Friday, November 20, 2009

In:News- 11/19

Casting Crowns' latest album, Until the Whole Earth Hears is now on the shelves of every Christian book store across the nation, but you don't have to purchase the album to hear the music. Listen to the entire album for free on
You won't be dissapointed!

Also on, you can get a free download from Phil Wickham's newest release, Heaven & Earh: The entire album is a true blessing to the ears and heart, a review is soon to come, but if you want a great sample of the album, definitely download "Coming Alive." And if you're like most people and never pass up a chance to get free music, you download Phil's entire Singalong for free at his website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In:Release 11-10

Switchfoot-- Hello Hurricane

Flyleaf-- Memento Mori

Ayiesha Woods-- Christmas Like This

FFH-- Wide Open Spaces

Fairgreen-- Fairgreen

Monday, November 09, 2009

In:Review- Kutless' It is Well

It's been four years since Kutless last produced a unique and chart-topping album. The year was 2005 and the album was Strong Tower, the band's first venture into praise and worship, a blend of popular praise tunes and a few originals. The album found wide-spread acceptance in the christian community and helped bridge the band into CCM success. Now, after two studio releases and a live CD/DVD, the band is looking to get back in touch with their audiences, and has placed it's hopes in their latest release: It is Well: a Worship Album by Kutless.

The new release follows the pattern of their first worship album: contemporary praise tunes, a revamped hymn and a few originals penned by the band. The style of music will probably bring the album success as it brings back hints of Sea of Faces and their debut Kutless, both of which placed the band on the map. The melodies make use of heavy guitars on tracks like "Remember me" and "Give us clean hands" while also pleasing CCM listeners with tracks like "I'm still yours" and "What faith can do."

Upon my first listen of the album, I wasn't totally impressed, definitely not wowed in the same way I was by Strong Tower. The problem for the band is that Strong Tower was so unexpected, so out of the blue and so unique for Kutless. The songs that the band used were unique, from their own compositions to the songs they borrowed from others. They pulled a couple of obscure praise songs and gave them a new spin, which resulted in several popular radio hits. According to the band's statement for the new album, written in the liner notes, the band asked themselves "Can we do something unique?" The difficulty with that, is they already did something unique, so this could only be best described as a sequel, sort of an Offerings II from Third Day. Don't get me wrong: a second worship album is not a bad thing or doomed failure. Third Day blew fans out of the water with their first worship project, and if anything, garnered more with their second take.

With Kutless, though, it seems that they tried to hard for the unique factor and in the proccess, failed to attain it. The title track is a Kutless-vamped version of Hortio Spafford's time-treasured hymn. The band wanted to re-create the song with their own flair, but unfortunately, didn't quite manage to put the hymn in new light. Re-vamping hymns has become a recent popular trend in CCM and while many haven't managed to grasp the concept, their have been successes: Jars of Clay and Bart Millard come to mind. Thankfully, this was the only hymn touched.

Following in the footsteps of it's earlier worship album, the band searched for praise songs that spoke to them and that they wanted to re-record. The result: a mixed bag. Popular tracks like "God of Wonders" and "Hungry" show nothing unique, nothing special. Also, these songs were probably poor choices, because, to put it bluntly, did we really need another version of "God of Wonders." However, where the band shined was on several tracks penned by Phil Wickham, including: "Amazed" and "You save me." The two original compositions on the album penned by the band, "Taken by love" and "Everything I need" are good songs, just not the same as "Strong Tower."

Highlights of the album include the sure-to-be-a-hit "What faith can do", which will probably soon be heard every other song on radio stations across the nation, "I'm still yours" and "Redeemer." The last song mentioned is actually a unique medly of Keith Green's "O Lord you're beautiful" and "There is a redeemer" that Kutless indeed mastered with their own touch while staying true to the original song's worshipful nature.

