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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Looking For America - On A Spiritual Journey Through 2016 With The Best Albums Of The Year

 

Looking For America - On A Spiritual Journey Through 2016 With The Best Albums Of The Year

A look back at the past year is what we journalist and writers do. Trying to “get a handle” on what just happened is an age-old task that is always just beyond the reach of even the most senior reporter or cultural critic.

And then there was this year, one that, in many ways defied the odds as being a “weird” year. The U.S. presidential election took new twists and turns almost every week, and the other stories of the year (the Black Lives Matter movement, the continued fragmenting of our once monolithic pop culture into little bits and pieces of entertainment, etc.) form a chaotic whole that defies any attempt to categorize them.

And then there is the personal level. Every year that passes brings personal triumphs and failures, new family members and lost ones too. Jobs are gained, degrees earned, while in other spheres marriages splinter or a child passes away suddenly. One bad car accident can define a year, or conversely, one serendipitous, chance meeting can lead to a new love and the course of a life altered.

And so, as a music journalist, it’s ever so much easier to define the year by the great music I heard and absorbed into my soul. 2016 might have been an up or down year for me (I’d characterize it as an “up” year for the Caldwell clan), but it was also the year I heard “Live It Well”, “Balconies Of Grace” and “Local Construction”, three fantastic songs that have already embedded themselves in my soul’s DNA and inspired me to “live a better story” for the Lord, because, truly, “life is short“, I’m constantly “under construction” and always, desperately in need of “grace.” Traveling back through the year in music is always a joy, because the music that you truly loved marks the days and months (as in, “I remember where I was when I first heard this song!”).

The following are my favorite albums and songs of the year. This is not a “best of” list, as much as it is a “favorite” one. I make no claims to the greatness of these albums and songs (though many of them are), but to how much they moved me and settled in a place in my heart.

 

1. Switchfoot - Where The Light Shines Through

 

Every four years the U.S. goes through a presidential election cycle, and it’s almost always greeted with the question of “what kind of country do we want to be? Likewise, turning 40 years old (something I experienced this year) elicits the same kind of questions; am I who I want to be? Do I need to make a change?

For nearly half my life, Switchfoot has provided me the music to go along with those questions and searches, the bigger questing for the divine in the real world:

 

“This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” - “This Is Your Life” from Beautiful Letdown

“I want more than my lonely nation” - “Lonely Nation” from Nothing Is Sound

 “I’m living for more than just the afterlife” - “Afterlife” from Vice Verses

 

And now, I’ll add:

 

 “Life is short, I want to live it well”

 “America, who are you?”

 

 And…

 

 “The wound is where the light shines through”

 

Jon Foreman and company speak to my soul like no other band, and when they ask hard questions about themselves and their country, it makes me want to do so as well. But in asking tough question and making tough observations, they never skimp on the creative rock and roll. The blistering and epic guitars of “Holy Water” (a clever way to weave a song about baptism in with surfing, but it’s so much more than that) bleed into the fantastic bouncy baseline of “Float”, and then into the sun drenched and poignant title track. This might be Switchfoot’s most California album ever, with Beach Boy harmonies set against an alt-rock backdrop. “Live It Well” may be the closest the band gets to U2, and it’s deservedly turning out to be their biggest hit in ten years, because it inspires without cloying, it uplifts without preaching. Not many artists can do this well.

And in the searching for hope amidst the tough questions (“Looking For America”), Foreman comes down on a God who wants to gather the “poor, tired and huddled masses” (a play on the Statue Of Liberty’s famous motto) into himself. A country, as great as it is, is no substitute for a relationship with the Creator of all things.

 And so, the answer to all that searching, is hope in a loving God.

 

“Hope's a seed you have to sow

When you let it go it comes to life

So you stretch your arrows on the bow

And you pull them back and watch them fly”

 

Any institution, person or thing I put my hope in down here is ultimately going to fail me. I put my hope in the Lord, and do my best to love my neighbor as myself. I place my life in the hands of the “healer of souls”, and with his divine help, hope to take my life and “live it well”.

  

 

2. Paper Route - Real Emotion

 

If I had experienced any sort of breakup this year, Real Emotion would have been my favorite album of the year. A song cycle about a relationship that’s ended (this I’ve gathered from clues both in the bands comments and in the song lyrics and placements in the album), Real Emotion is a bird's eye view of the cycle of disappointment and renewal that comes when any relationship is fractured. It ends with my second favorite song of the year, “Balconies Of Grace”, where the narrator gives his struggles to the Lord in a terrific, anthemic melody, and prays for the person on the other side of the relationship split:

 

“Raise your arms and hold balconies of grace

Raise your arms and hold what you can't replace

It's the simple things that I can't get right

It's the hunting heart trying to survive

And for every wound there's a hill to climb

Can we reach that high, reach that high

 

Raise your arms and hold balconies of grace

 

Raise your arms and hold

There is loneliness in the things we need

But inside your eyes I am reflecting

There is grace to hold over you and me

There are balconies, balconies”

 

May we all celebrate the grace that “holds you and me”.

 

 

3. Crowder - American Prodigal

 

I guess I’ll make it official: I like the band “Crowder” more than I did the “David Crowder Band”. That might be blasphemy to many longtime fans, but David Crowder is a much more focused songwriter on his new band’s first two outings than he was over the course of his other band’s seven albums.

 American Prodigal is a case in point. It has a strong theme, both musically (southern swamp-rock and bluegrass-like folk music) and lyrically (the redemption of a wanderer).

David Crowder mines Southern folklore and gothic themes for traces of God, and uses the musical form in his songs of praise. “Shouting Grounds” (a reference that Southerners of charismatic background will get) takes an old religious tradition and imbues it with new life. The fact that I had to look up what the shouting grounds were is a testament to an interesting album. “Run Devil Run”, with its acoustic blues guitars (and fine music video) is a hoot of a song, and “Praise The Lord” redeems its lackluster title with terrific lyrics about a spiritual awakening, realizing that the Lord is so much more than the box our minds put Him in. These are among my favorite lyrics of the year:

 

“And I don’t buy that any more.

You’re not who I thought you were.

Praise the Lord…”

 

 

4.  Needtobreathe - Hard Love

 

Many see Hard Love as a letdown after four great albums of gritty and heartfelt Southern rock, but the album, with its 80’s era synthesizers and left-field songwriting (just check out the auto-tuned opening vignette “Mountain”) was a needed change of direction for the band. The great title track addresses what is needed to make a relationship (be it a marriage, family or band one) work, and that’s “hard love”. The divisive history of this band over the past few years (something that they are more than candid about) makes this statement of purpose one of the most interesting songs of the year. It’s become a theme song of sorts in my house (I have two tween daughters in the midst of growing into young women, who require a “hard love”, not to mention their frequently grumpy dad) and I hum it often in the midst of any family drama. “Testify” is a wonderful worship song that uses a hammer dulcimer to great effect (something the Rich Mullins fan in me appreciates), and “Great Night” is the best dance song of the year (and made for a great concert opener on their latest tour).

Not everything on Hard Love holds together (the ending song “Clear” is nice, but strangely meanders on and on for almost seven minutes of nothing, and is a vague “is-he-talking-about-the-Lord-or-his-wife” tune), but the highs and good moments are right there with the best of what these fellows from South Carolina have done.

 

 5. Relient K - Air For Free

 

I ranked these Ohio boys behind Needtobreathe, but if I had it to do all over again, I would switch their places. Are For Free is a great, cohesive comeback for these beloved, former pop-punkers. But while they were away they added a few new tricks, and the album is full of off-kilter songs that retain the puckish (a Shakespeare reference, and where the word “punk” comes from) spirit of the band. “Local Construction” is a bouncy tune that Wes Anderson would be proud to have in one of his movies. It also contains some of the finest lyrics Matt Theisen has put to paper:

 

“Days rolling by like local construction

I'm watching the tenements increase by increments

Work on it, work at it, work, but it's never done, no no

Fix the car, fix the house

Fix the flaws in myself

It's never done, no no

It's never done, no no

Like local construction

It's never done”

 

Wherever you may call home, there is undoubtedly a construction project around your town that is never quite done. So too are our lives. Praise God he’s still working away on us, though the days may seem long at times.

 

 6. John Tibbs - Dead Man Walking 

 

There isn’t nearly enough “heartland” rock and roll in Christian music. The honest, blue collar kind of music that refuses to gloss over the tough reality of life, the kind that speaks to you in its authenticity and honesty.

Indiana’s John Tibbs made that kind of album this year. A little Bruce Springsteen, a little John Mellencamp, a pinch of Creedence Clearwater Revival and a whole lot of heart, Dead Man Walking burns with energy and integrity, and never glosses over anything with fancy production or vague lyrics about “struggles”. Instead “Silver and Stone” bursts out of the gate with grit and verve, celebrating the God who makes beauty out of our messes. In “Abraham” Tibbs has one of my favorite lyrics of the year, sung with vocal cord-shredding intensity:

 

“It's not where you've been

It's not what your eyes have seen

It's not who you are

It's not what you're becoming

It's not what you say

It's not what your hands have held

It's the grace of God who makes this fallen place whole.”

 

7. Unspoken - Follow Through

Unspoken played perhaps the best one hour festival set I’ve ever seen this past summer. Maybe it was because they were playing a rare hometown gig (on a Mountain in Maine), or maybe they were just excited to be playing through their new album. But whatever the cause, they rocked and rolled through most of their new album with a humble swagger (I know that’s a contradiction in terms) I’ve not seen in a long time. This lead me to listen to their new album Follow Through with more curiosity that I normally would give something this “pop”.

But darned if they didn’t hand in the sharpest pop album of the year; a jubilant mixture of uplift and grit, of heartache and praise. With great melodies and the fantastic vocals of Chad Matteson (who channels Maroon 5’s Adam Lavine), Follow Through jumps out of the speakers. The extended version (which really should be the only one) has “Roots”, a great Paul Simon-like number that uses an African choir and a great agricultural metaphor that, if their record company had the temerity to do so, would be the best thing Air1 or K-Love played put on their play lists this year.

 

 8. Tyson Motsenbocker - Letters To Lost Loves

A folkie based in the Northwest and debuting on Tooth And Nail Records, Motsenbocker had the best opening song of an album I heard this year. In the gut-wrenching “In Your Name” (a song inspired by the news of his saintly mother’s cancer diagnosis)  he sings about praying for healing:

 

“Well maybe he is occupied with other people's wars

Or he's organized militia to fight the war on Christmas

or maybe he's protecting our children from the gays

Who have promised to destroy this utopia we've made

In His name  

In His name

In His name 

Well I hear that you've been speaking through the man on the TV

And you've helped the Dallas Mavericks with their field goal percentage

So when my mother's doctor calls again with more bad news

It's an honest heart's reaction - who, my God, have you been listening to?

In His name…”

 

Letters To Lost Loves is a travel log of faith, and takes you through the dark times (and the light) of trying to hold onto your faith. Christian music needs many more Motsenbockers to speak to the full spectrum of what it means to believe. Even the album cover, with a picture of his parents embracing, is devastating.

 

 9. Sho Baraka - The Narrative

Humble Beast Records continues to put out some of the best and most challenging music from people of faith. Baraka’s The Narrative is a great title, and the album makes a great use of a historical motif, with songs that correspond to historically relevant events (like “Maybe Both, 1865” which is about the Emancipation Proclamation and the modern day Black Lives Movement), and with songs that demand repeated listens to get the depth and rapid fire maturity of the lyrics. The Narrative shines with fantastic, live instrumentation and an intensity of purpose that stuns.

In the afore mentioned “Maybe Both, 1865” Baraka spits out a rapid fire assessment of the troubles of the narrative of American history: 

 

“Why stop now?

I haven't caught the holy ghost yet

Sing a little louder, we can drown out the protests

We build an antebellum, they too busy to listen

I hear disturbing things come from so-called "Christians"

Quick to justify your man's death

Because of a criminal record or how a man dressed

Thugs I guess, only perfect people get grace

If that was the Lord's way, there'll be no one in the faith

True flaw, America kills and hides behind the law

They purchase this land with violence, but never count the cost

Put a dollar to your ear, you can hear the moaning of a slave

America the great was built off the labor that they gave

Jefferson and Washington were great peace pursuers

But, John Brown was a terrorist and an evil doer

Oh yes, God bless the American Revolution

But, God ain't for all the riots and the looting?”

 

There are surely angles to debate here, but white Evangelicals would do well to consider Baraka’s words, and try, just for a moment, to see things from a different perspective and listen for another “narrative” that is out there.

 

 10. Judah & The Lion - Folk Hop ‘N Roll

 Folk Hop ‘N Roll is just about as experimental as a bluegrass album can get. With dance rhythms and zany turns of instrumentation (mostly done on acoustic instruments like mandolins and banjos), Folk Hop ‘N Roll is a down-home party record that grew on me as the year rolled along. There’s no better album I heard this year to dance on the front porch of your cabin along with. I’m happy these guys are getting such good exposure this year (they are opening for 21 Pilots on a world tour this coming spring).

 

Music is soul food, and one of the Lord’s neatest inventions. May you hear many good songs this year, that make you want to “live life well”, celebrate God’s “balconies of grace”, endure the endless “local construction” of you life (it’s never done), and be a blessing to the world “in His name”. 

Peace to you, and a very happy 2017. 

May we live it well. 

- Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

A Look At The Lyrics Of Jon Foreman, Part 2

No Cheap Inspiration Here

A Look At The Lyrics Of Jon Foreman, Part 2

 
 

In September, I released Part 1 of a look at the lyrics of Jon Foreman and Switchfoot. With Switchfoot just about to release their 10th album, Where The Light Shines Through, and Foreman having released a steady stream of great EP’s over the last few years--and to honor such a prolific and heartfelt songwriter--I’d like to examine the Jon Foreman songs and lyrics that mean the most to me. This is part two of a multi-essay (okay “blog”) effort to wrestle with the life of the mind, with what happens when other’s art and your own heart collide. You can read part one of this series here

 
This Is Your Life (From The Beautiful Letdown) 
 
“This is your life / Are you who you want to be?”
  
Socrates is reputed to have said "the unexamined life is not worth living." Yet so much of the time I'm not really giving much thought to why I do what I do. It's all too easy to fall into familiar patterns or let my desires control what I do. Some call it "the chasing of the belly and the bowl." And all that unexamined life can lead you to being the shell of a person, broken and wondering how you got here, shipwrecked. "Where did it all go wrong?" you think.
 
That may be overly dramatic, but so is breaking down on the roadside after you've been ignoring the "check engine" light for a month. You knew there was trouble, all the signs were there, but there were just other things to do. (And sometime, in my younger years, I would just turn up the music if my car was making a funny sound.)
 
But asking yourself hard questions is important. There are only so many days in your life left, and if I want to “live them well.” I have to ask the questions and pray the hard prayers. “Lord, search me, is there more you have for me?”
 
I’m about to hit the big “four-oh”, and asking myself this question everyday is critical.  
 
 
“Live It Well” (From Where The Light Shines Through)
 
 
“Life is short / I want to live it well”
 
“Teach us to number our days” the Psalmist says. The clock is ticking down, and all those years you thought you had are drifting away, minute by minute. My life is short (especially measured against that rock my daughter found on our hike the other day, or that massive oak tree we passed).
 
Foreman hits this theme time and time again over the course of his band’s albums, but he never ceases to find new ways to say it. If you combine that important sentiment against the swelling, U2-like structure of the song, and you get an anthem that not only uplifts, but challenges. Theme songs don’t come much better than this. It’s the soundtrack to my days this summer; getting in shape, loving my family well, working hard at the gifts God has blessed me with.
 
May we all “live it well”.
 
 
“Company Car” (From New Way To Be Human
 
“I've got the company car / I'm the one swinging at two below par
Yeah, I've become one with the ones / that I've never believed in
But I've got the company car”
 
 
In college, I had the nicest car I will probably ever own. It was a sporty black Saab that was completely ridiculous and bought with trust fund money that should have been spent on something more practical, and modest, to drive. I stood out like a sore thumb at my Bible college, where most ministry majors were driving beat up cars and focusing on more important issues.
 
But I thought I needed to have it. In my insecurity about who I was, a flashy car seemed like some kind of answer, and since I could buy it outright, why not?
 
What you drive is a measure of success here in the U.S., and Foreman’s lyrics about a person who thinks they’ve made it because they are driving the company car (most likely a car that is nicer than one they could afford) speaks to the vanity and confusion of our times. A nice car is nothing to live for. It rusts eventually. The motor goes south and all you have left is the payments. 
 
Foreman has long made status symbols a theme of his writing, with terms like “Lexus cages” sprinkled throughout. On each album, you can count on at least a song or two where Foreman is urging his audience to live for more, and it’s a theme that cannot be overstated. Life is about so much more…
 
 
“Adding To The Noise” (From The Beautiful Letdown)
 
“If we're adding to the noise / turn off this song 
If we're adding to the noise / turn off your stereo, radio, video…”
 
The 21st century is sure noisy. And it’s become even more so in the 12-plus years since this song came out in 2003. There was no social media then (not in the way there is today) and there was still music on MTV. But Foreman got this right. If the stuff we consume just adds to the chaos of our lives, it’s time to turn it off.
 
Silence is going to be the great currency in the future, the thing that people crave and will seek out. And the reality is that the Lord’s still small voice comes through best in silence. Elijah in the cave sat through a tornado, an earthquake and a forest fire, but the Lord was not in those things. I listen to music a great deal, and much of it is music that relates to my faith directly. But turning it off to listen is imperative now and again.
 
 
Learning To Breathe (from Learning To Breathe)
 
"Hello, good morning, how you do? / What makes your rising sun so new?
I could use a fresh beginning too / All of my regrets are nothing new
So this is the way that I say I need You / This is the way that I'm learning to breathe"
 
A fresh beginning is another constant theme with Foreman. “Dare You To Move” (“I dare you to move like today never happened“) and “Always” (“every breath is a second chance”) hint at this theme too, and show Foreman to be a man who is in touch with his sinful nature. 
 
And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t need a new beginning too. Grace says that there is always a fresh start, always a cleared path ahead of you if you will only ask for it. Sometimes it's easy to get in a funk when personal failure and you are intimate friends. But as the book of Proverbs says “a righteous man gets up seven times”. It’s about the getting up and not the falling down. Because falling down is pretty much guaranteed. It’s those who finish the course that change things. 
 
Grace says “get up”, I’ve got this, you just keep going.” And as I grow as a believer, I realized that grace is the constant wind in my sail that I forget is even there. Growth is realizing how free I am because of Christ‘s death on the cross, free to fail, free to get back up again. It’s not up to me, so why pretend that it is.
 
It’s like breathing, sometimes you have to remember to do it. Learning to live in grace is learning to breathe, learning to do something naturally. If I lived in grace, and showed it in everything I do, if I reflected the grace I’ve been shown, how would that change things, my relationships, my work?
 
It would change everything…
 
Thank you, Jon Foreman for constantly making me think, reflect and sing along at the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing you in concert this summer.
 

 -- Alex Caldwell, Jesusfreakhideout.com staff writer

 

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Switchfoot And Needtobreathe - The Spurs and Warriors of Christian Music

             

Music And Basketball:

Switchfoot And Needtobreathe - The Warriors and Spurs of Christian Music 
 
There are a few distinct things I’ve been a fan of since childhood (good books, good movies, good Chinese food etc.), and chief among them are basketball and music.
There were no real outdoor courts in my small Maine town growing up, so my crafty father built me the most beautiful and rugged outdoor court you have ever seen. I spent hours a day firing away at that hoop, imagining hitting buzzer beaters and playing one-on-one against whoever was around that day. To this day, a hoop in the driveway is a mandatory item for me, and my daughters and I spend a lot of time out there when the weather is cooperative.
Likewise, music was a huge part of my childhood. My parents owned a Christian bookstore during a pivotal period of my life, and brought home new music pre-releases almost weekly (early Michael W. Smith, Petra, Whiteheart etc.). I’d put my huge boom box (remember those?) out by the hoop, and that made for a killer afternoon in my world.
To this day, music and basketball make up a huge percentage of whatever “free time” I have, and I try to work them into the daily lives of my family, to try to pass on the love. (No pressure here girls.) I coach my girl’s basketball team in the winter months, and one of my favorite things to do is making practice play lists to blast during warm ups and drills. It makes the cold gym that much warmer, and that much more positive a place. This year Blanca, Britt Nicole, Tobymac, Owl City and Capital Kings made up a good chunk of the tunes cranked out, and it was also a neat, non-threatening way for my family to spread the gospel and to talk about our faith. 
I also love to watch basketball, and this year in the NBA, there were two teams that were heading towards breaking the all-time wins record for a season, held by the Michael Jordan-led 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, who went an amazing 72-10. 
Both the current champions, The Golden State Warriors, and former champs before that, the San Antonio Spurs, had a chance to beat that record, (the Spurs are now out of the running, but the Warriors still have a chance to do it), and watching two teams play the game to perfection, with all the right kinds of passing, defense and  selflessness on display, is a fan’s dream come true. Two teams doing it is a one-in-a-hundred years kind of thing, like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig going after the home runs record in baseball while being one the same team nearly 80 years ago. 
Which brings us to the music.
Though it’s not a “competition” in terms of the art, Christian Music (loosely defined as music that is created by Christians and gets play in that genre’s outposts, though both bands mentioned here exist in a few different genres) has a version of these two teams; artists who seem to be at the peak of their game, releasing a string of great albums and songs that show spiritual rock and roll at its best and most uplifting.
Since both bands have topped JFH’s “Best Of” album list in the past few years, and both are releasing new albums this July (also, they just toured together at length), the two bands seem inexorably linked, and discussing them together just makes sense.
For Needtobreathe, I think their current hit streak goes from their third album (The Outsiders) to their last one (Rivers In The Wasteland) and quite possibly their upcoming one as well (July’s Hard Love). Switchfoot has been in full stride since Hello Hurricane.
The depth and creativity of the songs these two groups have released in their “prime” stand alongside the best in any period of Christian music. Switchfoot’s “Your Love Is A Song”, “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight”. “Vice Verses” and “When We Come Alive” are just four examples of the kinds of theologically rich, soul-searching songs that represent true artistic and spiritual depth. (Likewise with Needtobreathe’s “Something Beautiful”, “Lay ‘Em Down”, “Keep Your Eyes Open”, “Difference Maker” and “Brother”.)
Add to this some great cultural commentary (one of rock and roll’s great tasks) in Needtobreathe’s “White Fences”, “Where The Money Is” and “Money And Fame” and Switchfoot’s great take on the fear mongering of the modern news cycle (“Selling The News”) and the Church’s bad habit of emphasizing Heaven to the detriment of spiritual engagement down here (“Afterlife”), and you get two fully-formed artists plumbing some great depths of the human condition. 
And what I think is the greatest achievement of both these bands, is that they have managed to exist simultaneously in the secular marketplace (I hear both on the overhead speakers at my local grocery store) and Christian music marketplace alike. A song like Needtobreathe‘s “Brother” hits on a universal truth that we all need each other, (like the theologian R.C. Sproul said, “all truth is God’s truth”) and is the kind of unique song that crosses over barriers. (Likewise with Switchfoot’s anthemic “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight.”) I wish more “Christian” bands could write these kinds of universal songs that show the depth of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. (Like Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman said to The Rolling Stone, “We’re Christians by faith, not by genre.”)
But it is also refreshing to turn on Air 1 radio and hear Needtobreathe and Switchfoot, (and to see them at my local Christian music fest.) They represent some of the best music on that station, and they are comfortable in that world too, doing interviews and “behind the music” background spots. I’m glad they make an effort to be in this neck of the radio dial too.
Both bands represent the best of what good art in the hands of a believer can do, and that they are both firing on all cylinders at the same time is a unique moment to be savored. 
This July can’t come fast enough...
 

 - Alex Caldwell

 

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Alex Caldwell's 2015 Staff Picks

Being a music reviewer (or film or any other kind of art) can be a downer at times, because your intake of mediocre art can be too much. If you let it get to you, then you can wonder if there is anything good happening in your little corner of the music or art world, like somehow all the lights are slowly going out and you’re standing there trying to make sense of what is happening. 

So it’s a needed joy to take into account all of the things you liked in the year that has past. It’s refreshing to unabashedly talk about what you thought was great art, and why it has lightened up your soul. Good music can be the best thing in the world. It can speak to your heart and brain like few other art forms, and when you bond with a particular piece of art, it comes to feel like an old friend. Many of the albums on my list already feel like that, like I’ve been listening to them for a long time, though they may be only a few months out of the proverbial womb.  

And if your list, like mine, contains a lot of your long-time favorite artists, then it's critical to ask the question, “Do I love this album because I love the artist?” (in the same way I love one of my young daughter’s drawings because I love who it came from), or is this truly a stand-out piece of work that changes my life (not to put too dramatic a point on it). 

It’s a salient question, and for me, the question of my musical year. With all these returning artists on my list, what is it about their latest offering that got me so jazzed up? It’s hard to separate the love of the artist and the love of the album, and knowing where one starts and the other stops is difficult. It’s a subject worth tackling. 

By my mental arithmetic, eight of the listees (including honorable mentions) are "old friends" of mine (Andrew Peterson, Plumb, Jon Foreman, Matthew Perryman Jones, Mat Kearney, Josh Garrels, Burlap To Cashmere, Sara Groves), two are "acquaintances" that are rapidly becoming "good friends" (Rend Collective, Andy Mineo) and two feel like an artist I just met at a party and had a terrific conversation with (Lauren Daigle, The Gray Havens). So old friends and new, you all made my 2015 a year to remember by putting out the very best offerings these ears of mine heard. It’s a list of what I liked, not a defining “best of” anything (Adele, Darlingside, Mutemath and Coldplay put out a really great albums in the mainstream, too), but a list of spiritual pop that made my heart sing (and convicted it too) and my mind think deeper, rounder thoughts.

 

 

 

1. Lauren Daigle - How Can It Be

It’s pretty easy to write off a pop album. An “Album Of The Year” should be “dark” and “weighty” and have some kind of epic artwork that shows snowy mountains in the background, or so goes the conventional thinking. But I’ve been writing about music for almost twenty years now (thank you college newspaper!) and I can usually identify my “album of the year” upon first listen, and this year was no different. I liked Lauren Daigle’s song “How Can It Be” on the radio in the late winter, but it didn’t knock me out right away. The Adele comparisons were there, but when I queued up the album, that voice just filled up the room and the songs were a perfect fit. “First”, “Come Alive (Dry Bones)”, “O Lord” and “Salt And Light” are dynamo song sung to pieces by Daigle. Add to this the fact that she was the writer (or co-writer) of 90% of them, and you get a home run the first time at bat. 

But the prospect of such and overt pop album being the best thing I heard this year troubled my egotistical writer’s nature, and I had to find something else. This couldn’t be it. What would the other critics say?

So I searched. And I searched some more.

I thought that Andrew Peterson’s “The Burning Edge Of Dawn” might be the challenger I longed for. And for a while there, it was touch and go. To break the stalemate I took both albums on a long drive with my lovely wife and listened to both back to back. Julie and I both agreed that Peterson’s album was great, but I didn’t hold together the way Daigles’ does, it doesn’t burst out of the speakers in quite the same way.

So I pulled into my driveway, switched off my minivan and accepted that the best thing I heard this year was a pop album that I never expected. Thank you Lauren. Your tunes were an encouragement to me and my family all year.

Before I bring my need / I will bring my heart / before I lift my cares

I will lift my arms / I wanna know You / I wanna find You / in every season

in every moment / before I bring my need / I will bring my heart / and seek You first

 

 

2. Andrew Peterson - The Burning Edge Of Dawn

I was eating in a restaurant with my family after a particularly tough basketball practice for my girls, when I saw that there had been another mass-shooting in California. I quickly asked the waiter if the TV could be switched off for a while so that my family could just eat in peace and enjoy each other’s company on a rainy Tuesday night in late November.

If only the evil in the world (or in my own heart) were that easy to turn off. But it will plague us till this world is made new again. But I’m tired to trying to explain evil acts, like a mass shooting, to my two daughters. I long for a day when there is only good news continually. Andrew Peterson has made this theme the strongest thread of his career. From his first album fifteen years ago to now, the longing for the world to be made new again is common thread through all his music (and books too) and is a message that will not, till that final day, be irrelevant.

I’ve been waiting for the sun / to come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun

Till every shadow is scattered, every dragon's on the run / oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come / and this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn  


3. Plumb - Exhale

Plumb is always a welcome voice in my house, and Exhale is an excellent worship album that comes from a hard-won bit of hope. Plumb has made no secrets about her difficult few last years (she’s written a book about it) and the lyrics to the title track, along with its fantastic melody and soaring, honest delivery, make it one of the best worship moments of the year. The rest of the album matches suit.

Just let go let His love wrap around you / and hold you close / get lost in the surrender

breathe it in until your heart breaks / then exhale / exhale


The world of Christian Music could use a lot more albums like Exhale; albums that portray an honest journey of faith and doubt, of hope and pain. In the near-future, when a veteran artist's sound, sensibilities and history collide like they do here, the result should be compared against this album as the metric of how to create a worshipful document of God's faithfulness through personal upheaval.

4. Jon Foreman - The Wonderland EPs

Though I always miss Switchfoot when he plays without them, Foreman is one my favorite lyricists and songwriters of all time, and I always welcome a visit from him. The Wonderland EPs are an epic idea for an album cycle that never quite matched its ambition to its songwriting. But it is still great in many places, and there are wonderful, folky songs all around, especially “Patron Saint Of Rock And Roll” (There’s a park downtown / where the homeless get ignored / where the church next door is a crowd

singing “Blessed are the poor” / where the Mercedes drive away / muttering, “druggies, drunks and whores” / where the bumper sticker displays / “My copilot is the Lord”) and “Your Love is Enough” (Who can find me in this darkness? / who will alone can help me stand? You could find a way to find me / even love me as I am / your love is enough

Your love is enough)

 

5. Mat Kearney - Just Kids

Kearney is five for five (or “four-and-a-half“) with quality albums, and he continues his run with the theme of taking a hard look at the past, then saying goodbye to it. With Just Kids, Kearney takes his most in-depth look at the subject yet. “Hearbreak Dreamers”, “Moving On” “Black Sheep” and the title track mine the fruitful subject of what it means to truly “grow up”. With shades of Paul Simon’s wondrous Graceland album, Just Kids is an opus to what it means for “life to be too short to stay where you are.”

And the best part of the whole package? Kearney’s hysterically terrible dancing in the Heartbeat video.


6. Josh Garrels - Home

How do you follow up one of the most ambitious albums of the last ten years, the one that put you on the map and won you legions of loyal fans? Well, if you're indie sensation Josh Garrels, you go slightly smaller. Home, the follow up to the massive (both in scope and theme) Love & War & the Sea In Between, is a decidedly scaled back effort, though not without its loud moments and big theme. But gone are the booming instrumental sections and dense word-play, and in their place are slightly mellower tunes reminiscent of Garrel's earlier releases, like Jacaranda and Over Oceans. But if album titles are any indication, Home was almost destined to be a more down-home work that the epically-titled Love & War.



7. Rend Collective - As Family We Go


These clever lads and lasses from Ireland have energy to burn, and they do it in service of some of the most upbeat and charged worship songs around. As Family We Go is pure nitro from the first song on. It would be nice if they moderated their tempos a bit, and I look forward to a slightly more nuanced batch of songs. (Actually, their Christmas album has a bit more depth of sound, which portends good things ahead.) But for pure uplift, Rend Collective is the place to go. The film companion for this album is one of the best intros to the band that you could get, and serves to fire me up if I’m finding myself dragging spiritually that day.

 

 

8. Sara Groves - Floodplain

Sara Groves is a quiet treasure of an artist, one who doesn’t overwhelm the senses at first, but grows on each listen. She’s like a gourmet meal, and Floodplain is a wonderful course in that meal. With a strong theme of battling anxiety and depression, Floodplain mines a fruitful geographic metaphor to talk about how some people’s lives are lived with a level of anxiety that most of us could never dream of.

Some hearts are built on a floodplain / keeping one eye on the sky for rain / you work for the ground that gets washed away / when you live closer

May we have compassion on those who’s emotional makeup is different than ours.

 

9. Andy Mineo - Uncomfortable

Live it up, live it up / nobody ever told us we could die like this

Live it up, live it up / corrupted by the comfort we (love, love)

 

Andy Mineo takes on false prosperity gospel straight on all throughout Uncomfortable, and it’s a welcome broadside against the subtly-evil teaching that God wants to bless you to the point of constant leisure. Now for sure, an over-correction can cause folks to be martyrs and reject all pleasures, Puritan style. But one of art’s best roles to play is to speak truth to power, and Mineo speaks (and raps, spits, sings and yells) loudly against an American Christianity all to often (and I’m including myself in this critique) more concerned with comfort and safety than in living the kind of life that Christ did. Being uncomfortable from time to time is a sign you’re heading in the right direction

  

10. Burlap To Cashmere - Freedom Souls

Veteran artists crowd-funding their new albums continues to be a great story in the world of music. Signed to Steve Taylor's influential indie label Squint (home of such great artists as Sixpence None The Richer and Chevelle) back in the late 90's, Burlap wowed audiences the world over with their breakneck acoustic mix of folk (particularly the Greek, World Music kind) and rock and roll, and sold over a half-million albums on their first trip up to bat. Lead singer and main songwriter Steven Delopoulos's meditations on the darker sides of spiritual life, combined with worshipful moments, made for a potent stew that continues with Freedom Souls, the band's latest release.

Freedom Souls is an excellent record, full of both bold, eclectic music (filling a particular need in a Christian Music scene filled with so many sound-alike artists) and a strong, story-like theme of wandering and redemption.


Music is one of God’s best gifts, and I’m glad to reflect on all the great albums and songs that have moved me (in many different ways) this year.


Have a great 2016, and may your ears keep finding good things to hear.

--Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell

 

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christopher Smith's 2015 Staff Picks

2015 may not have been the most exciting year for Christian music, but there are plenty of albums released that are worth celebrating! These 10 albums have impacted me in some way, whether they have challenged me to draw closer to Christ, made me think from a different perspective, encouraged me in my faith, or even just entertained me. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on these albums! Have any of them made your personal list? Are there any you haven’t had a chance to listen to yet? Let me know in the comments at the end of this post :)

1.  Fire & Stone, The Gray Havens - The Gray Havens, a new indie band made up of husband and wife David and Licia Radford, have crafted a masterpiece with their debut LP Fire & Stone. Most bands need time to grow and mature before they put out something they are truly capable of--just look at the DC Talk, or even more recently Lecrae. The idea that Fire & Stone is the beginning of The Gray Haven's journey is extremely exciting to me. With lyrics that are thought-provoking, beautiful, moving, clever, and lighthearted, they present the Gospel in a poetic and artistic fashion. This is matched perfectly with their self-defined "narrative folk-pop" sound which contains so many musical intricacies that only dozens of listens could possibly uncover. This has been the go-to album for car rides with my wife, serving as pleasant background music or as a catalyst deep conversation. I've recommended it to just about every person who has asked me about new music this year--it is really an amazing piece of art. If you don't believe me go check out their Soundcloud or Bandcamp page where you can listen to the songs for yourself.

2.  Mansion, NF - This young rap artist completely blew me away with his raw emotion and hard hitting beats. Mansion the only rap album to make my list this year (I haven't taken the chance to listen to Derek Minor's Empires all the way through and Andy Mineo made my honorable mentions), but man is it a good one. Of the 70+ reviews I've written so far for this site, this is the only one I've given a full five star rating. This album gets me excited every time I put it on, but it is also hard to put it on repeat because it so ridiculously weighty. The whole album is rock solid, but I especially love the songs "Paralyzed," "Face It," and "I'll Keep On." Side note: I found it quite funny how "I'll Keep On" was such a success on Christian radio. I was definitely happy to hear that people were hearing this amazing song, but it is by far the only "radio-friendly" song on the album. I can't imagine how many people bought the album for that song and startled themselves with the intense drop on "Intro."

 

3.  Falling Up, Falling Up - It was hard enough to materialize words to describe this album the first time for a review, so I don't even want to try to do it again. Here is my 2 cents review: "On Falling Up's self-titled final album, lead singer Jessy Ribordy's delicate, emotional vocals are paired with stunningly beautiful and dynamic experimental rock landscapes to create an otherworldly musical experience. The meanings of these songs may be elusive to most, but these masters of the mysterious still manage to captivate with their extraordinarily intricate world of silver lawns and moon dogs. Falling Up's evolution over the past 11 years has been intriguing to witness, and it is only fitting that they close their journey with one of their most remarkable achievements to date." On a somewhat related note, their acoustic EP with five different versions of these songs and a B-Side called "The Harbor" make a nice accompaniment to this album.

 

4.  Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots - This band is one of a kind. They aren't being marketed as a Christian band, but their lyrics are saturated with their faith. Tyler Joseph, who makes up half of Twenty One Pilots, is a fascinating front man who leaves a strong impression with his creative lyricism, energetic delivery, and heart-on-his-sleeves personality. The drum beats, courtesy of former live drummer of House of Heroes Josh Dun, are ridiculously fun and dynamic, and definitely part of the reason this music that makes it so addictive. They also do whatever they want. Ukulele? Sure! Time change? Done. There are no rules here. Blurryface was my first exposure to the phenomenon of Twenty One Pilots and while I've since checked out their label debut Vessels, there is something truly exceptional about this one.

