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Reviews

My personal reviews of music and other arts.

Andy Mineo – Uncomfortable Album and Tour Review
Uncomfortable

Andy Mineo – Uncomfortable Album and Tour Review

I hadn’t really discovered Andy Mineo until earlier this year when his new album Uncomfortable dropped in September. read more

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One Wild Life : Soul [Album Review] – Gungor
One Wild Life - Soul

One Wild Life : Soul [Album Review] – Gungor

Last year was full of transition for the band Gungor, and I wrote about their challenges in Gungor’s Shunning and I Am Mountain Review. read more

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The Liturgists – EP Reviews

The Liturgists – EP Reviews

Originally, I had these thoughts mixed in with my review of I Am Mountain, but while there is a clear connection, it made sense to separate the two thoughts. 

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Gungor’s Shunning and I Am Mountain Review
Gungor

Gungor’s Shunning and I Am Mountain Review

Almost two years after I first saw the band Gungor live for the first time, they returned to Austin earlier this year, where I was pleasantly surprised to a completely different experience.

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The Ascension – Phil Wickham [Album Review]
Ascension - Phil Wickham [Album Review]

The Ascension – Phil Wickham [Album Review]

Phil WickhamPhil Wickham keep churning out albums, and I like it. On September 24, Phil Wickham released his 6th full length album titled The Ascension. This month, I was able to attend his concert where I saw him perform live for the third time, and I keeps becoming even more impressive.

Musicality

Musically, these new songs fall right in line with his past records. There’s no real shift in style like many contemporary Christian musicians are trying this year. I like the constant. There are a few songs that start off with some pop radio sounds, but it does seem that the instruments are always secondary elements.

Phil Wickham also has a beautiful voice that is capable hitting a wide range. It’s impressive how Phil Wickham often uses his voice as a major instrument in the song. When he plays live, this is even more noticeable because he applies live effects similar to how he uses pedals with his guitar.

Lyrics

Ascension - Phil Wickham [Album Review]

Lyrically, there isn’t much theological depth, but there is a very beautiful, poetic truth that he preaches through his music – the reality of heaven. This is one of the reasons he’s become one of my favorite artist. He is focused on heaven and seeks a distraction-free focus on that pursuit of our Lord.

The titles alone from this record and his previous unmistakably and unapologetically show the desires he has for these songs. Here are some of my favorite lyrics from some of the songs on this album.

Carry My Soul

One of my favorite songs on the album, the theme is focused on the dramatic moment when we die and our soul is ripped from our body and taken into heaven.

“Oh I can hardly wait

Until You carry my soul

Carry my soul away”

“And I will keep my lamplight

Burning in the night

I’ll be waiting here for You

Watching for all Your signs

If I may be so bold to ask You

Would You lend Your ear to me

Oh Lord come quickly”

Thirst

Like many of Phil Wickham’s songs, this one is deeply entrenched in scripture. This song takes its central message from Psalm 42 and the Samaritan Woman at the well.

One thing I ask and I would seek

To see You there in front of me

With nothing standing in the way

Just me before You unashamed

I thirst for you

I thirst for you

You’re the well that won’t run dry

Only you can satisfy

When My Heart is Torn Asunder

This song is a striking reminder of the temporary nature of our struggles in comparison to the eternity of heaven with our Lord.

There is hope

Beyond the suffering

Joy beyond the tears

Peace in every tragedy

Love that conquers fear

I have found redemption

In the blood of Christ

My body might be dying

But I’ll always be alive

Overall

Phil Wickham-bwEven though this album is called The Ascension, it is never directly about THE Ascension of Jesus. It uses the word more figuratively and poetically referring to a spiritual and mental ascension to the ways of God. There is some reference to death and heaven, but Catholics reserve this term for Jesus ability to enter into heaven on His own power as God. The rest of us will be raised in a similar way but by His power and authority at the final judgement. Nothing is said directly about it, so there’s nothing that can really be seen as problematic.

I was impressed with the album, but my preference is his more authentic and simplified versions of the songs that he performs live. Even still, the music is great and a beautiful gift to us. The pop themed sounds can be a turn off for some looking for something more prayerful, but don’t let the sound fool you, it’s authentic prayer.

