Christmas Vol. 1 EP
Planetshakers At the beginning of December, Australia-based worship mainstays Planetshakers released their first-ever seasonal effort: Christmas, Volume 1. The four-song EP is a mix of pop and R&B-infused...
Chris Tomlin Surprises With a Holy Roar | Posted August-22-2018 What You Need To Know:
Chris Tomlin is a household name. Almost every song that Tomlin touches turns to gold—and the music of choice for worship pastors. Singer Pat Barrett’s "Good, Good Father" became a Sunday morning favorite when Tomlin released his studio rendition of the piece.
Now, Tomlin is set to drop his next album, HOLY ROAR, on October 26. To complement the album, he will release his book, “Holy Roar: 7 Words That Will Change the Way You Worship,” three days before HOLY ROAR’s release on October 23. This is where the anticipation begins to build. But, Tomlin has intensified that anticipation by dropping the Nobody Loves Me Like You - EP, a music trailer of four new songs from his forthcoming album.
As far a reason for the preview, Tomlin says to USA Today: “I am so energized by this new music, I couldn’t wait to share a few songs ahead of the HOLY ROAR album.”
What it Sounds Like:
Tomlin has opted to return to familiar sounds from previous offerings, particularly his ballads. In fact, three out of five songs on the Nobody Loves Me Like You - EP are ballads. Tomlin also adds the classic "Our God" to the EP's line up.
From start to finish, Tomlin continues his lyrical praise to Jesus in each song. Two examples are the album-title tune, "Nobody Loves Me Like You" where Chris sings “God, You are faithful and true/Nobody loves me like You” and "Satisfied" which says "Let Your glory flood my life/Let Your beauty fill my sight/Come and carry me away/Only then will I be satisfied.” Tomlin uses Psalm 23 as his inspiration in,"Goodness, Love And Mercy:" “Oh Lord, You're my shepherd/You make me lie in fields of green/You lead me by the still waters.”
Best Song on the Record:
When I listen to a new Tomlin record, I’m always looking for power ballads similar to "I Will Rise" and "Sovereign." The tune "Nobody Loves Me Like You" easily fits the bill. A good song doesn’t let the lyrics do the talking; instead the music amplifies the song’s message, leaving listeners to raise their arms in praise. In other words, it’s a perfect fit for Sunday morning worship.
The Nobody Loves Me Like You - EP is a satiating appetizer before the five-star steak meal, HOLY ROAR. Hopefully the main course doesn’t disappoint, but I believe it will meet the quality that we've come to expect from Chris Tomlin.
A Holiday Sampler | Posted December-21-2017
At the beginning of December, Australia-based worship mainstays Planetshakers released their first-ever seasonal effort: Christmas, Volume 1. The four-song EP is a mix of pop and R&B-infused renditions of three Christmas classics, along with a new original song.
Planetshakers lead worship for the renowned church with the same name. Formed in 1997, the hard-working band has released over 30 albums so far, not to mention touring the U.S., the United Kingdom, Europe, South Africa, Asia, South America, Australia and New Zealand every year. The group's vision is to "see people encounter God, be transformed by His presence and empowered to make a difference in the world." The band stays true to this mantra on Christmas, Volume 1.
"Deck the Halls" kicks off the set. The song is a fun listen, though at the halfway mark it builds into an electronic arrangement that feels out-of-control. The EP rebounds with "Joy to the World." For this piece, Planetshakers use a Hillsong United and Boney M fusion sound. The music keeps the listener engaged throughout the entire piece--there's not a dull moment.
Next up is "Silent Night." This timeless carol is my personal favorite, so any band who covers it faces a tough grade. It must be heartfelt and reverent, with a fresh sound that stays close to the original. Did the Planetshakers pass the test? They certainly did. The band turned the carol into a duet with an R&B arrangement. I had the song on repeat.
Planetshakers close the set with their own original song, "It's Christmas." The piece is worth a listen at least once.
