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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Josh Balogh's Top 20 Switchfoot Songs Ranked

The music nerd in me loves to compile music lists and rankings, yet I labor and often give up before finishing when it comes to favorite bands. How do you decide? So many songs have had tremendous impact in various seasons of my life. Anyway, here’s my best try at one of my all time favorite bands that I feel like I have literally grown up with from age sixteen on. And so it begins…

 

1. “Dare you To Move”The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

It had to be this one, or the close second “Meant To Live” for me…This is Switchfoot at the top of their game. Best and favorite lyrics come from the bridge, “maybe redemption has stories to tell. Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can can you run to escape from yourself? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Salvation is here!” Classic. Don’t ever seeing this one supplanted at number one.

 

2. “Meant To Live”The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

They chased the sound and success of this one on Nothing Is Sound, and though “Stars” and “Lonely Nation” are both great, they’ll never measure up to this grungy anti-materialism anthem.

 

3. “Mess of Me”Hello Hurricane (2009)

Another in a long line of anti-materialism, everything-apart-from-Christ-is-meaningless songs, this rocker nearly usurps the throne that is the “Dare You To Move,” “Meant To Live” combo, but not quite. It’s a terrific song nonetheless.

 

4. “Let That Be Enough”New Way To Be Human (1999)

It’s my favorite Switchfoot ballad, full of earnest coming of age realization. Worshipful. Ecclesiastical and yet hopeful. “Let me know that you hear me, let me know your touch. Let me know that you love me, and let that be enough.” Superb.

 

5. “Where I Belong”Vice Verses (2011)

Foreman revised familiar territory lyrically as he proclaims that this world is not his home, while yearning for eternity. Rarely did he say it better than “Where I Belong” though. This one is a concert staple, and the right way to end a live show.

 

6. “If The House Burns Down Tonight”Where The Light Shines Through (2016)

It’s frantic in all the right ways as he states, “you possess your possessions or they possess you. If the house burns down tonight, I’ve got everything I need when I got you by my side.” It works as a rocking romantic sentiment, as well as a reminder of what should be important in our lives. People over things.

 

7. “24”The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

This is a favorite to belt out loud in my car, as well as sing along with the wife. Very hymn-like when sung in concert.

 

8. “New Way To Be Human”New Way To Be Human (1999)

I’ve been listening to this one for a long time, though I vacillated about including it in my top ten. It’s worthy though…still smile every time I hear the three chimes near the beginning of the song. Also, a great book by Charlie Peacock was what inspired the song, so a bonus reading recommendation too!

 

9. “Dirty Second Hands”Oh! Gravity (2006)

A prime example of experimental Switchfoot I love the timing in this one, how it changes and seems unreliable…just like the tech that we “need” can begin to steal our time/life. A rant against technology? A rank against technology that ultimately blames us, not the machine? Yeah, there’s layers worth digging into, but it’s also just a fun song.

 

10. “Gone” – The Beautiful Letdown – (2003)

This one is so fun! It’s the playful and fun side of Switchfoot that shows up less and less after this one, but previously on their debut, and two albums after it. Love the jumpy nature of the song, and the gang vocal harmony approach. They did a more stripped down version in concert that emphasized drawing out the vocals more that still stands out in my mind 15 years later.

 

11. “Only Hope”New Way To Be Human (1999)

Sung beautifully by Mandy Moore for the A Walk to Remember soundtrack this one also helped launch them into the ear canals of mainstream audiences. Deservedly so.

 

12. “Chem 6A”Legend of Chin (1997)

This was likely the first Switchfoot song I ever heard unless it was “Underwater.” Memory has faded on that one, I do know I heard them first on one of those 1.99 or free music samplers that were popular for awhile. Simply Fabulous album with hippie color looking cover? Chunky, sloppy, garage band guitar riffs won me over from the start, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

 

13. “Your Love Is A Song”Hello Hurricane (2009)

This one would fit nicely thematically on their soon to be released Native Tongues album. Lyrics like, “Your love is a symphony, All around me, Running through me…” Lead the way for this solid ballad.

 

14. “Oh! Gravity”Oh! Gravity (2006)

Some decry this album as one of their worst…and I know why, but I disagree. The title track has always been a favorite strictly due to the out of tune piano mash and it’s frenetic pacing. Some hate it, I for one, love it.

 

15. “Learning To Breathe”Learning To Breathe (2000)

“Hello good morning how you do? What makes your rising sun so new?” Love this tune! Definitely my favorite from that album as I wouldn’t come to appreciate “Dare You To Move” until later.

 

16. “Daylight To Break”Eastern Hymns For Western Shores EP (2010)

I can’t remember when I first heard this song, it had to have been shortly after Oh! Gravity era songs…regardless it’s a fantastic Beach Boys inspired surf rock song that I’d loved to have a physical copy. It’s my Switchfoot unicorn song. Hopefully I’ll snag it from a used shop to complete my Switchfoot collection one day.

 

17. “Stars”Nothing Is Sound (2005)

Switchfoot grungy with a wall of guitars and a killer hook, it wasn’t the first song I loved from Nothing Is Sound, (that would be “Lonely Nation”) but it’s the one that’s had the best staging power.

 

18. “Company Car”New Way To Be Human (1999)

This is just Switchfoot having fun, and it’s been a longtime favorite…probably top 5 of my most sung Switchfoot songs. Another tune decrying materialism, this was a warm up to their smash hit “Meant To Live.”

 

19. “Vice Verses”Vice Verses (2011)

First written during their previous album Hello Hurricane, “Vice Verses” plays with the idea of polarity. I love the contrast in the lyrics, and it’s the kind of acoustic guitar based tune that I’ve always loved from Switchfoot.

 

20. “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight”Fading West (2014)

I could have also gone with the bass heavy “Ba55” here too,  but the joy oozing from “Love Along Is Worth The Fight” sticks out as the one with the longest staying power from my least favorite Switchfoot album overall.

 

Bonus: Two songs from the upcoming Native Tongues that I think have potential to crack my top twenty ranking someday…

"Let It Happen”

"Dig New Streams”

 

How about you? What are your favorite Switchfoot songs? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy listening!

