A Fun Summer Ditty | Posted June-22-2018 What You Need To Know:
"California" is the debut single from Aaron Bucks, the newest face to the BEC Music roster. The single was produced in partnership with Ian Eskelin's Radiate Music.
What It Sounds Like:
The song practically oozes "summer." A light guitar beat and easygoing vocal performance, combined with the chorus's laid back and friendly vibes, combine to create a song made for dancing on the beach or backyard BBQs.
The song encourages "Church on Sunday Morning" and offers encouragement to its listeners going through trials. The song's themes trend more toward positive and accessible than a deep faith statement, but its encouragement still makes for recommended listening.
A New Worship Duo Rises | Posted June-14-2018 What You Need To Know:
Worship leaders based out of Durham, NC, Mark and Sarah Tillman have crafted a new album aiming to offer listeners a unique and vibrant worship musical experience.
What It Sounds Like:
With Morning Sun, Rising Tide, The Tillmans have balanced two popular worship styles and crafted something engaging and special here. There are echoes of acts like All Sons and Daughters with dueling guy/girl vocals leading listeners to worship against a laid-back musical soundscape. The music reaches musical peaks that call to mind some of the big names in worship now like Hillsong United. Lead single "Found My Joy" goes for a big and climactic feel while cuts like "My Song Forever" opt for a bit lower key approach that is no less musically rich. The engaging melodies will have you singing along and the soaring music will have your spirit singing.
"Thank You Jesus" offers a simple and candid thanks to Christ for all He's done for us that feels rarer than it should. Other songs echo common themes praising the greatness of God, whether it's reflecting on Him being a Father to us, or the joy we find in Him.
A Voice That Commands an Audience | Posted June-08-2018
What You Need To Know:
Teresa Peterson joins a small circle of Catholics in the Christian music industry with her third EP, Faithful. Written during a time when Peterson was learning the meaning of surrender and giving her career to God, Faithful aims to blaze a trail for Catholic musicians with a message accessible across denominational lines. (Editor's Note: This Catholic from Philly takes special pride in another Philly Catholic leaving a national musical footprint.)
What It Sounds Like:
Peterson's brand of worship pop is crisp and well polished. Her voice is strong but carries a slightly raw and intimate current that can help her stand out from some of her contemporaries. A lot of the songs come with musical surprises, such as the violin section of "Where I Should Be" and the climactic finish of "One and Only."
Peterson's music is decidedly worshipful. Touching on common topics in the industry, Peterson bears her heart with five songs of surrendering our lives to Christ that should resonate with listeners regardless of their denomination affiliations.
Sanctus Real became industry mainstays after several albums of tight rock and pop offerings. Over time, the "rock" side of things decreased with every album as the band matured. When The Dream came out 4 years ago, there was hardly a trace left of the powerhouse rock sound that drove hits like "Everything About You" and "I'm Not Alright" to no. 1 hits. The band's softer side boasted its own share of hits as well, such as the moving "Lead Me" or the driving "Promises."
When lead vocalist Matt Hammitt stepped down from the band the next year, it left the band's future identity up in the air. Enter Dustin Lolli, who stormed the scene with an engaging new single that led to a 3-song EP hinting at the band's new sound. While we've gotten some singles these past few years, it's only just now that we're finally getting to hear a full-length offering from the new Sanctus Real.
What It Sounds Like:
Listeners should go in knowing that this does not deliver the rock of Sanctus Real's past. Early lead singles promised a soft pop CCM radio play, and the album largely delivers. The talent behind Sanctus Real works to the band's benefit. Many of these songs are potential radio classics in the making. Single "Confidence" is among the catchiest choruses the band has ever produced, and "Hello Love" promises to be a worthy successor. Dustin Lolli's voice is deeper and softer than Hammitt's, carrying a 90's-esque CCM feel that adds richness to many of the tunes. Songs that could otherwise feel too generic are given some life. The band has not fully embraced the "epic" feel of "This is Love," although "Hide and Seek" gives us a taste of such a direction. "Survival" carries just a hint of an edge that shows that the Sanctus Real boys do still have access to the rock fire, even if they aren't currently utilizing it.