Christmas, Volume 1 has its own personality. This is key for a holiday collection. The EP proves that the Planetshakers has established its own sound, and they also aren't afraid of using other styles to complement their own. This is another bonus. "Deck the Halls" and "It's Christmas" do come up a little short; the electronic arrangement in "Deck the Halls" pushes the listener away instead of pulling them in, and while "It's Christmas" gives the listener a reason to move his or her body, there isn't much diversity. The song has no repeatability. Overall however, I guarantee that this won't be the last Christmas effort from the Planetshakers. The band is here to stay.
The Bottom Line: The Planetshakers' first Christmas EP is a holiday sampler of sounds. "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night" in particular engage the listeners with their vocals and music, evoking emotion and holiday cheer.
A Decade of Devotion | Posted October-31-2017
Usually the release of a "Best Of" project marks the achievement of a number of noteworthy singles and albums. Francesca Battistelli has joined that musical elite with her 'best of' collection, Greatest Hits: The First Ten Years.
Battistelli's 15-track collection chronicles her musical career from 2008 to present. It starts with her 2008 release My Paper Heart, then 2011's Hundred More Years, and finally her 2014 album If We're Honest. It also includes two new songs: "There's No Other Name" and the Christmas-themed "Messiah."
Francesca Battistelli knows how to sing a power ballad. "Beautiful, Beautiful," "Angel By Your Side" and "To Be Honest" are mood-swinging anthems. These soothing songs remind me of Chantal Kreviazuk's "Feels Like Home" and Celine Dion's "The Power of Love." While Battistelli's range is different, she sings with passion.
All songs from the span of her career share a common denominator: they're all about Jesus. Some songs, like "Angel By Your Side," speaks to the broken: "I can't say that everything's okay /'Cause I can see the tears you're crying / And I can't promise to take the pain away / But you can know I won't stop trying / I'll be the angel by your side."
Music lovers can appreciate any five-star vocalist. But each song sung carries a message, from heartbreak to devotion. Battistelli's songs are edifying to the ears. Take "Giants Fall," which clearly is a reference to King David's confrontation with Goliath, for example: "With God you know that anything's possible / So step into the fight / He's right there by your side / The stones inside your hand might be too small / But watch the giants fall."
To be honest, I didn't know a lot about Francesca Battistelli's music before listening to her greatest hits. However, as I listened to each track, I experienced a relationship grow between myself and her music.
The Bottom Line: Beyond a doubt, Francesca Battistelli will continue releasing quality songs like those found in her first decade of work. If you're not familiar with Francesca Battistelli's music, then her greatest hits is a great way to become an instant fan. I know I did.
Kutless Rocks at Worship | Posted October-20-2017
It's true: the Christian music industry has become saturated with contemporary yet reverent worship tunes. Plus, rock has in some ways become an obsolete relic of the past. Many of us fans predict (and are hopeful) that rock will rise again. Jon Micah Sumrall, lead singer of Kutless, believes there is room for both. "I think a lot of people think that worship music and rock music are at odds with one another," Sumrall says. "A song is either a 'worship song' or a 'rock song.' I really believe a song can be both."
Kutless' new album Alpha / Omega exemplifies this fact, fusing worship and rock together. Kutless add guitar riffs to some worship favorites, such as Hillsong's "Cornerstone" and Natalie Grant's "In Your Name." The album's stand out song is the band's cover of All Sons & Daughters' "Great Are You Lord."
The album also includes a new version of their hit "Strong Tower." Sumrall says Alpha / Omega's musical approach is no different than their earlier efforts. "This new record has some very recognizable worship songs on it, but our approach to playing these songs were no different from any other song that we would play."
Besides the worship covers, Kutless included a number of originals on the record as well. Sumrall uses scripture as a lyrical foundation to write music, and at times, he adds personal experience as well. "'Shepherd of My Soul' is a great example of a song that was inspired by a well-known passage of scripture," he says. "The lyrics closely follow Psalm 23, but they also include some personal reflection on this passage of scripture." For listeners looking for a collection of songs with reverent lyrics, you won't be disappointed.
Similar to any album, there are musical setbacks: "Gave It All (I Surrender All)" and "No Wonder" are less strong tracks. However, they are still worth a listen at least once.
