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Let The Ground Rest B-Sides EP by Chris Let The Ground Rest B-Sides EP by Chris
What You Need To Know
As a follow up to Chris...
Life Love & Madness by Sarah Life Love & Madness by Sarah
What You Need To Know
Sarah...
Lion & Bear EP by Lion & Bear Lion & Bear EP by Lion & Bear
What You Need To Know:
Brothers-in-law Andrew Enos and Michael Landingham, also...

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Selah | Posted January-14-2021
What You Need To Know

As a follow up to Chris Renzema's sophomore project, Let The Ground Rest, Let The Ground Rest: B-Sides EP give us two new tracks plus three live versions from the original project including what this reviewer deemed the best songs on the full-length album–"Springtime" and "Let The Ground Rest." 

    

What It Sounds Like

Renzema gives us more folksy, Americana goodness with his crystal clear vocal stylings and fingerpicking acoustic guitar. The two instruments work in perfect balance with one another.



Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights

"Tear My House Down" talks of the process some of us go through when we give in to what God has called us to. When we are tired of building our own house and we cry out to God to remove what is unwelcome and rebuild us from scratch. This is an honest song and fits perfectly with a cry we have all had at some point. It reminded me of the only New Year's Resolution I ever kept...asking the Lord into my heart on New Year's Eve 1994.



Best Song On The Record

"Mercy" is a perfectly stripped-down track that invites "The rejects, the dropouts/Those used to being passed by/The addicts, the burned out/Who've lost their way so many times'' to find their peace in God. It is not a bold proclamation, just a heartfelt welcome paired with honest worship. This is the Gospel in balance.



For Fans Of

John Mark McMillan; Cody Carnes; Cory Asbury; Josh White

 

Final Word

The album brings comfort in difficult times. It is like sitting in front of a campfire with a group of friends and just opening your heart to friends and to God. Chris Renzema gives us a vulnerability on the new tracks, stripped down to just him and his guitar. The live versions of the tracks from the full-length version add to this with the honest and raw performance.



Stream the album on Spotify and Apple Music.


 



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Relationship Highs and Lows | Posted October-24-2020
What You Need To Know

Sarah Reeves is a pop singer whose roots in Christian music go back more than a decade with her first album released in 2009. Her third, and latest project, Life Love & Madness, is a collection of 14 songs that focus on the joy and pain of relationships with others and ourselves.

    

What It Sounds Like

Life Love & Madness is a feel-good pop album. The electronic-driven production gives the listener varying soundscapes from the ethereal electronic feel of 2009: the guitar-led "Heart First," "Anxious" and "Easy to Love" to the deep bass moodiness of "Motions." Throughout the album, the production matches the overall mood of each song, which leads the listener to feel and connect more deeply with the lyrical content. 




Spiritual Highlights

"Anxious" talks about the struggles that many people face in our modern world of 'perfect lives,' as portrayed on social media. Struggles that we don't measure up to others. Reeves says in the second verse, "Devil's running around my mind/Why do I let myself believe the lies?/It's like I'm his playground, push me in the background, and I shut the world out." This inner turmoil is a spiritual struggle that we face today. The song concludes on the bridge where she says, "this is my confession/I'm coming out of hiding." This may not be a clear cry to God, but it is the first step of confessing our struggles, coming out from behind the mask of perfection we have put up in our own lives and asking someone for help.



Best Song

"Motions" changes the album's vibe from upbeat pop to something a little darker and with more emotion. The song makes you stop and listen. It grabs your attention from the start and makes you wonder if perhaps another album is playing. It feels like a complete shift in mood from the upbeat pop song "Drive." It is the first of two tracks where we hear the inner confession of the artist.



For Fans Of:

Hollyn, CASS, Ryan Stevenson

 

Final Word

Sarah gives us an honest and open look at relationships including all of their ups and downs. Tied into a healthy relationship is how each person feels about themselves at any given time and the album explores the madness we can all feel sometimes that impact those around us and impacts our ability to have healthy relationships.



Stream the album on Spotify or purchase on Apple Music.






