Music Reviews (by Kim Gentes)
Back in the mid-90's Kim began writing impromptu reviews of church music CDs (worship music) so that people who were looking for CDs would have an opinion from someone who is also a worship leader and is garnering music for local church use. Up to this point, this was rarely something that was done, because church music was revered as sacred and it was thought that any offering of that sacred worship shouldn't be criticised or evaluated. In fact, Kim wasn't as much a critic as he was an evaluator, helping people find what fit their church. He began posting his reviews on line in a email discussion forum, called the Worship List (website). After a while, when he helped launch Worshipmusic.com, he continued that same concept of trying to help other local church worship leaders and musicians find music that might be applicable to their situations. The reviews continued to be a part of that. Worshipmusic.com went on to grow a staff of writers that would add many more reviews to the collection they have, but Kim continued to participate as a key reviewer. This journal logs all the reviews Kim has written on worship music CDs and projects.
Kim's reviews of CD projects of worship music includes independents, label and main stream recordings, but all having to do with worship music.
"Still Shining" is an enthralling 9 track celebration of Christmas through the sounds and styling of worship songwriter Andy Park. After listening to it completely through a few times, the songs don't begin to wear on you- they lift you. I'll be playing this 'round the clock for the season. Here are some highlights/notes on a few individual songs from the album:
The Wonder of it All- Original song. Acoustic guitar based tune with regular band and a crisp vocal sound. Feels like a James Taylor ensemble.
Comfort and Joy- Original. The angelic proclamation to the shepherds is re-envisioned in a jazz /blues tune.
Still Shining- Another original. A song about both the guiding star that led the shepherds to the Person it represents- the Shining Star of the universe, Jesus. Easy listening (think Neil Diamond) and congregational possible song.
Star of Wonder- Rework of the classic . Beautifully rendered acoustic guitar based song that soars with note-perfect flute and vocal backgrounds.
Come Let Us Adore- Acoustic guitar rendering of the classic song "Oh Come All Ye Faithful". Beautiful instrumental intro. With small group choral joining for 2 verses. Simply gorgeous.
Joy To The World- A thoroughly joyful instrumental rendition of this Christmas standard. Great strings on the acoustic guitar and mandolin with swelling violin in a light acoustic/bluegrass tune.
The production and artistry here is crisp, clean, beautiful and unmistakably Andy. When you listen through the whole thing, you'll feel refreshed. For me, personally, it drew me closer in to the advent pulse and rhythm. It definitely wins my "Editor's Choice" designation.
Go get it, friends. Really.
Review by Kim Gentes
Chris McClarney's new project "Everything and Nothing Less" is the best live album I've heard yet to come out of Jesus Culture Music. The anthemic and melodic sounds of soaring vocals on a bed of electric guitars and thundering drums has been the hallmark of the sound coming from the youth music birthed from Bethel Church in Redding California. And Chris McClarney is not a new-comer to this influential group. His song "You Love Never Fails" (originally included in the 2008 live album from Jesus Culture of the same name) was the main anthem of their music for several years.
There is a lot of great music being recorded across the worship genre. And while much of the best production of this music leans on radio play and becomes popular there, the best focus of all worship and praise music begins with great songs. Great songs that expound the history, passion and theology of the Christian faith. Great songs that the church can sing. Great songs that can be used as liturgy (modern or historic). And most of all great songs that local congregations can use to give honor, praise, glory, surrender, prayer, thanks, deepest devotion and worship to the one true God, Yahweh.
"Everything and Nothing Less" is a concise and brilliant collection of great songs. Excellent lyric writing, beautiful melodic hooks, and compelling music that beckons the listener to abandon their hearts and souls in a Holy Moment to the God of Miracles who is an All Consuming Fire. These are, in fact, the first three tracks of the album, and they represent three of the best new songs I've heard in the last 10 years.
The project begins with the powerfully understated "Holy Moment", a wonderful call to worship song that opens the worshiper to a poignant sense of God's presence and a welcoming declaration of anticipation and expectation. Track two pivots on the "Holy Moment" theme to a declaration of God's holiness, glory, worth and righteousness with "All Consuming Fire". Like the first song, track two is arranged in an initially understated bare structure, but about half way through it, the song launches into McClarney sailing his brilliant voice through the chorus and on to ad lib and vocal throw-offs that shine with genuine passion.
The third track on the album comes to my favorite song on the project, "God of Miracles." A faith-filled request and declaration, this ballad is surprisingly humble and prayerful, inquiring of God to intervene while remaining truthfully honest to the reality of what is happening in our real lives, as is seen in the unveiled language of this bridge:
This world is shaking, but you cannot be shaken
My heart is breaking, but I'm not broken yet
Your love is fearless, help me to be courageous too
There is nothing impossible for the ... [chorus: God of miracles]
I could go on to explain the remaining tracks of great music, wonderful production and true energy of this live recording, but I will leave that to you to hear. This project easily garners an "Editor's Choice Award", as it is the best album I have heard this year and I consider this to possibly be the best live album I have heard in a decade- it has that many useable, great songs.
