- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jul
"Wait, didn't these guys just release an album?" Indeed they have. In fact, double-checking my previous editorial schedules, it was almost two years ago to the very day (July 3, 2001) when By the Tree released their national debut,
Another surprising element to By the Tree is the changing cast with every album. The band was originally comprised of singer/guitarist/songwriter Chuck Dennie and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Kevin Rhoads when they started independently in 1997. After signing with Fervent in 2001, they added drummer Aaron Blanton (who played for the original Sonicflood). In 2002, they added bassist Ben Davis, but Kevin amicably left the band after recording These Days. He has since been replaced by lead guitarist and vocalist Charlie Goddard, giving the band two singing and guitar-slinging frontmen named "Chuck."
The best part is that By the Tree has finally found their footing and let loose, recording an album that best reflects their live sound. They no longer sound like a tired retread of modern worship bands like Sonicflood—they're an honest to goodness rock band, and they've never sounded more sure of themselves. Not that they're breaking new ground. Their pop-laced rock sound is a hybrid of Paul Colman Trio and Train with flashes of Bleach, Vertical Horizon, Newsboys, and Mike + the Mechanics. The difference now is you can appreciate By the Tree as a rock band that happens to write some vertically focused songs to God, rather than a worship team posing as a rock band.
At the heart of the album, appropriately enough, is an irresistible pop/rock ballad called "Root of It All" that's as
catchy as Delirious or Newsboys. The song bookends
Long-time fans will appreciate the inclusion of "Shoot Me Down," a favorite from By the Tree's live shows since their early days as an independent band. Driven by the simplest of piano riffs, it's been improved to pop/rock perfection for this album, expressing the sin we're all guilty of and the grace we are freely given by God. The album's first single, "Far Away," is driving rock stuffed with hooks and thrilling drum fills, even going so far as to change the feel during the bridge. Similarly, "Confessions (Hearts Are Restless)," (co-written by Peter Furler of the Newsboys) features heavy modern rock colored by fun, artsy touches.
"Don't Throw It All Away" reveals Chuck's growth as a writer, using a sophisticated pop chord progression to underscore a song of spiritual intervention. The pleasant ballad "Your Arms," co- written by Scott Faircloff, is one of the better blends of rock and orchestrated pop you'll hear. Other songs show more sonic breadth. "Faith That Breathes (Break Me)" begins with a classic '80s rock guitar riff, only to explode into a heavy post-grunge pop chorus in a plea for spiritual renewal: "All my life has been a returning to innocence and all my time is pent in Your existence/So won't You come and break me." Co-written with his old friend Kevin Rhoads, "Notes on My Door" utilizes horns straight out of cheesy lounge pop from the '60s and a funky guitar riff from the '70s.
Three distinct and significant factors have contributed to this new and improved output from By the Tree. First and foremost, they have become a band as opposed to a couple of guys backed by studio musicians—and the boys can play. Second, the songwriting is a bit tighter, thanks to Chuck's improving skills and the contributions of Phil Joel, Peter Furler, Scott Faircloff, and
the album's producer Joe Baldridge (Jewel, dc Talk, Newsboys). Finally, speaking of Joe, this man is quickly becoming one of my favorite producers. On last year's
Admittedly, By the Tree's vertically focused lyrics could afford to be a little less simplistic and more creative. But what this band may lack in originality, they make up for with engaging
melodies and solid rock production. Because they release music so
quickly, it's hard to believe that By the Tree released their
national debut only two years ago. In that time, I wasn't sure if
they would last as a band in the long run—they seemed to be just
another worship band, and the lineup seemed unstable. All that's