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December 2008 Short Bits

Sweet Life
Artist: Avion Blackman
Label: Lion of Zion
Blackman's music is light, breezy Reggae & island beats with soothing vocals over the top. Only when husband Mark Mohr (Christafari) guests on 3 songs do we vary from the formula.  The vocals are reminiscent of Jody Watley, Lauryn Hill, or Sade's "Smooth Operator."  The formula is a winning one, helping you chill out and focus on a Sweet Life in Christ both musically and lyrically.  Highlights include "Yeshua" (featuring David Fohe of Imisi), "Forgiveness," and "You" (featuring Mohr), though the whole disc is consistently good.  If you want to relax to island music with a positive message, this disc is for you.   (Jonathan Nelson)

A Merry Little Christmas
Artist: Matt Brouwer
Label: Black Shoe Records
Brouwer delivers a short set of Christmas tunes, starting with a jazzy rendition of "A Holly Jolly Christmas."  He then delves into classic crooner mode with the standard "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  Many of this generation of singers grew up on "A Charlie Brown Christmas," as did I.  It seems almost de rigeur to cover "Christmas Time is Here" in tribute to Vince Guaraldi's classic Soundtrack to that special.  Brouwer does that here, with the quiet reverence for the tune that one would expect.  The Brouwer original "Angels Sing" rounds out this collection.  The new tune is fine & the covers are all well done, but nothing stands above the multitude of Christmas projects out every year. (Jonathan Nelson)

Artist: Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven
Label: Compass Records
A great banjo player (and former investment banker), Brown brings lots of fun to these (mostly) instrumental offerings.  The music jumps from choral (the University School of Nashville Middle School Chorale sings on 2 tracks) to jazz to bluegrass to pop with ease. Guest Joe Craven adds Fiddle and Mandolin on top of the Quartet's tasty Christmas treats.  The music leans more toward the secular than sacred, but still lends itself to a festive listening experience.  Similar to Bela Fleck's newest Christmas disc, this is an eclectic and fun set of music.  Among the songs are covers from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the Chipmunks, and "A Charlie Brown Christmas," so let this take you back to memories of your childhood.  Recommended for anyone that enjoys a fusion of pop, folk, jazz and bluegrass. (Jonathan Nelson)

Wife (EP)
Artist: The Chapters
Label: ©2008 Independent
When I first received this disc, I was not sure what to think from the artwork. A partially dressed man and woman are viewed from the neck to the knees sitting on the edge of a bed. I slipped the disc in and was pleasantly surprised by the music. A mix of predominantly Cure-esque sensibility with a feel of the Autumns and Radiohead off in the distance invaded my eardrums. It got my attention. Upon much further listening, I was somewhat taken aback by the lyrical content. The subject matter is of an adult manner, at times overtly crude, and dealing with sensual and sexual intimacy. It is boring and repetitive in its depiction of a woman as an object. If this is your thing, then check the Chapters out. This will probably become a Frisbee. Freedom of expression can be a good thing, if dealing with real life issues. I just hope the lyrical thought is from that vantage point, rather than an excuse for artistic freedom. The music cannot make up for the sadly empty lyrical direction. Sadly, I was somewhat disheartened and disgusted.

A Crack In The Mask (EP)
Artist: The Class War
Label: ©2008 Independent
Starting in Lafayette, LA at the start of this decade, The Class War has undergone two name changes. First a punk band, Beat The System (kind of reminds of some ‘80’s band), and then becoming a British-influenced indie/pop/rock outfit, The Fashion, their latest incarnation is an energetic indie rock sound that should garner attention from college radio heads. In March, the band played several SXSW showcases, though they play mostly regional gigs to this point.
Standout cuts on this brief disc are “Love Is” and “Put Your Lips On Me”. This is a fluid EP, yet I wish for more. I need more of The Class War. (thecannyshark)

