Album Review: Jesus Culture – Awakening ‘Live from Chicago’

I always get nervous when I’m  about to listen to an album where the average song is about 6 minutes each, and there is two disc’s…

On my lap was the new album by Jesus Culture ‘Awakening – Live in Chicago’… a Live worship album in a sea of Live worship albums, can this album stand up against Live albums from Hillsong, Planetshakers even Matt Redman weighed into the live worship album battle.

So what makes this album different?

Well… for a start this is Jesus Culture, and this is a Jesus Culture album… and live is where they are at their best. They’ve never been a band that has played by the rules… in fact they seem to have stumbled to their own style as they’ve come on this ‘worship’ journey… and they view their world differently.

Jesus Culture call themselves ‘a new breed of emerging revivalists’ so what does that mean? Mainly they are wanting to help ignite revival through connecting people in worship, ‘reawakening’ Christian values and commitment to God and God’s word…

Sonically the music is very much in line with indie based worship that you would hear from groups like ‘Hillsong United’ – but not as polished (which isn’t a bad thing) – but the lyrics are very much walking you through the Gospel message… but the thing that’s interesting is that this is an album to re-awaken the hearts of those who have believed, and so it’s an album full of reaffirmation… rather than new conversion or just praising God because he’s God. Now don’t get me wrong all that stuff is in their too… but if you were to stand back and view the album obectively as a theme… Awakening is most apt… so a two thumbs up from Jesus Culture from the outset.

The album starts of with the indie sounding keyboard that you would expect hear on a a David Crowder Band album… and from the start the band are showing they’re not hiding anything… there is nothing up their sleeve… this is about good honest music and being honest to God “Eyes to see and ears to hear your calling, our hearts respond to your Spirit falling” – now I’m not going to get into the theological aspect of the songs on this album as I am yet to hear one whole album that would line up with everyone’s theological view perfectly – this is not about theology this is about honest praise to God.

I like the reoccurring theme of repentance that comes up throughout the album… there is a real sense of never being the same after this moment, you will see the world in new light, and I like that… it’s a turning away of your old life.

The more I listen to the album the more I’m reminded about how church music used to be… when we would be able to go into ‘free worship’ and that meant something different to just a ‘instrumental’ or ‘guitar solo’

Jesus Culture’s aim seems to be giving people the promises of God in nice bite sized chunks… and they are more than happy to let you sit on the same phrase from phrases like “There is power in the name of Jesus… Break every chain, Break every chain” and to “Have Your way, Have Your way, Have Your way’,

A couple of things make this album work as a worship album… one of which is Kim Walker Smith’s voice… holy smoke Batman, what a powerful yet tender instrument…

The other is the focus… it’s all on God and it’s all about reminding Gods people, that they are part of this might army and that we are to stand on the promises of God…

This is a long album… filled with every aspect of the event… this is great if you’re needing something to help with freed worship at home… however I’m unsure if you would want to listen to the free worship EVERY time you listened to the album…

This album is release 29/11/11

www.manna.co.nz

 

 

Album Review: Newsboys ‘Gods Not Dead’

Newsboys - 'God's Not Dead'

I love covers of songs, I like hearing how someone else other than the songwriter interprets a song… I have most recently become fond of cover song of worship or church music… why? Well it started off because a lot of the churches I have been involved in didn’t have 3 guitarists like groups like Hillsong or Planetshakers, and lots of church didn’t have guys with a vocal range like Chris Tomlin and some of them were coming so technically hard it made it hard for church bands to play… so I started to look at new versions of old or harder to play songs…

So with this in mind I was excited to hear that Newboys were releasing an album of worship songs.

Now this album of worship songs had been in the pipeline for a while… even before the addition of new front-man Michael Tait and even before the release of last years album ‘Born Again’. This is the first album since 2003’s Adoration, and 2004’s Devotion to be solidly worship songs.

The album starts of with ‘The King is coming’ and it’s very clear from the start that this is going to be a pop/rock album which is refreshing with the range of Hillsong United want to be/sound alike bands out in the Christian market place at the moment… it’s actually refreshing to hear pop-rock worship songs.

