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JFH Staff Blog | ...where the staff speak their minds

Friday, November 9, 2018

Josh Balogh’s Christian Music Wish List

The following list is simply one long time Christian music fans eighteen wishes regarding Christian music. It’s a just-for-fun list of the things I’m hoping for, or that I’d like to see happen. I realize that outside of an actual time machine some are impossible, but hey, one can dream right?! Here we go...

1. I wish my favorite band Jars of Clay would release some new music. Even one original song would do! I miss them 😢.
2. I wish that people criticizing Christian musicians like Lauren Daigle/Lecrae for appearing on talk shows would chill, and be happy that their influence is expanding.
3. I wish Dctalk would figure this out and do a stadium tour already. Please!?! (A new album with Paul Meany or Rick Rubin producing would be welcome too.)
4. I wish that the music industry didn’t chew up and spit out so many of their artists contributing to many deconstructing and/or leaving their faith. (And that the church/Christians didn’t kick them while they’re down.)
5. I wish Caedmon’s Call was still making music.
6. I wish that Christian radio would get brave and include a better balance of artistry even if it cost them some money.
7. I wish that Relient K would do a follow up to their Air For Free album.
8. I wish every live music fan could see Twenty One Pilots in concert at least once.
9. I wish Mac Powell and David Nasser would make another Glory Revealed album.
10. I wish there was a radio station that played a mix of all fifty years of Christian music’s history.
11. I wish that Switchfoot’s Native Tongue album was already out. I am impatient to hear it!
12. I wish that Needtobreathe would get on a new full length album, and it would be full on rock & roll with guitars galore.
13. I wish I had been able to see Rich Mullins and Keith Green in concert.
14. I wish that we could reclassify “Christian Music” to church music (for corporate church use) and then everything else join the mainstream market. Sink or swim time!
15. I wish more people knew and appreciated bands/artists like Future of Forestry, Rivers & Robots, John Van Deusen, Chris Renzema, Jetty Rae, The Gray Havens, and Matthew Perryman Jones.
16. I wish I could travel back in time to attend the cornerstone music festival during the 90’s.
17. I wish that I had seen the following bands in concert in their prime at least once...Burlap to Cashmere, All Star United, Smalltown Poets, Big Tent Revival, The Waiting, Seven Day Jesus, and Sixpence None The Richer.
18. I wish that I could say that I don’t still own multiple Carman albums. Haha, just kidding, I can’t help myself. I still know all the words to “Soap Song” and “Step of Faith,” among others. “Who’s in the house” anyone?! I mean who?


Well, there you have it...my grown up Christmas...uhhh...Christian Music (wish) list. I’d love to hear yours. Leave them in the comments below! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Josh Balogh's Top Ten Brooke Fraser Songs

Every once in awhile, there is an artist that comes along that captures the perfect storm of talent, platform, and longevity. The combination produces a stockpile of fantastic albums and songs over a long period of time. For me, Brooke Fraser is one such artist. She had already been around with her first solo record, What To Do With Daylight, releasing in 2003 in Australia, but I didn’t first catch on to her until hearing her song “None But Jesus” from the Hillsong United album, United We Stand, in 2006. She is the rare artist who can co-exist in the solo realm, as well as part of a collective like the juggernaut Hillsong United. Her ability to do so is largely based around the fact that she is an accomplished songwriter with a beautiful voice.

I have been a fan for over a decade now, and as I skimmed through her songwriting credits, I quickly realized that she has had a tremendous impact on the worship music scene, with many of her songs being sung by thousands of churches each Sunday. Not to mention, her 2006 Albertine album would make any list of my favorite albums released in the last twenty years of Christian music. So music nerd that I am, I endeavored to pick my ten favorite songs that she has either solely penned, or co-written because I cannot help myself when it comes to compiling music lists. Here they are, gleaned from Hillsong United, Hillsong Church, and her solo albums. I hope you enjoy the read, and are either reminded what a great songwriter she is, or find a new song to love.

 

  

1.     “Hosanna”All Of The Above (2007)

I love so much about this song! Unlike many of the worship songs since its release, I have not grown tired of this one in the slightest. I love that it can be sung with past, present, or future in mind. The bridge still gets me every time stating, “Heal my heart and make it clean/Open up my eyes to the things unseen/show me how to love/like you have loved me/Break my heart for what breaks yours/everything I am for your Kingdom’s cause/as I walk from earth into eternity.” It doesn’t get much better than this as far as I am concerned.

 

2.     “Faithful”Albertine (2006)

This is one that I return to often in times of discouragement and reflection. It helps remind me that my faith is not based on my feelings and to keep pressing on. Favorite lyric is the chorus, When I can't feel you/I have learned to reach out just the same/When I can't hear you/I know you still hear every word I pray/And I want you more than I want to live another day/And as I wait for you maybe I'm made more faithful.”

 

3.     “None But Jesus”United We Stand (2006)

 It was my younger sister Tori (love you!) belting this song out a capella around a campfire that began my love of this song. It is one I had previously heard, but due to that memory, it is locked in as an all-time favorite. A tender declaration that, "There is no one else for me/none but Jesus/crucified to set me free/none but Jesus."

 

4.     “Lead Me To The Cross”All Of The Above (2007)

“Savior I come/Quiet my soul, remember/Redemption's hill/Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom/Everything I once held dear/I count it all as lost.”
Enough said.

 

5.     “Desert Song”Across The Earth (2009)

 The lyrics are powerful and speak for themselves, but I imagine Job saying similar things in the midst of his soul crushing trials. May the same faithfulness be found in each of us. This is my prayer in the desert/When all that's within me feels dry/This is my prayer and my hunger in me/My God is the God who provides.”

 

6.     “Shadowfeet”Albertine (2006)

 From the first piano strike to the shuffle along chorus, everything about this is a perfect pop gem. I can identify with the following lyrics, “There’s distraction buzzing in my head/saying in the shadows it's easier to stay/but I've heard rumors of true reality/whispers of a well-lit way.”

 

7.     “What A Beautiful Name”Let There Be Light (2016)

If you have attended a church anytime in the last two years, its likely you have heard/sung this one at least once. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime powerful songs that will be sung for many years to come. The bridge always hits me the hardest proclaiming the truth that, “You have no rival/You have no equal/Now and forever, Our God reigns/Yours is the Kingdom/Yours is the glory/Yours is the Name, above all names.”

 

8.     “Flags”Flags (2010)

Another in a long line of songs that seek to direct the listener back to a kingdom perspective. She pens some thoughts directed at the gut-wrenching questions we all have. Why do innocent suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? She points the finger at herself which should cause us to hold a mirror to our own hearts stating, “Who's at fault is not important/Good intentions lie dormant and we're all to blame/While apathy acts like an ally/My enemy and I are one and the same.” Raw and convicting. She goes on to end the song on a whispered and hopeful note, “I don't know why the innocents fall/While the monsters stand/I don't know why the little ones thirst/But I know the last shall be first/I know the last shall be first/I know the last shall be first.”

9.    
“New Wine”
There Is More (2018)

This is the newest of her songs that I have really connected with, and it was hearing it live that really drove home what an amazing song it is. Perfect for communion, or worshipping alone in your car it’s a call to view suffering as a blessing. “In the crushing/In the pressing/You are making New wine/In the soil, I Now surrender/You are breaking/New ground/So I yield to You and to Your careful hand/When I trust You I don't need to understand.”

 

10.  “Soon” – Across The Earth (2009)

Another song I need to revisit when feeling melancholy. Best line of the understatedly haunting song is the call to keep the heavenly reward in mind, “I will be with the One I love/With unveiled face I'll see Him/There my soul will be satisfied/Soon and very soon.”

 

There you have it..I would love to hear from you! What are your favorite Brooke Fraser penned tunes? Leave a comment below!

 

Honorable Mentions:

“C.S. Lewis Song”Albertine (2006)

“Thunder”Brutal Romantic (2015)

“Love, Where Is Your Fire?” - Albertine (2006)

“Something In The Water” – Flags (2010)

“Arithmetic”What To Do With Daylight (2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Josh Balogh's Switchfoot Album Ranking

 

With the recent announcement that the Switchfoot hiatus is over and album number eleven is either done or in process, I got to thinking how I would rank their ten albums. As a fan of the band from the beginning, this proved to be no easy task. With much deliberation and angst, this is what I came up with. Bear in mind that this is just one fan of the band’s opinion and not the opinion of the entire staff. Also, with that being said, I’m good with you disagreeing with me, just keep in mind that music is largely subjective, so be nice! Lastly, I’d love to see how you would rank them, so please leave your list in the comments below. Here goes…

 

 

1.     The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

 

Probably surprising no one, this is my favorite overall Switchfoot album, and it’s not close. With “Adding to the Noise” the only track that I skip occasionally, this is a near perfect album in my opinion. “Dare You To Move” wins for favorite overall song with “24” and “Meant To Live” following close behind. “Gone” is pure fun, “Redemption” has some of my favorite lyrics, and “Ammunition” rocks. TBL is a true standout of the genre!

  

2.     New Way To Be Human (1999)

Image result for switchfoot new way to be human icon 

 

New Way To Be Human has been in my car cd binder for many years, so I’ve probably heard this one the most. It’s definitely one of their more mellow albums, but the lyrics of “Let That Be Enough,” “Only Hope,” and “Under The Floor” are top notch. Combine that with the fun of “Company Car,” the driving “Sooner Or Later,” and the grungy “New Way To Be Human,” and you have a terrific album on your hands.

 

3.     Hello Hurricane (2009)

 Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane

 

Hello Hurricane was one of those albums that came along at just the right time when I needed it. The first four tracks rival the best opening quartet of the bands albums with the U2-esque of “Needle Haystack Life” and the guitar laden “Mess of Me,” offset by the beautiful ballad, “Your Love Is A Song.” Other highlights for me are the driving “Free,” the triumphant title track, and the soulful longing of “Red Eyes.”

 

4.     Where The Light Shines Through (2016) 

Switchfoot, Where The Light Shines Through 

 

At first, I was disappointed with Where The Light Shines Through, but with time it really grew on me. The tracks I revisit most often are the buoyant “Float,” the frenetic “If The House Burns Down Tonight,” the fun “Bull In a China Shop,” and the earnest closer “Hope Is The Anthem.” If this had been their swan song, it would have been a fine close to the bands career…luckily, there’s more to come…

 

5.     Oh! Gravity (2006)

 

 

Panned by critics, I feel like Oh! Gravity is a tremendously polarizing album. Those who like it really like it, and those who hate it, really hate it. I loved it for being different, though I do admit it and Fading West are the ugly ducklings of their catalogue. I love the indie feel to many of the tracks and still enjoy the title track, “Dirty Second Hands,” “Circles,” “Faust, Midas, and Myself,” and “Head Over Heels (In This Life).”

 

6.     Vice Verses (2011)

Switchfoot, Vice Verses 

 

For whatever reason, I don’t come back to Vice Verses much, which seems ridiculous considering the stellar songs in the tracklist. Barn burners like “Afterlife,” “The War Inside,” “Dark Horses,” and “Rise Above It” give this one some good pep. Paired with the experimental “Selling The News” and the trio of superb ballads, “Restless, “Vice Verses,” and “Where I Belong,” many of the songs from this album would make my top twenty for the band overall. It’s a mystery to me why it ended up 6th in my ranking, and yet here we are.