 

-Josh

 

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

John Underdown's Top 10 Albums and Songs of 2018

What a crazy year 2018 turned out to be! I spent most of the year stressed and wrestling with life as I re-evaluated what I considered important and navigated my first full year as a father. As such, the music that stood out to me as the best of the year tends to lean into the messy areas of life and faith. How do we keep relationships with others and God vibrant? How do I navigate doubt? What should I do with my life? These albums and songs stood out for the way they came alongside me in my journey and even administered comfort and wisdom.

Top 10 Albums

1.       The Choir—Bloodshot

What a beautifully heartbreaking album! It sounds like what The Choir has been putting out in recent years and yet different. There’s a rawness running through it that hooks the listener and won’t let go as it navigates the ups and downs of a marriage falling to pieces. For me it serves as a cautionary tale of what to avoid in my own marriage and areas of weakness to be aware of. Its angst also mirrored my own with life outside of marriage and that aspect connected deeply with me. It may not be a “fun” album to sit down and chill for an afternoon, but if you’re feeling moody it’s a perfect companion.

2.       Matthew Perryman Jones--The Waking Hours

Ever since his masterpiece album Land of the Living, I’ve been in love with Jones’ knack for beautiful song craft and storytelling. The Waking Hours effectively serves as an answer to his previous Cold Answer EP. Wherein that EP saw a relationship on the rocks, his latest album shows a concerted effort at reconciliation. The songs work well together and the music leaves you with a haunted feeling. It’s not his new masterpiece, but it’s a great work in its own right.

3.       Sandra McCracken--Songs from the Valley

This short collection has given me much to think about. Is it about a divorce? Or is it simply about the messiness of life? No matter how you spin it, no one interpretation sticks to it perfectly. The songs feel ethereal in sound and weighty in message and the listener feels like he/she is peeking in on McCracken’s personal diary. Also probably not to be considered for its “fun” factor, but it is artistic and thoughtful and worthy of more attention than what it’s received.

4.       Stryper--Gosh Dern Evil

Yes, this album is controversial with its title (and title track), but it is also a rollicking good throw-back rock record. Once Stryper hits the gas, they don’t let up making for an exhilarating experience. The songs have timely messages and overall the band feels like they’re playing with more purpose than they’ve had in a while.

5.       Jason Upton--A Table Full of Strangers Vol. 2

I checked this one out after reading JFH’s Alex Caldwell’s glowing review. The album did not disappoint! Jason Upton’s soothing vocals and melodies, mixed with their encouraging messages, brought much peace to a troubled mind through various stressful circumstances. Throughout the year different parts of the album stood out and showed their relevance. It’s meditative and worshipful in a way that many praise bands these days only dream about producing.

6.       Cameron Moore—Alpenglow

This album was perhaps the biggest surprise for me this year. The layered music and lyrics struck me at a time when I could relate to its complexity. The story it tells of moving through a “dark night of the soul” is compelling, nuanced, and hopeful with fleshed out imagery and metaphors running the length of the album. It may not be the greatest at what it’s striving for, but the ambition is noteworthy.

7.       Adam Watts--When a Heart Wakes Up

Another album I checked out thanks to buzz it received on JFH and also did not disappoint. The way Watts crafts interesting music to backdrop honest lyrics is mesmerizing. Each song has its own flavor and keeps things fresh from start to finish. Watts’ years of experience in the music industry shines through the tracks and his heartfelt lyricism gives the listener an emotional touchstone.

8.       Andrew Peterson--Rez Letters: Prologue

I find that I enjoy Andrew Peterson’s music more when he explores the darker side of life and so I think that’s why Resurrection Letters: Prologue stood out to me over Vol. 1. The full album is good in its own right, but the EP is a thing of beauty. Its quiet reflections on Jesus’ death and what that means for Christians gives a fresh spin on meditating on Good Friday. But even beyond the Easter season, this EP is good to listen to all year round.

9.       Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes--Wind Up Bird

Thiessen’s first solo effort in some ways feels like a natural extension of Relient K’s last album, Air for Free, and, considering I enjoyed that record, it’s no surprise that this one made it on my list. Thiessen seems to be wrestling with what it means to grow up and be an adult while still pursuing creative avenues. I can relate to that. The music also keeps things loose without letting anyone get too despondent. It’s a strong debut and makes me wish for more from this corner of Theissen’s mind.

10.    The Gray Havens--She Waits

I struggled with which album should take the tenth spot. Though I was largely disappointed with the Gray Havens’ latest album, I can’t deny that it was thoroughly and artfully crafted. They may be heading in a musical/lyrical direction that I don’t care for as much, but they still do it well. Repeat listens generally raise the record in my mind some. Perhaps a few more listens and I’ll be won over to their new path.

Top 10 Songs

1.       "Coming Back to Me," Matthew Perryman Jones

This song encapsulates much of this year for me. It’s been a lot of thinking about life and having old values and feelings “come back to me”. It’s also a beautifully poetic tune, perfect for self-reflection.

2.       "Survival," Sanctus Real

In talking about where we were at in life, my wife and I concluded we were merely surviving. We realized that wasn’t healthy and started striving to rectify that. This anthem wrestles with similar thoughts and also became something of a theme song for 2018.

3.       "Three Birds in Babylon," The Gray Havens

Undoubtedly the best song of She Waits, in my opinion. It tells a story on a haunting backdrop full of rich truth. It’s what the Gray Havens do best.

4.       "Liberated," Zealand

It’s good to be reminded of the gospel and this song does it in a fresh, energetic way. Sometimes you just need truth spoken to you in a firm manner and Zealand does just that with this tune.

5.       "Bridges Burn," NEEDTOBREATHE

Another song that reflected some of my feelings about this year. There are things in life—whether good or bad—that you must move on from in order to move forward. This song encapsulates that sentiment perfectly.

6.       "God Rested," Andrew Peterson

A song stands out in my mind when it takes something I’ve heard a million times and presents it in a unique way I never considered before. “God Rested” combines the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath with Jesus’ burial in a way that surprised me. The concept is backed by brilliant lyrics and contemplative music.