 

5.  You Were Never Alone, Emery - If you know anything about me, you know that I love rock music. It's easily my favorite genre. I recently named my Top 15 favorite artists of all time and the top 5 are all rock bands. The past few years have been somewhat disappointing for the genre, but as long as bands like House of Heroes and Emery exist I will be happy. There was no song of "Studying Politics" caliber on You Were Never Alone, but front to back this album is amazing. And even at that, "Pink Slip," "Rock, Pebble, Stone," and "Thrash" are really close. The album is catchy, thoughtful, and creative and Toby Morrell's voice is so impressive, and somehow even better when paired with Devin Shelton. Also, if you haven't taken the chance to check out the Break It Down podcast by Emery's own Matt Carter, it is really really interesting to learn how these songs came together. Each song is discussed for a substantial amount of time, but it is definitely worth listening!

 

6.  of Beauty and Rage, Red - It took a long time for me to appreciate End Of Silence, but eventually I came around. I thought Innocence & Instinct found Red at the top of their game, but I became less and less interested as Until We Have Faces and Release the Panic were released. I wasn't sure what to expect going into of Beauty and Rage, but I listened with an open mind. Few albums have impressed me as quickly as of Beauty and Rage did. Even Fire & Stone (my number one pick) took a lot of time to get acquainted with and to fully appreciate its significance. But this album shot past all that because it encompasses everything I love about Red--hard hitting rock, emotionally charged vocals, and beautiful strings. "Darkest Part" is one of my favorite songs to come out this year, and there are plenty of other highlights like the spine-tingling ballad "Of These Chains" and the heavy-hitting "Falling Sky." It was also absolutely epic to listen to "Ascent" while driving through the Jotunheimen Mountains in Norway with my wife.

7.  Breathe Again, Spoken - I've liked Spoken since A Moment of Imperfect Clarity first came out (it's still my personal favorite record from the band). Though Illusion contains a couple of my favorite Spoken songs ("Through It All" and "Shadow Over Me") for the most part it didn't grab my attention the way Echoes of the Spirit Dwell, A Moment of Imperfect Clarity, or Last Chance To Breathe did. With that in mind Breathe Again was a pleasant late year surprise. I've played it every chance I've had since I first received my Kickstarter download--it energizes me while I'm out running, serves as a great sing-along soundtrack riding in the car, and gives me a chance to do think and pray while walking to work. There are so many ways to enjoy this album. This was definitely a late addition to my list, so it's position here at #7 is not nearly as certain as the rest, but I'm confident it is somewhere between #7 and #10.

 

8.  Into The Sea, Attalus - Into The Sea is Attalus' first release on a national label (Facedown) and they've already started on a such a strong foundation. This album will convict you of the sin in your life and challenge you to bring it to Jesus in surrender. Just reflect on these lyrics from "Desolate Aisle," "Are we so righteous we can make all the wrongs right? / Are we so enlightened we can turn darkness to light? / We're just the cynics proclaiming the flaws / We aim our polemic at political laws / We're fighting the symptoms because we can't see our greed is the cause." Not only does Attalus have a striking perspective of the human condition, but they know how to creatively communicate it. One song that positively and tangibly shook my faith was "Breath Before The Plunge" which tells the tale of a Christian martyr dying for his faith—and although it's fictional it provides a real sense of the unshakable faith of those who are at risk of being violently persecuted. I literally have cried while listening to this song, longing to have that kind of faith. But lyrics aren't all that is exciting about this band--Attalus' music uses typical alternative rock instruments to powerfully create reflective and chaotic soundscapes. This concept album is extremely lengthy, but it's a rewarding listen every time.

 

9.  This Is Not A Test, TobyMac - Phew! After such a weighty album it's kind of funny that the "feel good" album of the year is next on the list. You just gotta love Toby's catchy beats, infectiously cheerful songwriting, and diverse pop landscapes. Some tracks ("Til The Day I Die," "Move") are stronger than others ("Undeniable") but overall this is a great album that proves Toby still has A LOT of passion and creative juices left in him. One cool thing about reviewing this album was receiving an exclusive B-side called "Love Of My Life" which is a fun dance-pop love song that I'm surprised didn't at least make it onto the deluxe edition!

10.  Science Fiction, Jonathan Thulin - Prior to listening to Science Fiction I had only heard a few songs from The White Room. I only sat down to listen to it fully for the first time in preparation for my review. These two albums are vastly different. Instead of pursuing the "theater pop" style of The White Room, Thulin decided to take a more radio-friendly pop approach. On paper, it sounds like a creative step down, but I really think Thulin does an excellent job walking the line between accessibility and artistry. Catchiness and creativity often seem like two different goals, but on Science Fiction they work together to deliver memorable tunes that will have you singing along in no time. While the most fun tracks are found on the first half of the album, my favorites are found in the second half with "6 Feet Under," "Mockingbird (feat. Kevin Max & Shine Bright Baby)," and "The Ruins (feat. Moriah Peters)." This record slipped by under the radar this year, but it's only a matter of time before Thulin starts to become more noticed.

 

Honorable mentions

 

 

  • One Love Revolution, Pillar - Strong comeback from a Christian rock staple
     
  • Dawn EP / Shadows EPJon Foreman - The Wonderlands was a nice experience this year. These two stood out to me
     
  • Come In, Children 18:3 - Swan song? Or not? Either way, it's definitely their most accessible album
     
  • Vultures EP, Disciple - How were these B-sides?
     
  • Live From The Woods, Needtobreathe - Great live rock album
     
  • The Dream Alive EP, Vocal Few - Thoughtful singer/songwriter type music
     
  • Broken Temples, Kevin Max - Only thing holding this creative CCM project back is that there are only 8 real songs
     
  • Shells EP, Wilkes - Late year surprise. Earnest CCM.
     
  • How Can It Be, Lauren Daigle - Beautiful voice. Had a very pleasant interview with Lauren
     
  • Uncomfortable, Andy Mineo - I'm sure no one agrees, but I thought this was a step up from Heroes for Sale
     
  • Reprise EP, Wolves At The Gate - I'm a sucker for more stripped down material from heavier bands
     
  • Home, Josh Garrels - Not typically my style but his voice and lyrics are so intriguing
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    Saturday, November 28, 2015

    Resting in the Woods with Seth Bolt of Needtobreathe

    Seth Bolt and I have similar souls - we love the woods and realize that too much work will damage you. We live an hour apart on sizeable tracts of land in the South Carolina forests. 

    But Seth has created something that woodsmen and citygoers alike will marvel at. A two-story treehouse with beautiful glass windows nestled a few short miles from Clemson's Death Valley sits on the 40 acre farm of the Bolt family. He and his father built it themselves, and Seth built it with the intentionality that he would live there. His soul became alive whenever he was back on his parent's farm, so he decided to share it with others. 

    Since Seth is a bassist for the popular band Needtobreathe, the tree house is available for rental when Seth is out on tour. It is a popular getaway for couples, friends, and fans traveling to Clemson. (Link to book the house here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8319626?s=8). Construction was finished in September and Bolt is surprised at how fast it has filled up, "We have most of 2015 booked and we even have weekends in 2016 booked. I am surprised at how fast this is growing." 

    Bolt went to Africa last year and people asked him about America. "I was honest with them. America has big houses and nice things but people here are happier. You spend more time with the ones you care about and you dont work as hard."

    This philosophy also extends to Needtobreathe. When making Rivers in the Wasteland, they worked so hard and unfruitfully that they almost split up and it created a three-year gap between the release of The Reckoning and Rivers in the Wasteland. This time, the band has been much more careful with their time as they currently work on their sixth studio album. "We are working hard but we are taking lots of time to rest. For instance, we just worked four full days this week and took three days off. That will help this be our best record yet and as a byproduct of the rest time, the songs are not as dark. I have made music a long time but it was not always joyful."

    Seth has also done what millions of Americans long to do, unplug for an entire day. "Just this past week, I took an entire day off and went into the woods. I even cut my cell phone off. I was afraid I was going to miss something at first, but once you are out there, it doesn't matter anymore. Your soul fills up and your cup is overflowing."

    If God rested and if God commands us to rest, then why can't we rest?

    -- William Corbin

     

     

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    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    William Corbin's Top 5 Favorite Artists of All Time

    With the staff's recent picks of their Top 15 favorite albums of all time, I decided to pitch in... but only came up with 5. See, I am only 18 and I have only followed music avidly for a couple of years. That is why there is a lack of 1990s bands and why there are only five bands on the list.

    1. Needtobreathe

    I hail from the same South Carolina woods as Needtobreathe and I have aged along with them. With a killer live show featuring varied versions of Needtobreathe classics, it is hard to not be a fan of Needtobreathe. They are catchy and real to who they are. They are the oddball on this list because they do not have a heavy side, but they appeal to my deep southern streak.

    Albums: The Reckoning, Rivers in the Wasteland, The Heat

    Songs: We Could Run Away, State I'm In, Keep Your Eyes Open, Cops, Angel at my Door

     

    2. Underoath (2004-present)

    Spencer Chamberlain and company are incredible songwriters and talented musicians. Chamberlain and Gillespie create a vocal combination unlike any other band. All of their albums have distinct qualities that make them refreshing, yet they all have the signature sound of Underoath greatness. The talent is evident in the music and the songs fit in arenas and will blow out your speakers. "Epic" is a overused cliche but it is the only word to describe this larger than life style of music.  I will see them live on the Rebirth Tour for the first time so get your tickets because they are almost all gone.

    Albums: Define the Great Line, Lost in the Sound of Separation Disambiguation

    Songs: Writing on the Walls, Catch Myself Catching Myself,  Desperate Times Desperate Measures, In Regards to Myself, Young and Aspiring

     

    3. Anberlin

    Stephen Christian's vocals were so pure and talented but the rest of the band had talent also. Drumming prodigy Nathan Young was instrumental in memorable Anberlin moments such as the intro to Self Starter. They had a varied discography and a storied career but luckily for our hearts, they are always there for us on replay.

    Albums: Cities, Vital, Lowborn

    Songs: Fin, Self Starter, Dismantle Repair, ISJW, Losing it All, Stranger Ways

     

    4. Emery

    Emery poses many Questions and breaks down many Walls through their music. While I dont agree with *everything* the Bad Christian movement is about, I feel that it poses important questions and is authentic. Owning their own record label means that they can do unique things and change the way music works. Emery is not as heavy as Underoath, but they are more diverse and fit a similar niche.

    Albums: You Were Never Alone, The Question

    Songs: Thrash, Walls, In a Win Win Situation, Cutthroat Collapse, Rock Pebble Stone, So Cold I Could See My Breath

     

    5. Wolves At The Gate

    It takes a phenomenal two albums in order to make a list with the artists above, but Wolves has talent and heart. They are theologically sound, Christ centered (for real), and great musicians. They implement spoken word, screaming, and singing into their thundering drums and guitar riffs to create excellent songs. The sky is the limit for their talent, but what stands out is their heart. When I was honored to talk with Stephen Cobucci, I realized that he is 'on fire' for God and that he uses this music to preach the gospel.

     

    Albums: VxV, Captors, Reprise EP, Heralds EP

    Songs: Relief, Dead Man, Man of Sorrows, Majesty In Misery, Safeguards

    Honorable Mention: Sent by Ravens was a personal favorite of mine. They didn't create their own genre or sell out arenas, but they created enjoyable hard rock that is missed in the scene today.

     

    -- William Corbin

     

     

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    Wednesday, September 16, 2015

    A Look At The Lyrics Of Jon Foreman, Part 1

    No Cheap Inspiration Here

    A Look At The Lyrics Of Jon Foreman, Part 1


     

     

    Back in my freshman year of college, I came across a “new artist sampler” CD in some magazine or another, and a few tracks in, these lyrics jumped out of the speakers of my college dorm room stereo and into my imagination:

     

    “Nothing but a chemical in my head / It's nothing but laziness / Cause I don't wanna read the book / I'll watch the movie” (From “Chem 6A” on The Legend Of Chin)

     

    The song, a take on youth slacker-culture, was the first I’d heard on the subject, (well, first good one) from a songwriter of faith, and I was immediately taken with the way primary Switchfoot songwriter Jon Foreman put together heartfelt, inspirational and clever words.

     

    I’ve been a Foreman fan since that day, and a few years ago, when I decided to take the plunge and try to become a full-time writer, one of Foreman’s lyrics inspired my first novel. In fact, his lyrics (from the song below) are the last sentence of the book, and I started with that scene, that image the lyrics conjured in my brain, and wrote the book “backwards” from that spot. His lyrics are intertwined in the sequel as well, and it’s safe to say I have a lot for which to thank Jon Foreman. 

     

    Switchfoot is currently busy recording their 10th album, and Foreman has been releasing a steady stream of great solo EP’s over the last few months, and to honor such a prolific and heartfelt songwriter, I’d like to examine the Jon Foreman songs and lyrics that mean the most to me. This is part one of a multi-essay (okay, “blog”) effort to wrestle with the life of the mind, with what happens when others' art and your own heart collide.

     

     

    “Needle and Haystack Life” (From Hello Hurricane)

     

    "You are once in a lifetime alive / you are once in a lifetime"

     

    This is the big one, the one that inspired the book. When my two daughters were very young, I was a stay-at-home Dad who was questioning his place in the order of things. My days were full of diapers and baby food, naps and temper-tantrums. But they were also filled with wonder, the privilege of being the first to see them walk and talk and sing. It was a wild ride that I found myself on. The day Hello Hurricane came out, I snuck out to the store for just five minutes when my wife got home from work, and I gave myself the treat of sitting in my mini-van in the parking lot and listening to the first few songs before getting back on the wild ride of parenting.

     

    As Foreman sings about each person being “once in a lifetime,” it dawned on me that there would never be anyone like my two girls in this world again. They are unique in the history of our world; they have never been here before.

     

    And neither have you or I. You are a mix of everything you’ve been through, every moment (good and bad), every meatball you’ve eaten and every movie you‘ve watched. There is no one like you. You are once in a lifetime. There’s a light in your eyes that is unique. You are irreplaceable.

     

    Once this truth stuck in my heart, I came to see the girls I was tasked with caring for as a unique and wonderful opportunity. There would never be anyone like this again! I had a front row seat to the lives of India and Ireland Caldwell, and that’s a privilege that I almost wished away.

     

    The book I wrote, India and the Eternals, is currently making its way around the desks of literary agents far and wide, and someday I have the hope and dream that, should there ever be a movie (this is a far out dream, I know) that Jon Foreman will write a song for the closing credits.

     

    “Needle and Haystack Life” shows Foreman doing what he does best, wrapping inspirational ideas in uplifting melodies. When you think of inspirational messages, greeting cards and internet “inspirational” photos usually come to mind. But what Foreman does is something more. It’s beyond the cloying nature of most songs that seek to uplift. In other hands, the idea that each person is “once in lifetime” might make for an unbearably sappy song. But Foreman comes by the idea honestly, and “Needle and Haystack Life” transcends the cliché to something truly hopeful and inspiring.

     

     

    “Dare You To Move” (From Beautiful Letdown)

     

    "I dare you to move / like today never happened before"

     

    Have you ever had one of those days that you wish had never happened? I have. I have regrets, things I wish I never did, words I wished I never said. We all have those dark closets we never want to be opened up. And those cumulative secrets weigh us down. Sometimes, they sink the ship.

     

    But grace says "you are more than your darkest days, you are more than your lowest moment." Grace says "I dare you to believe that you are forgiven. I dare you to 'get up off the floor, like today never happened before.'" Because in God's economy, the cross has made it "like today never happened before."

     

    And like most good art, the lyric “I dare you to move like today never happened before” can also be taken another way, as a challenge to “seize the moment”, to “number our days” as the Psalmist says; to not let a single second go by without living to our fullest. It’s all too easy to let the time slip away. Foreman dares us to move like this day is new, like it’s an adventure; like it’s “never happened before.”

     

     

     

    The Shadow Proves The Sunshine (From Nothing Is Sound)

     

    C.S. Lewis eloquently wrote a simple defense of the Christian world view in Mere Christianity, (a mandatory read for all believers, if such a requirement were possible) and one of his proofs cited of the existence of a designing higher power was the inherent knowledge in the human heart of right and wrong. Cultures may be widely different, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who felt good about betraying someone who loved them deeply.

     

    "The Shadow Proves The Sunshine" is a melancholy song sung in a supremely bummed out manner, and finds Foreman examining the news and feeling the weight of the fall, the weight of every war and famine and act of cruelty he views on the screen or newspaper in front of him.

     

    But what if the very fact that he's bothered at all by the "shadows" of this present age is proof they there is a loving God who is above all things? What if the shadow we feel on the darkest days down here is evidence that there is a light? There would be no shadow without the light. And as Gandalf says in The Fellowship of the Ring, "that is an encouraging thought."

     

     

     

    God Badge (From Fiction Family’s Fiction Family Reunion)

     

    "Put Your God badge down and go love someone."

     

    As I write this, the culture wars and political silly season are in full swing. On the side where there are a lot of folks who call themselves the same name as me, people are lining up at a court house in Kentucky and wearing t-shirts that say "Homo Sex Will Send You To Hell" and "No Homos In Heaven". There might be equally inflammatory picket signs on the other side too, but who are the people that are claiming to follow the prince of peace? This behavior is about as far from Jesus' mode of operation as the North Pole is from the south. In fact, those signs remind me of a certain religious sect that framed Jesus and put him to death.

     

    Our "God Badge" is that piece of identification that gives us comfort, like a membership card that tells us "I belong to something." But you can hold onto it too tightly and forget your mission. Jesus said that to love God and love your neighbor as yourself are the building blocks of every other bit of righteousness out there. It's time to let people discover our faith by how we do the TWO THINGS Jesus asked us to do, and not by the shiny fish on our car or the sad, God-forsaken statement on our t-shirts.

     

     

    Love Alone Is Worth The Fight (From Fading West)

     

    “I'm trying to find where my place is / I'm looking for my own oasis / So close I can taste this / The fear that love alone erases”

     

    This one takes the opposite tack from “God Badge”, instead of protesting and calling out bad religion, Foreman offers his vision of what the modus operandi should be for believers. I John 4:18 says that “perfect love (aka God’s love) drives out fear.” And really, isn’t that what drives bad religion? Fear? Fear causes people to say and do things that they might not have otherwise imagined they might do. Isn’t a large part of current day advertising (be it political or product driven) based on fear? The fear of the wrong kind of people taking over, the fear of missing out on the good life, the fear that somehow, someway you are being wronged and you might not even know it. Fear is common, fear is easy.

     

    St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy that “the Lord has not given us the spirit of fear, but one of self control, love and a sound mind.” That’s worth fighting for. I’m so prone to fighting the wrong battles, to using my energy is so many daft ways, but Foreman reminds me that the battle to love well, to see the good in people, to love and forgive myself because I’m loved and forgiven by the Lord first and foremost. Love is the only thing that is worth my energy pursuing. Love is what changes hearts and minds. God is love and to receive that love well is the true battle.

     

    Love alone is worth the fight.

     

    Thanks for reading. Look for parts two and three in the next two weeks. Next up: Jon Foreman as a motivational speaker or “this is your life / are you who you want to be?”

     

    Remember, love alone is worth the fight.

     

    -- Alex Caldwell, Jesusfreakhideout.com staff writer

     

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    Sunday, June 28, 2015

    'What's It Like To Start A Music Festival?' - Interview With River Rock Festival's Founder

     

    What’s It Like To Start A Music Festival?

    An Interview With River Rock Festival’s Founder Jeff Wall

     

     

    There are few summertime activities more sublime than the outdoor concert; sitting on a blanket on the grass or dancing (or moshing) away in front of the stage, and enjoying the sky, sun (or moon) above you. For those of us who live in the cold weather parts of this country, those precious few months where it’s sane to be outside for long stretches of time and the chance to hear some of your favorite music all in one place is a dream come true.

    The River Rock Festival in northern Maine (just over two hours from my home in New Hampshire) is in its first year, and I wanted to take the opportunity to ask festival founder (and the head honcho of The Lighthouse Christian Events), Jeff Wall, about what goes into starting an undertaking of this sort. He generously put aside the last-minute minutia of planning and spoke to me for a few minutes on the phone.


    (Jesusfreakhideout’s Alex Caldwell):
    With just over a week and a half to go till the crowds arrive for River Rock, how’s it going?


    Jeff Wall:
    (Laughing) I’m doing alright. Thanks for asking. Most of the details and major components of the festival are in motion, so it’s a bit out of my hands at this point. I’m coordinating volunteers for the festival right now, that’s my focus.


    AC:
    Volunteers…that’s an important component to these sorts of undertakings, isn’t it?

     

    Jeff: Oh, yeah. It’s critical. Right now we have enough to staff the festival, but I’m not sure how much sleep everyone would get. Festivals and concerts need volunteers. It helps everything run smooth.

     

    AC: You run the Lighthouse Christian Events, how is this different than that, and how long have you been in this line of work?

     

    Jeff: We started in 2008 with a concert by Laura Story, and we’ve been going strong since then. Really, putting on a festival is something we’ve always wanted to do, and it’s a natural extension of what we’ve been doing. But it is a lot more of everything.

     

    AC: How much more? How are you sleeping lately?

     

    Jeff: (Laughing) I haven’t really slept in seven years. I’m always waking up thinking about things. But I love it.

     

    AC: So, here’s a bit more of a challenging question. What will distinguish River Rock from the myriad of other festivals out there? What would be the reason to choose this one over the other ones around?

     

    Jeff: That’s the question, isn’t it? I think the great distinction would be quality--getting the most bang for your buck. It’s very common, in all corners of the concert industry, to charge for everything: parking, surcharges for ticket, special “autograph” fees etc. You can go in thinking that you’re going to be spending “X” amount and realize, after the fest or event is over that, really, you’ve spent almost double what you had wanted to. We’ve always charged one flat fee for our concerts, everything included, if it’s within our power to do so. 

     

    AC: “I have a story about that. A few years ago my family was at a fest, and my daughter and I stood in line to meet an artist she loved. I was a little out of it due to sun and loud music, so I didn’t read the fine print of all the signs around the signing tent. When we got to the front of the line we discovered that there was a $30 signing fee that we had to pay. My daughter was upset, and I was frustrated. $30 for what most of the other artists were doing for free. It was too much and seemed greedy.

     

    Jeff: I hear that kind of story all the time. There are countless little ways to make money on an event, but honestly, when I get to heaven I don’t want to say “Lord, I sold 10,000 travel mugs with your name on it and I made a few extra bucks off parking.”

     

    AC: That’s a great line. “Lord, there are 5,000 key chains out there with 'River Rock Festival' on them!”

     

    Jeff: That’s right. We don’t take any percentage of artist merchandise sales either. That’s a pretty common one.

     

    AC: Yeah, what if you are a smaller artist and just starting out? Those t-shirt sales become pretty important for getting back home in the van.

     

    Jeff: That’s exactly right. We made a commitment not to do these sorts of things when we started out, and so far, the Lord has honored that decision.

     

    AC: Are you and your family taking a big vacation after this event?

     

    Jeff: It’s interesting that you say that. We all enjoy this so much that we don’t really need the standard vacation thing. Right now we’re on the road, coming back from a Kari Jobe concert we put on, and we’re heading to the Norman Rockwell museum along the way. This job is crazy on one level; the details, the schedules etc. But my family gets to see so many places; we like to treat those times as a vacation.

     

    AC: Well, God bless you guys as you head into the last few days before the festival.

     

    Jeff: Thanks so much. We’ll be seeing you soon.

     

    For more info on River Rock Festival -- which is being held July 3rd and 4th -- visit http://riverrockfestival.com/

     

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    Friday, June 12, 2015

    Real Deep: Aaron Watkins of Random Hero

    Aaron Watkins grew up despising what he ended up loving - music. Wyoming born and Colorado raised, Aaron has seen and survived a lot of things. His father was an alcoholic who played in some fairly well known bands, and he did not want that lifestyle for himself. He toured with some bands right out of high school and escaped the music scene in his mid-twenties when he finished up his bachelor's degree. He then said, "God, I'll do whatever you want me to do." God wanted Aaron to do what he hated in his childhood - perform music. Random Hero was formed by guitarist Joshua Bertrand the year prior. Aaron's manager told Aaron about the audition they were holding for a singer. Aaron auditioned and was awarded the slot, forming the nucleus of Random Hero. God changed his heart and gave Aaron the desire to be in music and the desire to tour.

    God also gave Random Hero the revolving door of drummers. Aaron quipped that "We fight to do this because this is what God's called us to be. The timeline has been crazy, so you know when God is leading someone in or out. He takes people in and out until we have the right mix." Four drummers in eight years is definitely an uphill battle. For a while, the services of Air Force serviceman Josh Tarrant were utilized. It got to a point where it was impossible to balance the two and he left. Then the band found Patrick Madsen in 2014, and Aaron raved about him. "He has the greatest heart and is a phenomenal drummer. I always wanted to be a drummer so it is so much fun to watch him play." Ironically, drums are the one instrument Aaron can't play. His toddler son (Huxley) can play the drums, which you can watch on his Instagram @aaronthewatkins.

    I also asked Aaron what goes into the recording process, what is 'mastering' and 'mixing'. His combined thoughts: "You are always constantly writing, and it may or may not see the light of day. We have written hundreds of songs. You set a date to record and twelve to fifteen songs make the chopping block. The songs need to be the best representation of who you are, and they need to be the best songs. The producer will likely make you rewrite half of the songs, which is painstaking and time consuming. Everything from vocals to guitars to drums to the special instrument is recorded separately so each thing can be edited. If one part needs to be reworked, the whole band doesn't have to play the part fifty times. Mixing is what your songs sound like and are built." How loud are the vocals compared to the guitar, bass, drums, and so on? "Mastering is when you take the volume up several notches so it sounds 'beastlier'. The worst part of making a record is waiting for it to be finished. You are always learning and evolving like we did from Carry Me, Bury Me to Oceans of Change and we will in the future."

    Making an album is not an easy endeavor, and being in a band involves great dedication. When a band 'trains' a new musician, it isn't just "teach them the hits and go on the road." The prospect has to have the drive and the will necessary to be in the band and to learn the songs. They have to be willing to come to practice and to receive constructive criticism. They have to learn every song in the repertoire to be ready at any point. It isn't a mechanical 'this is the exact way you play it' with no deviations, but there are the main parts to every song you have to have down. There is room for improvisation and personalization occasionally. We started practicing two times a week, and to be a new band you have to practice a ton to be your best. Now we practice two times before leaving on tour because it is all muscle memory at this point. Speaking of touring, Random Hero is touring with good friends Spoken this June.

    Random Hero was (and is) under the tutelage of former longtime Skillet guitarist Ben Kasica. Ben taught the band how to be marketable, and to blend Aaron's pop influences with Josh's progressive metal influences. Random Hero strives to be themselves while maintaining the marketability, and they don't want to restrict themselves to the metal market. Everybody in the band needs to like the songs and to have input in the process, but you won't find Random Hero writing a six minute song. Aaron finds that after three minutes people zone out and are ready to go to the next idea, so they strive to create an album with twelve radio hits.

    Keeping this in mind, Random Hero changes the set list nightly. The radio songs are always on the list, and fan favorites are usually on the list. The set list is dynamic, yet some songs may be played rarely or occasionally. A typical show lasts thirty to forty five minutes; with material from the Breakdown EP, Carry Me Bury Me, and Oceans of Change. Random Hero doesn't hang out away from fans in a mysterious green room after their set. They often stay until the doors close while taking pictures, signing autographs, and hanging out. The band used to wear makeup and face paint on stage, but as they have matured they saw it as more of a nuisance and slowly stopped to have a more mature look.

    Some bands rarely produce EP's, but Random Hero embraces the EP. "An EP is an exciting taste of what is to come. For us, Breakdown set the tone for how we write as a cohesive unit. An EP is a good feeler to determine if the fans like a new evolution or not, and what to change for an LP." Random Hero left Red Cord Records and signed with Pando Records/Warner/ADA. The band will be back in the studio soon and will come out with a new EP later this year. Aaron Watkins also will be releasing a solo album on August 11th.

    Despite the business aspect of music and the unusual lifestyle, Random Hero's mission is to glorify God. These "musicianaries" strive to please God in every area (not just certain areas). God is the boss and Random Hero aims to be willing servants.

    -- William Corbin

     

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    Saturday, May 23, 2015

    Inside the Heart: Jeremy Bates of Embers in Ashes

    Jeremy Bates was so desperate to get back into music that he registered twelve band name ideas before he even had a band. Embers in Ashes signified his desire to continue music as his childhood dreams were mostly dead, but the embers of his desire kept burning. When he was in early elementary school, he learned to play the piano. When he was eleven, he fixed up a broken down electric guitar his cousin gave him with the help of his father, who was an engineer. At fourteen, he started a band that played Bleach covers. The band grew and soon they were travelling locally and playing their own original songs. But they went their separate ways after they graduated high school and his music dreams faded... or so he thought.

    A decade or so later, Jeremy was a pharmaceutical sales representative. He was married to his a girl he had known since the day she was born. Her father was the best man in his father's wedding, but love did not come at first sight for Jeremy. At one time, he had found her so annoying that he avoided spending time with her family until she was sixteen and he realized she had grown up. She had a thing for him, but he was hesitant because they were family friends. I asked Jeremy what would have happened if they had broken up. His reply, "We didn't." His wife noticed his desire to be in music again and told him that she would become a pharmacist so he could focus on music. He then started planning and assembling the band.

    Embers in Ashes began in 2010, but they only played one small gig at a church. The lineup changed significantly as the guys had to figure out if they were out or all in. Their first EP, "Sorrow Scars," was produced in 2011 by the members themselves, only numbering three at the time. A friend recorded the drums, and each band member contributed to the bass tracks. From that point on, the group was on the road consistently and was signed to Red Cord Records. The band learned the pros and the cons of the industry, but they decided to go independent with their second album. That meant spending more time in the studio, more time writing, and more time praying.

    Like everything Embers in Ashes does, "Killers and Thieves" involved a lot of prayer, passion, and hard work. Jeremy recalled, "The title track wasn't even supposed to be on the record. We really felt that God wanted it on the record though. It was completed on the last day of recording; the process was so quick. It was inspired by God." "Killers and Thieves" is stamped with Embers in Ashes' signature sound: bold guitars, Jeremy's intense vocals, and solid drumming.

    The story of how Andrew became the band's drummer is an interesting one. He was a fill-in for rhythm guitar and they thought he was good. At one show, they'd needed a drummer. Andrew played, and the band was impressed. Jeremy described him as "on another level."

    Embers in Ashes would consider themselves a Christian band, but they have a missionary mindset. Jeremy was in youth ministry for a while, and that influences his approach and his music. "I don't want to sound harsh, but I don't really want to just go in church circles and only have church kids buy our stuff. I want everybody to buy it and enjoy it. I want it to plant a seed that God waters and eventually they come to Christ." I told him how I have friends that aren't Christians and won't buy any music labeled Christian (regardless to if it is or not) and my frustration with it. He said that Embers in Ashes tries to break that mold: "We have a message in our music and we aren't ashamed of our faith but it isn't preachy. We play with a lot of secular acts in mainstream places. We pray on stage before every show. I've had guys come up and say 'Hey man, I'm not a Christian but I think it's cool you pray on stage'." 'Musicianaries' is how Bates described what the band is, playing music and reaching people for Christ through it.

    2015 has intentionally been slow for Embers in Ashes. They're working on their next album and spending much needed time with their families. "This is the first time I've been home in March in five years. We usually tour a lot for the first half of the year and we intentionally decided to slow it down" he said.

    A new album is in the works described in the veins of "old Anberlin." For more on Embers In Ashes, check them out on

    Facebook

     

    -- William Corbin

     

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    Tuesday, March 10, 2015

    An Open Letter To Mark Stuart and the Audio A Camp, by Alex Caldwell

    The wholesale lineup changes that Audio Adrenaline has foisted on their fan base in the last few years are frustrating and contribute to the cynicism that many feel towards the music industry (Christian and secular branches alike). It’s been done too many times and a line has to be drawn here.

    Now, the common critique of letters like this is that there are so many other things in our world that are much more worthy of our outrage, our time and our efforts. I agree. That’s why I’m also going to spend the exact amount of time I’ve spent crafting this letter into writing one to my state’s governor about the lack of options for the homeless here in New Hampshire, and then another extra hour or two working with the outreach team from my church. (Something I already do.) But cynicism is a problem. I feel it encroaching on my life day by day. And it’s a battle to keep it at bay, to let the Lord soften my heart and open my eyes to all that He wants to do through me in this world.

    I was once a wide-eyed, hopeful kid, and your music was very much the soundtrack to those times. During my Junior year of high school I spent the wee hours of a youth group lock-in discussing “Scum Sweetheart” with a friend, and being honest about how tough the pull of the world was feeling to us. This conversation convinced both of us commit to helping each other navigate the tricky teen waters of hormones and identities. A guy at summer camp taught me the chords to “Rest Easy” and I sang that song at the top of my lungs around a campfire with little campers singing along. The summer I graduated, I went on a road trip on a brilliant month in July and took Bloom along with me. “See Through” and “Man Of God” sparked amazing conversations with my fellow travelers, and I still quote “See Through” to my daughters, urging them to look at Jesus as the perfect one, and dad as the one who, on his best days, points to the Savior. (“Don’t you know that God loves you, don’t you know that I try to? I’ve been known to miss my cue, but don’t look at me, I’m see through.”) “Bag Lady” helped to convince me to break out of my comfort zone and strike up a relationship with the homeless lady who camped out near my college in Philly. Later, as a youth pastor, I sat around a campfire at a music fest with a retired pastor friend who was battling cancer and the feeling of uselessness to God. Though he was decidedly out of your demographic, he had been moved to tears by “Hands And Feet”, and your challenge from the stage that there was no one out there who God couldn’t use. Another kid in my youth group (the pastor’s son) loved “Chevette” because, to him, it was the story of his dad and his family.

    These stories matter to me, and many other fans out there, and the cynicism builds in our hearts when we are presented with a new product that has the old name on it. It makes us suspicious that there is an ulterior motive at work, and that we are seen as mere lemmings, mindless consumers who will greet this new version of something we once loved with a Pavlovian response to simply accept this new change with open arms; like there is no history, no collection of stories built up in our hearts. When I hear new music from an artist I once loved, it’s like being visited by an old friend.

    And, you already did this once before!

    I even enjoyed the last incarnation of the band. I enjoyed seeing Will bouncing around up on stage. I enjoyed hearing your voice on “King Of The Comebacks.” I enjoyed the album, and the attention it was bringing to the Hands And Feet Project. I cried a bit when I saw the “Kings And Queens” video, and I enjoyed introducing my daughters to the music and bringing them to your shows. They love “Big House” and “Ocean Floor” and I was happy to share a memory with them.

    But a third time? A third time in just over two years?

    That frustrates me, and appeals to the cynic in me that says that it’s all about the money; all about capitalizing on a “brand” instead of an actual band full of people with chemistry (the kind it takes time to develop) and a shared history. We live in such a manufactured world. But art can’t be assembled like an automobile. It’s an intangible thing that doesn’t have interchangeable parts the way my computer does. It’s organic and can’t be assembled in a studio.

    I fully recognize that there is much more behind the scenes than I could ever realize, and that there are many considerations, not to mention the projects and ministries that benefit from what you are trying to do. It’s just that we haven’t heard any explanations, just a “here’s your new version of the band!” It’s hard not to be dubious.

    So please, call off this continuation of Audio Adrenaline and start something new. Start something for the kid out there to fall in love with, to take on a road trip, to listen to late at night and consider a new truth. Do something original, something new for that kid and the wide-eyed, arms-wide-open kid that I once was. Art matters, authenticity matters. Thanks for the great memories, and may all of our lives have an impact on those around us for the sake of the Kingdom.

    Sincerely,

    Alexander Caldwell

    Tilton, New Hampshire

     

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    Wednesday, January 07, 2015

    Scott Fryberger Examines His Top 10 Albums of 2014

    I've always been known as somewhat of a picky music listener. I've always considered myself to have very refined taste (it's probably more of the former than the latter). Considering how many albums I had on my list of "potential top ten albums," I may be getting pickier as time goes on. Regardless of how I may or may not be described in the way of what I listen to, it is true that I had a bunch of albums that I was considering for this list. It seems to always be this way, too. I polled the other JFH staff, and it looks as if I'm one of few that seem to have this problem: how do I narrow this list down?!

    To some it may seem easy, but it's not. Now, my number one and number two were easy, I'll give you that. I rated two album with a 5-star rating this year, and that's only because I couldn't give Kings Kaleidoscope anything higher. Anyway, putting Kings K and Playdough and Sean P in the top two spots was a piece of cake. A la mode, for that matter. Then I looked through my list and saw that, outside of those two, I listened to NEEDTOBREATHE and Sleeping Giant a LOT. So that filled my third and fourth spots. The rest was the most difficult. Thus, I needed to write this blog, to explain my thoughts, but mostly to get to the honorable mentions!

    I'm sure everyone who reads this will have listened to at least part of one of these albums. If there's anything on this list you've missed, you have your assignment (assuming, of course, you like the genres represented). I'm looking forward to a good year in music in 2015! God bless!

