Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

MUSIC AND CONCERT REVIEWS

Freedom (EP) – Justin Bieber
*** ½

Justin Bieber released this surprise six-song EP on Easter, just two weeks after he had released his latest album, the chart-topping Justice. The project, which includes several collaborations, features lyrics clearly affirming Bieber’s faith and trust in Jesus as his savior. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that the energy falls off a bit with the final three songs, after opening with three upbeat songs.
Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Freedom – This song was written by Bieber, BEAM, Boi-1da, Jordan Douglas, Don Mills and Vinylz. It was produced by CVRE, Boi-1da, Vinylz and Mills, and features BEAM. This song about the freedom of salvation has a beat driven by bass and percussion.
Key lyric:
Children, you are forgiven
Ain’t nothin’ you could do for you to change that
And everythin’ you did, He erased that
Yeah, He took it all and threw it in the wasteland

All She Wrote – This song was written by Bieber, Brandon Love, Boi-1da, Leigh Elliot, Sean Momberger, Gerald Levert, Chandler Moore and Vinylz. It was produced by Momberger, Lee Major, Boi-1da and Vinylz, and features Moore and Love. The song samples “It’s Your Turn” by Levert. It is about turning our lives over to Jesus. We can’t save ourselves. We need a savior.
Key lyric:
I keep failin’ myself, I need somethin’ new
So I lay my life down, I give it all to You

We’re in This Together – This song was written by Bieber, Paimon Jahanbin, Nima Jahanbin, Isaiah Johnson, Federico Vindver and Angel Lopez. It was produced by Lopez, Vindver, DJ Alizay and Wallis Lane. This song features bass and percussion. Bieber tells his story, from playing drums at two, to making a million by seventeen. He had everything that people strive for. When everything hit the fan, God was with him and is the reason he is still standing. The song, which includes some brief adult language (a clean version is available), ends with a prayer.
Key lyric:
Gave His life upon the cross to wash our sins away 

Where You Go, I Follow – This song was written by Bieber, David Bowden, Judah Smith, Jonathan Gateretse, O’necean Gordon, Tarik Henry, Lenard Ishmael and Luig Majr Tiano. The song was produced GOATSMANS, and features Smith, Chandler Moore and Pink Sweat$. The song, which features guitar, bass and percussion, is about following Jesus, who rose on the third day, beating death once and for all. The song ends with a spoken piece by pastor Judah Smith.
Key lyric:
Where You go, I follow
You’re with me every step of the way 

Where Do I Fit In – This song was written by Bieber, Tori Kelly, Tarik Henry, O’necean Gordon, Luigi Majr Tiano, Lenard Ishmael, Judah Smith, Jonathan Gateretse and Chandler Moore. The song was produced by GOATSMANS, and features Smith, Moore and Kelly. The beautiful song has a slow pace driven by keys, and is about trusting God during times of fear and our darkest days. The song ends with a spoken piece by pastor Judah Smith.
Key lyric:
But then you remind me that you’re holding me tight
You say the past is behind me and it’ll be alright

Afraid to Say – This song was written by Bieber and Julian McGuire. It was produced by Bieber and JulesTheWulf, and features Lauren Walters. The song features acoustic guitar and piano, speaks of cancel culture, wondering if we have the room to make mistakes, or are we judged for everything we say. The song ends with a spoken piece by Lauren Walters.
Key lyric:
We can’t write people off
God never writes us off 

Best songs:
Freedom
All She Wrote
We’re in This Together
Where You Go, I Follow


Live from the Woods, Vol. 2 – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

NEEDTOBREATHE follows their previous live albums – 2015’s Live from the Woods and 2018’s Acoustic Live Vol. 1 – with Live from the Woods Vol. 2, recorded outdoors March 12-14 at The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee. This is their first live project since founding member Bo Reinhart left the band, the band now consisting of vocalist/guitarist Bear Rinehart, bassist Seth Bolt and keyboardist Josh Lovelace. The songs on this collection focus on the band’s most recent album, with 8 of the 17 tracks coming from the band’s August 2020 album Out of Body, which the band didn’t get to tour behind because of the pandemic. Three songs come from their 2009 album The Outsiders, 2 from 2014’s Rivers in the Wasteland, and one from 2016’s Hard Love, 2018’s EP Forever on Your Side, 2011’s The Reckoning and 2007’s The Heat.
NEEDTOBREATHE has always been known as an excellent high energy live band, and they prove it again on Live from the Woods Vol. 2. It’s obvious that they are energized to be performing in front of a live audience again. I enjoyed every song on this album, which features more than an hour and a half of music. Highlights for me included a blistering version of “Prisoner” from their 2009 album The Outsiders, “Who Am I” from 2020’s Out of Body, “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now” from 2014’s Rivers in the Wasteland, the rarely played “Garden” from The Outsiders, “Brother” from Rivers in the Wasteland, and the unplugged Encore Medley: “Something Beautiful” from The Outsiders, “White Fences” from 2011’s The Reckoning, and “Washed by the Water” from 2007’s The Heat, with the audience singing along.


My Savior – Carrie Underwood
****

My Savior is the long awaited first gospel album by seven-time Grammy winner, country artist superstar Carrie Underwood, and her eighth studio album overall. The album, a companion to her 2020 Christmas album My Gift, features thirteen gospel hymns that Underwood grew up singing in a very small Free Will Baptist church in her hometown of Checotah, Oklahoma. I believe that this album of hymns may have the same long-lasting impact of fellow country artist Alan Jackson’s hymns projects.

Underwood sticks to traditional arrangement on these hymns, which I appreciate, beginning with a harmonica driven instrumental version of “Jesus Loves Me”. CeCe Winans joins her on “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE provides backing vocals on “Nothing But The Blood of Jesus” and Buddy Greene plays harmonica on the opening instrumental “Jesus Loves Me”, “Blessed Assurance” and “Amazing Grace”. Underwood co-produced the album with David Garcia.

I really enjoyed this album of traditional hymns, featuring Underwood’s powerful voice. Highlights for me included the harmonica from Buddy Greene on the instrumental opener “Jesus Loves Me”, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, an upbeat country version of “Victory in Jesus”, “How Great Thou Art”, and a powerful “The Old Rugged Cross”.

Here is the complete song listing for the album.

Jesus Loves Me
Nothing But The Blood of Jesus
Blessed Assurance
Just As I Am
Victory in Jesus
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
O How I Love Jesus
How Great Thou Art
Because He Lives
The Old Rugged Cross
I Surrender All
Softly and Tenderly
Amazing Grace


Feared by Hell – Social Club Misfits
***

Shortly after the release of Feared by Hell, Social Club Misfits (Fern and Marty), won the Dove Award for Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year for Mood//Doom, which had actually been released as two separate EPs during 2019. Feared by Hell, a strong album, features a number of guest artists and musical genres, such as Latin, Contemporary Christian and Hip-Hop. Themes on the album include Jesus, family, being yourself, trust in God, fun and the love of a wife.
Below are a few comments about each song:
Act of God – This song was written by Fern, nobigdyl., and Marty. It was produced by DJ Pez, Dirty Rice and Marty and features nobigdyl. This mid-tempo song about thankfulness recognizes that God has brought him through so much, and he doesn’t deserve it.
Key lyric:
Looking at my life, it’s an act of God
Never thought I would make it this far

Is That Okay? – This song was written by Marty and Fern and produced by Jimmy James and Marty. The song features an infectious beat, with keys, bass, percussion, hand-claps, horns, and some excellent guitar. The song has a good message about being yourself. Being different is a superpower. He’s always being himself, and has no time to be anyone else, and God blesses him for who he is.
Key lyric:
I know I’ll never be picture perfect
But can I be myself, is that okay?

Conmigo – This love song was written by Fern, Marty and Jay Kalyl. It was produced by Sam Ash. The song features Kalyl and Ash. Some of this song is sung in Spanish. The title translates to “With Me” in English.

To the Top – This song was written by Fern, Foure and Marty and was produced by Juice Bangers and Dirty Rice. The song features 1K Phew.  The song features an excellent beat driven by bass and percussion. The only direction is up. Every day they are making history.
Key lyric:
When there was nowhere to go
You redirected my feet

God on My Side – This song was written by Ty Brasel, Fern and Marty. It was produced by Juice Bangers and Marty, and features Ty Brasel. The song about trust in God, features a mid-tempo beat, with bass, percussion and hand-claps.
Key lyric:
Yeah, I know who to call when I need help

Savior – This song was written by Fern and Marty and produced by Tommee Profitt. This prayer about Jesus being Savior, and His life for ours being the payoff, features Jeremy Camp. The song features acoustic guitar, drums, bass, backing vocals, hand-claps.
Key lyric:
Eternally grateful
When I needed you most, you came through

Luau – This song was written by Fern and Marty and produced by Marty. The song features Hulvey. This song has an easy-going beat, featuring guitar, bass, and percussion. The song is about a summer day hanging with friends by the pool.
Key lyric:
Go and call your friends, I hope summer never ends

Night Glow – This song was written by Marty and produced by Ray Rock. This easy-going song has a beat driven by drums and bass. His faith was tested, but he never wavered. His only friend was Jesus, the night glow when he didn’t have hope.
Key lyric:
You look inside
My God lives there
I might fall down
But can’t stay there

Young Gunz – This song was written by Fern, Evan Craft and Marty. It was produced by Sam Ash and Juice Bangers and features DAViES.  The song features an infectious chorus sung by DAViES, as well as guitar, keys, hand-clap and percussion. The song is about Social Club Misfits being young gunz, who have a fire in their soul, are running wild lifting Jesus high.
Key lyric:
Every L I took, that’s a lesson that I needed
And every time I win, I give them something to believe in
One day we gon’ look back and say that it was Jesus

I Need You – This love song was written by Fern and Marty and produced by Marty. The song features a dance beat, with bass, percussion and keys.

Somos Familia – This song about always being able to count on family was written by Andy Alemany, Sam Ash, Evan Craft and Marty. It was produced by Ash and features Blanca.  Some of the song is sung in Spanish. The song’s title in English means “We are Family”. The upbeat song features guitar and drums.
Key lyric:
My Lord, I just wanna tell the world looking for remedies
None of it will work unless love is inside the recipe

Without You – This song was written by Fern, Marty and Colby Wedgeworth. It was produced by Dirty Rice and features Riley Clemmons. The up-tempo song features bass and percussion. God is the anchor of his life. He’s lived too many days far from God. There’s no way he’s ever going back to that life.
Key lyric:
Without You
I’m just a house of cards ’bout to fall down

Best songs:
Act of God
Is That Okay?
Savior
Young Gunz
Without You


Let There Be Wonder (Acoustic) EP – Matt Redman
****

Matt Redman released Let There Be Wonder, one of my favorite albums of 2020, in January, before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world. He recently released this six-song EP Let There Be Wonder (Acoustic), featuring five songs from that album, plus his classic “Blessed Be Your Name”. What holds all of these stripped-down songs together is that they are all about Jesus, and praising his wonderful name.
Even if you are familiar with these songs, I think you’ll enjoy these new versions. What really stood out for me was the use of strings on these songs. The EP was produced by Steve Marcia, who had the idea to use a string quartet as a signature sound for this project. Recorded during the lockdown, we hear four different string players who recorded themselves in four different locations, with beautiful results. I also enjoyed the backing vocals.
Below are a few comments about each song:

Let There Be Wonder (Intro) – The EP begins with the chorus of “Let There Be Wonder”, written by Redman, Joshua Silverberg, Jacob Sooter and Corey Voss. The brief song features keys and strings.
Key lyric:
Let there be wonder, let there be wonder in this place
Let there be worship, let there be worship for Your name
Come Holy Spirit, how we need Your fire again
Let there be wonder, let there be wonder

We Praise You – This song was written by Redman, Brandon Lake, Brian Johnson and Phil Wickham. The song, about praising the Lord, features acoustic guitar, strings, piano and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
We’ll see You break down every wall
We’ll watch the giants fall
Fear cannot survive when we praise You
The God of breakthroughs on our side
Forever lift Him high
With all creation cry, ‘God, we praise You’
Oh, we praise You

All Praise (Sing Praise) – This song was written by Redman, Andi Rozier and Jason Ingram. The song features piano, acoustic guitar, strings, and some wonderful backing vocals. God’s amazing grace far exceeds our past mistakes. God brought us back to life again and we will rise with Jesus from the grave. He is coming soon. His promises all come true and He deserves all praise.
Key lyric:
Your name, Your name always
Jesus, You alone deserve all praise

Upon Him – This song was written by Redman, Andi Rozier and Jon Guerra. The song features acoustic guitar, piano, and backing vocals. There is no greater name than Jesus. One day every knee will bow and every heart confess (Philippians 2:10-11).
Key lyric:
Christ has died, we are forgiven
And Christ alive, we are the risen
And He shall come again
Praise the King, praise the King

Jesus Your Name – This song was written by Redman, Lindsey Sweet, Joshua Silverberg and Jacob Sooter. The song features backing vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, strings, and is about Jesus’s wonderful name.
Key lyric:
Jesus Your name, when the whole world shakes
Jesus Your name, I will ever praise
My battle cry every night and day
I’ll sing Your name over everything
I’ll sing Your name over everything

Blessed Be Your Name – This song was written by Beth and Matt Redman a few weeks after the tragedy of September 11, 2000, when they were in California for the start of a sabbatical break. The Redmans have said that this is “a song born out of the whole of life – a realization that we will all face seasons of pain or unease. And in these seasons, we will need to find our voice before God. The Church (and indeed the world) needs it songs of lament.” This version of the song has a slower pace than usual, and features strings, piano, acoustic guitar, backing vocals.
Key lyric:
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Best songs
All


Letter to You – Bruce Springsteen
*** ½

I’ve been a long-time fan of Springsteen’s music, though not his politics. The first of his albums that I bought new was 1978’s excellent Darkness on the Edge of Town. I fondly remember humming songs from that album – “Prove it All Night”, “Badlands”, etc. – as I was walking through an office building doing an end of night inspection as the manager of a cleaning crew while going to college.
Letter to You is the 71-year-old Springsteen’s twentieth studio album, and first with the E Street Band (Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons), since 2014’s High Hopes. The album was produced by Ron Aniello and assisted by Springsteen.
Springsteen wrote all of the songs, most of which were written in April 2019. Three of the songs “Janey Needs a Shooter”, “If I Was a Priest” and “Song for Orphans” date back to the early 1970’s. The album was recorded live in just five days at Springsteen’s home studio with very minimal overdubs.
This is a very personal album. Themes include loss of friends, relationships, looking back, the power of music, and spirituality.
Springsteen fans will, as I did, enjoy the familiar sounds of the E Street Band on this album, bringing back memories of previous songs or concerts that you may have experienced in the past. The album is good, and solid throughout, making it one of the better releases of 2020, but it lacks any really great songs, which to me keeps it from being among Springsteen’s all-time best releases.
Below are a few comments about each song:
One Minute You’re Here – Springsteen has stated that the album was influenced by the loss of close friends and former band members, such as E-Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici. This subdued opener is about how friends and loved ones are seemingly here one minute and gone the next. The song features Springsteen backed by acoustic guitar, before being joined by organ, piano and light percussion.
Key lyric:
I lay my penny down on the rails
As the summer wind sings its last song

Letter to You – This was the first song released from the album and has a true E-Street Band feel to it with guitars, organ and drums starting the song. There is a nice break featuring guitar and organ mid-song. The song features some excellent drum work by Weinberg. The song has Springsteen addressing his listeners about his music (his letter).
Key lyric:
Things I found out through hard times and good
I wrote ’em all out in ink and blood
Dug deep in my soul and signed my name true
And sent it in my letter to you

Burnin’ Train – This rocker opens with guitar and drums and features a few blistering guitar solos. The song is about a relationship, perhaps with his wife Patti.
Key lyric:
I wanted you to heal me
But instead you set me on fire

Janey Needs a Shooter – Springsteen wrote this nearly seven-minute story song in 1972, but could not release it due to a pending lawsuit. The song opens with drums and organ and shows off the genius of the E Street Band, including harmonica and backing vocals. This one will sound great in concert.
Key lyric:
Janey needs a shooter now
A shooter man who knows her style
The way that I know her style

Last Man Standing – With the death of George Theiss in 2018, Springsteen became the only living member of his first band the Castiles. He is the last man standing. The song, dedicated to Theiss, begins with Springsteen singing over acoustic guitar before the band kicks in on verse three. The song features some excellent sax work from Clemons.
Key lyric:
Rock of ages lift me somehow
Somewhere high and hard and loud
Somewhere deep into the heart of the crowd

The Power of Prayer – This song, which has nothing to do with prayer, again features some excellent sax work from Clemons and piano from Bittan. The song opens with piano, before Weinberg’s drums leads the rest of the band in.
Key lyric:
I’m reaching for heaven, we’ll make it there
Darling, it’s just the power of prayer

House of a Thousand Guitars – On an album surprisingly free of political commentary, Springsteen takes a shot at Donald Trump, singing:
The criminal crown has stolen the throne,
He steals what he can never own.
This mid-tempo song is about the healing power of music. The song features piano, and a guitar solo.
Key lyric:
So, wake and shake off your troubles, my friend
We’ll go where the music never ends

Rainmaker – The song is about a charlatan who promises to bring rain to drought-stricken farmers. But it’s also about our modern-day politicians. The song features a memorable chorus.
Key lyric:
Sometimes folks need to believe in something so bad, so bad, so bad
They’ll hire a rainmaker

If I Was the Priest – This story song was one of the songs Springsteen performed at his 1972 Columbia Records audition, but had never recorded until now. Springsteen has often included Christian imagery in his songs. In his autobiography he stated that he came to realize that once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. This song includes Catholic, along with the old West imagery. The song begins with acoustic guitar before the full band joining in. In this song, Jesus is the sheriff and the Virgin Mary runs the Holy Grail saloon.
Key lyric:
There’s still too many outlaws trying to work the same line

Ghosts – This rocker, along with “Last Man Standing” is dedicated to George Theiss. It pays tribute to those bandmates that Springsteen has lost. The E Street Band really shines on this song.
Key lyric:
Count the band in then kick into overdrive
By the end of the set we leave no one alive

Song for Orphans – This song was written in 1971 and features Springsteen on harmonica. It’s hard to tell what the meaning of this song, with its wordy verses, means. It’s my least favorite song on the album.
Key lyric:
Well sons they search for fathers, but the fathers are all gone
The lost souls search for saviors, but saviors don’t last long

I’ll See You in My Dreams – This song opens with acoustic guitar, piano and organ before the full band kicks in, including a guitar and organ solo mid-song. Springsteen sings about those that he has lost and indicates that death is not the end because he’ll see them in his dreams.
Key lyric:
And though you’re gone and my heart’s been empty it seems
I’ll see you in my dreams

Best songs:
Letter to You
Burnin’ Train
Janey Needs a Shooter
Ghosts
I’ll See You in My Dreams


Skin and Wind – Charlie Peacock
****

I’ve appreciated Charlie Peacock’s music for many years, dating back to his late-night concerts at the Cornerstone Festival when it was held outside of the Chicago area, and his West Coast Diaries releases in the late 1980’s. The multi-talented (artist, producer, author) Peacock writes all of the songs on Skin and Wind, his fourteenth vocal album, and the follow-up to 2019’s Lil’ Willie. In addition, he produces the album, handles lead vocals, and plays multiple instruments (piano, Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano, drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitar and percussion). Backing him are son Sam Ashworth (acoustic guitar and background vocals), Ruby Amanfu (background vocals), Bridget Ashworth (background vocals), Jerry McPherson (electric and acoustic guitars and ukulele), Andy Leftwich (fiddle and mandolin) and Dan Dugmore (pedal and lap steel). The album cover is a 1986 photo of Peacock backstage at the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
I thoroughly enjoyed this outstanding album, which features excellence in vocals (Peacock’s voice is still an incredible instrument), production, musicianship and poetical lyrics. Here are a few comments about each of the ten songs:

Skin and Wind is a Mind Bend – This beautiful and lyrically rich song is driven by acoustic guitar, light percussion and backing vocals. It begins with references to rain: A rainstorm of righteousness is dripping from the ceiling, yet do not fix that leak it’s all we have to quench the thirst of the need to be known, the need to be heard. He sings Let’s see where the water goes, and then brings in the wind: There is a wind an untitled wind, a friend to every color of skin. A great opening song.
Key lyric:
I say to myself, don’t you dare ever think
What you see will always be
As it is even now in the summer of ‘20
When you’ve still got more than plenty

Call It Destiny – This song features acoustic and electric guitar, piano, backing vocals, and Sam Ashworth on drums. The song is about a life of contentment. He has no more lust for spinning plates. Every day is a homily.
Key lyric:
There’s no reason to think this season
Is anything but a gift, not a battle hard won
Sing It Blue – This song is driven by acoustic guitar, and features backing vocals, Jeff King on electric guitar and Sam Ashworth on drums and bass. Peacock sings that we should all do our part to be a heart that beats in time with the truth.
Key lyric:
Too many beaten down
Ignored or written off
What happened to the gold
In the rule, did it stop?

Waiting is the Plan – This song features acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and backing vocals. This is a song about supporting someone who is waiting. They are angry. Waiting is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the plan.
Key lyric:
I’ll be standing on the shore
Waiting to see some history
Watching the sun set in the west
Hoping to God for the best
And waiting, oh waiting
Waiting is the plan
Even When You’re Not – This is a love song that is different musically from the previous songs on the album. It is driven by a bass beat, with backing vocals, guitar, organ and drums.
Key lyric:
There’s nothing that could ever break apart 
What we got when you’re near to me
Even when you’re not
Is There Anything – This is a love song that has a country music feel, featuring drums, guitar, organ, backing vocals, and Matt Slocum (Sixpence None the Richer) on cello.
Key lyric:
I’ll wrap my heart around you baby
You wrap your heart around me too
Let’s be the answer to the question
Is there anything that love cannot do?

Never Be Another One
– This is a love song, with a good beat driven by acoustic guitar, and featuring backing vocals. She has other lovers lining up, but needs to keep in mind that they once had a good time and there is no reason they can’t have another one.
Key lyric:
There will never be another one who can open my door, so wide
24 Hour Parade
– This song features acoustic guitar, bass, drums, backing vocals and cello. This day is another 24-hour parade of everything he believes. You can always be ready to be anything you need to be, or need to do or say, come what may.
Key lyric:
I see the lion on the prowl
I drop a knee and say a prayer
Come Light, true Truth
One Life, in You
The Captain – This upbeat song features piano, backing vocals, Mark Hill on bass, Steve Brewster on drums, Jeff Taylor on accordion and whistle, and Bryan Sutton on acoustic guitar. He keeps a close watch on how fast he’s sinking, but he still rises and prays thy will be done as he navigates the lane between sadness and delight. An excellent vocal from Peacock.
Key lyric:
I’ve got the least amount of time that I’ve ever had
My heart is full, my mind is quick
My body wants to lay it down
I’m a riddle, I’m a puzzle, I’m a quandary all around
I’m the Captain of a ship that’s going down
Faith, Hope & Love – This song is a prayer, and features acoustic and electric guitar, Mark Hill on bass and Nir Z on drums. He is waiting for the helping hand of love to lift him up and put him down on solid ground.
Key lyric:
I am down on my knees 
Right where I need to be
There’ll be time enough to do
All I’ve dreamed of
But right now what I really need
Is faith, hope and love 

Best songs:
Skin and Wind is a Mind Bend
The Captain
Faith, Hope & Love


Until We Meet Again (Live Unplugged) – Mat Kearney
****

Until We Meet Again features songs from Kearney’s second acoustic tour, his winter 2020 Revisited tour. These songs were recorded in January and February, just before the COVID-19 shutdown. Many of the songs are from early in his career, with five of the eleven songs from his 2011 album Young Love and three from his 2009 album City of Black and White. Most of the songs, are about love and relationships, with other themes including encouragement and trust in God.
If you are not familiar with Kearney’s music, this would be an excellent project to check out. Below are a few brief comments about each song:
Fire and Rain – This song was written by Robert Marvin and Kearney and originally appeared on the 2009 album City of Black and White. They may not be together anymore, but his love for her will not fade. The song features acoustic guitar, drums, bass, and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
My love will not fade
Through the fire and rain

Kings & Queens – This song was written by Judah Akers, David Garcia and Kearney, and originally appeared on the 2018 album CRAZYTALK.  The song features acoustic guitar, bass, percussion, backing vocals and an infectious chorus. Kearney has said that the song is about how there are moments when you can be doing well commercially, but feel totally worthless, and also moments when no one cares about your music but you feel fulfilled. The latter is what the song is about.
Key lyric:
Richer than Solomon with you by my side
We’ll be kings and queens in our mind
Count on Me – This song was written by Jason Lehning, Robert Marvin and Kearney and originally appeared on the 2011 album Young Love.  The song features some excellent acoustic guitar, backing vocals, bass and drums. In this song he tells her that he loves her and that she can trust him.
Key lyric:
When your number’s called
Back’s against the wall
Pick you up when you fall
Be there when you call

Learning to Love Again – This song was written by Kearney and originally appeared on the Young Love album. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, piano, drums, backing vocals. The Young Love album, and likely this song, were inspired by conversations Kearney had with passengers as he worked as a cab driver in Nashville.
Key lyric:
Hey brother, we’re all learning to love again
Closer to Love – This song was written by Robert Marvin, Josiah Bell and Kearney and originally appeared on the City of Black and White album. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, percussion and piano. We are all just one phone call from bad news that drives us to our knees in prayer. The song is about love, strength and hope.
Key lyric:
Oh, it’s your light
Oh, it’s your way
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way

City of Black and White – This song was written by Michael Logan and Kearney and originally appeared on the City of Black and White album. The song features acoustic guitar, piano, bass, light percussion and backing vocals. This love song tells how she opened his eyes. He wants her to stay.
Key lyric:
I don’t want to wait until tomorrow
To tell you how I’d feel the rest of my life

Sooner or Later – This song was written by Josh Crosby, Robert Crosby, Robert Marvin, Jason Lehning, Nate Campany and Kearney, and originally appeared on the Young Love album. The encouraging song features percussion, bass, acoustic guitar and some excellent backing vocals. Though times are difficult he assures her that sooner or later they’ll get there.
Key lyric:
Baby, it’s like we’re walking on a wire thru the fear
Take my hand, we’ll get there

Air I Breathe – This song was written by Seth Mosley and Kearney and originally appeared on the 2015 album Just Kids. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, percussion, and backing vocals. Kearney has said that the song is about his journey battling perfectionism, being in control, and ultimately his trust in God.
Key lyric:
You are the air I breathe
You are the song I bleed
You are the war that I can’t win
This is my white flag in the wind
Every word You speak
Is the air I breathe

Ships in the Night – This song was written by Jason Lehning, Josh Crosby, Robert Marvin and Kearney and originally appeared on the Young Love album. The rap/pop song features acoustic guitar, drums, percussion, backing vocals and some excellent piano. This is a song about a relationship in which they avoid their problems, instead wasting their time trying to prove who is right.
Key lyric:
And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If it’s just you and me
Trying to find the light
Like ships in the night

Hey Mama – This song was written by Kearney and originally appeared on the Young Love album. The upbeat song features, drums, acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals and audience participation. This love song seems to tell the story of Kearney and his wife meeting and falling in love.
Key lyric:
Hey lover, don’t want no other
Finger for my ring 

Nothing Left to Lose – This song was written by Kearney and originally appeared on the 2006 album Nothing Left to Lose.  This song is about his move from Oregon to Nashville, where he would pursue his calling as a singer-songwriter. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals and piano.
Key lyric:
And here we go, there’s nothing left to choose
And here we go, there’s nothing left to lose

Best songs:
Kings & Queens
Air I Breathe
Hey Mama
Nothing Left to Lose


Out of Body – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

Out of Body is NEEDTOBREATHE’s seventh studio album, and first since 2016’s Hard Love. The album debuted at #1 on iTunes Top Albums chart. It is also the band’s first album as a trio – Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica), Seth Bolt (backing vocals, bass, percussion), and Josh Lovelace (backing vocals, piano, organ), following the departure of founding member Bo Rinehart. The album was recorded in Nashville with producers Cason Cooley and Jeremy Lutito. Five of the eleven songs were released in advance of the full album release.
The band has said that the album is about their journey toward their true selves. This is a strong album, one of my favorites of 2020. As you would expect, the lyrics are vulnerable, and the musicianship and production are excellent. Below are a few comments about each song:

Mercy Shore – This song was written by Bear Rinehart and Tyler Burkum. It features piano, organ, pedal guitar, banjo, bass, drums, backing vocals and a memorable chorus. His arms are tired and weary, and his wounds are on full display. There’s no place he feels safe. He’s lost in the waves that crush him. He’s been battling a broken heart, but one day he’ll wash up on mercy’s shore.
Key lyric:
I see the light but never find the surface
I don’t know if I can swim no more
White knuckles and wild horses
One day we’ll wash up on mercy’s shore

Alive – This song was written by Seth Bolt, Josh Lovelace, Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. This joyful song is upbeat musically, and features organ, piano, bass, guitar, backing vocals and some excellent drums. Someday his body is going to come to a rest, but for now, he wants to chase a vision like he’s running downhill.
Key lyric:
These hills take longer than we think to get down
So I’ll get used to living with my feet off the ground

Hang On – The song, along with “Seasons” were the first to be released by the band as a trio. The song was written by Bear Rinehart, Bo Rinehart, Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. The band has said that the song is about the feeling you get when good things in life happen for the first time, and remembering the bravery and vulnerability it took to be present in those moments. The song is upbeat musically, and features keys, drums, guitar and backing vocals.
Key lyric: So hang on to the light in your eyes and the feelings 
Survival – This was the third song released from the album, and was recorded during the pandemic. The song was written by Cason Cooley, Jeremy Lutito, Josh Lovelace and Bear Rinehart. It has an older NEEDTOBREATHE rock and roll feel to it, and features Drew and Ellie Holcomb on vocals. The song opens with acoustic guitar, and then adds drums, backing vocals, keys and electric guitar.
Key lyric:
I am a man in need of
A constant revival
Jesus, come quickly
I need You for my survival

Child Again – This song was written by Cason Cooley, Emily Weisband, Jeremy Lutito and Bear Rinehart. It features synth, guitar, backing vocals, bass and keys.
The song is a prayer. God is his hope and innocence. He is free like a river and a child again.
Key lyric:
I wanna hear your voice
In the rain and wind
I wanna know it’s safe to be
A child again

Out of Body – This song was written by Cason Cooley, Jeremy Lutito and Bear Rinehart. The song has a good beat, and features piano, guitar, children’s choir, bass, drums and backing vocals. He prays for God to take him out of his body and mind. He wants to know how God made him and be given God’s mystical eye.
Key lyric:
I wanna see my world in a new light
I wanna drift through the fields where the moonlight’s bright
I wanna lose myself in the full of light
I wanna know how it looks from the other side

Who Am I – This was the fourth song released from the album. The song was written by Jordan Reynolds and Thomas Rhett. Bear Rinehart has said that it is a song about the fight to accept, embrace, and trust that the greatest love requires nothing in return. The song works equally well from the perspective of divine and human love. The song features keys, backing vocals, drums, guitar and a passionate lead vocal.
Key lyric:
I push You away, still You won’t let go
You grow Your roses on my barren soul

Banks – This was the fifth song released from the album. It was written by Bo Rinehart, Trent Dabbs and Bear Rinehart. The band indicated that it is a song about the women in their lives. The song is their way of saying that they support them, and that there’s nothing more beautiful than watching them effortlessly become the very thing they were made to be. The song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, bass and drums.
Key lyric:
I wanna hold you close but never hold you back
I’ll be the banks for your river

Riding High – This song was written by Cason Cooley, Josh Lovelace, Bo Rinehart, Seth Bolt, Trent Dabbs and Bear Rinehart. The song has a driving modern country music beat, beginning with acoustic guitar before going into a full band sound, with excellent harmonies, vocals, drums, guitar, organ, and piano. He’s been living on the tip of his tongue and by the roll of the dice. If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be tonight. They might go out trying, but they’ll go out riding high.
Key lyric:
Bad decisions, they don’t feel bad at the time
Consequences, they don’t always fit the crime

Bottom of a Heartbreak – This song was written by Chloe Gasparini, Jayson DeZuzio, Neil Ormandy and Bear Rinehart. The song, which builds powerfully, features a passionate vocal, piano, percussion, bass, backing vocals. He’s feeling trapped with no escape. He wants to be well and to change, and needs a lot of time and a little space.
Key lyric:
There’s nowhere to hide
Where you feel safe
At the bottom of a heartbreak

Seasons – This song was released with “Hang On”, as the first songs from the new album. It was written by Bear Rinehart, Bo Rinehart, Josh Lovelace and Seth Bolt.
It was inspired by the story of close friends who went through tough time with fertility and adoption struggles. The song features bass, excellent vocal harmonies, mandolin, drums and keys.
Key lyric:
We won’t be here forever
Just a moment then we’re through
We can’t be shifting with the sands
Like seasons always do

Best songs:
Hang On
Survival
Who Am I
Banks
Child Again
Riding High
Seasons


Precious Memories Collection – Alan Jackson
****

This collection of Alan Jackson’s traditional gospels songs includes his two previous gospel albums 2006’s Precious Memories and 2013’s Precious Memories: Vol. II, along with two additional songs – “It’s All About Him” (inspired by his wife’s book of the same title) and “That’s the Way” (which he sang to his wife at their wedding), for a total of 28 songs and nearly an hour and a half of music. The songs feature Jackson’s smooth country vocals over a stripped-down backing consisting primarily of piano, acoustic guitar, light drums and backing vocals. The songs include such favorites as “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Blessed Assurance”, “Softly and Tenderly”, “The Old Rugged Cross” and many more. This collection will be a joy for those who love the great old hymns of the faith.


McCartney III – Paul McCartney
*** ½

Former Beatle, 78-year-old Paul McCartney, follows up his chart-topping 2018 album Egypt Station with McCartney III, his eighteenth solo album, and the third in his series of recorded at home McCartney albums. The new album, recorded at his Sussex estate in the spring during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, follows 1970’s McCartney (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), which was released as the Beatles were breaking up and McCartney II (Coming Up”), released in 1980 as Wings was breaking up. The new album is a pleasing eclectic collection (acoustic, rock, pop) of eleven songs which you will appreciate more with each repeated listening. McCartney wrote all of the songs, plays almost all of the instruments (“Slidin’” being the only exception), handles all vocals and produced the album (with the exception of “Slidin’”, which he co-produced with Egypt Station producer Greg Kurstin). I’ve been enjoying Sir Paul’s music for 56 years, and thoroughly enjoyed this new release.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs:

Long Tailed Winter BirdMcCartney featured a few instrumental tracks. This mostly instrumental opener, featuring some outstanding acoustic guitar, along with bass, drums and brass sounds, is a highlight.
Find My Way – This upbeat pop song features guitar, drums, and harpsichord.  McCartney uses a falsetto at times as he sings that he can help you out and be your guide. He can help you reach the love you feel inside. The song has a false ending and concludes with some Sgt. Pepperish sound effects. Here is the music video for the song.
Pretty Boys – This song is about male models, objects of desire, posing for photographers. The song could be semi-autobiographical, as McCartney has been posing in front of photographers for more than a half century. The song features acoustic guitar, guitar, bass, drums and backing vocals.
Women and Wives – This ballad features piano, bass and light drums. He gives advice to husbands, wives, lovers and parents, indicating that what we do with our lives seems to matter to others. as some of them may follow roads that we run down.
Lavatory Lil’ – This short rocker, which could have fit nicely on side two of Abbey Road, features some excellent guitar, drums, bass and backing vocals. You’ve got to look out for Lavatory Lil. You think she’s being friendly, but she’s looking for a Bentley. She’s acting like a starlet, but she’s looking like a harlot, as she’s slowly heading over the hill. The song will sound great in concert.
Deep Deep Feeling – This eight-minute plus experimental song features bass, drums, piano, guitar, backing vocals and at times a falsetto vocal. He sings of the deep deep pain of feeling when you love someone so much. The song goes on too long, and has a false ending.
Slidin’ – This is a “Helter Skelter” like rocker, with throwaway lyrics, featuring guitar, bass and drums. I enjoyed the “Come Together” sound at the break mid-way through the song. The song may be an outtake from the Egypt Station sessions as it is co-produced by Greg Kurstin, and features touring band members Rusty Anderson on guitar and Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums. This is another song that will sound good in concert.
The Kiss of Venus – This song was inspired by a book McCartney read about the constellations and the stars and orbits of Venus. He used phrases from the book for the song. The song features a falsetto vocal over acoustic guitar and harpsichord.
Seize the Day – This song features, guitar, piano and drums, backing vocals.
It’s a Wings-like pop song with positive lyrics about love, being kind and seizing the day.
Deep Down – This mid-tempo song features brass sounds, bass, drums, piano, acoustic guitar, harmonium and backing vocals. The song is excellent vocally and musically, but has throwaway lyrics.
Winter Bird/When Winter Comes – “When Winter Comes” is an unreleased song from the early 1990’s, which was produced by George Martin. “Winter Bird” opens with the excellent guitar from “Long Tailed Winter Bird” and then moves into the acoustic guitar driven “When Winter Comes” as he sings about being on his farm, a song that would fit well on his 1971 album Ram.

Best Songs
Long Tailed Winter Bird
Find My Way
Lavatory Lil
Seize the Day
Deep Down
Winter Bird/When Winter Comes


Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (EP) – Fernando Ortega
**** 

This surprise (I didn’t find out about it until after Christmas), four song Christmas EP is Fernando Ortega’s first new music release since his 2017 album The Crucifixion of Jesus. The songs are beautifully performed with Ortega backed by piano and cello. Listed below is brief information about each of the songs on the EP, along with videos of Ortega performing them:

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming – This is a 15th century German Christmas carol, which was translated by Theodore Baker.

In the Bleak Midwinter – This Christmas carol was written by Christina Rossetti (words) in 1872, and Gustav Holst (music) in 1906.

See Amid the Winter’s Snow – This hymn was written by Edward Caswall (words) in 1858 and Sir John Goss (music) in 1871.

Gloria – This song uses lyrics from what is known as the “Gloria Patri”.


His Glory Alone – KB
***

This is KB’s fourth studio album, his first album since 2017’s Today We Rebel (see my review here), and also his first since leaving Reach Records. The new album features God-centered lyrics, samples from several worship songs, and contains themes including praise and worship, being a father, and race.
Below are a few comments about each song:

Let it Reign – This song was written by Tee-Wyla, Michael Farren, Cardec Drums, Bizzle and KB. It was produced by Tee-Wyla and Drums. The song features Bizzle, and begins with a sample of Michael W. Smith’s song “Let it Rain”. The song then moves into a hard-driving beat as he calls for Yahweh to reign over all.
Key lyric: Your throne won’t end, Your crown won’t move

Lil Boy – This song was written by Cardec Drums and KB and produced by Drums. The hard-hitting song is about the example KB wants to set for his two sons. He wants them to be men of character and integrity.
Key lyric: God got a plan, stand up and act like a man

10K – This song was written by Jonas Myrin, Quinten Coblentz, Matt Redman, Wes Writer and KB. It was produced by Coblentz and Writer. This is a worship song that is based on Matt Redman’s song “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”.
Key lyric:
I got a God don’t change with the seasons
Ten thousand reasons I can believe in

This is Life – This song was written by Michael Fatkin, Benjamin Hastings, Cardec Drums, Quinten Coblentz, Joel Houston, Wes Writer and KB. It was produced by Drums, Coblentz and Writer. The song samples Hillsong UNITED’s worship song “So Will I (10 Billion X)” The song is about our life praising God, just as the stars, mountains and oceans do.
Key lyric: ‘Cause if everything exists to lift You high, so will I

Armies – This song was written by Wes Writer, Scott Cash, Mashell, Ed Cash, Chris Tomlin and KB. It was produced by Mashell. The song, in which KB expresses his confidence in the Lord to fight his battles, is hard-driving, and features backing vocals. The song samples Chris Tomlin’s “Whom Shall I Fear (The God of Angel Armies)”
Key lyric:
When you come to handle me
There’s another hand on me.

Masterpiece – This piano-driven song was written by Quinten Coblentz and KB and produced by Coblentz. It is a song for KB’s newborn daughter. She is a masterpiece. The song builds with backing vocals.
Key lyric:
There’s nothin’ that you have to be
Already, you’re a masterpiece

Libre – This Latin influenced song was written by Wes Writer, Cardec Drums, Tommy Royale and KB. It was produced by Drums and features Royale. The song is about KB’s freedom in Christ.

Yes Song – This worship song was written by Jonathan Smith, Mia Fieldes, Eddie Hoagland, Jason Cornet, Swoope, Cardec Drums, Tee-Wyla and KB. It was produced by Drums and Tee-Wyla. The song samples “Yes I Will” by Vertical Worship and features Eddie Hoagland. The song begins with piano and builds with backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Hand in my face, I can’t see
I have nothing left to bring

Dark Skin – This song was written by Cardec Drums and KB. It was produced by Drums and features Black Violin. This song addresses racism, and the incidents involving George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Jesus is the answer. If we do what he commands and humble our pride, God can mend us. The song begins with piano, and builds with percussion, bass and horns.
Key lyric: Ain’t no left or right side in heaven 

We Right Here – This song was written by Cardec Drums, Quinten Coblentz, Wes Writer and KB. It was produced by Drums, Coblentz and Writer. It is a hard-driving song that is a rally cry for millennial-aged Christians. The song samples “KIDZ” by Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed.
Key lyric:
They say millennials are leavin’ God
I just smiled, like you really need to see the squad

Loyal Til the End – This song was written by Cardec Drums, DJ Pez, Jon Keith and KB. It was produced by Drums and Pez and features Jon Keith. It’s a hard-driving song about his loyalty to his friends that features some nice percussion.
Key lyric:
All of my dawgs defiant
Loyal ‘til the end

The Name – This worship song about exalting the name of the Lord, was written by Cardec Drums, Quinten Coblentz, Wes Writer, Koryn Hawthorne and KB. It was produced by Drums, Coblentz and Writer and features Hawthorne. The song features an instrumental break mid-song and some nice drums and vocals from Coblentz and Hawthorne.
Key lyric:
All my heavy chains gettin’ broken
And my weary heart’s given hope
Come exalt Your Name

Si Cancion – This is the Spanish language version of “Yes Song” and features Blanca and Musiko.

Best Songs
10K
Yes Song
The Name

Patient Kingdom – Sandra McCracken
****

I have to admit that I’m a late-comer to Sandra McCracken, being introduced to her music at the 2018 Gospel Coalition National Conference and the last few Getty Music Sing! Conferences. I also really enjoyed her 2019 Christmas album, one of my favorites of last year.
This new album of worship songs features 9 new songs, and a reimagined hymn, all written or co-written by McCracken. The album, which was produced by Ben Shive and Tyler Chester, was recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, with friends collaborating and recording across four states.
Patient Kingdom is an excellent album, which I’m sure will end up high on my “Best” list for 2020.
Below are a few comments about each song:

I Will Sing – This song about singing about the Lord’s great love (Psalm 89:1), has an easy going pace, and features piano, light bass and light drums, acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever
I will sing of the Lord’s good love
   
You Are With Me– This song features piano, drums, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Our hearts may be heavy and tired in this valley. Sorrow may last for a night, but in the morning, the joy of the Lord breaks in with the light, and we know that He is with us.
Key lyric:
You walk beside me, through darkest valleys
I know You are with me

You Are The Word – This song has a nice play on the word “Word”. We can trust God’s word (His promises) in the pain as the Lord, the Word (John 1:1), will make all of this work for our good (Romans 8:28). He was broken, buried and raised, and we give him praise. McCracken’s vocals have an echo effect, and are backed by light acoustic guitar, backing vocals, and light drums.
Key lyric:
You gave me Your word
You gave me Your word
You are The Word

On High Places – This song features some nice drum work, acoustic guitar, and backing vocals. Fear has been an old friend, solitude has been a teacher of the truth, and peace has been a steady covering.
Key lyric:
On high places, here we go
We will rise, we will rise
And pass through shadows, take it slow

I Am One – This worship song features drums, acoustic guitar, piano, a guitar solo, and Citizens on backing vocals, and would be a good one to sing in a worship service.
Key lyric:
I am one with You in Light
I am one with You in Fire
I am one with You in Love
I am one with You in Glory

Lay My Worry Down – This song features guitar, drums, and backing vocals. We are confident that we can take our anxious fears and turn them over to our Father, resting in His mercy.
Key lyric:
Dark is the night, deep is Your love
Great is my need, You are enough

Thirst No More – This song about the living water that only Jesus provides (John 4:10), features acoustic guitar, drums, backing vocals, and piano.
Key lyric:
Thirst no more, thirst no more
Thirst no more, come and drink

Patient Kingdom – This beautiful song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, and light drums. In the midst of the chaos, slow us down Lord and let love do its work.
Key lyric:
Let my soul rise up to meet You
As the day rises to the sun
Let my soul rise up to meet You
Let that patient kingdom come

Into The Harbor – This song features light drums, organ, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. In our trouble we cried out and the Lord heard us. He has provided the safety we have been longing for.
Key lyric:
Into the harbor You guide us, O Lord
Into the safety are Thy distant shore

Be Still My Soul– This song is a new version of the hymn written by Jean Sibelius, with a new bridge added by McCracken. The song features organ, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, and some nice backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in every change He faithful will remain.

Best songs:
All


Over the Rainbow: The American Standard EP – James Taylor
*** ½ 

This EP includes three songs recorded during James Taylor’s American Standard album sessions, but not included on the original album. Read my review of American Standard – one of my favorite albums of 2020 – here.
Here are a few brief comments about each song.
I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face – This song was written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. It was included in the 1956 musical My Fair Lady. The cast recording of My Fair Lady was one of Taylor’s parent’s favorite records. The song features strings, bass and acoustic guitar.
Never Never Land – This song was written by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It was included in the 1954 musical Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin. The cast album was a favorite from the Taylor family record collection. The song features acoustic guitar, bass and light percussion.
Over the Rainbow – This song was written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. It was included in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Taylor’s solo guitar version of the song includes Yip Yarburg’s original introductory verse, which is rare.


A Drummer Boy Christmas – for King & Country
***

Australian duo for King & Country, comprised of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, follow their best-selling 2018 album Burn the Ships with their first full-length Christmas album, based around their popular version of “Little Drummer Boy”. The album is comprised mostly of well-known Christmas carols, opening and closing with verses from “In The Bleak Midwinter”. There are two new songs included – “Heavenly Hosts”, and “The Carol of Joseph (I Believe In You)”. Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE guests on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and country singer Gabby Barrett guests on “Go Tell It On The Mountain”.
The duo brings their signature high energy sound to these songs. In addition, the album includes two monologues, which fit in well with the album. A Drummer Boy Christmas was produced by Tedd Tjornhom and for King & Country, and co-produced by Benjamin Backus, with Matt Hales handling executive production.

A Drummer Boy Christmas would be a good addition to your Christmas music collection. Below are a few comments about the two new songs on the album:
Heavenly Hosts – This joyful song was written by Benjamin Backus, Joel Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Aqualung, Tedd T and Tony Wood. The song starts with piano and then builds with bass, strings, drums and choir. The song is about when the angels met the shepherds in Luke 2.
The Carol Of Joseph (I Believe In You) – This song was written by Joel Smallbone, Luke Smallbone and Aqualung. The piano and strings driven song is about Joseph’s reaction to the birth of Jesus, which reminded me of Michael Card’s classic “Joseph’s Song”.


Miracle of Love: Christmas Songs of Worship (EP) – Chris Tomlin
***

Following close on the June release of his successful country music album Chris Tomlin & Friends, Tomlin is back with his fourth Christmas project, which includes two new songs – “Miracle of Love” and “All the World Awaits (Hosanna)”, along with the four songs from his 2019 EP Christmas Day: Christmas Songs of Worship,  and one song from his 2015 album Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship. If you have all of Tomlin’s previous Christmas music, you’ll just want to download the two new songs.
Here are a few comments about each song:
Miracle of Love – This upbeat joyful song was inspired by the Tomlin’s third daughter, due this December, and the parallel story of the birth of Jesus. Tomlin has talked about how each line of the song has a double meaning. The song opens with piano, and picks up with drums, backing vocals and a nice use of horns at the chorus. The song was written by Ashley Gorley, Ed Cash and Chris Tomlin.
Key lyric:
A baby born; a baby born
A miracle of love
A gift from God sent to us
From heaven above

All the World Awaits (Hosanna) – This praise song about the coming of the Savior was written by Tomlin, Jason Ingram and Matt Maher. The song begins with guitar and gently builds with piano, drums and backing vocals. The song is inspired by Matthew 21:9 and Isaiah 9:6.
Key lyric:
Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of righteousness
Light and life to all He brings
Glory to the newborn King

Christmas Day – This song is written by Ed Cash, Scott Cash, Franni Cash, Martin Cash and Andrew Bergthold. This joyful song features drums, guitar and excellent vocals by Tomlin and We The Kingdom. Classic Tomlin, this song would be a good one for congregational singing.
Key lyric:
Sing all you people
The Lord almighty reigns
Sing every creature of God
Come bless His name
For He is good, for He is good
He was born to conquer the grave
Light of the world
The reason for Christmas Day

His Name Is Wonderful – This song is written by Tomlin and Ed Cash with a chorus taken from Isaiah 9:6. The song begins with Tomlin singing over piano, and then builds with drums, strings and choir.
Key lyric:
Come and adore Him
On bended Knee
He came to Ransom
Someone like me

Little Drummer Boy – This Christmas classic was written by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958. The song features guitar, backing vocals and of course some excellent drum work.
Hope Of Israel – This song was written by Tomlin, Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram and Reuben Morgan. The song begins with Tomlin singing over piano, then builds gently with strings and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
God is with us
Christ our Savior
Jesus our Emmanuel
He shall reign our King forever
The hope of Israel 

NoelThis song, originally included on Tomlin’s 2015 album Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship, features Lauren Daigle on lead vocals, and was written by Tomlin, Ed Cash and Matt Redman. Tomlin is known for sharing the spotlight with others, such as including Audrey Assad’s “Winter Snow” on his 2009 album Glory in The Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship. Since this recording, Daigle has gone on to great success with her Look Up Child album, which could be the reason this older song was added to the new EP.
Key lyric:
Unto us a Child is born
He shall reign forevermore

Best songs:
A Miracle of Love
All the World Awaits (Hosanna)
Christmas Day
Noel


Live from the Forum MMXVIII – Eagles
****

This new live album – it is available in multiple formats, including Blu-Ray video, digital, vinyl and audio CD, and was shown as a concert film on ESPN over the July 4 weekend – was filmed/recorded September 12, 14 and 15, 2018 at the Forum in Inglewood, California. My wife Tammy and I had seen the Eagles on the same tour just a few weeks earlier, on July 26, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
The album is the first release to feature the new Eagles, with Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, replacing founding member Glenn Frey, who died in 2016. Gill and Frey join Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt as they perform classic Eagles songs, as well as Henley, Gill and Walsh solo hits – 26 songs.
From the first harmonies of the opener “Seven Bridges Road”, you’ll realize that this band, though formed 49 years ago (Henley is the only surviving founding member) is still at the top of their game. Deacon sings a few of his father’s songs (“Take it Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”), while Gill takes the lead on “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take it to the Limit”).
If you enjoy the music of the Eagles, you’ll love this new live recording.


Still, Vol. 1 – Michael W. Smith
**

I’ve enjoyed Michael W. Smith’s music since his debut album in 1983. Now 63, he has done just about everything in music, from pop, worship, instrumental, movie soundtrack, Christmas, etc. Still Vol. 1 is a very different Michael W. Smith album, and though I give him credit for trying something different, it won’t be everyone’s “cup of tea”, and it’s sadly my least favorite of Smith’s albums.
The album provides an “atmospheric listening experience of improvisational music” along with Smith reading scripture on the first five tracks. The final five are all instrumental. His prayer for the project “is that this music will help the listener find moments to meditate with scripture.” Smith describes Still as a worship album that is more for individuals during their personal quiet times. There are also videos on Smith’s YouTube channel that accompany each song.
I believe the album will be enjoyed most during listener’s daily devotional and prayer time, or as quiet background music.


