Some CDs from the CCM world to check out

There  have been some high profile recent releases from the world of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM for my new online readers).   If you are considering getting some music as presents for Christmas, here are some interesting choices to help spread the cheer long after the holidays are over.

Switchfoot– Vice Verses
This is the seventh release for one of Christian music’s biggest groups and it is another winner!   Much of this album deals lyrically with the internal yearnings and the battles that rage on within each one of us.   In other words, these are intelligent lyrics from a Christian rather than overtly Christian lyrics.  “The Original”, “Dark Horses” and “The War Inside” are some of the best rock tunes of the year.   One of my favorites is  “Selling the News” which is a great indictment of current popular media .   Switchfoot is one of those rare bands that seems to come up with releases that resonate immediately with my kids.   By far, this is one of the best albums of 2011.

Family Force 5– III
When Family Force 5 released their great debut “Business in the front/Party in the Back,” it was a fresh sound that rocked the CCM world.  This was derailed by a disastrous sophomore effort but this third album is a solid return for the band.  The album is characterized by fun songs like “Can you feel it” and “Wobble”“Paycheck” will resonate lyrically with many who are struggling during these hard economics times and the band even throws in a  Bruno Mars-like  song entitled “Mamacita”.  Although there is nothing overtly spiritual in any of the lyrics, it is a fun positive choice for young listeners.

Mandisa– What if We Were Real
Mandisa is the Season 5 American Idol  finalist who has made a career for herself in CCM.   The message of this, her third album, is best expressed by the title cut “What if We Were Real”.   The album starts of with R&B “Stronger”, which is a continuation of the styles of her previous albums, but when the title cut kicks in, the listener is caught by surprise as this is a Mandisa we didn’t expect.  This is an edgier rock sound that is continued in the song “Temporary Fills”.  The remainder of the album is pleasant pop which we would normally expect from Mandisa.  Overall, this is a very solid album.

Francesca Battistelli– Hundred More Years
Francesca Battistelli has been busy since her debut album, getting married and having a baby.  This hasn’t slowed her down, though, as this is a great sophomore album.   “This is the stuff” is a sweet acoustic number that starts the album and is followed with the upbeat and super catchy “Constant”.  There is quite a mix of styles and messages, ranging from country-tinged pop to the social justice mantra of  “Motion of Mercy” to the rock feel of “Good to Know“.  Francesca Battistelli is definitely an artist on the rise.  This is a recording that should please a broad audience.

Peter Furler– On Fire
The former frontman of the  Newsboys has released his debut album and it is very catchy.  This is great driving pop but is slightly lightweight compared to the Newsboys. The highlights on this album are the ones that capture the worshipful lyrics and incredible hooks of his former band.  Songs like “I’m Alive”, “Reach” and “Glory to the King” are all in this vein.  This a very promising start to a solo career.

Matt Redman– 10000 Reasons
Matt Redman has penned some of the most famous praise songs ever, such as “Blessed be your name”. For this reason, his releases are all met with anticipation.  This album is recorded live with an audience of worship leaders at a recent conference.  The album starts strong with  “We are the Free”  and “Holy” is a song that could become a standard in churches around the world.  My favorite is “Endless Hallelujah” with its haunting melody.  Highly recommended for lovers of worship music.

Catholic Artists making impact in Canada!

At this year’s Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Awards, Canadian Catholic artists are making quite a splash.  Matt Maher has nominations for Praise and Worship Song of the Year, Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year for the song, “Christ is Risen”.  Chris Bray is making a splash with nominations for Inspirational Song of the Year, Modern Worship Album of the Year and Modern Worship Song of the Year for “Hope Arise”.    New artist (and my daughter), Mags, is up for Seasonal Album of the Year for her “Dreaming of Christmas” debut album.   This month’s review has albums from Maher, Bray as well as a dynamite new contribution from Audrey Assad!

Matt Maher  The Love in Between
Matt Maher is arguably the most successful Catholic artist currently in Christian music.  This album will be another great addition to Maher’s discography.   The song, “Rise Up,” is an anthemic call to all Christians and is a great way to start off the album.  Throughout the album, Maher gives the listener a different lyrical feel from most other offerings in the Christian market, by alternating between pure worship songs and songs that are just about Christians trying to live out their lives the best way they can.  Musically, the album delivers a gritty classic rock sound.  On a few songs, like “Every Little Prison”, it sounds like Maher is trying a bit too hard but this is more than offset by gems like “Write your love on my heart” and “Heaven and earth“.  The song “On my way” is a highlight stylistically for me.   It is a great tune and a bit autobiographical… Matt Maher is truly on his way!

Chris Bray Let Hope Arise
Chris Bray, like Maher, is a Canadian Catholic artist who was 2009’s Covenant Award Winner for Best New Artist.   He is also one of the hardest working artists in Canada.  This is now paying off in spades, with recognition again this year at the Covenant Awards.   Chris Bray continues to impress on this album with his smooth vocals and great new songs like  “Salvation Belongs to our God” and “Hope Arise”.  The latter track is incredibly catchy and is easily the highlight of the album.  “Pursue Me” is a beautiful ballad with Marie Miller and Bray also delivers a great version of “Here I am Lord.”  The song “We Receive” is a glorious Communion hymn that would sound great in Catholic churches everywhere.  Chris Bray is one of the top Catholic artists and deserves a wider listening audience!

