Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sunday Best

My brother has always been a huge fan of CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) , but it wasn't until I read a review of a MercyMe album at Kurt's Krap last year that I got around to doing some serious digging in the CCM genre. There are, to be sure, extremely talented musicians and vocalists working in every genre, but my previous experiences of CCM related material led me to believe that musicianship always played second fiddle to "getting the message across" and from a lyrical standpoint basically sought to include as many inoffensive platitudes as possible.

I'm happy to stand corrected. The genre itself is currently as broad as it's ever been, and, just like the MercyMe album Kurt mentioned, there is plenty for the non-churchgoer to enjoy on a musical level, without being bombarded by pointing fingers and sweeping ideologies. Perhaps the best example I found of this are the several bands making up the roster of Credential Records, based in Brentwood, Tennessee.

The bands in question are Turn Off The Stars, Lost Ocean, and Future of Forestry. Each of them have issued an album in the last year that deserves recognition as a legitimate piece of art, with much for the casual music listener to enjoy.

All three bands have MySpace pages where you can listen to several tracks. Here's a taster or three:

Lost Ocean - Nights
Turn Off The Stars - Please
Future of Forestry - Open Wide

And just to further convince you, how about this review:

"Upstart EMI imprint Credential Recordings continues its impressive hitting streak with the debut full-length release of Bakersfield, California-based alternative pop/rock act Lost Ocean. Soaring melodies, intimately evocative vocals and dominant piano and keyboard elements glide atop an intricate and quite powerful rhythm section and guitar churn to create a sound that is modern, classic, romantic and intense all at the same time.

Recorded in an actual castle outside of Nashville, Tennessee, the listener can almost hear the echoing hallways and melancholic ambience of ancient stone throughout the tracks. Epic early alternative romantics like Simple Minds, A-ha, The Choir and The Ocean Blue echo down from one angle, while the more recent strains of Keane come from another. Skyler Johnson handles piano, keyboards and “ambience” while Christopher Short (drums) and Bret Black (bass) work out the beats with mechanical accuracy and an often Mullen/Clayton/Eno sensibility. But in spite of the dominance of the keys, front man Jeff Gray does a lot more than just strum his guitar and sing. His wide ranging tone palette and unique guitar philosophy add wonderful muscle beneath the always pretty skin of Lost Ocean’s vibe.

Woven throughout all the lilt and grace are lyrics that are poetic and ethereal, yet still accessible and clearly purposeful. The result, while not exactly ground-breaking, is more than impressive. Lost Ocean brings back an important element of rock music: the cascading arc of classic melody and romantic sweep that beg you to just relax and float away on its waves. Fantastic stuff."
John J. Thompson (

Or try this one:

"If you were one of the many loyal fans that were a bit put off by the blandness of Coldplay's X And Y record, then I have some great news for you. Forget all about Coldplay. Instead, try yourself on a set of songs from Turn Off The Stars. This brightly Brit-poppy band sounds like they've come from the same stomping grounds as Chris Martin and Co. but have a depth to their debut eponymous release that was lacking on the latest Coldplay record.

All of the songs on Turn Off The Stars have a depth and ambiance that transcends most of the Britpop that has been released over the past two years. The songs have a haunting melancholy that is broodingly reminiscent of A Rush Of Blood To The Head's finer moments. TOTS has an emotional commitment to their music that draws easy comparison to the masters of modern anthemic Britpop, Embrace, their songs carrying a dynamic presence and enthralling quality. Lead vocalist Michael Walker slips easily in and out of a keen falsetto that will give most casual listeners the impression that he is merely lifting from Chris Martin, but there is a sincerity and depth to his voice that Martin most times lacks.

Turn Off The Stars' debut record is an amazing eleven tracks of modern Britpop influenced music. The songs are catchy and densely layered with well-produced and brilliantly arranged sounds and structures. Selling this band as the new Coldplay does nothing but sell them short of their own ability. TOTS eclipses that oversimplified comparison by leaps and bounds. My only complaint is that there aren't more songs."

L.Keane (

Price Point - Checking around, I discovered that Turn Off The Stars is available from Walmart online for a very reasonable $5.88.

BTW, I have no connection to any of the bands or to Credential Records, so consider this a free plug from an impressed music lover.

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