My dad is about as blue collar a guy as you're likely to meet. As a fisherman in Maine, he has owned almost twenty different pickup trucks in my life time (and surely many more before I was born) and a wardrobe made up of ten pairs of jeans and ten flannel shirts. He has one or two pairs of "fancy clothes" for going to church in and comes home at the end of the day and collapses into his favorite chair.
I knew when I first heard Big Tent Revival's Open All Nite that it would be the kind of album that he would dig, and I was right. I bought it for him as a Christmas gift and it didn't leave his truck's CD player for years. (I suspect it was still in the stereo when he traded his truck in for a new one.) He would blast it for anyone who was riding with him that day and talk about the songs as a way to introduce people to Jesus. When I was home from college on summer break, I always knew when he was coming home from work because I would hear those songs coming over the hill as he drove home with the windows down and the radio cranked up to unreasonable levels.
It's great when a gift you give really delivers, and I knew when I heard Open All Nite's opening track "Mend Me" that it would speak to guys like my dad. He is far from perfect and sometimes would feel like folks in our church who looked and acted more respectable had it all together while he struggled to reflect Jesus. When lead singer Steve Wiggins offers up a stark confession that, although the singer stands on a stage in front of you (seeming like someone who has it all together because he has been given a microphone), "he can't escape this life of sin." Like the Apostle Paul "what I want to do I don't do, what I do I don't want to do", and finally the honest (and throat shredding) confession "I am broken, mend me."
Songs like "Here With Me" "The Best Thing" and "Famine Or Feast" rock with abandon and sound great in a pick-up truck, but also manage the neat trick of speaking to the everyday trials people go through without talking down or at their audience. Wiggins and company testify to how God works in the everyday against a great rock and roll backdrop that echoes classic rock albums by Bruce Springsteen and The Eagles.
A few years later I got Big Tent's follow-up album Amplifier for my dad's birthday and he lit up with a huge smile when he opened his present. At last! New music for the pickup truck!
- Alex Caldwell
Our synopsis: "A classic late 90s southern pop rock record that still remains the best in Big Tent Revival's catalog...and it still sounds great today!" (Recommended by JFH's Alex "Tincan" Caldwell) Perfect For: Encouragement on a tough day when the bills are due, or riding in a pickup truck Song Highlights: "Mend Me", "The Best Thing In Life", "Here With Me", "Famine Or Feast"
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album Open All Nite? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
Ten years ago, then-Essential Records folk pop artist Bebo Norman released one of his best projects, Myself When I Am Real. When Bebo first debuted, his music was considerably more stripped-down and folk-based than people have probably come to know him for in recent years. By 2002, Myself When I Am Real was probably the most accessible Bebo's music had ever been to date and it was still pretty true to his intimate and honest folk roots. In between this album and his latest, Lights of Distant Cities, there have been five more Bebo albums, coupled with a home label migration to BEC Recordings, with most of those albums having an increasingly more pop and contemporary sheen leaking in and overtaking the sound Bebo had originally been known for.
Currently, Bebo is married with children, but for years, loneliness was something that plagued the heart of this young man seeking the heart of God. Even with a family, loneliness is something that can affect a believer, and Norman's transparent and emotional songs have been some of his best. "Beautiful You" begs "Please don't go away, please don't leave me here, I know if you don't stay, my heart will disappear. I need beautiful You." Then the worshipful "Great Light Of The World" cries, "Oh great light of the world fill up my soul / I’m half a man here so come make me whole / Oh great light of the world come to impart / The light of your grace to fill up my heart." It's just a gorgeous picture of brokenness and a prayerful honesty acknowledging our need for a Savior! These are just a couple of the many highlights on Myself When I Am Real - an album that remains one of Norman's career best!
Our synopsis: "Accessible folk pop with transparent and honest lyrics that acknowledge a lonely heart and the need for its only remedy - our Savior!" (Recommended by JFH's John DiBiase) Perfect For: Transparency, Quiet Times, Worship, Encouragement Song Highlights: "Our Mystery," "Beautiful You," "Great Light of the World," "Back To You," "So Afraid"
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album Myself When I Am Real? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
In many ways, Thrive marked the end of a chapter of the Newsboys story. It was the last album of all-original material that the classic Take Me To Your Leader lineup would make together (sans John James, of course). After Thrive, the lads from Australia (well, mostly) would go on to make a few worship albums (with some pretty good original songs) trade guitarists, bassists and singers and somehow maintain a popularity that still allows them to sell out arenas, as evidenced by the boisterous crowd heard in the background of this month's live release, Newsboys Live In Concert: God's Not Dead.