The Bottom Line: I applaud Kutless for again mixing guitar riffs with today's worship songs. The band moves away from a contemporary music sound to embrace their rock roots, paired with vertical lyrics. If you pick this album up, you'll get what you pay for.
A new trend has emerged: local worship teams in churches big and small across the world are releasing worship albums. Los Angeles-based Higher Vision Church, with a multigenerational congregation of nearly 3,000 people, is no different. The church's worship team recently dropped their debut album For Your Kingdom.
For Your Kingdom is reverent, familiar yet innovative. The band's artists sing to God with complete reverence on each track. Some songs have a well-known sound, a perfect fit for Sunday morning worship. But Higher Vision Worship also innovatively and bravely tinkers with different sounds which are uncommon for today's worship albums.
The band cleverly mixes live instruments with funky dance beats. For Your Kingdom's lead track "Higher" starts the album off with a hip-moving groove. "Freedom of Your Love" continues this upbeat tempo, with an '80s-style hand clapper. Audience applause on live worship albums can sometimes drown out the music. But in this song, applause happens at just the right time, giving the piece that much more energy.
"Worthy is the Lamb" is a catchy ballad perfect for Sunday mornings. The musical arrangement in this eight-minute piece uses a myriad of different instruments, staying away from too much repetition. The impressive guitar riffs help bring life to the song. The ballad "He is Here" is similar to "Worthy is the Lamb" in sound and tempo. It starts slow and picks up speed as the song progresses. It is a well-arranged duet between Higher Vision Worship and the audience.
"Hands Held High" is a mid-tempo track with another 80s-style arrangement. For Your Kingdom's title track starts strong but stalls a little at the one-minute mark. "Near to the Broken" is a musical conversation between the singer and God. This piece is definitely one of the album's standouts.
"Broken the Chains," the album closer, is a beautiful, gentle ballad to God (easily the best ballad on the album). The song starts off with an intimate sound between voice and piano. At the two minute mark, other instruments join in, turning the piece into a hand-raising worship anthem. The song celebrates freedom, Jesus sacrificing his life so we could be free of sin's bondage.
The Bottom Line: Lyrically, Higher Vision Worship delivers solid reverent lyrics. Musically, For Your Kingdom experiences some mood swings throughout. The first three songs are strong, giving a quality listening experience. Songs "Trust in You" and "Set Our Hearts" are weaker, effectively moving the listener to another place. "He is Here" brings the album back on track, only to move off again with the album's title cut. "Broken the Chains" finishes the album on a very high note, closing the album with style.
Gospel Rock Revival | Posted August-18-2017
Raw. Organic. Reverent. There are so many good words to describe Third Day's new album Revival.
I'm amazed that, after 20 years, the band can still rock out while releasing an incredibly upbeat album laced with catchy tunes that revere Jesus. I think of this collection as true gospel rock.
With Revival, Third Day has set a new trend in worship music: a worship album with a completely different genre of music. Can you imagine singing rock, heart-felt power ballads and reverent worship music on a Sunday morning, dancing, stomping your feet and putting your hands in the air with your eyes closed--all in the name of Jesus? I can. Churches who sing gospel on Sunday morning could consider this idea for sure.
Third Day kicks off Revival with the title track, which is also the album's first single. It gets the album off to a rocking start. The second song, "Gonna Be There With Me," continues where "Revival" left off. Both songs are handclapping foot stompers, something that would move you to dance wherever you are. Move over Bob Seger and Alabama!
From there, "Leave the World Behind" slows the tempo down with reverent lyrics and a fantastic piano solo at the end. "In Your Hands" and "Devotion" are slower tempo numbers that move me to worship Jesus. "Gather Around Now" has a different sound, unlike any of the album's other songs. It's slower tempo rock song with a bit of a country style.
The Bottom Line: Each song on Revival has an organic sound, complete with heavy guitar riffs, thumping drum beats and a myriad of different sounds. As with any album, some moments drag. But each arrangement varies, which will keep your ears glued to the music. This album should move the church to consider an all-country rock service. Happy 20th anniversary to Third Day: they hit a home run.