Overall, an average praise album from a band that has shown and proved can do better. I won't go so far as to say the album is a let-down, due to the context of the songs and the few redeeming tracks. However, for an amazingly talented group of musicians that started off with three of Christian rock's best albums, it may not all be well with the band's fans.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

In all things grace

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials charity; in all things grace." This commonly quoted phrase has been attributed to Augustine, but regardless of who first stated it, its truth rings true even today. Throughout the christian community and sadly within churches, schisms frequently occur. Sometimes they occur when the essentials were not agreed upon, and in these cases, rightfully so. However, far too often I see christians, brothers and sisters in the Lord torn apart over the second part: non-essentials. Too often, Christians get so hung up in the smaller, less important issues, that they allow the bigger issues to be sacrificed on that altar. So what are these essentials and non-essentials? Whwere is the line drawn? And how does all this relate to Christian Music?

Scripture is the foundation of the Christian faith. It is God's inspired Word, and our instruction manual for how to live our Christian lives. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for all good works." II Tim. 3:16-17. Therefore, withthis kept in mind, what does scripture have to say about essentials vs. non-essentials. Romans 14 holds the key to this question. Paul wrote this chapter with Christians from the early church in mind. The Christians were having arguments over eating certian meats, the Sabbath and drinking wine. All three of these, according to Paul, were non-essentials: "One man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day the sam. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord." So while these Christians were all caught up in who was right and who was wrong, Paul said: both and. It doesn't matter because as long as you regard the day towards the Lord, you're in the right.

Paul was addressing two particular groups of people in this chapter: strong and weak Christians. In his definition, the strong Christians were those who were enjoying their new found Christian liberty and were eating all kinds of meats because God had now allowed for it. However the strong, mature Christians had this against them: they had contempt towards their weaker brothers. Instead of looking down on them, the proper response would have been to love and encourage their brothers, but not make an issue of it. The weak Christians were those who were born again, but still holding some of the Jewish traditions, such as kosher foods, etc. They were seen as more legalistic and therefore were at fault for judging those who were living out Christian liberty. Both were equally in the wrong! According to Rom. 14:10- "Why do you judge your brother? (addressed to the weak Christians) or why do you hold in contempt your brother? (Addressing the strong Christians). For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." And the important thing here is to realize that the judgment seat of Christ is not where sins are judged, but Christian's lives. Therefore this isn't an argument of sin, but of the non-essentials. The import thing is to follow your conscience.

Now, the conscience is a tricky topic, because one's consceince is not infallible! The Holy Spirit is infallible. However, a person's conscience is to be grown and strengthened and have its foundation in the Word of God. This is why reading and studying scripture is so vital to a Christian's life! But regardles, Merrill Unger writes: "Paul lays down the law that a man should follow his conscience even though it be weak; otherwise moral personality would be destroyed."

Therefore, strong Christians: do not hold your brothers and sisters in contempt. Encourage them to follow their God-given Christian liberties. Weak Christians, do not judge your brothers and sisters according to a standard that YOU have created and hold to be right. Matthew 7:1 states "Judge not that you be not judged." Jesus Christ is the ultimate judge, He holds the gavel, He writes the laws. For a Christian to judge another is a very tricky position to be in. One must be faultless in every possible area regarding the issue to even consider judging a fellow Christian.

The question now remains, what are essentials and non-essentials. While readers may agree with everything I have written so far, this is where the schisms come in. Pne believer holds that going to Church on a Sunday is an essential. Another Christian holds that drinking a cup of wine is a sin. These are just a couple examples, and while there are many, many more, I don't want to get hung up on the specifics, but instead look at the principle. Certian issues are clearly stated in the Bible as essentially right and wrong. Sexual immorality, our conversations, honesty, and the list goes on. The Bible mentions these over and over again, no exception to the rule. These are the essentials. But, in the non-essentials, in the secondary issues, Christians are not to judge, they must not condemn. Instead of forcing a new legalism on others, or sneering at those who do, how about charity? Every Christain should live a life above reproach, living virtuously and righteously, a life dedicated to God. More of this in a later post. Let it suffice right now to study the scripture. Before you hold someone to your standards, and I emphasize YOUR, make sure it is clearly articulated in scripture. And then, be certain you are living blamelessly yourself.

