Into the Light
Matthew Matthew West has quietly become a major player in Christian Music. He has had the #1 song of the year at radio not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES in the last decade ("More", "You...
All Things Possible
Mark I have been a fan of Mark Schultz since he debuted way back in 2000 with his #1 single "I Am The Way". It's safe to say he's one of my favorite artists ever. So basically, I'm...
A fairly definitive collection of songs from one of CCM’s most popular groups | Posted August-15-2017
Point of Grace celebrated their 10 year anniversary in 2003 with what can probably be considered on of the best and most complete greatest hits collections in CCM history. 24 and its accompanying DVD 7 (see what they did there?) featured 24 of their 25 consecutive #1 hits on CCM radio (I still wish they just called it 25 and included "You Will Never Walk Alone" for completeness' sake!) complete with comprehensive packaging with stories behind each song and exclusive photos and memoirs. How could any greatest hits release from them top this? Well it can't and there's no real need to try. Their last greatest hits package, Turn Up the Music- The Hits of Point of Grace, did well to include primarily the post-"24" along with a few essential POG oldies (like "Circle of Friends" and "The Great Divide") and was much more simple in scale and promotion. However, "Our Recollections: 25th Anniversary" seeks to take a page from their "24" collection in its exclusivity (and a really bad album cover yet again) but lacks the hits of the previous collection. Instead of just including all their radio hits over the past 25 years, Point of Grace tries to encapsulate the essence of the group through the years, including fan favorites and meaningful album cuts along with some of their biggest hits.
Indeed each album is represented by both radio hits and album cuts. Some choices are brilliant while others are head scratchers. Their self-titled debut rightly features their first four #1 hits and the album closer “This Day.” Which for some time was a popular concert closer for them.
Sophomore release The Whole Truth features their career single “The Great Divide” , concert favorite “Our God is With Us” and their Mercy Ministries-inspired song “A House that Mercy Built.” But instead of popular album opener “Gather at the River” or the fun “Love Like No Other” the forgettable gospel song “Take Me Back” is included instead (always a CD-skipper on the original album for me).
Their blockbuster release Life Love and Other Mysteries is represented by its two biggest hits: “Keep the Candle Burning” and signature hit “Circle of Friends” but, instead of their #1 hit “You Are the Answer” or popular Sunday morning special ballad “Jesus Doesn’t Care” we are treated to two of the best songs from the back end of this release: “Any Road at Any Cost” and the ethereal and convicting “God Forbid”. This is a surprising but welcome move.
Platinum album Steady On is well represented with big hits “Saving Grace” and the title track but with only two songs from what many consider to be their best album I’m left wondering why dated tracks like “I Have No Doubt” or “Take Me Back” were not left off in favor of more enduring songs like “Jesus Is” or “The Wonder of It All.”
The second disc of this set is a bit non-sequitur. Unlike the first disk these songs are not listed in chronological order. Three ballads from Free to Fly are included (all three were radio hits) with big radio hits “Blue Skies” and “You Will Never Walk Alone” leading the way. I’m shocked that their first non-#1 single, “Yes I Believe” was given a place at the table instead of #1 hits “He Sends His Love” or “Praise Forevermore” or more interesting album tracks like “Begin with Me” or “By Heart.” I Choose You is represented by its three radio singles (disc opener “Who Am I”, the title cut and their #1 INSPO radio single, “Waiting in the Wings”) which are also the best three tracks on the album. How You Live lends the massive title track, their last #1 single “Heal the Wound” and, surprisingly, the sleepy “Any Way.” A better choice would have been “Before the Throne of Grace” which showcases POG’s amazing acapella harmonies or the popular lullaby “You Are Good.” “King of the World” which was a non-hit single featured on the expanded edition of How You Live is added but I would have included the upbeat “I Wish” in its place. POG’s final album attempt at mainstream country radio, No Changin’ Us is surprisingly under-represented with only the title song (which wasn’t even a single) making a show. This is very confusing given that some albums have 4-5 songs represented and it seemed that this album had several songs that meant a lot to POG. Perhaps radio singles “Come to Jesus” or “Nothing Greater Than Grace” or even their last mainstream single “Love and Laundry” or excellent album opener “He Holds Everything” could have found a spot here.