Produced by longtime team of Steve Taylor and Peter Furler, Thrive opens with the bouncy guitar crunch and clever wordplay of "Giving It Over", which name-checks rap group Outkast (hugely popular at the time) and features some fantastic Taylor lyrics about surrendering everything over to the Lord. Second song, "Live In Stereo," is perhaps the only song in Christian Music to combine references to a "Jacobean ladder," the Blue Man Group and a sherpa. This odd mix is pure Steve Taylor at his nonsensical best and harkens back to the odd and wonderful wordplay of 90's Newsboys albums Going Public (with its screwball lyrics on "Shine" about dictators who repent and "teach the poor origami") and Take Me To Your Leader where "Joshua judges her ruthlessly" on the title track. Taylor again is the unsung hero (and true sixth member) of the Newsboys and on the back half of Thrive ("Cornelius", "The Fad Of The Land" and "John Woo"), he achieves a level of cultural commentary that goes beyond "the world is bad, think about Heaven". Indeed, an engaged mind, surveying popular culture and bringing a kingdom perspective to John Woo movies is a feat that needs to be remembered and celebrated. It would be fascinating to see what Steve Taylor could do with the Newsboys' current incarnation.
And in an interesting turn, Thrive offered up Furler's first attempt at a corporate worship song (not counting the worshipful songs on their greatest hits album two years prior, they were not corporate worship in the strictest sense) in the catchy "It Is You." The success of this tune lead to a couple of worship albums that were to follow.
It's the combining of fun and encouraging radio songs like "Million Pieces (Kissing Your Cares Away)" and "Thrive" with oddball, but endearing lyrics that this version of the Newsboys shined most. The goodwill produced by a string of albums like Thrive no doubt helped the fellows survive the lineup and music industry changes that were just around the corner.
Favorite Band/Artist: Avalon Featured Fan: Anne Curtis Location:Milford, MA When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:My room What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: Everytime I hear Avalon's music, it gets me focused on God. Their songs are really powerful, I like that about them! Favorite Album by This Artist: Oxygen Favorite Song by This Artist: "I Bring It To You" Favorite Live Show Experience: Holden, MA Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 3 Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: Walk On cassette tape! Website: N/A Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here!
L to R: Andy Chrisman of 4HIM, Ken's Dad, Ken Alvia
Favorite Band/Artist:4 Him Featured Fan: Ken Alvia Location:Philippines When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:Cathedral of Praise South Campus What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: So stoked to see them (4HIM) reunite for a concert in Manila. Been listening to their songs growing up and I still know them by heart. I will most likely listen to 4HIM's music more often when I'm already too old for Rock, Alternative Rock, Metalcore and Post-Hardcore. Favorite Album by This Artist: Walk On Favorite Song by This Artist: "Who You Are" Favorite Live Show Experience: 4HIM Reunion @ Cathedral of Praise Manila Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 3 Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: Walk On cassette tape! Website:Twitter Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here!
About a year or so--maybe even longer now--the JFH staff talked about compiling our top, favorite songs in Christian music of all-time. They'd be songs each staff member had chosen on a personal level, and we'd comment on why we chose those songs. Recently, and I forget exactly what brought this to mind, but I began thinking about which songs still resonate with me over others and which songs just really hit home...which songs never stop connecting with me on some level. I've decided to reflect on some of those here, in a more unofficial way than we'd originally envisioned it. Again, these are songs that are personal TO ME in some form. I'm not saying they're the best songs ever written or that you'll ever hear, but something about these songs just still mean a lot to me. If you want to listen to these songs (except for one that Spotify wouldn't list), check them out in a Spotify playlist here!
