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Control by Abandon Control by Abandon
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Abandon’s
What If We Were Real by Mandisa What If We Were Real by Mandisa
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Mandisa continues...
Aftermath by Hillsong UNITED Aftermath by Hillsong UNITED
[MAIN REVIEW] AFTERMATH is the highly anticipated, 11th full-length album and second-ever studio recording from Hillsong UNITED that released Feb. 15, 2011....

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Abandon [Control] | Posted May-02-2011
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Abandon’s sound has been described as The Killers meet Coldplay which is a great description. I would also compare them to The All-American Rejects, Maroon 5, Mute Math and Christian rock bands The Almost, Falling Up and After Edmund. They have a steady rush of uncommon creativity that has both modern flash and worshipful depth. Brothers Josh and Justin Engler had moved from their home state of Indiana to Texas while in high school, where they met Dave and Stevan Vela, cousins, at church. Gelling by jamming in the worship band, they felt a growing desire to write original music together as well. In the two years since Abandon’s Forefront Records debut Searchlights, the San Antonio-based band scored a Dove nomination, throngs of critical acclaim and tours. Amongst all the activity, the modern rockers crafted its sophomore album Control, which finds the five-some taking the next natural evolutionary musical step, while also turning inward for their greatest lyrical depth to date and writing two songs for the album with Aaron Gillespie from Underoath and The Almost.

 

I have loved this band since the original EP released in 2008 and can’t get enough of their sound musically, especially stand-out songs “Providence,” “Hold On” and “Be Alive In Me.” If you liked those songs, then you’ll absolutely want to pick up this album immediately which picks up literally where it left off with hit song “Hero,”and includes a new recording of that song and is jam packed with energy from the other twelve new original songs. First single “Feel It In Your Heart” is already one of my top songs of the year and has quickly jumped up the charts with the super-catchy dance-flavored rock beat, similar to “Misery” by Maroon 5, but with an uplifting message. The song is about casting aside life’s numerous distractions in favor of plugging into God’s plan, in turn, stirring up an undeniable passion to go forth with an eternal mindset. “Help” has a Mute Math feel to the song, and acknowledges that in the challenges of life, rather than complicate things, we all need to cry out to God, “I need You.” The guitar hooks actually just keep getting better with each song on this album, as “Live It Out,” has one of the best guitar licks of the year and I love the driving rock beat and positive message.

 

“SOS” and “Push It Away” were both written with Aaron Gillespie and both songs usher in a slightly different sound. They both have more of a punk-rock feel overall and remind me of “Monster Monster” by The Almost musically. “Your Love Goes On” seems destined to be a hit in every radio format with the vertical lyrics and relatable theme. The song speaks about God constantly pursuing His creation, even those who feel unworthy or like they’ve committed too many sins in the past to be wiped clean. A couple of the other gems on this excellent album are at the end of the album, especially “Under Fire” and “Known.” I love the electronic pulsing beat of “Under Fire” which is one of the best album tracks I’ve ever heard, and has a catchy chorus where Josh boldly proclaims, “we are under fire, but we know the Truth in our hearts, we are under fire, but we hold the Truth of who You are, and though we haven’t seen Your face, we know that we walk by faith, we are under fire but it only burns, burns our doubt away.” It really has a Brit-rock feel to the song and I can’t get enough of this great song. The last two songs, “Known” and “Hero” are all about knowing and being known by our Savior, Jesus. If you are wondering about the basis of the hope-filled messages of this great band, then get to know Jesus and experience true joy.

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for an album to get you excited about your faith and you like Brit-rock bands U2 and Coldplay and alternative rock bands The Killers and Mute Math, don’t miss out on the best Christian alternative rock album of the year. Control by Abandon will certainly be one of my top albums of the year. The stand-out songs are “Feel It In Your Heart,” “Help,” “Live It Out,” “Your Love Goes On,” “Under Fire” and “Hero.”

 

Rating: 9.2 out of 10 (92%, A)



Review written by: Kevin Davis | This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org


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Mandisa [What If We Were Real] | Posted April-01-2011
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Mandisa continues to be a voice of encouragement and truth to women facing life’s challenges. She returns with her new album What If We Were Real on April 5th. Featuring the new single “Stronger,” the album’s theme centers around the masks that each of us wear every day. Mandisa shares that her new record is “all about taking the masks off, and really letting the world see that we as Christians, It doesn’t mean we don’t go through difficult times, doesn’t mean that things are always great in our lives. It simply means we have a relationship with the Savior who is able to bring us joy and peace in the middle of our difficult times.”  I’ve been married for 16 years and have 3 young daughters and this entire album really ministers to me and my family. The opening songs, “Stronger” and “What If We Were Real” are very upbeat and catchy songs and Mandisa is a surefire GMA Dove Award nominee for female vocalist. I can’t get enough of the worshipful chorus of “Stronger,” “When the waves are taking you under, Hold on just a little bit longer, He knows that this is gonna make you stronger, stronger, The pain ain't gonna last forever, And things can only get better.”  “The Truth About Me” and “Say Goodbye” are both very vulnerable songs about accepting God’s grace and forgiveness in the face of self-doubt.



