The Phantom Tollbooth
Artist: According to John
Label: KMG Records
Length: 10 tracks/44 mins.

In the past few years, contemporary Christian music has seen a rise in the number of small guitar-driven bands playing a blend of acoustic and electric rock music. Bands such as The Waiting, Third Day, Jars Of Clay, and Smalltown Poets have treated us to some great songs filled with religious conviction and driving rhythms. Add to that list the new band According to John. The release of their debut project, A2J, finds a band seeking to convey the love of God with powerful lyrics and great guitar riffs.

The band consists of John Waller, Jeff Billes, Ed Bunton, and Jason Hoard. Waller is the lead singer and songwriter and brought the group together after several years performing as a solo artist and then, with Billes, as the house band for a couple of church youth groups. The experience has paid off.

These songs offer a message of hope--hope for the lost, hope for those who have turned their back on God and can't find their way back home. The theme song for the project is a tune called "Everlasting." Based on John 3:16, it is a reminder that even when life doesn't quite go the way we planned, there is still the promise of eternal life through Jesus. "Blue Sedans" speaks again of this hope:

This hope is not only in a life after death, however. There is a hope in knowing that even though we have sinned and are deserving of death, Jesus has reversed our death sentence and given us life. In "Justified" Waller sings: "Store" is an admonition, based on Matthew 6:21, to store up our treasures in heaven rather than on earth where moth and rust destroy. "Nothing Back" is a ballad--a prayer of surrender to the Father. Evoking such gospel classics as "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" and "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand," Waller takes the images from these songs and sets them firmly into a modern rock framework with "Rock," again offering hope in the midst of the storms of life. The newest and youngest member of the band is Jason Hoard and it is his strong guitar playing which drives these songs. Adding the occasional mandolin and banjo and some nice harmony vocals elevates this project above the normal. Producer Billy Smiley brings this all together with his experience and expertise. Guests Steve Hindalong and Blair Masters add their percussion and keyboard skills respectively. If the gospel of John is the "Gospel of Love," then According to John is certainly living up to their name in trying to communicate the love of God through songs of hope and encouragement.

By Janet Friesen (2/23/99)