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Date: 18 May, 2010
George Luke reviews the latest music albums from Starfield, Hermas Zopoula, Vicky Beeching, Ishmael and Dwayne Tryumf
First up this month is The Saving One, the new worship album from Canadian rockers Starfield.
I'm never sure whether Christian rock bands who make worship albums are just playing it safe or not.
The first two tracks here didn’t help much either – but then the album really came to life with 'Declaration of Dependence'.
A cracker of a tune! 'Top of Our Lungs' is another strong tune – especially the bridge where they go a bit techno on us (they could actually have strung that bit out a little longer, I think – or just recorded it entirely as a house tune to break the pop-rock monotony).
If you're just looking for a few rousing anthems for a youth group worship service, The Saving One will pretty much do the trick. If you're looking for that elusive “ground-breaking album that revolutionises worship music”, you'd be advised to look elsewhere.
Asthmatic Kitty (Sufjean Stevens' record label) have been on a world-wide search for that afore-mentioned “ground-breaking album that revolutionises worship music” for some time now.
The search took them to west Africa – to Burkina Faso – where they met gospel singer Hermas Zopoula.
Hermas, the son of a griot (a West African poet) from the Sissali people group, writes and sings beautiful songs of redemption and hope.
His album Espoir was originally released in his home country a couple of years ago. It’s been re-packaged as a double CD for its international release. Disc 1 is the original album, and features a full band.
Disc 2 (titled 'Live Demos') is a laid back acoustic affair recorded mostly at Hermas' home. Great stuff all round; just the sort of classy stuff you’d expect from the people who brought us The Welcome Wagon.
Transplanted Brit Vicky Beeching. is in full rock chick mode on her new album Eternity Invades. And it’s not just the mean-looking guitar she’s brandishing on the CD cover, either; she sounds absolutely brilliant all throughout. ‘Salvation Day’ and ‘Blessing and Honour’ are amongst the strongest cuts here.
One for the kids now: Ishmael's back! Bigger Barn is a dozen Bible story songs, done with Ishmael’s inimitable, down-to-earth humour.
But behind the laughs, there’s a painful story here: Ishmael was diagnosed with leukaemia halfway through writing the songs for the album.
With all its musical nods to great pop hits of yesteryear (see if you can guess where ‘Wolfy Wolfy’ gets its chorus from, for example), Bigger Barn is about as much fun for adults as it is for kids – probably even more so.
Finally for this month, something on an urban tip. London based rapper Dwayne Tryumf is on fine form on his album 777 (Mark of the Peace).
The title track is Dwayne's attempt to summarise the entire Bible in one song (well, it worked for the Reduced Shakespeare Company) whilst simultaneously trying to break some rap speed record, all over a funky house beat.
Other tracks address issues such as gun crime (‘I Don’t Pack a Matic’). ‘Proverbs 31 Woman’ lists the qualities the now married Dwayne looks for in a mate (though I must say, I’ve heard so many Christian men talk about this idealised ‘Proverbs 31 woman’, I’d really love to hear a female rapper return the favour with a song called ‘The Other 30 Chapters of Proverbs Man’).
With Dwayne’s sharp wordsmanship and blur-fast delivery, 777 is a shining example of the fresh young urban sound that's revitalising British Gospel music.
I’m still none the wiser as to why he’s vomiting a rainbow on the album cover, though…