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Love And War
Artist: Barlow Girl
Label: Word Entertainment/Fervent Records
Tracks: 11 tracks/43:08 minutes
Pounding drums, pulsating rhythms and tight harmonies. These are the trademark items that abound on the newest release by Barlow Girl. The darlings of middle school Christian music fans everywhere return with their best and strongest effort yet. Rebecca, Alyssa & Lauren Barlow have assembled a group of tunes that will have the kids dancing and bouncing all over the place.
The album was produced by Otto Price for Twelve-18 Entertainment, he also handled the recording as well as the A&R direction. Otto also filled in on any instruments that the girls chose to let him. The eleven tunes on the album are all originals written by "Barlow Girl". The ladies also handle and share all of the lead vocals and harmonies. Thees consist of mainly one taking the lead with the other two adding background chores. Because of being sisters, the vocals blend almost flawlessly. I would have preferred to see some more vocal interplay ala "Maeve", it would just have added to the overall feel of the album but then that's just my opinion.
The band has delivered a just about perfect package to their target audience which judging from meet & greet lines at Rev-Gen has become quite sizable.
Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock
You can hear the urgency in BarlowGirl’s Love and War. The opening “Come Alive” starts with, “Wake up, get out, there’s no time to waste now. Never shut up, it’s our time to speak out.” On “Running Out of Time” (the title says it all), they declare, “This is war, so pick your side.”
This album does battle by boldly proclaiming truth, which serves to combat lies. As I listened, pockets of deceit were being stripped away, leaving a desire to be more aligned with God’s heart. Having a passion for God is a repeated theme on several songs.
The music is a perfect complement. Jarring rock accompanies the more warrior-like stances. Producer Otto Price (GRITS, dcTalk) adds his unique blend of creativity and innovative touches.
The group becomes more melodious and pop-oriented when they focus on relationship with God. “It’s all about being in love with the Lord, and about that relationship with Him. If we don't have that …, we can’t have the boldness,” says Becca Barlow.
“Beautiful Ending,” the first single, is a gorgeous piano-driven track about not losing our first love. It’s forward-looking, wondering about our future with God.
One of the most moving moments is found on “Tears Fall,” which deals with a tragedy in our society. For two and half years BarlowGirl has struggled with writing a song that articulates their pro-life stance. This lovely, stripped-down ballad avoids accusation and in the process becomes a song of confession and repentance. A gospel choir makes it even better.
The Beatles had “Good Day Sunshine” and now BarlowGirl ends on a high note with “Hello Sunshine.” It leaves us with the prayer, “Let my eyes see all the beauty.” It’s a fun, upbeat way to end their third studio release (not counting their Christmas project, Home for Christmas).
One of my gripes coming into an appreciation of CCM rock was that bands seemed to play to too broad a crowd. Petra would include songs soft enough to get played on inspirational and adult contemporary stations while they did their harder-sounding thing. Even during my great immersion into the stuff during the new wavy 1980s, hearing Undercover, The 77s, et al trekking all over the stylistic map became a bit frustrating (and WHAT were The Altar Boys doing trying to play ska on their first album?!).
That sort of genre shapeshifting might seem a legitimate charge to level at BarlowGirl. The sister trio can't easily be pinned down to one sound on their fifth longplayer, Love & War. When it comes to instrumental arrangements, anyway.
The cohesion for the Barlows comes in their vocals. They are sisters, so they should know how to harmonize, yes? Oh, they do, and the inventive fills and background Becca and Lauren provide for lead- singing singing Alyssa make for the group's enduring draw. And one that has improved over the past half-decade.
Musically, they recall the waviness of the Reagan decade themselves, as a couple numbers could be taken as homages to that era's swell of disco-punk ("Come Alive," "Our Worlds Collide"). A more sonically and militaristic punkiness surfaces in "Time For You To Go, " but that segues easily enough on various shades of piano pop, including recent radio hit "Beautful Ending" (with a keyboard motif reminiscent of The Office's theme song) and the more fulsome "Sing Me A Love Song."
Differently pianistic, "Tears Fall" sounds ripe for the picking by a righteously emotive soul gospel choir or soloist, though Alyssa's solo sells it aptly, too. The choral-sounding back-up comes off as a touch too much here, though. The gals better understand the dynamics of tween Britpop with a nod to late '60s Beatles for "Hello Sunshine," however, down to its false ending.
And like more consistently pop-punk Relient K and MxPx, the Barlows have a way of incorporating theological/doctrinal elements into songs about life in general. The ladies' lyrics tend to hew closer to vocabulary that satisfies Christian radio, but that might be as much a function of their own feminine sensibilities as it is of the marketing niche they fill (and that's not dismissing them).
My guess is that BarlowGirl are OK with their place in CCM, but with the right push in the right direction, they could be ready for the wider world. And theirs is a wide enough stylistic berth that the world could be ready for them? And who doesn't like sisterly harmonies, hey?
Jamie Lee Rake