 

7.     The Legend of Chin (1997)

 

 

High nostalgia factor with this one…I love the raw, somewhat sloppiness of this one, a true garage band album if there ever was one. I still remember hearing the first strains of “Chem 6A” on a sampler and being hooked. I raced to my local Christian Bookstore and listened to the rest cementing my “need” to own this one. Only problem was I only had money for one album that day, so I did what any great big brother would do and convinced his little brother that he liked it enough to buy it. Guess who ended up with it? Yeah, and I don’t even remember the album that I purchased that day. (Not sure if I should be proud or ashamed of this story, haha.)

 

8.     Nothing is Sound (2005)

 

 

There’s a few good tunes on Nothing Is Sound, but overall it felt like a bit of a rush from the label to get more marketable songs out there quickly after the success of The Beautiful Letdown. “Lonely Nation,” “Stars,” “Daisy,” and “The Shadow Proves The Sunshine” are the ones I still listen to. I rarely set out to listen to the whole album in one sitting. That being said, it’s not a bad album, it just had the tough task of following up their best so it was bound to disappoint with my expectations so high.

 

9.     Learning to Breathe (2000)

 

 

Learning to Breathe is a good album, definitely a more mature follow up to their debut. This is the album that we first hear a version of “Dare You To Move” that they would slightly retool and re-release on The Beautiful Letdown, which I’m’ glad they did as it was mystifyingly missed this go around. “Learning To Breathe” is my favorite song on the album and would likely make my top twenty songs list from the band. Others from the record I enjoy are “Innocence Again,” “Paparazzi,” “Love Is The Movement,” and “Living Is Simple.”

 

10.  Fading West (2014)

 Switchfoot, Fading West

 

Ranked last because something had to be, Fading West to my understanding was never intended to be a full album but simply a soundtrack to the bands surf/rock documentary of the same name. I’m glad they made it into an official album even if it is my least favorite because it brought us a more pop Switchfoot which was nice for a little change of pace from the band. Favorite songs are “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight,” and the trio of “Slipping Away,” “Ba55,” and “Let It Out.”

  

Well there you have it…Where did I get it right? Where did I miss it? How would you rank them? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below!

 

 

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tori Kelly - Crossing Over

 
It's funny -- usually when I think of the word "crossover" in Christian music, I picture Christian artists crossing over into the mainstream. I think of Amy Grant in the early 90's, or NF right now. I don't think of a mainstream pop artist as widely loved as Tori Kelly crossing over into the Christian genre.
 
Yet, that's exactly what the YouTube-prodigy-turned-superstar will be doing in a few weeks. In 2015, Kelly's debut album, Unbreakable, debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts, yielding three Hot 100 hits. Three years is a long wait for a follow-up, and many fans might be surprised by what they'll get when her new album Hiding Place drops on September 14: a straight-up gospel album.
 
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a preview event for this album, where Tori Kelly and her collaborator Kirk Franklin (maybe you've heard of him?) discussed  Hiding Place and played six of the album's eight tracks for us.
 
The opener was "Masterpiece (ft. Lecrae)," which is fitting, since some Christian music fans might have first been introduced to Kelly by her feature on Lecrae's song, "I'll Find You." ("Masterpiece" even winks at Lecrae by quoting the same Scriptural phrase that he used to title his album: "all things work together.") But if that's all you know, then you might not be prepared for the powerhouse of a vocalist that she is, which every song in this set displays extremely well, from how tender she can be to how quickly she can run through notes to how high and loud she can belt it out. She's a bold singer, and "Masterpiece" is an equally bold way to start the album. Bursting through the gates with huge bass and heavy percussion, the song starts like you'd expect a Broadway song to end.
 
Next up was "Sunday," one of the four tracks that Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin co-wrote together. One of the most shocking facts revealed at the preview event was, Franklin has never done a co-write before. Originally, he was only meant to serve as the producer for a song or two, but as he and Kelly began working together and finding their groove, a song turned into an EP, and an EP turned into an album. And if nothing else, "Sunday" represents how great of a team these two are together, with its big books and slimy bass lines, all focused around the lyric, "Don't let Sunday fool you."
 
Another feature came next, with singer Jonathan McReynolds appearing on "Just as Sure," a more acoustic, stripped-down track that conveys how authentic and impressive essentially everything about this project is. Unlike how many duets are recorded, McReynolds and Kelly actually recorded their vocal takes in the same room at the same time. Kelly said how she'd been wanting this collaboration to happen for years, and the final product couldn't have turned out much better; each voice and each instrument in this song exudes expertise in the craft. Speaking of how fantastic Tori Kelly is in the studio, Kirk Franklin chimed in at this point to call her a "mercenary -- this woman records a song in three takes."
 
After that came the album's lead single, "Never Alone," which is available now to download or stream. (There's also a music video that sneakily adds an extended, live outro to the song.) Describing both this track and the album overall, Kelly said the songs "came from the most human place possible. With this album, it was cool to reach into this place."
 
"Never Alone" was the first song Kelly and Franklin wrote together. Describing their process, they simply sat down with pen and paper and asked God to give them the lyrics. "I am blown away by her approach to music," Franklin said, "and blown away by her love for the Lord."
 
The final two songs we got to preview both display how Hiding Place is not trying to hide its Christ-centered, biblical foundation. First was "Psalm 42," which Kelly jokingly referred to as the one song on the record that she can actually play on guitar. But on a more serious note, it originated from her desire to have a song on the album that came straight from Scripture. Kelly wanted the album to be gospel not just in its sound or style but also in its message and integrity, such that she even turned down multiple artists who were interested in guest-appearing on the album because those artists (who remained unnamed) were not obviously witnessing to Christ.
 
"I've seen this girl live out her faith in the studio," Franklin said. "We talked as much about the kingdom as we did music."
 
The preview event concluded with the album closer and Tori Kelly's personal favorite track from the album, "Soul's Anthem (It is Well)." If the title doesn't give it away, this is an updated version of the classic hymn "It Is Well," and the whole song is simply Kelly singing over a choir -- a choir that included CCM names as big as Crystal Lewis, who was one of Kelly's favorite singers when she was growing up.
 
After two takes of Kelly recording her parts live in a vocal booth with the choir singing its parts in the room just beside her, Kirk Franklin took off the click track and asked the singer to close her eyes for the next take. The next take is what you'll hear on the record, as Kelly managed to get in the zone; and while singing, she felt like the whole album-making process finally hit her. "I'm a late processor," she admitted. The chill-inducing track includes a portion toward the end where Kelly stops and you only hear the choir, which is because she actually started crying during her performance, only barely managing to compose herself in order to sing the final line of the song, thus bringing the album-recording process to an end.
 
"I've never done a song like this before in my life," -- Franklin seemed equally proud of "Soul's Anthem" -- "and I couldn't have done it without Tori Kelly."
 
For Kelly, this album is a dream come true -- the culmination of all her childhood dreams of someday being a recording artist. While it's highly likely that her third album will see her returning to the pop music of Unbreakable, she had this final statement to make about Hiding Place: "I'd make songs like this if no one listened."

-- Chase Tremaine, JFH Podcast Host and Writer

 

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Friday, July 20, 2018

'Take Flight,' by Sarah Felicia

Take Flight

By: Sarah Felicia

 

Take Flight: to surrender, let go, and let God carry you. To fly higher with Him then you’ve ever dreamed, or expected. To trust He’ll take you exactly where you need to go, when you need to go there.

Sometimes the unknown can be a little scary, especially when you have no idea what’s to come, or how you’ll even get there. Questions can begin to fill your mind, and you may find yourself asking God for more details to ease the uncertainty, because you can’t seem to see all that lies ahead.

You may not have all the answers, but one thing you can be sure of is God calls us to live by faith, not by sight.  It’s all part of a journey, and through faith He draws you closer to Him, as you depend on Him to lead you onward. God continuously calls us to take the leap of faith, and trust in Him.

This is something I’ve had to live and learn through the making of my EP Take Flight, because this whole process was truly a leap of faith, and required absolute surrender, and trust in God. There were times where I felt discouraged, and seemed to be fighting against all odds, and I wondered if my dream of being an artist would ever come true, or if the songs I was writing would ever be heard.

Despite my doubt, God continued to lead me onward, reminding me to just breathe, and be still knowing that He is God. I learned so much not only about myself and music as a whole, but also about the Lord as He took me through this, every step of the way.

Living by faith and not by sight isn’t always be easy, and I’m sure a lot of us can relate to those moments when taking the leap and “flying” may seem quite intimidating, especially when it’s a long way down. But there’s good news! You don’t have to take the leap alone. God is there waiting and ready to catch you, and carry you:

 

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not grow faint.”

-Isaiah 40:31

 

Even though you don’t see or know all there is to come, God does, and he will lead you every step of the way. You just need to trust Him, and He will give you the strength, courage and wisdom that you need to fly with Him and move forward:

 

“Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

 

Love Him with all your heart, and be ready to obey God immediately through your passion for Him, and your passion that drives you to live out His good, and amazing plans He has for your life! Through all the ups and downs, by God’s grace, Take Flight came together in His perfect timing. Although I have no idea what this new journey ahead of me will bring, I’ll continue to take flight, and trust in Him!

Are you ready to fly? Say yes to all He wants to do in your life. Trust Him, and don’t be afraid. Get ready to take flight!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

'Reflecting A Holy God' by Here Be Lions

 

This past summer I took my family to Disney World, the supposed “magic kingdom.” And I can tell you that none of my wishes came true while I was there! I wished for a hoverboard that would take me around the park. I wished for an endless supply of free food and drinks. I wished for lower ticket prices and smaller crowds. Guess what? It didn’t happen. And I knew who was to blame for all of the craziness. It was not difficult because his statue was right in the middle of the park… none other than Walt Disney himself. 

In ancient days, rulers would erect statues to let you know whose kingdom it was… reminders of who was ultimately in charge. Have you ever considered that God made you in His image for the same reason? He positioned you on Earth so that you can reflect His holiness and brilliance.  Isaiah 61:3 says you will be “a display of His splendor.”  1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  

Did you get that? We are called to be a Kingdom of priests that declare His praises. We reflect a Holy God to the world around us. People make judgments on God based on the actions of those who call themselves Christians. Because of this, it is imperative that we set Him apart in our own lives. What do people believe about God when they look at your life?

Jesus told us to pray that the Kingdom of God would come on Earth as it is in Heaven. Part of that prayer is your responsibility. If you want this world to look like Heaven, then as a Kingdom of priests, you need to do your part. We get a glimpse of it in Revelation 22:3-5, “The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age.”

Friends, you become what you behold… you reflect what you worship. 

-Dustin Smith of Here Be Lions

 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Song by Song Description of AWOL by Kevin Max

 1.  Melissa - One of the first songs written along with Yeshua & Moonracer for the album. I wrote this at Blind Thief Farm with Kieran Kelly and Erick Cole, starting off with chord arrangement ideas on guitars. After getting a finished structure of the song melodically, I wrote the lyrics down a few days later…. The song became a depiction of a couple different relationships I  had with people back in my high school days growing up in Grand Rapids Michigan. I always felt drawn to outsiders and misfits, and a couple of these stories came back to inform the character I sketched in this story. Melissa is ostracized from her surroundings because of being different and is obviously undergoing feelings of judgement within the church and school system. I  completely understood this as I went through some of these same feelings growing up in tight-knit Christian community. 


