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Music Monday: Bethel – We will not be shaken

Photo: Bethel Music
This week I am sharing my take on the Bethel Music album, We will not be shaken. The 11 track CD includes a DVD showcasing the video recording of the album, taken on top of a mountain north of Redding, California with songs lead by various Bethel Music artists, including Brian and Jenn Johnson, Hunter Thompson, Amanda Cook and Matt Stinton, as well as debut artists Kalley Heiligenthal, Hannah and Paul McClure, Jonathan David Helser and Melissa Helser. The release of the album was preceded by a sneak preview of this film during a free worldwide digital stream in January 2015, as reported byGateway News. With amazing footage boasting beautiful views and scenic shots overlooking Shasta Lake, I think that the spend on this CD/DVD is really worth it! 
Title track, “We will not be shaken”, was birthed out of spontaneous worship during a Sunday morning service at Bethel Church. The song speaks about not being shaken during stormy times and holds powerful declarations and easy to sing melodies that make it a real congregational song. You will hear Brian Johnson on this one – which is one of the few he leads on this album. I think it’s really awesome that Brian and wife, Jen, are training up other worship leaders by giving them a platform on Bethel Music recordings.
An example would be the lovely Kalley Heiligenthal on opening track, “Ever be”. Someone had shared this song with me months ago, so I was completely smitten by the time I found out that Bethel had decided to put it on their album. She so beautifully sings ‘Your praise will ever be on my lips/ever be on my lips’ which pretty much sums up the hearts of those who love the Lord! It has a catchy pop sound and it’s opening words are enough to make one think this the perfect album opener. I can see why it’s a favourite of so many already.
Other Bethel Music album newbies are Paul and Hannah Mclure. Paul features on “Jesus we love you” which is an emotive worship song featuring heartfelt lyrics, simple melodies and an intimate feel. This is another song that can easily be introduced to a church congregation. Hannah Mclure leads “You are my one thing” – a laid-back, almost rootsy song, that is an ode to a faithful lover. Hannah’s bluesy vocal sings ‘Just to be close to You/Just to walk next to You/This is my one thing/You are my one thing.’  I love how “chilled” it is (for lack of a better word).
I also loved Jonathan Helser’s “No longer slaves”. This guy’s raspy vocal brings something fresh to the album with a song, which was thoughtfully written, speaking about the freedom we have in Christ with a bridge that boldly declares ‘My fears were drowned in perfect love / You rescued me so I could stand and sing / I am child of God!’ Goosebumps!
Hunter Thompson’s vocals on “Home” holds such beauty that it gives depth to the simple lyrics: ‘draw to me Jesus/I’ve made my heart a home.’  He sings it as if he wrote it – which he did! Definitely a heart song.
Easter song “Seas of Crimson” speaks about the power of the work done on the cross with a bridge that chants ‘Hallelujah, death is beaten / Christ is risen from the grave / Hallelujah, now and forever / All to You the highest praise.’ This track is poetic and a proper hymn, with a stunning melody and chorus.
Album closer, “You don’t miss a thing” features the talented Amanda Cook who eases her way into the ballad. She eventually crescendos into a bridge that really moves me! ‘You see it all, You see it all, through the eyes of love!’ Amanda’s vocal always holds such passion and at the same time, such a purity during the quiet moments, which I find so powerful.
I found this album to be one of my favourite Bethel worship albums to date and enjoyed that there are hardly any up tempo songs on it! I’m okay with the fact that it is acoustic guitar and piano driven and I think that the onset of violins and a cello is the perfect accompaniment to the sound that they’ve released. I highly recommend!
This review was originally written for and published in Gateway News