    1. Becoming Who We Are, Kings Kaleidoscope
    I remember fellow writer Ryan Barbee writing a review of Kings K's Christmas EP a few years back, and I thought, "Hmm, I'll have to check this out." I never did. BUT, when Mars Hill teamed up with BEC and released the Mars Hill Worship Sampler in 2013, and I heard a couple of songs by Kings K, I thought "Yes...THIS is the band I'm looking forward to most from this merger." Of course, I don't need to go into what transpired, but in the end, the band still released an album that only met my expectations, but set them on fire and doused the fire with some Surge they bought from Amazon. Songs like "Defender," "Light After Darkness," "Grace Alone," and the Psalm-inspired "139" are all perfect examples of the wonder and awe that encompasses this album. In my opinion, the best worship album I've ever had the joy of listening to, and a phenomenal album in and of itself. Good thing digital copies can't be worn out.

    2. Gold Tips, Playdough & DJ Sean P
    My ears happened upon Playdough on a random sampler I got that was my introduction to Christian music. It was an ill harmonics track called "Will I?" It seemed a little different to me than what the mainstream hip hop world was offering (considering that my pre-Christian music choices consisted of the likes of Eminem), but it was pretty good. As Playdough started his solo career, I didn't follow along too closely, until a (now) good friend of mine showed up in my life and brought along Don't Drink The Water. I was hooked. Eight years later, and Playdough (alongside long-time DJ and friend Sean Patrick) has released one of the best albums of his career. Great for parties and clubs, it's also just a fun album to jam out to in your car or, if you wish, the privacy of your own bedroom. Check out "Act Like You Know," "Burn Rubber," or "Real Like It" and get the party started.

    3. Rivers in the Wasteland, NEEDTOBREATHE
    Taking it to back in the day again, the first time I heard NEEDTOBREATHE was when I was working at a local Christian radio station. I noticed the new singles that had been downloaded into the system, and saw the debut single from NTB called "Shine On." I liked it, but I more or less dismissed it as just another Christian band who would maybe have a couple of hit singles and then fade out into limbo. I was wrong. I was way wrong. Rivers in the Wasteland further cements the greatness that has come from this group of southern rockers. Every song is stellar, from the humble-yet-victorious "Wasteland" to the 80s-ish "Where The Money Is" to the moody "More Heart, Less Attack." There's a reason this is the number one album when it comes to the staff's average. Look it up if you haven't already checked it out.

    4. Finished People, Sleeping Giant
    This album took me by surprise a little. I've always kind of enjoyed what Sleeping Giant has put out, but I was never really a hardcore fan. I actually didn't really even particularly enjoy the first lyric video I saw from Finished People for the song "Overthrow." But I took a gamble on it, thinking it would at least be something spiritual that would also get me pumped up, and I ended up listening to it on a daily basis. There's an overarching theme of victory in Jesus, and the band's unabashed honesty and in-your-face attitude about the gospel is inspiring. In my view, it's the best hardcore album of 2015, and there were some good ones for sure.

    5. Aftermath, Fever Fever
    I didn't know a lot about Fever Fever before they got signed to Slospeak, but I had heard a few songs and thought they had a lot of potential, as good as they already were. Aftermath really impressed me. I know it's weird to have a 4-star rated album at this point in the list when everything else after it is 4.5, but I honestly listened to this one a lot more. In addition, I feel like the first half or so of the album is incredibly strong, and if the strength hadn't slightly dropped off after "Hope Is A Child's Toy," the album would've been rated a lot higher. Regardless, Fever Fever is a great band with a refreshing atmospheric indie pop sound that rivals the top artists in the genre.

    6. The Art of Joy, Jackie Hill Perry
    Jackie Hill Perry started off as a spoken word artist, who had shared the stage with artists like Propaganda, and since then, her relationship with Humble Beast began to grow. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I was partially expecting an album with as much as or more spoken word than Prop. And honestly, I wasn't excited about that. But I saw the video for "The Problem," and it blew me away. As it turns out, Perry is blessed on the mic. "Educated Fool," "The Problem" (which is a hidden track after "The Solution" on the album), and "Ode To Lauryn" showcase her wonderful rap skills. This album is FREE?! (Also, her testimony is amazing, and is a real testament to the power of God, and the truth of His Word, which is being fought against on a daily basis when it comes to the subject of her testimony - even amongst the Christian culture. Look it up and be blessed).
    Download free here!

    7. Slave To Nothing, Fit For A King
    I'm not a big Fit For A King fan. Creation|Destruction was decent, but didn't stand out to me, and even the touched up, re-released Descendants didn't do a lot for me. The guys really gave it their all, though, for Slave To Nothing. It's intense, it's passionate, it's honest, and it's leagues above their Solid State debut. I've heard good news about their live performance, and after their impressive display in 2014, I have to say I'm eager to see them live.

    8. Knives to the Future, Project 86
    Oh, Project 86, how I adore thee. The band has gone through a lot of changes: style, attitude, lyrical themes, personnel, hairstyles (remember Schwab's afro?). But they hardly ever fail to bring their A-game. Knives to the Future, with the sheer glory of its album art, brings to the table an array of sounds, much of which sounds a little "throwback"-ish, and a great deal of the technical intensity and lyrical genius associated with a Project album. If you haven't listened yet, check out "Captive Bolt Pistol" and let it rock your world.

    9. In Our Winters, Preson Phillips
    I discovered Preson Phillips in 2009 from this website called The Free Christian Music Blog, which highlighted all of the free, legal Christian music downloads the admins could find. Phillips' first album, The Observant & the Anawim, was an interesting album, and one that I didn't end up returning to for a while. But when I did, I suddenly realized I enjoyed it, and I followed his releases up until now.

    10. Correspondence (a fiction), Levi the Poet
    Here's another origin story: A few years ago, I went to this Come&Live! show with Showbread, The Ember Days, White Collar Sideshow, and Ben Crist from The Glorious Unseen. White Collar Sideshow had this young kid touring with them named Levi Macallister, who actually opened up the band's set for them. He unleashed the fury that was "Kaleidoscope," and suddenly, I was a Levi the Poet fan. After each loud, angst-ridden, tumultuous spoken word album, I wanted more. And this year, Levi delivered an album unlike his previous ones. Correspondence (a fiction) is, as the title suggests, a fictional tale of two young lovers, and it's accompanied by wonderful music from Glowhouse. His tamest release yet, it's also his most alluring and captivating. If Levi's style was too rough-around-the-edges for you before, you may want to try getting into his material again with Correspondence as the catalyst.

    Honorable mentions (in no particular order...aw heck, alphabetical order by artist name, because it's just easier for me that way): Singular Vision, Alert312 (Free download!)

    Neon Steeple, Crowder
    The Ember Days Live, The Ember Days
    Ornithology, Foreknown (Free download!)
    The Cabin, Golden Youth
    Fort Wayne, Heath McNease
    Smoke, House of Heroes
    Live In Color, Kings Kaleidoscope
    Calm Down, Everything Is Fine, Mike Mains and the Branches
    Invitation Only, Scribbling Idiots
    The Night God Slept, Silent Planet
    Young Hearts, Southlen

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    Sunday, December 21, 2014

    Christopher Smith Examines His Top Ten Christian Albums of 2014 and Shares Thoughts on Christian Music

    I’ve been thinking a lot about why I listen to Christian music lately. Putting together this list of my top ten Christian albums of 2014 and writing some of my thoughts down has reminded me of the collective reasons that I listen to Christian music. It was an important reflection for me, so I want to take a moment to share some of my thoughts as an encouragement and challenge to all of you.

    Over the years, there have been dozens of albums that have deepened my relationship with Jesus and affected how I live my life as a Christian, such as DC Talk’s Jesus Freak, Relient K’s Anatomy..., and more recently My Epic’s Broken Voice. Even just listening to Christian music on a regular basis, whether it is worship or not, keeps my mind focused on God or at least what is pure and honoring to Him (~Philippians 4:8). I like when music challenges my faith. I don't want to just listen to fluffy Christian messages almost as much as I don’t want to listen to a song about doing drugs or getting drunk. If it’s covering serious topics, I want to wrestle with it, let it convict me, and grow from it. That's why I love bands like Disciple and Lecrae. They bring the truth and they want people to be uncomfortable with it.

    But I don’t want that all the time. Sometimes I just want some clean entertaining music and, many times, Christian artists can offer that. All of the albums on this list have songs that can put a smile on my face, make me bob my head, or even dance. These artists know how to make a catchy tune and for rest of us who wouldn't be able to pick out a capo from a c-clamp, we can just soak it in and enjoy it.

    Alex “Tin Can” Caldwell mentioned something in his recent blog post about how we can develop "relationships" with an artist (not in a romantic way :) ). Through music, an artist is sharing his or her perspective on life. They are putting their thoughts, desires, and longings into words and singing them for us to think about. What the artist shares both in music and lyric you may come to treasure and trust the way you would the work of a loved one or the words of a friend. As a Christian, I find it easier to connect with Christian artists because they share a similar worldview as me.

    One of the obvious reasons I listen to Christian music is because I am writing reviews for it! It kinda goes with the job description.

    There are also a couple reasons I listen to Christian music that are not so good.  I have a lot of pride about my music taste and knowledge. While that's not inherently a bad thing, sometimes it gets to my head and I can come to view others as having lesser tastes, and that is just sinful. It can also be an idol. Ironic, right? I could pour my heart out about this one but I don't know 99% of you and I'm about as introverted as they come, so I will just say that this is something I have to continually bring to God.

    All of the albums on this list have engaged me with some combination of these reasons. There are also other reasons that I like these albums that have nothing to do with how "Christian" the music is, like their artistic merit (which is a whole different conversation!).

    Feel free to comment at the bottom with some of the reasons that you listen to Christian music or even share your favorite Christian albums of 2014. I'd love to hear what you think!

     

     

    1. Fading West, Switchfoot - With each release after The Beautiful Letdown, I was ultimately left wondering if that album was a one-time thing (not the actual sound, just the overall quality of it). I enjoyed Nothing Is Sound and Hello Hurricane, but there was just something truly remarkable about their breakthrough album. My love for Switchfoot was rekindled with Vice Verses in 2011 and Fading West this past January. The album is musically full of strong melodies and memorable hooks, and lyrically filled with philosophical thoughts and questions of hope, love, and faith. My favorite song off the album is the sole ballad, "The World You Want," which is completely drenched with emotion, capturing despair and hope within the context of our responsibility to the world. This was definitely my soundtrack for the year.

     

     

    2. Rivers In The WastelandNeedtobreathe - Few bands grab my attention from album to album the way that Needtobreathe does. They reinvent themselves with each release and continue to produce quality music. Rivers feels like a journey of emotions, from the chilling and vulnerable opener, “Wasteland,” to the convicting closer, “More Heart, Less Attack.” The half-title track can send chills up and down my spine and it's one of the most vulnerable worship songs I've heard in quite a while. “Rise Again” is one of the more beautiful songs that the band has crafted alongside “Something Beautiful” and “Garden.” As a side note, Needtobreathe is one of the few Christian bands that I like that that will come out to Boston (the only others being Switchfoot and FIF). They always put on a great show.

     

     

    3. Smoke EPHouse of Heroes - While nothing quite tops The End Is Not The End, everything House of Heroes has put out since then is high caliber rock music. The Smoke EP is no exception. From the rock and roll opener, "Bottle Rocket," to the anthemic closer, "Infinite," the band keeps you engaged and craving more. This EP is filled with layers of harmonized vocals, sweet guitar riffs, pounding drums and thought provoking lyrics. Behind it all is the talented front-man Tim Skipper who stretches his voice as he sings about loss, faith, and relationships. This six song EP had the most candidates when I was trying to decide my top ten songs of the year.

     

     

    4. AttackDisciple - When I first heard this album, I immediately knew this was one of my favorites for the year. Packed with aggressive yet melodic hooks and bold lyrics, it quickly became one of my favorite Disciple albums alongside Scars Remain and By God. I really love the fusion of the old (Back Again) and new (O God Save Us All). "The Name" is possibly my favorite song in the 150+ song Disciple catalog. The only thing holding this album back are the three predictable softer tracks (which are still better than most of their recent softer tracks). On a more personal note, this album has really challenged me in my faith and I love that.

     

     

    5. AnomalyLecrae - Over the past several years, Lecrae has certainly lived up to his self-proclaimed title of "Anomaly," by simultaneously engaging the common Christian household and mainstream hip-hop community. On Anomaly, memorable beats are accompanied by fluid rapping over a variety of sounds and instruments. Lecrae tackles the too-often taboo topics in Christian music, such as the effects of sin and social and political issues. Though Rehab still remains my favorite Lecrae album, Anomaly has taken the number two spot right above Rebel

     

     

    6. In A BreathNew Empire - New Empire has been making waves in Australia for several years. Those waves finally made it all the way over here to the states as this year marked their first US release. Taking cues from bands like Copeland, Deas Veil, and Snow Patrol, New Empire boasts a catchy, relaxing, and creative sound with many layers of complexity. Jeremy Fowler, the lead singer, has a beautiful and dynamic voice and the lyrics carry a deep message of hope--delivered in an artistic and even poetic fashion. This new T&N artist is definitely one to keep an eye on.

     

     

    7. Lowborn, Anberlin - The final chapter of Anberlin is the most somber and experimental album we have heard from the beloved alternative rock band. Though they will be missed, I am glad that they decided to put together one more album as a swan song of sorts. Cities remains my favorite Anberlin album, but Lowborn definitely has a high place among a strong discography.

     

     

    8. Blindfold, Canopy Climbers - There are many talented electronic-based indie artists out there, but Canopy Climbers are in a league of their own. They have this amazing ability to pull you into their music with Cory Nelson's soothing voice (which reminds me of Phil Wickham), intriguing and sometimes convicting lyrics, and musical soundscapes that are a seemingly impossible combination of catchiness and calmness. Each of the four tracks are a gem but my favorite is the title track.

     

     

    9. AftermathFever Fever - This is one of those few new bands that completely shock you with a fresh musical style. Lush ambient instrumentation, a unique and strong vocalist, and excellent musicianship (with some instruments I don't even recognize) make this a must-have album and a promising start for the band.

     

     

    10. Neon SteepleCrowder - The mad scientist/worship leader didn't take much of a break after the end of the DC*B, and that only means good things for worship music. With so many cookie cutter worship bands nowadays, it’s hard to find good artistic worship music and David Crowder is an artist that always delivers. Songs like "Here's My Heart" really draw me to worship Jesus. Crowder calls his new music "folktronica" but there is a lot more "folk" than there is "tronica." Either way, this is a phenomenal album that is comparable to the quality of DC*B albums.

     


    Honorable mentions

    Unto UsAaron Shust - The best Christmas album in Christian music since Phil Wickham's Songs For Christmas and also Shust's best album. Check out my thoughts in my review (it was the second one I did for JFH!)

    What Was Done, Vol. 1: A Decade RevisitedThe Classic Crime - If the new recording "Selfish" and the overly melancholy "The Fight” were not included, this would have been a much stronger release. But man, some of these renditions are killer. "We All Look Elsewehere," "The Coldest Heart," "Who Needs Air," "You and Me Both" and "Where Did You Go?" are all 5-star material that I'll be coming back to for years to come.

     

    GoliathSteve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - Goliath is filled with witty lyrics and solid musicianship. There are two reasons this is not in my top ten: first; I only just started listening to it, and second; I am not a big fan of Taylor's singing voice.

     

    Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. for King & Country - This stellar sophomore release serves as a big encouragement to live life fully, press on in difficult times, and to have faith in God over an engaging musical soundscape.

     

    And because I can…

    Other honorable mentions (in order):

     

    Love Is A Legend EP Copperlily 

    How Can It Be - EPLauren Daigle

    Hark! The House of Heroes Sing EP House of Heroes 

    Becoming Who We Are Kings Kaleidoscope

    From Water to War Nine Lashes

    Time Stands Still Family Force 5 

    Man On A Wire Nathan Tasker 

    Shadow Weaver The Choir 

    All Sons & Daughters All Sons & Daughters

    Time In Place Artifex Pereo

     

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    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Alex's Top Ten Albums and (A Few) Songs From 2014

    Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell’s Top Ten Albums and (A Few) Songs From 2014


    Being a music reviewer (or film or any other kind of art) can be a downer at times, because your intake of mediocre art can be too much. If you let it get to you, then you can wonder if there is anything good happening in your little corner of the music or art world, like somehow all the lights are slowly going out and you’re standing there trying to make sense of what is happening.

    So it’s a needed joy to take into account all of the things you liked in the year that has past. It’s refreshing to unabashedly talk about what you thought was great art, and why it has lightened up your soul. Good music can be the best thing in the world. It can speak to your heart and brain like few other art forms, and when you bond with a particular piece of art, it comes to feel like an old friend. Many of the albums on my list already feel like that, like I’ve been listening to them for a long time, though they may be only a few months out of the proverbial womb.

    And if your list, like mine, contains a lot of your long-time favorite artists, then it's critical to ask the question “Do I love this album because I love the artist?” (in the same way I love one of my young daughter’s drawings because I love who it came from), or is this truly a stand-out piece of work that changes my life (not to put too dramatic a point on it).

    It’s a salient question, and for me, the question of my musical year. With all these returning artists on my list, what is it about their latest offering that got me so jazzed up? It’s hard to separate the love of the artist and the love of the album, and knowing where one starts and the other stops is difficult. It’s a subject worth tackling.

    By my mental arithmetic, seven of the listees are "old friends" of mine (Steve Taylor, Needtobreathe, Switchfoot, The Choir, Anberlin, Peter Furler and David Crowder), two are "acquaintances" that are rapidly becoming "good friends" (for King & Country and Jason Gray) and one feels like a band I just met at a party and had a terrific conversation with (Judah & The Lion). So old friends and new, you all made my 2014 a year to remember by putting out the very best offerings these ears of mine heard. It’s a list of what I liked, not a defining “best of” anything (U2 and Coldplay put out a really great albums in the mainstream, too), but a list of spiritual pop that made my heart sing (and convicted it too) and my mind think deeper, rounder thoughts.


    1. Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil / Goliath

    The word “satire” doesn’t enter the Christian music vocabulary too often these days. With Christian radio play lists filled with earnest (and sometimes over-earnest) artists writing straight-forward songs that are easy to process, there is little room or time on the drive home from work to parse a song’s lyrics out if they prove to be more complex, or in Steve Taylor’s world, lyrically dense and chock-full of protein. It’s the difference between one of those candy-like granola bars that are more like a candy bar, and a health food store hiking bar that are tough to chew, but ultimately will give you a bigger boost. 

    Thankfully, Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil’s debut album (and that’s an ironic statement I know, as all four members of the group have almost 50 albums out between them) coat their satirical, yet reverent musings with some of the best, most melodic garage rock you will hear anywhere. Catchy tunes are the name of the game, and hard looks at both American and church culture are found throughout Goliath’s 11 lean tracks.  

    Steve Taylor has always been a keen observer of culture (for example, his great take on Church racism and cultish tendencies in 1980’s gems like “Color Code” and “I Want To Be A Clone”) and it’s been 20 years since we’ve been graced with such observations out of his own mouth. But he hasn’t stopped making them; he just wrote good, scathing lyrics that he gave away, like the Newsboys songs “John Woo” (a take on mindless blockbuster movies and lives of luxury), “Fad Of The Land” and “Lost The Plot”.

    So it's wonderful to hear him take on the subjects of blurred reality in the computer age (“Only A Ride," "Rubbernecker”), Celebrity and political culture (“The Sympathy Vote,” “Goliath”), lazy, passive media consumers (“Happy Go Lazy”), and his own frustration on being misunderstood by so many “gate keepers” in Christian music throughout the years (“The Comedian”). But Taylor does so much more than fire bullets at others. “Standing In Line” is a hard look at the ebbs and flows of married life, and “A Life Preserved” is a wonderful testimony about how God is faithful even though we drift away countless times. 

    All together, Goliath hits on so many levels that it will take me another year to sort out the lyrics (seriously, try counting all the puns in “Comedian“), but thankfully, I will be humming these songs to myself all that time. Goliath was worth the wait. Let’s hear some more Steve (and Jimmy and Peter and John Mark).

    2. Needtobreathe / Rivers In The Wasteland
    In any other year, Needtobreath’s fantastic Rivers In The Wasteland would have hit the number one spot for me. With its terrific mix of countrified rockers (“The Heart, “State I’m In”, “Oh Carolina”) and thought provoking, epic tunes (“Difference Maker”, which might be the most misunderstood lyric of the year; give it a second listen and think satire), Rivers In The Wasteland is a high water mark (no pun intended) for the boys from South Carolina. Add to the track list a unique and refreshing worship song (“Multiplied”) and the great gospel choir in “Brother” and you have the best set of songs you are likely to hear on Christian radio, but ones that also fit nicely on that play list that your supermarket is playing right now. That’s a true, artistic feat.
     

    3. for KING & COUNTRY / Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.
    There was no sophomore slump for these Aussies (even if they are 0 for 2 on album cover artwork). The long-titled ‘Live Free’ doubled down on the drums and epic songwriting that the Smallbone brothers have made their trademark. I read one reviewer who compared the songs on Live Free with songs from Disney’s The Lion King, and I couldn’t help but agree with that strange comparison. Live Free has the sort of rousing, Broadway like songs that could be licensed for countless sports montages and holiday commercials and episodes of The 100. “Fix My Eyes” and “To The Dreamers” sound like crosses between Graceland era Paul Simon and Coldplay, with massive drumming and tribal grooves to go along with the fantastic harmonies of brothers Joel and Luke. I’m seeing these guys live next summer, and I plan to be in the font of the stage to soak up the energy.

    4. Switchfoot / Fading West
    Fading West would have been higher on this list if it had been released all at once as the massive double album it deserves to be. Instead, it was released in three parts alongside the surfing film, and lost its impact on me a bit in the process. There is enough good material between the ep, the main release and the b-sides album to fill a whole concert set list. Highlights include my favorite song of 2013 (“Love Alone Is Worth The Fight”), recent radio hit “When We Come Alive” and the swirly, droney title track. I’m particularly fond of the haunting “Edge Of The Earth” from the later release of material. That song sounds like the soundtrack to walking on Jupiter. Jon Foreman, who is releasing a series of ep’s this year, is a restless, creative force and I have been blessed to hear his output for almost 20 years now. Switchfoot is going strong and showing how to mature gracefully into their second decade together.


    5. The Choir / Shadow Weaver
    And speaking of decades together, here is The Choir, launching into their third one as a band of brothers with very little turnover. Instead, it’s the long term friendship of Derri, Steve, Tim, Dan and Mark that has continued to drive the great, late-period of output from this band. 2005’s O How The Mighty Have Fallen, 2010’s Burning Like The Midnight Sun, 2012’s The Loudest Sound Ever Heard and this years Shadow Weaver are a four album hot-streak that most artists would drool over. Add to that a great live album this year and you could say that the Choir has never been better. Shadow Weaver continues Steve Hindalong’s exploration of how our weakness collides with God’s grace, and how our times of weakness (see the sobering take on staying sober, “White Knuckles”) can allow the light of the Holy Spirit (the best kind of ‘spirits‘) to shine. 

     

    6. Judah & The Lion / Kids These Days
    The first debut album on this list is a great slice of Appalachian melodies and instrumentation with insightful lyrics on the subject of growing up. “Sing Me Your Song” and “Love In Me” are honest, down home, yet epic (neat trick) worship songs that bring to mind a more subdued (and humble) Mumford & Sons. “Somewhere In Between” is a great look at the place most believers find themselves in, set against a mellow country groove of banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar. Judah & The Lion have operated clear of the music industry thus far, and have proven that it is possible to get going on a career on your own in this new-fangled musical economy we find ourselves in.


    7. Anberlin / Lowborn
    Saying goodbye is hard, but Anberlin did it in the best way possible. They announced the end, recorded one last terrific album, toured one last time and said “thank you, goodnight.” It’s the rare band that can say farewell in a dignified manner. Lowborn is a great final document for a beloved band.


    8. Jason Gray / Love Will Have The Final Word
    Jason Gray has written perhaps my favorite song of the last decade with “Remind Me Who I Am”, and “With Every Act Of Love” mines the same vein of songwriting for Gray. Love Will Have The Final Word is the best kind of intersection of preaching and pop craftsmanship. Not every believer who writes songs needs to be overt. As the wise Mark Stuart of Audio Adrenaline said, “there’s room for all of it.” I’m glad that Jason Gray writes catchy and overtly spiritual songs, because he adds a layer of introspection that is lacking in Christian pop music over all.   

     

    9. Peter Furler Band / Sun and Shield
    And speaking of old friends, Sun and Shield sounds like a lost Newsboys album, somewhere between Going Public and Take Me To Your Leader. I’ve always maintained that if the Newsboys had come up with a better band name in the early days, they would have been taken more seriously as artists, because Furler has always been a terrific, crafty songwriter. Sun and Shield continues Furler’s winning streak, and made me return to a time in my mind when life was simpler, my faith newer and the music on my radio was a vital component to daily life.

     
    10. Crowder / Neon Steeple

    Like Peter Furler, David Crowder struck out on his own this year, and the swampy, yet disco tinged Neon Steeple showed that Crowder can synthesize genres like nobody’s business. Banjos (the de rigueur instrument of the last few years) and mandolins crash against synth squalls and techno back beats, but all in the service of great songs. Many tracks could (in a simpler form) find themselves on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Crowder has a strong musical vision, and it comes out full force on the southern-rock-by-way-of-the-night-club-and-Sunday-morning Neon Steeple.



    And Some Thoughts On A Few Songs

    “Comedian” - Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil

    Just try to count all the puns in “Comedian”; you’ll have a good time. This track finds Taylor venting a lifetime's worth of angst over being constantly misunderstood by the Church. Yet he never gets mean or vindictive, even when he questions the almighty in a “David-in-the-Psalms” kind of way. We need more songs like this in Christian music; daring to (appropriately) question the Lord and His ways. The Lord is big enough to handle any question we can throw at Him.

     

    “No Man Is An Island” - Tenth Ave. North 

    Hipsters may dismiss Tenth Ave. North as a sound-alike Christian radio band, but they continually write deeper and sharper songs than they get credit for. “No Man Is An Island” burst out of my speakers this summer on a road trip, and I found myself marveling at the alignment of melody, message and songwriting drifting into my ears. The blueprint here is Actung Baby era U2, with processed guitars and Bono-like, wailing vocals, but Tenth Ave. North is growing in their songwriting, and as Picasso said, good artists steal while mediocre ones copy. “No Man Is An Island” is a timely statement about the isolation tendencies of 21st century people, and Christians in particular.


    “Sing Me Your Song” - Judah & The Lion   

    This honest worship song (or, if you will, reverse-worship song) contains one of my favorite lyrics of the year, with the Lord singing a song to a follower: “I want to feel your heart beating / like a melody with a heavy drum / and I, I want to know all the things you hid inside / sing me your song


    “Ain’t No Grave” - Crowder

    This is a foot-stomper of the highest order, made to be sung in a back holler Church or on the riverside at a baptism. It’s the best kind of old-timey song you will hear this year.


    “Lord I’m Ready Now” - Plumb 

    Plumb’s Faster Than A Bullet was re-released with this fantastic prayer for deliverance added at the end. Plumb’s new album can’t come fast enough for these eager ears.

     

     

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    Sunday, October 26, 2014

    In Defense of the Chris Tomlin Formula

    Conan O’Brien’s late show recently produced a clever spoof ad from Apple in response to their recent polarizing U2 album release. In the clip, an Apple exec describes the company’s new machine that not only erases Songs of Innocence from the user’s iTunes library, but also erases any knowledge or memory of the band from the user’s brain. One complaining hipster, groggy from the machine’s effects, is then introduced to the “latest album from Irish rock legends U2.” His reaction? “These guys are really good!”

    Modern culture, bereft with snarky fake news and vitriolic comment threads following real news, has sadly gotten really good at thumbing its nose at products or people it deems unworthy, passé, or irrelevant. The vocal minority’s piling on against U2’s latest is a good example. Once targeted by a segment of the population, the album was never given a chance.

    The “thumbing the nose” epidemic is no less active (it might even be more active) in Christian culture. Popular pastors and musicians are often targets, and while criticism is often justified, there are certainly times when that criticism is based only on a cultural tide or popular opinion. The actual target is never given a chance.

    Is it too much to say that Chris Tomlin is the U2 of CCM Praise and Worship music, at least in the context defined here? Maybe not. Tomlin’s music remains vital and wildly popular, even as some critics brand it as formulaic, boring, or derivative. Here’s an important point to remember, though: if Tomlin’s music is formulaic, and it often is, it’s based on the formula he wrote.

    In a recent interview, Tomlin said, “My focus has been writing to give the church a song to sing. This record is no different.” And he’s exactly right. One can look elsewhere for metaphor and surprising innovation, even in the Sixsteps family (read: Crowder). Tomlin writes songs that praise bands can play and that churches can sing (sometimes, admittedly, in a slightly lower key). That doesn’t, however, mean the songs are necessarily of low quality.

    Here’s a good example. Tomlin’s new album, Love Ran Red, is pretty standard Chris Tomlin fare, with no unexpected departures from the norm, either lyrically or sonically. It’s praise and worship music in a world where praise and worship music is both pervasive and often pedestrian. However, this is good praise and worship music. The (parenthetical) title track features the line “At the cross, at the cross, I surrender my life, I’m in awe of You, I’m in awe of You.” By itself, that’s a good lyric, but worshipers have heard that concept a thousand times before. The line that follows elevates the song. “Where Your love ran red, and my sin washed white, I owe all to You, I owe all to You.” Imagining the song in a congregational setting, that last phrase is key. It moves the worshiper from a sentiment that’s more of a platitude these days (I’m in awe of You) to a response that is personal (I owe all to You), and does so effectively, with an internal rhyme that makes the pairing memorable.

    I’d be first in line to hear Chris Tomlin break the mold in some way, and I’m not suggesting that Love Ran Red is without flaws. But it’s his own mold he’s choosing to fill, and he’s working to fill it as well as he can. Listen to the album; Tomlin’s not just mailing it in.

    If a free album from the world’s foremost rock band can be met with “This is so below me”-flavored snark, then it’s no surprise that every new Chris Tomlin release might face the same a priori criticism. It’s one thing to deride a genre for not living up to its potential, or an industry for forcing artists into a flavor-of-the-day (or, in the case of Christian music, flavor-of-the-decade) sound. It’s another to dismiss the whole thing because you think it’s unworthy of your lofty tastes. Wouldn’t it be better to notice quality, even in a saturated genre, applaud it, and constructively point out how it might be improved?

    -- Mark D. Geil

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    Monday, October 13, 2014

    Investing In The Lives Of Our Favorite Music-Makers

    With the ever-evolving music industry, it's grown more difficult for many bands and performers to be able to continue to afford to make music.

    I've heard about more than a couple instances where a band or artist has had to discontinue touring because ticket sales and/or album sales are lower than ever. In many cases, I realize it could be the shifting trends or our own personal economic statuses making it difficult to afford to buy tickets, but it could also just be the aging fanbase has lost interest in music altogether and does not continue to support these artists' endeavors.

    I've gone to some shows in recent months where, upon posting a photo from the show online on some form of social media, I've received comments like "Oh, I didn't know they were still around!" or "Where do you get your concert information from?"

    In this day in age, if you're a music enthusiast, there's no excuse to not keep tabs on your favorite artists. Between artist email lists (You should sign up for your favorite artist's email list if they have one!), phone apps and services like Bands In Town, and Facebook, there's just no reason not to know about shows coming to your neck of the woods. iTickets.com even sends out alerts if you sign up for them.

    But there's another concern. I posed a question - just to start a discussion - on the JFH Facebook to see what others thought about the hypothetical idea of: "If you knew that buying your favorite artist's music would help them keep touring, or NOT buying it would mean they'd stop touring, would you buy it then?" The truth is, most artists' careers (not ALL, but MOST) involve or are centered around touring and performing live. The real money in sustaining a musician's career, is in touring and drawing crowds. The expenses for that are super high, but with the right venues, crowds and ticket/merch sales, it should help keep an artist's career alive. (Some still go out on tours and barely break even, sadly).

    The truth is: album sales don't generate much income for artists. Over the years, most artists GO INTO DEBT with a record label to fund the recording of an album. And when an album sells, unless the artist funded it completely themselves, they see very little of the profits of the album sale. This isn't to discourage you from buying music -- by all means, it's super important to do that -- but you can't assume that just buying one $10 or $15 album from someone is going to keep them going for a long time.

    If we, the fans don't support the artist financially, they can't afford to continue to exist. Period.

    Some comments on the Facebook post were actually completely against seeing live shows, while others didn't care if buying an album ensured the band could keep touring or not.

    The fact of the matter is, in many cases, the two go hand in hand. If a band can't continue to tour, they probably won't bother sticking together to make music together. There's no reason to. They'll need to get "real jobs" and that will take up most of their music-making time. Plus, most labels only want to sign artists who can tour. Touring keeps the artist in the spotlight, at the forefront of people's minds. It enables fans to get involved instead of just listening to their single on the radio (and not buying their album, especially). After all, some people are more likely to shell out $16 bucks for a 3D movie in the theaters than to go see a band they like perform in person. And, if you're a sincere music fan who thrives on the ministry and what great music can do for the soul, there's something backwards about that.

    In any case, we'd love for you to join the discussion! It's just a friendly discussion, so join in!

    Visit the Facebook post here: https://www.facebook.com/jesusfreakhideout/posts/10152812838274603

    Thursday, September 25, 2014

    Your 'Favorite' Band/Song/Movie Probably Isn't Your 'Favorite'

    Each week, one thing you're bound to see online or even heard spoken by friends when a new album or movie comes out is something like:

    "The new album by ____ is their best yet!"

    or

    "_________ is awesome! It's my favorite movie!"

    But the truth is... can we really call a brand new album we've only heard a handful of times over the course of a couple hours or a couple days -- or a movie we've only seen once -- our "Favorite" or "the best?"

    Let's look at it this way... If you were to only be able allowed to watch one movie for the rest of your life, would it be that one? If you were only able to listen to one album, would that be it?

    When I was a teenager, I remember seeing a movie in the theater and enjoying it enough to call it my favorite film. Upon multiple viewings, and as I got older, I realized I enjoyed the movie still, but it was in no way my favorite movie. At around the same time in my life, I found my "favorite band" changing a bit too much as well. I'd hear one band, see them live, and love 'em to death. Then a few months or a year or two later, they'd have a new album, but a different band would put out a BETTER album. Well then, THAT album was my favorite, and so was that band. Then it happened again. Then, as I got a little older, a previously favorite band put out an album that really hit home. They were my favorite once again, and pretty much lasted that way past their retirement.

    Why does this matter? It's tough for true music fans to discuss music openly when things like "Album of the Year," "Best album by far!", etc, are statements used far too often time and time again by the same people. (Don't get me started about it being overused in music reviews!) Are these listeners just really easy to please? Or are these albums REALLY each the best... at the time they hear them? So what's the criteria for "best"? Sure, it's exciting to have new music. But sometimes when we get music weeks or even months in advance, it's still difficult to boldly proclaim "This is their best album yet!" or "Album of the Year" (especially, with the latter, when there's plenty of music yet to come out that year). It just seems like a pretty big statement to make.

    As I've gotten older, I've found it important not to jump to conclusions. Did I love that one new movie? Actually, yeah, but will it endure to be a favorite of mine 5, 10, 15 years from now? I've found that the movies that are my absolute favorites are ones I've seen many times over the course of several years and still really like them. I can honestly tell you that my absolute favorite, hands-down go-to movie is Ghostbusters because I first saw it as a kid and still can watch it at almost any time. It's held up pretty well, despite being dated (but what isn't, right?) and it's also nostalgic for me. And it still brings a smile to my face. For music, I've also found bands like PFR, their songs just feel like a warm blanket, a dip in a hot tub, or reclining after a day of being on your feet without a second's rest. I think that warrants calling their music a favorite. It feeds my soul too. Is that one new album by _____ awesome? Yeah! I like it! But let me get back to you on if it's their best or if it's one of my favorites. I've had albums that I'd never dreamed would be a favorite still sound like gold to my ears many years later. I love that. But I've also had albums I was quick to call amazing or the best not hold up very long at all.

    Maybe none of this really matters, I do realize that, but every street week when glowing comments for new albums (or negative ones, actually) flood the internet on THE DAY an album comes out, praising (or condemning) an album after what could be no more than just a handful of listens, you have to wonder how much time was devoted to really digging into the music and letting it just soak in. For real music fans, that's important. I know it's new and exciting and you were waiting a couple years for it since the last street day, but give it time. Sure, we sometimes read reviews to see if something is better than what came before it, but it can be much too hasty to just jump at calling something the best prematurely. There's nothing wrong with letting it simmer and sit with you a bit. You'll be surprised, in the end, just what IS the best or your favorite to you down the line. Happy listening!

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    Tuesday, July 01, 2014

    YOU Almighty -- Being His Hands and Feet

    Today, I was reminded of the 2003 movie "Bruce Almighty;" I thought about one of the messages the film focuses on and how it related to all of our individual Christian walks.

