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JFH Staff Blog | 20 Years Later

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

12 Albums 20 Years Later - by Josh Balogh

12 Albums 20 Years Later
 - by Josh Balogh

Each of the following twelve albums turning twenty years old in 2017 have shaped me in some way or another. These were all ones that I discovered on my own, outside of my parents taste or Youth Pastor’s influence. I remember listening to many of them through headphones in the local Christian bookstore, either attracted by the album art, or a recommendation from CCM magazine. I debated, and went back and forth about ranking them and decided on the order below after much self-inflicted angst. My hope in writing this blog is that you too once enjoyed these and would dust them off and give them another listen in honor of their twenty-year-old birthday. Or maybe you were too young to encounter these, or missed them the first time around and this could be a grand introduction to what I believe is really great music from the era. Either way, if you are inclined, join me in wishing these albums a happy birthday! Here’s hoping you enjoy, and maybe they’ll come to mean as much to you as they do to me.

12. MercyMe - Traces of Rain 


I first heard MercyMe at a youth camp in the late 90’s, and then again as the band for a tent revival that my youth group attended at another local church. This is an album predominately of worship cover songs (with 3-4 originals mixed in), but it had heavy spins for me back in the day, burning these songs into my brain. They'd go on to much bigger things in the coming years, but I enjoyed songs "Ain't No Rock," "Mercy is Falling," "Stirring," and "If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile." This is probably the hardest of the albums on this list to come by as it was a self-released, indie album. 

11. Delirious?King of Fools

My introduction to Delirious? was the song “Deeper” from one of those samplers that was $1.99 or was free with a purchase of one of the featured artists. It’s still a great song all these years later, and it remains a favorite from the decade. The King of Fools album is strong overall and the U2 influences abound. Opener “Sanctify” is a great tune, and sets the tone well for the arena sized worship songs that will follow. Other highlights are the tender “All the Way,” flat out rocker “Promise,” long time classic “History Maker,” and the slow burner, but epic, “King or Cripple.” A huge hit in England (their homeland), this is the one that really put Delirious? on the map, and made the rest of the world take notice.
10. Sixpence None the Richer – Self-Titled

Sadly, the true genius of this melancholy, yet amazing album is overshadowed by mega smash hit “Kiss Me.” That is a shame because, although “Kiss Me” is a fantastic and whimsical pop ode to love, it is far from the best track. I’m not sure I could pick a true favorite, but each song creates a feeling of waiting, frustration, and loss. “We have Forgotten, “Anything,” and “Waiting Room” set the mood of those themes extremely well. You can hear a palpable yearning in lead singer Leigh Nash’s voice throughout. “I Can’t Catch You” is an upbeat ditty that stands out upon repeat listens, and “Lines of my Earth” is another personal favorite. Also worth noting is the amazing cover art by D.L. Taylor. Best listened to in its entirety, you cannot go wrong with any song here, and I believe this remains arguably their best overall work to date.
9. Third DayConspiracy #5

I had forgotten just how good Conspiracy #5 truly was until listening again in preparation to write this blog. There are some great songs here! Some would balk at the ranking of it so low on this list, but although it is a fantastic album, I still prefer their self-titled album and Time more. My favorite from this list of songs is “This Song Was Meant for You,” and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Probably the most straight ahead rock album that Third Day ever did, Conspiracy #5 holds up well to the longevity test; much better than Mac Powell’s bleached blonde hair anyway! There really are no filler songs among the bunch but my standouts are “You Make Me Mad,” Hootie and the Blowfish sound alike “How’s Your Head,” driving rocker “Alien” and the worshipful concert staple “My Hope is in You”. They have yet to return to this musical sound, but many maintain this is their favorite work of their long and storied hit-making career.
8. Reality CheckSelf Titled


The band Reality Check delivered a ferocious self-titled debut that sadly was the only thing they ever released. Whether it was just a band headed separate ways, musical direction, or the burden of the“next Dctalk label,” they joined the list of many one-hit-wonders of the 90’s. Known for their energetic live show that once broke a stage, they featured tight harmonies, loud rock guitars, and rap all mixed into one. I first heard their work from another of the $1.99 sampler albums with the songs “Masquerade” and “Know You Better.” One listen to “Masquerade” had me hooked and I quickly went out to pick up the entire album. The songs “Plastic and “Losing Myself” are two other major favorites from the album. It is too bad they did not do more together as I was eagerly looking forward to more from them.
7. The O.C. SupertonesSupertones Strike Back

One could argue that the O.C. Supertones' release Supertones Strike Back is THE quintessential CCM ska release. Personally, I think that it is, though The Dingees and Five Iron Frenzy could hold their own in the argument well enough. Ska is certainly an acquired taste, but in 1997, I was all in. I saw them in concert at Atlanta Fest with their orange jumpsuits on and it was an amazing show. I owned their orange "Little Man" t-shirt and I quickly wore out both the album and the shirt. Even to this day, I’ll have a hankering for some ska and slip this album into the family van’s six-disc changer for long road trips. Some of my favorite tracks are "Supertones Strike Back," "Louder than the Mob," "Unite,” "Tonight," and "Little Man." Great for road trips, cleaning house, or lounging by the pool!
6. Seven Day Jesus - Self Titled

Man, so many great hooky guitar pop/rock songs here! This was my first exposure to the band, and though I'd go back later and hear their excellent record The Hunger, this one is still my favorite of theirs. Sadly, they didn't last as a band beyond this album, but what a great way to go out. Great songs abound, like opener "Down With The Ship," "Always Comes Round," "Everybody Needs Love," and my overall favorite, the ear-worm, "Butterfly." Definitely a must-hear album for fans of solid pop/rock! 

5. SwitchfootThe Legend of Chin

My introduction to Switchfoot came at the now out of business Family Christian Bookstore. After encountering lead track “Chem 6a” on a sampler, I had to check out this raw surfer rock/alternative band. The droning sounds of “Bomb” and bouancy of “Underwater” had my full attention and I don’t think I even needed to listen to the rest of it.  I was motivated to buy The Legend of Chin enough to manipulate my younger brother (who cared very little for music) into buying it because I only had enough money for another album clutched in my teenage hands. I can’t for the life of me remember the other album but I’m certain it hasn’t stood the test of time as this debut release has.  I still appreciate the production at the veteran hand of Charlie Peacock these twenty years later. It allowed for a truly raw and somewhat endearingly sloppy sound that has stood the test of time well. Other great tracks are the cleverly titled “Might have Ben-Hur,” the slow burning “Concrete Girl,” and string-soaked “You.” A fantastic start for a band that only got better with each release, Jon Foreman and company are still going strong and have rarely “letdown” fans with any of their subsequent releases.
4. Caedmon’s CallSelf Titled

The acoustic folk sounds of Caedmon’s Call were largely new to my young music listening career, and aside from Jars of Clay’s Self-Titled debut I couldn’t tell you what else in that musical vein I had heard. I was enamored with this CD for a long time. This album served as a major catalyst to cement what has become my preferred musical taste with the softer side of pop/rock that features thinking man’s lyrics. Opening track “Lead of Love” starts things of well with a tasty organ line (and anyone who knows my music taste knows I’m a sucker for B3 organ!) and the intricate three-part harmonies of Cliff Young, Derek Webb, and Danielle Young. Certainly, another highlight of the album and their entire discography is the song “This World” and its realization that, “This world has nothing for me/And this world has everything/All that I could want/And nothing that I need.” Probably their most well-known song is a cover of the late Rich Mullins song called “Hope to Carry On.” In concert, it was often paired with another Mullins song “I will Sing,” which you can find on their Greatest Hits release “Chronicles.” For some reason, this one isn’t on Spotify yet though the rest of the catalogue is, but it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s music collection, and worth the extra effort to track down.
3. Smalltown PoetsSelf-Titled

My introduction to Smalltown Poets and their self-titled debut was at another youth camp in the summer of 1997. All the college kids that were staffing the camp had their hands on classic Poet’s tracks “Prophet, Priest, and King,” “Everything I Hate,” and “If You’ll Let Me Love You” and they were featured as part of the week’s soundtrack. I loved the roots rock sound and was taken by the honest and earthy lyrics. Another favorite song is the earnestly soaring “I’ll Give.” In fact, I would put the first five tracks of this album up against almost any other 90’s CCM release and I believe it they would hold their own in that discussion. “Monkey’s Paw” is the hardest rocking of this set of songs and features a nice guitar solo at the 1:30 mark. Also worth noting is the song “Trust” which features the beautiful chorus, “Take this bread/drink this cup/Know this price has pardoned you/From all that's hardened you/But it's going to take some trust.” This album would make any top 25 album of the 90’s CCM era in my personal rankings.
2. All Star UnitedSelf Titled

With the right amount of snark and rock/alternative sounds All Star United exploded into my ear canals as a baby faced sixteen year old. I was a homeschooler raised right, with sarcasm being one of my better and favorite subjects and this album practically drips with it. Lead singer Ian Eskelin had a knack for using said sarcasm to make a much needed point. I immediately took to songs like the exuberantly piano driven “La La Land,” guitar heavy “Bright Red Carpet,” and  the mock “la la la’s” of song “Smash Hit.” Jesus just needed better PR right?! Two other must-hear tracks are the organ flourishes and “woohoo’s” of “Beautiful Thing,” and the bouncy “Tenderness.” Really you can’t go wrong with any track on the entire CD as it’s another album that’s high on the 90’s list of all-time greats. For fans of great pop/rock/alternative with lyrics that will make you examine yourself, and laugh at some of the dumb things we as Christians say and do.

