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The 13th Tribe by The 13th Tribe by
For 3500 years, the tribe has searched for redemption and reconciliation to God.  Afraid to die, but tired of living, they’re sole desire is to execute God’s judgment in the hope of gaining...
The Last Plea Bargain by The Last Plea Bargain by
What would happen to the legal system if suddenly every defendant demanded a trial by jury?  With over 90% of cases settled by plea bargain agreements, if defendants were no longer willing to work...
The Generous Mr. Lovewell by MercyMe The Generous Mr. Lovewell by MercyMe
GENRE: POP/ADULT CONTEMPORY/ALTERNATIVE LABEL: INO RECORDS RELEASE DATE: MAY 4, 2010 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 Review By Brian Hall I have a lot of respect for MercyMe. Of all the AC bands out there,...

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| Posted April-01-2012
For 3500 years, the tribe has searched for redemption and reconciliation to God.  Afraid to die, but tired of living, they’re sole desire is to execute God’s judgment in the hope of gaining His favor and be granted a death that will allow them to enter heaven.  Though their logic is flawed, their methods have been honed to perfection over the course of thousands of missions through thousands of years making them the world’s most deadly organization.  However, their numbers have dwindled as many begin to suspect eliminating or punishing sinners is not their path to redemption.  Even though members of the tribe are allowed to peaceably leave, when one decides to flee with equipment critical for their current mission, the rest of the group pursues him relentlessly.  In the process of trying to recover their stolen equipment, they cross paths with former Army Ranger, Jaggar Baird.  But what is one disabled, grieving man against nine highly trained immortals set on a mission of mass destruction to appease God?  With an excellent speculative angle, The 13th Tribe is different from Robert Liparulo’s previous novels, but still provides the tense drama and thrilling action long time readers have come to expect.
 

I am so glad to finally get to read The 13th Tribe.  I have been eagerly waiting for this book since June 2010.  I’ve always loved speculative fiction and over the last five years, I’ve grown to love thrillers.  So the combination of both genres written by one of my favorite authors has made it an excruciatingly long wait to read this book.  Needless to say, the advanced copy made an excellent early Christmas present!

 

While I’m not disappointed in The 13th Tribe, is different than what I expected.  I am a bit surprised by the relatively slow start to this book.  That’s not to say it’s uninteresting, but instead of the anticipated fast start with little down time, there’s a gradual build in the action and intensity.  During this time, a lot of information is provided in order to set the stage for not only the members of the tribe, but also Jaggar’s background and struggles.

 

I particularly enjoyed the speculative portions of this novel.  The flashback to Mt. Sinai and the re-creation of the children of Israel worshiping the golden calf brought a fresh perspective to this well-known story.  I literally felt transported to the scene and watched in horror as the same people who had just witnessed astonishing miracles doubted God and threw themselves before idols.  While this book has several memorable scenes, this is quite possibly my favorite.

 

In addition to the speculative aspect, there are some entertaining supernatural elements.  Liparulo does a very nice job of incorporating the immortal aspect without it becoming a crutch for the story.  While members of the tribe are immortal and it defines their actions, it doesn’t define the book.  There is much more to The 13th Tribe than immortal killers carrying out God’s judgment vigilante style.

 

The complexity of the tribe’s characters makes it easy to understand their motives, but as a result I had a hard time disliking them.  I wanted them to fail their mission, but at the same time wanted them to survive in order to find redemption.  Furthermore, while their logic for eliminating sinners is flawed, it is well defended, which opens the door for good theological discussions.

 

This story lends itself well to heavy Christian teachings and theological exchanges, but at times it feels like the pacing is sacrificed in order to convey specific ideas.  I prefer the more subtle approach found in Liparulo’s previous books, which still presents the information while maintaining a steady pace.  However, given the setup of this story and that the Christian teaching is on the surface, I wish Liparulo would have went deeper in some cases.  For the most part, common questions and answers are given for scenarios, when the story allows for more difficult, spiritual issues to be tackled.