    We live in a time where it's easier now more than ever to plug into a cause that can change the world. I was listening to Remedy Drive's new album "Commodity" and thinking about how vocalist David Zach has expressed his hope to impact and make a change in the serious problem of human trafficking in our world. It's a very real and disturbing practice still going on today. The band's goal with the album is to raise awareness and help aid in the fight against it (Zach has even paired with a ministry called The Exodus Road that goes to the frontlines of this problem and tries to rescue women from slavery). It's a passion of Zach's and if you get the privilege of hearing him speak about it in person, it makes you want to rally in support and join him.

    In this age, it's even easier to voice our opinions on what we think others should be doing. Whether it's social media or through a blog or magazine article, just about anyone can say anything that someone else will see or hear. I've heard ministries beg for just financial aid while other opinion-sharers have condemned people fir "just throwing money" at a problem and not doing anything else about it. These opinion-sharers don't always take into account that these people may not be called to do anything other than that; some have families and careers and may not be called by God to drop everything and go. The financial support may be all Jesus is moving them to do.

    But that's where "Bruce Almighty" popped in my mind.

    In the film, Bruce Nolan--played by Jim Carrey--is an aspiring news reporter who would love a news anchor position someday (think Ron Burgundy set in 2003 with much less pretention). His rival is Steve Carell's Evan Baxter who is a bit of a pompous jerk who seems to easily get the things Bruce only dreams of and fights so hard for. Bruce's girlfriend Grace (I don't think her name choice was a coincidence) encourages him to be thankful to God for what he has and, in one particular crucial scene, Bruce says, "God is a mean kid sitting on an ant hill with a magnifying glass and I'm the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to, but He'd rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm!" After some other blasphemous remarks, God meets with Bruce and gives him the job of "god" for a short time so he can see what it's like, and Bruce learns first-hand how selfish humans are, how frustrating free will is in His position, and how God's role is no picnic.

    Near the end of the film, Bruce learns that we're here on this earth not for ourselves but for others. Our society is very me-centric and it's easy for any of us (myself included) to fall prey to that mindset. By the end of the movie, God physically leaves Bruce to clean up the messes he made and Bruce says, "But wait! What if I need you? What if I have questions?" to which God laughs and says, "That's your problem, Bruce. That's everybody's problem. You keep looking UP!" It was a controversial exchange because it kind of sounds like the film's saying we shouldn't seek God, but the director, a professing believer, later explained that the point of the story was that we're supposed to be God's hands and feet to each other. There's even a montage in the film where Bruce is seen doing nice things for people and helping others out--something he'd never done before.
     


    It's no secret we live busy lives. If our families aren't demanding our time, it's our jobs, our teachers, our managers, our coaches, our record labels, our bandmates, our friends, etc. Sometimes it just feels like God's another person demanding our time. But we're called to help the widows and orphans, the needy, the forsaken. God wants us to seek HIM first and to put everything else second. BUT we're all called to different things. Not everyone is called to be a missionary to Haiti. Not everyone is called to stay home and watch sports all Sunday. Not everyone is called to be a pastor. Not everyone is called to be a deacon. Not everyone is called to lead a Sunday school class, and not everyone is called it sit in on a Sunday school class. It's our responsibility to seek God for direction in how we're best to use our time. If we're all part of the Body of Christ, we all have different roles to play. For some of us, it may be to send money to HELP that missionary in Haiti. For others, it may be to go and help out there with their bare hands.

    But whatever that call is, we need to heed it. Just don't be discouraged if others are telling you what you need to do. They might not know what God has in store for you, but what THEY think YOU should do. And that doesn't matter. Only what God wants for you is what matters. But whatever it may be, it'll be an expression of His hands and His feet. And I pray He makes it clear to you (to us!). Just don't give up seeking Him.

    - John DiBiase

    **Note: the blog title "YOU Almighty -- Being His Hands and Feet" is in no way meant to be disrespectful. The idea is a play on the film's title, since it kind of sparked the topic, and is to imply that YOU / WE are to be HIS hands and feet... like Bruce was instructed in the film.**

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    Thursday, March 06, 2014

    Do We Enjoy Music?

    It's no secret that we at JFH advocate for excellence in Christian art. Anything that Christians put their hands to deserves to be done well, giving the glory to God in the process. But I have recently been contemplating the concept of what "Christian art" is supposed to look like in the real world, particularly when it comes to how listeners are supposed to interact with the music they listen to.

    To sum up my feelings on the matter, I think Christians are supposed to enjoy music.

    At first, this sounds like a "duh" statement, but I think the word "enjoyable" is more comprehensive than it sounds. There's two main definitions for the word "enjoy." The first is straightforward, "to take pleasure in," which is simple enough. But the second makes the word a little more complex: "to have or experience." Experiencing music seems a lot different than just listening to it, doesn't it?

    When the term "enjoyable" is applied to music, it can often bring to mind recyclable pop music that doesn't take too many chances. The song begins, the catchy beat takes hold, the simple lyrics are easy to memorize, and the listener can hang their hat on the song's whole. It's a quick escapist detour that lasts for a whole three and half minutes, though it's over as soon as it begins. If that's all that "enjoyable" music is supposed to be, Christians are selling themselves severely short. Great music grows on the listener with time, unfolding layer after layer with successive listens.

    Please don't misunderstand me by inferring that I think pop music as a whole is bad. To call out one whole genre as a lower form of art than another would be to discredit the artists who use pop music to its fullest artistic potential. But if you turn on any Top 40 pop radio station, you can immediately hear the kind of material I'm talking about: unsophisticated and hopelessly aimless pop ditties. And all too often, CCM stations echo this same method with their setlists comprised of mindless earworms that don't improve the quality of life of the listener beyond a few minutes.

    Art is not a utilitarian concept, of course, but truly enjoyable art requires a significant investment of time and emotion. It means listening many times, though not necessarily in a row. It means personally applying it, empathizing with the spirit of the song's message. It means comparing the song to others like it, identifying what makes it unique and beyond the norm. It means letting the music affect you in the long run rather than compartmentalizing the listening experience to the length of the song.

    This concept of enjoying music affects how I approach every album I hear, especially when reviewing something for JFH. I can't tell you how many times I have listened to an album for the first time, disliked it, but learned to love it after more listens. Given that I have to write a polished critique of the album in the near future, I have to listen to an album more than once. If I wrote my album reviews after only one self-contained listen, I wouldn't be handing out too many positive reviews, and even the positive reviews wouldn't be credible or properly representative of the music. But that's why I hesitate to give a decisive opinion so early on in the listening process. Sure, there are albums that I've enjoyed on the first listen with my attitude towards it not changing much, but they're rare. Great art grows on you.

    Is this taking music too seriously? Taking this concept a step further, what happens if we approach people this way? There's the adage that first impressions are deceiving, and it's just as true for music as it is with people. Are first impressions important? Absolutely! We always want to present ourselves well when we meet people for the first time. But if we judged others on just those first impressions, we'd have some lopsided relationships to wrestle with. My deepest friendships are with those who I've gotten to know over time, over many occasions and seasons, not on one-time, one-way transactions. When we truly experience people, we see their many facets, and we love them for who they truly are. I'd contend that if we are interacting with music in a similar fashion, we gain a better idea of our both ourselves and the music we're listening to, giving everyone their due credit. Experiencing music isn't as complicated as experiencing people, by the way.

    With all of this in mind, there are some inherent dangers attached if we change our music listening habits to this method. For some, this could be a huge lifestyle change. This refreshed concept of art as an enjoyable entity creates quite a few problems for a culture that thrives on speed and instant gratification. We want to enjoy things now! But when Christians can slow down, find beauty in the details over a span of time, and learn to love the individual parts that make up the whole, our perspective on enjoyment will change for the better. The Christian's status as an image-bearer makes this level of enjoyment possible, and if we apply this reasoning to our habits as music consumers, we can become music "enjoyers" instead.

    -- Roger Gelwick, JFH staff writer

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    Friday, January 24, 2014

    Five Reviews For One Album?!?

    So, by now, many of you are probably thinking something. That thought may or may not be related to JFH. If it is not related to JFH, I won’t even venture trying to guess what that thought is. However, if it is related to JFH, I have a very strong hunch I know what you are thinking. I’ll bet is falls something along these lines

    •  “WOW! Switchfoot has FIVE positive reviews!”
    •  “I didn’t think Fading West was that great."
    • “Of course JFH would post five great reviews of Switchfoot, they’re all biased fanboys."
    • “What is a 2-cents review?”
    • “Why does Switchfoot, or any album for that matter, have five reviews in the first place?”, or possibly
    • “I can’t believe JFH gave Nine Lashes a positive review! They usually hate modern rock!”

    If your thought was more along the lines that last bullet point, that is a topic for a different post (and probably a different person). However, if it was along the lines of the first five bullets, then this post is for you.

    Longtime readers may recognize “2-Cents Reviews” as an appendage onto a reader review, like on this review of the Newsboy’s Take Me To Your Leader, or this review of Demon Hunter’s self-titled debut, or even this review of DC Talk’s 1989 debut. Their original purpose was to give an official rating to albums that otherwise would have none (either due to the fact that they came out a while ago, or no one on staff ever got around to writing a full review). But a reader had to write a review of the album first in order to get a 2-Cents Review.

    Recently, the staff was having a discussion, and after going through a variety of different topics, somehow it came around to our current review format. That is, that albums, if they are reviewed, have a main opinion and a second opinion, and if not reviewed, a reader (ie, you guys) can send in their own review that might get posted if it is fair enough (and written well enough), and might get a 2-Cents Review as well. In any event, someone on staff (actually me, but I digress) suddenly came to realization that, well, why not have more than two staff reviews? We’re not bound by any strict “Music Website Code,” that firmly states, “Thou shalt not review an album more than twice!” Plus, with more reviews comes either more diversity or a stronger consensus, so the readers can get a clearer idea of what the staff as a whole thinks, not just one or two people on staff.

    But then, as soon as I thought that, I also realized, “…but then someone would have to actually write those reviews.” And I can tell you, writing reviews can be a very tedious chore. Not to mention that it is a chore for a reader to read them all. But then I thought about those 2-Cent reviews: Those are easy enough to write. They are about a paragraph long. Easy to write, and easy to read. Diversity of opinion is offered, readers are more interested, it makes our site even more unique, and since 2-Cent Reviews were already offered in some capacity, it would not be hard to implement. Everyone wins!

    As such, Fading West is the first album to receive this treatment. Not because we are biased fanboys of Switchfoot and just want to keep gushing out praise for them, but because, well, they were the first truly “big” album of the year that many staff members have heard and wanted to offer their thoughts on, and hopefully the first of many. Simple as that.

    Hope you guys like the idea. Let us know what you think!

    - Mark Rice

    Friday, January 17, 2014

    Listening To Old Music, Hearing New Things

    Prisoner to the Chains of Time - The Music of Common Children

    I write full time; all kinds of things, books, articles for magazines, humorous columns etc. When I write, I usually select something out of my record collection to put on, and sometimes I go with a theme, or "band of the week." A few weeks ago, Common Children, an important band to me during a critical time in my life, was the choice, and hearing such poignant music made me think some big thoughts as I wrote about silly things, like the groundhog who is now living under my porch, and whether or not to contact my daughter's teacher to ask if the spelling words she is sending home are far too advanced and difficult for my 2nd grader. ("Opinionated" is a great word, but tough on the psyche of a seven-year-old at test time.)

    I first ran across the music of Common Children as a senior in High School. I picked up their first album Skywire in the spring of that year and in those days of confusion and anxiety about my future and who I was in Christ. Hearing a band address the “deeper issues of life” from a perspective of faith meant the world to me. Later in college, after my first (and thankfully last) broken heart, the music of their second album Delicate Fade reminded me that all of life is under God’s control, and that He is always with us. Their third and last album, The Inbetween Time, helped me to see that there are two sides to every story and that life is wonderfully complex. The lead singer and primary lyricist, Marc Byrd, remains a busy man. In the last decade, he has co-written the popular worship song “God of Wonders,” released a worship album with his wife under the name “Glassbyrd,” and recorded a few fantastic instrumental albums under the band name “Hammock.” All three Common Children albums can be found in various places online, and should be required listening for every young person of faith.

    The following thoughts are related to my favorite song on each of Common Children’s fantastic three albums, Skywire, Delicate Fade and The Inbetween Time.

     

    "Absence of Light" - The Inbetween Time (2001)
    This week my pastor said that “church needs to be a living shelter for lost and hurting people.” To emphasize this point, he read the story of the prodigal son and stated this one line over and over again “love, not logic”. The point that I easily miss in this story is that the prodigal son brought his misery on himself. His selfishness and impulsiveness led to his wretched state, not any other factor that can be seen in the story. It would have been logical for the father to run the prodigal son off his property, or to take the son up on his offer to be a slave in his father’s household. But it is the illogical choice that is made. The father celebrates the return of the son and restores him to his former position. The first song on The Inbetween Time, which addresses this issue so well, opens with haunting Pink Floyd-like atmospherics that bring to mind the coldness of space, then drenched in reverb, a ghostly voice rings out seemingly from above the music...


    For maybe just a second, the sun was in your eyes

    It flickers like a spark from the fire that burns inside.

    You were broken by the darkness by the silence of the night,

    Searching for a shelter from the cold absence of light


    This song stopped me cold when I first heard it. The atmospherics bring to mind a very cold day and the lyrics suggest to me that whoever the narrator is talking about brought on his own suffering. The lines “For maybe just a second, the sun was in your eyes” suggest a momentary lapse of judgment. But the narrator does not pass judgment on the main character. Instead, he points out that he was “broken by the darkness, by the silence of the night”. To me this was a refreshing perspective. Suffering in any form must be met with true Christ-like compassion. Christ had a true love for those whose poor decisions had produced suffering in their own lives. It has been said time and again, but it is worth repeating. Christ hung out with some pretty unsavory people; tax collectors, prostitutes and various other “fallen people.” He did not shun these people, but rather showed “illogical love” in a real way. These people had been “broken by the darkness” and were responding to the light that Christ offered. This song helped to change my perspective on those who have had a “moral failure.” Who among us has not ever had a lapse of judgment; let him cast the first stone. Thanks be to Jesus for loving us illogically.



    "Broken Smile" - Skywire (1996)
    A prevailing stereotype of Christians is that they are all happy go lucky, out of touch with reality, “Ned Flanders”-like people. Somewhere in his past, Ned was told to “count it all joy” when misfortune finds him. (James 1:2, a powerful scripture, but woefully out of context here) He says “well, praise the Lord” when his house is demolished by a tornado or “she’s in a much better place now” when his wife passes away suddenly. Fair or not, this stereotype exists and it is vital to try to figure out where it comes from. I would like to suggest that it comes, in part, from the art that we produce. From cliché ridden “positive” music that anyone can find on their car radio, to schmaltzy visual art, so much of what we produce suggests that that everything in the Christian life is hunky dory. I like to call it the “I once was lost, but now I’m found” phenomenon. This phrase from "Amazing Grace," (possibly the most profound song ever written) when taken out of context from the rest of the hymn, leads to some mistaken notions. Notions that say “Now that I have been born again, all of a sudden my problems are over and the rest of life will be a cakewalk.” But as we all know, this in no way matches the reality of daily life. Those who are “found” still suffer gut wrenching tragedy, crippling depression and doubt. (See Job, King David. The Apostle Paul)

    Why does the music we create not adequately reflect the experiences we all go through? Music has been called “the healing art form” and brings comfort to so many in times of trial. After September 11th, radio stations played selected songs with “healing aspects” to them nonstop and Rolling Stone even published a list of top songs people named that helped them through those tragic events. Why do Christians, who have the ultimate hope to offer, someone to walk beside us through this dark world, and hope of a better world to come, write such pithy music to express this wonderful truth?

    When I fist heard "Broken Smile" from Common Children’s Skywire I was stopped in my tracks because I had never heard such a profound song about loss and alienation come from out of the CCM world. Here was a song that in both its lyric and music captured the emotion of sadness and loss. Songs like this were being written by Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I had never heard one from a “Christian” artist. The simple nature of the track, with its barebones acoustic guitar playing dark minor chords and assorted minimalist instrumentation of violins and cellos, is reminiscent of the unplugged era of MTV. The harmony vocal provided by Christina Glass (later to be Marc Byrd’s wife) adds the final haunting touch.

    What makes this song unique in Christian music is that the writer did not feel the need to wrap up the song with a “Jesus is the answer” final verse. The song is simply a meditation on sadness, how it can stay with you for a long time, how it can creep into every aspect of your life, how it seems never ending.


    Can the truth refine and free the soul?

    When the hurt you have is all you know?

    Through endless searching and nights of wondering

    Someone said, “Just let it go”.

    We all know that we all have felt the pain

    For a little while. 

    With lines such as “can the truth refine and free the soul when the hurt you have is all you know?” the writer dares to question God. He says "I believe that you are true, but what does that mean to me during this time? Can your truth lead me to freedom from this sadness, this darkness in my soul”? This kind of hard questioning is rare in Christian music, but it is, ironically, common in scripture. David asked “How long will you hide your face from me O Lord.” (Psalm 88:14) This might seem blasphemous to many, but to David “a man after God’s own heart” it was a very natural comment. In an article in Seven Ball magazine, I read how a couple had written to Marc Byrd and told him that the song had helped them get through the loss of a child to miscarriage. This floored me. A couple found, in Christian music, a song that spoke to them during a time of profound loss. Such an accomplishment should be celebrated and not easily be forgotten.

     

    The Eyes of God - Delicate Fade (1997)
    Perhaps responding to criticism that their music was too dark, Common Children released “Eyes of God” as the first single off their second album Delicate Fade. The song did pretty well on Christian radio, no doubt due to its more positive outlook. The track kicks off with a chiming guitar that is decidedly more radio friendly than the harder edge of the previous album, and when the chorus kicks in, it finds Marc Byrd singing…

    All the while the Eyes of God shine on us

    The Broken smile and the eyes

    God shine on us

    Feel the pain

    You need to show

    Take the time

    Now let it go

    Embrace this day of healing

    What I find so interesting, is that this song makes a reference both lyrically and thematically back to the aforementioned song "Broken Smile" on Common Children’s previous album, Skywire. It’s as if Marc Bryd didn’t want to leave the listener where he left them after hearing that song. “There’s more to life than this” he says, “you can be free”. “Eyes of God” serves as a sort of alternative music instruction manual for how to deal with the tragedy that “Broken Smile” described so well. Marc Byrd first instructs the listener to “feel the pain/you need to show”. Honesty is crucial when dealing with suffering of any kind. Being like Ned Flanders and saying “everything is fine” is to be dishonest with yourself. Everything is not all right. It’s ok to say that, to assess your situation honestly. This type of honesty is very difficult for many believers who think that somehow they have done something to bring on this tragedy on themselves. Many Christians think “This is not the abundant life I have heard so much about, I need to keep this problem undercover until I can figure out where it all went wrong.” Fundamental honesty is the critical starting point for weathering any crisis. Christ never promised an easy life, but he did promise that he would be with us through the tough times. This is a critical distinction.

    Next, we are told to “take the time”. The healing of a physical injury cannot be rushed. If you sprain your ankle, there is an approximate amount of time that it takes to heal. You can help the injury to heal quicker with treatment and medications, but there is no such thing as an “instant fix” to a physical injury. Why should injured souls heal any differently? It takes time. This is a tough sell to "instant gratification America." Fast food, fast internet connections, eight minute dating, same day service, we speed all of life up. People who suffer tragedy are often told by well meaning people to “get over it,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “pull yourself together,” etc. This is terrible advice. Grief needs time to work itself out. This brings us to the last instruction “now let it go/embrace this day of healing”. In the movie Chocolat, an old man is interested in a woman in his 1960’s era French village known as the “Widow Odell”. When asked why he does not pursue her, he responds “the Widow Odell is mourning her late husband who died in the war.” Another character says “well, the war was 15 years ago”. “Oh, no,” the man says, “Her husband died in the First World War. It was quite a shock to the Widow Odell.” There comes a time to let go of your grief, to move on. Holding on to something too long comes with its own price tag. Like the Widow Odell, opportunities may be missed, life may go by unlived. To quote Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under Heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Sometimes, it has to be a conscious action to “embrace this day of healing”.

     

    Marc Byrd, like me, probably does not have a degree in counseling, but he writes with his heart and eyes wide open to the world around him. He seems to know loss and heartache very well, and I’m thankful to God that I happened upon the music of Common Children during a formative period of my life. It has helped to shape my thinking in regards to the nature and shape of suffering, and has helped me to be more sensitive to those who Jesus called “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). I thank God that He gave me the ears to hear His truth in the songs of Common Children.


    - Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell

     

    Thursday, December 26, 2013

    Michael Weaver Examines His Top 10 Albums of 2013

    With the recent release of the JFH official staff picks for 2013 and more in-depth blogs about the individual picks of John, Alex and Mark, Michael Weaver joins in with a look into his top albums (and honorable mentions) of this year's album releases...

    1. Fear Inside Our Bones, The Almost - Aaron Gillespie has been quite busy since deciding to leave Underoath.  Between writing a solo worship album and touring for said album, as well as The Almost, he’s had a full schedule.  While I was looking forward to Fear Inside Our Bones, I wasn’t looking for it to top my list; I wasn’t even looking for it to be an album that landed on my Top 10 list this year at all.  Instead, what I was given was an album I listened to more than any other this year.  Reviewing some albums can honestly be a chore.  When you get ahold of a weaker album -- I will not mention any names -- it’s tough to keep listening in order to give it a fair shake.  That was simply not the case with this record.  I honestly enjoyed every song on this album and, while I did consider a couple of others for the top stop, there wasn’t really a competition for it.  If you’ve never been a fan of The Almost in the past, it’s time you give them another shot.  This alt-rock album with a slightly southern flare is sure to please most rock fans.

     

    Saloon

    2. Saloon, The Ongoing Concept - I was completely unfamiliar with their music.  Basically, I watched the lyric video for “Cover Girl” and thought, “This sounds decent enough.”  That was the understatement of the year.  This album brings a metalcore sound with a wild west feel that is ridiculous.  Saloon is catchy and fun and reminiscent of early Showbread.  Any metal fan should at least give this one a shot.  Some people may not agree that metal music should have pianos and B3 organs mixed with heavy guitars, but these guys pull it off with a near flawless execution.  The Ongoing Concept provided the surprise of the year for me and is easily my favorite new artist of 2013.  Solid State Records still has a good eye for talent.

     

    The Water & the Blood

    3. The Water & The Blood, Dustin Kensrue - Mars Hill Music has been doing an excellent job of acquiring worship leaders for their different campuses.  Thrice front man Dustin Kensrue was the most interesting of the bunch for me.  While Thrice has always been lumped in with Christian bands by many (even if the band wasn't keen on the idea), and Kensrue himself has never shied away from his spiritual beliefs, he’s simply not a guy I figured for a worship leader.  Well, I was wrong.  The Water & The Blood displays worship music with an indie rock sound similar to that of a Kings of Leon or NEEDTOBREATHE mixed with a bit of folk influence found in his previous solo works.  The formula ultimately offers up honest and sound worship music.  Even better are the lyrics: theologically deep and far from cliché.  Anyone who knows me, or has read a couple of my reviews, probably knows that I have many issues with the course that modern worship music is on.  Dustin Kensrue has delivered what’s probably, quite honestly, my favorite worship album ever.

     

    Royal Flush

    4. Royal Flush, FLAME - FLAME is far from an unknown commodity, but I still hold to the fact that this guy is severely overlooked and underrated.  This super-talented rapper has been nominated for a ton of awards and always loses out to someone else.  He also seems to be rarely mentioned by fans of CHH when names like Lecrae take the spotlight.  Awards and accolades mean nothing to FLAME, though.  After interviewing him about a month ago, it’s obvious that he is only about spreading the love of Christ to others.  Royal Flush definitely accomplishes that.  For me, this was the hands-down top rap album of the year.  FLAME is on top of his game and has released his best album to date.  God has given you the Royal Flush; what do you plan to do with the winning hand?

     

    Backdraft

    5. Backdraft, Fallstar - Fallstar shifted from the indie label Come&Live! to Facedown Records -- a more established label (especially in the metal genres).  Backdraft is a record that provided me with tons of listening fun.  Straight up metal, metalcore and the interesting hip-hop within “Alexandria 363” is spread throughout.  Fallstar have stepped into the spotlight and delivered.  From the great music to the fun album cover, Backdraft is a must-have for metal fans.

     

    Between Here & Lost

    6. Between Here & Lost, Love and Death - Brian “Head” Welch and company didn’t release the most original rock album of the year, but they released one of the most solid overall.  With sounds that were similar to his solo album and that of his former (and now current band again) Korn, Head knows the formula for success.  Between Here & Lost added melodic elements in with the heavy on the musical side of the spectrum, and thankfully featured Brian being much more comfortable with his role as lead singer.  Musically and vocally better than Save Me From Myself, Between Here & Lost is a great album well worthy of its spot on my Top 10 list.

     

    http://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/covers/unworthyhumility.jpg

    7. Unworthy/Humility, Creations - I fully expected Creations to provide me with just another generic metal album to pass the time.  Upon first listen, I thought that is exactly what I got.  With each subsequent listen, I discovered so much more.  Buried deep within the heaviness of it all are small subtleties that really set it off.  Every time I listened, I heard something new and interesting.  I can see how this record could be quickly passed off after only one listen, but, if you were guilty of this, I urge you to listen again -- this time more intently.  This impressive metal album unexpectedly snuck its way right onto my Top 10.

     

    Inland

    8. Inland, Jars of Clay - Jars of Clay once again sits atop of our JFH site average list.  Many people think very highly of Jars and rightly so.  I fell in love with Jars of Clay way back at youth camp when I first heard “Flood.”  When I got home, I immediately bought the single (on cassette and CD) and forced my parents to listen to it repeatedly.  (In the end, they were actually pretty thankful and are still fans today.)  Once the debut finally released, I found myself even deeper in love.  Jars of Clay were revealed to me at a time when I was REALLY starting to embrace music and were probably my first favorite band.  All of these years later, Jars of Clay is still relevant and still making great music.  They manage to recreate themselves with each album, but still stay true to who they are.  While Inland wasn’t my personal favorite for 2013, it is more than worthy of claiming the site’s top spot.  I already can’t wait for their next.

     

    Engine of a Million Plots

    9. Engine of a Million Plots, Five Iron Frenzy - When Five Iron Frenzy called it quits, I was heartbroken.  I still count myself thankful for being able to attend one of the dates on their farewell tour.  When they announced their reunion, and the Kickstarter campaign to fund it was so ridiculously successful, I honestly got a bit worried.  Expectations were probably higher for this album than any other Christian album... ever -- at least in recent history.  When I got my hands on this to review it, a nervous anxiousness came over me as I hit play.  Once the music came to a halt after “Blizzards & Bygones,” I sat back in disappointment.  I didn’t think it was a bad record, but it wasn’t what the long time FIF in me wanted.  I wanted ska.  I wanted funny songs.  I wanted an awe-inspiring worship number that puts all worship artists to shame.  I basically got none of that.  After a couple of days, I listened for the second time without any expectations and started to become pleasantly surprised.  It wasn’t the album the fan in me wanted, but I think it was the right album for Five Iron at the time.  It’s still lyrically deep, though maybe not their best, and musically as solid as ever.  Engine of a Million Plots will not go down as my favorite Five Iron Frenzy record, but it was a great comeback and managed to find its way inside my top 10 albums of 2013.

     

     Kings & Queens

    10. Kings and Queens, Audio Adrenaline - I think most people would agree that Audio Adrenaline today is not really Audio Adrenaline.  One founding member in a band, especially when it’s not the lead singer, does not make it the original band.  At least the change in Newsboys has happened over time...  Audio A went from non-existent to reformed, with basically all new people, overnight.  Though it’s very strange that the powerhouses of the nineties have switched teams, Kevin Max (Smith)’s vocals are still just flat-out amazing.  The guy has always been a little quirky, but, man, can he sing.  While it’s so obvious that Kings and Queens is not an Audio Adrenaline album (even though their name appears on the cover), it's undeniably a great pop/rock record.  It took a while to get this out of my CD player after purchasing it and I still like revisiting it now.  This one was honestly close to being on the outside looking in at the top 10, but in the end, I just couldn’t leave it out.  Maybe it was just nostalgia, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one anyway. 

     

    As with every year, it’s tough to narrow the list down to only 10.  I was really happy with Christian music in 2013, heard a lot of great albums, and discovered some amazing new talent.  The actual posting had no room for honorable mentions, but here I can let you know about them.

    1. Line in the Sand, Close Your Eyes - It really hurts that this didn’t land on my Top 10; I’ve actually even stressed a little about it not being there.  This record was off-the-charts good and that’s quite impressive after a couple of changes of lead singers between albums.

    2. Extol, Extol - These death metal veterans returned with a vengeance.  After such a long leave of absence, it was great to have these guys back.  This was a great heavy album and proved that Extol haven’t lost a step or forgotten how to write brilliant material.  Extol’s return became my favorite album by these legends of the industry.

    3. On My Way to the Sun, John Elefante - I’ve been a John Elefante fan for a while.  John graced us all with a great progressive rock album reminiscent of his 70’s and espcially 80’s years.  The former Kansas front man released a superb album that garnered a lot of play time for me.

    4. 8:18, The Devil Wears Prada - TDWP continue to grow and improve with time.  I really don’t know what else can be said for this awesome album that revolves around Romans 8:18.

    5. Minorville, Derek Minor - Derek Minor (formerly PRo) is back with some powerful messages.  For me, this wasn’t Derek’s best, but it’s seriously hard hitting.  The messages in songs like “Dear Mr. Christian” are a necessity for today’s generation.  It’s a solid album that all hip-hop fans should spin at least once.

    6. No More Hell to Pay, Stryper - Michael Sweet still has an amazing set of pipes.  These kings of 80’s glam metal have returned with their best since the smash To Hell With the Devil.  I finally listened to this one late in the year, but it was still in contention for a top spot.  It’s a fun record with great music and a straightforward and Godly message.  Stryper is back and bringing that familiar Stryper sound with an added modern twist.

     

    Monday, December 23, 2013

    John DiBiase Examines His Top 10 Albums of 2013

    We've been picking our Year-End favorites in Christian music for 11 years now, but we've always kept the lists themselves pretty straightforward as titles and artists only. This year, we thought it'd be fun for any of the staff who were interested to present their lists (in addition to the official compilation of staff members) in blog format with our own commentary on why the albums were picked. Alex and Mark have already weighed in, and I thought I'd follow suit.

    1. Inland, Jars of Clay  -- I realize this'll show my age some, but back in 1995, I first saw Jars of Clay open for PFR before their self-titled debut even released. My older brother actually ended up liking their live show more than I did, but it didn't stop me from grabbing his album preview cassette (remember those?) and listening to it over and over while waiting for the full CD to release. I ended up calling my local Christian bookstore every couple weeks to find out when the much-delayed album was going to be in stock (the date kept moving apparently...the internet would have been nice to have at this point in time). So, since 1995, when I was a freshman in high school, I've been listening to Jars of Clay pretty faithfully. There isn't a single other band I can think of that I can tell you that I've listened to from the age of 15 to today at 33 where not a single one of their members have left  (or have been added) and they haven't broken up and reunited at some point. I've listened to Jars as a teen, when I started JFH (I even saw them in concert the same night I started JFH), during my dating years, while engaged, newly married, trying to figure out adulthood, entering into parenthood, and trying to adjust to change and getting older. You can realistically look at where Jars of Clay was when they started, musically and lyrically, and where they are today and see incredible growth and maturation. So, all of that is to say that Inland hits home now as an adult about as much as the debut did when I was in my mid-teens. I'm quite thankful these guys are still at it full-time.

    2. The Glorious Unfolding, Steven Curtis Chapman - In the same way that I started listening to Jars as a teen, I first started listening to Steven Curtis Chapman when I was around 14 years old, and a fairly new believer. His album Heaven In The Real World struck a major chord with me as someone looking for hope during those perplexing, trying teenage years. (Let's face it: high school is TOUGH!) His songs have always resonated with me, and The Glorious Unfolding has already been speaking volumes into my own life. I've already turned to songs like the title track and "Take Another Step" as a soundtrack for the current season of life.

    3. Need You Now, Plumb - You're going to see a pattern here... Plumb is another band I started listening to right out of the gate with their debut in 1996. The industrial rock sound that Plumb displayed (y'know, before Tiffany adopted "Plumb" as her name instead of as a band name) was cool and different for the Christian music industry, but it isn't the sound that she would become known for. Need You Now has not only been a longtime coming, but it's a record that, like The Glorious Unfolding and Inland, represent seasons in these veteran musicians' lives, and seasons I can relate to as a longtime fan and listener who's grown along with them.

    4. Reanimated, Family Force 5 - Hey, there's something to be said for guilty pleasures. Family Force 5 was a band I first experienced at GMA Week 2005 in Nashville, TN and was immediately captivated by their fun-loving live show. It's really not my typical kind of music, either, but there's just something about them that I've always loved. Reanimated captured some more of the fun that seemed to be in short supply on their album III, while offering a couple of their new live fan favorites (like "Chainsaw"). And with Solomon "Soul Glow Activatur" Olds' recent announcement that he has left the band, this collection serves as his swan song as vocalist and an end of an era.

    5. Fading West EP, Switchfoot - Some will find my inclusion of a 3-song sampler EP on a year-end list as a cop-out (especially since I can tell you pretty confidently already that Fading West will be somewhere on my 2014 year-end list), but I feel like I have good reason... Aside from the fact that Switchfoot is another band I've listened to since their 1997 debut, The Legend of Chin, when I was a senior in high school, Switchfoot has been another band to write songs that have spoken to me throughout many of the chapters of my life. I downloaded this EP from iTunes while sitting in a hotel lobby in Switchfoot's hometown of San Diego, CA. I'd never been to California before, but my older brother moved there almost 9 years ago and we'd made our first visit to the left coast to visit them this year when his first child was born (she's the most adorable little niece I could ask for! but I digress...). I was taken back by the immensely poppy sound of the new Switchfoot songs, but with more listens, I began to see something different in them (plus, hey, it was just really cool listening to their music IN San Diego for the first time since I first heard them 16 years ago!). [Side note: I'm still not a fan of their Oh! Gravity. album, aside from a couple songs--like "Awakening", so I'm not just one of those fans that is quick to love everything a band does.] Since first listening to this EP, I've seen the Fading West film and gotten the chance to hear where these songs fit into the movie as part of its soundtrack. I've also heard all three songs live, and I've been listening to the full-length album that releases in a few weeks. I can honestly say I love this EP and it represents a memorable chapter of my year this year. (And, quite frankly, I loved this 3-song EP more than most of the year's full-length albums...even if I'm still partial to Switchfoot's Vice Verses kind of sound)

    6. Troubled Days, Seabird - Seabird is a great example of a band I didn't fully "get" until I saw them perform live in concert at a festival while they were touring their debut album. Now, they're fully indie and have self-produced their latest record, Troubled Days. It didn't disappoint and was surprisingly a melancholy commentary on love, lost love, and perseverance in love. It's something most anyone who's been in a relationship can really relate to... just keep some tissues on hand.

    7. Live, All Sons & Daughters - If you've been reading JFH for any amount of time, not only will you notice that we collectively, as writers, look for art in music to be married with worshipful lyrics, but I myself am very, very (very, very) picky when it comes to worship music. Trust me, it's nothing I'm proud of. If anything, I'd love to be able to pop on any given worship album and blissfully connect with our Savior through the music. However, it's not the case for me at all. Worship music that stands apart from the norm, doesn't subscribe to overly simplistic instrumentation, structure, overused phrases, over-sung choruses, or subpar vocals, seems to be near impossible to find. But with All Sons & Daughters, we have a pairing of artists who not only can sing, but really know how to write a great song that can be used in corporate worship or in a more intimate setting. Personally, I feel like a lot of LIVE worship albums have a "you just had to be there" feeling, while some can really pull you into the experience. (I'm more partial to intimate worship considering how some big, loud, boisterous live worship albums can seem too showy) All Sons & Daughters' LIVE album is a near perfect presentation because it's got the energy of a live album but the sound of a more intimate experience. It's easily my favorite worship album of 2013. Nothing else comes close.

    8. Freaks, The Hawk In Paris - Speaking of guilty pleasures, if you haven't heard of The Hawk In Paris, you may be surprised to know that it's Jars of Clay vocalist Dan Haseltine's side project. It's not really a CCM market release (although he did give us permission to cover it with that understanding), but it's a batch of synth-pop anthems for the soldiers on the battlefield of love. It's very different from Jars but fans of Dan's day job will probably find a lot to like about this one. (I mean, c'mon... he's got a song with the chorus "Our love is science fiction"!)

    9. Currents, Eisley - Eisley's The Valley was a very different record for them, but it spoke to the different experiences of my own romantic ups and downs throughout my own life. Currents was more of a return to form for the band (I also loved Combinations and this more closely follows that album in feel), and is definitely an album I haven't overplayed, so it's still a treat to revisit each time. (And be sure to grab the live acoustic versions they released exclusively through iTunes!)

    10. Black and White, Tal & Acacia - Tal & Acacia's label debut Wake Me surprised me. Equally surprising was Provident Label Group's blatant dropping of the ball in promoting that fine record. (Really. Just because it didn't fit AC Christian radio didn't mean it didn't have some serious gems on it!) It had a mix of fun and serious with some truly impressive vocals from these sisters at its forefront. Their follow-up, Black & White, was entirely fan-funded via Kickstarter and self-produced by the girls. It's a much more laid back and raw (production-wise) album compared to Wake Me, but there's something so infectiously charming about these two that it makes it quite difficult to ignore. I really hope it won't be too long before we hear new music again from these gals again.