2.  Prodigal ( Run To You) - I  have always wanted to write a song as a modern parable reference and ‘Run To You’ was the culmination of real life experiences and the story of ‘The Prodigal Son’ from scripture. The first part of the song is a direct translation of a prophecy that was made over me about generational sin. I took this to heart and actually prayed against sins of the past and possible spiritual blockage from it. I also wrote about how most of us are always running from something, but inevitably want to find our way back home. I love the line ‘I know its weird but take a look at the trees, feel the universe in a gentle breeze and know, you shouldn’t be lonely.’ The parable of the Prodigal Son relates to me on many different levels, and I  am proud of the way I was able to reconstruct the story in my own way. God finds us where we are and most of the time, it isn’t where we should be. 

3.   Glory Boys - My producer on this album ( Kieran Kelly) and I, wrote many of these songs together and Glory Boys is a great example of us seeing eye to eye in our tastes and styles musically. We both have a healthy appreciation for the new wave 80’s movement, with bands like duran duran, The Smiths and The Cure. The idea was to create a song that was reminiscent of Rio from duran duran, with its energetic and exotic synth patterns. I wrote the lyrics based on what it was like being a teenager in the 80’s and being drawn to characters who were flamboyant and original. One of the biggest high school accomplishments for me was finding a home in music over sports. As athletics were such a huge part of growing up in Michigan as a teenager, I  ended up playing varsity tennis and baseball, but singing was what inevitably set me a part of my peers. 

4.  Half Of The Better One - Its a hallmark card of romantic origins but touched by the odd combination of my love for the band The Smiths and using ultimately awkward words in sentence phrasing. I’ve never written a song like this one before… as it is the most simple song about finding true love. I  joked with Kieran about writing a song for my wife that could be used at weddings in the future, but with one catch… It had to be a new wave wedding song for the future. 

5.  Eurorail - If Bram Stoker and Fodor’s Travel Guides got together and made a story about a gothic midnight runaway train in the middle of Romania, you would have the essence of what Eurorail aspires to. Its a great mysterious middle track in the sequence and I love the bass playing by John Maron. Kieran and I created the ideas for the music after going back and forth with demos that I  was creating at my studio in Franklin. The lyrics are a bit esoteric, but I  love the idea of a good mystery aboard a European train.  

6.   Moonracer - This song was written in the middle of the night at Blind Thief Farm Studio in Centerville TN. Before we moved back into suburbia, the wife and I decided to become adventurous and buy a rural property a good hour outside of Nashville. The upside of our decision was that the property, ( along with horse barn, log cabin and 23 acres on top of a beautiful hillside ) came with a recording studio built by a famous country songwriter. I  spent many evenings writing in the studio, while we managed Blind Thief Farm over a year of living among horses, coyotes and neighboring cattle. Moonracer is one of the songs in my career that I  cannot explain, try as I might…. it just came to me without any editing or contextualizations. The closest thing I  can surmise to its meaning is that it is about time travel and unrequited love. 

7.  Brand New Hit - Most, if not everybody that listens to this song for the first time, will know what I am talking about here. As a member of dc Talk I  was privy to so many great things that happened within this industry…some that we pioneered and some that we were just blessed to be a part of. Being in a band that was so successful in bringing about change, it is hard to be disassociated from it. So when I say ‘everything I do as a solo artist is cast under the shadow of the group I was in before it’.. I say that with pride.  However, it is difficult for some people to understand that I  am my own creative entity outside of dctalk, and that is the thrust of the lyrics behind the song. 

8.  Yeshua -  I’ve always wanted to write a song about Jesus that wasn’t like anything else out there. I  focused on writing about the duality of being God and man. There are glimpses of doubt and suffering within the lyrics that  speak to the human condition…. but there is also that side of Christ who was authoritative, a powerful teacher and ultimate savior of the humanity- those thoughts are encapsulated in the choruses as well…. It is by far one of my favorite musical tracks on the album and this comes from the fact that I had Andy Rourke of The Smiths playing bass on it, as well as Matt Johnson on drums. ( St. Vincent, Jeff Buckley ) It is a focused, urgent piece of music but I  also love the fact that lyrics are not overtly judgmental or high brow… it feels very visceral and honest. 

9.   AWOL - AWOL is my anthem…. it is the backbone to the album, and it isn’t a fluke that it is also the most rock and roll song in the sequence. “We are the sons of Liberty, we spread our love through unity….’ It is one of the most relevant songs because of how boldly it declares a need for peace in the face of ignorance and unrest. I’ve never been an artist that pushes a political agenda because honestly, I  am not political at all.  But I  feel that we live in a time where we need to embrace each other because we are made in the same Image of God who created us. The hatred and the judgement of other human beings because of being different or not fitting into a certain standard must be eradicated. AWOL is all about a peace train or a peaceful march walking through your town and instead of riding on tanks and holding guns, its participants hold trumpets and sing about the beauty of equality.  

10.   Irish Blood Up - This song started with a weird synth program that Kieran sent me and was build piece by piece into a swaggering rock B-side. I  call it a B-side because back in the day any song that wouldn’t be considered a single would be called a B-side. That said, I  do think it has its own merits as a well written song and has some of the funniest lyrics on the album. I  guess if you asked me its meaning… it would be like asking something like ‘ Is the Pope Catholic?’ It is most literately about what its name suggests…. 
 
11.  Cornucopia Of My Soul -  One of the songs that I  wrote prior to the album, which was slated to be on another release called ‘Mello Drama’ which is now in the KMAX vaults. I  rescued it as a strange little demo I had lying around on my logic sessions. I believe it was originally titled ‘Angels Cry Too’… or something ridiculous like that… Its probably my most vulnerable moment on the album and it could be contributed to the fact that I wrote it initially as a ‘break up’ song. Musically its also one of my favorites as it hearkens back to old school David Bowie or Frank Sinatra. It could literally be sung by Tom Jones as a lounge tune but I pushed it forward into the modern times with the synthesizer and the different chord changes. My good friend Tony Miracle took my original demo and added his graduated keyboard skills to the mix. I really appreciate that this song finishes the album because I  always like to go out with one of the best…. the first should be last… etc etc

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

'Do Not Be Afraid' by Mark Lee

Do Not Be Afraid
by Mark Lee

 

The last few months of my life have involved a range of emotions. I’m excited about hitting the road again to do some Third Day shows. But it’s a farewell tour. Definitely a bittersweet kind of thing. I’m mainly trying to focus on the positive, that we’re celebrating an amazing 25 plus year career. It has truly been amazing to see how God’s dreams for us are so much bigger than the dreams we have for ourselves, if we just get out of the way and let him work.

If I’m honest with myself though, there’s another feeling that pops up from time to time.

Fear.

As I close this chapter of my career with Third Day and move into what’s next, it feels like I’m standing on the brink of something. Usually I feel like it’s the brink of an exciting new chapter. But sometimes, when doubt starts creeping in, it feels more like the brink of a big cliff I’m about to drive over.

During this time, a single phrase keeps popping into my head. It’s a phrase repeated many times in the Bible and one that has helped me through many a difficult time. I love the phrase so much that I’ve written two or three songs based around it.

Do not be afraid.

Lately I’ve been reading a book by Jonathan Martin called How to Survive a Shipwreck. He has an interesting take on this. Martin says that God speaks these words “when he is about to do something new”.

I genuinely believe that God is doing something new during this season of my life. I don’t know exactly what that will be. But I know that I felt a call on my life when I was a teenager - that God wanted me to use music to encourage people and tell them about Him. I also have long felt a calling to write words - books and devotions and blog posts - for the same reason. I’m going to keep doing those things, using what God has given me, until he calls me home or tells me to do something else.

I could look at my surroundings and focus on my fear. Or I could look at God and focus on Him. That’s what I’m choosing to do.

Do not be afraid.

I’ve written a new song called Do Not Be Afraid for my debut EP, Unshakable Heart. Here are some of the lyrics:

Here I stand at the edge of the unknown
The road ahead is overwhelming
I wonder is it too late to turn around?

All my life you have led me, you have shown
You have spoken, you’re never silent
Lord I hear you speaking to me now

Do not be afraid
There is no fear in love
Don’t let your heart be troubled
Cast your cares on the Lord above
And do not be afraid, anymore

 

 

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

“What does it mean to be ‘Above The Water’?” - by Roy Tosh

This last season of my life was the most difficult  year I’ve ever faced.  

After just tearing my meniscus and moving, I thought things were finally getting back to “normal”.  That’s when I received the worst phone call in my life.  It was my mom, and I could tell by the tone in her voice something was really wrong.  She told me my dad had been rushed to the ER and that things did not look good.  A couple of minutes later, I spoke with my brother who was at the hospital.  He said the doctors told him that my dad had less than 10% chance at surviving.  He was bleeding internally due to a aneurysm in his abdomen.  Devastated, I could do nothing but cry and pray to God.  

That phone call started a 3 month process where my dad underwent 6 major surgeries.  During those months, we were told on five occasions that he probably would not make it through the night.  One night, after another successful surgery, he flat-lined for 5 minutes due to one of his breathing tubes being clogged.  By the grace of God, the doctors resuscitated him back to life.  He went through 9 total surgeries that year, and by God’s grace, He’s alive and thriving!  One surgeon said' "I didn't save his life - are you people praying?"  Praise God!  He’s currently in physical therapy and we recently heard the great news that he will be able to walk again. 

During that time, if my family and I focused on the circumstances or what the doctors told us, it felt like we were drowning.  Hopelessness, numbness, and sadness surrounded us.  Yet, if we looked to God during those times, He gave us strength and faith to face the next minute.  We literally experienced that God is an “ever-present help in times of trouble”.  He comforted us, and extended mercy to us beyond our wildest dreams.  My dad loves Jesus, so regardless, we knew where he was heading.  However, I’m so grateful to have my dad still around.  We named our daughter “Selah Grace” - which means pause and calmly think on the grace of God.  His grace truly is sufficient in our weakness!

I wrote “Above The Water”, and especially songs like “Stronger” ft. V. Rose, to encourage those suffering around the world.  I wanted to challenge others to not focus on their present circumstances, but instead look to the God who is ever-present in the midst of those circumstances.  Jesus called Peter out of his boat to walk on a substance he had no business walking upon. The moment Peter took his focus off of Christ and looked at the storms all around him, he sank.  It’s no different with us.  If we look to Christ to be our strength in the midst of difficulty, we will find ourselves rising above the water.  I can’t promise the circumstances will change, but one thing I can promise is that His love will surround you in the midst of the storms.  It sounds cliche, but His love truly is enough!

-Roy Tosh

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"More Than Survival," by Sanctus Real

 

 

What does it mean to live life to the fullest?  To seize the day? 

Most of us are really just trying to get through each one of our days feeling like we’ve accomplished something that has some meaning, some purpose. 

A few years back the band had a writing getaway and I sat the guys down and had them all tell what was going on in their hearts and lives.  Mark said something that kinda sat with me, he said,” I’m tired of feeling like I’m just surviving days rather than living them, I really just want more than survival.”  I wrote that line down in my little notebook and the next day came back to it sitting down at the piano and kept repeating, I want more, I want more than survival. 

I mean, don’t we all? 

Yet we just continue to go through our motions, day after day, trying to to get ahead running on our spinning wheel like a mouse trying to escape its cage.  Yet, unlike the mouse, this is a cage of our own making, our own choices, our pursuits and desires to get more, gain more, be more than others, so we built our cage.  Before we know it, all that we have built has become our very own prison. 