Fans of Jesus Culture music will love this album, but so will people who like Tomlin, Hillsong United, Will Reagan/United Pursuit. Part of what makes this album even more special to me personally is that I happen to have had the chance to meet and get to know Chris McClarney on a few brief occasions. I also had the opportunity to attend a church for about a year where he led worship. Chris is absolutely one of the most passionate, humble and honest people I have yet to meet. He is singing these songs like he means it- because he does. On top of that Chris has, far and away, the best voice of any modern worship "artist" or leader I have heard- an astounding range, crisp powerful tone and a warm style that invites everyone else to jump right in.
If you've been saving your money for that one album you will buy this year- this is it. Seriously. Fortunately, with today's tech, you can hear extended samples of every song (on Amazon or iTunes) before you commit to buying. This is one project you must buy the entire album for- don't get just a few tracks. It's that good.
For churches using WorshipTeam.com, all of the songs, chord charts, lyrics and audio from this album are already available and pre-loaded for you in the WorshipTeam.com system song database. In fact, to the best of our knowledge WorshipTeam.com is currently the only place yet to have all charts from this album! If you are not part of WorshipTeam.com and want to listen to audio samples or purchase the album directly yourself, see the Amazon link below.
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1LYQVxP
Review by Kim Gentes
[Free Song Download "Who Is Like Our God" from Dustin Smith- see at the bottom of the review.]
Every time a new project comes out, I hope to find one thing - great songs I can use in my local church. The new album "Coming Alive" by Dustin Smith is a treasure trove of those kinds of songs.
Songs that speak truth. Songs that are singable. Songs that can be the anthem of our local church, and the hearts that comprise it.
The project starts off with the declarative "Coming Alive", the title track song that quickly becomes a thankful praise and a deepening prayer as you enter into it. The lyrics are straightforward, passionate and thankful.
You rescued our lives and lifted our heads upYou opened our eyes to see all Your goodnessYou came in like a raging floodOverwhelming us with Your great love
But even in that thankfulness, the lyrics remain God-ward and prayerful in posture.
We're coming alive, we're coming alive now
So breathe Your life into these bones
So we can run to Your light and sing of freedom
I love this opening song. It brings the listener in touch with the sensibility of this project as a place of overflowing wonder- something birthed from a heart that is renewed. And in our cynical, tired world (and sometimes church) we are thirsty for the message of God's refreshing love coming to revive us.
Passionate Modern Psalms - Without collapsing into cliche, these paradoxial twin concepts of thirst and refreshing become the synthesizing theme of this album, which is evident as you listen to plaintiff prayers and thank-filled anthems like "Coming Alive", "Extravagant Love", "Breathe On Me", "Come Rushing In", "We Want To Know You", "Home", "Eyes Like Fire" and "Surround Us Now". Dustin Smith is clearly a person who has been to the desert, and has found the spring of eternal life Jesus promised to the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John's gospel account. Smith relies on the Psalmic formula of honest need and heartfelt prayer that always capitulates to an extravagant response of thankfulness.
Singable Songs - Above all, each song is singable and I absolutely love that about "Coming Alive". It has placed melody and lyrics at the center of each composition. While the musical production of this project is top notch and beautiful, each one of these songs stands on its own as memorable song your congregation can learn and sing and it does not rely on musical arrangement primarily to be considered for your Sunday morning worship list.
Live Recording - That isn't to say there isn't some spontaneity, energy or musicality in this project. In fact, this album bubbles over at times with an honest spontaneous fervor that gathers the songs into an experience of worship rather than just a collection of songs. Listening to "He's Alive", "Breathe On Me" and "Come Rushing In" makes it clear that Dustin is just as intent on worshiping God as he is in recording an album.
Surprising - Even when the lyrics and tone of the songs take a more intense flavor, they remain constantly scripture-centered (as in "Eyes Like Fire" which is based on a poignant combination of Gospel, Psalms and Revelation imagery). And, even those songs, we find the melodic and singable qualities stand strong.
My favorite songs on this project are "Coming Alive" (melodic and anthemic for use in any church) and "Eyes Like Fire" (vivid lyrical imagery) ! This is a faith-filled album with gracious and thankful language placed on singable melodies. Excellent!
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1o6bMZd
Review by Kim Gentes
DOWNLOAD! Our friends at Integrity Music are giving away this free mp3 and chord chart for the song "Who Is Like Our God" written by Dustin Smith, Michael Farren and Chris Clayton! Check it out below!