Perhaps the stand-out moment of this very solid album happens next with the ultra-catchy song, “Good Morning,” which features TobyMac. This is a surefire hit song in any music format. I don’t listen to much R&B-style music, as I’m more of a rock, contemporary and worship music listener, however the beats on this album are so engaging, this album is already in heavy rotation for me. “Good Morning” is so hook-filled and fun, I could literally daily listen to the fun chorus, “It’s a good morning, wake up to a brand new day…You give me the strength that’s just what I need, I can feel the hope that’s rising up in me.” The end of the song is just brilliant with Toby singing, “top of the morning to you, ‘disa” over the top of Mandisa’s hooky chorus. If you’re looking for a new faith-based work-out song, look no further than this gem.

 

“Waiting For Tomorrow” is another fun and worshipful song, with Mandisa belting out, “thank You Jesus…I can’t live my whole life wasting the grace that You’ve given, everyday’s a day to start over, why am I waiting for tomorrow?” “Temporary Fills” is another highlight with the dance rock beat, and the inspiring chorus, “No more temporary fills, I want a love that’s real, take everything I have and fill me up inside, I’m done looking for the quick fix, Jesus You are all I need.” That theme continues with the gorgeous closing song, “Lifeline.” The album ends like it starts with another personal declaration and prayer, “You are my lifeline, You are my rescue, The strength in my weakness, the light in my darkness, You are my safety, lifter of my head…You are my lifeline.”

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Mandisa is a great role model for girls struggling with identity issues and has a great platform from her success on American Idol and GRAMMY and GMA Dove Award nominations. This album is loaded with positive grace-filled messages of hope from someone who has struggled with the pressures of life and understands that true happiness only comes from her relationship with God. Don’t miss out on one of the most upbeat and fun albums of the year. You’ll won’t be able to help but dance and sing along with the stand-out songs, “Stronger,” “The Truth About Me,” “Waiting For Tomorrow,” “Temporary Fills” and the ultra-catchy, “Good Morning,” which features TobyMac.

 

Rating: 9.2 out of 10 (92%, A)

 

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here: http://www.christianmusicreview.org/mandisa_whatifwewerereal.html

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org.


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Hillsong UNITED [Aftermath] | Posted February-08-2011
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AFTERMATH is the highly anticipated, 11th full-length album and second-ever studio recording from Hillsong UNITED that released Feb. 15, 2011. Inspired by the ‘aftermath’ paradox of the Cross, AFTERMATH is also the first new album from Hillsong UNITED in over two years. The band members took the time to challenge themselves musically and lyrically. Hillsong UNITED offers a creative collection of new songs that celebrates the One who saves, redeems and is the true representation of Hope in a world where hopelessness abounds. Known for such worldwide worship anthems as “The Stand,” “From the Inside Out,” “Hosanna” and “Lead Me To The Cross,” I eagerly await each new Hillsong UNITED release. The last UNITED studio recording was All Of The Above in 2005.

AFTERMATH opens with a new song written and sung by Joel Houston called “Take Heart.” It is an epic opening track, over 7 minutes long, and it sets the tone nicely for the new album. It’s very contemplative and reflective, similar to “A Beautiful Exchange.” Joel’s songs have always moved me and he sings with an emotional intensity. “Go” is next and will certainly be the concert anthem from this album in the style of “Take It All” and “One Way.” The song includes the classic Coldplay-type guitar riffs that I eagerly anticipate with each new album and picks up the Brit-Rock torch from recently retired Delirious?. Interestingly, the opening set of songs are the most Brit-Rock sounding on the album, as the last several songs transition over to a more electronic rock style, similar to Keane and Phil Wickham. I’ve been singing “The Stand”, “From The Inside Out”, “Mighty To Save”, “Soon” and many other Hillsong classics at my church for many years and I expect there will be several more worship classics from this album. One of the standout songs to me is the next song “Like An Avalanche.” The female vocals are beautiful and although Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood is not part of this album, the song engages me similar to “Lead Me To The Cross.”

“Rhythms Of Grace” is a cool song and like most Hillsong UNITED songs, it has a great melody and great congregational chorus: “There is None beside You God, there is None beside You God, I live my life to shine Your light, There is None beside You God.” Title track “Aftermath” is another ballad and really anchors down the theme of this album with the worshipful lyrics: “In a moment of glorious surrender. You were broken for all the world to see. Lifted out of the ashes. I am found in the aftermath.” The album changes musical styles with an instrumental interlude “B.E.” which flows into a synth-rock song called “Bones,” which has another stellar female vocal and I’d love to sing this song with fellow believers. For sure, this will be one of the most popular songs from the new album and musically reminds me of The Killers, one of my favorite bands. “Nova” really grabs me with the upbeat musical style and I having seen this amazing band live in concert, I expect this to be another great song to hear performed live.