What on earth does this have to do with Christian music? Several questions I have been asked lately regarding different musicians and styles of worship led to this line of thinking. Is one style of worship better than another or one style right and others wrong. Are certain bands that are labeled Christian music wrong to listen to because of their lyrics, vocal styles or guitar riffs? Unfortunately, the Bible does not explicitly speak on many of these questions and issues. The Bible does not say, "if you scream your lyrics, it is evil" or "if you sing a song about your ex-girlfriend, it is wrong." The Bible does have a lot to say in regards to praising God with our voices, and that every word we speak should be God honoring. But, apart from general guidelines, the rest is left up to our discernment.

This ties in with Romans 14 because there are essentially two lines of thinking: the legalist and the liberalist. The legalist is the one who holds music toa higher standard, whereas the liberalist enjoys Christain liberties and listens to music that the legalist would hold as wrong. The problem is that this is a secondary principle, a non-essential. If the music contains no lyrics taht are dishonoring to God and do not contradict scriptural principles and do not promote sin, it's not a sin according to scripture. Which bands to listen to and which not, cannot be determined as right or wrong unless their music dishonors God. Which is better, which is best, that is another topic. But beware of labeling right and wrong when not even scripture does.

Where does this leave us? Probably where we started, with many unanswered questions, blurry lines and confused looks. But hopefully, it leaves us past the arguing, the accusing and the condescending. Remember: in essentials unity, in non-essentials charity; in all things grace.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In:Focus- Needtobreathe

Possum City, South Carolina. That should give you some insight into Needtobreathe, a four-piece band that has made a large splash in the Christian music scene since their arrival in 2006. If you're thinking southern, small town, and maybe mandolin....well, you're on the right track. Bear and Bo Rinehart grew up in Possum City, S.C., their father an Assembly of God pastor, and their mother a pianist who first got the boys interested in music. From piano, they moved on to guitar and in 1999, the brothers began touring, and later, along with friends Joe Stillwell and Seth Bolt, formed Needtobreathe and began selling self-produced EPs.

Their first major-label album, Daylight, came out in 2006 and featured the single "You are here." CCM magazine put the band on the cover of their magazine and the band hit the road on a relentless tour, stopping rarely, and only then to record new music. In 2007 the band followed up their debut album with the sophomore release The Heat and things really took off from there. The band was nominated for several GMA awards, including "Rock/contemporary album of the year." While they didn't win this award, they won many fans. Most recently, the band released their third studio album entitled The Outsiders.

What sets aside Needtobreathe from all other Christian musicians, would have to be their roots. You don't have to know that Bear Rinehart is from the south: all you have to do is hear him talk. He has a voice that just drips southern charm (their unreleased song "sweet talker" is a prime example of this charm), yet don't let the charm deceive you. He's got a hint of a growl on certain tracks that puts this band up a notch on other southern rockers. And great vocals must run in the family, because little brother Bo compliments his brother's voice like gravy does for fried okra (ok, so maybe if you're from the north you may not appreciate that, but hey, some things are just undeniable...).

What stands out most about Needtobreathe though is not their music, not their southern accents, but their faith. Each and every song is lyrically rich, and while the band doesn't label themselves a "Christian band", their faith is evident in the lyrics they write. The songs they sing are about the things they go through in their own lives, and all are based upon the bedrock of their faith in Christ.

As far as longevity goes, Needtobreathe may have only just begun, but that's a good thing: that implies there's much more to come!

Back in the saddle: The return of Jennifer Knapp

After five years of not so much as a posting on her blog, let alone a concert, press release or even a youtube video, Jennifer Knapp is back! Just a few weeks ago, Knapp played at a small, trendy bar in the heart of Hollywood to a sold out crowd: no surprise as Knapp's sudden departure from the music scene in 2004 came as a shock to all fans. Knapp, who has sold nearly 1 million albums, last released new music in 2001 (The Way I Am), is apparently set to release new music in early 2010, according to her newly revamped blog. Jennifer Knapp's concert in California will be followed up by another performance on October 28 alongside Phillip LaRue in New York, again at a small venue, as well as a November 10 concert slated in Tennesssee.