Nothing But a Word – Derek Minor and Propaganda
***

Nothing But a Word, a seven song EP, is the result of a plane delay that left Propaganda in Nashville with some extra time on his hands. He contacted longtime friend Derek Minor about recording and that led to this collaboration. It is Propaganda’s first project since 2017’s excellent Crooked, one of my favorite albums of that year. The new project was produced by Minor.
Here are a few comments about each song:
Dope – This song features John Givez as he shares vocals with Propaganda. He’s underrated and underestimated, and has some folks back home questioning how he made it. Life’s not perfect, but it’s worth it, because it’s dope. The song features finger snaps, backing vocals, synth and bass. A highlight.
Key lyric:
Remind me I ain’t crazy and the grace stay amazing
He came down to prove I wasn’t talking to an empty room
Remind me that the truth is that I’m looking at an empty tomb

Comments – This song addresses our online (Twitter, etc.) lives and how we can get pulled into debates by people we don’t even know. The information cycle is polarizing, and it’s beneath you to believe that nonsense (deep state, fake news). The song features a heavy beat, driven by percussion, bass, synth.       Contradiction – This song features Aaron Cole on vocals. He wants to honest, shares the many ways that his life is a contradiction, and that he is at war with himself. The song features a heavy beat, driven by bass and percussion, and also features some guitar.
Impose – Although he’s not one to hold his tongue, he has grown a little, and is working on his patience. He doesn’t want to impose or tell you what you already know. The song references Donald Trump, privilege and equality. It is driven by synth and a steady beat.
Overjoyed – He’s overjoyed, but not overwhelmed, living in California, where good churches and bad cops are on the same boulevard. He speaks of fine tuning his priorities, which seem like they are always at war with him. The song features some excellent guitar work.
Key lyric:
It ain’t love if you ain’t willing to fight for it
It ain’t real if you aren’t willing to kill for it

Change – This song is about some things that need to change. He asks what lessons can we learn. We are a culture in crisis. The song references such current issues of refugees and equal pay for women. The song features Daniella Mason on vocals, guitar and a bass beat.
Fallen – This song features Tobe Nwigwe and Liz Vice on vocals, over drums and a bass beat. The chorus includes “They say that we are fallen, then tell me why you follow”. Propaganda and Nwigwe handle the verses.
Key lyric:
When Lucy try to tempt you, remember that it was written 
Best songs:
Dope
Comments


Work in Progress – Andy Mineo
*** ½ 

Work in Progress, the latest from Andy Mineo is a mixtape/podcast hybrid. It features 12 songs that are raw, unmastered and alternate versions of tracks recorded over the years. Each song has a clip from his podcast that explains what the song is about. The songs have been on his hard drive for years, some dating back to 2014, but have never been released for various reasons. The songs are classic Mineo. I’m glad that he cleaned out his vault, and that these songs are seeing the light of day.
Below are a few brief comments about each song:
Reflections – This song was written by Mineo, Joel McNeil, John McNeil and Evan Ford. It was produced by 42 North and Ford. The song is driven by keys and drums. Andy talks about an encounter with a fan, Jesus being crucified and questions which America we speak of when we say we want to make it great again.
OT OD – This song was written by Mineo and produced by BEAM and Alex Medina. It features BEAM on vocals. This song, with its many sports references, sounded like it would have felt at home on Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed Present Magic & Bird. It features percussion, synth and handclap.
Keepin It Movin’ – This song was written by Mineo and Guvna B. It was produced by Iggy Music. It features London rapper Guvna B on vocals. The hard-hitting song about their careers and daily life features synth and drums.
I Don’t Need You – This song was written by Mineo, Matthew Scott Cohen and GAWVI, and produced by Cohen and GAWVI. This emotional song features synth, drums, bass and handclap. He doesn’t need them. He’s built walls so as not to feel pain. By the end of the song he realizes that maybe he does need them after all.
1988 – This song was written by Mineo and produced by Nottz and 42 North. Andy is reflective about turning 30. He addresses time, which will one day go on without him. He considers how he might be remembered. Now he’s less eager to prove something, but more confident in who he is.
Anything But Country – This song was written by Mineo, GAWVI, Joseph Prielozny and !llmind and produced by !llmind, GAWVI and Prielozny. The song addresses stereotypes (music, girls), As he has gotten older, he’s formed his own opinion and stopped letting other people do his own thinking. The song features percussion, backing vocals and an infectious chorus.
Another Me – This song was written by Mineo and produced by GAWVI. This is a love song to Mineo’s wife. She’s his priority. He doesn’t want to miss any of her. The song features synth and some backing vocals.
Til Death – This song was written by Mineo and Brian Reath. It features Reith on backing vocals. The song has a catchy R&B vibe, and features keys, percussion, guitar and handclap. He promises to be there for worse or better till death do they part. The song was recorded in 2014 around the time of his wedding.
So Gone Easy – This song was written by Mineo, B.Keyz, Dave James and Ace Harris. It was produced by James and Harris and features B.Keyz and James. The song features percussion, synth, guitar, keys, and bass, and varies in style between rap and easy going. He’s been doing this for so long, it’s so hard to make it look easy.
Honest 2 God – This song was written by Mineo and BEAM, and produced by BEAM and Daniel Steele. The song features bass, drums, synth, and some backing vocals. He wonders how often we have honest moments. He addresses some doubt about his faith, depression, his wife and grandmother. The honesty here is similar to his recent EPs The Sword and The Arrow.
I Ain’t Done – This song was written by Mineo and produced by BEAM. A version of this song appeared on his 2018 EP The Arrow. This song features a heavy bass and drum beat. He addresses his depression and anxiety. He’s not done making music. As long as there is breath in his lungs, he’ll keep rapping.
Family Photo – This song was written by Mineo and Weathrman and produced by Weathrman. A version of this song appeared on his 2018 EP The Arrow. The song tells the story of Mineo’s father not attending his wedding.


Marty for President 2 EP – Marty
***

Marty takes a break from the Social Club Misfits for a solo outing. Marty For President 2 is the follow-up to his 2015 EP Marty for President. The seven song EP features a number of guest artists, song writers and producers, and will be enjoyed by fans of Social Club Misfits.
Below are a few comments on each song:
The One about the Misfit, Pt. 2 – This song was written by Dave James, DJ Pez and Marty. It was produced by Dave James and DJ Pez. The song starts with a slow pace, a talk-rap over synth, and then builds slightly with percussion and guitar. He states that during the Misfits best year he was depressed the whole time and that sometimes you’ve gotta go through hell on the way to heaven. The song includes a mild “adult language” word that I’m disappointed hearing on a faith-based project. Leave the adult language to the mainstream rappers.
The One Where I Talk to God – This song about needing to talk to God during difficult times, was written by Daniel Chrisman, Israel Hindman, Juice Bangers, Andy Mineo and Marty. It was produced by Marty and Juice Bangers. The song has an easygoing beat and features Andy Mineo and Tree Giants. The song is driven by percussion, synth and bass.
The One Where I Hate You – This song was written by Joshua Toala, Marty, Jung Youth, Ray Castro and Luis Calderon. It was produced by Luis Calderon and Ray Castro. The song, has an easygoing beat, and features drums, bass and keys. It’s about dating someone who is wrong for you. He’s so happy that she’s gone.
The One with the Presidential Freestyle – This song was written by Israel Steven Mercedes, Derek Minor and Marty. It was produced by Chino Dollaz and Derek Minor. The confident song has a hard driving beat driven by synth, percussion and bass. He’s trying to run the race of life without wrecking, while Satan is waiting for his downfall.
The One with the Emo TRL Sound – This song was written by Dave James, Hollyn and Marty. It was produced by Dave James and Marty. The song, which is very different from the others on the EP, features Hollyn. The song is driven by acoustic guitar and is about missing a loved on.
Key lyric:
What does it really mean to be in love?
It’s a choice you make every day even when you’ve had enough

The One with No Discounts – This song was written by DJ Pez, Israel Steven Mercedes, Gravez, Dmitry Lavender, GAWVI, Marty and Tommy Royale. It was produced by Dmitry Lavender and DJ Pez. The song, driven by percussion, synth and bass, features GAWVI and Tommy Royale. God’s everlasting grace is on him and he can’t waste any time.
The Last One – This song was written by Luis Calderon, Ray Castro, Marty and Wande. It was produced by Marty, Luis Calderon and Ray Castro. The upbeat song, with a memorable chorus, features Wande and is driven by drums and guitar. He just wants to shine his light, play his part, sing his songs because of the talent he has he received from God.
Key lyric:
Your work is not in vain, it’s only preparation
It’s about the journey not the destination

Best songs
The One Where I Talk to God
The One with the Presidential Freestyle
The Last One


Doom – Social Club Misfits
****

Social Club Misfits, comprised of rappers Fern (Fernando Miranda) and Marty Mar (Martin Lorenzo Santiago), return with Doom, a six-song EP. I’ve enjoyed some of their previous music, in particular 2018’s Into the Night and its predecessor
2017’s The Misadventures of Fern & Marty. I really enjoyed Doom and look forward to their new full-length release.
Below are a few comments about each song:
Doom – This song was written by Jung Youth, Dave James and Marty and Fern, and produced by James and Marty. Jung Youth handles the vocals on the chorus, with Marty and Fern each taking one of the verses. If they can reach one person, it will be worth it. It’s never been about fame, but purpose. God never said it would be easy, but that He would be by their side and never leave them.
The song features keys and some nice percussion.
Key lyric:
I know that You’ll be there
Now there’s no more doom
Believe – This song was written by Fern and Marty, and produced by DJ Pez and Marty. Dave James adds vocals to the song. Marty has stated that the song is about struggling with faith, looking for an answer and waiting on a response. Do you still believe in what you can’t see? The song features keys, percussion and bass.
Tamo Aqui – This song was written by Fern, Marty and Israel Steven Mercedes. The song was produced by Rey King, who also sings the chorus. The song title means “We are here” in English. Fern sings the first verse in Spanish and Marty the second in English. The song features a good beat, horns and backing vocals.
God WYA – This song was written by Fern, Marty and Ben Lopez and produced by Lopez. He’s sorry for the time he’s wasted, when he took God for granted. Now, the more he prays the freer he feels. The song features a good beat, driven by bass, percussion, keys, backing vocals, and has a memorable chorus.
Enough – This song was written by Fern, Marty, Willyecho and Austin French. It was produced by Jordan Sap. Austin French handles vocals on the chorus and bridge. The joyful song features finger snaps, bass, keys and percussion. Even when we’re broken and tired, God is enough, enough, enough. A highlight.
Stones – This song was written by Fern and Marty and produced by Dave James and Marty. The song features guitar, backing vocals, bass, drums and synth. The song is about being honest about our struggles. We don’t always understand, but it’s the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Key lyric:
I know I’m not perfect
But You still said I’m clean

Best songs:
God WYA
Enough


StonesEvensong – Hymns and Lullabies at the Close of Day– Keith and Kristyn Getty
****

Evensong is the first new studio album for Keith and Kristyn Getty since 2016’s Facing a Task Unfinished. It is not your usual album of new modern hymns from the Gettys, but rather more of a Kristyn Getty solo project born out of a family tradition. The Gettys close out their days with a time of reflection in thought, song, and prayer. These are lullabies and hymns that they have sung to and for their own children.
The project was recorded in Nashville during the COVID-19 shelter at home season. Ben Shive, who produced the album with Keith and Kristyn, was able to gather recordings from each musical collaborator and create a project fusing the Celtic, folk, bluegrass, classical, and Americana sound the Gettys have become known for. The musical backing is more restrained than a normal Getty album, but no less beautiful. The cover art was specially created by internationally renowned Irish artist Ross Wilson. The album features guest appearances from Vince Gill, Heather Headley, Ellie Holcomb, Sierra Hull, Deborah Kelmme and Sandra McCracken
Below are a few thoughts about each song:

Hush-a-by (Come Unto Me and Rest) – This song was written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. The song begins with the first verse from Horatius Bonar’s 1846 hymn “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”, and then moves into a “Hush-a-by Baby” lullaby. The beautiful song features piano, acoustic guitar, percussion, bass and strings.
Key lyric:
Hush-a-by baby
The Lord surely keeps
Mother and child in His arms
He keeps us both in His arms  

Sun of My Soul (Shine) – This song was written by Kristyn Getty and Sandra McCracken. The song features acoustic guitar, light percussion and the beautiful harmonies of Kristyn Getty, Sandra McCracken and Skye Peterson
Key lyric:
Sun of my soul, steady my gaze
As daylight runs its race
Your Word is a lamp unto my feet
On this journey

Consider the Stars – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Fionan De Barrs, and originally appeared on the Getty’s 2016 album Facing a Task Unfinished.  The song features piano, strings, and a tender vocal from Kristyn Getty. The song is a lullaby that was written for the Getty’s daughters to help them go to sleep at night
Key lyric:
Do not be afraid
He who made all of this, says “You’re worth more than this,”
And holds you in his hands

Softly and Tenderly/Ashokan Farewell (Medley) – “Softly and Tenderly” was written by Will L. Thompson in 1880. A new verse was written by Kristyn Getty. “Ashokan Farewell” was written by Jay Unger. The song features vocals by Vince Gill, Ellie Holcomb, Sierra Hull, and Deborah Klemme. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, violin and beautiful harmonies.
Key lyric:
Come home, come home
Ye who are weary come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling O sinner come home

Is He Worthy? – This song was written by Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive. The song features piano and vocals from the Getty’s daughters
Key lyric:
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory?
Is He worthy of this? He is

Lily in the Valley – This song was written by Kristyn Getty and Ben Shive. The beautiful song features acoustic guitar, strings, and Kristyn singing a part of the song in French.
Key lyric:
He is the pearl you seek
And worry adds no single hour
But He knows every need

His Eye is on the Sparrow – This song was written by Gene Bartlett, Charles Gabriel and Civilla D. Martin, and features the vocals of Heather Headley. The song features piano, light percussion, strings, and excellent vocals by Getty and Headley.
Key lyric:
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free

His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

Jesus, Friend of Little Children/Jesus Loves Me – “Jesus, Friend of Little Children” was written by Walter John Mathams. “Jesus Loves Me” was written by Anna B. Warner and William Bradbury. Additional lyrics were written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. The song features acoustic guitar, an accordion sounding instrument, and the vocals of the Getty’s daughters.
Key lyric:
Never leave me, nor forsake me
Ever be my friend
For I need Thee from life’s dawning
To its end  

The Lord is in His Holy Temple – This song was written by Kristyn Getty and Ben Shive. This beautiful song features piano, bass, and an excellent choir. My favorite song on the album, and one that would be good for congregational singing.
Key lyric:
The Lord is in His holy temple
Let all the earth keep silence 

My Heart is Fill with Thankfulness – This song was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend and originally appeared on the Getty’s 2012 album Hymns for the Christian Life. The song features piano and beautiful strings.
Key lyric:
For ev’ry day I have on earth
Is given by the King;
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow Him.

Keep Letting the Light In – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa. The song features piano and strings.
Key lyric:
He who said let there be light
Will surely overcome the night
As another day begins
Keep letting the light in

Abide With Me – This song was written by William Henry Monk. The song features strings, piano, light horns, and backing choir.
Key lyric:
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

Evensong – This song was written by Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa. The song features acoustic guitar, a backing choir, strings,
Key lyric:
Now, turn our hearts toward Thy way
Help those in doubt, in loss, in pain
Oh Lord, have mercy on this world
Thy song of hope be ever heard

Best songs:
Sun of My Soul (Shine)
Softly and Tenderly/Ashokan Farewell (Medley)
His Eye is on the Sparrow
The Lord is in His Holy Temple
Abide with Me


Heaven – Sing! The Life Of Christ Quintology
****

Sing! The Life of Christ: Quintology is the fourth album to be released from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s wonderful Sing! worship music conferences, following 2018’s Sing! Live at The Getty Music Worship Conference and 2019’s Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) and Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live At The Grand Ole Opry House.
The new album was released in five separate EPs over a period of several months. The project followed the five main themes of the 2019 Sing! conference – the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Commission, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and includes 29 songs. To find out more about my takeaways from the 2019 conference, held in Nashville, read my article “Reflections From the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference” here.
The album was recorded at the Gaylord Hotel Convention Center, the Grand Ole Opry House and the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Everything that the Gettys and their musical friends do is with excellence. Throughout, the songwriting, singing and musical performances are of a very high quality, especially noteworthy for a live recording.
The fifth and final EP to be released is on Heaven. Below are a few comments about each song:
Forever Jesus – This song was written by Matt Papa and Stuart Townend. Townend and Kristyn Getty handle the lead vocals. The triumphant song, one of my favorite new songs of 2020, features piano, drums, bass, strings, and the singing of the conference choir.
Key lyric:
So for all my days I will sing my praise
To the King, “forever Jesus”
Though the storms may rage He is strong to save
He’s the King forever Jesus   

There is a Higher Throne – This song was written by Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty. Kristyn Getty handles the lead vocals. The uplifting song features guitar, flute, drums, piano, and conference choir.
Key lyric:
Hear heaven’s voices sing;
Their thund’rous anthem rings
Through em’rald courts and sapphire skies.
Their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, pow’r,
Strength, thanks, and honor are
To God our King, who reigns on high
Forevermore

The Lord is My Salvation – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Nathan Nockels and Jonas Myrin. Kristyn Getty and Shane and Shane handle the vocals. This powerful hymn of praise features, guitar, drums, piano, flute, bass and conference choir.
Key lyric:
Who is like the Lord our God?
Strong to save, faithful in love
My debt is paid and the vict’ry won
The Lord is my salvation

God the Uncreated One (King Forever More) – This song was written by Pete Jams and Aaron Keyes. Lead vocals are handled by Tommy Bailey, Director of Worship at the Village Chapel in Nashville. This joyful hymn features piano, violin, bass, drums, guitar, and conference choir.
Key lyric:
What joy in everlasting life
All is love and faith is sight
Justice rolls and praises rise
At the name of Jesus Christ
King of Kings forever
King of Kings forever
King of Kings forevermore

Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor – This song was written by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell. Lead vocals are handled by Boswell and Papa. The song features piano, bass, drums, violin, and the conference choir.
Key lyric:
Christ the sure and steady anchor
As we face the wave of death
When these trials give way to glory
As we draw our final breath
We will cross that great horizon
Clouds behind and life secure
And the calm will be the better
For the storms that we endure

The King in All His Beauty – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. Lead vocals are handled by Papa. The song features piano, bass, drums, and conference choir.
Key lyric:
Now see the Savior lifted up
The Lamb who reigns in splendor
The hope of every tribe and tongue
His kingdom is forever

Best songs:
All


Restoration – Lecrae
****

This long-awaited album, Lecrae’s ninth studio album, is his follow-up to 2018’s collaboration album with Zaytoven Let the Trap Say Amen, and is his first solo album since 2017’s All Things Work Together. The album doesn’t disappoint.

Four songs were released prior to the full album. Restoration is the companion release to his upcoming book I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith. The album has Lecrae partnering with a large number of guest artists, songwriters and producers. The theme of Lecrae’s restoration from life’s difficulties weaves throughout the album. As expected, the production is crystal clear and the performances are all of a high quality.  The Road to Restoration, a behind the scenes look about the making of the album was released in three parts shortly before the album’s release.
Below are a few comments about each song.

Restore Me – This song, which is 1 minute and 16 seconds long (a nod to Romans 1:16 and Reach Records), was written by Ray Castro, Ace Harris, Alex Medina, Dave James, Lecrae and Taylor Hill. The song was produced by Ray Castro, Ace Harris, Alex Medina, Dave James and Taylor Hill, and features Hill. The brief song sets the tone for the album, addressing the difficulties in Lecrae’s life – trauma, losing his faith, loss of fans when he spoke out about racial injustice, etc. It ends with a prayer to God to restore him.
Key lyric:
Use all this pain, use all this hurt
To grow me
If that’s what it takes to know what I’m worth
Restore me

Set Me Free – This was the first song released from the album, and was written by Erica Campbell, GAWVI, Hulvey, Lecrae, Torey D’Shaun, Trecina Atkins-Campbell, Warryn Campbell, WHATUPRG and YK Osiris. The song was produced by GAWVI, and features Osiris. Lecrae has said that “set free” is a triple entendre in the song – industry, society and spiritually. The song samples Warren Mary Mary’s song “Shackles (Praise You)”.
Key lyric:
Shackles on my feet, You broke the hold and now I’m free

Even in the darkest times You kept Your light on me
Wheel’s Up – This song was written by S1, Epikh Pro, Kelvin Wooten, Marc E. Bassy, Abe Parker and Lecrae. It was produced by Inc. no world, Epikh Pro, Kelvin Wooten and S1. The song features Marc E. Bassy on the chorus. Lecrae handles the verses with a fast rap style. The chorus has his problems fading away as he sits back in a plane that is taking off and he gets to experience God’s eye view on everything.
Key lyric:
Some days I can’t believe how far we made it
I thank God for the fans and pray for patience 

Over the Top – This trap influenced song was written by Tray Haggerty, Torey D’Shaun, Hulvey 30 Roc and Lecrae. It was produced by 30 Roc. This song is about how success in life (number one album, awards, money, fame), will fade away. All of that perishes, but you are left with the best, God and your family.
Key lyric:
You can have the percs, I’d rather have a purpose 

Self Discovery – This song was written by Mez, Kelvin Wooten, S1 and Lecrae. It was produced by Kelvin Wooten and S1. The song features Trip Lee, Michelle Campbell and a sample from James Williams.  On this song, Lecrae talks about his growing up days. He stated that this was his favorite track on the album, where he realized that God is relational, not transactional. The song features some nice keys throughout.
Key lyric:
It’s obvious, I’m highly blessed
I finally get to understand what a man is when he at his godliest
To get there I was highly stretched and I was highly stressed

Deep End – This was the second song released from the album and was written by Khari Alamin, Anthony Gardner, Foushee, John Summit and Lecrae. It was produced by Anthony Gardner. The song features Summit. Lecrae is transparent about the pain and trauma he has experienced as a black man when he has seen black people gunned down in the street.
Key lyric:
I’ve been doin’ better than I was before
I walk with a limp ‘cause I’ve been wrestlin’ with the Holy Ghost
Deep end of this pit, but still somehow I keep floating on
Thought I lost my grip, but God reminded me He’s holding on

Drown – This was the third song released from the album and was written by Jim Lavigne, Micah Premnath, Alex Stacey, Danny Majic, DJ Frank E, Ace Harris, John Legend and Lecrae. It was produced by Danny Majic, DJ Frank E and Ace Harris. The song features John Legend on the chorus. Darkness, drama, shame and heartache has him down and in over his head. God is his last resort. Only He can take the pain away.
Key lyric:
If I had one call, would You answer it?
Or would You take back all of Your promises?

‘Cause I don’t know who to turn to or who to trust
I don’t know who to turn to or who to trust 

Saturday Night – This song was written by Mez, Lecrae, Joshua Brennan and Jozzy.
It was produced by Oshi. The song features Jozzy and Khari Alamin. This song finds Lecrae in the club again on a Saturday night. But is it real, or was he dreaming all this time? The song ends with a voice telling him to wake up and get his church clothes on.
Key lyric:
Measures of success
They hate you and admire you too
   

Sunday Morning – The companion song to “Saturday Night”, this song was written by Blu June, Nathanael Saint-Fleur, Terrence Antonio Jones, Ace Harris, Epikh Pro, SAK PASE, Saint Bodhi, Brittany Coney, Kirk Franklin and Lecrae. It was produced by The Crate League, Ace Harris, Epikh Pro and SAK PASE. The song features Kirk Franklin and a church choir (Melanie Rose, Emerald Campbell, Blu June and Ariel Campbell). He’s thankful for every day he gets to wake up. The last night was a mess, but God just hit “refresh”. The song ends with this from Kirk Franklin:
My life and your life is just a vapor
And if what you see is all you see
Then you do not see all there is to be seen
We leave
Quickly
We leave  

Zombie – This was the fourth and final song released before the album was released and written by Tommie Walker, Fred Hammond, Epikh Pro, Taylor Hill and Lecrae. It was produced by Epikh Pro and Taylor Hill. The song features Tedashii and Taylor Hill, and samples Fred Hammond’s song “We’re Blessed”.  The song features some nice keys. He was in the dark, but then Jesus called him.
Key lyric:
I was in the dark, I swear you couldn’t tell me nothing
I was after flesh, I guess I was some type of zombie
Demons used to haunt me
Then I heard the voice of God, I’m grateful Jesus called me 

Keep Going – This song was written by Ace Harris, Carvello, Quay Global, Lecrae and Fletcher Redd. It was produced by Quay Global, Carvello and Ace Harris. He’s come too far to let it go; he can’t quit. He’s got to keep going.
Key lyric:
I was down, at the bottom, got it out the mud
Kept it goin’, even when they never showed me love
Momma said it would come a time I would struggle
Keep your hands to the ceiling when you see the troubles  

Still – This song was written by Mike Woods, Brittany Coney, Blu June, DaniLeigh and Lecrae. It was produced by NOVA WAV and Mike Woods, and features DaniLeigh on the chorus. This is a song to Lecrae’s wife.  He wasn’t acting the way his momma raised him. He did her bad, but now he really needs her.
Key lyric:
Let me come through, I can do what nobody else do for you
Let me prove everything I gotta prove 

Only Human – This song was written by Kenneth Deron-Anderson, Ace Harris, Ty Brasel, Dave James, John McNeil, Joel McNeil, John Smythe, BJ the Chicago Kid and Lecrae. It was produced by Dave James, Ace Harris, and 42 North, and features BJ the Chicago Kid on the chorus. In a fast rap style Lecrae shares the difficulties in his life and how God restored him.
Key lyric:
But God said “Hol’ up, I got it, I do this”
He lifted my head up then helped me get to it
He gave me the beauty for ashes, I blew it
I thought I was ruined, He started renewin’  

Nothing Left to Hide – This song was written by S1, Gwen Bunn and Lecrae. It was produced by S1, and features Gwen Bunn. Lecrae ends the album, and “maybe the end of a long run”, with a confident and hard-hitting vocal, admitting that he had lost his direction, but he didn’t forget the resurrection. He asks us what’s the point of each day if there is isn’t a God. What’s the purpose of waking up? He says we love to beat each other up instead of praying and working to heal each other. He’s not finger pointing, but if the shoe fits, go ahead and wear it.
Key lyric:
Never good enough to get the love of Christ
But He’s good enough to get the love of me

Best songs
Wheel’s Up
Drown
Zombie
Sunday Morning
Only Human
Nothing Left to Hide


Chris Tomlin and Friends
****

Chris Tomlin has been one of my favorite artists for several years. His thirteenth studio album is unlike anything he’s ever done before. It’s his attempt to break down the walls of the Christian music genre and allow the music to be accessible to a wider audience. I give him credit for trying something new and different, bridging country music with his worship music genre. It’s not an album in which guest artists merely join Tomlin, but it’s a true collaboration. Tomlin has talked of the album as being created entirely through friendships. On the downside, there is so much collaboration that on some songs Tomlin can barely be heard.

Florida Georgia Line’s Corey Crowder produced 12 out of the 13 songs, with David Garcia producing one track and Ed Cash co-producing one. The album is also different in that Tomlin is known for writing songs for the church to sing, but most of these songs don’t fall into that category.

The album grew on me with each repeated listen. Below are a few comments about each song:

Thank You Lord (Intro) – This brief song features a gospel choir led by Shannon Sanders that was brought in for the song “Power”.

Thank You Lord – This song was written by Tomlin, Thomas Rhett, Tyler Hubbard, Corey Crowder and David Garcia, and features Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett. Tomlin has said that to have a life of gratitude and thank God for all things – good and hard – that are around us is a major theme of the album. The verses have a country music feel, and the bridge is more worship music, featuring Tomlin. This is a feel-good, sing along song that features hand claps, backing vocals, guitar and drums.
Key lyric:
Praise up, eyes closed
One thing I know
I just wanna thank You Lord, thank You Lord

Reaching For You – This song was written by Tomlin, Shay Mooney and Ed Cash, and features We The Kingdom. This song is probably closest to a traditional Tomlin worship song, featuring keys, synth, backing vocals, drums and guitar.
Key lyric:
And I don’t have to wonder where
My hope is coming from
I lift my hands for who You are
And everything You’ve done

Who You Are To Me – This song was written by Tomlin, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood and features Lady A (formerly known as Lady Antebellum). The song features keys, drums, guitar and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Some people think You’re distant, just some words on a page
That You’re nothing more than fables, handed down along the way
But I’ve seen You part the waters
When no one else could pull me from, the deep
That’s who You are to me

God Who Listens – This song was written by Tomlin, Thomas Rhett, Ashley Gorley and David Garcia, and features Thomas Rhett. The song features guitar, bass, drums, and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
I’m not just hoping
I’m not just wishing
I know I’m praying
To a God who listens
I know He hears me
I know He’s living
Yes, I am praying
To a God who listens

Power – This song was written by Tomlin, Pat Barrett and Ed Cash and features Bear Rinehart, lead singer of NEEDTOBREATHE.  This gospel flavored song, based on Psalms 20 and 121, is one that Tomlin has had for a while, and he teams up well with Rinehart and the gospel choir. This is another song that sounds like a traditional Tomlin worship song.
Key lyric:
There is wonder working power
Holy Spirit power
Great redeeming power
Power in the name
Resurrection power
Bondage breaking power
Power in the name of Jesus

Be The Moon – This song was written by Tomlin, Corey Crowder and Tyler Hubbard, and features Brett Young and Cassadee Pope. Tomlin has said that this song represents the heart of the album. God calls us to be a light in the darkness, and that is what the moon does, reflects the light of the sun amidst night. The easy-going song features backing vocals, drums, guitar and a memorable chorus.
Key lyric:
I wanna be the moon
Up among the stars
Fly around the world
Lighting up the dark at night
I’m nothing without the Son’s amazing grace
On everything I do
If You’re shining on me
I’m shining right back for You
I wanna be the moon

Sing – This song was written by Tomlin, Corey Crowder, Brian Kelley, Tyler Hubbard and Cary Barlowe and features Russell Dickerson (who was formerly Tomlin’s guitar tech on the road for three years), and Florida Georgia Line. The easy-going song features guitar, hand claps, backing vocals, drums and a memorable chorus.
Key lyric:
You make me wanna sing all about Your love
Make me wanna tell the whole world what You’ve done
How You’ve turned my life around, I was lost but now I’m found
You’re the song stuck inside my head all day
Yeah, You make me wanna sing, sing
Sing all about You
Yeah, You make me wanna sing

Chase Me Down – This song was written by Racheal Lynn David, Josh Kerr and Hannah Ellis, and features RaeLynn on lead vocals as Tomlin sings harmony. The song is about how God pursues us, and features keys, synth, guitar, bass, and drums.
Key lyric:
You chase me down when I don’t deserve it
You show me love, You don’t make me earn it
I make a mess and I just start running
Hoping that You won’t know
Oh, when I’m lost and I’m low
In a place that I think You won’t go
You chase me down
You chase me down

Gifts From God – This song was written by Tomlin, Corey Crowder and Tyler Hubbard and features Chris Lane. This was the first song written for the album. It’s about thanking God for those gifts that are the ones money can’t buy. The song features guitar, hand claps, drums, backing vocals, and a memorable chorus and a worshipful bridge.
Key lyric:
The best things in life are straight from His hands
Like the raising kids on a piece of land
A little peace of mind when the day is done
Where you think that comes from? That’s gifts from God

Forever Home – This song was written by Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, Ashley Gorley, Corey Crowder and features Florida Georgia Line. This song features guitar, organ, drums, backing vocals, and a memorable chorus.
Key lyric:
When we get to our forever home
We’ll see beauty like we’ve never known
Angels singing Hallelujah songs
Hard to imagine one day

Together – This song was written by Tomlin, Brian Kelley, Tyler Hubbard, Russell Dickerson and Corey Crowder and features Russell Dickerson. Tomlin has said that the song is about through everything, through the ups and the downs, through the bends in the road, through the valleys and the highs and the lows, God holds us together. The song, which touches on Romans 8:28, features guitar, piano, percussion and a gospel choir.
Key lyric:
Together, together
Your mighty hands are holding me
Together, together
You’re the God that never leaves
When life gets hard, the only Jesus
We fall apart and You’re putting the pieces
Together, together
Thank You, Lord, You hold all things together

Tin Roof – This song was written by Blessing Offor and Natalie Hemby and features Blessing Offor. On an album of superstars, Offor is an unknown blind singer, songwriter and musician from Nigeria, who now lives in Nashville. Offor says about the song “In Nigeria where I grew up, I would lay at night and those African rains would hit the roof. That rain on a tin roof reminds me of home and I think of heaven. That’s what heaven is, home.” The song features Offor and Tomlin singing beautifully over piano and organ.
Key lyric:
They tell me in the promise land
There are mansions to choose
Oh, but I pray Heaven is like rain on a tin roof

Best songs:
Thank You Lord
Who You Are to Me
God Who Listens
Power
Sing
Forever Home
Tin Roof


Great Commission – Sing! The Life of Christ Quintology EP – Keith and Kristyn Getty and Friends
****

Sing! The Life of Christ: Quintology is the fourth album to be released from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Sing! worship music conferences, following 2018’s Sing! Live at The Getty Music Worship Conference and 2019’s Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) and Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live At The Grand Ole Opry House.
The new album is being released in five separate EPs over a period of several months. The project will follow the five main themes of the 2019 Sing! conference – the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Commission, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and include approximately 30 songs. To find out more about my takeaways from the 2019 conference, held in Nashville, read my article “Reflections From the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference here.
The album was recorded at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center, the Grand Ole Opry House and the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Everything that the Gettys and their musical friends do is with excellence. Throughout, the songwriting, singing and musical performances are of a very high quality, especially noteworthy for a live recording.
The fourth EP to be released is on the Great Commission. Below are a few comments about each song:

Facing a Task Unfinished – The original words to this song were written by Frank Houghton, with music by Samuel Wesley. New words and music were written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Ed Cash and Fionan De Barra. This missions hymn originally appeared on the Facing a Task Unfinished album. Lead vocals are handled by Kristyn Getty, backed the conference choir and the incredible Getty band. The drums really stood out on this song.
Key lyric:
We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

May the Peoples Praise You – This joyful song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, David Zimmer, Stuart Townend and Ed Cash, and originally appeared on the Facing a Task Unfinished album. The song is a call to worship and missions. Lead vocals are handled by Kristyn Getty, backed by the conference choir and the Getty band.
Key lyric:
May the peoples praise You
Let the nations be glad
All Your blessing comes
That we may praise
May praise the Name of Jesus

Let the Nations Be Glad – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Aaron Boswell. The song features vocals by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa, and originally appeared on their album His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa, my favorite album of 2019. The song features drums, guitar, bass and the conference choir.   
Key lyric:
Let the nations be glad
Let the people rejoice
For salvation belongs to our God
Let the whole earth be filled
With the praises of the Lord
For salvation belongs to our God
Let the nations be glad

For the Cause – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend and originally appeared on the Facing a Task Unfinished album. The song is on the call to missions and the cause of the Kingdom around the world. Lead vocals are handled by Kristyn Getty, backed by the conference choir and the Getty band. The drums stand out on this song.
Key lyric:
Let it be my life’s refrain:
To live is Christ, to die is gain;
Deny myself, take up my cross
And follow the Son

O Church Arise – This song, a call to the church, was written by Keith Getty, Stuart Townend and Andrew Christopher, and originally appeared on the In Christ Alone album. Lead vocals are handled by Shane and Shane, backed by the conference choir and the Getty band.
Key lyric:
And as the stone is rolled away,
And Christ emerges from the grave,
This victory march continues till the day
Ev’ry eye and heart shall see Him.

By Faith – This song, inspired by Hebrews 11, was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend, and originally appeared on the Awaken the Dawn album. Lead vocals are handled by Kristyn Getty, backed by the conference choir and the Getty band.
Key lyric:
We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight

Best songs
All


Covers EP – Switchfoot 
***

This side project from Switchfoot was recorded during the COVID-19 quarantine period. The band covers six diverse songs, about which Jon Foreman has stated: “There is a commonality in melody, and rhythm, and lyric, and truth that speaks to me even from someone who might look different than myself. This is the beauty of music: it can take us around the world, even when we’re quarantined at home.”
I was not familiar with any of these songs, nor had I heard any music from the artists that are covered here. I approached each song on its lyrical merits and Switchfoot’s performance, which was up to their usual high standards. Here are a few brief comments about each of the songs:
Swim Good – This is a cover of a 2011 song by Frank Ocean. This dark song about a suicide was written by Waynne Nugent, Kevin Risto, Charlie Gambetta and Frank Ocean. It was produced by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The song features bass, keys, guitar and is driven by some exceptional drums from Chad Butler.
Key lyric:
I’m about to drive in the ocean
I’ma try to swim from something bigger than me
Kick off my shoes and swim good, and swim good
Take off this suit and swim good, and swim good, good

Harmony Hall – This is a cover of a 2019 song by Vampire Weekend. The song was written by Ezra Koenig. The song features acoustic and electric guitar, hand claps, backing vocals, and drums. The song, which has themes of power, resistance, and anti-Semitism, is musically more upbeat than the lyrics are.
Key lyric:
And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness
Anybody with a worried mind would never forgive the sight
Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified
I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die

Stupid Deep – This is a cover of a 2018 song by Jon Bellion. The song was written by Travis Mendes, Raul Cubina, Mark Williams, Jon Bellion and Christianne Jensen. It was produced by the Freeman Brothers. The song features guitar, backing vocals, drums and bass. The song speaks to the hole in our hearts, our attempts to fill it, and our continual failure to do so.
Key lyric:
What if who I hoped to be was always me?
And the love I fought to feel was always free?
What if all the things I’ve done
Were just attempts at earning love? Yeah
‘Cause the hole inside my heart is stupid deep, oh, stupid deep

Lucky Man – This is a cover of a 1997 song by the Verve. It was written by Richard Ashcroft. The song begins with acoustic guitar and then builds with drums, electric guitar, bass and backing vocals. The song, which was inspired by Ashcroft’s relationship with his wife, is one that U2’s Bono has said that he wished he would have written.
Key lyric:
Happiness
More or less
It’s just a change in me
Something in my liberty

Lights Up – This is a cover of a 2019 song by Harry Styles. It was written by Kid Harpoon, Tyler Johnson and Harry Styles. The song has a dance beat, featuring guitar, keys, backing vocals, and drums. The song, about freedom, self-reflection and self-discovery, is musically more upbeat than the lyrics are.
Key lyric:
Shine, step into the light
Shine, so bright sometimes
Shine, I’m not ever going back

Sick Boy – This is a cover of a 2018 song by the Chainsmokers. It was written by Tony Ann, Emily Warren, Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart. The song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, drums, guitar and bass. The dark song addresses what if feels like to be alive right now, the struggle of self-identity in a crazy world, and about dealing with anxiety.
Key lyric:
Welcome to the narcissism
Where we’re united under our indifference

My overall assessment is that Switchfoot continues to surprise, not rest on their laurels, be creative, and remain relevant. Jon Foreman’s expressive vocals lead this incredible high energy band. Unfortunately, the songs here didn’t move me like Switchfoot songs do. Although I enjoyed the performances, this is not a project that I will be going back to often.


The Worship Initiative, Vol. 20 – Shane and Shane and Various Artists
****

The latest release from the Worship Initiative features a pleasing combination of excellent songs and performances. Shane and Shane handle lead vocals on four of the songs, with Davy Flowers and Robbie Seay each handling vocals on two songs. I really enjoyed this release. Here are a few brief comments on each song:
Behold the Lamb – This triumphant song was written by Kristian Stanfill, Melodie Malone and Phil Wickham. The lead vocal is performed by Shane and Shane, and the song features piano, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, bass and light drums. The song builds powerfully at the chorus.
Key lyric:
Behold the Lamb
The story of redemption written on His hands
Jesus, You will reign forevermore
The victory is Yours
We sing Your praise
Endless hallelujahs to Your holy name
Jesus, You will reign forevermore
The victory is Yours

The Passion – This praise song was written by Brooke Lingertwood, Chris Davenport and Scott Ligertwood. The lead vocal is performed by Dinah Wright and the song features guitar, drums, bass, piano and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Our chains are gone, our debt is paid
The cross has overthrown the grave
For Jesus’ blood that sets us free
Means death to death and life for me

You Cannot Be Stopped – This joyful song was written by Chris Quilala, Hank Bentley and Phil Wickham. The lead vocal is performed by Davy Flowers, and the song features synth, keys, acoustic guitar, bass, drums and backing vocals. Jesus has triumphed over the grave and the battle is won.
Key lyric:   
Mover of mountains
Breaker of chains
Jesus has triumphed
Over the grave
Sing hallelujah
The battle is won
Nothing can stand
Against our God

His Heart Beats – This triumphant song was written by Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive. The lead vocal is performed by Shane and Shane and the song features acoustic guitar, bass, drums, keys and backing vocals. The song is about Jesus’s heart beginning to beat as he is resurrected. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Key lyric:
He took one breath
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know His heart beats

Jesus, Only Jesus – This song about the sufficiency of Christ was written by Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, Kristian Stanfill, Nathan Nockels and Tony Wood. The lead vocal is performed by Bethany Barnard and the song features synth, piano, drum, and backing vocals, building powerfully.
Key lyric:
Holy, King almighty Lord
Saints and angels all adore
I join with them and bow before
Jesus, only Jesus

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death – This new Easter hymn was written by Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Keith Getty. The lead vocal is performed by Shane and Shane and the song features acoustic guitar, piano, drums, backing vocals, violin, and is about Christ, our only hope.
Key lyric:
O sing hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal;
O sing hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death.
My Victory – This triumphant song was written by Crowder, Darren Mulligan, Ed Cash and Hank Bentley. The lead vocal is performed by Robbie Seay and the song features drums, piano, bass, guitar, and backing vocals, building powerfully. The song is about the victory of Jesus on the cross.
Key lyric:
Oh, Your love bled for me
Oh, Your blood in crimson streams
Oh, Your death is hell’s defeat
A cross meant to kill is my victory

Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) – This triumphant song was written by Mark Hall and Michael Bleecker. The lead vocals are performed by Shane and Shane, and the song features acoustic guitar, piano, bass, drums, strings, and backing vocals, building powerfully at the chorus. One day Jesus is coming, and what a glorious day that will be.
Key lyric:
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

Overcome – This triumphant song about Jesus overcoming the grave, was written by Chris Brown, Mack Brock and Steven Furtick. The lead vocal is performed by Davy Flowers and the song features, guitar, bass, drums, piano and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome
And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

Christ is Risen – This victorious song was written by Brian Johnson, Mack Brock and Phil Wickham. The lead vocal is performed by Robbie Seay and the song features acoustic guitar, bass, drums and piano and backing vocals, building powerfully toward the end of the song.
Key lyric:
Hallelujah, Christ is risen from the grave
Best songs
Behold the Lamb
Christ Our Hope in Life in Death
Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)
Christ is Risen

Rough and Rowdy Ways – Bob Dylan
****

Rough and Rowdy Ways is 79-year-old Bob Dylan’s 39th studio album, and his first of original material since 2012’s Tempest. The title of the album comes from the 1929 song “My Rough and Rowdy Ways” by Jimmie Rodgers. Between Tempest and the new album, Dylan released three albums (one of them being a triple album), of traditional pop standards covers, many of which had been recorded by Frank Sinatra, as well as seven volumes in his ongoing Bootleg Series. The ten new songs here, which cover nearly 71 minutes, have themes of love, mortality, menace, and doom, and make allusions to many historical figures and works of art. Dylan is backed by his touring band, he wrote all songs, and it is assumed that it was self-produced, though there are no producer credits given.
The album, his first album of new material since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, is one of my favorite releases of 2020 thus far. Below are a few comments about each song:
I Contain Multitudes – This was the second song released prior to album’s release. The title comes from Song of Myself, 51 from Walt Whitman. Dylan sings the song beautifully in a low register over an acoustic guitar and cello. He’s a man of contradictions, a man of many moods, he contains multitudes
Key lyric:
I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, the Rolling Stones

False Prophet – This slow blues song was the third song released prior to the album’s release. The song features a gravely Dylan vocal over guitar, bass and drums, and a few excellent guitar solos. The song incorporates a guitar lead and other elements from the B-side of a 1954 single by Billy “The Kid” Emerson, a pianist, singer and composer whose songs were recorded by Elvis Presley and others. The song touches on life, death, love, hatred, and about Dylan himself.
Key lyric:
I ain’t no false prophet
No I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born
And I forgot when I died

My Own Version of You – This slow blues song has Dylan as sort of a Dr. Frankenstein visiting morgues and monasteries collecting body parts in hopes of creating his own version of a past lover, someone who feels the way that he feels. The song features soft percussion, guitar, bass, and an expressive vocal from Dylan.
Key lyric:
I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do
I wanna create my own version of you

I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You – This slower paced song could be a love song, or a song of spiritual awakening. It features acoustic guitar, bass, light percussion, light backing vocals and has a guitar solo mid-song. Traveling is a theme in the song. He can’t bear to live his life alone. He laments that many people he has known are now gone.
Key lyric:
If I had the wings of a snow white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real, a love so true
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

Black Rider – The vocal and music on this song may remind some of Dylan’s recent pop standards albums. The slow song features sparse instrumentation of acoustic guitar and bass, with the focus on Dylan’s vocal. In the song, Dylan addresses a mysterious figure, perhaps Death.
Key lyric:
Black rider, black rider, tell me when, tell me how
If there ever was a time, then let it be now
Let me go through, open the door
My soul is distressed, my mind is at war

Goodbye Jimmy Reed – This blues song features a great beat driven by guitar, drums, bass and harmonica. The song includes a lot of religious imagery.
Key lyric:
For thine is kingdom, the power, the glory
Go tell it on the mountain, go tell the real story
Tell it in that straightforward, puritanical tone
In the mystic hours when a person’s alone

Mother of Muses – This is a slower paced song that features acoustic guitar, bass, and mandolin. The muses may be a reference from Homer’s Odyssey. He sings that he is falling in love with Calliope, one of the nine muses – the muse of poetry – in Greek Mythology. He praises the muses for clearing the path for Presley to sing, and carved the path for Martin Luther King. My least favorite song on the album.
Key lyric:
I’ve already outlived my life by far

Crossing the Rubicon – This slow blues song is about Dylan crossing the Rubicon River, an ancient red river in Italy, that is “three miles north of purgatory, and one step from the great beyond”. He sings:
What are these dark days I see?
In this world so badly bent
I cannot redeem the time
The time so idly spent
How much longer can it last?
How long can it go on?

The song features bass, drums, and some excellent guitar.

Key lyric:
I feel the Holy Spirit inside
See the light that freedom gives
I believe it’s in the reach of
Every man who lives
Keep as far away as possible
It’s darkest ‘fore the dawn (Oh Lord)
I turned the key, I broke it off
And I crossed the Rubicon

Key West (Philosopher Pirate) – This nine-minute, slower paced song, is about an outlaw who is dying and hiding out in Florida. He is alone except for his radio. The song features accordion, bass, and light percussion.
Key lyric:
Key West is the place to be
If you’re looking for immortality
Key West is paradise divine
Key West is fine and fair
If you lost your mind, you’ll find it there
Key West is on the horizon line

Murder Most Foul – Dylan surprised everyone when he released this song at midnight on March 27. The song would top Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales chart, becoming Dylan’s first number one song. The title of the 17-minute song comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Dylan talk/sings over piano, violin and soft percussion. He uses the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the foundation of the song, includes many references to popular culture, and ends with sending out a plea to DJ Wolfman Jack to play the songs of musical legends. In a recent interview, Dylan said “The song is like a painting, you can’t see it all at once if you’re standing too close. The individual pieces are just part of a whole.”
Key lyric:
The day that they killed him, someone said to me,
“Son, the age of the Antichrist has just begun”.

Best songs:
False Prophet
Goodbye Jimmy Reed
Crossing the Rubicon
Murder Most Foul


Blues with Friends – Dion
****

I first became interested in Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dion (DiMucci), who will turn 81 in July, when he recorded five Contemporary Christian music albums between 1980 and 1986. I’ve enjoyed his music ever since.  The liner notes for Blues with Friends are written by Bob Dylan, a friend of Dion since the early 1960’s, when they were both signed to Columbia Records. Dylan writes “Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs, these blues songs. He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these blues songs with him.”
The album has a number of guest artists (Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, etc.), partnering with Dion, with great results. All songs were written by Dion and Mike Aquilina, with the exception of two remakes – “Kickin’ Child 2020” and “Hymn to Him”. The album was produced by Wayne Hood, who also played guitars, bass, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond Organ and drums.
I thoroughly enjoyed this album, one of my favorites of 2020 thus far. Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Blues Comin’ On – This song features Joe Bonamassa on guitar. The song begins with guitar and immediately moves into a driving beat, including a few guitar solos from Bonamassa. Dion offers a strong and confident vocal. An excellent opener.
Kickin’ Child 2020 – This mid-tempo song was written by Dion and Buddy Lucas, and features Joe Menza on guitar. This was the title song of Dion’s “lost album”, recorded in 1965, but not released until 2017. It features a Menza guitar solo mid-song.
Uptown Number 7 – This song features Brian Setzer (Stray Cats) on guitar. The song opens with Setzer’s guitar and immediately moves into a good rockabilly Stray Cats type beat, featuring a few Setzer guitar solos. About the song, Dion said that he wanted to write an old-fashioned gospel song in the style of the Golden Gate Quartet, about moving forward in the spiritual life, having a goal, and facing temptations along the way.
Can’t Start Over Again – This song features Jeff Beck on guitar. The pace slows down on this country blues song. The song is about love and loss and heartache. It features strings and a Beck guitar solo mid-song
My Baby Loves to Boogie – This song features John Hammond, who Dion has been friends with since the 1960’s, on harmonica. This song kicks off with guitar and harmonica and goes right into a driving blues beat. It features a guitar solo mid-song.
I Got Nothin’ – This song features Van Morrison on vocals and Joe Louis Walker on guitar. This song starts with guitar and harmonica and a driving beat. The song, which has Dion and Morrison trading vocals, features some excellent guitar, including a solo mid-song.
Stumbling Blues – This song features Jimmy Vivino on guitar and Jerry Vivino on saxophone. The easy-going song has a melody built on a classic blues progression, with Dion singing in a lower register, and also includes some piano and strings.
Bang Bam Boom – This song features Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top) on guitar. This song is driven by guitar and bass, and features some background vocals. Caroline saved his soul and eased his worried mind.
I Got the Cure – This song features Sonny Landreth, an incredible guitarist, who I saw in concert as a part of John Hiatt’s band two years ago. The song has Dion bragging about what he can do, he’s got the cure. The song features guitar, drums and some excellent horns. The song features a few guitar solos by Landreth.
Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America) – This is a powerful song that touches on racism in America that Dion began many years ago. It includes reference to his walking southern streets with Cooke in 1962. He would put the song aside because he thought it was too personal, until he saw the 2018 Oscar winning film Green Book. The mid-tempo song features acoustic guitar, violin, and Paul Simon on backing vocals.
What If I Told You – This song features Samantha Fish on guitar. The song is about suspicion. It is driven by Fish’s excellent guitar work and drums.
Told You Once in August – This song features John Hammond on guitar and Rory Block on slide guitar and vocals. This song has an Appalachian blues feel, and is about the anger of a man who gradually realizes that he’s been done wrong by his woman.
Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More) – This up-tempo song features Stevie Van Zandt on grunge guitar. He’s been way down but won’t stay long. The song features some excellent guitar from Van Zandt.
Hymn to Him – This song was written by Dion and Bill Tuohy, and features Patti Scialfa on vocals and Bruce Springsteen on guitar. The mid-tempo song was originally recorded on Dion’s 1986 album Velvet and Steel. Springsteen surprised Dion by coming into the studio and asking to play a guitar solo on the song.
Key lyric:
Come to Him through the darkness
Come to Him through the rain
Walk with Him from misfortune
Walk with Him from the pain

Best songs:
Blues Comin’ On
Uptown Number 7
I Got Nothin’
Bang Bam Boom
Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)
Hymn to Him

Go – John Schlitt
****

I first heard the incredible voice of John Schlitt in 1975 when I was a freshman in college and he was the lead singer of Head East. Their album Flat as a Pancake had two singles that were getting a lot of play on the radio – “Never Been Any Reason” and “Love Me Tonight”. I was excited when I heard that Schlitt had joined the Christian band Petra as lead singer in 1986. During his tenure with the band, Petra earned 10 Dove Awards and four Grammys. Schlitt has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame as the lead singer of Petra. Now, 45 years after Flat as a Pancake, and at age 70, he has released Go, his sixth solo album, and his voice still sounds amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed this new album, mostly made up of rockers.

Here are a few comments about each song:

Go – This up-tempo song was written by Schlitt and Mark Lee Townsend, with Townsend producing. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, electric guitar and drums. Petra’s John Lawry is among those adding backing vocals. The song addresses the question of what our path is. There is no time to stop. Take your shot and keep moving on. An excellent opener.

Feel It – This rocker was written by Schlitt, Scott Bernard and Dan Needham, and produced by Needham. The song features electric guitar, drums, backing vocals from Needham, and a nice guitar solo mid-song. When you feel like you are losing control, all you have to do is to have a little faith.
Takin’ It Higher – This rocker was written by Schlitt, Scott Bernard and Dan Needham, and produced by Needham. The song begins with some nice electric guitar and then drums are added. Needham adds backing vocals and Bernard a guitar solo. The song is about holding on with what you’ve got. Keep pressing on, and never stop. You’ll find your way. No matter what they say, take it higher, every day.
Fighting the Fight – This mid-tempo song was written by Schlitt and Ryan Horn, and produced by Petra’s John Lawry, who also adds backing vocals, keyboards and bass. The song features a nice guitar solo by Paul Brannon. The song is about living the Christian life and fighting the fight with the Lord’s help.
Key lyrics:
Looking forward I will run the race
Heading to the finish line
Where I see You face to face
With angels shouting cheers
I’ll run to the light
With all I got, I’ll never stop
I’ll never give in
I’ll keep fighting the fight
Just Let Go – This rocker was written by Schlitt, Jeff King and Dan Needham who also produced the song, in addition to adding backing vocals and drums. The song features guitar, drums, keyboards and some nice guitar from Jeff King. The song addresses that where we go from here isn’t so clear. Are you willing to let go of what is for what might be? Just grab hold of something new and be set free.
Time Keeps Rollin’ – This rocker was written by Schlitt and Mark Lee Townsend who also produced the song. John Lawry plays keyboards is among those providing backing vocals. The song features drums, guitar and backing vocals. The older you get the faster time moves. You need to know where you’re going to spend eternity.
Where Would I Be – This gospel flavored rocker was written by Schlitt and Chuck Anderson and was produced by John Lawry, who also adds keyboards and backing vocals. The song begins with keys and hand claps, and features guitar, bass, drums and backing vocals. The song addresses where he would be if the Lord hadn’t saved him. Amazing grace keeps setting him free.
Find a Way – This easy-going song was written by Schlitt, Scott Faircloff and Dan Needham, who also produced the song, in addition to adding backing vocals, drums and guitar. The song opens with acoustic guitar, percussion and features some nice backing vocals. It has taken him so long to see the truth and find the Lord, he doesn’t want to waste any more time in finding the road that leads to Heaven.
Fake News – This rocker was written by Schlitt and John Lawry, who also produced the song and added keyboards and backing vocals. The song features guitar, drums, keyboards and backing vocals. He calls on God to help with the fake news we are exposed to.
Key lyrics:
Where is the truth?
Where has it gone?
Where is the trust?
What’s goin’ on? 