Music Monday: Fred Hammond – I will trust

Photo: Rejoice Magazine
I love that music is malleable and that we are able to reinvent styles and genres and introduce sounds that may never have been recorded in a song before. It’s exciting when musicians take risks musically, especially when Spirit led. But the thing that I love the most about Fred Hammond is that a Fred Hammond album sounds like a Fred Hammond album! Uncle Fred never fails to disappoint when it comes to big vocals, big instrumentation and big songs! I’m pleased to say that all of this is evident in his latest album, titled “I will trust”, which he released in November 2014 following a double knee replacement. The operation left him wheelchair-bound and emotionally wounded. He shared: “I have two nine-inch slits going down my legs to remind me that I had to have a traumatic event. I had to learn how to walk again, but I did it and trusted God and that’s kind of what makes this album special. All of the emotional trauma that came with it.” On listening to it, one can easily pick up that the event has served to inspire and motivate the worship leader/songwriter to write fresh songs that speak of hope, perseverance and putting all your trust in the Lord. As always, the songs are Bible based and infused with the choral based Gospel sounds that we’ve come to know and love from him. I experienced moments of deep reflection, some of jubilant celebration and even moments where I wanted to shout out “Yes! Amen!” 
Track 1 is through and through a Gospel praise track. Titled “Festival of Praise” it is the perfect album opener and sets the tone for the rest of the album. I found myself moving into various stages of worship with each song.  The album’s second song, “All the way” has a reggae feel to it and speaks about pressing on. I love the bridge of this song! You can’t help but feel encouraged and determined to run the race well. Another bridge that I loved is that of the song “His perfect love.”   It says ‘Something ‘bout the love of Jesus/I was lost, it came and rescued me!’ Wow – the vocals and the lyric make it impossible to listen to that without something stirring in your spirit!
Another favorite praise track on this album is “Take me to the water.” With a cool bass line, horns and a ‘funk’ vibe, this song is another one of those “typical Hammond” tracks that hits the nail on the head for those who love traditional Gospel. I also enjoyed “Try Jesus” which is a kind of an evangelical song, encouraging listeners to give Jesus a try with a bridge that says‘if you’ve tried everything/and everything has failed/come on and try my Jesus.’ Yes! Amen! “You keep on blessing me,” again with the funk and with a really catchy melody, resonated in my heart with the season I am in. It is a song of gratitude to a good God, in true Hammond style.
“Only the comforter” is a really amazing ballade that speaks about our friend, Holy Spirit. This song has a contemporary rock sound to it and is basically the story telling of Acts 2 – the coming of Holy Spirit.  I highly recommend it (among others), if you’re curious to have a listen to what Uncle Fred wants to share with this album. And okay, I’m going to say it: Hammond sounds a bit like John Legend on this track! I admire that Uncle Fred is able to adapt his vocal to compliment the style of the song he is ministering in – whether it be by adding some grit, belting out big notes, bringing it down to a passionate croon or even delivering some old school rap – he has a skill that only the really experienced and talented can attempt.
“I owe it all to you” is another song of gratitude and recognizes God as everything and all! Hammond’s almost bluesy, choral flavor on this song drives it home, in my opinion. This track stirred feelings of thankfulness and is one that I would definitely put on repeat! It is really fitting as the closer of the album.
I’ve saved the best for last: Title track, “I will trust.”  Well, where do I begin! The ballad features Hammond’s daughter, Brieann Hammond, accompanying him in beautiful soprano. The track opens with Uncle Fred emotively singing about a time when he believed that he could do things on his own. ‘Some put their trust in earthly possessions/But in the end it won’t bring them through.’ In a buildup the father and daughter tag team sing the Proverbs 3:5-6 message: “I will trust in the name of the Lord!” Wow!
Hammond fans, this one’s for you! Hammond newbies, this is the album to cut your teeth with! This album is a testimony of how God brought Fred Hammond through a difficult time in his life. The songs are bold declarations that refer to the amazing loyalty and love that our Daddy has for all of us. All in all it has been a pleasurable listening experience and has left me feeling rejuvenated, spiritually filled and so thankful for His faithfulness.