7.       "Only a Holy God," Here Be Lions

Most worship songs I hear tend to flit in and out of my brain without leaving anything tangible to chew on. This lesser-known tune was different. It combines theology with emotion in a manner where neither is trampled. This song should be bigger than it is for it could easily play in any church context.

8.       "Kindness," Sandra McCracken

I initially thought this was a metaphorical song to God. I may be able to see it that way, but it’s actually about friendship. As this year closes out, I’m realizing in a new way the value of kind friends and how refreshing such people are.

9.       "Mountain to Valley," Jason Upton

“I don’t know what steps to take/And I don’t know what moves to make.” So begins the song. Such thoughts often run parallel in my mind. But as Upton sings in the bridge, “What a journey walking with You, God!” Life with God is an up and down adventure, and I’m slowly learning the lesson.

10.   "Like Your Father Does," Rhett Walker Band

I’m a father now and I’m a sucker for songs like this one. The way Rhett Walker blends together his love for his child and God’s love for His children is sweet and the melody is memorable.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

14 Lesser Known (But Still Excellent!) Switchfoot Songs

Switchfoot, originally known by the name Chin Up, is about to enter their 23rd year as a band. Thankfully, they changed their name, but haven’t changed in their consistent artistry through the years. Now, about to release album number eleven, January 18, 2019, I thought I’d share my fourteen favorite lesser known songs from their catalogue. These span the years, and are no means exhaustive, just the ones I’ve connected with to varying degrees. Hope you discover a new (old) favorite, or enjoy being reminded of a tune once forgotten! In no particular order...

 

 

Evergreen” - Happy Christmas Vol. 1 (1998)

 

A Switchfoot Christmas song! I hear shades of rawness, a la their debut, and pieces of what was coming in their follow up New Way To Be Human. Terrific song. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WOBsogwG2XA

 

Spirit” - Listen Louder Compilation (1999)

 

A worship song if there ever was one, this is Switchfoot in a way rarely seen since, as their mission expanded to include more mainstream listeners. A perfect companion to songs like “Let That Be Enough” and “Only Hope” from the same period. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sb25ILlgMaQ

 

 

C’mon C’mon” - Oh! EP (2006)

 

A steady acoustic guitar strum and Foreman Pastorally encouraging listeners to not live in the past, but press forward into the future. Nothing super special here, though still a solid tune. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NOfT7GmV4Ys

 

The Sound In My Mouth” - Oh! EP (2006)

 

Definitely a Oh! Gravity-ish song, this one is Jon calling himself out on the truth from Proverbs that, “the power of life and death is in the tongue.” They must have been on a Rolling Stones listening kick, because I hear their influence all over this upbeat one. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hwKqItj_5pk

 

Connect With The Spine” - Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)

 

Musically this seems like it would have fit perfectly on the Oh! Gravity album. I like the gentle beginning and the swirling strings paired with Jon’s yelping “yeahs” to end the song. This one should have made an album somewhere along the way in my opinion. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zkazZXUptxU

 

Overflow” - Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)

 

A mid-tempo song with ominous tones about overthrowing your own wicked heart before pointing fingers asking for an overthrow of the government. Perhaps more apropos now than ever we need this reminder in our polarized nation. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb9qt073iHY

 

Slow Down My Heartbeat” - Edge Of The Earth EP - (2014)

 

Perhaps the most “known” of the lesser known Switchfoot catalogue, I picked this one as it’s pretty deeply buried on the companion EP to the Fading West album. The song itself starts slowly with an electronic beat, and slowly builds as he sings “slow down my heartbeat,” with beeps and blips aiding an otherworldly sound until it collapses into musical chaos, only to slowly conclude. Much of the song reminds me of what Radiohead has done well for many years. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KhNT_Bfq8MI

 

Good Night Punk” - Nothing Is Sound B-Side (2005)

 

A short (and sarcastic?) piano based song from the Nothing Is Sound era. This one playfully takes to task those that mistakenly claim punk as a genre versus an attitude. Never fear Jon, I think you’re “punk enough.” 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7eLQh397iJE

 

Another Christmas (Old Borego)” -  Nothing Is Sound B-Side (2005)

 

A Christmas based loved song to a significant other, and a city? Seemingly, Foreman is broke but in love with both regardless. Favorite line, “this town is a thirty-five Ford in a bad mood.” Another song from the Nothing Is Sound timeframe. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Io7Bt3t9Uho

 

Daylight To Break” - Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)

 

Easily my favorite from the Eastern Hymns...EP, and perhaps my favorite Switchfoot rarity/B-side ever. Its Beach Boys harmonies and surf rock guitar vibes make it a perfect summer song for the car. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz38AoHDT00

 

We Are Bound” - “Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)

 

Anchored by a chiming guitar time similar to hit song “Dare You To Move,” this one is somewhat dark sounding. The ending is my favorite part, though I don’t revisit this song much. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1gBgsO9UvV4

 

Rebuild” - Independently Released (2007)

 

A Co-penned Jon Foreman and Matt Thiessen tune featuring both on vocals, and Ruth leader singer on harmonica? Yup, and it’s catchy goodness written to garner more support for organization Habitat For Humanity. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EFwDlf_vniI

 

 

Light & Heavy” - Where The Light Shines Through (Deluxe Edition)(2016)

 

A song using Greek mythology (Icarus, Daedalus, Ariadne) to try and make sense of seemingly senseless death from Daedalus’ perspective; this might be my second favorite Switchfoot rarity. The bass guitar sets the meandering groove, as the heavy drums join a lightly strummed guitar, all delivering a satisfying juxtaposition. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1NXxtP_JUUI

 

Stitches” - Hello Hurricane Deluxe Edition(2009)/Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)

 

Short on lyrics but that doesn’t mean there aren’t depths to explore. What are the stitches that he’s trying to escape from? I have my thoughts, but I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions. Though released later (2009/2010) the guitar and music remind me of late Nothing Is Sound or Oh! Gravity 2005-2008, and it’s likely when beginning stages of the song we’re birthed, though I could be wrong. 

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5M8SrXq3mPA

 

So there it is! Which did you already know, and what did you just discover? What did I miss?

 

Happy Listening!

