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Ultimate Music Makeover: The Songs of Michael W. Smith
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Rocketown
Length: 9/37:48 (review version; release is to feature ten songs)

A question for the discerning music fan: If a label releases a tribute record to its own founder, and one of the songs is performed by that label founder's own son, is the project just a touch self-serving? Following the lead of the recent Charlie Peacock project, Rocketown has put together a tribute/re-interpretation album of Michael W.
Smith's songs.

Smith has always been a mixed batch to me, following the radio friendly trends of CCM, while writing songs for other artists, and recently embracing the legacy of Rich Mullins.  His voice is an acquired taste, with a graininess that can sometimes detract from the quality of the songwriting and piano ability that Smith possesses in

A breakdown of the songs reveals a good cross section of Smith's career.  "You Need a Savior"(Sarah Kelly) receives a major update in style which leaves it sounding fairly modern. Smith's son Ryan chips in his version of "The Race is On" which is performed in an acoustic, almost '70's style that betrays the weakness in his voice.

"Rocketown" is a smoother version of the original, as done by Shaun Groves, and David Crowder's portrayal of "Secret Ambition" varies little from the original.  Plumb's take on "Pray for Me" is much faster from start to finish, and should appeal to younger fans, who find the original to be plodding.

"Missing Person" (Tree63) is an adult alternative piece here, fitting somewhere between Vertical Horizon and Duncan Sheik.  Todd Agnew's re-working of "On the Other Side" is heavier than its predecessor, and features a deeper vocal.  Taylor Sorenson's "Lamu" is almost the same as Smith's, but done in a higher key.  All Star United adds "Go West Young Man," which has a Steve Taylor-lite sound.

The biggest disappointment here is that the pre-release does not include the song which Smith will ultimately be known for.  "Friends," sung nationwide at every church camp during the mid 80's to early '90's, has been re-recorded by… Stryper.

Like Smith's albums, this disc is an amalgam of various styles, designed to appeal to several different audiences.  It is somewhat surprising that there are only ten songs, and no appearance by Chris Rice, Ginny Owens, or George Rowe.

Brian A. Smith
24 July 2005

Ultimate Music Makeover is a unique creation in that other artists are invited to redo their favorite songs from Michael W. Smith and put whatever spin they want on the songs. Many tribute albums would focus on the best songs from an artist but not this project. This results in some interesting songs appearing on this album, such as "Lamu."

Ultimate Music Makeover starts off strong with great tracks from All Star United, Sarah Kelly, and Shaun Groves. All Star United starts things off with an interesting rock version of the Smitty crossover-class "Go West Young Man." Sarah Kelly rocks "You Need a Savior." Things continue to rock and stay on a high note with a Shaun Groves cover of "Rocketown," with some grinding guitars. At this point in the album, all three songs have been completely made over to be rock songs and they have never sounded better. All three of these songs will do well to introduce these Smitty songs to fans that might not have listened to them before, including those who are too young to remember them when they were popular.

Unfortunately, the album hits a low note with the David Crowder Band cover of "Secret Ambition" which is amped up more than the original, but no where near enough to classify as an "ultimate music makeover." This is closer to a simple cover and while it does well at that, the aim of the album is not simple covers.  Tiffany Arbuckle aka Plumb tackles "Pray for Me" and adds more of a dance feel to the song but its effectiveness falls somewhere between that of the first three songs on this album and the David Crowder Band track. Another weak track is "The Race is On," which is covered by Smitty's son, Ryan. Ryan's voice has the nasal sound that could be found in some of his Dad's albums, which becomes distracting and even annoying to many fans, who will skip this track.

The aim of this album is a very interesting one, to feature artists adding their own spin to classics from Michael W. Smith, but it could have been tweaked. The album would have been stronger if they had done more to focus on more of his popular songs, instead of songs like "Lamu" that only die-hard fans know. Producers also could have done more to make some of the tracks actual makeovers instead of sounding like your average covers.

Burton Wray  8/12/2005

The Ultimate Makeover:The Songs of Michael W.Smith is an album that features many of today's modern artists offering their version of class MWS hits. I am not a big fan of tribute albums. I might get a track of two that I like, but I am a firm believer in the fact that the original music is always better. That is the way it is supposed to be, right? If it ain't broken, why try to fix it? And my first listens did nothing to change my opinion.

However, Ultimate Makeover has proven to be a very sneaky album. Once I let my preconceived notions drop and let the makeover take place, I find myself going back to many of these tracks for my own listening enjoyment. This tribute isn't so bad.

A reunion of All Star United can only be a good thing, Ian Eskelin is a much overlooked talent. "Go West Young Man" is pop rock fun with a ton of finesse and energy draws you headlong into this project. Sarah Kelly's offers up a cranking take on "You Need A Saviour" next.  Shaun Groves cover of "Rocketown" is a standout track here. Double timing it from the get-go, Groves brings this one into the 21st century big time while remaining faithful to the original. Much the same can be said of David Crowder's "Secret Ambition."  Styrper's approaches the sacred territory of "Friends" and comes away a real winner.  

MWS must be the proud papa upon hearing son Ryan's version of "The Race Is On." It is one of my favorites. Subtle, steady 4/4 rock is a touch of country, there is a uniqueness to Ryan's voice that brings me back time after time. Tracks by Plumb, Taylor Sorensen, Tree63, and Todd Agnew round out the slate here.

If  there is anyone who deserves this tribute, it is Michael W. Smith. From Amy Grant's opening act to Top 40 hits to becoming a groundbreaker of modern worship, he is one of the Christian community leaders.
Bob Felberg  9/18/2005



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