This review was originally written for and published in Gateway News

Music Monday: The Arrows – Make Believe

Photo: New Release Tuesday
I can’t help but be extremely proud of duo, The Arrows, when I hear one of their tracks on the radio, feeling especially chuffed at being a girl and South African and a Christian all at the same time since they are, well, girls and South Africans and God loving, all at the same time too. Needless to say I was so sad when I read that they will be splitting up. The pair posted a message on their Facebook page last week, detailing their decision to break up the band, assuring their folllowers that they each support the other’s decision. With this in mind, I decided to do a special review to their debut album, Make Believe, released in 2010. The album, which was a massive success in South Africa, has a very authentic sound in that Pam de Menezes (Now Myburgh) and Christie Desfontaine (Now Joseph) did not try to mimic the latest ‘hot and happening’ Christian band, but instead, they focused on showcasing their worship – full of flavor and spunk, with absolutely no clichés to be found!
A little more about the girls:  Pam de Menezes, brilliantly talented on vocals and keys, is a classically trained jazz musician. Christie Desfontaine, the cheeky and very gifted drum and percussionist, describes herself as “an atmosphere of thumpingly evangelical euphoria.” The pair were born and raised in Durban, South Africa and served passionately at their local church where Desfontaine’s mother pastors, until God opened doors for them in the broader musical arena.
You may recognize the first single off the Make Believe album, titled “Love sick”. It pretty much became a household anthem after featuring in a popular KFC ad in 2010.The track serves as a very pop inspired introduction to the band and showcases their fresh sound and songwriting skills. My favorite lines are “I’m love sick and waiting for the day when You’ll make everything brand new.” 
Opening track, “No robots”, is an orchestra of synths and sounds, and speaks about God taking a chance on us by giving us freedom of choice, because He wants our love and not programmed robots. “Oh it’s poetry it’s genius/You don’t want robots/You want our love!”
De Menezes has a tongue in cheek way of writing which is evident in songs like “Entropy” and “World Interrupted”. Both songs seems to be written as a wake up call for people to open their eyes to what is going on in the world! I love that both songs are written and performed in cabaret style, which gives greater emphasis to the lyric. And though different, it still maintains a catchy, “now” vibe, with Desfontaine on drums adding energy and flair to the repertoire.
I really love “All in”, which is a sassy faith song speaking about going ‘all in’ with God and putting all your hope in Him. Again, de Menezes really has a way of saying things! It’s another synth party and a really fun song to listen to, with the message hitting home at just the right spots. 
Title track, “Make Believe”, is a piano driven ballade where she croons about waiting for God, her beloved, like a lovesick fool. De Menezes vocals is nothing short of pure and really adds something beautiful to the already beautiful lyric. Another beauty of a ballade is “Ode to a patient God”. This song made me feel such sorrow for friends and family who do not know the Lord. It reminded me how wonderful it is to know Him. To know that He waits for us, patiently, never giving up, because He loves us that much… and yet there are so many who do not know this love! This song really moved me.
My favorite song to play in the car is “One for the brothers.” It is a dance song which speaks directly to unbelievers, again, in that sassy way that de Menezes seems to be so good at, but with a totally groovy beat and really excellent production. I especially enjoy the little bonus outtro that happens a few seconds after the song ends, during which De Menezes goes off into a rap-sing-song, urging those who do not know the Lord to “make a plan” and get to know Him. So fun! So fresh!
I love how The Arrows have managed to fuse the Message with a sound that can speak to the youth of today. I found this album to be really inspiring and thought provoking, while still being able to make me dance AND enter into a beautiful moment with God. If you’re looking for something funky to play while driving home from work – If you’re looking for cool music for your birthday party – If you’re looking for something to put into your headphones or something that will stir you up and get you thinking… this is it!  
So I will end this off with saying a huge thank you to The Arrows – Pam De Menezes Myburgh and Christie Desfontaine Joseph. We thank you and salute you for being bold enough to write songs that say things that should be said, in this time and season and for being passionate enough to make music that is God focused, aiming the arrow of truth straight for the spirit of anyone who listens.
This review was originally written for and published in Gateway News

