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Date: 22 May, 2008
George Luke reviews the latest albums from OneRepublic, Fort Pastor, Laura Story, Danny Liston and Jars of Clay
Last year, it was The Fray. So far this year, it’s OneRepublic who’ve emerged as the most successful ‘quietly Christian’ act (as the Guardian once put it) to hit the British pop scene.
OneRepublic’s frontman Ryan Tedder is a preacher’s kid from the Bible Belt, who turned down a deal from a Christian record label so he could focus on plying his trade in the mainstream.
So far, he’s done well at creating hits for other people; he wrote and produced Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love”, and has worked with Jennifer Lopez and Natasha Bedingfield. Now with the release of his band’s debut album Dreaming Out Loud, it’s his turn on centre stage.
Despite Timabaland’s input (he mentored Tedder for two years; he’s the album’s executive producer, and his remix of the track “Apologize” was a recent chart hit), OneRepublic aren’t a bunch of Justin Timb-alikes.
Their sound sits more in Coldplay territory than anywhere else – especially on the songs “Tyrant”, “Say (All I Need)”, or the piano riff on “Goodbye, Apathy”. Lyrically, religious themes are never far from the surface; check out “Mercy”, “All Fall Down” or “Prodigal”, for instance.
Fort Pastor are an Australian/American trio with a passion for social justice and one of the most international musical instrument collections I’ve ever come across – all of which they put to good use on their debut album, Beautiful Imperfection.
A key element in Fort Pastor’s sound is multi-instrumentalist Jono Callow, whose didgeridoo provides a backbone to most of their songs. He also plays (amongst other things) djembes, tablas, a recorder and a xylophone.
Lead singer Brant Christopher’s voice resonates with soulful earnestness. Rounding things up, there’s Jeffrey Todd Keel – an exceptional slide guitarist.
The band’s social justice agenda gets spelled out clearly in the light-hearted “March Out” (“Go walk out and be the change that you wanna see”).
And as far as climactic musical moments go, the bit where “The Beach” morphs into the old Negro spiritual “Wade In the Water” is simply breathtaking.
Fort Pastor have cooked up the finest multiethnic, polyrhythmic mix heard in Christian music since fellow Aussies Rivertribe. And their cover of Seal’s “Crazy” absolutely rocks.
Singer-songwriter Laura Story has already made a name for herself as the composer of one of today’s most popular worship songs (Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable”).
Her own version of it is one of the standout tracks on her debut album, Great God who Saves.
Much of Great God Who Saves was written during a particularly traumatic period in Laura’s life; her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour just a year after they got married.
If you’re already a fan of “Indescribable”, or any of her other songs that have been recorded by other worship leaders, you shouldn’t find it too hard to warm to Laura’s organic musical arrangements and exquisite voice. If not, then Great God Who Saves might just win you over.
In the early 70s, Danny Liston seemingly had everything going for him. His band Mama’s Pride had a deal with Atlantic (they were signed personally by Ahmet Ertegun himself) and reasonable success with their first two albums.
It all ended prematurely when Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zandt was killed in a plane crash, just as he was due to start work producing their third album. Mama’s Pride never recovered, and Danny quit music altogether in 1980.
These days, Danny can be found leading worship in a church in St. Louis, or travelling the world with Service International, a Christian humanitarian organisation.
Danny’s new album, No Other Name, has a raw earthiness lacking in a lot of modern worship music.
Recorded at the legendary Ardent studios in Memphis, it fuses the southern rock/blue-eyed soul of Danny’s earlier career with that overwhelming feeling of joy found in the best Gospel music.
Standout tracks on the album include “God Will Make a Way”, “Trust in the Lord”, the title track and Danny’s interpretation of “Amazing Grace”.
Jars of Clay
Finally for this month, a brief mention for Jars of Clay’s Greatest Hits compilation (didn’t they bring one out before?).
All the hits that really matter are here: “Flood”, “Love song for a Saviour”, “Crazy Times” and the Talking Heads-sounding “Dead Man (Carry Me)”.
When the Jars’ last studio album, Good Monsters, dropped in 2006, word got out that songs had been cut from it because the band were unsure how their audience would react to them singing anti-war songs.
You can sense a bit of that tension in the previously unreleased “Love is the Protest” (“I want peace, but it’s not what I’m used to… I’m surrounded by people who don’t think like I do”).