Audrey Assad  The House You’re building
Every once in a while, I drop the ball and a great Catholic artist escapes my attention.  This album, released in 2010, is an incredible debut album from a recent Catholic convert who spent time on the road with Matt Maher.ᅠᅠThis is simply one of the best debut albums I have heard.    Featuring beautiful singing, intelligent insightful lyrics and incredible melodies, Assad is an artist that you all need to check out!   “For Love of You” and the title cut are both hauntingly sung and is a tonic for the banal auto-tuned songs that are so prevalent on secular radio.    This is a great example of what Christian music needs to do in order to stop simply following secular trends but to break new ground.  This is an album that simply gets better with each listen.  Highly, highly recommended… and my apologies for taking so long to draw this album to your attention.

News flash. Marc Martel from Downhere has gone viral!

In a recent column, I reviewed Downhere’s album, Ending is Beginning, where I stated that “Lead vocalist Marc Martel is simply one of the finest in rock music today. The smoothness and range of his voice, coupled with lush harmonies, invoke memories of Queen.”   Now, a video, done as part of a Queen contest, has gone viral!  Click on the link to check it it out.   Downhere is one of Christian music’s fairly unknown treasures and one of the best Canadian Christian rock bands out there!

It’s good to be back

It has been 6 months since my last article appeared in the Catholic Register.  Over the next few months, I am going to try to get all my articles online in an achive format.  Next month, I will start with a huge backlog of music reviews.  I am very excited to be back in an online format as I can do cool things such as include links to music and videos (try it below)!  Please visit this site often or subscribe to this site to be alerted whenever a new column appears.  I want this to be the website that people go to for their information about Christian music with a Catholic perspective.  I thought it would be appropriate this month to start out with a “state of the union” address to restart things off.

Secular music is, in my opinion, in a sad state.   Listen to any Top 40 station and you will hear an Autotuned wonderland.  In fact, it is not even necessary to attempt to sing.    Witness this video where a news broadcast is autotuned to become a “hit” song.  When even a Rebecca Black can become a star on a song that is acknowledged to be horrible, is it any wonder that so many youth are going back to the classic rock songs of our youth.  It is also not surprising that so many songs sample or borrow riffs from music from the past.  Artists like Drake have convinced me that the failure of our educational system is finally manifested in the inability to write any coherent intelligent lyrics.

Is there hope?  Absolutely.  The huge success of “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele is finally signalling a return to music with soul and with substance.  Adele’s album “21” is going to be this year’s top album and indicates to me that the public is finally sick and tired of articifical and highly processed artists that are being shoved down their throats.   The success of Adele is going to start a cycle of new aspiring artists who will turn back to the art of singing and songwriting.

In Christian music, there is a very disturbing trend.  With the downturn of the music industry in general, there are very new aspiring artists who are able to get exposure.  What is resulting is that, when I look at the new release announcements that are sent my way, probably half are reissues of previous CDs.  Christian bookstores are closing in large numbers and Christian radio has, in the words of my children, the same sound in every song.  It seems as if there is now a viscous cycle where Christian radio wants to keep going with what it feels is successful (the same sound, the same few artists etc) resulting in fewer younger listeners which results in radio working even harder to “stay the same”.

Ironically, Catholic artists do have an opportunity now to make a difference.  Due to a lack of funds, these starving artists have never been able to afford the secularized and highly over-produced sound of contemporary recordings, and so many are still true musicians.  These artists still need to work with good producers in order to replicate the success of an Adele, as the big weakness is still a lack of professionalism in the song-writing and song arrangement.  However, recent Catholic artists such as Canadians Matt Maher and Chris Bray are making waves in the Christian music industry.

Thus ends my state of the union address.  I hope you will keep coming back.  Next column, I will start to clean up the backlog of recordings that have come my way over the summer!

Welcome to Catholicrock.org!

This is David Wang from the band Critical Mass, a successful indie Canadian Christian rock band from Canada (two time winners of the Best Rock Album honours from the Canadian Gospel Music Association).  We performed for a million youth at WYD2002 in Toronto.  Our website is at http://www.CatholicRock.com and is closely associated with this blog.  I was also the music columnist for the Catholic Register for over 15 years, covering and interviewing some of the biggest names in Christian music.  I have a special emphasis on Catholic artists.

This column will continue the vision of the Catholic Register column.   This is an incredible exciting change in that, by taking the column online, I can enhance the content without the restrictions of  print media .  I will provide links to websites and videos so that you can truly experience the best in Christian music.

I am also a university professor, a father of 9 and an avid soccer player & coach.  I have been an entrepreneur and love to chat about virtually any topic.

Welcome to my blog   I hope you will return regularly and check this out!