Artist: Dizmas
Label: Credential Recordings
Caught somewhere between aggressive emo and straight ahead rock, Dizmas' second release, Tension, portrays a band struggling to be mature, yet still appeal to the teen/college crowd that responded to the first buzz about them.  (Note: something worked.  The band has been signed to ForeFront and part of this disc has already been repackaged.) The lyrics are honest, albeit somewhat plaintive at times.  There's a difficulty for older listeners to identify with the feelings of a song like "Jealousy Hurts" when they've experienced much greater sorrow in their lives.  The band's target audience, however, should eat this up with a spoon. "Shake It Off" is driving rock, and "See Daylight" bridges the gap between emo and rock.  "Play It Safe" addresses the perils of keeping everything inside.  The band seems to be pleading with its listeners to learn from their mistakes, rather than having to experience them. While it's a noble concept, it's also wishful thinking, boys.  I don't mean to diminish the emotions behind the songs, but the desired "tension" here is somewhat lacking. (Brian A. Smith) 

Give Away Your Hearts
Artist: Give Away Your Hearts
Label    Indie
 With a straight ahead rock approac is solid with steady, wave-crashing drums, soaring guitars and a consistently soulful vocalist.  The songs reflect an evangelistic zeal for the urgency of the Gospel as they take a clear-eyed look at the world around them.   This band has brought together theme, style, content and production and built a sound as original as it is passionate.  In the dime-a-dozen world of alt rock, this is no easy task.  Their music reflects a world weariness, and a drive to rock in a uniquely heavenly way.   One suggestion, guys.  Next time.......more songs please!   (Terry Roland)

The Story So Far
Artist: Lunasa
Label: Compass Records 
Length: 16/67:19 
This one was sure to be tough: my lack of familiarity with Lunasa's previous work was going to be a hindrance in reviewing this disc.  Lo and behold, I do a little research and find out that The Story So Far_ is a retrospective that combines pieces from their first six albums. First impression: Traditional Irish instrumental fare, done admirably well, with playinh and an engaging anthem-like style, this Southern California band offers an all-too-short five song CD.  The instrumentationg more effective than that of the Waterboys, and comparable to Nickel Creek's musicality at others.  Each song creates a mental picture behind the music ("Morning Nightcap" evokes a last drink before falling asleep after a night of music and pubs). Upon repeated listens, I notice the uilleann pipes, and think of U2 and Van Morrison.  After a dizzying array of jigs and reels, though, I wish for lyrics, and the stories behind the songs.  The fiddle on "Killarney's Boys of Pleasure" would make Sara Watkins sit up and take notice.  The only problem here (and it's a minor one) is this: Unless you are very familiar with this band, it's impossible to identify one song from the next.  Still, The Story So Far, a fishing sweater, and a hot cup of freshly brewed tea wouldn't be a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon. (Brian A. Smith) 

Artist: Meryll
Label: ©2007 Esotype Records
Jangly mid-western sensibility much in the vein of Wilco, the Merbabies, and Son Volt, Meryll has crafted an almost laid back disc. This Austin, Texas band has an alt-country, Americana, and a slight shoegaze element mixed with nasally thin tenor-like vocals. The weakest cuts are the first half-instrumental number and the last cut, which is one long drawn out day in the wife of a mother and her kids waiting for carpeting to be delivered. In between, the brunt of this disc has an airy vibe that melds well with a rural country drive. It is laid back, subdued, yet strong in the middle. (thecannyshark)

Ten Thousand Tongues (EP)
Artist: The Mirror Stage 
Label: ©2008 Independent 
The Mirror Stage's debut EP is a five-song EP that plays like a grandiose work. Drawing from influences such writers as Samuel Beckett, Thomas Pynchon, Ezekiel, and T.S. Eliot, wordsmith/vocalist/guitarist James McNally, in his words, attempts " take all of these disconnected sources and weave them in a story that attempts to make sense of a world in which the atomic bomb and Lazarus are supposed to coexist. Our best and worst as a society are both present in each of the songs." St. Louis, MO, had better know what they have with this inventive young band. Their indie style speaks of Radiohead mixed with elements of Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire sprinkled in for good measure. Strong lyrics and unorthodox instrumentation make the Mirror Stage recognizable in a sea of saturated music.  (thecannyshark)

A Footprint of Feelings
Artist: Moonlit Sailor
Label: ©2008 Friend Of Mine
This post-rock band from Sweden is much in the same vein as other counterparts Explosions In The Sky, Saxon Shore, Six Parts Seven, and Unwed Sailor to name a few. Non-assuming in nature, there are patterns of swelling and subsiding, like an ocean wave are pounded out in this modern rock masterpiece. This may sound to my wife as constant noise going nowhere, but I personally get it. With songs like the title, “Night Stroll” and “Waterfall”, it compares easily to the crescendo and decrescendo of a classical orchestral suite. The rising and falling is what can easily draw the listener in, Regrettably, much of the post-rock genre will not catch on in any vein of the mainstream or the “alternative rock” mainstream. This is a good thing for those fans that want to keep this stuff to themselves, but a larger audience is missing out on something beautiful in this music without words. I just wish this were longer.  (thecannyshark)

