Single Review: Andrew Kurtz - Baptized | Posted July-09-2021 What You Need To Know
Popular worship leader Andrew Kurtz readies a national debut single sure to capture fans of some of the genre's biggest current stalwarts.
What It Sounds Like
"Baptized" is a fun and poppy anthem that captures a danceable beat. With a blues musical accompaniment and a sprinkling of gospel backing, the song is a fun and unique offering that blends different genres into a refreshing package. A strong introduction to a promising new voice.
A simple number singing of the freedom found in Christ and how His baptism washes away our shame. Well-covered themes, but ones which should relate to many a listener.
For Fans Of
Jordan Feliz, Austin French, For King & Country
Give this debut single a listen. You may find a new artist to add to your watch lists.
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.
Album Review: Skillet - Victorious: The Aftermath | Posted September-09-2020 What You Need To Know
Deluxe Editions of Skillet albums have become par for the course. Dating all the way to Collide, every album has either been re-released as or co-released with a version featuring extra songs. When the very first song Skillet played live in advance of Victorious called "Dead Man Walking" ended up not making the final tracklisting, fans immediately knew we were in for another "Deluxe Edition" of some sort to come about a year after the new album released.
Sure enough, here we are about 13 months since Victorious blasted onto the scene and Victorious: The Aftermath is ready to keep the victory coming. (Which, if I may say, is the best name yet I've seen for a Deluxe Edition.) The album's 12-track listing is expanded to 20 with three new songs and five alternate versions of popular cuts from the standard listing.
What It Sounds Like
"Dead Man Walking" translates well to the studio. Those who've heard the live videos floating around YouTube likely know what to expect. The song is a classic Skillet amp-up rocker that will certainly become a workout jam for many. "Sick and Empty" is probably the standout of the new tracks, offering an electric number that juxtaposes laid back verses against a rocking chorus to rousing success. This definitely has fan favorite written all over it. It was already a favorite of Ledger's, who had expressed disappointment it wasn't included in the album's standard release.
The previously released "Dreaming of Eden" is a terrific anthem that balances the ballad and rocker sensibilities into one of the band's catchiest songs to date. It also makes a great theme song to the band's graphic novel series.
The reimagined songs that make up the other new inclusions will likely be more polarizing to fans. While "Legendary" gets a bit of a standard remix treatment, several of the album's rockers get turned into piano ballads. The title track gets a cinematic version that highlights its melodic strengths. The previously released "Save Me (Reimagined)" offers a slow-building epic ballad take on the piano rocker that highlights the song's emotive core. But, perhaps the standout of the bunch is the "Reach (Falling Deep Mix)." A stark departure from the original's aggressive rock structure, this version is pure haunting piano ballad, with Ledger taking over a whole verse of the song, adding in a whole new layer of meaning to the words. This was stated to be a favored arrangement of Korey Cooper's and one need not listen long to see why. It's quite refreshing to see a song that is billed as a reimagining actually come out drastically different than its original. While the original was a favorite of mine on Victorious, I cannot deny that this version is also one of my top picks of this whole collection.
The single "Terrify The Dark (Reimagined)" closes out the project. And, while the song is still a strong ballad, one will need to listen closely to catch the subtle differences in the mixing between this and the original. In contrast to the drastic changes, some of the other remixes underwent, many listeners may come away a bit disappointed that there weren't a few more risks taken to differentiate this version from its original album arrangement.
For those craving new Skillet, The Aftermath delivers in spades.
Some of the new cuts on The Aftermath probe some meatier spiritual waters than the standard Skillet pump-up or "man versus society" anthem. While "Dead Man Walking" fits nicely into the themes blazed by "Reach" or "Back to Life," "Sick and Empty" digs deeper. Exploring themes of self-loathing over one's sinfulness, the song serves as one of the darker entries of Skillet's catalogue, while still offering hope. Standout lyrics include, "I don't deserve Your tears/Or to be happy here/This ended when You gave Yourself to me."
"Dreaming of Eden" sings of the joy and reward we will find when we get to heaven and are free from our sinful state.
"Reach (Falling Deep Mix)"
For Fans Of
Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, Seventh Day Slumber
The new material on The Aftermath is mostly strong additions to the Skillet cannon. Fans would do well to add these new tracks to their streaming and download playlists. These new cuts will likely cement themselves as an integral part of the Victorious legacy. Those jaded by re-releases are unlikely to be moved by the bonus material, whereas those of us still clinging to the charm of physical copies will have to weigh whether or not the new inclusions merit a repurchase. Regardless of one's feelings on the idea of Deluxe Editions, The Aftermath offers enough new content to give Skillet fans something to ease the sting of a rough 2020 and hold us over until we can get another full-length project from one of the most iconic bands in the business.
Album Review: Graham Jones - The Story's Still Alive | Posted September-09-2020 What You Need To Know
With an aim to uncover the spiritual in the everyday, singer-songwriter Graham Jones puts thoughtful lyrics to gentle and memorable melodies in this worshipful offering.
What It Sounds Like
With an acoustic guitar driving the album coupled with Jones's soft vocals, the album takes a much more atmospheric approach to music than the trends of the genre currently allow. These are the kinds of songs that could easily be sonically placed in the background of a commercial or television drama. But, far from being sombre, there is a lot of joy to be had here, such is in the upbeat "I Am Here For You." "Carry Your Heart" brings in a faster pace to add variety to the album's approach, while still feeling right at home.
Far from the easy worship of most in the genre, Graham Jones both encourages weary listeners ("Carry Your Heart," "The Story's Still Alive") and also challenges their preconceptions ("God Loves People Everywhere"). "I Am Here For You" and "Resurrection Song" offer examples of common themes of the genre, but done with a more thoughtful and personal execution.