Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Artful pop in the style of Sixpence None the Richer

Lanae’ Hale EP
Artist: Lanae Hale (www.lanaehale.com)
Label: Centricity Records
Length: 6 tracks/22:38 minutes

Lanae’ (pronounced Lah-nay) Hale’s debut is a pleasing combination of thoughtful lyrics and artful pop reminiscent of Sixpence None the Richer. She’s only 24, but her songwriting shows a great deal of maturity. Her songs deal with practical issues like the need for hope, the desire for lasting relationships, and connecting with God. What makes this interesting is Hale’s personal take on love lost and found and the challenges of living out one’s faith in the world.

Her voice ranges from sweetly sung sentiments to passionate pleas. You get the best of both on “Stay,” a blues-infused song where the intensity builds on the chorus but towards the end becomes a beautiful whispered-plea.

A simple but infectious guitar hook on “Alive Again” colors the rhythm as it does on other songs. Her sound is somewhat sparse with an organic feel, and the tempos vary. Though similar in style to Sixpence, Hale deserves credit for not sounding like everyone else.

This is a well-produced effort that is more than just the usual fare.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blue sky ahead


















Love Out Loud
Artist: Jaci Velasquez (http://www.jacivelasquez.com/)
Label: Apostrophe Records
Length: 11 tracks/37:59 minutes

Coming across the following verse in my daily Bible reading: "Naphtali is a doe let loose, he gives beautiful words" (Gen. 49:21 NASB), I could not help thinking how applicable it seemed to Love Out Loud by Jaci Velasquez. Having come through a divorce, a season of depression, and the disillusion that comes when life no longer makes sense—next to death, three of the biggest "Ds" that you can experience—she’s now singing like a doe set free. It’s a picture of freedom, and her encouraging words are beautiful.

It starts off on a joyful note with "Nothing But Sky," a U2-like anthem. Clear blue sky depicts the outlook of someone who has come through the storms of life. There’s no clouds or rain in sight. The future looks bright.

"It’s Not You, It’s Me," another song that rocks, provides a healthy perspective. It’s the realization that we are the only person that we can control. People are not the problem as much as how we respond to them. If this sounds a little like therapy, you do find that element in some of the songs, but it’s not overdone. Velasquez went through a time of counseling and some of what she learned is reflected in her songs.

The message of the title song brings to mind another scripture. "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth" (1 John 4:18 ESV). Jaci hopes that the song will motivate others to show God’s love through service to others.

"Jesus (The Way)" is a quiet, tender song of worship. It may have an impact similar to "On My Knees," one of Jaci’s most popular songs. "My Alleluia" is a desperate longing for God to hear the heart when there are no words.

"Weightless" is one of my favorite songs. It conveys joy right from the start with a layered background vocal and a catchy piano hook that drives it. It captures the feeling of being set free from all burdens. It may bring a tear to the eye of those who long to experience this kind of freedom. Velasquez says, "There’s something that happens when you fall in line with God’s will for your life. The weight of all burdens is lifted off your shoulders." Velasquez has such a great voice for pop music, and this is a classic example. It’s pure delight.

"A Likely Story" is one that I will return to because it’s such an unusual love song. Jaci sings about her disbelief at being loved during her courtship with husband Nic. She says, "It seemed to be good to be true. Very much the way I feel about the undeserving love I receive from God."

"Tango" is rich in fiery Latin rhythms and is a metaphor for the give and take that must happen in a marriage.

"Por Escrito" is a quiet, flamingo-guitar styled duet in Spanish with husband Nic Gonzalez, frontman for Salvador.

On "Into the Light" Jaci encourages those who are down to follow her into a deeper relationship with God. A brief instrumental, "Outro," closes the CD.

This release reunites her with producer Mark Heimermann, who produced her first three recordings. He’s done an excellent job of staying true to Velasquez’s sound while modernizing it and adding touches of creativity.

There’s nothing like a personal testimony to inspire and provide hope. With Velasquez co-writing the majority of the songs, this album reflects on her life the past couple of years. It should encourage those who are going through difficult times. When you align yourself with God’s will, the clouds and rain will not last forever. There’s blue sky ahead.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An elegant exploration of life as seen from the light

The Geography of Light
Artist: Carrie Newcomer (www.carrienewcomer.com)
Label: Rounder Records
Length: 14 tracks/51:04 minutes

The Geography of Light by Carrie Newcomer shows how elegant modern folk music can be. Storytelling, often associated with the genre, makes for a more literary style, but I like the fact that Newcomer doesn’t try to be clever in her songwriting or music. Her simplicity is beautiful.