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Deep House for Deep 'Renewal' | Posted September-22-2020
What You Need To Know

DJ AJ Mora has been producing and performing house music for more than three decades. A prolific DJ, producer, and remixer, AJ is a legendary pioneer of electronic dance music (EDM). His most recent full-length album, Renewal, is a collection of house and techno-infused tracks that will have you dancing and vibing.

    

What It Sounds Like

Renewal, released on Deeplife Records, is a house album with 15 tracks, three of which are remixes of the modern worship classic, "Reckless Love" featuring AJ's sister Gabee on vocals. The production is clean and the basslines pulsate in typical house music fashion. With the beats per minute staying in a consistent 120 to 125 range, the music is continuous.




Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights:

The most spiritual song on the album would be the remixes of "Reckless Love." However, with the constant, meditative drums, the entire album can be a spiritual experience. With this in mind, the progressive house track, "Persevere," encourages us that even though in this life we may have many troubles we shall persevere. 



Best Song On The Record

Legendary producer Eddie Amador lends his talents to the album with a remix of "Renewal," which is only available when purchasing the entire album. His treatment increases the tempo from 124 to 126 BPM, which slightly changes the vibe from deep house to house giving it a slightly more uptempo vibe.



For Fans Of

Jesus Love Electro, King Arthur, Kevin Aleksander, Transform

 

Final Word

EDM in its purest form is rarely heard in Christian circles given its relationship to raves and the lifestyle that surrounds such events. EDM, however, influences the majority of pop music and is infused into many worship artists such as Elevation Youth and Hillsong Young & Free. House music, with its inherent repetitive bass and drumlines, allows for meditation and prayer without the interference of vocals. AJ Mora's Renewal is an opportunity for those new to the genre to expand their horizons and incorporate something new into their prayer routines.


 



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Worship Reimagined | Posted September-22-2020
What You Need To Know

YouTube sensations, husband and wife team of Caleb + Kelsey Grimm have stormed onto the scene with three full-length worship albums in 2020. This adds to their eight previous albums the duo has released between 2017 and 2019. With more than 500,000 listeners and 130,000 followers on Spotify, Caleb + Kelsey have delivered another collection of worship medleys on Worship Vol. II.

    

What It Sounds Like

Caleb + Kelsey blend songs seamlessly with each one taking on either singular verses of the selected songs or alternating between verses on the song in question and then in beautiful harmony blending on the chorus and then a playful back and forth between songs. The album contains two versions of "Way Maker / Surrounded (Fight My Battles)." They treat the songs with respect and the combinations of songs work surprisingly well. 



Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights

All of the songs on the album will be familiar from either your daily drive if you listen to Christian radio or even from your Sunday morning worship services. Caleb + Kelsey give us a full Sunday morning worship service on Worship Vol. II and you can enter into worship with them. 



Best Song On The Record

The standout track is the surprising blend of "Reckless Love / You Say." Caleb gives a subdued vocalization of Cory Asbury's "Reckless Love," while Kelsey belts out Lauren Daigle's "You Say." They come together on what would be the chorus of "Reckless Love."



For Fans Of

Bryan & Katie Torwalt, Brian & Jenn Johnson, Jonathan David & Melissa Helser

 

Final Word

Worship music is a mainstay of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) now and in many cases is the new definition of CCM, replacing pop or rock. The songs on Worship Vol. II are familiar but reimagined in a way that allows them to stay fresh.


 



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In Your Deepest Hurt God Is There | Posted September-22-2020
What You Need To Know:

Brothers-in-law Andrew Enos and Michael Landingham, also known as Lion & Bear, bring us a fresh, four-track, self-titled EP. The songs explore the breadth and depth of God from His greatness to His steadfast love, especially in times of tragedy and loss.

    

What It Sounds Like:

The first track, "Greater Is He," is a rock worship track reminiscent of NEEDTOBREATHE. "Held By Your Love" is an acoustic worship ballad reminiscent of The Brilliance. At moments the instrumentation and vocals are sweet, something you can rest in, the song ebbs and flows, with purposeful moments of rest. "Lighthouse" gives us another flavor of Lion & Bear, where the vocals shine. 



Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights:

"Held By Your Love" is written from a place of tragedy. It is an earnest prayer exalting the promises of God. The chorus repeats "How could I forget all Your promises/And all that You've done/I'm held by your love." It helps us to remember who God is even in our times of struggle and stress when it feels as though no one else cares.



Best Song On The Record:

Each song on the EP holds a place in the central theme of grief and God's promises and steadfast love within those times. "Lighthouse" sums up the perfect metaphor for these times. The chorus rings out "I've been shipwrecked and lost at sea/Nothing held me back from following/Your voice brought light in the dark/A haven shining from the shore/You're my lighthouse." I personally cannot think of a better metaphor for God and a reflection of Psalm 119:105.



For Fans Of:

NEEDTOBREATHEJohn Mark McMillanThe BrillianceKings Kaleidoscope

 

Final Word:

Christian music exists not only to uplift God but to uplift the people who are listening to music. Lion & Bear, from their combined life experience and losses suffered, have given us a soundtrack to remember God and to know that we are never alone in times of grief.

 



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Take Us To Church | Posted July-30-2020
What You Need To Know


Jesus Culture has been providing the church with worship anthems for a new generation for 20 years. It used to be “youth group” worship. But in 20 years, those youth group members who first sang out new songs from a small church in Redding, California are now leaders of a movement and are the sound of generations. The latest release, Church Volume Two (Live) rounds out a double-length album with Church Volume One (Live) being released earlier this year. 



What It Sounds Like

With original members, Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala still writing music, the “sound” of Jesus Culture remains constant. The unmistakable guitar playing of Jeffrey Kunde is still prevalent throughout and the focus on worship and a true hunger and thirst for the Spirit of God to move on the earth continues to be the key focus.



Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights

As a worship album, the entire album is a spiritual highlight. On “Fearless,” the opening track featuring Kim Walker-Smith, we are welcomed into an atmosphere of worship where we as participants can know that in God we are made fearless. Katie Torwalt’s declaration on “Prophesy Your Promise” gives me chills each time. She declares “Fear can go to hell, shame can go there too, ‘cause I know whose I am, God I belong to you.” There is no more powerful declaration than to firmly proclaim that we belong to God and that His promises are ours.

   

Best Song On The Record

The song on repeat for this reviewer has been “Prophesy Your Promise.” For the sheer reason that this season has been one where God’s promises are the only left to trust in and it is good advice to get into the Word of God so that you can begin to prophesy and pray God’s promises over our lives. 






Final Word

As the members of Jesus Culture age and mature, so does their music. They faithfully carry the message of the Gospel and worship in spirit and in truth.



Stream the album on Spotify and Apple Music today!


 





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An Expanded View | Posted May-21-2020
What You Need To Know


Talented artist Sajan Nauriyal is back with his sophomore project, PERSPECTIVE. This release continues to blend Nauriyal’s smooth vocals with his soul-infused electronic production. The lyrics are thoughtful and seek to open the listener’s eyes through the use of deep metaphor in combination with synesthesia-inducing beats. 


    


What It Sounds Like


Sajan has a unique sound that is immediately recognizable. Since his initial release in 2017, he's grown as an artist lyrically while, at the same time, maintaining a sound that is distinctly his. The rhythms are melodic and electronic, infusing aspects of soul, hip-hop, downtempo, and acoustic worship. Each track delivers a new soundscape that is intended to act as a backdrop to the lyrics of the individual song. While each song stands alone, the entire project moves seamlessly from one track to the next.

 

Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights


The opening track, "Fight," opens strongly with a focus on God and the need that we have for Him in our lives to help us fight through the harder times. God's plans for us, as well as His promises of provision, is a recurring theme throughout the album, specifically "Trust," "No Worries," and "All I Want."  

