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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Emmanuel: Christmas Songs of Worship – Chris Tomlin
*** ½ 

Chris Tomlin releases his fifth Christmas Songs of Worship project. His Christmas Songs of Worship series includes Miracle Of Love: Christmas Songs of Worship EP released in 2020, Christmas Day: Christmas Songs of Worship EP from 2019, 2015’s Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship, and the gold-certified Glory In The Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship from 2009. The new 12-song project, which includes four songs previously released on the above-mentioned EPs, was produced by Ed Cash and includes new songs as well as reimagined Christmas classics.  The album has Tomlin collaborating with CeCe Winans, We the Kingdom, Matt Redman, and Blessing Offor.
Below are a few comments about each song:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Almost Home: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa Volume 2
****

This is the second album of hymns from Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. Their first album, His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa, was my favorite album of 2019. This new album may well end up being my favorite for 2021.
I was introduced to “the Matts” at the Getty Worship Sing! conferences in 2018.  Some of the songs on this album, all of which were written for congregational singing, were introduced at prior Sing! conferences. The album was produced by Ben Shive. Here is a short “Behind the Scenes” video about the album.
Below are a few comments about each song:
Psalm 150 (Praise the Lord) – This song was introduced at the 2020 Sing! conference and highlighted at the 2021 Sing! conference. It was written by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. The song features piano, guitar, strings, drums, bass and backing vocals.
Key lyric:
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Sing His greatness
All creation
Praise the Lord
Raise your voice
Your heights and all your depths
From furthest east to west
Let everything that has breath
Praise the Lord

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  • More of this review and a review of Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol.16 1980-1985 by Bob Dylan
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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Acoustic Sketches 3 – Phil Keaggy
****

I’ve long appreciated the music, both instrumental and vocal, of Phil Keaggy. His album Acoustic Sketches was released in 1996, and Freehand: Acoustic Sketches 2 was released in 2003. I would often enjoy these CDs quietly in my office at work, and continue to enjoy them when sitting at our desk at home.
Keaggy began working on what would become Acoustic Sketches 3 in February of this year. He wrote all 23 of the songs, as well as producing the album.
This acoustic instrumental album features Keaggy playing a number of different instruments. For example, on the album cover (from left to right) are the following instruments: Skinner Sunburst Acoustic (L’il Hoss), Brunner Compact Guitar, Oceana Ukulele, Brunner Pocket Guitar, Olson SJ Acoustic Guitar and Langejans Classical Guitar. As the title Sketches implies, at times these are rather short songs, with 5 of them clocking in at less than 2 minutes.
If you enjoy instrumental guitar music, you will enjoy the beautiful music of Acoustic Sketches 3 from Phil Keaggy.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Latest Record Project Volume I by Van Morrison

***

Van Morrison has been very outspoken about the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in the UK. He released a few songs specifically about that which do not appear on this ambitious 28-song, two-hour plus collection that was recorded during the lockdown.
Latest Record Project Volume I, Morrison’s 42nd studio album has been blasted by critics – The Guardian gave it a one-star (out of five) review, for example – but the more I listened to this album, the more I enjoyed it. The 75-year-old Morrison is in fine form, as is his excellent band, as they play songs that fall into the genres of blues, R&B, jazz and soul. Morrison produced the album and wrote or co-wrote all of the songs unless noted below.
Morrison plays piano, guitar and sax, and is joined by Richard Dunn on Hammond organ, Dave Keary on guitars and banjo, Stuart McIlroy on piano, Pete Hurley on bass, Colin Griffin on drums and percussion, and a vocal trio of Dana Masters, Crawford Bell and Kelly Smiley; with some tracks featuring Jim Mullen on guitar, Gavin Scott on bass, Paul Moran on the organ and Mez Clough and Teena Lyle on vocals.
Below are a few brief comments about each song, along with a list of my favorites from the album:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Into the Mystery – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

Into the Mystery is NEEDTOBREATHE’s eighth full-length studio album. It debuted at #1 on the iTunes “Top Albums” charts upon release, and is one of my top albums of 2021 thus far.
During the pandemic, the band recorded the album over a three-week period at a historic house turned recording studio in Columbia, Tennessee with co-producer and engineer Konrad Snyder, and special guests. Into the Mystery follows closely 2020’s Out of Body and 2021’s Live from the Woods Vol. 2.
Themes from Bear Rinehart’s lyrics include reflecting back, longing to be loved, being easier on yourself, God’s love for us and taking chances.
Below are brief comments about each song:

