Monday, June 9, 2008

Worlds Collide - Brian Bates

Worlds Collide
Artist: Brian Bates (
Label: Independent
Length: 10 tracks/43:10 minutes

It’s only May but this is my most pleasant musical surprise of the year. I had no idea what to expect when I took off the shrink-wrap. I chose not to read the promotional material, and the cover didn’t give me a clue as to what to expect.

There’s no substitute for well-crafted melodies with excellent performances and that’s exactly what I found here. There’s not a bad song on the recording. Smooth and soft vocals, acoustic pop with a little light rock, and backing from some veteran studio musicians like Jerry McPherson and Steve Brewster make for a pleasant listen. For this reviewer, it’s a welcome change. This is music that distinguishes itself through subtleties rather than following the trend toward rocking harder.

To top it all off the songs are full of meaningful lyrics. Bates co-wrote most of the songs with themes alternating between finding wholeness, intimacy with God and Bates’ personal encounter with some of the neediest in the world. He and several buddies traveled to Sierra Leone to visit some villages that they had "adopted." Two of the best songs ("You Danced" and "Elijah") are reflections on his experiences. In "You Danced" he marvels at how people who have so little are still able to be joyful. It makes him long for a similar freedom.

"Elijah" is a more sobering song. It’s not about the prophet of old, but a boy whose childhood was stolen. Elijah was forced to become a soldier and commit atrocities that drove him crazy. This song is a lament for Elijah and the others like him who have suffered terribly for what they have done.

"Under," written by Joel Hanson, may be my favorite song. It’s such an inspired combination of sentiments and sounds that it could be used in a worship setting.

Every burden I’ve ever carried
I’m leaving here, I’m leaving here.
Every wound my hands have delivered
I’m leaving here, I’m leaving here.

The symbolism of water in the chorus is a beautiful way of expressing what baptism is meant to be.

Under, I’m going under
Let the water, wash over.
Let me rise up out of these old ways
Into new life, into your name.

The artistry, the introspective but broad world-view rooted in Scripture, and an eye toward social justice, make this especially appealing to those who want to see change in the world.

This CD reminds me that an artist does not have to reinvent music to produce something that is relevant and unique. It’s a rewarding experience when an artist is able to express who God made them to be through engaging songs. I took to these tracks from the opening song, and there’s a good chance that those who hear this CD will have the same experience.

I Turn to You - Richie McDonald

I Turn to You
Artist: Richie McDonald
Label: Lucid Artist
Length: 10 tracks/39:05 minutes

County and gospel music continue to intersect on I Turn to You by Richie McDonald. This is the latest offering from an increasing number of country artists recording inspirational songs.

What sets this apart is a modern country sound—a combination of guitar driven pop/rock and ballads with not even a whisper of pedal steel. Big guitars are heard on the majority of the songs.

The straightforward lyrics are what you would expect from country music, but the words are all inspirational. The repeated mention of what Christ has done on the cross is a welcome surprise. No stories of love lost and found, but plenty of comfort and a hint of challenge on songs about living the Christian life. A couple of songs focus on reaching out to others, but most relate to finding refuge in God during hard times.

McDonald wrote or co-wrote all but two of the ten songs. Having grown up in a Christian home, McDonald for the first time is sharing his faith through music. "I want to touch people with songs that really mean something to them. I want to do my best to sing songs that can really make a difference in someone’s life," McDonald says.

This CD reveals an accomplished singer and songwriter. One of the most beautiful moments is the tender "Faith." This is one of two more acoustic numbers. The chorus is accompanied by a lovely melody, "Faith gives you hope. Hope gives you strength. Strength gives you courage to go on each day. When you’re praying for answers to things you can’t change; when it’s out of your hands, you hold on to faith."

One of my favorites is "Handle With Prayer." It’s a classic country rocker with guitars reaching skyward. McDonald’s voice takes flight on a chorus that ends with the simple but memorable thought, "Life is fragile, handle with prayer."

Richie McDonald is best known as the lead vocalist for the country band Lonestar. After more than a dozen years with the platinum-selling group, McDonald and his wife felt like God wanted him to move on.

This marks his debut as a solo artist. This has a familiar country music sound, but McDonald does an excellent job of articulating his faith in a natural way that doesn’t let the music take a back seat to the message.

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

Christians making music for the many rather than the few Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil’s Music Auth...