That’s not to say that this is lacking in depth. On the contrary, this Quaker associates with theologians and authors like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren and Phillip Gulley. The latter has written a glowing tribute to Newcomer’s artistry in the CD booklet. If any of these men were songwriters, they might write songs like the ones found here.

“Geodes” is a prime example. Geodes are mysterious rocks that are plentiful around Newcomer’s home in Southern Indiana. Though common on the outside with brown and gray exteriors, they contain a core of sparkling quartz crystals. Newcomer writes in the liner notes, “They remind me to look deeper, because often within what may appear quite ordinary is a core of beauty and mystery.” This is just one of many songs that Newcomer fills with thought that is rich and dense. Amazingly, it never sounds cluttered.

The thought behind “Throw Me a Line” is loosely drawn from chapter six of the gospel of Matthew where Jesus speaks of the futility of anxious thought. It includes the lovely line: “There’s a still quiet voice / It sounds a little like mine / Saying you’re right where you should be / It’s just gonna take time.” What a balm of peace for an anxious heart! The song is a beautiful plea for refuge in rapidly changing times.

It echoes a note of hope that is heard throughout. Even on a song like “A Mean Kind of Justice,” which casts a shadow, there is a ray of light: “There’s a goodness on this earth, that will not die, will not die / It bears all, it’s seen it all, and still it survives / And I know we have failed, but I’ve seen that we can fly.”

You can even hear the optimism in the music on “Leaves Don’t Drop (They Just Let Go).” Newcomer’s lilting voice mixes with piano notes that dance for joy.

As in the other songs, this is an exploration of life from the perspective of someone standing in the light. Newcomer avoids being trite, which is what makes this so appealing.

She admits that the music is sparser than previous efforts. The space between the notes provides breathing room for acoustic instruments that grab the spotlight. The percussion is light, and the production is clean and crisp.

Though I had not known of her before, this is Carrie Newcomer’s eleventh recording for Rounder Records. Listening to her is like finding sparkling crystals in ordinary-looking stones. She makes it seem like the winds of heaven are blowing through the stuff of earth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A beautiful wedding song that acknowledges God

In the Name of the Father: A Wedding Song (Accompaniment CD)
Artist: Jim Cosgrove
Distributor: Pray Twice (http://www.praytwice.com/)Length: 5 tracks/17:50 minutes

What would a wedding be without music? You would still have a ceremony, but it might not be as satisfying. Music adds beauty, tenderizes hearts and appeals to our most noble desires. It’s conducive to worship. A wedding song can be an integral part of the service.

"In the Name of the Father" may be one of the few wedding songs to make mention of the three persons in the Trinity. It’s a reverent song of commitment that expresses the love of two people and acknowledges the role of God in a relationship.

The style is adult contemporary. Lisa Bevill (www.LisaBevill.com) is the artist on the female vocal track. The composer, Jim Cosgrove, sings on the male vocal track. There are three accompaniment tracks in the keys of C, F and D. The lyrics are included with the CD, and sheet music is available at www.PrayTwice.com. You can listen to sound clips at http://www.praytwice.com/wedding/index.html.

This is a beautiful performance of a well-written song. It’s worth checking out, if you are preparing for a wedding. The complete text follows this review.


IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER

I can’t believe it’s happening to me
You’re standing by my side
The Lord of Love has brought you here to me
Forever you and I will abide
And forever I will have and hold you near me
We’re one in Him today

I love you in the name of the Father
I love you in the name of the Son
I love you in the name of the Spirit
The Spirit of the Lord who truly makes us one

And as we watch the years go rolling by
The Lord will be our guide
Together when we laugh and when we cry
As long as you and I are alive
And forever I will have and hold you near me
And forever I will stay
And as we watch the years go rolling by
We’ll thank Him for this day

I love you in the name of the Father
I love you in the name of the Son
I love you in the name of the Spirit
The Spirit of the Lord who truly makes us one
I love you in the name of the Father

The Legacy - Michael Phillips

Passing on a vision of life with God The Legacy (Secrets of the Shetlands, Book 3) Author: Michael Phillips ( www.fatherofthein...