“The Expository Journey” by Evangel

expository-journey

Yet I offer these hoops I was hurled through
My metamorphoses that changed my truth and my worldview

This, the first in a few music reviews and recommendations I will be writing, is about one of the sharpest and smartest rappers that I know of in hip-hop. The quote above is from his opening song, and sets out what he is offering on the album: an account of his own struggles with Christianity, the shifting in his thinking as he investigated further, and the changes that occurred in his life as he turned to Christ (his metamorphoses).

It is difficult to pick higlights out of what really is one big story, but I will have a go. “L.A.W.” is an explanation of man’s guilt in the sight of God (by not Living Acknowledging [His] Worthiness – L.A.W.), and is a helpful approach on a very important subject. “H.O.O.P.S” is one of my two favourite songs on the album, in which Evangel has been taken to an evangelistic sports tournament by his Christian friend (played by Israel Felix) where a pastor is giving a talk (played by Shai Linne – what a treat!). The song moves between the pastors talk, Evangel’s objections and his friend’s prayers seamlessly, and is a big encouragement in the power of evangelistic talks and of praying for friends. The following track, “Crossroads”, combines a haunting and dramatic instrumental to the internal battle of Evangel as he faces up to the truths of the Gospel and realises he needs to make a response. Three tracks later, “New Life” celebrates the joy of 2 Corinthians 5:17 – being a new creation in Christ Jesus.

I can sum up my recommendation of this album in one word: freshness. I have heard too many Christian rappers speaking out cliches (I’m guilty of this myself when I get lazy), whereas Evangel is brutally honest and is not scared to tackle difficult subjects. His instrumentals are well produced and musically excellent, but never threaten to take the focus off the truths he is rapping. The quality of lyricism is constantly high, and he manages to combine excellent wordplay (“please stop the bull like a matador”) with exposition of biblical truth (such as pointing out in “A Good Thing” that man being without woman was the first time God called something “not good”). Like in my earlier feature on Shai Linne, the highest compliment I can give Evangel is to say that I have seen more of God’s truth through his music.

Find out more about Evangel and listen to his tracks here – http://www.myspace.com/evangel33

You can pick up the album on iTunes & Amazon MP3, or if you are in the USA then at http://www.merchline.com/lampmode/productdisplay.7337.p.htm

Grace and peace to you all,

-Stephen

The New Generation Exhibition

spirit

So I was out visiting a friend back in June when I stumble across a Christian art exhibition being held at St Mary’s church in Chepstow. I was not prepared for what I was to find inside. The following brief was taken from the artists website and describes the collection:

“These paintings are based on a prophecy given at a leaders meeting in 1989 at Camber Sands. It was suggested to Anne that she might illustrate the prophecy. And so this exhibition was born. Anne painted the 31 silk screens over 4 years; many of them are over 5 feet tall”

The exhibition was absolutly breathtaking and the use of colour and detail was both incredible and moving. None of the images I have found do the originals screens any justice. I managed to speak to the artist, Anne House, whilst at the exhibition. She told me how much of an impact the images were having, not just of church goers, but all who were attending the galleries and churches it was being held.

What I like most about the exhibition is that it was being used as a form of outreach by all the chepstow churched who had come together to put on the exhibition.

If you would like to find out more about Anne House or view more of the exhibition, please click here

– Russell

CompassionArt Giving Away 100 Million Songs

CompassionArt - Creating freedom from povertyRecently I posted about the CompassionArt project which is a fantastic project bringing together some of the worlds best-known Christian recording artists (Paul Baloche, Steven Curtis Chapman, Stu G, Israel Houghton, Tim Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Andy Park, Matt Redman, Martin Smith, Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, Darlene Zschech,Kirk Franklin, Amy Grant, Joel Houston, Leeland Mooring, Christy Nockels, tobyMac and CeCe Winans).

I’ve been waiting patiently for my copy of the album to arrive in the post…but now I can get a sneaky preview!