1. Jars of ClayMuch Afraid

My relationship with Jars of Clay’s follow up to their Self-Titled masterpiece is a complicated one. Originally I was disappointed, as there weren’t many similarities save “Fade to Grey” and “Frail” (which I was to discover were actually written in the same time period as the Self-Titled). But over time, I began to appreciate the evolution of sound. Much Afraid felt more polished, less organic which isn’t bad, just different. There were still the strings that I loved, but it was more of a rock record than it’s predessesor. This is still a highlight of their long and storied career. Other than the previously mentioned songs, other favorites for me were/are “Overjoyed,” with it’s almost whispered beginning and then build to guitars with tight harmonies, “Crazy Times” with it’s searing guitar solo from Stephen Mason, and the tender closing song “Hymn” with it’s hymn-like structure and poetry. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, though some claim this as their best overall,  I personally would rank it at two or three among an astoundingly solid discography. This one is a must own for all fans of music!
Well, I hope you enjoyed the journey of this countdown of what I belive was an amazing year for CCM. If you grew up with these I’d love to hear the stories and memories that you have attached to certain albums or songs. If you’ve never heard many of them, as a self-proclaimed CCM music historian I beg you to at least give them a listen. If you are a music streamer most can be found on Spotify or previewed on Itunes, or purchased on the cheap from Amazon. Happy listening!
Lastly, because every list has to have a cut off there were a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make it for me. Not that they were lesser, they just weren’t ones I personally connected with or I didn’t include because they were a greatest hits album (which I feel like is cheating, though I almost caved for PFR). I listed a few other 1997 albums deserving mention below. So did I miss anything? Agree with the ranking? Disagree? Love to hear from you!
Honorable Mentions: 

Audio AdrenalineSome Kind of Zombie, Chris RiceDeep enough to Dream, PFR – The Late Great PFR, Considering Lily - Self Titled, and The Waiting - Self Titled



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Friday, April 14, 2017

Alex's Top 20 Albums Over 20 Years Old - Jars Of Clay's Self Titled First Album

Image result for jars of clay album art

Jars Of Clay And The Art Of The Resurrection

“Arms nailed down 
Are you telling me something? 
Eyes turned out 
Are you looking for someone?”
                                           - “Liquid” by Jars Of Clay

Having grown up in the Church, I’ve seen both the best of what a life of faith can bring (love and forgiveness, hope and healing, purpose) and the worst of what Bad Religion can produce (guilt, suspicion, pride, paranoia, divisiveness, hate).
It’s taken me a lifetime to sort out what is true faith in Christ, and what is the nonsense and man-made garbage that get’s added to the mix. Sorting through the two, with the help of scripture and the Holy Spirit, is sort of like picking the lint out of the dryer vent. The nonsense clogs the witness of God’s people, and thankfully the Lord and His plan is bigger than all the sand we humans can throw into the engine. Even at our brightest, we are a dim bulb in shining the light of God’s grace to a hurting world. And yet, mysteriously, He keeps on using us to further the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Jesus chose twelve disciples who were tremendously flawed individuals. Peter was impulsive and impetuous, quick to speak and act without thinking (“I’ll never betray you Lord!”). Thomas was prone to doubt, even if the evidence was right in front of him. James and John argued and fought for position in the ranks of Jesus’ followers (he called them the “sons of thunder” for all their brotherly arguing). And Judas? His financial swindling and conniving went farther than he ever thought it would (a good thing to remember when you are tempted to think of any sins as “little”), and he ended up selling out the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver (which many scholars attribute to about $4,000 dollars in today’s economy). 
How is it that these disciples (minus Judas, who’s guilt led him to take his own life) and other followers of that day spread the gospel in such a way that the powerful Roman empire and the very world of that day was turned upside down in just a few hundred years (with echoes reaching our shores today, nearly 2,000 years after that event)?
Well, the answer lies in the Apostle Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4:7, where the great writer of the early church says “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  
A jar of clay (or “earthen vessel” in the good King James) was a disposable thing in the ancient world, the equivalent of a plastic water bottle or a Styrofoam take-out box from the burger joint down the street. It was something to use a few times, and when it broke, you just fashioned another one. It was a weak, toss-off kind of thing, and Paul’s using of it as a metaphor would have hit home in the ancient world. You don’t put a treasure in a Dixie Cup, you put it in a locked safe or vault. Yet the Lord, mysteriously, chooses to use fallible people (like your’s  truly) to show the world the Kingdom of God; what a life lived in communion with the living creator can look like. 
But the great “why” applies here. What is God thinking? Why choose to use frail, fragile things to house his Holy Spirit? What net benefit does this bring? What sort of master plan is this? 
Paul gives us the answer when he says “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Because we can so easily make this about us. “Look at all that I’ve done!”, “Look at what great and noble things that I’ve done in the name of the Lord!”
And really, that’s the core of Bad Religion. When our frail selves try and trumpet how good and righteous we are, the cracks start to show, and the harder we attempt to cover them up. This goes south real fast, and metastasizes into something vile and rotten. Ever wonder how so-called Christians went from being burned at the stake in the days of the early church to burning so-called heathens at the stake themselves hundreds of years later? Well, here’s your formula. Take a little self-righteousness (“I really know what’s best”, ‘I‘m better than that guy“) and let it ferment for a bit, and over time, you get a recipe for a dangerous, grotesque shadow of faith that does a lot of damage in the name of the Lord. 
But if we rightly see ourselves as He does, as frail forms that He chooses to use, fragile things full of cracks, but filled with His power, then the real work of love can begin. Any good thing that we do gets rightly attributed to the power of God working inside us. The light shows brightly through the cracks. You can easily crush a Styrofoam cup full of water, but you cannot crush one with a frozen block of water inside. It’s not the cup that has become suddenly powerful, but what is inside it that gives it its newfound durability. 
The band Jars Of Clay helped bring this critical, spiritual metaphor to light for me. And at a time I was battling and questioning the forms of Bad Religion all around me, they helped me see the forest for the trees.  
I was in the right place at the right time to hear their debut album (a good couple of months before the rest of the world) when I happened upon the guys at a music festival in my youth group days. They were not playing the fest, but they were there as fans of other bands. I’m not sure if they were supposed to be doing this, but they handed out their album freely, and, truth be told, I almost didn’t take it, because it seemed like they were just another small-time artist trying to get their name out. (Another youth group member proclaimed the guys “lame” for trying to promote themselves this way.) But I was never one to turn down anything free, and the album cover looked cool, so I grabbed one.  
I played it on my pickup truck’s stereo on the way back to the campground where we were staying, and the first track (“Liquid”, with it’s Gregorian chanting sample and piercing lyrics) floored me. I made the rest of the youth group kids listen to it, and they all went back to the fest the next day and snapped up every available album that they could. And that debut album was all that anyone talked about for months afterwards. (It would be released in October of that year, four months after we first heard it, and catch on mightily with the world-at-large the next spring.) 
Combining an earthy tone of acoustic instruments, deep and introspective lyrics and a whole lot of great melodies and cross-over appeal, Jars Of Clay’s self-titled first album is one of the best albums in the history of Christian rock and roll (or “CCM” or whatever you want to call it). It hits on every cylinder, and has a dark, introspective mood (the heavy, propulsive MTV hit “Flood”, the child abuse centered “He”) balanced with joyous songs of praise (“Love Song For A Savior”, “Like A Child”), yet never loses the core message that God, in his grace shown by sending his son to die for us, dwells inside us, and chooses to keep using us for His mission in the world. In our fragile state, the Lord sees something we don’t. He sees a bigger picture of how He has originally made up to be. As the song “Art In Me” says:
And in your picture book 
I'm trying hard to see 
Turning endless pages 
Of this tragedy 
Sculpting every move 
You compose a symphony 
And you plead to everyone 
See the art in me 
See the art in me 
See the art in me
This was a message the seventeen-year-old me needed to hear. I was surrounded with all sorts of Bad Religion (mixed with true portraits of faith as well, though those were hard to see at the time) and in need of someone articulating what true faith in Christ was all about. I the lyrics to that first, haunting track “Liquid”, I heard both the same confusion about faith that I had, and an honest articulation of what it all comes down to:
Arms nailed down 
Are you telling me something? 
Eyes turned out 
Are you looking for someone? 
This is the one thing 
The one thing 
The one thing that I know 
Blood stained brow 
Are you dying for nothing? 
Flesh and blood 
Is it so elemental? 
This is the one thing 
The one thing 
The one thing that I know 
Blood stained brow 
He wasn't broken for nothing. 
Arm nailed down 
He didn't die for nothing 
He didn't die for nothing 
This is the one thing 
The one thing 
The one thing that I know 
I still struggle with Bad Religion (election years tend to bring out the worst qualities here), and the damage it has done to many in this world (including members of my own family that want nothing to do with the faith), but it comforts me to know that Jesus struggled with Bad Religion too (it was self-righteous religious leaders who killed him in the “name of God“), but he still showed how God loves the world and wants to bring every one who would come, back into fellowship with Him. Jesus pushed through all of this to show love in the most vivid way he could, by giving his life up for mine (and yours). 
This is “the one thing that I know”. And it keeps me going.
This Sunday is Easter, and my church will be full to the rafters with both regular attendees and all of the other folks who wander in once or twice a year. I’m playing in the band this week (that’s me jumping around with the bass guitar), and from my perch on stage, just left of the drum kit, I’ll get to see folks who’ve battled Bad Religion, who’ve been scarred by it, and by life in general. And together with my fellow worship team members and pastoral staff, get a chance to articulate what it is truly all about. Christ’s resurrection, that same power that rose him from the grave, lives in me (another wise, Holy-spirit inspired nugget from St. Paul), and gives me hope. This power to love, to speak boldly, to hope, is housed in this fragile body, this “jar of clay”, giving me purpose and energy for tomorrow. 
This is “the one thing that I know”.
Happy Easter to you, and may we all shine His light through the cracks in our earthen vessels.
- Alex "Tin Can" Caldwell
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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Alex's Top 20 Albums Over 20 Years Old - The Lost Dogs, 'Scenic Routes'