     

    And that's it. I did have a few other albums warring for my top 10. For kicks, here they are: Five Iron Frenzy, Engine of a Million Plots .... Justin McRoberts, K .... Arrows & Sound,  Arrows & Sound .... Newsboys, Restart (It's still not "Newsboys" without Furler to me, but it's a catchy record nonetheless), and Audio Adrenaline, Kings & Queens (likewise, it's not really AudioA as I know them without Mark, but Kevin Max's incredible vocals make this a top pop rock album)

    -- John DiBiase
     

    Sunday, December 22, 2013

    Mark Rice Examines His Top 10 of 2013

    And yet another year in music is drawing to an end. Like any year, there were plenty of great albums released, as well as plenty of doozies and plenty of albums in between. I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone that I didn’t listen to all of them. BUT, I listened to a lot of them. In fact, at this exact moment in time, I calculate that I have listened to 87 albums (covered by this site) released in the calendar year of 2013, covering a wide variety of genres. And I honestly really liked a lot of them. To be honest, I had a genuinely difficult time narrowing it down to just ten, both in spite of and thanks to the fact that other than my album of the year (and possible #2 too), there were no albums that I fell head-over-heels in love with. But narrow it down I had to, so I did. As such these are my personal top ten albums of the year…

    1. Beautiful Eulogy Instruments of Mercy

    I direct you to my review. Nothing more need be said.

    2. Plumb Need You Now

    Prior to Need You Now, Plumb had made five high-quality records, with Chaotic Resolve being the best of the bunch. But this record easily bests all five in my book. A superb balance of accessibility and artistry that pulls my emotional strings in all the right places, Plumb’s album is pop/rock gold.

    3. Derek Webb I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, & I Love You

    Another artist with a proven track-record of quality, Webb has no fear of being provocative. But on I Was Wrong…, he turns his sharp tongue on himself and he delivers his most introspective effort ever, as well as his most organic and inviting album in years.

    4. Steven Curtis Chapman The Glorious Unfolding

    Allow me to indulge myself by mentioning this quality record from my personal favorite artist. The Glorious Unfolding is unequivocal proof that Chapman can reach across generation lines as well no as he could twenty years ago, making high-quality contemporary pop/rock  that is still as relevant now as it ever was.

    5. Audrey Assad Fortunate Fall

    Last year’s offering from Assad was my introduction to her captivating piano pop, but while Heart was without doubt a quality record and I certainly enjoyed it, I personally found it less than enthralling. Fortunate Fall, however, enthralls me. Stripping all away but Assad’s voice and a piano (with sparse instrumentation), this soothing, liturgical worship record was nothing less than phenomenal.

    6. Daniel Amos Dig Here Said The Angel

    Seventeen years before I was born, Daniel Amos was formed while Christian Rock was still a child. In 2013, I heard my introduction to Daniel Amos through the band’s 14th studio album (and first in 12 years), Dig Here Said The Angel. Their alt rock sound is so timeless that they could sound at home in any one of the last five decades.

    7. Jars of Clay Inland

    When a band reaches the heights and prestige that Jars of Clay has, expectations become almost impossible, so the foursome has wisely decided to ignore them and simply make high quality music. Inland is a more melancholy album than I personally would have preferred (hence, why it’s “only” number seven), but the quality, originality, and all-around effort is undeniable and incredible.

    8. John Elefante On My Way To The Sun

    Having never before heard of John Elefante, I chose to review On My Way To The Sun almost by random impulse. In hindsight, I am very tempted to attribute that impulse to nothing less than divine influence. Drawing inspiration from classic and progressive rock and 90’s contemporary (among others), the former Kansas lead singer and prolific Christian Rock producer delivered my personal surprise album of the year.

    9. Stryper No More Hell To Pay

    I’ll be honest; I like Stryper, and appreciate their immense impact on Christian music, but I’ve never been too impressed with their music. Not until No More Hell To Pay. By far the group’s most mature and complete work, No More Hell To Pay delivers an album that is both quintessential classic Stryper metal and a refreshing update to their sound (rather than one-or-the-other like their other 21st century albums). 

    10. Falling Up Midnight on Earthship/Falling Up Hours

    These two albums together (along with a book) form the Machine De Ella Project, released track-by-track over a period of over four months. Though not technically related (and admittedly written for different fanbases), these albums complement each other wonderfully between the drawn-out experimental effort Hours and the more mellow, ethereal Midnight on Earthship.

     

    Thankfully, my list of honorable mentions need not be confined to ten, and if the readers might indulge me for my overwhelming gushing, I will take great liberties with that freedom. These albums may not have cracked my top ten, but I’d be no less satisfied with it if they would have…

    All Sons & Daughters Live: probably the best pure worship album of the year.

    The Almost Fear Inside Our Bones: The first half of this album was album-of-the-year material.

    Andy Mineo Heroes For Sale: Excellent and diverse hip-hop from Reach Record’s newest star.

    Arrows & Sound Arrows & Sound: Indie experimental at its best from the former Remedy Drive member.
    The Digital Age Evening:Morning: The former DC*B members deliver an excellent debut album with room to improve.

    Dustin Kensrue The Water And The Blood: Creative, theologically dense worship music from the former Thrice frontman.
    The Ember Days More Than You Think: Gorgeous indie worship and the last album to be cut from my top-10.

    Extol Extol: I may not be the biggest metal fan, but this was too good to ignore.

    Golden Youth Quiet Frame; Wild Light: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t discover this one until my list had been made.

    Hillsong UNITED Zion: A phenomenal musical and lyrical upgrade to Hillsong’s usual fare

    Least Of These Change Will Come: Aggressive indie rock with a offered as a free gift.

    Norma Jean Wrongdoers: By far my personal favorite Norma Jean album

    The Ongoing Concept Saloon: Wild, chaotic, awesome, unpredictable western influenced metalcore

    Phil Wickham The Ascension: Solid modern worship even by Wickham’s high standards.

    Steven Curtis Chapman Deep Roots: Organic bluegrass renditions of hymns and past hits from my favorite artist.

    Tal & Acacia Black & White: Delicious bluesy pop from two sisters with phenomenal vocal chemistry

    The Walking Tree We Are Instruments: More aggressive indie rock offered as a free gift.

     

    --Mark Rice

     

    Friday, December 20, 2013

    Alex Caldwell Examines His Top 10 of 2013

    Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell's Staff Picks 2013 Thoughts

     

    1. Jars Of Clay - Inland

    People listen to music for wildly different reasons. Some folks need something to be on in the background during a shift at work, something to occupy their mind or fill up the lonely space around them. Some folks just need to party, and music serves as a catalyst for the good times. Some just like a catchy tune to sing along to.

    I’m fine with all this, but I’m always on the lookout for something that moves me, engages all the senses. Melody is necessary, but thoughtfulness and purpose are important too. Music that sticks with me beyond the first listening is what I’m looking for. One Direction might have a catchy song (I saw them on Saturday Night Live a week ago), but that song didn’t really say anything. It was like a piece of candy; yummy but ultimately empty and vacuous.

    And no other album hit all those requirements this year like Jars Of Clay’s Inland. It has a strong sense of purpose and theme (not just getting older, but maturing) married to memorable and tuneful songs.

    It all started for me with the title. I read a post when the band announced the album’s name, and I was immediately struck with the possibilities of that one word - “inland.”

    You see, I’m from the coast of Maine, and I know what it means to go inland. It’s a trip, a hike, a journey. You are leaving what is familiar and traversing into the unknown. The true pioneers of our country went inland; the timid folks remained near the coast and settled.

    And Jars Of Clay did exactly what I hoped they would with the title; they used it as a great metaphor for growing up, maturing, and making better decisions. It’s a hike to get away from the coast, from what is usual and familiar, but it’s a trip worth taking. There are mountains to cross, but what you get on the other side is worth the hard work, and is so much better that moldering on the coast. It’s worth it to push inland.

    The song titles alone are worth the price of admission. “Reckless Forgiver” (I sure need one everyday), “Love In The Age Of Immature Mistakes” (experienced it, made some big ones), “Love In Hard Times” (had some to get me through), “Loneliness And Alcohol” (we’ve all experienced loneliness, thankfully I knew from a very early age that substances are never a good solution to turn to, thanks mom and dad.)

    Production wise, the album is full of sharp songwriting and great performances and great instrumental choices. And Dan Haseltine’s witty, insightful lyrics bring everything home. It’s the total package, and a blueprint for how to mature as a band.

    May we all continue to march “inland”.

     

    2. Aaron Sprinkle - Water & Guns

    It’s great when a veteran makes a great, unexpected return. Aaron Sprinkle was the main songwriter in beloved 90’s alternative band Poor Old Lu, and he last put out a solo album in 2004, the fantastic compilation that was ironically titled Lackluster. Since then he has been the in-house producer for the Tooth & Nail/ BEC collective. The label kindly let him release this sugarcoated convection of an album this year. Sounding like Sprinkles’ current band Fair mixed with Postal Service type soundscapes, Water & Guns is a bottom to top great album of tuneful songs that prove that what makes you dance and smile can also make you think, feel and ponder.

    It’s a wondrous thing when technology is incorporated into music, and somehow makes the music seem more human and emotional in the process. Aaron Sprinkle, who I fist heard back in the early 90’s, shows he knows how to write a hook-filled album that also speaks of deeper truths and rugged faith.

     

    3. Over The Rhine - Meet Me at the Edge of the World 

    I first saw Over The Rhine live at a small church in Philadelphia in the fall of 1996. I still have not recovered from that concert. They were touring with the Vigilantes Of Love, and that show maintains its number one status as the best show I have ever seen.

    And Over The Rhine has never put out a bad album either. Meet Me at the Edge of the World is a wondrous double album that finds main songwriter Linford Detweiler singing alongside his wife more and more, and the harmonies this couple weaves in and out are worthy of Simon and Garfunkle. The album swings from folk-rock to blues to rock and roll and back again. At almost two hours of music, Over The Rhine continues to turn out rich and meaningful music well into their twentieth year.

    This band is a well-kept secret that is told more and more every year.

     4. Five Iron Frenzy - Engine Of A Million Plots

    I had forgotten how much Reese Roper and company made me think as I was skanking away in the mosh pits of my college years. Some of the boldest lyrics in the Christian music marketplace made Five Iron Frenzy a treasure. The band has questioned the American church’s love affair with the right wing of this country, and the glossing over of history when it comes to marginalized people. Taking on gun-culture (“lock and load, just like Jesus did!”) and the soft racism that parades itself as much of “immigration reform” (be scared of brown people, even if they are providing the services that allow you to eat that cheap cheeseburger!) Back in the day, few youth group leaders realized that their kids were listening to critiques of the military-industrial complex or America’s treatment of its Native American population. It’s possible that Five Iron Frenzy was the most subversive thing on the Christian Bookstore’s shelves.

     Five Iron has a sneaky way of making you think while you shake about. Their sound here is matured, but familiar. This is a blueprint for how to make a return, rock the body, illuminate the mind.  

    5. Beautiful Eulogy - Instruments Of Mercy

    I am way out of my depths discussing hip-hop. I have very little experience with the genre and I’m constantly afraid of making blundering, mildly-racist observations when the topic comes up. Being from rural Maine does not lead to much perspective here, but Instruments Of Mercy seems like so much more than just beats and rhymes. Genuine instrumentation is the order of the day, and a deep artistry of matching music to themes bursts out of the speakers. “Cello From Portland” opens up the album well (despite its painful pun) and “Vital Lens” and the title track mesh acoustic guitars and pianos to fierce and thoughtfully spit out lyrics. The ending of “Instruments Of Mercy” with its sung ending coda shifts from a hip hop number to a folky, campfire sing along with ease. The takedown of the miserable prosperity gospel that pervades television and bookshelves on “Symbols and Signs” sounds like an updated version of a Old Testament prophet standing on a hill outside Jerusalem and taking down a corrupt kind who would use Jehovah for personal gain. More power to you Beautiful Eulogy.   

     

    6. Gungor - I Am Mountain 

    I think I’ve hit on a theme here, because I Am Mountain might be the most subversive and thought provoking thing currently sitting on your local Christian bookstore’s music shelf.

    Coming from a band who made their mark in worship music and touring with the likes of David Crowder Band, Gungor’s new album contains songs that sound like the list of following influences: Sufjan Stevens, 80’s soft rock band Toto, the auto-tuned tendencies of the last few years, the dance music of Daft Punk and the film scores of Ennio Morricone (The Good The Bad And The ugly).

    But beyond the wild mix of influences, the questions asked by I Am Mountain make me glad that they took a risk and followed their consciences in making something that was not “safe” but was “true” to the Christian tradition of questioning the status quo. “God An Country”, a song that traces the history of the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels and the wars that dependence has sparked, is probably not played on the loudspeakers very often at your local Family Christian Bookstore, though maybe it should be. This album is the spiciest tamale’ currently in circulation.

    7. Citizens - Citizens

     By now, most folks know what “worship music” is supposed to sound like (mid-period U2 and Coldplay, with a touch of Pink Floyd for the daring), but Citizens have come charging out of Portland, Oregon (a great city for subversive art and culture, see the show “Portlandia” for further research) with a poppy, punk-rock take on worship. The same vertical lyrics are present, but they are delivered on a bed of spiky guitars and vocals that are anthemic, inspiring and refreshing.

    8. Audio Adrenaline - Kings and Queens

    I wish these guys would have just gone ahead and named their band something else, because one founding member does not a band resurrection make, especially if that band’s lead singer is well known from his time in another beloved band. It’s like Sting fronting Pearl Jam and still calling the band Pearl Jam. It’s just a silly marketing tactic based on name recognition.

    Having said that, the album Kings And Queens is a really tuneful slice of pop-rock that sounds great on the highway and has ten songs that sound like summer and surfing. “Believer” and “Kings And Queens” soar in that way that my ears love, and the video for the title track is heart felt and inspiring in all the right ways.

    These guys got back together to raise awareness for the band’s longtime commitment to the orphans of Haiti, and that makes this a comeback that I can get behind and trumps my (mostly surface-level) objections. “Boys will be kings, girls will be queens when we love the least of these.”

    Amen.

    9. Plumb - Need You Now

    This is another welcome comeback in a year full of them. Tiffany Arbuckle Lee has always had a knack for the dramatic, and it serves her well here on tunes like “Drifting” and the pleading and worshipful title track. The mix of industrial crunch and alternative rock set against Plumb’s wailing voice and great songwriting make Need You Now a comeback worth waiting for. Arbuckle Lee reportedly had a few tough years leading up to the release of this album, and that makes the title all that more important and resonant.

    10. Fiction Family - Fiction Family Reunion

    When does Jon Foreman sleep? Does he write a song every night before he goes to bed? Does he own stock in Red Bull? Is he currently sitting on twenty albums worth of material?

    I hope so. His songs with Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins are folkier versions of Switchfoot songs, but retain the great lyrics (“God Badge being another Old Testament style takedown of shallow religion) and fantastic melodies fans have come to love.

     

     

    Top 10 Songs of 2013:

     

    1. Switchfoot - “Love Alone is Worth the Fight”

    This song does what I hope every new song I hear will do; inspire me to get up, get out of my comfort zone and go live this life God gave me to the fullest. There are few things worth fighting for, most of our struggles down here are for silly things; things that are passing and are honestly a waste of precious personal energy and resources. Love alone is worth the fight. If you mix soaring music with a worthy message then you have me every time. Currently, Jon Foreman and Switchfoot do this for me more than anyone else out there right now. This is a lyric I have written down, put in my pocket and hope to live out every day. Loving my neighbor as myself is a good way to “put my God badge down.” Thank you Switchfoot.

    2. Jars Of Clay - “Reckless Forgiver”

    Why does God forgive? Why does he show grace? It seems pretty reckless to me, like I’m only going to break his heart again. For that matter, why does my wife extend me grace, why do my daughters? It’s hard to understand, but no less real.

    I need a reckless forgiver. I’m so often a mess. It really is amazing grace.

    3. Jason Gray - “With Every Act Of Love”

    “God put a million doors in this world for his love to walk through. One of those doors is you.” Amen.  Jason Gray’s music is consistently the best that you will hear on Christian radio.

    4. Aaron Sprinkle - “Giving Up The Gun”

     …a great song of hitting bottom, surrendering and seeing that the rescue you need is closer than you realized.

    5. Fiction Family - “God Badge”

     “Put your God badge down and go love someone.” Maybe I should take that fish off my car and go help someone in need.

     6. Plumb - “One Drop”

     The best use of a ukulele this year. The video inspired my daughters to buy gifts for believers in third world countries this Christmas.

     7. Five Iron Frenzy - “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia”

    Here is an exercise for you: Go look up these lyrics on the internet, print them out and stare at them for a few minutes. Then consider your position on current hot topic political issues.

     8. Audio Adrenaline - “Believer”

     Kevin Max sounds fantastic here, and this tune swirls and soars and makes me want to punch the air Rocky Balboa style.

     9. Over The Rhine - “Meet Me at the Edge of the World”

     This is a song where the world-weariness seeps into every note. Life is hard, but it’s worth living well. Sometimes it helps to think of what is ahead, and the world being re-made.

     10. Beautiful Eulogy - “You Can Save Me”

     A sermon set to a great set of beats. This is where the mix of faith and hip hop shines the brightest in my opinion.

     

    And that is all. It’s great to think back on all the great music that I listened to this year. Sometimes a reviewer’s work is tough, because there is much that you have to call what it is; lazy songwriting, uninspiring melodies etc. It’s refreshing to talk about the good stuff all in one spot.

    Have a great 2014, and remember, love alone is worth the fight.

    - Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell

     

    YOUR 2013 Year-End Top Album Picks

    Hey guys! Each year, the JFH staff like to choose their favorite albums of the year and post them for all to read, and we know everyone's thoughts and opinions differ, so we - once again - want to give you, the reader, the opportunity to share YOUR top 10 albums in the Christian market of 2013!

    So, please feel free to post a top 10 album list of 2013 in a format similar to below. I'll post my 2013 album picks as an example...

      1. Inland, Jars of Clay
      2. The Glorious Unfolding, Steven Curtis Chapman
      3. Need You Now, Plumb
      4. Reanimated, Family Force 5
      5. Fading West EP, Switchfoot
      6. Troubled Days, Seabird
      7. Live, All Sons & Daughters
      8. Freaks, The Hawk In Paris
      9. Currents, Eisley
      10. Black and White, Tal & Acacia

    Thanks for sharing! We look forward to reading your picks of 2013 -- and Merry Christmas!

    ~ John DiBiase

    Monday, December 09, 2013

    Kickstart My Heart

    We are more than 50 years into this rock and roll experiment of ours. 1963 gave America its first exposure to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and before that, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly had provided a musical soundtrack to the lives of countless folks. Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel" helped many get through their first heartbreak and the Fab Four's "Hold My Hand" captured that feeling of young love in three minutes of sheer youthful energy and enthusiasm.

    But pop music can be a fickle friend. That same artist who spoke to you so clearly in high school or college might not have aged all that well. That band that soundtracked your last summer of freedom before the realities and responsibilities of life caught up with you might now be embarrassing to watch or listen to. I have seen a few heroes of my youth in concert recently and wondered "What are they thinking? Have they run out of ideas and energy completely?" There is nothing quite like seeing a hero in their twilight.

    But some beloved artists of my youth are as good as I remember, it's just that economics and trends are not always on their side. They might have been the go-to artist for that lonely night in the dorm room in February of your freshman year of college, but it didn't quite work for them, financially speaking, to keep going, year after year.

    But the economics of the music industry have almost always been tough to traverse. The normal cycle of putting out albums, touring and repeating, can be withering to family life and good habits, and many artists put in a few years before entropy catches up with them and hard choices need to be made. Ghoti Hook, a classic Tooth and Nail punk band, named their last studio album Two Years To Never to illustrate how much longer they could sustain the grind of trying to make a living while driving around the county in a van going into their 30's.

    But often, no matter how successful an album or tour might be, there is always musical mortality right around the corner. The winds of taste and preference change rapidly, and that rap-metal sound you dig today might be noise tomorrow to many. (I missed the rap-rock thing almost entirely, though my little brother loved Pillar and P.O.D., so it was always sort of around me).

    As a result, artists hang it up and go find gainful employment elsewhere. Many in the CCM arena go work for churches and ministries where they can be close to home. Some try their hand at other art forms like film and novel writing. Some become policemen.

    But the thing is, their music is always sort of around. Their CD (or tape or vinyl album, etc) is still in circulation in some form--be it in a bargain bin, a Good Will store or your uncle's bookshelves. So, though an artists' popularity might be at a low ebb, their music is still being discovered, even if it's at a yard sale.

    And so, that once popular artist, who once topped retail lists and sold concert tickets and t-shirts, find themselves at a tough crossroads. The people who once bought a concert ticket, album and t-shirt still love the artist, but the economics of the music industry (which is rapidly changing year to year) go with the younger, cheaper-to-sign artists rather  than taking a chance on a veteran artist's next album.

    That's why I'm thankful for Kickstarter. This fundraiser site allows veteran artists to appeal to their fan base and raise money for projects like tours, new albums and so on.

    There is an existing fan base out there to be cultivated; it's just the folks in that fan base started paying attention to new music less as their thoughts turned to having children, buying houses, dealing with grumpy bosses and other signs of growing up in these times of ours.

    Take for instance this week's artist of the week, The Choir. They've made great albums since the early 80's, toured their brains out for fifteen-plus years and are still the best of friends. But the tide is against them in a traditional music market, and especially for being signed to and promoted by a label. The numbers just aren't there. But they have maintained a passionate following over the years by making fans and friends one by one and releasing good-to-fantastic (and mostly self-funded) albums every few years.

    And now, they've run a super-successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album (one they can craft with time that a budget can afford) and a career spanning live album. They raised so much money that they can now buy new equipment for the road and tour a bit more than they have in recent years. It's a win-win situation all around. They brought in twice what they asked for, and got a huge dose of encouragement in the process. Those fans were still there, and happy to help out.

    This model has worked out for other veteran artists, too. Five Iron Frenzy, Daniel Amos, Steve Taylor (of "I Want To Be A Clone" fame), Guardian and Andrew Peterson (he raised almost five times the funds he asked for to publish his latest book), have all run successful campaigns. There will no doubt be a slew of artists trying this model on for size in the next few months. I suspect the Lost Dogs, the 77's, Vigilantes Of Love and more will try and stir up their fan bases. The money raised has not been proven to be able to kick start a career back to its glory days yet, but it's a great way to keep making music and to hear one of your favorite artists grow alongside you. They still have songs to write and miles to go before they sleep.

    So here's to the internet, and the boundless opportunities out there for veteran artists of every kind. You are not forgotten. Your CD is still on my shelf, and that t-shirt is still in my drawer.

    And those lyrics? They are still written all over every notebook I own.

    - Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell

    Sunday, December 01, 2013

    Christmas Music - Our Favorites and What's New!

    It's Christmastime again! Yes, Thanksgiving is over, so for those of you who wait until the turkey is fully digested to even think about jingling bells, the time is here.

    If you're like us--and especially, me--you've already dusted off some Christmas records or plopped a batch of Christmas favorites onto your mp3 device to start getting into the holiday season again. And each year, there's new Christmas music that tosses their proverbial hats into the ring in hopes to join your annual rotation of holiday favorites.

    But what albums do you return to each year?

    SOME STAFF FAVORITES
    A couple of the JFH staff rounded up a list together of standout albums that we turn to each Christmas season from artists in the Christian music realm. Here are just a few of them:

    August Burns Red - Sleddin' Hill: A Holiday Album (2012)

    Jars Of Clay - Christmas Songs (2007) (and the follow-up 2011 indie EP, More Christmas Songs)

    Family Force 5 - The Family Force 5 Christmas Pageant (2009)

    Relient K - Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer (2007/2008)

    Future of Forestry - Advent Christmas EPs (2008, 2010, 2013)

    Rebecca St. James - Christmas (1997)

    David Ian - Vintage Christmas (2011), Vintage Christmas Wonderland (2013)

    Kevin Max - Holy Night (2005)

    Project 86 - This Time of Year (2008), The Midnight Clear Single (2012)

    Of course, many artists just do a song or two, and for me, ones that come to mind are Switchfoot's "Evergreen" and "Old Borego," Audio Adrenaline's "Little Drummer Boy," Supertones' "Joy To The World," Five Iron Frenzy's "You Gotta Get Up," NEEDTOBREATHE's "Go Tell It On The Mountain," PFR's "Wonderful Christmastime,"  Charmaine's "Angels We Have Heard On High," Seven Day Jesus' "O Holy Night, Joy Williams' (before The Civil Wars) "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Plumb's "It's Christmastime," and TobyMac's "Christmas This Year (feat. Leigh Nash)," among others.

    NEW IN 2013
    If you're looking for NEW music that's released this year in 2013, several projects have been released including (but not limited to):

    Singles: Group 1 Crew ("Holly Jolly Christmas") [iTunes], Britt Nicole ("O Come All Ye Faithful") [iTunes], and Love & The Outcome ("Emmanuel") [iTunes].
     
    Full-length Albums: Brandon Heath (Christmas Is Here), Falling Up (Silver City), Dave Barnes (A December To Remember), Sidewalk Prophets (Merry Christmas To You), and Paul Baloche (Christmas Worship), John Schlitt (The Christmas Project), among others.

    EPs: Citizens, (Repeat The Sounding Joy), Meredith Andrews (Behold The Savior), for King and Country (Into The Silent Night), Future of Forestry (Advent Christmas, Vol. 3), and The Rocket Summer (Christmas Madness).

    So there's really quite a bit to choose from -- what are YOU spinning this holiday season?

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    Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    Which Do You Prefer? EP or LP or Singles?

    Let's face it; music just isn't the same as it was 20, 30, even just 10 years ago. Thanks to the digital age (err... mp3s and such, not the band), not only can we carry our music collection around in our pockets (which previously would have not only looked ridiculous -- be it CDs, vinyl, tapes, 8-tracks, etc -- but it's actually physically impossible), but we can easily go to any digital retailer (like iTunes or AmazonMP3) and literally shop for songs like you would hunt-and-peck for eats at a buffet. 

    "I'll take a song or two from Skillet, maybe a single from RED, how about most of the songs off this Lecrae record, and this new Switchfoot single."

    To do that before, you... would have had to buy each album entirely.

    I remember buying a CD--which shall remain anonymous--years ago because of a music video I saw for a song off that album. It was a weird video but the song was quite catchy. The rest of the album though? Nothing like that single! The rest of the album was quite bizarre and eccentric (kind of like the music video itself was, but not the song in the video). In today's music world, I could have just purchased that song alone and thus saved myself money to buy other songs or a full album from another artist.

    But let me ask you this -- How many times have you purchased a full album -- be it a CD, vinyl or mp3s -- because of one song and you discover "Oh my goodness! I love the whole album!!" IMAGINE if you had only bought that one song by itself and never heard those other songs?

    So with people buying songs a la carte a lot these days, the music industry has had to rethink the album model. Labels want artists who can fill an album full of singles. This alone raises another question though - how many times have one of your favorite songs been one of those kinds of songs that would NEVER be played on radio as a single? Kind of scary, huh? That'd be like Jars of Clay's self-titled debut album not having a song like "Worlds Apart" on it. You can assume that pretty much your favorite ballad (or really hard song...or lyrically deep song) on any given album from a band who otherwise gets airplay would not exist.

    And so, many bands and labels are looking at releasing more singles and EPs. EPs are those little 4-song (or sometimes a few songs more) samplers that, at one time, would usually accompany a full-length album. However, they've kind of just become appetizers and cheap ways to release less music it seems. [Some argue that it's less music but released more often, but it seems most artists don't adhere to that idea. I once heard, many years ago now, a record company employee say that EPs were the future; that labels would release an EP from an artist and then fans would get EPs every 6 months from that artist... Thankfully, that hasn't exactly become the norm.]

    Gone seem to be the days when a band crafts an honest-to-goodness ALBUM. An album where every song works together in a seemingly common goal or theme. Instead, we have more EPs that just feel like short little bursts of new goodness that kind of tease you and leave you hanging and seldom feel complete.

    So what are YOUR thoughts? Are you an "album" buyer? Do you like and prefer EP's? Or do you like your songs more a la carte? (i.e. You just pick and choose your favorite songs from album to album) Me? I do prefer a good, solid album... But what about you?

    -- John DiBiase


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    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Oh, What Great Lengths...

     

    Earlier today, a famed band by the name of PFR (JFH artist page) closed the door on its much anticipated Kickstarter launch and on its triumphant return to the music industry. And the saddest thing is you have probably never heard of them. And, if they were current, you probably wouldn't listen to them. Music has changed so much over the last two decades and it's hardly debatable if it's for the worse.

    So let me explain the last twenty years to you from the perspective of a huge PFR fan and what they have meant to me. In the early 90's, when I was first being introduced to "Christian music," there were several groups I was exposed to: Petra (much to my parents chagrin) and Carman. At this point in life, I was just about to embark on my high school journey. I came across PFR thanks to Cory Edwards. His show Signal Exchange introduced me to awesome bands like Audio Adrenaline, dc talk, Big Tent Revival, Hokus Pick Maneuver, Iona and Whiteheart. But out of all of them, PFR has been the one band over the last twenty years that has remained timeless.

    So, from 1992-1994, this band released three studio records: their self titled debut, Goldie's Last Day and Great Lengths. Goldie's Last Day (the song and the record) had and still has some of the finest musicianship and some of the most incredible harmonies I've ever heard. I wore that album out so much over the years. Let me quick explain something about reviewing music to everyone; it gets old quick, especially if you don't enjoy what you're listening to. But to do a proper criticism, you have to immerse yourself in the music. I did that for twenty years with this album and it has never gotten old.

    So skip ahead to a year later, and they released Great Lengths just after Christmas in 1994. I remember buying that at a home school convention booth in Hershey, PA after my parents decided to start home schooling my siblings. I must have walked past that booth 100 times wishing I had the money to buy it. "Wonder Why" is still one of the best songs to sing at the top of your lungs. Their next record, Them, released in 1996, was harder, darker and sadder than anything else they'd done prior. Perhaps it's from the years of perspective looking back on what was to be their final project in 1996 that makes it feel gloomy. The next year they released three new tracks on The Late Great PFR that almost make me weep when I hear them to this day.

    Skip ahead four years and think of Christian music during that time. Bands are breaking up left and right. These are bands that had large influences in my life and bands that showed so much promise: Church of Rhythm, Seven Day Jesus, Reality Check, johnny Q. public all came and went. Then the compilation Roaring Lambs is announced. And what appears on the track list but a brand new song by PFR (and Steve Taylor!) and I'm so excited. "Maybe the fact they're coming out with this song, 'Kingdom Come,' means they'll make more music??" And lo and behold, the following year they returned with Disappear (on Steve Taylor's own label, Squint), and that's what they did (vanish, that is) for another three years until they released The Bookhouse Recordings. And you know what, I don't care that it was commissioned by Family Christian Stores and recorded in a couple days' time; it was great. "In the Middle" is a great song.

    Skip ahead 7 years (ask Crowder if that was a coincidence) and they announce a tour to coincide with their 20-year anniversary and a StageIt.com performance. I dragged my wife to John's house to see that. After they announced their Kickstarter project this month, I was counting my money and getting ready to blow my budget. And then the band announces today on their Facebook page that they are officially over and done.

    PFR totally encapsulates the notion of less is more. Joel Hanson and Patrick Andrew's vocals complement each other so well, so much so that it may compete with Michael and Kevin from dc Talk. Three guys who once said that they never took a break from each other, just music, are taking a permanent break. (And they are one of the only bands John DiBiase will sing out loud too in the car. After every show we go to together, we inevitably end up talking about PFR at some point). They are the only "spiritual" or "Christian" link that my blood brother, who claims to be an atheist, share anymore. They are the light to which all other trios are held to and they were such a blessing to me over the last two decades.

    You're probably asking yourself, "why all the fanboy loving on this band?" Or you maybe you don't really care. Jordan Taylor said in one of Blimey Cow's "Messy Monday" videos that the older music is always better than the newer music, and he's so right. Music that I grew up on will always be better than the new music. Whether that is perspective speaking or is actually true is for you to decide. In 20 years, will what you listen to currently be better than what will be brand new then? I hope not. Will you still have such an appreciation for the bands that you berate and harass people over after they've come and gone (and come and go) again? Or will you forget their last record when the new one hits street? Are the bands you've grown up on making you appreciate music more? -- Whether it was or is Relient K, or a new combo of a powerhouse corporate megaband, or the small local artist who works his tail off because he loves what he does?

    I don't know why PFR called it quits. I have my theories, sure, but they're just for me and close friends to ponder. All I can say is "Thank you" to Joel, Patrick and Mark for the best Merry Go Round ever.

    -- Kevin Chamberlin

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    Stepping Up To The Microphone

    1998 was probably my first real experience with witnessing the shuffling around of lead singers in a favorite band of mine. It was the time when, mysteriously, Newsboys front man John James had quietly stepped down as the lead vocalist for the Newsboys and drummer/vocalist/co-founder Peter Furler literally stepped up to the microphone. It was something that the band decided to highlight as well, even naming their first all-Peter-fronted album Step Up To The Microphone. It was a good album, too, but it was only a so-so successor to the far superior 1996 album Take Me To Your Leader.

    While it was a major disappointment to be losing the eccentric presence of John James from the band's live shows, Furler was already a founding member and a frequent lead singer (You can see him singing "I Cannot Get You Out of My System" on their video from their 1992 album Not Ashamed). It wasn't as much of a shock to the proverbial system, as, say, replacing the road-weary Furler with DC Talk's Michael Tait in 2009, but fans still had to get used to percussionist Duncan Phillips moving over to drums and the absence of James' unmistakable stage presence.

    While I can think of several vocalist changes in recent years, from Audio Adrenaline to Flyleaf, Further Seems Forever to Underoath, and beyond, the most recent vocalist retirement brings to mind the exact same situation that Newsboys fans faced in 1998:

    Family Force 5.

    On Monday of this week, the band made the shocking announcement that original vocalist, Solomon "Soul Glow Activatur" Olds, was not only stepping down, but he had already played what was his final show as lead vocalist just two days prior without a single formal announcement. During that show, the band primed their new vocalist and drummer, much to the surprise of fans who, like me, just thought it was something special for their live show (until they told us after the show that night).

     



    Photo of Jacob "Crouton" Olds taking over the mic from Solomon's final live performance on Saturday at Uprise Fest. Jacob sang a new song called "Dance Like Nobody's Watching"
    Photos by Jesusfreakhideout.com's John DiBiase



    So, as with Newsboys, original drummer, co-founder, and occasional lead singer Jacob "Crouton" Olds has been announced as the band's new lead vocalist. Jacob has a much more unassuming presence than the wild persona of "Soul Glow Activatur," but from his performance of a brand new song on Saturday, there was evidence that it would be completely different, but nothing short of still being very much "Family Force 5."

    Still, the whole change is a shock to fans. And I, admittedly, have been a fan of Family Force 5 since seeing them perform at GMA Week in Nashville in 2005 before their debut Business Up Front, Party In The Back would release almost a full year later. They have one of the most energetic and fun live shows around, but one can easily argue that with success, many changes have happened in their music and live shows that haven't always sat well with fans.

    So where do they go from here?

    A clean slate is obviously on the table, but it's also clear that the band doesn't want to alienate their fans. Just from the snippet of new song "Glow In The Dark" that can be heard on Solomon's exit video, or the catchy and very danceable "Dance Like Nobody's Watching" that fans will be able to hear live from now on, Family Force 5 is retaining the spirit of what it is about them that won over fans eight to nine years ago.

    Fan response has already been mixed, but I don't think it'd be fair to count the guys out just yet. While I will miss Solomon's infectious and outrageous stage presence, I'm still looking forward to supporting these guys and seeing them live again very soon.

    -- John DiBiase
    Jesusfreakhideout.com

     



    Photo from Solomon's final live performance on Saturday at Uprise Fest.
    Photo by Jesusfreakhideout.com's John DiBiase

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Rich Mullins Tribute

    Soon after I had turned six, a tragedy occurred that I could not comprehend until I became older. It was a tragedy that robbed the world of one of the most incredible musicians that ever lived. On September 19th, 1997, a rolling Jeep ended the life of Rich Mullins. As an artist, he was incredible. As a human being, he was remarkable. As a man of faith, he was unshakable.

    His was the first music I ever remember hearing, and thanks to my efforts to emulate my brother, he became my first favorite musician. His death passed my notice once it happened, but I remember being disheartened upon hearing the news (but not nearly as much as seeing Mufasa's death the first time; ah, the values of the post-toddler). Since then, Mullins and his music has been an integral part of my life, from his genre-bending "Awesome God" (the first worship song I ever learned) to his timeless words of "Sometimes By Step," from the delectably catchy "Screen Door" to the brazen beauty of "The Color Green." His is a brand of music that never gets dated, and never grows old. He's one of the best instrumentalists and songwriters of his time, and there is no doubt he would have stood even taller in our time. He made the hammered dulcimer and Irish tin whistle stand front stage in front of music fans who had their ears trained on synthesizers. He ingrained the words of the Nicene Creed in the minds of even the most historically ignorant. And, indeed, perhaps more than any artist since Larry Norman, he changed the landscape of Christian Music as we know it (maybe barring Amy Grant, whose performance of the Mullins-penned "Sing Your Praise To The Lord" gave him his big break, AND improved Grant's popularity).