Days Are Mighty
Artist: Jeb Loy Nichols
Label: Compass Records
Length: 11/33:19
I'm not sure it would be possible to make a more relaxed record than Days Are Mighty.  It feels like a comfortable sweater while sitting around talking with friends about nothing in particular.  Nichols takes a meandering pace, telling his tales with an understated amusement about life and its pitfalls, and about returning to the comforts of home. "My Kind" is sort of a lite rock power pop jazz piece (think Mr. Mister meets Steely Dan) that documents a return to familiar haunts. "Days Are Mighty" combines Colin Hay with Seal.  "25 Years Too Late" laments missed opportunities to make amends, while "Can't Find the Words" addresses an issue personal to me ­ writers' block. "After November" finds beauty in bleakness, and should have been recorded by Over the Rhine or Dusty Springfield.  "That's Not What She Said to Me" begs the question ­ ddo people change, or become more skilled at lying?  "Let's Not Fall" offers an interesting perspective on choosing friendship over romantic love, but is it based on fear, or the laziness of the work required in a relationship? Days Are Mighty would be a good soundtrack to taking a nap, which sounds like an odd compliment.  But that's exactly how it feels ­ warm, comforting, and easy, almost to  the point of missing what Nichols has to say.  Not a bad way to insure repeated listening, though. (Brian A. Smith)

Signs of Life (EP) 
Artist: The Pharaohs of Rhythm
Label: ©2008 Independent 
This little ditty of a disc hearkens back to some of '70's progressive rock bands (ELP, Yes, Marillion) with a slight jam band vibe (Gov't Mule, Umphrey's McGee). Hailing from Minneapolis, MN, this power trio has created a healthy sonic feast for the ears. The first cut, "When The Lights Went Out," has a determined, yet playful guitar element from the get-go. "You Know The Number" has an ELP/Pink Floyd trip vibe going. I especially love the song "The Rabbit" because of the unique rhythms and the Jethro Tull-like flute. For a debut, there is some diverse chunk here. (thecannyshark )

True North
Artist: Kim Richardson
Label  Independent
Kim Richardson's sophomore CD, True North is a solid collection of original folk songs in the tradition of the best of the singer-songwriter tradition.  Her voice is reminiscent of Carole King, but she has taken that sweet voice into an attractive form of folk with a sensible rock feel including a stripped down foundation and a Dylanesque, Blonde on Blonde era feel.  The songs are consistently well arranged and exceptionally written with strong lyrics, melodies and a fresh, intimate sound.  What brings all of this together is the inspired unique sound of her voice soaring above the music and straight into our hearts. (Terry Roland)

Glory in the Highest: a Christmas Record
Artist: Shane and Shane
Label: Inpop
It is probably easier to call this a new Shane & Shane project, rather than a new Christmas album.  The lyrics are certainly classic Christmas, as are some of the melodies.  But even when so, the phrasings and harmonizing are prototypical Shane & Shane.  Fans of the guys will love this new disc, but I don't think this will lead to any new converts.  The highlights are "O Holy Night" and "O Come Let Us Adore Him," which open and close the disc respectively.  The bread is nice, but the filling of the sandwich is a little mushy.  (Jonathan Nelson)

{All That We'll  Ever Need}
Artist   Jake Smith
Label:  Rocktown Records
Jake Smith has lived through hurricanes, car accidents and his parent's cancer along with the expected accompanying doubts, fears and depression.  {All That We'll Ever Need} a six song follow up to his first CD, Real , demonstrates how an artist's craft can deepen with the hardships encountered in this life.   Gifted with a Michael Franks like jazz vocal sound his voice, deceptively pleasant, explores the landscape of love, loss and hope through his relationship with Christ.  He asks questions in the lyrics, he contemplates, but he always ends with hope.  "This is Certain" pays tribute to his hometown, New Orleans, in the aftermath of Katrina.   The insightful element of this song is the honesty and the hope that is offered in the sweetness of the lyrics.  He obviously loves his city he sings even if it happens again and no one can explain why, 'the sun will shine and all will be made new again.'    This is a CD of hope-filled optimism and a strong awareness of the grace offered in this life.  The beauty of the melodies, the simple jazz, textures, the strength of these fresh lyrics and the soothing sound of his voice, Jake Smith's new CD is a much needed healer .  (Terry Roland)