Let’s Go – This rocker was written by Schlitt, Scott Faircloff and Dan Needham, and was produced by Needham, who also added drums and guitar. It features guitar backing vocals, hand claps and a guitar solo. The song continues the theme of the song “Go”, when he sings that there is no time to hesitate, it’s time to go.
Not Dead Yet – This rocker was written by Schlitt, Jerry McPherson and Dan Needham, who also produces the song and adds backing vocals, keyboards and drums. The song is driven by drums and guitar by McPherson, and features bass and backing vocals. The 70-year-old Schlitt sings that you might think he’s washed up, but he’s still in the game, just getting started. He encourages all of us to live each moment like it was meant for us.
Best songs:
Go
Feel It
Where Would I Be
Find a Way


United: Live – Newsboys
***

In the spring of 2018, former Newsboys lead singer Peter Furler and former bassist Phil Joel joined the then current Newsboy lineup of Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips, Jeff Frankenstein and Jody Davis for a Newsboys reunion tour. That resulted in the album United, one of my top albums of 2019 (see my review here).
Since reuniting, the Newsboys “United” lineup has played more than 250 concerts to date. Now, less than a year since the release of United, the band has released an EP of five songs (and accompanying videos) from the album recorded on their recent Greatness of Our God tour.
Below are a few comments about each song:
Greatness of Our God – This worship song about the greatness of God, was written by Bryan Fowler, Colby Wedgeworth and Ethan Hulse. Furler and Tait share lead vocals on the song, which was the biggest hit from United. Phillips drums stand out on the upbeat song.
Symphony – This upbeat song was written by Bryan Fowler, Colby Wedgeworth and Ethan Hulse. The voices of Furler and Tait blend well on this prayer, and Phillips’ drums particularly stand out.
Key lyrics:
So, let my life be, let my life be
A symphony, a symphony
Every breath that I breathe
Lord I wanna bring You glory, glory

Love One Another – This song, based on Jesus’ words in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”, was written by Duncan Sparks, Furler and Steve Taylor, and features Tait’s former DC Talk bandmate Kevin Max on vocals. The upbeat song opens with guitar and then moves right into a good driving beat.
Only the Son (Yeshua) – This worship song was written by Seth Mosely, Peter Furler and Summer Furler. An early version of the song (“Yeshua”), appeared on the Peter Furler Band’s 2014 album Sun and Shield. A new chorus “Only the Sun” has been added. The song features some good guitar from Davis. Tait and Furler share vocals and their vocals blend well on the memorable chorus.
Beautiful Story – This song was written by Andrew Holt, Mia Fieldes and Robert Marvin and features Tait on vocals. The power ballad begins with piano and builds with guitars, bass and drums.
The bridge brings in Romans 8:28 “You work all things together for good.”
Key lyrics:
You write a beautiful story
From glory to glory I believe 

Like Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin and others, the Newsboys have released a live EP of songs from a recent album. The live performances and production on this project are excellent, but if you have the United album, I’m not sure you’re going to want to purchase United: Live, at least the audio version, as the performances don’t differ that much from the original release.


Hymns in the Round – Shane and Shane
****

The latest project from the duo Shane and Shane is an album of ten hymns and worship songs from acoustic studio sessions held in Dallas in November, 2019. Most (eight of ten) songs included here were also included on their 2019 Hymns Vol. 2 album. The difference here is that the songs are performed “unplugged”.

Below are a few comments about each song:

Praise to the Lord (Joyful, Joyful) – “Praise to the Lord Almighty” was written by Joachim Neander in 1680. “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” was written by Henry J. van Dyke in 1907. The song features acoustic guitar, piano, bass, backing vocals, banjo (giving it a bit of a NEEDTOBREATHE sound), cello/fiddle, and light drums.
My Jesus I Love Thee – This hymn was written by William R. Featherston in 1864. It features acoustic guitar, bass, cello/fiddle, light percussion, piano and backing vocals.
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Amazing Grace) – “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” was written by Hellen Howard Lemme in 1922. “Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals, cello/fiddle, synth, light percussion, and piano.
Living Waters (As the Deer) – “Living Waters” was written by Kristyn Getty and Ed Cash. “As the Deer” was written by Martin Nystrom. The song features some nice percussion and banjo, cello/fiddle, piano, acoustic guitar, bass and backing vocals. “Living Waters” has a nice beat and country music sound.
Ancient of Days – This song was written by Jonny Robinson, Rich Thompson, Michael Farren and Jesse Reeves. It features acoustic guitar, cello/fiddle, piano, backing vocals and drums. This is a bit of a slower version of the song than CityAlight’s.
Be Thou My Vision (Lord You Are) – “Be Thou My Vision” is an 8th century Irish hymn that was translated by Eleanor Hull in 1912. “Lord You Are (More Precious Than Silver)” was written by Lynn DeShazoThe song features acoustic guitar, synth, piano, drums, bass, cello/fiddle, backing vocals and banjo.
Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Michael Bleeker. It features acoustic guitar, synth, cello/fiddle, bass, percussion and backing vocals. The song builds powerfully towards the end.
Oh Lord Almighty – This song, which may be less familiar to many, was written by Jon Able and Shane Barnard. It includes an excellent lead vocal, acoustic guitar, synth, drums, bass, piano, and backing vocals.
Power of The Cross – This song was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. It features, synth, piano, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, bass, drums and cello/fiddle.
All I Have is Christ – This song was written by Jordan Kauflin. It features an excellent lead vocal, acoustic guitar, cello/fiddle, bass, backing vocals and light drums.

Best songs:
Living Waters (As the Deer)
Ancient of Days
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery
All I Have is Christ

The Lost Demos – TobyMac
****

This surprise EP is the result of TobyMac digging through old laptops and hard drives during this Covid-19 quarantine period, and realizing that he had some good songs there that had not been released. These were songs that had not been included on previous albums for one reason or another.
Don’t let the word “Demos” in the album’s title scare you away. These are excellent songs, with the level of writing, performance and production you would expect from TobyMac.

Below are a few comments about each song:
On Your Own – This song from 2017 was written and produced by Christopher Stevens and TobyMac. The song is about the fact that we will never be on own our own, as God will always be there with us. The song has a good beat, driven by keys, finger snaps, drums and backing vocals.
Drivin’ Me – This song from 2016 was written by David Garcia, Mat Kearney, Robert Marvin and TobyMac. The song was produced by Garcia and TobyMac. The song is about God being in control of his life through every twist and turn that the world brings. The easy-going song, which begins with a Mat Kearney feel guitar, features keys, finger snaps, bass, percussion, backing vocals and a catchy chorus.
The Real You – This 2018 song was written and produced by Christopher Stevens and TobyMac. The passionate song is about Toby’s relationship with his son Truett (who died October 23, 2019). He’d not been himself, the pain had him acting like someone else. The song features bass, drums and keys.
Rich – This upbeat 2016 song was written by Bryan Fowler, Mr. Talkbox and TobyMac. It was produced by Fowler and TobyMac and features Mr. Talkbox. Rather than the riches of this world, he wants to be rich in love, loaded with friends and family. The easy-going beat features keys, finger snaps, bass, drums, horns, backing vocals and a memorable chorus.
Home – This 2017 song was written and produced by Dave Lubben and TobyMac. This song is about Toby being lost without God’s love, so he’s coming home. The song has a good beat, driven by keys, finger snaps, bass and percussion.
Key lyric:
I don’t know how You’ve been so patient
With this one-sided arrangement
Woulda washed my hands and called it history
But You pursue with such intention
It’s beyond my comprehension
To see the love I took for granted come after me

Love of My Life – This 2014 song (the oldest on the EP), was written by Cary Barlowe, David Garcia, Jesse Frasure and TobyMac and produced by Garcia and TobyMac. This upbeat song is about his total dependence on God, though it is also one of those songs that could be a song to his wife instead. (“I-I-I remember the first time I met You (Met You), My heart raged, jumped out my Earth suit”). The driving beat is driven by guitar, bass, percussion and backing vocals.
Fighting for Your Life – This 2017 song was written and produced by Bryan Fowler and TobyMac. This is a song to his wife. He will be the last man standing by her, fighting for her heart. The chorus features a memorable beat, driven by keys, percussion, horns and backing vocals.

Best songs:
Drivin’ Me
Rich
Home

Resurrection – Sing! The Life of Christ Quintology – Keith and Kristyn Getty and Friends
****

Sing! The Life of Christ: Quintology is the fourth album to be released from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Sing! worship music conferences, following 2018’s Sing! Live at The Getty Music Worship Conference and 2019’s Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) and Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live At The Grand Ole Opry House.
The new album is being released in five separate EPs over a period of several months. The project will follow the five main themes of the 2019 Sing! conference – Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Commission, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and include 30 songs. To find out more about my takeaways from the 2019 conference, held in Nashville, read my article “Reflections From the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference here.
The album was recorded at the Gaylord Hotel Convention Center, the Grand Ole Opry House and the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Everything that the Gettys and their musical friends do is with excellence. Throughout, the songwriting, singing and musical performances are of a very high quality, especially noteworthy for a live recording.
The third EP to be released is on the Resurrection. Below are a few comments about each song:

Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed – This joyful song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Ed Cash, and features Shane and Shane on vocals. The song originally appeared on the Hymns for the Christian Life album. I enjoyed the backing vocals on the song. This is really outstanding version of the song.
Key lyric:
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!
Oh, sing hallelujah.
Join the chorus, sing with the redeemed;
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death – This wonderful new Easter hymn was written by Keith Getty, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Papa, Matt Boswell and Matt Merker. This song was recently released, and thus is not from the 2019 Sing! conference, as are the other songs. Matt Papa handles the lead vocals. The song features piano, drums and backing vocals. This is sure to be a worship classic.
Key lyric:
O sing hallelujah
Our hope springs eternal
O sing hallelujah, now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death
Now and ever we confess

Christ our hope in life and death

Come People of the Risen King – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend. The song originally appeared on the Awaken the Dawn album. The joyful song features drums and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Rejoice, rejoice
Let every tongue rejoice
One heart, one voice
Oh, church of Christ rejoice

Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Matt Papa, Luke Brown and Aaron Keyes. The song originally appeared on The North Coast Sessions EP. It was a song that I immediately liked with its memorable chorus. The song soars over synth, bagpipe sound, guitar, drums and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Magnificent, marvelous, matchless love
Too vast and astounding to tell

Forever existing in worlds above
Now offered and given to all

I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130) – This song was written by Jordan Kauflin, Keith Getty, Matt Merker and Stuart Townend and features Jordan Kauflin on vocals. The song originally appeared on The North Coast Sessions EP. The song, which is a prayer, opens and closes with singing over bagpipe sounds. The main part of the song features piano, backing vocals and drums.
Key lyric:
I will wait for You
I will wait for You
On Your word I will rely
I will wait for You
Surely wait for You
Till my soul is satisfied

Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God – This song was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The song originally appeared on the Hymns for the Christian Life album.
The song, a prayer, features some beautiful violin, piano and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Holy Spirit, come abide within,
May Your joy be seen in all I do.

Best songs
All

Christ Be All EP – Grace Worship
****

Grace Worship is the worship ministry of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, where Kevin King is the worship leader and Bryan Chapell has served as senior pastor since 2013. The songs feature theologically rich lyrics with soaring melodies. Chris Zobac produced the EP, which is one of my favorite releases of 2020 thus far. Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Unlimited Grace – In 2016, Bryan Chapell wrote an excellent book Unlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry That Frees from Sin and Fuels the Christian Life (see my review here). For this song, Chapell wrote verse lyrics that went along with the theme of the book, and King wrote the chorus and music. King handles the lead vocal. The song features piano, drums and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Glory, glory hallelujah!
Jesus Christ has saved my soul;
Though I once stood as a sinner,
For me, blood was shed,
Yes, his love has bled,
Now I stand in unlimited grace.  

Psalm of Thanksgiving – This song was written by Kevin King. It has a Crowder-like electronic/pop feel. The song is joyful and about thankfulness, and features guitar, finger snaps, backing vocals and some nice drums.
Key lyric:
Whom have I in heaven but You?
Nothing on earth can out shine You.
Bones may break and spirits crumble,
But God remains my strength
And I am His forever.

Christ Be All (studio) – This song was written and sung by Kevin King. The song incorporates words from Andrew Murray’s classic book Humility. The song is meant to help worshippers express, along with the Apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), as they sing, “May Christ be all and I be nothing.” King has said with the song he was seeking to have the worshiper understand through song that it is to our joy to ‘become nothing’ (Philippians 2:7) as Jesus did; to lose our lives so we can find them in Him.
A great song, both lyrically and musically, and one of my favorites of 2020.
Key lyric:
May Christ be all, and I be nothing,
His glory shines in vessels weak;
May Christ be all, and I be nothing,
This is my hope:
Not I, but Christ in me.

The Love of God – This hymn was written by Frederick Lehman in 1917. Bryan Chapell wrote a new verse for the song, the second verse. This new arrangement by Kevin King brings a somewhat somber feel to the song, with the female vocal over drums and excellent piano and strings.

Calvary’s Anthem – This song was written by Bryan Chapell and Kevin King, incorporating lyrics from Robert Lowry’s hymn “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus” in the chorus. The song, sung by King, invites worshippers to celebrate Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross of Calvary. This is a beautiful hymn for congregational singing and features piano, strings, drums, horns, and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
At the cross You opened fully,
Heaven’s heart poured out completely,
Angels singing, hell now fleeing,
Roars of saints shout, “Christ, our vic-t’ry!”

Christ Be All (live) – This is a nice live version of the title song.

Best Songs
Unlimited Grace
Psalm of Thanksgiving
Christ Be All
Calvary’s Anthem

Illumination – Phil Keaggy and Rex Paul
****

Phil Keaggy is one of the most respected guitarists of this generation, and has been a long-time favorite of mine. His last vocal album, 2016’s All at Once, was one of my top albums of that year. He returns with a new vocal album collaboration with Rex Paul Schnelle. The two first met in the mid-1980’s. They collaborated on the song “I Love the Way You Love Me” on All at Once, which led to this collaboration.
The album features five songs that Keaggy and Paul wrote together, four new versions of Keaggy classics, and one song that each artist collaborated on with others. The album was recorded at the artist’s home studios. The two-guitar approach, strong vocals, and fresh production by Paul, makes for an enjoyable listening experience. Keaggy’s vocals are outstanding, and he sounds as good as he did in the 1980’s.

Below are a few comments about each of the songs:
Don’t Hold Back. This song was written by Paul and Keaggy. The song features excellent guitars, including a few solos and drums. Keaggy takes the lead vocal. The song is based on Matthew 25:20 and Jesus’ words “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” We are to love the least of these until judgment day and not hold back the love in our heart from our fellow man in need.
Calling Us Home. This song was written by Paul and Keaggy. The song opens with acoustic guitar. Paul and Keaggy share lead vocals, and their voices blend well on backing vocals. God is calling us home to stay, and we will worship the King. There is a guitar solo mid-song.
Time. This song was written by Keaggy and first appeared on his 1976 album Love Broke Thru. Keaggy handles lead vocals on this rocker, which opens with strong drums, which are soon joined by electric guitar. His name is time and he’s coming to an end. Jesus died for you to set you free. Where will you be when time ends? The song features a few guitar solos.
Nothing Can Separate Us. This song was written by Paul and Keaggy. It is based on Romans 8:35-39 which tells us that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The mid-tempo song starts with guitar and a good drum driven beat. Keaggy handles the lead vocals and their voices blend nicely on backing vocals. There is a guitar solo mid-song.
Glorify Your Name. This worship song was written by Paul and Keaggy. It opens with Beatle-like guitars, followed quickly by drums. Keaggy handles the lead vocals, and their voices blend well on the backing vocals. From creation to the cross, we can trust in His salvation and glorify His name. There is a guitar solo mid-song.
Let Everything Else Go. This beautiful song was written by Keaggy. It’s one of his personal favorites, and one of his most-requested songs in concert. It originally appeared on the 1980 album Town to Town album, later appearing on Way Back Home and Live from Kegworth. The song opens with piano and acoustic guitar. Keaggy handles lead vocals and the song builds on the chorus with backing vocals.
Oh, I can’t wait to see you Jesus, face to face,
Nothing in this world can take Your place.

The song features a few nice guitar solos. Nothing can compare with what You are, let everything else go. A highlight.
I Believe. This mid-tempo song was written by Paul and Keaggy. Keaggy was on tour with Glass Harp in 1971 and had been working on what would eventually become this song, but all he had left was the chorus of the song. Keaggy handles the lead vocals, with good backing vocals. The song is about the early days of a new believer. I believe and I have a reason to live. The song features a few guitar solos.
Spend My Life With You. This song was written by Keaggy and appeared on his 1980 album Ph’lip Side. The easy-going and joyful song is driven by acoustic guitar. Keaggy handles lead vocals and the song builds with backing vocals on the chorus. The song closes with an acoustic guitar solo.
Key lyrics:
‘Cause there’s a home in my heart
And I believe the day is coming
When we’ll never be apart.
Just to be where you are,
And to spend my live with you
Would be a perfect start.

You Never Know. This song was written by Tom Douglas and Paul. Paul and Keaggy trade lead vocals and their voices blend well on the chorus. You’ll never know who you might meet on a bus. The song references Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. The song closes with a guitar solo.
Full Circle. This song was written by Keaggy and originally appeared on his Town to Town album. The joyful song opens with acoustic guitar, drums and a bit of organ.  The Lord took his hand and led him out of the darkness. With one touch of His hand he was made a newborn man. He has come full circle in his life. The song features a few guitar solos. Another favorite.
Day of the Lord. This song was written by Bryan Clark and Keaggy. The song features drums, guitars, including solos, and organ. In this world we face hardships (hunger, poverty, homelessness, suffering, sorrow, etc.). But one day death will be swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:55), so set your mind on things that will last (Colossians 3:2).
Key lyrics:
The art of life in living is loving the best that you can.
Lend your neighbor a hand
Let us be forgiving, the day of the Lord is at hand.

A Great Adventure: Live Solo Performances of Timeless Hits by Steven Curtis Chapman
****

The latest project from Steven Curtis Chapman, which arrived less than two months after his Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows album, comes in both a DVD and audio recording format, filmed and recorded at the Gaither Studios in Alexandria, Indiana. The album version chronicles Chapman’s life in song through live solo acoustic performances of some of his most popular songs, but no between song comments. Chapman has toured extensively performing solo concerts the past few years, and is very comfortable performing his songs backed only with his acoustic guitar. Listening to these songs, originally released between 1987 and 2018, reminds the listener of the blessing his music has been for more than thirty years now.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs (who wrote them and on which album they first appeared):
Lord of The Dance/No Better Place – “Lord of the Dance” (which he refers to as Chapter 1) was written by Chris Clark, Stephen Kipner and John Parker, and originally appeared on Chapman’s 1996 album Songs of Life. “No Better Place” (which he refers to as Chapter 2) was written by Phil Naish and Chapman, and originally appeared on his 1990 album For the Sake of the Call.
Remember to Remember – This song was written by Chapman and released as a single in 2018. This is the first time it has been available on an album.
The Great Adventure – This song was written by Geoff Moore and Chapman and originally appeared on his 1992 album The Great Adventure.
He Touched Me/There’s Something About That Name/Because He Lives – This is a medley of songs written by Bill and Gloria Gaither.
More to This Life – This song was written by Phil Naish and Chapman and originally appeared on his 1989 album More to This Life.
Be Still and Know – This song was written by Chapman and originally appeared on his 1999 album Speechless.
I Will Be Here – This song was written by Chapman and originally appeared on his 1989 album More to This Life.
Cinderella – This song was written by Chapman and originally appeared on his 2007 album This Moment.
Glorious Unfolding – This song was written by Chapman and originally appeared on his 2013 album The Glorious Unfolding.
Together – This song was written by Chapman and originally appeared on his 2013 album The Glorious Unfolding.
His Strength Is Perfect – This song was written by Chapman and originally on his 1988 album Real Life Conversations.
When Love Takes You In – This song was written by Chapman and originally appeared on his 2001 album Declaration.
My Redeemer Is Faithful and True – This song was written by James Isaac Elliot and Chapman and originally appeared on his 1987 album First Hand.

American Standard – James Taylor
****

American Standard is James Taylor’s 19th studio album, and first new album since 2015’s Before This World. The songs on the album are songs he has always known. He writes in the liner notes that most were part of his family’s record collection, the first music he heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina.
Work on the album began a little over two years ago when John Pizzarelli joined Taylor at the Barn, his recording studio in Massachusetts to work on a few songs. Taylor loved the sound of their two guitars together, and that forms the basic sound of these songs, giving it the feel of Taylor’s early recordings. As he reinterprets these songs, he is supported by his regular family of players who tour and record with him, as well as contributions from Viktor Krauss (upright bass), Stuart Duncan (violin) and Jerry Douglas (dobro). The album is produced by Taylor, along with Dave O’Donnell and John Pizzarelli.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:

My Blue Heaven. This song was written by Walter Donaldson and George A. Whiting in 1924. The song was used in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927. The upbeat song is driven by acoustic guitar and features violin and bass and a nice violin solo mid-song.
Moon River. This song was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer in 1960. It was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, winning the Oscar for Best Original Song. Later it would become Andy Williams’ theme song. This song is driven by acoustic guitar and features what sounds like a harmonica solo mid-song.
Teach Me Tonight. This song was written by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn in 1953. The song is driven by acoustic guitar and features light percussion, bass, and features a nice horn solo mid-song.
As Easy as Rolling Off a Log. This song was written by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl, a song featured in Katnip Kollege, a 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon that Taylor first discovered as a child. The upbeat song is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass, a nice horn solo mid-song and closes with some whistling.
Almost Like Being in Love. This song was written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner in 1947 for their musical Brigadoon. This easy-going song is driven by acoustic guitar and features backing vocals, and a horn solo mid-song.
Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. This song was written by Frank Loesser in 1950, and was introduced in the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. This upbeat song is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass, light percussion, and backing vocals.
The Nearness of You. This song was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington in 1938. The song is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass, horns, including a nice horn solo mid-song.
You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught. This song was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1949 for the musical South Pacific. The song is driven by acoustic guitar and features violin.
God Bless the Child. This song was written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. in 1941. It is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass, light percussion, and features a nice guitar solo mid-song.
Pennies from Heaven. This song was written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke in 1936, appearing in the film of the same name. The upbeat song is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass, horn and some nice Hammond B3 organ.
My Heart Stood Still. This song was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1927. It was written for the Charles Cochran review One Dam Thing After Another. The song is driven by acoustic guitar and features violin, light percussion and bass.
Ol’ Man River. This song was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1927, and appeared in the musical Show Boat. The slow-paced song is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass, with Taylor offering an expressive vocal.
It’s Only a Paper Moon. This song was written by Harold Arlen, Yip Hardburg and Billy Rose in 1932. The song was originally written for the unsuccessful Broadway play The Great Magoo. This easy-going song is driven by acoustic guitar and features bass and backing vocals.
The Surrey with the Fringe on Top. This song was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1943 and appeared in the musical Oklahoma!  The song is driven by acoustic guitar, and features vocals Taylor’s wife Caroline.

Best songs:
Teach Me Tonight
As Easy as Rolling Off a Log
It’s Only a Paper Moon
Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat
Pennies from Heaven

More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 – Bob Dylan
****

Blood on the Tracks was the first Bob Dylan album I bought new. I had the iconic album cover on the wall of my basement apartment my Dad had built for me to live in during college. Little did I know then that the album had quite the recording history. The songs were primarily written by Dylan on his farm in Minnesota while his marriage to Sara was disintegrating. He started the recording process by working solo with engineer Phil Ramone in New York City in September, 1974. Ramone then brought in the band Deliverance to back Dylan, but that collaboration didn’t work well. Dylan chose to record the rest of the material over the four days of recording in NYC with Deliverance bassist Tony Brown. Still not satisfied, and with only a month to go before the album was to be released, in December Dylan’s brother set up two days of recordings in Minnesota with local musicians while Dylan was still tweaking lyrics. The original Blood on the Tracks album contained five songs from the NYC sessions and five from the Minnesota sessions.
Something I wasn’t aware of was that Dylan had asked Ramone to speed up the mix 3%. Ramone also added a bit of a studio echo. The songs on More Blood, More Tracks removes the accelerated mix and echo.
Like most of the Bootleg Series, this fourteenth volume comes in different configurations, including a 6 CD, 87 tracks limited edition version. I purchased the single CD compilation of alternate versions of the album’s 10 songs plus one that wasn’t included, “Up to Me” from the NYC sessions. The recordings are acoustic and intimate and will be enjoyed by Dylan fans. “Up to Me” fits well with the rest of the originally released songs on the album. Dylan has always included biblical imagery in his songs. “Up to Me” includes the interesting verse:
We heard the Sermon on the Mount and I knew it was too complex
It didn’t amount to anything more than what the broken glass reflects

When you bite off more than you can chew you pay the penalty
Somebody’s got to tell the tale, I guess it must be up to me

Live from the NATIVE TONGUE Tour – Switchfoot
***

This six-song EP, from Switchfoot was recorded live at the Tabernacle in Atlanta on the band’s Native Tongue tour. It once again proves that Switchfoot is an excellent live band. Here are a few comments about each song.
Native Tongue – This song was written by Tim Foreman, Jon Foreman and Brent Kutzle. It starts with Jon telling the crowd that rather than fear, hatred, and retaliation, love is our native tongue. The song has a great beat, beginning with Jon singing over hand claps and light drums before a driving drum comes in. The song includes some effective backing vocals. I really appreciated the Chad Butler’s drums on the song. Tim Foreman’s bass comes through on this version more so than it did on the studio version. There is also a nice guitar solo on the song. Where did we go wrong, we forgot our song? He wants the world to sing in her native tongue and use our lungs for love.
Voices – This song was written by Brent Kutzle, Jon Foreman, Ryan Tedder, Tim Foreman and Tyler Spry. The song, which was inspired by a homeless man at the beach, begins with some excellent electric guitar, before Jon’s vocal kicks in. Butler’s drums drive an excellent beat, which features Jerome Fontamillas’ keys. In the catchy chorus, Jon sings of having an army of voices in his head. Each moment is crowded with choices, which speak to him and drown out the voices. There are also some good backing vocals on the song.
Let it Happen – This song was written by Jon Foreman. The song features crashing guitars and driving drums, over Jon’s lead vocal. Backing vocals join him for the chorus and there is a nice guitar solo mid-song. This life seems hollow and mostly borrowed. He doesn’t know the meaning and his body is aching. He doesn’t know what is going to happen tomorrow but he trusts God with his future. Excellent song and performance.
Take My Fire – This song was written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The song begins with drums, then distorted guitar.  Satan is never going to take his fire, his love for God. The defiant, guitar-driven rocker features a brief guitar solo and slows down mid-song before a powerful ending.
All I Need – This song was written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The band sings the song around one microphone to bring it back to where it all began. You can hear the crowd singing along. The love song begins with acoustic guitar, before keys, bass and drums are added later in the song. The chorus is memorable as he sings that all he needs is the air he breathes, the time they share and the ground beneath his feet.  He wants to know if she believes in him.
Native Tongue – This is another version of the first song on the EP. Chad Butler’s drum work really stands out on this song. It is a bit of a different version of the song, but I question why the band would include two versions of the same song on a six-song EP.

Sing! The Life of Christ Quintology: Passion (EP)
****

Sing! The Life of Christ: Quintology is the fourth album to be released from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Sing! worship music conferences, following 2018’s Sing! Live at The Getty Music Worship Conference and 2019’s Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) and Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live At The Grand Ole Opry House.

The new album will be released in five separate EPs over the next several months. The project will follow the five main themes of the 2019 Sing! conference – Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Commission, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and include 30 songs. To find out more about my takeaways from the 2019 conference, held in Nashville, read my article “Reflections From the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference here.
The album was recorded at the Gaylord Hotel Convention Center, the Grand Ole Opry House and the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Everything that the Gettys and their musical friends do is with excellence. Throughout, the songwriting, singing and musical performances are of a very high quality, especially noteworthy for a live recording.

The second EP to be released is on the Incarnation. Below are a few comments about each song:

The Power of the Cross – This worship song, one of the Getty’s best, was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. This wonderful version of the song was performed at the Bridgestone Arena. It is preceded by Jackie Hill Perry performing an original spoken word piece with flute accompaniment by Pedro Eustache. Kristyn Getty handles lead vocals, backed by the choir and the Getty Band – piano by Keith Getty, bass, drums, violin, etc. – as the song builds powerfully.     
Key lyric:
This, the pow’r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

My Worth Is Not in What I Own (At the Cross) – This song was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick. The song was performed at the Bridgestone Arena, and features Fernando Ortega and Kristyn Getty sharing lead vocals. The song features Ortega on piano, backed by the Getty band – beautiful cello, violin, drums, and choir.
Key lyric:
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross 

My Savior’s Love (What Tongue Could Tell) – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Keith Getty. It was performed by Matt Papa, backed by choir, piano, drums and bass. I enjoyed the ending of the song, with the chorus being sung acapella.   
Key lyric:
What tongue could tell my Savior’s love
What song of angels could describe
Could endless praises be enough
To echo full His sacrifice

His Mercy is More – This song has been one of my favorites since being introduced to it at the Sing! 2018 Conference. It was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song was performed at the Bridgestone Arena. Matt Papa and Matt Boswell share the lead vocals, backed by piano, drums, guitar, bass, violin, and choir. 
Key lyric:
Praise the Lord!
His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness; new every morn;
Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more.

He Will Hold Me Fast – This song was written by Ada Habershon and Matt Merker. The song was performed by Selah during the “Hymn Sing” at the Grand Ole Opry House. Selah is backed by piano, a beautiful cello and choir.
Key lyric:
Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
Till our faith is turned to sight
When he comes at last

Let There Be Wonder – Matt Redman
****

Let There Be Wonder is worship leader, singer/songwriter Matt Redman’s fourteenth album, and first since 2017’s Glory Song. The album was produced by Jacob Sooter and Joshua Silverberg, and was recorded live in front of more than 1,000 people at Free Chapel in Orange County, California. Redman wrote all of the songs, collaborating with writers and friends such as Sooter, Phil Wickham, Hillsong’s Joel Houston, Jason Ingram, Pat Barrett, Corey Voss, Andi Rozier (Vertical Church Band), Jon Guerra, and Brandon Lake, who also appears on the project along with Evan Craft.

I really enjoyed this album of live worship. Below are a few comments about each song:
The Same Jesus – This joyful song was written by Redman, Jacob Sooter and Josh Silverberg. It was the first song released from the album. The song features drums, backing vocals, keys and drums. The same Jesus is still with us, still on the move, making us new. We know that He is coming again. He’s alive and is keeping His promises.
Key lyric:
This Jesus
Who carried our shame
This Jesus
Who rose from the grave
The same Jesus
We worship today, we worship today

We Praise You – This upbeat worship song was written by Redman, Brandon Lake, Brian Johnson and Phil Wickham. Redman and Lake share the vocals. The song features guitar, backing vocals and some good drums. An excellent song for congregational singing.
Key lyric:
We’ll see You break down every wall
We’ll watch the giants fall
Fear cannot survive when we praise You
The God of breakthroughs on our side
Forever lift Him high
With all creation cry, ‘God, we praise You’
Oh, we praise You

All Praise (Sing Praise) – This song was written by Redman, Andi Rozier and Jason Ingram. The song begins with guitar and keys and builds at the chorus with backing vocals, drums and bass. God’s amazing grace far exceeds our past mistakes. God brought us back to life again and we will rise with Jesus from the grave. He is coming soon. His promises all come true and He deserves all praise.
Key lyric:
Your name, Your name always
Jesus, You alone deserve all praise

Upon Him – This song was written by Redman, Andi Rozier and Jon Guerra. The song begins with keys and light guitar, and builds powerfully with backing vocals and drums. There is no greater name than Jesus. One day every knee will bow and every heart confess (Philippians 2:10-11).
Key lyric:
Christ has died, we are forgiven
And Christ alive, we are the risen
And He shall come again
Praise the King, praise the King

Let There Be Wonder – This worship song was written by Redman, Joshua Silverberg, Jacob Sooter and Corey Voss. The song begins with synth, guitar and keys and then builds powerfully with bass drums and backing vocals. He is the God who parted the sea, who heals our disease and is the source of all that we need.
Key lyric:
Let there be wonder, let there be wonder in this place
Let there be worship, let there be worship for Your name
Come Holy Spirit, how we need Your fire again
Let there be wonder, let there be wonder

King Jesus – This song was written by Redman, Jason Ingram and Joel Houston. The worship song opens with electric and acoustic guitar and keys, and builds at the chorus with drums and backing vocals. His is the name above all names (Philippians 2:9). There will never be a higher name. All glory to God alone, the King is in residence here.
Key lyric:
All glory to God alone, praise to the One who gave it all
Name above all names, King Jesus, King Jesus
All glory to God alone, praise to the One who holds the throne
Name above all names, King Jesus, King Jesus

Merciful Father – This upbeat song was written by Redman, Tim Wanstall and Pat Barrett. The song begins with keys, drums, bass and builds with guitar and backing vocals. The song describes attributes of God such as love, goodness, faithfulness, merciful and kindness.

Mercies (New Every Morning) – This mid-tempo song was written by Redman, May Angeles, Edith Mcneill, DK Kim and Colby Taylor. The song features keys, guitar, drums and bass, and speaks to God’s faithfulness and goodness, though like many worship songs, lyrically it gets a bit repetitive.
The chorus is from Lamentations 3:23:
They are new every morning
New every morning
Great is Your faithfulness
Your mercies are new every morning
New every morning
Great is your faithfulness

Jesus Your Name – This song was written by Redman, Lindsey Sweet, Joshua Silverberg and Jacob Sooter. The song features acoustic guitar, synth, keys, bass, excellent drums, and backing vocals, and is about Jesus’s wonderful name.
Key lyric:
Jesus Your name, when the whole world shakes
Jesus Your name, I will ever praise
My battle cry every night and day
I’ll sing Your name over everything
I’ll sing Your name over everything

In The Name – This triumphant song was written by Redman, Ryan Ellis, Joshua Silverberg and Jacob Sooter. The song features keys, synth, bass, guitar, some nice drums, and backing vocals. Interestingly, it’s follows another song about the name of Jesus.
Key lyric:
In the name of Jesus, all fear must go now
In the name of Jesus, perfect peace
In the name of Jesus, burdens be lifted
In the name of Jesus we believe

Hymn of Surrender – This song was written by Redman, Mitch Wong, Joshua Silverberg and Jacob Sooter. The song features synth, keys, guitar, drums, bass and backing vocals. The song is a prayer to Jesus. He’s going to deny himself and follow Jesus. For less of him is more of Jesus.
Key lyric:
No compromise
I won’t give You just half my life
If it’s all or nothing
Let it all be, let it all be for Jesus

Send Me Lord – This song was written by Redman, Joshua Silverberg and Mitch Wong. The song features, synth, keys, guitar, backing vocals, and is a prayer to God. He contrasts his own selfishness with God’s holiness.
Key lyric:
Where You go, I will go, I belong to You alone
Letting go of my selfishness, send me Lord

A Ti Adoramos (We Praise You) – This is a second version of “We Praise You”, this time featuring Evan Craft, with some of the singing in Spanish.

The Same Jesus (single version) – This is a shorter version of the first song released from the album.

Best songs:
Upon Him
The Same Jesus
We Praise You
Jesus Your Name
Hymn of Surrender

Alive & Breathing, Vol. 1 – Matt Maher
****

This is the first of four Alive & Breathing releases from Matt Maher. Each EP will feature three songs – a new song, a live version of a song that Maher has written for other artists but hasn’t recorded himself, and a live version of some of Maher’s previous songs. Here are a few comments on each song on Vol. 1.

Run to the Father – This song was written by Maher with Cody Carnes and Ran Jackson and produced by Bernie Herms. The powerful song of surrender features piano, strings, drums, and backing choir vocals.

Key lyric:
I run to the Father, I fall into grace
I’m done with the hiding, no reason to wait
My heart needs a surgeon, my soul needs a friend
So, I’ll run to the Father, again and again

Lord, I Need You (Señor, Te Necesito) – This is a live version of Maher’s worship song “Lord, I Need You”, which Maher recorded with Bianca, who sings in Spanish. Maher wrote the song with Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves and Kristian Stanfill. The song features piano, bass, guitar, drums, and the audience singing along. The voices of Maher and Bianca blend well.

White Flag – This is a live version of a song that Chris Tomlin originally recorded at the Passion Conference. Maher wrote the song with Tomlin, Jason Ingram and Matt Redman. The song features synth, drums, guitar, bass and the audience singing along.

Key lyric:
We raise our white flag
We surrender all to you, all for you
We raise our white flag, the war is over
Love has come, your love has won

Alive & Breathing, Vol. 2 – Matt Maher
****

This is the second of four Alive & Breathing releases. Each EP features three songs – a new song, a live version of a song that Maher has written for other artists but hasn’t recorded himself, and a live version of some of Maher’s previous songs. Here are a few comments on each song on Vol. 2.
Alive & Breathing – This new song was written by Maher and Elle Limebear. Limebear also adds vocals to the song. This song of encouragement features piano, backing vocals, guitar, strings and drums.

Key lyric:
Joy still comes in the morning
Hope still walks with the hurting
If you’re alive and breathing, praise the Lord
Don’t stop dancing and dreaming
There’s still good news worth repeating
So, lift your head and keep singing, praise the Lord

Because He Lives (Amen) – I was introduced to this song when Maher sang this song in concert a few years ago as he opened for Toby Mac. This is a live version of the song he wrote with Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash and Jason Ingram. The joyful song features drums, synth, piano and the audience singing along.

Soul on Fire – One of my favorite Third Day songs, I recently heard Mac Powell and the Family Reunion perform this song in concert and the next day when they led worship at a church in Indiana. The song was written by Maher with Brenton Brown, Mac Powell, Tai Anderson, David Carr and Mark Lee. This excellent live version features drums, guitar and the audience singing along.

Alive & Breathing, Vol. 3 – Matt Maher
***

This is the third of four Alive & Breathing releases. Each EP features three songs – a new song, a live version of a song that Maher has written for other artists but hasn’t recorded himself, and a live version of some of Maher’s previous songs. Here are a few comments on each song on Vol. 3.

Lord of My Life – This new song was written by Maher and Daniel Bashta. The song features piano, backing vocals, guitar, synth, and drums. He is prone to wander. The Lord is the destination and the way to get there. He surrenders all.

Key lyric:
Be the song I sing, be my guiding light
Savior of my soul, be the Lord of my life
Every step I take, always by my side
I am Yours, You are mine, be the Lord of my life

Your Love Defends Me – This is a live version of Maher’s song that he wrote with Hannah Kerr. Maher has said that the song comes out of Psalm 91, and the idea of God being not a refuge, but our only refuge. The song features acoustic guitar and the audience singing along and then builds with electric guitar, piano and drums.

Here for You – This is a live version of a worship song Maher wrote with Tim Wanstall, Jesse Reeves and Matt Redman, who originally recorded the song. The song was also recorded live at a Passion Conference, with Chris Tomlin handling the lead vocals. The song features keys, synth, bass, drums, partially distorted vocals, the audience clapping and singing along.

Alive & Breathing, Vol. 4 – Matt Maher
****

This is fourth and final of the excellent Alive & Breathing EP releases from Matt Maher. Each features three songs, a combination of new songs, live versions of songs that Maher has written for other artists but hasn’t recorded himself, and live versions of some of Maher’s previous songs. Here are a few comments on each song on Vol. 4.

Come as You Are – This is a live version of a song made popular by Crowder, and included on his 2014 album Neon Steeple. The song was written by Maher, Crowder and Ben Glover. The song begins with acoustic guitar and then slowly builds with piano, guitar, bass and the audience singing along.

Key lyric:
Oh, wanderer come home
You’re not too far
Lay down your hurt

Lay down your heart
Come as you are

Lord, I Need You – This is a live version of perhaps Maher’s most popular song, which was written by Maher, Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves and Kristian Stanfill. I first heard this song sung by Chris Tomlin on the 2011 Passion conference album Here for You. The song begins with piano and gently builds with bass, drum and the audience singing along.

Key lyric:
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Come Holy Spirit – This is a live version of a song I hadn’t previously heard, featuring Martin Smith, formerly of the band Delirious? The song was written by Smith, Maher, Paul Nelson, Lydia McAllister, Henry Milne and Connor Patterson. The song begins with piano, and then builds powerfully with keys, strings, bass, drums, guitar, the audience singing along and ends with some excellent organ. This was the highlight of the EP for me.

Key lyric:
Come, Holy Spirit
Fall on us
Burn like a fire
Living flame of love

United – Newsboys (Deluxe Edition)
****

In the spring of 2018, former Newsboys lead singer Peter Furler and former bassist Phil Joel joined the then current Newsboy lineup of Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips, Jeff Frankenstein and Jody Davis for a Newsboys reunion tour. Since then the Newsboys United have played more than 150 concerts. As a result, this new studio album has been highly anticipated. And the album, which is comprised of praise and worship songs, does not disappoint. The album, co-produced by Furler and Duncan Sparks and featuring a number of different writers, has a clean and energetic sound, as it merges the former members and current members together for a satisfying result.

Below are a few comments about each song:

Greatness of Our God – This worship song about the greatness of God, was written by Bryan Fowler, Colby Wedgeworth and Ethan Hulse. This was the first song released from the album. Furler and Tait share lead vocals on an excellent opening song.

Symphony – This song was written by Bryan Fowler, Colby Wedgeworth and Ethan Hulse. The voices of Furler and Tait blend well on this prayer, and Phillips’ drums particularly stand out.

Key lyrics:
So, let my life be, let my life be
A symphony, a symphony
Every breath that I breathe
Lord I wanna bring You glory, glory


Love One Another – This song, based on Jesus’ words in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”, was written by Duncan Sparks, Furler and Steve Taylor, and features Tait’s former DC Talk bandmate Kevin Max on vocals. The song opens with guitar and then right into a good driving beat.

Never Setting Sun – This song was written by Bede Benjamin-Korporaal, Renee Sieff and Seth Mosley. This joyful song of praise to Jesus features Furler primarily on vocals, has an infectious chorus driven by Phillips’ drum beat.

Beautiful Story – This song was written by Andrew Holt, Mia Fieldes and Robert Marvin and features Tait on vocals. The power ballad, which will sound good on Christian radio, begins with piano and builds with guitars, bass and drums.
The bridge brings in Romans 8:28 “You work all things together for good.”

Key lyrics:
You write a beautiful story
From glory to glory I believe

Worth Fighting For – This song was written by Furler and Steve Taylor. The song opens with guitar and features a good drum beat. Furler and Tait share vocals on this song about love and forgiveness. The song references Jesus’ commandment in Mark 12:31 You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.

Fearless – This song was written by Jonathan Lindley Smith, Maggie Eckford and Mia Fieldes. The song opens with keys, and features excellent drums from Phillips. Tait and Furler share lead vocals and their voices blend well.

Key lyrics:
I am Fearless in Your presence
You’re all around, me all around me
In my weakness You are strongest
You surround me, You surround me

This I Know – This song was written by Aodhan King, Furler, Reuben Morgan and Seth Mosley. The song of praise opens with guitar, starts slowly and then gently builds with drums and keys. He is with us through the trials and has never let us go. Tait and Furler share vocals.

Key lyrics:
This I know
At the whisper of Your name
There is peace I can’t explain
I am fearless, I am safe
Here with You, here with you

Only the Son (Yeshua) – This worship song was written by Seth Mosely, Peter Furler and Summer Furler. An early version of the song (“Yeshua”), appeared on the Peter Furler Band’s 2014 album Sun and Shield. A new chorus “Only the Sun” has been added. The song features some good guitar from Davis. Tait and Furler share vocals and their vocals blend well on the memorable chorus.

Set Me Ablaze – This song was written by Bryan Torwalt, Jacob Sooter, Katie Torwalt and Mia Fieldes. Furler delivers a passionate lead vocal on this worship song to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to “Breathe, come and breathe on the coals of my heart”. The song features guitar and drums.

Deluxe Edition – This Deluxe edition includes one new song, a previously released single, two remixes and an interview. Although I normally prefer a Deluxe edition, I don’t see the extra value in this particular one.

Rejoice – This song was written by Steve Taylor and Furler. Tait and Furler share vocals on this upbeat and joyful song. Faith and love make you want to rejoice. The song features good guitar and drums.

The Cross Has the Final Word – This worship song about, the power of Jesus and the work He on the cross, was written by Cody Carnes and produced by Seth Mosley. It was released as a single in May, 2017, and was the first song released in which Furler joined the current lineup of the Newsboys.

Greatness of Our God (Doug Weier Remix) – This is a remix of a song included on the standard edition.

Only the Son (Yeshua) (Doug Weier Remix) – This is a remix of a song included on the standard edition.

United: The Story Behind the Album (Interview with Peter Furler and Michael Tait). This is a seven minute plus interview with Doug Hannah.

Believe – Russ Taff
****

I’m a long-time Russ Taff fan, having seen him in concert several times and have followed his music since his days with the Imperials. Amazingly, he has been inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame an unprecedented three times – as a member of the Imperials, a member of the Gather Vocal Band and as a solo artist. This is his first worship album and the first new album in seven years for the 66-year-old singer. The album sounds great, being well-produced by Phil Naish and Mark Hornsby. It was released on the heels of the documentary Russ Taff: I Still Believe, and ahead of a book titled I Still Believe: A Memoir of Wreckage, Recovery, and Relentless Love, which was published in February 26, 2019.

This album is a welcome return for Taff, who is one of contemporary Christian music’s great vocalists, who sounds better than ever. Below are a few comments about each song:

Your Love Never Fails – The opening song is an excellent cover of the Jesus Culture song written by Anthony Skinner and Chris McClarney. The song has high energy from the beginning note with Taff bringing his strong vocals over a driving beat led by guitar, organ, drums and backing vocals.

I Still Believe – This song was written and originally recorded by The Call, and was included on Taff’s excellent 1990 self-titled album. On this new version Taff sings his heart out, backed by an excellent accompanying band, featuring a good guitar solo and backing vocals.  About the song, Taff said “It meant the world to me back when I was struggling trying to find my way and I was screaming at the sky, but today it’s a joyous anthem. I’m up here singing again for Jesus. I survived.”

Key lyric:
But I still believe
I still believe
Through the pain,
And through the grief,
Through the lives,
Through the storms,
Through the cries,
And through the wars.
Oh, I still believe!

Don’t Try So Hard – On this beautiful midtempo song, Taff is joined by Amy Grant, who herself was accompanied by James Taylor when she originally recorded the song. I enjoyed the organ on this track, with also features a nice guitar solo.

Key lyric:
Don’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lonely even with your scars
Don’t try so hard 

Same Power – This is an excellent cover of the joyful Jeremy Camp song. Taff brings a powerful vocal to the song over organ, guitar, piano, drums and backing vocals. There is victory in singing that we will not be overtaken, we will not be overcome.

Key lyric:
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us. 

I Am – This is a cover of Crowder’s song which appeared on his 2014 debut album Neon Steeple. Crowder joins Taff on this excellent version. A guitar solo replaces the banjo that was on Crowder’s version. The song also features some excellent drums. Crowder has said “Standing and singing ‘I Am holding onto you in the middle of the storm’ alongside Russ is one of life’s greatest memories.”

Key lyric:
I am
Holding on to You
In the middle of the storm
I am Holding on

Be Still My Soul – This is a song that Taff originally recorded with the Imperials on their 1980 album Priority. It was a song, written with his wife Tori, during a time when he was making the difficult decision to leave the Imperials. The beautiful song features piano, strings and some excellent backing choir vocals.

Key lyric:
Be still my soul and know that He is God
Stand quietly – He is the Lord
If God is for me who can be against me?
Be still my soul, He is the Lord

No Longer Slaves – This is a cover of the Bethel Music song written by Brian Johnson, Joel Case and Jonathan David Helser. It opens with a brief female vocal. The joyful song builds with a powerful vocal from Taff, drums and strong backing vocals.

Key lyric:
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

When I Hear Your Name – This beautiful song features strings, piano acoustic guitar and backing vocals. It is about the impact of God’s name. His whole world is changed and he is changed when he hears God’s precious and beautiful name. There Is a Fountain – This is a cover of William Cowper’s classic 1772 hymn. Taff delivers a passionate vocal over piano, drums and some excellent strings.

Key lyric:
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die

There’s a Hallelujah – This song features a driving beat from the beginning, featuring guitar, bass, drum and some excellent guitar. No matter what happens, he will worship Him the same. Hallelujah when I rise, hallelujah when I fall, Yes, there’s a hallelujah in it all.

Isn’t the Name – This is a cover of the Bethany Worship song written by Jonathan Stockstill. This song features piano, as well as some excellent strings that were recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studio in London. The name of Jesus is all we need.

We Will Stand – This song was originally recorded on Taff’s classic 1983 album Walls of Glass. The song features guitar, organ and builds powerfully with Taff’s vocal and a backing choir. Taff has said about the song “It’s a message that is important to the Church, especially today. Politics are tearing the body of Christ apart. People are losing friends and walking away from each other because of who they voted for. We’ve got to rise above that, love one another and allow another person to have their own feelings and beliefs.”

Key lyric:
But I, I don’t care what label you may wear
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me

Sing! The Life of Christ: Quintology: Incarnation – Keith and Kristyn Getty and Friends
****

Sing! The Life of Christ: Quintology is the fourth album to be released from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Sing! worship music conferences, following 2018’s Sing! Live at The Getty Music Worship Conference and 2019’s Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) and Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live At The Grand Ole Opry House.
The new album will be released in five separate EPs over the next several months. The project will follow the five main themes of the 2019 Sing! conference – Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Commission, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and include 30 songs. To find out more about my takeaways from the 2019 conference, held in Nashville, read my article “Reflections From the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference here.
The album was recorded at the Gaylord Hotel Convention Center, the Grand Ole Opry House and the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Everything that the Gettys and their musical friends do is with excellence. Throughout, the songwriting, singing and musical performances are of a very high quality, especially noteworthy for a live recording.
The first EP is on the Incarnation. Below are a few comments about each song:

Across the Lands/Of the Father’s Love Begotten – “Across the Lands” was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was written by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. This track begins with the recitation of John 1 by astronaut Colonel Jeff Williams before segueing into the choir singing verses one and three of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” before the full band goes into “Across the Lands” with Kristyn Getty on lead vocals.

Key lyrics:

You’re the Author of creation;
You’re the Lord of ev’ry man;
And Your cry of love rings out across the lands.  

Sing We the Song of Emmanuel – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Stuart Townend, and Keith Getty. The song opens with piano, and then the full band kicks in. This was my favorite song of 2019. We sang it often in our church worship service. Boswell and Papa share lead vocals with the audience joining in on the closing “Gloria”.

Key lyrics:

Glory shining for all to see
Hope alive, let the gospel ring
God has made a way, He will have the praise
Tell the world His name is Jesus

Come Adore the Humble King – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. This piano driven song has Boswell and Papa sharing lead vocals. The song features a violin solo and builds powerfully.

Joy Has Dawned/Angels We Have Heard on High – “Joy Has Dawned” was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. “Angels We Have Heard on High” was written by James Chadwick. The song begins with the choir singing verse one and the refrain from “Angels We Have Heard on High” before the full band kicks in with “Joy Has Dawned”, with lead vocals by Kristyn Getty. The upbeat song gives the band an opportunity to flex its muscles mid-song. The song ends with the refrain and verse three from “Angels We Have Heard on High”.

Key lyrics:

What a Savior! What a Friend!
What a glorious myst’ry!
Once a babe in Bethlehem,
Now the Lord of hist’ry.

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Michael Bleecker. The song begins with piano, before adding drums, bass and guitar. Boswell and Papa share lead vocals.

Key lyrics:

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when He comes 

In Christ Alone/I Stand Amazed (O How Marvelous) – “In Christ Alone” was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. “I Stand Amazed’ was written by Charles Gabriel. Kristyn Getty and Travis Cottrell share lead vocals on “In Christ Alone”, and the album closes with a spirited version of “I Stand Amazed”.

