New Releases for Back to School

By Jenny Bennett | managing editor,
Posted: Mon, 08/18/2008 - 21:36

album promo image for New Releases for Back to School

Family Force 5

Vacations are mostly over and flip flops are being put away in exchange for new school shoes. The summer may be coming to a close, but hot releases in Christian music are still going strong. Here are a few of our favorites.

Dance or Die, Family Force 5

August 19 | Tooth & Nail

Call me crazy, but I've never been a huge '80s music buff. I'm always a little skeptical of music that makes me laugh. I know; too serious for my own good. But I admit there's no denying the appeal of Family Force 5's upcoming '80s-infused album, a tone it takes immediately with the infectious opening track "Dance or Die." Songs well-suited for the silver screen (a sequel to The Breakfast Club or a Vin Diesel action flick, perhaps?) as well as live performances, dominate the project. The energy they emit and the actually quite musical way in which they scream still defines this group, which chooses to remain light on spiritual content and just dance. The kids love it, and I can see why. I'm most impressed by the electronically melodic "How In the World" which shows off lead singer Solomon Old's vocal prowess, the band's first indirect reference to Jesus with "DIE-4-YOU," that incorporates an echoey microphone, giving the effect of a live performance sound, and the above-average positive message of "Radiator." It is really interesting to hear what innovative things these guys do with their arrangements. And rumor has it an engineer friend of theirs has custom-built a drum machine for their live shows that you've got to see to believe. Their performances are where it's at, but it's cool that that quality really comes across on the album.

--Jenny Bennett

Not Without Love, Jimmy Needham

August 19 | Inpop

Guys who fish love to talk all the time about "the one that got away," but it took a guy like Jimmy Needham to make that myth ring near true. This Texas singer/songwriter's admirable debut, Speak, arrived in 2006 to a response as hollow as a tin can on a string. Silence. But rather than jumping off the line and disappearing altogether, this history/philosophy major put his head down, picked his pen up and got back to work. The result is Not Without Love, an impressive collection of memorable songs that smack of both spiritual depth and imaginative, real-life love and devotion. Continuing in the musical vein that suits him best – a jazz-pop, soft-rock hybrid ala Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Shane & Shane and Warren Barfield – Needham proves his craft even bigger and brighter than most of what's on the market today. Be sure to check out "Hurricane," a powerful, illuminating prayer for awakening, and "Firefly," a delightful love song for Needham's new wife. There's so much good stuff on Not Without Love, it's definitely one for the 'repeat' button. Don't miss one of the "finest not-so-new artists you've never heard of." Get on the hook 'cause this catch deserves real-time attention.

--Melissa Riddle

Self-titled, Brooke Barrettsmith

August 19 | Essential

It's pretty rare these days in Christian music to find a woman anywhere near the charts (note to self: step down off the soapbox, this is an album review), much less to find a female pop-rocker of note breaking onto the music scene. So breaking open the cellophane on the self-titled debut of Essential artist Brooke Barrettsmith was met with more than a bit ofcuriosity. And I must say, this 26-year-old Chicago pop-rocker satisfies not only with some core-solid, powerful lyrics, but also a memorable rock landscape (ala Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, Avril Lavigne) to keep the project interesting. No small feat for a new kid. From the echoing rock ballad, "Farewell," extolling the unconditional love and mercy of God in our lives, to the driving force of relationship lost in "Anymore," to "More Real," an anthem that reminds us of Jesus' powerful presence despite the darkness of the day, Barrettsmith underscores with passion the intent of her message: Don't be ashamed of your faith. Weare weak, but God is strong. Reach for him, and he will come through. A big voice that delivers a big message and delivers it well. Look for Barrettsmith on the Million Voice Tour this fall with BarlowGirl and Jimmy Needham, in support of Mercy Ministries.

--Melissa Riddle

Ancient Skies, Michael Gungor Band

September 9 | Brash Music

It's apparent off the bat this group is a talented praise & worship band, but what I didn't expect to find as I dug deeper into their sophomore release, Ancient Skies, is such an innovative use of arrangement, instrumentation and background vocals. The songs vary in style from soaring electric guitars on standard praise & worship numbers like "Be Praised," to a startlingly honest song about what God's love is not confined to, "White Man," that made me smile with its Jack-Johnson-like appeal. You'll even hear a slammin' country/bluegrass guitar solo on one of the best songs on the album, "Fly." The mostly up-tempo number leaves no stone unturned: rock ballad guitar riffs combine in a fury with Mozart-like piano, which fades into a soft piano solo (and all this happens after the impressive bluegrass solo has had its moment in the sun). The arrangement covers so much ground it leaves you wondering what just happened. For the most part, the customary praise & worship songs are dull, although I think they'd be good live. But what the album lacks in providing a praise & worship offering that's truly surprising, it more than makes up for with the less predictable elements. Also noteworthy is "Say So," one of the best worship songs out there today, and a song Michael co-wrote with Israel Houghton.

--Jenny Bennett

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