Hearts of the Innocent
This dog will hunt!
Modern rock act Kutless returns with its greatly anticipated fourth album entitled Hearts of the Innocent. As one of the top-selling hard rock bands in Christian music, expectations are high for these Portland natives. Fortunately, following on the heels of a largely successful worship-themed project last year, Kutless is further establishing itself as the big dog of epic, modern hard rock in Christian music.
Huge, almost super-human riffs are the stock-in-trade of Kutless’ sound. Longtime producer Aaron Sprinkle (Jeremy Camp, Hawk Nelson) is all about tonal saturation, and on Hearts of the Innocent he has captured some of the toughest tones yet. Left to the imagination, an arsenal of Gibson Flying Vs or Les Pauls churn through mountainous amplifiers, cranking out rhythms that seem to have been swirling around the primordial swamps of classic rock’s past seeking whom they may devour. If this approach wasn’t so incredibly common these days, the sound might stand out as truly monumental. Purveyors and consumers of this flavor of rock & roll, however, are not usually too concerned about innovation. This is all about reinventing the jacked-up, chrome-plated, mag wheel, and, as such, Kutless fits right into the pantheon of modern rockers such as Staind, Seether, Nickleback, and, to a lesser extent, Creed. When Kutless really nails it, the band even recalls the uber-hooky Foo Fighters.
Vocalist Jon Micah Sumrall continues to hone his tone and attack as he matures as a singer. Though no songs stand out as lyrical masterpieces, they have come a long way since the band’s debut. Themes of righteous defiance and determined optimism run through most of the tracks, especially the barn-burners “Shut Me Out” and the strangely familiar title track. (Fans of the obscure indie Star Wars tribute band Twin Sister will definitely notice some similar riffage here.) Mid-tempo and increasingly textured tunes like “Somewhere in the Sky” and the impressive “Winds of Change” fill up the middle ground with substance.
But as riff conscious as this band is, Kutless is certainly not afraid to add some strings and get radio friendly, as it does on the extremely accessible tracks “Promise of a Lifetime,” “Changing World” and “Mistakes.” Shades of the increasingly commercial sounding Green Day weave around layers of piano and effected guitars for the mod-rock equivalent of mood music; thus, Kutless is sure to increase its stock value with the females in the audience as well as the fist pumping males.
In the end, Kutless shines brightest when it leaves any attempts at artsy or vibey ballads in the rear view and goes speeding down the highway of monster rock. “Change Your Legacy” and “Million Dollar Man” make up for so-so lyrics (sincere, just slightly predictable) with some of the best melodies on the disc. Interestingly, the record’s certain standout track “The Knife” offers up truly Foo-worthy grandeur, even bordering on classic metal at times (Blue Oyster Cult, The Smithereens, Iron Maiden and Barren Cross must factor into these boys’ collective unconscious somehow), and includes a poignant, inspiring and painfully relevant lyric tackling the increasingly troubling problems of cutting and suicide amongst teens and twenty-somethings. Nicely done. John J. Thompson
File under: Pop/Rock
A solidly constructed effort
Unless you’ve been holed up in a cave somewhere lately, you’re probably familiar with the breakout success of post-grunge pop/rock outfit Building 429 and its ubiquitous hit single “Glory Defined.” Still reaping the benefits of steady radio airplay, stellar album sales and a 2005 GMA “New Artist of the Year” Award, the band returns with Rise, its second full-length studio album.
It doesn’t take long to determine that, this time around, Building 429 purposely scales back the overproduced glossiness of its previous material and delivers a more raw-edge offering. Produced by Monroe Jones (Chris Rice, Third Day), the result comes off sounding reasonably close to live performance. In some respects, it’s a risky move, as many of the tracks on Rise don’t fit into the band’s typical radio-friendly formula. But more likely than not, Building’s core fans will find that this release resonates with sonic authenticity.
While the band’s sound shares company with the likes of Nickelback and 3 Doors Down (with an additional nod to Jeremy Camp), Building 429 differentiates itself with the soulful intensity of frontman Jason Roy. Whether resolutely belting out the chorus of “Fearless” or delivering an emotion-laden avowal on standout closer “Alive,” Roy proves he has the goods to go the long haul. Most of the album’s 11 cuts are anchored on Roy’s commanding vocals and substantive lyrical message, backed by the requisite supply of sweeping choruses, guitar-driven melodies and pulsating percussion.