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Breathing Deep The Breath Of God With The Lost Dogs

When I was an adolescent, I was taught that God loved me, and loved the whole world equally with the love of a perfect father. But when I was a teenager (who was attending a new church and school), I was taught that God despised anyone outside the narrow denominational box that was part of my teenage years. God approved of you only if you worked hard on your own righteousness, and took careful steps to seal yourself off from the influence (and company) of “the world” outside the walls of our church. People to be wary of included (in no particular order) gays, democrats, loose women, profane men, those who drank alcohol in any quantity, those who smoked, secularists, people of color (any other color really), long-haired men, short-haired women, those with tattoos, those who played any instrument that was associated with rock and roll, those who read any other version than the 1611 King James Version, and any other division that could be imagined.
I never whole-heartedly bought into any of this rhetoric, and thankfully this denominations emphasis on reading the Bible every day caused me to see that the life of Jesus was diametrically opposed to this “separation” logic. Jesus constantly got flack from the religious leaders of his day for hanging out with the wrong types of people (labeled in the good King James as “prostitutes and sinners”) and surrounding himself with disciples who didn’t fit the mold of someone the Lord would use to minister. (Most of the disciples were from the wrong side of the tracks.) This disconnect between what the Bible (which I was taught, and still believe, is the infallible word of God) presented as the blueprint for how to minister and interact with the world, and how my well-meaning teachers and elders instructed me to conduct myself, troubled me greatly. My mind and heart (influenced by the Holy Spirit) spoke loudly to me on one shoulder, while the people I loved and looked up to, and who I thought spoke for God, sat on that other shoulder. And my young faith sat in between.
During this time, I was dabbling in denominationally unapproved Christian music, smuggled into my life from a summer camp I was blessed to work at during these years. Every Friday night of the summer, the camp ran a “coffee house” concert series where campers and counselors could play music or act out a skit (you remember youth group skits don’t you?), and one night, an older college student counselor came on stage with a mandolin and sang these lyrics (presented here in their entirety): 
Politicians, morticians, philistines, homophobes,

Skinheads, deadheads, tax evaders, street kids,

Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim-wits

Blue-collars, white-collars, war-mongers, peace-nicks.


Breathe deep, 

Breathe deep the breath of God,

Breathe deep,

Breathe deep the breath of God.


Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop-outs,

Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed,

Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens,

Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists.

Breathe deep,

Breathe deep the breath of God,

Breathe deep,

Breathe deep the breath of God.

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords,

Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics,

Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life,

Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites. 

Police, obese, lawyers, and government,

Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects,  

Atheists, scientists, racists, sadists,

Biographers, photographers, artists, pornographers. 

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians,

The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers,

Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries,

Long-hairs, no-hairs, everybody everywhere


Breathe deep,

Breathe deep the breath of God,

Breathe deep,

Breathe deep the breath of God.

I’ve always been a lover of words, and how they can be stacked up next to each other to form grandiose buildings of poems, books and songs. And these particular words, in the context of my Christian camp life, and young faith in general, floored me. Upon request, that counselor typed up the lyrics to the song (this was pre-internet), and distributed them to a few of us who asked about them. I took that paper and studied every syllable. (I believe I still have that paper in an old Bible of mine.) I had to look up a few of them ( xenophobes, chauvinists, misogynists, monogamists, neophytes, peace-nicks, sadists, etc.), and when I saw the breadth of the kind of people mentioned in this song (there’s lots of "good" folks here too), I saw the whole scope of humanity. But why did the songwriters (a band called The Lost Dogs I was told) end with the refrain “breathe deep the breath of God”? What connection did the two ideas have.
And as I gave it consideration, and asked around, an older counselor kindly sat down with me and explained that the Lord breathed into Adam his living breath, and all of us are still in need of it every day. I may think I’m righteous because of everything I’m avoiding, but It’s really God’s righteousness through Christ that gives me a right standing with the Divine, and I’m closer to all of those people on the list than I care to admit. In the light of grace, all of humanity is in this mess together. We may create artificial categories to make ourselves feel righteous, but there is no degree of separation between me and a pornographer absent the gift of God’s grace on the cross. We all need to breathe deep the breath of God, because we are all equally in need of grace. All men are closer to each other than an infinitely holy God. 
It was the beginning of my understanding of God’s grace, and my flawed humanity, and it’s an understanding that has, by his grace, seen me through a lot of bad religion. Many of those fellow teenagers in my denominational circles have left the faith, thinking that the rigidity they experienced was what God is like. Many have come back, but all of us have scars. 
The Lost Dogs album that song (“Breathe Deep”) is on is titled Scenic Routes, and it’s one of the seminal albums in Christian music history, and is influential far beyond its sales figures and popularity. 
Once upon a time, there was a thriving alternative Christian music scene on the West Coast, one that grew out of the Jesus Freak California music scene of the late 60’s. The music was adventurous and dangerous, and trafficked in taboo subjects and contra-points of views to the prevailing religious thoughts of the time. Bands such as The Choir, Daniel Amos, The 77’s and Adam Again made dark and textured music that was both ahead of its time (bands such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and The Counting Crows would take the West Coast alternative music sound to the masses in the early 90’s) and contemporary (as in “fits in with what is going on right now"). There was no subject or musical style that was out of bounds in a world where everything is under the eye of God, and it was an exciting time to be listening to music and absorbing the possibilities of what constituted “Christian” thought. 
Those four bands (The Choir, Daniel Amos, The 77’s and Adam Again) were asked to collaborate on a one-off album by influential record label Brainstorm Records, and the Lost Dogs were born. With songwriting contributions from each of the band’s songwriters, that first album, Scenic Routes, became a milestone album, and the first of a project that is on-going today. 
With a “cowboy rock and roll” template, Scenic Routes sounds nothing like any of the participating band’s music (be it the U2 qualities of The Choir, The R.E.M. jangle and darkness of Adam Again, The quirky, Talking Heads and B52’s vibe of Daniel Amos, or the Led Zepplin, Rolling Stones crunch of the 77’s), and was a refreshing sound in the Grunge music era it was released in. 
Kicking off with the thesis statement title track (where the band swears to take the road less expected of them), the album is a tour de force of creativity and spiritual insight. With taboo subjects galore (“Bullet Train” talks candidly about gun violence, and advocates for gun control, a very dangerous idea to present in a conservative CCM market, while “The Fortunate Sons” talks candidly about the cost of war on those who fought it), Scenic Routes broke down many walls in my mind, and even if I disagreed with some of the sentiments expressed, I admired the candid and witty ways they were presented.
But it’s not all heaviness of subject here. “Why Is The Devil Red” is a bluegrass song to be reckoned with: 
Why is the devil red?
Why ain't the devil blue?
Why is the devil red?
Why is the devil hue? 

Well, you give the devil sulphur,
You give the devil horns,
You give the devil a pitchfork and you give the devil corns,
Does he look like Robert DiNiro with them big, long fingernails?
Does he make you dance like Charo or sing like Jerry Vale?

Well, who's that looking like an angel of light?
Who's that dressed in a gown of white?
Who's that saying, "Everything's alright"?
Who's that grinning in the dead of night? 

Why is the devil red?
Why ain't the devil blue?
Why is the devil red?
Why ain't the devil hue?

Well, you give the devil hot breath,
You put him on a tower,
You give the devil about fifteen toes,
You give him his devil power.

Well, who's that looking like an angel of light?
Who's that dressed in a gown of white?
Who's that saying, "Everything's alright"?
Who's that grinning in the dead of night?
With comical (yet still incisive) lyrics like this one, the Lost Dogs won me over with thier insight and wit, and showed me a view of my faith that I had never seen before. Their dusty cowboy songs might have been an act of sorts (one that has grown into a full time gig, like a good TV character that has a life in a show far beyond what was intended), but the Lost Dogs were anything but fake. Scenic Routes would be the first of many great albums by this "super group" (at least in their own circles), and they are still going strong today. The album is a generous 18 songs long, and there is nary a dud amongst them.  
To catch some of the wittiest, most inventive and piercing songs of faith you'll hear, head over to Spotify and hear everything this band has put their name to. But make sure to start at the beginning, and take the scenic route with the Lost Dogs. Their hasn't been a group of alternative music cowboys like this in some time. 
May your fire burn brightly, and may we all breathe deep the breath of God.
 -- Alex Caldwell


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alex's 20 Great Albums Over 20 Years Old - The Choir, 'Chase The Kangaroo'


Image result for chase the kangaroo Choir album cover   

The Choir And The Art Of Sadness 

"A sad face is good for the heart / Go on cry, does it seem a cruel world? 

A sad face is good for the heart of a girl / A sad face"

                                                                                                                                                      - From "Sad Face"


If you were to listen exclusively to Christian radio and view only Christian television, and have no other connection to the world, then you would likely think that the world was a shiny, happy place with only vague “struggles” every once in a awhile. And these marginal, infrequent struggles would be over at the end of a three minute pop song, and be overcome by simply having more faith and pushing through the doubt with the power of a killer keyboard line and soulful backup vocals. Anything can be overcome with the power of music (and the Lord, of course), and seeing the world through this particularly rosy lens keeps the bad thoughts at bay, and the curse of sin under wraps. There are exceptions of course (Hillary Scott’s great “Thy Will”, about her sorrow over a miscarriage comes to mind). But there are 90% shiny, happy songs to every one song with real grit.

All this sunshine is, of course, a complete fabrication, though it is very well meaning. When you keep things “safe for the whole family”, you need to keep the edges well sanded down, least little Johnny or Susie ask “what’s addiction?” or “what’s depression?”, and “why do people who believe in Jesus struggle with it? Aren’t we called to overcome?”

