September-October 1997



Feel Free

Carolyn Arends

Reunion, 1997

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, by-the-book 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 me."

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


Sparrow, 1996

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 of Ages."


Love & Mercy

Kathy Troccoli

Reunion, 1997

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 instrument shines.

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


Word, 1997

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 into.

In the end, the words Petra and Praise really do sit together well.

-- Dan MacIntosh


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