Kate Stanford - King of Angels Review | Posted December-11-2022 What You Need To Know
Kate Stanford, a rising vocal star in the world of Christian Music. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Kate grew up singing anywhere she could lend her voice. Over the past few years, however, the young artist has been focused on her craft. In 2019, one of her first solo shows was an opportunity to open for Jaci Velasquez. In 2021, she released her first Christmas EP.
What It Sounds Like
Kate Stanford brings a gentle and earnest voice to some classic Christmas hymns in this festive EP. Sandford's voice brings a very angelic quality that would feel at home in many Churches. Her rendition of "Joy to the World" comes alive in a unique chorus that helps make the song her own. All of Sandford's offerings here play with these oft-covered carols in ways that help them feel unique. Whether it's using another song as a bridge or tweaking the melody to renew focus on the song, it helps the EP's trim track listing capture your attention well.
With the EP being entirely renditions of standard Christmas hymns, the faith themes are fairly obvious. While the songs may be so common to our ears that their often profound statements of the newborn king often get muddled, sometimes it just takes a new voice to get us to meditate on them a little bit closer. Whether it's the intimate longing for our savior of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" or the wondrous joy proclaimed in "Joy to the World." In a world of rocking around Christmas trees and simply having a wonderful Christmastime, sometimes a little "Heaven and nature sing" can be just the reminder we need.
The Union of Sinners and Saints - One More Shot Album Review | Posted September-01-2022 What You Need To Know
The Union of Sinners and Saints has proven themselves a supergroup of Classic Christian Rock. With prominent members of both Petra and Whiteheart, the band feels like a time capsule in music form. The band's been working on a sophomore album for a while now and they're finally ready to unleash it on the music world.
What It Sounds Like
John Schlitt has one of the all-time great rock voices. Overflowing with 80's arena rock goodness, his iconic vocals are instantly recognizable and add power and gravitas to whatever he sings that elevates it. It's what made Petra such a powerhouse presence during his 20 years fronting the band, allowing them to transition successfully from the departure of another popular vocalist.
Schlitt brings those power vocals to TUOS&S. And while the music carries some of that 80's synth hooks, such as on the Russ Taff cover "I Still Believe," it would be inaccurate to write this off as just like Petra. With bluegrass and country influences, The Union explores a bit more varied territory, while still undeniably feeling the influences of its members' former bands. "One More Shot" and "10,000 Strong" all bring energy and grit. "Group of Songs" offers an acoustic medley of Petra and White Heart ballads that is both nostalgic and intriguing to hear the songs in a different setting. Those who grew up on Petra worship will be pleased with their covers of standards "God of Wonders" and "Reckless Love."
When a bunch of musicians from the 1980s and 1990s Christian music writes music, you can bet it's going to be blunter in its themes than a lot of the safer modern music. "10,000 Strong" is a militant rebuke of the enemy and a reminder of the assured victory of Christ. "One More Shot" sings against those who refuse to see the truth in front of them. "I Still Believe" sings of keeping your faith in tough times. While perhaps the heavy hand might come off a bit cheesy in a few spots, it's also refreshing to see lyrics with such an uncompromising tone.
Album closer "We Are The Broken" boasts some of the band's best melodies on the album. With a fine blend of a more emotive chorus and edgier guitar elements, this is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
Fans of Classic Christian Rock will be eating this up. With John Schlitt's classic vocals against a bombastic rock sound, this album balances the stylings of the big hair hard rock with modern production. Together, they work to make a solid rock release that feels like a melding of musical eras.
Album Review: Newsboys - Stand | Posted September-30-2021 What You Need To Know
After wrapping up their final commitments of their Newsboys United-era, iconic Christian contemporary band the Newsboys seem to be ready to continue the direction they were taking with 2013's Restart and 2016's Love Riot. So, in 2021, the band is back with a new album, Stand, a fun and poppy return to the Michael Tait era of the Newsboys. For those new to the Newsboys, Michael Tait is the band's current lead singer.
What It Sounds Like
It's weird, considering that Restart is closing in on a decade old and Love Riot is over five years old. And yet, these are the most recent albums that seem to be continuing the "standard" albums of the Tait era. Since Tait joined the band, the Newsboys seem to be in a pattern of normal release/worship project cycle. With two to three years between albums, this has created quite a gap from standard project to standard project. United, a multi-year reunion with the band's previous members, shook up the formula. But their 2021 album, Stand, sees the band taking up where they left off with their sound in 2016's Love Riot.