 

-Josh

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Scott Fryberger's Top Albums of 2018

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect for our average top ten this year. A lot of the JFH staff gravitated toward different albums all year, while others didn’t find much to like about the same album. But every album on that list makes sense as far as staff approval. Most of these albums were heavily recommended by and to one another, and it’s a solid list, even if I don’t personally love all of the albums represented. 

My list was up in the air until almost the last minute. But I finally settled on my top ten favorite Christian albums of the year, some of which weren’t shared by anyone else. But, for what it’s worth, and if you’re interested, here’s my top ten and why.

Levi the Poet - CataractsTwenty One Pilots, Trench

I’ve followed Levi for about seven years now, and have never really been let down by any of his releases; singles, EPs, albums, with or without music, I’ve dug it all. But Cataracts is on another level. Teaming up once again with Alex Sugg (Glowhouse), Levi delivered a beautiful, raw, painful, doubtful, reverent work of art. An album that explores the darkest parts of man’s insecurity, and it’s both scary and comforting how relatable it is. The central theme - keep forgiving - is an important one, and Levi’s insistence on it throughout all the doubt, fear, anxiety, and pain is a beautiful reminder that God is still working in our lives, working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This was the bar for the rest of 2018.

The Bell Jar - I Infest, Therefore I Am

It’s probably not any kind of a secret whatsoever that I love Showbread. I was sad when they released their final album in 2016, but it made sense. But I’m really happy with the first reincarnation of the band in The Bell Jar. Their debut is weird and somehow rocks hard without a single six-string guitar to be found. It’s tracks like “Suck Abyss, Succubus!” and “The Fall of Dubai” that really suck you in and make you wanna kick a hole through the wall, then climb through and belt out to “Suddenly, Seymour” while your friends decide they don’t want to invite you over anymore. Yeah, it’s that kind of album.

mewithoutYou - [untitled]

So, this one is a bit tricky. Personally, I haven’t really connected with a mewithoutYou album since 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. That includes their untitled work from this year. However, it’s a very clearly well-written and well-executed album that I feel captures the spirit of the band. There’s a rumor out there that this will be their final album; I don’t remember where I heard that and I don’t know if it’s true. But if it is, it may be the best way to make their grand exit. The album even almost seems to mirror their discography, starting with intense screaming and guitars, moving into slower, melodic tracks, and finishing one of their slowest, quietest songs to date, a song that ends with the words “Someday I’ll find You.” What a beautiful piece.

Andy Mineo - I: The Arrow EP

I spent a lot of 2018 taking in new music. Some of that was only new in the sense that I hadn’t actually listened to it before (a lot of old school stuff), and some of it was giving some time to artists I hadn’t previously spent time with or maybe didn’t even really care for. Andy Mineo falls into the last category. Having not been much of a fan of his previous work, I was surprised when I listened to The Arrow and loved it. Thematically, it’s quite similar to Levi the Poet’s album, exploring themes of doubt and anxiety, much of which had stemmed from people in the Church not being very Christlike. Though I found myself questioning some of the theological content (you can read the review I wrote for more on that), there wasn’t much to disagree with, and I actually ended up relating to it more than anything. In a time in our culture where mental issues are a huge focus, it’s easy to forget that Christ can heal that, too. So it’s good that this album is ultimately redemptive in that regard, pointing the listener to Jesus and ending on a hopeful note.

Oh yeah, and the music is dope, too. Listen to “I Ain’t Done” and “...Lost” and I’m sure you’ll agree.

John Van Deusen - (I Am) Origami, Pt. 2: Every Power Wide AwakeJohn Van Deusen

This one came out of nowhere. I had never even heard of Van Deusen until late this past summer when I was putting together our latest free music sampler. I polled some of the staff for more ideas for artists to contact, and fellow writer Josh Balogh brought Van Deusen to my attention. And then I was hooked. Every Power Wide Awake is kind of hard to describe in such a short space, but it sounds great from start to finish, with a cacophony of sounds ranging from rock to indie to acoustic; think Simon & Garfunkel mixed with mewithoutYou mixed with John Mark McMillan. If that doesn’t help, check out songs like “All Shall Be Well,” “Calling All Cowards,” and “How Long Will You Wander, My Wayward Daughter?”

Must Build Jacuzzi - Last Place

Okay, I fully expected to be the only person with this album on my list, and I get it, but it’s still a bit disappointing. MBJ is the resident skacore band signed to Indie Vision Music. After their last release, the Chugz & Nugz EP, I had little to no expectations for them, but Last Place really caught me by surprise. This is a solid album filled with fun, humor, faith, and lots of growing up. It’s also a mixed bag of genres, with ska at the center and punk, hard rock, and hardcore around the edges. “Smoke Rings” is a great example of this genre-transcending style. I revisited this album multiple times throughout the year and enjoyed it each and every time. It’s not something for everyone, but I highly recommend checking this out if you’ve got 40 minutes or so to spare.

Peabod - Healthy Snacks

Another album that took me by surprise. We got this album from Centricity after it came out, but with not even a whisper of his name before that. I took a chance on Peabod and was very pleasantly surprised. A singer/songwriter at heart, Peabod’s first hip hop endeavor is full of life, joy, and good times. He’s even won over some of my friends and family that don’t usually listen to hip hop, which is great news for me. It’s very accessible and poppy, but is great for repeat listens and for bringing you out of a funk. Even the album’s sad song, “Ok,” is hopeful at its core. Peabod has since dropped two singles, both of which have gotten multiple listens from me, and whatever he does in the future will definitely be on my radar.

NEEDTOBREATHE - Acoustic Live, Vol. 1

I hesitated to put this on my list based on the fact that it’s not a studio album and contains no new material from the band (save for a cover song or two). In the end, I decided to run with it, because it truly is an album I enjoyed a lot this year. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song transition into an acoustic setting perfectly, the band sounds amazing live, and the recording and production is clear and perfect. One of the best parts of a live album is hearing the band talk with the audience and engage in a little banter between songs, and it was nice to hear some of that here. Here’s hoping that more of this is coming down the pipeline (and that their next studio album revisits the southern rock sound a little more and the pop a little less).

