The empty birdcage featured on the cover of Carolyn Arends' sophomore
effort Feel Free is an apt metaphor for what must have been a liberating
recording experience for this fine young singer-songwriter.
Songs are propelled by lively percussion and unpredictable electric guitar
effects, and they often sound worlds away from the sometimes stifling,
folksiness of her mostly acoustic debut.
Her lyrics, as on the album's title cut, describe a God who allows us
the freedom to be ourselves: "Feel free to laugh or cry/ Feel free
to wonder why/ Feel free to dance or grieve/ You are safe when you're with
She also reminds us of our responsibility to share the keys of this freedom
with those who may still be held as captives of this world. In "Do
We Dare," she details how Christians are many times reluctant to speak
of "the mystery we find ourselves caught in." It's truly a mystery
worth freely exploring and explaining.
Similarly, Feel Free is a wonderful and mysterious album, and
worthy of our uninhibited exploration.
I Surrender All
Nobody in contemporary Christian music is ever too contemporary to deny
the powerful influence the great hymns have had upon today's music, and
Carman is no exception. With I Surrender All, Carman pays homage
to 30 such songs, and does so in his own inimitable style.
While Carman is known for his unique approach to making albums-often
featuring story songs divided almost equally between singing and spoken
word sections -- he mostly plays it straight here.
So don't expect any of his patented raps or special effects laden tricks.
In fact, about as adventurous as he gets is when he switches into a pseudo-Elvis
mode for some of the more upbeat numbers. This actually works, because the
King and Carman have similar vocal registers.
Many other artists, with naturally better singing voices than Carman,
have recorded better collections of hymns than this one, but it's awfully
hard to go wrong with songs like "Amazing Grace" and "Rock
Love & Mercy
The number of female vocalists in contemporary Christian music with high,
flowery voices, like the woodwind section in an orchestra, are probably
too numerous to count. But there are only a handful of singers like Kathy
Troccoli, with her deeply powerful vocal style, who can fill first chair
in the brass section.
And on her latest release, Love & Mercy, Troccoli's golden
These songs reaffirm God's grace and care. With "I Call Him Love,"
Troccoli sings of a loving God. The chorus says, "I call Him love/
I call Him mercy," responding to those who may see Jesus as only a
great teacher, or anything other than the merciful deity he is.
This is a love we should emulate, as a united choir of fellow Christian
artists sings about on "Love One Another." It's a simple plea
for Christian unity set to a Motown beat, and like the rest of this album,
it reminds us of our dire need for God's love.
Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus
Longtime fans of Christian music might see the words Petra and
Praise together, and conclude this is some sort of oxymoron for a
band so closely associated with the rock 'n' roll genre.
But even on its hardest rocking efforts, Petra has usually seen fit to
include a praise song or two.
The music on We Need Jesus, Petra's second full-length praise
effort, sometimes turns up the volume a wee bit, but it's not nearly as
loud as one of the group's regular rock releases.
This collection of self-penned songs and classic choruses like "I
Love You, Lord" and "I Waited for the Lord on High," brings
out the band's strengths: The songs are powerful, the music is tight, and
the vocals are about as big as any full-sized choir you're likely to run
In the end, the words Petra and Praise really do sit together
-- Dan MacIntosh
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