Category Archives: Music Review
My thoughts on the latest albums
It’s all about context.
There seems to be so many mega churches putting out albums full of generic worship songs that talk about Gods grace and goodness but miss the heart of it all… sometimes it just seems like they are just putting words to paper, and do ‘Worship by numbers’ – now please hear me I’m not saying that these songs aren’t authentic or can’t be used… I just sometimes think they lose their organic-ness due to deadlines etc.
And so it’s refreshing when you hear an album like Malcolm Gordon’s ‘Into the Deep’
You find yourself being drawn into the worship. It’s not about lights… it’s not about performance it’s about turning your eyes upwards… and it’s so natural.
Malcolm is a Presbyterian Minister, serving as the music director at St Peters in Tauranga in New Zealand… and the easy going nature that New Zealanders are renown for certainly shows in his music.
I love how Malcolm’s music is constantly routed not only in the Bible but also church tradition… a constant step forward while being rooted in the past. The Song Christ Before Me was inspired by ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ an old hymn that is thought to have been originally written in the 8th Century. Most of the songs have this foundation of scripture first which could seem quite heavy although Malcolm treats the scripture with respect and beauty and the result is a beautifully flowing album with real kiwi tinge and a large helping of Celt.
The album takes you on a journey as you start with ‘Waiting For the Dawn’ a real sense of expectations as you find yourself singing ”Yes I am longing, For Jesus to come”… and then you are gently lead throughout the scriptures.
In fact being lead would be a really good way to describe how this album takes you to a place where you find yourself in worship, and it’s done so naturally you don’t have to think about it, the worship is something that just flows from where the music leads.
The real highlight of the album is when you hit the acapella filled song ‘How Long Lord’ based on Psalm 13 sung as a Celtic tinged round… it’s melodic, it’s soothing and it’s the perfect time on the album to change the feel of the album.
Although this album is beautiful as a whole it’s each song that really feel like they have been individually hand crafted that really bring it together.
This is a beautiful inspired album.
I live in New Zealand, it’s a small place in the bottom of the pacific that is a melting pot of great music.
One of the things that works the best with the pacific musical blend is Dub and Reggae vibes, with bands like The Black Seeds, Tiki Taane, Salmonella Dub and Fat Freddys Drop pushing the boundaries. So its fair to say I know what great reggae, dub and roots sound like.
So I was excited when I heard the vibes around the group Tasman Jude, a reggae based group made up of Bravehart (from Trinidad & Tobago) & Al Peterson (From Canada) an unusual combination on paper if you look at just the countries of origin you would have to admit – however what I heard was something fresh, and I liked it.
‘El Norteno’ starts off with an acoustic reggae based groove that reminded me of Jack Johnson, until the vocal came in with a Matisyahu type of flow and sets the rest of the album up with the track ‘Fountains’… it was great to hear people taking reggae back to it’s roots more.
I loved seeing pictures of Bob Marley early in his recording career with an acoustic guitar surround by his band all circled around one mic. That to me symbolizes the essence of great reggae music.
Our radio-waves are filled with over produced reggae with hundreds of dubbed over tracks and beats and while they might be what people are calling for it takes away the innocence that reggae resembles… rebels with peace and love and truth in their voices with the promise of a new revolution based on these things.
‘El Norteno’ is filled with this vibe. Tasman Jude are cutting across the grain to give you something that others aren’t giving you… reggae with heart.
‘Take You Away’ is the perfect example of great acoustic grooves with a reggae vibe that Tasman Jude lay before you… it’s the way Canada and Trinidad & Tobago work together… great catchy melody’s and sunny island attitude that’s relaxed and feelin’ great.
It’s the essence of this combination that makes Tasman Jude’s sound work so well.
The track ‘Whoa’ is certainly the standout track on this album, and starts to push Tasman Jude’s sound to a place that becomes a bit more raw, and gives a really good example of how the band would sound live. It almost brings some harder elements into the sound reminiscent of groups like Sublime.
An album with more tracks would hopefully highlight some more of these sounds, as it’s a fine balance with Tasman Jude’s type of sound between too much of the same and trying to fit too much in which can make the sound seem cluttered.
I love how this album is raw, not over produced and highlights the basics of what this group represents, great melody, a fresh relaxed vibe and clean sounds.
This is the best of what acoustic sounds are on the radio at the moment…
Its great to hear bands not just bragging about going back to their roots… but actually doing it.