    But as a man, you could hardly imagine someone more fascinating. His humility was unbounded, to the point that he decided to finish his college education at the peak of his career, attending Friends University on a trombone scholarship. His charity was immense, to the point that he lived on $24,000 a year by the time of his death, giving everything else away. He lived the larger part of his last several years on an Indian Reservation in his effort to share God's love. He was a vagabond who ruffled the feathers of the Evangelical culture whenever he spoke, not caring what others thought about himself as long as he was serving God with everything he had. He was a scholar whose depth of biblical knowledge was profound, and a teacher who could mesmerize child and adult alike. And he was a wanderer who needed no more than a trailer home in New Mexico as a "permanent" residence.

    Now more than ever, a man like Rich Mullins is sorely missed on the CCM scene. While the spirit of his music is captured by artists like Andrew Peterson, his creative expression and aura of magnificence that his music evoked, as well as his faultless expression of God's beauty, is significantly lacking. Even if he were still around, I don't know if he could deal with the way the music scene has changed (and mind you, not for the better). Ask yourself, what in the world would today's music industry do with a man who gave away almost everything and moved onto an Indian reservation? But I digress.

    So those of you who don't know this man, take a moment. And those who do, recall his ingenuity... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhGOosxTLrY

    - Mark Rice

    Sunday, September 15, 2013

    What To Listen To When You Are Fed Up With Music

    We’ve all been there…

    You turn on the radio one too many times. You hear one-too-many generic worship albums. One-too-many of your favorite artists degenerates into just another pop act. You heard one-too-many new artists that sound like Nickelback. Who knows what might set you off, but the time comes when you are just fed up. You cannot stand the direction that music is going and you decide that you need to remember what “real” music is.

    So you turn off everything. You get your MP3 player or your stereo or your computer or your record player (etc.), and you put on some artist that never fails. And instantly, you forget all your frustrations with music. You remember how beautiful it can sound. You forget all that generic, sound-alike, unoriginal music that has been crammed into your ears, and are completely taken up with ethereal, emotional, pristine perfection which now graces them. Maybe they are simply your favorite artists. Maybe you have a more emotional or nostalgic connection to them. Maybe you like it for its lyrical substance, or it unfailingly points you toward Our Creator of All Things. Or maybe some artist really does create the most beautiful music you have ever heard. But whatever the case, you simply are indebted to those artists for making such incredible music.

    Here are six artists (in no particular order) that I often turn to in those situations (although this list of by no means exhaustive)…

    ·        -Steven Curtis Chapman: I fell in love with SCC’s music at the age of nine when I discovered that he mentioned my (at the time) favorite TV show in the first verse of his song “Live Out Loud” (don’t chuckle, I’m sure your first impression of artists were just as shallow when you were nine). Eventually, I developed a more solid foundation for my fandom, which has only solidified more as years went on. Honest, heartfelt, often emotional, well-written lyrics paired with music that is both irresistibly accessible and of a sound artistic integrity. And the nostalgic value of his music puts it over the top.

    ·        -John Reuben: I was late to the John Reuben bandwagon, but I quickly made up for lost time when, after reading the JFH reviews on all six of his albums, I made an impulse order on Amazon of four of them despite the fact that I had never heard any song of his. At first, I didn’t know quite what to make of him with his stereotypical “white-man raps” and blend of the silly and serious, and I wondered if I had been too hasty in my purchase. But after latching onto a few of his more lyrically biting songs and slowly coming to the realization of how unique his craft was, my respect and admiration for him grew immensely. Thought-provoking, honest, innovative, and just plain fun, this is definitely one impulse purchase I don’t regret.

    ·        -Propaganda: Before I listened to Propaganda’s album Excellent, I was not a hip hop fan. After I listened to the album, I was. Need I say more?

    ·        -Adam Young: Before The Midsummer Station, there was a shy, wide-eyed, Minnesotan insomniac who played around on his computer and who, in comparision to most sugar-infested pop music out there, served up a veritable gourmet meal of delicious treats that it was hard to believe was actually healthy. Indeed, no matter which musical project Adam Young tacked (most notably his indietronica project Owl City, but also his more acoustically-based project Sky Sailing, and others), you could expect a creative explosion of dreamy charm and wit that would drive away frustrations like the plague. I just pray that Adam Young can steal his music back from being just another pop act in an ocean of pop acts.

    ·        -Charmaine: Who makes the best pop music in the CCM industry? I believe that if her 2010 album Love Reality is any indication, it is, without a doubt, Charmaine. Aside from having one of the most captivating voices I’ve ever heard, her brand of orchestral symphonic pop is the most excellently executed and unhinderingly appealing sounds I have ever head. In a span of 10 songs and 40 minutes, I doubt you’ll find any more perfect pop music for the music lover.

    ·        -Iona: For this one, I need to give a shout-out to my fellow staff reviewer “Tincan” Caldwell. Sometime last year, I was sifting through the reviews index looking for some promising music I can check out, and I saw a Mr. Caldwell’s review for Iona’s album Another Realm (rated 4.5 stars), whose genre was listed as “Irish Folk Rock.” I was intrigued and read the review to discover that it was a 95-minute double concept album, and that Iona had been making music for over twenty years. I was more intrigued. After finding a couple of their songs on Youtube, I was no longer intrigued; I was dumbfounded. Breathtaking vocals, mind-numbing guitars, wicked saxophones, ethereal flutes, swirling bagpipes, explosive drums, countless other impeccably played instruments, and beauty all around. I thought then, and still think to this day, that Iona makes the best music I have ever heard.

    So who do you guys turn to when you are facing musical depression?

     --Mark Rice

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    If I Were A Musician

    I’m not a musician. I played bassoon in high school band and took four years of piano lessons, but that is the absolute extent of my musical career. Well, I guess I did technically write a song in 6th grade (as a school assignment). I called it “Mark’s First Symphony,” and it was a 45-second long ditty on the piano (that I was unable to play).

    But that doesn’t stop me from making mental masterpieces. Every once in a while, I feel a particular moment of inspiration, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to make an album like (insert whatever my inspiration was)?” Sometimes I even wish I could climb up on top of a mountain and scream out whatever my idea was in the hopes that some talented musician with a like mind could see the genius to the idea and carry it out. But I digress…

    My most recent masterpiece was inspired by CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which I read earlier this month. Amazingly, I had managed to survive for these twenty-something years of my life without having ever read it before, but even that made me appreciate the book more. As I was reading it, the thought crossed my mind, “You know, as much as I love Heath McNease’s gorgeous CS Lewis-inspired The Weight of Glory album, he really needed MUCH more than one song dedicated to Screwtape.” Indeed, even one CD would not be enough. No, it would need to be a double-album, with one song dedicated to each of Screwtape’s 31 letters. What type of music? Well, I can’t really say. It would really depend on the tone of the specific letter. Hard rock seems the most appropriate seeing as we’re dealing with dark and serious subject matter. I’m sure metal could sneak in there somewhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the letters would demand a heavily electronic, hip hop/rap, or even light acoustic treatment. In any event, the music would have to be progressive. In keeping with the spirit of the book, the song titles would simply be the same as the chapter titles in the book, and possibly a short subtitle to hint at the general theme of the letter (“Letter 1: Art of Distraction,” “Letter 2: Using Christianity,” etc…). Much of the lyrics would probably be direct quotes, and such quotes would probably be presented in a spoken-word style similar to meWithoutYou, but it would also have to have sung verses too (most songs would probably be absent a chorus). There would need to be no fewer than three vocalists, I think; one male, one female, and one rough vocalist. And if Wormwood were to ever speak/sing, he would need to be a child.

    This is just one of the ideas I’ve had, and not even one of the more ambitious ones. Once, I conceived of making a band with some Greek name that I can’t remember (something to the effect of “Theology,” only in Greek), which would make a trio of album trilogies, one trilogy theme around the events of the bible, one themed around the history of Christianity, and one around famous theologians (and heretics). But all that aside, I know I can’t be the only one who has ever mentally conceived an ambitious musical masterpiece with no means of making it a reality.

    So let’s hear it! If you could make any musical project, what would you make?

    -- Mark Rice

    Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    What Are We Supposed to Expect?

    The other day, I was doing some reflecting. Specifically, I was reflecting about the album which our very own Roger Gelwicks declared was "set to frustrate, enthrall, and polarize in 2013." Even more specifically, I was reflecting on the highly combative response to this website's published thoughts on said record.

    Yes, I was reflecting on Skillet's Rise.

    In particular, there was one commenter that stood out among the dozens of people that voiced their... thoughts... on the record and on the two reviews. I perused all of the comments and saw that this person had asked the same question no fewer than five times in his various posts and comments, in defense of the criticisms against an album that he obviously held in a much higher esteem than the reviews did.

    "What were people supposed to expect?"

    That got me thinking; how much do our expectations shape what our thoughts of an album are? I could expand the question to encompass even more of the philosophical landscape of life beyond music, but for sake of simplicity and length, I'll leave it at that. Take Skillet as the prime example: to most fans, Rise was either the third or fourth (or, if they were really late to the bandwagon, only the second) Skillet album that they had heard. They knew Skillet as a modern symphonic rock band geared mostly towards difficult problems and life situations of youths and comforting them with nostalgia and encouragement, sometimes even directing their worries and fears towards God. So, of course, they would expect Rise to sound like that! And since they became fans during that era of Skillet's life, they were obviously fans of that "sound" for one reason or another, and so their excitement was directed towards a Skillet album that had generally similar themes (which Rise did). So the final result is an album that, with a little variance here and there and without doing anything too unexpected, satiated the appetites of their biggest fan base (much to the chagrin of the "original panheads" that grumbled about Skillet retreading old ground from Collide and Comatose in Awake and Rise).

    But what if Skillet would have made some drastic changes? What if they felt that they wanted to stretch themselves musically and personally? What if they went against all expectations to make the piece of art that they truly felt led to make? What if they would have made a Project 86-like hard rock album instead? Or, what if they made an Anberlin-like alt-rock album? Or they went the Relient K route and made a random pop album? Or a rap album? Or metal? Or folk? That would have surely put a damper in the expectations of those fans, wouldn't it? Especially if their voyage into new territory resulted in floundering. Would any fans buy that album? Would they even still be a fan? Well, many might, but I think most would feel like they had been "betrayed" and leave the bandwagon.

    But here is the kicker: what if Skillet had made drastic changes and the resulting album was simply phenomenal? Profound lyrics (if there were any at all). Completely original. Impeccable musicianship. A complete masterpiece in every respect, and far superior to anything they had ever done before. But would the fan reaction be any different?

    Of course not.

    Maybe some critics would recognize that album for what it is, but the critics have their expectations too. They can feel betrayed too. Same with record labels and others in the music business. The fans and critics and businessmen that recognize the brilliance of the album will stay. The rest will probably move on to things that are more... profitable... in some way, shape, or form. It doesn't matter in the end what the final product is if expectations are not met. In the music business, it is dangerous not to meet them, and can even mean financial suicide. It is the reason why people like Adam Young can take his dazzling project Owl City and turn it into just another pop act. Or why artists like Sanctus Real and Hawk Nelson are now inevitably pigeonholed into one melting pot of contemporary sound. Or even, conversely, why so many more artists nowadays are leaving record labels and record deals and going independent.

    So what do we expect bands like Skillet to do?

    Make an album that the fans are satisfied with. That is the bottom line. In many cases, particularly with a band as popular as Skillet, it is even the only line. The fact is that so much of music criticism nowadays is simply judging how well a band or album or song met, exceeded, or failed to live up to expectations. I'm guilty of it, and I doubt there is even one person on the JFH staff that also isn't at one time or another.

    But it ought not to be this way. The fans don't own the music. Record labels don't make the music. The artists are fully accountable for what they make. There is a reason musicians are called "artists" in the first place; they make art. Art does not include expectations. Expectations are what originally caused Stryper to lose popularity and break up. Art does not include money. Rich Mullins' worldly possessions after he died fit into 80 cubic feet. Good art has a value far beyond money or expectations. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. Mozart died penniless and was buried in an unmarked mass grave. Larry Norman didn't even have an audience for his music!

    At JFH, we try to make it our sole expectation of the artists we review to make great art with creative integrity. We therefore judge and critique music in that light. We believe that by making great art for God, the artists are giving greater glory to God than by simply making something that is merely marketed to glorify God. Yes, these artists are making their living through music. Yes, the songs can potentially be ministry tools, or help someone personally get closer to God. We don't judge that. We can't judge that. If we expect anything else from the artists we review, we will not be fair to the artistic integrity of either that particular artist or other artists.

    So what do we expect Skillet to do? Or Relient K? Or Casting Crowns? Or Chris Tomlin? Or For Today? Or (insert your favorite artist name here)? We expect them to make great art with creative integrity, whatever that may look like for that particular artist. And if we don't think they did, it will be adequately reflected as such.

    -- Mark Rice, Jesusfreakhideout.com Writer

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    John's (and YOUR) Most Anticipated 2013 Releases

    We recently released the staff's 15 most anticipated music releases from July till the end of the year, and it got me thinking about my own anticipated list for the entirety of 2013 and YOURS as well.

    Because it's tough to predict what will come out later in the year, last year we split the "Highlighting" yearly feature into 2 parts -- the first half of the year and the second half. But it's still tough to tell what will come out in which month because releases are always shifting, being delayed, etc.

    I decided to personally compile a list of 15 of this year's releases in order from most anticipated (No. 1) on down to the least--but still anticipated, mind you (No. 15). I know many of these are out already, so I went back to the lists I compiled earlier this year when we were voting for the feature -- and before hearing most of them -- and did a quick adjusting of my level of anticipation (meaning: I had two separate lists, so I combined them).

    This list does NOT reflect what I thought of how the end product turned out, but it ultimately reflects how much I was/am still looking forward to each release this year.

    Please feel free to join in and post YOUR 15 in order in the comments below! :)

    #01 = most anticipated

    01. Jars of Clay - Inland
    02. Switchfoot - Fading West
    03. Needtobreathe - untitled
    04. Steven Curtis Chapman - The Glorious Unfolding
    05. Seabird - Troubled Days
    06. Five Iron Frenzy - untitled
    07. Guardian - Almost Home
    08. Plumb - Need You Now
    09. Tal & Acacia - Black & White
    10. Eisley - Currents
    11. The Fold - Moving Past
    12. Audio Adrenaline - Kings and Queens
    13. Skillet - Rise
    14. Relient K - Collapsible Lung
    15. Fiction Family - Family Reunion
     

    Saturday, May 04, 2013

    Sorry, But Your New Album Just Isn't Enough

    Every true music fan can probably relate to the feeling of anticipation when there's new music from your favorite band on the horizon. There was once a time when we absolutely had to wait until a specific date for the new music to hit stores in the form of a tape or CD (and for others, vinyl, 8 track, etc). Some of us even had to hunt down a copy – travel from store to store to track down that exciting new album. Then we either listened to it for the first time on the drive home, or had to wait till we were back at home or at a friend’s house to free the album from its shrink-wrapped bonds and finally get to enjoy the sweet (and sometimes not-so-sweet) new sounds. Today, we can wait till midnight and download the album’s music at our computers or onto our phones and portable listening devices, or – for the less honest of you – download it illegally from some unauthorized, unapproved source who has leaked it, and get to listen to it even sooner (But that’s not what this blog is about).

    What do we do once we’ve spun the album several times and listen to it for a few days (or weeks or months)? We wonder what’s next. When will the new album be out? How about an EP? A live album? A remix album? A Christmas album? An acoustic album? A covers album? A worship album? A worship covers album? A live worship album? A b-sides album? Cool. What next? A follow-up to that last album that was awesome/OK/had a couple good songs/disappointing/too short/too long/impossible to find/a really expensive drink coaster?

    I can imagine that the question about a new album for an artist is much like that those that a young couple might get after they get together. Soon, a person sporting a goofy grin inquires, “Soooo… when you two crazy kids getting’ married?” And then, on their wedding day they ask, “Soooo… when can we expect a little one running around?” And not a few seconds after said little one pops out and takes its first breath, the same creepy person Tweets you, “Soooo… when can we expect number two??”

    I think it all boils down to— music fans are never satisfied. Till the day the artist is planted six feet under, there will be at least one person on God’s green earth expecting new music from that artist. As an aging music fan myself, I often will revisit some of my favorite Christian music releases in the 90s with very fond memories and listen to them because, well, I love them. And to me, they sound good. I could care less if there’s some kind of ‘cool’ factor I’m desecrating by indulging in what, to me, are some of the most enjoyable things my ears have heard. Who cares what other people think you should listen to. Listen to what you like. The end. But, alas, I digress…

    Back to the topic: So, my thoughts often drift to… “I wonder what ____ is up to these days?” “Wouldn’t it be great if _____ [got back together and] put out a new album?” And the funniest thing is, if and when said artist does put out new music, we fans are excited and just have to wonder (and often wonder aloud) “So what’s next?” That has to be frustrating for the artist. I mean, this isn’t limited to just music either. Yesterday, Iron Man 3 hit theaters and everyone’s asking about Iron Man 4 or Avengers 2. And as a movie fan as well, I have to admit I’ve had the same thoughts. But I actually can relate, on some level, to the artist and what they must feel when fans are just plain insatiable. JFH has put out 2 free compilations now and it hasn’t been long after each before people ask about the next volume. And, as a site, we’re frequently asked about what’s new that we’re doing. What’s next? And, beyond JFH and music, I could work on a new drawing of something and show it to people and a lot of people have their ideas of what I should do next (sometimes a list! Ha).

    So what point am I trying to make? I guess this is just something I’ve been thinking about recently after listening to some of my favorite music and wondering when we might have new material from them soon (or if ever). I suppose I just want us, collectively as music fans and listeners to be mindful of this demanding nature and to perhaps even count what we DO have as blessings and truly enjoy it, because, at the end of the day, we might be all too focused on what’s next; how about we be grateful for what we’ve been given before and presently! I know it’s something I can work better on myself.

    Friday, January 11, 2013

    AutoRip -- YES! Thank you, Amazon!

    In completely coincidental fashion, I just blogged recently about my struggles with being a "music collector" and one problem I've had in recent years--with everything moving the way of the exclusively digital--is that I often miss having the CD and artwork when I buy an album on iTunes or some similar digital music outlet. In fact, I often will want to buy a CD but wish I could have the music immediately like you can with a purchase via iTunes or AmazonMP3. Thanks to digital retailers, we don't have to wait in line at a music store or try to hunt down a CD the day it comes out. Now we can just purchase and download it at midnight on release day! All is right with the world.

    I love how some indie artists will allow you to order a CD or vinyl album from their website and then email you the album digitally right away too. That, my friends, is the way to do it. Heck -- I've seen some artists send full digital albums weeks in advance if you just simply preorder it (This method threatens albums to be "leaked" by insensitive and irresponsible music listeners--ruining it for the artist and the fans alike--but I digress...)

    Just today I was perusing Amazon.com, like I tend to daily--I'm kind of addicted to their store, sales, and selections (I admit it. haha)--but, in all honesty, I was grabbing a link for our reader review page of Sanctus Real's Pieces Of Our Past: The Sanctus Real Anthology when I saw this interesting little graphic:

    Uhhh... AutoRip? Could that be what I think it is? Sure enough -- and I swear I'm writing this as nothing more than an elated fan and don't mean to sound like a commercial -- AutoRip is just what it sounds like. If you buy select CD's (like, actual physical compact discs) that display that "AutoRip" logo on the page, they'll give you the mp3 download IMMEDIATELY... for FREE! According to the instructional video on their website, if you've bought any music on Amazon since 1998 that is eligible for this program, they're including it in your Amazon Cloud player too.

    Again, I can't help but geek out about this. I've always wished you could just instantly get a digital copy of your music when you order the physical disc online and I'm stoked to see a big online retailer like Amazon.com has debuted this option.

    Now... if we could only just get free Kindle books with a paperback purchase (...hey! how about applying that "any purchase since 1998" gig to books too!) and maybe even digital movies (OK, I'm getting greedy here)... ;)

    Does this AutoRip feature excite anyone else?

    Monday, January 07, 2013

    Music Collector Role Call

    I was organizing some CD's on my shelf this afternoon, making room for new stuff, and a thought came to mind... It's awfully hard to NOT be a music collector sometimes. It's no secret that we get sent a lot of our music for review purposes, and these days it's almost always a stream or mp3s and not physical CD's, but I come from a generation where we bought our music in a physical form of some kind -- we got artwork on a disc and cover artwork, lyrics to pour over, etc. So even now, even if I have the music already in digital form, I often like to still collect the CD's and even vinyls from my favorite artists. This requires the "music collector" to buy music once, twice, sometimes more to "collect" everything available. (Like those artists with special editions exclusive to different retailers? That's just MEAN to the collector!)

    I'll find myself at the merch table of a favorite artist or on their website, staring at that "limited edition EP" or "limited edition vinyl" release that contains music I already own and something nags inside:

    "You gotta get this. You gotta get it now or never."

    The rational mind shoots back, "But I have this already. Is there a better way to spend this $10.00?"

    You find yourself looking up at the t-shirts at the merch table -- there's something you don't already have. But your music collector instinct pushes your gaze downward towards that special EP that's not available anywhere but at this artist's live show.

    "I don't even really like that song," you tell yourself.

    "But it's a collector's item! If you don't get it now, it'll be $75.00 on eBay in a couple months."

    "...or 75 cents."

    "FOCUS!"

    I realize this is an exaggerated (even silly) example, but I know there are others like me out there -- others who don't need that dang physical EP CD or limited edition vinyl but for some reason have GOT to have it.

    Let me hear you, music collectors! Any other fans out there who can relate?

    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    YOUR 2012 Year-End Top Album Picks

    Hey guys! Each year, the JFH staff like to choose their favorite albums of the year and post them for all to read, and we know everyone's thoughts and opinions differ, so we - once again - want to give you, the reader, the opportunity to share YOUR top 10 albums in the Christian market of 2012!

    So, please feel free to post a top 10 album list of 2012 in a format similar to below. I'll post my 2012 album picks as an example...

    1. Wait for the Siren, Project 86
    2. The Peace of Wild Things, Paper Route
    3. Vital, Anberlin
    4. Cold Hard Want, House of Heroes
    5. O God Save Us All, Disciple
    6. New Horizons, Flyleaf
    7. Lost in Transition, Sixpence None the Richer
    8. The Quiet Life, Anchor & Braille
    9. Resuscitate, Remedy Drive
    10. The End Is Where We Begin, Thousand Foot Krutch

    Thanks for sharing! We look forward to reading your picks of 2012 -- and happy new year!

    ~ John DiBiase

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    Favorite Christmas Memories Involving Christian Music

    I'm going to go out on a limb here with a blog post that's a little random and probably out of left field.

    I love Christmas -- there's the timely, relevant part. My mind is wired to start feeling like a kid again around the holidays. Christmas music triggers all kinds of memories -- a single song segment can transport me to a young age when G.I. Joe figures were the treasures masked by festive paper that just needed to be shredded by anxious fingers. And just as memory-jogging are distinct smells -- like that of pine or cookies baking in the oven and the cold December night air. I love it all. Call me Mr. Sentimental and it wouldn't be far from the truth.

    Believe it or not, with JFH approaching its 17th year in existence in 2013, there was a time -- wait for it -- when I wasn't running JFH. There was actually a time when I was just your average kid who loved Christian music and would get Christian music CD's for Christmas and birthday gifts. This was an age before the dawn of JFH and before we started receiving free review copies of most of the major releases (and then some). There's something special about buying your own music or being gifted a most anticipated album for Christmas.

    And that is where this blog is coming from.

    I have a couple of fun Christmas memories involving "CCM" (Contemporary Christian Music, as it were) gifts, and my absolute favorite memory was in 1994. I knew very well that the "newest" CD from a pop rock band called PFR was about to release, but it wasn't hitting stores until December 27 -- otherwise known as two days AFTER Christmas. So, you can imagine my--and my older brother's--surprise when we unwrapped a copy of PFR's Great Lengths ON Christmas morning! This was a time when I was young and naive enough not to know that music was even remotely obtainable outside of the exact "release date." That, and I never knew -- until a few years later -- that there were even things such as "pre-releases" (go figure!). But with elated faces frozen in amazement, we asked our parents how they could have worked this kind of magic to get an album several days early. It turned out that our local Christian bookstore had put out a couple copies of PFR's Great Lengths on their shelves early -- and my parents just happened to be there when they had a couple copies out. It was a Christmas miracle in our eyes.

    So, with that little trip down memory lane, I want to know -- Do you have a favorite Christian music-related Christmas memory? Did you get anything special from someone that involved a favorite artist or album? I'd love to hear it!

    ...and Merry Christmas! :)

    ~ John DiBiase

    Friday, December 07, 2012

    When A Music Video Makes You A Fan

    There are many different ways fans of an artist can discover the artists they become fans of. When I was a teen, music video shows -- like Signal Exchange and CCMtv -- were big parts of my after school television viewing and I would be subject to music videos of new artists and styles I wouldn't typically listen to. While YouTube seems to be the main source for music video watching today, there seems to be less of a need for music video shows and more accessibility to the videos themselves.

    When I was younger, videos like "Big House" by Audio Adrenaline, "Crawl" by The Walter Eugenes (ha, it was two guys chasing each other around in public mixed with professional wrestling footage. it was hard not to like), and Switchfoot's silly "Chem 6A" that won me over (Note: I was going to include this animated pic I once found online from the Switchfoot video but it's a bit too repetitive and distracting to include here. So check it out here. :) ). I believe it was even dc Talk's "Jesus Is Just Alright" and/or "The Hardway" videos that inspired me to check them out. Typically, it's a band's live show that grabs my attention -- or, nowadays, just giving an album a serious listen -- but music videos, especially in my pre-JesusFreakHideout days, were once a chief source of finding new music.

    So, now that I've dated myself painfully, my question to you - the reader of all ages:

    What music videos, if any, have caused you to actually like an artist that you previously may not have?

    Tuesday, December 04, 2012

    Ten of Michael Weaver's Top Favorite Songs of All Time

    After reading John’s list of Top 10 songs, I was inspired.  I was inspired by his openness and felt like I had gained a new and better understanding of him.  This caused me to look back over the songs that have really spoken to me.  I couldn’t do an injustice to what John had started and pick out rocking tunes I really love.  I had to dig deeper and look for some tracks that really spoke to me for different reasons.  Strangely enough, the list came together pretty quick.  It’s fitting to me that nine out of ten of these songs are from the 90s.  I love each of these songs for different reasons and I hold them near to my heart.  I’m not trying to copy John, but I’m hoping to expand off of what he started.  I see this as a way for you the readers to get to know us, the staff, in a little more personal way than just as music critics.  It gives a different perspective on what our musical tastes are and shows where we’ve come from and where we are.  It was hard to leave a few songs off, but these songs certainly speak to me more than any others.

    1.    Tomorrow's Another Day - MxPx
    This is my all-time favorite song by my all-time favorite band.  Hands down; not even close.  It was from their album, Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo, where they were a little more open about their faith.  The lyrics in this song have stuck out to me since the first time I've heard them and they resonate still today: "Just know this that God is faithful even if you don't have faith yourself.  There's nothing quite like being sure of what's inside your heart…"  It a great statement of God's love for us despite our actions and the peace that He will bring us in knowing He is our Savior.

    2.    What if I Stumble - dcTalk
    The first CD I ever owned as a teenager was dcTalk's Jesus Freak.  The album literally changed my life.  I was already a Christian, but it gave me such a different perspective on life and more specifically, music.  I credit this album to my current love (borderline obsession) of music today.  With an album full of classics this song stands out to me from the opening line, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle…"  The song speaks to me personally as a Christian who has indeed stumbled and fallen flat on my face.  I've embarrassed God and embarrassed myself so many times.  This song has always served as a reminder of my shortcomings, God's love, and an inspiration to grow my walk and try to reach others by both my words and my lifestyle.  This is definitely a life song for me.

    3.    Rest Easy - Audio Adrenaline
    I don't think any Christian music fan in the 90's can make a Top 10 list and not include an Audio Adrenaline song.  "Rest Easy" is probably my favorite Audio A song and definitely speaks to me on a personal level more than any other.  I tend to be a worrier and, at times, I let fear eat me up inside.  In the verses Mark tells of his faults, which feel like they came out of my life (especially now) and in the chorus he gives God's response.  I talk a big game in person, but the bridge really sums me up: "I am not a bold man even though I want to be.  I am just a dreamer with a timid history.  I'm scared of confrontation; I fume all through the night.  The world has its hold on me and I just want to fly."  I thank God that He will take my burden and in return give me His grace.

    4.    Much Afraid - Jars of Clay
    Can you sense a pattern?  Not just that I was, and am still, a fan of the "big 3", but that this is the second song circling around fear.  On top of being one of my favorite songs from that album musically, again lyrically it felt like Dan wrote the song for me.  Obviously he didn't, but when he sings, "…Of all of these things I'm so much afraid.  Scared out of my mind by the demons I've made.  Sweet, Jesus, You'll never let me…  Let me go."  It seems the screw ups and mistakes you make in life manage to stick in your head even though God has forgotten them after you've asked forgiveness.  I guess it's human nature to fear further failure, or that the demons of your past will come back to haunt you, but that's still not a comforting notion.  The only comfort I find with this fear I seem to share with Dan is that Jesus will always be there and won't let go.

    5.    After the World - Disciple
    After looking at my first few songs, this one may not seem to fit in.  "Scars Remain" came out in November 2006; my daughter was born in June of 2007.  I never really paid much attention to the song other than it being a "nice acoustic song" when I first got the record.  I was still listening to it quite a bit as my daughter's birth approached and then this song finally stuck out to me.  It is written as a love song from our Heavenly Father to us, but I couldn't help but draw similarity to the feelings I was already having for my daughter.  "I'm the one that you've been looking for.  I'm the one that you've been waiting for.  I've had my eyes on you ever since you were born.  I will love you after the rain falls down, I will love you after the sun goes out.  I'll have my eyes on you after the world is no more."  This song reminds me of my loving God and my daughter who I love more than I could have imagined.  This song makes me cry to this day.

    6.    King of the Hill - Eli (often stylized "eLi")
    Not many folks I've run across really know who Eli is or about any of his songs.  If you don't know Eli, you need to stop reading this and listen to this song now.  It's so powerful and really gives you a picture of everything Christ gave up by dying on the cross.  The lyrics start with an angry mob demanding the crucifixion of Jesus and take the viewpoint of our Messiah.  The first two verses are a great reminder of the crucifixion, but the third verse gives you a perspective that so many ignore.  "Well I could've had servants and I could've ruled this world as their king.  And I could've had wealth beyond measure.  I could've had anything, but it wouldn't have meant anything."  These seem to be the final thoughts of Christ before he cried out to God before his death.  The human side of Jesus had to have this temptation present, but instead of calling out to his Father to save him, or stepping right off the cross on his own, he willingly gave up his life.  This song is another tear jerker for me and I still hold it near to my heart.

    7.    Strength - Seven Day Jesus
    Seven Day Jesus' The Hunger…  What a great album!  "Strength" stood out for me on this album from the first listen and is still my favorite song.  Although the song is entitled "Strength", it too deals with fearful behavior.  "In my eyes I see a blur of things that others see so clearly.  In my strength I run away from things that cause me heart to fear.  Back and forth and back again to the place where I began.  Maybe I'm making this much harder than it is."  In the lyrics, he mocks his "strength" and says it's what causes him to run.  I've found this to be all too true in my life.  The minute I think I'm strong enough to handle things on my own is the minute I fail.  The strength of God is the only thing that can hold us up and I definitely make thing much harder than they need to be every time I try to pick them up again on my own.

    8.    Found Someone - Shaded Red
    Looking at these songs after I selected them tells me something about myself.  Wow...  This song, from a band whose time was much too short, continues the theme.  The verse starts, "Didn't I swear I'd be there?  Didn't I make you this promise to hold you tight forever and ever?", and continues, "Yet I fell apart and my world crashed down.  I was sinkin' fast 'till I felt true love."  Again I find myself relating so much to a song of human failure with a loving God holding true to his promise to be there.  The lyrics speak further of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, but the final line in the chorus sum on the solution: "It's Your love that makes it right."

    9.    Grace My Life - Grover Levy
    This is another gentleman that no one seems to know and it's so unfortunate.  The verses of this song are in a similar fashion to some of the previous.  Human failure…  Levy starts, "I must confess the obvious seldom occurs to me.  I make a mess then I'm the first to deny and the last to see", but the chorus is so hopeful to me.  "I have a hope that's everlasting; I have a peace of mind.  Lord, I am loving how Your love becomes me.  Amazed at how Your grace me life."  Despite the mess I make, God is there to love me, but even more so than that his love becomes me.  If we allow Him to, God will grace our life in such a way where His love shines through us.  This is a type of honest worship song to me.  It doesn't shy away from admitting failure, but quickly points to Christ as the answer.  I've loved this song for years.

    10.   Goodbye - Plankeye
    Finally a change of pace!  This is Plankeye after Scott Siletta, but it is good nonetheless.  I remember watching this video (which featured Eric Balmer and Luis Garcia in a hospital elevator - possibly as angels - as people come in and out dealing with death) as a teenager and thinking it was pretty neat.  I actually bought the album because of this song and video.  I liked the album, but it didn't take long for it to end up deep in my collection to be forgotten.  My grandfather who I was very close with died in 2008. My grandmother, his wife, died three years later.  For some reason I grabbed Relocation out the pile a few days after my grandmother's passing.  I wasn't thinking about this song, but something had sparked my interest in Plankeye again.  When this song started playing, the lyrics hit my like a ton of bricks.  The second verse and chorus especially did as they say, "Now all that's left are pictures on the walls.  Memories and stories that are told; the more often told the bigger they get.  Create a legacy lest we forget. - Goodbye, goodbye.  Walk away it's time to say goodbye, goodbye.  Walk away it's hard to say goodbye."  This is a difficult song to listen to with the newer added meaning over the past few years, but the lyrics in the bridge bring the hope I need when I'm missing my loved ones, "Halfway there but He always fills my cup and He lifts me up; oh how He lifts me up."

    -- Michael Weaver

    Friday, October 05, 2012

    Ten of John DiBiase's Top Favorite Songs of All Time

    About a year or so--maybe even longer now--the JFH staff talked about compiling our top, favorite songs in Christian music of all-time. They'd be songs each staff member had chosen on a personal level, and we'd comment on why we chose those songs. Recently, and I forget exactly what brought this to mind, but I began thinking about which songs still resonate with me over others and which songs just really hit home...which songs never stop connecting with me on some level. I've decided to reflect on some of those here, in a more unofficial way than we'd originally envisioned it. Again, these are songs that are personal TO ME in some form. I'm not saying they're the best songs ever written or that you'll ever hear, but something about these songs just still mean a lot to me. If you want to listen to these songs (except for one that Spotify wouldn't list), check them out in a Spotify playlist here!

    1. "Tremble" by Audio Adrenaline... I'm a big critic when it comes to worship music. I'm not proud of this, and I do want everyone to understand that. It's difficult for me to connect with a lot of the bigger worship songs that have been crafted for youth rallies and mega churches. I tend to connect with God on a more intimate level with the more intimate, personal songs. Audio Adrenaline's "Tremble" may be my all-time favorite song. It's so much so that I tend not to listen to it much for fear of wearing it out and it maybe losing some of the weight it carries for me. With Mark Stuart's soft vocals and the almost-trembling in his voice, there's this sense of reverence... musically, it also captures this and it's one of the few songs that just really drags me to my knees if my heart's in the right place when I hear it. It's not a song you can just have on as background music and expect to really "get." It's one of those best heard via headphones/earbuds in a dark room or walking down an empty street at night. It's you and God. And I love that about it. (read the lyrics)

    2. "I Love The Rain" by Rock N Roll Worship Circus/The Listening... This is another song that is way up high on the list. It's got a personal worship feel from the opening words "Have you ever loved someone so much..." and a guitar solo that sends chills up and down my spine almost every time I hear it. And did I mention it's amazing live? The imagery of rain being tears falling from our Father's face out of His love for us is really powerful to me. I just plain LOVE this song. (read the lyrics)

    3. "A Million Parachutes" by Sixpence None The Richer... This, among others you'll see listed here, plays to the sentimentality in me that I've found inescapable throughout the years. It's a melancholy song about solitude and missing friends on a lonely snowy evening. Leigh Nash's soft vocals evoke all the right emotions while the piano melody hits all the right notes; it's truly beautiful. (read the lyrics)

    4. "Privately" by Between Thieves... This my friends, about sums up an introverted heart. If you're an introvert and know what it means to feel alone in a crowd, this song describes exactly what that feels like. If you're lost and brokenhearted, "Privately" seems to just say all the things you're feeling but don't necessarily know how to say. And to those who don't quite understand us crazy introverts, this is a good song to listen to to try to understand us. Just check out the first verse alone, "Privately, behind dull eyes a soul cries out in pain / Quietly, behind the smile, the tears will fall like rain / Alone is not a number, but a state of mind / Surrounded by my friends, sometimes I'm hard to find." (read the lyrics)

    (Totally random, but as I made up a playlist of these songs in Spotify, my top 4 clocked in at 27 minutes. Coincidentally, my birthday is 4/27. I guess my top 4 really ARE my top 4...)

