Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music Review:
Abide with Me – Sara Groves

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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: Continue reading

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Resurrection Letters, Volume 1 – Andrew Peterson
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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.
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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

A Million Lights – Michael W. Smith
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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. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


I Knew You When – Bob Seger (Deluxe Edition)
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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.    Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Surrounded by Michael W. Smith
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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. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Resurrection Letters: Prologue
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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. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music Reviews
The Greatest Showman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
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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.

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