Thematically, Building 429 weighs in on topics such as teen suicide (“Home”), the destructive power of the tongue (“Fighting to Survive”) and God’s unconditional love (“Because You’re Mine”). The disc’s title track addresses the importance of viewing others through God’s eyes, while “Empty,” which features Michael Tait (dc talk, Tait) on background vocals, speaks of every believer’s sufficiency in Christ.
If any constructive criticism should be given, it’s that Building 429 seems to be holding out on us. At times during the set, the band emotes a sense of urgency bigger than its music (witness the sublime yet insubstantial foundation of mid-tempo cut “I Believe”). Then there are cases like “Now That It’s Over,” where it appears the guys are ready to cut loose only to stop short, leaving the listener somewhat denied. But underneath it all, Rise still represents a step in the right direction for a band with great potential. It’s refreshing to see a group that’s not afraid to throw off the chains of market dictates and push its music toward the brink. David McCreary
In the Company of Angels II: The World Will Sing
File under: Praise & Worship
A conventional take on modern worship
A quick glance at Caedmon’s Call’s discography reveals two distinctive stylistic directions over the band’s almost 10-year career. After the success of the band’s self-titled debut and sophomore disc, 40 Acres, college kids (and their parents alike) couldn’t get enough of the group’s homegrown, acoustic-based sound.
It’s a prototype that Caedmon’s could’ve probably stuck to without many complaints, yet Cliff Young and his cohorts weren’t satisfied with merely staying the same. And the results of taking chances certainly paid off as 2000’s Long Line of Leavers and 2004’s Share the Well were nothing short of exquisite.
Now, as the follow-up release to Share the Well’s adventurous foray into world music that was inspired by the band’s life-changing trip to India, In the Company of Angels II: The World Will Sing feels like a step back in a more conventional direction — one that’s rather bland at times. And while there’s certainly plenty to love about a congregational-friendly project that doesn’t feature covers of the tried-and-true praise songs, there are few standout moments that separate Angels from anything already available in the worship music realm.
Things get off to a promising start, however, with the mid-tempo “Great and Mighty,” a song with catchy guitar riffs and verses easy enough for a church audience to pick up in no time. Unfortunately, the next few songs don’t fare as well with little to distinguish them from each other, even when Cliff and Danielle Young trade off lead singing duties.
But a welcome change of pace comes six songs in with “The Fountain,” a confessional track any believer can relate to as it expresses the need to go to God in times of uncertainty and doubt and for repentance. While that’s a pretty basic sentiment of the Christian faith, there’s something so rich and heartfelt about the way it’s conveyed here. Ditto for “Be Merciful to Me” with Danielle’s unique vocal sound and simple piano accompaniment that let the simple message of the song shine through.
Ultimately, when compared with the first In the Company of Angels disc, the sequel quite possibly outshines the original. But once somebody’s heard what Caedmon’s is capable of when it ventures beyond the typical worship fare, it’s difficult not to be a little disappointed when the band doesn’t. Christa A. Banaster
File under: Pop/Rock
A promising second step
Thanks to his 2004 R&B flavored debut, Even More, many may assume recording artist Anthony Evans is a purveyor of urban grooves. Yet his sophomore release Letting Go is actually a disc full of well-executed Christian pop/rock with a smattering of soul.
Yes, it’s true that Evans has spent studio and stage time with the likes of Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin. But the time he spent on the road last year with FFH and Matthew West (who surfaces here as a co-writer) seems to have made a more profound artistic impact on him. The co- producers selected — Matt Bronleewe and Watermark’s Nathan Nockels — have built their own resume crafting modern pop showcases for a variety of artists, and they skillfully shepherd the transformation of Evans into a more straight-ahead pop act.
Unless missing Evans as an R&B maestro becomes a speed bump, it is quite easy to latch onto Letting Go. Each selection is delivered cleanly, and the pacing — from crunchy opening rocker “Good Enough” to anthemic first single “I Choose Now” to power ballad “Meaningless” — is brisk. The lyrical themes are straightforward and, as indicated by the title, often refer to Evans’ recent lessons in using God’s standards to measure success rather than his own.
