Cross Rhythms reviewers Mike Rimmer and Tony Cummings have listened to more than 1,000 CDs this year to bring you their nominations of the very best tracks
MARSTIN AND THE REVELATORS -
The Apple Song
From the EP 'Fruit And Animals' (Independent)
One of the best things about reviewing new music is when you come across a new act that absolutely stuns you. That's the case with this band. Marstin appears to be from the Faroe Isles and the band have been based in Memphis while they work on their debut album which is due out in 2010. In the meantime this track is from their EP debut and is absolutely stunning. The re-telling of the story of The Fall has never been painted in such a unique way and it's the combination of clever lyrics and slightly unhinged music which makes this work so well. A cow punk tune with a rasping vocal performance makes this one of the most unusual songs of the year and one of the best too!
SHARI ADDISON - I Praise
From the album 'Shari Addison' (Verity)
Once a funkster, always a funkster. It's been decades since I regularly shook a leg to James Brown, George Clinton and the Fatback Band but I still enjoy a hard rhythmic groove particularly when it's incorporated into praise of the living God and especially when the top line vocal is delivered by a powerhouse, Aretha-style diva. Much of the 'Shari Addison' album is mediocre but this cut, expertly put together by studio maestro Kevin Bond, is an exceptional excuse for listeners to get their praise on.
DANYEW - Close Your
From the EP 'Danyew' (Sparrow)
We've been joking on Rimmerama that the lyric about being connected would make this the perfect song to be sound tracked on an advert for a mobile phone company! Philip Danyew is the multi-instrumentalist whose powerful production skills and plaintive vocal performance make this a sumptuous affair. In an era when there's an awful lot of bland pop rock emanating from the Christian scene in the States, it seems that Danyew has managed to boldly create a sound that is both fresh yet commercial. The fact that the suits at Sparrow Records haven't yet allowed him to release a full length project is frustrating for the artist and the listener!
MAT KEARNEY -
From the album 'City Of Black & White' (Inpop)
For awhile I was going to plump for Cross Rhythms' current turntable hit "Lifeline" from Mat's exemplary 'City Of Black & White' album as my choice track. But now the wistful lilt of "Annie" refuses to leave my head. The song, full of memorable enigmatic images about a girl who's "walking the backbeat out of the grey" before the memorable chorus "Well, it's one love in the morning/Three days in the grave/Fall back in the evening/Now our lives will change" hints at salvation rather than spells it out, but it works all the better for that. The simple skipping arrangement, Mat's laid back, huskily poignant vocal, everything here is perfectly focused and skilfully executed. Acoustic pop perfection.
ALL STAR UNITED - Dude
That's Freakin' Awesome
From the album 'The Good Album' (Fierce!)
For a long time Ian Eskellin has been one of my favourite songwriters. He just has this knack for penning songs that are satirical, hilarious and yet often have a point to make. From 'The Good Album', this was the song that grabbed me immediately. "Dude" has an over the top production and tells the sorry story of a college kid loser who's wasting his life by over indulging in student excess without finishing his education. Eskellin's skill is describing a wide variety of impressive yet dumb behaviour whilst also allowing the listener to realise that this kid is going nowhere. Funny but sad at the same time with a suitably over the top production!
PHILLIP LARUE - Chasing The
From the album 'Let The Road Pave Itself' (BEC Recordings)
I've always liked Philip LaRue's huskily expressive voice since those memorable CCM hits he and his sister cut as LaRue so I was delighted when he returned to the vocal mic with the 'Let The Road Pave Itself' album. And in a collection of haunting, understated, lovingly crafted songs this is my favourite. The arrangement is simple enough, chugging mid tempo rhythms over which Philip declares a new found dimension of faith. He declares, "There's still arrows in my heart/There's still time I fall apart/And all I am left with is whys." But then God's healing love falls like rain. As I said, a beautifully crafted song of faith.