This album is like a who’s who of church Anthems… The jewel in this albums crown is the first single featuring Kevin Max of DC talk fame ‘God’s Not Dead
(Like a Lion)’ the Daniel Bashta hit song that has already had the David Crowder Band treatment to it for the Passion album ‘Awakening’ and hearing the Newsboys version of it takes it up a notch… in fact the further through this album you go the more you realise how BIG some of these choruses really are…

This album is like the greatest hits of BIG choruses… Mighty to Save by Hillsong, Savior of the World by Ben Cantelon and Revelation song made famous by Kari Jobe and more recently Jesus Culture… these are all church songs with BIG strong choruses,  proclaiming God’s mighty power, love and grace.

Something I would have loved on this album is more softer songs, songs that really draw you in… as much as I love the BIG songs they all start to get lost within each other… all of them individually are great songs, however on an album together they all seem a bit smaller next to the next song…

For me, the highlight of the album is ‘I am Second’ a song that sits differently to the other song, and rocks with a little more swagger as  Kevin Max makes a grand appearance singing with his old DC talk off-sider Michael Tait… (ahhh the memories) – the song sets a great platform for the www.iamsecond.com movement that inspires others from all works of life to live for God and live for others.

If you’re looking for an album of large church anthems that will fill any hall… this is the album you are looking for… if you’re looking for an album full of variety… maybe not so much.

 

Album Review: Hillsong ‘God is Able’

God is Able

After listening to the latest album from Aussie Mega church Hillsong I found myself thinking… is this album suffering from split personality syndrome?

Now it’s not a bad thing… all the sounds that you would expect from a Hillsong album are there… great production, great musicianship and great songwriting… the problem is that half the album sounds like the sister band Hillsong United.

I’m not sure if Hillsong is having a midlife crisis… and trying to sound younger… but I was left thinking… I’ve heard it all before.

It’s obvious that Hillsong has got into a habit of writing songs for conference type environments, with big chorus… lots of space in their sound filled with Edge like guitar with delay, reverb and anything else to fill the sound without getting  too full on.

That is until it gets to the track ‘The Difference’ – which has the drive and dirt of a United album, and to be honest feels a bit odd in the middle of an Album that is not quiet Hillsong but hasn’t dared to go far enough to become a United album.

There are some stand out tracks on this album, ‘Rise’, ‘The lost are found’ and the title track ‘God is able’ are my favorites, but I  can’t say that I was left thinking Wow… I have to listen to that straight away.

In saying that I really like the start of  ‘Cry of the broken’… it was a great moment that made me want to listen as it introduced some new sounds…

As an album this is a pretty solid album… probably better produced than the last U2… however it’s been done.

As a worship album… there will always be the fans who will buy every album, as individual songs there are a few to bring to the table for church services, but if I was to be honest I have heard better this year (as individual songs)…

So where does it leave me?

This is a conference album… and the songs will certainly mean more to people who have sung these with a group of thousands… that’s just reality… it’s not a bad album by any stretch… but what I would like to see for the next Hillsong and United albums is two differnt bands… with two different styles. At the moment they are too alike… and a waste of my album buying money.

7/10

 

Album Review: Planetshakers ‘Nothing is Impossible’

Planetshakers

Aqua made it big with a song with the lyrics “If I could turn back time”… and it seems very apt for Planetshakers new live worship album ‘Nothing is Impossible”.

Planetshakers certainly has a different sound to the other big worship albums coming out this year… while Matt Redman and Hillsong United are starting to lean more towards a ‘Indie’ sound… Planetshakers has taken a step back in time releasing their first studio album in 5 years and has given the album a more  pop/rock album and it sounds good. What they loose in conference energy the more than make up for it in sound.

The album starts off with three songs that seem to be a blend of 80’s glam rock and 90’s pop sounds, the track ‘Power’ even feels like it should have the artist Prince breaking into a guitar solo.

But the album’s feel isn’t the only thing that makes this album a time travelers dream… the title track ‘Nothing is Impossible’ is actually a track taken from the 2009 Planetshakers album ‘Deeper’… this is not a bad thing and extra energy has been added to it with the dynamic vocals of Grammy Award winning artist, Israel Houghton.

The musicality on the album is polished, clean and arranged well… but as professional as it sounds there seems to be a real innocence to the album… someone walked in as I was doing one of my listening for the review and said it had the feel of a Hillsongs album about 10 years ago… and she wouldn’t be wrong.

Even the slower song like ‘You are God’ and ‘No one like you’ have a through back feel… kind of like a boy band pop feel to them. A well polished pop sound.