The main criticism of Letting Go is that it sounds a bit generic at times. The lyrics are relatable but not groundbreaking; the melodies are accessible yet not overly ingratiating; and, as a vocalist, Evans is engaging and robust but just a shade removed from compelling or warm.
Time should work well on Anthony Evans, though, as he continues to let go and become more comfortable in his artistic skin.
A Grateful People
File under: Praise & Worship
Quite the parting gift
For nearly a decade, Nathan and Christy Nockels have been molding and sculpting excellent works of art, sometimes messy and sometimes careful, fascinated by worship, consistently creating for God’s pleasure, in a lovely chaos.
And listeners have come alongside the sojourn of truth in a synergy that possessed them to kneel by the thousands in prayerful reverence at one concert in Sherman, Texas; to adopt one album or another as the soundtrack of their lives; to pick up a guitar or put their lips to a mic on Wednesday nights in the youth basement and give a new crowd of listeners a healthy portion.
And now, Watermark’s final bow comes in the form of A Grateful People, a compilation of Christy and Nathan’s favorites recorded live among friends at their home church. The going away party also includes a herd of buddies, including Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Ed Cash and Point of Grace.
A Grateful People combines Watermark standards and Passion faves such as “Take Me There” (always an excellent showcase for Christy’s buttery, reverberating voice), a seamless medley of the title track and the hymn “Bless The Lord” (featuring Tomlin) and “Arise and Be Comforted,” for which Shane & Shane pop in (this song was also Shane Everett’s personal anthem shortly after his salvation). Look for the somber “Knees To The Earth,” which was written and performed in under an hour at the legendary OneDay Passion Conference in Texas in 2003, and an interpretive medley of the classic hymn “In The Garden” along with Lenny LeBlanc’s “There Is None Like You.”
As Nathan and Christy move on to full-time parenthood and new ministry, A Grateful People epitomizes the definition of “watermark” they encountered when they started out as worship leaders in Houston in 1997: “An impression only visible when held up to the Light.”
The Lonely Hearts
Tooth & Nail
File under: Rock
A long way from Holland?
Little did the band formerly known as Holland realize that its maiden release, 2003’s Photographs & Tidalwaves (Tooth & Nail), was an identity crisis of sorts. You see, brothers Will and Josiah Holland grew up in a music-loving family, one that paid its respects to such greats as Bob Dylan, The Band and Gram Parsons, not the conventionality of Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters, and the shimmering rock sounds of their national debut.
Now, three years later, and more interested in making their parents and The Beatles proud than succumbing to fickle pop trends, “Holland” re-christened itself as “The Lonely Hearts” and recorded Paper Tapes, an effort they claim is the closest to their creative heart.
Though they’re not as Americana-influenced as they let on — their website goes on at length about their deep admiration for roots music, almost to the point of crowning them heirs to the Neil Young estate — Paper Tapes is most adequately described as a placid acoustic rock record with a big, insistent pop-shaped heart. Think The Thrills meets The Byrds, with added traces of Snow Patrol and Gin Blossoms for an air of modernity.
“Passive Aggressive” is an apropos testament to this shift in direction both in title and style, a pop/rock jewel with slight Brit affectations and an infectious chorus. Though Will sings, “I can’t believe in anything that feels like honey, honey,” ironically the set can’t help but drip with sweetness, a trend that continues with the melodic indelibility of “Love and Politics” and “Heartbreaker,” two songs that are diametrically opposed in compositional delivery yet similar in the spirit they evoke.
Country elements — a slide guitar solo here, jangled sonics there, harmonies with a hint of twang over there — invade The Lonely Hearts’ methodology in spots, but they never become the centerpiece of their blue-collar brand of folksy pop/rock, one so sunny that it gravitates more intently towards California’s shores than America’s heartland. At times, they’ll fool you, like in the impossibly countrified “Love Comes Quickly,” but, at its core, Paper Tapes is adult alternative music in a blissful pop guise, a mature triumph for a band whose members are still in their twenties.
Well Meaning Fiction
File under: Alternative Pop
Cause for debate
Minnesota winters can be cause for reflection, self-analysis and praying for spring. They’ve also played muse to some great songs. The Mary Tyler Moore theme, sure, but I was mostly thinking of “Skyway” by the Replacements. Another in that vein is “Overnight On Nicolet,” from the debut album by Mainstay, Well Meaning Fiction.