Not much is known about what Jennifer did in her 5-year hiatus. However, an article written on Christianty Today's website gives some clues from the concert that she performed, and also gives a taste of what five years has done to the folk-rock singer that we all have truly missed. Welcome back Jennifer!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In:Tube--- Natalie Grant's Better Hands Now

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In:News 4-22

Anberlin is getting ready to release their next studio project of original songs, New Surrender, sometime in August. The CD will follow on the heels of Cities, their last set of original songs, and most recently in November their Lost Songs, which featured never-before released acoustic and demo versions of previous songs, as well as covers of other artists.

Speaking of new music from big artists, Third Day is gearing up to release their first studio album in three years. The band has spent the last couple years touring and released a greatest hits album (Chronology I). The new lineup of original songs will feature several guest vocalists including the lead singer of Flyleaf (Lacey Mosley) and Chris Daughtery. The first single from the album, "Call my name" has already been released to great acclaim.

Singer/songwriter and worship leader Matt Maher is preparing to perform in front of a revered audience: the pope. Maher, who just released his debut album Empty & Beautiful, says he is humbled nad excited to have this opportunity to play during the Pope's visit on May 19th to New York City. The performance will take place during a youth rally in Yonkers, NY.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lyrically speaking...

After recently attending a David Crowder Band concert, I decided to re-analyze some of the their songs. I've listened to their "A Collision or 3+4=7" CD multiple times, but a couple of their songs stuck out in concert.

Such as, in "Foreverandever, etc." have you ever noticed the line "Letting go gets a better grip"? How on earth does this even begin to make sense? When you let go of something, you lose your grip. But when it comes to our lives as Christians, it seems that too often we haven't surrendered all (though we say we have everytime we sing the old time hymn). But we aren't directing or steering this life of ours. When we give our lives to Christ, we literally are giving them to Him. And so we need to relinquish our death hold on this life of ours, because when we give it over to God, the things we will accomplish for His kingdom will be way beyond what we can do in and of ourselves.

This reminds me of Sanctus Real's song "Captain's Chair"-- a great example of how God is driving this vehicle, and we are merely sitting in the captain's chair...think about it...

Towards the end of the concert, David Crowder pulled out a song i didn't expect him to. It's one of the last songs off of their A Collision CD, called "Rescue is Coming." If you're like me, you haven't listened to it all that much because it's a long CD and so by the time I reach "You are my Joy" I'm just about ready to put in another CD. so after hearing him play it in concert, I decided to give it another spin in the CD player, and what I found blew me away.

There’s a darkness in my skin
My cover’s wearing thin, I believe
I’d love to start again, go back to innocent
And never leave

Don’t give up now
A break in the clouds
We could be found
There’s nothing wrong with me
It’s just that I believe things could get better
And there’s nothing wrong with love
I think it’s just enough to believe

Rescue is coming

AMAZING!!! This song definitely describes me far too often. Some days there seems to be a darkness that lurks over me. It's not that there is something majorly wrong with me, but I do believe things could be much better.

How about you? Is love enough for you to believe? Could things be better with you?

Makes you wonder...

Friday, December 08, 2006

In:brief: 12-8

The Newsboys just wrapped up their international tour in support of their latest release, Go. The group visited countries from Dennmark and Norway to parts of Asia and Canada. The group is set to kick off their American tour in February

Sixsteprecords is getting ready to release a best-of collection of Passion songs on December 26. The record label that has brought fans all the Passion series will release a 30-song compilation of artists like David Crowder Band and Chris Tomlin. The series is called: The Best of Passion (So far...)

Grammy nominations are in, and newcomers Leeland are up for Best pop/contemporary Gospel album of the year for their Sound of Melodies. Also up in this category is Third Day, garnering their 8th career nomination for Wherever You Are (Wire and Come Together both won this award). Other artists who are up for a Grammy include DecembeRadio, Red and MercyMe.

In the world, but...

