Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Revelation - Third Day

A strong effort that includes some pop/rock gems

Revelation
Artist: Third Day (http://www.thirdday.com/)
Label: Essential Records
Length: 13 tracks/43:26 minutes

Third Day is in fine form on Revelation, their first new studio recording since Christmas Offerings (2006). With the departure of guitarist Brad Avery, whose contribution to this project is acknowledged by the band, Third Day is now a foursome.

From the opening "This Is Who I Am" the band makes it clear that this is a rock album. Don’t expect to find any praise and worship songs. Third Day rocks hard throughout the recording, but they sound best when they are in the more moderate pop/rock mode. The melodies are stronger, which makes for better songs.

The best example may be the title song, which is a pop/rock gem. It starts off as a keyboard ballad that has a beautiful chiming guitar on the chorus. The song captures the feeling of what it’s like to lose your way. The chorus is a plea for God to show one what to do. Even Christians lose their way at times. I appreciate the fact that this song and several others give voice to the struggles that are common to us all.

Another outstanding track is "Born Again," which is a duet with Flyleaf’s Lacey Mosley. She also sings on "Run to You." Sadly, the words "born again" seem to carry a lot of baggage in our society. But this is the best song with those words that I have ever heard. This is a beautifully written and performed ballad.

Today I found myself searching all these years
And the man that I saw wasn’t all who I thought he’d be
I was lost when you found me here
I was broken beyond repair
Then you came along and sang your song over me
Feels like I’m born again, feels like I’m living
For the very first time in my life.

With it’s poignant lyrics, dreamy guitar and peaceful sounds, this may be my favorite song. It’s the ultimate soundtrack for making a new start with God.

"Slow Down" is a great blues rock song. Robert Randolph adds his amazing playing to "The Other Side," but the song is not one of the most compelling.

In contrast to the songs that give voice to our fallen condition, a number of songs are written from God’s perspective, offering love, hope and comfort. The first single, "Call My Name" is a prime example. Drummer David Carr has said, "Sharing God’s love with people has always been core to us. We want to reiterate that God loves us." Lyrics like this are comforting to me. When I am hurting, it’s the simple truths that mean the most. Third Day has done an excellent job of gracefully weaving these precious realities into a number of these songs.

"Take It All" is an acoustic song of surrender. I would like to hear more of this side of Third Day.

This is a strong collection of songs that with few exceptions I took to immediately. Not having heard much of their previous work, I can’t say with authority that this is among their best recordings, but I would guess that it’s true. I would not hesitate to recommend this to Third Day fans and fans of pop/rock.

C2: Giving Movies a Second Look DVD Series

New DVD series for youth develops a biblical worldview for evaluating movies

C2: Giving Movies a Second Look DVD Series
Producers: Michael W. Smith, Seabourne Pictures & Randall House (http://www.seabournepictures.com/)
Length: 20-minute original films with bonus materials that include study guides

C2: Giving Movies a Second Look is a new small group study series on DVD. The purpose of the series is to equip young people to apply a biblical worldview to their entertainment choices.

The DVD includes an introduction by Michael W. Smith that you can view at "What is C2". He describes the content as a "movie-going experience in a bite-sized film." Each DVD contains a twenty-minute original film with bonus features including a leader’s guide that can be used for up to three lessons.

The films are ideal for a youth group. C2: Love at First Sight [Volume One] deals with romantic and true love, judging others and accepting different opinions. You can view the trailer here: Love at First Sight. C2: Relapse [Volume Two] is about addiction, grief and bioethics. You can view the trailer here: Relapse. The quality is comparable to films produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They are well-made but not on the same level as what comes out of Hollywood.

Love at First Sight is light and funny, while Relapse makes its points through a serious drama. The latter is visually striking. Both films are entertaining enough to hold a young person’s attention. They open the door for the discussions prompted by the study guides.

The study guides are easy-to-use, well-written and provide an abundance of material and depth. They are designed to provide a filter which young people can use to evaluate movies.

This series would work well for a weeknight church or home group meeting.

Ryan Smith, Mark Cowart and Michael W. Smith founded Seabourne Pictures in 2005.

It would be helpful if this partnership or some Christian film critics designed a similar DVD series for an older age group. People of all ages need to develop a biblical worldview in evaluating the arts.

This is a good start and a helpful tool in learning to evaluate what one sees.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bob Dylan 1978-1989 Both Ends of the Rainbow DVD

A documentary of Dylan’s most controversial decade

Bob Dylan 1978-1989 Both Ends of the Rainbow DVD
Producer: Chrome Dreams (www.chromedreams.co.uk)
Length: Main Feature - 127 minutes

Bob Dylan 1978-1989 Both Ends of the Rainbow is the third Dylan documentary in the series produced by UK-based Chrome Dreams. The first two are now part of a limited edition set titled Bob Dylan: The Golden Years 1962-1978. If you like documentaries and are a Dylan fan, you can’t go wrong by adding both of these to your DVD collection. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The DVD starts with extensive commentary on one of the most fascinating and controversial periods in Dylan’s career. It encompasses the period marked by the three recordings that made Dylan’s new Christian faith evident: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981).

If Dylan’s emergence as an icon for the counter-culture in 1965 divided the hip from the unhip, his declaration of the gospel on Slow Train Coming divided the saved from the damned. Many saw this as a betrayal. Slow Train Coming went platinum, but his next two Christian recordings charted poorly in the US, which reflected the disenchantment of some of his fans. The opinion of a record storeowner that I spoke with during that time probably reflected the views of many Dylan fans. He liked the music but didn’t like the message. There was nothing subtle about it, and it was too much for many fans to handle.