Winning Battles | Posted March-22-2017
Worship leaders such as Paul Baloche and Darlene Zschech have paved the way for many of today's musicians. Their peer and music veteran Rita Springer is no different, leaving her influence on many of today's worship leaders. In recent years, Springer has experienced a number of setbacks, resulting in losing the original recordings of her previous 2011 album The Playlist. Springer was fine with just helping up and coming artists hone their craft, never recording a new album--but God had different plans.
In 2014, once again she found herself back in the studio recording a new album. Springer used her tough experiences as the backdrop for her latest effort, Battles, which features new material with collaborations with songwriters such as Kalley Heiligenthal from Bethel Music, David and Nicole Binion from Covenant Worship and Mia Fieldes from Hillsong.
The album's title track opens the new collection of songs with a fresh, vibrant sound, continuing it on the subsequent piece "I Believe in You." The song opens in dramatic fashion and then segues into a radio-friendly pop tune once Springer's signature raspy vocals chime in.
"Never Lost" is by far the album standout, a fantastic anthem that rallies listeners to stand on their feet and raise their hands in worship. Springer's vocals are genuine, singing praise with complete reverence: "Jesus defeated the darkness, he has never lost the battle."
Springer shifts gears on "Defender," a sensitive duet between the singer and her piano, evoking a sense of intimacy. Battles is a live recording, which means that audience applause is commonplace throughout the album. Audiences at a concert can experience the music's intimacy with all the senses; however, the album listener must use only their ear to properly connect with the music. The applause can stop the listener from connecting with the song on an intimate level, which is unfortunately the case in "Defender." On the song however, the background vocals flow beautifully with Springer's voice.
On the first-half of the album the instrumentation is varied, which is evident on "Our God is With Us," keeping the listener glued to the music. The latter half of the album falls into a repetitious formula--with the exception of "It's Okay"--which causes some ear and mind fatigue. Many of the songs also sound so close to a Bethel Music or Lauren Daigle collection that at times it is hard to tell the difference.
The Bottom Line: Overall, Battles is a welcome musical experience. Rita Springer is, without a shadow of the doubt, a pioneer in the modern worship field. She helped establish the Daigle and Bethel sound, which contributes to the strong similarities. It is a plus that she collaborated with some of today's songwriters to keep her sound fresh. Springer deserves an applause for a solid album that connects the listener to the Master of the Universe. However, unfortunately the similarities to others often eclipse the unique nuances in Springer's work. She will have to evolve her sound in order to truly transcend her contemporaries.
An Album of Albums | Posted February-16-2017
On March 3, Laura Story is back with what I like to call her album of albums.
Story's first two major releases, Great God Who Saves and Blessings, showcased her extraordinary musical abilities as a singer and songwriter. Her hit single "Blessings" from her sophomore album received a number of accolades, including RIAA Gold Certification, a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Song and a Billboard Music Award for Top Christian Song.
Open Hands is a collection of worship anthems sprinkled with soft, soothing ballads of praise. "Death Was Arrested," the album opener, sets the pace and tone for the collection as Story proudly proclaims "when death was arrested, my life began." "Open Hands," the title track and first single, is by far my album favorite. For this brilliant musical masterpiece, Story teams up with Third Day's Mac Powell. Together, Powell and Story sing about laying all victories, losses and shame at the cross, coming to God with open hands. The song is definitely a piece of empowerment.
Story continues her new set of songs with the anthem "You Came Running." She proudly proclaims that God comes running to rescue us from pain, heal our wounds and redeem our stories. Story's vocals work in unison with the song's instrumentation and arrangement to deliver a sound listening experience. A power anthem works well when it has a balanced combination of assertive drum work, guitars and other instruments combined with epic vocals, and this song exemplifies this fact.
"Give You Faith" takes the listener down the path of reverence and intimacy. Taken from God's perspective, Story reassures the broken that He gives faith and hope in moments of hardship. The only drawback to "Give You Faith" is the lyrics shift from God to sinner, which could be confusing to the listener.
I can totally see Story's anthem "Extraordinary" sung on Sunday mornings. I think of a church's worship band playing the piece while all congregants stand on their feet with hands in the air, praising God's extraordinary love. "Awake My Soul (1000 Tongues)" is also another standout worship anthem worthy of a listen.