Key lyrics:

And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

Best songs: All

Note: The 2020 Sing! Getty Worship Music Conference will be held August 31 – September 2 in Nashville. To get more information and register go here.

The Worship Initiative Christmas – Shane and Shane
***

The duo Shane and Shane returns with a new five-song Christmas EP. The project includes one new song “Sing We The Song of Emmanuel”, as well as four Christmas classics. The duo’s voices blend well and the instrumentation is top-notch.

Below are a few comments about each song:

Sing We The Song of Emmanuel – This new Christmas song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Stuart Townend, and Keith Getty. The song features acoustic guitar, bass and chimes. The song builds powerfully with the mid-song “Gloria”.

Key lyric:
Come we to welcome Emmanuel
King who came with no crown or throne
Helpless He lay, the Invincible
Maker of Mary, now Mary’s son

Oh Holy Night – This joyful song was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847. The song features acoustic guitar, drums, bass, piano and an excellent vocal with a good overall pace. A highlight.

Little Drummer Boy – This song was written by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958. The upbeat and joyful arrangement features guitar, bass, and of course drums. A highlight.

The First Noel – This traditional English Christmas carol dates back to 1823. The song features acoustic guitar, piano, bass, backing vocals, and is driven by a light percussion beat.

O Come O Come Emmanuel – This song was translated by John Mason Neale in 1861. The joyful song features acoustic guitar, bass, synth, piano, backing vocals, and some nice drum work.

Best songs:
O Holy Night
Little Drummer Boy

Bing at Christmas – Bing Crosby with the London Symphony Orchestra
****

Bing at Christmas was produced by Nick Patrick, who has also produced albums with orchestras by artists such as Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, the Carpenters, Beach Boys, and others. Patrick took recordings by Crosby, who died in 1977, and added newly-recorded orchestral arrangements, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. The overall effect is giving a fresh clean sound to some of Crosby’s most loved Christmas songs.
The album features fourteen classic Crosby Christmas songs, including his biggest hit, “White Christmas”, which is the world’s best-selling single, with sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. The song is included in two versions on the album. Joining Crosby on a special version of the song is the multi-Grammy Award winning a cappella group Pentatonix, whose voices fit perfectly with Crosby’s.
If you have loved Crosby’s Christmas music in the past, you’ll want to check out this new release.

Below is a list of the songs included on this new release:

  • It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
  • Sleigh Ride
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
  • White Christmas (featuring Pentatonix)
  • I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  • Jingle Bells (with The Andrew Sisters featuring the Puppini Sisters)
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  • Do You Hear What I Hear?
  • The Christmas Song
  • Little Drummer Boy (with David Bowie)
  • Twelve Days Of Christmas (featuring the Puppini Sisters)
  • Winter Wonderland
  • The Christmas Song (featuring the Tenors)
  • White Christmas

Joy of Every Longing Heart – Sara Groves
***

Sara Groves follows up her 2008 Christmas album O Holy Night with Joy of Every Longing Heart, which she calls the bookend to the earlier album. While O Holy Night featured songs about Jesus’ birth, Joy of Every Longing Heart – which is a mix of new songs, Groves’ interpretation of 5 traditional Christmas songs, and one instrumental – focuses on those who were directly part of the Nativity story, the angels, wise men and shepherds. The album’s title comes from the last line of the song “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”. The album cover art is a rendition of the city of Bethlehem, purposefully showcasing the color tones of oranges and purples to represent the dawn and awaiting the birth of Jesus. The album was produced by John Mark Nelson and recorded at Art House North, a one hundred-year-old house in St. Paul, Minnesota. A minor complaint is that the nine songs clock in at just 32 minutes.

Below are a few comments about each of the songs:
O Come O Come Emmanuel – This Christmas standard was written by John Mason Neale. The joyful song features light drums, bass, a guitar solo, backing vocals, and some excellent piano. A highlight.
Angels From The Realms of Glory – This song was written by James Montgomery. The song features guitar, piano, backing vocals and light drums. The song starts slowly and then gently builds.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman – This is a traditional English Christmas carol. The song features piano, strings, drums, guitar and backing vocals.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
– This song was written by John Stainer, and features acoustic guitar, piano, some nice drum work, backing vocals and a new chorus.
We Wait – This new song features guitar, piano, bass, drums, backing vocals. The song is about the people of Bethlehem waiting. They wait for a number of things – a sign, peace and goodwill to all men, a break in the weather, the light of the morning, and most of all they wait for Jesus.
Winter Wonderland – This song was written by Richard B. Smith and Felix Bernard. The song features a slower pace than usual and acoustic guitar, piano, bells, and backing vocals. It also includes a reference to St. Paul, Minnesota, where the album was recorded.  
Just Like They Said
– This new song is seen through the eyes of a shepherd as he first heard about the birth of Jesus. The sky was on fire. It was just like they said it would be. He was wrapped in a cloak and laid in a manger. But no one believed the shepherd, instead shaking their heads and saying nothing good comes from Bethlehem. But he knows what he saw. The song features piano, bass, backing vocals, and strings.
Tidings – This short instrumental was written by John Mark Nelson and John Arndt. The song features cello and strings.
Let Our Gladness Have No End
– This song was written by G. Kucharik. It features piano, backing vocals and strings.

Key lyric:
Let our gladness have no end, alleluia!
For to earth did Christ descend, alleluia! 

Best songs:
O Come O Come Emmanuel
Just Like They Said

Christmas – Sandra McCracken
****

I love Christmas music and each year add new albums to my collection. Christmas by Sandra McCracken is a new album that I can recommend to you. I became aware of McCracken’s music at a few conferences that my wife Tammy and I have attended recently.
The album was recorded over three days in a studio just outside of Nashville. McCracken wrote that she joined up with Gabe Dixon, Will Sayles, Anthony LaMarca, Joey Bradshaw, Cindy Morgan, Matt Pierson, Don Chaffer and Tim Nicholson to make the record. Russ Long mixed the recordings together with orchestration from Isaac Wardell and friends in Charlottesville, VA, vocals from Josh Garrels in Indiana, and cello from Cara Fox and B3 from Phil Madeira.
McCracken has had the desire to record a Christmas album for years. It was on a trip to Israel two years ago when she visited the birthplace of Jesus and the shepherd’s field near Bethany that pushed her to make Christmas. The eleven songs include both originals and Christmas classics. Here are a few comments on each song:

Joy to the World – This Christmas classic written by Isaac Watts, features McCracken singing over piano, light guitar, bass, cello and drums. She adds a new chorus “Repeat the sounding joy”.
Ring the Bells – This song was written by McCracken and Cindy Morgan. McCracken has said that she wanted the song to provide a picture of a present-day holiday scene, the family gathering together, the candlelight service, the call for peace and comfort from one to another. The song features some nice piano, strings, drums and bass.
Key lyrics:
We’re gonna ring the bells on Christmas day
Let the light bring forth the dawn
We’re gonna ring the bells the joy proclaim
Giving us hope, helping us carry on
All is Well – This song, set around the birth of Jesus, in a manger, a humble landing in a quiet place, is written by McCracken and Cindy Morgan. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, light percussion and piano.
Mary’s Arms – This joyful song, with a memorable chorus, features piano, light percussion, strings, and backing vocals, ending with some excellent organ. A highlight.
Key lyrics:
Now is the time,
Songs fill the skies
Redeeming love, baby child
Resting in Mary’s arms. 
Jesus What A Wonderful Child – This traditional spiritual begins with bass, and then adds guitar, drums, hand claps, piano, organ and some excellent backing vocals from Cindy Morgan and Gabe Dixon. It’s instantly likable0 and my favorite song on the album.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing – This Christmas classic was written by Charles Wesley (lyrics) and Felix Mendelssohn (music). The song features bass, piano, light percussion and organ.
This Is the Christ – This song was written by Martin Luther (lyrics) and McCracken (music). The song features McCracken singing over piano, bass, light guitar and drums.
Key lyrics:
This is the Christ, our God and Lord
Who in all need shall aid afford
He will himself our savior be
And from our sins will set us free
Bright Morning Stars – This short traditional song features McCracken leading a group of singers. The song has a raw sound, much different from the other songs on the album, leading you to believe that it wasn’t recorded in a studio.
Go Tell it on the Mountain – This African-American spiritual song, compiled by John Wesley Work, Jr., and dating back to at least 1865, is one of my favorite Christmas songs. The joyful song features acoustic guitar and some excellent backing vocals. A highlight.
The Space Between – This song was written by McCracken, Cindy Morgan and Gabe Dixon, and features Josh Garrels on vocals. The song looks at the days after Christmas and before the New Year begins. McCracken has said that the song is a reflective, joyful reminder to accept the discomfort of life transitions with grace. It is a call to see what’s next. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, drums, piano and strings.
Silent Night – This Christmas classic was written by Joseph Mohr in 1816. The beautiful version of the song features McCracken singing over acoustic guitar, backing vocals, and strings.
Best songs:
Mary’s Arms
Jesus, What a Wonderful Child
Go Tell it on the Mountain

Christmas Day: Christmas Songs of Worship – Chris Tomlin
****

Over the years, Chris Tomlin has given us some excellent Christmas music, primarily through his two full-length Christmas albums 2009’s Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship and 2015’s Adore: Christmas Songs Of Worship. His latest release is Christmas Day: Christmas Songs of Worship, a four song EP. The EP features three new songs, and one classic Christmas song.
Here are a few comments about each song:
Christmas Day – This song is written by Ed Cash, Scott Cash, Franni Cash, Martin Cash and Andrew Bergthold. This joyful song features drums, guitar and excellent vocals by Tomlin and We The Kingdom. Classic Tomlin, this song would be a good one for congregational singing.
Key lyrics:
Sing all you people
The Lord almighty reigns
Sing every creature of God
Come bless His name
For He is good, for He is good
He was born to conquer the grave
Light of the world
The reason for Christmas Day

His Name Is Wonderful – This song is written by Tomlin and Ed Cash with a chorus taken from Isaiah 9:6. The song begins with Tomlin singing over piano, and then builds with drums, strings and choir.
Key lyrics:
Come and adore Him
On bended Knee
He came to Ransom
Someone like me

Little Drummer Boy – This Christmas classic was written by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958. The song features guitar, backing vocals and of course some excellent drum work.
Hope Of Israel
– This song was written by Tomlin, Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram and Reuben Morgan. The song begins with Tomlin singing over piano, then builds gently with strings and backing vocals.
Key lyrics:
God is with us
Christ our Savior
Jesus our Emmanuel
He shall reign our King forever
The hope of Israel

Best song: Christmas Day

50 Year Trip: Live at Red Rocks – John Fogerty
****

John Fogerty was the lead singer and songwriter for Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), who dominated Top 40 radio from mid-1968 – mid-1972, with nine of the band’s singles cracking the Top 10 during that period. The band, who sold more than 35 million albums and singles in the U.S. alone, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine has them at Number 82 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
CCR broke up in 1972, and Fogerty has gone on to have a very successful solo career as well. Now 74, he recorded this live album at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado on June 20 during a tour celebrating his 50-year career, dating back to the release of CCR’s first album, released July 5, 1968. The concert was also filmed and was shown in theatres on November 11 (Veteran’s Day).
Fogerty has released a few live solo albums over the years (Premonition, The Long Road Home – In Concert). As with those albums, 50 Year Trip: Live at Red Rocks features his still excellent vocals and a strong band, this time featuring his two sons. The performances are tight, and the band stretches things out on “The Old Man Down the Road”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Keep on Chooglin’”. The album features 19 CCR and Fogerty classics and is a must-have for CCR and Fogerty fans. Here is the entire track list:

Born on the Bayou
Green River
Lookin’ Out My Back Door
Susie Q
Who’ll Stop the Rain
Hey Tonight
Up Around the Bend
Rock and Roll Girls
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Long As I Can See The Light
Run Through The Jungle
Keep On Chooglin’
Have You Ever Seen The Rain
Down On The Corner
Centerfield
The Old Man Down The Road
Fortunate Son
Bad Moon Rising
Proud Mary

Jesus is King – Kanye West
***

Jesus is King is the highly anticipated and publicized new album, and the first gospel music album, from the controversial Kanye West. I’ll admit that I’ve not previously heard any music from West, who has won an amazing 21 Grammy Awards.
This year, West began attending Placerita Bible Church in Newhall, California. The church is a non-denominational congregation, led by senior pastor, Adam Tyson, a graduate of the respected Master’s Seminary, which was founded by John MacArthur. Tyson has been instrumental in guiding Kanye West’s spiritual journey, including consulting on the lyrics of this album.
West uses a lot of collaborators on the writing and producing of these songs. This album, his ninth studio project, clocks in at only 27 minutes, and topped the charts upon release.
My overall assessment is that while inconsistent, this is a solid effort and worth consideration from those who enjoy Christian hip-hop/rap music. Here are a few comments about each song:

Every Hour – This song was written and produced by Budgie Beats, Federico Vindver and West. The song doesn’t include West, but instead features the Sunday Service Choir, from West’s weekly Sunday Service that he has been holding in 2019. Backed by piano, the choir sings that we should sing every hour till the power of the Lord comes down.
Selah – This song was written by Sean Leon, CyHi The Prynce, Rennard East, A. Jeffrey LaValley, Pusha T, No Malice, Federico Vindver, Dexter Raymond Mills Jr., Ant Clemons and West. It was produced by Boogz, Francis Farewell Starlite, Vindver, E*Vax and Benny Blanco. “Selah” is a Hebrew word used often in the Psalms, that tells us to pause, stop and consider. West raps over synth and drum beat. The Sunday Service Choir handles the chorus, comprised almost entirely of the word “Hallelujah”.
Key lyric:
To whom the son set free is free indeed
He saved a wretch like me. 
Follow God – This song was written by Xcelence, Boogz, Bryant Bell, Curtis Eubanks, Calvin Eubanks and West. It was produced by Xcelence, West and Boogz. The song samples Whole Truth’s 1974 “Can You Lose by Following God”. West raps about trying to live his life for Christ, sharing his struggles, having to respond to people pushing his buttons, especially those who really know you, such as his Dad telling him things he is doing and saying aren’t Christ-like.
Closed On Sunday – This song was written by A$AP Bari, Ab-Liva, Timbaland, Victory Elyse Boyd, Timothy Mosley, Pusha T, No Malice, Federico Vindver, Chango, Farias Gomez, Brian “All Day” Miller, Angel Lopez and West. The song was produced by Vindver, West, Timbaland, Miller and Lopez. In this song, West addresses resting on Sunday, referencing the popular quick service restaurant
Chick-fil-A, which is closed on Sunday. The pace of the song is slow, with West’s spoken word vocals over synth and light acoustic guitar. He says to hold the selfies and put away Instagram on Sunday, leading your family in prayer instead.
Key lyric:
I bow down to the King upon the throne
My life is His, I’m no longer my own
On God – This song was written by CAMEone, Boogz, CyHi The Prynce, Pi-erre Bourne, Federico Vindver and West. It was produced by CAMEone, Bourne, Boogz and West. Over a heavy bass beat and synth West raps biographically about his comments about the thirteenth amendment (which abolished slavery), the IRS, the Grammys etc.
Everything We Need – This song was written by Finatik, Boogz, CyHi The Prynce, Ronny J, Mike Dean, Zac, Federico Vindver, Bradford Lewis, Ant Clemons, Ty Dolla $ign and West. It was produced by FnZ, Ronny J and West. The song is driven by a good percussion beat and features acapella vocals on the chorus from Clemons and Ty Dolla $ign indicating that we have everything we need.
Water – This song is written by Boogz, Timbaland, Jahmal Gwin, Bruce Haack, Angel Lopez, Victory Elyse Boyd, Alexander Nelson Klein, Federico Vindver, Ant Clemons and West. It was produced by Boogz and West and features Clemons on vocals. The song is a prayer to Jesus, asking that he cleanse, heal, forgive, reveal, grace, etc.
God Is
– This song was written by Robert Fryson, Labrinth, Victory Boyd, Angel Lopez, Federico, Vindver, Warryn Campbell and West. It was produced by Labrinth, Campbell and West.  The song features a sample of “God Is” by James Cleveland’s Southern California Community Choir, and is a clear expression of West’s faith. He sings that God is alive and has opened up his vision, giving him a revelation. This isn’t a show, but a mission.
Hands On – This song was written by Xcelence, Timbaland, Federico Vindver, Fred Hammond and West. It was produced by Timbaland, Angel Lopez, Vindver and West. The song features Fred Hammond on some distorted vocals. On his spoken word vocal, West tells the devil, who he has been working for all his life, that he’s going on strike. He states that Christians will be the first to judge him when they find out that he has made a gospel album. He asks for prayer, and that hands be laid on him.
Use The Gospel – This song is written by Sean Leon, Boogz, Fonzworth Bentley, Ab-Liva, Timbaland, Pi’erre Bourne, Federico Vindver, Angel Lopez, Kenny G, West, Pusha T and No Malice. It was produced by Bourne, Lopez, Vindver, Timbaland and DRTWRK. The song features raps from the reunited Clipse (Pusha T and No Malice) on the verses, West sings the chorus and Kenny G provides a sax solo. Use the Gospel for protection, because it’s a hard road to Heaven. He puts his faith in the Father. 
Jesus Is Lord
– This song was written by Sean Leon, Timbaland, Federico Vindver, Claude Leveillee, Brian “All Day” Miller and West. It was produced by Miller, Angel Lopez, Timbaland, Vindver and West. The less than one-minute beautiful song has West singing lyrics adapted from Philippians 2: 10-11 over horns (trumpet, sax, tuba, French horn).
Every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess
Jesus is Lord
Jesus is Lord 

Best Songs:
God Is
Use the Gospel
Jesus is Lord

West has announced that his next album will be Jesus is Born, to be released on Christmas day.

Three Cords & The Truth – Van Morrison
****

The legendary Van Morrison returns with the excellent Three Cords & The Truth, featuring nearly 70 minutes of music. It’s his sixth new album in the past four years, first of all new material since 2016’s Keep Me Singing, and one of the best of 2019. The album title is from a quote by Harlan Howard describing country music. Morrison produced the album and wrote all of the songs, with the exception of “If We Wait for Mountains”, which he co-wrote with Don Black. Morrison, who sounds great here, is backed by his road band and joined on six songs by guitarist Jay Berlinger, who played on Morrison’s classic Astral Weeks.

Here are a few brief comments about each song:
March Winds In February – This song features light drums, some excellent acoustic guitar from Berlinger, organ and a strong vocal from Morrison. He sings about the March winds in February on the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera).
Fame Will Eat The Soul – This song features a duet with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers. The two teamed up after Morrison went to see Medley’s show in Las Vegas while he was recording there. Their voices blend well. The song is driven by electric guitar, light drums, piano and organ. Fame will eat the soul until you just can’t take it anymore.
Dark Night Of The Soul – This song features guitar, light drums, organ and piano.
He’s on his way to understanding things that he might not yet know. He’s looking for a brand-new day. A highlight.
Key lyrics:
Meditate on this and it will be revealed
Meditate on this and you will get healed
Meditate on this and you will whole
Get the vision of the ghost, again
In Search Of Grace – This song features drums, guitar, organ, guitar solo. The song is about a woman named Grace who disappeared and went off the radar back in 1967 or 1968.
Nobody In Charge – This is a toe-tapping blues song, that features organ, guitar and sax and includes Morrison’s commentary about politicians, the media and the police.
Key lyrics:
Speculation across the nation
Media implantation rules the day
Brainwash is easy, if everybody’s lazy
And everything always just looks grey

You Don’t Understand – This slow blues song features drums, bass, organ, piano and guitar. Morrison bites lyrics that state that you don’t understand how hard it can be for one man, and how evil people can be. Human nature can’t be trusted, it can’t be true, because it’s only human through and through. You don’t understand how mad, bad and dangerous some people can be.
Read Between The Lines – This upbeat song features drums, guitar and some excellent organ work. He had to read between the lines to keep staying in the game and to get back in the know.
Does Love Conquer All? – This mid-temp song features drums, guitar and a nice organ solo. Does it make any difference, or does love conquer all? Probably my least favorite song on the album.
Early Days – This upbeat rockabilly song features drums, guitar, piano and sax solos, and a spirited vocal from Morrison. He has to go back to the beginning, the early days of rock and roll to get back in touch with his memories and feelings. A highlight.
If We Wait For Mountains – This song was co-written with Don Black. It features piano, bass, light drums and some excellent organ work. It’s classic Morrison. A highlight.
Key lyrics:
Wonders all around us
And life is all we’ve got
If you wait for mountains then you’re
Gonna miss a lot

Up On Broadway – This is a slower easy-going song that features guitar, light drums, bass and some nice organ work. He’s up on Broadway, far away from trouble where the night is quiet and still. It’s where he wants to go. It’s far away from trouble.
Three Chords And The Truth – This toe-tapper features organ, piano, percussion and guitar. The song showcases the band with a good vocal by Morrison. He woke up in the morning and heard the good news. Three chords and the truth, a shot of rhythm and blues. A highlight.
Bags Under My Eyes – This song has an old time country music sound. It features light drums, guitar, bass, piano and a harmonica solo. He’s singing about being on the road and has bags under his eyes. When is he going to get wise?
Days Gone By – This song, which stretches to almost eight minutes, features, light drums, piano, bass, organ and guitar. The song references and samples “Auld Lang Syne”. Morrison provides a passionate vocal. He wants to drink a cup of kindness with her for the sake of the days gone by. Everything he’s doing, he had to fight for it in the days gone by.

Best songs:
Dark Night Of The Soul
Early Days
If We Wait For Mountains
Three Chords And The Truth

Western Stars – Songs from the Film – Bruce Springsteen
***

Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, Western Stars – Songs from The Film, is the soundtrack album to the film Western Stars, Springsteen’s directorial debut (co-directed by Thom Zimny). The album features each of the live performances from the film that were recorded in front of a small audience of friends in a 100-year-old barn on Springsteen’s Stone Hill Farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey. The album includes live versions of each of the fourteen songs on Western Stars – which was his first studio album of all new, original material since his 2012’s Wrecking Ball – plus a spirited cover of Glen Campbell’s 1975 hit “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Read my review of the Western Stars studio album here.
Springsteen is backed by a band, a 30-piece orchestra, backing singers and his wife Patti Scialfa on guitar and vocals. There is basically no interaction with the audience, with the focus being on the intimate performance of the songs. The performances here are good, but not different enough from the studio versions released just four and a half months earlier to warrant purchasing this album. Die- hard Springsteen fans should just consider downloading “Rhinestone Cowboy”.
Here is the official trailer from the film Western Stars.

What’s My Name – Ringo Starr
** ½

The Beatles broke up nearly 50 years ago. Only Paul McCartney and 79-year-old Ringo Starr survive. What’s Your Name is Ringo’s 20th studio album. It’s about what you would expect from Ringo – a lot of “peace and love”, Beatles references and guest artists (Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Dave Stewart and a number of past and current All-Star Band members). The lyrics aren’t deep, oftentimes the song’s title will tell you all you need to know about the song’s content. But What’s My Name is also a lot of fun, and his happiness and positive outlook is infectious.
The album, which clocks in at just under 35 minutes, was recorded at Ringo’s home studio Roccabella West. It was produced by Ringo who played drums, and recorded and mixed by Bruce Sugar. Here are a few brief comments about each song:
Gotta Get Up To Get Down – This song was written by Ringo and brother in law Joe Walsh after they heard Klaus Voorman (who designed the Beatles 1966 Revolver album cover) say “Well, you’ve got to get up to get down”. Walsh plays guitar and adds vocals to this quirky, but entertaining rocker that features Edgar Winter on clavinet.
It’s Not Love That You Want – This upbeat song was written by Ringo and Dave Stewart. Stewart plays guitar and Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) plays clavinet. It’s not love that you want, but it’s love that you need.
Grow Old With Me – This is the song from the album that most people will be interested in. It was written by John Lennon shortly before he was murdered in 1980. On the demo of the song, Lennon indicated that the song would be a good one for Ringo to sing, something Ringo wasn’t aware of until recently. The song features Paul McCartney on bass and backing vocals. It also features a good vocal from Ringo, piano and Joe Walsh on guitar. The string arrangement is by former Lennon producer Jack Douglas and Daniel Cole. Watch the lyric video here.
Magic – This upbeat song was written by Ringo and Steve Lukather (Toto). It features Lukather on piano and guitar and some good backing vocals.
Money (That’s What I Want) – This song was written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, and was covered by the Beatles (with John Lennon on lead vocals), on their 1963 With the Beatles album. Steve Lukather plays guitar and there are some good backing vocals from Maxine Waters and sister Julie Waters on this fun remake.
Better Days – This song was written and co-produced by Sam Hollander, based on comments Ringo made in a magazine interview. The song is excellent musically with organ, piano, guitar solos, horns and features a good vocal by Ringo.
Life Is Good – This song was written by Ringo and Garry Burr. The song is catchy but has simplistic lyrics. It includes some nice guitar work by Steve Lukather and backing vocals.
Thank God For Music – This song was written by Ringo and Sam Hollander. It includes keys, guitar from Steve Lukather and backing vocals by Maxine Waters and Julia Waters. It’s catchy but has some almost embarrassing lyrics.
Send Love Spread Peace – This song was written by Ringo and Gary Nicholson. It features Benmont Tench on organ and piano, backing vocals, and a guitar solo by Steve Dudas. The song title pretty much explains what the song is about.
What’s My Name – This fun rocker was written by Colin Hay (Men at Work), and features piano, harmonica, backing vocals from Maxine Waters and Julie Waters, and a guitar solo by Steve Lukather. The title comes from Ringo’s question to his concert audiences.
Nothing stays the same
But I’m still in the game
What’s my name? (Ringo!)

A highlight. Watch the lyric video here.

Best songs:
Gotta Get Up To Get Down
Grow Old With Me
What’s My Name

Hymns Vol. 2 – Shane and Shane
****

Shane and Shane follow Hymns Vol. 1 and Hymns Live with more classic and modern hymns done in their distinctive worshipful style. The hymns are creatively arranged in a way that they can be used for congregational singing in church worship services, as well as enjoyed for individual worship. The album starts with four classic hymns, then moves to four modern hymns, before ending with two more classic hymns.
Below are a few brief comments about each of the songs:
Be Thou My Vision (Lord You Are) – “Be Thou My Vision” is an 8th century Irish hymn that was translated by Eleanor Hull in 1912. “Lord You Are (More Precious Than Silver)” was written by Lynn DeShazo. The song features acoustic guitar, strings, backing vocals and some good drum work. 
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Amazing Grace) – “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” was written by Hellen Howard Lemme in 1922. “Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton. The song features acoustic guitar, keys, light drums, strings, and backing vocals.
My Jesus I Love Thee – This hymn was written by William R. Featherston in 1864. The song features keys, bass, strings, light percussion and a particularly strong lead vocal. The song ends with a snippet from the following song “Praise to the Lord Almighty”.
Praise to the Lord (Joyful, Joyful) – “Praise to the Lord Almighty” was written by Joachim Neander in 1680. “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” was written by Henry J. van Dyke in 1907. The song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, guitar, strings, and a particularly good drum beat.
Oh Lord Almighty – This song, which may be less familiar to many, was written by Jon Able and Shane Barnard. The song features acoustic guitar, drums, backing vocals, keys and strings. A highlight.
Key lyrics:
Holy
All God’s children singing Holy
Nothing left to say but Holy
Oh Lord Almighty

Power of the Cross – This song was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The song, which builds powerfully, features keys, strings, acoustic guitar, drums, and backing vocals.
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Michael Bleeker. The song, which builds gently to a powerful ending, features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, synth, and some good drum work.
Living Waters (As the Deer) – “Living Waters” was written by Kristyn Getty and Ed Cash. “As the Deer” was written by Martin Nystrom. This song, which is driven by a good drum beat, features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, guitar and synth. This is a more upbeat version of “Living Waters” than was recorded by Keith and Kristyn Getty. A highlight.
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” was written by Edward Perronet in 1779. The song features keys, some excellent percussion, backing vocals, synth, and a strong vocal. The song then goes directly into “Crown Him with Many Crowns”.
Crown Him with Many Crowns – This 1851 hymn had lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring, with the music written by George Job Elvey. The song features drums, guitar, and backing vocals. The song ends by going powerfully back into “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”.

The St. Nemele Collab Sessions – TobyMac
***

The latest project from TobyMac is his fifth remix album. The project includes new mixes of 10 of the 11 songs from his excellent 2018 album The Elements (only “Starts with Me” is not included here), and one new song “Heart of My Beat”. Each song has a different producer and guest vocalist. I’m not usually a fan of remix projects, but this one is pretty good, featuring a few of my favorite artists (Crowder and Matt Maher), some others who are well known (Jen Ledger, Bart Millard, Jordan Feliz, Cory Asbury and Sarah Reeves) as well as some others that I was not familiar with. As with all of TobyMac’s projects, the production is of a high quality. Even with the diversity of producers and guest vocalist, the project has a cohesive feel.

The full track list, with guest vocalist and producer is listed below:
The Elements, with guest vocalist Jen Ledger of Skillet. Produced by Neon Feather.
Hello Future, with guest vocalist Crowder. Produced by DJ Maj Par-T Side.
Overflow, with guest vocalist Bart Millard of Mercy Me. Produced by Willyecho
See The Light, with guest vocalist Jordan Feliz. Produced by RUSLAN.
Everything, with guest vocalist Jonathan McReynolds. Produced by Capital Kings.
I Just Need U, with guest vocalist Cory Asbury. Produced by Tide Electric.
It’s You, with guest vocalists Matt Maher and Terrian. Produced by Tide Electric.
Horizon (A New Day), with guest vocalist Aaron Cole (who guested on “Starts with Me” on The Elements). Produced by Stereovision.
Scars (Come With Livin’), with guest vocalist Sarah Reeves. Produced by Neon Feather. A highlight.
Edge Of My Seat, with guest vocalist Cochren & Co. Produced by THUNDERBIRD.
Heart Of My Beat. This is the one new song on the album. The song is produced by JT Daly and written by TobyMac, Daley, Sarah Reeves and Sam Tinnesz. Toby sings that God has been with him every step of the way, opening doors for him and guiding him along His plan. The song has a good beat and memorable chorus.
Key lyrics:
From the start to eternity
You are the fresh air I breathe
You will always be
The heart of my beat, the heart of my…
You put the soul in my melodies
I write the songs in Your key
Yeah, You will always be
The heart of my beat, the heart of my…

If you haven’t listened to The Elements, I would start there, but this new remix project is enjoyable and certainly worth a listen.

Okie – Vince Gill
****

This is the first Vince Gill album I’ve listened to. My interest in the Country Music Hall of Fame member, who has won 21 Grammy Awards and sold more than 26 million albums, came as a result of seeing him twice as a touring member of the Eagles. I’m not a country music fan, but I found this album, which deals with subjects such as sexual abuse, abortion, faith, racism, love and tributes to two of his country music heroes, to be one of my favorites of the year. The mostly acoustic music is sparse – Gill is accompanied by Tom Bukova and Jedd Hughes – allowing you to focus on the lyrics. Gill wrote eight of the album’s twelve songs, co-writing the other four. The album was produced by Gill and Justin Niebank and includes a few instances of light adult language.
Here are a few thoughts about each song:
I Don’t Want To Ride the Rails No More. This song was written by Gill. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals and a guitar solo mid-song. He doesn’t want to ride the rails any more. He wants to know a woman’s love worth dying for and to hear children playing through an old screen door.
The Price of Regret. This song was written by Gill. The song features acoustic guitar, drums and backing vocals. It is about regret, pain, judgement, kindness and forgiveness.
Key lyric:
You’re black and I’m white
You’re blinded by sight
Close your eyes and tell me the color of my skin

Forever Changed. This song was written by Gill. It’s a song about sexual abuse that was inspired by an incident that happened to him in the seventh grade when he was approached inappropriately by a basketball coach/gym teacher. He was lucky to escape, but many don’t. The song is written to an abuser of a young woman. The song features acoustic guitar, piano and light percussion.
Key lyric:
Because of you, she’s forever changed
An Honest Man. This song was written by Gill, and is addressed to his wife, singer Amy Grant. The song features acoustic guitar, bass, piano and light backing vocals. He has his failings – occasionally drinking too much, a temper at times, and letting her down – but he always keeps his promises. Take him as he is and he’ll do the best he can.
What Choice Will You Make? This song was written by Gill and Leslie Satcher. This is a song about a teen pregnancy and the decision that the girl will need to make about the baby. The song features acoustic guitar, light percussion, bass, backing vocals and a guitar solo mid-song.
Key lyric:
What choice will you make?
Whose heart will you break?
Whatever you choose, you will wear on your face

Black and White. This song was written by Gill and Charlie Worsham. The song looks back to an America when they told the truth on the news at night. Now we’re divided, too far left and too far right, and there’s too much greed. But being kind is more important than being right. He prays that our best days are ahead. The song features acoustic guitar, light percussion, banjo, and a guitar solo mid-song
The Red Words. This song was written by Gill. The song is about the red words in the Bible, those words that Jesus spoke. He sings about his wife being a great mother and loving him well. He encourages us to open the Bible and read what the red words say. The song features, guitar, organ, backing vocals and a guitar solo to close the song.
Key lyrics:
The red words cut the deepest
The red words are the call
The red words come from Jesus
And they mean the most of all

When My Amy Prays. This song was written by Gill. He has said that it’s perhaps the best vocal he has ever done, and I agree that it is an excellent one. When his wife Amy prays is when he sees Jesus’ face. She gave him his first Bible. She loves him and doesn’t judge him. The song features some beautiful piano, bass and light percussion. A highlight.
Key lyric:
But when my Amy prays
When my Amy prays
That’s when I see His face

A Letter To My Mama. This song was written by Gill and Dean Dillon about 18 years ago, but never recorded. The song is written as a letter and a tribute to his now 93-year-old mother from the bottom of his heart. He is sorry for being selfish and that things didn’t work out with his father. He could never pay her back the love he owes. The song features acoustic guitar, light percussion, bass, piano and a guitar solo.
Key lyric:
If I could stop this pen from shaking, I’d write these words down too
There’s no one in this world I love like you

Nothin’ Like A Guy Clark Song. This song was written as a tribute to Guy Clark by Gill. Clark was a friend of Gill’s for more than 40 years. They recorded and wrote songs together. Gill has said that this song is comprised of inside references to Clark and his songs told in a way that not only honors him but gives good insight to who he was. The song features acoustic guitar, light percussion and a guitar solo mid-song.
That Old Man of Mine. This song was written by Gill. It’s the most musically upbeat song on the album. Gill has described it as a good old country music murder ballad that’s mostly fiction, with a little bit of truth thrown in. The song features, guitar, drums, organ and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
The Lord says we all got a cross to bear
That old man was mine

A World Without Haggard
. This song was written by Gill as a tribute to Merle Haggard, who was his favorite country music artist. Haggard made him proud to be an Okie, and was his greatest inspiration, the reason why he sings the blues. He’s lost in a world without Haggard. The song features guitar, piano, bass, light percussion and a guitar solo mid-song.

Abbey Road, Super Deluxe Anniversary Edition – The Beatles
****

Abbey Road, the last album recorded by the Beatles (though the inferior Let it Be, was the last to be released), was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in the summer of 1969. I had just turned 13 when the album was released. Just a few months ago, while on a family vacation, my wife Tammy and I got to walk across the iconic crosswalk featured on the album’s cover.
Just as he did with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (The White Album), Giles Martin, son of the long-time Beatles producer George Martin, has given us a remixed anniversary project on the 50th anniversary of the album’s release. The Super Deluxe Anniversary Edition includes a new mix of the original album, produced by George Martin, which includes the famous closing suite on side 2, John Lennon’s “Come Together” and two of George Harrison’s best songs – “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”. In addition, this edition includes 23 outtakes and demos, which was what I was most excited about in this release.
The studio banter included here shows that the band had moved past the contentious recording sessions that we saw in the film Let it Be. Here, they seem to be enjoying each other and having fun, even though they knew by this time it was to be their final album.
Here are a few of my highlights from the outtakes and demos:

  • “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” featuring some outstanding work from Billy Preston on organ.
  • “Goodbye”, not included on Abbey Road, which McCartney wrote for Apple artist Mary Hopkins
  • “The Long One,” the late-July title given to Side 2’s 16-minute medley/suite, encompassing nine shorter songs (Eight were on the released album, with “Her Majesty” moved to the end of the album), written by Lennon and McCartney.
  • “Come and Get It”, not included on Abbey Road, a McCartney song that would be a hit for Apple artist Badfinger.
  • “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, not included on Abbey Road, performed by only Lennon and McCartney.
  • A ragged vocal from Lennon on an alternate take of “Come Together”.
  • “Old Brown Shoe”, a Harrison song not included on Abbey Road, which would be the “B-Side” of “The Ballad of John and Yoko”.
  • George Martin’s isolated orchestration from Harrison’s “Something”.

Abbey Road is considered one of the greatest pop/rock albums of all time.

This anniversary edition is a “must have” for Beatles fans.

His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa
****

This is the first time hymnwriters Matt Boswell and Matt Papa have recorded an album together. Recorded live with a full band and the voices of the audience worshipping with them, His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa is a gift to the church. The album includes some well-known hymns that are sung in churches such as “His Mercy is More”, “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” and “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”, as well as some hymns that have not been previously recorded. The two have been writing together for the past 10-12 years. This album will be on my list of top albums for the year.
Below are a few comments about each song:
His Mercy is More – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa and inspired from one of John Newton’s letters.
Key lyric:
Praise the Lord!
His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness; new every morn;
Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more.

Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love – This song about God’s love was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Matt Papa, Aaron Keyes and Luke Brown. It was first recorded by Keith and Kristyn Getty on their 2018 EP The North Coast Sessions and was also included on the 2018 Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) album. The song has an infectious joyful chorus, is driven by a good drum beat and features some nice guitar.
Key lyric:
How great, how sure; His love endures forevermore.
Magnificent, marvelous, matchless love. 

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker and Matt Papa and features Kristyn Getty on vocals.
Key lyric:
See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

Sing We the Song of Emmanuel – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Stuart Townend. The joyful song took about three years to complete. It features some excellent guitar work and choral singing of “Gloria” to end the song.
Key lyric:
Glory shining for all to see
Hope alive, let the gospel ring
God has made a way, He will have the praise
Tell the world His name is Jesus

My Savior’s Love (What Tongue Could Tell) – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa and Keith Getty. The song features keys, drums and guitar.
Key lyric:
My Savior’s love
What could compare
What tongue could tell my Savior’s love

Lord from Sorrows Deep I Call (Psalm 42) – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa and was included on the 2018 Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) album. The song features piano and strings.
Key lyric:
And, oh, my soul, put your hope in God
My help, my Rock, I will praise Him
Sing, oh, sing through the raging storm
You’re still my God, my salvation

Let the Nations Be Glad – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Aaron Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features drums and guitar.
Key lyric:
Let the nations be glad
Let the people rejoice
For salvation belongs to our God
Let the whole earth be filled
With the praises of the Lord
For salvation belongs to our God
Let the nations be glad 

Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features keys, drums and steel guitar.
Key lyric:
We will hold fast to the anchor
It will never be removed

Lord Have Mercy (For What We Have Done) – This song was written by Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Aaron Keys, and James Tealy. The song features, keys, guitar, organ, and light drums.
Key lyric:
In thought word and deed, we’ve failed You our King
How deeply we need a Savior

The King in All His Beauty – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features keys and drums. The song builds toward a powerful third verse.
Key lyric:
Bring praise and honor to His courts
Bring wisdom, power, blessing
For endless ages we’ll adore
The King in all His beauty

How Rich a Treasure We Possess – This joyful song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features guitar and drums.
Key lyric:
The penalty was paid in full
The spotless Lamb was slain
Salvation what a priceless gift
Received by grace through faith

Christ is All – This song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features guitar, keys, drums and a guitar solo mid-song.
Key lyrics:  
Christ is all Christ is all
And my song will ever be

Come Adore the Humble King – This beautiful song was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features, organ, piano, light percussion and strings.
Key lyric:
Fall oh fall before the one
Who in mercy left His throne
Christ the Lord God’s only Son
His glories now we sing
O praise the humble King

Watch this short video in which Boswell and Papa discuss their writing process and some of the songs on the album.

The Search – NF
****

The Search is the fourth, and perhaps the best, studio album by NF. It is the follow-up to 2017’s Perception. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard Top Albums chart, as did Perception. The twenty-song album was written by and produced by NF and Tommee Profitt, unless otherwise noted below. The album features NF’s hard-hitting music and transparent and vulnerable lyrics. Below are a few comments about each song:
The Search – This hard-hitting track was the second single released from the album. He’s been dealing with some things. He admits that he had breakdown last year and saw a therapist. He’s been searching, leaving his burdens, but admits that he brought some with him. He’s been looking for the map to hope. As the song ends, he’s back, the search is beginning, so enjoy the trip.   
Leave Me Alone – This song was written and produced by NF, Tommee Profitt and Saint X. Profitt adds backing vocals on the song. The song has Nate wanting his fame to leave him alone. He addresses his OCD and doesn’t need advice from his doubts right now.
Change
– This song features backing vocals from Debi Selby, Nicki Conley, Jason Eskridge, Moiba Mustapha and Travis Cottrell. The song opens with brief backing vocals, and then goes into a driving beat. He’s addicted to pain and has mood swings. He doesn’t like new things. He’s looking for change but never wants to commit. Saying we need change is easy, but change is hard to do. He felt suicidal last year. This year, he might do something different like talking to God more.
My Stress – The song opens with Nate singing that some days he just wants relief from his stress and negativity. Then he begins to rap about pressures he is facing and his insecurities. He’s a hostage to his own pride. He wonders what he would do if he only had a short time to live. Would he call his Dad and tell him he loves him?   
Nate
– This song has Nate passionately talking to his younger self, preparing him for what is coming. He got the idea for the song when he spent four days in therapy from depression, disconnected from the world after the first leg of the Perception tour. He tells his younger self that life is hard. If you have questions or need advice, talk to God because he’s the only one who listens. He references incidents from his childhood and parents, and tells his younger self that making millions won’t make him happy.
Time (Extended)
– This song opens with strings by Jeremy Larson. Nate then sings over keys that even if she says she hates him and they go to bed angry, he’s sure everything will be alright. He promises he is changing. He then raps that he just needs more time to show her he is worth it. He says that he is the definition of “wreck” if you look into his soul, which comes out the most when he feels he’s in a vulnerable place.
Returns – This song was written and produced by NF, Tommee Profitt and Saint X. Nate seems to be directing anger at a fellow rapper. The song is hard-hitting and confident, with Nate displaying some fast rapping skills.
When I Grow Up – This was the third single released from the album. Nate talks about his dream growing up of being a rapper, rather than going to college and getting a job.
Only – This song was written by NF, Tommee Profitt, King Henry and Sasha Sloan with Sloan also contributing vocals.  He doesn’t need a lot. He just wants to find his peace. He wishes that he would pray more often and put more time into his faith. He loves his job, but hates the fame that comes with it. He can’t be the only one who is lonely tonight, needing company and comforting.
Let Me Go – This song was written and produced by NF, Tommee Profitt and Saint X. Jeremy Larson adds the opening strings. Nate talks about his dark side. His vocals grow more intense as the song progresses. He prays to God to ask if hope is real. Is he Hell-bound, or will he find Heaven?
Interlude – This is a brief track in which Nate talks about how he was spiraling during the successful Perception album and tour.
Hate Myself
– This song features keys and some excellent percussion. Nate questions his calling by asking if this is really what he was born to be. Late nights are the worst, when he has had suicidal thoughts. He’s not a spokesman, but a broken record. He prays to God with arms open. If this is it, then he feels hopeless.
I Miss the Days – Backing vocals on this song are provided by Debi Selby, Nicki Conley, Jason Eskridge, Brooke Griffith, Moiba Mustapha and Travis Cottrell. Nate looks back on his childhood, when he had a smile on his face, wasn’t so caught up in the small things, and didn’t overthink his life. He wonders what happened to him. When did he start to believe that he wasn’t worth it? He feels he’s blessed, but cursed as well. The song builds powerfully toward the end.  
No Excuses
– This song was written and produced by NF, Tommee Profitt and Saint X. It’s a high energy song in which Nate says he was self-taught. He has no excuses. He displays some fast rapping skills on the song.
Like This – This song was written and produced by NF, David Garcia and Saint X.
This song features some excellent percussion. He wastes too much time on things he can’t fix. He holds things inside that he can’t forget and that he thought he could let go. He feels more together when he’s a mess. He’s feeling too much like his old self, backsliding.
Options – This song was written and produced by NF, David Garcia and b | r z.
This hard-hitting song, which is a reminder that he still spits, has Nate saying that these are the options. And even if the record doesn’t sell a copy, he’s going to do it as a hobby. He’s not quitting unless the Lord tells him to.
Why – This song was the first single released from the album. It was written and produced by NF, Tommee Profitt and Saint X. The song features some excellent percussion. He wants to be great, but he gets in the way of himself and thinks about everything he could never be. He holds his issues up for all to see. A lot of people know him, but they don’t know him well.
Thinking – The song was written and produced by NF and Saint X. This song features some excellent percussion. The first verse could be to his wife. He is vulnerable and the person he’s singing to has the keys to open all his secrets. They have always been there when he’s low, to help pick up the pieces.
Key lyric:
To most, negative thinking makes you a pessimist, but
To me, negative thinking means I’m just realistic

Trauma
– This haunting and ballad features piano and strings from Jeremy Larson. This could be a song addressed to God or his wife. He is helpless and needs them with him. He needs their hand as he’s drowning. Traumas surround him. He yearns for peace and to be found.
Time – This was the fourth single released from the album. See “Time Extended” above.

Wilder Woods – Wilder Woods
** ½

This is the first solo album from Bear Rinehart, a founding member and lead singer of NEEDTOBREATHE, one of my favorite bands. The album and band are both named after his two sons Wilder and Woods. Rinehart has said that there are two distinct sides to the album. The Wilder side, which comprises most of the album, is all about love, flirtation and desire, while the Woods side is more serious and reflective. The song “Religion” falls onto the Woods side, and will surely get much discussion as to its meaning.
Musically, the album is a blend of soul, R&B and pop and features his excellent vocals. The album was recorded in East Nashville with producer Gabe Simon.
Below are a few comments about each song.

Light Shine In – The opening song was written by Rinehart, Simon and Austin Jenkins. It starts quietly with acoustic guitar, before keys are added. It then quickly builds powerfully with guitar and backing vocals. For twenty years (the length of time he was in NEEDTOBREATHE), he was completely blind to all of his fears. Sometimes he wishes he was lost, as there’s nothing worse than being found. His plea is for the children of broken men to let their light shine in. The song ends with the acoustic guitar that opened it.
Sure Ain’t – This song was produced by Simon and Josh Bruce Williams, and written by Rinehart, Williams and Andy Albert. It is a love song directed to his wife Mary. The song features electric guitar and drums. If she thinks she might kiss him, it sure wouldn’t break his heart.
Someday Soon – This song was written by Rinehart. It features acoustic guitar, keys, strings, and backing vocals. Rinehart uses a higher range vocal, similar to Amos Lee, for part of the song. Someday soon these worries will roll on. He could use a reminder of what forgiveness is for. He encourages the person the song is directed to not to give up on the Kingdom, they’ll still be let in.
Key lyric:
Don’t think the battle’s over just ’cause you say “Amen”
Supply & Demand – This easy-going R&B flavored love song was written by Rinehart. It opens with keys and features drums, backing vocals and a memorable hook.
Electric Woman – This love song was written by Rinehart. It features light percussion and light guitar at the beginning, picking up the beat on the chorus with a catchy drum beat, some higher range vocals and backing vocals. The electric woman is sending shocks through his body. He wants to be her electric man. He’s never been good at letting her go.
Mary, You’re Wrong – This R&B flavored love song to Rinehart’s wife was written by Rinehart and Simon. The song features keys, light percussion, guitar, organ, strings, and light backing vocals. She’s wrong if she’s thinking he would ever want to leave.
Feel – This mid-tempo love song was written by Rinehart, Simon and Kevin Griffin. The song features keys, bass, backing vocals, drums, backing vocals and a guitar solo mid-song. He wants to know if he is bound for rejection or all of her affection. He’s not going to cut and run. He wants to know if she feels the way he feels.
Hillside House – This mid-tempo love song was written by Rinehart and David Leonard. It features a good bass line, light guitar, drums, and backing vocals. It’s hard to think of their hillside house without her around. So, while they’re still young, and while they still can, he’s gonna wrap her up in his arms again.
What Gives You The Right – This love song was written by Rinehart, Simon and Trent Dabbs.  This song brings back some energy after a few slower songs, featuring guitar, drums, backing vocals and organ. What gives her the right to come and rescue him knowing that he would trust her, even if it meant his life.
Key lyric:
I never planned for surrender
But I’m a fool for your splendor

Religion – This song was written by Rinehart and Simon. It features acoustic guitar and backing vocals. The song could be taken as Rinehart’s departure from the faith. We don’t know who he might be directing these lines to:
You’re a temptress, you’re to blame
For the guilt I can’t displace
Though there’s winters and summers
And so much has changed
You’re the fortress for my shame

Rinehart grew up as a pastor’s son. He sings:
I was born in the shadows of preachers and saints
I was raised in a house of God
But the blood on my lips and the dirt on my face
Is all the religion I’ve got

She’s a needy harlequin
Built by greed and selfish men
Though it’s easy to love her for all you discover
She’s bound to fall again

“Religion” is a confusing song that will surely lead to much discussion about its meaning. It might refer to a dead faith, a rejection of religion, frustration with today’s churches, venting about money and institutions and what they do to the Gospel, venting about the church’s role in creating shame, etc.

Live at Woodstock – Creedence Clearwater Revival
****

On Sunday, August 17, 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), arguably the hottest band on the planet at the time (their album Green River had just been released and their single “Bad Moon Rising” was on the radio), played the Woodstock Festival. The band had appeared on the Andy Williams television program in Los Angeles the night before. They then took a flight to Boston, a private jet to upstate New York, a helicopter ride to a nearby Holiday Inn and another one to the rainy and muddy festival site. They were scheduled to play in front of the crowd of 500,000 at 10:00pm that evening. But the Grateful Dead set went long, and they didn’t get on until about 1:00pm, when most of the crowd was asleep.  The band chose not to be included in the film or the soundtrack recording (rumors were that John Fogerty wasn’t happy with the set), but on the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, the entire eleven song set is finally being released for the first time.
After a less than enthusiastic introduction by the emcee, the band kicks into “Born on the Bayou”. The set includes CCR classics such as “Green River”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Proud Mary” and “Suzie Q”, as well as some covers, and other CCR songs. The remastered version of the concert sounds excellent and shows off the band’s high energy and musical expertise, including Fogerty’s vocals and guitar solos. The entire set is excellent. Highlights include the cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins 1956 hit “I Put a Spell on You” and the closing three songs, Ray Charles’ 1958 “Night Time is the Right Time”, “Keep on Chooglin” and the encore “Suzie Q”, the latter two each stretching to more than ten minutes.
While it is a shame that it took 50 years for this recording to come out, it is an essential recording for CCR and Fogerty fans.

Acoustic Live, Vol. 1 – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

In the fall of 2017, NEEDTOBREATHE did something they had not done before – a fully acoustic tour.  Acoustic Live, Vol. 1 features twelve songs from that tour. It is their second live album in just three years. Live From The Woods was released in April, 2015, and the band has released just one full-length album 2016’s Hard Love, and two EPs 2017’s HARD CUTS: Songs from the H A R D L O V E Sessions and 2018’s Forever On Your Side Niles City Sound Sessions EP since then. Five of the twelve songs included on the new live project were also included on Live From The Woods.
The twelve songs are pulled from five of the band’s albums, plus an EP, and one, “Stand By Me”, has not previously been recorded by the band, so there is good representation from the band’s career. The album, like Live From The Woods, shows just how good a live band NEEDTOBREATHE is. The album also includes some of the band’s comments from the stage.

