The Phantom Tollbooth
In the Words of Dr. Luke
Artist: Brian Houston
Label: Kingsway Music (UK)
URL: e-mail

"Influences include:- John Prine, Steve Earle, Kyle Leitch, The Wallflowers, Dylan, Big Cal, Van Morrison and a certain Mr. Springsteen" -- the album sleeve.

Billing an artist at Greenbelt as "Northern Ireland's best kept secret" is plenty to arouse my interest. From a land that has given us many of that festival's best loved artists, Brian Houston was something of a success himself at the festival, putting in several well-attended appearances.  This album is a fairly laid back affair, presenting sounds certainly influenced by those listed above which bring about an amalgam with an upbeat rootsy feel.

Lyrically, it is a pretty safe worship recording. More substance than many recordings, but not really pushing anything very far. Nevertheless, some of the lyrics did appeal and would add a little variety to some church's musical diet:

Musically my favourite track may well be "Spirit in You" with its underplayed mandolin and echoing tremoloed guitar. The temptation to go for 'big' arrangements has been resisted and, while I've heard several worship albums going for this sound, this is probably the most successful attempt.

Several people have been telling me that it is only a matter of time before Houston explodes out of his provincial music market onto a larger stage. This may not be the album to do that, apart from the wider UK worship market, but the spark is there.

By James Stewart (9/29/98)