The two songs from A Thousand Little Things (title track and a graduation song dedicated to their kids) and the inclusion of two songs from their Directions Home covers album are fine enough but I found it odd that the last two songs on POG’s 25th anniversary greatest hits collection were covers of other people’s hits (Wayne Watson and Miley Cyrus oddly enough). Perhaps leaving off the covers songs and including two more songs from No Changin’ Us would have been better. Hopefully POG’s next greatest hits release will be a collection of all their radio singles in one place and give us a truly comprehensive look at this evergreen vocal group.
Over all, this is fairly definitive collection of songs from one of CCM’s most popular groups.
Matt West Steps Into The Light! | Posted October-08-2012
Matthew West has quietly become a major player in Christian Music. He has had the #1 song of the year at radio not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES in the last decade ("More", "You Are Everything", and "The Motions") and "Strong Enough" may make it a fourth time for 2012 if radio keeps it up. However, while he has been nominated for a few Grammys, he has yet to win a single Dove Award (Christian Music's highest honor). In fact, none of his #1 singles were even nominated for Song of the Year! This was especially criminal after the release of his career record The Story of Your Life in October of 2010. Not only was it his highest selling album and featured two huge radio hits ("My Own Little World" and "Strong Enough"), it also received some of the best reviews of his career. The Story of Your Life was inspired by letters he received from fans. When he sent out the request to fans for stories from their lives, he received a much larger response than initially anticipated (over 10,000 letters!) and to this day, the letters continue to pour in; therefore, West decided he would follow up Story with another album of songs inspired by his fans' letters. The end result is Into the Light.
While The Story of Your Life contained songs that dealt with primarily tragedies and major issues such as divorce, rape, cancer, and bullying and written from a perspective that was in the middle of the circumstance, Into the Light seems to take a slightly different angle than its predecessor by dealing more with the overarching themes of these stories in a way that allows for a more universal interpretation and teaching. A great example of this is the lead single, "Forgiveness", inspired by a mother who forgave her daughter's killer. While the story is referenced, the theme of the song focuses on the act of forgiving those who don't deserve it, just as Christ forgave us. "Do Something" continues this trend as West lists a series of tragedies and injustices followed by an exhortation to actually act upon convictions of compassion towards those in need instead of waiting for someone else to do the work. Each song is inspired by a specific story or letter but the songs themselves attempt to do more than just share the story by gleaning spiritual insight from the experience.
Musically, West mixes up his sound a bit on Into the Light allowing plenty of room for radio fodder while also trying to return to the more electric sounds found on his first two albums (the classics Happy and History). "Hello, My Name Is", "Do Something", "Moved By Mercy" (featuring an un-credited but amazing female vocalist) and "We Are The Broken" all feature crunchier guitars, louder rhythms, and more impassioned (and ad-libbed) vocals that we haven't heard from Matt West since his vocal chord surgery. It is encouraging to hear more musical and vocal variety as that was the major complaint issued regarding The Story of Your Life (individually, each song was amazing, but as a whole album of songs, they all seemed to run together a bit). In the end, Into the Light is a highlight in West's already highlight-filled career and should help his CCM star to continue to rise. Who knows, maybe this time he'll even garner a Dove Award!
Radio Ready: Forgiveness, Into The Light, Restored, Moved By Mercy, Unchangeable, Love Stands Waiting, Hello My Name Is...
iPod Picks- Moved By Mercy, Do Something, We Are the Broken, Restored, Unchangeable
iPod Picks- Moved By Mercy, Do Something, We Are the Broken, Restored, Unchangeable
Jason Gray Ways to See in the Dark | Posted September-25-2012
This album was released nearly a year ago but I am just now beginning to fully appreciate it! With A Way to See in the Dark, Jason Gray has created an album that is both radio friendly and artistically significant. With a heavy emphasis on percussion and acoustic guitar, the songs Gray has crafted feel both intimate and explosive at the same time. The overarching theme of the album is the idea of overcoming fear. Songs like "No Thief Life Fear" and "Fear is Easy, Love is Hard" obviously address the theme in a straightforward yet powerful manner where "Remind Me Who I Am", "Nothing is Wasted", "I Will Find a Way" and "Without Running Away" take a more subtle approach. Musically, this is straight up singer-songwriter pop with catchy melodies and big choruses. What sets Way to See apart is the variety of drum sounds throughout the record. From the driving beat of "Remind Me Who I Am", to the foot-stomping country feel of "There's No Thief Like Fear" to the sunny radio pop of "Good to Be Alive" to the off-beat syncopated drum pattern of the stellar closing worship track "Jesus, We Are Grateful", you're not going to hear the same drum pattern twice (something many CCM artists should learn from). What was most impressive to me with this album though was Gray's ability to weave Bible characters, doctrine and confessional truth into each and every song. So much is said in the smallest of lines ("Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come/You are the "Ark of God" to save us from the flood/ You are right to judge my sinful heart/ But Your glory is Your mercy" and "I was dead in all my sin and shame till You spoke my resurrection" from "Jesus We Are Grateful"; "Every chapter that we've been through has taught me to rely on You- Jesus, teach me that again!" from "The Other Side"; "Run the risk of fearlessly loving, without running away" from "Without Running Away")
With A Way to See in the Dark, Jason Gray has found the perfect balance between pop and artistry and has created one of the best pieces of music of the past year.