This is not what we are called to.  We are called to freedom, to prefer things that are heavenly over the temporal gain that success offers.  We were built for more than stuff, we were meant to live, to love, to spread the kingdom of heaven everywhere we go. 

Don’t trade contentment for greed, don’t sacrifice the love of Christ for the love of stuff.  Live like there is no tomorrow, live for more than just survival.

-Dustin Lolli, Sanctus Real

 **You can grab a free download for Sanctus Real's "Surival" right here on JFH. Their brand new album "Changed" will be available wherever music is sold on April 27th!  

Friday, April 6, 2018

The God of Redemption Is the God of the Average, by Chris Sligh

If you’ve grown up in the past 40 years, you’re hard-wired to believe that the payoff of one’s journey is the Rocky moment… it’s the climbing of the stairs, out of breath, sweating and raising your arms in triumph, and the world cheers; it’s beating the Russian who is better than you, after you’ve been counted out; it’s rising to the challenge and ultimately winning.

Yet the reality of most people’s lives is not the Rocky moment, but a life of ordinary moments – some good, some bad, but everything comes out in the end as pretty average. And in a world made for Rocky moments and Instagram memories, the average journey is seen to be as good as the ones that end with the hero of the story winning or getting what they’ve always wanted.

I’ll admit it. I want the Rocky moment. I want to be more than average. I want my talent and my charisma to carry me and let run (or in my case, walk slowly) up those steps and raise my hands in triumph (exhaustion).

But I’m coming to believe more and more that the point of our lives is redemption – both minor and major – not success according to normal measure.

I was having a conversation with a pastor friend of mine a while back and I was talking about my own failures and the changes I’d made in response. And he looked across the table at me and asked, “Chris, I think you’re really good at identifying what’s wrong in your life and really good at trying to fix it. I wonder if you’re conscious of God’s redemption in those situations?”

I hate to admit it, but I’d not considered this thought before. But I’ve considered it often since. Especially since I began this “comeback” to my artist/songwriter/producer career last year.

I know what I got wrong last time. I allowed the focus to become myself. I allowed myself to become competitive in the realm of art. I allowed myself to be cut off from the people with whom I did ministry. I allowed myself to be consumed by how much money I was making. Etc., etc. There was more I got wrong than right, as I look back. So as I restart, how do I not just identify what I got wrong and repent of it; but how do I see God redeem it?

And that’s the thing. The large part of me wants to have that moment where I sell a Gold record and have number 1 singles and get recognition for what I do. I’ll admit it. That’s what my flesh views as my Rocky moment.

But my redemption is nothing like that. The way I see God redeeming this is through relationship; it’s through provision; it’s through humility. It is in the “average”, not the “victory”. It is every day waking up and building relationships with the pastors and worship leaders I’m booking shows with. It’s submitting myself to what their church needs, instead of what I want (nearly every night these days I do a different set list based upon what the church desires). It’s truly trusting God as my provider, as I go out these days for no guaranteed honorarium, but instead for only love offerings.

My guess is my career over the next few years until I’m done looks like this: pretty average. Yet daily I am blown away by how God moves. Every day I’m excited to see who God brings in my path; by what church I can breathe God’s love to; by what worship leader I get to be in relationship and pour what wisdom I’m afforded into; by what those worship leaders pour into me!

That is success. That is redemption.

And it reminds me that the Apostle Paul’s journey didn’t end with a Rocky moment, but with losing his life. That was success. That was redemption. And yet he proclaimed every step of the way how happy he was, how thankful he was, how incredible the God he served was.

That’s what I want.

-Chris Sligh

 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Is It A Lie, by Ravenhill

 

There is a possibility that the reason I continue to write music (and this very blog) is a lie. Maybe I believe this lie because a handful of people either believe it too or are too nice (or don’t care enough) to tell me the truth. At least that’s what I constantly ask myself. Most musicians are insecure babies so we can’t help but think about our motives and ourselves relentlessly.

 

Still, no matter how often I question this lie, there’s a catch—I actually believe it. 

 

Okay, so here’s the lie.... I actually believe I am good enough to earn and deserve your attention, even though I act humble at shows or interviews. RAVENHILL and I have played with hundreds of musicians and bands, some household names and others you’ve never heard of.  What’s crazy is I trust that lie enough to truly believe that RAVENHILL is more important of a band than 99% of those other artists. There have been literally only a handful of artists that I believe deserve your love more than me. Why the heck am I telling you this? Why am I not just sharing the same type of interview most people are use to? The ones that say stuff like, “I was washing windows and listening to The Gaslight Anthem and the chorus for 'Brooklyn Blackout' hit me.” That's how it did happen though and we recorded it the next day. But the reason I don’t want to share only that stuff is, I want to be honest. Honest about the fact that I may be buying into a lie and you may be also. If you like RAVENHILL and bought our music, liked our Facebook page, gone to a show, or even if you’re reading this article, you’ve helped perpetuate this lie. The truth is that Jesus Freak Hideout asked me to do a guest spot on their site because we released, ”SPIRIT” an EP of songs that we wrote for or shortly after we released our last full length SOUL. It’s a collection of alternate versions of songs off of SOUL and two songs that I couldn’t see on a real or formal RAVENHILL release. Honestly, these songs are available to you because being in a mid to low level band is tough. You see, I believe we deserve your attention but my beliefs don’t get you to buy records or pay me $1,000 to come play you bar or church youth room. It doesn’t justify my wife continuing to work a job she hates so I can do what I believe “God has put me on this earth to do.” 

 

These beliefs persist because sometimes after enough disappointments, enough shows playing for no one, broken tour vans, hurt feelings and arguments, band members leave or lose interest and leave me questioning if we are good enough. RAVENHILL actually has about 30 songs we could record and put out but something slows us down. Something keeps us from taking risks so we released these 6 songs. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in these SWEETWOOD songs. SWEETWOOD is the name of the street we recorded these songs on and has now become the name of what we call alternate versions of previously released songs. I’d argue that a few of the SWEETWOOD songs are better than their SOUL counterparts.

 

There’s a chance this article is garbage and the ramblings of a madman. Maybe this should’ve been bounced off my brother Brady or best friend David, but I’m talking to you now.  

 

I get tired of all the lies.

 

I get tired of all these “Christian” “artists” acting perfect and on the other side of the spectrum confusing cussing as being honest, both are immature and fake. The truth is as musicians we never grew up. We don’t deserve your attention. We should probably stop making records, but we won’t. As long as people believe the lie, we will continue.  

 

So is it dangerous to believe this lie? Or is it a necessary evil, a tool by another name to push us creatives further. One compliment outweighs a hundred disappointments. One good review will push me to play 20 more shows for no one. Is the lie worth believing in? 

 

This is just one thing that I struggle with when picking up a guitar, but I believe RAVENHILL to be authentic and pure at its core. We plan on releasing a new EP every four months for the next year and a half. That is the basis for our next set of risks we are going to take. We are ambitious and we are going to try to prove to you and ourselves that we deserve your love.  

 

If you’ve given me the grace of reading this far into this blog, you’ve probably come to your own conclusions about me and maybe RAVENHILL. The truth is that after reading this you may think I’m an arrogant jerk, that I really think RAVENHILL is better than everyone. I hope that isn’t what you take from this. Music is subjective and almost unquantifiable when it comes to the question: Who is better?

 

I’m trying to be as honest with you as I’m being with myself. While there’s a part of me that worries someone reading this will take it the wrong way, the rest of me is okay with it if you mishear me. 

 

I know that I have believed this lie to produce the music and content I have in the past. I watched these bands we played with and thought to myself: I have to become better than that!  I don’t think it’s wrong to be honest. I’ve never hated myself for being honest. I would hate myself more if I allowed fear to dictate my life decisions. I may be wrong in some of my stances, but I’m working them out, publicly, publicly because I trust other people’s point of view. I learn best that way. 

 

-Joshua Clifton (a liar)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

'A Different Light,' by Mark Bishop

 
It must be amazing to win an Oscar or a Grammy. Imagine being an actor or actress or singer or musician, beloved by so many adoring fans already, and to be in a room with all of your peers who love the same craft that you do and to hear your name called out above all others as the best of the best. After all those years of hard work, at last, the spotlight is on you. The applause makes your heart swell with overwhelming joy. Life is good. You’ve been recognized. Your agent can ask for more money.
 
Imagine the adrenaline of finishing a NASCAR race in first place with thousands of fans cheering… roaring. The champagne cascades as you are hoisted up on the shoulders of your hardworking crew. Imagine cutting down the nets. Imagine winning the gold medal.
 
If you’re daydreaming, that can be a fun place to spend a few seconds, imagining that elation. They worked hard… they earned it… you’re happy for them and in their happiness, you see a place that you would like to be, if only for a while. It must be truly fantastic to see a distant light, to follow it and to finally arrive at some long-sought-after destination. It’s time to bask in that light, at long last, and to be fulfilled. 
 
That’s what happens, right? After traveling so far… after sacrificing so much… our search would be over. Why else would we invest our very souls into something so deeply if it wasn’t to achieve fulfillment? There’s the light. I went to it. Mission completed.
 
Well, the answer to that my friend depends upon the stars that you are following. Not all lights are created equal. There is a well-known metaphor that comes to mind about the moth being drawn to the flame. There is another about the light at the end of the tunnel being an oncoming train. The truth is, our ambitions, while laudable with the right perspective, can easily lead us to a place far from anything ultimately fulfilling. The gossip blogs and magazines are filled with famous people who had it all and their lives careened out of control after they achieved their successes. You would think that having it all would virtually guarantee inner peace. And yet, the very pinnacles of success as measured by today’s society and popular culture leave those who achieve it still empty and longing for something more. They followed their light and in the end, it only let them down. That’s why so many famous people become activists in areas other than their own profession. The prize they attained was hollow and didn’t fill the void like they thought it would so now they must begin the search anew. They begin to search for another light… a different light.
 
To paraphrase the 1980’s band The Human League…We are only human; born to make mistakes. When the light we follow lets us down, we choose another light to follow and usually, striving within our own whims, that choice is no better. So how do we know that there is a target worth striving for? Is there a light that we can follow that won’t leave us cold in the end? Well as a matter of fact, there is a book, said to be an ancient sacred text, that contains the account of a man who offered a different light that men and women everywhere, of every walk of life could follow to find fulfillment. His story predates even the actual printing of books as we know them and even though there have millions and millions of books printed throughout the history of books, this one seems to speak to our life circumstances, even in modern times, better than any collected text ever has. In it, a man named Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
 
Wow… could it be that easy? Isn’t that exactly what we have been looking for? The light of life? Something truly fulfilling? Something that somehow fills the void we fill in our hearts and that doesn’t meet us at the finish line with cold neon or fluorescent fake-ness? Just think about some of the people who followed their light and attained it all only to find it was just click-bait in the end. Without naming names, we can all think of celebrities that reached the pinnacle and self-destructed. How empty it must be to hold something you once thought valuable and realize that it doesn’t live up to the hype.  At this point, you have to be asking yourself, is there anything that’s the real deal?
 
Jesus said in Ephesians 5:14 “Wake up sleeper! Rise from the dead and Christ will shine upon you.”
 
There’s your good morning wake-up call.
 
