- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
If you're like me (and most other Christian music enthusiasts), you're probably suffering from B2CW—Burlap To Cashmere Withdrawal. The world-music-influenced acoustic rock band called it quits in early 2000, after releasing only one album back in 1998. And oh what an album that was! Fans all around thrilled to the band's unique blend of acoustic rock flavored with Greek and Latin sounds, and their concerts displayed something sorely missing in many Christian acts … instrumental virtuosity (the boys could play!). Is there any future to the band? Sort of, but it's kind of like the dc Talk solo projects only without any hope or plans of the band getting back together later. Several members of the band are in the process of recording a new album to be released next year, though it's unclear whether or not it will be strictly instrumental and whether or not it will be faith-based. Steven Delopoulos, the band's former lead singer and principal songwriter, is working on his own solo album, which may release before this year is over. In the meantime, we have the debut album from the band's first departing member, keyboardist Josh Zandman.
Josh is actually capable of much more than keyboards, opting for acoustic guitar on most of Summer Album. He plays all the instruments with the help of John DeGrazio, the album's producer who played bass with Burlap back in 1999 and co-wrote the song "Captured" with Aaron Benward. The answer to the question most of you are thinking is yes, there is a definite Burlap influence on Josh's sound. For the most part, he doesn't rock out like Burlap did. He's got more of a gentle acoustic pop sound, not too unlike "Eileen's Song" from the Burlap album. Josh's voice isn't that far off from Steven Delopoulos', and Josh either contributed a lot to Burlap's sound or was greatly influenced by it. Musically, he also reminds me a bit of Paul Simon's solo work, as well as Michael Penn and even Jars of Clay at times.
The album's opener, "Breathe Again," is as exciting as early Jars of Clay was (as in "Liquid" and "Flood") with its exciting blend of acoustic guitars and heavy percussion. If it weren't so electronic, it would sound like one of Burlap's more rocking songs. It's a great opener to Summer Album, but it's also the project's most heavily produced and rocking track (in other words, don't judge the rest of the album by it). Most of the other songs are simple, middle-tempo acoustic pop songs. They're pleasant, sound great, and are very likable, but not particularly groundbreaking. The musicianship is not of the same level of Burlap to Cashmere (few albums are), but it's as good as most anything else you'll hear in Christian music.
Josh says he left the band to pursue a vision from God for a solo career, and that he genuinely hopes to bring people to Christ through his music. His faith shines through in many of his songs, such as "Cover Me," about surrendering our life and will to Christ, and "Shine," about living our life as the only Bible some people will ever read. There's also "How Good it Feels," a simple testimony of faith and belief in God. Unfortunately, there are some songs on Summer Album that don't make themselves readily clear, though Burlap's debut album suffered from the same problem (anyone want to try and make sense of "Chop Chop" and "Scenes"?). The one that will likely raise some eyebrows is "Talk in Your Sleep," which tells of someone who learns that his girlfriend loves someone else from hearing her talk in her sleep. Before you get the wrong idea, Josh says that the song is about a guy who learns about it in a vision from God. All well and good, but it demonstrates how Josh's lyrics are sometimes easily misunderstood.
Summer Album is certainly not a perfect album. Even though there are 10 songs, it's being called an EP because it's only 30 minutes long. The song writing is good, but not great. Josh's music sounds excellent, though there are a few too many songs with the same 3/4 or 6/8 time feel. Also, his lyrics don't reach very deep and are often repetitive—sometimes that works in a Burlap sort of way, and sometimes it's just too simplistic. Nevertheless, given the choice between a song that says something differently with minimal words and a song that says a lot using the same old tired Christian pop rhetoric, I'll go with the new stuff. There's some room for improvement, but ultimately Josh Zandman's debut is a likable album that will please most fans of Burlap to Cashmere's music.