This year’s Canadian Gospel Music Association Awards (CGMA) was a true showcase for upcoming artists. In addition to Catholic artists, Chris Bray and Mags, there was a huge number of awards going to these exciting new artists, many who were showcasing debut albums. Jodi King, City Harmonic, Tenore and High Valley not only received awards, but were often called upon and delivered great performances at the gala event. If this is any indication of the health of the Canadian Christian music industry, then there is surely a bright future. This column will focus on this trove of Canadian talent, both new and established.
Downhere– On the Altar of Love
Downhere has received a surge of secular news with one of the two lead singers, Marc Martel, winning the opportunity to be Queen’s lead singer for this summer’s tour. Downhere is unusual in that there are two singers, with Jason Germain sharing the duties. This album leans slightly in favour of Germain, with most of the songs having a generic Adult Contemporary Christian music feel. For me, however, the highlights on this album are the songs that feature Martel’s voice. Examples are “Only the Beginning” and “Rest” where Martel’s soaring vocals takes the songs to another level. The album is really at its best when it is quirky, as in “Living the Dream” and “The Altar of Love”. Although this is not the band’s best effort, there are definitely enough gems to make this a disc that I would recommend.
Hawk Nelson– Crazy Love (Plus the Light Sides)
Hawk Nelson is one of Canada’s most consistent bands, garnering both Christian and secular radio play with their positive lyrics and power pop/punk sound. This album is an interesting combination of studio originals combined with acoustic covers of some of their biggest previous hits. There are some heavier tunes like “Tally-Ho” but the highlights are the less intense numbers like “Your Love is a Mystery” and “Crazy Love”. The acoustic remakes are great, especially “California” complete with Beach Boy-ish vocals. This is a great Canadian band with another great release.
Ali Matthews– Carry Me Home
Stratford singer Ali Matthews was a big winner at this year’s CGMA awards. This album highlights her sweet vocals and honest songwriting. Stylistically, this is pop with a tinge of country, jazz and rock that should appeal to many. The lyrics are interesting and have a gentle way of pulling the listener into her message. Highlights include “Without You Here”, which hints to Fleetwood Mac, the Bruce Cockburn cover “All the Diamonds in the World”. as well as the jazzy “A Little Faith”. At the end of the day, it is Ali’s sweet crystal clear vocals that stands out, particularly in the Dylan cover “To make you feel my love.” Well done!
City Harmonic– I have a dream
These Hamilton newcomers are making quite a wave. Besides winning 3 CGMA awards, they also gave a compelling live performance at the CGMA awards show. This is a solid debut. “Spark” is an extremely catchy song and one of my favorites. Many songs are driven by piano with a mid-tempo rock feel, such as “Mountaintop”. The soulful blues of “Be Still, O My Style” is another strong cut whereas “Holy (Wedding Day)” is a wonderful ballad. The highlight of the album is the single “Manifesto” which won the Recorded Song of the Year award. There is a shade of uniformity in the songs but it is definitely a great start for City Harmonic
Jodi King– Little Smile
Hailing from Winnipeg, Jodi King has a crystal clear voice married to cool, laid back lyrics, and presented in a heartfelt pop styling. If you like interesting female vocalists, this is a debut effort to check out. Like her sensual and provocative performance at the CGMA awards, this artist will be an enigma in the Christian market as her lyrics are non-spiritual for the most part. Jodi is definitely more a Christian singer than a singer who sings in Christianese. The song “I Live for You” hints at the spiritual, but most of the other songs are just interesting songs about life and living. The highlights include “Breathing In/Breathing Out”, “My Boyfriend’s Jeans” and the quirky “Synthesize.” This is a high quality release from a top notch artist.
High Valley– High Valley
This is a country album from Alberta brothers Brad, Bryan and Curtis Rempel that just oozes authenticity. I grew up in Saskatchewan, so when the band sings on “Combine”, I can almost feel the grit of the machinery and the dry prairie air. “I will Stand By You” features great playing and will hold toe-tapping appeal for country fans,. The songs feature fine storytelling in songs like “A Father’s Love”. There is no doubt about the brothers’ spiritual priorities, particularly on my personal favorite cuts “Call Me Old Fashioned” and “Plastic Jesus”. This is one of the most enjoyable country Christian recordings I have ever heard. I am most definitely a fan!
Tenore– Sing! presents Tenore
In the vein of the Three Tenors, this trio, featuring previous Top 5 finalist Canadian Idol finalist Shane Wiebe, is a great combination of classical with a contemporary arrangement. There are stellar versions of “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, “How Great Thou Art” and “All Creatures of our God and King”. The stirring rendition of “Never Walk Alone” is worth the price of admission. There is a tendency for the arrangements to build to the end of each song with a soaring high tenor crescendo, but this is a formula that works well. It may explain how this debut release garnered 2 awards in the classical music category but also won the Blessings Fan’s Choice Award at the CGMA this year.