Music Monday: Tenth Avenue North – Cathedrals

Photo: Tenth Avenue North
When I popped the new Tenth Avenue North album, Cathedrals, into my CD player, I secretly hoped that I would hear something other than ‘just another contemporary Christian band’. I had a craving for something different.
But before I get into the review, here’s a little background info about this American based ensemble: They are a full on band, with Mike Donehey on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Jeff Owen on  electric guitar and vocals, Ruben Juarez III on bass guitar and vocals, Jason Jamison on drums  and Brendon Shirley on keyboard.  The group, who has had a few member changes since conception, had originally met at Palm Beach Atlantic University, releasing three independent albums before its major label debut with album, Over and Underneath in May 2008. They went on to receive the coveted Dove New Artist of the Year Award in 2009 and Song of the Year in 2010. Cathedrals is their fourth studio album and has already reached Number 1 on both iTunes and Billboard’s Top Christian Albums Chart. Lead, Donehey, had this to say about the album: ” ‘I am a cathedral of God’s spirit’ we’ve been told in Acts 17, we’ve been told in 2 Corinthians 6, we’ve been told in Colossians and Hebrews that we are a living temple of God’s spirit right?,” he asked and then explained his reasoning, “Now I’m not afraid of this big bad secular world. In fact now I know if the spirit of God lives in me, everywhere I go I make it sacred, just when I walk through the door.” According to Donehey, it was this very thought that inspired the title and content of the new album. “So many of us live in isolation and we really don’t have to,” he shared. “So the idea is: ‘Hey get in the boat with us, sail by the stars of God’s promises and reach the shore of community.’ We realize that when we start to live together, we become the cathedrals on earth. We are the place where the spirit resides. It no longer dwells in buildings but in each of us.” Powerful stuff!
The band has penned most of the album themselves – which I found impressive. I love that they write together as a collective. This album was written while on the road and only features 1 or 2 guest writers, which shows the amazing unity in the spirit between the band members – which is something that I admire.
Right. So when I popped the new Tenth Avenue North album into my CD player, hoping to hear something different, I found exactly that. I actually started smiling during the first few seconds of the album opener, “No man is an island.” With a sound that filled the atmosphere, Donehey begins singing, as God, beckoning us to build community and not live this life alone. Great album opener!
The following track, “Stars in the night” made me intensely aware of their amazingly sharp song writing skills. These guys have something to say and want to say it straight up – no sugar coating. This pop rock song starts off with a melodic piano riff backing the vocalist who sings: “No matter where you lead we want to follow you/Trouble is we forget who we belong to.” It later on goes on to speak about grace making a way through, even when we are filled with shame and brings across a message of hope and redemption.
I am a huge fan of Track 3, titled “Iesu, Dulcis Memoria”, a hauntingly beautiful Latin hymn sung by Audrey Assad. Wow! I love the sudden shift in song style and that the song serves as a prelude to title track, “Catherals”, which is one of my favorite tracks on this album. I love everything about it – from the cool kick drum that introduces us to the song; to the hook that challenges: “Let joy take temptations place!”
And then the album shifts into yet another genre of rock with song “I need You, I love You, I want You”. It feels a bit out of place on this album, but totally works, serving as a nice break away from the more mid and up tempo pop rock songs. It is through and through a worship song and its title literally says more about the song than my description of it ever could!
“The Spark” and “Closer”, have a much more mainstream sound. The latter has a catchy piano intro and hook. I love that they don’t ‘mince’ their words and keep lyrics to the point. The bridge, for example, says: “Well I’m embarrassed to admit/The distance I’ve been feeling/Has all been self-imposed.” I love honest lyric that puts things into retrospection.
“Stay” sparked my interest. It seems like the song speaks about marriage and divorce. Coupled with interesting instrument arrangements and a catchy hook, I think this is one that you should listen to while reading the lyric (which is found in the album cover by the way – score!)
The brutal honesty in “We won’t numb the pain” made me wince! The track speaks about the cheap thrills that so many in the world are falling for and really hammers home a declaration with a bridge that sings: “We won’t number the pain!/Hands reaching to the sky/Hearts ready for the fire/Eyes open til we die”. I especially love the 2nd half of the song, which is really more like an outtro, titled “Fire”. It breaks down into a melodic guitar riff and Doneheys hauntingly beautiful vocal asking God to give him “one glimpse of Your lovely light.” It really is stunning!
The simplicity of “All the earth is holy ground” rounds the album off nicely, summarizing the message that the band had wanted to share with this compilation.
The Deluxe Edition features 3 more songs: “Just getting by”,“Forgive me” and “For those who can’t speak” which features Derek Minor and KB.
As a Tenth Avenue North newbie and first time listener, I can wholeheartedly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this album. The songs are all written with the heart of the message in mind, the production is well thought out and the vocals are on point. I get the feel that each song was assembled in a way that is quite bold – an indication that they have been on the music scene for a while and are confident with their sound and know where they are going to. If you are looking for something fresh, easy to listen to and real, give this one a go! Listening to this album made me feel like I had just been on scenic journey and I was left feeling spiritually refreshed.
This review was originally written for and published in Gateway News

Book Club: Wild by Cheryl Strayed (and an Oprah moment!)

Before I chat about this weeks review, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I need to tell you a little story first! So last month we reviewed Captivating by John and his wife Stasi Eldredge and at the end of the meeting Anika (my spiritual momma) made an announcement: She had tweeted at Oprah’s Book Club about our very own South African book club and guess what:
OPRAH SENT US BOOKS!!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACCCCK! Yes, we literately all went: AAAACK! in the coffee shop.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Signed by Oprah and the author

The book was this very same WILD, by Cheryl Strayed – hand picked for us by the wonderful Oprah. Wild is an autobiography written by Cheryl about her experiences while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail during the Summer of 1995. Yes girls, she did this all on her own some! See write up here:

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Now, as Christian, Lord-loving gals, we obviously found the Jesus in this book 🙂 and I must say that it totally brought us back to: Spending time alone with God. I mean, I woulda totally had some holy spirit moments if I were to hike any trail by myself, without seeing anyone for DAYS! Cheryl says she discovered herself on that trail…  proof that it’s such a recipe for uncovering the deepness of God, getting to know Him and who YOU are in Him and just totally surrendering to Him.

Oh btw, we had breaki at The Blue Orange, in Walmer. It was a windy day and the only seating they had available for us was outside. So it was a bit chills. Breakfast wasn’t that amazing. The coffee, however, made my day! While taking pics outside (like proper weirdos), one lady asked us what we were taking pics for. We then explained our book club to her, and showed her our wonderful Oprah book. Yes, she also totally AAAACKED.
Especially when we gave her a spare copy of the book! She literally almost cried 🙂

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