Below are brief comments about each of the songs:
Let’s Stay Home Tonight – This song was written by Bo Rinehart, Bear Rinehart and Luke Laird. It first appeared on Hard Love.  The song opens with synth and then builds with acoustic guitar, drums and piano. The backing vocals and piano solos are a highlight on this song.
Drive All Night – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on The Reckoning, and was also included on Live from the Woods. Bear delivers a strong vocal over acoustic guitar, drums, backing vocals and some incredible banjo. This was the song that got me hooked on the band.
Key lyric:
I need somewhere I can drive all night
Out into the darkness
Follow the headlights down
I need to know if they can take me
I gotta to know if they can save me

No Excuses – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on Hard Love.  The song opens with acoustic guitar, and backing vocals, and features an excellent organ solo. Mid-song the band includes part of “The House of the Rising Sun”, made popular by the Animals in 1964, featuring some acapella vocals.
State I’m In – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on Rivers in the Wasteland and was also included on Live From The Woods. The upbeat song opens with acoustic guitar and then builds with backing vocals, drums and piano. The song features a nice piano solo.
Washed By The Water – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on The Heat, and was also included on Live From The Woods. The band plays a snippet of “I’m Free” a gospel song before starting this song. Bear offers a strong vocal over piano backing. He won’t fall as long as the Lord is around him.
Key lyric:
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
‘Cause even when the storm comes
I am washing by the water   
Testify – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on Hard Love. This worship song opens with acoustic guitar, then builds with backing vocals, light percussion and piano. The song features a nice piano solo and some nice “Beach Boys” type vocals near the end.
Key lyrics:
There is a peace, there is a love
You can get lost inside
Come to the fountain and let me hear you testify

Oh, Carolina – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on Rivers in the Wasteland and was also included on Live From The Woods. The song opens with acoustic guitar and then builds with drums, backing vocals, guitar and piano. The song features a nice harmonica solo. As the band plays an extended version of the song, they play a snippet from the Who’s “Squeeze Box”.
Stand By Me – This song was written by Ben King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was a hit by Ben E. King in 1961. This is the first time it has appeared on an NEEDTOBREATHE album. The song opens with acoustic guitar, and builds with backing vocals, a brief lead vocal from Seth Bolt, and drums. It features a nice guitar solo and a powerful ending.
Stones Under Rushing Water – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart and features Drew and Ellie Holcomb. It first appeared on The Outsiders.
The song opens with acoustic guitar and builds with drums. The song features a nice harmonica solo and acapella vocals.
Key lyrics:
Yeah, the years go by
Like stones under rushing water
We only know
We only know when it’s gone

White Fences – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart.  It first appeared on The Reckoning. The song begins with acoustic guitar, then drums and backing vocals are added. The keys stood out for me on this track.
Key lyric:
You leave me in the dark
Recounting all my sins
You put words in my mouth
But who is gonna mend
These white fences

Cages – This song was written by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart. It first appeared on HARD CUTS: Songs from the H A R D L O V E Sessions. The song opens with piano, acoustic guitar, and different band members alternate on lead vocals. The song features a nice guitar solo.
Key lyrics:
I went looking for attention
In all the wrong places
I was needing a redemption
And all I got was just cages

Brother – This song was written by Bo Rinehart, Bear Rinehart and Gavin DeGraw. It first appeared on Rivers in the Wasteland and was also included on Live From The Woods. This song begins with acoustic guitar and light percussion. It builds with some excellent vocals, and eventually an audience singalong.
Key lyric:
Brother, let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother, let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home.   

Back Again – Mac Powell and the Family Reunion
****

Mac Powell was the lead singer for the Christian band Third Day for 25 plus years. During that time, the band sold 10 million albums, earned 4 Grammy Awards and 24 Dove Awards. Powell formed his new band in 2018 after Third Day played its final show. The Family Reunion is a band that has developed over the past several years from musicians that have been recording and playing live with Powell in support of his two solo albums, his self-titled 2012 debut and 2014’s Southpaw.
Back Again is southern roots and American rock music, propelled by Powell’s powerful voice, that pays tribute to the early musical inspirations from his childhood. This is not a Christian music album, but there is Christian content in “Heaven” and “What I Came Here For” and there are no objectionable lyrics on the album. It was recorded in Atlanta and produced by Jason Hoard.

Below are a few comments about each of the fifteen songs:
Back Again – This is an excellent opener. It’s an upbeat southern rock song with driving guitars and drums, with Powell’s strong vocal. He was raised to ramble and born to run. He’s always been a traveler and made to move. The only thing that will make him settle down is to come on back to her.
Flood Waters – This is a toe-tapping guitar-driven song. A storm is coming. There will be earthquakes, lightening and flood waters rising. You (God? A woman?) will be the only one he’ll be looking for. There are some nice backing vocals and a guitar solo mid-song.
Whoo! – This song features guitar and drums. It’s a fun song about celebrating the weekend, after a long week of work. The song features country artist Craig Morgan on vocals and a guitar solo mid-song.
Watermelon Rind – This song features guitar and drums, with some organ and a brief guitar solo. The joyful song is about remembering when he was a little boy down at the river swimming with his cousins and sister. When they got hungry his mama got them a watermelon and they ate it down to the rind.
Red On A Rose – This love song has a slower pace. It features acoustic guitar, keys, light drums and backing vocals. Sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned, but she can count on him. He’ll be her shelter, hold her close and never let her go.
I’m Beginning To Wonder – This song features a driving guitar sound and backing vocals. She’s been pulling him down and treating him so bad for so long. He’s beginning to wonder if she ever did love him.
Going To California – This easy-going love song is driven by pedal steel guitar. He’s going to California, find a diamond and buy it for a song. When she wakes up in the morning, he’ll be gone, but he’ll come back home to her in Georgia. The song features a guitar solo mid-song.
I Could Get Used To This – This is a slower paced love song that builds. It features light guitar and drums. He’s never been the type to stick around for too long. But she’s the only one whose made him want to stay. He could get used to staying with her rather than running around.
Tiptoein’ – This is an upbeat fun swamp rock song featuring banjo, guitar, drums and backing vocals. From the time he was five, he was tiptoeing. Now he has kids and he can hear the kids upstairs tiptoeing.
Heaven – This is a slower paced song featuring light guitars and backing vocals that gradually builds. The world’s going crazy and sometimes it seems nothing is left here for him. But all that he wants and needs is right there where he longs to be (in Heaven). The song features an excellent guitar solo near the end of the song.
What I Came Here For – This song has an acoustic, unplugged sound, featuring banjo that builds toward the end. He’s been running. He doesn’t know what he is chasing but he knows there is something more. One of these days, he prays, he’s going to open up the door and find what he came here for. He’s looking for a light to guide his way. Thematically, it reminded me of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. A highlight.
Mess of Me – This song begins with acoustic guitar, and is a toe-tapper, instantly likeable. First time he saw her he fell in love. But he’s running out of time to get her to love him. The temperature is rising and it’s hard for him to breath. He’s dizzy, and it’s hard for him to see. It features a guitar solo mid-song. A highlight.
Settlin’ Down – This song features driving guitar and drums and a sound not unlike a Springsteen solo record. He wants to settle down, get a little place, go out dancing on a Saturday night, talk to dawn and have a couple of kids.
Sittin’ Here Talkin’ With You – This love song has a slower pace with accordion, acoustic guitar and light drum. There is nothing he would rather do than to hold her hand on the front porch swing. It’s his favorite thing sitting there talking with her. The song features a guitar solo mid-song.
Mississippi – This foot-stomping song is driven by guitar and drums. She treats him bad and he’s going to leave. By the time she gets to “10 Mississippi” he’ll be long gone.

Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen
***

Bruce Springsteen returns with his 19th studio album, and first of all new, original material since his 2012’s Wrecking Ball. The 69-year-old Springsteen wrote all of the songs and co-produced the album with Ron Aniello, who produced 2014’s High Hopes and Wrecking Ball. The album, which draws inspiration from the Southern California pop music of the late ’60s and early ’70s, features guest appearances by more than 20 players, including multi-instrumentalist and composer Jon Brion, violinist and singer Soozie Tyrell and former E Street Band member David Sancious. Springsteen has said that the album is a return to his solo recordings, and features character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements.
This album grew on me, sounding better with each repeated listening. The music is laid back and the lyrics are relatively simple. Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Hitch Hikin’ – This song opens with banjo and acoustic guitar and then builds with synth and piano. He’s hitch-hiking all day long with what he can carry and his song. We hear about a few people who stop and give him a ride.
The Wayfarer – This song opens with guitar and synth, and builds with percussion, synth, piano, strings, horns, organ and backing vocals. He’s a wayfarer who drifts from town to town. While others are inspired be living comfortably at home, when he goes to sleep, he can’t count sheep for the white lines of the highway in his head.
Tucson Train – The song opens and closes with train sounds. The song has a very Springsteen sounding synth sound, drums, guitar and memorable chorus. He was down and out in San Francisco, so he headed for the sunshine in Tucson where he got his operator’s license and spends his day running a crane. He thought he had left his love behind but now his baby is coming on the 5:15 Tucson train.
Western Stars – This song begins with guitar and builds with bass, slide guitar, drums and synth. He was an actor who once did a scene with John Wayne. That one scene has bought him a thousand drinks. These days he does commercials for Viagra and credit cards companies.
Sleepy Joe’s Café – This upbeat song begins with drums and acoustic guitar and then builds with synth, piano and accordion. Joe came home from the war in 1945 and bought a place out on the highway across the San Bernardino line where the truckers and the bikers gather every night at the same time. The band comes on at seven and the locals dance the night away. He comes on the weekend and Monday morning feels a million miles away.
Drive Fast (The Stuntman) – This song opens with acoustic guitar and builds with guitar, piano, synth and percussion. At 19 he was king of the dirt down at the Remington draw. He liked the pedal and didn’t mind the wall. Now he has two pins in his ankle, a busted collarbone, and a steel rod in his leg, but it walks him home.
Chasin’ Wild Horses – This song begins with acoustic guitar and synth, and builds beautifully with slide guitar and banjo. He does work with the Bureau of Land Management in Montana chasing wild horses.  It’s the only thing he’s found to get her off his mind.
Sundown – This song begins with piano, guitar, synth, and drums. He’s in Sundown, 2,500 miles away from his girl. He drifts from bar to bar in the lonely town, wishing she were there with him in Sundown, where the cafés are filled with lovers passing time. The voice in his head tells him that when summer’s over, she’ll come around. That’s all he has to keep him from sinking down.
Somewhere North of Nashville – This song begins with acoustic guitar and then builds with slide guitar and piano. He came into Nashville with his songs. He made the rounds but didn’t last long. Now he’s out on the highway somewhere north of Nashville. He’s got a long list of things he didn’t do right, with putting his music ahead of her at the top of the list.
Stones – The song features synths, drums, acoustic guitar, piano, strings and backing vocals. He woke up in the morning with stones in his mouth. The stones were only the lies she told him.
There Goes My Miracle – This song begins with synth and drums and builds, and features a memorable chorus. As the song begins, he’s searching for his love. But there goes his miracle, walking away from him.
Hello Sunshine – This song was the first single released from the album. It begins with a nice soft drum that drives the beat and bass. The song then builds with synth, piano, and slide guitar. He’s had enough of heartbreak and pain and would like the sunshine to stay. He’s always loved a lonely town, but if you fall in love with lonely, you end up that way. He’s also always liked that empty road. He has no place to be and miles to go.
Moonlight Motel – The closing song features acoustic guitar, synth, bass and piano. He is looking back at an affair he had with a lover at the now boarded up desert Moonlight Motel. She had told him that it’s better to have loved. Years later, he pulls a bottle of Jack Daniels out of a paper bag, and pours one for him and one for her.

I Know a Ghost – Crowder
****

This is Crowder’s third solo album, and his follow-up to 2016’s American Prodigal. The sixteen songs include a diverse blend of musical styles – modern bluegrass, hip-hop, swamp rock, pop and EDM (electric dance music). Crowder worked with a number of producers and songwriters on the album. A recurring theme on the album is the Holy Ghost, also known as the Holy Spirit. It is a strong album, though it is short on songs that will translate well to worship services.
Below are a few comments about each song on the album:

I Know A Ghost – The opening song was written by Crowder and he produced it with Tommee Profitt (NF). This song begins with guitar and then builds with drums, synth and a foot stomping beat. He knows the Holy Spirit, but he still feels darkness and heaviness.  But he knows that God paid the debt for him.
Wildfire – This song was written by Crowder, Lauren Olds and Solomon Olds. It was produced by Tommee Profitt. The song was released as a two-sided single ahead of the album and features a swamp rock sound, complete with sounds of crickets and frogs, drum machine and banjo. He sings of the joy of experiencing the Holy Ghost in revival. 
Golgotha Hill (King Of Love)
– This song was written by Crowder, Ed Cash and Tommee Profitt, with Cash and Profitt producing. The powerful song tells the story of Jesus’ death on the cross on Golgotha Hill and his rising on resurrection Sunday. The song features guitar, drum machine, strings, backing vocals, and foot-stomping beats.
Key lyric: There ain’t no stopping love 
Crushing Snakes – This song was written by Crowder, Ed Cash, Martin Cash and Cole Dye. It was produced by Ed Cash and features vocals from Taya Gaukrodger. The song opens with piano and quickly moves to drum machine and foot-stomping beat. We’re not afraid. A promise of God can never be torn away. The song ends powerfully with a vision of the resurrected Christ from Revelation.
Key lyric:
We’re taking back our freedom
Our battle has been won
We have been liberated
Back from the dead we’ve come 

Red Letters – This song was written by Crowder and Ed Cash, and produced by Cash and Tommee Profitt. The song was released as a two-sided single ahead of the album and has the sound of a great Crowder radio song. The joyful song tells of him reading Jesus words in the Bible (“red letters”), and being awakened by the Holy Ghost. The song begins with piano, light guitar and then builds, with drums and backing vocals. A highlight.
Key lyric:
When I read the red letters
And the ground began to shake
The prison walls started falling
And I became a free man that day

Let It Rain (Is There Anybody)
– This song was written by Crowder and Ed Cash and produced by Cash. It features vocals from Mandisa. It was the third and final song released ahead of the album. The song begins with piano, drums, and then goes into a foot tapping beat that is a prayer to the Lord. He is able.
Key lyric:
So let it rain, let it pour
Lord, I need You more and more
Let it rain, rain down on me
Every day, whatever You want
Not my will but Yours, Lord
Let it rain, rain down on me

Everyday I’m Blessed – This song was written by Crowder and Solomon Olds and produced by Olds. This song has an instantly likeable swamp rock sound, featuring banjo and backing vocals. A highlight.
Key lyric:
My God is able, my God is good
My God is able, He’ll pull me through
My God is able, my God is good
He’ll pull me through, yeah, that’s what He do

I’m Leaning On You
– This song was written by Brenton Brown, Chris McClarney, Hank Bentley and Crowder. It was produced by Tommee Profitt and features vocals from Riley Clemmons. This R&B flavored song begins with piano and then light drum machine. It is a prayer to the Lord about leaning on Him. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8: 38-39).
No Rival – This song was written by Chad Mattson, Hank Bentley, Jonathan Lowry and JR Collins. It was produced by Tommee Profitt. It features a rap, and call and response vocals from JR Collins. It also features drum machine and is about the all sufficiency of Jesus. There is a no one like Jesus. He has no equal.
Key lyric:
He is gentle
But you can’t tame Him
Child Of God
– This song was written by Crowder, Ed Cash and Solomon Olds and produced by Olds. It is an upbeat foot-stomping joyful song featuring fiddle, drums and banjo about being a child of God.
Happy Day – This was written by Crowder, Ed Cash and Solomon Olds and produced by Cash. This is a foot-stomping song, featuring banjo, fiddle and backing vocals about the joy of being saved, having our sins washed away by the sacrifice of Christ.
Night Like This
– This song was written by Crowder and produced by Solomon Olds. The song has a joyful foot-stomping country sound with hand claps and background crowd noises. There ain’t nothing better than a night like this with his friends.
Key lyric:
And it’s only gonna get better than this
I can only imagine what comes next

La Luz
– This song was written by written by Crowder, Ed Cash, B-Coe, Fern and Marty. It was produced by Ed Cash and B-Coe and features the Social Club Misfits.
“La Luz” is Spanish for “The Light”. This “Holy Ghost party song” opens with banjo, drum machine, harmonica and a foot-stomping beat. The song includes some hip-hop and Latin beats.
Key lyric:
Break the bread, pour the wine
The Father’s arms are open wide
Break the bread, pour the wine
Ain’t nobody gonna sleep tonight, come on

The Sinner’s Cure – This song was written by Crowder and produced by Tommee Profitt. It opens with keys and drum machine.  The song asks probing questions. The answer, the sinner’s cure, is the blood and sacrifice of Christ.
Hundred Miles – This was the only song on the album not written, or co-written, by Crowder. The song was written by Brian MacDonald, Judah Akers and Nathan Zuercher and produced by Hank Bentley. The first line of this worship song is from Psalm 103.  The song opens with acoustic guitar, then builds with full band (drums, guitar, piano, banjo and backing vocals).
Key lyric:
Bless the Lord, oh my soul
Sing praise to Him and Him alone
Bless the Lord, oh my soul
Sing praise with me, you heavenly hosts
Ghost – This song was first released on the 2018 Passion album Whole Heart. The song was written by Crowder and Ed Cash and produced by Cash. The song opens with some EDM and then builds to a powerful chorus. We’re ready like a waiting bride.
Key lyric:
Get ready, there’s an empty tomb
Get ready, there’s a Ghost in the room
Get ready, even mountains move
Get ready, all the stories are true
Get ready, there’s an empty tomb

Into the Night – Social Club Misfits
****

Into the Night is the long-awaited and strong follow-up to Social Club Misfits 2017 major label debut The Misadventures of Fern and Marty and is their tenth overall project. Marty and Fern have stated that the album is about being a light no matter where you are in life. The diverse, confident and Christ-centered album is well written, performed and produced, as they work with multiple producers and guest artists.
Below are a few comments about each song:

Nightmare – This song was produced by Daniel Steel and Wit. It is written by Fern and Marty. The album starts out by Marty indicating that SCM are the Devil’s worst nightmare. This album is the moment we’ve been waiting for. They are back in town and they are going into the night to reach Misfits that nobody believes in, fighting for what is right.
Dive – This was the first single released from the album. It is produced by Young Sidechain and Beam and features Beam. It is written by Young Sidechain, Jordan Douglas, Beam, Marty and Fern. Key lyric: I go fishing for the hope
War Cry – This was the fourth single released in advance of the album’s release. It is produced by Tauren Wells and Tommee Profitt.  It is written by Wells, Profitt, JT Roach, David Frank, Fern and Marty. The song features Wells, and is powerful song about now being the time to rise up and share the Gospel that will sound great on radio.
Into The Night – This song is produced by Wit and Daniel Steele and features Chris Batson. It is written by Batson, Fern and Marty. Baston handles the chorus with Fern and Marty taking the verses. They were doubted, but every year is their year. They are taking it to the max.
Tuyo – This was the fifth and final song released in advance of the album’s release. The song features Jordin Sparks and Danny Gokey and is written by Sparks, Gokey, Fern and Marty. It has a Latin vibe to it, with much of it sung in Spanish.  Key lyric: Every race, every color, every nation, Come together, there’s no more separation. It’s time to rise up and make a statement
Happy Accident – This song is produced by Alex Medina and written by              Fern and Marty. The song features a good drum beat throughout. For them, it’s not about making it up to the top, but about making a difference. Key lyric: Why do you think that I’m here. I came for the Man who’s in charge.
Lucky – This song is produced by John Smythe, Wit and Daniel Steele. It is written by Smythe, Wit, Steel, Fern and Marty. Additional vocals are provided by Ian Everson. The song is not about being lucky, but about working hard. Key lyric: Maybe we got lucky or maybe we chosen.
Say Goodbye – This song was the second single released from the album. It is produced by Wit and 42 North. It is written by Joel McNeil, John McNeil, B. Reith, Fern and Marty. This song has a slower vibe to it. Key lyric: This is the part where you leave without saying goodbye.
Number One (A Song For You) – This song is produced by Rugah Rahi. It is written by Rahi, Fern and Marty. Rahi opens the song. This song is about making the Lord number one and that’s why they are on top. It features a good drum beat throughout. Key lyric: Game over, yes, over the breaks, over, witness the takeover, and God gets the praise for it.
Sinatra / Ca$h – This song is produced by Al Cres and written by Ben Lopez, Cres, Fern and Marty. This intense song has a good drum beat throughout. Things slow down after the bridge. Ten projects in and they are just starting.
Key lyric: The feeling that I bring through a verse such detail and doctrine, but I tell you myself you need a church and a pastor.
Clear – This song is produced by produced by Young Sidechain, and features Foggieraw, who takes verse three. It is written by Young Sidechain, Foggieraw, Fern and Marty. The song is driven by a good beat throughout. There’s no pride, just honesty. No hate, just truth.  Key lyric: I was chosen it’s not random.
The One Of A Kind One – This song is produced by Daniel Steel and Wit. It is written by John Smythe, Steele, Wit, Fern and Marty. It features some excellent horns throughout. SCM tells their story about being courted by labels and going from underground to sold out crowds. They were told it wouldn’t last with this God thing. As far as other rappers, they aren’t looking at them, they are looking past them. Key lyric: I feel like I’m in my zone, bringing the best vibes that’s Christ alone.
Solo – This song is produced by Israel Steven Mercedes. It features Evan Craft and is written by Rey King, Mercedes, Craft, Fern and Marty. Like “Tuyo”, the song has a Latin beat and sung in both Spanish and English.
Key lyric:
You never left me alone, I could always feel Your heart
Your plan has always been perfect, I just had to play my part
You always wanted to use me, I just had to let You start

Untitled Hymn: A Collection of Hymns – Chris Rice
****

Chris Rice returned to the music scene in January after twelve years with Songs We Wrote On Tuesdays, a collaborative duo side project he completed with Andrew Ripp. Untitled Hymn: A Collection of Hymns is Rice’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2006 best-seller Peace Like a River: The Hymns Project. That record has been streamed an incredible 72 million times to date. Similar to that album, Untitled Hymn is very simple musically, with Rice’s voice usually accompanied by piano, acoustic guitar and light backing vocals. The album, which was produced by Ken Lewis, features a new recording of his classic “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)”, eleven other hymns and one new song “Too Much I Love”. I absolutely love this new recording.
Here are a few comments about each song:

What A Friend We Have In Jesus – This hymn was written by Joseph Scriven (words) and Charles Crozat Converse (music) in 1855. The song features acoustic guitar and some backing vocals.
Amazing Grace – This hymn was written by John Newton. In 1779, together with the poet William Cowper, Newton published 280 of his hymns in the popular Olney Hymns. “Amazing Grace” was part of the collection. The song features piano, light organ and cello.
Untitled Hymn (Come To Jesus) – This song was written by Chris Rice, and originally appeared on Rice’s 2003 album Run the Earth, Watch the Sky. It features piano, light strings, acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
O For A Thousand Tongues – This hymn was written by Charles Wesley (words) and Carl Gottholf Glaser (music). Wesley wrote the words in 1740. Rice includes a new refrain “And I had a thousand tongues, still I could never sing enough”. The song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals and strings. A highlight.
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross – This hymn was written by Isaac Watts and published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707. The song features piano and strings, and new timing in the chorus.
This Is My Father’s World – This hymn was written by Maltbie Davenport Babcock. Soon after his death in 1901, his wife released a collection of Babcock’s poems entitled Thoughts for Every-Day Living that contained the poem “My Father’s World.” The music is from Franklin Shepherd, who adopted an English folk song. The song features acoustic guitar, piano, light strings and backing vocals.
There Is A Fountain – This hymn was written by William Cowper, most likely in 1771. The song features piano and a backing choir. A highlight.
Leaning On The Everlasting Arms – This hymn was written in 1887 by Anthony J. Showalter and Elisha Hoffman (words) and Showalter (music). The song features acoustic guitar, a bluegrass fiddle, and backing vocals.
Hallelujah, What A Savior – This hymn was written by Philip P. Bliss in 1875.  The song features acoustic guitar, piano, backing vocals, and ends with a children’s choir.
Were You There – This hymn is an African American spiritual that was first published in William Barton’s 1899 Old Plantation Hymns. The song features piano, light organ and backing choir.  
Fairest Lord Jesus – This writer and the history of this hymn is debated. The song features acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
Too Much I Love – This beautiful new song was written by Rice. The song started as one of the poems in his book Widen: A Collection of Poems.   It features piano and light organ. The song is about his love for God’s wonderful creation, “Too much I love this world You made”, but it points to more “she echoes better places.”

Mood – Social Club Misfits
****

Social Club Misfits (Marty and Fern) follow up their excellent 2018 album Into the Night with Mood, a new five-song EP, which will whet your appetite for Social Club Misfits music until the next full-length album is released. Below are a few comments about each of the songs on the EP:

Everytime – This song was written by Young Sidechain, Marty and Fern and produced by Young Sidechain. It was the lead single for the EP. The song addresses the loss of a few friends, their childhood, and living out their dreams doing what they love.
Que lo Que – This song was written by Daniel Young Kim, Dirty Rice, Fern and Marty, and produced by Dirty Rice. GAWVI provides additional vocals. The song begins with an acoustic guitar and quickly transitions into a likeable Latin beat, with the vocals alternating between Spanish and English.
Key lyric:
All I know is that God is sovereign
He’s in control
I’m letting go, I went from pit to palace. 
Up – This song was written by Cardec, Marty and Fern and produced by Cardec. They came from the bottom and things are going well now. They are rapping for applause and their numbers are going up.
Chinatown Freestyle – This song was written by Ben Lopez, Marty and Fern and produced by Lopez. The intro is from Chris Durso “Why would we concern ourselves with words from men when we got ourselves a word from God. We’re misfits”. Themes in the song include touring, childhood and a death threat.
Key lyric:
If you hate on Social Club then you’re dead inside. 
So Our God Came to Us – This song was written by Dirty Rice, Jung Youth, Fern and Marty and produced by Dirty Rice. Jung Youth sings the chorus. We were all alone, but our God came to us. Marty and Fern rap hard on their verses. They achieved their goals and wrote more, but God had His own plan. Without His guidance theirs has no purpose. Joy comes in serving Him.

Deeper Roots: Where The Bluegrass Grows – Steven Curtis Chapman
***

In 2013, five-time Grammy winner Steven Curtis Chapman released Deep Roots, an album which featured 12 songs, 5 of which are available on the new Deeper Roots: Where The Bluegrass Grows, released on Chapman’s own New Day distributed-SCSee label. Both albums represent a return to bluegrass, Chapman’s musical roots.
In addition to the 5 songs from Deep Roots, the new album contains eight other songs. The album is comprised of a mixture of well-loved hymns, new versions of Chapman favorites and two new songs. Chapman is joined by Ricky Skaggs, Rascal Flatt’s Gary LeVox and family members on the album, which was produced by Chapman and Brent Milligan.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs:

Where the Bluegrass Grows – This upbeat new song features banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. He comes from a place where the bluegrass grows. He can’t believe all the places he and his guitar have been – from the Grand Old Opry stage to Carnegie Hall. He comes right back home when he hears a banjo.
Dive – This Chapman classic is revitalized with the help of Ricky Skaggs. Skaggs had also joined Chapman on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” on Deep Roots. The song features some excellent banjo and backing vocals.
‘Til The Blue – This is a new song written by Chapman, Lori McKenna and Barry Dean. It features Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts on vocals. This is a beautiful song, featuring acoustic guitar. It’s a song about helping someone going through a difficult time. There are no words to say or answers to give to the questions they are asking. But the friend is there to help carry them through the difficult time.
Key lyric:
‘Til the blue returns to your sky
‘Til the laughter returns to your eyes
I’ll be right here to cry with you
And right here to give you a song
To help you go on
Until you’re strong 
Cinderella – This Chapman classic was previously available on Deep Roots.
Victory in Jesus – This hymn features Chapman’s father, Herb Chapman Sr., and brother, Herb Chapman Jr.
Great is Thy Faithfulness – This hymn features Chapman’s father, Herb Chapman Sr., and brother Herb Chapman Jr.
My Redeemer is Faithful and True – This Chapman classic was previously available on Deep Roots.
How Great Thou Art – This hymn, featuring Chapman’s daughter-in-law Jillian Edwards Chapman, was previously available on Deep Roots.
Life is Like a Mountain Railroad – This classic hymn, featuring Chapman’s father, Herb Chapman Sr., and brother, Herb Chapman Jr., was previously available on Deep Roots.
I’ll Fly Away – This classic hymn features good backing vocals, banjo and fiddle.
Without Him – This classic hymn features Chapman’s father, Herb Chapman Sr., and brother Herb Chapman Jr.
Be Still and Know – This Chapman classic, featuring Chapman’s son Caleb Chapman, was previously available on Deep Roots.
I’d Rather Have Jesus – This classic hymn features Chapman’s father, Herb Chapman Sr.

The Eclipse Sessions – John Hiatt
****

The Eclipse Sessions is 66-year-old John Hiatt’s first album since 2014’s excellent Terms of My Surrender, and 23rd studio album overall. The album, one of the best of the year, was recorded at Kevin McKendree’s home studio at his farm outside of Nashville over four days in the summer of 2017 that included the August 21st solar eclipse. Hiatt recorded the album as part of a trio comprised of guitar, Patrick O’Hearn on bass and long-time drummer Kenneth Blevins. McKendree, who produced the album, added occasional organ, while his 16-year-old son, Yates McKendree, played additional guitar and engineered the album. Hiatt has said that Yates was their secret ingredient. His guitar playing is a definite highlight on the album. Hiatt has said that The Eclipse Sessions feels like the final part of a trilogy that includes 1987’s Bring the Family and 2000’s Crossing Muddy Waters.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:

Cry to Me – The opener begins with acoustic guitar and features piano, organ and has an excellent guitar solo. She can cry to him, though he’s probably going to let her down.  He promises not to keep her down.
All the Way to the River – The song speaks of cowardice and courage needed to leave town. How is she going to get through this night? Dirty Nashville is her home. The song features acoustic guitar, drums, organ and a nice guitar solo.
Aces Up Your Sleeve – On this sad song, Hiatt is accompanied on acoustic guitar, bass, drum and organ. The song is about a former lover who is now with someone else.  It features a nice guitar solo mid song. Key lyric: “The queen of hearts has shown her face, she wants you to believe you were never meant to have aces up your sleeve”.
Poor Imitation of God – This rocker features some excellent guitar, including a mid-song solo.  He can do the devil in his sleep but he’s a poor imitation of God.
Nothing in My Heart – This song features acoustic guitar, drums and a nice organ solo mid-song. Hiatt offers a gruff vocal as he sings about a former lover who wanted the better man. There’s nothing in his heart, there’s just enough of him and the darkest part of his heart to hide his love away. He has no feelings bad or good. No pain and no despair, there’s nothing there.
Over the Hill – This song starts with acoustic guitar, and builds with organ, drums and some excellent guitar from Yates McKendree. He sings about the aging process, indicating “I’m long in the tooth, and what can I say, I’ve taken huge bites of life and I ate the bones”. She mourns for the way that things might have been. She can have him, but he’s over the hill.
Outrunning My Soul – This song is driven by a guitar and electric piano beat, and features a nice electric piano solo mid-song. She’s outrunning his soul. What’s it gonna take to slow her down. It’s like he’s taking a stroll. He’s got no control. He can’t fake the man he’s supposed to be.
Hide Your Tears – This song features guitar, bass and light drums. He doesn’t spend too many days thinking about his reckless ways, how to outrun death or the broken hearts, trouble and pain he’s caused. He tells her to hide her tears out in plain sight, hide them to catch the light, show them to her friends. Then go and hide your tears again.
The Odds of Loving You – This slow acoustic blues song features some excellent guitar from Yates McKendree, including a solo mid-song. He rode in on his high horse, taking notes and naming names, but ran out like a dog in shame. He likes the gravy but she wants to save him from himself. He’s stubborn and stupid. Seven nights of heaven and eleven nights of who shot who. He likes those odds of loving her.
One Stiff Breeze – This is a Goners-like rocker featuring a distorted guitar sound. He can’t find her anywhere, though he would have thought she would stand out in a crowd with her flashlight eyes. The song suddenly changes toward the end of the song with him singing “I love you” and some organ added.
Robber’s Highway – This was the first song Hiatt wrote for the record. He has stated “I was just thinking in terms of somebody who’s out there hammering away with his music, wondering what it’s all coming to.” The song is sung over acoustic guitar, bass and light drums.  He’s aging and has regrets about his life on the road. He’s wondering what it was he did so well. Now he doesn’t have feeling in the fingers of one of his hands. The night before felt like a three-night stand. He didn’t plan to wake up this day. He sings “Come and get me Jesus, I don’t know.  Come and get me ‘cause I can’t go.”

In the Blue Light – Paul Simon
****

I first read about 76 year old Paul Simon’s plans to make a “revisit” album with new interpretations of some of his previously recorded songs in Robert Hillburn’s excellent 2018 biography Paul Simon: The Life.  In the Blue Light, Simon’s 14th solo album, features ten recordings of old works, newly considered that were originally released from 1973 to 2011. In the liner notes, Simon says he chose “songs that I thought were almost right, or were odd enough as to be overlooked the first time around”. The album was produced by Simon and Roy Halee.
The album features excellent contributions from jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, guitarist Bill Frissell, Chamber ensemble yMusic, saxophonist Joe Lovano, drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist John Patitucci and The National’s Bryce Dessner.
In some instances, Simon even makes small tweaks to some of his lyrics. Simon includes four songs from his 2000 album You’re the One, none of his hits and no songs from his classic album Graceland.
Below are a few brief comments about each song on the album:

One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor – This song was originally included on 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. This version, which is more bluesy than the original, features some excellent piano, horns and a passionate vocal from Simon.
Love – This song was originally included on the 2000 album You’re the One. This version features some excellent Spanish guitar.
Can’t Run But – This song was originally included on 1990’s The Rhythm of the Saints. This version moves from Brazilian world music to more of a modern classical music feel/acoustic chamber music from yMusic with a new arrangement from The National’s Bryce Dessner. A lyrical change has the blues band by the riverbank that appeared in the original version being replaced by the DJ.
How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns – This song was originally included on the 1980 album One-Trick Pony. Marsalis’ trumpet and some good piano bring a jazz feel to this version of the song and the atmosphere of the now downtown (formerly local) bar and grill.  His trumpet replaces the acoustic guitar on the original version.
Pigs, Sheep and Wolves – This song was originally included on the 2000 album You’re the One. The song, which Simon has described as an urban song about racial profiling, is jazzier than the original. This version with Marsalis’ trumpet and the percussion is a Mardis Gras march, a New Orleans-styled party.
Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War – This song was originally included on the 1983 album Hearts and Bones. This version features YMusic’s strings arrangement and light horns.
The Teacher – This song was originally included on the 2000 album You’re the One. This version is more unplugged than the original. It features some tasty Spanish guitar from Odair Assad and Sergio Assad and some good saxophone.
Darling Lorraine – This story song about a troubled relationship was originally included on the 2000 album You’re the One. This version includes acoustic guitar, some from the late Vincent Nguini, who played with Simon until his death in 2017. The song also features some light backing vocals and a good vocal from Simon.
Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy – This song was originally included on the 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years. This version, which features piano, bass, and saxophone, is jazzier than the original, and has Sullivan Fortner’s piano replacing the electric piano on the original version.
Questions for Angels – This song was originally included on the 2011 album So Beautiful or So What. This version is driven by some beautiful acoustic guitar.
Key lyric:
Questions for the angels
Who believes in angels?
Fools do
Fools and pilgrims all over the world

Never Fold by Tedashii
****

Never Fold is the fifth studio album from Tedashii. The 17-song, 54-minute album is his follow-up to his excellent 2016 EP This Time Around and is his first full-length album since 2014’s Below Paradise. He did release a few songs in 2017 and 2018 that are not included here (“Way Up”, “Messenger” and “Splash”, though a revised version of the latter song is included), and two that are, “Gotta Live” (featuring Jordan Feliz) and “Smile”. It’s been way too long since we got a new full-length album from Tedashii, but the wait has definitely been worth it. The album features a number of special guests, among them Lecrae, Trip Lee and Crowder, and he uses multiple songwriters and producers. Never fold and the pain of losing his son Chase are themes that show up throughout the album.
My favorite songs are “God Flex”, “Get Out My Way” and “Gotta Live”. Here are a few comments about each song on the album:

There’s a Heaven – This song is written by Justin Lay, Sean Hamilton, Jimi Cravity and Tedashii, and produced by Hamilton and Cravity. This short opener features distorted vocals over keys.

God Flex – This song was produced by Daramola and Cardec and written by Daramola, Cardec, Jacob “Biz” Morris, WHATUPRG, Ace Harris, Trip Lee and Tedashii. It features Lee and Daramola on vocals and Swoope on orchestra. This is a hard-hitting song that will pull you in right away. The song was based on a real moment in Tedashii’s life when God showed up less than a year after his son Chase died. He had to let go of pride and humble himself to see God as good. Trust God, he is going to show up in your moment.
Key lyric:
But he gonna swing low in the chariot and carry me home

Get Out My Way – This song is written by Cardec, Wes Writer, Lecrae and Tedashii, and produced by Cardec. This song features a great collaboration with Lecrae. It’s a hard-hitting song. Every day is a struggle. People are throwing stones and trying to make them stumble. They’ve taken a lot of hits but they are getting through it.

Son of Sam – This song is written by Zach Paradis, GAWVI, Chad Gardner, Daniel Steel, Derek Minor, Andy Mineo and Tedashii, and produced by Minor. The song features a brief intro from Mineo. On this song Tedashii shares his struggles after losing his son Chase. He’s trying to figure out who he is. He’s all alone and struggling, but encouraged by friends. He feels like he’s dying from grief, suffering panic attacks. His heart is getting harder to heal.

Home – This song is written by Alex “Juice” Hitchens, Mashell, Zach Paradis, Ace Harris, Tedashii and Crowder. The song is produced by Paradis, Mashell and Harris, and features Crowder on the chorus. In a passionate vocal, Tedashii sings of hurt and grief. He did his best, but confesses that he needs God’s help, who gave him love that he didn’t deserve. He refuses to waste a day. The electronic drums shine on this track.
Key lyric:
Looking for the shade where the trees are dead
Trying to find my way to the peace inside

Splash II – This song is written by Zach Paradis, Mashell, Ace Harris, Iggy Music, Wes Writer, Parris Chariz, Jarry Manna and 1K Phew. It is produced by Paradis, Harris, Iggy Music and Mashell. The song uses the same chorus as “Splash” featuring 1K Phew that was released in early 2018. Other vocals are provided by Jarry Manna and Parris Chariz. This upbeat song is about making a splash for God.

Water – This song is written by Zach Paradis, Tumeh Gailor, Royce Munroe, Lloyd Musa, Ace Harris, Jeremiah “Sick Pen” Bethea and Tedashii. The song is produced by Paradis and Harris. He sings of being cleaned by the water and how Houston made it through the flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Diamonds – This song is written by Steve Tirogene, Sean Minor, Jamal Wesley James, Dustin “DAB” Bowie, Desmond Jamal Rasberry and Tedashii. It is produced by Tirogene, Minor, and Desmond South. The sound features a good beat driven by the percussion. He’s got a lot of pain in his heart, trouble in his soul and feels like he has the whole world on his shoulders. He has a lot of pressure on his body but diamonds are made just like that. Life will test him each day but he’ll never fold, he’ll get through.
Key lyric:
I got blessings on the way
I can see a better day

Step into Love – This song is written by Jordan Sapp, Sarah Reeves and Tedashii. It is produced by Sapp and features Reeves on the chorus. Life has been hard and he almost gave up. People may change but God is always the same, so why should he quit. We need to step into love like you’ve never been hurt before. The song features keys and a good beat driven by electric drums.

My Lifestyle – On this song Tedashii sings of battling depression and grief. The devil put him through hell, but the Lord helped him through it and gave him a reason for living.  He’s still unashamed and with the people he came with.

Gotta Live – This song was written by Chris Howland, Zach Paradis, Jordan Feliz and Tedashii, and produced by Ace Harris. The song, which features a memorable chorus, features Feliz on vocals, and reached number one on Billboard’s Christian Hot AC/CHR chart. Tedashii has said that this song is about perseverance and encouragement.  Life is meant to be lived as the gift from God that it is and we should see that as a reason to keep going and never fold.
Key lyric:
Everybody has their doubts but you can’t stop now

Hold Me Down – On this song Tedashii expresses appreciation for those who stick by his side. He sings of doing what he does for his family and a cousin in prison. He tries to love his enemies and use their energy. The song ends with a young rapper on the last verse.

Smile – This song was written by SAK PASE, Philip Green, Marquis Rachad, Ace Harris and Tedashii and produced by SAK PASE. It was first released in early 2018. Tedashii has said that the song, with its easy going and uplifting rhythms and singing, fits the mood of what he wanted to create to help people smile and have joy. DJ Blak offers additional vocals.
Key lyric:
Life is hard, but it’s getting better
We all harmed, but the scars, they not here forever

All In Love – This song is written by Kelvin Wooten, Kameron Glasper, Chris Owens and Tedashii. It is produced by Chris King and features Kam Parker on the chorus. This is a song to Tedashii’s wife who has been with him through it all. With her he been blessed, feeling like he hit the lottery.

Full Effect – This song was written by Wesley E. Smith Jr., SAK PASE, Ace Harris and Tedashii and produced by SAK PASE. Tedashii brings a confident vocal on this song. He’s in his element, at his best. He sings that life is curtains, drawn back, but God came to open the blinds and let the sun in.

Won’t Bring Me Down – This song was written by Tyron, Boosen, Joshua Toala, Cardec, Evan Ford and Tedashii. It was produced by Tee-Wyla, Cardec and Ford. The song features a female vocalist on the chorus. God never told him that it would be easy, just that He would be with him through the nightmares and broken dreams. His help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121.2)

It is Well – The closing song is a short version of Horatio G. Spafford’s 1873 hymn “It is Well With My Soul”. The song is sung in another language by a female vocalist. It is a beautiful, piano driven song.

AWAKEN: The Surrounded Experience – Michael W. Smith
***

Over the course of his 35-year career, the multi-talented Michael W. Smith has provided the church with excellent music in a number of different genres – pop, Christmas, instrumental and worship. At age 61, he is going stronger than ever, having released three albums in 2018, a live worship album Surrounded, a studio album A Million Lights, and a children’s album Lullaby. In addition, he honored Billy Graham and George H. W. Bush by singing at their funerals. He is back to start 2019 off with the new live worship album Awaken: The Surrounded Experience. The album was recorded at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, on August 30, 2018 at the free Surrounded: A Night to Pray, Worship and Be Awakened concert. The event was a multi-racial, multi-denominational and multi-generational gathering of 14,000 people, which was later broadcast on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) to 175 countries worldwide as the special Surrounded: A Night of Worship, Prayer, and Awakening. The evening began with a time of prayer for the city of Nashville, surrounding communities, and the nation, led by area pastors.
The new album includes 13 songs from that concert, 6 of which were included on the Surrounded album. Also included are Will Reagan’s “Set a Fire”, the opening song, Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song” and three songs included on previous Smith albums – “Let it Rain”, “Healing Rain” and “Agnus Dei”. Smith turns over lead vocals on Todd Dulaney’s “King of Glory” to CeCe Winans, and on Sinach’s “Waymaker”, the album’s initial single, to Vanessa Campagna and Madelyn Berry.
The production quality of the recording is excellent, which is especially noteworthy for a live album. Although the album captures the worship experience well, and I enjoyed it, with nearly half of the album being comprised of songs that appeared on the live album Surrounded just a year earlier, some buyers may feel like they have to choose between Surrounded and AWAKEN: The Surrounded Experience.

Holy Roar: Live from Church – Chris Tomlin
***

I’ve enjoyed Chris Tomlin’s music for several years. For years, I would look forward to the new songs he introduced each January at the Passion conference in Atlanta (and following live album), and also his own solo albums. His 2016 studio album Never Lose Sight was my favorite album of that year. His latest studio album, Holy Roar, was released last October. The album was good, but not great, and I found that it was one that I didn’t go back to listen to a lot after its initial release.  It was also his first album since 2004’s Arriving to not hit the top of the Christian charts, topping out at #3 and only #103 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart (2013’s Burning Lights hit #1 on both).
So, I found it surprising that Tomlin would release a live album comprised of seven songs from Holy Roar, plus one from Pat Barrett (who is signed to Tomlin’s label, and who is also with Tomlin on the current Holy Roar tour), recorded in front of 200 worship leaders at a small church in east Nashville. Tomlin’s music is best heard live in a worship setting (concert or church) and that’s probably why he wanted these songs to be heard in that context. The album is also a nice tie-in with the tour, which kicked off a week before the album was released.
For the most part however, the performances here are not different enough from the studio versions for most listeners to purchase this new live album. The exceptions would be Tomlin’s live version of Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive’s “Is He Worthy?”, which was released as part of a three song EP ahead of the full album and his “Goodness, Love and Mercy”, which brings more energy than the studio version.

Sing! Psalms: Ancient + Modern (Live At The Getty Music Worship Conference) – Keith and Kristyn Getty
****

This album was recorded live at the second annual Getty Music Worship Sing!  Conference at the Nashville Music City Center and historic Ryman Auditorium, September 10-12, 2018. I attended this conference, and can attest that the singing of the 7,500 attendees, along with a 300-person choir, was a foretaste of Heaven. Keith Getty and his incredible songwriting partners had written several new songs on the Psalms for the conference, many of which were included on the Getty’s EP The North Coast Sessions, which was released just prior to the conference. Five songs from The North Coast Sessions are included on the new live album. This recording features Keith and Kristyn Getty, their amazing band and several special guests.
Among the many musical highlights from the conference that are included here is Matt Redman leading the attendees in his “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, Andrew Peterson singing his incredible “Is He Worthy?” backed by the 300-person Sing! choir, Matt Boswell and Matt Papa singing “His Mercy is More”, and Shane and Shane joining Kristyn Getty on vocals for “The Lord is My Salvation”.  The great Phil Keaggy adds acoustic guitar to “My Dwelling Place (Psalm 91).” Other special guests included on the album are Cindy Morgan and Stuart Townend, a frequent writing partner with Keith Getty, and co-writer of the classic “In Christ Alone”.
The production quality is excellent, especially impressive for a live album.

To The Kindness of God – Michael Card
****

It’s hard for me to put into words what the ministry of Michael Card has meant to my spiritual growth. For 35 years, his music, books, and Biblical Imagination Conferences have had a profound impact on me. The first album of his that I bought was 1984’s Known by the Scars when I was a relatively new believer. Many of his books have also had an accompanying album, as is the case here. The new album is about the wonderful concept of hesed, which Card refers to as an “untranslatable, three-letter, two-syllable Hebrew word”.  He does help us with a working definition of hesed – “when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything”. The album is a companion to his excellent book Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (see my review here), and may be his final full-length album. Let’s hope that we continue to be blessed by the biblically based music of Michael Card, in whatever format, for many years to come.
Cards has described the album as a “very acoustic, classical-sounding record” with no drums. There are six new songs, a new live version of a previously released Card song, and three covers. Below are a few comments about each song on the album:   
Come as You Are – This beautiful opener is driven by piano, with backing vocals and light percussion added at the chorus, which is from Psalm 100:5:
For the Lord is good and his love is everlasting.
Oh, the Lord is good and his mercy never ending
Won’t you come 
A female vocalist joins in at the second verse.
Hymn to the Kindness of God – On this song, Card sings of many attributes of God (beauty, kindness, gentleness, tenderness, endless, graciousness, patience, etc.) over piano and an impressive string arrangement.
The Shelter of the Shadow – This song features strings, and a female vocalist backed by a classical choir. The song is about Exodus 34 and Moses’ encounter with God, which Card has described as the defining moment of hesed in the Hebrew Bible. Moses has asked to see God’s glory. The Lord has responded by revealing the true nature of that glory: compassion, mercy, truth, kindness, hesed. He references Exodus 34:6:
 “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
That Kind of Love – This is a cover of Pierce Pettis’ song, a song I wasn’t previously aware of. It’s a beautiful piano driven song with a nice string arrangement. The lyrics fit nicely with the hesed theme. That kind of love can’t be bought, sold or faked. It always gives itself away. May we be remembered by that kind of love.
When Dinah Held My Hand/Jesus on the Mainline – This song refers to a story that Card tells in the book about a time when Dinah demonstrated hesed to him when he visited an African American church. The song is driven by banjo and other string instruments. The song then merges into a Black gospel version of the traditional song “Jesus on the Mainline” driven by piano and female vocals.
Gomer’s Song – This is a new live version of “The Song of Gomer”, originally recorded on Card’s 1992 album The Word: Capturing the Imagination.  It is about the adulteress wife of the prophet Hosea. The song features a nice acoustic guitar solo. Hosea showed hesed to Gomer, who had no right to expect anything.
Simply more than I can see
How he keeps on forgiving me
The wife of adultery
Gomer is my name

This is My Father’s World – This song was written by C. Barny Robertson and Maltbie Babcock. It features acoustic guitar and beautiful strings by Alan Moore, who came out of retirement to do the arrangement. This is a beautiful recording, but I didn’t see the connection to the subject of hesed that the other songs on the album have.
I Will Be Kind – This beautiful song, featuring piano, strings and backing vocals, is about one of the fundamental facets of hesed, reciprocity. In his book, Cards tells us that once a relationship or covenant of hesed is established, there is an unspoken mutuality. The one who was initially shown hesed naturally demonstrates hesed in return. He tells us that reciprocity is an indication that you have internalized the truth of hesed. In light of all He has done for us, what should we do? We will become His hands and feet, forgiving, loving as we have been forgiven, being gracious and kind.   
Why Not Change the World – This song aligns with Card’s final challenge to the reader of the book – to take the understanding we have in our heads of hesed and allow the Spirit to move it into our hearts. In the book, he tells us that we must enter into the world of the word hesed and then take that world into our world, back to our families, to our churches and towns—to our enemies.  The upbeat song is driven by piano and light percussion and features a Korean choir singing in their native tongue.
Why not change the world,
why not set it free?
Why not let the change begin with you and me?
We will never make a difference
Till we see a change of heart
Why not change the world, why not make a start? 

Versatile – Van Morrison
****

The 72-year old Morrison follows his excellent September, 2017 blues album Roll with the Punches with the self-produced Versatile, his 38th studio album. The appropriately titled Versatile focuses on his interpretation of nine of the 20th century’s greatest vocal jazz standards, as well as 3 new jazz-influenced originals, three new versions of songs he’s previously recorded, “I Forgot That Love Existed,” “Only A Dream” and “Start All Over Again”, and an arrangement of the Scottish traditional “Skye Boat Song.” I thoroughly enjoyed this album, especially the more upbeat arrangements. It’s hard to go wrong with Morrison’s singing, excellent musicians and some great songs.
Below are a few brief comments about each of the songs:

Broken Record – This is a new song written by Morrison. The instantly likeable tune features piano and horns, including a couple of solos. Yes, his repeating of “broken record” may make you think that the record is stuck. The song is better musically than lyrically.
A Foggy Day – This song was written by George and Ira Gershwin and was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film A Damsel in Distress. It has been covered by artists such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Morrison’s version features horns and a nice piano solo.
Let’s Get Lost – This song was written by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh and appeared in the 1943 film Happy Go Lucky. It has been recorded by Chet Baker and others. Morrison’s version features horns, piano, organ and a nice sax solo.
Bye-Bye Blackbird – This song was written by Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon in 1926. Morrison’s version features piano and horn, flute and piano solos, as well as a good vocal performance.
Skye Boat Song – This Scottish folk song was arranged by Morrison. The instrumental features several solos (horn, sax, piano).
Take It Easy Baby – This is a new song written by Morrison. It has an extended instrumental introduction with horns, piano and a sax solo and includes a good vocal by Morrison. It fits in well with the standards he’s recorded on the album.
Makin’ Whoopee – This song was written by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn, and was sung by Eddie Cantor in the 1928 musical Whoopee! Van gives the song a laid-back arrangement featuring horns and piano, with sax and guitar solos.
I Get a Kick Out of You – This song was written by Cole Porter and first appeared in the 1934 Broadway musical Anything Goes. Van gives the song a breezy arrangement featuring horns, light percussion and piano.
I Forgot That Love Existed (Live) – This song was written by Van Morrison and originally appeared on his 1987 album Poetic Champions Compose. The song features horns, piano and a sax solo. Key lyric: I forgot that love existed, then I saw the light, everyone around me make everything alright.
Unchained Melody – This song was written in 1955 by Alex North and Hy Zaret, and was a hit for the Righteous Brothers. You would not recognize Morrison’s slow version as “Unchained Melody”. Perhaps the one misstep on the album.
Start All Over Again – This song was written by Van Morrison. This upbeat song previously appeared on Morrison’s 1990 album Enlightenment. The song features horns and piano and is a highlight.
Only A Dream (Live) – This song was written by Van Morrison and originally appeared on his 2002 album Down the Road.  It features horns, piano, drums and a spirited vocal. There is a nice instrumental break midway through the song and sax solo towards the end. A highlight.
Affirmation – This is a new song written by Morrison and features Sir James Galway on flute.  It is primarily a contemplative instrumental, with Morrison proving some scatting.
The Party’s Over – This song was written by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne. It was introduced by Judy Holliday in the 1956 musical comedy Bells Are Ringing. This bouncy song features some excellent organ, horns and vocal from Morrison.
I Left My Heart in San Francisco – This song was written by George Cory and Douglass Cross in 1953 and is the signature song for Tony Bennett. Morrison delivers a slow version that gradually builds. The song features good sax, organ and guitar solos.
They Can’t Take That Away from Me – This song was written by George and Ira Gershwin and was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film Shall We Dance. Morrison’s version swings with an extended instrumental break in the middle, and a spirited vocal, giving the album a strong finish.