Radio Ready: "Remind Me Who I Am", "Good To Be Alive", "The End of Me", "A Way to See in the Dark" (look for "I Will Find a Way" to show up around Christmas this year...)
iPod Picks: "Remind Me Who I Am", "Good To Be Alive", "There's No Thief Life Fear", "Fear is Easy, Love is Hard", "Jesus We Are Grateful"
Mercy Me The Hurt & The Healer | Posted September-25-2012
You can always count on Mercy Me to deliver a solid power ballad and The Hurt & The Healer is no exception but Bart Millard & Co. have stretched themselves a bit on this one. Alongside inspirational ballads like "You Are I Am", "The First Time", and the title cut (which in my opinion sounds like a "Hold Fast" clone... which is a good thing!) are a plethora of Beatles-esque pop-rockers, heavy hitting pop songs and even a foray into southern rock balladry courtesy of their duet with NEEDTOBREATHE frontman Bear Rinehart on "Take the Time". For the most part, Bart Millard's lyrics are on point doctrinally, however, rocker "You Don't Care At All", while a highlight musically, (It's probably one of the rockiest songs MM has recorded) lyrically causes a bit of concern as it seems to present the idea that God does not care about our sin. While I understand the sentiment of the song, which is clarified in the second verse ("Old me is out the door, he won't be living here anymore") and the bridge ("When I'm so unworthy of mercy and You're Divine, still you made me holy"), the chorus line "...no matter what I do... You don't care at all...", in my opinion, over simplifies our salvation. God cared so much about our sin that His Son had to die for it. That quibble aside, The Hurt & The Healer is a solid album both musically and lyrically. MM seems to have written this album with their live concert audience in mind as I can envision choruses and outros of many of these tracks being belted out by a sold-out audience ("You Are I Am", "Whom It May Concern", "Don't Give Up On Me"). The only other issue I have with this set is the poor album sequencing. The record begins with one of its weakest tracks ("You Know Better") and seems to jump all over the place thematically and musically throughout. I understand very few people care about this since most will just add this album to their ipod and put it on shuffle but it matters to me ;) Overall, I believe this is the first Mercy Me album that is solid from beginning to end and is without filler; however, track for track, aside from "You Are I AM", I can't seem to find too many classic Mercy Me songs that will be remembered 10 years from now a la "I Can Only Imagine", "Word of God Speak", "Here With Me", "God With Us", "All of Creation", "So Long Self", "Finally Home", "Hold Fast" or "Bring the Rain". Still this is a well rounded collection that should play well in concert and on the radio.