Jackie Hill Perry - Crescendo

My anticipation for Crescendo was through the roof. It had been four years since Perry’s last album and I was counting down the days for the follow up. After a number of listens, I had the same experience I had with mewithoutYou’s album; I recognized how excellent it is without connecting to it personally. So it’s actually a little difficult to write about. But there is a lot to like about it. Crescendo presents us with a Jackie Hill Perry who seems to be going through a rough season of life. A lot of the songs sound weary and maybe even slightly lamenting on occasion. However, the despair is combatted with hymns scattered throughout the tracklist. There’s also never a single moment where the Lordship of Jesus Christ is forgotten. My personal favorite track is “Hymn,” which features a slew of legends of the CHH world: The Ambassador, shai linne, da TRUTH, and Braille. This is a terrific follow up to The Art of Joy and is more than worth your time if you enjoy hip hop.

The Gray Havens - She Waits

Every time Dave and Licia Redford release new music, it takes some time before I really appreciate it. Fire and Stone took me a good long while, and it was only near the end of 2015 that I realized I had spent so much time with it and enjoyed it all. She Waits hasn’t hit me in quite the same way, but it’s a terrific indie pop album that’s filled to the brim with the hope of Jesus. The title track alone paints a beautiful picture of the bride of Christ patiently waiting for her bridegroom to return. I also really took to “Storehouse” and the somewhat out-of-character “High Enough.” The album is also full of beautiful melodies and music that feels really good to the soul. Again, it’s a bit of a grower, but it’s well worth the time it takes to fall in love with it.

Honorable mentions:Twenty One Pilots, Trench

The Choir - Bloodshot
Dens - No Small Tempest EP
Ethan Luck - Let It Burn
Fit For A King - Dark Skies
Future of Forestry - Union
Josh White & Josh Garrels - Josh White & Josh Garrels EP
Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes - Wind-Up Bird
Off Road Minivan - Spiral Gaze EP
Sleeping Giant - I Am
Twenty One Pilots - Trench

-- Scott Fryberger, JFH Staff Writer

 

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Songs For When You Feel The World Is Broken: Alex 'Tin Can' Caldwell’s Top Albums Of 2018



2017 (almost two year ago now) was a pretty tough year for me in that I had a work-life setback that threw me for a loop. Though the details are decidedly mundane and ordinary, it threw me into a funk that represented the lowest I’ve felt in my adult life. Looking back I understand where the depression came from, like looking back at a play in slow motion on a football broadcast. I had just graduated from a literature grad school program (with honors, thank you very much) and finished up a dream job as a worship leader at a summer camp (complete with a lakeside cabin for the family!). Then a crazy series of setbacks professionally sent me reeling into the fall. That season is magical here in New England, but I felt as dull and lifeless as a New Hampshire February. I was stuck and falling fast, and in a despondency I’ve not really encountered before. (I have a fairly “up” personality, and that has brought me through a few downtimes.)

Thankfully my close family and Church family rallied around me, and supported me in a way that I wish every person could experience. Systems of support are critical, and the joy that I have in thinking about these people, and their role in my life is a blessing that I’ll carry with me always. 
 
Thankfully 2018 has been much better. I feel resurrected, with new energy and focus. Part of this is due to a friend who insisted I exercise with him, and gradually rounding into shape was a needed thing. Also, my lovely wife and I took a second (or third?) honeymoon to a spectacular local that recharged my batteries. There were a few professional steps forward, and it’s the kind of year I’ll take. There was even a major car accident in there that didn’t throw me. (Woe to me if that had happened a year earlier!)
 
And so, when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s masterful Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 (including the completely necessary prologue), I rejoice that resurrection both occurred in an epic, historic fashion to save my soul, and that personal resurrection is constantly happening in my own life. It’s the grace of God that put wonderful people in my life (a “three-fold chord is not easily broken") and brought my feet out of the pit (out of the mirey clay). Peterson captures both the brokenness of this world and the light that Christ brought by both entering into it along side of us (at his birth, celebrated at Christmastime) and ultimately his death and resurrection for the sins of the world. Peterson has now made a full cycle celebrating the life of Jesus in his classic Christmas project Behold The Lamb and now this three-part meditation on the events of the crucifixion. 
 
This is what I wrote in my review:
 
Not since Star Wars Episode 1 has a prequel taken so long to arrive, and unlike that abomination of a film, Andrew Peterson's Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 (and the prologue of songs that starts the action off) was utterly worth the wait. Ten years after Vol. 2 was released, this walk-through of the death and resurrection of Christ in epic song form matches Peterson's beloved work on Christmas, Behold The Lamb, with its nuanced storytelling and artful and epic songwriting. Kicking off with the haunting "Last Words (Tenebrae)", Peterson layers the seven last statements of Christ in a rhythmic and repeating melodic pattern that circles around and demonstrates Peterson's masterful touch with a phrase and a melody. Walking through the death of Christ on the cross and the heavy atmosphere of that day, the prologue deftly sets the stage for the triumphal following act. "His Heart Beats" leads the resurrection portion of the main album with a celebratory tune that ranks with Peterson's finest moment of songwriting. "Remember Me" (based on the words of the penitent thief on one side of Christ) and "I've Seen Too Much" show Peterson spinning well-known sections of scripture (Like St. Peter's confession of who Jesus truly was) into something new, with fresh angles and deep insight. With echoes of such classic songwriters as David Gray, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, Peterson's musical pallet is growing wider every time out of the gate. Andrew Peterson is so much more than just a songwriter at this point. With four novels, a thriving blog and a film to his credit (along with ten-plus fantastic albums), he's approaching C.S. Lewis territory with his poetic and beautiful exploration of faith and the human condition. Listening to both volumes of Resurrection Letters is to listen to a master at the height of his craft, diving into the most important and epic rescue story ever told. 
 
Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child (my favorite album title of the year) likewise spoke to hope. The title track is a call to heed the Psalmist’s advice and “look up to the hills” in times of trouble (the ancient Psalms would often use the geography of Israel as metaphors for the Lord.).
 