Buy The Ascension from Amazon

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It’ll Cure What Ails Ya [Tour Review]
It'll Cure What Ails Ya

It’ll Cure What Ails Ya [Tour Review]

It'll Cure What Ails YaDavid Crowder still has it. I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Tour of the new Crowder Band while they were in Austin April 9. It’s always nice to have him back in the Central Texas area, near where he got his start.

The Sound

Within the first song, it was very obvious that the new collective known as Crowder is most certainly not the David Crowder Band that ended their run last year. The contemporary pop sounds of his previous group will live on in many of our memories, and it will be hard to forget his keytar silliness. The David Crowder band always had a gift for bringing joy.

In this new direction, David Crowder took his music to another genre. It could be described somewhat as Folk, but there are many times where it is more country. I’m a fan of both genres, and there could be a debate for either side. Whatever the label, the music is wonderful.

One of the most notable difference is the amount of string instruments, including some I had difficulty recognizing. The depth of the music enriches the music with a more developed sound. It reminds me of the deliciousness a full-bodied wine.

David Crowder TourI went in knowing that it wasn’t the same band as before, so I really wasn’t sure which songs to expect.This tour featured two new and unreleased songs, many new takes on classic hymns, and a few old Crowder favorites.

There were a few times I had to pause to listen before I was able to recognize the older songs. For one, there were several songs I hadn’t heard in a few years. Then, he took the familiar songs and stripped them down to their simplest form to be recreated in its new folk/country sound. It turned out beautifully.

The Prayer

One of my favorite things about a seasoned music minister like David Crowder, is that he has a true skill to lead people into deep and authentic prayer without making it feel forced.

He also has the ability to bring people in and out of it to enjoy the humor and fun to lighten up the mood. As one of the transitions, Crowder used a segment of Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t you Worry Child.” Definitely one of my favorite moments.

One of my favorite songs was his new version of “Holy (After All)“, based on the Sanctus. It really transformed the audience into a church like setting for prayer, and was a moment anointed by the Holy Spirit.

There are also many moments when it becomes a show and there is some entertainment, but it was well balanced with the very engaging moments of transcendent experiences of prayer. The experience is nothing short of a blast.

The Look

Ever since I first saw a picture of David Crowder, I had a hard believing it was him. The smooth sounds seemed incongruent with the wild beard.

In the recent years, he has taken his look to a new level. Intending no disrespect, he looks like a combination of a mountain man and a homeless man. In an odd sort of way, it’s comforting to me.

This is clearly a man that puts little emphasis on his physical appearance, and he doesn’t let it become about him. His humility encourages others to join in singing as if everyone is together on his porch.

I’m excited for the release of some of his new music. Like I mentioned in my review of his last album, there is a theological and traditional depth in his new music that could benefit all Christians.

Photo Credits: Bobby Krussell
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Homemade Worship Music [Campfire – Album Review]

Homemade Worship Music [Campfire – Album Review]

In a world overflowing with processed products, there are still a few musicians left willing to hand make quality music worthy to praise our Lord.

In November 2012, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Tenth Avenue North’s Struggle Tour in San Antonio opening with Audrey Assad and Rend Collective Experiment. I’ll address the first two in a different post.

The Irish musicians known as Rend Collective Experiment has become one of my new favorite bands over the last year . I had not heard much about them until last fall, but their approach really caught my attention. Like many new collectives seeking a deeper authenticity, there is more than one lead singer to keep the focus on the art rather than the individuals.

First impressions from the group can come off as quirky with their hodgepodge of instruments and eclectic visual style. Looking past that, their music becomes a beautiful transcendental experience. Their art can be described as raw and authentic.

Campfire

CampfireThe Campfire album, released January 2013,  is a collection of alternative versions from the Organic Family Hymnal and Homemade Worship by Handmade People albums. The biggest difference is that album is all folk style. It certainly has the authentic feel of being homemade while keeping full production quality from professional studio equipment.

The style of this album comes off more as live recordings from a night of praise and worship. Like I mentioned in my review of A Creation Liturgy by Gungor, that does not always fit everyone’s taste. For some, It can be considered distracting, while others see it as just part of the “homemade” flavor. I personally enjoy the folk sound, but I have to admit that the background singers hold me back from letting these songs lead me into prayer. Although, it is fun to listen to it really loud in the car if you want to feel like you’re partying at a campfire with friends.