We are a world of followers, even those who lead.  We are all adherents to something.  There is a light that we all look to. The path we are on leads somewhere. Everyone that you come into contact with is a believer, in something. Since most of those roads are all dead ends, why not show them something that works. Be a burning light in a sea of neon lights.
 
Be a different light.
 
-Mark Bishop
 
Mark Bishop is a Dove Award-winning Christian Music artist and writer with a brand new recording entitled “A Different Light”. Classified as mostly traditional in style, the lyrics and music speak to God’s bigness in everyday happenstance. You can find the new album across all platforms here.  https://clg.lnk.to/HpUHw
 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Here by Michael Hughes Watson

I wrote the song Here because of my cell phone.

 

Strange, I know. Here’s how it happened:

I have a pretty casual morning routine. Making coffee, tidying up. These are rituals which prepare me to think, read scripture, pray and write.

I sit down in my beloved chair, Bible and coffee within reach, the morning light beginning to stream through the windows, creation awakening, my mind a blank slate for the Spirit to direct, so I can open up...

Instagram.

 

News Feed.

 

(text message)

 

Sports News.

Emails.

(text message)

Calendar, Weather, Map location…

The morning spent, the moment lost. The coffee was now empty and of course, I needed to be somewhere. Oops!

 

(text message)

 

I rush to get ready and speed out the door to wherever. You can almost imagine God sitting in the room like, “I thought we were going to spend time together?” much to His disappointment.

It wasn’t always like this. At some point, I had justified this sort of behavior - using my phone as a first step in the morning to wake up, instead of immediately going to God in prayer or scripture - whatever prompted that change is history now.

I'm always searching for distraction

By desire I'm consumed

 

I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this struggle- how to best use technology. The majority of us probably think we're the ones consuming - using these apps to make our lives better and more efficient. Instead, it works the other way around. Our desires are used against us. We're the ones being consumed.

These desires are sometimes difficult to channel. Too often, we let them define us. Eventually, we become what we desire.

You’re always fighting for my attention 
To show me life I cannot lose

There’s a book that was recently published called You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. The title alone is thought provoking enough. It’s true. Our lives tend to resemble the things we love. And it affects our worship. Listen to how Smith defines in more detail- the battle for our attention, our loves and longings:

Christian worship, we should recognize, is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life.

My “rival liturgy” – smart phone - had certainly confused the good life God intended for me- the invitation to spend time with Him daily. Allowing my desires to be shaped by the Spirit. That’s the worship I deeply desired.

Instead my warped routine lasted for I don't know how long. Maybe it was weeks. Maybe it was months.

Finally, one morning, I got sick of it. I opened the scriptures again, as I had always done for years, beginning with the next Psalm that my Bible bookmarked for me...

Psalm 131

 

“My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”

 

The Spirit had all my attention at this point. I sat quietly, as a child being held in the arms of God. No prayer, just silence, calm, and contentment.

 

Stillness.

 

Hold me here like a child in Your arms

Calm my mind

Keep still my rushing heart

I rarely allow myself to be in this sort of place. This was a less-frequented room in God's palace of wonder - taking me deeper into the life that is truly life. This is the space where, like a child or a loved one, you just enjoy the presence of each other. No words needed to be exchanged. A sort of unspoken adoration and belonging.

In his book Hearing God, Dallas Willard describes this type of occurrence, “Even at the merely human level, one of the highest forms of communication is that kind of communion in which no overt word is needed or wanted”, and it’s in this silent union we find “a life constantly before him in this world and the next.” We’re invited into a holy eternal presence of the Father.

All my fears come fleeing out

As all my walls come crashing down

 

My heart now beating at the rhythm it was intended to. Eventually, there was some dialogue. I was vulnerable at this point, so it was easier to pray deeply.

The cares of this world were secondary and easier to distinguish their meaning. My prayers were led by the Spirit, which helped me focus and intercede on what mattered most. Heaven, the space where God dwells, was invading my life, I had entered His holy place, surrounded by the faint and beautiful song. 

I hear the music of my home

 

Homecoming.

 

Belonging.

 

Peace.

 

Shalom.

 

No better word for it.

 

That’s when I heard it: The melody, the song, the rhythm and instrumentation.

 

I quickly grabbed my phone.

 

That same phone that provided so many distractions before. This time, I used it to write down what had happened. A guided meditation, I suppose. The words flowed quickly.

 

The song that brought us “Here.”

 

[Resources]

Smith, James K. A. You are what you love: the spiritual power of habit. Grand Rapids, MI, Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016.

Willard, Dallas. Hearing God. Downers Grove, IL., InterVasity Press, 1991.

Further reading...

Currey, Mason. Daily rituals: how artist work. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

What Will You Spend Your Life On? by Remedy Drive

I’ve been writing songs for 20 years now.  I’ve spent most of my life putting one note in front of another note - trying to console an age old ache that echoes in the deepest chambers of my heart.  These songs, at least at this point in my life, have become the most valuable thing I own.  How am I going to invest the currency of my music?  What will I spend it on?  A more important question - how will I invest the currency of my life?  What will I spend it on?  

An ancient prophet named Isaiah said  “if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

 

What will we spend ourselves on?  The currency of our time, our art, our moral capital - what will we spend it on?  Our youth, our privilege, our platform, our creativity, our moral capital, our political capital - what will we spend it on?  What if we spend ourselves on the needs of the oppressed and on behalf of the marginalized?  What if we used our voice to amplify the voices of those whose voices have been drowned out?  To speak truth in the halls of power where the lives of the most vulnerable among us are trampled underfoot by the special interests of powerful corporations?  

 

You might be thinking “but I’m only one voice”.   So am I.  One voice in the wilderness.  One voice crying out at 110dB.  We have to be humble enough to believe our own unique voice matters in the mosaic of the kingdom.  It seems naive.  It seems so childish.  But maybe it’s childlike.  Maybe it’s like a kid with a few fish and five loaves of bread in the face of probable ridicule.  I’ll stand on the edge of the abyss and celebrate the small corner that I’m able to tear off the darkness.  Even when it feels foolish to maintain hope - we will push back on the shadow in the twilight.  

 

You might be thinking “how can we really make a difference? - we’re up against such corruption”.  I see it.  I look into the iron teeth of corruption on a regular basis.  Our work with The Exodus Road exposing sex trafficking puts me in close contact with mafias and gangs in cahoots with corrupt government officials and law enforcement.  It makes you want to give up at times.  But here’s the thing about corruption - even iron rusts and turns to power eventually - in fact, by it’s very nature it will pass away. That’s what corruption is.  Something that won’t last.   

 

Your selfless actions, on the other hand, will last forever.  There is an enduring quality to something that is done on behalf of someone else.  Laying down my rights and my time for the interests of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society is the whole point of the good news (at least the way Jesus from Nazareth talked about it).   “I’ve been anointed to proclaim good news for poor people”, he said.  “To proclaim freedom to the captives, liberty to the prisoners and a restoration of dignity to the oppressed, the crushed and the downtrodden”.  There is not a love that exceeds a life that is laid down.  The only way to find this life, the only way to tap into it is to lose your life. 

 

The design is not flawed.  We’ve just fallen so far short of the glorious purpose for which we were intended.  The goodness - the bravery - the courage - the selflessness - it already exists inside of you.  It’s there - but for most of us it’s just buried under an avalanche of fear, the cares of world, and the idolatry of safety and comfort.  

 

The fear is real.  I recognize that.  But courage is moving forward in the face of fear.  Your courageous actions will be contagious.  People will look at your selflessness and get creative - they will ask themselves “how can I do something similar to what she is doing?”  Ripples turn to tidal waves.  As we join the rising tide of ordinary people who are not willing to look the other way when we have come in contact with such emergencies in the arenas of mercy, justice, freedom and compassion.  

 

I’m using my rock band to shine a light on slavery and injustice.  I’m using my time and my resources to volunteer as an undercover operative with a counter trafficking organization called The Exodus Road.  Your contribution will be different than mine as your voice is different.  But you have a unique contribution to make.  It might become your life’s work.  It might cost you your life.  But you only have one life to live.  What will you spend it on?  

 

"What will we spend it on

And when we’re gone

In ages to come

The sages will write

“So raged the bearers of the light

So waged the few with all their might

Against the terrors of the night

With no sight in view

From the depths to the heights” 

 

-David Zach, Remedy Drive 

 

 

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

David Craft’s Top Ten Songs and Albums of 2017

While many staff members are breaking down their top year-end album picks, I was far more impressed with many of 2017’s individual songs as opposed to albums. (This is evidenced by the abnormally high amount of extended plays on my album list.) It is no secret that I was disappointed by the industry’s releases this past year, but there are always some exceptional gems to be found, and I want to break down some of the best offerings you just might have missed…

  1. New Earth: It’s always exciting to see an older act reunite under a new release, but this can easily be a letdown if not handled properly. Thankfully, 2017 saw the post-hardcore band Hands drop a two-track EP that went far above and beyond expectations. While both songs are fantastic, New Earth takes the cake for my favorite song released in the past several years. Its cold, dark, and somber lyrics perfectly mesh with a glimmer of hope, reflected by both the melody and instrumentation. Sometimes less is more, and Hands struck gold by implementing this understanding.

 

  1. I Can’t Sing it Loud Enough: “The thorns, the stripes, the cross, the spikes our hands prepared
    / so what is man that You would choose to stoop so low? / Exchange Your glory for our pitiful facade?
    ” Lyrics as raw as this seldom make their way onto a record, but former Attalus frontman Seth Davey’s entire album is full of such beautiful and deep considerations. The imperfections in the actual recording (balancing, vocals, etc.) make this music “real” in a way NF could only dream of.

 

  1. We Live Best: It’s been a while since we’ve heard from rapper John Reuben, but boy is it good to have him back. Sure, the cynic may have won out over the boy, but Reuben’s musings are more potent than ever: “no satisfaction, suffocating joy / never made a idol that didn’t disappoint / we live best close to death.” It’s hard to decipher the overall message of “Reubonic;” not many answers are given. In this day and age, however, his questions need to be asked, and that is the first step in reconciling an increasing schism between faith and reality.

 

  1. Breathing Underwater: For brothers Aaron and Jesse Sprinkle, teaming up to form new indie rock band Blank Books was risky; not because there was a real chance it wouldn’t be exceptional, but because of the sheer amount of expectation bound to come along. Easily the strongest song on the EP, Breathing Underwater perfectly merges rock elements from the ‘90s and present, sports poignant lyrics, and brings along a killer melody to boot.

 

  1. Marina: Falling Up frontman Jessy Ribordy’s side project, The Gloomcatcher, has been around since 2010. The surprise EP release of “Blade in the Belfry” was a welcome addition to this project, and while all of the songs are beautiful, creative, and unique, Marina holds a special place. Written in relation to Ribordy’s family, it chronicles the struggles of relationships and brokenness, yet points to the importance of holding on throughout the turbulence of life.

 

  1. Let You Down: In my review of NF’s third LP, “Perception,” I noted that “Let You Down” is the only song on the album which didn’t actually let me down. It appears I’m not alone, as the song has continued to climb the charts at an unprecedented rate. It’s catchy melody, strong lyrics, and forceful rap bring back the cohesive elements of NF’s more quality releases.