‘Song of Victory’ is pretty cool song however it has the feel of a song that would fit on a Spice girls or Pussycat Dolls album (if they were to do a worship album)… and ‘Sound of praise’ does it’s very best ‘Eye of the tiger’ or Van Halen impersonation complete with guitar riffs and piano riff… certainly 80’s rock inspired… even if they do add a rap half way through to make it feel more up to date.

I think this is a great album… it’s simple themes and familiar sounds make it kind of endearing…

Does church want to rock how they did 10 years ago?

I guess Nothing is Impossible.

7/10

Album Review: Matt Redman ‘10,000 Reasons’

Matt Redman '10,000 Reasons'

I like Matt Redman’s songwriting when it comes to church music and it can be summed up by simple, easy and to the point.

Matt Redman is one of few worship leaders and songwriters who constantly write songs that can be sung in church… sure other groups and songwriters have done it often… but not every church can pull off David Crowder Band, Planetshakers or even Hillsong United in church and that’s what makes Matt’s songwriting so good for churches of ALL sizes.

Matt recently said:

“You have to find ways to not water down your faith but to be lyrically as accessible as possible. That’s an endless challenge. It makes me always want to keep the cross front and centre.”

This was the first album of completely new songs that Matt has released as a live recording, and it is a real kaleidoscopic view of musical styles, themes and feels on this album and the name ‘10,000 Reasons’ really sums up the album as a whole.

Matt said that an old pop producer once said “There are only 4 kinds of songs that you can sing about in the Pop world (I love you, I hate you, go away and come back) but Matt has discovered that there is so many things that you can sing about when it comes to the story of Jesus… 10,000 reasons is a good start.

The song 10,000 reason is great… it seems to me to be the kind of song that your would sing around a camp fire… it seems to have that easy swagger of an Irish tinged pub song.

The lead single off the album is the track ‘Never Once’ is a real song of faithfulness and it echoes this real sense that ‘Never Once’ has God taken his eyes off you, “Standing on this mountain top, looking back at all you’ve done, knowing that for every step you were with me”… and how true is that, how often have we found ourselves on the other side of pain, only to realise that Gods hand was there all along… and you never even realised. “Never Once did we ever walk alone, Never Once did you leave us on our own”

A great song that would be AWESOME to start a service with is ‘Here for You’… not only is it a real cool song… but a real song to focus who we are singing too, and what we are here for “We welcome you with praise… Let every heart adore”… it’s BIG, it’s anthemic and a great way to unite a congreations focus.

‘Where would we be without your love, we would still be lost in darkness’… It’s really great to hear a worship leader sing about where he has been… often it seems like Christians have it all together… but with Matt you really get the sense that he has really had to struggle through some tough times, and from those tough times God has been able to shine is Glory.

After all his years as a songwriter for the church penning some of the most popular ones in this generation, songs like ‘Heart of Worship’ ‘Blessed be your name’ ‘Never let go’ and ‘You Alone can rescue’ Matt concludes…

“You can have clever chord progressions. You can work hard at getting some sort of nice sounding lyrics, but at the end, I just want a song that connects people with God.”

And it’s true… other albums may have slicker guitars, better riffs, and funky beats… but this album has a real HEART… and that’s something that really grows… it can’t be produced.

8/10

 

Album Review: Tim Hughes – Love Shine Through

 

Tim Hughes - 'Love Shine Through'

I like how Tim Hughes doesn’t release an album until he has a full album of tracks… in fact he doesn’t even go into the studio until he has a full album of songs. This is great for a number of reasons… the songs that he wants to capture on an album are usually well played, are usually well thought and are usually arranged well. So often you find albums that have a couple of great singles but the rest of the albums songs are just fillers, as artists feel the pressure of deadlines. Tim has thought about this in the iTunes age with people able to pick and choose the songs they want rather than having to buy the whole album… and I respect that stand… of quality on ALL tracks rather than quantity of average track from many albums… this is about God not about cash.

 

Tim has said that his first job is as the Director if Music at his church Holy Trinity Brompton… the songwriting is a bit of a side line. This shows through in his songwriting as he’s thought through the spiritual process of writing songs for church and the history behind it… and from that base he starts.