Radio Ready: "The Hurt & The Healer", "You Are I Am", "Don't Give Up On Me", "You Know Better"
iPod Picks: "The Hurt & The Healer", "You Are I Am", "Don't Give Up On Me", "To Whom It May Concern", "The First Time"
Britt is Gold! | Posted September-25-2012
Artists who want to be successful understand one thing: in order to keep their fan base, they have to both record songs that are similar to what they've done in the past and add new sounds and styles to their wheelhouse. Britt Nicole wants to be a successful artist. Since she burst on the scene in 2007, Britt Nicole has filled a gaping hole in CCM for relevant female pop singers. Gold continues to emphasize that point by showcasing musical styles that fully encompass the current mainstream pop market. While her last album, 2009's The Lost Get Found featured many radio ready mid-tempo songs in the vein of Jordin Sparks, Leona Lewis, and Natasha Bedingfield, Gold builds on that sound and adds a strong dance presence to the mix. This album is truly a pop radio fan's delight. The title track leads of the album and is a perfectly balanced musical mixture of all of Katy Perry's singles from her Teenage Dream album. She even included the requisite rap bridge that most mainstream pop songs have today, except she doesn't need Snoop Dog (or Kanye, Missy Elliot, or BOB) to rap for her- she handles the verse by herself. Later on she does include an Lecrae on the catchy (and hopefully second single) "Ready or Not", but this pairing seems very natural and many fans have been hoping these two artists would collaborate. The results are sweet and satisfying and it is a highlight of the album. There are plenty of midtempo Pop songs to continue her streak of top 10 hits at Christian Radio (first single "All This Time", "You Are Who You Say You Are", "Stand", bonus track "Straight For Your Heart"), but it is on the more experimental dance tracks that Britt really shines. "Breakthrough" begins as a dark acoustic ballad until the chorus "breaks through" (pun intended) with a huge dubstep beats and a driving chorus. "Amazing Life" (and its equally stellar Capital Kings dubstep remix) follows and it sounds like a twin to JLo's comeback hit "On The Floor-, except with a better vocal (It is interesting to note that both songs seem to borrow melody lines from Rebecca St. James' "Lean On", a little known album track from her 2000 album Transform) and "Looks Like Love" is a traditional CCM pop/rock track that should be a youth group mission trip theme song at some point in time. The album closes with three ballads, which usually is a disappointment, but each of these songs take on a life of their own with varying levels of success. The best of the three is "Still That Girl"; it begins as a quirky, gentile lullaby reminicient of The Civil Wars before opening up to a full fledged pop anthem with a cool drum beat and and a souring chorus. "The Sun is Rising" reminds me of an American Idol winner's song. However, I wish Britt would have went for the big glory notes at the end (as all good Amereican Idols do) instead of settling for a softer ending. The standard edition of Gold ends with "Seeing For The First Time", a song inspired by her recent baptism and features one of Britt's most impressive and emotive vocal performances to date (especially during the bridge). However, while I do like the song, it has little to do with the story behind it; which brings me to the one critique of this album: it seems that so much time was spent on the melodies and production of the songs that the lyrics seem to suffer a bit. Sure, they fit well within Britt's target audience, (teen girls) and they are quite encouraging, but most songs seem to stay on the surface level and never seem to get personal or go past the obvious spiritually. (The only real exception to this is the carrier single "All This Time") However, it is apparent that quite a bit of planning went into the making of Gold and the generic lyricism seems to be part of the plan. The goal with this record seems to be to encourage and inspire young people while giving them music that is relevant to them. And in that Britt Nicole definitely succeeds.
Radio Ready: Any song, pick one! These are my predictions: All This Time, Stand, Ready or Not, Who You Say You Are, Amazing Life (mainstream)
iPod Picks: Breakthrough, Amazing Life (Capital Kings Remix), Ready or Not, All This Time, Stand, Gold
Tenth Avenue North The Struggle | Posted September-25-2012
The third album of an artist's career is probably one of their most important. It decides whether the artists will go on to have a long and healthy career or fade into oblivion. This is mainly due to the fact that most artists sign three album record deals and if album #3 does not perform well, they are handed a pink slip. With the success Tenth Avenue North has had up to this point, there is no reason to think that their label, Reunion Records, would ever consider getting rid of these guys, but from an artistic perspective, The Struggle is an important statement. Somewhere between Over and Underneath and The Light Meets the Dark, TAN morphed from a radio band into an art-pop critical darling and expectations are high for The Struggle. So how to the boys from West Palm Beach do? That depends on who you ask. This is not the magnum opus some critics were hoping for but there is obvious growth musically, lyrically, and vocally by the band that will please most listeners. While some may feel this release is not upbeat enough, or quirky enough, or boundary pushing enough, I think this record is exactly the musical statement Tenth Avenue North needed to make. One must understand that TAN will always be the band that properly straddles the fence between radio fodder and art. They are not trying to be Muse or Bon Iver, nor do they wish to be Maroon 5 or Lifehouse. They are somewhere in the middle and that's a good thing. In fact, they are exactly the type of artist that Christian Radio needs: someone who will push the envelope lyrically and musically all while staying within the accepted framework of CCM radio. Most importantly, TAN points listeners back to the Word of God as the final authority in our lives, which is a refreshing change from the typical "feelings" oriented music generally found on CCM radio today.