“Must have been that winter cold,” the song begins, before describing the rather joyless life that has befallen the singer/ songwriter, Justin Anderson, who’s seeking a return to the faith of his youth, his first love in Christ. Whether it’s the winter’s influence or the Scandinavian heritage of many of the area’s natives, there is a sternness, a seriousness that underlies these unfailingly appealing, if often predictable, alternative pop songs.
Veteran producer Aaron Sprinkle (Starflyer 59, Falling Up) adds a nostalgic mid-’90s tone (think Vervepipe’s hit, “The Freshman”) with just the right layers of guitars and synth washes to create a sterling support for Anderson’s effecting vocals. Joined in this three-piece by Ryan DeYounge and Dan Ostebo, Mainstay will need support producing these lush musical environs live.
For his part, Anderson has strong opinions and doesn’t hesitate to say what’s on his mind, writing from time to time of a “they” with whom he disagrees. Of course, tracks like “These Pages,” which invite God’s Spirit to lead us through the Scriptures, or “Yesterday,” which condemns living in the past, will connect across the board. But some Christians might wonder if his reference to those who’ve dumbed down the gospel message in the title track is a judgement of them.
Brian Q. Newcomb
Reason to Live
File under: Pop/Worship
Reason to worship
Jaime Jamgochian might have a last name that is hard to pronounce, but this woman’s got a sincere heart for worship and tremendous songwriting talent. With her national debut, Reason to Live, Jaime became the flagship artist for Centricity Records, a Seattle-based label run by industry veteran John Mays (one-time A&R guy for Point of Grace and Nichole Nordeman).
If you think Jaime’s release is just another debut in a sea of worship leaders turned commercial artists, think again. With every song, Jaime wears her heart on her sleeve, and one doesn’t have to see her beaming face to sense that every word comes from a sincere, honest place.
While attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Jaime had the opportunity to perform backing vocals for several mainstream acts, including Carly Simon. However, after a friend led her to Christ when she was 21, Jaime was certain she could sing of nothing else but the love of Christ, and that’s what she’s been doing ever since.
While her lyrics are vertical in nature, the melody is pure pop. Jaime’s first single and the title track, “Reason to Live,” showcases the fun, energetic mix found throughout the record. “You Are” is just downright infectious and is probably the most up-tempo song on the album. But don’t let the energy fool you; this record is full of worshipful moments.
The stand-out cut “Hear My Worship” has to be the most moving song on the album as she sings, “Beyond this bended knee/Beyond the words I speak/Beyond the songs I sing/Hear my worship.” Jaime’s soft, angelic voice is often reminiscent of an early Twila Paris, yet at other times her hooks sound more like Point of Grace. Perhaps this is why Jaime has been connecting so well recently with teenage girls while leading worship around the country for “Girls of Grace” conferences.
Combine her energy and pop sensibilities with her worship-evoking lyrics, and you’ve got yourself an exceptional worship leader. Although Jaime’s sound is nothing new and her debut doesn’t capture her potential, it’s a solid start to a career as a well-respected worship leader.
Warren Barfield Reach (Essential)
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Live…I’m Amazed DVD (INO)
Caedmon’s Call In The Company Of Angels II (Essential)
Anthony Evans Letting Go (INO)
GRITS 7 (Gotee) Ana Laura
Ana Laura (Reunion)
Jadon Lavik Life on the Inside (BEC)
Shawn McDonald Ripen (Sparrow)
Petra Farewell DVD (Inpop)
Sevenglory Over the Rooftops (7 Spin)
Building 429 Rise (Word)
By the Tree Hero of My Soul (Fervent)
Pocket Full of Rocks Song to the King (Myrrh)
George Beverly Shea I’d Rather Have Jesus (Word)
Watermark A Grateful People (Rocketown)
eleventyseven And the Land of Fake Believe (Flicker)
Take 6 Feels Good (Take 6 Records)
Family Force 5 Business Up Front, Party in the Back (Maverick/Gotee)
Jonas Brothers It’s About Time (INO/Columbia)
Kutless Hearts of the Innocent (BEC)
Copyright © 2006 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.
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