You’re Driving Me Crazy – Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco
****

This excellent new studio collaboration between Van Morrison and legendary Hammond organ/trumpet virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco is the 72-year-old Morrison’s 39th studio project and third in the past seven months. The album features new versions of jazz and blues standards as well as eight of Morrison’s previously released songs from 1968 to 2015. The album was recorded live with the musicians all located in the same room. The playing was spontaneous and the musicians improvised throughout with some incredible solos. The album was recorded all in one take over two days and it appears that the musicians had a great time making the album. DeFrancesco and his band – guitarist Dan Wilson, drummer Michael Ode and tenor saxophone player Troy Roberts – wonderfully accompany Morrison’s excellent vocals. I hope this is the first of multiple collaborations between DeFrancesco and Morrison.
Below are a few comments about each song from this excellent project:
Miss Otis Regrets – This song was written by Cole Porter in 1934. The song has a slow groove, featuring some nice saxophone, and Van doing some singing at a lower register. It also includes an excellent horn solo.
Hold It Right There – This song was written by Clark Terry, Grey and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. This song has a great beat from the beginning.  It features excellent organ and saxophone solos and some nice female backing vocals from Van’s daughter Shana.
All Saints Day – This song was written by Morrison and was first included on his 1991 album Hymns to the Silence. The song has an excellent beat driven by saxophone and organ. It features a wonderful organ solo.
The Way Young Lovers Do – This song was written by Morrison and was first included on Astral Weeks, his second album, released in 1968. The song is driven by horns and an extended organ solo.
The Things I Used to Do – This song was recorded by Eddie Jones in 1954. This upbeat song driven by some nice drums features a great vocal by Van and excellent organ, saxophone, guitar and harmonica solos.
Travelin’ Light – This song was written by Johnny Mercer, James Mundy and James Young in 1942.  It has a slower groove and is driven by horns and an expressive vocal by Van.  It features an excellent saxophone and organ solos.
Close Enough for Jazz – This song was written by Morrison and was first included on his 1993 album Too Long in Exile. The song features organ, including a great solo, and sax with a strong vocal from Van.
Goldfish Bowl – This song was written by Morrison and was first included on his 2003 album What’s Wrong with This Picture? This song has a slower groove driven by horns and organ and a great vocal from Van.  It includes excellent organ, guitar and saxophone solos.
Evening Shadows – This song was written by Morrison and Acker Bilk and was first included on his 2002 album Down the Road.  It has a punchy beat driven by saxophone, organ and drums. It features an excellent organ solo.
Magic Time – This song was written by Morrison and was first included on his 2005 album Magic Time. This song has a slow groove, driven by saxophone and organ, with a beautiful vocal from Van. It features an excellent saxophone solo.
You’re Driving Me Crazy – This song was written by Walter Donaldson in 1930 and opens with horns and features horn, guitar solos and an incredible organ solo.
Every Day I Have the Blues – This blues song was written by Peter Chatman. It features horns and a great organ, sax and guitar solos.
Have I Told You Lately – This is one of my favorite songs from Morrison, which was first included on his 1989 album Avalon Sunset. It features a much more upbeat groove than the original driven by organ and female backing vocals from Van’s daughter Shana. It features saxophone and organ solos.
Sticks and Stones – This song was written by Titus Turner. This song has a great beat from the very beginning. It features saxophone, keyboards, backing vocals and a great vocal from Van. It also includes keyboard and saxophone solos.
Celtic Swing – The closing instrumental was written by Morrison and was first included on his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. It features an easy-going groove that showcases the excellent band.

The North Coast Sessions – Keith and Kristyn Getty
****

This EP of new hymns and songs, inspired by the book of Psalms and created with the Sing! 2018 conference in mind, was recorded by Keith and Kristyn Getty with their band in the little harbor of Portbradden along the North Antrim coast near the Getty’s home in Northern Ireland. I enjoyed hearing many of these songs at the Sing! 2018 conference.

Below are a few comments about each song:

I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130) – This song is written by Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The song features Kristyn Getty singing over piano and Irish instruments (perhaps Uilleann pipes, the traditional bagpipe of Ireland). The beautiful song slowly builds powerfully with backing vocals.
Key lyric:
I will wait for You
Surely wait for you
Till my soul is satisfied 
Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love – This song, which we sang three times at the Sing! 2018 conference, was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Matt Papa, Aaron Keyes and Luke Brown. This wonderful song could very well be the next Getty song to be sung in churches around the world. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year. The upbeat worship song really shows off the band as it opens with guitar, drums and pipes.  Kristyn’s vocal leads to the memorable chorus with backing vocals.
Key lyric:
How great, how sure; His Love endures forevermore
Magnificent, marvelous, matchless love
The Lord Is My Shepherd (Psalm 23) – This song is written by Keith Getty, Kristy Getty and Tom Douglas. This worshipful song begins with Kristyn singing accompanied by some excellent acoustic guitar. The band then joins in with piano, drums, bass and some wonderful backing vocals for Dana Masters, who has sung with Van Morrison.
My Dwelling Place (Psalm 91) – This song is written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Kelly Minter, Stuart Townend and Chris Eaton. This song has Kristyn singing over piano accompaniment. The song features a nice violin work.
Key lyric:
Wonderful, powerful
My hope and my defender
Mighty God, Emmanuel
My dwelling place forever
I Lift My Eyes (Psalm 121) – I couldn’t find writing credits for this song. The song opens quietly with Kristyn singing over pipes and a stringed instrument, and then the band really kicks in with a driving drum, along with some backing vocals.
Key lyric:
He will not slumber
He will not sleep
But all my days He keeps
You Have Searched Me (Psalm 139) – I couldn’t find writing credits for this song. The song begins with a child’s vocal accompanied by acoustic guitar on the first verse. Kristyn picks up the vocal on the second verse. The song features an acoustic guitar solo and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Search me know my heart
Lord, test my anxious thoughts
Save me from where I have strayed
To walk in your everlasting ways
Psalm 150 – This is an instrumental song that shows off the incredible Getty band.
Inishowen – Again, I couldn’t find writing credits for this song. The song is about Inishowen, the largest peninsula on the island of Ireland. The song opens with acoustic guitar and pipes, with light drums and backing vocals added.
Key lyric:
In my heart I am living in Inishowen
Hearing Your voice in the wind
As breath comes from breath as life comes from life
Following the ancient song
It leads me to you

The Beatles (White Album) – The Beatles 
****

I can still remember as a 12-year-old seeing the Beatles double “White Album” (officially The Beatles), at our local K-Mart when it was released on November 22, 1968. But Christmas was coming, and I would have to wait a month to get the album. Later, during the time of the “Paul is Dead” rumors, I would play “Revolution 9” backwards and yes, hear very clearly “Turn me on dead man”. Fast forward many years, I was able to hear many of these songs performed in concert – by Paul McCartney, who I will see in concert for the thirteenth time in 2019, George Harrison on his only U.S. tour in 1974, and Ringo Starr in 2014.
On the 50th anniversary of the release of the album, comes a wonderful remastered project, available in different editions. There is the Deluxe edition, which includes the original 30 song double album remastered by Giles Martin (who handled 2006’s Love and 2017’s remastered Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band project), son of the Beatles late producer George Martin, as well as the Esher demos. The Esher demos were 27 solo acoustic songs taped on a four-track machine at George Harrison’s home. These are “unplugged” recordings of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison demoing for each other the songs they had written in India.
The Super Deluxe includes “The Sessions”, 50 early takes, working versions, outtakes, including a nearly 13-minute slow blues version of “Helter Skelter”, an excellent alternate take of Ringo’s “Good Night”, with the strings replaced by backing vocals, some songs that made later Beatles albums (“Hey Jude”, “Lady Madonna”, a very different sounding “Let it Be”, substituting “Brother Malcom for “Mother Mary”, “The Inner Light” and “Across the Universe”), one that didn’t show up until later, “What’s the New Mary Jane”, or ended up on Beatles’ solo albums (Harrison’s “Circles” and “Not Guilty”, the latter of which went through 107 takes and still didn’t make the “White Album”, McCartney’s “Junk”, and Lennon’s “Child of Nature”, an early version of what would become his “Jealous Guy”). There are also takes of songs like “Blue Moon”, “St. Louis Blues” and “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care)”. You’ll also hear George ordering a sandwich immediately before launching into a take of his classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
The “White Album” was remastered in 2009 and I thought it sounded great at the time, bringing out new sounds not heard on previous versions. Martin’s remastering here takes it even a step further. For example, on “Dear Prudence”, a song that was never one of my favorites, the mix is very clear, letting the listener fully experience and appreciate what is going on here (backing vocals, Starr’s drums, Harrison’s guitar, keys, etc.).
In summary, the Deluxe edition with the new Giles Martin mix of the original double album and the Esher demos is essential for Beatles fans. If your budget allows, go with the Super Deluxe edition. You won’t be disappointed.

Native Tongue – Switchfoot
****

Native Tongue is San Diego based Switchfoot’s eleventh studio album and first since 2016’s Where The Light Shines Through. The ambitious fourteen songs (out of nearly a hundred written for the album), is diverse, featuring a variety of music styles as the band takes some chances. They wanted to pursue joy and let it happen after taking some time off. The album was produced primarily by the band, along with OneRepublic bassist and multi-instrumentalist Brent Kutzle. Jon Foreman has said that the album was an attempt to be a loving embrace of all the human souls who have been weighed down by the times, and that hatred is not our language, love is our native tongue.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:

Let It Happen – This song was written by Jon Foreman and produced by Tim Foreman, Jon Foreman and Tyler Chester. The song features crashing guitars and driving drums, over Jon’s lead vocal. Backing vocals join him for the chorus and there is a nice guitar solo mid-song. This life seems hollow, he doesn’t know the meaning and his body is aching. He doesn’t know what is going to happen tomorrow but he trusts God with his future.
Native Tongue – This song was written and produced by Tim Foreman, Jon Foreman and Brent Kutzle. The song has a great beat. It starts with Jon singing over hand claps and light drums before a driving drum comes in. The song includes some backing vocals.  I really appreciated the Chad Butler’s drums on this song. Love is the language, our native tongue. He wonders where we went wrong, we forgot our song. He wants the world to sing in her native tongue and use our lungs for love.
All I Need – This song was written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The love song begins with acoustic guitar and finger snaps and then builds. The chorus is memorable as he sings that all he needs is the air he breathes, the time they share and the ground beneath his feet.  He wants to know if she believes in him.
Voices This song was written by Brent Kutzle, Jon Foreman, Ryan Tedder, Tim Foreman and Tyler Spry. It was produced by Kutzle, Jon Foreman, Tim Foreman and Tyler Spry. The song, which was inspired by a homeless man at the beach, begins with keys and then Butler’s drums drive an excellent beat. In the catchy chorus, Jon sings of having an army of voices in his head. Each moment is crowded with choices, which speak to him and drown out the voices. There are also some good backing vocals on the song.
Dig New Streams – This song, which shows the band taking chances, was written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The song opens slowly with Jon singing over acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Mid-way through the chorus the band kicks in with guitar, drums and horns as Jon sings “I’ve got thirty voices in my head, they’ve been telling me to quit while I’m ahead.”  Midway through verse two the song changes again as Jon sings “If you’ve been hurt by the church of black and white, come unto me, find rest my burden’s light “
Joy Invincible – This song was written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. It begins with guitar and a nice drum driven beat. An illness has led to shattered dreams and the need to be brave in the midst of suffering. Jon sings “Hallelujah nevertheless, was the song the pain couldn’t destroy, hallelujah nevertheless, You’re my joy invincible.”
Prodigal Soul – This song was written and produced by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The song is a prayer. It begins with acoustic guitar, before the band joins in at the chorus. He has been wandering and wants to come home, reminiscent of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32). A highlight.
The Hardest Art – This song was written by Tim and Jon Foreman and produced by Tyler Chester, Tyler Spry, Brent Kutzle, Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The song features Kaela Sinclair of the French electronic band M83. Jon handles the first verse and Sinclair the second. Love is surrender and is the hardest art to earn. The song has a dance beat, with Switchfoot again taking chances with a new sound.
Wonderful Feeling – This song was written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman and they produced it with Tyler Chester. The mid-tempo song begins with piano and then builds, with a good drum beat, guitar solo and backing vocals. Jon sings how it’s funny how you fight what you need the most. Though he has spent a lot of time chasing his shadow, he has a wonderful feeling and hopes set high. His prayer is to let God’s light be his.
Take My Fire – This song was written and produced by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. The song begins with drum machine and then a distorted guitar.  Satan is never going to take his fire, his love for God. This is about as hard as Switchfoot has rocked. A highlight.
The Strength to Let Go – This song was written and produced by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman.  The song begins with acoustic guitar and synth and builds at the chorus. Like “The Prodigal Soul”, it’s a prayer asking God to show him the way to come home.  He chooses mercy instead of control. He needs the faith to surrender.
Oxygen – This song was written and produced by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman.
The song begins with piano and drums and then settles into an easy going beat with backing vocals and a guitar solo. The song is about a relationship that has gone bad with one partner leaving. It’s probably my least favorite song on the album.
We’re Gonna Be Alright – This song is written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman, and they produced it with Tyler Chester. The catchy easy-going song begins with acoustic guitar, and includes a good beat and backing vocals. It’s OK to doubt, fear, grieve, etc. The joyful and memorable chorus tells us that we’re gonna be alright, just take a look at the sky.
You’re The One I Want – This song was written by Jon Foreman and written by Tim Foreman and Jon Foreman. This is a love song, featuring Jon singing over piano and cello. The song would fit well on one of his solo albums.

The Gift: A Christmas Compilation – 116
****

The Gift is the third overall studio album from 116, and their first Christmas collection. Noticeably missing from the Reach Records group is Andy Mineo and KB, but there are some surprise guests including Derek Minor on the album. Adam Grason did the cover art, which merges the look and feel of vintage Christmas with traditional hip-hop elements. The album debuted at #1 on iTunes Hip-Hop and Rap chart.

I really enjoyed this album and getting exposed to some artists I was not familiar with, as well as hearing some of my favorites such as Lecrae, Trip Lee and Tedashii.
Below are a few brief comments about each song:

O’ Come – The song is written by Dustin “DAB” Bowie, John McNeil, Joel McNeil, Crystal Nicole, Ace Harris, CASS, Tedashii and nobigdyl. It is produced by Weathrman and Ace Harris, and features CASS, nobigdyl and Tedashii. The chorus includes a bit of the Christmas hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful” written by John Francis Wade. The song opens with CASS, with Tedashii taking the first verse, CASS the second, nobigdyl the third, and Tedashii closing things out. The joyful song has a great beat and some hand claps.
Key lyric:
He changed the world, that’s a landslide
God meant for all mankind

This Christmas – The song was written by Ace Harris, Epikh Pro, Evan Ford, Abe Parker, Jon Keith and Jaylon Ashaun. It was produced by Ace Harris and Epikh Pro and features Jon Keith, Jaylon Ashaun and Evan and Eris. Evan and Eric handle the chorus, with Jaylon Ashaun on the first verse and Jon Keith on the second on this light-hearted and joyful song with a great beat.
Key lyric:
It’s gonna be the best time of the year
Got my hands in the sky ’cause I know that I’m living my best life when you’re near

Joy – The song was written by Ace Harris, Epikh Pro, Alex Hitchens, Abe Parker, Trip Lee and Lecrae. It was produced by Ace Harris and Epikh Pro, and features Lecrae, Trip Lee and Abe Parker.  Lee and Lecrae each take a verse, and Parker handles the chorus, which includes a bit of the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” written by Isaac Watts. The song addresses pain, injustice and life’s difficulty, along with God’s faithfulness and spreading the good news. A highlight.
Key lyric:
Why wait for tomorrow?
Joy came and He called us

What A Time – The song was written by Cardec, Ace Harris, Zach Paradis, Jimi Cravity, Dave James, SVRCINA and WHATUPRG. It was produced by Ace Harris, Dave James, Zach Paradis and Cardec, and features WHATUPRG and SVRCINA. The chorus includes a bit of the Christmas hymn “O Holy Night” written by Adolphe Adam. There are also some references to the song “What Child Is This?” written by William Chatterton Dix. The drums really stand out on this track. WHATUPRG’s and SVRCINA voices blend well as they sing together near the end of the song.
Key lyric:
What Child is this?
Whose crown is this?
On the ground I live
Falling on my knees
Giving everything to the King of kings

Silent Night – The song is written by John Smythe, Joel McNeil, John McNeil and Chrystal Nicole. The song is produced by Weathrman and features Chrystal Nicole on vocals. Nicole has worked with Lecrae, Andy Mineo and Tedashii in the past. The chorus includes a bit of lyrics from the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” written by Joseph Mohr. Nicole delivers a powerful vocal over guitar and excellent backing vocals as the song builds.

All Is Bright – The song is written by Derek Johnson, Crystal Johnson, John McNeil, Joel McNeil, Wande and 1K Phew. It was produced by Weathrman and features 1K Phew, Derek Minor & Wande. The chorus includes a bit of the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” written by Joseph Mohr. The vocals from Wande, 1K Phew and Derek Minor are strong. Minor sings in verse three of being saved out of the slums, with dealers, users, scammers and hustlers.
Key lyric:
You got a way of, making me stay
You pull me closer when I push You away

Noel – The song is written by and features Trip Lee and Dave James, and is produced by James. The song includes a bit of the Christmas hymn “The First Noel”. This song is about Jesus. Lee handles the verses. I loved the line “Baby clothes couldn’t cloak His divinity”. Includes some nice guitar at the end of the song. A highlight.
Key lyric:
Who would’ve known that this babe was the King on the throne?

Angels – This song was written by Abe Parker, Crystal Johnson, Rhomar Jessy, Joel McNeil and GAWVI. The song was produced by Weathrman and features GAWVI, who delivers his usual strong vocal over a punchy percussion driven beat. The chorus includes backing singers infectiously singing a bit of the Christmas hymn “Angels We Have Heard on High” written by James Chadwick.
Key lyric:
I wonder where would I be, I be if You never found me when I needed You

We Three Kings – The song is written by Zach Paradis, Alex Hitchens, Wande Isola, Ace Harris, Epikh Pro, Paul Russell, Lecrae and Abe Parker. It is produced by Zach Paradis, Ace Harris, Epikh Pro and Abe Parker, and features Lecrae, Abe Parker and Paul Russell. The song is based on the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings” written by John Henry Hopkins Jr., and begins “We three kings with the diamond rings, bringing gifts, coming from afar”. The song is upbeat, starting with guitar before it dives into a great percussion driven beat, featuring a memorable chorus. The song also includes a lyric “Long lay the world in sin and error pining” and from the Christmas hymn “O Holy Night” written by Adolphe Adam.
Key lyric:
Was the lowest of the low, born in a manger
Came to Earth out of love so You could save us

A Worship Initiative Christmas, Vol. 2 – Shane and Shane
****

Shane and Shane (Shane Barnard and Shane Everett) follow 2014’s A Worship Christmas Initiative with this second full-length album of Christmas songs. Last Christmas, they released an EP of five songs titled A Worship Initiative Christmas, Vol. 2. This year, we get an entire ten song album.
This is my second album from Shane and Shane after seeing them perform at the Sing! Conference early this year. I really enjoyed Hymns Vol. 1 and this new album of worshipful Christmas songs as well.
Below are a few comments about each song on this excellent album:

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – The lyrics of this hymn were written by Charles Wesley. The song opens with beautiful vocals over piano and strings. It then builds gently with guitar, bass and percussion.
Key lyric:
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful) – The lyrics of this hymn were written by Isaac Watts. This version includes a verse from Henry Van Dyke’s hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”. The song features Phil Wickham, who Shane and Shane are on the road with on a short Christmas tour. The song begins quietly with piano, chimes, strings and then builds joyfully with drums, bass and guitar as it goes into a new refrain “We will sing, sing, sing, Joy to the World”, which might remind you a bit of Chris Tomlin.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing – The lyrics of this hymn were written by Charles Wesley. The song begins with acoustic guitar and piano and then builds gently with guitar, bass, strings and drums. The song adds a refrain “Glory to the newborn king”.
Key lyric:
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

O Little Town of Bethlehem – The lyrics of this hymn were written by Phillip Brooks. This beautiful rendition begins with acoustic guitar and bass and gently builds with light percussion, backing vocals and some excellent piano.
Key lyric:
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in

Breath of Heaven – This song was written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton. This rendition of the song, made popular by Grant, features Bethany Bernard (formerly known as Bethany Dillon), wife of Shane Barnard. The song opens with piano, then adds light bass, strings and light percussion. The strings and piano stood out on this song, along with an excellent vocal.

Face of God – This song was written by Shane and Shane, and features Phil Wickham. It’s the one song on the album that I was not familiar with. The song opens with acoustic guitar and strings, and then builds joyfully at the chorus with full band.
Key lyric:
Gloria, I hear the angels singing
Gloria, all the heavens are ringing
Gloria, the Savior of the world is in her arms
She’s staring at the face of God
The face of God

What Child is This? – This hymn was written by William Chatterton Dix. This song begins with acoustic guitar, and then builds with bass, drum, strings, piano and backing vocals. The song includes a nice newly added refrain.
Key lyric:
Come, let us adore You
Our hearts with enthrone You

Away in a Manger – This music to this hymn was composed by William J. Kirkpatrick. The author of the lyrics is unknown. The song begins with acoustic guitar and piano. It then builds with bass, percussion and backing vocals.

Winter Snow – This song was written by Audrey Assad and features Dinah Wright. I first heard this beautiful song with Assad singing it on Chris Tomlin’s first Christmas album, 2009’s Glory in The Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship. This version opens with piano and acoustic guitar, and then builds with bass, percussion, strings and backing vocals.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – This hymn was written by Edmund Sears. The song opens with synth, piano and bass and builds after the first verse with backing vocals, drums, acoustic guitar and keys. A refrain is added at the end of the song.
Key lyric:
Glory to God
Glory in our heart

Season of Peace: The Christmas Collection – Michael McDonald
****

I love Michael McDonald’s Christmas music. Three years ago, we saw a wonderful show on his This Christmas: An Evening of Holiday and Hits tour at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.
This is his fourth Christmas album. His 2001 In the Spirit-A Christmas Album is one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums. He followed that up in 2005 with an album made for Hallmark, Through the Many Winters: A Christmas Album. After In the Spirit, Through the Many Winters was somewhat of a disappointment, with more sparse instrumentation and laid-back arrangements. I just recently found out that McDonald was forced to complete the entire album in two weeks, including mixing and mastering. In 2009 he released This Christmas, a compilation of twelve songs from the first two albums along with four new songs. Season of Peace: The Christmas Collection is another compilation of fifteen songs, with one new one, a short (less than two minute) instrumental recording of “Winter Wonderland”, featuring ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.  The album cover art was painted by McDonald.

Below is the track listing for Season of Peace:

      1. That’s What Christmas Means to Me (from This Christmas)
      2. White Christmas/Winter Wonderland, featuring Jonny Lang (from In the Spirit)
      3. Children Go Where I Send Thee, featuring Twinkie Clark (from In the Spirit)
      4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (from Through the Many Winters)
      5. Wexford Carol, featuring Amy Holland (from Through the Many Winters)
      6. Christmas on the Bayou (from Through the Many Winters)
      7. To Make a Miracle (from In the Spirit)
      8. Peace (from In the Spirit)
      9. Through the Many Winters (from Through the Many Winters)
      10. Every Time Christmas Comes Around (from In the Spirit)
      11. On Christmas Morning (from In the Spirit)
      12. World Out of a Dream (from In the Spirit)
      13. Oh, Holy Night (from Through the Many Winters)
      14. Winter Wonderland, featuring Jake Shimabukuro (new recording)
      15. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (from This Christmas)

Season of Hope: The Christmas Collection does a nice job of pulling some of the best songs from McDonald’s previous Christmas albums. However, if you have his previous albums, you can pass on this one.

Holy Roar by Chris Tomlin
****

This is Chris Tomlin’s first album since 2016’s excellent Never Lose Sight, which was my top album of that year. Holy Roar is another gift to the church from Tomlin, containing songs that will be sung in churches around the world.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs:

Holy Roar – This song is written by Jason Ingram and Tomlin, and produced by Bryan Fowler. The song begins with keys and guitar and then builds with full band and backing vocals. This is a worship song to lift God up, to sing Him a song of love, to give God worship, which He is worthy of, a holy roar reaching for Heaven.

Nobody Loves Me Like You – This was the second single released ahead of the album. It was written by Scott Cash and Ed Cash. It begins quietly with soft guitar and then builds with piano, drums, backing vocals and a joyous chorus about the love of Jesus.
Key lyric:
Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, You are faithful and true
Nobody loves me like You

Resurrection Power – The first single from the album released way back in January was written by Ed Cash, Ryan Ellis and Tony Brown. This joyful song opens with Tomlin singing over keys, and it then builds with drums, bass, guitars and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Jesus, You have given us freedom
I’m no longer bound by sin and darkness
Living in the light of Your goodness
You have given us freedom

Goodness, Love and Mercy – This song is written by Ed Cash, NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart and Tomlin. The mid-tempo song opens with acoustic guitar and gently builds, featuring some good piano, guitar and backing vocals. It is a worship song based on Psalm 23.
Key lyric:
Surely goodness, love and mercy
Will follow wherever I go

Satisfied – This song is written by Jason Ingram, Ross Copperman and Tomlin. Driven by an excellent drum beat, and hand claps, this upbeat and joyful song will sound great on the radio and in concert. Tomlin sings that as he counts his blessings he couldn’t ask for more. In God he is satisfied. Nothing and no one else will ever satisfy.
Key lyric:
I count my blessings one by one
Your goodness in my life
How could I ask for more
In You, I’m satisfied

Impact – This song is written by Mitch Wong, Tommy Sjostrom and Tomlin. The worship song begins with piano and strings. It gently builds, as Tomlin sings of waiting, surrender and laying down his defenses, to a powerful bridge in which he sings of love like a mighty river and rushing wind.
Key lyric:
As I worship in surrender
I feel heaven drawing closer
As I lay down my defenses
Your love invades
And I brace for the impact

Praise Him Forever – This song has a driving beat from the beginning. It is a joyful worship song that sounds like the best of Tomlin’s worship songs. Let everything that breathes, let all the earth proclaim great is the Lord our God. The song ends with another reference to the album’s title, Hear the holy roar, praise Him forever. A highlight.

Is He Worthy? – This wonderful song based on Revelation 5 was written by Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive, and was originally recorded by Peterson for his Resurrection Letters, Vol 1 album.  The song opens with Tomlin singing over piano and light guitar and it gradually builds to a powerful ending. It features excellent choir vocals.
Key lyric:
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

Forever Young – This is not a cover of the Bob Dylan song with the same title. The song begins with keys and guitar and gently builds. He is born again, saved by loved. In God’s presence he is forever young. With his final presence he’ll praise the Lord.

I Stand In Awe – This beautiful worship song features Nicole Serrano on lead vocals, with Tomlin offering some light backing vocals. When we consider all that God has done, we can do nothing but stand in awe. The song begins with Serrano singing over piano and the song builds gently. All glory, all honor, all worship and all praise, all blessing and all power is His.

Praise Is The Highway – This mid-tempo worship song is written by Tomlin, Hillsong’s Ben Fielding, Bethel’s Brian Johnson and Sean Feucht. The song begins with guitar and drums and builds gently. He is our God, He will be praised. Revival will come and the church will awake. He forever reigns. Sing like thunder His praises loud.
Key lyric:
Praise is the highway to the throne of God
Praise is the highway to the heart of God
Praise is the highway to the move of God

How Sweet It Is – The closing song is written by Tomlin, Pat Barrett, Hank Bentley and Jessie Early. This is a slower praise song, which features vocals from Pat Barrett, who co-wrote “Good Good Father”, which Tomlin recorded for his previous album. The song begins with acoustic guitar and keys. Nothing else in history compares with what God has done for us. How sweet it is to be loved by Jesus.

The Elements by Toby Mac
****

The Elements is Toby Mac’s seventh solo album and first since 2015’s excellent This is Not a Test. The album was preceded by the release of four songs, including the chart-topping “I Just Need U”.
This is a mature work dealing with many themes, including family, God being our only hope, seeing God in everything, race relations, new opportunities, new mercies, the church and encouragement. Most of the songs are upbeat musically, containing a good groove. It’s one of the best releases of 2018.
Below are a few brief comments on each song:

The Elements – This song was written and produced by Tommee Profitt (NF) and Toby. This was the fourth song released prior to release of the album.
The song begins with Toby singing over keys. This world is trying to steal his heart and rip his family apart. Vocally and musically the song hits it hard in the chorus and he sings that he will be doing down swinging, if he goes down at all.  The bridge is a prayer to God. He’s willing to fight the elements.
Key lyric: I might bend but I won’t break

I just need U – This song was written by Bryan Fowler, Blake NeeSmith and Toby and produced by Fowler and Toby. It was the first single released from the album and topped the Christian music charts for an incredible 12 weeks. The song starts with keys, bass and light backing vocals. The song really takes off with the chorus and the memorable beat will stay in your head long after the song is over. The song includes a few lines from Psalm 23.
Key lyric: ‘Cause all I know, all I know is You’re my only hope
Scars – This song was written by and produced by Bryan Fowler, Cole Walowac and Toby and was produced by Fowler and Walowac. It was the third song released in advance of the album. Toby wrote the song for his 20-year-old son Truett about what life was throwing at him. The song is a bit more laid back though it builds powerfully towards the end. This is a touching song from a father to a son, encouraging him. He tells him that when life cuts so deep try and remember that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there and scars come with living. Lift your head to where your help comes from. The song features some light backing vocals.
Key lyric: It doesn’t matter who you are, this world gonna leave some battle scars

Everything – This was the second single released from the album. It was written produced by David Garcia and Toby. The song has an instantly likeable groove that will stick in your head.
Key lyric: I see You in everything, all day, and every beat of my heart keeps reminding me

Starts With Me – This song was written by Dave Lubben, Cole Walowac, Aaron Cole and Toby. It was produced by Lubben and Walowac and features 19-year-old Christian hip-hop artist Aaron Cole on vocals. The song addresses race relations from both perspectives. They sing about the homes they were raised in and what was passed down to them from generation to generation. The song has a good beat and includes some samples from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech.
Key lyric: With a history that’s filled with hate, have we ever been united states?

Edge Of My Seat – This is an upbeat song both musically and lyrically. It has a great dance beat, driven by drum, and features some backing vocals. The Lord is opening up his eyes to new opportunities. The song quotes Isaiah 43:19, Behold, I am doing a new thing in the land.
Key lyric: Ain’t no one ever gonna steal the mystery You put right in front of me
It’s You – This song slows down the pace a bit. The song is about the Lord. Life doesn’t make sense without Him. The song features some backing vocals, keys and percussion.
Key lyric: It’s You, then everything else just falls in line

Horizon (A New Day) – This is an upbeat song about the body of Christ, the church. He references 1 Corinthians 12, that the church, the body, the family has different parts but is one and the same. The song opens with keys and has a good driving beat. A new day is on the horizon and nothing is going to stand in the way of the church.

Hello Future – On this song, Toby sings of nothing sweeter than welcoming new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Over a good beat, he sings of going through a difficult time but now the troubles have washed away and he’s home again. The future is going to be OK.

Overflow – This joyful song, features a good beat and some horns. When he’s running empty, the Lord fills up his cup till it overflows.
Key lyric: You are the sweetest love, sweetest love that I’ve ever known

See The Light – In this song Toby is encouraging to those who are going through a hard season of life. Life is hard, there are doubts, uphill climbs and battles. But just hang on a little longer, burdens will fade. He points us to Psalm 121, where we see that our help comes from the LORD. The song has a good beat, and will be a particularly encouraging song in concert, with many hands held high.
Key lyric: You got more than you on your side

Happy Xmas by Eric Clapton
***

The 73-year-old legendary guitarist Eric Clapton is the only three-time inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – as a member of the Yardbirds, Cream, and as a solo artist. Happy Xmas is Clapton’s first Christmas album, and he did the artwork for the album cover. The fourteen songs are a mix of standards, lesser known holiday songs and one new Clapton-written song “For Love on Christmas Day.” This is Clapton’s 24th studio album, and first since 2016’s I Still Do, which some speculated might be his final album. Clapton completed the album over a four-year period, and produced the album with Simon Climie. About the album, he said “I had in my head that these holiday songs could be done with a slight blues tinge, and I started to figure out how to play the blues lines in between the vocals. I got it down and one of the most identifiable songs on the album, the one that became the foundational style, is ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’.”
I really enjoyed this album, which has only one major misstep, the electronic dance music (EDM) “Jingle Bells”, which is a tribute to the late DJ and producer Avicii, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the album.

Below are a few comments about each song on the album:
White Christmas – Clapton opens this Christmas standard from Irving Berlin with some blues guitar and then settles back in, accompanied by backing vocals, strings and a great guitar solo. A strong start to the album.

Away In A Manger (Once In Royal David’s City) – Clapton slows the pace down and delivers a good vocal on this traditional Christmas carol dating back to the late 19th century. It features some nice backing vocals, organ and acoustic guitar. 

For Love On Christmas Day – This is a new song written by Clapton. It’s a sad song about wishing for a lost love to return. It features keys, acoustic guitar and strings. He’s living in a dream world and dying a little more each day. There is snow on the sidewalk but it’s cold inside his heart.

Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday – This 1967 song was written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones. The song features blues guitar, keys, organ and backing vocals.

Christmas Tears
– This song was written by Robert Wilson and Sonny Thompson and recorded by Freddie King in 1961. Clapton delivers a blues vocal with some excellent guitar, including a solo, backed by drum, bass, piano and female vocals. A highlight.

Home For The Holidays – This song was written by Anthony Hamilton. He’ll be home for the holidays, was thinking he’d stay away but can’t wait to see her smiling face. The song has an easy going pace, featuring acoustic and light electric guitar, piano, organ and backing vocals.

Jingle Bells
– This is the album’s one major misstep. It is a six-minute electronic dance music mostly instrumental almost unrecognizable cover of James Pierpont’s Christmas classic. The song is dedicated to Avicii, who died of a suicide earlier in the year. Clapton’s guitar joins with the electronic music in a song that doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. Skip this song.

Christmas In My Hometown – This song was written by Sonny James and John Skye. The song has a laid-back country feel, featuring piano, guitar, soft percussion and female backing vocals. He’d love to spend this Christmas with the folks in his hometown.

It’s Christmas – This song was written by Anthony Hamilton. The song is upbeat, featuring guitar, keys, drums and backing vocals. It feels just like Christmas, love is in the air and everybody’s heading home.

Sentimental Moments – This song was written by Frederick Hollander and was featured in the 1955 film We’re No Angels. It has a slower pace, and features piano, and some nice acoustic guitar, though it’s not really a Christmas song.

Lonesome Christmas – This song was written by Lloyd Glenn. The song has a great blues beat, led by guitar, piano and drums. The song is highlighted by a guitar solo. A highlight.

Silent Night – This Christmas classic was written by Joseph Mohr. This version has a good pace as Clapton sings over drums, organ, light guitar and backing vocals.

Merry Christmas Baby – This song was written by Lou Baxter and John Dudley Moore. This song is a slow blues, with piano, bass and some excellent blues guitar. A highlight.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – This song was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. This is a slow jazz version, with a Clapton’s vocal over piano, strings, acoustic guitar and percussion.

Hymns Vol. 1 – Shane and Shane
****

Shane and Shane are a contemporary worship duo comprised of Shane Barnard and Shane Everett. I recently got to enjoy their music at the Sing 2018 conference in Nashville. Prior to that, what I knew about the duo was primarily through the ministry of Desiring God.

Hymns Vol. 1 is a new album featuring new arrangements of ten modern and traditional hymns, totaling in excess of 57 minutes of music.  This is an album that I thoroughly enjoyed. At first listen, it can appear like a simple and basic covering of these wonderful hymns. However, each repeated listening brings out something new about these extended arrangements, which are connected, with no breaks between the songs. The lead and harmony vocals are excellent throughout, as is the musical accompaniment, which never gets in the way of the words of these wonderful hymns. I can’t wait for Vol. 2.

Below are a few brief comments about each song:

Tis So Sweet – The lyrics to this hymn were written by Louisa M.R. Stead in 1882, and the music by William J. Kirkpatrick. This version, which clocks in just under seven minutes, features guitar, light percussion, and violin, and builds powerfully.

How Great Thou Art – This hymn, which is my favorite, was based on a poem written by Carl Boberg in 1885. It was translated into English by the missionary Stuart K. Hine, who also added two additional verses. The hymn was set to a Russian melody. The song features guitar, piano, drums and builds powerfully.

Give Me Jesus – This hymn is an African American spiritual. I first became aware of this song through Fernando Ortega’s wonderful version. This beautiful version features acoustic guitar, piano, and some effective drum work.

Come Thou Found (Above All Else) – “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was written in 1757 by pastor and hymn writer Robert Robinson at age 22. This version features acoustic guitar, piano and violin. It also includes a brief worship chorus “Above All Else”.

The Lord is My Salvation – This modern hymn was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Nathan Nockels and Jonas Myrin. This excellent version features some good drum work, guitar and piano.
Key lyric:
Who is like the Lord our God?
Strong to save, faithful in love
My debt is paid and the vict’ry won
The Lord is my salvation

Holy, Holy, Holy (We Bow Before Thee) – “Holy, Holy, Holy” was written by Reginald Heber in 1826. This hymn opens with acoustic guitar and light percussion. It builds with violin and includes the worship chorus “We Bow Before Thee”.

He Will Hold Me Fast – This hymn was written by Ada Habershonnew and Matt Merker. It’s one of my favorite “new” hymns. It features acoustic guitar, piano, light percussion and keys.
Key lyric:
For my life He bled and died
Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied
He will hold me fast
Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
Till our faith is turned to sight
When he comes at last

My Worth is Not in What I Own – This modern hymn was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick. This is another of my favorite new hymns. It features keys, guitar, violin and light drums.
Key lyric:
I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

In Christ Alone – This modern hymn was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. It’s one of our church’s favorites to sing in our worship service. This version features piano, acoustic guitar, drums, and violin, as it builds powerfully.
Key lyric:
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the pow’r of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand

There is a Fountain (Full of Love) – This hymn was written by William Cowper in 1772. This version features guitar, light percussion and violin. It also includes the worship chorus “Full of Love”.

Egypt Station – Paul McCartney
****

Egypt Station is the 76-year-old former Beatle’s 17th solo album and his first new album since 2013’s New. It is very good, at times brilliant, with only one major misstep. The album was produced by Greg Kurstin, with the exception of the album’s one misstep “Fuh You” which was produced by Ryan Tedder. McCartney stated that the album “Starts off at the station on the first song and then each song is like a different station. So, it gave us some idea to base all the songs around that. I think of it as a dream location that the music emanates from.”
Egypt Station was McCartney’s first U.S. number one album since 1982’s Tug of War, his eighth overall and his first to debut at number one.
Throughout, McCartney’s voice sounds great, the production is excellent and McCartney’s excellent long-term touring band joins him on several songs.  All songs were written by McCartney, with the exception of “Fuh You” which was co-written with Ryan Tedder. Themes range from politics, lust, bullying, contentment in marriage, etc.

Below are a few comments about each of the sixteen songs on the album:

Opening Station – This is an instrumental track that includes some background noise that reminds me of Sgt. Pepper and some choral vocals.

I Don’t Know – One song of the two-sided single released in June ahead of the album. The piano-driven song opens with piano and acoustic guitar and then adds bass, light drums and backing vocals. He asks What am I doing wrong, Now what’s the matter with me? I don’t know, I don’t know.

Come on to Me – This is the second song of the two-sided single released in advance of the album. The lyrics are almost embarrassing – Did you come on to me, will I come on to you? If you come on to me, will I come on to you? – but the music is catchy and this one will sound good on McCartney’s upcoming Freshen Up Tour.

Happy with You – In contrast to “Come on to Me” and “Fuh You”, this acoustic song finds him happy, and could be a song to his wife Nancy. The song is driven by acoustic guitar. He writes that he used to sit around and get stoned, now he’s happy and enjoying nature. The song includes some light backing vocals, strings and light percussion.

Who Cares – This guitar driven rocker about bullying could easily fit on 1974’s classic Band on the Run. It has a “Helen Wheels” or “Juniors Farm” feel, and features an excellent rock vocal from McCartney.
Key lyric:
Who cares what the idiots say
Who cares what the idiots do
Who cares about the pain in your heart?
Who cares about you?
I do
 

Fuh You – This song was the third song released prior to the album. It’s the one major misstep on the album. It was written by McCartney and Ryan Tedder and produced by Tedder and Zach Skelton. The song sounds great musically, but is embarrassing lyrically, as McCartney, who previously wrote “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” and “Hi, Hi, Hi”, leaves nothing to the imagination as to what he wants to do to the girl in this song.  This song gets immediately skipped for me.  Confidante – This is an acoustic guitar driven song. He sings to one who used to be his confidante, a true friend, who stood beside him as he fought, but he fell out of love with them and brought their romance to an end.

People Want Peace – Over the years, McCartney has revisited the subject of peace several times (“Pipes of Peace”, “Peace in the Neighborhood”, etc.). He opens this song by saying that he has something important to say and he’s not going to let anything get in his way. It’s a simple message that he knows we’ve heard before – that people want peace, a simple release from their suffering. The song features some good percussion, keys, hand-claps, backing vocals and a passionate vocal from McCartney.

Hand in Hand – This piano-driven song revisits his happiness in a relationship that he addressed in “Happy with You”. “We can make each other happy if we get it right”. The song features two cellists, a mid-song solo from a woodwind instrument, and light backing vocals. He wrote the song on his father’s old piano. As he wrote it he was imagining he and wife Nancy about to go through life hand in hand. It was written in the early stage of their relationship.
Key lyric:
Hand in hand
Walking through life
And making our plans

Dominoes – This song begins with acoustic guitar and builds with light drums, bass, electric guitar, backing vocals and some Sgt. Pepper-like sound effects.  McCartney has described the song as being a people song about how things are really all right, but they don’t always seem to be alright. He brings in the idea of dominoes in that one little action can have such a big effect on this huge line of dominoes. He states that even though the subject of the song goes through all this stuff, and all these dominoes fall over and life goes on and in fact in the end it’s okay. 

Back in Brazil – McCartney wrote this song in his hotel room in Brazil while on tour. It is ambitious musically with Latin rhythms, and a number of instruments, including keys, percussion, strings, clarinets, flute, etc. The song tells the imaginary story of two young Brazilian people.

Do It Now – “Do it Now” is an expression McCartney’s father used to say. McCartney has said that the song is an imaginary journey suggested by the fact that his father would have said, “Go on that journey now, don’t leave it till it’s too late”. The song begins with McCartney singing over keys. It builds, with bass, backing vocals, drums and strings.
Key lyric:
Do it now, do it now
While the vision is clear
Do it now
While the feeling is here
If you leave it too late
It could all disappear

Caesar Rock – McCartney has said that this slightly oddball track came when he and his engineer Steve Orchard were making stuff up in the studio. The song is a fun musical jam, with drum machine, piano, backing vocals, guitar, but is basically a throwaway track lyrically.

Despite Repeated Warnings – McCartney, who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has stated that this song is about President Donald Trump and other politicians who believe that climate change is a hoax. He has said that the song is similar to “Band on The Run” or “Live and Let Die” in that it is kind of episodic and of an epic production. His intent is to try to remind people that climate change is not a hoax, and that we should avoid having a mad captain (Trump) steering us towards the icebergs. It is one of the more interesting songs musically on the album.

Station II – Similar to “Opening Station”, this is a brief instrumental track.

Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link – This is a closing suite, not unlike the famous one that closes out side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. “Hunt You Down” opens with some great guitar, horns, drums, a rock vocal and backing vocals. “Naked” slows things down. He sings that he’s been naked since he was born and broken in so many places.
Key lyric:
Save my soul and set it free
Free to fly home
There’s a place I’m meant to be
Back, back home
 

“C-Link” is a closing instrumental rock track featuring a good guitar solo.

Forever On Your Side (Niles City Sound Sessions) – NEEDTOBREATHE
*** ½

This EP contains four songs that the band recorded over a few weeks while they were in Fort Worth, Texas with the producer trio Niles City Sound. The EP gives us a good idea where the constantly evolving band is now. Below are a few comments about each of the new songs:
Bridges Burn – This was the first song released from the EP. It opens with piano and hand-clap. Bear Rinehart sings that it’s time for moving on as there are some things you can’t forget. He wants to watch all his bridges burn and dance in the light of a lesson learned. He wants to leave everything that hurts and never go back to the way they were. The mid-tempo song builds gradually over a passionate vocal.
Key lyric:  I need to find somewhere I can believe. I need to know there’s a chance we can be.

Darling – This beautiful song has Bear singing over acoustic guitar. He is singing to his wife, wanting to talk to her on the phone while he’s on the road and she’s at home. He just wants to be home with her, the only thing that carries him through. He acknowledges that it’s hard for her to be at home, taking care of the house on her own. As the song builds, light instrumentation, including some horns and backing vocals supplement Bear’s vocals. Key lyric: I don’t wanna do this alone.

Bullets – This song opens with guitar, and then moves into a rock beat, with drum, organ, horns, keys and backing vocals. The song is about how you can’t put the bullets back into a gun, can’t undo what we have done or said, which is a tough lesson we have to learn.  Musically, it’s the most interesting song on the collection.
Key lyric: Don’t let your heart be stone, don’t be the bitter one.

Forever On Your Side – The closing song was the only song that hadn’t been released prior to the full EP being released, and it’s my favorite song on the EP. It features husband and wife duo Johnnyswim (Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez) on backing vocals. The band has indicated that this song was written for their fans who have been with them since the very beginning. The song begins with guitar and then builds with drums and banjo. The lyrics are uplifting and encouraging. We don’t know what’s around the bend but love knows no end and he’ll be forever on her side. Like Jesus, he will carry her every time because he’s forever on her side. With Johnnyswim joining the band on tour, this song will sound amazing live.
Key lyric:  Take my hand when you can’t see the light, ‘cause I’m forever on your side.

Nobody Loves Me Like You – Chris Tomlin
****

Holy Roar, Chris Tomlin’s first full-length album since 2016’s Never Lose Sight, which was my top album for that year, will be released October 26. In advance of the album comes this surprise EP, with four songs from the album, plus a bonus track. The songs are produced by Ed Cash and Bryan Fowler.
The album’s companion book “Holy Roar: 7 Words That Will Change the Way You Worship” by Tomlin and his pastor Darren Whitehead of Nashville’s Church of the City, will be re-released October 23.
Here are a few brief comments on each of the songs on the new EP:
Nobody Loves Me Like You – Tomlin’s next single, this song is written by Scott Cash and Ed Cash. It begins quietly with soft guitar and then builds with piano, drums, backing vocals and a joyous chorus about the love of Jesus. Key lyric:
Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, You are faithful and true
Nobody loves me like You

Satisfied – This song is written by Jason Ingram, Ross Copperman and Tomlin. Driven by an excellent drum beat, and hand claps, this upbeat and joyful song will sound great on the radio and in concert. Tomlin sings that as he counts his blessings he couldn’t ask for more. In God he is satisfied. Nothing and no one else will ever satisfy. Key lyric:
I count my blessings one by one
Your goodness in my life
How could I ask for more
In You, I’m satisfied

Goodness, Love and Mercy – This song is written by Ed Cash, NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart and Tomlin. The mid-tempo song opens with acoustic guitar and gently builds, featuring some good piano, guitar and backing vocals. It is a worship song based on Psalm 23. Key lyric:
Surely goodness, love and mercy
Will follow wherever I go

Impact – This song is written by Mitch Wong, Tommy Sjostrom and Tomlin. The worship song begins with piano and strings. It gently builds, as Tomlin sings of waiting, surrender and laying down his defenses, to a powerful bridge in which he sings of love like a mighty river and rushing wind. Key lyric:
As I worship in surrender
I feel heaven drawing closer
As I lay down my defenses
Your love invades
And I brace for the impact

Our God – This song, perhaps my all-time favorite from Tomlin, from 2010 is written by Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Jesse Reeves and Tomlin. This is a great song, but I’m not sure why it is included on the EP.

My New Moon by Amos Lee
*** ½

My New Moon is Amos Lee’s seventh studio album, and his first since 2016’s excellent Spirit. The album contains ten new songs produced by Tony Berg. The songs have been described as the product of a period of intense connection and loss, making this Lee’s most personal album as well as his most politically outspoken one as well. The album features contributions from multi-instrumentalists Ethan Gruska and Blake Mills, keyboardists Benmont Tench and Patrick Warren, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and strings by Rob Moose. Many of the songs deal with pain and loss. Lee is one of our great vocalists, and he proves it again on this new collection.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs:
No More Darkness, No More Light – The first single from the album, this was a song that Lee had recorded a few times, with different lyrics and a different title. After the Valentine’s Day shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, he completely re-wrote the song. The song has a graceful African-influenced groove and melody, being driven by drums, guitar and light backing vocals. Key lyric:
Some days it feels so hopeless
Nothing’s makin’ any sense
Flags we raise in praise of ruthless
Supposes innocence

Louisville – This is a song that would not feel out of place on a Springsteen solo record. Musically the band really shines on this song (drums, organ, guitar, piano) along with backing vocals. He’s heading back to Louisville, but that may not be a good thing. Key lyric:
Sweet sacrifice coming for the kill
Now I’m heading back to Louisville

Little Light – This inspirational song is about is Maya (or “Mighty Maya”), who Lee met two years ago in Seattle. At the time, she was 7 years old and had recently been diagnosed with kidney cancer. Amos sent Maya songs to cheer her up on some of the toughest days and to serve as lullabies on sleepless nights. The song features a great R&B beat, with excellent soulful backing vocals, handclaps, guitar and drum. Key lyric:
Let your little light shine
For the world to see

All You Got Is A Song – Lee delivers a great soulful vocal on this song about pain, as she slips away. The drums and keys stand out, as well as the backing vocals. Key lyric:
I’m gonna sing away the pain
Till the morning light will break on through

I Get Weak – This is a more of a laid-back song, which builds near the end. He’s looking for his love who is nowhere to be found. The song features soft percussion, a bass beat and guitar. Key lyric:
Looking for you my love
Always disappear
Like a phantom in my soul
That always feels so near

Crooked – This song finds Lee getting political as he is most likely writing about President Trump, though he writes that he is crooked too. We are all crooked, for “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23). The song is about propaganda, misinformation and lies.  It opens with what sounded to me like prison shackles and chains, or perhaps soldiers marching. It has a memorable hook, with the emphasis on the biting words. There are some nice strings and piano in the middle of the song. Key lyric:
I read a crooked headline on a crooked page
There’s a crooked leader on a crooked stage
But he seems to think he’s standin’ tall
Turns out it’s all crooked, y’all

Hang On, Hang On – Lee has written that this was the hardest song for him to sing on the album. He wrote the song after losing his grandmother. The song is based on their last evening together. It’s a gentle and touching song, featuring acoustic guitar, piano and backing vocals. Key lyric:
We never left you
Even though you fell far away
Couldn’t hold you
But you didn’t wanna be here anyway

Don’t Give A Damn Anymore – This is an angry song. It’s ambitious musically, with a strong drum beat, and backing vocals. He’s been wrong so many times before, he don’t give a damn anymore. Key lyric:
Devil been a-knocking at my door
Said the angel been calling, but he can offer more.

Whiskey on Ice – Lee offers a tender vocal for this piano-based song about a couple’s struggle as they cope with the death of their son.  The song features light percussion and backing vocals and builds toward the end. Key lyric:
Looking for the light
Finally found your shape
While the sun, it falls
Tumbling down my face
Moonlight crashing in
Like waves on the shore
You are at the gate
Waiting till you find
All the fortune that you lost
That night

Don’t Fade Away – The closing song is about someone fading away, perhaps through dementia, a slow goodbye, and then dying. The song is laid back and somber, with piano, soft percussion, light guitar, bass and backing vocals. Key lyric:
Don’t fade away, don’t fade away
Cause I need you here

Favorite songs: Crooked, Louisville, Little Light

The Narrative – Sho Baraka
****

Three years in the making, Sho Baraka returns with his fourth album. The fourteen songs address themes of race, faith and love. Each title has an accompanying year that symbolizes something important. It is an important album that is musically diverse and creative, and lyrically relevant. Below are a few comments on each song:
Foreward, 1619 – The opening track was written by the Beatbreaker (who also produced it), Adam Bean and Baraka. It features C Lacy and Bean. 1619 was the start of American slavery, which is addressed in Adam Bean’s verse. From 1619 and beyond, here he stands. He is a man. Baraka asks whether he should he pray or riot. He states that we are all desperate and broken.
Don’t close the book, I got more to write
You can change the story, that is my advice
I read in color, they see black and white
You just saw the cover, but there’s more to life

Soul, 1971 – This track was written by Baraka and produced by Jamie Portee, who also contributes vocals. It features some excellent James Brown-like horns. He’s picking up the pieces in a world that’s fallen. He addresses being poor, bad schools, bad food, and bad predatory lenders.
Kanye, 2009 –  This song was produced by Jamie Portee and Swoope. It features Jackie Hill-Perry, who co-wrote the song with Baraka. The song briefly opens with piano and a gospel choir. This is his Kanye rant. He has something to say and a lot on his mind. The track features some good sax work.
Love, 1959 – This song is produced by the Beatbreaker and Jamie Portee and written by Baraka. He references Jimmy Bee’s “If It Wasn’t For Love” in the opening. Features some good horns and piano.  And if it wasn’t for love, where would he be? It’s unconditional love that he needs.
Here, 2016 –  This song is produced by the Beatbreaker and Swoope and features Lecrae, who co-wrote the song with Baraka. First of all, the song sounds great – live horns, drums and keys. It has jazz and soul elements. The song also has powerful lyrics, about justice, equality, holding politicians accountable, love over hate, faith, etc. The song ends with a spoken word piece about the strength of Black women.
30 & Up, 1986 –  This song is produced by J.R. and features Courtney Orlando, who co-writes the song with Baraka. Baraka has said that this is a song that celebrates those people who are living life 30 and up in the sense of love and relationships. A key lyric: You know we got to work to stay in love.
Profhet, 1968 –  This song is produced by and features Jamie Portee, who co-writes it with Baraka. Baraka has said that the song is about the commodification of him as an individual, his body, his likeness, his tonality, also his religion, his faith, and how sometimes we allow ourselves to be pimped out and sold. And also, the idea that activism needs prophets, not profit. You can offer him money but you can’t have his soul. A key lyric: I’m undervalued but I can be a prophet.  
Maybe Both, 1865 – This song is produced by, and features Jamie Portee, who also co-wrote the song with Baraka. This song is loosely based on Malcolm X’s “Ballot in a Bullet” speech. He critiques both political parties, and looks at how we can use Jesus to promote our own agendas, but understands that Christ is pretty complicated. A key lyric: Are they killing with a pistol or a vote? 
Excellent, 2017 – This song is produced and features Courtney Orlando, who also co-wrote the song with Baraka. Creative musically, he mentions several people in this song. A key lyric: I know Black lives matter, and they should matter in the womb.  
Road to Humble, 1979 – This autobiographical song is produced by Jamie Portee, who also co-wrote the song with Baraka. He raps about pride, salvation, being a part of 116 Clique, Reach and Humble Beast. A key lyric I’m deeply loved, I’m forgiven, I have vision. He has changed my condition on the day he was risen.
Myhood, U.S.A., 1937 – This song is produced by theBeatbreaker and features Venessa Hill, who also co-wrote the song with Baraka, theBeatbreaker and Lataurus Johnson. Baraka tells us a love story, though not your typical love story. He gives us a history lesson for Black Americans from the 1930s onward using a fictional ‘Myhood USA’. A key lyric:  This is a love song, I like to call it justice. 
Words, 2006 – This song is produced by theBeatbreaker and Jamie Portee and written by Baraka. It is about being a father of a child with special needs and his father with cancer. It opens with a baby crying over a piano, then builds with drums. Key lyric: Maybe we don’t need words to communicate our love.
Fathers, 2004 – This song is produced by Jamie Portee and written by Baraka.  Musically, it’s more laid back, with piano, light drums and horns. He gives advice and encouragement to first his son, and then daughter, and finally to other fathers. Key lyric: How do you spell Dad? It goes L-O-V-E.
Piano Break, 33 A.D. –  The final song is produced by Jamie Portee and written by Baraka. He sings about being made in the image of God and celebrating that.