Musically, this album keeps in line with previous releases while adding flourishes of rock ("Shadows"), Gospel ("Losing", "Grace"), and Beatlesque harmonies ("Hostage of Peace"). The Struggle does a great job of balancing the hooks and singability of Over and Underneath with the artistry and lyrical depth of The Light Meets the Dark and should have no problem adding another 3-4 radio hits to their already impressive collection of radio smashes (my bets are on "Worn", "Strangers Here"and "Where Life Will Never Die" and with current hit single "Losing"). What truly sets this album apart though is the use of the "Gang Choir" background vocals on many of the songs. In a stroke of marketing genius, TAN recorded the choir vocals for this album at various concerts throughout the country after teaching the audience some of their new songs. One group of concert attendees even make an appearance in in the music video for "Losing". The cherry on top comes one the inside backing of the CD jewel case (you know, the area behind where the actual CD is fastened) where all "choir members" aka concert attendees' names are listed in 2.5 pt font). You can bet that 99% of those individuals will be buying this album if only to see their name printed in it!
Lyrically, The Struggle is a concept album that picks up where The Light Meets the Dark left off as it wrestles with the daily grind of the Christian experience. The album cover is Rembrandt's 1633 painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, in which, while depicting the biblical event, the painter included 14 individuals in the boat instead of the traditional 13 (the 12 disciples and the Lord Jesus Christ). It is said that Rembrandt, himself, is the 14th individual on the boat because the Dutch painter believed that these Bible stories were applicable and relevant to everyone. Christ is with us too as we struggle through the storms of this life. And that in a nutshell is the theme of The Struggle. In the midst of our pain, shame, and turmoil, Christ is with us, Christ is in us, Christ is for us and Christ is leading us home. These themes lead the band, as it should all of us, to worship our Savior ("Lamb of God") and confess our dependence on Him ("Worn", "Losing", "Hostage of Peace", "Grace") and our surrender to His Will ("Don't Stop the Madness", "You Do All Things Well", "Strangers Here").
Over all, with The Struggle, Tenth Avenue North continues to blaze their own trail in CCM as they seek to walk the fine line between radio accessibility and artistry all while holding fast to Scripture and the glorious message of the Gospel and the result is a fine collection of songs that challenge the listener to return to the truths of scripture instead of leaning on their own understanding.
Radio Ready: Losing, Strangers Here, Worn, Where Life Will Never Die, The Struggle, Grace
iPod Picks: Strangers Here, Worn, Don't Stop the Madness, Losing, The Struggle, Shadows, Hostage of Peace
Let's get the obvious over with right from the start. The cover art for Toby Mac's new CD, Eye On It is horrible. The interior art is adequate but whoever designed this cover (her name is Sarah Sung- I checked the credits) should lose her job... unless of course Sarah Sung is a young child... in that case, Mr. Mac and Ms. Sung get a pass. At any rate, Art Director Jan Cook (who is usually a phenomenal art director) should be ashamed of herself for giving this a pass. That being said, at least the design is bright and simple, which should catch an eye.
Eye On It is set to debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 this coming week, the first Christian album to do so since Bob Carlisle took Butterfly Kisses to the top in early 1997 (Billboard is claiming the last Christian album to go #1 was LeAnn Rimes' You Light Up My Life- Inspirational Songs in September of 1997 but I refuse to consider this album a Christian Album since the bulk of the songs were pop standards or hymns sung by an individual who does not even associate herself with the Christian Music community- so I went back to Butterfly Kisses for a proper reference point) In fact, I could not find another CCM album that hit #1 on the main Billboard chart that did not have a mainstream radio hit attached to it! (Amy Grant also had a #1 album with Heart in Motion, but that was basically a pop album) so this is a momentous occasion for the Christian Music community to say the least. (For those who care, Lecrae's Gravity released today with very few mainstream competitors and could make CCM two in a row for a #1 Billboard Top 200 album if properly supported- so go out and buy it too!) So the question is, does the music hold up to all the hype? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding YES.
With its focus on melody and pop trends, Eye On It properly represents modern CCM to the outside world. After listening to the CD a few times, it became clear that this is not so much of a coheisive concept album as it is a collection of radio singles, finely crafted and thoughtfully calculated to push CCM beyond its average musical trends for the broadest appeal possible. The best way to review Eye On It is to review each track one by one, so here goes!