Free Song Download "Who Is Like Our God" from the album "Coming Alive" by Dustin Smith
"Coming Alive" Already in WorshipTeam.com
All the songs on this album have been pre-loaded for subscribers who use Worshipteam.com for their worship planning. You can include these songs in your set planning this week! If you are a member, simply login and find it in the song database, or under "New Songs" link. If you aren't a member, you can check out Worshipteam.com for free for a month (more info here).
Right from the first song, the latest album from Vertical Church Band is an uplifting and crystal clear sound track of modern worship with pristine studio production and inspiring songs. "Found in You" is a pounding opening track that declares
All we wanted, all we need is found in youFound in youJesus every victory is found in youFound in you
With a melodic anthemic chorus, power chord vamps and large group vocals this song immediately feels like it would suitable for either main church or youth worship settings.
The second song "I'm Going Free" continues the triumphant theme singing:
Glory, glory, hallelujah! He threw my shackles in the seaGlory, glory, hallelujah! Jesus is my liberty!
Another celebration praise song that both sings well and will be an upbeat favorite. The title track follows up as the third song on this album. This song is a unique melody and memorable chorus that uses brief references to "On Christ the Solid Rock" as the basis of it's theme. Again, the chorus is anthemic and the music perfect rock styled arrangements harkening to that Hillsong or Hillsong United formulae.
"Worthy, Worthy" starts off as a softer worship tune, highlighting the beautiful voice of Meredith Andrews. But the song soon becomes a powerful worship anthem as well, this time echoing the Revelation based heavenly chorus including part of the Sanctus refrain of :
Holy, holy is Lord God AlmightyWorthy, worthy is Your Name
What I love about this song is not just the glorious melody and vocals by Meredith Andrews but the lyrical acknowledgement of the limited understanding we truly have of the sovereign God, when she sings:
Though we cannot comprehend such a mysteryJust the little you reveal is compelling us to sing
This is an important acknowledgement that needs to be pointed out in our songs lyrics- that while we strive to worship with our minds, we must not clothe our musical liturgy in certainty to the exclusion of the mystery of God.
Track five, "I Will Follow", is a country-rock styled tune that reflects a seriousness of devotion via lyrics that point us to commitment to follow Christ beyond the circumstances, good or bad. The next song, "Strong to Save", revisits more triumphant lyrics with the theme and chorus surging back into the rock anthem mode.
And so it goes for the lions share of this project- a resonate theme of trust, strength, and triumph in our strong and mighty God. Songs "Strong God", "Only Jesus Can", and "He Has Won" wrap up the album highlighting hope and victory as the major themes of this project.
The album is a well produced collection of inspiring songs with the clear aim of declaring the strength and singing of this victory of God. Several songs are very usable for corporate worship, and there is good bet that your church could find something off of this album that would inspire and encourage for your times of praise. I thought the album was excellent production and basically the perfect balance of presentation with "church usable" songs.
Conversely, the sounds and arrangements on this project constantly kept going into "we want this song to be the next church rock anthem" mode. Certainly, the songwriting was better than average, but only "Worthy, Worthy" felt like it might be capable of being widely adopted in the broader church. After that, "Only Jesus Can", probably has the second best "leap off the page" strength, simply because it contrasts stylistically to the rest of the album and might get some more consideration because of it. Something about this album was brilliant, probably the underlying sense of a lot of good songs. But at the same time, it felt like the producer kept trying to hit a home run on every song rather than let the album breathe. I have no doubt this church is the real thing, and the leaders represented here are the genuine article. But some songs are just good, and they don't have to be hits. Perhaps we should just let those average songs bump up against the great songs (and not try to make them great anthems) so that an album has a life that is more than a producer swinging for "The Next Greatest Worship Hits for Cool Churches".
For this reviewer the stand out song on this project is easily "Worthy, Worthy", partly because of the brilliant contrast of Andrews' stellar female vocals but also because the song is lyrically and musically more diverse than most of the other tracks' straight-ahead, rock anthem approach. Don't miss that song!
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/HnbGbd
Review by Kim Gentes
DOWNLOAD! Our friends at Essential Worship are giving away this free mp3 for the song "The Rock Won't Move" by Vertical Church Band! Check it out below!
Free Song Download "The Rock Won't Move" from the Vertical Church Band
About a year ago I was listening to fresh sound of worship from a live recording at a Vineyard youth conference. One of the main voices on that project was Jeremiah Carlson. You could tell then that Jeremiah and the band, called the Neverclaim, were just starting to make their passionate sound and infectious songs known. This last month the inaugural album from the Neverclaim was released through Provident/Essential Worship. The project is great!