The Bottom Line: Laura Story is the songwriter who penned Chris Tomlin's famous worship song "Indescribable." Story showcases these same songwriting abilities on Open Hands, which leapfrogs past her previous work, making it her album of albums. She has set the bar high, and she will have to work hard on subsequent efforts to pass this highpoint. If you want praise-filled worship music, catchy hooks and quality vocal work, look no further than Laura Story's Open Hands.
Music that Speaks Louder than Words | Posted December-21-2016
Experienced worship leader and singer/songwriter Tim Drisdelle wants to connect others with music. "We've all got to link up, and give a voice and a platform to one another's talent and art... music really is like The Universal Language. It breaks down barriers, knows no colors or boundaries and resonates within hearts without prejudice or exclusivity."
Drisdelle's interpretation of music as a universal language resonates with me greatly. His philosophy of togetherness overflows into his music. Drisdelle, a musician from Nova Scotia, Canada, recently released his new EP Heights.
Overall, each song is easy on the ears. From start to finish, Drisdelle delivers radio friendly tunes that rarely have dull moments. It is nice to hear songs with catchy hooks and positive lyrics--even though God is not regularly directly mentioned. "Falling Into Beautiful," a song that could easily be used as a motivational theme in a teen movie, kicks off the four-song EP, setting a happy mood with its catchy, upbeat hook.
Drisdelle delivers solid vocals with polished musical arrangements on the moderate tempo ballad "Finally," easily the EP's standout song. The arrangements are predictable, but there is enough variety to avoid repetition. "Never Alone" picks up the pace. Drisdelle sings how God provides comfort in dark times: "I am not far off from home / I am never alone." A big plus about this song--and the other three on the Heights EP--is that it can be enjoyed by a wider audience, not just Christians.
"Where Do I Go," a lively song, concludes Heights on somewhat of a high note. While the song is catchy, its arrangement does not keep the listener's attention from start to finish.
The Bottom Line: If these four songs are only a taste of what Drisdelle's subsequent EPs and albums are like, listeners will have an enjoyable musical experience. Music that speaks clearly about quality.
Welcoming a Spiritual Journey | Posted October-25-2016
I grew up listening to the legendary band Journey. The epic riffs from Neal Schon's guitar, the arena-like, one-of-a-kind vocals from Steve Perry and the pure sounds of Jonathan Cain's piano solos creates a musical masterpiece that is recognizable to anyone. Cain, whose accolades include writing credits on classic hits "When You Love a Woman," "Don't Stop Believin'" and my personal favorite "Open Arms," has recently released What God Wants to Hear, his new Christian contemporary album.
Before listening to the album, I was expecting to hear Journey's classic sound intermingled with worship. Did Cain deliver on these expectations? Impressively, the lyrics in every song on What God Wants to Hear praises the Lord. Cain has interwoven scripture throughout almost every track.
For those looking for that Journey sound, the song "Fall into You" is as close as it gets. There are moments where you can pick up Cain's vintage piano solos; however, the singer has taken the opportunity to establish his own sound apart from Journey. The singer opted for musical style closer to '80s and '90s classic Christian music, which will please Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman fans.
Cain uses his piano-playing talents to kick off What God Wants to Hear on the lively "Deeper than Deep," the album's first single. "Bold in Prayer" leaves less of an impression, however, Cain rebounds with the piano-driven "Rush into Me." "Have Your Way with Us" shows promise, and "In Your Waters" truly makes waves. "Sanctify" is the album standout: "Declare that I am righteous with justification / Redeemer, purify my soul within / sanctify / sanctification."
The similarity that each song shares in sound and lyrics makes the album lack some needed variety. While many songs show promise, few have repeatability. However, overall What God Wants to Hear is a strong effort.
The Bottom Line: Cain's new album works as a stand-alone, but also births my desire for a new Journey album--with faith-based lyrics. Maybe Cain can satisfy Christian fans with a follow-up effort that incorporates more of the Journey sound. I embrace this possibility with open arms.