Reggae Redemption Song
Artists: Various
Label: Lion of Zion Entertainment: Nashville
God's business in art is mirrored in his relationship to humanity, redemption.   Reggae music has a long historical identification with the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica.  At the root of the Rastafarian faith, are the seeds of Christianity, re-interpreted through history and the social/cultural struggle of the oppressed people in Jamaica.   Like its blues and soul counterpart in North America, Reggae is also an extension of the joy and ecstasy humanity expresses to God.   In bringing historic Christian themes and the consistent worldview of orthodox Christianity, the artists on this album have skillfully redeemed the music back to its rightful place.   These are authentic Reggae artists with their feet on earth and their hearts in the truth of heaven.   Their talent is phenomenal, the musicianship skilled, the arranging full of dynamics and range while the songwriting is first rate reflecting no derivatives at all.    This is an odyssey into the heart of the cultural redemptive power of Jesus Christ reflecting how freely God restores humanity and art to the fullness of life. 
(Terry Roland) 

Artist: Various 
Label: Consuming Worship
Time: 10 Tracks/ 41:20 
This compilation project from the new label Consuming Worship is just that, worship that will consume you. All ten tracks are relaxing, relevant and wonderful to just sit back, listen to and reflect on who Christ is and what He has done for us through the years. According to Consuming Worship Management Principal, Tim Curtis, “Songs and writers were chosen for the album based upon their focus-we wanted songwriters and songs that were concentrated on the church and the worshipper. These are the songs the church needs to sing, stories that need to be told and lyrics that cry to be experienced again and again.” Let me tell you that they hit the nail directly on the head with this one! All the songs are very melodic, the lyrics are very concentrated on the worshipper and they will allow you to go deeper into your walk with Christ.  In my opinion this one is a must have. It moved me spiritually and would be a perfect stocking stuffer this holiday season!! So go out and purchase it today!  (Trish Cooper)

Your Name
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Integrity
Time: 34:24
Your Name is described as a “concept album” which “offers musical portraits of God’s character.” Each song focuses on a different attribute (Life, Healer, Father, etc.) The vocals on the songs are mostly collaborations from artists like Phil Wickham, Paul Baloche, Lincoln Brewster, Leeland Moring, Mark Stuart, and others. The album’s highlight is the title track, which is performed by Wickham and Baloche. While individually there are few standout tracks, the project as a whole is a success. There is a cohesiveness even with the eclectic group of contributors. Each song is well-produced and would comfortably fit in any modern worship service. With that said, this CD doesn’t necessarily break new ground in the worship arena. But if someone is willing to embrace the “concept” of the album, it could be a useful tool in exploring God’s many characters. (Shawn Dickinson)

The Bloodchronicles
Artist: Warlight
Label: ©2007 Whirlwind Records
For fans of the Misfits and the Clash, comparisons never tasted sweeter. The rowdy music that provided a generation of punk rockers with some meat can be sensed here, but with a spiritual twist. This has been in my rotation for a while now. The disc is raucous, cohesive, and solidly produced.You would never know this to be a Norwegian band, but Warlight gives the impression of a sweaty, tattooed, heart-on-sleeve band playing in dimly lit dives pumping their fists in unison. Hard to pick, the stand out tracks include “Death To Babylon”, “Snake Blood”, “Drive Me In The Firewagon”, and “Hypocrites And Alibis”. Get your hands on this if you can. (thecannyshark)

The Sound The Steel (EP)
Artist: The Wedding
Label: ©2008 Brave New World
New vocalist, Matt Sheldon, has seamlessly fit right in with the latest theme-based EP, "The Sound The Steel". Once the train starts, the music does not slow down, until the end of the line ("Redeem"). The one-word titles use alliteration to bring their points home: "Receive," "Return," "Renew," "Reveal," and the closing anthem, "Redeem." Solid modern rock and punk leanings thread throughout this disc to make the experience memorable. (thecannyshark )

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