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.
Let There Be Wonder is worship leader, singer/songwriter Matt Redman’s fourteenth album, and first since 2017’s Glory Song. Redman has given us worship classics like “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” “The Heart of Worship” and “Blessed Be Your Name”. The new album was produced by Jacob Sooter and Joshua Silverberg, and was recorded live in front of more than 1,000 people at a California church. Redman wrote all of the songs with a variety of collaborators. This is the first really good album that I’ve heard of 2020, and is sure to make it onto my “Favorites” list for the year.
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:
Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
More of this review and reviews of~
Three Cords & The Truth – Van Morrison
Western Stars – Songs from the Film – Bruce Springsteen
Lecrae returns to Reach Records after his excellent 2017 major label debut All Things Work Together, which featured the gold record “I’ll Find You” with Tori Kelly. On this album he teams up with producer and DJ Zaytoven for an album that was born out of a mutual respect for each other’s work. In an interview, Lecrae said “When I hear the term ‘trap music,’ I don’t think of glorifying the negativity. I think of a soundscape that speaks a certain language. I think of music that tells real stories.”
Here are a few brief comments about each of the 13 songs on the album, all of which were produced by Zaytoven, who brings great beats to these songs. Get Back Right – This song was written by Bobby Pressley, CASS, Zaytoven and Lecrae. It was the first single released from the album. It features a great beat with Lecrae telling his story about recent success (made hits with some big names, went to the Grammys), when he was just starting out (everything was rented and he was pinching his pennies), and when he became a believer (new beginnings and he knew who did it).
Key lyric: When you got real power, you can’t lose. Preach – This song is written by Verse Simmonds, Zaytoven and Lecrae. This song is about Lecrae being unashamed (Romans 1:16) about God, preaching and his blackness. It opens briefly with keys and then goes into a great beat, driven by drums. Lecrae is going to preach and Zaytoven is going to bring the beat.
Key lyric: Don’t have a church, but I reach.
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.
As has been my practice for a number of years, I am sharing some of my favorites from 2017 in a variety of categories. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, from worship to rap and hip-hop. Here is a list of my favorite music for 2017:
Top Pick: Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 (Deluxe Edition) – Bob Dylan. The deluxe edition of this release features 100 previously unreleased live and studio recordings from Dylan’s “Gospel period”.
Here are the rest of my ten favorite albums, in order:
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
You can never put Bob Dylan in a box. He will always surprise you. After 2015’s Shadows in the Night, he followed up with 2016’s Fallen Angels, a similar album of his unique interpretation of standards that had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. His last album of newly written material was 2012’s Tempest. So after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, what does the 75-year old legend follow Fallen Angels up with, just over 10 months following that album? One might expect a stunning new album of songs about the state of our nation (racial tension, election of Trump, etc.). But Dylan rarely does what we expect him to do. Instead he returns with the excellent Triplicate, his 38th studio album, a 30-song, three-album (his first triple album), project of newly recorded covers of mostly pre-World War II/rock and roll music songs known as the Great American Songbook.
Dylan, his touring band – guitarists Charlie Sexton and Dean Parks, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George Recile and steel guitarist Donnie Herron – and arranger James Harper, went to Hollywood’s Capitol studios to record live (vocals recorded with instrumentation) hand-chosen songs from American songwriters such as Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Harold Hupfield, and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. The project is thematically-arranged in three 10-song albums titled “’Til the Sun Goes Down,” “Devil Dolls” and “Comin’ Home Late”, each 32 minutes in length, which Dylan has said is the number of completion, a lucky number, and symbolic of light. Dylan has stated that the albums came out at the same time because thematically they are interconnected, one being the sequel to the other and each one resolving the previous one.
Interestingly, Sinatra released Trilogy in 1980, a three-album which too had a different theme for each album, “The Past,” “The Present” and “The Future.” The new project was produced by Dylan, under his usual pseudonym Jack Frost.