 

Even though this book is different than what I expected, it is very good and well worth the wait.  With the heavier Christian aspect, it easily falls into mainstream Christian fiction and will most likely appeal to a large audience.  New and long-time readers can look forward to exciting, action-packed combat sequences, tense, thrilling situations, and surprising twists.  Oh and more waiting until the next book in The Immortal Files series is released.



This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today! 


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| Posted February-20-2012
What would happen to the legal system if suddenly every defendant demanded a trial by jury?  With over 90% of cases settled by plea bargain agreements, if defendants were no longer willing to work out a deal, it would literally bring the legal system to a halt.  This is the scenario Randy Singer presents in his latest legal thriller, The Last Plea Bargain.
 

Every judge and defense attorney that works in the Milton County Judicial system knows Jamie Brock (from False Witness) does not make plea bargains.  She works hard to ensure her cases go to trial.  A strong victim advocate, she excels at her job, but recently her personal life has taken a downward turn.  Her father is in a vegetative state and Antoine Marshall, the man who murdered her mother twelve years ago, is scheduled to be executed soon.  Adding to her stress is the alluring possibility of convicting Caleb Tate (the man who represented Antoine) of murdering his wife Rikki.  However, with little evidence against Caleb and the possibility of corruption within the investigation, the prospect of a conviction is uncertain.  With abundant twists and turns, The Last Plea Bargain is a riveting legal drama from one of the best authors in genre.

 

I have been anxiously waiting for this book for the last 18 months.  I first heard about it during our interview with Randy for his last book, Fatal Convictions.  The consequences of criminals bogging down the justice system by refusing to plea bargain sounded like an excellent premise for a novel.  As it turns out, this aspect is a relatively minor, though integral portion of a much larger story, which sets the stage for a chain of events that make this book an intense, masterful legal thriller.

 

The Last Plea Bargain has several plots and within each plot are several smaller plots that make for a fantastic multi-layered novel.  Jamie is struggling through a variety of emotional issues ranging from her father’s condition to the bitterness and anger she feels towards Antoine and Caleb.  Her open hostility does a nice job of keeping the reader off balance and preventing them from conclusively determining Caleb’s guilt.  Additionally, Jamie is working through issues related to her father’s reputation and questions concerning Antoine’s conviction.  Jamie’s boss, Bill Masterson, is running for Attorney General of Georgia and his campaign and politics continue to hamper the case’s progress.   Also lurking in the background is the struggle by Antoine’s new lawyer, Mace James, to prevent his execution.  All these storylines are related and I loved watching them all come together.

 

One of my favorite aspects of Singer’s novels is his remarkable ability to integrate spiritual themes and difficult moral issues.  In almost every book, I’ve been challenged by the different views that Singer presents.  In most cases, he remains neutral, which allows for the reader to better evaluate their own preconceived ideas and perhaps gain a new perspective.  In this book, I like that Singer challenged my die-hard, pro-death penalty stance.  I didn’t change my opinion, but I do see the points that were made in opposition to capital punishment.  Additionally, I appreciate the straightforward reminders of justice and mercy.  While never preachy, this book does an excellent job of presenting spiritual themes and pointing the reader to the ultimate Judge.

 

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but I’ll say it again anyway—for those who enjoy legal thrillers, Randy Singer is the author to check out.  His novels are fun, insightful, complex, intelligent stories which are meticulously researched and developed.  After impatiently waiting 18 months to read The Last Plea Bargain, I was not disappointed!



This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today! 




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Audrey Assad - The House You’re Building | Posted July-27-2010
GENRE: WORSHIP
LABEL: SPARROW
RELEASE DATE: JULY 13, 2010
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5

By Lydia Akinola

Upon hearing Audrey Assad’s voice for the first time, I was instantly reminded of Brooke Fraser. Since I consider Fraser to be one of the greatest female artists of our time, this association acts as a testimony to Audrey Assad’s vocal talents. With further listening, the work of Audrey Assad calls to mind the compositions of accomplished artists which include Sara Groves, Bethany Dillon and Nichole Nordeman. Not bad at all for a debut album.