And little Johnny and Susie’s questions would be valid, because in this fallen world, real struggles don’t fit into a pop formula, and are far messier and longer than we care to admit. Real life throws curve balls at everyone (those of faith included), and loved ones get sick with cancer and die. Couples experience infertility and miscarriages. Children rebel, marriages crumble, democracies shake. Good, church-going folk also struggle with prescription medication abuse and infidelity. The real world must be reckoned with in the art that Christians produce. That’s not to say a song of victory and overcoming is not  a good subject matter, it’s just the balance of the dark and the light that need adjusting. The word of God speaks to all moments in a lifetime. Many books, like Lamentations and Ecclesiastes mine the dark moments of the soul, and sit next to Psalms of praise and prophetic books of doom. It’s all there, and the music that believers in Christ make should reflect this complexity.

That’s where The Choir’s 1988 masterpiece Chase The Kangaroo hits all the right tones for me. Despite its whimsical title, it’s a beautiful and haunting album about sadness, the kind that you can’t shake in an afternoon, the kind that clings to you for a season and won’t let go. “Kangaroo” is an album that lays bare the melancholy times that we all go through, and shines a real light of grace on those time, yet does so without preaching or talking down to the listener. Lyricist Steve Hindalong’s musings on the darkness are set against some of the most epic musical backdrops in rock and roll history (that's not hyperbole, this is one of the most artful, beautiful and rocking records I've ever heard). With U2 and The Cure as alternative music touchstones, the album weaves swirling dark tones of confusion and loss into every corner, and asks the big questions to God, but in a respectful and artful way. Yet the band still manages to shine a light too.

Opening song “Consider” roars to life on a circular, pounding drum cycle and driving, ghostly guitar figure, and finds lead singer Derri Daugherty giving one of his most impassioned vocal performances. In “Consider” Steve Hindalong (the band's drummer and main lyricist) extols the listener to think about all of it, the dark and the light, grace and sin, glory and depravity:

Consider one small child

Consider your cross

Consider the hope that withers like a flower

Consider my loss

Consider the fire

Consider the night

Consider the truth

Consider the light, my love

Consider your heart

Consider the ghost of the living savior… 

Big questions of doubt appear in the next song “Children Of Time”, with Hindalong pointing out that the "astronauts (or "cosmonauts" as Hindlalong cheekily refers to them) were first in space, to look for God and find no trace.” That’s a dangerous sentence for someone firmly in the CCM fold (as The Choir was at the time) to write, but Hindalong has always been one to push the envelope for what is “acceptable” subject matter for Christians to talk about. I have a dear friend in the faith who struggles mightily with doubt, and he says that the Church does not talk about this idea enough. He says it’s as if “were afraid to admit that nothingness is a distinct possibility.” Hindalong admits it, and is not afraid to talk about it in the light of faith.

But the real gem of sadness and faith is the masterful “Sad Face”, where Hindalong writes about his wife and the couple’s recent miscarriage against the backdrop of the verse in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes chapter seven that says “Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” That’s a heavy verse, from an equally heavy part of the Bible, yet it fits perfectly into the sorrow and heaviness of the soul that accompanies this sad event that befalls many couples. Hindalong masterfully writes about the weight of this event:

There's a woman in my kitchen

With a rainbow on her cheek

Well isn't that a promise?

Still I never felt so weak

There's a tiny spirit in a world above

Cradled so sweetly in our Father's love

So you don't have to cry

No there's something in my eye

That “tiny spirit in a world above, cradled so sweetly in our Father’s love” line gets me every time, and though my sweet wife Julie and I have never experienced this small, yet devastating tragedy, I feel along with Hindalong and his wife, and say a prayer for anyone I know who’s gone through this all-to common life event.

Hindalong bravely states later in the song that “maybe just now I don’t understand”, and that encapsulates the struggle of faith as succinctly as any statement that I’ve heard in a song.

The rest of Chase The Kangaroo dives into equally deep and troubling waters, but never with a hopelessness that’s common to modern man. It’s always with one hand gripping the cross, and one outstretched to the confused and lonely, looking to see if this faith thing can change their lives. “Cain” deals with crime, and the evil in the hearts of “those who wait with knives for fools” while “Rifleman” takes a hard look at revenge and the celebration of “settling the score” in American culture. “Look Out For Your Own” bemoans the exploitation of the weakest among us and “So Far Away” is an honest look at the difficulties of life on the road, separated from the ones you love.

The epic title track is the pinnacle moment, where Hindalong bemoans having to work a construction job on the side to make ends meet. The epic “Kangaroo” (which is the band’s most epic, U2-like moment of all if you ask me) builds with a throbbing bass line and finds Hindalong musing if he digs his ditch too deep that he might hit Australia and “chase the kangaroo”. But then he muses on Jesus and his digging for lost souls:

See what sparkles in our world

Never mind the stars

Mercy is the silver pearl

Vengeance is not ours

Gold glistens bright enough

To render greedy nations blind

But Jesus buried diamonds in

A land where love is rare to find

Shovel go deep

Heart be true

Chase the kangaroo

Shovel go deep

Heart be true

Chase the kangaroo

Chase the kangaroo

The Choir is still making fantastic records, and Chase The Kangaroo was the beginning of their self producing and writing all their own material stage, one that’s still going some thirty years later. Nobody writes more epic, beautifully sad songs than The Choir. But, ironically, their most hopeful record, Wide-Eyed Wonder, (celebrating the birth of children and the wonder in life) would come next, showing that they understood the dual nature of this life down here. “Kangaroo” rocks and swirls and soars, and is a gem of an album. It is an album that deserves your full attention, and a quite space to turn it up and consider all the many facets of this life under the sun. The world is not yet fully redeemed, and until that glorious day, the dark and the light are both equally valid subjects to talk about in light of the grace of God. Go over to Spotify and listen now, and then head over to the band’s website ( and help fund the next Choir album. You will be glad you did.

May we all “consider the truth”.

Dig up those hidden treasures of albums, and revel in all they have to offer.

- Tin Can Caldwell


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Monday, February 20, 2017

Alex's 20 Great Albums Over 20 Years Old - 'This Beautiful Mess' by Sixpence None The Richer

 Image result for sixpence none the richer this beautiful mess 

Sixpence None The Richer And Life's Beutiful Mess

Messiah / I know you are there

Within, without me / Holding me

Messiah / I know you are there

Catching, carrying / This beautiful mess

                            - From “Within A Room Somewhere” 


If there is one idea that keeps drawing me towards the gospel, as presented in the Bible, it’s that the Lord can make good out of the crazy messes that we as humans (and me, specifically) find ourselves in time and again. Grace says that you will never get it all together, and that salvation needs to come from without, from another source. And that grace needs to keep coming, even after saving faith in Jesus. I need God’s grace as much today as I did the day I gave my life to Jesus and decided to follow him. The characters of the Bible all had back stories that should have precluded them from being used by the Lord (Moses, David and Paul, three writers who wrote 1/3 of the whole Bible, all murdered someone). But the Lord, in his power and in his grace, can take the mess of our lives and turn it into something beautiful. It takes time though. Moses needed forty years in the wilderness before the Lord visited him in the burning bush. Paul might have had a miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, but some scholars say that it was about fifteen years till the early church trusted him enough to send him out on his early missionary journeys. Grace in action takes time. The beautiful mess of our lives is sorted out by the Father, day by day, and made into something that can be used to change the world. 

I first got a hold of this “beautiful mess” idea from Sixpence None The Richer’s best album, and magnum opus on grace, the dark, heavy and beautiful This Beautiful Mess from 1995, an album that has taken up a place in my soul.

It’s a shame that Sixpence is almost exclusively known for their 1999 novelty hit “Kiss Me”, because the band has such a depth of writing and musicianship that is overlooked. It’s like knowing U2 by their 1998, throw away pop hit “The Sweetest Thing”. There is so much more. Even the album that “Kiss Me” hails from (the band’s self-titled third album) is fantastic, and in no way mirrors that frothy, light-weight hit.

But it was hearing This Beautiful Mess that changed my view on what spiritual music could be. Here was an album that dove into darker themes of depression, loneliness and guilt (the moody alt-rock is the perfect background for this treatise on the darker themes of faith), yet shined a light of the gospel on all those dark place and talked about the redemption of all things.

And man, did it rock. The lighter Sixpence of their later years pales in comparison to the moody, alt-rock band represented on ‘Mess”. The guitars alternately swirl like the classic Christian alternative band The Choir, and crunch like Pearl Jam, yet the pop center is never lost. Add to this the other-worldly vocals of Leigh Nash, and you have an album that sounds both powerful and groovy in every decade.

I first heard the band, a few months after the album was released in 1995. I was at a festival in upstate New York, and the guitar crunch and angelic vocals of first track “Angeltread” summoned me to the main stage to mosh and dance with abandon. In those days of disposable income, I immediately raced to buy a CD and a t-shirt, and I absorbed the dark and beautiful tunes of This Beautiful Mess for months afterwards.