”Light Will Shine” is synth-rock at its best, and really displays the musical talent of this band. The song sounds like many mainstream alternative rock hits I’ve enjoyed over the years with an unashamed Gospel message. First single “Search My Heart” also has a pulsing electronic beat and I find myself singing the great chorus all the time: “So with all my heart and all my soul. With all I am. Lord I will follow You. You took the cross. You took my shame. Restored my life. Now I live to worship You.” “Awakening” is my favorite new worship anthem of the past year, which I hope will soon be a song I'll be singing with fellow believers. "Awakening" has a great worshipful chorus which ends with "Let Your will be done in me," which is the cry of my heart as well. The song also appeared on the last Passion album and most recently Chris Tomlin’s studio album, co-written with Reuben Morgan.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
I'm impressed by the consistent quality and fresh worshipful songs that come from Hillsong United. AFTERMATH is no exception. For me, the standout songs are “Go,” “Like An Avalanche,” “Bones,” “Nova,” “Search My Heart” and “Awakening.” AFTERMATH is a must-have for your praise and worship collection.

Rating: 9.3 out of 10 (93%, A)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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Josh Wilson [See You] | Posted February-01-2011
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Josh Wilson returns with his highly anticipated new studio album, See You. Working with acclaimed producer Matt Bronlewee, See You features songs that are sure to inspire and challenge fellow believers. Much like Josh’s previous hit singles “Savior, Please” and “Before The Morning,” See You delivers songs like “I Refuse” and “Fall Apart” that are refreshingly honest and emotional while also lyrically and spiritually profound. Playing most of the instruments on the album himself, Josh also found ways to highlight what so many fans have come to love about him, his God-given talent as a one of a kind musician. Josh had me at “3 Minute Song.” It is a clever song about the challenge as a Christian songwriter to bring Gospel truth into song lyrics, which he accurately describes as Trying To Fit The Ocean In A Cup. His follow-up album Life Is A Snapshot expanded on that concept with hit song “Before The Morning” and for me Josh hits on all cylinders with See You, which will certainly be one of my top albums of 2011.

The album opens with “Sing It,” a gorgeous acoustic guitar ballad where Josh lays out the theme of this excellent album, “all the words in all the world could never say enough…nothing I could ever write comes close to Your glory…You’ve placed this song inside my heart and all I know to do for You is sing it.” Josh’s excellent musicianship and poignant lyrics continues with “Behind The Beauty,” another standout hit song in my opinion with more words that connect with me personally, “sometimes the smallest things can make our hearts cry out the loudest.” Lead single "I Refuse" challenges me to share my faith by helping those in need and not keep my faith to myself. According to Josh, “The purpose of "I Refuse" is to show people how simple it can be to 'refuse to do nothing,' just by being aware of what is going on in the world around them." Josh writes about themes that cause me to hang on every word he sings, especially “Fall Apart,” a surefire hit song, which is a prayerful song that wrecks me with these lyrics that reflect the cry of my heart as well: “God I want to know You more, maybe this is how it starts, I find You when I fall apart.” “Know By Now” is an upbeat anthem that flows into title track “See You” which absolutely stops me in my tracks. The song is so honest and introspective, Josh is truly gifted as he addresses faith in the midst of tragedy including the lyrics “it is well with my soul” which naturally flows amazingly to Josh’s stunning instrumental acoustic guitar performance of the famous hymn “It Is Well.” “Shine On Us” picks up the tempo and is another prayerful song: “Oh Jesus shine on us.”

One of my personal favorite songs is “Always Only You” which Josh sings to his wife, “we got no money but our love is strong…I’m gonna love you always, even on the not so sunny days, through the good and the bad and I meant when I said, I still do, because it’s always only you.” I’ve been married for 16 years and this song speaks to all married couples. “Forest Fire” reminds listeners of the power of words and the need to “tame our tongues” from James 3, “our tongues are like matches, our ears are like trees, our words are like sparks on dry summer leaves, it doesn’t take much for the flames to rise and turn a soul into a forest fire.” I don’t know if I’ve ever listened to an album this challenging and musically interesting. Closing song “They Just Believe” ties it all together with this amazing chorus: “I believe, please help my unbelief, Jesus give me grace to trust the unseen, Your ways are not my own…but You say blessed are the ones that never see, they just believe.” Wow, Josh manages to “fit the ocean in a cup” with that perfect reflection of Gospel truth from the words of Jesus.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
Having previously enjoyed Josh Wilson's hit songs "Savior, Please," "3 Minute Song" and "Before The Morning," I have eagerly anticipated See You. This album firmly establishes Josh as the premier folk style singer-songwriter in Christian music. Josh's poignant song writing is coupled with musical excellence as each song urges me to better see God. This album is sure to connect with all listeners who like catchy songs filled with truth and yearning for God. Every song is catchy and you’ll want to listen to every song in order as Josh ties all the songs together from opening notes of “Sing It” through the end of closing song “They Just Believe.” Josh writes catchy folk-pop style melodies and story-songs and if you like Bebo Norman, Matthew West and Jason Gray, then you should really enjoy Josh Wilson. I can’t get enough of this album, sure to be one of my top albums of 2011. Josh invites you into his life in such an authentic and relatable way, you’ll feel like you are a lifelong friend after you hear this album.