There is a lot to love here, and a lot of talent. As CCM albums go, while some of the songs may not be as memorable as others, this is a standout. It rarely feels like the Sanctus Real of the past, but it's easy to picture Matt Hammitt singing many of these tunes, and this is also a near relative of what the band had been doing toward the end of the Hammitt era. Perhaps on the early Sanctus Real sound, the book is indeed closed. And this new chapter isn't totally without its excitement.
One thing Sanctus Real always did well was craft vertical songs that were unashamed in their faith. On that front, nothing has changed. "Confidence" uses Old Testament figures to ask God for strength to meet trials, while other songs declare God's greatness, how He works in our lives and how He safeguards us. Some of the more profound aspects of relationships and of our brokenness don't get the attention past releases have had, and thus many of the (still commendable) lyrical numbers are not as challenging. Still, positive themes carry the album to recommendable status.
Best Song on the Album:
"Confidence" is catchy and classic and an excellent choice to promote the album.
New Breath to an Old Era | Posted March-22-2018
For those of us who came of age during the 2000s, rock music was a part of our identity. As that distinguished brand of rock has faded more and more into the past, the cravings for a new face to deliver that sound in a fresh way have increased. Enter Andrew Serino. Having already developed a following through YouTube covers and auditioning on American Idol, Serino is poised to bring The Golden Thread to the music world.
What It Sounds Like:
It's like Serino was signed to Tooth & Nail Records in the mid-2000s and then came through a time portal to 2018. So many of the bands that defined the label during that timeframe have echoes on Serino's sound, while Serino still owns his own unique musical identity. Heavy guitars and mostly clean vocals dominate the songs, while quieter subtle instrumental elements round out the tunes into a full sound. Lead single "Wake Up" exemplifies all the best the album has to offer, including a delicious gang vocal hook and a rousing chorus. Beautiful duet "Shadows" with Andrew's wife Heidi Serino is another highlight, showing a slightly softer side of Serino's music. The title track sends the album off in a grand finale of a rocking closer, again highlighting the best of Serino's take on a timeless alt-rock sound.
Like the bands referenced by Serino's sound, Serino hasn't set out to craft a "church" CD here. The lyrics are more focused on positive themes, including calling out negative influences ("Arrogance") and ridding ourselves of harmful habits ("Wake Up"). "Shadows" is arguably the song most likely to be seen as a vertical one, albeit one that can also apply to human relationships. Regardless, the themes of encouragement are consistently above the topics promoted by the typical mainstream.
Best Song On The Record:
"Wake Up" captures everything that is best about The Golden Thread.
Pop Music Miracles | Posted March-14-2018 Miracles is the 3rd album since pop punk rockers Hawk Nelson reinvented themselves after Jon Steingard took over vocals from Jason Dunn. The title track has already been lighting up airwaves, and one look at the tracklist shows that the album promises to provide more of the radio ready hits the band has made a signature over the past few years.
What It Sounds Like:
Given the success of hits like "Words" and "Drops in the Ocean," it's no surprise that many cuts here follow a similar musical path. Complete with chanted "woahs" and a singable chorus that can both light up arenas and Top 10 playlists, these songs guarantee the band will keep themselves on the front of the CCM musical landscape. However, the band also explores musically with some juicy electronic hooks that balance some of the radio anthems. While any of the punk/rock influence of the Dunn era is reduced to the tiniest of flickers, Hawk Nelson's new songs prove that they can sing with the biggest voices in the business and that this third album of the Steingard era cements their thriving in their new identity.
Since their reinvention, Hawk Nelson has been unashamedly vertical in their music, and these songs are no different. Whether it's the prayerful pleas for God to rescue us on "Parachute" or the ways that God works in our lives ("He Still Does (Miracles)," "Crooked Lines,"), spreading the kingdom of Christ is everywhere on Miracles.