 

  1. Coming Back: Honestly, I just really like this song. It feels like it belongs in the credits of a Fast & Furious It’s catchy, busy, and simply a good time. The lyrics are clearly representative of Manafest’s faith (“This is my pain, this is my cry, this is my hope when I need a sign / ‘cause I'm never too far, never too far to come back”), but are also easily accessible, with the melodies and background elements bringing it all together.

 

  1. Gasoline: I’m not usually a fan of cover songs, but Falling Up’s rendition of Brand New’s Gasoline is, simply put, astounding. It’s sparse and haunting; fitting for the band’s very final song release after a 15+ year run. I’m just a little bit disappointed that this will be the last year that Falling Up makes it onto my list.

 

  1. God’s Not Done with You (Original Demo): Be sure to listen to the “original demo” version of this song, rather than the one that the label/studio ruined. Tauren Wells had a strong debut LP this year, but it was unfortunately over encumbered with contemporary elements. When Wells sits behind a piano, incredible things happen. It’s a shame that producers often add so much bloat that it cheapens and diminishes what was once a thing of beauty. Such is the case for God’s Not Done with You, a track with a powerful message, soaring harmonies, and lovely piano elements. I’m just thankful that the stripped-down demo version was also placed on the record.

 

  1. Still Alive (Looking for a Reason): This track represents one of the times where Red went for something different, and actually achieved an amazing piece of art. The acoustic elements and vocal breakdown seal the deal, topping off this year’s last spot in the top ten.

 

David Craft’s top ten songs and albums of 2017

 

Top Ten Albums:

  1. Wavorly – Movement One
  2. Hands – New Heaven/New Earth
  3. The Gloomcatcher – Blade in the Belfry
  4. John Reuben - Reubonic
  5. Seth Davey – Till You’re All I See
  6. Blank Books – EP 1
  7. Manafest - Stones
  8. MC Jin – Nobody’s Listening
  9. Aaron Sprinkle – Real Life
  10. Nichole Nordeman – Every Mile Mattered

 

Top Ten Songs:

  1. New Earth – Hands
  2. I Can't Sing It Loud Enough – Seth Davey
  3. We Live Best – John Reuben
  4. Breathing Underwater – Blank Books
  5. Marina – The Gloomcatcher
  6. Let you Down – NF
  7. Coming Back – Manafest
  8. Gasoline – Falling Up
  9. God’s Not Done with You (Original Demo) – Tauren Wells
  10. Still Alive (Looking for a Reason) – Red

 

 

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Scott Fryberger's Top Ten Albums of 2017

One of the best things about our top ten lists is that we never know what it's going to look like. While a lot of us on staff have favorites that we know we can count on to make the list, 2017 also dealt us quite a few wild cards, and I absolutely love it. Some of these wild cards were played differently than others (Young Fox, The Gloomcatcher, Penny & Sparrow, The Fast Feeling), but they were all chosen very carefully, and would all make excellent suggestions for someone wanting to find something new to listen to.

I deliberated over my list for quite some time, and even made a last-minute change the day the lists were due (sorry Mark!). Interestingly, I found myself being very certain of which albums to put in my top five, and having to choose between quite a few albums for spots 6-10. The ones that didn't make it still deserve some shine, so you'll see them in the "honorable mentions" after the list.

These are my top ten Christian albums of 2017. Odds are that you list looks different than mine, so I encourage you to share yours in the comments! I also encourage respect - and by "encourage," I mean I demand it!

1. Propaganda - Crooked

Relatively speaking, I'm a bit of a late comer to Christian hip hop. In my teenage years through early 20s, I was into artists like KJ-52, The Cross Movement, and T-Bone. As I grew and my music taste expanded, the underground hip hop started reaching out to me and bringing me in further and further. 2011 was my first experience with Propaganda, as he released Art Ambidextrous for free through the then-new Humble Beast. A few albums later, we have what I consider to be his strongest album to date, Crooked. Prop is immersed in both black and Hispanic culture and is vocal about current events and injustices that plague his communities, but he's also very vocal about his faith in Jesus. I've talked with people who couldn't get past their prejudices long enough to get to the meat of Crooked, but Prop's message here is undeniably drenched in the Gospel and the fact that only Jesus can fulfill us and that justice is in His hands. He's not shy about calling out the racism in our society and the Church (subtle or otherwise), but he's also open about his own imperfections and downfalls. Plus, the music is just so good. A wide range of influences come in to play, from traditional west coast hip hop to Beautiful Eulogy experimental beats. Crooked has it all. Don't miss this album.



2. Krum - Blue-Eyed Devil

Harry Krum flipped the switch on the name change in 2016 with Bare Knuckle Gospel. Then, back in February of 2017, he released one of the finest albums of his career. Additionally, Blue-Eyed Devil is also one of Krum's most personal, honest, and vulnerable albums. This album shined some light on the darkness in his life, from a broken marriage to flirting with sin, Krum opened up about the demons in his life more than we've ever heard before. A lot of the album's runtime is spent on his failures, but ultimately, it's time spent well, as he uses it to show how merciful God has been in his life. He even ends the album with a declaration that, through Christ, the Church is going to tear down the walls of the kingdom that Satan has built on the earth. I'm sure the name change probably left a lot of people in the dark; if you were a fan of Playdough and didn't know about all of this, go and listen to Blue-Eyed Devil and enjoy some of the best work from this veteran emcee.


 

3. Kings Kaleidoscope - The Beauty Between

This band, you guys. I genuinely believe that Kings Kaleidoscope is one of the tightest and most talented alternative bands in existence, not to mention being one of the absolute best worship bands I've ever listened to. The Beauty Between is a captivating listen. Kings K's hip hop influences have always stuck out to me, and it's wonderful to see them manifested a little more, as this album is half alternative, half hip hop, but still sounds more like Becoming Who We Are than their last album. Featuring the talents of Andy Mineo, Beleaf, Braille, Derek Minor, and Propaganda, this genre-blasting album is a real treat. And it's on cassette, too, to add to the whole "mixtape" vibe. You can't go wrong.


 

4. Rusty Shipp - Mortal Ghost

This album completely took me by surprise. A couple other staff members raved about it, and I knew I needed to give it a listen. First impressions didn't quite grip me like I was hoping, but something about it kept drawing me back. The more I listened, the more I was pulled in to this intense rock & roll sound that was unabashedly raw and honest. It's heavy, it's experimental, it's slightly funny (if even unintentionally so...I hope Russ doesn't really have caligynephobia), and it features a "Song of Storms" interlude, taken straight from my favorite video game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (I'm a sucker, what can I say?). I honestly believe this to be the best pure rock album of 2017, and I'll definitely keep coming back to it when I need a rock & roll fix.

5. John Mark McMillan - Mercury & Lightning

Like many of you, I'm sure, I was introduced to John Mark McMillan by way of a song called "How He Loves" (team "sloppy wet kiss"). I've always liked his work, but my appreciation wasn't absolute, as I always found myself acknowledging the quality of his music without actually spending a lot of time listening it. 2016, however, reintroduced me to Mr. McMillan with a live album that really hit me where it matters, and it became one of my favorite albums of the year. Needless to say, I was now hyped for Mercury & Lightning, and I was not disappointed. If you ask me, "Death In Reverse" might be the greatest song he's ever written, with other career highlights such as "Wilderlove," "Unhaunted," and "No Country." It's a spectacular album and I can't get enough of it.

6. Beautiful Eulogy - Worthy

This might have been the album on this list that I was the most excited for. Beautiful Eulogy's first two albums were absolutely stellar, and there was a four-year wait between Instruments of Mercy and Worthy, so the anticipation was great. Worthy featured the theologically-dense lyrics and otherworldly production we've come to expect from the trio, but was also a bit of a different animal, with guest spots from indie/rock singers and worship bands (and no rappers), as well as several instrumentals. It's not my favorite of their discography, but it's a highlight of the year.



7. Demon Hunter - Outlive

Fifteen years since their debut, Demon Hunter has released their most accessible album to date. The band's catalog spans the rock spectrum, from acoustic to rock ballads to hard rock to fast and furious metal.



8. The Fast Feeling - Pulses

In 2016, Five Iron Frenzy's Leanor Till announced a new side project she was working on with Scott and Andy (also of Five Iron), as well as Matt from Eleventyseven/The Jellyrox. That project was The Fast Feeling, and Pulses was the product of their writing and recording sessions. It's a solid pop rock album with a lot of electronic elements that ventures into heavy themes, like my personal favorite track, "Factions," but they also dabble in the light-hearted, like "Wasting Time." I was eager for this album, but I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Needless to say, this is a rather unexpected highlight for 2017, and I hope we get more from this group sooner rather than later.

9. Death Therapy - The Storm Before The Calm

And speaking of surprises, Death Therapy really came out of nowhere. I remember seeing this name on the list of upcoming Solid State Records releases and I wasn't sure what to expect, but The Storm Before The Calm was completely different. A mix of groove metal and nu metal with no guitars save for a bass guitar, combining the sounds of bands like Korn, East West, and Rob Zombie - it's a new sound for Solid State, and I approve.

10. The Ongoing Concept - Places

Heavy music is in a big of a stagnant state right now. There are some great bands putting out music, as the ones listed above and below can attest, but it's really hard to find hardcore and metal bands that keep my attention these days. I'm thankful for The Ongoing Concept, a band that's keeping things fresh. They like to keep it fresh so much that they even call themselves out when things might get too run-of-the-mill. Places is a frantic metal album with traces of southern metal, metalcore, and funk rock, of all things. I highly recommend this album to fans of metal, especially fans that, like me, are also struggling to find something interesting.

Honorable Mentions (chronological order):

-The Brilliance, All Is Not Lost: A worthy follow-up to the indie pop duo's debut, exploring themes of redemption and hope, with a little extra gospel and r&b flavors. -nobigdyl, Canopy: A rap album that's equal parts humorous, serious, and introspective. -Eisley, I'm Only Dreaming: Despite the slight stylistic change, the indie darlings have done it again with a more down-to-earth approach to songwriting. -Hearts Like Lions, If I Never Speak Again: This indie rock band's first full-length album says a lot about their future in the industry, and it's all good. -Flatfoot 56, Odd Boat: If this was a top 11 list, this would have made it. A strong Celtic punk album from a great talented bunch of rockers. -Aaron Sprinkle, Real Life: Any work by this legend in the industry is sure to be great, and this is no exception. -Earth Groans, Renovate EP: If this EP is any indication, Earth Groans has the potential to reinvent the hardcore game when their inevitable full-length comes out. -At the Wayside, The Breakdown and the Fall: One of Indie Vision Music's greatest new contributions to the independent punk rock scene. -'68, Two Parts Viper: Scogin and McClellan pair up to create some dynamite grunge, alternative, and screamy rock. No sophomore slump here. -The Sing Team, Sing On!: A reinterpretation of hymns in a variety of styles and sung by Brian Eichelberger and a host of other voices. -Deepspace 5, 5:55: The first release from this crew since 2010. It's short, and it's not the whole crew, but it's 100% quality. -Southlen, Places EP: This highly underrated pop rock group continues to impress with a much-too-short EP. -Swingin Hammers, Swingin Hammers: An independent artist with an arsenal of high-quality southern rock and Americana. -Blank Books, EP1: Aaron and Jesse Sprinkle teaming up for an alternative rock album is a dream come true. -Keyes., Animal. House.: Half of FREE DAPS with his second solo EP, featuring excellent production and a signature flow.