Like Matt Redman, Tim has a real focus for writing songs for church… and often Tims songs are simple in lyrical content (often taking cues from the old hymns), are simple in chord structure… and ‘Love Shines through’ is no exception to the rule.

Where ‘Love Shine Through’ really shines is at the heart the songwriting, this time Tim has chosen to collaborate with other worship leaders so as well as having the best of what Tim has to offer you now have songs that are now influenced by Martin Smith and Stu G (of Delirious?) & Ben Cantelon – with Martin also helping produce the album. Even the arrangements of the songs have a collaborative feel to it with people like Jesus Culture’s Kim Walker-Smith adding her distinct raspy vocals  & musicians from Hillsong United, and Vineyard and the new Northern Ireland new comer Rend Collective Experiment playing their part.

It’s good seeing an album being produced by ‘THE’ church rather than ‘A’ church.

Tim is the master of building a song and making a song grow… he’s also great at the song surprise. ‘Love shine through’ the title track is boosted by this amazing Beatles Sgt. Peppers brass sound that launches the song into the Heavens… while in ‘All Glory’ this Londoner gets his preach on and the song erupts into this amazing Gospel choir bridge that encourages you to sing along.

This album isn’t going to set records for the lyrically best album ever heard… but it doesn’t need to, this is a simple Gospel message, and while the album title suggests love is the underlying theme… it’s not wishy washy love… it’s tough love, it’s grace, it’s about how God relates in a world that is so broken… and that is the backdrop for the album, while it rests on the fact that God has it all under control.

I’ve listened to this album heaps already… and I really like it.

In the middle of albums that are produced to fit in with huge conferences, it’s great to hear an album that is modern in it’s approach, without loosing site of the wider church (including the smaller ones)… it’s forward focusing, while keeping its roots firmly in the past, and more importantly the foundation of God.

8 1/2 out of 10

Album Review: Hillsong United ‘Aftermath’

Church music is becoming less and less like church music and the paradox of this fits well with the new United Album ‘aftermath’. The album’s theme is about the paradox nature of the cross… a symbol of failure and death, now a symbol of life and victory.

So what does church music sound like?

Well if you are a fan of Martin Luther then you may be a fan of church music sounding like the music that is played outside the church… if that is the case then you might like this album. This album has a real UK Indie rock feel… and it adds to the album as a whole.

The album starts off with a delicate almost ‘Dylanesque’ song called ‘Take Heart‘ written by Joel Houston starts of the album… a song about hope in the middle of all the doom and gloom in the world at the moment, a perfect start to ANY ablum… the next song ‘Go’ slides back into the style you are most used to with this band, good old fashioned indie rock… this proves to be a red herring.

This album is really diverse and I love this album for that… but at the same time this album seems strangely familiar, United have been doing their homework… taking the best of their favourite bands and artists and making it United-ish… there was more than a couple of times when I thought “wow that sounds just like…” but it really didn’t matter, because it was done so well. ‘Bones’ has Sarah Mclachlan almost celtic feel.

‘Aftermath’ builds in a way that only Hillsong can (similar to ‘This is our God’) using the bridge as the high point of the song, I can’t remember a Christian band doing this so well since Delirious?

The real difference is for this album the keyboards are starting to come to the front once again… this comes out the most on ‘Light will Shine’ mixing a quirky keyboard motif and pop rock styles usually the realm of bands like David Crowder Band… and with bands touring more and more together with conferences like Passion there may be more bands trying new styles. I personally think this is great, anything to get Christian music sounding better gets a thumbs up from me…

Those who have known Hillsong for any length of time would know there is always at least one anthemic ‘Conference’ song and ‘Nova’ foots that bill directing everyone back to God… imagine a whole conference singing “Our God be praised forever”

The album finishes with a song we’ve been singing along with for a while the Reuben Morgan and Chris Tomlin collaboration “Awakening”… now before you think “I’ll skip that song… this has been done differently to what you have heard before this version is a lot more raw, even grungier.

This is a great album

Is it a great church album? I’m not sure… there may be a few songs that can be used “Search my heart” comes to mind…

But I’m in the belief that the songs have to be simple… in a good key for people to song and easy to pick up… I’m just not sure that ‘aftermath’ ticks all those boxes.

It is however a great Christian album.

If that’s enough for you to worship with… then listen to this album.

8/10

If you like this album check out: Leeland ‘Opposite Way’