their dependence on God have perfectly poetic biblical descriptions of God and are filled with piercingly difficult truths to believe all of the time. Christ-centered "The Story of Redemption" is an emotive and poetic description of what Jesus did for us. You'll be worshipping right along with Aryn. The word of the Lord doesn't return void, and this song puts God's Word in the mouths of believers, reminding them "Good men can die but they don't rise again, He gave His life and then He rose again."
The Bottom Line: From my first listen, I was totally captivated by this album. I'm really engaged by Aryn's emotional vocals and the deep, prayerful lyrics. For me, Aryn brings sincerity and relatable themes that get deeper with each listen. There are no filler tracks, and this is easily one of my top "gourmet" albums of the year. Every song will have you hanging on each word that Aryn tenderly sings. Her vocals will soothe your soul, and the vertical lyrics will direct your attention and focus on Jesus. These are truly poignant songs of adoration about "The Realest Things"--Jesus Christ and "The Story of Redemption."
Made to Run the Race | Posted September-04-2017
One of my intangible "it factors" that I listen for in selecting my favorite songs and albums is whether I'm moved emotionally. From previous albums by Holly Starr, her songs "Through My Father's Eyes," "God Is" and "Grace for All" all fit that category for me. If you like catchy songs that are scripturally based with relatable lyrics and edifying messages, then you are in for a treat with Human.
The EP was available early by supporting her Kickstarter campaign. It features standout songs about the ups and downs of being human in our Christian walks as followers of Jesus. The cohesiveness of this album is one of the highlights for me, as the thesis statement of the album could be "you were made to run the race" inspired by 2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV): "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
The songs all connect to the finishing the race as they run in a track order that flows seamlessly from one song to the next. The opener reflects truth about finding beauty on the other side of the "Bruises" that we all carry, with a similar message about identity as "Through My Father's Eyes," which addresses Holly's struggle with body image. The upbeat synth-tinged opener invites listeners into Holly's story and her positive grace-filled messages of hope, starting with the reminder that "bruises aren't what make you who you are."
Preceding the album release, "Run the Race" has already had over 1 million streams online. What's awesome about the upbeat song is that it provides encouragement and personal motivation to fight the good fight of faith and "run the race" of life strong. It also addresses the spiritual fight that we all face daily. God doesn't give us temptations that we can't overcome with the empowering message "don't give up, the prize is up ahead...quiet the fear, focus your eyes, don't you know that you were made to run the race." The song is so good I can't stop listening to it, and the Matthew Parker remix that closes the album is stellar. As you listen to the song, you'll want to get out and "show this world what you're fighting for."
"Human" ties back to our identity with a hook-filled melody and poignant message: "sometimes we need room to be human, maybe we could never be perfect people, maybe that's okay... maybe that's what makes us humans, know that grace is real."
Addressing family relationships throughout the album, "Umbrella" is a love song for Holly's husband Chris, while the moving "Sailing" is a tribute to her late grandmother who Holly Starr was named for. Both songs are touching tributes, wonderful examples of how these songs are very intentional and reflect what has happened in Holly's life since her last album.
Holly's vocals are so strong and pure. Electronic pop music has made a big mark on the music scene, and the production on these ultra-catchy pop songs could easily be featured in mainstream music alongside top-selling artists.
The Bottom Line: If you like female singers that make you think while you enjoy their catchy and empowering songs, Human is for you. I have three young daughters, and this is a solid upbeat pop album with positive biblical messages which is a great alternative to mainstream pop artists. This is easily my top pop album of the year.
Song to Download Now:
"Run the Race (Matthew Parker Remix)" (Get it on iTunes here.)
A Fitting Farewell | Posted June-21-2017
The City Harmonic has made quite an impact on worship music with their standout anthems "Manifesto," "Mountaintop, "Holy (Wedding Day)," "A City on a Hill," "Praise the Lord" and "Let There Be Light." The band, consisting of front man Elias Dummer, bassist Eric Fusilier, guitarist Aaron Powell and drummer Josh Vanderlaan, are closing their ministry with this selection of standouts from over their career recorded live in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada.
"My God" kicks off the biblical focus of this collection and is based on Psalm 121. The song is like listening to David crying out to God with a worshipful chorus: "O, my God / I lift my heart up / whether it's whole or broken / good God I know / You're gonna work it out / So on my heart beats to a beat that I put my hope in / the love of my God pouring out." That type of lyrical punch can be found throughout this stellar send-off. I can't get enough of "Maranatha." You'll get swept up in the emotion of the bridge, "for the dark and the light at war in me, Maranatha / for the widowed wife / and the orphaned one / Maranatha."
"Yours" is an unashamed declaration of faith to God. Elias Dummer belts out the sincere chorus "You can have it all / It's Yours / all of it / Yours." What a great reminder that everything we have is a gift from God. That truth is manifested in the "I'm Yours" bridge to close out the song.
"Praise the Lord" proclaims, "Praise the Lord, because in every moment, Jesus Christ is Lord!" Regardless of your circumstances, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. As the song asks, "Won't you praise the Lord? / There is grace for today / so praise the Lord." We need to remember that "in every moment / Jesus Christ is Lord."
The gorgeous new song "Honestly," the only never-before-heard track on this album, reminds worshipers that "honestly I need to be broken / of all that I have / all that I need is You." My favorite song by the band, "A City on a Hill," is based on the Beatitudes. I love knowing that in my brokenness, I am actually closer to God.
"Mountaintop" is filled with challenging lyrics: "We'll be the glory of our King / in His Kingdom come / we've been to the mountaintop / we've seen the glory of our God / He's here in the valley low / I feel it in my bones / We are the body of our God." "What I Want" lyrically opens with a great thesis statement for the whole album: "May my life speak louder than words / and what I'm saying is Jesus I'm sure / You're what I want."
The Church can all sing along to "Let There Be Light" with the words "Oh Word of God / let there be light / cut through the dark / Oh let there be light / Oh Word of God / let there be light." It is a great message and song for us to celebrate our freedom from sin based on our faith in Jesus. Their megahit "Manifesto" is the type of song I wish I was singing at my church right now. The song boldly declares a statement of faith: "We believe in the one true God / We believe in Father Spirit Son / We believe that good has won / And all of the people of God sing along / Amen." This worship anthem is just the type of infusion that the church needs with its honesty and bold lyrics.
The Bottom Line: Benediction contains fourteen live renditions of upbeat worship songs that celebrate the musical journey of The City Harmonic. The songs are filled with lyrics that point to the wonders of our God, combined with sweeping melodies and infectious choruses that will be replayed in your mind over and over again. I don't often hear an album that foundationally brings me back to when I wasn't a Christian, what I need to strip away from my religiosity and from my use of "Christianese" language. This selection of songs is a fitting farewell and benediction, sending out listeners to live out these songs.