1. "Tremble" by Audio Adrenaline... I'm a big critic when it comes to worship music. I'm not proud of this, and I do want everyone to understand that. It's difficult for me to connect with a lot of the bigger worship songs that have been crafted for youth rallies and mega churches. I tend to connect with God on a more intimate level with the more intimate, personal songs. Audio Adrenaline's "Tremble" may be my all-time favorite song. It's so much so that I tend not to listen to it much for fear of wearing it out and it maybe losing some of the weight it carries for me. With Mark Stuart's soft vocals and the almost-trembling in his voice, there's this sense of reverence... musically, it also captures this and it's one of the few songs that just really drags me to my knees if my heart's in the right place when I hear it. It's not a song you can just have on as background music and expect to really "get." It's one of those best heard via headphones/earbuds in a dark room or walking down an empty street at night. It's you and God. And I love that about it. (read the lyrics)
2. "I Love The Rain" by Rock N Roll Worship Circus/The Listening... This is another song that is way up high on the list. It's got a personal worship feel from the opening words "Have you ever loved someone so much..." and a guitar solo that sends chills up and down my spine almost every time I hear it. And did I mention it's amazing live? The imagery of rain being tears falling from our Father's face out of His love for us is really powerful to me. I just plain LOVE this song. (read the lyrics)
3. "A Million Parachutes" by Sixpence None The Richer... This, among others you'll see listed here, plays to the sentimentality in me that I've found inescapable throughout the years. It's a melancholy song about solitude and missing friends on a lonely snowy evening. Leigh Nash's soft vocals evoke all the right emotions while the piano melody hits all the right notes; it's truly beautiful. (read the lyrics)
4. "Privately" by Between Thieves... This my friends, about sums up an introverted heart. If you're an introvert and know what it means to feel alone in a crowd, this song describes exactly what that feels like. If you're lost and brokenhearted, "Privately" seems to just say all the things you're feeling but don't necessarily know how to say. And to those who don't quite understand us crazy introverts, this is a good song to listen to to try to understand us. Just check out the first verse alone, "Privately, behind dull eyes a soul cries out in pain / Quietly, behind the smile, the tears will fall like rain / Alone is not a number, but a state of mind / Surrounded by my friends, sometimes I'm hard to find." (read the lyrics)
(Totally random, but as I made up a playlist of these songs in Spotify, my top 4 clocked in at 27 minutes. Coincidentally, my birthday is 4/27. I guess my top 4 really ARE my top 4...)
5. "Too Far" by Bernard... If you're noticing a trend here, you're right. This piano anthem is a powerful one to me. It serves as an anthem for those times in life when we just don't know what in the world God's doing and we kind of wish He'd spell it out for us. "Please turn back time / Please, God..." says it all for those moments I wish I could redo or relive. Ultimately, Jesus redeems those times, but sometimes a song helps provide a voice to help us cope with the feelings. (Get with it, Spotify, and add these guys!)
6. "Work" by Jars of Clay... When my wife and I got married in 2003, I was leaving my family and living with someone else for the first time in my life. That isn't a bad thing, but her profession as a nurse found her working on nighshift at a local hospital. To make that worse, she did this for almost the entire first three years of our marriage. This gave me several nights out of the week of living completely alone that I never ever had before. "Work" by Jars has a chorus that asks, "Do you know what I mean when I say 'I don't want to be alone?'" It's a song that was born out of loneliness for the band and it's one that I was definitely feeling when they released it in 2006. It's still one of my favorite songs by them, or anyone, and it's just yet another song that gives a voice to those frustrating and stifling feelings of loneliness. And like Between Thieves' "Privately" says, sometimes we can feel alone in a crowded room, and this song speaks volumes. (read the lyrics)
7. "Glory" by Audio Adrenaline... This echoes my thoughts as stated above with "Tremble." But "Glory" IS more of a corporate worship song, the only difference is it rocks and it has not been adopted widely by churches. I think that's unfortunate, actually, because--to me--it represents what Heaven will be like when we're all together singing Glory to the King. I just love this song. "And I can’t find the words to say / Life gets in the way / Lord You know my heart’s desire / To sing glory." It's honest, it's real. It's longing to sing Glory! (read the lyrics)
