tree63 – “Land”


12 tracks @46:35
Grade = A

Tree63 returns after seven years and it’s a welcome return.

Lead singer John Ellis says, “I hope listeners can take away that sense of ‘thank God, I’m not alone, somebody else feels this lonely and forgotten and hopeful and bewildered and resolved to carry on the journey.’ My own recent experience leads me to the realization that even though we believe we will reach our destination across the hazardous sea God asks us to cross, it won’t be an easy voyage, and often we arrive shipwrecked and battered. The guarantee, however, is that we at least arrive.

“When I typed up all the lyrics before the vocal sessions, I realized this theme of some kind of ‘hazardous sea voyage,’ a kind of Jonah-like deliverance tale, was emerging,” Ellis says. “I thought about Jonah and the various perils of promising to journey with God and the reticence that comes with facing some of the realities of that journey.”

The band sounds great. (They did win a Dove back in 2000 for Rock Album) The first single “Alive” rocks and I like the chanting. The bass-driven “A Whisper” is an inclusive message of salvation. “Standing On It” has a modern folk vibe.

Overall, the lyrics are simple but inspiring and real. “Hard To Believe” is very solid.

The record was made, ironically, after a successful “good-bye tour” and then a Kickstarter campaign.

Ellis says, “There was absolutely no plan to go back to the band. I was spiritually in a different place and I couldn’t reconcile my future with what I’d done through Tree63.

“The three of us (in tree63) are all very different people, more so now after seven years apart from each other, with broadly different world views. Somehow, though, we all seem to instinctively know what Tree63 should be doing. It’s almost an unspoken thing between us.”

Rob S.

The City Harmonic – “We Are”


The City Harmonic
“We Are”
Integrity Music
11 tracks @ 44:02
Grade = A-

The third record from this Canada-based worship bands centers on unity in the church.

Lead vocalist Elias Dummer says, “Along the way, we’ve seen first-hand how powerful it is when the Church works in unity. Christ changes us every day and Christ is changing our hometown, if we can somehow inspire the Church around the world to do the same, that’s more than we could ever have hoped or imagined.”

The first single, “We Are One,” and the joyous “Shout” are tracks that stand out and could see use in the church-at-large.

– Rob S.

The Monks of Norcia


The Monks of Norcia
BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia
Decca Records

I am by no means and expert on traditional chant and I think I own less than a handful of CD’s of this type. However, I can appreciate the art and history behind the genre. In this case the history of the monks is particularly interesting. Through history, the medieval town of Norcia had been the home of monks until the Napoleonic reign that suppressed and eventually caused the closure of the monastery in 1810. It was not until 1998 before the monks would return to the Norcia monastery. Their history in Norcia and beyond is one of devotion, study, prayer and service. A calling that cannot be taken lightly. The music is a natural outpouring of their liturgy and prayer set to traditional chant.

“BENEDICTA” is an awesome recording sonically, with a traditional chamber sound and a rhythmic and poetic lyrical drift. The theme of the recording is focused around the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The compositions include a full choir, smaller groups, solos, and instrumentals giving the recording a nice flow and variety. On the surface it’s purely enchanting, but if you dig deeper into the words of the chants there is much to be learned. Even if you may disagree with their doctrine or preference, there is still a core worship of God that we can all relate to.

While I thought at first that it might go against their practices to be so public, I think I might just be a bit misinformed about their lifestyles. As it was stated in their press release, “We are not angels, we are mean – so we have to eat.” The monks therefore work for their daily needs and are quite self-sufficient and they know what can get peoples attention. Be it that be traditional chant or the craft brewery they run at the monastery! Either way, the monks are bringing attention to an ageless tradition that is steeped in spiritual depth.

For more on “The Monks of Norcia” check out

– Ken W.

TobyMac – This Is Not A Test


This Is Not A Test

The sensational new release from TobyMac drops this week and with it he continues to show that his “Lights Shine Bright.” Everyone has their preferences, but “This Is Not a Test” is to me one of his most accessible and original CD’s in a long time. Right from the start with the energetic “Like a Match” to the testimonial “Undeniable,” the CD is jam-packed with Gospel-centric lyrics and burst of rock and hip-hop that’s sure to add to his already flavorful live performances.

A few notable tracks; first, the smooth “Love Broke Thru” with it’s airy chorus and meaningful testimony. Secondly, “Love Feels Like” features a reunited (electronically) DC Talk. Aside from it just being a great song, it’s a glimpse of just how powerful and relevant a DC Talk reunion could be. While he may jest about it in the intro of “Til the Day I Die,” I am still thinking it would be the most phenomenal thing to happen in CCM in a long time.

On the new CD, Toby has stated;

The title of the album comes as a reminder to “make every moment count, and make every second count,” explains TobyMac. “I started collecting concepts as soon as I turned in the last record three years ago, and started working on this album a year and a half ago. The concepts are all based on my life experiences.” An album that he feels reflects important themes like loving each other well and the richness of diversity.

