Over the Grave
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Sojourn
 
In Feast or Fallow
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Sandra McCracken
 
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The Arrows
 
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Natalie Grant - Love Revolution

 
Natalie Grant - Love Revolution
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Hard to believe that Natalie Grant has already crossed the ten-year mark as a solo artist, and harder still to realize just how far she’s come in that time.
 
For the first five years, Grant seemed destined to become another “pop diva,” content to sing the usual Christian adult contemporary fluff with a pretty and powerful set of pipes reminiscent of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. Social activism, however, challenged her to raise her game—as an artist and a Christian—and she evolved into a more modern sounding singer with more personable songwriting, beginning with 2005’s Awaken. Since then she’s become a mom, a mentor, and a top-tier artist in the music industry, winning four Female Vocalist Doves in the last five years.
 
Just as she challenged herself five years ago, she’s now challenging others to do more with album No. 8, Love Revolution. Her hope is to rally listeners to leave their comfort zones and enact the change needed in the world around them in answer to God’s calling on our lives. “I’m waving goodbye to my pretty little life, taking Your hand and crossing that line,“ she sings in the opening track, “Daring to Be.”


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Chris August - No Far Away

 
Chris August - No Far Away
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Remember the days when artists strived to express their own voice through a creative sound? When record labels relished the introduction of unique talent with something new to offer? Far be it from me to pretend I know better than today’s label execs, but I’d love to know what study they’re using to justify all the homogeny. While there’s risk in creativity, the alternative is to recycle, which in the end may be cheaper and safer, but certainly not better quality.
 
Sadly, Chris August is but the latest example of this tedious trend. A self-taught pianist, guitarist, and producer, the singer/songwriter from Dallas, Texas certainly seems positioned to bring something fresh to the Christian pop scene, having worked with Brian McKnight, Jessica Simpson, Ryan Cabrera, and even opened for Ashlee Simpson on tour.


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Crowded House - Intriguer

 
Crowded House - Intriguer
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One of the best (yet underappreciated) bands to come out of the ‘80s was Crowded House. Most Americans only know them for the classic “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and perhaps “Something So Strong.” But after four albums and eight years, the band disbanded around 1995. A reunion seemed unlikely after the suicide of drummer Paul Hester. Yet after a 14-year hiatus, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Neil Finn reformed Crowded House with bassist Nick Seymour, keyboardist/guitarist Mark Hart and new drummer Matt Sherrod in 2007 for their reflective Time on Earth album.
 
Turns out the reunion wasn’t short-lived. Intriguer picks up where Crowded House left off two years ago, only a little less somber this time. I say “little” because it’s still not the super melodic pop/rock (often compared to The Beatles and Squeeze) that once characterized this band in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s much closer in spirit to Finn’s solo work of the least 15 years: dark, perplexing, and a little brooding, yet still captivating with his word imagery and increasingly maturing melodies.


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Jimmy Needham - Nightlights

 
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Nightlights is the third album from Jimmy Needham after his underappreciated 2006 debut Speak and his improved 2008 follow-up Without Love. Though he seems to be slowly building a following with each passing year, he’s still relatively unknown in Christian music.
 
For the uninitiated, Needham is essentially Christian music’s answer to Jason Mraz, Marc Broussard, and Kris Allen—organic pop with a some slight jazz and soul influences. To be clear, Needham isn’t quite as good as his comps, but he’s still good enough. Besides, the way things are going in Christian music these days, when a songwriter draws on the deep theological works of Charles Spurgeon and A.W. Tozer, that’s enough reason to take notice.


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Tenth Avenue North - The Light Meets the Dark

 
Tenth Avenue North - The Light Meets the Dark
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Is Tenth Avenue North the luckiest band in Christian music or what? Digging through my library, I rediscovered an older song from the band on a 2005 indie artist compilation. It was poorly done to say the least. Yet a couple years later, Provident Music Group snatched them up, polished them off, and voila, Tenth Avenue North made an impression with their national debut, Over and Underneath.
 
Now I’m not saying the band is without merit. Their previous album has some rather catchy songs, and I’d even reluctantly concede that Tenth Avenue North deserved their New Artist of the Year award at the 2009 Doves. But was “By Your Side” truly worthy of Song of the Year honors for the 2010 Dove Awards? Though I consider it dull and formulaic sounding, it was one of the year’s most (over)played songs on Christian radio—and I suppose that’s your answer.