The House You’re Building is an articulate and artistic affair. The opening track- her wildly popular single “For Love Of You” – is an archetypal example of the meeting of poetry to lyrics and organic creativity to musical composition. The title track is more personal as Assad explores her feelings of not fitting in and the realisation that it is the misfits and the broken who make up the house God is building. Framed in a mellow tune, her voice carries the weight of her message – “I’m a broken stone, so lay me in the house you’re building”.

The album doesn’t shy away from dealing with angst and feelings of inadequacy. But although a feeling of melancholy seems almost ever-near, Assad also presents the hope that can be found in the midst of despair. In “Breaking Through” which draws inspiration from the Thompson poem “Hound of Heaven”, we are reminded that when we are trying to find our own way, heaven breaks through. Her talent for song writing cannot be disputed.

I struggle to find words to describe the charm that symbolizes The House You’re Building. With each repeated listen, one is able to glean something new from each track. This is a mature Christian music. This is vertical worship that soars where others float. This is something that sidelines your ears, instead, choosing to minister to your soul. “Everything Is Yours” is not just a song of confession, but an anthem of surrender. “Carry Me” is a prayer, a plea but also a statement of faith- “As I carry this cross, You carry me”. Even the simplest truths are captured in an entirely new light. In “Known” the striking lyrics “As a lover knows his beloved’s heart / All the shapes and curves of her even in the dark” help us realise anew the intimate way God knows each and every one of us.

Although there are (relatively!) faster tracks, the thrust of album is tranquil, suited mainly for quieter reflection. Its diversity does not lie in an eclectic mix of the upbeat and the slow, in rock tune and lullaby, but in the manifold presentations of God’s grace. Audrey Assad focuses on the personal moments of contemplation, allowing us to soul-search as we listen.

This journey ends with “Show Me”, a disconsolate yet beautiful track about death and passing. If Assad continues as she has begun, and I pray that by God’s grace that she does, then worshippers everywhere will be blessed. The House You’re Building is a truly modern day masterpiece.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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MercyMe - The Generous Mr. Lovewell | Posted July-27-2010
GENRE: POP/ADULT CONTEMPORY/ALTERNATIVE
LABEL: INO RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: MAY 4, 2010
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5

Review By Brian Hall

I have a lot of respect for MercyMe. Of all the AC bands out there, they are the most versatile. They managed to go from a light rock worship style band, to certified generation-gap-closers in a matter of just a few short years. There is a constant sense of forward motion with them; they are never content to be where they are; they always strive to better themselves as artists and as people. The Generous Mr. Lovewell is no exception. When I initially heard the title for this new album, my mind instantly jumped to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. While it is absurd to compare anything to that album, I feel comfortable enough to say that this is possibly the closest Adult Contemporary CCM has come to holding a match to it.

The (literally) electric opening track This Life is a far cry from anything MM has ever done before. If someone had told me three years ago that MercyMe would put a dance pop song on their album, I honestly would have laughed, yet here it is (and oddly enough, it has more BPM’s than many TobyMac songs…). The title track is a quirky harmony based pop tune that tells the story of the fictional do-gooder the song and album is named after.

Move thrusts listeners into a sonic world occupied by fervent guitars and psychotic synths creating a fluid song that captivates the listener. Crazy Enough, simply put, is a message song. Operating on the idea that “It just may be crazy enough” to try and change the world. It even has a short and simple guitar solo that reminded me of James Bond. The lead single All Of Creation does exactly what it was intended to do; hook the Adult Contemporary crowd and please long time fans. Beautiful, Back To You, Only You Remain, and Free stay in line with the rest of the record; excellent ballads that are full of encouragement and inspiration.