I’m a firm believer that the music that’s in the church should sound like the music that’s being played outside the church only the lyrics are uplifting and God focused… this follows the tradition of people like Martin Luther who used pub songs as the melodies for his hymns or William Booth when he used the Brass band (The Rock band of the day).
Ian Yates seems like he’s standing on the shoulders of these giants when he gives us ‘Really Good News’ or what you could call ‘Good News 1.5′ as it is a follow up EP right on the heals of his last release ‘Good News’.
Now this isn’t a bad thing… it’s almost like Ian is saying “we released our album ‘Good News’, but we couldn’t wait for you to hear some of the new stuff we were working on”.
The great thing about this EP is that it follows on perfectly from the album ‘Good News’, a lot of EP’s of this nature are like random songs that are thrown together and called an EP to bridge a gap between full length albums.
Ian’s strength is his ability to find great melodies and take fairly big subjects and make them simple for people to understand.
I mean it’s one thing to be able to pick up a great melody… but to have a great melody with a lyric that will stick in your brain is a much harder task… however it’s something that Ian manages to do with great ease and then like a magician he also adds this dance type feel to some of the tracks bridging the gap between church and club, chapel and pub… this is the easy part… the hard part is maintaining the gaze on the creator of it all… and Ian’s focus is firmly fixed on him.
All through the album Ian fights this great tension between dance-able poppy church music and something that’s more meaningful… there are times when Ian seamlessly crosses from pop/rock to a kind of dub-step feel (like in Heavens Open) the really cool thing is that he does it well, and by that I mean is that it doesn’t feel forced or out of place.
The message could have been really easily lost in the ideas of the music however the music seems to push the ideas of the songs further… and that’s how it should be.
I like a worship album with tension… the wrestle with the music and lyrics that unmask the emotion of the things we want to say but don’t know where to start.
Ian gives you words simple and true “All we are is found in you” and then gives us a platform in which to direct them to the God he wants to turn your eyes to.
The bottom line is if you are into worship music that you want to sing along with, be challenged by and have songs where you understand what you are actually singing about because all of the church jargon has been removed and replaced with words we actually use… then make sure you check out this EP… and even better… it’s FREE… or you can even pay for it if you think it’s an artist you feel like you should support, because he’s just that good.
Check out the EP HERE… you won’t be disappointed!
I love the beach… I love everything about it… the fresh wind… the warm sand through my toes… the romance of it… the ruggedness of it… the freedom of it, it’s no wonder that this is the place that Rend Collective Experiment chose record their latest album.
I’ve tried to think back and I honestly don’t think I remember smiling so much through a worship album than I did when I listened through the latest album from these Irish folk.
Rend decided to feed their continued focus on community by releasing a live album of songs from their last two albums Organic Family Hymnal and Homemade Worship by Handmade People… both great albums in their own right., however don’t think for one minute that Rend will give you just the same thing as they gave you on these albums… Rend are far two creative for that. This album is filled with the the new-folk joys of the original albums with all the surprise and quirkiness of their Indie vibe.
The band was so keen to have a ‘live worship’ feel and a real sense of community that they put out an invitation via Twitter and Facebook for people to come and participate around a campfire on Ballyholme beach where all the vocals were recorded live… and thus atmosphere is created… it was literally recorded around a campfire… I mean how cool is that????
The Album starts with the call to worship… ‘Kumbaya’ – it’s a stroke of genius… the ultimate campfire song is re-visioned into a cry for God to be a part of the album, the continued worship.
The first track I heard from this album was ‘Movements’ - I was excited to hear it live, and I was at first a bit puzzled… yes it was a great song… but what have you done to this great pop number… however before long I found myself smiling and singing along… I was drawn into the song… drawn into the atmosphere… I could almost feel the heat of the campfire against my skin.
Then it dawned on me it wasn’t about the song or the arrangement… it was about community… eccelesia (a movement… church)
The concept of the album demands new arrangements .. new feels… new twist mainly because of the simple fact that beaches don’t usually have power… however what is birthed from the album is fresh and new and exciting.
Rend have even taken the Matt Redman ’10,000 reasons’ and re-visioned it for around the campfire and again the song takes on a new personality and the focus once again changes
Gone of the days where worship was confined to churches… gone are the days where church music was paint by numbers worship… or had to feel a certain way… Rend are breaking it down… knocking down stereo types and creating something that is so fresh that people can’t help but be drawn into it.
The creativity on this album… the honesty of this album… almost begs you to look to one direction… and that’s up!