The second song, "Love, Salvation And Fear Of Death" rocks one of the best bass lines in all of rock and roll, and the great songs don’t let up till the stunning “I Can’t Explain” ends the album with a cacophony of sounds, showing the mess of our lives colliding with the grace of God. “Melting Alone”, with it’s moody instrumentation and spooky nature spoke to the self-conscious, unsure teen that I was, with it’s no-holds barred take on late night angst:


Tonight the lamplight swirls and glistens

Melting itself upon my face

I'm hanging my silhouette near the shoreline

I'm swimming underneath in the noontime

Will I ever know what's wrong with me

Will I ever see your hand again in mine  

Tonight the rain is pelting rooftops

There is no fire to melt the cold

I'm straining to hear a human whisper

And I'm painting images on the soft stone

Now I'm drinking alone

Amidst these figures of stone

I'll raise the glass once again

Then lay my head on the pillow


The fact that “Melting Alone” did not offer an immediate resolution to this late night ennui resonated with the teenage me, who liked to stay up late and brood about the world and my place in it. The following “Circle Of Error” could be a theme song to my life:


And I'll admit that I do not try

When it's easier to sit down and cry

 I'm so full of doubt, want to let it out

Let it out all over you

On my circle of error, I go round and round

On my circle of error, I go round and round again


I thank the good Lord for a grace that is “outside” my fickle actions and moods. On my own, the “circle of error” would just endlessly go round and round. In “Love, Salvation And The Fear Of Death”, I found a prayer for life as a young man, and one that still resonates now:


Well I'm staring straight into the face of hell

You're so close and you can't even tell

I'm so wrapped up inside

Because I don't have much to love

Horrified I feel from pits unseen

Falling off my pedestal of plentiful deeds

As it crumbles down on top of me

I contemplate my lack of love

Come and save my soul

Before it's not too late

I'm not afraid to admit

How much I hate myself


I need grace to step into my life every day, to “save me from myself”, and this will never cease to be a relevant prayer for me. 

This Beautiful Mess is a masterpiece of an album, a moody-yet-tuneful slice of alternative rock that sounds like a cross between Nirvana and Enya, and deserves a listening audience as big as a stadium. With timeless themes of grace amidst painful times, this classic album is a top ten, all-time album for me (even the art work is epic and haunting), and one of the best evidences that faith, artfully rendered, can be a tool of the Spirit that changes hearts and minds. It rocks, sooths and haunts in equal measure, like a fine piece of literature.

That festival is also where I first encountered Jars Of Clay, The Prayer Chain and The Lost Dogs, three other groups that would radically challenge my faith, and show me that that gospel is a tune for all times, the good and the bad, the clean and the messy. Grace truly is the most powerful force in this world, making holy things out of this beautiful mess.


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Friday, September 23, 2016

20 Years Later - MxPx, 'Life In General'

Magnified Plaid signed to Tooth and Nail Records as high school students in the Bremerton area of Washington State.  While the original trio with Andy Husted didn’t make it past the first album, Mike, Tom, and Yuri have had a pretty successful career.  And while the band has now been together for 24 years, they released their hallmark third record 20 years ago.  Life in General put Tooth and Nail Records on the map in a big way and gave MxPx some serious notoriety, complete with MTV airplay -- especially with the hysterical video for “Chick Magnet.”  Personally, dcTalk’s Jesus Freak opened me up to a whole new world of music.  This new world paved the way for MxPx and similar bands to become the favorites for my formative years right on through to today.  MxPx singlehandedly sparked an undying love for punk rock in me that still burns bright.

These days, MxPx is known as a pop-punk band, and they certainly added a lot of pop elements into their music, but back in 1996, MxPx was way more influenced by skate punk.  The guitar, bass, and drums were set to a blazing pace for most songs and it was in an era just before pop-punk started to dominate the airwaves.  Tooth and Nail had struck gold.  Life in General has so many standards that are beloved by fans and still played at MxPx shows regularly.  “Middlename,” “Do Your Feet Hurt,” “The Wonder Years,” Your Problem My Emergency,” “Doing Time,” and Southbound” really highlight the best of what the album has to offer.  The album’s title is also quite fitting as the lyrics to these songs, as well as the others, are just about life -- generally speaking.  Themes range from love, having fun, minor problems we all face (especially when at that age) in life, to some slightly deeper issues.   

One of the best things about the album is that is still holds up after 20 years.  Those who loved that type of punk rock sound in the 90s will still dig it today, but it also plays nicely to new punk listeners wanting to discover some “older” punk music.  While not every person likes the direction MxPx headed after Life in General and Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo, most still look back with fondness, or at the very least with appreciation, to the earlier days of MxPx.

The band’s last full-length album, Plans Within Plans, was released 4 years ago.  While the album had some classic sounding tunes and plenty of enjoyable moments, it couldn’t really compare with Life in General.  Even though there hasn’t been a new album in a while, MxPx did surprise fans on September 18th with a completely re-recorded version of Life in General.  There aren’t a lot differences in the song’s recordings overall, but there are some subtle nuances here and there that are different.  As a whole, the biggest difference in the 1996 version and the 2016 version is the tone of the instruments.  The distortion on Tom’s guitar is meatier, Yuri’s drums are bigger sounding, and Mike’s bass seems to stand out in the mix a little more (but not in bad way).  The re-recording is an interesting listen.  It’s the same Life in General, but any fan of the band would pick the songs out as sounding different immediately.  The purest in me is quite happy that the songs stayed exactly the same, but the album is set to modern recording techniques and the band is using their current effects (such as distortions).  It’s different enough to be noticed and appreciated, but it’s the same album.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been 20 years since Life in General was released, but Mike and the guys came up with a pretty cool way to celebrate.  As of now, this download was only available for one day -- September 18th.  If you missed out, see if one of your friends was able to snag the download.  Hopefully the band will release a 20th Anniversary vinyl (with a digital download), or something similar, with this recording.  It would be a shame to put all that work into this project with only some of the fans getting a chance to listen.  The fact that it was a free grab for one day only may just be leading to that type of scenario.  Fingers crossed!  As a long-time fan, though, celebrating 20 years of Life in General with this re-recording has been fun.  Something tells me that I’ll be rocking this record for another 20 years to come.

-- Michael Weaver, JFH Staff Writer

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Sunday, July 31, 2016

JFH 20 Retrospective Part 3 - The Long, Hard Road, by John DiBiase

We certainly take music’s relationship with the internet for granted now. Previously, we had to wait until we could take a trip to a local Christian bookstore or music seller to pick up an album on release day. Now, we can buy the album digitally on our computer or phone at midnight of release day from literally anywhere -- as long as our phone has a signal or we have internet access. 

And back in the late 90’s, record labels were still trying to figure out what to do with online media. At one point, someone at a label (and unfortunately, I can’t really recall which one) told me they couldn’t send us music as often as we needed it because they didn’t believe the internet was an legitimate form of media. 

Ha, times have changed, haven’t they?

But the first record label to really take note of JFH was Forefront Records (home to DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Rebecca St. James, DeGarmo & Key, Bleach, etc), and we started up a friendship with the label that would last a few years. In the summer of 1998, while I was helping out the label’s street team (called “The Buzz”) at Creation East Festival, the head of the team offered to help us migrate the site to an official dotcom with server space on NetCentral in exchange for JFH helping to do grassroots promotion for DC Talk’s brand new “Supernatural” album. They'd cover the costs to help us get going and give us any server space we needed. It was a dream come true for a broke 18-year-old Christian music enthusiast fresh out of high school… and since we’re all Christians here, it just couldn’t get any better… right?

JFH front page in August, 2004

Aside from stating the obvious that promises that had been made were not kept, I’ll just say that the experience was a life lesson and an unfortunate one. However, the silver lining to the whole mishegas was that it did help us get the site onto officially (and… by 2001 -- almost three years later -- I was able to fianlly get the ownership rights back to it…).

Life for me has changed drastically since being a 16-year-old kid with a minimal social life who started a very time-intensive website in JFH. I started college in the fall of 1998 and majored in Advertising/Design. And after 5 semesters there, all I knew is that I’d wanted to just work on JFH full-time. I took a part-time job doing web support type work at a local company in 2000, got engaged to my girlfriend in 2001, married in 2003, bought our condominium in 2006, quit that job later that year, and finally took JFH full-time. In 2010, our son Will was born (after a miscarriage the year before), and life changed dramatically yet again. All the while, the music industry was going through its own growth spurts… and then deep dives. Twenty years in, JFH is a part-time project once again and the time I’ve had to spend on it has been cut down drastically from a decade ago. But thanks to the incredible staff of volunteers who help out on a regular basis, JFH prevails. And hopefully it will continue to do so for as long as God allows or wants it to.

So, with that said… here’s to whatever the future holds in store next for Jesus Freak Hideout! Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years!

 -- John DiBiase (JFH founder / Editor / Writer)




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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

JFH 20 Retrospective Part 2 - The Birth of 'The Jesus FREAK Hideout' by John DiBiase

In early 1996, my family got the internet at home for the very first time (dial-up! Ugh…), and I used to love scouring the new sites on the web dedicated to the individual bands or record labels and the few existing Christian music media sites at the time, like CCM Magazine or a pretty cool little independent one called The electronic Lighthouse Magazine (or “TeLM”). But I remember visiting artist sites and wondering what was newly added to the site, as they didn’t always list what was changed, so I had to spend time browsing multiple pages in an effort to find something new.

On August 13th, 1996, a couple hours before my family was going to take us to a Jars of Clay / Duncan Sheik concert at Tink’s Entertainment Complex in Scranton, PA, I read a tutorial on basic HTML on and started my own website. I still remember sitting in the car, on the way to the concert, and turning to my dad who was at the wheel and telling him “I started a website today!”

Who knew?

My goal for the site was a one-stop place for all things Christian music. If you wanted the latest news, it’d be there. Tour dates? Sure, I’ll copy them from every artist site I could find and paste them onto one page. (THAT time-consuming idea was short-lived. Ha!) The Yankees won the World Series? (My dad’s favorite baseball team) Sure, I’d slap that on the front page. Why not? It was just a little webpage, but there were no rules as to what had to or didn’t have to be on there.

But that name, “The Jesus FREAK Hideout.” What’s the deal?

Before I started the site, I would frequent the Christian chat rooms at, and at one point, they offered free private chat rooms. I used to use the handle “Jesus FREAK” in chat rooms, and then got sick of the “Are you a male or female?” questions every time I met someone, so I changed it to “mR. Jesus FREAK” (which didn’t stop some people from asking, of course). When I created a free chat room, I called it “The Jesus FREAK Hideout.” It seemed fitting. I ended up never using it, but when it came time to naming my new little free web page on, “The Jesus FREAK Hideout” just kinda seemed to work for me.