 

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Christian Life Lessons from 'Star Wars - The Last Jedi' (Spoiler Warning)

After seeing the latest Star Wars film, I had a lot of thoughts about how it relates to the Christian faith, but to discuss it, I have to reveal a ton of spoilers from the plot. So be warned, I discuss the movie and its plot here as if you've already seen it - so proceed with caution!

The events of the latest Star Wars film have sparked all kinds fan reactions, but the most common ones seem to be polar opposites: they either totally love the film... or totally hate it. The most negative feelings seem to be inspired most of all by how writer/director Rian Johnson treated the beloved hero Luke Skywalker. But I've found that it's this treatment of Luke that has spawned all kinds of parallels I've experienced with life as a Christian, and working for over two decades in the Christian music industry.

Last WARNING!! Major Star Wars: The Last Jedi SPOILERS ahead...

In the film, Luke has secluded himself on Ach-To island, ashamed of the unintentional role he played in his nephew, Ben Solo, turning to the Dark Side (and becoming Kylo Ren). He's even shut himself off entirely from "The Force" and believes the ancient Jedi religion should end. The once passionate and on-fire believer in The Force that we saw in the '77-'83 trilogy is now broken and discouraged and has given up on his faith.

Does this sound familiar at all to anyone?

Enter Rey. Rey has just had The Force "awakened" in her (hence the 7th Episode's film title), and now, only days after facing Kylo Ren head-on and discovering her strength in The Force, she's come face-to-face with the legend, Luke Skywalker. She's heard the stories that fans all know and love, and she's come to believe that Luke is the galaxy's last hope once again. However, she quickly discovers that Luke doesn't believe this in the least. Worse yet, he's given up all hope. As Rey holds out the very lightsaber Luke used to face his evil father -- the very lightsaber that was his father's--Anakin Skywalker--before he turned into Darth Vader -- Luke takes it into his hands (one of them being a now-metal hand in place of the one he lost when he lost this very lightsaber)... and merely tosses it aside. Despite Rey's plea for him to teach her again and again, Luke bitterly refuses and insists that it's the Jedi's very hubris that led to the rise of the Empire in the first place. He makes some valid points as to why the Jedi should end, but Rey sees the positives -- something Luke has completely forgotten.

When I started "The Jesus Freak Hideout" (JFH) in 1996, I was 16 years old. I had been raised to believe and follow God, but I never really accepted Christ into my life as my Lord and Savior until I was about 13 years old. It was around that time that I discovered Christian music. I soon found these musical pilgrims to be larger-than-life heroes to me. I loved their crusade for the faith, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to do whatever I could to help others find these artists and their music and feel what I felt when I listened to their songs. If I could spend hours of my life sitting in front of a computer screen, promoting this kind of music from the comfort of my dad's home office, then I'd be more than honored to do it. Obviously, over the years, JFH grew and so did its presence in the music industry. And with its growth, came more of my own involvement in the industry, mostly interacting with record labels, publicity groups, and even tour production companies and artist managements. I was suddenly meeting some of these heroes of mine -- whether in person or via email or phone. The curtain, so to speak, was being pulled back and I became privy to a world most don't get to see - and it was exciting!

But it didn't take long for reality to set in. Two years after the site began, I experienced the business side of the "Christian music industry" in a very negative way when a record label took advantage of my naivety, and their "help" turned into a fight for me to gain ownership of something that was always rightfully mine. I was starting to see that the passion and love and hope and positivity that was radiating from my teenage heart was not really shared by everyone who I had assumed would if they were involved in promoting this music that touched my heart so much.

I was Rey.

And now I was meeting my Luke Skywalker's. These artists and labels and champions of the faith that I was reading about monthly in CCM Magazine, seeing them grace the covers while talking about their music ministries and love for Jesus within those paper pages, were proving to be something I never considered: Human. Flawed. Just like you. Just like me!

Upon seeing The Last Jedi, and loving the film but being disappointed by seeing our hero, Luke Skywalker, as someone who had lost his faith along the way -- basically because of shame and discouragement -- I realized how sadly REAL that is. I've seen it time and time again. People of the faith we look up to - heroes - suddenly walking away from everything they preached or sang about. (I've seen it happen to friends close to me, even family, too.) I have recorded songs on CD and on my iPhone about personal beliefs and passionate faith that are sung and performed by artists who no longer believe these declarations. Now when I hear them, I hear the hearts of someone not declaring, but struggling to believe. And sadly, I know where that struggled eventually led them.

I debated on whether or not to write any of these thoughts down, but then I saw a social media post from one of the aforementioned heroes making a bitter reference to something in the Christian music industry -- and it wasn't their first post like it. A little bit later the same day, I was listening to John Williams' brilliant Last Jedi score and these thoughts came flooding back, and my heart broke all over again.

In the film, Rey's passion and fire help Luke to start to rethink his current position on his faith. He lets The Force back in, and we start to see just how powerful of a Jedi this man really is. (We see the potential he has for good that he has forgotten!) He's then visited by his old friend and teacher, Yoda, who helps remind him that he's lost focus... that he's always looking in the wrong place for answers. It's a callback to a younger Luke being trained by Master Yoda in Empire Strikes Back, but it's also such a real moment where a mentor in the faith helps get through to someone who's lost the plot and lost their way. It's a turning point for Luke. By the film's end, it seems he gives his life to save his friends one more time, and his faith in The Force is restored. It's a hopeful conclusion, and it gives me hope that some of those who've inspired us through the years who've fallen away and let discouragement and brokenness consume them can rediscover the fire that brought them to their faith in Jesus in the first place.

But another lesson can be gleaned from Luke's story: we all can fall. We all can let discouragement cloud our vision and make us lose sight of the cross. It's up to us how we respond to the disappointments and hardships in our lives. What I miss most about Christian music from the 90's and early 00's is how much of it was about living the Christian life. People would complain then that much of it was "preaching to the choir," but what many failed to realize is that believers NEED encouragement and fuel to fan the fire of faith inside us. And, ironically, it seems that so much of the music today is made almost exclusively for Sunday morning services (but that's an entirely different loaded topic for a different kind of blog), and it's drastically shrunken the diversity of what Christian music once was. I feel like the songs of yesteryear often talked about things to really chew on and make you think, while also encouraging you in your faith. Songs like "I Don't Understand" by PFR, "Rubber Meets the Road" by Steven Curtis Chapman, "See Through" by Audio Adrenaline, or "Lost the Plot" by Newsboys were songs that were honest, vulnerable, and helped believers navigate their doubts and fears in the faith (and musically, they were just really good and cool to listen to, too).

Love it or hate it, there's a lot to take away from the story of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And I feel like it really gives Christians a lot to talk about and discuss. Are you more or a Rey? Are you more of a Luke? And if any of us are feeling more like a Luke these days, what can we do to get that fire and passion back in our lives?

It's my prayer that our fallen heroes in the faith may find the fire and hope again. If you know someone like that in your life, the very least we can do is seek the Lord for them and pray for them. Their story isn't over yet. :)

-- John DiBiase

 

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Nicole's Top Ten Albums of 2017

2017 was, in many ways, a year of lamenting, both within the music industry and about the music industry. Many of our staple “heavyweights” in Christian music released albums in 2016, which meant that 2017 was truly a year for indie artists to step up to the plate. Thankfully quite a few did, as evidenced by our staff’s overall and individual top ten lists. Here are my personal picks for the top ten albums of 2017, along with the reasons why I chose them:


1. Mortal Ghost, Rusty Shipp - I didn’t go on vacation to the Jersey Shore this past summer, and I missed the beach terribly. Thankfully it was around this time that Michael Weaver’s review for Rusty Shipp’s album Mortal Ghost was posted, and after reading his positive feedback as well as some comments from our readers, I decided to give the album a spin--and it was honestly one of the best decisions I made in 2017. From the Muse-esque intro “Sea Sentinals” to the epic closer “Davy Jones,” this album truly transported me to the nautical place I longed for, and the production values were top notch. This became my go-to album for this year, and my most-played. I went on to interview Russ T. Shipp for our site and asked him all my burning questions about this album. Lyrically and musically, it’s just satisfying all-around, and still maintains spiritual substance throughout.


2. Can't Curse The Free, Jetty Rae - My interest in this album piqued when Jetty Rae posted about the production process on Facebook, and how this album had a much different sound from her previous ones. I managed to get an advance copy for my review, and I was so impressed with how well-executed this new sound was. There’s an earthiness to it, yet it’s also ethereal. Like I said in my review, there’s just something very “American” about the sound, because it composites different musical styles that started and evolved in the US. The story behind the album is even more compelling--Rae wrote these songs while traveling around the US with her family in an RV, and during this time her father was sick with cancer. Seeing the rugged landscapes while weathering emotional turmoil stirred Rae’s songwriting in a new direction, and this is Rae at her most soulful and raw. Tracks like “Can’t Curse the Free” and “Still Gotta Fight It” were particularly encouraging to me this past year.


3. Crooked, Propaganda - After hearing several of my JFH colleagues rave about this album, I decided to give it a listen--and it was a tour-de-force. This was one of my favorite albums to listen to during my commutes on the subway, because I would people-watch as I listened. It’s a long album--I only reached the end once or twice--but it moves quickly. The mixing in this album is superb (kudos to Beautiful Eulogy who co-produced this album), and the first time I listened to “Gentrify” I looked around the subway car to see if there was a man yelling in Spanish. That’s how much detail went into the mixing process on this record. I’m not as familiar with Propaganda’s catalog as my staffmates, so I didn’t compare this album to any of his previous ones. Overall, I was impressed by the amount of pop cultural and historical references that were seamlessly incorporated into the lyrics, and how each song emotes differently from the others. Propaganda doesn’t waste time on bravado or critiquing the rap industry and its critics--he’s looking at the bigger picture, at our nation and at the world, and he raises thought-provoking questions about what he sees, instead of telling us the answers.


4. We Are Fearless, Fearless BND - It’s rare for an album to “grow” on me--I usually don’t listen again after a bad first impression. However, because I volunteered to review We Are Fearless, I had no choice but to listen to it multiple times to give it a fair review. Nobody was more surprised than I was but my turnaround in opinion--with each listen, I succumbed more and more to the earworms present here, and found myself tapping my toes to the beats and moving around to the synths. It’s a joyous and reverent affair, yet it still has the commercial production values to rival anything on current pop radio. Stylistically, it’s the antithesis to The Porter’s Gate’s Work Songs (which I’ll get to next). This album is all about pushing the boundaries of electronic worship, while still sounding cohesive and catchy. The only exception is the track “White Flag,” which still incorporates synths after the halfway mark. What I enjoyed most about this album was that it made me want to get up and dance, and this buoyancy helped brighten those difficult winter commutes back in January and February. Sidenote: it would be interesting to hear these songs reinterpreted in an acoustic setting (Fearless BND--if you’re reading this, that could be an EP idea for 2018).


 

5. Work Songs: The Porter's Gate Worship Project Vol. 1, The Porter's Gate - This was a late discovery for me, one of those albums I listened to while I was compiling my top ten list for the end of the year. I listened through it during a commute home on the express bus, so I got to watch some scenery while I listened. It felt cinematic--the opening track is mesmerizingly beautiful, with Madison Cunningham’s clear voice almost whispering over an acoustic guitar. The organic instrumentation and raw vocals on this album ushered me back to the church days of my childhood, when we’d sometimes have services where we sang “the choruses” acapella, yet it was still anointed. The fact that this album was recorded live raised the stakes for the performances, and the result is, like us, perfectly imperfect and beautifully flawed. The songs feel more genuine than they would have in a studio setting. There’s also a slightly retro gospel sound to these songs, and if you enjoy the music of The Followers, you’ll enjoy The Porter’s Gate’s Work Songs as well.