I think that summarizes it very well. Three years of hard work and intentionality pays off for your and I and TobyMac fans all over the world. I for one will be watching for the upcoming tour with much anticipation and in the mean time, strike it up and let your love rock on.

– Ken W.

“Canticles of Praise: A Collection of Irish Hymns”

“Canticles of Praise:  A Collection of Irish Hymns”

Discovery House Music

15 tracks @ 42:59

Grade = A-


A recent release from the publishers of the Our Daily Bread devotional,  these instrumental versions are not so much Irish hymns as they are traditional hymns  (“Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah,” “How Firm a Foundation”) with a sprinkling of Irish flavor (penny whistles, fiddle, etc.) and the occasional full orchestra and electric guitar.


  • Rob S.

The Neverclaim – “The Joy”



The Neverclaim
“The Joy”
Radiate Records
10 tracks @ 32:38
Grade = A-

The newest release from Portland-based worship band The Neverclaim is grounded in John 16:33.

Singer Jeremiah Carlson says, ““Almost every song on The Joy is centered around the joy of the Lord as our strength; our identity in Christ and the victory that’s won in Christ. Not that we shy away from the reality that living in a broken world affects all of us, but despite our hardships, we have access to a greater reality that fills our hearts with joy. We will face battles in life, but Jesus has won the war. We believe people are hungry for authentic joy, a joy that is not based on circumstances, but on the fact that God is for us, so nothing can be against us.”

You’ve probably heard the title track on radio. I enjoyed the Matthew 28:19 inspired “Go,” will the anthem “Rise” is a call to action.

While there’s nothing profound in the lyrics, this uplifting record makes it clear where the bands stands.

The Neverclaim also partners with One Child Matters (, a child sponsorship organization helping to meet the physical and spiritual needs of children in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Through its ministry programs, children receive food, education, medical aid and hope in Jesus Christ

– Rob S.

Joy Williams – “Venus”


Joy Williams
Columbia Records
11 tracks @ 39:52
Grade = A

Remember Joy Williams? She released a couple of Christian records last decade, received a few Dove Award nominations. I even videotaped an interview with her at the Cup O Joy. Interview It seems like a lifetime ago.

Joy then reemerged with the critically acclaimed duo the Civil Wars. Almost as suddenly, that group imploded just before the release of their second record. I liked their music.

Now Joy returns with the stunning release “Venus.” With a hand in writing every song, this record feels intensely personal, raw and all too human. “One Day I Will” and “Not Good Enough” feel honest. “You Loved Me,” “The Dying Kind” and “Till Forever” express more spiritual sentiment than some of the Christian music that I’ve listened to.

With its understated, at times ethereal, musical arrangements, all of the songs are very accessible.

Is Joy a Christian artist or a Christian making art? Either way, I’m excited that she still has something relevant to say and is willing to share it.

Highly recommended.

– Rob S.

IHOPKC – “Onething Live: Shout Your Name”


“Onething Live: Shout Your Name”
Forerunner Music
11 tracks @ 59:23
Grade = A-

This live album was recorded at International House of Prayer of Kansas City (IHOPKC) annual Onething young adult conference. The record features songs from the event.

The International House of Prayer of Kansas City (IHOPKC) is a 24/7 prayer ministry that has held worship-led prayer meetings non-stop for 16 years. Since 1999, bands of 10 or more singers and musicians have led an unending cycle of two-hour prayer-and-worship sets—all day and night—in the ministry’s Global Prayer Room. The ministry streams this continual worship and prayer live on its website and is watched by tens of thousands of people each day from around the world.

IHOPKC includes a university (IHOPU) with ministry, music, media, and missions schools. The organization is committed to justice and compassion outreaches involving human trafficking, inner-city programs, and adoption. IHOPKC’s vision is to work in relationship with the wider Body of Christ to serve the Great Commission, seeking to walk out the two great commandments: to love God and people. The International House of Prayer is an evangelical missions organization that has a growing community of about 4,000. Visit for more information.

Lyrically and musically this release is standard for the genre. I did enjoy the vibrant “Lift Up Your Head” by Laura Hackett Park.

-Rob S.

Fireflight – INNOVA



I may just not be remembering correctly, but it sounds like there’s been a fairly significant change in musical styling on this Fireflight album. I thought of them as more of a rock band and this album has a more pop-dance-track sound to it.

Unfortunately, on the first listen, I thought that a lot of it was musically repetitive from track to track. It wasn’t until “Resuscitate” that I felt that I was really getting into the music. However, given enough time I think it could grow on me as there are still many redeeming qualities including the positive and gospel centric lyrics.

The changes are addressed as well on their “About” page and it really makes a lot more sense if you read through that first. In the moment, it is sometimes hard to remember that behind most of these projects are hard working individuals trying to do what God has called them to do through whatever circumstances they may face.

Check out the story (and music) yourself at their official website:

– Ken W.