Rating: 9.9 out of 10 (99%, A+)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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Brandon Heath [Leaving Eden] | Posted January-05-2011
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Brandon Heath, GMA’s two-time reigning Male Vocalist of the Year, returns with a new 11-song project Leaving Eden, on January 18, 2011. Heath teams again with acclaimed co-writing partner Jason Ingram on four new songs including the hit single, “Your Love.” It was the first song written for the new album following Heath and Ingram’s previous No.1 radio hit collaboration, “Give Me Your Eyes.” Thematically, the project’s opener and title track speaks to a new awareness in Heath’s life that the problems of the world exist in part because of the knowledge of good and evil. However, even amidst innocence being slowly chipped away, Heath believes the world can be changed, even if it’s just one decision at a time. “The album starts with the title track ‘Leaving Eden’ stating the obvious pain in the world by just reading the headlines, but turns towards reconciliation despite the hate and frightening things that happen in life,” Heath explains. “I want to celebrate the goodness in the world, and that’s what the rest of the songs on the project talk about. I feel like I have a choice to protect what little innocence is still left in my life, because I think that’s what attaches me to God. It doesn’t mean other things can’t be healed, but why do I have to feel like I’m completely ruined, when I’m not?”

“Leaving Eden” is an incredible song and from the first listen I was hooked by the challenging message including “a teacher is hiding her Bible, but at least she has a job and my local Salvation Army just got robbed” and the very catchy melody. The main premise of the album is “there is no place like home.” “Your Love” is the first single and has “song of the year” written all over it. Musically, both songs feature that “Give Me Your Eyes” hook-filled musical vibe, comparable to OneRepublic and The Afters. Clearly good things happen when Brandon and Jason co-write songs, and that is evidenced throughout Leaving Eden, Brandon’s best album in my opinion. The chorus is a wonderful declaration of faith: “The only thing that matters is Your love, Your love is all I have to give. Your love is enough to light up the darkness, it’s Your love, Your love…all I ever needed is Your love.” From the first time I heard the song “I’m Not Who I Was” I connected to Brandon Heath personally and I’ve been a fan ever since. His story is also my story, and I struggle with balancing faith and fear of failure. Brandon’s songs are relatable to real life and he appeals to people from all walks of life, lyrically and musically. I find his songwriting to be especially sincere and relevant. “The Light In Me” is a surefire hit song which speaks about our walks as Christians with the worship chorus: “You put the light in me, the spark, the shot to the heart, the hope that leads me out of the dark.” “Only Water” is an acoustic guitar ballad and like “Love Never Fails” I hang on every word as Brandon passionately sings “It’s only water, and it washes over me, like a single river stone, it changes everything that has no power on its own, it’s only water.”

“Stolen” and “Might Just Save Your Life” both bring back the electronic musical style and I love the song order of this album as it really causes me to focus on the excellent messages of each song while mixing up the musical styles. I could imagine exercising while listening to many of these songs as they have great energy and hooks. “It’s Alright” is another tender ballad which I could sing to my 3 young daughters when they need comfort as God sings over us“everything will be okay.” “It’s No Good To Be Alone” is another upbeat song with a reggae musical feel and uplifting message about being in community. The album is loaded with very positive messages including the next songs “Now More Than Ever” and “The One.” Closing song “As Long As I’m Here” brings the “leaving Eden” theme full circle to the day when we stand before Jesus in Heaven and the song stops me in my tracks with these incredible lyrics: “You gave me the heart and the time I would need to find You and make it back home, where I belong.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS
Leaving Eden has set the bar incredibly high for new albums this year. There are no weak songs and this album is truly a masterpiece. This is already my favorite album by Brandon Heath and one of my all-time favorite albums. Every song speaks to me personally as a Christian and several songs reflect the brilliance of the album, including “Leaving Eden,” “Your Love,” “The Light In Me,” “Might Just Save Your Life,” “It’s No Good To Be Alone” and closing track “As Long As I’m Here.” The album’s theme is cohesive and the concept that we’ve left Eden is a great reminder of why we need our Savior Jesus. His Holy Spirit dwells in us as believers, and God wants us back with Him, but as long as we’re here, the album challenges us to ask ourselves “how well did I love?” Leaving Eden was well worth the almost 3 year wait and establishes Brandon Heath as the premier solo artist in Christian music for his exemplary songwriting and compelling vocals. This album is nearly perfect and gets 5 very enthusiastic stars.

Rating: 9.8 out of 10 (98%, A+)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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Chris Tomlin [And If Our God Is For Us] | Posted November-16-2010
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With six records, nine No. 1 radio singles, three GRAMMY nominations, 16 Dove Awards, a platinum and two gold albums to his credit, Chris Tomlin is among the most well-known and influential artists in contemporary Christian music. Time Magazine referred to him as most likely “the most often sung artist anywhere,” as it is estimated that over 40 million people sing his songs in church each week worldwide. In addition to having sold more than 3.1 million albums and over 3.7 million digital tracks, Tomlin also continues his role as worship leader at Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA.