The following year, in 1997, the site had started grabbing the attention of publicists. I remember the very first press kit we ever received -- it was for the band Eager, which featured one of the original members of one of my favorite bands, PFR. But in addition to PR, the JFH started also getting the attention of record labels. And the very first label to contact us would change the course of the site’s history forever…

 -- John DiBiase (JFH founder / Editor / Writer)




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Sunday, July 24, 2016

JFH 20 Retrospective Part 1, by John DiBiase

Twenty years. It’s kind of amazing to even think about doing ANYthing for two decades. I’m hesitant to say “any job,” because Jesus Freak Hideout was born out of a passion for something and was never meant to be a job – even if that’s what it did become for some time.

I had always grown up with a knowledge of Jesus and what He meant to us, but I didn’t really invite him into my life as my Lord and Savior until the early 1990s. And then, my mom’s love for the classic rock act Foreigner and a list of “If you like this artist, then try this Christian artist” in a magazine called “YOU” lead us to a Christian bookstore where we could listen to demos of Christian music and pick out music we were interested in.

It all started with a band called Idle Cure. They were popular in the early 90s for being a Foreigner sound-a-like with an overtly Christian message (and it’s a slightly guilty pleasure to revisit those albums from time to time ;) ). After we exhausted the Idle Cure discography, return trips to the bookstore cultivated a love and appreciation for Christian music we’d discover – not on the radio, mind you – but via demos and magazine articles and advertisements (and endcap displays at the store). I also loved a Christian music video show called “Signal Exchange” (which was hosted by the super talented Cory Edwards, who went on to direct an animated film called Hoodwinked years later). It was through that show that I’d see music videos by artists like Audio Adrenaline, Dakoda Motor Co and Switchfoot and would soon fall in love with each of those – and many more.

I’ll save you ever minute detail in my personal history of being introduced to Christian music, but the fact is, these artists – and a burgeoning love for Jesus – sparked a passion that still remains today (although it’s certainly changed).

Which was the first CCM artist you ever heard (that introduced you to Christian music)?


-- John DiBiase (JFH founder / Editor / Writer)



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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Revisiting Audio Adrenaline's 'bloOm' and Newsboys' 'Take Me To Your Leader'

The consumption of music has changed immensely in 20 years. In early 1996, I remember hearing new music from Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys in tiny snippets on their new websites on the internet--which was a surreal and entirely new way of hearing music at the time. I remember hearing how raw and edgy the music sounded from both bands and getting really excited for what was ahead.

On Tuesday, February 20th, 1996, I remember going to my favorite local Christian bookstore to pick up copies of both Audio Adrenaline's "bloOm" and Newsboys' "Take Me To Your Leader." I also remember getting my hands on a free "Take Me To Your Leader" promo poster from the music section of the store and standing on my bed to hang it in on the wall in my room while listening to these albums (on the stereo on my desk) for the very first time.

Not only were these two very popular Christian musci acts that you could hear singles from on the radio, but they were rock bands. And it was a time when the music--at least to this writer--felt gritty and real, and lyrically visceral. A song like "Lost The Plot" from Newsboys was not a typical song you'd hear from a band like them -- and especially not now. Co-written by the band's drummer and co-vocalist Peter Furler and producer Steve Taylor (who currently fronts Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil with Furler as the band's drummer), the song was a clever rock ballad about the complacency of many believers... something that's far too relevant today still. Check out a portion of the lyrics here (and the full song lyrics here):

Let's be blunt.
We're a little unfaithful.
What do you want?

Are you still listenin',
'Cause we're obviously not.
We've forgotten our first love.
We have lost the plot.

And why are You still calling?
You forgave, we forgot.
We're such experts at stalling
That we've lost the plot.

There's still new music today that releases that's worth curling up on your bed and listening to while pouring over liner notes and digging into the music deeply, but it's a rarity--not only because music has changed so much (and the politics of how it's created and released), but because the WAY we consume music has changed so much too. We're less likely these days to have a musical product to hold in our hands to immerse ourselves in, considering how we can just instantly download the music to our phone, mp3 player, computer, etc at midnight on release day morning instead of having to wait to get to a store to grab a CD, cassette, vinyl, etc.

But, two decades later, I think these two albums have held up tremendously well. Unfortunately, Audio Adrenaline is virtually no more, existing mostly in-name-only with all new members and a more contemporary/worship sound (Original vocalist Mark Stuart had to quit due to vocal ailments), and Newsboys sound immensely different with DC Talk's Michael Tait on vocals (and there being a much greater focus on worship songs), while the rest of the members in the current band were present for "Take Me To Your Leader." Music production has also changed dramatically, with these albums displaying little imperfections and sound changes that wouldn't make through a pass in ProTools these days (You can actually hear the volume shift lower near the end of Newsboys' "God Is Not A Secret"). Even the structure of how albums were created and laid out has changed dramatically. Due to musical vendors like iTunes where you can buy just one song from any given album, labels and bands have had to rethink songwriting to try to write each song as singles.

These albums most certainly hold a special place in this reviewer's heart, especially since they were significant chapters in the soundtrack of my teenage years. And they're excellent albums to revisit to this day.

Do you own either of these historic records? Sound off with your favorite songs and memories below! We'd love to hear about them.

-- John DiBiase


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Monday, November 30, 2015

Celebrating 20 Years of Jars of Clay's Self-Titled Debut

Where to begin with an album that means so many things to me (and so many others)? An album that is tied to so many great memories?

I would submit to you that this album is the perfect soundtrack for any activity, for any mood. Whether you're chilling, cleaning, studying, driving with the windows down, or worshipping. Now 20 years later, I still revisit this album multiple times a month and it's taken a large role in shaping who I am as a person and my musical tastes.

Jars of Clay met and formed at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois in the early 1990's. Band members Charlie Lowell (keys) and Dan Haseltine (vocals) struck up a friendship over a shared love of the band Toad the Wet Sprocket. Although pursuing a career in music was never the goal, they quickly gained a following from music that they wrote together for a school class project. in 1994, they released a limited pressing of a demo titled "Frail" and decided to leave school to pursue a career in music.

Wikipedia has this to say about the album (and I concur):

"The album has been highly acclaimed, being one of few Christian albums of the mid-nineties to achieve platinum status. As the group's debut album, Jars of Clay introduced many internationally to the group and established the group due to their distinctive style."

This album also had the distinction of being one of very few to have great crossover impact on MTV and mainstream radio.

Personally, I first learned of Jars of Clay as my interest in Christian music began to bloom. I had just graduated middle school and was taking the coolest of all classes at youth group camp in the summer of 1995: watching and discussing christian music videos.

When I first saw and heard the strains of "Flood," I was hooked. I'd never heard anything like the pounding acoustic guitars that were as relentless as the rain they were singing about.  The violin breakdown in the bridge? As far as my young ears were concerned, it was perfection in a pop song. I had to find out more about these guys, and soon after camp (not soon enough!), on that fateful day of October 25th, I purchased their cassette tape and proceeded to wear it out.

The best part, as my best friend and I were to discover, is that "Flood"--although a terrific song and most people's introduction to the band--wasn't even the best the album had to offer. In my opinion, that easily goes to "Worlds Apart," but I digress.

As I greedily dug deeper into the track listing (I still remember the smell of the liner notes), I quickly became a fan of the opening song "Liquid." With its beginning combination of harmonious "yeah's" and chanting monks (if you've never heard it, it sounds weird but it works), along with the tight strums of the acoustic guitars and strong drum beat, I'd found my go-to song. It was the following year at another youth camp upon hearing it on a souped-up sound system that it further nailed this down as "my" song.

My next memory of this album is singing along with my best friend in high school as he strummed the familiar notes of "Love Song for a Savior" and "Worlds Apart" as we hung out on weekends. A few years later in college, another friend and roommate frequently played "Worlds Apart," further cementing it as an all-time favorite song. There are many great lyrics, but the following have been the most meaningful to me personally:

"It takes all I am to believe
In the mercy that covers me
Did you really have to die for me?
All I am for all you are
Because what I need and what I want are worlds apart

I don't know about you, but that cuts to my heart every time!

"Love Song for a Savior," although simple lyrically, may just be better than a majority of today's modern worship songs because of its innocence and purity of delivery.

"It seems too easy to call you 'Savior'
not close enough to call you 'God'
So as I sit and think of words I can mention
To show my devotion.
...I want to fall in love with you

I typically find the simplest of expressions when straight from the heart to be the ones that draw my hearts affections to my Savior. This one just does that for me.

Two other musical standout tracks and personal favorite musically are the harmonies of "Like a Child" and the swirling strings on "Boy on a String."

Closing track "Blind" seems to be both directed at Pilate and at us.
Pilate, who wanted to rely on logic, had finally washed his hands of responsibility for Christ's blood...

"Crucify, and deny,
pass the blame and burn the mission
Till dust remains
and wash your hands

"You're logical
You can't find
Any reason to believe in love
You are blind

And us the often wayward believer...

"So you fight
and retreat
And talk yourself out of believing
Any peace that you can't see

"Blind" was a great way to end the album which brings me to my one (albeit small) quibble with the album, and that is the long run time of barely audible band practice and chatter between the end of "Blind" and a hidden gem of a song, "Four Seven." This song is basically a thesis statement for the band's name (which is taken from 2 Corinthians 4:7 and its mission as a band).

Aside from the annoyance of having to fast forward to get to the song, I felt like the song should have been given the full treatment, and placed earlier in the track listing. (A good fit could have been right after "Flood" and before "Worlds Apart.") But as I said, small quibbles. I think they remedied that small annoyance with the platinum re-issue of this album including "four seven" as an eleventh song.

