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Ten Independent Artists You Should Know (Fall 2005)

  • Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Ten Independent Artists You Should Know (Fall 2005)
American Idol and similar shows make it clear that many people have no clue what kind of competition they face on the path to success in the music biz. One might think that artists on TV and radio represent most of the talent pool, but they're really just a tiny minority of all the people out there trying to get their music heard.Truth is, great artists make great art look easy. And in our media soaked-culture, it's not enough to "simply" make good music. It's also about making good music that stands out among thousands of other artists, who coincidentally or intentionally may have the exact same sound. Kind of builds your appreciation for the cream of the crop, huh?Here's a list of the ten best of hundreds of albums sent to us in the last year.
Addison Road

Always Loved You EP
Pop/rock
www.addisonroad.com

If you haven't heard this band yet, chances are you will soon enough. The Dallas-based quintet recently partnered with Deep Music Distribution, which has helped get established indies like Matt Brouwer, Justin McRoberts, and Denver & the Mile High Orchestra to stores and radio. Addison Road became buzzworthy with their popular 2003 release Breaking Beautifully, an album that has done well enough to run the band ragged with opportunities to tour and lead worship all over the country. Nevertheless, they've found the time to record this little album, reflecting their commitment to rejoice in the Lord during all times, stressful or tranquil. The band resembles a more rock-focused Superchic[k], with lead singer Jenny Simmons recalling Adrienne Camp (The Benjamin Gate) and Alanis Morrisette. But whereas Addison Road's previous two albums offered good-but-generic youth-friendly Christian rock, this one reveals a more arty and mature sound—from the ear-grabbing rhythmic opener "I Have Always Loved You," to the alternative indie rock production of "Wait," and closing with the Brit-pop styled ballad of surrender "Need You Now." If Addison Road keeps this up, it only seems inevitable that they'll sign with a major label.

Marie Miller

Marie Miller
Organic pop/rock
www.magdalenspring.com

When trying to get noticed in the music biz, it certainly doesn't hurt to have some big names attached to your project. Mark Heimermann (Nichole Nordeman, dc Talk) produced Marie Miller's self-titled debut, which explains why songs like "Accepted" and "Immerse Me" would sound right at home on K-Love or any Christian AC station. And if "On My Way" sounds like a more organic, mature version of ZOEgirl, that's partly because Alisa (Girard) Childers co-wrote it. Meanwhile, veteran Nashville songwriter Judson Spence helps Miller indulge her folk/country side on "Mother Must Be Praying" and "The Road." But unlike some other developing artists, this 16-year-old demonstrates more than a talent for networking. In addition to acoustic guitar and piano, Miller is also proficient on the mandolin and bouzouki—and moreover proves it on tracks like the instrumental "Out of Egypt." Songs like "Cold," lamenting our selfish tendencies, reveal a budding singer/songwriter similar to Nordeman or Kendall Payne. Though the big names indicate this album's quality, Miller shines on her own merits and is an artist to watch for in the years ahead.

Braille

Shades of Grey
Hip-hop
www.braillehiphop.com

Don't judge Shades of Grey by its opening track, "Right This Moment," with its annoying opera sample that sounds like a turkey warbling. This 24-year-old has a credible underground east coast hip-hop sound similar to MarsILL, The Cross Movement, and Ill Harmonics. Braille gets his name from his desire to "help people understand the things they can't see." That mission has kept him busy touring the world for the last seven years, drawing acclaim from Christian and mainstream audiences alike. Shades of Grey features collaborations with the likes of Pigeon John, Sharlok Poems (L.A. Symphony), and Manchild (MarsILL). His ode to "Hiphop Music" offers both a commentary on the scene and a personal testimonial. "10 Years" bears a smooth R&B influence while noting how perspectives change over time on life's road. "Goliath" uses a rock sample to carry David's perspective written in a way that makes it applicable to the "giants" we all face today. It's nice to hear a genuine hip-hop album that doesn't run more than 70 minutes with self-indulgent interludes sprinkled throughout. Though still not quite as innovative as Kanye West or Eminem, Braille offers solid beats, ambitious loops, intelligent Christian lyrics, and a clear rap vocal that deserve to be heard by more.