My favorite Chris Tomlin songs have generally been the new live recordings found on the Passion worship collections, going back to "We Fall Down," "Enough," "How Great Is Our God" and "God Of This City." The Passion: Awakening collection released earlier this year started off with the great new Chris Tomlin worship anthem "Awakening," which I hope will soon be a song I'll be singing with fellow believers. "Awakening" has a great worshipful chorus which ends with "Let Your will be done in me," which is the cry of my heart as well. As that song starts the Passion collection, the new studio recording ends the new Chris Tomlin album And If Our God Is For Us. “Awakening,” co-written with Reuben Morgan, is a great song and is my favorite song on the new album. The album starts with the new studio recording of the #1 hit song “Our God,” the anthemic declaration of faith co-written with Matt Redman that has already spent numerous weeks on top of the Christian radio charts. The bridge of the song is the basis of the album title. The “passion” of these worship songs when sung live among believers seems a bit overwhelmed by the musical production on this album. “I Will Follow” is already a hit song co-written with Jason Ingram and Reuben Morgan and will certainly follow in the pattern of past radio success like “Jesus Messiah,” “Made To Worship,” “Indescribable” and “Your Grace Is Enough.” In addition to the studio recordings of “Our God” and “I Will Follow,” the first half of this album has an electronic musical style similar to newsboys and Stellar Kart. Although this is a popular trend in music right now, those other artists have consistently made those types of albums, but not Chris Tomlin who has always had more of a guitar-based full band sound. The remaining first half of the album includes “Majesty Of Heaven,” co-written with Matt Redman, “I Lift My Hands,” co-written with Matt Maher, which reminds me of “Unchanging” and “No Chains On Me,” co-written with Matt Redman, which reminds me of “Your Grace Is Enough.” They are all good songs, but don’t connect with me quite as much as some of his past hit songs.

The second half of the album is my favorite as the songs switch to more of a piano-based full band rock musical style and they are more reflective. “Lovely,” “The Name of Jesus,” “Faithful” and “All To Us” switch over to more of what I’ve come to expect from Chris Tomlin musically. They are prayerful and worshipful songs that I can imagine singing with fellow believers, especially “Faithful” which was co-written and sung with Christy Nockels. “All To Us” is an epic worship song (over 6 minutes long) that reminds me of “I Will Rise” which was also co-written with Matt Maher. All 11 songs are praise and worship and that’s the basis for the past radio and sales success. There’s nothing different or overly creative about this album other than some additional electronic music. Musically, many of the songs on this album are all a bit similar and very heavily produced rather than going with the Coldplay-type guitar riffs used by Hillsong UNITED. The musical trend from the Passion albums has been more of a Hillsong style, and Hillsong UNITED even appeared on Passion: Awakening. I was a bit surprised and a little disappointed by some of the studio recordings although they will probably resonate with radio audiences.

For me, I would have liked one or two songs that gave me a glimpse of what Chris thinks about besides praising God. Since he’s getting married this year, perhaps I’ll get that on his next album. His approach to this album is a bit less a view into his personal worship thoughts and creativity and a bit more into collaborating with others who seem to be leading the way in today's worship song writing as these songs were all co-written with Reuben Morgan, Matt Redman, Matt Maher, Jason Ingram and others. I don’t mean to heap on any undue criticism however I’m not hearing the heart of Chris Tomlin in any of these songs. My favorite worship songwriters are Joel Houston (“From The Inside Out”), Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood (“Hosanna”), Reuben Morgan & Ben Fielding (“Mighty To Save”), Robbie Seay (“Song Of Hope”), Tim Hughes (“Beautiful One”), Phil Wickham (“Cannons”), Todd Agnew (“My Jesus”), Jason Ingram & Bebo Norman (“I Will Lift My Eyes”), Paul Baloche (“Your Name”), John Mark McMillan (“How He Loves”), Brandon Heath, Bart Millard of MercyMe and Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. All of those songwriters have personally poured out their hearts in their songs, such as in MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine,” “Who Am I” by Casting Crowns and “I’m Not Who I Was” by Brandon Heath.

My main issue these past few albums since the brilliance of 2002’s Not To Us is that Chris seems to have been transformed from a worship leader to a radio singles fixture with the studio albums. It seems to me that “Enough” was the last truly personal worship song penned by Chris Tomlin. Then, great songwriters like Brenton Brown (“Everlasting God”), Laura Story (“Indescribable”), Matt Maher (“Your Grace Is Enough”), Bluetree (“God Of This City”) and even John Newton (“Amazing Grace”) have been the “personal” writers behind the radio success of Chris Tomlin. Tomlin has 5 of the top 10 most played songs in churches. Without a doubt, Chris will always have a place in CCM history. His singing voice is as good as ever, the lyrics are biblical (although a little bit predictable), and this album probably won't win any new fans but should please most fans of Chris Tomlin.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
I intend to take nothing away from my respect for Chris or his past accomplishments when I say And If Our God Is For Us just doesn't affect me as his past albums have. Certainly “Our God” and “Awakening” are great songs. Personally I prefer the live versions from the Passion: Awakening album. Maybe that’s just the way I prefer to worship along with Chris. We sing his songs at my church weekly and I connect to most of them personally. “Awakening” might actually be my favorite overall song by Chris along with “Enough,” “Unchanging,” “Holy Is The Lord,“ and “Jesus Messiah.” If you like those songs, then you should enjoy this album, especially “Our God,” “I Will Follow,” “Majesty of Heaven,” “Faithful,” “All To Us” and “Awakening.” Expect to be singing most of these songs at your church soon.