Best Song on the Record:
"He Still Does (Miracles)" exemplifies the best of the album's strengths with one of the band's most memorable hits to date.
All Above The Pop Fray | Posted January-24-2018
All Above Me enters a music scene increasingly devoid of genuine rock with a sound challenging the danceification trend of modern rock bands. While the choruses on Return to the Battlefield are soaring and melodic, the riffs come unapologetic and hard.
Making strong use of the Skillet-popularized guy/girl duet approach to hard rock, with the lead vocals going primarily to the girl side of that coin, the album embraces a sound rawer and less produced than their more mainstream contemporaries. Songs like "Go" and "Labyrinth" exemplify the best of the band's sound. Kevin Young spices up "King & Crown" with screams that makes it a sonic standout.
While moments of ballad-like lightness are tucked only toward the end, both of the album's softer cuts make effective use of the change in tone. "Yesterday" is a delectable ballad that offers honest encouragement on overcoming the past, while the praiseworthy "Sing For You" offers a juicy solo amid the album's most electronically-driven track. Despite being a sonic outlier of sorts, it's also a highlight.
"Christian Rock Heroes" may take the crown of most meta rock song to hit the genre ever (or at least since Pillar's "Turn it Up"), giving nods to giants like Skillet and Thousand Foot Krutch. It's cheesy and playful, but will be sure to grab your attention.
The Bottom Line: If you've missed music with a genuine guitar framework and also like production kept in check, you will be all over All Above Me's Return to the Battlefield.
Christmas Comes Alive | Posted December-15-2017
for KING & COUNTRY is arguably the biggest success story in the past decade of Christian music, owning an original sound in a sea of like-sounding contemporaries. Their 2012 Christmas single "Baby Boy" was the precursor to several subsequent holiday releases. Instead of just slapping those same recordings into a full length with a few new cuts added, the brothers Smallbone opted for a live Christmas album instead, bringing the listener to the front row of their Christmas tours with A for KING & COUNTRY Christmas: Live in Phoenix.
Every Christmas song for KING & COUNTRY has recorded in the past is included. The aforementioned "Baby Boy" and last year's radio hit "Glorious" highlight a quality yuletide set. Their rousing covers of some classic carols also make the album a joy to experience. "The Little Drummer Boy" kicks off the album and is probably the most natural carol possible for the band's drum-heavy sound. This live release has gotten them some well-deserved mainstream notice.
There are also a few new recordings in the mix here. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is the standout, a big and bold version that should please longtime fans and intrigue new listeners. There's also an outro to the song called "Won't You Come" that is equally delectable, although it's a bit unfortunate that it is listed as a separate track, which could make playback a bit awkward.
"Joy to the World" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" get a more intimate treatment, with soft vocals carrying the tunes rather than the huge instrumentation the band is known for. A non-Christmas (but equally relevant) song closes the track listing out: "The Proof of Your Love" was the band's second hit, but arguably the first one that really became a smash. This version opts for a softer slow build that erupts during the song's climactic finish. What makes this version special is it features guest vocals from the original Smallbone to grace the CCM radio airwaves: Joel and Luke's big sister, Rebecca St. James. Her vocals fit well into the song's passionate structure.
It's hard to criticize anything put out by such a powerhouse. The record is truly enjoyable start to finish. If anything feels a bit lacking, it's that one or two more songs would have made the set feel fuller. Especially with the softer songs all playing at the end, a few additional high-energy songs could've helped keep the momentum the album began with alive. Still, it's better to have fewer songs that work well than many that don't. When the biggest complaint is that the music is so good that you want more, that's a mark of success in itself.
The Bottom Line: A for KING & COUNTRY Christmas: Live in Phoenix is an experience to cherish for Christmases to come from some of the best voices in the business.