Here’s what I wrote about this album:
 
The title track is perhaps the best song here, and serves as a pulsating anthem of hope. Again referencing the Psalms, with the instructions to "look up" in times of trouble; the lyrics are poetically rendered in a way that gives hope without being cloying or speaking down to the listener. That might be Daigle's greatest strength on Look Up Child, the relentless, encouraging, positive drive in the music and lyrics. The theme of hope can be handled in hackneyed fashion in much of Christian music, but Daigle takes her calling seriously, and handles the theme deftly. Ending with the old hymn, "Turn Your Eyes On Jesus," is a great way to bring the album's theme full circle. There may be a few too many slow-rise ballads here, but Look Up Child is a very good follow-up album, and in terms of sheer quality and sophistication, it's also one of the year's best and most mature work.
 
Remedy Drive wove hopefulness into their dynamite album North Star. The title itself is a reference for the star that runaway southern slaves would look to for guidance on their journeys north to freedom. 
Here’s what I wrote about this album:
 
Dealing with huge themes (human trafficking, militarism, nationalism, consumerism, war mongering) within a Christian context is rarely done this well, and this tunefully. Remedy Drive's sonic template here suggests a slightly lower budget Coldplay or Radiohead, but the combination of a powerhouse message against the backdrop of gorgeous and urgent songwriting makes The North Star a contender for best album of the year. There is a vital need for Old Testament style 'speaking truth to power' in these confusing times, and Remedy Drive has crafted an epic, challenging and heart-breaking record to do just that.
 
Matthew Perryman Jones (who had my favorite album cover of the year) wrote about waking up from a long period of slumber (the metaphorical kind) on The Waking Hours and seeing the world anew. This resonated with me too.
 
Here’s a piece of my review for that album:
 
With a strong theme of waking up to what is truly important, and taking the time to examine your life, The Waking Hours is as introspective and searching as it is beautiful. It's the rare form of music that captures the feeling of looking at a sunset in a beautiful place and letting the scene spur something deeper inside you. Art, at its best, hints at another world than this one, and Matthew Perryman Jones continues to exceed in writing the sort of evocative tunes that call for scenery and deeper thought. The Waking Hours is perhaps aptly named, in that its songs are mostly of the sleepy kind (for truly upbeat MPJ, check out Land Of The Living). But they serve the album's theme well. It's a record that's perfect for the winter months of contemplation and introspection and you'd be hard pressed to hear a more gorgeous slice of sadness and hope this year.
 
No band does the theme of “joy” any better right now than Rend Collective. But on Good News, the band added some needed lament to their manic energy, and released their best, most cohesive album. It’s one that brings into the light all of the emotions and experiences of life:
 
Joy is an elusive thing. Happiness comes and goes like the ocean tide, but true joy--the deep-down, foundational kind--is a quality to be celebrated and cultivated. And no band does ‘joy’ like the Irish quintet, Rend Collective. And their new album, Good News, is a masterful and rowdy celebration of what brings true joy to a soul, the Gospel message. Gospel is an old English world for “good news” (‘good’ plus “spell“, which was a phrase for news before it came to mean something magical, as in the old-timey phrase “sit a spell“.) Similar to the phrase “Godspeed” (both words have little to do with the Lord, the “god” in both cases was a shortening of ‘good”), Gospel has come to mean a host of different things in the modern day, like the genre of music or a kind of church denomination. But the core idea has remained. Followers of Christ have responded to the best kind of news, that through Christ and his death and resurrection, we can be restored to fellowship with the divine. But too often, that good news can get lost or swamped by the paranoia of times. After a rough 2016 and ‘17 (particularly here in the U.S.), Rend Collective has decided to unabashedly shine a light, and not just curse at the darkness. And the great thing about Good News is that they have widened their musical palette while still cranking up the energy and rowdiness of their past albums.
  
The Choir’s Bloodshot was the most emotionally devastating album I heard this year, with main lyricist (and friend of mine) Steve Hindalong tracing the path of his divorce, and the ramifications of seeing a longtime marriage end. But there was hope there too:
 
You aren't likely to hear a heartbreaking subject like divorce treated with this level of transparency from a standpoint of faith in many places. Bloodshot is a heartbreaking and moving listen, with a veteran band's level of attention to detail. The music fits the theme just right, and while it might be a tough listen for many, it is an important conversation that The Choir puts to music beautifully. With the depth of a fine film, this veteran band keeps moving forward through all the mine fields that life in our fallen world has to offer.
 
Audrey Assad’s Evergreen had a title and theme that I could get behind. Here in dear old New England, the evergreen trees are what’s left after the glorious fall colors have left the deciduous trees barren. Assad’s use of this metaphor for survival (and thriving) in harsh conditions hit home for me. The album is as lush and full as the pine forests in my beloved home state of Maine, and my newfound home here in New Hampshire.
 
Mat Kearney’s musings on relationships (CRAZYTALK), Plumb’s continued focus on healing (Beautifully Broken) and Blanca’s theme of recovery and healing (in the wake of her mother’s terminal illness) on Shattered all resonated with me too.
 
In the final analysis, it’s difficult to call these albums the “best” of the year. But I can easily call them my favorite. Music is a gift from above, a way to parse the events of your life and give them a soundtrack that resonates in years to come. In a year where the sun came back out again, these were the songs that brought that theme to the surface and cause me to thank the Lord for continued resurrection.
  

--- Alex 'Tin Can' Caldwell

 
 

 

 

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Josh Balogh's Top 10 Albums of 2018

 Another year of music is in the books, which is hard to believe as it seems the years fly by faster and faster. This was a different year for me, as I felt that a lot of the mainstream Christian music scene failed to deliver on my expectations. Perhaps I expected too much, or maybe I’ve just been around far too long, but I felt a little let down by several highly anticipated albums. It seems as though a good majority of Christian music is in a rut. So, I endeavored to look to the fringes and independent music more than I typically would. Not all of my “finds” could make this list, but I will highlight a few honorable mentions at the end. In the meantime, here are the ten albums, and ten songs that I returned to the most often this year. I’d also love to hear where you agree or disagree, and what your favorites from the year were. Happy listening friends!