1. Me Without You- The first radio single that lightly bobs along to sunny synths and a catchy melody. The lyrics are pretty cheesy but this is the type of song that you want to hear during the summer and perfectly sets up the album.
2. Steal My Show- This is a shocking 2nd track as it pretty much pulls the energy of the opening song to a halt for an introspective pop ballad that would have served better as an album closer. Lyrically, its a passionate plea for Christ to be the center of all Toby does.
3. Eye On It-And now we're back to the upbeat with the title track that is probably the most aggressive song on the record. Toby combines rap licks and rock guitars with some pretty heavy dubstep beats and some rather generic lyrics. I'm not sure why Toby Mac picked this song as his title track (Speak Life, Lose Myself or Steal My Show would have been better album names imo) but Britt Nicole makes an surprise guest appearance during the outro of the song with some pretty impressive vocalizing.
4. Forgiveness- Probably everyone's favorite song on the album, including mine (it was #1 on iTunes on the top Christian & Gospel Singles chart) features a guest rap (and vocals) by Lecrae. This mid-tempo ballad has solid lyrics and a memorable melody and may be the perfect song to introduce CCM Adult Contemporary radio to rap music.
5. Speak Life- This song sounds strikingly similar to Toby's hit song "Hold On" from his last record Tonight. In fact, you could sing "Hold On" to this track without much difficulty and visa versa. Lyrically, "Speak Life" is stronger but production-wise, "Hold On" was more catchy. This should be an easy #1 song for Mr. Mac.
6. Unstoppable- Another foray into dubstep, this time featuring Blanca from Group 1 Crew (as a pay back for his guest turn on G1C's top 5 hit "Let's Go" last year, I presume) Is also pretty hard hitting (maybe too hard for CCM radio) and should be fun in concert (Diverse City alum Nirva Ready should have no problem covering for Blanca).
7. Lose Myself- Like "Me Without You", "Lose Myself" is a nice mid to up tempo pop song with dance music textures that nicely pushes CCM radio into more electronic territory without going to far or being too obnoxious. I really liked the chorus on this one, even if the melody line might be slightly too high for Toby's limited range. (it probably would have been advisable to take the key down a half step or two)
8. Family- A surprisingly slow and intimate ballad about the importance of commitment to family that melodically is similar to #1 hit "City On Our Knees" (without the repetition or radio ready drum track). This song begins a series of relationship oriented songs that is a nice change of lyrical direction for the CD. One of Toby's best songs of his career. I would love to hear this on radio!
9. Thankful For You- If you mixed Sly & The Family's "Everyday People" with Audio A's "Beautiful" and Matthew West's "Next Thing You Know" you might get an idea of how this song sounds. Musically, this is the most unique track on the record and features a vocal grit that is missing from most of the songs on Eye On It. Lyrically its a great ode to the "one's who brought him" and helped him fulfill his musical dreams. Best line: "Its always been about the music, hoping God would use it to set some people free"
10. Made For Me- This is a cute love song to Toby's wife which mixes reggae and early 2000's Black Eyed Peas like pop into a sweet little treat that should make Mrs. McKeehan very happy.
11. Mac Daddy (Tru's Reality)- The requisite guest appearance by Toby's son was pretty shocking to say the least! Tru-Dog is all grown up! I actually had a hard time telling whether father or son were rapping over all the electronic beats and voice effects. It would be nice on Toby's next album if Tru actually got to guest on a serious song with his dad as its not quite as cute or comical for post-puberty Truett to sing about wanting a Mac laptop "so I can make my own beats" as it was last album when he was asking for a bike so he could "pop a wheelie".
12. Favorite Song- Eye On It ends with its most Adult Contemporary sounding song of the album. This time featuring Toby protegee and radio stalwart in her own right, Jamie Grace, "Favorite Song" bounces to an end in an almost forgettable fashion. It's catchy and fun, for sure but not too memorable. This song would have done better somewhere in the middle of the album to bridge the dubstep with the ballads. While still a solid song, it is easily the least memorable closing track of Toby's career ("Break Open The Sky" or "Lose My Soul" it is not) and leaves the listener feeling a bit confused.