For Fans Of: Rebecca St. James, Everfound, Newsboys, Drums
Song to Download Now:
"The Little Drummer Boy (Live)" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Delivering On Promise | Posted December-15-2017
When you have a live album titled For Unto Us: Christmas Worship Live From London from a worship leader with as much credibility as Paul Baloche, you shouldn't be surprised when it delivers exactly what it promises. Start to finish, this is 10 of his best Christmas-themed worship standards performed live in the genre's signature contemporary style. There is less concern with making musical surprises than with honest and straightforward praise to the newborn Savior.
Some of the songs show Baloche's signature move of combining well-known worship choruses with popular carols, such as "Joy to the World" and "Our God Saves." "For Unto Us" takes a lesser-covered song and blends it with the signature "Open The Eyes of My Heart," which feels a bit more natural than some other choices could have been.
If you're drawn to this classic contemporary style of worship, Paul Baloche's live Christmas Worship album will be a treat to play on repeat. The songs are simple and relaxing, and draw focus to the real reason for the season. In an age where commercialism tends to be so rampant that even the religious side of Christmas tends to become a part of the sale, it's hard to fault something so heartfelt and straightforward that doesn't overstuff on musical bells and whistles. To reorient somebody's attention on the focus of our affections, it's effective and commendable.
As a standalone musical project, the project may be limited in its appeal to those who are firmly fans of the staple praise and worship sounds. Those weary of what the praise genre typically offers may not connect as well with the project. While every now and then a melody change or instrumental accompaniment offers something to catch the attention, the forthright delivery of many of the tracks may not be for those looking for something experimental.
When the project delves into the songs we haven't heard as often, it works the best. "Christmas Offering" is a good example of this, as is the shining quiet of the closing track "Peace on Earth." The latter is a strong way to close out the project and may stand as the best cut from the album. Appropriately going for an intimate and contemplative finish instead of a rousing choral grand finale, the song stays true to the album's themes while also providing a more memorable musical finish.
The Bottom Line: Fans of praise and worship will find much to love in this Christmas offering from a veteran worship leader.
The Voice of Christmas | Posted November-17-2017
Long one of Christian music's best kept secrets, Marc Martel seems to have found a comfortable niche in the business. Known for his incredibly diverse voice that can mimic some of the best singers known to recorded music, Marc Martel has built up an incredibly loyal fanbase. Last year saw him release his first Christmas EP as a solo artist, which garnered some surprising radio success. This year, Martel launched a Kickstarter to fund two more EPs: one a covers EP to be released next year, and the other a follow-up to his successful The Silent Night EP from last year.
The First Noel EP checks all the right boxes for Christmas releases, building on the strengths of last year's EP and adding in new ones. "The First Noel" is a treat and a good radio candidate, taking a slow build from a standard offering to truly exceptional in the song's climactic finish. Martel's vocal chops are on full display here, carrying the song to a position as one of the album's finest.
Other offerings, like a contemplative take on "Mary Did You Know" and a guitar-driven "Ave Maria," add strong complement to the pillars of the album. "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" features guest vocals from Plumb. The song is unabashedly fun and comes with enjoyable musical flourishes, like a banjo backing.
While much of the EP could be described as a sort of cocktail Christmas record that would sound good at parties and for chilling out, Martel sends a curveball finish with "Hallelujah Chorus," which is pretty much as big and theatrical as you'd expect from Martel. With layered vocals covering the entire choral range, Martel is a one-man choir belting out Handel's classic with brilliant bravado. It's a strong grand finale to the EP, and a highlight of Martel's entire Christmas catalogue.
As the Downhere years get farther and farther in the rearview, any offering from Martel becomes more and more precious to the longtime Downhomies. But Martel's proven he can branch out from CCM and offer styles to impress audiences of varied tastes. This is an EP that should have something in it for everyone. Here's hoping it's not the last holiday collection to feature Martel, as his voice seems to make the season a little bit brighter.
The Bottom Line: Both straightforward and surprising at times, Martel's new Christmas EP The First Noel balances fun and reverence for what is sure to be a crowdpleaser.