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Trust - Jaci Velasquez

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Like Michael W. Smith, Velasquez combines pop and worship with similar results.
Trust Artist: Jaci Velasquez (www.jacivelasquez.com) Label: Integrity Music Length: 10 tracks/42 minutes
Easter approaches as I write. A couple of songs on Trust by Jack Velasquez are easily associated with the season. “At the cross we find healing/At the cross we find peace” Velasquez sings on “Lay it at the Cross.” But what does this symbolism represent? “At the cross we find Jesus/At the cross we find all that we ever need,” we hear in elaboration.
Velasquez sings this chorus like the beacon of light that it is. Apart from Christ’s sacrificial death, we could never be made whole and have peace with God.
The words are punctuated by a synthesizer. It also generates a swirling sound on the chorus of the opening “Trust You.” After its initial heyday in the 70s the instrument became less prominent. Is it making a comeback?
I like the feel-good vibe of “Cross”; no brooding heaviness here.
Have you hear…

Adventures in Evangelical Civility - Richard Mouw

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In search of kindred spirits
Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Life Long Quest for Common Ground Author: Richard J. Mouw Publisher: BrazosPress Pages: 241
Watching Anne of Green Gables for the first time as an adult I was immediately captivated by the idea of the “kindred spirit.” “A kindred spirit in the Anne of Green Gables series is someone who understands Anne Shirley very well, well enough to know what she is thinking” (Anne Green Gables wiki). Surely, Richard Mouw, the author of Adventures in Evangelical Civility, delights in finding kindred spirits in his lifelong quest for common ground.
Even though my background is Charismatic and the author’s Reformed theology, in more ways than one I have found a kindred spirit. In fact, I am more in agreement with Reformation teaching than with the excesses of the Charismatic movement.
But what drew me to this book and makes me feel like a kindred spirit is the idea of an evangelical civility. It should be obvious that incivility ha…

God's Highway - Sandra McCracken

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For those willing to slow down, God’s Highway offers substantial substance and is deeply reflective.
God’s Highway Artist: Sandra McCracken (www.sandramccraken.com) Label: Towhee Records Length: 11 tracks/45 minutes
If you have a record player and can afford to pay a little more, consider getting God’s Highway by Sandra McCracken on vinyl. If you accept the idea that records sound better, you might feel justified once the needle drops. Why even my digital download sounds vibrant! How much more the grooves on a 12 inch? Plus, you will be helping to support an artist that has a heart for psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
The supposed warmth of vinyl is a complement to the organic tones found here. No synthesizers and programming. This sounds like a group of musicians playing live in the studio on guitars, bass, piano and drums. Electric guitar adds texture. Drums are on the soft side.
The roots oriented style is a vehicle for themes like waiting and hope, in conjunction with the at…

Winter EP - Audrey Assad

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Who can find a warmer winter song?
Winter EP Artist: Audrey Assad (www.audreyassad.com) Label: Fortunate Fall Records Length: 3 tracks/12 minutes
Who can find a warmer winter song? “Song for a Winter’s Night,” the Gordon Lightfoot composition, falls on the ears like light footsteps on freshly fallen snow. The organic blend of drums, guitars and keyboards are inviting. A strong hook takes listeners in. Cares recede in the enchanting glow.
The temperature drops in “Midwinter”: “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.” This is an adaptation of the well-known carol. The second stanza and subsequent bridge are new along with a slight change to the last line, but all in keeping with the original lyrics.
Even the music is chillier than the first song. The added hooks are dreamy and elongated. The bridge, make it a snow-covered one, includes a biting guitar solo.
The resolve, like the dawn of a new day, comes on the last stanza, whi…

Potter & Clay - Jaylene Johnson

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Johnson’s vulnerability is refreshing.
Potter & Clay Artist: Jaylene Johnson (www.jaylenejohnson.com) Label: Independent Length: 12 tracks/44 minutes
The simplicity and forthrightness in Potter & Clay by Jaylene Johnson is appealing. Witness the starkly confessional opening track, “Fallin’”: There are things I’ve done I never should’ve done
Things I’ve said I never should’ve said
I can’t forget, it’s messing with my head
The things I’ve done, the things I’ve said
Earthy acoustic rhythm and guitars that stretch the notes provide a haunting backdrop. The resolve comes in the chorus. The singer is falling, not into a place of hopelessness, but “into the arms of mercy.”
The first line in the next track, “How Long,” seems so fitting, “Who led me to this desert?” In Scripture the desert is a place of testing, which can prompt questions and wrestling, “Am I being punished/For what I did or didn’t do.” Listeners will find an authentic grappling with faith and doubt throughout this…

Christmas Stories - Jenny & Tyler

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Recapturing childlike wonder
Christmas Stories Artist: Jenny & Tyler (www.jennyandtyler.com) Length: 9 songs/35 minutes Label: Residence Music
On Christmas Stories Jenny & Tyler succeed in making eight classics and one new song their own. The opening “Christmastime” is an original written by Jenny, Tyler and Trent Monk. Among the many seasonal references the song expresses the hope of finding childlike wonder. With the help of producer Ben Shive this is what the album accomplishes.
As with several of the songs there is a classic feel with a light jazz backing. This, however, is not the whole story.
The fourth track, “The Maker of the Sun and Moon,” an old British hymn, has a markedly different sound. It’s more like a soft rock anthem. It has a driving rhythm that is propelled by light percussion and strumming with some beautiful acoustic accents.
It also marks the turn to praise and worship:
     O Perfect Love      Outpassing Sight      O Brilliant One      O Radiant Light

Wonder - Jean Watson

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Can a finer tribute to “Hallelujah” be found?
Wonder Artist: Jean Watson (www.jeanwatson.com) Label: Suite 28 Records Length: 11 tracks/44 minutes
With the recent passing of Leonard Cohen, the instrumental of “Hallelujah,” a bonus track on Wonder by Jean Watson, serves as an elegant tribute. The violin playing is exquisite.
Unfortunately, the song is only available on iTunes. Then again, better there than not at all. It’s one of the finer moments.
Back to the violin. It is not only proficient but soothing throughout, whether the style is traditional Celtic or contemporary expressions of devotion and worship. By the latter, I don’t mean the type sung in modern worship circles. This is never that.
This is closer to classical and folk in the singer/songwriter style.
Though the violin is often heard, it’s not overdone. Keyboards are also prominent. There are snatches of stylish guitar playing, and light, mostly programmed percussion. Watson’s voice adds a delicate beauty. Neither s…