But more than just a great music, Jeremiah and the Neverclaim are the real deal- real worshipers who lead just as passionately in a small group of a handful of people as they do in front of a crowd of thousands. While living in Franklin, TN I had the chance to hear Jeremiah lead worship at Franklin Vineyard earlier this year, and they poured their hearts and music out with great encouragement to the local church gathered there. This last summer I also had the chance to be at a large conference where the Neverclaim led worship daily for the youth and also in a final night of worship with a 3000+ adults and youth. In each of these contexts, The Neverclaim was focused on glorifying God and inviting the gathering to surrender their hearts to Christ. Whatever else we may say about "worship bands" these days, it is important to note what the focus of these groups are, and I am delighted to say that these guys are more interested in lifting up Jesus than "making their mark" in the music scene.
This project launches with the great song Revival, a melodic song with punched-in electric guitars, power chord vamps and a memorable chorus. The chorus exposes the thoughtfulness of Jeremiah's writing- the lyrics are compact and powerful, drawing together the commitment of the believer, the supremacy of Christ and the hope for change at the hand of Jesus- the change we call "revival"-
We were made for such a time as this
When every knee will bow and tongue confess
Jesus Christ for who he really is- revival, revival!
Musically, this is well arranged anthem rock displaying the benefits of a studio well used- great layered guitars and tight vocals that highlight the musical advantages of this group. And that advantage starts clearly with Jeremiah's soaring vocals that highlight every song on this project. Supporting the vocals is a mashup of power chord guitar movements and picked or strummed acoustic (with occasional banjo/mandolin flourishes as well). Of course, a regular collage of rhythm (drums and bass) hold time step duties and a keyboard rounds out the sounds for this ensemble.
Track two and three are strong songs as well, with undulating verses and big choruses. Track three, Pearl of Great Price, has an especially strong devotional theme, once again wrapped in some great vocals from Jeremiah. I loved the surrendered language of this song, whose simplicity makes it a nice candidate for use in local churches:
I give everything, everythingYou're worth everything to meI give everything, everythingCause You gave it all for me
Track four is a gospel/choir-esqe track that intros with a humble mandolin/banjo/acoustic guitar/slide guitar feel and a hand clapping roots groove. This, again, accompanies the lyrics well, which speak of community and calling out in prayer for God to "steal the hearts" of our communities from the depths of despair and darkness that the world has gripped them in. Carlson, in a co-writer with Scott Krippayne and Tony Wood, brilliantly effuse passion and prayer, singing:
Would you steal their hearts as You call their nameIn a broken world, tryin to do the sameWould you let them see the majesty of who You areOh Lord, would you steal their hearts
It's hard not to start clapping, join in singing and want to set this track on repeat for a very long time!
Track five is the acoustic radiated song, My Soul Longs, which begins like a Mumford & Sons tune, and carries acoustic strumming of guitars, banjos and mandolins throughout- all the while being pitched into glory with Jeremiah's heartfelt vocals and some thundering guitars, drums and bass! I love this song! By the time it gets to the bridge/refrain "He's comin' back for His bride", I dare you to try to sit still and not jump in and worship at the top of your lungs! It was pretty much impossible for me and my family whenever this song hit the speakers!
The album is not all power punch and glory, though. There are moments of settling in, and simple reflection on God's goodness and majesty- Be Lifted Higher is one of those. Though it takes off in the chorus the way other tracks do on this project, it is a brilliant song that breathes the praise of God as a framework into which we should address the "King of Kings".
Track nine retreats even further into a folk/roots/rock undertone, settling the ethos of the project into a southern rock sound with Sweet Sweet Mercies. Like many songs on this project, what seems like a simple single idea turns into some soaring chorus vocals on lifting power chords. Once again, I couldn't turn this track off. Brilliant!
There is more to discover here, but I will leave some tracks for you to consider with your own ears and hearts. One thing I noted as I "chewed" on this project- the more I listened, the more I loved it. It is not an album that can be listened to once and you've emptied it's cache of goodness. You will return to it many, many times, as I have. And after weeks, you'll still find yourself finding it in your playlists on itunes player or spinning the old polycarbonate plastic in your car (that old thing we used to call a CD).
Worship leaders and musicians will find a lot to collect here on this album, and the songs I've highlighted here are good first options to consider. While the ranges are a step or two higher than most congregations will want to venture in corporate worship, some are spot on for that 3rd or 4th song when everyone is singing fully and voices are warmed up. Also, your youth groups will love any of these song selections, even done in the original keys here.
This album is a wonderful debut album for the Neverclaim with lots of thoughtful lyrics, great music and mountain top vocals to lead you through. Don't skip over this album. For all these great reasons it gets my nod as an Editor's Choice Award album. Great work Jeremiah and the Neverclaim!
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1bVTq31
Review by Kim Gentes
DOWNLOAD! Our friends at Essential Worship and Vineyard Publishing are giving away this free mp3 and chart for the song "My Soul Longs" by The Neverclaim! Check it out below!
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Free Song Download "My Soul Longs" from the Neverclaim