What remains a mystery is where Dylan stands in relation to his faith today. One person reiterates that he has never renounced it. Dylan has chosen to keep this subject out of the limelight.

The film shows what a difficult time the eighties were for Dylan and other aging rock stars. MTV, disco and DJs took music in a new direction less favorable to rock. Dylan struggled to be successful in his recordings and performances.

Infidels (1983) was a departure from the Christian trilogy that preceded it. Dylan was once again becoming more subtle and poetic. Empire Burlesque (1985), Knocked Out Loaded (1986) and Down in the Groove (1988) charted poorly, but they contained standout tracks that are now revered as classics. The release of Oh Mercy (1989) was seen as a return to form.

The DVD feels a little long at 127 minutes, but the depth of analysis is excellent. It even provides a perspective on the politics of the time. The performance clips and appearances are brief but noteworthy, punctuating some of the highs and lows of Dylan’s career.

One of the highlights is a short segment of Dylan performing “Maggie’s Farm” with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It makes you wish you could see the whole song, but this is a biography and documentary.

I think the producer gets the content right. Full performances are outside the scope of this independent review and critique. One interesting bonus is an audio interview of Dylan when he was in the most fervent phase of his Christianity.

This is a must-have for fans and anyone interested in Dylan’s music and career.

The Buck Owens Recording Studios Farewell Session - Dr. BLT

Dr. BLT gives a fond farewell to an important studio.

The Buck Owens Recording Studios Farewell Session
Artist: Dr. BLT (http://www.drblt.net/)
Label: Nu BakoSound Recordings (Independent)
Length: 12 tracks/35:47

Dr. BLT is a psychologist, a featured writer for The Phantom Tollbooth, and a recording artist immersed in the old Bakersfield Sound and its modern counterpart, the Nu Bako Sound, which is being fashioned by up-and-coming Bakersfield artists that bridge the sounds of past and future.

He has a remarkable ability to take a subject and turn it into a song. He has done this numerous times to commemorate a special occasion, or to reinforce a bit of helpful advice to an anxious or questioning soul.

On The Buck Owens Recording Studios Farewell Session he provides a fitting tribute to the closing of a landmark studio started by Buck Owens. Before closing on April 30, 2008, the studio was used by music legends like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam.

It was Dr. BLT’s honor and privilege to record the last solo project before it closed. The songs are a stripped-down mix of rugged country, folk, blues and rock.

The use of brief bits of wild electronic enhancement coupled with frank lyrics reminds me a little of early Frank Zappa. Dr. BLT is not afraid to experiment, and this is especially evident on remixed versions of four of the five songs that cover different aspects of the studio’s legacy.

The CD has three extra songs. There is the lively guitar-picking heard on the opening, "Six7Eight (Prelude to Farewell)" and two bonus tracks. "Make New History" is a challenge to those rooted in the Bakersfield sound to create something new. "Buck, the Beatles and Bo" was written on the day of Bo Diddley’s death. The song includes the interesting observation that the happiest Beatles—Paul and Ringo—are the two that are still living. The Beatles and Bo Diddley were big influences on Buck Owens.

The doctor once again provides meaningful perspective on significant events.

Wake the World - Beloved

Ministry for women from another trio of ladies

Wake the World
Artist: Beloved (www.belovedga.com)
Label: Trato Records
Length: 11 tracks/44:42 minutes

Wake the World by Atlanta-based pop trio Beloved is their third recording but first to be distributed nationally. These three ladies, come from a variety of backgrounds—a former Miss Georgia and new mom that hosts a popular Christian TV talk show, a woman married for 25 years now realizing dreams that were locked in her heart, and a single woman (think unclaimed blessing) that worked previously at Forefront Records. What they have in common is their stated purpose of encouraging and edifying the body of Christ, particularly women, and to present Jesus Christ as the way of salvation to those who don’t know him.

They hope to achieve this through a variety of means: singing, songwriting, testimony, humor, and most importantly, relationship building. This happens annually at a women’s retreat they sponsor in Georgia, which has sold out the past couple of years. Their funny stories rival their songs in popularity.

Listening to this CD, it’s hard not to compare Beloved with Point of Grace, especially since the latter is now also a trio of women. Beloved are at their best when they somewhat mirror the recent direction taken by Point of Grace—a stripped-down acoustic pop with a hint of country. "River Where Mercy Flows" is a prime example that could pass as either country or Celtic.

Another gem, but in the jangly pop mode, is the Mac Powell produced "Love God, Serve Others, Share Your Story." The song simply summarizes the Christian life and has a sing-a-long chorus that will make this a concert favorite. You can hear a little Third Day in the guitar-driven production.

Having written nine of eleven songs, Beloved stumbles a little in the use of cliches on "I Dare You" and "Wake the World," which happen to be the first two songs. They recover through the rest of the recording with a combination of thoughtful lyrics and pleasant sounding music. One exception, is "You Are Good." Though it’s a decent cover of a popular praise and worship song, I would much rather hear their beautiful voices and harmonizing on another original song. I understand the need for song variation, but one pitfall of them occasionally resorting to pop/rock or contemporary worship is that they are no longer distinct.

They might do well to take their cue from Point of Grace: keep the music light and uncluttered. Let their voices shine through on songs of personal reflection as they have done the majority of the time here.

I enjoyed this. I think a lot of women will as well.

Overflow - Hannah Kerr

Young women leading the way Overflow Artist: Hannah Kerr ( www.hannahkerrmusic.com ) Label: Black River Christian Length: ...