I think the cover of the album sums up this album the best. Friends getting together to have fun in community and praise the Lord.

Since this album is a combination of the first albums, I want to share some thoughts on those too.

Organic Family Hymnal

Rend-Collective-Experiment-OrganicFamilyHymnalThis is my favorite album from the the group. The music in this collection was their first major release that really helped define their sound and character. One of my favorite elements is the way they take familiar parts of hymns to combine them with new music for a refreshed approach.

I highly recommend the songs “I Exalt You.” and “Love Divine.” Rend Collective Experiment takes these classic concepts and breathes new life to modernize old hymns.

Homemade Worship by Handmade People

Even though they did add more production and “processing” in this album, the music is still very in line with their mission.

HandmadeWorshipThe lyrics are great in their first album, but they found a way to take it to the next level in this collection. These songs are intentional and focused directly to our Lord. As obvious as that sounds, many bands today can easily get caught up singing about how great we are rather than how amazing our God and His love are to us.

My favorite songs in this album are “Desert Soul” and “Alabaster,” although every song has something to love. Below are my favorite lines in the whole album.

I’m lost without Your creative spark in me
Recreate me.
I’m dead inside unless your resurrection sings.

You are exactly what we need.
All that I am is dry bones without you lord,

A desert soul

I am broken, but running
toward you God, you made me whole.

Desert Soul

As a Catholic, I have to confess that there are some flawed theological concepts in a few songs, but fortunately it’s never any of the main themes. They call us all to the same Lord, and remind us of our daily call to convert our hearts to God’s love.

Their music quality rivals that of Mumford & Sons, but the most impressive quality of this group is their deep passion for Jesus. I highly recommend their first two albums to you, but I would suggest that you listen to some samples of the Campfire album before you download or buy it just to see if it is something you enjoy.

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Endless Years – The Prayer of My Heart [CD Review]

Endless Years – The Prayer of My Heart [CD Review]

Contemporary Christian Music has come a long way in the past decade. Even still, there is a problem that many CCM writers create work only because they know will be replayed on Christian radio stations or that is easy to learn. After all, Christian or not, it is still a professional industry where music artist and their teams need to make a living. This financial side of the industry has restricted much of the creativity.

I spend a lot of time looking for some of the best Christian music because it is a form of art that speaks to my heart and leads it easily to prayer. I love to share the music I enjoy.

The Australian group, Will Reagan & United Pursuit released a new 15 song album, Endless Years, in December 2012. I discovered their music only a few months before this album was released. The United Pursuit collective brings together a very diverse and talented group of musicians.

EndlessYears-AlbumCoverThe Music

The music is beautifully written with great combinations of classical strings, hand drums, pianos, guitars, and other instruments. The musicality is perfectly blended to increase and decrease the energy of the song at the perfectly crafted moments.

The beautiful, melodic instrumentation is gracefully orchestrated and complementary to the lyrics. The musicians of United Pursuit take you on a journey that leads to prayer without distractions or begging for attention.

A nice surprise is that the album includes “Genesis” and “Preparation,” 2 audio treats of instrumental songs.

The Lyrics

These songs are so passionate and authentic that it often feels like overhearing a conversation in between Will Reagan and God. Even still, the honesty makes it easy to relate and use as your own prayer.

willraeganWill Reagan has made a name for himself with powerful songs such as “Break Every Chain,” “Fill Me up,” “If I Give It All,” and “Set a Fire,” that are used throughout the world. He keeps it simple and uses the element of repetition with skill. This makes it easy for anyone to pick and learn his music quickly and enter into prayer. This method is used in all great musical prayer such as chant, Taize, and others.

My favorite element of the lyrics is also their bold approach to prayer. These songs do not hold back. Whether it is in the reflection of the past relationship with God or the petitions for strength in spiritual battle. This is most evident in the battle cry of “Take Back” and in the Charismatic petitions of “Set a fire” and “Reach for Me.”

These songs are the prayer of my heart.

This is easily one of my favorite CCM albums released in the last year. If your spirituality is fed by prayer through music like this, I highly recommend it. If praise and worship isn’t your cup of tea, then I don’t expect you will find this album to be as great as I did. United Pursuit has different lead singers that each other their own perspective and sound, and I recommend you listen to their music too.

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