The only moment on the album that I was even mildly bothered by was the bands version of Thad Cockrell & Bart Millard’s Won’t You Be My Love. It made an appearance early this year on the Catalyst Music Project (also from INO Records) and was performed by the effervescent Cockrell. This is a near exact copy of that performance, down to every vocal run and melodic direction. While Bart Millard pulls it off beautifully here, I would have hoped for a more radical alteration to the arrangement. The last track is perfection; short, simple, ethereal, and calming; a truly classy way to end a record.

The Generous Mr. Lovewell is “an idea. He’s a movement. He’s the hope that the little things can add up to a big change.” The focus of the album is Love. Be it Love for one another or Love for God (or the Love of God) the record does not stray from that common thread. And even though musically, this record may not be grandma approved, lyrically and conceptually, you would be hard pressed to find a single issue. The Generous Mr. Lovewell is a must have album this year. Even if you are not a fan of MercyMe, give this record a shot. It is easily one of the band’s best records and history will look back on it kindly.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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Charmaine - Love Reality | Posted April-02-2010
GENRE: POP/ELECTRONIC
LABEL: IN:CITE
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 30, 2010
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5

The first time I heard Charmaine was back in 2007 when she was a back-up singer for Rebecca St. James while touring with Vicky Beeching & Delirious?. I distinctively remember RSJ stepping aside and giving Charmaine the microphone to sing a song she herself had written. When she started to sing my first thought was cynical, not towards her, but to RSJ. I really wondered how someone with such an amazing voice was singing back-up?! When I found out the song was available on her debut record from inPop called “All About Jesus”, I rushed to the merch table to pick up a copy. I was impressed with her vocals, but the sound was your average RSJ, ZoeGirl, Point Of Grace (pre-country) fare. Now it is 2010 and Charmaine is releasing Love Reality; a bold but simple record that will easily find itself on my “Album of the Year” list.

If I could sum up the overall feel of the record in one word it would be “epic”. From the opening strings on “Tell Me”, the music conveys a feeling of grandeur that is rare amongst Christian musicians. The quirky piano pop song, “Love Reality” is a far cry from most of the other pop songs out in the CCM market, and that could not be a better thing. The exquisite, “Run” is certain to get you tapping your feet with its EuroPop style. “Tokyo” is the lead single off of the record and its message is one for everyone; “If home is where the heart is, than mine is lost at sea…” ultimately resolving, “It’s all amazing with You… if home is where the heart is, then my heart is in Your hands”. While the musings are simple, they are effective. “Fighting Furies” features a Frou Frou like string arrangement and hyperactive synth beats. The heaviest song on the record is, “Not Fair”. The song is not a downer, rather it is a pick-me-up, but it is unlike any of the other songs found here. Even the electronic sitar infused “Epiphany” stands out amongst its musical peers as a ganuine piece of art.

This is symphonic pop at its absolute best. With its prominent strings and piano throughout, it is easy to get lost in the soundscapes and the sonic joy being emitted from your headphones. The Aussie songstress is a beautiful breath of fresh air in a world of claustrophobic, overly shepherded pop. Love Reality is a must own this year.

Brian Hall's Review

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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Music Review: Catalyst Music Project | Posted March-23-2010
GENRE: MODERN WORSHIP
LABEL: INO RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9, 2010
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5

What do you get when you take 300 worship leaders and challenge them to write and submit a bevy of songs meant for corporate worship? What do you get when you take those same songs and have a bunch of up-and-coming worship artists like Phil Wickham, Laura Story, and Heather Williams (among others) introduce them to the world? You end up with something akin to the Catalyst Music Project, a fantastic testament to the fact that God is not finished talking with, through, and interacting with His people.

“Love Is The Answer” starts things out on the project and right away, the listener/worship is sent careening into an exuberant experience of praise. The lyrics on this one, to some, might appear kind of cheesy and trite, because—really, they are.