Rating: 8.1 out of 10 (81%, B-)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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Third Day [MOVE] | Posted October-05-2010
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Third Day delivers its soul-stirring 11th studio album, MOVE, showcasing members Mac Powell, Mark Lee, Tai Anderson and David Carr at their melodic and lyrical best, peering insightfully at life within the church as well as pointedly seeking to understand the needs and questions of those without faith. It’s an often difficult balance to achieve, but Third Day succeeds in speaking candidly and hopefully to listeners of every stripe, challenging each not just to a place of faith – but a place of faith in action. Third Day released their debut/self-titled album back in 1995. Since that release they have become on of the biggest names in the Christian music industry. Fans flocked to their 1999 release Time and the 2000 worship release, Offerings. Third Day’s last album Revelation was recently certified Gold and is a stellar album with hit songs “Call My Name,” “Revelation” and “Born Again.”

The project leads with the first single “Lift Up Your Face,” which features The Blind Boys of Alabama. Mac Powell, the band’s charismatic lead vocalist, explains, “The country is going through hard times, and there are doubts and insecurity. The message of “Lift Up Your Face” is our message of encouragement – not just to listeners though—to us as well. It’s a message we all need to hear and I think that really sums up a lot of what we were going for with this record.” Musically, MOVE delivers songs that are rootsy, soulful and riveting, taking full advantage of Third Day’s longstanding rock influence. Yet the sound retains an edgy authenticity that’s incredibly timely as heard in the raw and addictive, “Make Your Move.” Additional highlight tracks include the worshipful “Children of God,” “Gone,” “Surrender” and “Follow Me There.” Each song is lyrically inspiring with hints at Third Day’s southern roots.

“Trust In Jesus” is my favorite song on the album. One of my favorite aspects of Third Day’s music is how they tend to have very spiritual lyrics. This song declares boldly what it means to be a follower of Jesus and is a thesis statement of faith. I love how the first four songs build to this declaration that “one of these days we all will stand before the Lord, and give a reason for everything we’ve done…and what I’ve done is trust in Jesus, my Great Deliverer, my Strong Defender, the Son of God, I trust in Jesus, Blessed Redeemer, my Lord forever, the Holy One, What are you gonna do when your time is come and your life is done, what are you gonna say at the judgment throne, I already know, the only thing that I can say…I trust in Jesus.” I get goose bumps when I listen to this amazing song and sing along at the top of my lungs. The tempo slows down for the rest of the album and includes more bold testimony with the great song “What Have You Got To Lose” and the closing song “Don’t Give Up Hope.”

I recently listened to every song ever released by Third Day to determine where to rank this album among Third Day’s incredibly impressive catalog of albums and songs. For me, MOVE is the most impressive Third Day album since their debut album and Time. MOVE has some of Third Day’s best “southern” rock songs ever in “Surrender” and “Make Your Move.” From a worship standpoint, “Children of God” and “Trust In Jesus” are incredible anthems of faith. Those four stand-out songs are among my all-time favorite songs by Third Day along with “Thief,” “I’ve Always Loved You,” “Your Love Oh Lord,” “You Are Mine,” “Revelation” and “Offering.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS
I am amazed by this Third Day record. I'm so glad they went back to their roots. I liked Revelation and the cool rock songs, but I became a “Gomer” with the southern gospel-rock and passion of songs like "Thief," "Love Song" and "Forever." If you are a long-time fan of Third Day, be very excited about MOVE. If you became a fan with Offerings or Revelation here's your chance to learn what has made Third Day the premier rock band in all of Christian music. The music is catchy, and every song rocks. For me, what makes this album so special is the unashamed Gospel message and Mac Powell's vocals have never been more passionate. MOVE gets 5 stars from this writer.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (95%, A)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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Jars of Clay [The Shelter] | Posted September-28-2010
[MAIN REVIEW]
Acclaimed for its music and leadership as humanitarians, Jars of Clay gears up for the October 5th release of its community-inspired project, Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter. The four men at the heart of the project – Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Matt Odmark and Stephen Mason – find their calendars filling up with appearances designed to shed light on the new project, inspired from an old Irish proverb, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” I am a long-time fan of Jars of Clay and credit the Gospel messages from their landmark debut album for leading me to my salvation, for which I’m eternally grateful. I was amazed that as I was still savoring The Long Fall Back To Earth and trying to guess which single would be next from that incredible album, I heard about The Shelter. At first, I couldn’t image how they would follow-up what I considered their all-time best album, and yet again they continue to surprise and amaze me with their song-writing, music and lyrical messages and in this case, their collaborations. For anyone who has always wanted to hear Jars of Clay sing with a “who’s who list” in Christian music, here’s your chance. Mac Powell, Amy Grant, Brandon Heath, David Crowder, Audrey Assad, TobyMac, Mike Donehey, Sara Groves, Derek Webb and Leigh Nash all appear on this album, among others.