    5. "Too Far" by Bernard... If you're noticing a trend here, you're right. This piano anthem is a powerful one to me. It serves as an anthem for those times in life when we just don't know what in the world God's doing and we kind of wish He'd spell it out for us. "Please turn back time / Please, God..." says it all for those moments I wish I could redo or relive. Ultimately, Jesus redeems those times, but sometimes a song helps provide a voice to help us cope with the feelings. (Get with it, Spotify, and add these guys!)

    6. "Work" by Jars of Clay... When my wife and I got married in 2003, I was leaving my family and living with someone else for the first time in my life. That isn't a bad thing, but her profession as a nurse found her working on nighshift at a local hospital. To make that worse, she did this for almost the entire first three years of our marriage. This gave me several nights out of the week of living completely alone that I never ever had before. "Work" by Jars has a chorus that asks, "Do you know what I mean when I say 'I don't want to be alone?'" It's a song that was born out of loneliness for the band and it's one that I was definitely feeling when they released it in 2006. It's still one of my favorite songs by them, or anyone, and it's just yet another song that gives a voice to those frustrating and stifling feelings of loneliness. And like Between Thieves' "Privately" says, sometimes we can feel alone in a crowded room, and this song speaks volumes. (read the lyrics)

    7. "Glory" by Audio Adrenaline... This echoes my thoughts as stated above with "Tremble." But "Glory" IS more of a corporate worship song, the only difference is it rocks and it has not been adopted widely by churches. I think that's unfortunate, actually, because--to me--it represents what Heaven will be like when we're all together singing Glory to the King. I just love this song. "And I can’t find the words to say / Life gets in the way / Lord You know my heart’s desire / To sing glory." It's honest, it's real. It's longing to sing Glory! (read the lyrics)

    8. "The Forces Of Radio Have Dropped A Viper Into The Rhythm Section" by Project 86... And now for something completely different. I tend to look back on parts of my life a lot -- especially in those quite moments. Part of me remembers crummy times with rose-colored glasses and wishes to relive some of those times. That would not be cool. Aside from the fact that this song has one of the craziest drumming I've heard, and I just love it for that, I had the pleasure of asking frontman Andrew Schwab about the meaning of the interesting lyrics once. He explained that he likened the unreliable technology of the VHS tape to things we look back on with fonder memories than they really were. Heck, the song even says "Don't you feel like a trip back to '96." I was a sophomore in high school then and had some profoundly affecting friendships at the time...not to mention I started Jesus freak Hideout that summer...and this song just gave me this angry voice for how I feel about erroneously looking back on those times fondly (although starting JFH IS a good thing, other things around that time weren't all that great). And it's just a killer song! (read the lyrics)

    9. "Lost The Plot" by Newsboys... Say what you will about pop or pop/rock bands for the youth group crowds, but these bands knew how to write GOOD songs, man. "Lost The Plot," from Newsboys' 1996 album "Take Me To Your Leader" is a gem. It's this slowly building, moody rocker about Jesus' return and the complacency that dogs many Christians. "When you come back again, would you bring me something from the fridge? Heard a rumor you that the end is near. But I just got comfortable here." (It's back when Newsboys wrote their own songs, too. Peter Furler and the genius of Steve Taylor were a crazy good match) It's an edgy song and an embarassing reminder of how comfortable we can get here and how lazy we can be. "Are you still listenin', 'Cause we're obviously not. We've forgotten our first love. We have lost the plot." For some of us -- even if it's just for a short time -- it's true, and it hurts. But it's great reminder to be careful not to get too comfortable here. (read the lyrics)

    10. "Worlds Apart" by Jars of Clay... This song has been a powerful one to me since I first heard it around the age of fifteen in 1995 (Please don't do the math. Thank you). As a pretty young Christian at the time, it was a wonderful voice for those times I felt like I fell short. And while I may feel like I fall even shorter now than I did then, it was somewhat comforting to hear a voice speak words I was feeling to remind me I wasn't alone. And, on top of that, there was vocalist Dan Haseltine's ad-lib at the end that summed it all up for me too... I get a bit emotional just reading them even now. (read the full song lyrics)

    "I look beyond the empty cross
    Forgetting what my life has cost
    And wipe away the crimson stains
    And dull the nails that still remain
    More and more I need you now
    I owe you more each passing hour
    The battle between grace and pride
    I gave up not so long ago
    So steal my heart and take the pain
    And wash the feet and cleanse my pride
    Take the selfish, take the weak
    And all the things I cannot hide
    Take the beauty, take my tears
    The sin-soaked heart and make it yours
    Take my world all apart
    Take it now, take it now
    And serve the ones that I despise
    Speak the words i can't deny
    Watch the world i used to love
    Fall to dust and thrown away
    I look beyond the empty cross
    Forgetting what my life has cost
    So wipe away the crimson stains
    And dull the nails that still remain
    So steal my heart and take the pain
    Take the selfish, take the weak
    And all the things i cannot hide
    Take the beauty, take my tears
    Take my world apart, take my world apart
    I pray, I pray, I pray
    Take my world apart
    "

    Obviously I have more than 10 top songs, and I can't say for sure if this is my actual, concrete top 10, so what I'll do is stop here for now and post another ten sometime soon. Take the order here with a grain of salt, but the impact of those with so much more. Thanks for reading!

    ~ John

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Big Daddy Weave 'Redeemed' Devotional

    Hey friends, please check out the following exclusive guest devotional from Big Daddy Weave about their hit song, "Redeemed!" -- John (JFH)

    Luke 10:27 - He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” New International Version (NIV)

    In this verse, Jesus condenses all of the commandments.  Love the Lord your God with everything you are.  I've always tried my best, and I always just assumed that loving my neighbor as myself meant that I was supposed to treat others well.  I always breezed over and never really paid much attention to the loving myself part.  In fact, I can't remember hearing anything about that from the pulpit growing up in church either.  I heard plenty about how much God loved me but never anything about how I was supposed to see myself.  I've struggled for so many years of my life with personal acceptance and self worth.  At a really low point in that battle about two years ago, the Lord began to set some things straight.  As I cried out to Him, He interrupted my pity party by impressing on my heart, "Why don't you let me tell you what I think about you for a change?"  He began to flood my heart and mind with things that He, the King of the universe, likes about me!  The Lord redefined humility for me that day.  I'd always thought being humble was this self-depreciating thing.  I now know that humility is simply agreeing with what ever God says about anything.  And for those of us who are His children, He says we are redeemed by His blood alone.  So who are we to argue with the God of everything?  If I'm going to love God with all my heart and love other people the way He wants me too, I have to also love and accept myself the way that He does. ~ Mike Weaver, Big Daddy Weave

     

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Christian Music Dream Teams!



    Left to right: Kevin Max, Dave Ghazarian, Jared Byers, Will McGinniss, Jason Walker

     

    Well, the cat's out of the bag! We had been keeping the lid on the recent leaked Audio Adrenaline news at the request of the band, but apparently not everyone around the web got that memo. So with the news out that dc Talk's Kevin Max is taking over lead vocal duties for Audio Adrenaline (who disbanded in 2007 and are reuniting this year... sort of), something interesting comes to mind...

    See, only one member of Audio Adrenaline is returning: bass player Will McGinniss. Joining Will is Kevin Max (dc Talk), Jared Byers (Bleach), Dave Ghazarian (Superchick, Church of Rhythm) and Jason Walker (Know Hope Collective).

    So with the 'new' AudioA being an amalgam of previous popular bands in the Christian music circle, an interesting question can be posed:

    Who is YOUR Christian Music Dream Team??  Dream away in the comment field below, friends!

    --John DiBiase

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    Words and Worlds Tour in Central Florida May 30

    Hey, central Floridians, listen up!  You may have noticed the banner running across the top of the JFH site talking about the show we are sponsoring.  The Words and Worlds Tour, featuring Sent By Ravens and Nine Lashes (two of Tooth and Nail’s hottest bands right now), are coming to the Sumter County Fair Grounds.  Where are the Sumter County Fair Grounds you may ask?  They are actually pretty conveniently located about 45 minutes to an hour outside of both Orlando and Tampa (depending where you live in the area) and only about 15 minutes away from the Florida Turnpike and I-75.  If you live in Ocala, Gainesville, Clermont, Lakeland or Zephyrhills, we are even closer!  The show will be held indoors in their brand new 1,000 person auditorium.  The bands promise that this will be a production and light show that you will not want to miss.  This is going to be an amazing show featuring two of today’s biggest up-and-comers, along with three other acts that are worth your attention; The Protest, Pure Star Movement, and Cory Lamb Failed Escape all have their own following and each promise to put on a great show as well.

    You can’t beat five bands for the low price of just $10 for an advance ticket (general admission only).  The price will be $15 at the door, but you can expect to pay $20 or more for a concert like this in a lot of venues.  The best part of the price is that parking is included!  That’s right, free parking.  Help support Jesus freak Hideout and our local churches by coming to see this tour on its only central Florida stop; you’re not going to want to miss out on your chance to see these bands rock the house.

    May 30th, 2012
    Doors – 5:30 pm
    Show – 6:15 pm

    Check us out: www.facebook.com/sbaevents

    Buy your tickets now: http://www.itickets.com/events/284694.html

    For more information you can contact (by phone or text) at 352-303-6330.  If you are interested in a group I’m sure we can work things out.  I look forward to seeing you all there.

    --Michael Weaver

    Thursday, April 19, 2012

    LIVE from the 43rd GMA Dove Awards Press Room!

     

    Tonight, Jesusfreakhideout.com's Ryan Barbee is blogging LIVE from the 43rd Annual GMA Dove Awards!! Tune in and post comments this evening! Blogging will start soon!

     

    10:06 - Well folks... we lost the feed... and the show is now over. It was a much faster paced show this year which i think everyone appreciates but I can't say I'm really blown away by the results. It seems that a ton of excellent talent gets overlooked but "that's life." Some of the greats will never receive their just reward but until then - we fight on! 

    Until next year.  

    10:03 - The feed is still down folks... sorry for the lack of updates.

    10:00 - Montell Jordan just said, "I didn't transition from Secular to Christian... I left the music industry and went into ministry." Cool. 

    9:58 - Mandisa just gave great wisdom about how to stay faithful and livea life of integrity... "Choose good friends." Not just an idea folks.

    9:56 - The feed is down still... no bueno GMA... no bueno.... still love you but no bueno.

    9:54 - Mandisa says that she bets we'll be seeing Colton Dixon here at the Doves next year. She's also hoping to do a collaboration with Lecrae and Tedashi and Mary Mary. Make it happen folks. That would be amazing.

    9:51 - Mandisa is back stage now, she killed it up on stage. (The room is filled with "go girl.") 

    9:48 - The feed has gone down... hopefully it'll be back up soon... 

    9:45 - Michael Tait, Group 1 Crew, and Todd Smith are in the press room. Tait commands the stage. (in a good way... he truly is a living legend!)

    9:40 - Reuben Studdard is on the stage and he sounds amazing. It's not fair that people can sing that well. All of the AI alumni, have blown away the crowd.  

    9:36 - Now the American Idol performers... my guesses were right. (I'm not normally right in everyday things.)

    9:31 - Montell Jordan and the wrestler that could break my bones by just looking at me are announcing the winner of Rap/Hip Hop song of the year.
    The award goes to Lecrae! Woot woot! Congrats man! 

    9:25 - Natalie Grant is on stage now... and she is obviously bringing down the house. It's how she rolls.  And that's why she can win the Female Vocalist of the Year award!

    9:24 - Whoever is performing on stage is getting some intense looks from the crowd. People look scared.  Just found out that it's Todd Smith. 

    9:22 - Wes Morgan is back in the press room sharing how honored he was to participate in the tribute to Russ Taff. Really humbling. 

    9:18 - The Newsboys are performing now. It is always an amazing show with them. Michael Tait could sing the ABC's and it would deserve a Dove. Just sayin'.

    9:11 - Male vocalist of the year Jason Crabb. I was hoping for Chris August. Dagnabit. At least Jason has a cool jacket. Patches on the elbows... very cool.

    9:07 - Mary Mary has taken the stage and the bass is shaking the walls. That's what I'm talking about. (Or if you're a Lord of the Rings fan... Tolkein about... I know... It's lame.)

    9:01 - Russ Taff is back here now. And it looks like he brought a posse.

    9:00 - Laura Story just announced that she found out that she is having a girl. The due date is September 12th. 

    8:57 - Story has received 4 Doves already... craziness. 

    8:55 - Laura Story has just come back into the press room and man the journalists flock to the stage like moths to a flame.   

    8:52 - David Mann takes an opportunity to thank the Dove's Music Director and the All Nations Choir (which he said was "All Black.") Chonda and David are some of the edgiest people to host the Doves! So hilarious! Chonda has no filter! Hahaha! She just said about Southern Gospel Music "That's where the old ladies play piano and then... they die." MY GOODNESS! Amazing!

    8:51 - Chonda has changed wardrobe, "We rednecks clean up... especially when someone else is buying the clothes." 

    8:48 - Southern Gospel Album of the Year goes to... Karen Peck... Like i said before, Southern Gospel isn't my jam but i can appreciate it. It's their first Dove award in 20 years - that's crazy.

    8:47 - They just called for some presenters and... welp... it looks like they're not coming. That's no good. 

    8:47 - They're transitioningh some stage stuff... TV makes it go a lot faster than it actually is.

    8:45 - Kari Jobe is wrapping up her performance. This ball is rolling tonight - which is great. Especially since last year, it went till 12.  

    8:39 - They are now announcing Song of the Year... my fingers are crossed for "Blessings." And it goes to... Blessings! Woot woot! 

    8:36 - It feed from backstage is going in and out... so I'm not sure what's up next. On another note, Jayme Grace is backstage and apologizing for skipping one of her college classes this morning. She said she forgot to give her professors a shout out.

    8:35 - KIA Motors Marketer is joining them on stage... they sponsored the event so this is their time for a short infomercial i guess.

    8:33 - Chonda is going to get herself and David Mann in trouble, but she said, "I don't care. I ain't got no record deal." Classic!! 

    8:32 - Some American Idol alumni are going to be performing soon. Everyone in the press room is guess who it's gonna be. My guesses: Reuben Studdard, Mandisa, Phil Stacey, and Danny Gokey. 

    8:30 - Tedashi is joining him now - so bad to the bone!

    8:29 - I hope they include subtitles for the broadcast because it would look amazing. Lecrae's blowing it up on the stage.

    8:28 - Lecrae is taking the stage! Always a pleasure.

    8:26 - Michael Tait and Jaci Valesquez just announced that Jamie Grace just won New Artist of the Year.... I was hoping for The City Harmonic, but it's all good. Congrats Jamie!

    8:21 - David Mann can't stop talking about his wife. (Woot woot!) He's celebrating 24 years of marriage and he says the key to marriage is, "keep loving each other... and she beats me." Haha. 

    8:18 - Russ is now saying his speech. What a passionate guy. You would think you would have just walked into a pentacostal church. Everyone's stomping their feet. "I'm proud to sing about the one who makes all things new." <- Awesome quote!

    8:17 - And now Russ Taff is singing with them... man - the guy's still got it. Okay... he's rockin' it. Now it's amazing. Such a great moment.

    8:15 - Now all three and a choir are singing together. I think the opening trio was better but Donnie is killin' it! The camera is going back and forth from the stage to Russ Taff. He looks pleased with the performance.

    8:14 - Wes Morgan is singing now... he looks like a football player.

    8:12 - Donnie McClurkin is up next - power voice!

    8:10 - They are now honoring Russ Taff and his legendary career in Christian music by performing a few of his songs. Jason Crabb is singing first... i hope there's a paramedic in the crowd. His face is redder than Bob the Tomato.

    8:07- Contemporary Gospel album of the year award goes to... Kirk Franklin's "Hello Fear." (I think he knew that was coming.) Why? because he wears cool clothes.

    8:05 - David Mann, just mentioned how his wife Tamela plays his daughter on Meet the Browns. Chonda asked if he was born in Kentucky. 
    "Girl... you look like an apple. I just wanna bite you." (David talking to Tamela as she walked on stage.)

    8:04 - Excellent performance by The Isaacs, make sure not to miss it! Wow. 

    8:00 - The Isaacs are taking the stage now, more of a bluegrass performance. Wow - they sound excellent. Rock that mandolin!

    7:59 - You'll notice a lot of "..." tonight. If you were here you would be doing them too. 

    7:57 - Natalie just thanked her husband and said that she married up. Good to hear of good marriages! (on a side note... it smells like a buffet restaurant in here... now i'm hungry.)

    7:56 - Female Vocalist of the year... I'm guessing Laura Story (and she would deserve it)... and it goes to... Natalie Grant. Dang - whaddayoudo? But still, congrats to Natalie!

    7:55 - Chonda just said that 27 pairs of spanks were involved in the opening act. HAHAHAHAHA! Everybody is blushing. 

    7:53 - Chonda just said that this is the only award show where it encompases every genre. (I'm not sure that's true... but whatevs.) 

    7:52 - And now for Chonda and David Mann!! I'm preparing for a gut-busting night.

    7:49 - A choir! Expect great things for the opener. And then there was Southern Gospel... not a big fan - but it still sounds good.

    7:46 - Yolanda Adams and two other singers are opening up the show... dang... i mean dang... where's my tissue? Well done ladies.

    7:44 - NOW WE BEGIN!!! THE SHOW!!!!! SCREAM!!!! AHHHHH!

    7:41 - The chairman is getting teary eyed as he thanks his wife... good man.

    7:39 - The GMA Chairman is welcoming everyone. He's really excited obviously... I can see his veins in his forehead. Preach Preacha!

    7:38 - Here we go... IT BEGINS NIGH!!!!!

    7:36 - They're doing the applause runs right now. It's kind of cheating but kind of cool at the same time. I won't judge... but only because I applauded too. 

    7:33 - I'm drowning in a sea of people. But thankfully I've just heard that The City Harmonic might stop by and see us tonight. That would be wonderful!  

    7:23 - Just got the run-down on how it's going tonight. My fingers are ready to type a tempest of words. Brace for impact.

    7:20 - Okay... it's official... It's ridiculously packed in here. (pronounced "cheer") I'm ready to get this show on the road... 4 hours sitting in a chair watching Billy and Bobby Reporter take pictures in front of the GMA Dove Awards/KIA poster. (Granted... I did take a few pictures in front of it too... however my pictures are neither serious nor flattering.)

    6:42 - The press room is getting packed. And yes... I am one of the few that has my computer plugged up. It's a beautiful thing to have a full battery.  

    6:03 - People are starting to file back into the press room little by little. The tension is starting rise. 

    5:08 - Everyone is breaking for lunch. In about an hour and a half the festivities will really kick off. Woohoo!

    4:33 - Plumb is in the press room right now - someone asked what brand of clothing she was wearing... her response, "TJ MAXX." Classy. 

    4:25 - Lecrae's shirt says "Pure Hip Hop Nutrition Facts" - that's awesome. He also just stated that Hip-Hop is really starting to make in an impact in Christendom.
    "Awards are just things we get to lay at the feet of the Father."  

    4:22 - Lecrae is in the press room right now. Always a humble dude and rockin' his Rap/Hip-Hop Album of the year award. He is in the studio now recording a new album and possibly some free tunes coming out soon.

    4:15 - It's so loud in the press room... Best songwriter of the year is... Laura Story! I have a feeling we'll be hearing that name all night. Haha!

    4:10 - Chonda is practicing on the stage... she is the epitome of comedy! Can't wait to hear her host tonight with David Mann (who is the man - coincidently.)

    3:57 - Someone just scolded the press people... I feel like I'm in the 8th grade again. I just dared him to give me a detention... not really but I'm considering suggesting it.

    3:49 - The press room is overloaded with people who want to take their picture in front of the Dove Award poster... I might take one later... I'll make sure to strike an amazing pose. 

    3:47 - David Crowder's "Oh For Joy" won the award for Best Christmas album. Congrats Crowder!!! Twas a good Christmas album indeed.

     3:45 - Just got a great setup for the press room. It looks like two chairs against a wall being used for a desk... because it is two chairs against a wall being used for a desk. I call it a fashion statement "Vagabond Office."

    3:35 - Laura Story just said, "I'm hoping to just be a good mom." The singer-songwriter is pregnant, on tour, a Grammy and Dove award winner, and has an extremely supportive husband. I think that's pretty much a busy family.

    3:30 - Just spoke with Laura Story. She said that she should win the award for worst "Acceptance speech"... haha whatever! Her song "Blessings" is great. She deserves a ton of awards for that song! Plus her and her husband are super humble. Congrats to Laura on winning the pre-show award for best Pop Contemporary Album and Recorded song of the year.

    3:21 - There is a car on the stage... I know Kia is sponsoring the event but dude - isn't that a little extreme?

    3:15 - Alright folks... we are now live from the Dove Press Room... it's pure chaos.

    Tuesday, April 03, 2012

    Music To Fall Asleep To

    Today, via JFH's Twitter account, I had the sudden urge to quiz those monitoring their Twitter feeds about what music they enjoy falling asleep to. When I was younger, I used to always lie in bed with my CD player (Yep.. this was pre-iPod days!), and fall asleep to whatever new music I was into at the time. Of course, I didn't always fall asleep to what I would listen to, but over the years, some tried-and-true records have been great go-to's as a send off to dreamland.

    Since I don't really fall asleep to music as much as I used to, and since the wonderful world of mp3 players opens up a whole new wonderful world called "playlists," my go-to full-length albums are mostly old school. One of the oldest is also a deliciously melancholy release in Sixpence None The Richer's self-titled album. It's still a favorite. Another gem is Plumb's lullaby album, Blink. It's a great mellow pop record that you don't have to be a youngin' to enjoy. It's soothing and a nice means to drift away. Jars of Clay's self-titled used to be a favorite as well. And Eisley's Combinations -- which is also sort of more recent -- was a great one too. Jon Foreman's acoustic work also comes to mind.

    How about you guys? What music do you love that's perfectly soothing enough to you to fall asleep to?

     

    -- John

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Tell Us YOUR Top 2012 Anticipated Releases!

    Hey friends! In the past, I know we've asked for you to share your own favorites and "picks" lists, so to accompany our recent "Highlighting First-Half 2012" feature, we'd love to hear what albums in the Christian market -- releasing from January 2012 (yeah, it's fine if it has already come out) until this Summer -- you're anticipating the most.

    For an example of what we did, check out our list and then tell us YOUR most anticipated projects!

    -- John/JFH

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Top Indie Releases of 2011

    Hi.  Last year, we started our first installment of the top independent albums of the year.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we're doing it again!  This year, Samantha, Michael and myself went through and highlighted some of our favorite independent albums released in 2011.  This includes artists who currently have no record label as well as artists who are signed to what is considered an independent record label (Come&Live!, Humble Beast, etc.).  Take a look at our lists, check out what you haven't heard (maybe you'll find a new favorite!), and feel free to leave us comments about YOUR favorite independent albums from 2011. --- Scott Fryberger

    Scott Fryberger's Picks
    Aaron Newberry - Homewrecker
    At one point, Newberry was the lone member of SONS (Sons of God at the time), so it's no surprise that he can hold his own as a solo artist.  Homewrecker sounded indie, but it was a solid effort.
     
    Alert - Red Opus .45
    The first full band to sign to Humble Beast, Alert really impressed me with their EP.  Terrific musicianship with hard-hitting and quick-witted lyricism.
     
    Andrew Huang - Schism
    A master of multi-genre music experimentation, Huang's blend of electronic music and hip hop is some of the best you can find.
     
    Braille - Native Lungs
    Braille and friends produced a banger with this one.  The raps are some of his best to date, and the beats are out of this world.
     
    Heath McNease & For Beats' Sake - Straight Outta Console: The Nintendo Thumb Mixtape
    For Beats' Sake shows off his creativity with Nintendo music-turned-beats, while Heath does some of his finest rapping thus far.
     
    Playdough - Hotdoggin'
    "Come on man, you heard the flow, you know who I am."  Raps so good you can't say anything but "gosh DANG!"  Playdough's labor of love blew hip hop fans away last April.
     
    Playdough & Heath McNease - Wed, White & Wu
    These two dudes teamed up for an extraordinary mixtape that kept it raw, and featured some amazing guest vocals all throughout the whole dang thing.  Get ready to take your shirt off, fellas.
     
    Propaganda & Odd Thomas - Art Ambidextrous
    Propaganda is a very skillful spoken word artist who also happens to be a great rapper, too.  Teaming up with Odd Thomas for Art Ambidextrous made for a terrific pairing of beats and vocals, with a lot of meat in the message.
     
    sosaveme - The Garden
    These guys were a bit of surprise to me in 2011, but when I was introduced to their first single "Gentle Slope," I knew I was in for a treat when I heard the rest of the album.  Solid indie rock with a bit of intensity and a load of imagery.
     
    Southlen - Loving Life, Living Love
    While not as recognizable as the other albums on my list, it's right up there with some of them as far as quality.  I heard of these guys when they signed up for our indie service, and I was very impressed by what I heard.  With so much mediocre pop rock in the indie scene, Southlen is a breath of fresh air.  I look forward to more from these SoCal guys.
     
     
    Samantha Schaumberg's Picks
    Benjamin Dunn and Friends – The Hymn EP
    Quite a few bands released collections of hymns this year, but this EP was my most played set, with six cohesive, folky hymns strung together by an instrumental opener and closer.
     
    Half Price Hero – The Outcome
    This beautifully honest acoustic album from solo act Half Price Hero features quite a few excellent quest vocalists, including an appearance by Dan Smith of Listener on the opening track.
     
    Playdough & Heath McNease – Wed, White & Wu
    Not many duos could pull of a 17-track mixtape composed of Wu-Tang Clan beats. Also make sure to check out Playdough’s Hotdoggin’ and Heath McNease’s Straight Outta Console: The Nintendo Thumb Mixtape. These guys both deserve recognition for being so prolific this year.
     
    Propaganda / Odd Thomas – Art Ambidextrous
    Art Ambidextrous is more of spoken poetry over beats than a rap release. I had the opportunity to see Propaganda and Odd Thomas perform parts of this album together this year, and they were phenomenal.
     
    Rigoletto – Prodigal Again
    After the introduction, this EP only has four songs, but each of them is a separate masterpiece and all are definitely worth taking a listen.
     
    sosaveme – The Garden
    A great indie rock album that is, lyrically, very forward with bold imagery, one of my favorite releases of 2011.
     
     
    Michael Weaver's Picks
    Scott Silletta - The Life and Times of...
    As a fan of Plankeye I was excited that Scott Silletta was back at it.  This was a great album that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Though it didn't make my Top 10 of 2011 list, it was an honorable mention at the 11 spot.
     
    Cool Hand Luke - Of Man
    This was an album that saw the end of a band I have enjoyed for many years.  It was a beautifully crafted album with deep spiritual content.  Though Cool Hand Luke will be missed, this was definitely a proper send off.
     
    B. Reith - How The Story Ends
    What more can you say about B. Reith other than he is amazing.  This was a great release that was tons of fun to listen to.  Can't wait to hear what he does next.
     
    Our Hearts Hero - Love Is Breathing
    This album caught me completely by suprise.  What started off as an album I wanted just to hopefully add a couple of new songs to my Christmas collection, became my favorite of the season.  While far from perfect, this is a fun Christmas album with a stellar title track in "Love is Breathing".
     
    Falling Up - Your Sparkling Death Cometh
    While not my favorite Falling Up album, I would be hard pressed not to mention it with 2011's indie releases.  This is another solid release from a band who has quietly been around for 10 years.

     

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    The Death of Rock

    The Death of Rock… 

    As I sit here and listen to another highly disappointing “rock” release from a newly signed band, I wonder, “When did rock music die?”  When did music become strictly about the business of selling records?  Seriously?  This trend is, and has been, occurring in both the Christian and secular music arenas for a while now.  When I review an album that is mediocre at best, I almost feel that I need to rate it higher just make others happy.  I try my best to stick to my guns and write what I truly think about the release, but it’s difficult sometimes.  I completely understand that I am not the ultimate authority on music and I strictly represent one man’s opinion, but I am appalled by what some folks consider to be a great release.

    iTunes and similar sites are a perfect example of why I feel I need to rate albums higher than they should be; pretty much every album has a 4 to 5 star rating, no matter how poor the production, vocals, or musicianship may be, they all have nearly perfect ratings and every band is someone’s favorite.  As you read reviews that you may agree or disagree with, keep in mind all of these factors.

    I personally upset many people by my subpar rating of Jeremy Camp’s latest worship album, We Cry Out, and the average rating I gave to Christian rap heavyweight Tedashii’s newest release, Blacklight.  Neither of these albums really fit into the rock arena, but I’m using them to make my point.  Though I have gotten emails and Facebook posts stating how far off base I am, it is refreshing to get an email or two thanking me for not backing down from my opinion.  However, I digress.

    This is another issue within the Christian market.  It is not wrong to say that a band’s music is not good regardless of their message.  This website is dedicated to Christian entertainment and music.  While lyrical content is obviously important in Christian, as well as secular, music, it isn’t necessarily the end all be all.  An artist can bring a very good and powerful message in a very poorly written and played song.  Perhaps they are just better poets.  In addition, just because the lyrics are highly spiritual and praise God, does not mean that they are well written; case in point with the album I am reviewing now.  Song writing is a particular craft and art.  Some have it and some do not.

    I have no problem whatsoever with a band whose sound is influenced by another, but I take serious issue with a band that sounds like a carbon copy of someone else.  In the world of literature, that is known as plagiarism.  As I recently stated on a Facebook post about an album, it drives me crazy when I hear a song by one artist and can sing the lyrics from a different artist’s song over the music; unless it’s a “Weird Al” song, or on an extremely rare occasion, an Apologetix song, it is not a good quality to find  in music.  Yet it seems like every day the radio, both Christian and secular, keeps pumping out so-called music that sounds exactly the same song after song.  The labels are after the next band that sounds exactly like the previous band because the previous band sold some records; originality is a thing of the past.

    The Beatles influenced hundreds, probably thousands, of bands, but there isn't another band out there that sounds exactly like The Beatles.  Music didn’t work that way near as much back then.  Trust me, I don’t believe that every band that comes out will be or should be as groundbreaking or as trend setting as The Beatles.  That would be entirely too much to ask for or expect, but shouldn’t being unique be something that a band strives for?  Just as in our Christian walk, we will never be perfect like Christ, but we should strive for it on a daily basis.  Bands should also strive to be the best versions of themselves, not the band that currently has the number one Billboard spot.  A few more bands to ponder on that I believe are/were more trendsetters and less copycats are ZZ Top, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, Family Force 5, Showbread, and A Hope For the Dying.  What made these guys different?

    The fact that I can probably name 20 different bands that play modern rock music that sounds exactly the same is discouraging, especially when most of them are coming out of the Christian market.  Seventh Day Slumber, Kutless, Red, Skillet, Ashes Remain, Since October, and on and on  (I won’t even go into the secular bands who not only sound the same musically, but all seem to fight to see who can make their next song more sexually explicit than the previous group’s song).  Don’t take it the wrong way; I enjoy some of these “same sounding” bands, but how many drop-D guitar playing, post-grunge, hard rock bands can a person stand before you just want something different?

    Looking back on history, I guess I would say that rock ‘n’ roll took a huge step towards the grave with the birth of nu metal.  While it was fun and different on arrival, the barrage of bands labels signed that sounded like one another was staggering and only a handful of them made it on to second and third albums.  Who would have thought that the explosion of bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Staind would have eventually led to this?  These guys couldn’t even spell! (Ha!)  Maybe I just missed the point of how cool it was to “purposely” misspell your band’s name.

    This brings me to the final reason why I believe rock ‘n’ roll could be dying or already dead.  What is up with band names today?  I spend more time telling my computer that I actually spelled the misspelled word correctly, than I do typing the name in.  Another issue I have is numbers.  Take for instance BEC Records new rock act 7eventh Time Down (I see “Seveneventh Time Down”), or a band that I actually somewhat like, Se7enth Seal.  No matter how cool you think it is, it’s not good to insert numbers in place of letters, especially when the number doesn’t really resemble the letter.  I will let Deliriou5 have it without too much argument because there are no five references in their name, and a 5 actually looks like an S.  It seems like bands spend more time trying to find a “creative” way to spell their name and less time coming up with a more creative sound.  Whatever happened to the days when all bands were “The insert any word here”?  It is quite frankly just flat out discouraging.

    Rock music, if you can hear me, I hope you survive.  I hope that there is a great revival of music that comes in to save you.  I hope there is a band on the horizon that can be the defibrillator that you need so desperately.  The only bright spot in you heading in this downward spiral is that I will start saving a lot of money on buying music.  If you are with me on this matter I recommend checking out The Choir’s Burning Like the Midnight Sun, Regie Hamm’s Set it On Fire, or if you like your music on the heavier side, A Hope For the Dying’s Dissimulation.  These are just a couple of albums that made me smile and spent time in heavy rotation in my CD player this past year. 

    My final thought is to the readers and listeners.  You do not have to be content with the same ole same ole.  It is perfectly ok and well within your rights to want something better than “Check these guys out, they sound just like Kutless!”    If Band B sounds just like Band A who has been around five years longer, why not just listen to Band A?  Chances are Band A is going to offer a much more polished and better overall product.

    -- Michael Weaver, JFH Writer

    Friday, July 29, 2011

    An Intriguing Documentary-

     I happened upon an absolutely fascinating documentary today. It takes a hard look at modern youth ministry and asks some really rough questions. I highly recommend it, and at just under an hour, it isn't even much of a time investment. I hit play this morning thinking I'd just watch a few minutes, but it's immediately engrossing. I can't say I agree with every point (i.e. I'm not so sure the "concert" scene is fair.) But once the doc starts rolling into it's main points.... it's sucker punch.

    It makes a lot of points that I've long suspected to be true. Definitely a breath of fresh air. I'm about to watch it again with my wife! Have a great weekend everyone!

    Saturday, July 09, 2011

    Six Books on Marriage

    Lots of things change once you get married. Some are big, and you see them coming- home arrangements, lifestyle changes, eating habits, etc. And other things are smaller, more innocuous, and take you by surprise. For example, I had no idea that Kelli and I would become such avid video gamers once we got married. It's just something we really enjoy doing together. We like puzzle games (You can do some serious bonding through the difficulties of the Portal and Portal 2 test chambers), and we enjoy hearing "Killamanjaro!" while taking out grunts and elites in Halo: Reach. 


    Another thing that changed was my reading habits. I never hated reading, I just never had the patience to finish a book. It had to be really, really, really good to keep my attention for the required 200-400 pages. But leading up to our wedding, and certainly thereafter, I started reading more books. I still don't read a lot. But I'm normally in the middle of at least two books. It still takes me forever to finish them, but at least I usually finish them now!

     

    I attribute a lot of this to the fact that Kelli and I read quite a few books on marriage leading up to our own marriage. The books we choose to read ended up being just perfect, and all were very helpful. We have a lot of friends getting married before this year is up, so I wanted to encourage them with some very instructional reading.

     

    6. & 5. For Better or for Best and If Only He Knew by Gary Smalley

     

    Gary Smalley has written a ton of books on marriage and relationships, but we found these two to be his best. For Better or for Best is written for wives, and If Only He Knew is written for husbands. Each goes into great detail explaining the inner workings of the opposite sex, and how they react within the confines of marriage to situations that arise. He approaches the subject matter as a counselor, so it can get kinda dry sometimes, but the wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from these books is great.

     

    Kelli and I came up with a fun system to further the experience of reading through these books- I read the book written for women about men first, and wrote notes on all the pages, detailing where I thought Smalley nailed how I, as a man, think and react, and where he missed the mark. I highlighted things he said that especially resonated, and dismissed for Kelli sections I didn't think applied. She did the same thing as she read the book about women written for the men. Once we were done, we swapped, and read the books we were intended to read from the get go, but now with all kinds of notes from our partners as a guide through the process. It ended up being such a good exercise, that we repeated it with a couple more books further down the list.

     

     

    4. Waking the Dead by John Eldredge

     

    This is not, strictly speaking, a book about marriage. So I'll share a story to qualify it. I received this book as a high school graduation present in the summer of 2006 from my Bible study leader. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I've never been much of a reader. So when I started it, I didn't make it past the first chapter. It would be two years before I finally picked it up for another try. I can't even remember why I gave it a second shot - probably Divine intervention! But I informed by former Bible study leader that I had finally set about to finish the book she had gifted to me years before. "You better be careful, Josh!" She told me, "If you take that book to heart, someone's gonna fall head over heels for you!"

     

    I mostly laughed it off and thought it was sweet, even though I didn't really understand why she'd said it.  As a nineteen-year-old who had never even had a girlfriend, I highly doubted a book with the flowery language of an Eldredge text was going to dramatically change my love life. As it turns out, however, my Bible Study leader was exactly right. Not even four months after she had predicted John Edredge's impact on the rest of my life, Kelli and I began the two year journey that led to our marriage.

     

    Well? Well?! What did the book say? What was the secret?! I suggest reading Waking the Dead and finding out for yourself. But if you want a brief overview, the book is all about awakening the desires within ourselves as the living breath of Yahweh. I can't do it justice here, but suffice it to say, I never looked at other people the same way again. I began to actively seek out what brought everyone I knew to life. What it was that made their eyes light up. What that one thing was that they were perhaps afraid to really let anyone in on because they were afraid of being rejected.