However, Phil Wickham comes to the rescue with “One Who Overcomes.” What an awesome piece of praise. A mid-tempo, huge sounding ballad, Wickham belts out in his signature vocal styling, “We sing to the One Who overcomes/To the One Who saves us from our sin/And heals what’s broken/Sing to the One Who rescues all/We will trust our lives so perfectly completed….”

Next up, Laura Story enters the scene, singing the song “What A Savior.” Her soothing vocals evoke a sense of awe and wonder at what Christ accomplished for us in His gracious death on our behalf. Following that same theme are Fee’s “Beauty of the Cross” and Tim Timmon’s’ very Jars of Clay-esque “A Thousand Amens (Doxology).” Actually, Timmons sounds quite a bit like the aforementioned band’s lead singer, Dan Haseltine.

Stephen Cole delivers one of the more artistic, performance pieces on the album in the form of “Hallelujah (All I Need),” another song with a parenthetical title.

“Because of Your Love” feels more like a throwback to the over-40 contemporary worship services that were so popular in the late 90’s—muscially anyhow. Miriam Ah Kuoi’s delivery, though, comes with all the power pop gusto of a BarlowGirl or Superchick song. Not sure how well that’ll translate in a modern worship service today, but it beat out over 700 other contenders to make the album cut.

If I were to offer one weakness of the overall project, is the severe lack of contemplative worship pieces. With the exception of the final two songs, “God Of All” and “Won’t You Be My Love,” the album is almost entirely praise. While I certainly have nothing against praise, the celebratory nature of the bulk of the album can begin to mesh together, losing some of the inherent beauty in the process. I suppose “catalyst” may be synonymous with “boisterous praise” to some, I feel like very little offered here takes the corporate worship setting to a place of reflecting on the weight and magnificence of God’s glory.

I do wonder how many local church congregations will be able to duplicate and adapt these songs to their worship gatherings, though. Very few worship leaders can hold a note like Phil Wickham and many, many church “bands” are made up of a hodge-podge of volunteers who lack the talent displayed here.

All things considered, Catalyst Music Project is one of the best worship compilations to come along in quite some time. The lyricism is incredible, the music crisp and tight, and the listener/worshipper is offered new expressions of praise to our Creator. Good stuff.

Review copy provided courtesy of INO Records

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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Music Review: Smoke & Mirrors | Posted March-23-2010
GENRE: ALTERNATIVE ROCK
LABEL: GEFFEN RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 2, 2010
ANDREW JARNAGIN’S RATING: 3 OUT OF 5
THOMAS JENKINS’ RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 3.25 OUT OF 5

Andrew’s Jarnagin’s Review:

Lifehouse is one of the biggest bands in music today. Their debut album No Name Face went double-platinum. They have several songs dating back across their four albums that still receive airplay, including “You and Me” and “Hanging By a Moment.” They have sold upwards of fifteen million album overall. These guys are set for life. Smoke & Mirrors continues their signature sound, to moderate success.

Album opener “All In” has every marking of both a typical Lifehouse song and a hit radio single. It begins with an acoustic guitar and a driving drumbeat, leading into a soaring chorus that I can’t help but feel has already been used by the band. Jason Wade seems to be listening to a bit of Nickelback lately; he does a great Chad Kroeger impression. “In Your Skin” is literally indistinguishable from a number ballads from Canada’s finest. Lyrically, “All In” again continues in the Lifehouse tradition of ambiguity. Through the song, and much of the album, it is difficult to tell whether Wade is singing about a girl or God. In general, the lyrics are very vague. They mostly deal with ideas of love, love, and relationships. I feel almost no connection with anything Wade sings. It almost seems as though they were written specifically to get on a Top 40 chart.

Though the previous paragraph depicts this album as utter garbage, that’s not the case. Even though the majority of the album is recycled, overproduced, and generally generic, Lifehouse is successful for a reason. They are very very good at what they do. Several songs have the potential to be big hits, including single “Halfway Gone,” “It Is What It Is,” and “Smoke and Mirrors”. Really, almost any song could have been a single. Overall, the album has some of the best hooks Lifehouse has ever created. “Nerve Damage” is an incredible, and different, song. It begins with a slow, bluesy verse that suits Wade’s voice excellently. The chorus has some of the oomph some of the other rockier songs could have used.

