Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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. Continue reading

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music Reviews
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     
Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


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 Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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.  Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


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. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


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: Continue reading