The rockers from down under, Newsboys, have really come quite a distance. Unfortunately, original member and Newsboy icon, John James has stepped away from the microphone to pursue preaching, leaving the only remaining original member, who occasionally shared vocals anyway (and often you couldn't even tell the difference between the 2 of them), drummer Peter Furler to take the reigns. Bassist Phil Joel has also stepped up to help more with the vocals, teaming with Furler to carry the successful pop/rock band forward. Finally, yet another change can be noticed on the band's latest album: Steve Taylor did not produce it. But while Taylor didn't lend his production guidance, he did however lend his writing abilities for some of the songs, but this is his first album not producing for the newsboys in quite some time.
The aptly titled Step Up to the Microphone kicks off with the irresistibly catchy "WooHoo." From the start, it is evident that the Newsboys are making yet another sound change. With Not Ashamed, their music included danceable beats and drum loops. With Going Public, they slowed down a bit, and with 1996's Take Me to Your Leader, they turned up their amps and recorded live in the studio sans looping. So where does Step Up to the Microphone fit in? Remove James, and toss Not Ashamed and Leader into a blender and you're getting slightly close to where Step Up to the Microphone lies. Highlights include the title cut, "Entertaining Angels," and "Tuning In." The changes from Leader to Microphone are glaring, likely to cause many fans to mourn the loss of the previous effort's edge and the crisp, true sound the recording process offered. But Step Up to the Microphone has its own charm, and it begins to ease the worries of fans who are not sure there could ever be life after James.
So while Step Up to the Microphone may not be the best thing on the band's discography list, it's a big, bold leap of faith for the remaining members, and one that shouldn't be taken too lightly.- Written by John DiBiase, 6/98
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