 

1.     John Van Deusen – With Every Power Wide Awake

John Van Deusen 

I have been effusive in my praise of this one since it first captured my attention in January of this year, and for good reason. It’s easily more most listened to album of the year at more than fifty times through in various formats. The album sounds great on all of them, and would be the rare album worth owning on vinyl is my opinion. Heartfelt, earnest, worshipful, and moving, John Van Deusen has crafted my favorite album of the year, and it wasn’t even in doubt. Favorite overall track is “Calling All Cowards,” but you need to make the time to soak in the title track, letting the message wash over you. It’s epic in all the right ways. Other highlights are “None Other,” and “I Will Praise You Name, Yahweh.” Lyrically deep, without being inaccessible, and musically interesting without falling into common worship music pitfalls, this one is highly recommended. If you didn’t happen to catch this one, check out my further thoughts on the album in the indie review section, as I go into more detail on why I loved it so much.

 

2.     Twenty One PilotsTrench

Twenty One Pilots, Trench 

There is much that I could say about the backstory of the album, but suffice it to say, I think that Tyler Joseph is a master artist. If you’ve dug into the layers of this one you know what I mean. Not only is their incredible attention to detail in the lyrics and music, but a vast story that you can spend hours dissecting. Or, if you prefer, as my kids do, just bop along to some catchy tunes. Also, these fellas know how to do a live show, proving that the fan and critical praise heaped on them is more than justified. There’s a strong reliance on hip-hop on Trench and it makes for a cohesive listen, which was greatly assisted by Paul Meany of Mutemath with his co-producing credits. The bass heavy “Jumpsuit” is my overall favorite, but the trip along hip-hop of “Chlorine,” the eerie statement song “Neon Gravestones,” and the reggae influenced “Nico And The Niners” are all terrific as well. Also, don’t miss the weary, yet hopeful closing song “Leave The City.”

  

3.     The Gray Havens - She Waits

 The Gray Havens, She Waits

I quickly became a fan of indie husband and wife duo The Gray Havens after being introduced to their album Fire & Stone from 2015. I enjoy their narrative folk/pop approach to making music, and had high hopes of this one prior to its release. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Fans of their previous folk sound may not love the new pop/hip hop vibes that it employs, but I for one enjoyed the musical direction. I think that “Three Birds In Babylon” is a fantastic song, and I claim it as my overall favorite song from the year. I spent much time examining the lyrics to figure out the meaning of the song, and though I was ultimately wrong in my interpretation, it made for a rewarding experience not ruining the song for me at all. If you enjoy lyrics that may require some study, this one may just be your jam. Along with “Three Birds In Babylon,” “She Waits,” “High Enough,” Storehouse,” and “Forever,” are my favorite songs. It is a short, but sweet listen that kept me coming back again, and again.

 

4.     Rivers & RobotsDiscovery

 

Silky smooth vocals, worshipful lyrics, ambient tones, and a combo of organic and electronic music, make this a match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. There’s an occasional Mutemath vibe, mixed with an Explosions in the sky guitar tones that hits the spot. Some would call it sleepy, or perhaps boring, but as far as worship music goes, I think this is near the top of the best of the year. “Author And Protector,” “Burn For You,” “Overflow,” and epic closing track “Forevermore” make up my favorite songs. Great background music to absorb at work, or chill to with a cup of coffee.

 

5.     Lauren DaigleLook Up, Child

She’s been all over the mainstream market this year, and deservedly so, as Look Up, Child is a step up from her stellar debut How Can It Be. Adele comparisons aside, there is plenty here to like from Lauren. Yes, vocally she does sound like the aforementioned songstress, but she also can just flat out sing. The first half of the record is the most immediately accessible, but she takes some artistic chances on the back half, so I encourage listeners to hang longer there. “You Say” is as strong of a pop song that’s come along in a while, and its worlds better than much than the mainstream pop world is producing message wise. As I mentioned, the second half of the album is worth extra attention starting with the soaring “Love Like This,” continuing with the smoky “Losing My Religion,” and ultimately culminating with a Lauryn Hill-like cover of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Everything on this album is bigger, and grander sounding, which does not always equal better, but ultimately Look Up, Child is a step forward for Daigle, and deserving of all the praise heaped on it.

  

6.     Andrew PetersonResurrection Letters Vol. 1

 

Full disclosure, this album would have likely made my top ten of the year for the songs “His Heart Beats” and “Is He Worthy?” alone, but there are plenty of things to like about Peterson’s labor of love project Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1. With a few electronic flourishes in the percussion, this plays less like his folky beginning, though it retains enough of that sound that longtime fans will still find much to enjoy. I could see this album being utilized to great effect for Easter services all over the world in 2019, and I surely hope that the call and response of “Is He Worhty,” makes a few services at the very least. The joyous “Maybe Next Year” and the earnestly hopeful “Rise Up” are two additional highlights worth checking out. All in all, this is one of my favorite Peterson Releases, and I’m grateful that he endeavored to make it.

 

7.     MAEMultisensory Aesthetic Experience

 

Another band that I haven’t spent much time with since their classic The Everglow album in 2005. I have no real excuse, but since hearing this one I’ve gone into their back catalogue and it’s all fantastic. For Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, I enjoy it most with my earbuds in. I spent several late nights listening to and loving songs like “Sing,” “5 Light Years,” “No Promises (10001001100) and “Let It Die.” With each listen I found a different musical nuance to appreciate, and this is an album I would say I can “feel” more than understand if that makes any sense. I’m not totally certain why I like it, but I know that I do.

 

8.     Matthew Thiessen & The EarthquakesWind Up Bird

 

I was insanely curious to hear what Thiessen would come up with after the more than ten years of teasing a side project. I was expecting more piano based pop, but I was pleasantly surprised to get more guitar driven songs. “Forest” is easily my favorite song, with its playful tone and Ellie Schmidly’s charming guest vocals. But “Man of Stone,” “Wind Up Bird,” and “Climb” are also ones I return to often. Though it ultimately took me by surprise the musical direction he took, I’m not mad at all, and I hope that there ends up being more of Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes. Just not at the expense of new Relient K please!

 

9.     Kevin MaxAWOL

 

At first listen, I wasn’t sure I could follow Kmax into the 80’s new wave musical direction, but over repeat listens it only grew on me more. That is always the sign of a great record. He was born to make an album like this, which includes odes to his heroes from the era, without aping any one of them fully. I tend to revisit the back half of the album most, with tracks like “Brand New Hit,” “AWOL,” “Irish Blood Up,” and “Cornucopia Of The Soul,” but “Melissa” is a fine opening song, and “Prodigal” is a highlight as well. Very cohesive and artfully crafted, AWOL might not be for everyone, but it should be.

