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The usual, stereotypical image of Christian music is of one man in chunky cable jumper strumming his acoustic guitar and doing his best John Denver impersonation singing "Kumbaya", or, alternatively dozens of hand waving, happy clappy gospel singers in blue gowns giving it some welly. The idea that Christians could "rock out" and actually have some fun is anathema to most people, but fortunately, we like loud music just as much as the next heathen. 8^)
Fortunately, the stereotype is just that - there are plenty of really good contemporary Christian music (CCM) bands around at the moment, such as The Newsboys, Casting Crowns, SonicFlood, the excellent Rush of Fools, and of course, MercyMe.
All of these groups marry a contemporary sound to evangelistic and Christian themes - sometimes overtly, sometimes in more subtle ways - and in a way entirely consistent with their faith - after all - Jesus liked a party himself (he DID turn water into wine remember - not vice versa!).
However, make no mistake - for all the guitars, drums and rocky pop-y riffs, their message is undeniably Christian, and I expect many readers to stop here. But anyone who can look past the purely lyrical content and "mission" (or "ministry" as Christians would call it) of these bands, will find some excellent songs, musicianship and talent.
ABOUT THE BAND
MercyMe, a six-piece ensemble originally from Texas, are one of the Christian bands from the abundant musical well-spring of Nashville, and whilst there are some country influences in their music, their toe-tapping sound is fresher and more rock influenced than traditional country music. Bart Millard leads on vocals, Barry Graul and Mike Scheuchzer on guitar, Nathan Cochran on bass, Jim Bryson takes piano and keyboards, and the sextet is rounded out by Robby Shaffer on drums.
Their latest and 6th studio album - "All That Is Within Me" was released in November 2007 and was critically well received. The album spawned three singles which all charted on the US Billboard CCM charts - "God With Us" (No.1); "You Reign" (No.2); and "Finally Home" (No.5).
The album comes in a standard jewel case with an extensive fold out-booklet which has pen pics on the band, lyrics, photos and the usual thank you's. The standard edition retails for around £12.99 (it's hard to get better value for CCM CD's as there is a limited market) and is available from most mainstream music e-tailers.
There is also a deluxe collector's edition (£14.99) which has some bonus acoustic tracks on the CD and includes a second disc with a DVD of a concert recorded live in Hawaii, a making of featurette and the press kit for the album. This review concentrates on the standard edition.
Rather than providing a track by track description, I have chosen a handful of tracks which I feel are representative of the rest of the album:
> Goodbye Ordinary
The opening track sets the tone for the rest of the album, and is one of my favourite songs. It's a rocky number driven by drums, bass and some excellent guitar work. The singer questions why we are satisfied with the status quo, convincing ourselves that the rat race and endless pursuit of possessions is all that there is to it. The song is a farewell to the ordinary - "Live like there's no tomorrow, love extravagantly, lead a life to be followed." Secular or in faith, the message is a valid one. "Say no more to just existing, no more complacency." Well said.
> God With Us
This was the first MercyMe song I ever heard and is what made me a fan in the first place. A powerful worship song, it starts out softly, with a sense of respectful curiosity -"Who are we, that you would be mindful of us?" before the powerful chorus rises in an expression of unbridled joy "like hinges straining from the weight, my heart no longer can keep from singing". The song title is a reference to "Emmanuel" which means "God with us" and is one of the names given to Jesus.
> You Reign
The song starts with an echoing strings arrangement before the drums, bass and guitars kick in and the pleasing result is a complex, layered almost orchestral arrangement that suits the subject matter of the song perfectly. "Yesterday, today and forever, you are God who was, and is, and is to come". The song pauses for a reflective interlude, showcasing Millard's endearing and likeable voice. A superb praise song.
> Finally Home
The final track on the album provides an understated and mellow ending. It's a simple, guitar led ballad in the form of a conversation between a child and his father, and you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a story about the return of a prodigal son. However, as the second verse kicks in, it turns out to be a believer returning to the God who created him, with "home" being heaven. It gives a sense of rest, peace and wonderment as the singer remarks "All the questions I swore I would ask, words just won't come yet, so amazed at what I've seen, so much more than this old mind can hold." A fitting end to a brilliant album.
The album, which concentrates on praise and worship more than its predecessors, was originally written with the church in mind, and is designed to be listened to in one sitting as the tracks often run into one another without a discernable break. There are a number of outstanding tracks which I have already highlighted, but the rest of the album is by no means filler - for example, "I Know" is a great, contemplative and searching track. Each song has merit, and I would struggle to identify a single duff track.
My main criticism is that some of the songs are a bit samey and a bit more variety - both in style and vocals - would have made a good album even better. The strong "faith" message will undoubtedly put a lot of casual listeners off, which is a shame, as MercyMe deserve more recognition for their fine musicianship. As such, I would say while this is a "must buy" for the Christian crowd who like a little kick to their worship, but probably of limited appeal to the wider mass market.
Time Has Come
God With Us
Grace Tells Another Story
My Heart Will Fly
© Hishyeness 2009
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Goodbye Ordinary
2 Time Has Come
3 I Know
4 God with Us
6 You Reign
7 Grace Tells Another Story
9 My Heart Will Fly
10 Finally Home