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Jeremy Camp - We Cry Out

 
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After nearly ten years in the music business and given the success of his career, it was only a matter of time before Jeremy Camp returned to his worship leader roots and recorded a follow-up to his Gold-selling sophomore project from 2004, Carried Me. In fact, considering that Carried Me was originally intended to be Camp’s first release as a worship artist, you could say We Cry Out: The Worship Project brings him full circle.
 
Camp’s purpose for returning to worship music is to put the focus back on God instead of himself. It seems to me that most of his music has always been vertically focused, if not worshipful. There’s probably more truth to Camp’s other reason: It’s an excuse to rely on other people’s music, focusing on the songs that have meant the most to him in recent years.
 
We Cry Out is produced by Brown Bannister, which tells you plenty of what to expect as far as the sound—MercyMe styled pop/rock with occasional strings and perhaps a little more electric guitar. On the other hand, Camp has finally solidified a good band, as heard on 2009’s live album. In the studio, they offer a vibrant mix of guitars and keyboards over solid drumming.


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Kerrie Roberts - Kerrie Roberts

 
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Natalie Grant … Joy Williams … Rachael Lampa … Jaci Velasquez … I’m sure you can think of others who fit in the big-voiced “diva pop” genre (at least for a while). Admittedly, it’s not usually my style since the emphasis is on vocals and sentiments rather than creativity and originality. Yet for every one of these singers who fade into obscurity after a few years, there’s always one that seems to rise above the pack. As Grant once noted in an interview, she worked hard to be more than a pretty voice singing pretty songs.
 
There’s a sense that twenty-something newcomer Kerrie Roberts is striving for the same thing. This pastor’s daughter from southern Florida was a finalist on the WB network series Popstars, yet ultimately turned down the recording contract offered to her to study vocal performance at the University of Miami and eventually work on her music career herself.


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Robert Randolph & The Family Band - We Walk This Road

 
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Fans of Robert Randolph vary from those who relish the buoyant “sacred steel” jams of his concerts and early albums to those who enjoy his vibrant spin on modern blues-pop and R&B. Considering that album No. 4, We Walk This Road, is neither and takes Robert Randolph & The Family Band into a new direction, it’s understandable why fans are having a mixed reaction.
 
Interesting to learn that Randolph, one of our great modern guitarists, was not allowed to listen to blues music growing up—you’d swear it had a profound influence on his style and technique. But no, he only listened to modern gospel and Christian music in his youth. For Randolph’s latest—his first since 2006’s acclaimed Colorblind—the goal was to find a way to connect his faith with his history and heritage as an African-American.


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Sting - Symphonicities

 
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It’s sad to realize that Sting hasn’t released a truly great album since 1999’s Brand New Day. Indeed, ever since 2003’s Sacred Love—his last original project and a so-so effort—Sting’s career has grown increasingly self-indulgent and redundant. Aside from a successful reunion tour with The Police, there’s only been an album of lute music (!), a Christmas (sorry, “wintertime”) project, and now this, another repackaging of past songs.
 
Well, sort of. Symphonicities runs with the idea that great songs transcend genre. So teaming up with conductors Rob Mathes (Celine Dion, MercyMe) and Steve Mercurio (Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli), Sting has reworked several of his songs—solo and Police, hits and b-sides—for orchestral arrangements and an accompanying tour.
 
Now I’ve heard many a great album where artists truly alter their songs to accommodate classical, jazz, electronic, or even simply acoustic genres. The chief problem here is that the songs really haven’t changed all that much to suit the genre. Instead, it’s more like Sting and co-producer Mathes bended the orchestra to the songs. The results are often predictable, though some songs certainly benefit from this experiment more than others.


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Delirious - Farewell Show - Live in London

 
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Farewell Show inspires a lot of mixed emotions within me. It is, after all, the last concert from Delirious, a true pioneer in modern worship music and arguably the best worship band on the planet. But at least they went out in fine form, consistently delivering great music in a career that nearly spanned two decades (though they didn’t really achieve worldwide success until 1997).
 
And yet, do we really need another live album from this band? Farewell Show is the seventh concert recording in Delirious’ seventeen year career. I think only Dave Matthews Band has released more live albums in their career, but at least they can (almost) justify an annual concert album with their varied arrangements, set lists, and improvisational jams.
 
This live recording has no new album to promote and there’s really nothing that hasn’t been heard before on other Delirious concert albums. Seriously, how many times can we listen to “History Maker” performed virtually the same way for the last ten years, right down to Martin Smith’s inspirational spiel in the middle of the song? The greatest weakness of Farewell Show is it has nothing new or creative to offer—in many ways, it’s just another concert.


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