Contains some language that got the album banned from a major Christian bookstore chain. Features piano over a drum beat. Includes samples from a preacher, who shouts “Hallelujah” throughout the song.  Key lyrics: If my words bring conviction, let’s call in context, I’m realizin’ life is pretty complex and I’m a servant, but I have a room in the palace.  

The Narrative Vol. 2: Pianos & Politics – Sho Baraka
****

Baraka followed up his groundbreaking 2016 release The Narrative with a surprise EP. The Narrative Volume 2, featuring four new songs and two remixes from The Narrative. Here are a few brief comments about each song:
Pedantic – This song is written by Amisho Baraka Lewis, Thomas Joseph Terry and Bryan L. Winchester. It includes soundbites from an interview with Denzel Washington and is produced by Braille. The song features a good drum beat throughout and an excellent guitar solo. Information is a theme throughout. Key lyric: I had information but did I have wisdom?  
Pianos in Jericho – This song features Sean C. Johnson. It is written by Amisho Baraka Lewis, Thomas Joseph Terry and Bryan L. Winchester and produced by Braille.  The song features a driving drum beat, piano and some backing vocals. The wall is a theme throughout. Key lyric:
Man, I think I’ve let my problems become my savior
I’ve taken focus off the Lord and focused on my anger
I think I’ve let my opposition define who’s my neighbor

Piano Bars – This song is written by Amisho Baraka Lewis, Thomas Joseph Terry, Bryan L. Winchester, Ron Sararana and Jamie Portee. It features record scratches by DJ Efectho and is produced by Braille. Sho raps over a great beat, driven by piano. Includes some humor and a reference to his music being removed by Baptist owned bookstores for mentioning a male body part. Key lyric:
He’s moving between thugs and seminary professors
He writes with intelligence and honors his heritage
The bottom line is he is changing the narrative 

Pluralism – This song is written by Amisho Baraka Lewis, Thomas Joseph Terry and Bryan L. Winchester. It features background vocals from Lauren Michael and is produced by Braille. The song features piano and drums.  Key lyric:
But be careful how you share your views
Cause they’ll protest you 

Maybe Both – This song, which was included on The Narrative, features James Portier. DSTL does the remix, which features a great beat and percussion. It is written by Amisho Baraka Lewis, Thomas Joseph Terry, Bryan L. Winchester, Daniel Steele and Jamie Portee. The song is loosely based on Malcolm X’s “Ballot in a Bullet” speech. He critiques both political parties, and looks at how we can use Jesus to promote our own agendas, but understands that Christ is pretty complicated.  A key lyric: Are they killing with a pistol or a vote?  Or maybe it is both.    
Here – This song, which was included on The Narrative, features Lecrae. Coutland Urbano does the remix. It is written by Amisho Baraka Lewis, Thomas Joseph Terry, Bryan L. Winchester, Lecrae and Courtland Urbano. This is a stripped-down version of the version on The Narrative, which featured piano and horns, and has excellent percussion. The song has powerful lyrics, about justice, equality, holding politicians accountable, love over hate, faith, etc. Key lyric: I promise there’s healing for your hurt now.  

Today We Rebel by KB
****

This is KB’s follow-up to 2015’s Tomorrow We Live. Much has happened in our county since that album was recorded. The album cover was illustrated by Alex Castro and directed by Alex Medina. It can be confusing at first, as the artist appears to be on the throne with a halo over his head. He has stated that the halo represents spiritual devotion and he is sitting on steps, not a throne. There are a number of symbols of people and objects that have impacted KB’s life.
This is an excellent album, and has KB collaborating with a number of producers and special guests including Lecrae and Andy Mineo. Below are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:

DNOU – This song is produced by Mykalife and written by Natalie Lauren and KB. DNOU stands for “Don’t Nobody Own Us”. About the song, KB has stated that if it honors God and your conscious is clear, do what you want. We should not let anyone rule over our decisions with their own fears and insecurities. This song has a good beat over keys. Key lyric: Does it honor God and conscience? You owe nothin’ but your love man. 

Tempo –  This song was produced by Dirty Rice, Juicy Bangers and Joseph Prielozny. It is written by KB and was released as a single in July, 2016. KB has stated that the song is about focus and freedom. Key lyric: I’m gonna do what I’ve been called to do, not what’s expected
Monster
– This song is produced by Halo Hitz and Cardec Drums. It is written by Wes Writer, Hitz, Drums, KB and new Reach Records artist Aha Gazelle. Writer and Gazelle, who was featured on Lecrae’s “Watchu Mean” on his new All Things Work Together album, add vocals. The song features some of KB’s fast rap style.
Key lyric: If it hadn’t been for Jesus I’d be still runnin’ around like I’m a gangster.
Primetime –  This song is produced by COBRA and was written by Dirty Rice, Joseph Prielozny, Ty Brasel and KB. The song has a good beat and features some strong vocals from Brasel.  KB has stated that the song is about failure not being final and we can rise in anything. Key lyric: I see L’s like new lessons.
Get Through
–  This song is produced by COBRA and features vocals from Reach Records label owner Lecrae, Andreas Moss and Bowie. The song is written by Dirty Rice, Joseph Prielozny, Andreas Moss, David Brown, Dustin “DAB” Bowie, Lecrae and KB. The song is about hearing God’s voice as we go through struggles and the purpose in our pain. Lecrae’s and KB’s opening verses are hard-hitting. The song slows down at the bridge with vocals from Moss and KB. Key lyric: You see the voice whispers on the mountain tops and screams from the valleys. Listen, because when the voice gets strong. When the voice gets through, it can change the situation, but it also changes you. 
Art of Drifting
– This song is produced by Blair Andre Atkinson and Cardec. It is written by KB. This is a sobering song about a dream he had, in which he drifted away from God and his Word and into sin. Part two of the story is in the following “Art of Hope”. Key lyric: God is not God no more. He is just a job homeboy, oh boy. 
Art of Hope –  This song is produced by Hillsong UNITED, Joel Houston, Joseph Prielozny and Cardec. It is written by KB. The song samples “With Everything” by Hillsong Worship. KB sings with emotion in this follow-on to the previous song “Art of Drifting”. The song is about the process of returning to God. The song ends with a part of the much-loved hymn “Be Thou My Vision”, with a female vocal, strings and piano. 
Not Today Satan
– This song is produced by Cardec Drums, Dirty Rice and Joseph Prielozny. It is by written by KB and Andy Mineo, and features Mineo on vocals.  It’s a bold song featuring backing vocals, and some nice trumpet by Byron Juane. Key lyric: He bring up your past. Boy, bring up his future. 
I Am Not the One –  The song is produced by COBRA and Cardec. It is written by Cardec, Dirty Rice, Joseph Prielozny and KB. This song reflects the boldness of his faith. Key lyric: Calling me the Christian rapper. All I know I just wanna be more Christian than rapper
New Portrait
–  This song is produced by Dirty Rice and written by Rice, Doctor Jarvis Williams, Lisa Sharon Harper, Emanuel Lambert and KB. This is a slower song, focusing on powerful lyrics over keys and strings. There are many different Christs portrayed. We need to focus on the true Christ. The song ends with a short spoken word excerpt from Lisa Sharon Harper and Doctor Jarvis Williams. Key lyric: Which Christ do you believe? You gotta know before you leave.  
Bring You War
–  This song is produced by Scootie, and written by Joseph Priezlozny, Benjamin Backus, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Michael Anderson and KB. It features vocals from Scootie as well as For KING & COUNTRY, who joined Lecrae on the song “Messengers” from Anomaly. The bold and confident song features strong vocals over catchy percussion driven beat.  Key lyric: I don’t know if you are wrong or if I’m right but If you want a war, I’ll give a war. 
Sing to You
–  This song is produced by COBRA and is written by Dirty Rice, Joseph Prielozny, Leeland Mooring, Natalie Lauren, Casey J and K.  It is about continuing to lift up worship and praise in song to the Lord in the midst of suffering and loss. The song includes organ, horn, a good beat, backing vocals, hand clap and vocals from Casey J. Key lyric: When sorrows falling down like rain, when I can hardly take the pain, all I know is, I will sing to You.
Rebel Intro –  This song is produced by Cardec and COBRA and written by Natalie Lauren, Dirty Rice, Cardec, Joseph Priezlozny and KB. It features vocals from Sarah Reeves, sampling Lecrae’s “Battle Song” from Rehab: The Overdose.
Rebel Rebel 88 – This song is produced by Cardec and written by Cardec and KB. KB is saying that his God is neither Democrat nor Republican. Christians need to be able to love people who disagree with them.  The song features a good percussion driven beat. His allegiance is to, and his primary identity is in, Christ. Key lyric:  I am American, Black is my heritage, but, before that, I am a child of the Kingdom.  

Wide Open – Michael McDonald
****

Wide Open is 65-year old Michael McDonald’s (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan), first new studio album in more than nine years, and first album of original material in seventeen years, following Blue Obsession in 2000. It follows three R&B/Soul cover albums for Motown, the most recent being Soul Speak, released in 2008. He has also released a few Christmas albums during this time.
The 71-minute album of keyboard-heavy soul and blues ballads was written over several years and recorded at McDonald’s Nashville studio, along with drummer Shannon Forrest (Toto), and session players from Nashville. The album features collaborations with guitarist-singer Warren Haynes, guitarist Robben Ford, bassist Marcus Miller and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
McDonald has said that most of the songs on the album have to do with sobriety, the journey in his life of getting sober, which he has been since 1986. It is a kind of wide open conversation of many different subjects, both musically and lyrically.
McDonald’s signature voice still sounds great. If I had any criticism of the album, it would just be that a few of the songs go too long, with only one song coming in at under four minutes.

Below are a few brief comments about each of the songs:
Hail Mary – Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, the opening song features McDonald’s wife Amy Holland on backing vocals. It’s driven by a bass beat and keyboards. Key lyric: Does the sound of my voice still carry any kind of message still important to you?
Just Strong Enough – This is a slow blues number featuring guitar, piano, horns and strings.
Find It In Your Heart – This was the first single released from the album. It will most remind you of McDonald’s 70’s funk groove, led by Marcus Miller’s bass. It has an old soul sound and wah-wah guitar. Key lyric: Love’s the truth that sets us free. A highlight.
Half Truth –  This song is written by McDonald’s son Dylan. It opens with a harmonica and is driven by drums and some excellent guitar work. It’s a sad song, slower in pace. Key lyric: It’s just one of those times, when a half truth, becomes a whole lie.  
Ain’t No Good – This song is about a relationship gone wrong and is driven by strong drumming and some excellent guitar. Key lyric: I ain’t looking for the key to heaven, just open the gates to hell enough to let me out.
Honest Emotion – McDonald has said that this is the most personal song for him on the album. It is about the kind of autopilot we go through life operating on, avoiding any real feelings that you might be feeling, and trying to just deal with the ones that are comfortable. It features acoustic guitar and strings. Key lyric: Would honest emotion even know me if I walk through this door?  
Blessing in Disguise – This song is driven by some strong drumming and excellent saxophone from Branford Marsalis. Key lyric: The highs and lows can only point to in between, but time will show a blessing in disguise.
Dark Side – This ballad starts slowly with acoustic guitar, and then builds with a good drum beat, horns, piano and strings. Key lyric:  We all know love is blind, we only see what we want, you’re bound to learn somehow love has a dark side.
If You Wanted to Hurt Me – this upbeat song is driven by drums, keyboards, guitar, piano and horns. She’s leaving him and running to another. McDonald lets loose on this song, which will sound great in concert.
Beautiful Child – This ballad starts slowly with drums and acoustic guitar and then builds. Key lyric: You can search this world over, and still be a prisoner in a cage.
Too Short – This song features the stories of three characters. Musically it has an upbeat breezy drum-driven pop beat with guitar, horn and backing vocals. Key lyric: This life, it was too short to give up.
Free a Man – This upbeat song is written by Richard Stekol. It has political lyrics, and musically is driven by drums, guitar, horns and a keyboard solo. This is another one I would like to see McDonald perform in concert. Key lyrics: Free a man and love will follow and Religion has not failed man, no, it’s the other way around.      

I: The Arrow (EP) – Andy Mineo
****

This is the first chapter in a series of EP’s that Mineo plans to release. He has stated that he has been going through a period of doubt of himself and of his faith, as he has experienced a season of anxiety and depression.  This is a transparent and honest release from Mineo as he works through anxiety and confusion.  It is unlike any of his releases to date. It’s the follow-up to 2017’s Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed Present Magic & Bird with Wordsplayed and is his first solo album since his excellent 2015 release Uncomfortable.
Give these songs several listens.  They require and deserve that. I look forward to the next EP.
Below are a few brief comments about each of the six songs:

I’ve Been…. – This song was written by Wit, Joel McNeill, John McNeill, BEAM and Mineo. It was produced by Weathrman and BEAM. Additional vocals are provided by Willow Stephens. The opener is a slower song and introduces the theme of the record. He’s been lost for some time.
Key lyric: I hope I get the benefit of the doubt
I need a minute just to figure this out

Clarity – This song was written and produced by Daniel Steele, Chad Gardner, GAWVI and Mineo. Additional vocals are provided by Gardner. The song opens with Mineo speaking over keyboards by Daniel Steele. He raps hard in verse two.  The song includes spoken word interludes from a female. He wants clarity because all of his heroes are frauds, just like he is. Watch the video for “Clarity” here.
Key lyric: The opposite of faith ain’t doubt
Family Photo – This heart-breaking song about Mineo’s father Joe was written by Wit, Joel McNeill, John McNeill and Mineo. It was produced by Weathrman and Mineo. He tells about how his father didn’t show up for his wedding. The song starts slow and builds in intensity as his rage about his father builds. The song ends with him reciting Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”. Key lyric: ‘Cause when you bury emotions, you bury them alive
They only come back stronger, somewhere later in your life

Anxiety – This song was written by Wit, Joel McNeill, John McNeill and Mineo. The song was produced by, and features, Weathrman. The song was recorded in November, 2016 after Mineo had his first anxiety attack. The song describes what he felt as he was going through the anxiety attack. The song has a slower beat and ends with an outro spoken piece that may have been recorded in concert that leads into “I Ain’t Done”.
I Ain’t Done – This song was written and produced by Mineo and recorded on the bus while on tour in 2017. This bold song pounds from the very beginning, as he made up the lyrics on the spot. Key lyric: Man, my problems big, but I know God way bigger.
…Lost – The final track of the EP continues where “I’ve Been…” left off. It is written by David Ham, Joel McNeill, John McNeill, Wit, BEAM and Mineo. It was produced by Weathrman, BEAM and Mineo, and features Willow Stephens on vocals. The song starts slow and builds to a gospel vibe with a nice tip of the cap to his song “Never Land”. It ends with a spoken word piece explaining where he got the cover art for the EP and then some brief keys. It has a more hopeful spirit than the other songs. Key lyric: When I get above those clouds, yeah, I know that the sun’s out, I’ma be alright

Live on Soundstage: Michael McDonald
****

Michael McDonald has had quite a career, spanning 45 years, from Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers to a successful solo career, which has included a number of Christmas albums and a few albums of Motown covers.  This live project (DVD/CD) was filmed and recorded at Soundstage’s Grainger Studios in Chicago on May 25, 2017. It includes some of the five-time Grammy Award winner’s biggest hits, as well as three songs from his excellent 2017 comeback album Wide Open, his first album of new material in seventeen years.
The album showcases McDonald’s distinctive voice, which is still a wonderful instrument at age 65. He is backed by a strong ensemble, including horns and background singers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this recording. Below are the songs included on the album, and a comment on when they were originally recorded by McDonald. Note, some of the songs downloaded in a different order than they are listed on the album.

It Keeps You Running – This song was recorded by the Doobie Brothers, was the third single released from their 1976 album Takin’ It To the Streets, reaching number 37 in the U.S.
Sweet Freedom – This song reached #7 on the U.S. charts for McDonald in 1986, and was featured in the film Running Scared.
I Keep Forgetting – This song was from McDonald’s 1982 solo debut If That’s What It Takes, reaching #4 on the U.S. charts.  
Find It In Your Heart – This song was the first single released from McDonald’s 2017 album Wide Open.
If You Wanted to Hurt Me – This song was included on McDonald’s 2017 album Wide Open.
I Can’t Let Go Now – This song was included on McDonald’s 1982 album If That’s What It Takes.
Beautiful Child – This song was included on McDonald’s 2017 album Wide Open.
Minute by Minute – This song was released on the Doobie Brothers’ 1978 album Minute by Minute. The single was released in 1979 and reached number 13 in the U.S.
What a Fool Believes – This song was released on the Doobie Brothers’ 1978 album Minute by Minute and reached number one in the U.S. The song won the Grammy 1980 for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Takin’ It To the Streets – This song was included on the Doobie Brothers’ 1976 album Takin’ It To the Streets and reached number 13 in the U.S. This was the band’s first single with McDonald singing lead.

The three encores were:
You Belong To Me – This song was written by McDonald and Carly Simon and originally recorded by the Doobie Brothers for their 1977 album Livin’ on the Fault Line. The song was made popular by Simon on her 1978 album Boys in the Trees. Her single reached number 6 in the U.S.
What’s Going On – This classic Marvin Gaye song was included on McDonald’s 2004 album Motown II.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – This classic song has been recorded by many, but probably the definitive version was Marvin Gaye’s 1967 recording. It was included on McDonald’ 2003 album Motown.

25 in 24
****

The film 25 in 24 documents a crazy dream. It was the dream of Christian band Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman. His dream was to play 25 concerts in 24 hours in his hometown of San Diego. The film is directed by Melody League and is beautifully filmed with many scenes of the San Diego area.
Foreman loves to play music. He is able to connect with people through his music. After Switchfoot concerts, he will meet fans outside the venue to play solo impromptu acoustic concerts.
As he released four Wonderlands EPs – Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness and Dawn a few years ago, he came up with a crazy dream. He would play 25, 3-song concerts in his hometown of San Diego in 24-hour period.  There was much to coordinate, and many variables (musicians, transportation, traffic, weather, etc.). Could he remember all of the lyrics to 75 songs playing for 24 consecutive hours? Could he pull off this ambitious project? He tells us that a beautiful dream is worth chasing, even if you fail.
At 10:00 am on October 24, Foreman started out in his van beginning the realization of his dream, an entire day of song. This film follows Foreman as he fulfills his dream, embracing community one song at a time.
I enjoyed watching Foreman and his fellow musicians (only the cellist played all 25 shows) playing in a variety of locations in San Diego – Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park (with Foreman’s mother Jan), Fidel’s Mexican Restaurant with a Mariachi Band, at Rady’s Children’s Hospital with a high school orchestra, singing “Your Love is Enough” at a wedding reception for the first dance for the bride and groom, on the roof of Ironsmith Coffee Shop, a blistering “Resurrect Me” in show 24, etc. Highlights for me were the concert on Mount Soledad, where they watched the sunrise afterwards, the show at Rady’s Children’s Hospital, and the final show on Swami’s beach, where Foreman went into the Pacific Ocean to surf immediately afterwards.
As the evening went on, people began following them from show to show. When it got late into the evening, the crowds became smaller and the shows more intimate. In the midst of it all, Foreman’s van breaks down.
As Foreman and the musicians finished show 25, it was a celebration of family, friendship and community. This was an event that made people come alive.
Foreman tells us that many times it’s the chase that we are looking for. He was chasing after wonder, looking for his Maker, one song at a time. He stated that journey is where life happens. Not in control but in the chaos.
The film is available online where movies are sold (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc.). Music fans – Switchfoot and Jon Foreman fans in particular – will appreciate this film.

Abide with Me – Sara Groves
****

Sara Groves follows her acclaimed 2015 album Floodplain with her thirteenth studio album. She has stated that her previous album found her on the floodplain reflecting on the kind provision that comes when she finds herself in a place where she cannot rescue herself. Abide with Me is a collection of hymns and songs that were with her on the floodplain. The album was recorded in a 105-year old church (the construction of which is shown on the album cover photo), that the Groves purchased in 2011 and converted into Art House North, a creative community for the common good, in the West End of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Groves has stated that it was appropriate that the album was recorded in a space built for congregational singing. The album was recorded with her long-time bandmates, Aaron Fabbrini (bass, pedal steel) and Zach Miller (drums), produced by John Mark Nelson and mixed by Ben Gowell. The album includes songs carefully selected from Groves’ personal list of hymns. Each song has provided a source of healing and comfort to her throughout the years. Groves’ husband first came up with the idea of a hymns album about fifteen years ago and has been compiling possible songs for inclusion since then.

The album is recorded simply and sparsely and may underwhelm on initial listen. However, I encourage you to give these hymns additional listens and the project will grow on you with each listen. I would also recommend you have the lyrics to these hymns in front of you as you listen to this beautiful recording.

Below are a few comments about each of the eleven songs:

For the Beauty of the Earth – This Eucharistic hymn was written in 1864 by Folliott S. Pierpoint. It begins beautifully with woodwinds, then Groves’ vocal and then piano is added. Many will be familiar with the chorus:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise

Fairest Lord Jesus – This hymn, also known as “Beautiful Savior”, has a long and unconfirmed history. The lyrics we are familiar with are most likely from an 1873 translation by Joseph A. Seiss. The song begins with acoustic guitar. Groves’ vocal is then joined with light drums, pedal steel guitar and backing vocals. Key lyric:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heaven can boast

Praise to the Lord – The lyrics to this hymn were written in German by Joachim Neander in 1680. Catherine Winkworth translated them into English in 1863. This was my favorite hymn growing up. This version features a choir providing backing vocals.

Abide with Me – This hymn was written by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 as he was dying from tuberculosis. He would die just three weeks after its completion. It is most often sung to English composer William Henry Monk’s tune “Eventide”. This version features piano, banjo, pedal steel guitar and backing vocals. Key lyric: In life and death, Lord, abide with me 

The Love of God – This hymn was written by Frederick M. Lehman in 1917, based on a Jewish poem titled Haddamut. This song starts with Groves accompanied by acoustic guitar and light backing vocals. As the song moves to verse two, she is joined by piano, bass and then a choir. Key lyric:
O love of God, how rich and pure
How measureless and strong

The Song of Blessing – Groves sings this short song with a choir, backed by acoustic guitar, piano and banjo.

What a Friend – This song has Groves singing to her redeemer about what a friend he is over piano, acoustic guitar and light backing vocals. Key lyric:
Nearer, draw nearer
Till my soul is lost in You

To the Dawn – This beautiful song is based on Henry Burton’s 19th century poem “There’s a Light Upon the Mountains” with a refrain based on Isaiah 9:2. “All who walk in the dark have seen a great light”. The song begins with piano and strings. then guitar, percussion, pedal steel guitar and backing vocals are added.

Tis So Sweet – The lyrics to the hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” were written by Louisa M.R. Stead in 1882. The music was written by William J. Kirkpatrick. This version begins with some likeable percussion, and then adds acoustic guitar, backing harmonies and a good mandolin solo. A highlight.

Lead on O King Eternal – This hymn was written Ernest Shurtleff upon request of his classmates for their graduation ceremony at Andover Seminary in 1887. The song begins with piano, with backing vocals and light drums added.

He’s Always Been Faithful – This song originally appeared on Groves’ 2001 debut album Conversations. The song incorporates the hymn “Great Is Your Faithfulness”, the lyrics of which were written by Thomas Chisholm in 1923, and the music composed by William Runyan that same year. The song features piano, upright bass and woodwinds. Groves estimates that she has played the song in concert well over a thousand times. A highlight.

Resurrection Letters, Volume 1 – Andrew Peterson
****

Ten years ago, Andrew Peterson, one of our most respected singer/songwriters, was working on an album that he says was more or less on the resurrection of Jesus. As he started working on the songs, he realized that they actually were more about the way Jesus’ resurrection plays out in our lives rather than the resurrection itself. So, the album was creatively titled Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2.
This year, Peterson finally began work on Vol. 1 with producer Ben Shive, who also produced Vol. 2, ten years ago. But Peterson felt it would be odd to write about Jesus’s victory over death without spending time writing about his death itself. That led to an EP, Resurrection Letters: Prologue. See my review here.
Now it is time for Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1. And it has been worth the wait. A Deluxe Edition version includes Resurrection Letters: Prologue. Below are a few brief comments about each song on this wonderful collection from one of our best songwriters.

His Heart Beats –  This joyful song is about our Lord waking up, coming back to life in the grave. It begins with a drum beat that sounds like a heartbeat. It includes piano, drum, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. The Lamb of God slain for us is a lion ready to roar. His work is already done, he has defeated death, the final enemy, and the grave. Death no long has dominion over him. He took one breath and put death to death. The song includes the chorus of the much-loved Matthew Bridges 1851 hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns”.
Key lyric: The blood that brought us peace with God is racing through his veins.
Risen Indeed – This is a song that Peterson wrote in 2009 on the Resurrection Letters Volume 2 tour and was saving to record for Resurrection Letters Vol. 1. The song begins with piano and builds with base and drum. He sings of Peter racing to the tomb and then of Jesus speaking Mary’s name. Abraham could not have dreamed of how all of those promises would be fulfilled in Jesus.
Key lyric: He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed.
Remember Me –  This song was written by Ben Shive to help himself and his church remember Jesus one Good Friday. There are references to familiar scripture passages throughout. The chorus is based on words spoken by the thief on the cross who came to faith in Christ. “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The uses a creative drum beat throughout, as well as piano and backing vocals.
I’ve Seen Too Much – This song is from the perspective of Peter. He knows it sounds crazy, but he knows what he saw. He saw Jesus die and be laid in the tomb.  He’s seen too much to deny Jesus. Though the faithful have been scattered and he is tired and doubt has crept in, he can’t deny what he knows to be true. The song echoes Peter in John 6:68 when he said to Jesus “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. The song opens with piano, percussion, acoustic guitar and then builds.
Remember and Proclaim – This upbeat song about celebrating the Lord’s Supper features some nice guitar work, light percussion and backing vocals. As we gather around the table, break the bread and drink the wine, we remember and proclaim his death until he comes again. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
Maybe Next Year – This song was inspired by Peterson’s recent trip to the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem. It begins and ends with voices based on what we might hear at the Wailing Wall, and features piano, light percussion, accordion, keys, backing vocals and a guitar solo. Jesus never felt so real to him. He never felt so close to him. We’ll meet in the New Jerusalem someday, maybe next year.
Rise Up –  This encouraging song is written by Ben Shive. It begins with piano and light percussion and then builds, featuring strings. Await, await the day of His return. Every stone that makes you stumble, every sad seduction and every clever lie will be crushed by the King of Love one day.
Key lyric:
‘Cause He will rise up in the end.
He will rise up in the end.
I know you need a savior,
And He is patient in his anger,
But He will rise up in the end.

Is He Worthy? – It is rare when that song comes along and from the first listen you know that it is special. That’s was the case with this song, the first song released from the album. Peterson has written that “the chorus is taken from that staggering moment in Revelation 5 when the prophet asks, “Is anyone worthy to break the seal and open the scroll?” He looks around, along with all the hosts of heaven, and when no one is found who is worthy to do so, he weeps bitterly. But then one of the elders says, “Do not weep! Behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able.” And then the Lamb, looking as if it has been slain, appears at the center of the throne, takes the scroll and breaks the seal, and at once all the heavenly hosts sing his praises: “He is worthy!””
I think this song, is destined to be a song that will be sung for years in churches around the world. The song starts with Andrew’s vocals and piano. It builds powerfully and triumphantly with strings and a choir.
Key lyric:
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is   

All Things Together –  The album ends with this worship song about Jesus. He sings about the attributes of Jesus from Scripture. He holds all things together. The song begins with piano and light percussion and then builds with strings and backing vocals.
Key lyric: He made peace by the blood of His cross.

A Million Lights – Michael W. Smith
**** 

A Million Lights is one of two new albums the 60-year-old Contemporary Christian Music legend Michael W. Smith released in February. And the two albums could not be any more different. While Surrounded is a live worship album of originals and covers similar to his other three live worship albums, A Million Lights is an album of all new pop songs. The first nine songs reflect a new sound, leaning on synthesizers and electronic dance beats, giving the album a fresh, modern toe-tapping sound. Think of Michael W. Smith meets Toby Mac. Smith used multi-platinum producer and songwriter Bryan Todd and songwriter Kyle Lee to help flesh out his vision for the new songs. Three of the final four songs will sound more familiar to Smith fans. I would have preferred that he continue with the new sound all the way through the album, but I give him a lot of credit for experimenting and taking chances with a more current sound for most of the album. While at first, the new sound was hard to adjust to (as I heard Surrounded first), the songs on A Million Lights grew on me with each repeated listen. So, if the album’s new sound puts you off at first, give it a chance. The theme of the album is on unity and reconciliation in our divided society, so the uplifting lyrics are filled with hope.

Below are a few comments about each song:
A Million Lights – This song is written by Kyle Lee and Smith and was the album’s first single. The song is musically interesting, opening with piano and building with backing vocals and synths. It is a celebration of God’s creation, as all of the stars are singing for Him.

Conversation – This song is written by Bryan Todd, Jason Walker and Smith.  The song has an infectious beat and is about bringing reconciliation and unity to the division in our culture. It features a dance beat and hand clap. He wants to talk, and to hear what others are saying. Key lyric:
One by one we’re separated
What I thought was love just looked like hatred
I’ve been losing myself trying to prove You wrong
And right now all I know is I can’t go on
So I’m stepping across all the lines I’ve drawn

Something in My Heart – This song is written by Bryan Todd, Jason Walker and Smith. It is likeable musically, featuring upbeat dance music, but it is a little light and repetitive lyrically. If not for God, he would never move. God wakes something in his heart.

Footsteps – This song is written by Chris Davenport, Jason Walker and Smith. It is immediately likeable with a dance beat and finger snaps. The song is about complete dependence in following God’s guidance in life. Key lyric: But as long as I can see Your footsteps, I’m alright.

Your Love – This song is written by Kyle Lee and Smith. Style wise this song starts with a more Smith sound and then quickly builds with electronic dance beats. The song is about God’s wonderful endless love. Key lyric:
With trembling hands and an empty breath
You saw the struggle and You cast the nets
You knew me better than I ever knew myself
And now the only thing that’s left is Your Love

Love Always Wins – This song is written by Thad Cockrell and Smith. The song opens with synthesized sounds and then builds with electronic drums, hand claps and gang vocal chorus. He sings of a distance between those who disagree and say that the space between them is two wide, but God’s love always wins.

Crashing Waves –  This song is written by Jonathan Jackson and Smith. This song opens with distorted vocals. He is broken, that’s how God found him. It is creative musically with a passionate vocal. The song ends with hope.  Key lyric:
Somebody stole the pain, a thief in the night came.
I’ll never be the same, You rolled this stone away

Louder – This song is written by Bryan Todd, Jason Walker and Smith. The song begins with piano and distorted vocals. It is upbeat musically and lyrically encouraging, continuing the overall theme of the album to have open and honest conversation in these divided times.

Revolution – Musically, the pace slows down a bit on this song, with some use of acoustic guitar. The song is about building bridges in a world of hate and fear. There is a good use of high-range backing vocals.

Hey Love – This song is written by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Smith. Musically and lyrically, this song doesn’t fit with the previous nine songs. It is a piano driven love song, featuring the vocals of Jordan Sparks. Their voices blend well, but after the upbeat electronic dance beats, this song sticks out. My least favorite song on the album.

You Make Me Feel This Way – This song is written by Bryan Todd, Jason Walker and Smith. This song opens with acoustic guitar and features some good keyboard work. He sings in a lower register than normal. It is upbeat and joyous with good backing vocals. The lyrics are vague enough that he could be singing to God or to his wife.

Forgive –  This song is written by Wes King and Smith. This song has more of a traditional Smith sound, a ballad that builds with piano, strings and backing vocals. The song is about someone who left him when he was young, breaking his heart. He is writing to say that he forgives them.

Who You Are – This song has a slower pace that gradually builds. It features piano, light drums and guitar. The theme is hope and healing of the pain. Key lyric:
Give me time
I’ll heal the pain you feel
Give me time
I’ll show you love that’s real  

I Knew You When – Bob Seger (Deluxe Edition)
****

This is 72-year old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bob Seger’s eighteenth studio album. It was self-produced and recorded in Detroit and Nashville and dedicated to longtime friend Glenn Frey, who died in 2016. The album cover features a mid-60’s photo of Seger. Some of the songs were written and originally recorded several years ago.
I saw Seger in concert with the Silver Bullet Band back at the now defunct Poplar Creek Music Theatre near Chicago in the summer of 1980 and have enjoyed his music ever since. Here are a few brief comments about each of the songs:
Gracile –  The album opens strong with this rocker, featuring excellent guitar, including a nice solo, bass, drums and backing vocals. This song is a about a woman. She’s a winner, her body is gracile (slender, thin, graceful), and she’s in control.  
Busload Of Faith
–  This song was written by Lou Reed and appeared on his 1989 album New York. It was the first single released from the new album.  Seger changed some of the lyrics, substituting “You can’t depend on the President” for Reed’s “You can’t depend on the churches”. It’s an upbeat song with horns, a guitar solo and gospel-like backing vocals.
The Highway – This rocker is driven by guitar and a drum beat. It features a strong vocal by Seger, backing vocals, some of which sounds like an uncredited Bruce Springsteen, and a guitar solo. In a world of phony prophets, he’s packing up his gear, getting out of here and heading for the highway.   
I Knew You When
– This song has the feel of some of Seger’s biggest hits. It is a mid-tempo song featuring piano and backing vocals. The song dates back to 1997 and was considered for his Face the Promise album. It has Seger looking back to memories of a “glorious long ago”. He’s singing to someone who was always a friend. 
I’ll Remember You
– This is a powerful guitar driven ballad, that also features piano. Seger delivers a passionate vocal, and is backed by strong backing vocals.  He has some regrets and wishes he had the words to take it all away. The song was originally considered for his 2014 album Ride Out.
The Sea Inside – Seger has described this song as being “very Led Zeppelin”.  It features heavy guitars, including a few solos and strong drums. The song is about moving away from earthly things, being free at last, leaving the past behind, charting a new course and sailing the sea inside you. I’m not sure what that means exactly, perhaps some type of meditation technique. The song was originally considered for his 2014 album Ride Out.
Marie – This ballad features piano, drums, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. I had a hard time figuring out this song, directed to a Marie, who he encourages to stay free. He is going to follow her down for a while. He sings that not much has changed in 5,000 years.
Runaway Train – This is an up-tempo rocker, first recorded in 1993 for his album It’s a Mystery.  It has a driving beat, strong vocal, excellent guitar and sax solos and good backing vocals. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, or where he’s going. He’s like a runaway train.  Is there a reason he’s on this road or is it random?
Something More
–  This song dates back to 2001. It’s a power ballad with guitar, strong drum beat, sax and guitar solos and backing vocals. He asks the important question “Is that all you want or is there something more?” 
Democracy
–  This song was written by Leonard Cohen and included on his 1992 album The Future. It features military style drumming, guitar, synth and backing vocals. Democracy is coming to the USA. Key lyric: I love the country but I can’t stand the scene. And I’m neither left or right, I’m just staying home tonight, getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
Forward Into The Past – This rocker dates back to 1999. The song is driven by guitar, including a solo, and heavy drum beat, with piano and backing vocals. Rural towns are drying up as everyone is heading to the city, taking jobs with big corporations, too tired to make a stand. There are references to bailouts and Wall Street. Hometowns are nearly empty, as are schools and churches, as everyone has left to go to the city. That whole way of life is fading fast.
Blue Ridge
– This up-tempo rocker is an ode to the history and beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. This song dates back to 1997 and was a candidate for his Face the Promise album. The song is drum-driven and features keys, a guitar solo and backing vocals.
Glenn Song – This beautiful acoustic ballad is about Seger’s 50-year friendship with the Eagles’ Glenn Frey. Seger originally posted the song on his website on January 16, the one-year anniversary of Frey’s death.

Key lyric:
You were strong
You were sharp
But you had the deepest heart
You showed the whole world what we knew
There was no one quite like you

Surrounded by Michael W. Smith
****

Michael W. Smith has been a leader in the Contemporary Christian Music industry since his debut album in 1983, about the entire length of my Christian life. In addition to his pop albums, the talented artist has released several live worship and Christmas albums, along with a few instrumental albums, two albums of hymns, and even wrote music for Steve Taylor’s The Second Chance, a film he starred in. His 2001 album Worship has sold in excess of 2 million copies and the 2002 Worship Again has sold in excess of 1 million copies. He has won three Grammy Awards and an incredible 45 Dove Awards. Now 60 years old, Smith shows he is not slowing down.  Surrounded, his second album to be released this month, and twenty-fifth overall, is a live worship album recorded during an in-the-round performance November 2, 2017 at the Factory in Franklin, Tennessee.
Smith has said that the idea of doing another live worship project has been something he has been thinking about for a while. He feels God calling His Church together, every nation, every tribe, tongue, social class and denomination.
Like his other worship albums, the songs here are a mix of originals and covers. My only critique would have been for Smith to include more originals. If you have enjoyed Smith’s previous worship albums, you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Here are a few thoughts about each song on this excellent album.
Your House – This song is written by Smith. It is an upbeat and joyful song that reminds me of a Chris Tomlin like sound – drums, guitar, piano, backing vocals. It’s an excellent start to the worship experience. Key lyric: We come into Your house with thanksgiving and praise all for Your name.
Light to You – This song is written by Smith. The song starts slowly, picking up triumphantly in the bridge. To the farthest horizon, God is there, He’ll find me. Key lyric: Even the darkness is light to You.
King of My Heart – This song is written by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan, and has been covered by a number of artists such as Bethel Music and Kutless. The song builds powerfully. God is good and He will never let us down.
Reckless Love – This song is written by Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver and Ran Jackson and has been covered by several artists. The song, about the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, begins with piano and then slowly builds, running nearly nine minutes in length.
Here I Bow – This song is written by Jason Ingram, Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson. It begins with light guitar and then builds with piano and backing vocals. Key lyric: So here I bow, to lift You high, Jesus, be glorified in all things, for all my life. I am Yours, forever Yours.
Miracles – This song is a cover of a Jesus Culture song, written by Stuart Garrard, Dustin Smith, Joshua Silverberg and Chris Quilala. The song starts slowly and then powerfully builds, running nearly nine minutes in length.  It includes some lyrics sung in Spanish. Key lyric: I believe in You, You’re the God of miracles.     
Do It Again – This is a cover of an Elevation Music song, written by Steven Furtick, Matt Redman, Mack Brown and Chris Brown. The song starts slowly and then builds powerfully in the bridge. God has never failed us. Key lyric: I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains, and I believe, I’ll see You do it again.
Surrounded (Fight My Battles) – This song is written by Elyssa Smith. It is simple lyrically, pretty much repeating the lines “This is how I fight my battles” and “It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by You”. It is triumphant song, with the music and backing vocals building powerfully.
Build My Life – This song is written by Pat Barrett, Matt Redman, Brett Younker, Kirby Kaple and Karl Martin and has been recorded by Christy Nockels. It begins with some effective percussion, and includes piano and backing vocals. Jesus is worthy and we live for Him.  Key lyric: I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation.
Washed Away – This song is written by Smith. This song begins with piano and builds powerfully with backing vocals about the joy that the believer has knowing that their sins washed away by the blood of Jesus. The song incorporates the classic hymn “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”.
Great Are You Lord – This song was written by Jason Ingram, David Leonard and Leslie Jordan and has been recorded by All Songs and Daughters and others. The song starts with piano and slowly builds. Key lyric: It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise.

Light to You (Reprise) – The album closes with a reprise of the earlier “Light to You”. Key lyric: Even the darkness is light to you.

Resurrection Letters: Prologue
****

Ten years ago, Andrew Peterson, one of our most respected singer/songwriters, was working on an album that he says was more or less on the resurrection of Jesus. As he started working on the songs, he realized that they actually were more about the way Jesus’s resurrection plays out in our lives rather than the resurrection itself. So, the album was creatively titled Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2.
This year, Peterson finally began work on Vol. 1 with producer Ben Shive, who also produced Vol. 2, ten years ago. But Peterson felt it would be odd to write about Jesus’s victory over death without writing about his death itself. That led to this recording, which he humorously has called the prequel to the prequel. Got all that?
Volume 1 will be out soon. For this release, Peterson has written ““The five songs on Prologue are meant to be a sort of fast, opening with the last words of Jesus on the cross and ending with his interment in the tomb. May they’ll be a good reminder of the hard road Jesus walked in order to make the world new.”

Let’s look at the excellent EP, Resurrection Letters: Prologue, which is superbly written and performed:
Last Words (Tenebrae) – This beautiful song driven by piano, light percussion and backing vocals, focuses on Jesus’s last words on the cross, beginning with, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”. The vocals are layered and build powerfully throughout the song. Ending with “Father into your hands I commit my spirit”.
Well Done, Good and Faithful – This song features piano and light percussion. It takes the listener through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, through his cries and groans when his Father turned away from him. The chorus is based on Hebrews 12:2 which reads in part “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus finished his work, well, good and faithful, reminding us of the servant in Matthew 25:23.
The Ninth Hour – This is a beautiful instrumental featuring strings and piano. Mark 15:33 states “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
Always Good – This intimate song to Jesus is driven by acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Jesus, who laid down his life and suffered for us, knows what we are feeling. Somehow His sorrow is shaping our hearts like it should, as we try to believe what is not meant to be understood. It’s hard to know what He is doing. Help us to trust that His intentions for us are still good. Maybe the answer surrounds us, but we don’t have the eyes to see that He’s always good.
God Rested – The EP ends with this song about Jesus’s body being taken down from the cross and being buried in the tomb of a rich man. Pilate had no peace during this time. Peterson creatively connects God’s work in creation with Jesus’s work. “Six days shall you labor, the seventh is the Lord’s. In six He made the earth and all the heavens, but He rested on the seventh.” He worked till it was finished (Matthew 19:30). God blessed the seventh day. The song is driven by piano, drums, synth and backing vocals.

Peterson has stated that his hope is that the listener would use these five songs during Lent and Holy Week to dwell on the terrible road Jesus had to walk in order to conquer not just sin, but the grave.
Meditate on these songs as you prepare your heart to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.
Andrew will be one of the speakers at the Sing! 2018 Conference September 10-12 in Nashville.

One More Song by Ashley Cleveland
****

The first time I saw three-time Grammy winner Ashley Cleveland was outdoors at the Cornerstone Musical Festival years ago. I was blown away by this guitar playing artist with a powerful bluesy voice who reminded me of Bonnie Raitt. I would see her several more times over the years, including a few times playing her heart out for a small group of people at the Jesus House, a local inner-city mission in the community I live in.  I’m convinced that she is one of rock music’s most under-appreciated talents.
This is her tenth album, and it is produced by husband and guitarist Kenny Greenberg. The album cover was painted by Jimmy Abegg. Cleveland wrote 6 of the 11 songs on the album. She has stated that all of the songs are very autobiographical. The songs travel along themes of addiction recovery and loss, loving – or attempting to love – those who are different from her, her children becoming adults and leaving home, aging and the joy and solace of her faith and the struggle to live it out in a broken world.  Cleveland is working on a documentary titled Who’s the Girl, which will feature some of these songs. Below are a few comments on each song, all of which feature Cleveland’s powerful vocals and Greenberg’s excellent guitar work:

Way Out of No Way – This song was written by Cleveland. It’s a strong opener featuring powerful vocals and excellent guitar work from Greenberg. It’s an autobiographical song about her start in music, drinking and her need for a Savior.
Down by the Riverside – This arrangement from Cleveland features acoustic and electric guitars, including an excellent solo, organ, drums and backing vocals. Key lyric: I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, I’m gonna study, study, war no more
Crooked Heart – This is a slower, reflective acoustic song written by Cleveland, Rachel Yellen and Jameson Fuller. It begins with acoustic guitar and includes some light electric guitar. Key lyric: I love my crooked neighbor with my crooked heart. 
Lily Grown Wild – This song is written by Cleveland about her youngest child leaving home. This guitar driven song has a Rolling Stones vibe to it (Ashley has previously covered the band’s song “Gimme Shelter”).  The song is about children becoming adults and the struggle of learning to let go. A definite highlight.
Take Me to the Water/Cool Down by the Banks of Jordan – This arrangement from Cleveland includes her powerful vocals, acoustic guitar and organ.  It starts slowly and as it transitions to “Cool Down by the Banks of Jordan”, where Jesus is going to meet us there. Driven by Greenberg’s guitar, you’ll not be able keep still. Features an excellent guitar solo.
Halfway Down – This song is written by Jim Lauderdale and was made popular by country artist Patty Loveless in 1995. It includes keys, bass, guitar, including a couple of solos, and organ. Key lyric: Halfway down, just a getting started, Yes, I’m beginning on my journey now. 
To Be Good – This is a slower, reflective acoustic song written by Cleveland and Winston Yellen. It begins with acoustic guitar and includes some light drums and electric guitar, with a mid-song solo. It is a reflection of the end of one’s life. Key lyric: All I ever wanted was to be good.
Ezekiel 2 – This song was written by Cleveland and Phil Keaggy. “Ezekiel” appeared on Phil Keaggy’s excellent 2016 album All at Once. On that bluesy rocker, Ashley sang a duet with Phil, their voices blending well. Both that song and “Ezekiel 2” are about the valley of dry bones from chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel. “Ezekiel 2” is faster, with Ashley’s powerful vocal and Greenberg providing some excellent guitar work, including a nice solo.
One More Song – This song, written by Cleveland is based on a story that Cleveland’s mother told her on a trip to the Smokey Mountains to see their old cabin for the last time. It’s about a memory that her mother shared from her own childhood with older sister Betsy. It’s an acoustic based song with a good guitar solo.
Walk in Jerusalem – This song originally appeared on Cleveland’s excellent 2012 album Beauty in the Curve. You won’t be able to keep still when listening to this song, which features some excellent guitar work, including a mid-song solo, from Greenberg, and a joyous vocal from Cleveland.
Born to Preach the Gospel – This song also originally appeared on Cleveland’s album Beauty in the Curve. The song starts slow in a slow groove with Greenberg’s guitar, and then powerfully builds up steam. The song features a mid-song guitar solo and organ. Key lyric: I was born to preach the Gospel, and I sure do love my job.

Overall, this is another strong effort from a very under-appreciated artist.
Check out Ashley’s recent interview with Andrew Osenga on the podcast The Pivot.

The Greatest Showman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
****

The Greatest Showman is a very entertaining and well-made musical inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, featuring excellent new songs by the Oscar winning lyricists from La La Land. The film includes eleven new songs written by Oscar (La La Land) and Tony (Dear Evan Hansen) Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Below are a few comments on each song:

The Greatest Show – The film opens with the title song performed in a big song and dance production number. Jackman, with his Broadway experience, is excellent in his portrayal of Barnum. He is joined on this song by Zac Efron, Zendaya and Keala Settle.

A Million Dreams – This song is initially sung by Ziv Zaifman as a young Barnum and then shifts to the adult Barnum with Jackman and Michelle Williams singing.  In the film, the song is sung as we see a flashback in which Barnum, a young and impoverished tailor’s son, played by Ellis Rubin, first meets the privileged but sweet Charity, played by Skylar Dunn. We see them fall in love, but Charity’s father tells P.T. to stay away from his daughter, who is then sent away to a boarding school. But we see them stay in touch through letters. The film moves forward a dozen or so years, with Jackman portraying Barnum and Michelle Williams portraying his now wife Charity.

A Million Dreams (Reprise) – This short song is sung by Barnum’s daughters Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Caroline Barnum) and Jackman.

Come Alive – This upbeat song is sung by Jackman, Keala Settle, Zendaya, Daniel Everidge.

The Other Side – In this song Jackman as Barnum convinces the socialite playwright Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron to become his business partner.

Never Enough – This powerful song is performed in the film by Jenny Lind “The Swedish Nightingale”, the best singer in the world.  While Lind is played in the film by Rebecca Ferguson, her singing is actually performed by Loren Allred.

This is Me – This powerful song has received an Oscar nomination. It is performed by Tony nominee Keala Settle, who plays the bearded lady in the film.

Rewrite the Stars – This song is performed by Zac Efron and Zendaya. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll remember their powerful scene in the circus ring about their love that has so many obstacles.

Tightrope – This beautiful song is sung by Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife as she sings that she risks it all to be with Barnum and the life they’ve chosen.

Never Enough (Reprise) – This is a short reprise of Loren Allred’s powerful rendition of “Never Enough”

From Now On – This song starts slowly with Jackman’s vocal over piano and builds powerfully as the celebratory closing song of the film.

I’m not usually a fan of movie musicals, but I really enjoyed The Greatest Showman. It is a film that the entire family can enjoy. If you’ve seen the film, you’re most likely going to want to check out the movie soundtrack.

