Touring recently with Noel Richards, YFriday are generating quite a bit of excitement. Their Rainmaker album reveals them to be another pop-rock act strongly influenced by U2, but they're no Delirious? clones. A few of the arrangements could be a little tighter and the sound is occasionally a little "dry," but their debut album contains a set of songs most of which would work comfortably in either a performance or a corporate setting. "Part of Me" has a hint of the driving pop-rock that Catatonia have become known for, while the title track is shaped around some unusual percussive sounds that really make it stand out. Extensive touring should serve to hone the talents of this already promising band.
Another strong release is the Eucharist album released through Proost. The CD is a collection of music and words which were used for the Sunday morning service at last year's Greenbelt festival. The service was widely regarded as one of the best the festival had seen and the album reflects that strength. A complete range of emotions is covered over the course of the album, through music which moves from energetic through to more meditative material, all with a cutting-edge dance feel and some tasty melodies. Some listeners might not want the vocal side of the album (particularly if looking at using material from it in their own production) so an instrumental version is also available. An excellent release.
South Africa's Tree have proved popular on a couple of UK tours. Their latest album, Overflow, reveals them to be producing music which is a clear example of that hazy world of worship/performance crossover. The band are obviously influenced by U2 and the album is extremely reminiscent of October, to the point where the similarities become irritating. The band are obviously competent as they manage to reproduce the sound well, but it would be nice to hear something more original.
Delirious? fans and followers of Jewish music are not usually groups which share much ground. But those are the two groups who will probably want to check out Barry and Batya Segal's Sh'ma Yisrael (Hear O Israel) given the fact that it was produced by Martin Smith. The producers have obviously worked hard on the atmosphere of this album, and have done it rather well. Sometimes it would be nice to hear the enticing Jewish melodies take centre stage a little more, but this is a release worth listening to.
Martin Smith's obviously been too busy with delirious? and production work to keep up his involvement in Soul Survivor's People's Album series. The second volume continues the pattern of selecting songs written by those attending the annual Soul Survivor events and bringing in a group of musicians to record them. Matt Redman and friends stick to their familiar 'pop-rock with the odd programmed beat' territory for most of these tracks, with Beth Redman (ex-WWMT) among those leading a few dancier numbers. Perhaps by virtue of their writers's inexperience these songs have a freshness which more established worship leaders often lose, and while the music is certainly not groundbreaking, the album is a laudable initiative competently managed. Perhaps next time they could explore involving the songwriters in the recording process.
The Soul Survivor team also managed to find time to put together a live album from last year's event. These are usually among the better live worship releases each year, although the formula rarely changes from one year to the next. It would be good to hear a bit more variety in the vocals--Tim Hughes, Martyn Layzell, and Matt Redman share an almost identical vocal style--and the production doesn't quite convey the energy it hints at, but Led To the Lost is a good vehicle for this year's songs.
Survivor Records's other recent live release was recorded at the Stoneleigh event and is dominated by Paul Oakley. Oakley's pop-rock sound is funkier than that of the Soul Survivor crowd with a retro touch which varies in its power. The sound sometimes feels a little muffled, but Revive99@Stoneleigh will appeal to pop-rock fans who want some worship music which steps out from the Soul Survivor assembly line.
Years before anyone had heard of Matt Redman and Company, the songs of Dave Bilbrough inspired many. A group of musicians including Phil Keaggy, Sheila Walsh, Sue Rinaldi, Noel Richards, Mal Pope, Paul Oakley, and Lou Fellingham (Phatfish) pay tribute to his influence an offer their own interpretations of his songs on Let There Be Love. The vocal combination of Sue Rinaldi and Phil Keaggy is a strange one, and their laid-back Beatlesque take on "So Freely" is a prime example of the contrived feel of much of the album which results in an unfortunately unsatisfying album.
A surprise release is a best of from the Spring Harvest Praise Mix. A two CD set, The Ultimate Praise Mix gathers together songs from Praise Mixes dating back to 1994. With contributions from a range of well recognized names (Split Level's Adrian Thompson, Iain Archer, Booley, Simon Goodall, Stu Garrard, Charlie Ingram) it's a fairly nice collection of pop-rock and pop-dance worship songs--the songs generally work in these arrangements--but nowhere near so strong or radical as the 1997 Spring Harvest R:Age album. If you're new to the series this may be worth a listen, but those already familiar with the series probably won't want to own the tracks again.
The MAYC Orchestra's latest release, Let Everything That Has Breath features yet another cameo from Matt Redman and quite a few of his songs. Led by Craig McLeish (anyone remember Fat and Frantic?) The orchestra have proved popular at a range of events and their undeniable ability comes across well here. But it would have been nice to hear them explore some more interesting material. While the songs are not bad in themselves and the arrangements are consistent with the tone of the material, it doesn't really show the strengths of the orchestra in the best light.