Lead single "Magnetic" displays the best of the Newsboys' upbeat energetic pop/rock and is a strong introduction to this new collection of songs. The title track is the kind of rousing, inspirational anthem the Tait era has also made a huge signature of. Don't be surprised to hear this song in trailers for Christian films in the coming months.
The Newsboys have long been advocates of standing up for Christ against the world, and that theme cuts through several of the album's cuts, most notably in the title track.
Songs like "Magnetic" and "Ain't It Like Jesus" offer rousing praise to our savior for his work in our lives. "Never Too Far Away" is a song encouraging those who have strayed to return to the arms of a loving God.
The title track is probably the strongest cut from this class of Newsboys songs.
For Fans Of
MercyMe, Tait, for King & Country
While fans will undoubtedly miss the United era, the Tait era of the Newsboys was always a crowd-pleaser, and Stand sees that era continuing in strong form.
Album Review: Crowder - Milk & Honey | Posted June-10-2021 What You Need To Know
It's Crowder's 4th solo album! Kind of enough said right there. Crowder's one of the most iconic presences in Christian music today, both in terms of appearance and sound. Whenever he drops a new album, you know it'll be something to pay attention to.
What It Sounds Like
Lead single "Good God Almighty" is a definite product of Christian radio right now. With a call and answer chorus and a funky groove permeating the verses, the song is a definite foot-tapper designed to get people out of their seats and clapping around. Several other songs follow in a similar vein, with Crowder's signature folk-funk style driving the songs home. The title track is primed for similar commercial appeal with these same ingredients. "Who's Gonna Stop the King" manages to be an album highlight, with soft worshipful verses that explode into a rocking power chorus. "Hallelujah For Every Broken Heart" has "Christian Radio Hit" written all over it, with a rousing chorus that both praises the savior and encourages the discouraged. Every part of its composition seems to be made to resonate with radio fans. But "The Anchor" proves that Crowder still knows how to pen an emotive low-key ballad with spine-tingling execution.
Crowder is always good for lyrics that aren't afraid to play around with some words toward a greater theme. Lead single "Good God Almighty" reorients a phrase commonly used in a blasphemous way into a straight up praise anthem. Many of the songs deal with the power of God like "Who's Gonna Stop The King" and "In The House." "Hallelujah For A Broken Heart" offers encouragement to those going through stormy seasons. Common themes for Christian music, but delivered in signature Crowder style.
"Who's Gonna Stop The King
For Fans Of
For King & Country, Unspoken, Zach Williams
Crowder is always reliable for putting out albums that stand out from the pack. Milk and Honey is no exception and will surely be one of 2021's landmark releases in the genre.
Album Review: Marc Martel - Thank God It's Christmas EP | Posted November-18-2020 What You Need To Know
Former Downhere co-frontman Marc Martel has become one of the most successful Indie artists around, carving out a few unique niches for himself in an ever-changing music landscape. In addition to his uncanny vocal likeness to the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, Martel has kept a foot in the door of the Christian music market with an annual release of Christmas EPs and singles that have brought him much success on radio charts. For years, fans have been clamoring for Martel to release the one song that serves as an overlap of the two. 2020's Christmas EP finally gifts fans their long-standing wish.
What It Sounds Like
If Martel has proven anything about his musical personality through the years, it's that he's more than eclectic. Martel can tackle everything from edgy rock to opera and make it sound amazing. His Christmas musical offerings have spanned from modern pop/rock to operatic, to 1950s throwbacks. His new EP offers a mix of many sounds of the season. Lead single "Christmas Waltz" offers the duet of the album (another of Martel's Christmas trademarks), featuring the legendary Amy Grant. The track is appropriately retro in feeling as if 2020's production reached back in the 1950s to snag this performance. For those familiar with the song, Martel's rendition is fairly straightforward, but his penchant for vocal surprises keeps the song fresh with little flourishes here and there to make it special.
A cover of The Drifters' version of "White Christmas" is a refreshing break from the increasingly stale covers of the standard arrangement. Martel does this iconic version justice and it fits well with his bombastic musical personality. (For those who don't recognize the original artist's name, it's the version playing during Kevin's classic comb mic moment in Home Alone.)