CompassionArt are giving away 100 Million songs, on a first come, first serve basis. The special download features 6 songs from the album, and in return CompassionArt ask that you donate whatever you can afford to the cause.

The artists that have contributed to this album  have all done so for free and have given all rights to their work to CompassionArt, so that all of the proceeds can go directly to the various causes that CompassionArt support.

So, enjoy, give generously, and spread the word….CompassionArt 100 Million Song Giveaway

Note: This is only available to people in the USA and Canada as a special promotion leading up to the North American release of the CompassionArt Album. If you are in UK you can purchase the full Compassion Art Album on Amazon

– James

A man who sung his soul

Friends, I’d like to introduce you to a man who has taught me quite a bit in the few years I have been a disciple of Jesus. I first came across Rich Mullins as the writer of the wonderful anthem “Our God is an Awesome God” (great verses as well as the famous chorus!). James then pointed me out to some more of his work, such as the stirring “I am ready for the storm” and “My deliverer is coming”. He was a man who took Jesus into his own heart, and wrote tender songs such as “Surely God is with us”, talking of how Jesus was willing to sit with those who no one else would (“The whores all seem to love him, and the drunks propose his toast!”). I thoroughly recommend getting the latter off iTunes.

The song below, “Hard to get” is one that I only discovered a couple of days ago. Rich writes from the heart, asking God who dwells in the radiance of eternity whether He still remembers the Lose Weight Exercise and struggle of life here on earth. After all of the questions he asks of God he looks to what Jesus experienced, and realises that he is not looking for an explanation for suffering but whether God is truly with him in the midst of it. Both the lyrics and performance are classic Mullins: heartfelt, raw and beautiful. What makes this even more poignant is that the only recording of his singing (others re-did it later) was on a tape recorder in a little church, nine days before he died in a tragic car accident. I’ve put the recording of “Hard to get” below, with the lyrics from the last verse beneath (some of the best in the song).

And after I figured this, somehow all I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret I can’t see how
You’re leading me unless
You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

– Stephen

CompassionArt

When I first heard about this project a week or so ago, I got excited….and then when I saw this video I got EVEN MORE excited! I think that this is going to be a great album, it’s got some great names on it, and it’s all about serving those in need. So praise God for this project, I for one am definitely going to support it and as well as grabbing a copy for myself, maybe an extra one or two for Christmas presents.

If you would like to know more about CompassionArt and find out where you can get a copy of the album and book in your country please visit the CompassionArt Website.

– James

What are we aiming for, anyway?

This is not so much a follow up to my own last post, but a continuation on the themes that James brought up on his “Cutting edge creativity” post ( http://www.artistsforchrist.net/2008/11/cutting-edge-creativity/).

I’d like to pose this suggestion – perhaps people exist who are managing to bridge the secular-spiritual divide. I’m going to throw two names out there to get us thinking about this: Bob Dylan and Lauryn Hill. Having briefly looked at where their music fits into this discussion, I will then turn to asking what form of witness we are looking for from musicians in particular (although this could easily be applied to artists too).

Bob Dylan

A youthful Bob Dylan

A youthful Bob Dylan

I didn’t know a great deal about Bob Dylan until the last couple of years when friends at university started singing his praises, in particular one of my housemates who loved to sing “Blowing in the wind”, a Dylan classic. Dylan is an interesting man to consider in terms of his relationship with Christianity: he was raised up in a Jewish family, and underwent a high-profile conversion to Christianity in the late 70’s. For a few years following his conversion, he performed only Christian material, and was vocal in speaking about his new found faith. The Christian community loved it.

However, it was not to last long: Dylan’s music became more subtle in its material, he became far more cryptic in expressing his beliefs, and many suggested he may have turned away from Christianity. But it is interesting to note that a huge amount of Jesus-inspired imagery and sentiment still comes through Dylan’s music, take for example “”You saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune/ Underneath it, it said, ‘A man with no alibi’/ You went out on a limb to testify for me, you said I was with you/ Then when I saw you break down in front of the judge and cry real tears/ It was the best acting I saw anybody do.”, and think on its significance in terms of justification from sin.