6. I Quit Church, Matt & Toby - When I first heard about this project, my initial thought was “Is this going to be ironic?” Matt & Toby’s reputation precedes them, and I was expecting this to be a scathing critique on the hypocrisy of church culture (which, in many ways, would be justifiably warranted). I know people who have “quit church,” saying they can’t stand the preaching, or the people sitting next to them, or the music being played during worship. Surprisingly, though, this album is much more reverent than I anticipated, and I was blindsided by how emotional I became while listening. The traditional hymns are given new shape and life in this album, and I liked Matt & Toby’s decidedly retro, laid back sonic interpretation of them. This is an ideal album for driving at night, but be warned, it hits you hard in the heart. The original songs on this album loosely shape its “narrative,” about someone leaving church, and later his pastor visiting his home to ask him to return. What happens from there is left up to the listener to imagine. The point of this album is not to tell us about all the things that are wrong with today’s churches--instead, I Quit Church redirects our attention to why we go to church in the first place--to seek God, to worship Him, to hear His Word, and to collectively encounter Him with other believers.


7. Lifer, MercyMe - The Reinvention Award of 2017 would have to go to MercyMe. Admittedly, I’m not well-versed in their back-catalog, save for one album and some radio singles. But I know for certain that I would never associate words like “funky” or “swagger” with their music. Lifer turns listeners’ expectations upside down--MercyMe has made an album we can dance to, and not just in the boot-stomping way we did with their previous efforts. The opening title track sounds like something Bruno Mars would release to top 40 radio, and I mean that in the best way possible. The brass, the synths, the guitars, the bass--everything here is working in tandem to create what is arguably the catchiest MercyMe song of all time. There are other standout tracks--the guest appearance of rapper John Reuben in the groovy “Grace Got You” is a pleasant surprise, “Even If” is one of the most honest Christian songs about keeping faith in God, and “We Win” makes me cry happy tears when I listen to it. Overall, this was a standout effort from MercyMe, and it’s put them in the musical forefront for me.


8. Projections, Landry Cantrell - One of my JFH colleagues pointed out to me that my 4.5 star review for Landry Cantrell’s album sounds more like a 4 star review when you read it. Nevermind what I wrote, this is a 4.5 star album. What I enjoyed most about Cantrell’s album is that is sounded fresh, yet relevant--it certainly ranks up there with what the secular market is putting out, from a production standpoint, but the lyrics and vocal delivery are heartfelt and genuine. There’s some nice, catchy, encouraging cuts on this record--the energetic and worshipful “Before You,” the finger-snappin’ “Fly,” and the Romans 8:38-inspired “Separate,” to name a few. “Indian Summer” is a beautiful love ballad, and the fact that it was a duet between Cantrell and his then fiance (now wife!) Kelsey Hicks makes it more special. I’m looking forward to seeing what Cantrell will release in the future, but for now, let’s continue to savor Projections.


9. Where His Light Was, Kristene DiMarco - When I saw that Kristene DiMarco was releasing a solo album, I was concerned that it was going to sound too similar to her peers’ solo efforts. Thankfully, it does not--DiMarco’s style strikes a balance between the organic and the electronic, and while there aren’t any fast songs on this album, the album moves quickly. This is straightforward worship, with some anthemic moments (“Your Love Stand Alone,” “I Am No Victim”) and some intimate ones as well (“Never Ever,” “I Just Want to Worship”). I felt encouraged in my faith when I listened to this album, and it helped to be reminded that God is with me, that He won’t fail me, and that my identity is found in Him.


10. Only the Lonely, Colony House - This was another last minute discovery for me, like The Porter’s Gate and Matt & Toby’s records. It’s unfortunate, considering that one of my JFH colleagues sent me a hard copy of this album earlier in the year, but I’m glad I finally got around to listening to it. This album brought me back to the indie rock I listened to when I was in college not too long ago, and also reminded me of the oldies I listened to in the car growing up, so the familiarity of the sound made me nostalgic. There’s some clever production choices on this album--the whistling leading into “1234,” the Black Keys-esque guitar and vocal effects in “Lonely,” the surf rock harmonies in “You Know It.” Pensive closer “This Beautiful Life” hits all the right musical and lyrical marks. I anticipate becoming better acquainted with Colony House going forward.

-- Nicole Marie Vacca

 

 

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

John Underdown's Top Ten Albums and Songs of 2017

John Underdown's Top Ten Albums and Songs of 2017

This was my first year writing for JFH, joining the staff in March. While I considered myself a fan of CCM, this year was a learning experience. I discovered some artists for the first time, rediscovered others I thought had faded out, and enjoyed releases by those whom I follow.

As I learned more about the music industry, I was also learning more about life. My wife and I had our first child midway through the year and that took most of my energy. But as I discovered new joys and pains through our son, the year’s music was there to help me along the journey. These 10 albums and songs were the ones that stuck with me the most and kept me coming back to them for various reasons.

1.       Colony House- Only the Lonely

I really enjoyed Colony House’s debut, When I Was Younger, and was stoked for this release. Turns out this album was what I needed for this year. Though it comes from the perspective of a traveling musician struggling to keep his family together, I could still draw parallels to my life. I often want to do things alone, my own way. But, as this album reminds me, I cannot handle life alone and need the help of my wife and others to make it through. While the music is loud and raucous, the lyrics are dripping with wisdom. From start to finish, this record drew me in and challenged/encouraged me with every tune.

 

2.       John Mark McMillan- Mercury and Lightning

Before this year, I only knew McMillan as the guy behind that “sloppy wet kiss” song. I remember watching the music video for “No Country” off this album and thinking, “This is kind of weird and yet profound.” With the release of each new video or single I became more intrigued and excited about this album and found that, in the end, it is kind of weird and yet profound. McMillan’s wrestling with his doubt and fears is done in a moving, tactful way that feels much like a Psalm in the Bible that begins with despair and ends in hope. I could relate deeply with some of McMillan’s fears and found comfort in many of the songs on this album.

 

3.       Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors- Souvenir

I enjoyed some of Holcomb’s songs in the past, but Souvenir is where I bit my teeth down on his work. This laid-back album about life, love, and everything in between is something special. Holcomb shows what the true value and power of folk music is: the ability to view the world through a simple yet provocative lens that lingers with the listener after the music fades.

4.       12 Stones- Picture Perfect

When this album came up for review, my initial reaction was, “These guys are still around??” I remember their self-titled debut coming out when I was in high school and hadn’t heard much from them since then. But I appreciated their music (especially their willingness to lay out a good guitar solo) and took a chance on this record. It did not disappoint! This was a fun, rollicking romp that kept me pumped in the sweltering weeks of summer leading up to my son’s birth.

 

5.       Matt Redman- Glory Song

Redman was always one of those artists I appreciated but never followed. Glory Song may change that for me. Most new praise music out there today makes me weary of this world, but something about Redman’s latest was refreshing and catchy. The longing to return to a deeper passion for God resonated with me and made this a fun album to review.

 

6.       Daniel Bashta- My Resurrection (Live)

Yet another worship-artist-known-for-a-big-song-covered-by-other-bands surprised me this year. Bashta, the man behind “Like a Lion”, released a truly worshipful album with My Resurrection. Appropriately, it came out around Easter and perhaps that helped ingrain it in my mind. Something about Bashta’s approach to worship feels genuine, dipping into depth and artistry. I would come back to this one at various points through the year and enjoyed it every time.

 

7.       Loud Harp- Hope Where There was None

I’ve been a fan of Loud Harp for a year or two now and highly anticipated this release. Somehow this band can craft an atmosphere with their music that makes up for weaknesses in the lyrics. This album about hope and God’s presence in time of crisis is comforting and mesmerizing.

 

8.       The Little Roy and Lizzy Show- Going Home

Bluegrass is one of those genres I enjoy occasionally. It’s not my favorite genre, it’s not my go-to choice when I want to listen to acoustic music, but I fancy it every now and then. That said I was surprised how much I enjoyed this little album. Maybe it was the down-home charm it possesses and the feelings of Kentucky it awoke in me, but I found myself revisiting this album at various points throughout the year.

 

9.       Army of Bones- Army of Bones

I became aware of this band (and their debut album) late in the year and I wish I had heard them sooner. The way they write and sing about relationships is relatable and the longing they express through lyrics and music reach across the divide to stir emotions in the listener. I will be playing this album well into the new year.

 

10.   Young Fox- Sky Beats Gold

Here is an album that cloaks itself in poetic mystery but invites the listener in with its haunting music. I went back and forth with this album for half the year, wanting to like it, not sure if I did, then deciding it is worth investing more time into. Another release I will be returning to frequently.

 

Top 10 Songs

“Where Your Father’s Been”-Colony House: Becoming a father this year made me think about my father, who died a few years ago. Thinking about my life from the perspective of retreading what my father did was encouraging.

“Enemy, Love”- John Mark McMillan: This song has so much raw emotion in it! McMillan struggles with losing control and letting down his family. I feel the same struggle and took solace in this song’s sentiment.

“Honestly”- The City Harmonic: Too easily I can get wrapped up in myself and feel prideful and selfish. This humbling prayer song reminds me to not lose focus on God and His greatness.

“Weeping Mary”- Loud Harp: The way they cover this song is beautiful. It offers simple Gospel examples to teach simple biblical truths.

“Thank You Jesus”- Daniel Bashta: Sometimes a simple, sincere “thank You” is all we can offer God for what He’s done for us through His Son. This song, with its easy-going pace, reinforces that and gives the listener a layout for that prayer.

“Devil Jonah”- Rusty Shipp: I don’t know why, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, but the night after my son was born the chorus of this song kept playing through my head. Maybe because it’s catchy, maybe because of sleep deprivation. Not sure.

“One Day (When We All Get to Heaven)”- Matt Redman: The way Redman reworks the refrain from an old hymn into a modern praise song is subtle and effecting. You feel the longing and can get lost in the moment. Redman’s prayer extension at the end ruins the moment some, but still a good song overall.

“Voodoo Doll”- 12 Stones: Plain and simple, this is a fun rock song. The jaunty rhythm mixed with the dark metaphors creates an enjoyable romp through your ears.

“Sometimes the Monsters Win”- Young Fox: This is the mesmerizing opening track to Sky Beats Gold. The sentiment behind the lyrics also helped me cope with much of the horrible things that happened in the news this year.

“Fight for Love”- Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors: I was reminded this year that to have a good marriage you have to fight for it. This was an appropriate anthem and reminder.

--John Underdown

 

 

 

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Music Out This Week

This Friday, November 16
Amongst the Giants Obscene [RockFest]
Casting Crowns Only Jesus [Reunion]
NEEDTOBREATHE Acoustic Live Vol. 1 [Atlantic]

NEXT Tuesday, November 20
David Dunn Star EP [BEC]
Josh White & Josh Garrels Josh White & Josh Garrels EP [Gospel Song / BEC]

NEXT Friday, November 23
InnerWish Inner Strength (re-issue) [Ulterium]
InnerWish Silent Faces (re-issue) [Ulterium]
InnerWish Waiting for the Dawn (re-issue) [Ulterium]


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