Two tracks, in particular, are likely to stand out to listeners the most. One of them is perhaps the most surprising inclusion on this EP, a cover of Lauren Daigle's "Light of the World." Daigle hails from Centricity Music, the record label Downhere called home for many years. This was her debut single, before How Can It Be's quinfecta of No. 1 singles lit the Christian music charts on fire or "You Say" kicked down the door to the mainstream. Daigle's version was hauntingly beautiful and powerful. The bar was quite high for Martel to reach, and yet he somehow delivered. Martel's version of the song doesn't really change much up from Daigle's, and yet the delivery hits all the dramatic and emotional notes. Martel's powerful voice soars and echoes into a truly memorable climactic finish.
And of course, there's the title track, the song Martel's fans have been begging him to record for years. In all their years as a band, Queen wrote but one Christmas song: "Thank God It's Christmas." After the troubles of 2020, Martel must've been moved to finally record his take on the song. While the original Queen version is dripping in 80's synth goodness, Martel instead opts for more jazzy Gospel-infused offerings, with his signature vocals still front and center. I suspect fans will respond well to it.
With secular and well-known standards usually the centerpieces of most Christmas projects, spiritual highlights are often harder to come by in Christmas projects. For this project, "Light of the World" offers the most spiritual meat with its worshipful chorus and focus on the birth of Christ. "Thank God It's Christmas" always stood as a bit of a prayerful player in the catalog of Christmas songs, even if "Thank God" becoming so commonplace a phrase in our vernacular drained the words themselves of some of their punch. Still, when you look at the lyrics themselves, they present as a sort of song of thanksgiving to God for the Christmas holiday after a long and difficult year. Since the original version's release, the power of this perspective has perhaps never been so plain to the world as it is in the year 2020. With more bad news around every corner and no signs of 2020 bowing out quietly, the "magic of Christmas" has perhaps never been craved more. As Christians, we intellectually know the power and importance of the birth of Christ into our world. Sometimes we can sort of lose sight of the true impact that should have on us. As lockdowns threaten more and more of our holiday traditions this year, it's a chance to truly lean into the "reason for the season" we all preach so much about every year, and yet often ourselves forget.
Now, I doubt Queen originally intended the song to be used as such a spiritual catalyst. And yet, with Martel's release of the song this year, we truly have an opportunity to use the song to meditate on what's really important and on what Christmas truly means. When we thank God for Christmas after a truly long, hard year, let's remember that whatever is missing this year for Christmas in quarantine, the real meaning of Christmas is still there.
Marc Martel expands his Christmas catalog with several new classics that are sure to please fans old and new alike. "Thank God It's Christmas" gets a long-overdue rendition by Martel, and other surprises you didn't even realize you wanted to make this one of the must-hear EPs of the holiday season.
On the Treetops | Posted November-01-2020 What You Need To Know
Since leaving Sanctus Real several years ago, Matt Hammitt has kept himself in Christian music spotlight with a number of musical projects, as well as a book, advocacy work, and the touching story surrounding his son, Bowen. Matt's new album, Treetop, seeks to be a "coming of age" of sorts for middle-aged dads, looking back on the past with nostalgia, as well as an awareness of the road that led him to where he is.
What It Sounds Like
Matt's brand of pop/rock is on full display on Treetop. His voice carries an emotional weight that lends credence to whatever he says. The title track opens the album with an almost whimsical atmosphere that creates a nostalgic and reflective mood. "Average" is impossibly catchy and ironically above-average. "Blank Page" is a rousing number that evokes some memories of Matt's old Sanctus Real days, with the album's strongest chorus and engaging energy. The album also balances softer moments, such as the lead single "Try," that allows Matt to hit the emotional highs. A few of the cuts don't quite leave as much melodic impression as others. But, Matt's wisdom makes up for any of those moments. For an album that is so low key and humble in its execution, its crisp and skilled execution highlights the maturity of the seasoned artist behind it.
Matt Hammitt creates a journey melding nostalgia with sound wisdom in 10 tracks that feel like a journal or letter from a father to a son. Songs, like the title track and "Blank Page," look back at his current life journey, acknowledging the hardships, while noting how Christ with him through every step. "Average" talks about accepting that material success may not be what God has planned for us and how embracing this logic isn't bad or compromising. "Try" is an emotional wrecking ball, letting the listener know that "It's okay to feel angry/It's okay to feel heaviness/It's okay to feel insecure/And it's okay to ask questions/Turn your hurt to the heavens/It's okay to wonder what it's all for/He's not afraid of your doubt."