What does it mean to be in the world, and not of it? This verse may be one of the most controversial verses in scripture, with so many different interpretations of what it means to actually be in the world, but not of it. This is also a crucial question when it comes to Christian musicians, especially those appealing to a secular audience, but also those in the CCM industry. As this is one of the most important questions in this 3-part series look at what Christian music is, I saved it for last.

Jesus told us to be in the world but not of it. When I interpret this verse, I look at it as our obviously being in this world, living in a worldly home, but not conforming to this world. But what does it mean to not conform to this world? I believe this means not fitting in, not being "just like everyone else" and most importantly not conforming to the standards of this world. What does this include? I believe this is a call for all Christians to be different from those who don't believe not only in attitude, faith and beliefs, but also in looks and convictions. Let me explain.

Many Christian musicians believe that in order for them to actually have any form of success, or for them to be accepted by the mainstream audience and thus minister to them, they have to look, sound and even act like them. Billy Grahm tried this when he grew his hair long, trying to appeal to a certian people. The apostle Paul, in Corinthians talks about this subject and he says that he was everything to all peoples, to the Jews, he was a Jew, to the Gentiles a Gentile, to those without the law, as without the law. So, does this justify our becoming like unto the world?

Far from it! People should be able to look at us as Christians and clearly be able to tell that we are in fact Christians, that we are different, that we are not "just like everyone else." I believe this should apply not only to our language and sex life but also to our looks and appearances. The Bible refers to our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. What does this say about tattoos and earrings? God did not intend for our bodies, His temple, to be a walking billboard. Just as the Jews would never think of spraypainting graffiti on the walls of the temple, I don't believe Christians should be putting ink into their bodies. The same goes for earrings. The Bible clearly speaks against excess jewelry (this isn't saying that necklaces and bracelets are of the devil) and this, together with the passage against marring your body (don't even tell me poking holes in your body isn't defacing it) would prohibit earrings.

Now, I am not saying we should all wear uncool clothing and part our hair to the right and wear polo shirts all day. God forbid. Music plays a large roll in youth's lives, and if they see us as weirdos who wear pocket protectors (ok, so that's an exaggeration) they won't want to listen to us and claim that we can't relate to them. But, that doesn't mean we have to be like them and stick holes in our noses and dye our hair pink. If God wants to use us, by golly, He can use some geek in pink with a pocket protector! We need to demonstrate our faith in Him, and not conform to this world.

I believe that Christian musicians largely fail in this area. You will be hard-pressed to find a group with no tats and piercings. Some claim they are just being artistic, not trying to be bland. But using the scriptural arguments above, I believe there are plenty of Biblical ways of being artistic with our appearance without shoving needles in our body!

So, in summary of this series:
I think Christians should be strongly cautioned in listening to secular music. I am not saying that all secular music is wrong and evil, God can use it for His good and you can find some worth listening to, but it would almost be better to err on the side of caution, especially if you have a weakness in this area. There are several artistic Christian artists (Delirious? in particular). However, this should also be a wakeup call to those steeped in the Christian music industry to venture outside of their comfortable box/bubble and use their God-given talents to the fullest, to be creative, innovative, expressive. Let your music (not just the lyrics) show God's glory (include some wicked guitar riffs...).

As far as lyrics are concerned, Christian musicians need to continue offering great melodies for the Church, but also be sure to address the practical issues of life. One of my early blog posts (Feb. 7, 2006) took a look at artists who do so....but the list is short and the artists limited. Suicide, depression, sex, anorexia, divorce, loss, school, jobs-- all of these need to be addressed from a Biblical perspective, because if they aren't, Christians are going to look elsewhere.

And finally, as to Christian musicians who venture into the mainstream market: Their intentions and motivations need to be pure. Why are they doing so? Is it simply to make more money or is it to make a difference in someone's life? Their lyrics need to completley moral and relavant, while at the same time don't have to have Jesus in every line. But you should clearly be able to see the positive themes, and the music should always point to Christ. The artists cannot shy away from their faith, but instead must be bold and be a strong witness for Christ. But I believe this is a valid calling for reach an unreachable people with the love of Christ through a relavant

I hope this series has been helpful to you. Please let me know what you think!
Zachary Foster