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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Real Life

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Sep
Real Life
Sounds like … an acoustic pop/rock blend of Caedmon's Call and Satellite Soul with some modern touches a la Paul Colman Trio-or a blander version of Counting Crows and Blues TravelerAt a glance … considering the independent track record of this band and the talent behind bringing this national debut to life, this album is surprisingly bland, sprinkled with just a few effective moments

Acoustic pop/rock band Caedmon's Call was ultimately responsible for launching the careers of Bebo Norman and Andrew Peterson, not to mention Derek Webb's solo gig. Caedmon's tries again with Silers Bald, a South Carolinian group which wins the award for the year's most obscure band name. It refers to a clearing along a hiking trail with a beautiful view of the Appalachian valley along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It's also a metaphor for the mountaintop experiences and moments of spiritual clarity in our lives.

Like Caedmon's, Silers Bald was formed by two college roommates. Lead vocalist and guitarist Shane Williams and guitarist/vocalist Warren Bazemore shared a common love for Van Morrison and Counting Crows. They added drummer Jason Jacobs the night of their first campus coffeehouse concert and were an instant local hit. Within a year, they added Marcus Myers' violin and hammered dulcimer.

Since then, Silers Bald has released four successful independent projects, using nearly as many bass players in seven years. Resources were running low by the time their 2002 EP released, but they were soon discovered by Caedmon's Call's Cliff Young, who helped sign them to Essential for Real Life. The Caedmon's tie-in goes two steps further with keyboardist Joshua Moore playing and producing, while percussionist Garett Buell also plays.

The comparisons mostly end there. Sure, both play acoustic pop/rock and both are capable of creative lyrics. But while Caedmon's Call's songs are often captivating and catchy, Silers Bald's are rather tepid and dull. A lot of the production is surprisingly uninteresting, considering Moore's promising efforts on previous Caedmon's projects. For an album with such instrumental variety—electric and acoustic guitars, accordion, synthesizers, fiddle, hammered dulcimer, piano, flute, saxophone—Real Life is blandly homogenous. The biggest problem is the awkward marriage of stripped acoustic pop sounds with cheap synthesizer effects. That mix has worked for other artists, but it sounds dated and unnecessary here, as if Silers Bald can't decide whether they want to be raw or overproduced.

The first single, "Got Me Smilin'," is a picturesque look at the beauty of God's creation, but parts of it sound like a joyless knockoff of "Lord I Lift Your Name On High." As quirky and clever as it tries to be, "The Room Song" is ultimately routine in the way it ticks off pop culture references in a growing boy's room—"Even then I knew somehow/Where there's room, you got to clear it out/There's another undercover who's been lovin' ya all this time." While "Turn" has some rock grit to propel it, it's easy to lose interest quickly. Both the title track and "My Heart Will Sing" fall prey to typical adult contemporary pop conventions.

To be fair, some of the album's later songs are better. "Emmanuel," a driving acoustic rocker with electric guitar, nicely conveys the romantic imagery of a wedding ceremony, using the obvious metaphor of Christ one day returning for his bride, the church. "Carolina Line" uses the band's homesickness to illustrate our longing for a heavenly home. "All I Can Be" is a pleasant pop/rocker about reaching our full potential through Christ, not through fads: "I celebrate you coming to my life/So why hesitate to let you be the light?/So save me from the sickness inside me." The album's best track is its closer, "Truly Gifted," a moody alternative folk-rock tune accompanied by a moving plea for spiritual revival.

Real Life is not a poorly crafted album, but it's not particularly groundbreaking or distinctive either. It almost seems like a decision was made to combine the qualities of Essential's best-selling artists into one project: the instrumentation of Caedmon's Call, the production of Paul Colman Trio, the imagery of Andrew Peterson, and the warm raspy vocals of Bebo Norman. Unfortunately, when you compromise greatness, you typically end up with mediocrity.