 

10. Mewithoutyou Untitled

 

Okay, so I have to admit that Mewithoutyou isn’t a band that I’ve kept up with well. I enjoyed 2006’s Brother, Sister and haven’t checked in on them until several JFH staffers recommended checking this one out. I went into it with no expectations, and left highly impressed. This one was teetering on the cusp of being replaced by a few other albums, but I ultimately decided to include it in my top ten because of the musical intensity. Typically I need to dig into lyrics to really enjoy an album, but for whatever reason I’ve suspended that requirement for this album and just allowed the sheer force of the musicality alone to draw me in. Favorite song is “Julia (or ‘Holy To The Lord On the Bells of Horses’) and though the middle of the album starts to lull, it’s the right amount of calm before the fiery conclusion of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” and the calm of “Break On Through (To the Other Side) {Part 2}.” This one needs to be close to your ears in headphones to fully immerse yourself in the rage-quiet-rage dynamic that they pull off flawlessly throughout the album. 

 

Honorable Mentions: 

 

1. Matthew Perryman Jones - The Waking Hours

2. Chris Renzema - I'll Be The Branches

3. Future of Forestry - The Union

4. For King & Country - Burn The Ships

5. Adam Watts - When A Heart Wakes Up

 

 

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Operation: Liquid Exorcist - By Rusty Shipp

Back in April, I (Russ T. Shipp) went on my annual retreat to a monastery, but unlike years before when I retreated in pursuit of realigning myself with my life's purpose, this year I had a new objective: create the concept for a musical project that was more ambitious and creative than "Mortal Ghost." This goal was made more challenging by the fact that my band Rusty Shipp's previous release, "Mortal Ghost," had just been named #2 album of 2017 in all Christian music by Jesusfreakhideout.com and then went on to win the award for Album Of The Year in the 2018 JFH Awards, among other prestigious accolades. But after 3 days of silent meditation, writing every Nautical Rock 'n' Roll idea I could muster, it was in the very last hour before I had to go back to Nashville that the concept I was looking for suddenly struck me:
"Liquid Exorcist."

To live up to the goal of making something more ambitious and creative than our last album, we decided to make our first full-on concept record with all the tracks painting a picture of a chronological story. The story of Liquid Exorcist follows an evil organization that has laced the ocean with a hundred sea mines, causing war with their enemies and innocent sea-dwellers alike. Long after the war, some mines remain adrift in the ocean awaiting collision with innocent passersby. 

This underwater setting of the story is where the term "liquid" comes into play, and the sea mines are like a kind of "exorcist"--explosively casting out the spirits of anyone who collides with them. This metaphor of "exorcism," i.e., the casting out of a spirit from the body, is a theme that appears in every song on this record, reflecting the different experiences of the souls affected by this marine warfare. 

For this new EP we're really drawing out the ingredients of our staple "Nautical Rock 'n' Roll" sound in bold and experimental ways to tell the story of Liquid Exorcist. While progressing the sounds of this new genre, we're also channeling our roots to give homage to our collective influences, such as doing a Chris Cornell tribute song and songs that are an obvious nod to 60's surf rock, prog rock, and Nirvana-esque grunge pop.

Since we're an independent band without a record label we'll need to cover all the recording costs ourselves, so we're giving people the option of preordering the record and some special, exclusive merch in an attempt to fund the recording expenses. We're selling things like band equipment, exclusive t-shirts and stickers, hand-written lyrics, a Skype session with the band, a video of us performing ANY song of your choice, and also the opportunity for us to come play a private show for you! ALSO, everyone who contributes ANY amount will immediately get a private link to our brand new music video that has not yet been released to the public! There's less than a week left to preorder from our Indiegogo page HERE: https://goo.gl/ox3PPN

We in Rusty Shipp want to give a huge THANK YOU to all the staff and followers of Jesusfreakhideout.com, who single-handedly catapulted our music onto the global stage! After becoming the first independent artist to ever win Artist of the Year and Album of the Year in the JFH Awards, many doors of opportunity have been opened to us and continue opening to this day! Even last week I (Russ T.) had one of the greatest experiences of my life when I was invited by my favorite singer, Kevin Max from dc Talk (who we barely beat out for Artist of the Year, I might add!), to be the only guest vocalist at his annual Christmas concert and sing a duet with him!  Amazing, providential things are happening almost daily for us and we're excited to experience them with all of you! 

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING, SHARING, AND ENJOYING OUR MUSIC! YOU MAKE THESE SEAS WORTH SAILING ON!

~Russ T. Shipp, AJ Newton, Elijah Apperson, and Andrew "Speedy" Speed

*The guys talking about their new project*

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXaHcDuoqLw

 

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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
 
           
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Music Out This Week

This Friday, January 18
Tiffany Coburn Near To The Heart: Cherished Hymns And Songs Of Inspiration [StowTown]
Jordan Feliz Changed (Live) - Single [Centricity]
PEABOD Left Out (feat. Chad Mattson) - Single [Centricity]
Planetshakers Rain Part 1 - EP [Venture3Media]
Switchfoot Native Tongue [Fantasy Records]
Various WoW Gospel 2019 [WoW Gospel]
Phil Wickham Living Hope (The House Sessions) [Fair Trade/Columbia]


Next Friday, January 25
Bethel Music Victory [Bethel]
Casey J The Gathering [Integrity / Tyscot]
Catch the Fire Presence (Live from Toronto) [The Fuel]
Lauren Daigle You Say (Piano/Vocal) - Single [Centricity]
Equippers Worship Equippers Worship (Live) [DREAM Worship]
For All Seasons Every Good Thing - Single [Centricity]
Steven Malcolm The Second City [IVAV / Word]
People of the Earth Victory EP [Capitol CMG]
John Waller Explosions of Light [Radiate Music]
Vineyard Worship UK & Ireland Twelve:One - Dave Miller Live From Trent Vineyard [Vineyard Worship UK]


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