Echoes (Deluxe Edition) – Matt Maher
****

After seeing eight-time Grammy nominee Matt Maher open for Toby Mac a few years ago he quickly become one of my favorite artists and songwriters. His previous album Saints and Sinners was my top album of 2015.
This is Maher’s sixth studio album, and perhaps his most personal one to date. After writing most of the songs for the album, Maher lost his father. He has stated that for him this album is a declaration responding to the dilemma of suffering. The album answers the question of how we echo our faith, and whether it is possible to have hope and joy that is not governed by fear. He stated that many of these songs, in particular the worship songs, were inspired by hymns written in or around some personal experience or bout with suffering – suffering of all different kinds: personal, physical, mental, and spiritual.
Below are a few comments on each of the songs on this excellent album:

Echoes One – In this short opener, he sings of hearing the sound of a voice, or echoes, inside that keeps him awake in the middle of the night. The voice/echoes are telling him to make the wrong things right.
Clean Heart – This song was written by Audrey Assad and Maher. In a world where everyone is yelling, in all this division, may we be known by our love. May we follow Christ’s direction to love our enemies. This mid-tempo rocker has themes of forgiveness, mercy and compassion. Let it start with us with a clean heart. Key lyric: When everybody’s looking for another fight, when troubles on the rise, no end in sight. Oh Savior, won’t You come and make the wrong things right.
What a Friend – This song was inspired by the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph M. Scriven, who wrote it in 1855 to comfort his mother in Iceland while he was living in Canada. The song speaks to God’s faithfulness even in the midst of personal sorrow and devastation. The songs is driven by a good drum beat, hand clap and backing vocals. We all have fears and worries, but we can lay our burdens down.  Key lyric: What a friend we have in Jesus, east to west my sins are gone, I see grace on every horizon, and forever and ever His heart is my home. 
Holy
–  This song is written by Chris Tomlin, Hank Bentley, Jason Ingram, Mike Donehey and Maher. It is a song of worship to God that begins with keys, and builds in the chorus with drums and backing vocals. Key lyric: Holy, You are holy. There is none beside Thee.
Your Love Defends Me
–  This was the first single released a few months before the album was released. The song was written by Hannah Kerr and Maher, the song originally appearing on her 2016 album Overflow.  The song features excellent backing vocals. Key lyric: Surely my God is the strength of my soul, your love defends me, your love defends me.  
Just as I Am –  This song samples the well-known hymn written by Charlotte Elliot in 1835. We come to Jesus in our guilt and shame. He welcomes us and takes us in His loving arms through his amazing grace and shed blood. We’ll never be the same again.  
Awake My Soul (A Thousand Tongues)
– This song is written by Jonas Myrin, Laura Story, Matt Redman and Maher. It is inspired by Charles Wesley’s 1739 hymn “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”. This worship song is piano driven and features some excellent backing vocals. Key lyric: Awake my soul to sing, the glories of my God and King, arise and praise the One, worthy of the songs of a thousand tongues. 
Faithfulness – This song is written by Jacob Sooter, Stephen McWhirter and Maher, originally appearing on the 2017 album God That Saves by Iron Bell Music. The song features vocals from Steffany Gretzinger, who serves as a worship leader at Bethel Church in California. This worshipful song begins with piano and builds slowly. Great is the faithfulness of our God, always and forever.
Echoes Two – This short song is driven by acoustic guitar. He asks the Lord to bind us together as one, to find the greater good and search for the common ground.
Picket Sign
– Using language from today’s news “protest, stand, march, walk, justice”, this song begins with piano and builds powerfully with a memorable chorus. Key lyric: The cross leapt in like a picket sign, You carried the weight for all mankind, You gave Your life just to give me mine. 
Won’t Let Me Down – This song is written by Bryan Fowler, Jason Ingram and Maher. This song speaks to the faithfulness of God. He is not surprised by our suffering. There is no fear in His eyes. In the midst of suffering, through the night His love won’t let us down. He will hold us up. Starting with piano, the song features a good drum beat and backing vocals. Key lyric: Your love won’t let me down. You always find a way somehow.
The Least of These
– This beautiful song is written by John Tibbs and Maher. It is simple musically, opening piano and includes strings. The song includes the recurring theme of echoes. He sings of the refugee, using Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”.  Key lyric: When love became a refugee, He became my refuge
The Cross Forever Speaks – This song is written by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury and Maher. It features a good drum beat. This song addresses questions about suffering. Even if everything is taken from him, he knows he is not forsaken. He will still lift his hands up in praise. Key lyric: You may silence me, but the cross forever speaks.
Into Your Hands
– This song is written by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, Trevor Morgan and Maher. This song samples the 1896 hymn “I Surrender All” by Judson W. Van DeVenter. It features some excellent piano playing, as well as guitar and organ. Key lyric: You have all my heart, all that is broken. I surrender all, My life into Your hands.
As Good as It Gets – This song is written by David Garcia, Francesca Battistelli and Maher. This beautiful song is driven by acoustic guitar. It is about God being real in our struggle. Key lyric: You take my eyes off of the future. You lead my heart out of the past. You are the promise here in the moment, where I find my rest.
Your Love Defends Me (Solo Piano Version)
– The Deluxe Edition ends with a beautiful stripped-down version of this excellent song. Day and night, God is with him in the fight. He is not alone.

Glory Song – Matt Redman
****

Two-time Grammy Award winner and writer of many wonderful worship songs for the church including “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, Matt Redman follows his excellent 2016 Christmas album These Christmas Lights, with this album recorded at the famed Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Prior to the Christmas release, his three prior albums had been recorded live. The album was co-produced by Jeremy Edwardson and Jeremy SH Griffith. He intentionally tried to bring more of a gospel sound to the album, including Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Kierra Sheard and a gospel choir. I can’t tell you how much I was blessed and encouraged by this album – it’s one of my favorites.

Below are a few comments on each song on the album:
All Glory – This song was written by Jonus Myrin and Redman, and features vocals from Kierra Sheard (who also appears on Lecrae’s new album), and a gospel choir. The chorus is an adaptation of the Gloria Patri.  Key lyric: All glory to the Father, all glory to the Son, all glory to the Spirit.
The Spirit of our God. As it was in the beginning, and will be in the end. All glory to Your everlasting name
.
Gospel Song – This song blends familiar Redman elements with an excellent beat and even some rap from Guvna B. It starts slowly with piano, then builds with catchy beat, gospel choir, guitar and organ about the joy of singing the gospel song. You’ll hear bits of John 3:16 in here too. I liked him stepping out of his norm.
Greatest Hallelujah – This song is written by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman. It will remind you of some of Redman’s most-loved worship songs. It features a choir and some shouts. A highlight. Key lyric:  From this breath to my last, then forever and a day, I’ll pour out my heart, I’ll pour out my soul
My greatest hallelujah.  

Gracefully Broken – This song was written by Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Redman and was the first single released ahead of the album. It features a gospel choir and strong vocals from Leonard, who also includes a version of the song on her album Heart. Passion. Pursuit. The song starts slow and builds to the worshipful chorus. It will be a wonderful song for congregational singing. Key lyric: Here I am, God                 Arms wide open, pouring out my life, gracefully broken
One Day (When We All Get to Heaven) –  This song, which incorporates the hymn “When We All Get to Heaven”, is written by Eliza E. Hewitt, Beth Redman, Leonard Jarman and Redman. It features a strong Redman vocal with a piano and later organ backing. Again, this is different from the usual Redman song, and I really liked it.
Redemption Ground – This song is written by Nick Herbert, Sam Bailey and Redman. It starts slowly with guitar and then builds with drums and backing vocals from female vocalist Madison Cunningham. On this redemption ground he’ll stand with all the saints. It features a nice guitar solo.
Key lyric: Who can count the souls of all who have been found here on redemption ground.  

It Is Finished – This song is written by Jonas Myrin, Ed Cash and Redman about the words Jesus spoke on the cross and what those words mean. It is a triumphant song which features choir. He (and we) stands in awe and amazed.  There is no more condemnation. Hallelujah, God be praised. This will be a wonderful song to sing in worship services. Key lyric: It is finished, it is finished, O, what else is there to say, Shame is silenced, death defeated, Hallelujah, God be praised.
Questions (You Are Faithful) –  This song is written by Jonas Myrin and Redman. It speaks to how God holds us even when we have questions, fear and doubt. One thing that will never change is that He is faithful to the end. The song features backing vocals from a choir that culminates in Redman’s prayer near the end of the song. Key lyric: Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)
Still I Will Sing – This upbeat song (drums, guitar, piano, organ) is written by Jonas Myrin and Redman. It has an infectious beat from the beginning. It’s about singing to the Lord no matter what the circumstances. Sometimes it’s a song of joy or sacrifice. We sing in the battle, in the blessings and the shadows.  Key lyric: Sing it like you mean it, sing and believe it, for the glory of God.
Place Of Praise –  This song is written by Bernie Herms, Aaron Lindsey and Redman. It opens slowly with primarily piano and then builds with powerfully with Kim Walker-Smith and a choir. Key lyric: If the highest praise is a sacrifice and the greatest song is to give my life then I will not bring that which costs me nothing.   
Hope Is Marching On –  This song of encouragement is written by Jonas Myrin and Redman. It opens with Redman’s singing with a piano backing. He is later joined by a gospel choir, still accompanied by just a piano. It is about relying on God during times of tears and trouble, through the darkness of the night. Key lyric: And Your love, it keeps on lifting me, and Your hope is marching on, and Your mercy surely carries me, and Your hope is marching on.
Simple Pursuit / Glory Song – The song is written by Sam Bailey, Nick Herbert, Ben Cantelon and Redman. It is about going back to the basics of the faith. A simple pursuit of God, a church that is known of His presence.  This song of worship starts slowly with acoustic guitar, piano and female vocal. It builds gently and includes a prayerful ending. Key lyric: Nothing and no one comes close to You. Your Ways – This song is written by Nick Herbet, Sam Bailey and Redman.
This song of thanksgiving has a slow worshipful pace with acoustic guitar, organ, piano and choir. Key lyric: Your ways of loving us. So deep and wide and never will they change. How we love your ways.  

Give More Love – Ringo Starr
***

The 77-year old former Beatle follows his 2015 album Postcards from Paradise with his nineteenth studio album, which was recorded in his home studio in Los Angeles. The album was originally planned to be a country album recorded in Nashville with Dave Stewart. They recorded one song – “So Wrong for So Long” – before the album took a different shape. In addition to ten new songs, there are four bonus tracks, which are new versions of old songs.  Starr self-produced the album, assisted by engineer Bruce Sugar. The album features a number of guests, including former band-mate Paul McCartney, brother-in law, guitarist Joe Walsh, and fellow Eagles singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, saxophonist Edgar Winter, guitarist-producer Jeff Lynne, guitarist Dave Stewart, bassists Nathan East and Don Was, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz.

Below are a few comments on each song:

We’re on the Road Again – The album starts off on a high note with this energetic rocker written by Toto’s Steve Lukather and Starr. It features backing vocals from Richard Marx, Edgar Winter, Georgia Middleman, Gary Burr, Gary Nicholson, Joe Walsh, Paul McCartney (who also plays bass and add screams), Lukather and Starr.  It’s a song about the joys of being on the road and playing live.  A highlight.
Laughable –  Starr shows he can address social and political issues in this song with Peter Frampton. It addresses the turbulent events of the world as he sings “It would be laughable if it wasn’t sad.”
Show Me the Way
–  This is a tribute to Barbara Bach, Starr’s wife of 36 years. It is written with Lukather and features bass from McCartney. Backing vocals are provided by Amy Keys, Richard Page and Timothy B. Schmidt. He sings “After all this time we’ve had to share/The better life I’ve had ’cause your still there/I need to show you just how much I care/There were times It wasn’t always easy, but we got through”.
Speed of Sound
–  This song is written by Richard Marx and Starr and features some nice Talkbox guitar work from Peter Frampton. Backing vocals are provided by Amy Keys, Windy Wagner and Marx.
Standing Still –  This song is written by Gary Burr and Starr. Greg Leisz’s dobro gives it a country feel. Backing vocals are provided by Georgia Middleman and Burr. Like “Laughable”, this song makes reference to the difficult conditions in today’s world and the importance of being optimistic. Starr has said that the upbeat song is about even when you’re at the bottom of the hill, you’ve got to get up and take that first step.
King of the Kingdom –  This reggae-flavored song was written with Van Dyke Parks. It features saxophone from Edgar Winter and backing vocals from Amy Keys and Windy Wagner. The song mentions Haile Selassie and Bob Marley.
Electricity – This song was written by Glen Ballard and Starr. It takes us back to Liverpool and Starr’s time with Rory and the Hurricanes. Backing vocals are provided by Amy Keys, Windy Wagner and Ballard. Joe Walsh plays guitar and Don Was bass.
So Wrong for So Long – This catchy, laid-back country song was written by Dave Stewart and Starr for what was planned to be a country album. Backing vocals are provided by Georgia Middleman and Gary Burr. Starr has previously recorded a country album, 1970’s Beaucoups of Blues his second solo album.
Shake It Up –  This rockabilly toe-tapper is written by Gary Nicholson and Starr. Backing vocals are provided by Amy Keys and Windy Wagner. Edgar Winter adds some excellent piano and Steve Dudas guitar. The song has an early-Beatles, “Honey Don’t” sound. One of my favorites.
Give More Love –  This song is written by Gary Nicholson and Ringo. Backing vocals are provided by Amy Keys, Richard Page and Timothy B. Schmidt. Ringo sings that we need to give more love, it’s what we know we need more of.

The remaining four songs are bonus cuts for the CD and digital versions of the album:

Back Off Boogaloo –  This is a re-recording of Starr’s hit that he wrote and George originally produced. Jeff Lynn and Joe Walsh add new guitars over Starr’s original demo recently found in a box of tapes.  
Don’t Pass Me By
– This song, included on the Beatles 1968 “White Album”, was the first Starr written song recorded by the Beatles. Starr gives the song a country-folk remake with American band Vandaveer.  
You Can’t Fight Lightning
– This song was included on Starr’s 1981 Stop and Smell the Roses album is and is remade with the Swedish band Alberta Cross.
Photograph – This is a re-recording of Starr’s hit song that he wrote with George Harrison. Starr gives the song a country-folk update with American band Vandaveer.

Songs of Experience – U2 (Deluxe Edition)
****

U2 has always been more than just a band. With Songs of Experience, they show their maturity, while still taking chances. The band’s 14th studio album – incredibly with no band member changes – is their follow-up to 2014’s companion Songs of Innocence. Thematically, the album is a collection of letters written by Bono to people and places closest to his heart. The album is influenced by Bono’s “recent brush with death”, and inspired by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly’s advice to him to “write as if you’re dead”. The band worked with nine different producers and 15 engineers on the album. There is much to digest here, and it will best be appreciated after multiple listenings.

The album was ready to be released in late 2016, but after the shift of global politics in a conservative direction, the band decided to delay it and reassess the tone of the album. The album included nine different producers and 15 engineers, so there is a lot of variety included. The album cover features a photo of Bono’s son Eli and the Edge’s daughter Sian holding hands, taken by the band’s long-time photographer Anton Corbijn.

Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Love Is All We Have LeftThis song was produced by Andy Barlow. It’s a slow, quiet song, with Bono singing with synth backing. Bono uses some falsetto, as he duets with his own electronically modified voice. A rather underwhelming track to start the album, which repeats the song title often.

Lights Of HomeThis song was produced by Brent Kutzle, Ryan Tedder, Jacknife Lee and Jolyon Thomas, and co-written by the Haim sisters from the alternative pop-rock band HAIM, who sing back-up vocals. This song references Bono’s brush with death “Shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead”, and has him looking toward Heaven (the lights of home). The song features a nice guitar solo from the Edge.

You’re The Best Thing About MeThis song was produced by Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Jacknife Lee. It was the first single released from the album. It opens with some excellent guitar from the Edge and continues with a driving beat led by drummer Larry Mullen. The song could very well be about Bono’s wife Ali. It includes some humor “Shooting off my mouth, that’s another great thing about me”.

Get Out Of Your Own WayThis song is produced by Jolyon Thomas, Ryan Tedder, Jacknife Lee, Brent Kutzle and Steve Lillywhite. Verse contains these interesting lyrics:

The face of liberty’s starting to crack
She had a plan up until she got smacked in the mouth
And it all went south
Like freedom
The slaves are lookin’ for someone to lead them
The master’s lookin’ for someone to need him
The promised land is there for those who need it most
The song ending features Kendrick Lamar, who previously collaborated with U2 on his song “XXX.” From DAMN. track e ending It features Kendrick Lamar who delivers a brief monologue – a twisted version of Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) – over the Edge’s guitar.

American SoulThis song is produced by Jacknife Lee, and written by Kendrick Lamar and U2. It begins with Kendrick Lamar offering more “Beatitudes” in a spoken word opening. The song includes an alternate take on the “XXX” chorus.
The song is strong musically, driven by the Edge on guitar. America is not a place but a thought that offers grace to refugees.  The song is both about American music and politics. Key lyric:
Let it be unity, let it be community
For refugees like you and me
A country to receive us
Will you be our sanctuary
Refu-Jesus

Summer of LoveThis song is produced by Brent Kutzle and Ryan Tedder and features additional vocals from Tedder and Lady Gaga. The song is driven by Edge’s acoustic guitar. This song could be about the Syrian city of Aleppo.

I’ve been thinking about the West Coast
Not the one that everyone knows
In the rubble of Aleppo

Key lyric: Oh, and when all is lost, when all is lost we find out what remains.

Red Flag DayThis song is produced by Ryan Tedder, Brent Kutlzle, Andy Barlow and Steve Lillywhite. The song features additional vocals from Tedder and Julian Lennon and is driven by the Edge’s guitar and Larry Mullen Jr’s drums. The song references the many migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Key lyric: Paradise is a place you can see when it’s yours.

The Showman (Little More Better)This song is produced by Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Jacknife Lee, and features additional vocals from Tedder. This song has Bono (the Showman) singing about himself.  It features an instantly memorable 60’s sounding chorus. Key lyric:
It is what it is but it’s not what it seems
This screwed up stuff is the stuff of dreams
I got just enough low self-esteem
To get me where I want to go

The Little Things That Give You AwayThis song was produced by Andy Barlow and Joylon Thomas. The band debuted the song on their summer 2017 Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour. The song opens slowly with Larry’s drums and keys. The song builds powerfully toward the end with Bono’s “Sometimes” reflections over the Edge’s guitars. Key lyric:
Sometimes
I can’t believe my existence
See myself from a distance
I can’t get back inside

Landlady –  This song was produced by Ryan Tedder, Jacknife Lee and Andy Barlow. This song is love letter to Bono’s wife Ali. It’s a slower, quieter song with Bono singing over Larry’s drums and the Edge’s guitars. Key lyric:  

And I’ll never know, never know what starving poets meant
Cause when I was broke, it was you that always paid the rent


The Blackout
  This song is produced by Ryan Tedder, Brent Kutzle and Jacknife Lee. The opening guitar reminded me of sounds from Achtung Baby. The song has a driving beat driven by Adam Clayton’s bass. Reference is made to current events in the U.S. “Statues fall, democracy is flat on its back, Jack”. Key lyric: When the lights go out, don’t you ever doubt, the light that we can really be. 

Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its WayThis song is produced by Jacknife Lee, who also contributes vocals. This anthem with Bono singing about love over guitar, keys and drums, will be popular as a sing along in concert.

Key lyric:
If you listen you can hear the silence say
When you think you’re done
You’ve just begun

13 (There Is A Light) –  This song is produced by Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder.  Light is a theme on the album. It’s a slower song that begins with Bono singing over synths. The chorus samples the band’s “Song for Someone” from Songs of Innocence.

Key lyric:
If there is a light
We can’t always see
And there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
Now we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out
 

The below songs are included on the Deluxe Edition of the album:
Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix) This song is a new mix of the band’s Oscar nominated song from the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  It’s the first time the song has been included on a U2 album.
Book Of Your Heart –  This song was produced by Andy Barlow. It appears to be another song addressed to Bono’s wife Ali. It begins with Bono singing over synths and slowly builds, driven by the Edge’s guitar and Larry’s drums.
Lights Of Home (St Peter’s String Version) –  This song is produced by Brent Kutzle, Ryan Tedder, Jolyon Thomas and Jacknife Lee, and is written by the band with Danielle Haim, Alana Haim, Este Haim and Ariel Rechtshaid. This version of the song features violin by Avery Bright and Amy Helman and viola by Betsy Lamb.
You’re the Best Thing About Me (U2 Vs. Kygo)This is a remix of the first single from the album.

Roll with the Punches – Van Morrison
****

Anytime you have the great Van Morrison covering strong material with excellent musicians you know you’re in for a treat. Morrison follows up 2016’s strong release Keep Me Singing with his 37th studio album, which he self-produced. The album contains ten covers of old blues and soul classics along with five songs written by Morrison.  Van’s voice is still an incredible instrument, and he brings passion to these blues songs, whether cover or original. Morrison has stated that from a very early age he connected with the blues. A strong group of collaborators join him on the album including Chris Farlowe, Georgie Fame, Jeff Beck (who contributes to seven of the songs), Paul Jones and Jason Rebello.

I thoroughly enjoyed this album. Below are a few comments about each song:

Roll with the Punches – This song was written by Morrison and Don Black. While an original, this sounds like a classic blues song.  It features some excellent piano, guitar, keyboard. It’s an excellent opener.
Transformation – This ballad was written by Morrison. It features organ, an excellent guitar solo by Jeff Beck and backing vocals by Chris Farlowe. Key lyric: Get used to righteousness ’cause it makes you feel whole, gonna be a transformation right down in your soul
I Can Tell – This song was written by Bo Diddley and Samuel Bernard Smith in 1962. It has an instantly infectious beat, featuring keys, backing vocals, guitar solo and harmonica solo from Morrison.
Stormy Monday/Lonely Avenue – These songs were written by T-Bone Walker (in 1947), and Doc Pomus, the latter of which was a hit for Ray Charles in 1956. The songs previously had appeared on Morrison’s 1994 live album A Night in San Francisco. The song features vocals from Chris Farlowe, a guitar and harmonica solo from Morrison along with backing vocals.
Goin’ To Chicago – This song was written by Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing in 1941. It’s a slow blues number featuring a duet with Georgie Fame, harmonica by Morrison, and Chris Hill on double bass.
Fame – This song was written by Morrison. It had originally been included on Morrison’s 2002 What’s Wrong with this Picture? album. This version features backing vocals, a great blues beat, guitar and harmonica from Morrison. Key lyric: Oh no don’t believe all that old Andy Warhol guff. It takes a lot more than 10 or 15 minutes.  
Too Much Trouble – This song was written by Morrison.  The band really shines on this breezy blues song featuring guitar, horns, piano and Morrison on sax. He wants the trouble in his life stopped.
Bring It on Home to Me – This song was written by Sam Cooke in 1962. It appeared earlier on Morrison’s live album “…It’s Too Late to Stop Now…” Volume 1.  The new version features a strong vocal from Morrison, organ, piano, backing vocals and a great guitar solo by Jeff Beck.
Ordinary People – This song was written by Morrison and originally appeared on his 1998 album Philosopher’s Stone. It features some excellent guitar by Jeff Beck, piano, keys, and backing vocals. Key lyric: Ordinary people, they just don’t seem to comprehend.   
How Far From God – This song was written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1946. The toe-tapping arrangement is led by some excellent piano, along with organ, guitar and a passionate vocal from Morrison. A highlight.
Teardrops From My Eyes – This song was written by Rudy Toombs in 1950. This breezy arrangement features piano, guitar, keys, backing vocals, and a great sax solo from Morrison.
Automobile Blues – This song was written by Lightnin’ Hopkins in 1949. Morrison’s sax playing is the highlight of this song, which also features piano and guitar.
Benediction –  This song was written by Mose Allison in 1971. It was originally included on Morrison’s 1996 collaborative album Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison. It features piano, backing vocals, organ and sax from Morrison. Key lyric: Wherever you wander, whatever your breed, there’s just one thing baby, that comes from above. When push comes to shove, thank God for self-love.   
Mean Old World – This song was written by Little Walter in 1951. It’s a slow blues number featuring, some excellent piano, a guitar solo, and harmonica solo by Morrison.
Ride On Josephine – This song was written by Bo Diddley in 1960. This upbeat track features Morrison on harmonica, along with good backing vocals and guitar. It would be a great song for Morrison and band to tackle in concert. A highlight.

Perception – NF
****

Perception is the third studio album by NF. It’s the follow-up to 2016’s Therapy Session, and it doesn’t disappoint. The album debuted at #1 on both iTunes Top Albums and Hip-Hop/Rap charts. The sixteen-song album is written by NF and produced by Tommee Profitt, unless noted otherwise. The album cover shows NF in a cage, holding six keys—an image that was first displayed in the “Outro” music video.

Below are a few brief comments about each song:

Intro III –  This song starts slowly with the vocal over keys and then builds in intensity with percussion and some voices, before ending quietly with keys. He talks about his old fears, stemming back to when his mother’s boyfriend was physically abusing him his sister.  Key lyric:  Hey, I’m NF. Is it me or the fear talking?
Outcast – This song opens and closes with the sound of keys in a cell door. It begins with synth and then builds in intensity with a strong beat and backing voices. He doesn’t want to fit the mold or blend in with other rappers.
10 Feet Down
– This song is written by Kyd the Band, Maggie Eckford (Ruelle) and NF, and features vocals from Ruelle. The intro and outro of the song are played backwards. The song talks about forgetting the important things as he climbs to the top and gets there. It features a good steady beat, less intense than first two songs.  Key lyric: Yeah, seems like we’re all trying to climb a ladder. It’s crazy what we’ll do to climb it faster. It’s like we throw away the things in life that really matter, just so that we can make it to the top and wonder what we’re even climbing after.
Green Lights
– This song was produced by David Garcia, Tommee Profitt and NF. It was the second single released in advance of the album’s release. The song features a good beat throughout. He has a positive outlook. All he sees for his life is green lights. He’s not going to let anyone distract him.  Key lyric: Who’d have known I’d write something that could change lives? 
Dreams – This song features a slower beat. He reflects on sad days, regret, relationships from Michigan and doing himself, following his dreams.
Let You Down –  This song is written by Tommee Profitt and NF and produced by David Garcia and Profitt. It has a slower beat, and is about his relationship with his father. He’s sorry that he’s let him down. He doesn’t want to be a disappointment to him.
Destiny – This song is produced by BLRZ and Tommee Profitt. It is an intense song, as he raps about fulfilling his destiny. Key lyric: Forget the mansion, I’m in the attic.
My Life –  This song is produced by David Garcia. The song is addressed to his sister, who is probably wasted by 10:00am. They don’t have a lot in common, but both miss their mother. He states that we all make mistakes, that’s just life. Key lyric: Life’s about taking chances, making moves, not about what you did, it’s what you do.
You’re Special
–  This song appears to be about a current girlfriend.  It has a slower pace, with a good beat. He needs a woman he knows he can trust and he has one.
If You Want Love – This song has a slower pace. It opens and closes with guitar. If you want love you’re going to have go through pain and learn how to change. Key lyric: I‘ve always tried to control things, in the end that’s what controls me
Remember This
– This song picks back up the intensity with a good beat. He encourages us to surround ourselves with people that challenge how we think, not people that nod their heads and act like they agree. His biggest failures in life are knowing that he hasn’t tried. Key lyric: I’ve always had a problem with relationships, but that’s what happens when you see the world through a broken lens. 
Know – On this song, he brings intensity, wanting us to know that he’s back with a vengeance trying to be the best rapper that’s ever walked the earth. He’s going to outwork all the others. He wants to know what’s it’s like to be happy and have friends that understand him.
Lie
– Anger comes through on this song addressed to a former girlfriend. She lies,   telling friends one thing, and him another. 
3 A.M.
–  This song is produced by David Garcia. He sings about a past relationship that went bad. Key lyric: Everyone’s your friend when the music start buzzing
I’m closer to the people that were there when I was nothing

One Hundred
–   This song is produced by David Garcia. He’s confident in what he’s achieved as he tells other rappers that he’s here to coach them.
Outro
– The closing song is produced by David Garcia and Tommee Profitt. It is written by Garcia, Profitt and NF. It was the first single released from the album.  Over a synth back, he sings with confidence about his new music he’s about to release.

All Things Work Together – Lecrae
****

This highly anticipated major label debut from Lecrae is his first album since January 2016’s mixtape Church Clothes 3, and it doesn’t disappoint. Beginning in October, 2016, six songs were released in advance of the album’s release, building excitement. The album title is taken from Romans 8:28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. Lecrae has stated that the idea of the album is that the dark times have worked together for him to become the person he is today.
This hard-hitting and honest album is strong from start to finish and features Lecrae collaborating with many different artists. It is a mature work, Lecrae’s best album, and my top album of the year thus far.
Here are a few brief comments about each song on this strong release:

Always Knew – This song was produced by Ramon “REO” Owen and written by Owen and Lecrae. He dedicates it to those, especially the Lord, who have helped him through the highs and lows. Key lyric: Listen, I know God did it, can’t take the credit, paid off all of my debts, but I still feel so indebted.   
Facts
– This song was produced by Dem Jointz and written by Jointz and Lecrae. In hard-hitting lyrics, he states that he’s been waiting for the right time to tell us how he feels. He loves God and Jesus, who died for the world, not just the USA. Key lyric: I ain’t really changed, it’s the same rebel.  
Broke
– This song was produced by Boi-1da and T-Minus, written by Perfekt, Nikhil “Kromatik” Seetharam, Boi-1da, T-Minus and Lecrae and features Perfekt. The song looks at how money may have made him richer, but the struggle got him richer than he’s ever been. Key lyric: Being broke made me rich
Blessings
– This song is produced by Pluss and features Ty Dolla $ign. It was written by Pluss, Verse Simmonds, Swoope, Ty Dolla $ign and Lecrae. The song is about gratefulness and appreciating the little things in life. It features a slow beat that sounds better every time you hear it. Key lyric: If you woke up this morning it’s a blessing.  
Watchu Mean
– This song is produced by the Go Grizzly. It features Reach Records newest signee Aha Gazelle, and is written by Gazelle and Lecrae. This song has a great vibe as Lecrae and Gazelle go back and forth lots of sports and musical references.
Hammer Time – This song is produced by Metro Boomin and features 1k Phew. It is written by Boomin, 1k Phew and Lecrae. The song samples MC Hammer’s 1990 song “U Can’t Touch This”.  The song has an infectious beat. Key lyric: I ain’t perfect, I’m just purchased.  
Come and Get Me –  This song is produced by DJ Dahl and Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II and they write it with Lecrae. It features a great beat throughout. He knows the devil is trying to stop him. He states confidently he’s not scared of the haters, he only fears the IRS and God. What he’s saying is nothing new. Key lyric: Look, I’ve been trying to tell them since 04’-05’ (that’s Real Talk). Still, you know these people doubt me every time.  
Lucked Up –  This song is produced by Tariq Beats and DJ Khalil and they write it with Nija Aisha-Alayia Charles, John Groover, Michael R. Cook Jr. and Lecrae. This is a love song for his wife, and features vocals from Nija Aisha-Alayia Charles.
Wish You the Best
–  This song is produced by Tane Runo and written with Joseph Hill, Natalie Lauren, Tane Runo, Verse Simmons and Lecrae. It features vocals by Verse Simmons. The song is about a former girlfriend and his sincere regrets. Key lyric: I wish you all the love you could imagine, and I wish you everything that never happened.  
Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination) – This song was produced by Wordsplayed and Alex Medina.  It features vocals by Childish Major, and was written by Wordsplayed, Medina, Major, Sufjan Stevens, Markus Randle and Lecrae. It was released in October, 2016, almost a year before the album was released. The song, which features horns and a slow beat, details Lecrae’s personal struggles with depression and a crisis of faith as a result of a number of losses and the reaction of others toward his response. Key lyric: I’m glad that Jesus ain’t American, and that’s why I care again.  
I’ll Find You
– This song is produced by Danny Maiic and DJ Frank E and features an excellent collaboration with Tori Kelly. It is written by Johnny Yukon, DJ Frank E, Maiic, Sasha Sloan, Natalie Lauren, Kelly and Lecrae. Lecrae has stated that the song is about hope in the midst of that pain, and is intended to encourage people to hold on and tell them we are here waiting, hoping, praying, and fighting with them. It was the fourth song released ahead of the new album.  The song speaks to both human support and a faith in God to help during life’s most difficult times.  Key lyric: They say fear haunts, and pain hates. I say pain strengthens, and fear drives faith.  
8:28
–  This encouraging title song is produced by Ayo the Producer and Keyzbaby. They write it with Lewis Sky and Lecrae. Sky provides additional vocals. It’s going to work out. We don’t have to worry about tomorrow. Key lyric: The Master Artist makes your mess a masterpiece regardless.  
Cry For You
–  This song is produced by Taylor Hill and Swoope. They write it with Lecrae. It features strong vocals from Hill. It is a slower song, focusing on transparent, honest lyrics. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, he prays for the thorn/pain to be taken away.  Key lyric: But crooked sticks draw straight lines, just look at me.  
Worth It
–  The final song is produced by Swoope, who writes it with Natalie Lauren, Jawan Harris and Lecrae. It features vocals from Harris and Kierra Sheard.  It is about grace and optimism. Don’t worry. God is here. The song features a short sermon clip from Tony Evans. Key lyric: It’s just hard to believe it all but for grace.    

Hard Cuts: Songs from the H A R D L O V E Sessions (EP) – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

NEEDTOBREATHE has stated that one of the hardest parts about finishing their chart-topping 2016 album H A R D L O V E was determining which songs had to be cut to get down to the twelve songs for the album. This new EP contains six songs, two of them alternate versions of “Hard Love”, along with four songs that were cut from the original album.
The EP contains two new versions of “Hard Love”, one featuring Serena Ryder and one featuring Andra Day. Along with the version featuring Lauren Daigle from The Shack: Music From and Inspired By, this makes three versions of the song released since the album was released last year, which seems to be a bit of an overkill.
Below are brief comments on the other four songs:
Waiting – This song was produced by Dave Tozer and NEEDTOBREATHE, and written by Bear and Bo Rinehart. It is a keyboard driven song with a strong drum beat, backing vocals and a good guitar solo. He is haunted by a woman, who keeps him waiting, shaking, trembling, and chasing mistakes that he made. It’s my least favorite of the new songs.
Count on Me – This song was produced by Dave Tozer and NEEDTOBREATHE, and written by Tozer, Bear and Bo Rinehart. This song features a strong drum beat, keys and some backing vocals. Thematically it is similar to “Brother” from their excellent Rivers in the Wasteland album. It features encouraging lyrics.
Everybody needs a pick me up
You can count on me
 
Walking on Water – The last two songs of the four new ones were my favorites, starting with “Walking on Water”. This song will appeal to the band’s Christian fan base as it will remind them of Peter walking on the water to Jesus in Matthew 14. It starts slowly and then builds powerfully and joyfully on the chorus with a with a strong drum beat and backing vocals. There’s no turning back.
Can’t see nothing at all
But Your outstretched arms
Help me believe it
Though I falter
You got me walking on water

Cages – This song was produced by Ed Cash and NEEDTOBREATHE and written by Bear and Bo Rinehart. It’s another song that the band’s Christian fan base will resonate with. It starts as a piano-driven song, with light drums. He was looking for attention, was needing redemption but all he got was cages. It then builds powerfully with drums and guitar. They reference their 2009 album The Outsiders, stating that they’re a band of outsiders.
I’m in a prison for a man gone wrong
But I’ve found a future, this is not my home     

Saints of Zion – Jeff Lippencott & R.C. Sproul
**** 

This new collection of sacred music for the church from Emmy-nominated composer Jeff Lippencott and respected theologian R.C. Sproul, is their follow-up to their excellent 2015 release Glory to the Holy One. Similar to that release, these songs feature beautiful choral and orchestral arrangements suitable for congregational singing as well as private devotion. Sproul writes “Worship is the highest goal for believers. The Lord saves us so that we will worship Him, and we realize our greatest purpose as we worship God in truth, beauty, and holiness.” The goal of this second collection of hymns and sacred music is to help the church offer worship that is true, good, and beautiful.
The lyrics looks at various aspects of biblical truth – as an example: Saints of Zion (Hebrews 11), Create, O God, a Pure, Clean Heart (Psalm 51), Grace of God (Ephesians 2), Psalm of the Shepherd (Psalm 23), Veni Domine (Luke 2), Magnificat (Luke 1), The Word Made Flesh (lyrics from the Ligonier Statement on Christology), Ways of the Righteous (Psalm 1), Hear Me, Lord (Psalm 30), He Works His Will (Ephesians 1), Where He Is Now (John 14) and The New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). For the most part, the music is written by Lippencott and the lyrics are written by Sproul.
The music is arranged, orchestrated, and conducted by Lippencott. The Kansas City Chorale is conducted by Charles Bruffy and the Ligonier Festival Orchestra Concert Master is Joni Hanze. The recording is produced by Dirk Sobotka. The recording took place at Sproul’s home church of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida and The Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Missouri.
I recently listened to this new recording several times while on long walks, taking in God’s beautiful creation. The lyrics can be a bit difficult to make out, so a suggestion would be that as time allows to get a copy of the lyrics in front of you and follow along with these songs that bring glory to our Creator. I look forward to singing some of these songs at future Ligonier conferences.

Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed Present Magic & Bird
****

Andy Mineo returns with his first new album (mixtape) since 2015’s excellent Uncomfortable. The album debuted at #2 on iTunes Albums chart and #1 on their Hip-Hop/Rap chart. On this release, he teams up with good friend Wordsplayed (as Magic and Bird), the son of Nigerian immigrants who came to the United States in the early 1980’s and met Mineo in 2008. This playful and basketball themed release is a perfect summer listen, and builds on their 2015 single “Lay Up”, which is included here as a bonus track. Along with BEAM, the release includes production from GAWVI and !llmind, who also produced Uncomfortable.

Below are a few brief comments on each song: 
Hi-Five –  A short introductory track, mostly speaking.
KIDZ –  The song was produced by Tyshane and Daniel Jordan. It was written by Tyshane, Jordan, Wordsplayed and Mineo.  This was the first release from the new album. The bridge contains a brief piece reminiscent of the Doxology.
Key lyric:
I’m in the pocket like Brady,
Magic and Bird like the 80’s
Kobe, I might put up eighty
Look only Jesus can save me

Dunk Contest –  This song was produced by Young Sidechain and Beam, and was written by Wordsplayed and Mineo. It was the second single to be released from the album. The two trade lines about basketball, cities, single moms, etc.
Key lyric:
Yeah, so shout out all the single mothers
2 jobs, 3 kids, I call that a triple double

Say Less –  This song was produced by GAWVI and written by Wordsplayed and Mineo. It was the last track recorded for the project.
Key lyric:  When you start talking and prayin’ less?
Disqus (Skit) –  This short vocal interlude by Mineo was inspired by Wordsplayed’s high school track career in which he threw the discus.
R.U.T.S. – This song was produced by Alex Medina and written by Medina, Wordsplayed and Mineo. “R.U.T.S.” is an abbreviation for “Run Up The Score”. The song uses the first verse from Mineo’s 2016 songs “The Upside Down”.
Key lyric: I got one jog, make the flow silly, Serve one God, it’s my sole mission
Judo – This song was produced by GAWVI. It features Judo, and was written by GAWVI, Judo, Wordsplayed and Mineo. This was the third single to be released from the album. Opens with vocals by Judo before going into a rap by Mineo. GAWVI created the sample from scratch.
Key lyric:
Oh, you holier than thou?
Alright, tell Jesus on me

Break Bread –  This song was produced by Alex Medina and features Beam. The song was written by Medina, Beam, Wordsplayed and Mineo. This song is about the hard work it’s taken to get them where they are today.
Key lyric: Brick after brick I was building this building (yeah), I never waited around for permission (no), I used that God given strength to go get it
Metro (Skit) – This short vocal interlude is about a woman who has lost her Metro Card.
Dance (You See It) – This song is produced by 42 North and written by Wordsplayed and Mineo. They start the song by saying that a lot of rappers are overrated. Wordsplayed and Mineo have some goals to reach.
Key lyric: ‘Crae told me new level, new devil in this, It’s a battle outside and you better be equipped.
Team – This song is produced by Daniel Steele and features Beam. The song is written by Beam, Wordsplayed and Mineo. They drop a lot of NBA references throughout the song.
Key lyric: Nobody can do it themselves, it don’t work
Legend –  This song is produced by !llmind and written by Wordsplayed by Mineo.  It contains a lot of autobiographical references from both Wordsplayed and Mineo.
Key lyric: No time to rest when you tryna be a legend
Lay Up (Bonus Track –  This basketball themed song was written by Alex Medina, Tyshane, Wordsplayed and Mineo, and produced by Tyshane and Medina. It was released as a single released in May, 2015.
Key lyric:
Coach told me no lollygagin’
Still dunk with my pants saggin’
One sixteen, yeah, it’s tatted   

The Crucifixion of Jesus – Fernando Ortega
****

Fernando Ortega, one of our most beloved Christian artists, returns with his first album since 2011’s Come Down O Love Divine. The Crucifixion of Jesus, which features eleven contemplative songs and six readings (which were selected and edited by his pastor), is a wonderful project about Holy Week, that will allow you to meditate on Jesus’ arrest and death and sacrifice. Ortega co-produced the album with Bernard Chadwick, and it was engineered and mixed by Brandon Bell.

Below are a few brief comments on each song:

Blessed Be Our God – This is a beautiful song that features Ortega’s vocal over piano and cello and light backing vocals.

Prepare The Way, O Zion – This song was written by Frans Mikael Franzen. It features light drums, piano and cello. It is about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he will be crucified.

House of Prayer – This short song is about Jesus cleansing the temple (John 11:15-18). His house shall be called a prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves.

In My Father’s Kingdom – This song is about the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 12-24). It features piano and cello.

Stay with Me Here – The song is about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 26: 26-42). Jesus’ soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He pleads for his disciples to stay with him and keep watch with him. Features piano and cello.

Your Will Be Done – This short song is a prayer to the Father that His will be done. It features a light guitar.

O Great Love, O Love Beyond Measure – He sings about a great love beyond measure that Jesus would lay down his life for a faithless sinner. He didn’t turn away from those who struck his face. It features piano and guitar.

Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended? – The was written by Johann Heermann in 1630 about the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. We denied Christ. We crucified him. The song features piano, cello, and backing vocals from Audrey Assad, Jonathan Noel and Amanda Noel.

My Song is Love Unknown – This song was previously recorded by Fernando on his 2002 album Night of Your Return.  It features a guitar solo, as well as backing vocals from Audrey Assad. The lyrics were written by Samuel Crossman and John Ireland.

This is my friend, my friend indeed, 
Who at my need, His life did spend. 

Psalm 22 – This short song is taken from Psalm 22:1 which Jesus quoted from cross “My God why have you forsaken me?”

Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted – This song previously recorded by Fernando on his 2002 album Night of Your Return. It features piano, cello and light backing vocals.

Here we have a firm foundation
Here the refuge of the lost
Christ the Rock of our Salvation
Is the name on which we boast 

Revival – Third Day (Deluxe Edition)
****

As Third Day looked to celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band, they fulfilled a long-time plan to record a project at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The band (lead vocalist Mac Powell, guitarist Mark Lee and drummer David Carr), recorded with members of their touring band (keyboardist Scotty Wilbanks, mandolin/banjo/guitarist Trevor Morgan and bassist Tim Gibson). For this “back to their roots” album, the band reunited with producer Monroe Jones, who had worked with Third Day on six previous albums. Jones invited percussionist Ken Lewis to join the sessions and recruited Vance Powell to engineer the album.
The album has an almost “live” feel to it. The songs are simple lyrically, with about half of the songs being written before the band went into the studio and the other half just ideas that principal songwriter Mac Powell had.
On this album, Third Day brings it all together. Mac Powell has one of the best voices in music. Here the musical backing is worthy of his strong baritone, with strong guitars, drums, Hammond organ, horns, backing vocals, and crystal-clear production. Throw in some harmonica, tambourine, finger snaps and hand claps and this is truly a gem. It’s a multi-genre album – combining rock, southern rock, blues, soul, worship and gospel. I loved it from start to finish, and it’s my top album of the year thus far.
Here are a few brief comments on each song:

Revival – This was the first single released from the album and it is instantly likeable. It features a great vocal from Powell, plus piano, horns and backing vocals. It’s just a great overall song. Key lyric: God is gonna move and there ain’t no doubt.   

Gonna Be There With Me – This joyful song finds Powell singing over piano, guitar, backing vocals, steel guitar and horns. It features brief piano and guitar solos.  Key lyric: Lord, it’s always good to know that You’re gonna be there with me. 

Leave This World Behind – This song opens with a Creedence-like guitar. It features some tasty piano, U2-like backing vocals and some excellent guitar work.  Key lyric: All my tears and all my pain, Will be gone in Jesus name

Let There Be Light   This song is destined for heavy rotation on Christian radio. It speaks to God’s creation and man’s fall. Let there be light to bring us back home. The song features some organ, piano and U2-like singalong backing vocals that will be good to sing along with in concert.

Key lyric:
There is one light
There is one savior of the world
There is one hope
His name is Jesus, Jesus

Faithful and True – This ballad opens slowly with acoustic guitar, and then builds powerfully with organ, Lynyrd Skynyrd-like electric guitar and backing vocals. Key lyric: Everything that I ever been or ever hoped to be, It’s all because of You,
Your love is faithful   

Gather Round Now –  This song opens with a swamp guitar and some excellent drums. It is simple lyrically, and builds into a celebration about the Lord, the King of all creation, of every tribe and nation and what He has done for us. Features some excellent backing vocals and horns. Key lyric: One day He’ll return to take us home

In Your Hands – This is another song that could end up in strong rotation on Christian radio. It’s a power ballad that features keys, guitar and backing vocals.
Key lyric: In Your hands, I found where I belong  

Loves Me Like a Rock –  Paul Simon recorded this song with the Dixie Hummingbirds in 1973, and it reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. This excellent version features the Oak Ridge Boys on backing vocals (who were originally to do the vocals with Simon), although their vocals are buried a bit in the mix. Features some good organ and horns and a fun acapella ending. I would have liked the Oaks’ vocals to be featured more on this track.

New Creation –  This joyful song features handclap, guitar, horn and backing vocals. Key lyric: Hallelujah, I’m a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come

Nobody Loves Me Like Jesus –  This song features guitar, drums, horn and backing vocals. Key lyric: Nobody in this whole wide world gonna give what I’m looking for 

Anything is Possible –  This encouraging song opens with acoustic guitar and quickly builds featuring percussion, strong backing vocals and horns. Key lyric: Let the Spirit lead and just believe that anything is possible 

Great God Almighty –  This instantly likeable song features harmonica, early Beatles guitar, backing vocals and a great sing along chorus.
Key lyric:
Great God Almighty
Won’t You save Your children
Lord in heaven won’t You lend a hand?
Ain’t no way we gonna do this without You

Devotion –  The closing song on the standard edition is a worship song directed to the Lord. It features guitar, drums, horns, organ and backing vocals. Will be a powerful song in concert. Key lyric: Lord make my life a devotion to You 

You Redeemed Me –  This song features swamp guitar, drums and horns. It’s about what the Lord does in a sinner’s life. Key lyric: You turned my fears and failure to a story of Your grace

The Return – This song about the return of Jesus features drums, guitar organ and horns. Key lyric: Are you ready for the return? 

The Deluxe Edition also includes the radio mix of “Revival”, the original cut of “Let There Be Light” and the first take of “Faithful and True”.

Watch this two-minute video of the band making Revival.

Crooked – Propaganda
****

Propaganda’s first album since 2014’s Crimson Cord is hard-hitting and challenging, with excellent vocal (spoken word and hip hop) delivery, musical backing and production. Much has happened in America since Crimson Cord and some of the lyrics are right out of the news.

Below are a few thoughts about each of the songs:

Crooked Way featuring Terence F. Clark – This is a powerful opening track, produced by Braille and written with Terence F. Clark. There is much to take in here, which will require multiple listenings. He covers a history of racism from Native Americans and the Confederate flag. Interjects humor about skinny jeans and Dickies. Says he is not a leader, just a hippie with daddy issues, crooked with halos balanced on the tip of his horns.

It’s Complicated – He has zipped up his emotions into a dusty duffel bag that he’s named poetry. He speaks of transgender issues, that we are a laundry list of identity issues and that sometimes our plumbing doesn’t match our urges. It’s complicated.

Bear With Me featuring Marz Gerrer – Produced by Ohmega Watts. This track is about the ups and downs of being in love. Love is not love if it’s never been tested.

Cynical featuring Aaron Marsh & Sho Baraka – This powerful track is produced by Beautiful Eulogy. It hits on several items out of the news – Trump rallies, refugees, immigration – but he’s concerned that Christians are arguing about bathrooms. He addresses being lied to, intolerance and fear.

Slow Cook – This track is produced by Courtney Orlando and Steele, and it’s about his musical influences. “That’s the hip hop I fell in love with”.

Do Know Wrong featuring Macho – Produced by Wert and co-written with Macho. His love letter to California (Cali), with numerous references (earthquake, smog, Poly High, palm trees, traffic, lack of water, ocean, Fatburger, King Taco).

Gentrify – Produced by DJ Efechto. This upbeat sounding track with Odd Thomas on keyboards, addresses a serious subject, gentrification. “And when you see them billboards yelling “cash for homes” Gentrify.”

I Hate Cats – This is a very creative spoken word piece on racism and stereotyping, substituting cats and dogs for Blacks and Whites. Funny and serious.

Darkie featuring Micah Bournes and Kackie Hill-Perry – Produced by Daniel Steele, this song addresses racism within the Black community (hating on they own kind). Features additional vocals from Izzy Ray.

It’s Not Working (The Truth) featuring Courtney Orlando. Produced by Courtney Orlando, who also co-wrote the song. A sad and powerful telling of the history of Blacks in America. He wants the truth and to focus on God. Features a guitar solo from Isaiah Cox.

You say I’m King of Kings, but son, I don’t get it how,
You could trust me for eternity, but can’t trust me for now

Andrew Mandela featuring Topknot Feather – The song title brings together the names of Nelson Mandela and Andrew Jackson, who are addressed in the first two verses. Produced by Courtney Orlando and co-written with Topknot Feather.

Ooh, I take shots at your sacred cows
Dance with skeletons in closets
I point at elephants in the room
And make a mockery of heroes 

Olympian featuring Xavier Omär – Produced by Courtney Orlando, this song was written during a very difficult week (death, miscarriage, HIV positive), for some of Propaganda’s friends. Odd Thomas provides additional vocals.

Don’t you stop now, baby
Show your fight now, baby
You’re an olympian, baby
You can’t quit now

Made Straight featuring Audrey Assad –  Produced by Courtland Urbano. Co-written with Audrey Assad, who contributes excellent vocals. He looks forward with joy and anticipation for the day in which God (the time keeper) comes and makes the crooked way straight.

ICPTSD –  Produced by Derek Minor and written by Propaganda. This bonus track ICPTSD is an acronym for Inner City Present Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is about the trauma of living in the inner city. It features a good guitar solo at the end.

This is an album that requires serious listening. All aspects were well done. It was challenging for me as a white man, and it is my top album of the year thus far.

Best of Fernando Ortega: Live in St. Paul
****

I was introduced to Fernando Ortega years ago when he opened for Michael Card. He has since become one of my favorite artists. This concert recording was originally available only as a DVD, but is now fortunately also available as an audio recording.  Including 19 songs, this concert was recorded in 2004 at Northwestern College’s Maranatha Hall as Fernando was on tour supporting his 2004 album Fernando Ortega.  He plays 7 of that album’s 12 songs here, including the touching and humorous “Mildred Madalyn Johnson”. The recording features Ortega and band, including an accordion, but the focus is on Ortega’s gentle vocals over his piano.
If you’ve seen Ortega in concert you know that one of the best things is often times humorous introductions to his songs, which are not included here, the focus being solely on the music. In addition to the songs from Fernando Ortega, he includes many of his most-loved songs, such as “Creation Song”, “Lord of Eternity”, “Children of the Living God”, “This Good Day”, “Sing to Jesus” and “Our Great God”. This is Ortega’s only live album and it’s a gem.

Flowers in the Dirt (Special Edition) – Paul McCartney
****
This 2-CD “Special Edition” (the release comes in a number of different configurations), of McCartney’s excellent 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt features a remastered version of the original 13-song album (plus Où Est Le Soleil?, which wasn’t on the original album), on one disc, and nine previously unreleased demos McCartney recorded with Elvis Costello on the second disc. The demos are what really got my attention on this release, the 10th installment of McCartney’s Archive Collection, all of which have been personally supervised by McCartney. This album has special significance for me as well. It was the album McCartney toured on for his 1989-90 World Tour, on which I saw three of the shows, the first of now twelve concerts I’ve seen of the former Beatle.
Listeners will be pleased with the remastered version of the original album. It features such strong songs as “My Brave Face” (his last Billboard solo Top 40 hit), “This One”, “Put it There” and the 89-90 World Tour opener “Figure of Eight”. The original demos with Costello are:

  • The Lovers That Never Were – song was not included on the original album
  • Tommy’s Coming Home – song was not included on the original album
  • Twenty Fine Fingers – song was not included on the original album
  • So Like Candy – song was not included on the original album
  • You Want Her Too – song was included on the original album
  • That Day Is Done – song was included on the original album
  • Don’t Be Careless Love – song was included on the original album
  • My Brave Face – song was included on the original album
  • Playboy To A Man – song was not included on the original album

The demos are just what you would think a demo would be – sparse, raw, stripped down, and in my opinion, worth the price of this excellent reissue. All in all this is a reissue that McCartney fans will be pleased with.

Cinco: The Album – Jim Gaffigan
****

Jim Gaffigan is my favorite comedian. Sometimes called “the clean comedian”, he gives us his common guy take on everyday topics such as his children, belts and morning people. I’ve seen him in concert in the past few years and will be catching him on his new tour later this year. This is the audio version of his fifth television special.
I found this material to be very funny, classic Gaffigan. My favorite bits were on seasons, leaves (my favorite), being fat (of course), binge watching, travel, eating fish, and a hilarious bonus clip about his Dad from 2001.
Included is a bonus disc is Gaffigan and wife Jeannie talking about each of the comedy bits on the special. Although not overly funny, I did find it to be interesting.

Therapy Session by NF
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I came late to the NF game. It was only after hearing a few of these tracks – “I Just Wanna Know” and “Oh Lord” – on the radio that I decided to pick up the album, and I’m glad I did. Therapy Session is the sequel to the debut album Mansion by 25 year-old rapper NF (Nate Feuerstein). NF has had a difficult life thus far and he writes about that in these fourteen songs. The themes here are dark, and include pain, addiction, loss, depression and his critics. All songs are written by NF and Tommee Profitt, with the exception of Grindin’, on which Marty of the Social Club Misfits contributes.  Most of the songs were produced by Tommee Profitt unless otherwise noted.

Below are a few thoughts on each of the songs:   

Intro 2 – This is a sequel to “Intro”, which was included on Mansion. It is an intense, emotional and real introduction to the album.  He sings “If you’re looking for music with watered down lyrics, I promise that you need to go somewhere else.”

Therapy Session – NF has called this a very aggressive and blunt song, one in which he wasn’t holding anything back. He sings about fans that talk to him about how much his music has helped them and others who have criticized him as he deals with depression and the pressure. The song is in