Danny Oertli

Everything in Between
Pop/rock
www.dannyoertli.com

Oertli's (the e is silent) fourth independent recording begins deceptively as another straightforward AC pop/worship effort. It turns out to be much more—an album that explores the depths of faithfulness by tracing Oertli's life since becoming an artist 13 years ago when he graduated from Colorado State University. After losing his first wife to a long battle with cancer, he wrote the bittersweet "Mommy Paints the Sky" to console their two children; it's also the title of his book chronicling his story. The poignant "Worship You with Tears" follows as a modern "It Is Well with My Soul," and an acoustic cover of Rich Mullins' "Hard to Get" is fitting for this album. The thirty-something artist eventually remarried, reflected in the romantic rocker "I See God in You" and the ballad "I'm Wild for You." The album closes with Fernando Ortega's "Give Me Jesus" and a rollicking rendition of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Orteli's voice and style fall somewhere between Shaun Groves and Phil Keaggy—melodic pop/rock, comparable at times to Paul McCartney. And while he's not as proficient as Keaggy and other legends, Oertli is an impressive guitarist in his own right. In short, Everything in Between is a deeply felt musical testimony done right.

Terry Myrick

I Bowed to the Father
Contemporary urban gospel
www.terrymyrick.com

Hailing from Tampa, Myrick got his start like most urban gospel artists—singing in his church choir. The experience allowed him to share the stage with gospel luminaries like Shirley Caesar, Walter Hawkins, and Commissioned to name a few, inspiring him to pursue a singing career of his own. He went on to star in some Off-Broadway musicals, and has spent nearly 20 years working as a music teacher. His debut album represents the launch of his indie label, Sweet Melody Records, and offers a contemporary blend of urban gospel that ranges from smooth R&B ("Lord I Just Wanna Thank You"), traditional ("Dear Jesus I Love You"), and even a splash of hip-hop ("Alleluia"). A generally well-produced recording, the real attraction is Myrick's impressive vocal range, which spans "from baritone to soprano." He's kind of like Tonéx without the experimental side, or a gospel-ized version of the Bee Gees ("Hold On"), which is to say you might not dig this if you don't like a smooth R&B singer who spends a lot of time making soulful runs in his high-pitched "head voice" range. But Myrick's talent is undeniable, making this a strong debut from a gifted singer.

Hal Leath

Until: Love Songs & Worship
Inspirational pop and contemporary worship
www.christiansounz.com

These days, it's hard to find a contemporary worship album that doesn't come off sounding too clichéd or too similar to Hillsong Australia. Until is a throwback to the Vineyard and Marantha! recordings of the '80s and '90s, but rendered with more artful sensibilities than most. The album is spearheaded by Hal Leath, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Grand Rapids, Michigan with a voice similar to Rick Elias, Tommy Walker, and Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik. Joined by a talented team of local musicians and vocalists, he's crafted an album that's relatively varied for quiet and reflective inspirational pop. "Until Your Day Breaks" is a beautiful piano and strings ballad, Carla Moore's smooth and silky vocal carries the jazzy "Arise My Love," and "To Touch Your Face" makes an effective praise chorus similar to "More Love, More Power." Leath's pleasantly breathy tone does occasionally waver in pitch, and the album's worship atmosphere is marred by three less impressive non-worship tracks at the end that would have been better saved for another recording. But for the most part, and for what it is, Until is more soothing, engaging, and original than other bigger budget worship projects.

Echosflow

Hope's Last Breath
Worshipful alternative rock
www.echosflow.com

Even though they've only released a pair of EPs, the potential of this five-man band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee is readily apparent. Hope's Last Breath features a radical remake of the hymn "Blessed Assurance" similar to Jimmy Eat World or Anberlin. The title track offers up some dense guitar rock that recalls House of Heroes of Switchfoot, and "Whole Wide World" makes a powerful worship ballad. Echosflow reeks of potential, and though they could benefit from more experience and studio polish, this is a band that favors skillful arrangements over predictable rock grooves. That's also apparent on their 2004 self-titled effort, with the anthemic "More Than Anything," the more upbeat rock of "Letting Go," and the acoustic based "I Am Trusting You," before concluding with "I Love You," a finale as potent as Delirious' "Obsession" was ten years ago. It's an apt comparison since Echosflow similarly demonstrates killer musicianship and worshipful lyrics—the difference is they favor alternative indie rock over the U2-influenced Brit sound so common in worship music these days. Listening to both EPs is kind of like listening to MuteMath's Reset—they make me want to hear more.