For me, there are several 5 star songs that give glimpses of the excellence of this 5 star album. All of these songs now rank in my all-time favorite songs by Jars of Clay. The album opens with the call to action song, “Small Rebellions” which features Brandon Heath. The song includes the ultra-catchy and convicting chorus “If our days could be filled with small rebellions, senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all.” The song truly sets the tone for this incredible album.“ Dan says, “Any act that fights against isolation is the greatest form of counterculture. The greatest risks we take are the ones that prove we are implicated in each others stories.” “Call My Name” features Thad Cockrell and Audrey Assad and is the most vertical worship song on the album. Matt says, “To think that God knows us by name has deep and far-reaching implications. To actually hear Him use it changes everything.” “We Will Follow” begins with the amazing lyrics “In the valley of the cross where my first love died” which leads to the convicting “where You lead us we will follow.” The song features Michael and Lisa Gungor singing along with the band. This is a match made in heaven and for me is the stand-out song on the album. I would love to sing this song with fellow believers. “Eyes Wide Open” has a very classic Jars of Clay folk-oriented sound and features Mac Powell and Derek Webb. This song could totally have appeared on the City On A Hill compilations and will most likely emerge as a hit song as it is catchy and very engaging. Charlie says “Our desire is to be in a conversation- about love, hope, the life of Jesus- not to figure out answers and put people in boxes. God, keep us in the process, with open eyes and hearts.”

“Shelter” is an incredible song with a wonderful chorus “in the shelter of each other we will live” and Audrey Assad’s background vocals on the chorus are absolutely excellent. TobyMac and Brandon Heath also appear on the song with Toby echoing “we will live.” This song also seems destined to be a hit and I can’t get enough of it. I plan to make the song my new ringtone replacing “Two Hands” as my new favorite anthem by Jars of Clay. “Out Of My Hands” was released as a single and features Mike Donehey and Leigh Nash, another amazing vocal combination. The lyrics are totally compelling, “It’s out of my hands, it was from the start in light of what You’ve done for me.” Steve says, “It's humbling to know in our lowest moments that God's purposes are made complete in and through our weakness not our strength.” “Lay It Down” features David Crowder and Dawn Michele. This has become one of my favorite songs on the album, especially the rocking guitar solo. A perfect song in my opinion and I can’t wait to hear Jars of Clay play the song in concert. The album closes brilliantly with “Benediction” featuring Amy Grant. The song finishes the invitation to go out and literally be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we encounter. “Go into the world showing how much He loves you.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS
The stand-out songs for me on this brilliant 5 star album are “Small Rebellions,” “Call My Name,” “We Will Follow,” “Eyes Wide Open,” “Shelter,” “Out Of My Hands,” “Lay It Down” and “Benediction.” Once again, Jars of Clay has released their newest “best” album and are at the top of their profession right now in my opinion. My best description of the album is The Eleventh Hour meets Redemption Songs splashed with City On A Hill style all-star guest vocalist appearances and worship focused lyrics. While celebrated for its music and writing, Jars of Clay is most concerned with the needs in Africa. Compelled to make a difference, the group successfully launched the Blood:Water Mission, a non-profit organization promoting clean blood and water in Africa.

Rating: 9.9 out of 10 (99%, A+)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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Bebo Norman [Ocean] | Posted September-21-2010
[MAIN REVIEW]
Every two years, singer/songwriter Bebo Norman undergoes what he calls an extended therapy session. The intensive process isn’t always smooth sailing, but it does result in ten or twelve moments of completion—a clear look back through his own window at a story God is telling. Also known as making a new album, it’s an exercise in discovery that Bebo takes to remarkable depths on his seventh studio project, Ocean. As the writer and singer of some of my all-time favorite songs “The Hammer Holds,” “Great Light Of The World,” “Nothing Without You,” “I Will Lift My Eyes” and Dove Award winning “The Only Hope,” I eagerly anticipate each new album by Bebo Norman. After repeated listens, I’m convinced that Ocean is the best overall album by Bebo Norman in my opinion and is my top overall album of 2010.

Opening song “Everything I Hoped You’d Be” is poetic, folk-oriented rock full of natural imagery to describe a choppy spiritual journey from deserts to mountains, with Bebo realizing God “will be the water I drink forever / Let it wash me over, oh my soul.” “Here Goes,” co-written with longtime friend and fellow artist Brandon Heath, advocates a life marked by leaps into the unknown while reasoning, “I never loved anyone by playing it safe . . . never lost and never found are one and the same.” “God of My Everything,” is drawn from a combination of despairing stories involving “people as close to me as anyone on this planet who had to rebuild their lives based on their identity in God rather than their own.” By the time I finished listening to the first three amazing songs, I knew I was in for a treat. “The Hammer Holds” and “I Will Lift My Eyes” are my favorite songs by Bebo Norman and these opening songs are worshipful and introspective like those vintage songs. As if the opening songs aren’t impressive enough, Bebo really grabbed me with the next set of songs which are written to his wife. I get choked up when I listen to “Could You Ever Look at Me,” which is a compelling love song that admits his weakness “I don’t know how to chase away the fear I have inside me” before it catches a tidal wave of holy truth: “I hope you never look at me the way you’re looking at the ocean / Because in the sunrise I have seen I was never meant to be the light of your world.” The song “Ocean” also connects with the set’s other major recurring idea: juggling faith and fear. As Bebo dives deeper into the things of heaven, he sees that “You are the wonder of my world / And all my fear is turning into faith.”