Smoke & Mirrors is not a failure; it just seems like we’ve heard most of this already. If you are a diehard Lifehouse fan, this will be right up your alley. If, like me, you have only listened to the occasional single, this album will not change your opinion of the band. It’s not bad, yet it could have been much better.

Thomas Jenkins’ Review:

Lifehouse has always been one of my favorite bands. When I first started listening to music, they was one of the first I really got into, and “Hanging by a Moment”, “You and Me”, “Spin”, and “Everything” all earned a spot in my “ipod rotation”. Thus, Lifehouse stayed in my top 5 favorite bands for several years. Jason Wade’s signature vocals, the solid instrumentals and lyrics, and their overall solid alternative rock sound were all crucial elements in my fanhood, and I continue to enjoy their music to this day.

Which in a roundabout way leads us to Smoke & Mirrors. I didn’t know what to expect from the 4-piece preceding the release. While I enjoyed the first single, “Halfway Gone”, it was by far the poppiest song the band had ever written, and wasn’t the kind of stuff I wanted to see a whole album full of.

Fans, don’t worry. If you thought “Halfway Gone” was a good example of the album as a whole, you couldn’t be more wrong. “All in” (the opener) is classic Lifehouse rock anthem. If you liked “Disarray” or “First Time” from 2007’s Who We Are, you’ll enjoy this song. While we probably could have seen a little more originality from the band, it’s hard to argue that songs like this aren’t enjoyable, and it’s certainly Lifehouse doing what they do best. The next song, “Nerve Damage”, shows the boys getting a little more creative, with an interesting chorus and good lyrics. After you get past those first two songs, “Had Enough” will be stuck in your head for days. The hooky chorus is insanely catchy, and could easily be a potential radio hit. From there we have the radio single “Halfway Gone”, which is catchy and fun to listen to, and the enjoyable ballads, “It is What it is”, and “From Where You Are”. Each song is solid in it’s own right, and gives fans the LIfehouse they know and love.

From this point, you probably know what this album sounds like. It’s Lifehouse, plain and simple, from start to finish. Also at this point, you probably know if you’re going to buy this album or not. If you’re a Lifehouse fan, you’re going to do so, because you love their sound, and are excited about having another twelve songs worth of it. If you’re not a Lifehouse fan, you probably won’t buy it, and that’s probably the safest decision for you, because if you’ve heard songs from the former albums and disliked them, there’s little chance you’ll end up enjoying Smoke & MIrrors.

That’s the main problem with this album. It seems as though after almost three years it would have been nice if Lifehouse had been a little more imaginative. Instead, though they follow the same formula that got them to this point in their career, and while it seems a little overused at times, it fails to conceal what is really a solid album from the foursome.

Smoke & MIrrors is another solid outing for Lifehouse. While they could have shown been a little more original and tried some new sounds, the final product is still well worth a listen. If you’re a Lifehouse fan, then you’ll love this album. If you’re not, you probably won’t. They haven’t changed their formula, but it’s still as solid as ever, and Smoke & Mirrors definitely deserves a chance in your music library.

Review copy provided courtesy of Geffen Records

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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Music Review: That Was Then, This Is Now | Posted March-23-2010
By Lydia Akinola

GENRE: ALTERNATIVE ROCK
LABEL: INO RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9, 2010
RATING: 3.75 OUT OF 5

The first major label debut LP is always a big deal for indie bands- it is the beginning of something completely new- navigating the music world as a signed group is very different from being an independent go-alone. For their listeners, it can be an even bigger deal, as every process is streamlined and production becomes slicker, and the whole sound of a band can change. Chasen, named after their lead singer, were that indie group—and That Was Then, This Is Now is that debut, and as a listener- I think, that on the whole, this could be the start of something interesting.