Carrie Pettit

Dream On
AC pop/rock
www.carriepettit.com

You've heard plenty of artists like this one in Christian music. The lyrics aren't particularly unique, and sonically it's in step with plenty of other AC pop artists. "With You" resembles "Stay" from Joy Williams' Genesis album, though its caffeinated piano hook compliments the busy life that competes for our time with God, as articulated in the song. Pettit expresses frustration concerning our failure as Christians to represent Jesus to the world in "Do I Dare," which sounds like something Nichole Nordeman could have written. Songs like "The Real Me" and "I Need You" are similar to the recent work of Natalie Grant. And "I Want to Be Holy" moves with the frantic pace of a dance track by ZOEgirl, yet the sound remains subdued like David Gray's "Please Forgive Me." So while Dream On is not a terribly innovative album, it is very well made. Pettit has an alluring voice and knows how to write a good melody. Additionally, she's helped by the inventive production of Brian Hardin (Paul Alan, David Meece). This one's very much on par with what the average Christian AC pop station is playing, and recommendable to fans of the aforementioned artists.

Bruce King

Catch Me with Your Grace
Inspirational folk-pop
www.bruceking.net

A former New York stage actor, King has been writing and performing for nearly 30 years in bands and as a solo artist. Today he supports his gig—and his family—by running a chiropractic practice with his wife in Houston. Obviously inspired by the likes of James Taylor, King sounds a like a more adult contemporary David Wilcox, or Chris Rice with a stronger roots/folk influence, but performed with a prettier voice attuned to inspirational pop. The singer/songwriter is perfectly capable at picking his acoustic guitar accompaniment, occasionally backed by sparse instrumentation that includes piano, cello, and percussion (as well as the backing vocals of Tara Leigh Cobble, a previously featured indie artist on our site). As reflected by "Just the Same," the primary theme of the album is how we are all on equal footing at the foot of the cross, each in need of Jesus. There's an honest uncertainty to "Broken Hearted" that rings true for all of us, and in "Satisfaction Guaranteed," King expresses contentment with his faith and God-given provisions. This is a "coffeehouse artist," for sure, but still a good one.

One Way Worship

One Way Worship
Worshipful alternative rock
www.onewayworship.com

If Relient K, Plumb, Mae, Todd Agnew, and BarlowGirl teamed up to make a worship album, it might resemble something like One Way Worship. What seems like an accident waiting to happen is actually a successful collaboration between ten young adults. The team formed out of a church in Memphis; after playing together at local venues, they decided to record an album that reflects their diversity in sound and passion for praise. It's one band that convincingly changes styles with every track, diving into punk ("In Your Glory"), chick rock ("Letting Go"), funk ("More than a Conqueror"), alt-rock ("Only in Hope"), and pop ("My Hiding Place"). Songs like "The Mariner's Psalm" and "Where to Find You" demonstrate honest and poetic lyricism, all the vocalists are great, the rhythm section is strong, and you'll find some amazingly wicked guitar solos. There are even impressive covers of Skillet's "Rest," Tim Hughes' "Here I Am to Worship," and Lifehouse's "Everything" thrown in. While the sound quality is a little second-rate, this truly is an impressive worship effort all around for a group so young. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see this album re-recorded on a bigger budget for a major label someday soon.

Check out our past lists of independent artists:
Spring 2005, Fall 2004, Spring 2004, Fall 2003, Spring 2003, Fall 2002, Spring 2002

If you are an independent artist who would like to be considered for review on our site, please send your CD(s) and any related press materials to editor of independent artist coverage:

Christa Banister
Attn: Independent Christian Artists
300 E. 4th St. Suite 406
St. Paul, MN 55101

Due to the number of projects we receive, we are unable to cover or correspond with every artist that contributes. But we do give all submissions a fair listen for coverage consideration.

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