Overall, this is a great collection of songs that will fit in well on anyone's iPod or workout playlist. More thought should have gone into the sequencing of the album to give the listener a better album listening experience. Lyrically, Eye On It covers standard Toby Mac territory and really doesn't break any new ground. It is nice though to see Toby embracing modern music trends and doing it just as well, if not better than his mainstream counterparts.
Radio Ready: The whole record! My picks: "Me Without You", "Steal My Show", "Forgiveness", "Speak Life", "Favorite Song", hopefully "Family" also gets a chance!
iPod Picks: "Me Without You", "Family", "Forgiveness", "Lose Myself", "Thankful For You", "Eye On It", "Unstoppable", "Steal My Show"
G1C is Fearless | Posted September-25-2012
For their first full-length album since the departure of rapper Pablo Villatoro, Christian hip hop/dance/pop group (now duo Manwell Reyes and Blanca Callahan) G1C have returned with Fearless an album that nicely balances their hip hop and rap roots with the dance sounds they explored on their last record, Outta Space Love, as well as their newfound pop and AC success explored on first single (and last single from their Outta Space Love: Bigger Love Edition re-release) "He Said". As expected, there is less rapping and more singing to be found on Fearless than on any previous record- credit that to Pablo's exit (both Blanca and Manwell alternated between singing and rap while Pablo only rapped) and Blanca's voice is especially in high form as she has truly improved on her craft over the last two years and is quickly becoming one of the finest vocalists in the industry (for further evidence, see the title cut and "The End of Me", "Stepping Out" or "Forsaken").
The album oscillates fairly evenly between pop songs and more hip-hop leaning material. The opener "His Kind of Love" may shock long-time fans as it is pure worship-based pop but follow-up track "The Difference" (which IMO should have been the opening song) brings it back home to classic G1C with its tight beats and multi-layered programming and vocals. Lyrically, G1C spend the bulk of the album digging deeper into their faith than their last record and while nothing here has as much theological content as "Keys to the Kingdom" or "Forgive Me", Solid biblical encouragement rings loud and clear through many tracks including "Forsaken", "Darkest Valley", "Stepping Out", "Dangerous" and the aforementionsed "He Said", "His Kind of Love" and "The Difference". "The Darkest Valley" invites a couple of guests including Reach Records star rapper Flame and a little known Gospel artist Thomas Ware (who also co-wrote "Forsaken"- lookout for this guys folks, he's going places) and together they create one of the coolest moments on the album.
A couple of relationship songs pop up near the middle (both Blanca and Manwell have recently married) "Mr & Mrs" is a cute ditty that reinforces the singer's commitment to their spouses (and musically is in the vein of their hit single "Let's Go") while "The End of Me" is a break-up song that reminds me of something Beyonce would take to #1. The remaining party tracks definitely "bring the party" musically, the best of which being "Going Down" but two tracks near the end of the record cause a bit of concern. While musically the rap based "Freq Dat" and club ready "Night of My Life" are fun songs, the lyrics are very secular and frankly unbiblical. "Night of My Life" declares "I'd trade each day of my week away just to have the time of my life" (what happened to redeeming the time?) while "Freq Dat" brags about that very "night of their life" in the club and on the dance floor as Manwell asks the ladies to "let me see you dance". Also, it should be noted that while the term "Freq Dat" is most likely referring to the beats a DJ is throwing down, I tend to remember friends from school using this term as a substitute for a much more vulgar phrase. While nothing too troubling may occur in these two songs, Christianity Today music reviewer Andrew Greer had a good point when he stated that these "benign party jams threaten to counteract the group's strong lyrical convictions."
Overall, I believe that this is a step in the right direction for G1C. They have grown tremendously in the lyrical department from their last album (aside from a couple songs) and musically are finding a successful way to remain relevant to both Christian Radio and their fanbase all while continuing to push CCM into bolder musical territories. Hopefully Fearless will be the album that brings Group 1 Crew into the mainstream of CCM because we all know that Christian radio is in desperate need of some variety and this album has the potential singles that could do just that.
