Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


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. 

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Let the Trap Say Amen – Lecrae and Zaytoven
****

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.

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


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.

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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.
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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music Review:
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: Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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.
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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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. Continue reading