The 30 songs on Triplicate include classics such as “Stardust”, “As Time Goes By,” “September of My Years,” “Stormy Weather” and “Sentimental Journey” as well as less well-known songs such as Alec Wilder and Edwin Finckel’s “Where Is the One” and Jack Lawrence’s “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”
While many of the songs are slow ballads, often solemn and about loss, there are also a handful of more upbeat songs here as well. Dylan’s now road-weary voice, always an incredible instrument in itself, and which sounded really rough on Tempest, seems perfectly fitted for these songs and arrangements. He delivers vocal performances on these last three standards albums that I never thought I would hear from him again. Listen to his vocal and phrasing on “My One and Only Love”, for example. His touring band never gets in the way of Dylan’s heart-felt vocals within Harper’s intimate arrangements. Herron’s steel guitar is a highlight throughout. Horns are used sparingly, but effectively on songs such as “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Sentimental Journey”, and “My One and Only Love”.
I preferred the more upbeat songs on the album, with some of my favorites being “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Stardust”, “Day in and Day Out”, “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me”, “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans” and “That Old Feeling”. Dylan ends the album with “Why Was I Born?” written by Kern and Hammerstein in 1929. It includes the introspective lyrics “Why was I born? Why am I living? What do I get? What am I giving?”
While I would prefer new music from Dylan, I enjoyed and appreciated Triplicate, songs that Dylan says are meant for “the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person”. Will you enjoy it? My assessment is that if you enjoyed Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, you’ll enjoy Triplicate. If you didn’t, you’ll probably want to pass on this one, though I would encourage you give it a listen before immediately dismissing it. Continue reading →
IN THIS ISSUE:
MUSIC REVIEW ~ Keep Me Singing by Van Morrison
MUSIC NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
SONG OF THE WEEK ~ His Name Shall Be by Matt Redman
Music Review: Keep Me Singing – Van Morrison ****
This is the 71-year old Morrison’s 36th studio album and his first for Caroline Records. He produces the album, his first of new material since 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B, which I really enjoyed. The album includes 12 new original songs, as well as a cover of the blues song “Share Your Love with Me”. Many of the songs show him in a reflective mood, looking back at his life. The musicianship is excellent and Van’s one of a kind voice sounds great here. I really enjoyed this album and you can tell that Van loves making music. Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the album, one of my favorites of the year:
Let it Rhyme – The opening song has an easygoing tempo. It features some light horns, drums, piano, organ, backing vocals and excellent harmonica. He sings that in time, you’ll be mine.
Every Time I See a River – This song has Morrison collaborating with lyricist Don Black. Every time he sees a river, hears a train or a sad song, it reminds him of a past love and he feels like he is back in love again. There are good horns and nice guitar and organ solos here. Van delivers a great vocal.
Keep Me Singing – This song is about his joy in singing. He references a few Sam Cooke songs. He wants to be singing when the day is done. He’s doing just what he knows what to do. The song features a nice harmonica solo.
Out in the Cold Again – This song features piano, strings, light percussion, and a nice guitar solo. He was “Mr. Nice Guy” for too long, playing the losing role. Now he’s standing all alone, out in a cold black night in this “dog eat dog world”. The focus is on Van’s expressive vocal.
Memory Lane – This song features strings, light guitar and percussion as Van is looking back at his past. He’s stuck here back again on memory lane, where it’s getting dark. He’s back with questions and answers standing in the pouring rain.
The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword – This blues songs is driven by guitar (including a nice solo), organ, light drums, some good backing vocals and Van’s strong lead vocal. Van’s vocal reminded me somewhat of Dylan from his Slow Training Coming album. He can’t tell you what you’re supposed to do, but he’s gotta live by his pen because it’s mightier than the sword.
Holy Guardian Angel – This song features strings, light drums, good backing vocals, and nice piano and guitar solos. He was born in the midnight hour. He quotes the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” – nobody knows the trouble he’s seen. Nobody knows his sorrow, nobody but him. He prays to his holy guardian angel in the witching hour (midnight to 2:00 am), long before the break of day. Van gives a strong vocal in this song that has a gospel sound.
Share Your Love with Me – This is a cover, and a tribute to Bobby Bland, who did the original recording of the song. The song was made popular by Aretha Franklin in 1970. It features a nice organ solo, light horns and drums. It features a great vocal from Van as he stretches his voice here more than on most of the songs on the album. It’s a shame if you don’t wanna share your love with me.
In Tiburon – The fog is lifting and he’s in Tiburon, a town across the bay, just north of San Francisco. Over piano, he sings about memories of places and people he likes there, including a place that Chet Baker used to play his horn. He wants to go back to Frisco. They need each other more than ever to lean on. Features a nice sax solo.