Radio Ready: "He Said", "His Kind of Love", "Fearless", Stepping Out", "Forsaken", "Dangerous" ("The Difference", "The End of ME" or "Going Down" could do great at mainstream radio if they want to explore that area of the industry)
iPod Picks: "His Kind of Love", "Forsaken", "He Said", "Darkest Valley", "Fearless", "The Difference", "Going Down", "Stepping Out", "Not the End of Me"
Mark is Back: A Lesson on the Importance of Balance | Posted September-25-2012
I have been a fan of Mark Schultz since he debuted way back in 2000 with his #1 single "I Am The Way". It's safe to say he's one of my favorite artists ever. So basically, I'm a little biased when it comes to reviewing this album- but not in the way you think. You see, I hold Mr. Schultz to a very high standard- one he set in 2003 when he released Stories and Songs, an album that I feel was his crowning achievement- an album he has yet to match in production, heart, depth or melody. While I have enjoyed Mark's subsequent releases since Stories & Songs (Broken & Beautiful and Come Alive) I felt they were lacking in the above areas, no matter how perfectly formulated they were. Broken & Beautiful had some great story songs but the pop tracks seemed to be more like paint by the number style songs than anything truly inspired while the story songs on Come Alive were far too saccharine, sappy and sentimental for my tastes and musically, every single song seemed to go for the rafters, leaving one feeling exhausted by the end of the record. Basically, if Mark had combined the two albums, he'd have created another classic a la Stories & Songs. On All Things Possible; however, there seems to be a better balance of all the factors that make a Mark Schultz album great; and while it may not reach the cinematic heights of Stories & Songs or his eponymous self-titled debut, All Things Possible is a welcome return to balance.
There are noticeably fewer story songs on All Things Possible and I think this is wise. Mark is no longer a youth leader and he's spent most of his last two years vacationing in Europe with his wife and establishing a family back home in Nashville. (he and his wife recently welcomed their first child) Thus the focus back on personal life has left little time for the relationship building required to write a good story song about someone else so Mark wisely sticks to his personal experience on standout tracks such as "I Gave Up", "Haven't Met You Yet" and "I Will Love You Still". When Schultz does venture into the story song territory, on "One Day" (inspired by a paraplegic fan who attended one of his concerts), "When Love Walked In" and "More To You Thank This" (which don't appear to be inspired by any particular individuals but rather by tragic archetypes of our society) Schultz points to the spiritual principle behind the story instead of simply setting the narration of individuals' lives to music.
The remaining pop and worship songs on All Things Possible rival those of his peers and should have no issue finding their place on radio playlists. The title track (and first single) with its powerful chorus inspired by that all too familiar verse in Philippians (4:13) screams radio hit and is already climbing nicely on the AC charts and potential singles "It Is Well" and "Be Still" continue the tradition set with Mark's mega hit "I Am" of scripture inspired anthems while "What Do You Give a King" is a solid praise track that should work nicely into many churches' Christmas worship sets.
Musically, it is nice to hear Mark try some new things as well as revisiting some sounds he occasionally experimented with in the past. "I Gave Up" (with its New Orleans-influenced saxophone coda of "When the Saints Go Marching In") brings back the care free yet upbeat fun of old concert favorites like "Running Just to Catch Myself" and "When You Give" with some cool vintage guitar work, horns and background vocals that brings to mind The Beatles. "Haven't Met You Yet" bounces along at a breezy, easy-going tempo reminiscent of "Come Alive", the title song from Mark's last album that was a much needed reprieve from the bombast that was showcased on the rest of the record. The crown jewel of All Things Possible; however, is album closer "I Will Love You Still", a love song co-written with his wife. Mr & Mrs Schultz written a truly classic melody here that feels fresh but at the same time comfortingly familiar. Using falsetto and an interesting mix of major and minor chords to create a epic yet intimate feel, "I Will Love You Still" is bound to be a wedding classic for years to come and if new label Fair Trade Services is smart they will send this directly to radio (both Mainstream AC and CCM).
In the end, I'd place All Things Possible in the middle of Mark Schutlz' discography. This is a solid album by a veteran artist who knows what he wants to say and how to say it. While sales of Mark's Fair Trade Services debut have been slow (it debuted way down at #33 on the Christian Album Sales Chart), All Things Possible is an album deep with potential radio singles and as CCM fans begin to hear new Schultz songs on the radio, they most likely will waltz over to their local Christian Book Store (or iTunes) and pick up a copy of this excellent AC/Pop album.
Radio Ready- All Things Possible, One Day, I Will Love You Still, It Is Well, Be Still, I Gave Up, More to You Than This
iPod Picks- I Will Love You Still, I Gave Up, One Day, All Things Possible