The album continues through themes of appreciating everything life has to offer ("Highlights") and how God will love us through all our struggles ("You Can't Stop Me"). Through it all, Matt's reassuring voice serves as a hand extended to the listeners to walk through their struggles and find the peace waiting on the other side of it all. These 10 songs ring with a voice of experience of someone who has been there, but also one who is still figuring it out. When more and more of popular music settle for trite comforts, it's refreshing to find someone like Hammitt proceeding with such authenticity.
Matt Hammitt has always had a finger on the pulse of the Christian man's walk, and this album serves as an album long devotional for Christian men and fathers. But, far from the often banal and trite advice doled out in self-help, Matt's wisdom is allowed to flow naturally from experience, and from the genuity of his musical execution. Those looking for a rewarding pop/rock album that trades some of the genre's signature pomp and circumstance for perspective and meaning will find in Matt's new release a beacon in a turbulent time.
Album Review: for King & Country - A Drummer Boy Christmas | Posted October-29-2020 What You Need To Know
The current kings of Christian pop, the brothers Smallbone of for KING & COUNTRY, have slowly been building up their repertoire of Christmas tunes. This culminates in their first full-length Christmas studio album, A Drummer Boy Christmas, themed after their signature rendition of the classic carol.
What It Sounds Like
For anyone who has followed the band over the past few years, the album's sound should come as little surprise. Many of the carols selected were featured on their Live Christmas album released a few years ago. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and its outro "Won't You Come" make their studio debut here. Bear Reinheart of NEEDTOBREATHE will surprise listeners with a guest appearance. His voice fits perfectly on the track's eerie and spine-tingling atmosphere and will make you long for future collaborations between the two. I still think these two tracks should be a single one as "Won't You Come" is the obvious grand finale to the track and doesn't stand on its own properly. But those are technical footnotes to the quality of the listening experience. "Joy to the World" gets the beautifully bombastic FK&C treatment and the result is unsurprisingly glorious. Other cuts are intimately low key and bring out the worship side of these classics. "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" get upgrades from their previous EP versions and the new versions fit well here.
The highlights for many fans will be the two new cuts. "Heavenly Hosts" is the standout and primed for radio success. With a slow-building approach, the song definitely feels like a classic in the making. While following the formula for many modern worship songs, the execution is filled with more wonder and emotion than comparable tracks. The track is a success of dynamics, with both soothing, reflecting harmonies balancing the grand choral highs. All wrapped in just enough of a Christmassy feel to be at home in the season, but not to distract from the setting of a quiet midnight field in the middle of nowhere where the message of the heavenly hosts occurred.
"The Carol of Joseph (I Believe In You)" takes a quiet approach to capture the wonder of Joseph, an often overlooked character in the Nativity narrative, at being the caretaker of the newborn king. While the brothers Smallbone are often known to go big in their song's climactic moments, this is an example of them keeping it simple and quiet throughout and successfully replicating the mood of cradling the newborn king in the night.
If there's any gripe, it may be that the 13-track length is a tad deceptive, with one of the tracks being a monologue, and the aforementioned "Won't You Come" being an extension of its lead-in. Add in the "In The Bleak Midwinter" Intro and Outro (both well done but their truncated nature doesn't leave room for either to break out) that bookends the collection, and only about 9 fully-fledged songs are present. With fine originals like "Baby Boy" and "Glorious" available, it would've been nice to see if they got reimagined mixes similar to "Drummer Boy" or "Angels." That said, the album doesn't feel shorted for their exclusion as the songs present still shine bright.
Not to knock the sleigh bells and Christmas party side of the season, but I always found that the songs focused on the true meaning tend to have the most replay value. Luckily for me, this album is, start to finish, focused on the birth of Christ. It's a reverent and intimate Christmas pageant of an album.
The new songs giving the perspectives of the shepherds and Joseph round out the worship themes of the classic carols. While perhaps these songs don't reinvent any perspectives on the birth of Christ, they do offer plenty to meditate on by the fireside this Christmas season.