Lastly, this album is one of very few from the 1990's that I believe still holds up lyrically as well as musically to this day. Others might say that the drum loops and acoustic guitar on this album haven't aged well, but I would politely and emphatically disagree. If you missed this one, or weren't yet born, you should definitely give it a spin!

What is Jars of Clay up to now:
Still making music and touring (albeit at a much smaller and more infrequent pace) with their most recent full length original album Inland released in 2013. They continue to pursue a pairing of their deep and poetic lyrics with any and all styles and genres of music, as they've explored americana, bluegrass, 80's, prog rock, acoustic, worship, and indie styled music since their debut. Jars of Clay is also one of the rare bands from the era who now 20 years later has kept the same lineup which I applaud. One hopes that there are many more years of their brand of insightful, smart pop which I believe is under appreciated but sorely needed.

-- Josh Balogh (Guest writer for JFH)


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Celebrating 20 Years of DC Talk's 'Jesus Freak'

The term “Jesus Freak” was coined around the late sixties and has been used as a derogatory term for Christians ever since.  Like the term “Christian” itself, believers began to latch onto it like a badge of honor and proudly proclaim themselves as Jesus Freaks.  Perhaps, though, none have ever proclaimed it as loudly as "two honks and a negro" did twenty years ago…

dcTalk had fairly humble beginnings in the late eighties.  The name originated as a nickname for group leader Toby McKeehan, but later was identified as “decent Christian” talk.  Due to some success from their demo tape, the group got a deal with the CCM giants Forefront Records (which was started by Eddie DeGarmo of DeGarmo & Key).  Their self-titled debut is pretty cheesy looking back, but songs like “Heavenbound” still hold a special place in the hearts of most fans.  While most of the debut was a rap/rock mix, the group’s second release, Nu Thang focused much more heavily on the hip/hop and rap elements.  The trio’s popularity continued to rise with the release of the now classic Free At Last.  Their third album continued from where Nu Thang left off, but featured more pop elements and brought back a few more of the rock components as well -- such as displayed in “Luv is a Verb.”  The album garnered much success as it went platinum, boasted of several killer singles, landed the boys on Jay Leno's show, and even spawned a movie (that didn't make it to theaters but was released on DVD for the 10-year anniversary of the album).  Many thought Free at Last would be their most groundbreaking (in the CCM industry) album ever, but I don’t think anyone had a clue what was coming only three years later.  dcTalk decided to reinvent their sound some for their fourth record, and the rest is history.

The lead single, and title track, released on August 1, 1995 and jaws dropped.  It was grungy.  It was hard rock.  Toby’s raps were at their best and the hook would be stuck in your head for days.  Where did this song come from?  Fan were surprised, but it only built the hype for the rest of the album.  Nearly four long months later, on November 21st, 1995, Jesus Freak hit shelves full force and debuted at number 16 on Billboard’s Top 200 -- completely unprecedented for its time.  Even more impressive may have been the fact that the album was certified Gold within a month.  dcTalk were breaking down barriers between the secular and Christian industries that had only been dreamt of before.  “Just Between You and Me” lead the way for the crossover and did extremely well on several Billboard charts.  Six of the singles released became number one hits throughout the Christian charts.  Jesus Freak (the album) won a Grammy and “Jesus Freak” (the song) was the first non-AC (adult contemporary) song to win the Dove Award for song of the year.  This is the point in history, and this is the album, that began opening people’s eyes to the Christian music scene. (Even Virgin Records, who would go on to distribute the album to the mainstream turned to look at the Newsboys next.)  Barriers began to be removed and people slowly began seeing Christian music as something artistically relevant, and not just a cheesy knockoff. 

Jesus Freak was the first ever CD I bought.  Sure, I had cassette tapes of other artists across other genres (I LOVED Ray Stevens), but this was my very first CD.  I still own it along with the single and the Ten Year Anniversary Edition -- I’m most looking forward to the 20th Anniversary Vinyl though!  1995 was a big year for music, especially rock music, all across the board.  For a twelve year old kid just coming into youth group, this was amazing.  I was sponging up everything I could.  Many of the albums I discovered in those days have stuck with me, but nothing quite like Jesus Freak did.  I don’t think I would call it my favorite album of all time, but it’s certainly high on the list.  It’s such a special album for me in a way that’s honestly just difficult to explain.  Let’s just say that there is a special place in my heart where this album resides.  It’s a truly legit 5-star album -- and not just because our very own website was inspired by its release; it’s amazingly written.  Every single song, track after track, is on point.  The writing, the music, the message…  Sheer brilliance!  Even the interludes like “Mrs. Morgan” and “Jesus Freak (Reprise)” are fantastic. 

The album is undoubtedly God inspired and tackles all sorts of issues.  Each song still contains relevant messages today -- 20 years later!  Jesus Freak changed the way I saw music; it changed what I thought music could be.  I still listen to it today and it hasn’t worn thin or played out.  It’s a classic.  I could honestly wax poetic and sing the praises of Toby, Mike, and Kevin all day long, but I think you get the point.  Christian music would simply not be where it is today, and accepted the way it is today, without the release of Jesus Freak.  The entire landscape of things changed on November 21st, 1995.  It’s a once in a lifetime album that had a once in a lifetime effect.  I can’t imagine that anyone in their right mind thought that the guys who did Nu Thang and Free at Last would release possibly the most game changing album in this generation.  Those seem like big words, but I honestly believe this album is fitting of such accolades. 

dcTalk released one more studio album after Jesus Freak.  Supernatural was another rock experiment and leaned a little more on the alternative side overall.  We all know about the hiatus that occurred afterwards, and the false promise of a dcTalk reunion that was said to occur after each member released their second solo albums (this happened in 2005).  People have always dreamed of a reunion, but it’s doubtful that day will ever come.  Perhaps 20 years of looking back will inspire the guys to reunite though. (I suppose the recent guest spot on TobyMac's latest album, This Is Not A Test, will have to hold us over for now.)  Only the future will tell if and when that happens.  Until that day I’ll just keep singing, “What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak?  What will people do when they find out it’s true?  I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.  There ain’t no disguising the truth…” 

Top 5 favorite tracks: “What If I Stumble,” “Jesus Freak,” Day By Day,” “In the Light,” “So Help Me God” 

-- Michael Weaver


Remembering "Jesus Freak"...

I've had a similar experience to Michael here. I remember getting the cassette tape for "Jesus Freak" on August 1st -- AND the CD release at some point -- and just being floored by it. That summer I went to a friend's birthday party at a park that had its own DJ. I brought the tape with me and asked the DJ to play it... but he wouldn't. I kept asking and got nothing. Finally, near the end of the party with only a core group of friends remaining there, he finally obliged. As the guitars kicked in and the song blasted through the speakers, I heard the DJ exclaim with shock and awe on his face, "This ain't church music!!" And that about sums up the impression this song and album seemed to give at the time.

I also remember going to a very small Christian bookstore near my house and buying the full album CD for the first time (and, small bit of trivia -- CD prices were on the rise at the time because of their popularity. I'm pretty sure I paid over $18 for the CD! Who knew they would start going down once Napster came into the picture. One has to wonder if the rise in music prices helped cause the rise in piracy... and thus the decline of the industry as a whole ;) ). But this CD changed things for me, too. I'm an introvert (duh, right? What extroverted 16 year old starts a data-intensive website??), so although I was excited about Jesus, it was hard to put myself in a position to be ridiculed or shunned. But here you had a band who sounded awesome and were proclaiming their faith boldly!

After the album's release, I would use the nickname/handle "Jesus Freak" in online chat rooms and later created a private chat room on NetCentral called "The Jesus FREAK Hideout." I never used it, but on August 13, 1996, after I read a short tutorial on very basic HTML, I started "The Jesus FREAK Hideout" on a free webpage (It was 1996's equivalent of WordPress, kids). The rest -- all the mishaps and struggles, triumphs and failures -- is history.

I honestly can't believe it's been two decades since this landmark release. Toby "TobyMac" McKeehan is still going strong solo, Michael Tait took over as lead vocalist for the Newsboys (who could have predicted that??) and after a brief stint as the replacement singer for Audio Adrenaline, Kevin "Max" Smith is still going strong with his own solo career. They may not be together anymore, but each one is still making their mark in music. And the legacy of "Jesus Freak" lives on!

-- John DiBiase (founder of


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Friday, April 25, 2014

20 Years Later - Dakoda Motor Co, 'Welcome Race Fans'

I was listening to a playlist of favorite songs on shuffle today when Dakoda Motor Co.'s "Truth" from their album Welcome Race Fans came on. Dakoda was another favorite of the early to mid-90s, and Welcome Race Fans marked the end of an era (despite a very brief one) for the band of surf rockers.

Dakoda Motor Co. debuted in 1991 with their album Into The Son, under the band name "Dakoda." They had to add "Motor Co." on the 1993 label release of the album for legal reasons. I remember seeing the video for "Grey Clouds" on then-popular Christian music video show Signal Exchange and really not liking the visuals for it (I totally love the song now though). However, their other video, "Sondancer," which was comprised of surf footage, coupled with hearing the music from friends who also liked them, helped turn me towards being an earnest Dakoda fan. It didn't hurt either that, in 1994, when I was really starting to get into Christian pop and rock music, that Welcome Race Fans struck a chord with me.

However, Welcome Race Fans was one of those albums that was hugely hit and miss for me. It's not often for me to find an album where I literally love half of it and don't care for most of the rest of it (or am on the fence about it). While I still enjoy Into the Son from front to back, Welcome Race Fans seemed to display the image of a band starting to stray pretty quickly from their roots. Their folksy, "Jesus Music" sound was mostly replaced by crunchy guitars, glistening production, and bizarre musical twists and turns. While this actually worked beautifully for album opener "Alive" and "Trip To Pain" (which saw a beautifully bizarre music video treatment from director/artist/producer Steve Taylor), songs like "Uglier," "Where Did It Go?" and "Rockin' In The Mall" just seemed far out of left field. To contrast, songs like "Love Runs Home," "Ooh, That Girl" and "Friend In My Eyes" seemed like the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the rockier tracks. They stripped it way back giving the album this uneven, schizophrenic vibe. It's as if you took a couple different projects and just shuffled songs from each one.