NEWSBOYS - My Friend
From the album 'In The Hands Of God' (Inpop)
Pete Furler describes the frustration that we all face when taking on errant customer "service" systems on the telephone where you wait to be connected, listen to piped music and slowly go up the wall. In these situations it's very easy to lose our religion and Furler honestly describes it with humour and everybody's favourite line about having to listen to Celine Dion songs whilst on hold! And yet the twist in the song is that the Newsboys remind us that even in annoying situations, God encourages us to think and act like Jesus so instead of punching the wall, we can still speak kindly to each other. Something to remember the next time you're stuck on hold. "My Friend Jesus" manages the difficult task of being a fun song with something serious to say!
From the single "Commissioned" (Sonic Juan)
I do hope this Filipino band of hard rockers go on to bigger things and release an album to follow on from this scorching single. It can be no easy thing to be such bold, in-your-face Gospel communicators trawling around the darker recesses of British clubland and Firefalldown deserve the plaudits both for their spiritual focus and for making such an exciting, gutsy noise on their debut single. Jon Blaylock has a wonderfully gravelly voice, the song has a strong hook and the hit-everything-in-sight drumming from Andrew Hodgson is the nearest thing I've heard to that technique since I grooved to Animal on The Muppets. The commercial end of hard music. In a perfect world this would have charted.
MALI MUSIC - No
From the album 'The 2econd Coming' (Independent)
Mali's 'The 2econd Coming' album is one of my favourites for the year and introduces us to an urban music loose cannon with plenty to say and a variety of ways of saying things. The album is so diverse musically that it is difficult to highlight a single song but "No Music" caught my ear right from the start. Based on a rhythm pattern recorded at a relative's church with its unique beats and tambourines, Mali takes us back to simple worship when there was no music, just hand made rhythms and voices lifted up to God in praise. An accomplished producer, songwriter and instrumentalist, Mali is only 21 years old yet sounds like he has the talent to become one of the most creative people in urban music.
JESUS CULTURE - How He
From the album 'We Cry Out' (Elevation)
The Cross Rhythms team first fell in love with this song when we heard it on the breathtaking independent album by its composer John Mark McMillan. But this live version featuring the mesmerizing voice of Kim Walker is, if anything, even more impactful with the sheer, surging passion of abandoned worship caught powerfully in a celebration at the famed Bethel Church in Redding, California. This album was actually released in 2007 but as it's only been made generally available in the UK this year through Elevation Records, I'm bending the rules to put it in 2009's standouts.
From the album 'Awake' (INO)
What's not to like about Skillet? The Christian rock veterans are one of the few bands of their generation to persevere and continue to make music today. With their releases increasingly aimed at the mainstream, the band continue to create songs that are still anthemic and ear catching and on the 'Awake' album, "Monster" is the best example of that. Band leader John Cooper can never escape the spiritual concerns at the heart of the band so no matter how much he fashions lyrics for the mainstream market, the message is still there. The truth of the human condition is highlighted to a fabulously catchy rock groove, powerful vocal and unforgettable chorus. Perfect rock!
TWELVE24 - Real
From the single "Twelve24" (Independent)
Tangible proof that Manchester's Genetik urban evangelism setup is producing the next generation of radical schools evangelists now that The Tribe have scattered. This delightful first outing has everything you want from a piece of pop dance rap - an engaging rhythm, a vocal hook that refuses to leave your head and a rap which spells out the only place real love can be found. Production is by The Tribe's Abi Mhondera, which might explain its radio friendly vibe. Here's hoping a Twelve24 album is on its way soon.
THE GENTLEMEN - Push
From the single "Push Back" (Stereo Tree)
'A Candid History Of Faith, Hope, Love' didn't deliver the chartbusting singles that the band hoped it would. But they gave it their best shot. This song is probably the closest they had to a hit, at least the remixed version which added some well placed synth to propel it along and removed Nicolas Noble's little rant. Short, simple and brilliantly catchy, this is everything a hit single should sound like, perfect for the radio and one listen will have you wandering around the house singing the chorus to yourself. In fact, it felt like I spent two months doing just that, annoying everyone else in the house. Perhaps a re-release in 2010 might give it another shot at the charts. Powerful and snappy, "Push Back" shows the band at their commercial best.
