Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Avalon: The Greatest Hits

One constant in a sea of change

Avalon: The Greatest Hits
Artist: Avalon (
Label: Sparrow
Length: 16 tracks/73:40 minutes

Avalon is a group that I want to succeed. Despite their past accomplishments, this is not a given. A lot has changed in the music world since their heyday. It’s not only distribution, but boundaries between secular and sacred continue to come down. Advances in technology have produced innovative music and better sounding recordings, but quality craftsmanship is paramount regardless of genre.

Avalon’s recent years have seen a number of personnel changes, and lately, it seems like they have been casting about to find the right songs. Rather than reinventing themselves, it might be wise if the group focused on what has been one of their biggest assets—tight vocal harmonies. If they could combine that with a timeless sound, maybe something a little more organic (the change in Point of Grace comes to mind), and fresh songwriting, they might enjoy a resurgence.

Strong songs have also always been essential given the obvious talent of all the different members and veteran producers like Charlie Peacock and Brown Bannister.

The older songs, which make up the majority of this release, are the strongest, even though they now sound a little dated and cliched. I’m sure that others, like me, miss the presence of Michael Passons, one of the founding members. Songs that feature him are among my favorites.

One of them, “Give It Up,” still moves me with its dreamy soundscape and the unmistakable touch of Charlie Peacock.

This release is a little curious. Testify to Love: The Very Best of Avalon, which came out in 2003, has many of the same songs. One notable omission from this track listing is “Always Have, Always Will.”

This CD has the advantage of including songs from The Creed (2004), Stand (2006), and Faith: A Hymns Collection (2006) but nothing from Another Time, Another Place: Timeless Christian Classics (2008).

One bonus is the inclusion of “Still My God,” a new recording featuring the most recent member, Jeremi Richardson. He sounds great with a voice that reminds me a little of Michael Tait (dc Talk).

As Jana Long, the only remaining original member, says in the liner notes, “One thing has never changed … our desire to sing about Jesus Christ and the difference He has made in our lives.” With that as a focus, and the right songs and production, Avalon can continue to influence others.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A New Hallelujah: The Live Worship DVD - Michael W. Smith

Less emotional but more satisfying

A New Hallelujah – The Live Worship DVD
Artist: Michael W. Smith (
Label: Provident Label Group
Length: Approximately 90 minutes

I will never forget what a friend told me in connection with Michael W. Smith’s (MWS) Worship DVD. After my friend’s dad died, he was alone and isolated. Worship DVD was a lifeline that kept him from getting lost in grief. Over and over again he would watch it with tears in his eyes. It was one of his few sources of consolation.

I remember how moved I was the first time I saw it. The opening segment and song medley are electrifying. A New Hallelujah DVD also has a dramatic opening (something characteristic of Smith’s live performances) but it doesn’t quite reach the same level of excitement.

It was also inspiring on Worship to see and hear 15,000 young people enthusiastically worshipping God on some classic contemporary praise and worship songs. A New Hallelujah is set in a larger venue (Joel Osteen’s church) with a more subdued audience.

MWS set the bar high on that first release. What it lacked technically it made up for in passion. However, in some ways, A New Hallelujah DVD is more satisfying. It’s a little more artistic. Some songs have more depth lyrically and musically, and it’s technically superior as far as the stage, lighting, sound and camera work. For those who are tired of the rapid MTV-style movement often seen in concert videos, this has a welcome relaxed pacing.

One reason the first DVD was such a phenomenon is that some of the songs, though simple, were classics. This DVD comes close to that on songs like "Mighty to Save." Smith is also in fine form on "Deep in Love With You," a signature MWS ballad addressed directly to God. Another highlight is seeing Uganda’s African Children’s Choir sing and dance in their colorful clothing.

It’s hard to replicate a prior experience. It’s best to approach this as something new rather than a continuation of an earlier event. A New Hallelujah may not be as moving, but it is rewarding for those who appreciate excellence.

This DVD will release on March 17, 2009.

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...