Forget Mumford and Son’s or Arcade Fire or The Lumineers… Rend has not only the heart and fire… but a deep soul. If you’re going to listen to the next wave of New-Folk and Indie… don’t look past Rend Collective Experiement.
Come… lets sit around a campfire and sing… lets tell stories… lets create community… or at least start living in the one God has put us in!
I listen to a lot of music from around the world, and there is still something exciting about finding something new in your own back yard and ‘Death to Birth part 1′ is no exception, from Corban Samuels the alter ego of Christchurch musician Sam Reed in New Zealand.
As the title might suggest this album is dark… however it’s not in a spooky way but in a way that is beautiful almost even magical… Hallow.
It’s almost easier to think of the album in the same way that you would describe a movie: Just like a director like Tim Burton makes Halloween or death seem like something that shouldn’t be feared, Sam takes a huge dark subject and slowly opens the lid to this new world.
For the first album Sam is taking a huge leap and on this concept album and you’ll find yourself being drawn into this world that on the surface seems so dark, however you slowly discover how deep each shade of grey really is in his place.
Sam is really smart with the way he has structured this album…
The album builds and meanders through this dark world that he has created, and while it’s dark you can’t help but look around the next dark corner wondering what is hiding there.
The album starts off with a haunting sound that builds slowly as Sam’s hauntingly melodic frail vocals narrate the beginning of the story “Death to birth…”
D.T.B. starts off at a somewhat comfortable pace and tone and that’s a good thing and it makes sense considering that this is the beginning of the journey… both for the concept album series and for Sam himself.
The album reaches a somewhat disturbing climax when you reach the track the Dark Vault where you hear the cries of a young woman… not just crying… pleading for help… it’s uncomfortable to listen to… it’s hard to hear… it leaves a lump in your throat… and then the album takes a new unexpected turn.
It’s almost like watching a horror movie, you’re expecting to be frightened at some point, you are expecting to be given goosebumps, but truly great directors will keep that under wraps until you get comfortable… and that’s exactly what Sam does here.
The whole timbre of the album changes with other instruments making a more active lead… the guitars take on a rawer sound… the album become less synth based and take on a more organic sound… and just as you feel that you want to hear more… the album stops… Well played Sam, well played… we’re looking forward to the next installment.
I’ve heard Sams vocals compared to Tom Yorke’s (Radiohead) and while that would be accurate it most likely sits somewhere between Tom Yorke and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie…
Now… this album is certainly not for everyone… it’s dark… it’s moody… it’s brooding and it has the bravado of a truly Indie album.
This however is a great first effort from Sam… and if the next installments of Death to Birth start off how this album ends then we are in for an exciting series of concept albums.
You can listen to Sams album HERE… where you can have a listen and then you can buy it… and if you’re a fan of bands like Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, Tool and even David Crowder Bands more experimental tracks (Like sequence 1-7 from their ‘Give Us Rest’ album) then it may be worth downloading and taking the ride.
If you look at the amount of songs that Chris Tomlin has in churches around the world you would have to say that he’s at the top of his game… he’s had some great songs the a lot of churches are using week after week as part of their worship. You could almost say that we are in the Tomlin era as far as worship music in church goes.
In the Southern Hemisphere we’ve been through the Hillsong era, the Redman era and now you could say that for some churches if there isn’t a Tomlin song you may think that something is wrong.
Now I have to be honest I have found the last couple of Tomlin albums a bit bland, now don’t get me wrong Chris always produces album with great singles on it, there are always great ‘church’ songs… however I was hoping that we would see more of Chris’ creativity on this album and the start of Burning Lights got me a little excited… The first track ‘Burning Lights’ is a mainly instrumental track and what follows is ‘Awake my Soul’ featuring Christian rap artist Lecrae. Ok, I love people who push the boundaries of what church music should sound like, which is why I love groups like Rend Collective Experiment, Gungor and David Crowder Band… however it seems to me that these days if a worship leader wants to push the boundaries they put Lecrae on the album… it’s almost starting to border on predictable.
The highlight of the album comes with the albums lead single “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)” – it’s an honest song that talks about the tension we have as Christians which is that we worship the God of Angel Armies and created the world, yet he’s also our friend and father… and I think this song put’s it into balance as well as you can in 4 minutes and 27 seconds.