What I’m Here For – This autobiographical song has Bear looking back to his teens and twenties. A theme is being easier on yourself. The song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, drums, bass, keys and strings.
Key lyric:
I don’t need silver linings
I don’t need so much more
I just need room to be wrong sometimes
That’s all I’m hoping for

Into the Mystery – This song features acoustic guitar, backing vocals, electric guitar, bass, drums and organ. The song is about longing to hear that one is loved, be it a human love or supernatural love.
Key lyric:
‘Cause I just wanna be loved by you
I cannot resist the need to hear you say it
Whatever you do, I will be there
Son, I will follow you anywhere

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Vol. 1 – Shane and Shane
****

I was introduced to the worship duo Shane and Shane (Shane Barnard and Shane Everett) at the 2018 Getty worship conference Sing! For the entire time that I have followed them, the duo has released projects covering hymns and modern worship songs. Their last album of original material was 2015’s Psalms Vol. 2. Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Vol. 1 is a welcome return to original material, and it’s one of my favorite releases of 2021 thus far. The thirteen modern hymns are consistently excellent. It was hard to pick my favorites.
The album’s title comes from Colossians 3:16:  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Here are a few brief comments about each song:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Live in Denver – TobyMac
*** ½

TobyMac, who is currently charting with his single “Help Is On The Way (Maybe Midnight)” has released a new live album Live in Denver.  The project features 15 songs from his Hits Deep early 2020 Tour, and includes collaborations with Terrian, Aaron Cole, Cochren & Co. and Ryan Stevenson. This follows his 2016 live album Hits Deep Live. Live in Denver is currently only available in a digital format. A CD/DVD version will be released September 10.
The track list focuses heavily on later career songs, including “21 Years”, the 2020 song he wrote after son Truett died, 8 from 2018’s The Elements, 3 from 2015’s This is Not a Test, and 2 from 2012’s Eye on It. He also includes “Lose My Soul” from Portable Sounds.
The complete track list and the album the song was originally on, is below:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Canyon – Ellie Holcomb
**** 

I first heard Ellie Holcomb on the song “Elizabeth”, a song she wrote with Kristyn Getty and included on the 2017 album Sing! – An Irish Christmas: Live at the Grand Ole Opry House. Watch a live performance of the song here.
I was attracted to this album by a tweet from NEEDTOBREATHE indicating that lead singer Bear Rinehart had teamed up with Holcomb for “Sweet Ever After”. I’m glad I checked out the album, as it’s one of my favorites of 2021.
The album was inspired by a trip Holcomb took to the Grand Canyon last summer. She has said that the songs, born out of a season of a lot of personal and global (COVID-19, racial tension, tornado, etc.) loss, feel like a soundtrack to healing and hope.  Canyon, produced by Cason Colley, is Holcomb’s follow-up to her 2017 Red Sea Road album. She wrote or co-wrote all of the songs. Her father, Christian music veteran Brown Bannister served as executive producer.
Here are a few brief comments about each song:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Sing! Global: Live at the Getty Music Conference – Keith and Kristyn Getty and Friends
****

The latest album from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Sing! Getty Music Conferences was recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville and around the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was held online, rather than live in Nashville as in past years. The nineteen tracks feature a mix of new and old songs, and artists including Keith and Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, CityAlight, Steven Curtis Chapman, Shane & Shane, Matt Redman, Sandra McCracken and others. I most enjoyed the new songs “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death”, “Lovingkindness”, “Psalm 150”, “The Everlasting Love of God”, “Christ the True and Better” as well as Sandra McCracken’s “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”, featuring H.B. Charles Jr.
Below are a few comments about each song:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Milk & Honey by Crowder
****

Milk & Honey is Crowder’s fourth studio album, and his follow-up to 2018’s I Know a Ghost. Crowder has written that the title Milk & Honey is about promise. The album is a celebration of the future we are marching towards together and a prayer that each of us can live in this promise in the here and now. It features a variety of musical genres, though less of the swamp rock and bluegrass that his previous albums have included. Several of the songs are about Jesus and will soon find themselves into worship services. This is one of my top albums of 2020 thus far.

Below are a few comments about each song:
Good God Almighty – This song was written by Jeff Sojka, Ben Glover and Crowder, and produced by Sojka and Glover. The song has charted high on Christian radio. Crowder describes this song as some good old-fashioned group singing, people singing in harmony. An excellent opening song.

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