PRESS PLAY - I Give My
From the album 'Life Is Beautiful' (Dream)
The Cross Rhythms reviewer missed the quality of this track which has the same kind of infectious pop rock production and radio friendly immediacy that make the Newsboys such regular hitmakers. The hook here ensures this track leaps above the thousands of other tracks cut from a similar pop rock template while these guys, from the Los Angeles Dream Center initiative, are doing great things bringing hope and practical help to America's underclass.
DWAYNE TRYUMF - 777
From the single "777 Intro" (Independent)
In these days when it feels like if you could just get some momentum going, it might be possible to get a single in the charts if you can mobilise everyone you know, friends and fans alike. That's what Dwayne Tryumf attempted in the autumn with a remix of "777 Intro". Available as an extended download, Tryumf creates a huge groove and then raps the history of the world with creative rhymes and insights in a style that could be described as "fast paced" though that's an understatement! Spiritually challenging and creatively adventurous, Tryumf doesn't do things by halves!
1000 GENERATIONS - Fail Us
From the album 'Turn Off The Lesser Lights' (Varietal)
Pop music greatness occurs when top quality voices get top quality songs to sing. And this is what has happened here. 1000 Generations are a not particularly well known worship-orientated band from Indianapolis who previously had two independent albums out before releasing this on the Vineyard Music subsidiary. "Fail Us Not" was written by the group's husband and wife Steven and Amanda Potaczek and is a stunning catalogue of some of the things that do not phase God ("Mistakes do not move, terror doesn't tame/Death doesn't doom you to life in the grave/Our suffering doesn't scare you/Our secrets don't surprise you at all"). With a chugging pop rock rhythm and an absolutely sublime vocal from Amanda this is, as far as I'm concerned at least, a stone CCM classic.
TOM & OLLY - The Little
From the album 'Tom & Olly' (Elevation)
I first heard this at the end of 2008 when it was just a demo and Tom & Olly were in the process of getting signed. This song encapsulates everything that is great about the duo who have had an exceptional year. Their debut album is packed with memorable songs and this one combines Tom's ranting vocal style with Olly's melodic choruses. Honest songwriting is their thing and it's in place here as is the excellent musicianship and production skills of Dan Wheeler. Acoustic indie is the best way of describing it and this has got everything going on. It's impossibly catchy!
REND COLLECTIVE EXPERIMENT -
From the EP 'Organic Family Hymnal Part II' (Independent)
This is worship music but music that flies in the face of the formulaic and clichéd. This experimental, loose-knit collective have already created a buzz in their hometown of Belfast and in January Kingsway Music will be launching them to the public at large. This gem from the second of their two independent EPs gives a pretty good idea of what they're all about, a singer (producer Gareth Gilkeson?) with a rugged Irish voice the very epitome of Celtic soul, a gutsy chorus (credited The Factory Kids and Gareth's Birthday Choir), some sublime cello work and a tender hearted song brimming over with reverence to the creator of all things. Truly stirring stuff.
MOLLY JENSON - Do You Only
Love The Ones Who Look Like You
From the album 'Maybe Tomorrow' (Bully! Pulpit)
The San Diego singer released the 'Maybe Tomorrow' album in March and this duet with Switchfoot's Jon Foreman was an immediate highlight. The question itself is an important one that deserves our attention and the song is beautifully constructed as Molly makes us think about those around us and whether we invest enough time looking after them. A simple production which simply lets the song itself breathe freely and effective interplay between the two singers makes this a poignant song. I played this for weeks on Rimmerama and was so moved by it that I ended up preaching on the subject. So, if ever there was a song that caused a direct response in the listener, here it is!
SHELL PERRIS - Every Time I
From the album 'Beautiful Life' (Authentic)
Anyone who associates Shell's music with the perky teen pop of tbc will be stunned by this cut. Singing in a higher octave than she normally uses and with an emotional intensity we would never have dreamed of on earlier recordings, this mid tempo song drips with a raw vulnerability that only comes when singers cease to worry about hitting notes and start "living the lyric". And live it Shell does as she sings to her Forever Friend who forgives her failings and mistakes and brings healing and restoration. It was brave of Shell to offer a vocal of such naked emotion and brave of producer Dave Healey to allow it in on the CD.