“Castaway” is the album’s opener; its pleasant piano intro leads into a strong pop-rock tune with discerning, insightful lyrics- “My victories are bittersweet/ And now I can tell/ The only place my plans have lead me/ Is right where I fell”. Despite the potential for clichéd pitfalls, Chasen begin firmly on the right track. This is confirmed in “Love In Your Name” with its hooks and compelling vocals, and cemented again in “On & On”. That Was Then, This Is Now is undeniably ‘pop-rock’, for those who dislike it, won’t find a lot to love here, but for fans of Run Kid Run or Stellar Kart, this effort is well worth your time.

Chasen is unashamedly Christian, and in a ‘cool’ genre where ambiguity can be seen as the norm, their blatantly Christian voice is refreshing. Whilst they profess their faith, they have managed not to compromise on originality and artistry, and this is to be commended. For example, “Leave You Alone” is a track about God’s persistent nature despite our masquerading –instead of sounding trite, the message lingers because of the beautiful piano-drive tune. “Bullet” is Chasen’s take on a worship anthem, and it works amazingly well, showing the influence of Chasen Callahan’s years in worship ministry.

That Was Then, This Is Now is a very personal album for Chasen and this adds to the overall rich experience. Behind each track there is a story, and this adds depth, giving the invaluable extra ingredient that mere strong musicianship cannot substitute. “There Is Love” was written drawing from C’shasen Callahan experience of love for his family. The profound “Slow Down” begins with “You see all of the pieces /But I see a life I can mold/You see a bunch of blank pages/But I see potential untold” and was inspired by a conversation Callahan had with his mother on a rough day about the comfort and peace found in Christ.

With Switchfoot, David Crowder*Band and Hillsong all cited as influences, Chasen have chosen the right masters from which to learn the trade. As they continue to develop, move on and progress, as this ‘now’ becomes another ‘then’, they will be able to further meld their talent, and hopefully find their own edge and build more distinctive elements into their music. But for now, That Was Then, This Is Now could prove to be the beginning of something rather special.

Review copy provided courtesy of INO Records

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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Music Review: Awakening | Posted March-23-2010
By Brian Hall

GENRE: MODERN WORSHIP
LABEL: SIXSTEPRECORDS
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9, 2010
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5

If you are of college age, or had been in college at some point over the past 7-10 years, then there is a really good chance you have heard of the Passion movement. Maybe you’ve been to one of their conferences, or listened to one of their albums, or seen Louie Giglio’s captivating DVD’s. If any of this sounds like something you have done, then chances are good that you know exactly what I am about to say about Passion’s newest record, Awakening. If you aren’t familiar with the Passion events then here’s a quick overview before I jump into the review: “Passion exists to see a generation stake their lives on what matters most. For us, that is the fame of the One who rescues and restores, and our opportunity to amplify His name in everything we do.”

Like previous Passion albums, this one has the “usual” line-up; Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder*Band, Christy Nockels, Charlie Hall, FEE, and they add some fresh faces to the show with Kristian Stanfill and Hillsong United. Also as per usual the album features mostly new material, most notably from Tomlin who debuts a dazzling FOUR new songs on this album and DC*B who just keeps cranking them out with their mega-hit “How He Loves” and a newbie “Like a Lion”. Every artist delivers the goods here; from the criminally under-used Christy Nockels to Matt Redman. Hillsong United makes their Passion debut with a beautiful rendition of Hillsong’s With Everything, the passionate vocals, the rallying “bridge” and its rocking music is sure to be an instant hit with anyone, familiar or not with their music.

The album never fails to give us what we all want; fresh and powerful worship music that is sure to have you patting your steering wheel as your drive down the street or flat on your face in your prayer closet. Some true standouts are Tomlin’s Awakening and his duet with Nockels on Where The Spirit Of the Lord Is, Stanfill’s Say, Say further secures his place among the up-and-comers of modern worship, Crowder’s How He Loves takes on a whole new dynamic live, and United’s With Everything sends chills up my spine on every listen! FEE impresses with their song Rise and Sing even if I personally wished they had chosen Glory to God Forever instead. While I am sure some would challenge me, Awakening is possibly the best Passion album to date, and to miss this would be downright sinful.