‘Lay me down’ has Acoustic Jars of clay sound and has a great chorus, however the placement on the album seems a bit odd as the next track to follow is the Martin Smith penned track ‘God’s great dance floor’ with a churched down oonse oonse feel to it… think a updated disco cut of Chris Tomlin in a night club dancing to club music.
And while this album is pushing boundaries for Chris Tomlin, there are plenty of classic Tomlin moments ‘White Flag’ and ‘Jesus Son of God’ to name a few that have already appeared on, so if you’re a huge Tomlin fan you don’t have to learn to talk ‘street’ before buying this album.
As a whole album I think it’s one of Tomlin’s best, there is enough to keep you interested and wondering what will come next yet there is enough familiarity to make you feel you can take some of the songs from the album and sing them at your church. I found the balance refreshing as I have become a bit skeptical of ‘worship’ albums as many of them are working to a deadline, and I wonder does that takeaway some of the creativity?
And after listening to some worship albums you would have to wonder…
I think this album has a bit of something for everyone, and I’m glad people are starting to release church music that is a bit more upbeat rather than somber funeral marches you hear in some churches…
If you are a Tomlin fan you’ll buy this album regardless… if you’re not a fan yet, there are still songs on the album that may capture your imagination.
You may not be ready to listen to this album… It might just be too hard for you to listen to… this album will stir you to your core and it will make you feel uncomfortable, yet uplifted… it will make you want to listen but not to hard… it will draw you close to listen and push you away to think… because while the words and lyrics are beautifully crafted and thoughtfully put together into well timed and well formed rhyme… it’s confrontational… not in a way that attacks… but to make you think… and you might not be ready to actually think about the art you’re listening to yet. Just sayin’
Right from the start Propaganda lays it down on the opening track called ‘Don’t listen to me’ where he opens this albums account with an honest viewing of his life’s credentials as as a human and as an artist as he says “Apparently I don’t know that much, I just know the Gospel and good hip-hop, I’m a pretty simple dude, all I’ve got is my all, and I promise to give you that”… where else do you get that sort of honesty on ANY record let alone a hip-hop album that are usually filled with people who will tell you how great their life is while you watch them crumble in the media. Propaganda walks the talk.
This is not your usual hip-hip album, and once you’ve listen to it you’ll be forever grateful of that fact. Unlike other hip-hop albums that you listen to in the background, you won’t love this album until you are listening to it as if you’re sitting over the other side of the table from Propaganda… listening to his stories, as he unpacks his thought gracefully and carefully… but Propaganda’s not timid, he’ll lay it down… and you will be caught off guard…
Propaganda’s style is relaxed… and sit somewhere between ‘spoken word’ and traditional hip-hip and it’s both poetic and aggressive… and it’s a great mixture as it keeps you fully engaged…
While on the subject of the mix, the beats and music have been put together by Beautiful Eulogy, who add their unique mix of electronic acoustic blues based music… it’s organic and is a perfect mix for an album like Propaganda’s.
There is too much on the album to pull out just by itself, however… every now and then there will be a phrase or a line that will just catch you off guard and you’ll HAVE to think about it. Propaganda doesn’t play with words like some common hip-hop artist, this stuff it top shelf… it’s crafted… and it’s honest… and it’s powerful.
Propaganda knows his history and and on tracks like ‘Precious Puritans’ he slams knowledge on the table as if to say “now here’s the facts what’s your next move?” as he beautifully and excellently pleads
“Your precious Puritans were not perfect, you romanticize them as if they were inerrant, as if the skeletons in their closet was pardoned due to their hard work and tobacco growth, as if abolitionists were not racist and just pro-union, as if God only spoke to white boys with epic beards, you know Jesus didn’t really look like them paintings, that was just Michelangelo’s boyfriend.”
You might not be ready for this album, because if you buy this album just to listen to it as any other hip-hop album, one day you’ll find yourself having to confront some issues that propaganda has laid down for you to consider… HOWEVER… if you buy this album to think, like a book or a conversation with a close friend talking about of tough issues then you’ll come out enjoying this album… rewinding… reviewing… re-listening… rediscovering.
Treat this album like a friend… and learn to listen… wrestle with some of the words that Propaganda has to say… I’m not saying take it as Gospel, I’m just saying try to understand… and when you do then you’ll find it is indeed ‘Excellent’
Heath McNease excites me as an artist… he seems to be linked to an eternal fountain of sharp and witty lyrics and musical content.
For those of you who may not be aware of who Heath is, he’s an Independent music artists who grew up ‘in the sticks’ in South Georgia, U.S.A.