 

Best Song On The Record


The opening instrumental measures of "No Worries" invite you to stay awhile. The textures created through the layers of instrumentation, partnered with Nauriyal’s vocals combine to create a memorable song. In addition to the soundscape, the change of pace and tone in the second verse with Ngoga’s feature combine into a track that begs to be listened to again and again.

 

For Fans Of




 


Final Word


Following Sajan since his initial full-length album, Always Enough has afforded me the opportunity to see how his production has grown and how his lyrics have matured. It's encouraging to see a young artist grow and learn in his chosen craft, while still staying true to his roots. In his collective life experience, it's as though his perspective on the things of God has broadened and deepened, allowing his production and vocals to become much more focused. 


 



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A Much Needed Rest | Posted April-24-2020
What You Need To Know

Chris Renzema's sophomore project, Let The Ground Rest, is a follow up to his independently released album, I'll Be The Branches. Let The Ground Rest shows a developed maturity in Chris's songwriting and musicianship, while at the same time, staying true to his folk-Americana style.

    

What It Sounds Like

The acoustically-driven folk style accentuates Chris's voice and vocal style. The timbre of his voice pairs perfectly with the generous acoustic guitar, piano, and cellos. There is never a harshness to sound, but rather a collection of songs that sonically flow seamlessly from one to another. The album is mixed and mastered well, allowing for a listening session that permits the listener to sit with the music and enjoy each and every nuance.



Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights

When we listen to an album, we embrace more than just the music. The lyrics come to life. On this album, there are many lines that make you stop, rewind, and think. In "17," Chris considers what his 17-year-old self would think of the man he's become and what God's response to his overthinking is: "Child stop listening to yourself so much/I have made you worthy of My love/You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that's enough." On "Steal Back Your Joy" the lyrics encourage us, "So, go on, steal back your joy/The destroyer's plans are all that are being destroyed/Go on, take back your life/'Cause death's the only thing that's dying tonight/If the thief comes to steal your flame/Well, go on and steal it back again."



Best Song On The Record

The album starts strongly with "Springtime." It welcomes us to come, sit, and listen. And, as a front door to the record, the song sits high on the list. It's the last song, however, that leaves the biggest impression. "Let The Ground Rest," the title track, gives hope, which will strike a chord with every listener. The song has such a simple melody with Chris's voice accompanied by piano on the first verse, welcoming a bass line in the chorus, and then the guitar and drums for the second verse, which build up to a climax after the second chorus. It all resolves in the stripped-back outro with just the piano and a promise.



For Fans Of

John Mark McMillan | Cody Carnes | Cory Asbury | Josh Garrels

 

Final Word

In this time of sheltering-in-place and physical distancing, hope can be lost as we hear the daily news updates. What Chris Renzema offers us is a project that speaks to hope. Let The Ground Rest is a prophetic message for such a time as this, an album that focuses on hope and a new season. "He'll finish what He starts. He started this I know/If you saw the plans, maybe you wouldn't go/I watched Him plant a seed, then let the ground rest/So child, oh, believe, 'cause I promise there's a harvest."

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Two Voices, One Heart | Posted March-24-2020

What You Need To Know:

On their second full-length studio album, One Voice, Seth & Nirva deliver soulful pop music. With influences from pop to gospel, and songs old and new, Seth & Nirva combine their collective experiences to deliver an uplifting album in a rough time.

    

What It Sounds Like:

Seth & Nirva bring together a mixture of pop and electronic dance music (EDM) on "Light Up The Sky." This makes way for a pop version of The Brilliance's "Turning Over Tables," which features Newsboys vocalist Michael Tait. Seth & Nirva deliver gospel vibes on the classic "Standing In the Need of Prayer." "Mercy" is a powerful, prayerful worship song that brings ethereal sounds that allow the listener to close their eyes and focus on the lyrics. Interspersed amongst the songs are spoken-word interludes that include sermon outtakes from Dr. Tony Evans and Dr. Rice Brooks, as well as a spoken word poem from Ryan Bomberger.





Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights:

"Standing In The Need of Prayer" is a song that dates back to well before the 20th century, but was first published in The Book Of African American Spirituals in 1925. This rendition takes the familiar refrain, "It's me, it's me, O' Lord/Standin' in the need of prayer," and marries it to lyrics that reflect on the times we're in today. It's a powerful song that set's our focus on the Lord, and firmly sets our position as standing in the need of prayer.



Best Song On The Record:

For sheer entertainment value, "Light Up The Sky" delivers an uplifting dance track; however, for those times where you want to focus on the Lord and all of His goodness, "Mercy" delivers a time of prayerful meditation.



For Fans Of:

Newsboys, TobyMac, Blanca, LoveCollide

 

Final Word:

It may be this reviewer's personal bias based on personal circumstances, but I enjoy what Seth & Nirva did with One Voice to use their collective experiences as a couple to deliver an uplifting yet timely album from a point of view that is rarely heard. The interspersed spoken word pieces connect the project thematically and provide for a cohesive album while still allowing for individual radio singles that can find themselves at home in multiple playlists.




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A 4 Minute Mile | Posted February-20-2020
What You Need To Know:

Victory Lap is KJ-52's last album. It is the end of an era. After more than 20 years of giving us quality Christian hip hop, KJ is retiring. At least in terms of producing music as KJ-52. Victory Lap leaves us with a much more mature KJ-52; someone who's much different than the artist we became so familiar with back in the 2000s. Instead of Coke, fries, cheeseburgers, Mountain Dew, and stank breath, we get a seasoned, more mature KJ. The 2020 version of KJ is what we'd expect of a grown man with a wife of more than 20 years, a father of two, and all of the experience that comes with it.

    

What It Sounds Like:

Although the content has matured throughout the years, one thing that has remained consistent is KJ's smooth flows and old school lyricism. His writing continues to be witty. And, his new production partners--PoetiCS, AJ Jenkins, and Theory Hazit--ensure the beats are fresh and modern, yet still paying homage to the school that KJ came from. 



Spiritual/Lyrical Highlights:

The joy in diving into KJ's lyrics is that they are densely-packed rhymes, much like a freestyler. It emotes a different time in hip hop when emcees were lauded for their lyricism, not merely for how they got the dance floor moving. A true emcee can rock the party without a beat. And, when you listen closely, you can find clever lyrics about stinky breath in "Pay Attention": "Ya dirty mouth needs some listerine/Plus, you ought to gargle that junk up with Mr. Clean/It ain't the same since I hit the scene /It ain't about the money or the fame that they give to me/Cause I ain't focused on the little things/Like who's the dopest cuz my hope is in only king."



You can hear rhyme triplets in "I Got This": "I train for the rhyme play like a 5k let the rhyme spray/They look at me sideways cuz I ain't claiming that crime pay/But, I did it my way been rocking and popping since nine trey/So, move to the side way you stopping and clogging the move of the highway." 



And, you can hear the heart of the man exposed in "Victory Lap": "My wife is by my side, but she needs more from me/I know my God has/Promised to supply my needs/But, if I'm being honest, that's getting hard to see/More of me, less of you /I need to flip that up and just embrace the truth." This kind of writing and rhyming doesn't come along every day, and it's something that should truly be appreciated.




Best Song On The Record:

"I Got This" epitomizes KJ-52. The lyrics hit hard. There is just enough braggadocio. And, there is endless wordplay throughout. On top of all of what KJ did on the record, it was greatly pronounced by PoetiCS' production. PoetiCS definitely brought the drums in. 



For Fans Of:

Dru bex, Derek MinorKB, Bizzle 

 

Final Word:

"Hit the lights, I ain't coming back, it's time to run down my victory lap." It is common for artists to quit before their time is up. In following KJ's career throughout the years--especially since his renaissance in 2015--it is clear that this is a man who was only going to hang things up on his own terms. The inability to get signed pushed him to set an example for veterans and freshmen alike with massive success in crowdfunding. Victory Lap is a fitting end to this chapter of KJ-52. I look forward to what we will see from Jonah Sorrentino in the future.



Listen on Apple Music or Spotify


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