For a more in depth look at Bob Dylan’s faith, check out this article at crossrhythms –http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/Bob_Dylan/7795/p1/

Lauryn Hill

I’ve loved Lauryn’s music from the Fugees, through The Miseducation, and have been very excited from the small amount that has been heard from her more recently. The main reason I refer to her here is because of her “MTV Unplugged 2” appearance, in which she clearly spoke of her love for Jesus, although again much of it was wrapped up in picture langauge. Check out an example below:

This is not a lady who “has it together”. You’re not going to find her leading worship at Soul Survivor any time soon. In fact, if most recent reports from her gigs are anything to go by, then she seems to be going through something of a breakdown. But we must ask ourselves whether or not this writes her off from being used by God in the public sphere to make powerful music that takes people “out of themselves”, and gets them thinking about spiritual things.

Thoughts

So what is it about these three that we would change to fit into our expectations of what a follower of Jesus should say or sing? Would we prefer that Dylan only sang the material of his outright preaching days? Do we want Lauryn Hill to be all “together” before she starts singing songs about God?

I think a core issue here is that often we are looking for a “creedal” affirmation of faith – for musicians to sign a doctrinal basis, or spell out clearly what they do and don’t believe. This may be because it then makes us more confident in our own beliefs – the idea of “if that famous person believes what I believe, I feel more confident in it too”. I don’t propose that this is entirely wrong (although is not a very good foundation for belief), but it is more selfish – the real purpose we have to address is what will help those who are not yet in a relationship with God to come closer to Him. Remember that there are many people who really would like to believe in many ways, but often have misconceptions about God that are holding them back. Are Tim Hughes/Delirious/Kirk Franklin/Da Truth/Shai Linne-esque vessels the only ones that God can use?

These are important questions as we consider what cutting edge Christian creativity should look like. If you want more food for thought, think on people like Johnny Cash or Bono (from U2). Now I throw it open to your reading this: what is it that God wants to do through us? Is He glorified simply through us mentioning His name? If not, how do we distinguish what is to His glory?

Peace

-Stephen

“The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 1” – Kirk Whalum

The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 1

The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 1

Ok, a bit of background is needed to give you an idea of how important this album was to me: imagine me as a 15-year old new Christian boy, a big jazz and hip-hop fan, who has the impression that all Christian music is middle-of-the-road light rock, hymns or cheesy gospel (n.b. I’ve come to hugely appreciate all three of these since!). Enter Kirk Whalum’s album: a funky, soulful and superbly performed jazz CD. Needless to say, it was a huge blessing to me in realising that Christian music was so much wider than I’d realised (I discovered Christian hip-hop soon afterwards). Kirk is a very accomplished saxophonist in his own right, working with people like Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones and Luther Vandross, but on this album his focus is God as he creates a combination of joyful celebration and meditative worship.

Particular highlights for me are the scat improvisation on “Wade in the Water”, the exquisite solos on “Lord, I want to be a Christian” and the joyful proclamation of “I’ll go with Him!” on “Where He leads me”. Those of you who really know your jazz will be pleased to hear that both George Duke (piano) and Paul Jackson Jnr. (guitar) are part of Kirk’s core band. For those of you who don’t know your jazz so well – it doesn’t matter! You will find this is a beautiful collection of music that will inspire you, uplift you and give you a lot of pleasure! You may, like me, even find that it leads you to worship God without the need for any words at all.

Below is a song from Chapter 2 of The Gospel According to Jazz – another great album, although I prefer the first (youtube doesn’t seem to have any from the first!). My advice would be to get both albums, and pre-order chapter 3 which is on its way!

– Stephen