While Heath may be more well known for his hip-hop works (Thrift Store Jesus, Wed, White & Wu with Playdough) this album has him focusing on some of his best pop folk sensibilities and it works really well with his easy, laid back style.
The basic idea of the album is simple – songs about books by C.S. Lewis that inspired Heath to write songs, the circle of life of an inspired song if you like!
The album starts of with ‘The Great Divorce’ – a song that sits somewhere between ‘The Digital Age’ (ex David Crowder Band), and Jars of Clay… a meandering verse that makes way for a memorable chorus in which you can’t help but sing “Come Lord Come….”
And then the album drops to the single acoustic guitar with Heath singing “Everyone I’ve ever known left me in my funeral clothes with nothing but a single rose…lowered down, lowered down” – as Heath slowly unpacks ‘Grief Observed’ a simple song, with a simple message of mercy that is reflected in the softly lifted chorus “Mercy on our soul…”
Mere Christianity starts off with a bass drum and hand claps… it feels dark, like a negro spiritual, that’s been fused with jazz and bluegrass and looked at through a rock filter… but it’s magnetic and you find yourself drawn into the song, as it slowly grows until it’s filling every space… and you’re stuck with a simple question, “who are you John or Judas?”… so was Jesus a Liar, Lunatic or Lord?… but like only Heath can do he’s able to keep the album ‘upbeat’ with a song ‘The Problem with Pain’. ‘The Problem with Pain’ was a book that Lewis wrote about how the idea of a loving God fits in with a world full of pain… yet it’s a song that would fit in well on a Bruno Mars album, yet he’s able to keep the lyric content sharp and doesn’t back off the intensity of the last song with lyrics like “The problem of pain, it insists that you quietly watch it spread and attack your insides“… it’s a fine balance sometimes with adding a quirky melody to a tough subject, however Heath is able to make it flow with thought provoking lyrics that keep you captivated.
Heath works through a lot of the works of Lewis… the only song that doesn’t have the title of a book is ‘Edmund’ and it’s another upbeat poppy number about Edmund from the Narnia series, and how he was enticed by the White witch to sell out his family for Turkish delight… and I love how Heath does this, he could have easily written a song about Aslan and how he was always ruler of Narnia etc… however Heath chooses the option that maybe is less explored yet is maybe most about our hearts as humans.
One of the highlight of the album is this magical number called ‘Joy unspeakable’ with a huge chorus “Joy unspeakable and full of glory, but the half has not been told, You’re not a reason, You’re reason itself.” – the song is based on the book of the same name in which C.S. Lewis talks of his journey from Atheism to Christianity…
‘Weight of Glory’ is the last song on the album and is based on the series of essays of the same name, starts of with a single acoustic guitar as Heath sings “So this is the view from outside the world…” however the song grows like many of Heaths songs and we’re taken on the final journey of this album…
It’s a great album that is both deep and listenable… often with content as varied and thought provoking as C.S. Lewis an album like this find it easy to either fall apart due to too many ideas or just purely be boring…
Heath defies all of these and has brought together an album that you can have on in the background, or have it up loud to start to think more deeply about who we are and where we fit in on this Earth… and he does it through the old fashioned craft of great songwriting… I honestly wish I could listen to more music as uniquely crafted and well formed as this more often…. but these days it’s often about the money rather than the content…. and it really is a shame… popular radio needs to hear more of these type of well crafted songs.
Not only is this a great album it gets EVEN BETTER
‘The Weight of Glory’ is FREE to download…
So if you are a fan of Jars of Clay, David Crowder’s more acoustic stuff, The Digital age, Mat Kearney, Bruno Mars… or even the works of C.S. Lewis himself make sure you go and download this album for FREE HERE.
Heath… Mr Lewis would be proud of this.
(if the link about doesn’t work try downloading here
Here is the 2nd new original song from the Live @ HPCC E.P.
The Song “I Miss You” is one of my favourites from the E.P. – It’s a song about when a loved one has gone away… and you realise just how much you miss them.
On the 1st of September 2012 I was privileged to be able to be given the opportunity to play at HPCC at the 2012 ‘You Are Here’ Art Exhibition. I played a short acoustic set of all originals.
I chose 4 songs to play… really basic… just a guitar… a microphone… and me!
Here is the first song of the set called ‘Messy Middle’.
Messy Middle is about when life throws you a curve ball… something that you didn’t see coming and you’re thinking to yourself “God what are you doing here?… can you just call me???”