Tag Archives: CCM

Austins Bridge: Times Like These

Soaring contemporary Christian pop-rock, country and soul

Austin’s Bridge is Justin Rivers and Jason Baird, a Christian Contemporary vocal duo whose big production sound (courtesy of Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus) mixes rock, country and soul. Originally a trio, founding member Mike Kofahl has apparently exited, leaving the pair to front a studio band anchored by their producer’s bass. DeMarcus also contributes two songs, alongside the work of several Nashville and CCM pros, and three tunes written or co-written by Rivers and Baird. Neither vocalist sings with the country inflections of Rascal Flatts, and though DeMarcus gives their record a polished studio punch, their passion makes this sound less slick and more rock – something like Journey singing CCM with harmonizing vocalists in place of a single Steve Perry. The songs are tightly written and uplifting, celebrating belief, salvation and the wonder of God’s creation. The lyrics will appeal to the faithful, the optimistic, and those who like well-crafted, powerfully sung contemporary rock. Those put off by unremitting hope and blind faith may not be swayed by the album’s belief-based answers to contemporary social problems – but you’ll have to admit the music is solidly produced and sung with conviction. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Austins Bridge’s Home Page
Austins Bridge’s MySpace Page

Various Artists: Songs 4 Worship: Country Live

Various_Songs4WorshipCountryLiveFine collection of worship, but not all country

The extensive and popular Songs 4 Worship series has included themed and Spanish-language releases as well as soul, gospel and country sets. Like 2007’s edition, this collection of live performances (recorded at the Ryman Auditorium) often strays far from country sounds. The opening track by Lenny LeBlanc is a fine song of praise, but the presence of steel guitar doesn’t keep it country. The gospel of the Palmetto State Quartet’s “Trading My Sorrows” is terrific, rousing the crowd into clapping, but again there’s really nothing country in it. Crossover artists Rebecca Lynn Howard and Bryan White are both in good voice but fail to deliver on their country roots, and even the rootsy stalwart Ricky Skaggs is softened by the stage band’s accompaniment. Where the show plants some roots is with Collin Raye, whose bluesy delivery gives a twangy front to the band’s performance. Marty Raybon also finds some country soul in the his lower register. Ironically, the album’s most countrified tracks are studio cuts borrowed from earlier albums by Randy Travis, Alison Krauss, Diamond Rio and Alabama. The live band fits nicely behind the album’s live acts, but it fails to make the country singers sound country. This is all the more obvious when compared to the studio cuts. This is a good album of worship and praise, with plenty of energy in the live performances, just note that most of the twang is in the previously released studio tracks. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Derek Webb: Stockholm Syndrome

DerekWebb_StockholmSyndromeProvocative CCM songwriter expands to modern pop and techno

As a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for Caedmon’s Call, Derek Webb found success in Christian pop circles. But Webb’s calling turned out to be broader than would fit within CCM, and his solo career, launched with 2003’s She Must and Shall Go Free, showed his faith, both in Christ and in his own music, was stronger than some in the Christian world could handle. His approach to writing, and particularly to marketing, has evolved over the years, resulting in free album downloads and the launch of NoiseTrade.com. With his latest solo album he transitions once again, this time sonically, moving away from the singer-songwriter approach and electric guitars of his earlier works, and towards inorganic keyboards, drum machines, synthesizer washes and sampling that bring to mind Radiohead and techno bands.

Webb explores soul, hip-hop, funk, doo-wop, and electronica as his expressive voice provides warmth atop chilly music technology. He’s stirred up controversy and a great deal of blog commentary with the song “What Matters More,” crossing his record label’s comfort level by including a four-letter expletive. Even without the lyric “Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a sh*t about 50,000 people who are dyin’ today” the song’s confrontational indictment of Christian hypocrisy with respect to gays and AIDS had to be tough for iNO to release to its traditional customers. The album is being offered in both its original 14-song version (via Webb’s web store) and a “clean” 13-song version that drops the contentious track rather than editing out the offending s-word. True to Webb’s assertion, this is one of the album’s most important tracks and is worth seeking out.

Even without “What Matters More,” there are plenty of Webb’s provocative lyrics. He takes Baptist minister Fred Phelps to task for his decidedly un-Christian hatred of gays, contemplates the seductive nature of oppression, explores cat-and-mouse relationships, and envisions a Heaven that redresses the ailments of modern society. Webb’s couched his lyrics in upbeat melodies and funky bass-and-drums that may distract you from the songs’ thematic weight, but the messages will seep into you as you sing along to Webb’s declaratory words. The few ballads include the doo-wop inspired “Freddie, Please” and moody closer, “American Flag Umbrella,” each providing a rest from the album’s more insistent beats.

This is an adult album, set squarely as a challenge to Christian believers. The album’s title suggests that Webb sees church orthodoxy as a suffocating captor to whom believers become overly attached and sympathetic. Non-Christians will be interested in hearing how Webb’s libertarian philosophy coexists and conflicts with his Christian beliefs. This is neither an evangelical album nor an attack on Christianity, but more the inner monologue of a believer striving to make sense of the dissonance he feels between the religious and secular worlds. Stockholm Syndrome’s political and philosophical ponderings, as well as its modern pop and techno sounds should pick up new fans to replace those CCM listeners who can’t handle Webb’s version of the truth. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | What Matters More
Derek Webb’s Home Page
Derek Webb’s MySpace Page

Ryan Delmore: The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood

ryandelmore_thespiritMusically fetching Americana  worship service

Despite Delmore’s credentials as a worship service leader and his record label’s ministry-through-music charter, you’d be setting off in the wrong direction in comparing this to anything Christian Contemporary. As a musician, Delmore is full of rootsy twang and organ soul, and he sings in a powerful, hoarse voice that’s full of emotional cracks. Think Tom Petty, Ryan Adams or Mark Erelli. The album opens with the ragged vocal of “Mercy” giving an initial sense of dissipation, but the lyrics reveal the singer basking in renewal rather than wallowing in desperation. The drawn-out refrains of “Hallelujah” conjure the allusive biblical glimpses of Leonard Cohen’s like-titled song, but the cry here is one of forgiveness. Delmore’s testimony is powerful, but even with superb Americana sounds to grab secular ears, the monothematic glorying of God will quickly wear out its welcome from the unconverted. Songs of praise resonate powerfully with believers, but they resound as blind faith outside the circle of the saved. Unlike the then-recently-converted Dylan of Slow Train Coming, Delmore appears here fully formed as a religious being and fully steeped in the liturgy. The result is an album of praise that’s anchored to its own faith, rather than the joys and travails of life from which religious conviction is born. Delmore’s music is compelling, as is his voice, but secular listeners will be disappointed by the lack of insight into the experiential roots of his religious beliefs. These songs preach well to the converted and will catch the ears of many others, but the only converts will be those already teetering on the edge; perhaps that’s part of Delmore’s musical mission. Worship leaders who want to bring these songs into their services will find lyrics and chords on the enhanced CD of this release. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Mercy
Ryan Delmore’s MySpace Page