8. "The Forces Of Radio Have Dropped A Viper Into The Rhythm Section" by Project 86... And now for something completely different. I tend to look back on parts of my life a lot -- especially in those quite moments. Part of me remembers crummy times with rose-colored glasses and wishes to relive some of those times. That would not be cool. Aside from the fact that this song has one of the craziest drumming I've heard, and I just love it for that, I had the pleasure of asking frontman Andrew Schwab about the meaning of the interesting lyrics once. He explained that he likened the unreliable technology of the VHS tape to things we look back on with fonder memories than they really were. Heck, the song even says "Don't you feel like a trip back to '96." I was a sophomore in high school then and had some profoundly affecting friendships at the time...not to mention I started Jesus freak Hideout that summer...and this song just gave me this angry voice for how I feel about erroneously looking back on those times fondly (although starting JFH IS a good thing, other things around that time weren't all that great). And it's just a killer song! (read the lyrics)
9. "Lost The Plot" by Newsboys... Say what you will about pop or pop/rock bands for the youth group crowds, but these bands knew how to write GOOD songs, man. "Lost The Plot," from Newsboys' 1996 album "Take Me To Your Leader" is a gem. It's this slowly building, moody rocker about Jesus' return and the complacency that dogs many Christians. "When you come back again, would you bring me something from the fridge? Heard a rumor you that the end is near. But I just got comfortable here." (It's back when Newsboys wrote their own songs, too. Peter Furler and the genius of Steve Taylor were a crazy good match) It's an edgy song and an embarassing reminder of how comfortable we can get here and how lazy we can be. "Are you still listenin', 'Cause we're obviously not. We've forgotten our first love. We have lost the plot." For some of us -- even if it's just for a short time -- it's true, and it hurts. But it's great reminder to be careful not to get too comfortable here. (read the lyrics)
10. "Worlds Apart" by Jars of Clay... This song has been a powerful one to me since I first heard it around the age of fifteen in 1995 (Please don't do the math. Thank you). As a pretty young Christian at the time, it was a wonderful voice for those times I felt like I fell short. And while I may feel like I fall even shorter now than I did then, it was somewhat comforting to hear a voice speak words I was feeling to remind me I wasn't alone. And, on top of that, there was vocalist Dan Haseltine's ad-lib at the end that summed it all up for me too... I get a bit emotional just reading them even now. (read the full song lyrics)
"I look beyond the empty cross
Forgetting what my life has cost
And wipe away the crimson stains
And dull the nails that still remain
More and more I need you now
I owe you more each passing hour
The battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
And wash the feet and cleanse my pride
Take the selfish, take the weak
And all the things I cannot hide
Take the beauty, take my tears
The sin-soaked heart and make it yours
Take my world all apart
Take it now, take it now
And serve the ones that I despise
Speak the words i can't deny
Watch the world i used to love
Fall to dust and thrown away
I look beyond the empty cross
Forgetting what my life has cost
So wipe away the crimson stains
And dull the nails that still remain
So steal my heart and take the pain
Take the selfish, take the weak
And all the things i cannot hide
Take the beauty, take my tears
Take my world apart, take my world apart
I pray, I pray, I pray
Take my world apart"
Obviously I have more than 10 top songs, and I can't say for sure if this is my actual, concrete top 10, so what I'll do is stop here for now and post another ten sometime soon. Take the order here with a grain of salt, but the impact of those with so much more. Thanks for reading!
I became a Christian in the year 2000. Before that, I didn't know that Christians had their own music. My favorite band at the time was (don't judge me) Limp Bizkit. Yes, rapcore was cool once (honestly, I'd be down for some right now). As I became introduced to this whole new world of Christian music, one band that caught my ear was a western Kansas band called Pillar. And this happened: "Wow, these guys are like the Christian Limp Bizkit!" I've since realized that we don't need that kinda stuff, but at the time, I was new to this thing.
ANYWAY, two years later, Pillar released what is easily their best album: Fireproof. Who can forget the anthemic chorus of the title track? "I know where I stand and what'll happen if you try it, I AM FIREPROOF!" (Apparently I did, cause I had to look up the lyrics just now) And how about the repeating of "In God we trust! In God we trust!" in "Indivisible." And of course, the album's ballads were something to write home about; "A Shame" and "Further From Myself" were highlights that made you think and worship in the middle of a rock fest. Yes, these guys had what my rapcore-loving, new Christian heart longed for. Fireproof even tied with P.O.D. for most number of weeks for a Christian rock single to be at number one on Christian rock radio (eleven weeks; not sure if that record has been broken since then). This is also the album that first got Pillar mainstream exposure, with a re-release of Fireproof on Geffen Records and mainstream servicing with their next album, Where Do We Go From Here. While that album had some good songs and plenty of solid moments, it's safe to say that Fireproof, while pretty dated by today's standards, was the best work of their career. With the band currently on an indefinite hiatus, and lead vocalist Rob Beckley working on a solo project and a new label called idefimusic, it's unknown whether they'll ever attempt to best themselves. But as the band had changed dramatically since Fireproof, I suppose anything is possible! Go listen to this again for a fun blast from the past. You know you want to.....right?