Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas - Downhere

Solid, mostly pop/rock Christmas offering

How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas
Artist: Downhere
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 13 tracks/44:40 minutes

How Many Kings by Downhere springs in part from the success of the title track, which originally appeared on their last recording, Ending is Beginning, as a bonus. The song, which had significant airplay on Christian radio, is included here in its original form and in a slightly re-imagined version at the end. Recording a Christmas album was also the natural outgrowth of being a part of the Bethlehem Skyline Tour with other Centricity artists. Catch the 2009 tour if you can.

Though the title song may be the favorite, there is much more to enjoy. Whether new or old, most songs are done in Downhere’s pop/rock style with acoustic sounds more in evidence. There are also some lovely musical interludes that reflect the wonder of the season.

As far as content goes, most songs contain substantive Christian reflections. The exceptions are “5 Golden Rings,” which only lasts long enough for you to hear those memorable words, and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which has a down-home, Salvation Army band sound. These were thrown in for fun.

I have heard instrumental versions of “Good King Wenceslas” and “Bring a Torch, Isabella” but rarely, if ever, have I heard the lyrics as you do here. The former is a blues-flavored rumble and the later a favorite with its pleasant melody, vocal tradeoffs and mesmerizing guitar.

The two co-front men, guitarist Marc Martel and keyboardist Jason Germain, are both outstanding on vocals. The musicianship and production are excellent. I especially enjoy the chiming guitar work that provides the winsome hooks.

Another favorite is the upbeat “Christmas in Our Hearts,” which has a strong feel-good vibe. It’s punctuated by horns that are as clear as a cold winter’s morning. Chase the blues away with this song.

“Silent Night” is a beautiful, stripped-down affair with piano, vocals, strings and a little acoustic guitar at the end. “What Child is This” is in classical guitar mode with vocals that have a pristine quality.

Downhere has done an excellent job of fusing their style with the more familiar melodies. They add just the right amount of creativity, which makes this accessible to a wide audience. This is a great way not only to celebrate the birth of Christ, but ten years together and seven recordings, not counting their initial independent release.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Love and War - Barlow Girl

An urgent call to relationship and boldness

Love and War
Artist: BarlowGirl (http://www.barlowgirl.com/)
Label: Fervent Records
Length: 11 tracks/43:08 minutes

You can hear the urgency in BarlowGirl’s Love and War. The opening “Come Alive” starts with, “Wake up, get out, there’s no time to waste now. Never shut up, it’s our time to speak out.” On “Running Out of Time” (the title says it all), they declare, “This is war, so pick your side.”

This album does battle by boldly proclaiming truth, which serves to combat lies. As I listened, pockets of deceit were being stripped away, leaving a desire to be more aligned with God’s heart. Having a passion for God is a repeated theme on several songs.

The music is a perfect complement. Jarring rock accompanies the more warrior-like stances. Producer Otto Price (GRITS, dcTalk) adds innovative touches.

The group becomes more melodious and pop-oriented when they focus on relationship with God. “It’s all about being in love with the Lord, and about that relationship with Him. If we don't have that …, we can’t have the boldness,” says Becca Barlow.

“Beautiful Ending,” the first single, is a gorgeous piano-driven track about not losing our first love. It’s forward-looking, wondering about our future with God.

One of the most moving moments is found on “Tears Fall,” which deals with a tragedy in our society. For two and half years BarlowGirl has struggled with writing a song that articulates their pro-life stance. This lovely, stripped-down ballad avoids accusation and in the process becomes a song of confession and repentance. A gospel choir makes it even better.

The Beatles had “Good Day Sunshine” and now BarlowGirl ends on a high note with “Hello Sunshine.” It leaves us with the prayer, “Let my eyes see all the beauty.” It’s a fun, upbeat way to end their third studio release (not counting their Christmas project, Home for Christmas).

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