“The ocean has always been a peaceful idea to my wife, so in a jealous man kind of way, I’ve wished she would look at me the way she looks at it,” he confesses. “But I’ve come to realize that’s based on my own fear and insecurity. When she looks at the ocean, she is looking at the wonder of our Creator, and that’s a much better foundation for her life than me.” The album closes as strong as it starts with the worshipful “I Hope You See Jesus,” which was co-written with Laura Story (“Indescribable”). The song is an extraordinarily eloquent musical presentation of the gospel. “Remember Us” lays out our fears and imperfect nature— “some days we don’t know how we will make it at all”—praying God will remain faithful despite ourselves. What’s so amazing about this album is that I feel like I know every song. What I’ve come to realize is that Bebo’s story is also my story and anyone struggling with the balance of life and faith can truly relate to the incredible messages of these songs. They only grow deeper with each listen which is my favorite type of album.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
“Everything I Hoped You’d Be,” “Here Goes,” “God of My Everything,” “Could You Ever Look at Me” and “I Hope You See Jesus” are all stand-out songs and among my top 10 overall favorite songs by Bebo Norman. I can’t help but give this album a perfect score for message and music. Musically and lyrically this is literally a perfect album. Thanks so much Bebo for writing and singing some of the deepest and most meaningful songs I’ve ever heard. Pick up Ocean and you won't regret it. For me this is a 5 star album and my top overall album of 2010.

Rating: 10.0 out of 10 (100%, A+)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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BarlowGirl [Our Journey...So Far] | Posted September-14-2010
[MAIN REVIEW]
For BarlowGirl, Our Journey... So Far is all about their fans. It's a collection of the 15 songs that effectively tell the story of the 13-time Dove Award nominated band BarlowGirl throughout their first 10 years. The album not only tells the story of the band musically including their #1 radio hits “Never Alone,” “I Need You To Love Me” and “Let Go'” but it also tells their story visually. Included in the packaging is a 16-page booklet that dips into the Barlow family archives and reveals the history of the band through never-before-seen images. Unlike the typical 'best of' album, Our Journey... So Far candidly tells the story of these three rockin’ sisters (Alyssa, Lauren and Rebecca) musically and visually in chronological order. It's truly a product that will engage all fans no matter when they first connected with BarlowGirl.

For me, that connection started with #1 hit song "Never Alone," which is one of my top songs of the past decade. I’ve recently seen BarlowGirl live, and Alyssa explained how alone the girls felt while waiting for God to move on their behalf before BarlowGirl was signed to a record label. “Never Alone” is based on the loneliness and silence of waiting for God’s response and it includes one of the best piano and guitar hooks in all of Christian music. Another stand-out song on this collection is "Mirror," from their self-titled debut. At a recent concert, Becca Barlow, who's usually the quietest of the sisters, spoke up and went on to share how "Mirror" represented much of her own struggles with how she used to view herself when she was a teenager. She explained how once she surrendered herself to God's view of her and began seeking to change her mind by dwelling on His Word, that she was eventually freed from self-destructive thoughts about herself. Those songs are accompanied by equally gorgeous songs “She Walked Away” and “Surrender” from the incredible debut album. Hit songs “Let Go,” “I Need You To Love Me” and “Grey” represent their sophomore album Another Journal Entry.

How Can We Be Silent is perfectly represented by “Here’s My Life,” “One More Round” and their call-to-action anthem, "Million Voices." At a recent concert, Lauren quickly got very passionate, to the point of raising her voice, as she talked about making a change in the world as a church body, following God's calling on our lives, and even devoting our lives to changing history. She closed her inspiring talk, and her inspiration for the song "Million Voices" based on 1 Peter 2:9, encouraging the crowd as a “chosen generation” to sing along with their hearts as well as their voices. “Hallelujah (Light Has Come)” is a beautiful Christmas song and leads to "Stay With Me," one of the stand-out songs from Love & War, and the theme of song is love with the encouragement that "all I need is Your love pulling me." "Our Worlds Collide" is also about love and the girls share how God has filled their hearts with love. The personal nature of the songs really draws me in as I have 3 daughters and want nothing more than for them to know the Love of God. Hit song "Beautiful Ending" hits me even harder with the challenging "it scares me to think that I would choose my life over You, My selfish heart divides me from You, It tears us apart." The song is beautiful and encourages me to live for God. “Come Alive" includes the cry to ""wake up, get out there's no time to waste now" which really gets to the heart of the matter including the charge to "be the change we've all been waiting for." A fun surprise at the end is a remix of “I Need You To Love Me.” The song is truly one of the best and most personal songs ever by this great band and musically and lyrically this is literally a perfect album.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
Even if you’ve collected the first 4 studio albums and the Christmas album by BarlowGirl, the digitally mastered recordings of these 15 songs and the musical and visual anthology of Our Journey... So Far makes it a “can’t miss” album of 2010. I can only give this album 5 stars and a perfect score for message and music as these are all truly incredible songs with inspiring messages and gorgeous vocals. My only other advice is that you need to also get the rest of the songs from Love & War if you haven’t already.

Rating: 10.0 out of 10 (100%, A+)

Review written by: Kevin Davis | Review can also be found here.

This review has been reprinted on NRT with permission from ChristianMusicReview.org. Click here to visit ChristianMusicReview.org today!

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