Reviews: Audrey Assad, Mercy Me, Fireflight, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture

As students head back to school and the thoughts of summer turn into happy memories, some new recordings have come across my desk that punctuate an otherwise slow summer in Christian music releases.

Audrey Assad– Heart

Catholic artists have been gradually impacting the broader Christian market.  Matt Maher, Ceili Rain and, in Canada, Chris Bray, are all getting radio exposure.  This release from Audrey Assad continues the trend, with one of Christian music’s most promising new voices to appear in years.  The sweet and clear vocals are reminiscent of Sarah McLaughlin, with a lyrical depth that is refreshing.  Assad honestly talks about the struggles and joys of the Christian walk.  “Blessed are the Ones”is a celebration of marriage without watering down the inevitable struggles and “Even the Winter” encourages the listener and gently conveys a message of hope.  “Won Me Over” has radio hit written all over it, with an extremely catchy hook.  The piano driven “Lament” is another special song with its hauntingly ethereal vocal stylings.  “Slow” meditates on how life often unwinds in God’s time, not ours, and is one of the best examples of Assad’s unique song-writing abilities.  Often, after a successful debut, artists run into the sophomore jinx.  Assad has not only avoided this but has produced an album that is a significant leap forward in artistry!

Mercy Me– The Hurt & The Healer

Mercy Me is now taking a role as one of Christian music’s more seasoned artists, a decade after their monster hit “I Can Only Imagine” crossed over into the secular airwaves.  These veteran artists do not disappoint here as this is a very good release.  “You Know Better” is a mid-tempo rocker to open the album, with its familiar Christian radio sound, but the album kicks into high gear with “You don’t care at all”, which is an aggressive piece, but sweetened with Mercy Me melodic sensibilities. The title track honestly deals with the realities of Christian life with a very catchy yet still emotionally moving song.  The fun and quirky “To Whom it May Concern” shows that Mercy Me can definitely write songs that lie outside a generic Christian sound, as does the song “Best of Me”, which is one of my favorites.  The other songs have a bit more of an Adult Contemporary sound with a slight country and blues flavoring. Overall, definitely an album to check out.

Fireflight– Now

This is an excellent Grammy-nominated band that I have never reviewed.  “Now” is their fourth studio album and it is a winner.  This is a hard rock band featuring the clean and powerful vocals of Dawn Michelle.  If you are a fan of the band, Evanescence, then this is a similar sounding band, albeit grittier and more raw.  “Stay Close” opens the album with intense power chords and clever loops.  “Escape” features the juxtaposition of a female voice with male background vocals, and is a highlight.  Lyrically, most of the album sings from the point of view of youthful angst, crying out for a Saviour. This is evident in songs like “Ignite” which says “Don’t hesitate to explode/burn the pain inside your soul/ don’t hesitate, let it go/ start a fire, embrace the Light.”  The title track “Now” is one of the best hard rock songs of the year.  In fact, this is one of the best hard rock albums released in 2012 and is getting heavy rotation in my mp3 player!

Kari Jobe– Where I find You

This is Kari Jobe’s sophomore album and focuses on worship music.  Thansfully, some of the songs sound quite different than the cookie-cutter songs often found on Christian radio.  Although not as original sounding as Assad’s album, this is still a very solid effort.  Jobe has a distinctive delivery and the acoustic-based pop with her sweet expressive vocals makes this album special.  “Steady my heart” is a great way to start off the album with a powerful pop performance.,   Another highlight, “We Are,” is an anthemic praise song whereas “We exalt your name” is the most distinctive song on the album, and features Matt Maher.  Now, there is a bit of sameness to the songs after a while, which is a slight caveat.  That being said, this album elevates Kari Jobe to the level of other top worship artists, such as Chris Tomlin and Hillsong.

Jesus Culture– Awakening (Live from Chicago)
Jesus Culture is a highly regarded worship band that I have never reviewed.  The group is a bit unusual in that they do not tour but put on the famous Jesus Culture conferences that have been running over the past decade, with a similar impact to that of the Catholic Steubenville conferences.  This is an album very similar to the Hillsong live worship albums, with its big arena sound, full rock production and repeating singalong lyrics.  Each of the vocalists- Kim Walker-Smith, Chris Quilala and others- bring a different flavor to these songs, but the highlight for me is the heartfelt “Father of Lights”.  This is a double album and, as such, won’t be for everyone as the live setting means that some of the pieces are quite long and repetitive.  Recommended for fans of worship music.
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