Review copy provided courtesy of sixstepsrecords

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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Music Review: Of Men And Angels | Posted March-23-2010
By Brian Hall & Kyle Kiekintveld

GENRE: ALTERNATIVE/PUNK/POP
LABEL: ISLAND DEF JAM MUSIC GROUP
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 23, 2010
BRIAN HALL’S RATING: 4.25 OUT OF 5
KYLE KIEKINTVELD’S RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 4.4 OUT OF 5

Brian Hall’s Review:

Bryce Avary, better known as The Rocket Summer, has been the biggest one-man-show on the punk/pop scene (Christian or otherwise) for many years now. Since his last record released three years ago, Avary has been busy touring all over the world be it on the Vans Warped Tour, UK tours, Japanese tours, or selling out shows all over the US and Canada. He has even taken other major bands like Paramore, the Plain White T’s and All Time Low along with him as opening acts. With three other full length records under his belt, The Rocket Summer releases Of Men and Angels, a wondrous blend of “bubblegum” pop and alternative rock styling that packs as much bite as it does joy.

The topics of faith and hope are center stage here, which is clearly evident from the rousing opening track “Roses”. Infectious phrasing and hooks also saturate the album. “Japanese Exchange Student” is one such example. Dealing with issues like loneliness while avoiding not only clichés but also despair, can be a difficult thing, but the song approaches it with a sense of humor and respect and easily succeeds. Other tracks that deal with tricky themes, all while staying optimistic are plentiful; “I Want A Break… But I’d Rather Have A Breakthrough” and “Walls” are excellent examples. The impressive title track is a prayerful, self-denying plea for God to hold him near during the hard times. Other standouts are, “Tara, I’m Terrible”, (a touching song about his wife) “Nothing Matters”, “Hey”, (including some random but fun beat-boxing from Avary) “Nothing Matters” and “Hills And Valleys.”

All in all, Of Men and Angels is an excellent record. While it may not be as universally addictive as fellow one-man-band, Adam Young’s (aka. Owl City) music, it is still a catchy and happy record that is perfect for blaring in your car as you cruise down the road, or providing a middle of the day pick-me-up. This album is well worth your time (clocking in with 15 songs!) and money. Be sure to catch TRS live if he stops in a town near you.

Kyle Kiekintveld’s Review:

Of Men and Angels is an album that isn’t polished smooth with autotune, it isn’t overly complicated by effects it was left simple and organic by design. The subject matter at first feels a bit immature but it will quickly win listeners over by never being fake or overly pretentious but being completely honest.

“Let You Go” is an example of the simplicity and the heart wrenching honesty of the album. It is a honest love stricken song that keeps the listener smiling and nodding to the wonderful piano and guitar beat. It is just picture perfect, just light enough to be enjoyable but lyrically it is heavy enough to be captivating.

Of Men and Angels offers listeners a rare high quality album that isn’t filler songs polished into a full length album but what could legitimately be a collection of singles, each song is completely radio worthy. This album lacks anything that would identify it as being a mass produced work, despite it’s major label ties it feels very much like a labor of love.

Of Men and Angels is a great album. It swings smoothly from hyper happy go lucky infectious to mellow and melodic without losing any momentum. It is an album that forces head nodding and toe tapping with callous disregard for what others may thing. It is a supremely enjoyable album that everyone should listen to at least once.

Authors Note: The Rocket Summer’s lead singer, Stephen Bryce Avary has truly arrived with this release and listeners will be tempted to go and look up his entire discography. This album is that good.

Review copy provided courtesy of Island Def Jam Music Group

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from The Christian Manifesto. Click here to visit TheChristianManifesto.com today!

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