Around 1995, lead vocalist Davia Vallesillo left the band and was replaced by Melissa Brewer. (It was that version of DMC that I only saw live once. To this day, I never had the chance to see Davia perform with them.) Brewer would go on to record one album--and the band's final one--in 1996, titled Railroad, but Dakoda as fans knew and loved them would never be the same after Davia's departure. Around 2006, the band reunited with Davia and began playing shows again with the intentions of recording a new album (a brand new demo called "On My Way Home" could be heard on their Myspace page for a while), but they broke up in 2007 after realizing their schedules just weren't going to gel for the band to do music together again.

Welcome Race Fans still has some gems on it to this day, twenty years later. "Alive" is still one of my all-time favorites, with "Trip To Pain" being a close second to it. "Truth," "Free" and "Stand Up" are all also fun, upbeat tracks. If the album had been an EP of just these five songs, it'd have been one incredibly solid project. All of them are still in regular rotation for me.

Revisiting the rest of the album (which have spent years absent from my mp3 library): "Uglier" is a quirky, pop-punk number about Jesus bearing all of our faults and sin; "Love Runs Home" is a stripped-down acoustic pop love ballad that feels as though it snuck its way onto the wrong album; "Where Did It Go?" is a hyper pop punk track (where guitarist Peter King literally shouts gibberish repeatedly) that wears thin a little too quickly; "Ooh, That Girl" is a pop rock tune about admiring a girl whose faith radiates an attractive difference about her; "Friend In My Eyes" was an acoustic song (with horns?) that begged to become a wedding song; and "Rockin' In The Mall" is an under-2-minute finale that... was rockabilly. Some of these styles were prominent on their debut, but the rawness of that production (and Davia's layered vocals) worked in the favor of those songs. King also upped his vocal contributions on this album, stepping in to replace or sing with Davia more often.

While Welcome Race Fans doesn't exactly hold up as a whole 20 years later, it still has a few highlights that should not be overlooked. Dakoda Motor Co. was a talented bunch of Californians that went before their time. I would have loved to see Davia stick with the gang as they continued to make music. (And I would have LOVED to have heard a new album 7 years ago...) 

-- John DiBiase Editor/Writer/Founder

You can find Welcome Race Fans on and AmazonMP3!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

20 Years Later - PFR, 'Great Lengths'

We recently took a look back at the release of Newsboys' Going Public album from twenty years ago, which has gotten me thinking more about other albums from 1994.

Let's flash back twenty years to a time when PFR was alive and kicking. This Minnesota pop rock trio was hailed as one of the best up-and-comings in CCM music. At this time in 1994, PFR had two solid albums under their belt -- the self-titled album Pray For Rain (side note: That was their band name when they debuted and they had to shorten it to "PFR" due to some other obscure band having the name and threatening to sue. Later copies of the self-titled had "PFR" stamped across the front) and its 1993 follow-up, Goldie's Last Day (which, incidentally was about a dog. I think it'd be almost impossible for a major label to release an album from a radio-ready band with a title like that. And yes, that thought just makes me sad).

In December, 1994, PFR released their third studio album, Great Lengths. Their harmonies often brought about comparisons with The Beatles and with the title track from this album, that only increased. One thing I loved so much about the music in the mid to late 90s was that Christian music was about the Christian life; it wasn't just manufactured to be performed by youth bands and worship leaders in church worship services. It was about the Christian lifestyle. It inspired how we lived, not just how we worshipped. It helped inspire us to live a life of worship. Thematically, each track of the album fit this: "Great Lengths" questioned our own tendencies to please ourselves instead of God; "Wonder Why" was about those who try to live their life feeling empty without trying Jesus as the answer; "Merry Go Round" was about forsaking rebellious living; "The Love I Know" was a reflection on disappointing human love versus the fulfilling love of Jesus; "It's You Jesus" was a quasi-worship song acknowledging His goodness; "Trials Turned To Gold" reflected on our transformation through Him; "Blind Man, Deaf Boy" also talked about living outside of His will; "See The Sun Again" addressed doubt and tough times in our walk; "The Grace of God" was about being rebuilt by His grace; "Last Breath" was a rocker about encouraging an unbeliever to consider where they'll go after death; and "Life Goes On," the closing ballad, wrapped things up with a worshipful way of acknowledging life's meaninglessness without Christ's love.

All of it is written in a relatable and down-to-earth way that most worship and radio pop seems to be missing these days. [But, obviously, I am probably in the minority in thinking that.] 20 years later, the lyrics to these songs endure far better than the music itself. The production is clean and crisp, and you'll hear incredible harmonies and melodies without an ounce of autotune or ProTools tinkering, but you'll also hear a sound more akin to 1994 than 2014. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Great Lengths was pop rock for fans of both the pop rock genre and somewhere in between contemporary and rock itself. If you like a little on both ends of the spectrum, you were likely to like PFR. I'd say fans of Audio Adrenaline, MercyMe... -- really any of today's pop rock or light rock artists. But lyrically, they're probably a little closer to a Foreman or a Thiessen than any of the given worship artists.

So where is PFR today? They reunited in 2012 for a run of shows and then were days away from launching a Kickstarter campaign last year for a new album before deciding they were forcing things and it wasn't meant to be. In that decision, they announced they were retiring the band permanently, much to the fans' intense disappointment. Frontman Joel Hanson continues to perform solo material, while I can't really say I know what Patrick Andrew and Mark Nash are doing these days (Although I think Mark remains involved in the studio and management side of things).

Great Lengths is still a gem worth digging into and unpacking lyrically 20 years later. It definitely aged stylistically, but for this 90s music listener, it's still a treasured listen. If you're more open minded about the sound of your brand of pop rock, do check this album out!  (And the autographed album cover poster is proudly displayed in the JFH office!) 

-- John DiBiase Editor/Writer/Founder

You can find Great Lengths on iTunes!

Friday, March 21, 2014

20 Years Later - Newsboys, 'Going Public'

When I had the idea for the "10 Years Later..." blog series, I figured it was a neat way to either reevaluate albums we've reviewed or just to see how an album has held up in the span of a decade. The other idea that I thought would be neat would be to compare the album the artist released 10 years ago with their latest, 10 years later. Sadly, I soon realized how rare it is for an artist to not only still be around after 10 years (usually bands break up in that case), but to put out an album exactly 10 years later. So, clearly, adjusting the scope of the project had to happen.

But, recently, I've realized how relevant something truly extraordinary actually is... "20 Years Later!"

With the recent release of Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield album, it had many of us remembering Furler's former band, Newsboys, and their 1994 album Going Public. And that's when it hit me -- that was TWENTY years ago!

So for our first ever "20 Years Later..." blog, I'd love to bring up Newsboys' Going Public and Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield, while also touching on where "Newsboys" are at twenty years from that album release.

Going Public followed the success of Newsboys' breakout album, Not Ashamed, which saw the band first teaming up with singer/songwriter/director and producer Steve Taylor who helped co-write and produce that album. It's a partnership that continued on with Going Public and a few Newsboys albums following it. While not every current Newsboys fan will know which album Going Public was just by hearing its title, they'll certainly know the hit song from that album... "Shine." Yup, that quirky song made its debut on this album and it's still sometimes sung live by Furler or his former band.

Going Public certainly feels dated in 2014, but it's a worthwhile and beautiful album to listen to still. I remember picking it up and listening to it as my first Newsboys album shortly after it came out, but I also remember being a bit disappointed by how it felt slower than expected. (In retrospect, it really doesn't seem that slow.) The production is modest and almost mutes the energy at times--something that was perfectly remedied on the raw rock sound of 1996's Take Me To Your Leader. But Going Public still has many highlights. From the worshipful "Let It Rain," inspired by the apostle Peter, to the sarcastic and edgy "Truth and Consequences" that pokes fun at believers who are ultimately wolves in sheep's clothing in the dating world and even to the thought-provoking "When You Called My Name." The end times rocker "Lights Out" is another gem, and the closer, "Elle G" is a haunting song about someone who committed suicide. The album bears a strong early 90s sound, but it also represents a time when Christian music spoke into the Christian lifestyle more than just focusing on worship choruses.

Twenty years later and Peter Furler has since departed from Newsboys. His new album Sun and Shield with his newly formed "Peter Furler Band" feels more like a Newsboys album than Newsboys' 2013 recording Restart does, and even his new songs like "Yeshua" and "It's Alright" have a bit of that "Let It Rain" and "Be Still" sound from Going Public. However, the current band called "Newsboys" may still contain members Jody Davis, Duncan Phillips and Jeff Frankenstein -- all of which were part of the band during the Going Public era twenty years ago -- but it feels like it's plucked from an alternate reality where DC Talk member Michael Tait serves as frontman for the formerly Aussie band. Their latest album, Restart, is an electronic dance pop record that is delectable from a pop music standpoint, but feels lightyears removed from what we once knew to be "Newsboys." There is some fast, electronic flavored music on Going Public, but Furler and Taylor's fingerprints are sorely missed in the current "Newsboys."

If you're not opposed to the 90s alt pop rock sound, Newsboys' Going Public is still a great album and one well worth checking out. In a time where everyone's looking for the next new thing, it doesn't hurt to look back and experience--or re-experience--some of the musical highlights from a couple decades ago. And if you've been missing that classic Newsboys sound and long for something new, look no further than Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield.

-- John DiBiase Editor/Writer/Founder


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Anberlin More To Living Than Being Alive: Lockdown Livestream September 18, 2020 Vinyl (independent)
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