I'll add in a special mention for the album art. I've always loved the drummer boy/soldier boy motifs of for KING & COUNTRY's past Christmas EPs and singles and this newest addition definitely captures the mood of the album's music.
for KING & COUNTRY have become the gold standard of popular Christian music this past decade. On paper, they more or less do what their contemporaries do, albeit sometimes a lot bigger. But their execution tends to have more emotion, more genuity, more passion. You can feel the authenticity in every note of their work. This Christmas album is no exception. While there isn't anything here you really wouldn't expect if you're familiar with the current conventions of the genre, it's hard to find much here that isn't flawlessly executed. This could be the Christmas classic album to kick off the new decade of Christmas music.
Album Review: RICHLIN EP | Posted October-28-2020 What You Need To Know
Brandon Richardson, stage name RICHLIN, aims to add his voice to the Christian Pop scene. He starts this journey with his debut EP. With several singles released throughout the year, this album gathers them into a cohesive collection for listeners.
What It Sounds Like
There's a little something for every Christian pop fan on this release. "Royal Blood" boasts a foot-tapping base beat to its chorus that makes you want to get up and move. A softer, more-worship oriented version is also included. This version shifts the mood to a slower and more reflective listening atmosphere.
Three of the four unique songs are included twice, a notable feature of this EP. Hearing these songs delivered in two different styles allows listeners to contemplate the lyrics in different ways. The anthemic "Love Like Thunder" does this well, flawlessly executing the pop anthem and reflective ballad approach. The fittingly titled pop anthem "One and Only" is the only song that doesn't have two versions. Once again, with a groovy singable chorus that would sound great on the radio, "One and Only" captures the listener's attention with chants and abundant hooks.
"Royal Blood" praises God for the gift of his blood saving us. "Love Like Thunder" marvels at the power of God's love. "You're The Wine" and "One and Only" continue the worship focus of the lyrics. While the music's sound may be rooted heavily in moveable beats and accessible pop melodies, it's topical and lyrical focus is squarely on the love of Christ and its work in our lives.
Richlin manages to capture a lot of the famous sounds of Christian pop in 2020. Whether it's the bold and anthemic choruses with just a hint of hip-hop or the soaring worship anthems, Richlin manages to give listeners a sampling of all of it. And, it works well to make his songs pop and engage the listener.
Micah Tyler - Feels Like Joy (Single) Review | Posted October-21-2020 What You Need To Know
One of Christian music's brightest up and coming stars releases his first Christmas single.
What It Sounds Like
"Feels Like Christmas" is a fun, toe-tapping Christmas song. While some songs make you want to sit by a fireside, this one is a "get up and decorate the house" type of song. With a trumpet solo in the bridge and a sugary holiday sounding hook, this is a great song to get you in the festive mood.
Taking a sort of "kitchen sink" thematic approach, the song balances traditional Christmas imagery like lights on a tree and snow in the air with the more faith-centric motifs about the newborn baby and joy. There're so many holiday motifs of both the mainstream and faith variety thrown so effortlessly into the music mix. It's commendable it all pulls together into such a cohesive idea. There's not a swing for new spiritual depth, but that's not really the aim of this track. Tyler aimed to deliver a fun tune to get people in the mood for the holiday season. The Christmassy imagery overflowing from every line of the track is sure to deliver.
Austin French - Peace On Earth Review | Posted October-16-2020 What You Need To Know
After establishing himself as a name to watch in the Christian music scene, Austin French introduces his first ever Christmas single.
What It Sounds Like
"Peace on Earth" takes all of the best hallmarks of Austin's style for an enjoyable spin. The slow-building structure allows for both Austin's vulnerable soft vocals to shine, as well as his knack for creating a rousing anthemic chorus. Some production flourishes give the track enough of a Christmassy feel to be relevant in the season. But, since it isn't dripping in sugar plums and sleigh bells, the song may very well find itself at home in non-Christmas playlists, as well.
The song's theme plays to a well-respected one for Christian Christmas originals. This is that the newborn King is the ultimate bringer of peace. In a year that has seen more than its share of turmoil, the reminder of the peace that only comes with Christ is needed more than ever.
This one should connect with fans of popular Christian music. If you're a fan of some of Contemporary Christian music's recent output of Christmas hits, be sure to add this one to your 2020 Christmas playlists.