     

    Of course, I focused most of my attention on a sweet young woman with whom I was becoming quite smitten. And you know what? Kelli told me later that she couldn't help but fall for someone with whom she could share her dreams and desires, someone with whom she felt absolutely safe with her heart! I was too young and naive to have done this on my own, so I'm thankful to this book and my Bible study leader and the Good Lord for nudging me in the right direction. This book is essential whether you're dating, engaged, married, or as single as single can be.

     

    3. & 2. Letters to Karen and Letters to Philip by Charlie W. Shedd

     

    These books are not dissimilar to the Gary Smalley books listed above- one is written for men, the other for women. What makes these books so special is how timeless they are (both were written in the late 1970s) and the perspective from which they were written- These are letters from a father to his children. Minister Charlie W. Shedd was asked by his daughter before her wedding for letters from her daddy on how to be a good wife. The results were published as Letters to Karen, and then a couple of years later, as Letters to Philip when Minister Shedd's son asked the same of his father before his own wedding. The results are deep, intimate, and beautiful. While Gary Smalley's books are largely clinical and fact-driven in their approach, Charlie W. Shedd approaches these books as only a father can- from his heart. He is obviously a man who has counseled many, many couples, but these are his kids, and he approached the challenge with a personal love you won't find in many books. 

     

    These are the shortest reads on the list, and could both be easily finished in one sitting. Kelli and I enhanced the experience by repeating our Gary Smalley exercise and trading books first to take careful notes. We had a lot of fun with these. I cannot recommend them more highly.

     

    1. Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

     

    This probably isn't a surprise to anyone that keeps up with this blog. But for anyone who has never heard of it- this is the best book I have ever read on the subject of marriage. Hands down. No questions asked. No debate necessary. Thomas' thesis is: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" And he spends the entire book tirelessly defending, expanding, and answering this question.

     

    It isn't light reading, and you won't finish it with a warm, fuzzy feeling in your stomach as with the other books on this list. Gary Thomas looks you in the eye for 300+ pages and says "Marriage is the hardest thing you will ever do in your entire life, and you will spend all of that time trying to get good at it. Are you really, truly sure you want to do this?" But this isn't a book encouraging the rising culture of "singleness" that has appeared in Christianity. He sums up his sentiment on the issue early on in the book: "If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there's no question- stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can't imagine any better thing to do than to get married."

     

    Rarely does Thomas speak about the personal benefits of marriage. Rather, 99% of his attention is spent discussing how best to serve your spouse (and God!) through marriage.

     

    Thomas paints a picture of marriage as the ultimate line in the sand- you will either serve Yahweh and succeed, or serve yourself and be miserable. There is no middle ground. It forces your hand. He details the ultimate irony- that the only way to be truly happy in marriage is to completely die to yourself and your own desires. In doing so, he illustrates what is meant when the Bible says the marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of the one between Yahweh and humanity.

     

    You will finish Sacred Marriage feeling one of two ways- scared to death, or more resolute and excited than ever. If ever there was a litmus test determining a person's readiness regarding marriage, it is this book. I cannot sing its praises more highly. Biblically grounded on every page- you will be thinking about it long after you finish.

     

    ----------------------------------------------------

     

    That's my list. Each of these books helped immeasurably as Kelli and I prepared ourselves for our wedding day. What books have you found that help in regards to relationships and marriage?

    (Taken from my blog Taylorville)

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Behold the side project

    Side projects

    I really like the idea of side projects.  I spent a good portion of one evening going through the list of Adam Young's projects just because I wanted to hear them all (search for "list of Adam Young projects" on Wikipedia for a nice big list; you can find just about all of them between YouTube and Purevolume).  Most of them don't have an actual album release to my knowledge, and most of them aren't meant to be taken seriously, thus aren't really good (the farther you go down the list, the sillier they get; the ones at the top of the list start off pretty good though).

    Heh...as I'm typing this, the Owl City song "Galaxies" came on RadioU.  If you like this song, be prepared for like ten other great songs when All Things Bright and Beautiful comes out on June 14, most of which are better than "Galaxies."

    ANYWHO...I was thinking about how sad it is that most of the time side projects don't end up doing any more than one album.  There are exceptions, of course, such as brave Saint Saturn, FM Static and the aforementioned Owl City.  But I'd like to know: which one-time side projects would you like to see more music from?  Even if their one album was recent, include them!  Be sure to include who is in it and what band they're from, just for any potential new fans' sakes!  Here's my list (that is probably not fully complete):

    Grand Incredible (Mojo & Ethan from The O.C. Supertones)
    The Brothers Martin (Ronnie Martin from Joy Electric and Jason Martin from Starflyer 59)
    Fiction Family (Jon Foreman from Switchfoot and Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek)
    A Rose By Any Other Name (Josh Scogin from The Chariot)
    The Radio Sky (Cory Brandan from Norma Jean - I believe they had an EP and a full album, but I'm not entirely sure; the album is a free download though - myspace.com/theradiosky)
    Sky Sailing (Adam Young from Owl City)

    I'd also like to see actual albums from The Man Suits (featuring Aaron and Mike Weiss from mewithoutYou), The Water and the Well (Toby Morrell and Matt Carter from Emery) and The Thieves' Guild (Josh Dies and Patrick Porter from Showbread and Reese Roper from Five Iron Frenzy).

    I almost included Crash Rickshaw, but then I remembered they did have a second album.  Pish tosh.

    Your turn.  Let's see if there's some I didn't know about!  Go!

    Saturday, May 07, 2011

    Take Heart! Everyone Else is as Stupid as You

    In high school, I was the definition of a puppy dog crush, chasing this girl around as best I could without being too obvious. She always seemed cool, collected, calculated, mysterious... all the things I was not, growing up. I was attracted to that, but also saw it as a barrier separating us; because, after all- how could a girl like that like a guy like me?

     

    I was a holy mess. Socially awkward. Never quite sure of my place. Drifting in and out of close friendships, and never really feeling like I was worth the time it took to get to know me. But no way I was going to let anyone know that.

     

    So instead of bottling it up and being shy and reserved, I did the opposite growing up. I told jokes. I spread myself around. I made sure everyone had a high opinion of me at all times, regardless of how tiring that eventually got.

     

    Of course, the only opinion I really cared about at the time was that of my high school crush. Sometimes she paid attention, sometimes she didn't. Sometimes I'd hear she'd mentioned me in conversations with others, sometimes she would comment on my Xanga and MySpace pages... and sometimes I'd hear nothing from her for weeks at a time. I lived for the moments when she noticed me.

     

    Because I was a wreck. I was figuring out who I was. And she appeared to have most everything already figured out.

     

    Years later, I ended up marrying that same girl, and we have lots of conversations now about what life was like for us back then. I'm sure you know where this is going...

     

    Kelli was probably even more confused, awkward, and socially inept than I was. She never fit in either, she was just good at hiding it like I was. I thought she spent almost every night partying it up with all of the school friends I wasn't cool enough to hang out with all the time; when in reality, she spent most every night of the week quietly watching television or playing video games with her siblings- pretty much the exact same thing I did every night during high school.

     

    I grew up thinking I was the weirdest, dumbest, strangest person I knew. Everyone else around me had their stuff together, and I was just barely hanging on- making moves as I saw others making moves, hoping to be seen and noted, but only because I was cool like everyone else. But at some point you have enough conversations with people to realize that everyone is the exact same way.

     

    One of my favorite episodes of the radio drama Adventures in Odyssey is called "Coming of Age." Little Jimmy Barclay starts going through adolescence; and he is confused, and feeling alone in the world. So Mr. Whittaker gives him one of the best nuggets of truth that the program has ever put forth: "Everyone your age feels the same way you do. No matter how cool or together they may seem on the outside, inside, they're just as scared and confused as you are."

     

    A while ago, I was riffling through some old emails and came across one from a good friend years ago. "I'm a great liar," he confessed, "I'm a pro at the mask," he went on, before speaking more broadly: "It's not that you can't trust anyone, but seriously- everyone's messed up no matter how good their mask looks. They're a train wreck like everyone else."

     

    These are just things I've been thinking about lately. There's no neat bow to wrap around it. It just is what it is. No one has a clue, everyone's just making it up as they go along. So, I guess, I mean it more as a stress reliever than a call to action.

     

    Take heart! Everyone else is as stupid as you are. We're all in it together. Your confusion and insecurity is just more obvious to you because you're the only one who has to live in your own body.

     

    So just rest in that knowledge, let yourself breath. Equipped with that knowledge, maybe find someone not so comfortable in their own skin and let them know they have a friend in you, because you have no idea what you're doing either. Thank Yahweh for it!

     

    One of my best friends since senior year of high school is a guy named Barry. His friendship has always been greatly appreciated, because he's pretty much the only really close guy friend I've had since high school, aside from my brother and my father (And this guy). But the thing is, Barry and I don't have much in common. We get along great, and we have fun, always. He's a great friend, and we've seen each other through a lot of good and hard times. But if I really had to sit back and think about it, I'd be hard pressed to come up with even a short list of similarities that we share. It's always puzzled me how we've stayed such good buds for so long. I related this to Kelli the other day- "Barry and I have very little in common," I said. "I think the only reason we're still friends is that he's stuck with me."

     

    "Well, you've stuck with him, too," she replied. "You two have that in common."

    (Taken from my blog Taylorville)

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    LIVE 2011 Dove Awards Coverage!

    On April 20, 2011, Jesusfreakhideout.com's Ryan Barbee blogged live from the 42nd Annual GMA Dove Awards!! Feel free to comment on what you think about the results...
     

    12:00- Well friends, it looks like we are all done with the Dove festivities. What an incredibly full night of music and excitement. Make sure to check out the Doves this Sunday on Gospel Music Channel. It's been a crazy day, and I think I need to go get some beauty sleep... haha. If sleep were to make me beautiful I'd need to sleep for the next 42 years.

    11:53 - Kirk Franklin is such a showman! He might not be the craziest singer - he is definitely an artist and an excellent performer.

    11:46 - Sherri Shepherd is wrapping up the night and closing it out right with Kirk Franklin. That's a good way to conclude a show!

    11:41 - Song of the Year is up next!  It goes Jason Crabb's "Sometimes I Cry" Congrats Jason!

    11:36 - Ruben Studdard just said while back stage that he'd love to collaborate with Michael W. Smith. That would be incredible!

    11:34 - I think people are starting to leave. This show has gone on pretty long.

    11:30 - Steven Curtis Chapman and Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams are presenting the award for Artist of the Year. I'm hoping it's someone good... not that they're not good... it's just... you know what I'm saying. The winner is - Francesca Battistelli. 

    11:27 - Chris August just told us that he said, "When I was a kid I would say, 'If I ever win an award I'll thank the Fresh Prince.'" Awesome!

    11:23 - Sherri Shepherd is now announcing the next performance by the much beloved Sanctus Real and Tenth Avenue Northl! "Lead Me" It's a good song, but at 11:23 at night I wish it was something a little more upbeat.

    11:22 - Chonda is confessing about how she's recently got a tatoo and her daughter apparently called it a "Tramp Stamp." Wow.  And following that she's going to announce Group of the Year. The winner is: NEEDTOBREATHE! A good winner! And so... Chonda just walked off the stage. My gosh, that woman is crazy!

    11:14 - Chonda just gave out the secret that the Dove Award that is given tonight is a fake. Oh my!

    11:07 - David Crowder* Band is back stage now and has shared with us that they have honestly begun working on their new record. However they made enough material for a Christmas album and 12 bluegrass songs. BOTH would be awesome to hear. Oh and he literally explained his frustrations and joys with Light Bright Pegs - what a crazy man!! And we ALL love him!!

    11:03 - They are now presenting an honorary video of choirs from across the nation!

    11:00 - The singing Pastors are now back stage. Such humility just permeates from them! What an honor!

    10:54 - Chonda is now hilariously announcing the next performance by Francesca Battistelli. Not a bad performance. I'm not sure if it's the best kind of performance for an award show but... nonetheless it was good.

    10:51 - Chonda has returned! She just told the crowd about her time on the Wanda Sykes Show... apparently Wanda said, "You're the first Christian that's been nice to me." Chonda's response, "That's cause they weren't real Christians." Haha! A pinch of truth and a pinch of humor! And then she made a Rob Bell joke... he'd be so proud.

    10:44 - Mandisa and Ruben Studdard are presenting the New Artist of the Year award.  It goes to... Chris August. He wracking it up!

    10:42 - My GOODNESS! Marvin Sapp is such an incredible vocalist! All of the pastors are! Their song is so inspirational! It's all about the unity of the Church! I'm pretty sure, this just became a church service. Freakin' amazing!

    10:38 - The next performance group is up. A collective group of pastors/artists. All of them are pastors and all of them are artists. That's pretty legit!

    10:31 - Kevin Sorbo hinted at playing in a hopeful movie called The Resurrection of Christ... let's hope it happens. And then he had to rush off stage to fight a Hydra... Hercules has work to do!

    10:29 - Kevin Sorbo said that "What If" really impacted him in Christian walk. Very cool!

    10:27 - Kevin Sorbo is in back stage! Totally AWESOME! He didn't play Hercules... He IS Hercules. I just watched his movie called "What If"

    10:26 - They keep doing this thing with having two groups perform each time because now Jason Crabb is performing. Watch... now they'll probably anounce another TIE.

    10:24 - MIKESCHAIR is now performing, "Let the Waters Rise" which is actually up for Song of the Year.

    10:23 - I don't think that the people in the audience understand Chonda Pierce's humor. But everyone in the Press Room does. She just explained why she can't say "Pot Luck" and "Hoedown" in Los Angeles. That's funny... I don't care who you are.

    10:16 - David Crowder is super funny! He said that the time that it took them to record the music video they could have recorded three albums! Haha!

    10:13 - Evett Nicole Brown and Kevin Sorbo are presenting the award for Short Form Music Video of the Year... I'd like to see David Crowder Band* win... and... HE DID IT!!!!! "SMS Shine" Wins!

    10:09 - Wow what a blend of musical styles. But if this were a "Sing Off"... Committed would win again!

    10:06 - Sherrie Shepherd is back to announce the next performers; winners of The Sing Off - Committed with Ernie Haase and Signature Sound.

    10:02 - Third Day, The Chapmans, and Mark Hall just walked into the Press Room. I might leave here floating. :) Mac Powell wants a photo... oh he'll get one! You will get one Mac! (I must say once again, Mac Powell still looks like Jesus.)

    10:00 - Wow - probably one of the coolest performances I've ever seen. Didn't think that Natalie Grant and Lecrae would mix well, but I was totally wrong. It looks weird but it sounds great.

    9:58 - Lecrae is performing now! My goodness, what an awesome performance. And now Natalie Grant is joining him on stage

    9:56 - Marvin dedicated his win to his late wife. A very emotional moment for the Doves.

    9:54 - The Touhy family are presenting the award for Contemporary Gospel Song of the Year. The winner is, "The Best In Me" by Marvin Sapp.

    9:50 - Now they are playing a video of Chris August singing at the Georgia Aquarium... these are some weird videos. But that fish tank sure did look cool!

    9:48 - The Chapman's Show Hope has helped 2700 families adopt children! How amazing! What an emotional moment.

    9:47 - The Chapman family is absolutely wonderful! This is a very active family and my goodness their story is so inspiring!

    9:42 - Tim Tebow might get himself boo'd off the stage if he keeps talking about football. He's announcing the first ever Uplift Award to the incredible Steven Curtis Chapman! He deserves it!

    9:41 - Kirk Franklin is back stage now... He's rockin' the bowtie! He said something very profound, "God is good to me... even when I'm not so good to him." You've gotta love honesty in artists!!

    9:40 - Chonda Pierce is back. This poor lady is probably getting worn out.

    9:33 - Sandi Patty is talking about her "Bucket List" and on it is to do "Hello Dolly" on stage. Not a bad aspiration at all.

    9:30 - Sandi Patty just said back stage, "Audrey Assad needs to cover 'Via Dolorosa' on her next album." Called it!

    9:29 - Curve ball... Mark Hall and Steven Curtis Chapman have joined Third Day on stage!

    9:27 - Sherri Shepherd is back on stage and introducing the next performers... THIRD DAY!!! Singing, "Children of God"

    9:21 - Chonda is making a bunch of Denominational jokes. Don't worry, she's picking on all denominations equally. :)

    9:17 - Kenny Rogers is joining us in the Press Room... this guy is an actor, artist, photographer, business man, producer... this guy is so flippin' talented.

    9:14 - Sandi is actually the announcer for the nominees as well for Female Vocalist of the Year. I'm cheering for Assad! And it is... Francesca Battistelli. I think I should probably stop making guesses because they tend to be wrong.

    9:12 - Oh wait! Here comes Sandi! I might not be the first person to buy a "I'm a Patty Fan" t-shirt. You gotta pay homage to those who paved the way! Get it, Sandi Patty!

    9:05 - The Female Vocalists of the Year are singing a tribute song to Sandi Patty. Hope everyone brought their leg warmers. I haven't heard some of these songs since 1993. It's really great that they are honoring Sandi's music. She really is a major influence of Christian music. Audrey Assad's rendition is the best. I think Sandi Patty would agree.

    9:03 - I wonder if Sherri Shepherd knew that we could all hear her say, "How do I pronounce Francesca's last name?" Fantastically funny!

    8:59 - Chonda is back on the stage asking what churches everyone goes to. If her stand up is anything like she is on stage right now, then every person needs to buy her stuff. She basically is the comedic humor between each group of performers and presenters. She said, "God would much rather have my tithe than my ministry." Apparently she was just asked to do this today.

    8:53 - I doubt they are going to let Chonda Pierce's stuff on TV. It's funny but oh my gosh!!! They just introduced Kenny Rogers singing with Point of Grace.

    8:51 - Sherri Shepherd is back on the stage... and this time - she's dancing with Chonda Pierce! What in the worlds is going on??

    8:48 - Throughout the night they are showing clips of the New Artists of the Year at Atlanta landmarks. Kristian Stanfill was just shown playing a guitar in Atlanta's World of Coke. It's kind of strange.

    8:47 - Haha! Chris August just thanked Will Smith for all of his pick-up lines from Fresh Prince!

    8:44 - Erica Gluck and Kim Fields are presenting the award for Male Vocalist of the Year. Who do you think's gonna win? Well... it's Chris August!!

    8:40 - Mary Mary is pulling out some theatrics as they perform their song, "Never Wave My Flag."

    8:37 - Sherri kept her word. She screamed out "I LOVE JESUS!" She wasn't playing!

    8:33 - They just announced the performers... it sounded like waves of "Woohoo" and "Yay." And here comes Ms. Sherri Shepherd!

    8:31 - Chonda can't stop talking about "spanks." My goodness gracious... that is one crazy woman!

    8:28 - Chonda Pierce just said, "Don't you wish Jesus would come right now, just so you could see who would really be taken." HAHAHA! What a hilarious woman!!!

    8:25 - I'm not sure I could handle just being a part of the audience. They have about as many cues as the performers. An announcer says "applause" and everyone does it.  However I'm not gonna lie, he's very intimidating, I'm clapping too. Every journalist is looking at me as if I'm crazy or something.

    8:22 - Also have to say... Tomlin and his band are rocking it out on the stage.

    8:20 - Chris Tomlin is opening the show with his latest hit song, "Our God." Have to say... worship music is a great way to start the night!

    8:19 - Awkward silence... oh wait... NOW the official show has begun!!

    8:11 - Alright folks the show has begun! Bishop Martin opened up the show with a word of prayer. What an amazing pastor. Many thanks, Bishop!

    7:36 - Mandisa is making sure to stay as genuine as possible in regards to writing her music. Not fake it but taking off the masks.

    7:35 - Mandisa is in the Press Room now and is taking questions... but I don't think anyone knows what to ask.

    7:18 - Joel Houston is back stage right now... he just anounced that Hillsong will be releasing a new live album known as "God is Able" later this year. Didn't realize how tall he is!

    7:09 - Sherri Shepherd just expressed how honored she is to be a part of the Dove Awards. She said that when she gets on stage she's going to yell, "I love Jesus!" because she is able to shout that she loves Jesus without getting the 3 second delay button that comes with television... looking forward to hearing her host. But I know that she wants to get off the Press Stage.

    7:07 - Pandemonium apparently just filled the room because Sherri Shepherd has entered the building. Wow - that's intense.

    7:05 - Gerald Crabb is backstage now. He just said that he didn't even know he was nominated for an award. That's hilarious.

    7:01 - It's been craziness during the Pre-Show but I think it's starting to slow down. Regardless it's been going well so far. 

    6:52 - I'm realizing more and more... I say "Awesome" a lot. I need to work on my adjectives. For all of the linguistic readers... forgive me.

    6:48 - Tamela Mann and her husband David are back stage talking about their life and marriage in entertainment. If you don't know, they are the main actors of Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns. They are such a great example of a marriage that glorifies God in the entertainment business. They're starting to work on a book on marriage and a cooking show! Great couple! Great example!

    6:44 - Jason Crabb literally just said that he couldn't read the Spanish Nominees... How awesome is that! Jason Crabb, you are awesome! For real, he is nuts! The winner for Spanish Language Album of the Year goes to Hillsong's Con Todo. Joel Houston is accepting the reward. That's one cool guy!

    6:43 - Casting Crowns just mentioned that they are wrapping up recording their new album coming out soon.

    6:42 - Ian Eskelin just won for Producer of the Year! He definitely deserves it!

    6:41 - Songwriter of the Year... Jason Crabb just got to announce that his Dad won. The Crabb Family must be proud.

    6:39 - "The Master Plan"  by Tamela Mann wins for Traditional Gospel Recorded Song of the Year... Awesome!

    6:37 - The Gaither Vocal Band's Greatly Blessed wins for Southern Gospel Album of the Year... who wouldn't have called that?!

    6:35 - Best Musical... hmmm... As Sure As My Redeemer Lives... So Shall I wins. Interesting category. I thought that would've died out with Psalty the Singing Song Book.

    6:31 - Now for Long Form Music Video of the Year, I would actually like to see Hillsong win this one. They're pretty creative with their videos. The winner is Casting Crowns' Until the Whole World Hears Live. I'm not surprised. I'm proud someone from Atlanta won, but... well...

    6:28 - Rock Album of the Year... I'm pulling for Future of Forestry, but I'm guessing DecembeRadio will win. It goes to... Disciple's Horseshoes and Handgrenades. Not a bad win for the guys!

    6:26 - Wow they're not wasting anytime. Back into the winners; The Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year goes to Group 1 Crew's Outta Space Love! 2 AWARDS Tonight!

    6:25 - I'm pretty sure Jason Crabb is off his rocker.

    6:19 - Brian Courtney Wilson is killing it in his performance. You've got to appreciate good Gospel music.

    6:17 - Recorded Music Packaging... I'm hoping for Andy Barron's work to be appreciated for how awesome it is on Hello Hurricane's packaging. It goes to... the artwork for Third Day's Move. Not a bad win! 

    6:15 - Country Recorded Song of the Year. Will Point of Grace get a third award? ... YEP! "There is Nothing Greater Than Grace" wins. Wow... you would think this thing is rigged or something.

    6:14 - Inspirational Song of the Year... Jason Crabb's Joseph won! I'm sure he's not "crabby" about that... Yeah I know I'm really lame.

    6:12 - Praise and Worship Album of the Year. Jars of Clay would be a great win. But no... it goes to Meredith Andrew's As Long As It Takes. Jason Ingram is accepting for her... that was a short acceptance speech.

    6:08 - Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year... please Sanctus please Sanctus... it goes to "Beautiful, Beautiful" by Francesca Battistelli... Good song, so I'm not upset.

    6:06 - Ben Glover and Laura Story are now up to present the next batch of winners. Rock/Contemporary Song of the Year is up. I'm hoping for "Tonight".... Nope it goes to "Something Beautiful" by NEEDTOBREATHE... Still a good win!

    6:02 - GMC wins the Impact Award.

    6:01 - The city of Atlanta is presenting an award of recognition to the GMA for bringing the Doves to Atlanta. They should have ended it with, "Can I get a woot woot?" That would've been so awesome. I would've done it.

    5:51 - TobyMac is back stage telling us about how he loves being in Atlanta for the Doves. He's so funny! He just said that "The Fox Theatre" is his favorite place to perform. That's a big deal folks. And no joke dude... he's rocking a wallet chain.

    5:48 - Alright, Worship Song of the Year... Ian Eskelin literally just said, "Christ is ridden..." I'm pretty sure that's not biblical. ;) The winner is "How Great is the Love" by Meredith Andrews oh wait... guess what... another tie. "Our God" by Chris Tomlin too. What in the world is up with these ties?!

    5:46 - Special Event Album of the Year... I think we all know who's going to win. And it is - Yep... Passion's Awakening. Louie Giglio is awesome at giving acceptance speeches!

    5:43 - Rap/Hip Hop Recorded Song of the Year... everyone in the room is rooting for Lecrae. The winner is... Group 1 Crew's "Walking on the Stars" Awesome! Even though most of the people in the media room gave out an "awww, man," I am cheering. Go Group 1 Crew!!!

    5:41 - Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year goes to.... TOBY MAC WINS!!! Congratufreakinlations! Can we get a woot woot from JFH!

    5:37 - Best Christmas Album of the Year goes to Point of Grace's Home for the Holidays. Wow, 2 awards! And Carol Cymbala takes it for Choral Collection of the Year.

    5:34 - The legendary Ian Eskelin is announcing the Rock Recorded Song of the Year; I'm hoping for Switchfoot's "The Sound"... it goes to... Red's "Start Again"... well that's not bad at all. Congratulations fellas!

    5:30 - Chris August just performed his hit "Starry Night"...  an acoustic rendition. Wow - his voice is as good live as it is on a recording. And for that I applaud you Chris! Cool glasses too.

    5:28 - Food for the Hungry just wrapped up their presentation at the Dove Awards. They are an incredible organization. Shameless plug: Everyone should join up with them!

    5:23 - @John... me too. Jars definitely deserved it.

    5:20 - Sandi Patty and Patty Griffin just both won for their albums for Inspirational Album of the Year... A tie? How does that happen?

    5:17 - Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year... Jars of Clay and Tenth Avenue North have been nominated so either one of those would make me happy.  And it goes to... Chris August's No Far Away... Well, we love him too. Congrats Chris on your first Dove Award.

    5:15 - Best Country Album of the Year... I'm guessing Point of Grace will win.             Oh... and they did! No Changin' Us wins! Congrats Point of Grace.

    5:13 - They just announced the Bluegrass Album of the Year - Singing from the Heart by Dailey & Vincent. Congrats!!

    5:05 - They are working on the Pre-Show feed so we can see what's going on during the whole show. I'm crossing my fingers, my toes, praying, and I might just start speaking in other languages...

    5:02 - I'm pretty sure every journalist is trying to get their picture in front of the Dove backdrop. "I need my ten seconds of fame! Sort of."

    4:48 - Blue Grass Recorded Song goes to Lizzy Long's "Mountaintop."

    4:43 - "Better Day" by Gaither Vocal Band wins Southern Gospel Recorded Song... is anyone surprised? Southern Gospel and Bill Gaither are synonomous. We mourn your loss Oak Ridge Boys.

    4:38 - Israel Houghton's Love God Love People wins Best Contemporary Gospel Album of the year. Sadly, he's not here to receive the award because he's on tour.

    4:36 - They just announced that Urban Recorded Song of the Year is "Wait on the Lord" by Lola Godheld

    4:35 - Well... just found out that the Pre-Show feed is broken... No Bueno! This might make things difficult.

    4:27 - The pre-show is getting ready to begin. In the great words of a forgotten childhood movie star, "Don't get scared now."

    4:00 - Some awesome guy just brought out a power strip for us! Can you say MVP?!

    3:44 - There's a little bit of panic in the press room... let's all just pray for a place for people to plug in their laptops.

    3:28 - Well we're here at the Doves and the media room is ablaze!

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    On Set! Filming Abandon, 'Feel It In Your Heart' Music Video

    Have you ever wondered what happens while a music video is being made? Me too! Thanks to the awesome fellas in Abandon… my curious hunger has been fulfilled.

    It was a cold February morning when I made my way to the small city just outside of Atlanta known as Maysville (trivia time! It's also where Sanctus Real's video for "Forgiven" was filmed!). Its GPS location is somewhere between “Oh my gosh, where are we?!” and “I’m pretty sure we’re lost!” Honestly, it was in the middle of nowhere. To even say it’s “just outside” of Atlanta would be a lie; if that fact were true then I’d be just outside the weight bracket of being able to wear an XL t-shirt.

    Anywho, the day began with the joys of Atlantian traffic! Fists balled up and teeth a' gnashing! This day was not filled with anger but with anticipation… for the hunger that was about to be fulfilled and simply the fact that I was just super stoked to meet these awesome musicians. A few days before, I was given an advanced copy of Abandon’s sophomore album “Control” (which streets next week), and to say the least, it rocked my face off. Thus, I wanted to at least shake these guys’ hands and say, “Thanks for making some flippin’ awesome music!” As I made my way out of the city and further north into the wilderness of the metropolitan area, I was trying to find the appeal of shooting a music video in the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure I heard banjos a number of times. [Especially as I passed by homes decorated with Confederate flags. Give it up fellas, the North won and it made life better for all of us!]

    As we rolled into the small town, I could see why someone might want to live in such a cute area. It has some adorable buildings, Victorian style homes, oh… and plenty of broken down shacks that scream, “Feature me on Paranormal State!” But in all honesty, it’s a very attractive town with lots of character and some incredible Mom & Pop restaurants.

    As I arrived to the location of the shoot, I quickly had to put on my game face. The first person I got to meet was the video’s director, Nate “Dust” Correna. Yes, Dust from Mars Ill! Can you say “switch hitter”? I can. At first he looked like an intimidating guy, but then he ended up being so cool and welcoming. Not wanting to eat away at any of his time, I quickly said, “Hello,” and got a chance to say a short greeting to Abandon's lead singer Josh Engler. After meeting a few more of the crew, it was time to meet the rest of the band… but looking around, they were nowhere to be found. Suddenly, like a bunch of rock stars on the red carpet, they all got out of a limo and began to strut towards me. And by “limo” I mean an econoline van and by “strut” I mean shiver as they walked. People from Texas can’t handle the humid cold of Georgia, not like I can either but like I said before “game face”.

    As we exchanged greetings, I could already tell that this was going to be a great time. Each one of the guys is so different but so relatable that it’s almost surreal. As we sat in the van, I was able to ask my planned interview questions and got to know the guys a little bit more. Watching how they interact with each other, whether poking fun or praising one another, it was obvious that these fellas are not just friends or band-mates… they’re brothers. And no doubt from the time I arrived to the time I left, these were some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, and I don’t just mean people in a band. Even though I was there to see them in action, they weren’t trying to impress anybody and welcomed me with open arms. Listening to their hearts for ministry and their passion for doing what God has called them to do was absolutely inspiring.

    While we were wrapping up the interview, a couple of the guys had to go assist in a new scene for the video. So for a brief moment, I got to talk with Justin, the rhythm guitarist, about the trials and tribulations of being on the road. With a raw and transparent attitude, Justin didn’t sugarcoat or glamorize anything. He was very real about how difficult it can be being away from his wife and family, and also about how shows have to really be strategically planned out. While some artists can put makeup on their situations, the guys in Abandon aren’t about that; they are all about being transparent before everyone! Which in reality is so refreshing! In addition to that, they are all ridiculously funny. From what I saw, I think this will be mildly captured by their video.

    After Josh had finished his scenes, I got a chance to talk with him about his role in Abandon and about a pinch of what God’s been showing him in life recently. You can tell he’s a deep thinker and a very honest person, which is once again pretty awesome. He really has a heart for loving people, regardless of circumstance and situation. (Can anyone say “conviction”?) When all was said and done, I got to pray with him and we said our goodbyes. It was one of those moments where “the bond of peace” and “brothers in Christ” really made sense.

    With all of the scene changes and set hopping it was time to say “adios” to the guys and the crew. In my humble opinion, I think the video fits the general theme of the song. Without giving away the plot of the video… let me just say the tennis rackets are my favorite. I will also say this; it does not look easy to film a music video. I’m not a hundred percent sure why, but the guys had to learn their song at twice the speed and perform it that way. Plus… they had to go to Middle-Of-Nowhere-Maysville, Georgia to film it! (However, let me state that Nate’s DustBrand Films is sure to make this an awesome video!)

    You know, at first I thought I was going to go just meet up with the guys from Abandon and watch them shoot a music video, but instead I got to meet Josh, Justin, Bryan, Stevan, and Dave… five brothers in Christ. I think that beat out my original plan completely and for that, I am truly grateful.

    -- Ryan Barbee

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    EXCLUSIVE Family Force 5 'Wobble' Song Debut!

    Family Force 5, IIIWe're proud to bring you the debut of a brand new Family Force 5 song, titled "Wobble." Check out the track snippet that you can ONLY hear here and grab the EP when it goes on sale on their tour and online store this Friday! -- JFH

    The EP is called "III" (pronounced 'three') and will be available only on the Tourantula tour and our online store http://familyforce5.myshopify.com starting Friday. Disc is limited to 3K. - Family Force 5

    New full-length album out later this year!

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Ask the Easter Bunny

    Over the past couple years, as Easter begins to roll around, I've begun hearing something that I don't remember from my childhood.  I wasn't raised in the Church, so I was never actually taught the real meaning behind Easter.  I just knew that on Easter Sunday, I was gonna get a basket full of candy and find some unnaturally-colored eggs that some mystical bunny left in our yard for whatever reason.  It actually seems kinda rude when I think about it now.  How did that bunny even get ahold of pink and green eggs?

    Tangents aside, I was never really taught that Easter was REALLY about Jesus's resurrection that ultimately meant eternal life for anybody who was willing to believe such an outrageous thing.  My main thing was hoping that the Easter Bunny didn't forget to leave us those eggs and candy.  Now, society seems to have turned the Easter Bunny into a second Santa Claus.  More than a couple times, I've literally heard parents that come into my place of business (aka Toys R Us) say this to their kids: "You want that [some random toy or whatever]?  Well, you can ask the Easter Bunny to bring it to you."

    *raised eyebrow*

    What?  Ask the Easter Bunny for a present?  It boggles my mind.  Is this a new thing, or have I just not really been paying attention to the commercialization of yet another holiday?

    God help me not to raise my future children to be dependent on material things.  But first, help ME not to.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    There and Back Again

    Woah.  We’ve just come out of the first two performances we’ve ever done in public, and it was amazing!  New Day Dawning played their first gig at a youth music venue called Zeal (based in West Auckland, New Zealand) and the response was very encouraging.  There must have been about 70-80 people there at least, which is very good for a first performance.  And before you knock me for being too cocky, I’ll back up my last statement by adding that about two-thirds of the crowd went home after we finished playing (note AFTER, not DURING—got to be a good sign, I think). Of course, the crowd was probably due to all us band members inviting practically everybody on our Facebook friends list to the event.

    Being up on stage was a very unique experience.  You tend to think about a lot of things: are we mixed well, will I remember my parts, will the singer remember HIS parts, do the crowd like us, should I clap to get them going, or should I just act reserved because getting into it too much would seem arrogant for a new, unknown band?  But when I got into it, all of those worries because less of an issue; instead, it became fun!  And the crowd enjoyed it too (I can say this because it was confirmed by several people who were NOT my mum, although she did too).  I’m super-stoked about this, because it means that those two years we spent practicing in our drummer’s garage, working on new songs and getting tighter as a group were totally worth it.  Some people said that they were really surprised at how good we were for our first performance, which was something I’d always hoped but never expected to hear.  So here’s a good piece of advice for any new bands out there: Be patient!  Don’t worry about taking a long time polishing your sound (or in our case, trying to decide on a sound!), because if you do, you’ll surprise a lot of people in a good way.  And if you don’t, you’ll sound like just another garage band so-and-so’s kid put together a month ago.  Only sayin’.

    I booked our second performance a day after we played our first, which was happening on the following Friday.  We figured that, since we’d already rehearsed for one performance, why not do two and grow from the experience?  The gig was a benefit concert for the Christchurch earthquake victims, hosted by Eastview Baptist Church in Botany Downs, East Auckland.  An acquaintance of mine invited me to what was basically a concert with an open invitation to artists and bands to perform, so I jumped at the chance.  While the crowd wasn’t quite as enthusiastic (I’m putting that down to about eight 3-song acoustic acts before us lulling them into a semi-slumber), it was a good opportunity to raise awareness about New Day Dawning with the Christian musicians that were there.

    So, what now?  At the moment we’re focusing on increasing our repertoire by working on some new songs.  Since we’ve only got a 4-song set, I’d say that’s a high-priority task for us at the moment.  I’m also looking at ditching my MIDI controller/laptop setup in favour of a dedicated keyboard synthesizer.  To be honest, it takes way too long to set up the controller, laptop and output box for a live gig, and it’d be far easier for me to control everything on one device with knobs and buttons, rather than depending on the laptop for most of my adjustments.  Here’s hoping I’ll choose the right one for what will hopefully be a year of many more performances to come.

    God bless!
    Adam Dawson

     

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Attending The 2011 Dove Awards Press Conference

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