Ten Independent Artists You Should Know (Spring 2005)
- Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2005 1 Jan
It almost seems unfair to include Goodgame in a list of virtual unknowns because his work is so familiar and handled with such impressive artistry. Touring with his wife and children, he's shared the stage with several prominent Christian and mainstream artists. He may be best known for his work with Caedmon's Call, lending his writing to "Only Hope," "Hands of the Potter," and most of Share the Well—a newly recorded version of the title track appears on this disc. His fourth solo album,
Sacred steel gospel and blues
Much has been made about the new revival in "sacred steel," a mixture of gospel, funk, and blues revolving around pedal steel guitar solos—but it seems that Robert Randolph and The Family Band are the only ones gaining notoriety for it. Not many can live up to their level of musicianship, but The Lee Boys come close. Comprised of six brothers and nephews from Miami, these are fourth generation musicians in the sacred steel tradition; all of them started playing when they were 7 or 8. Say Yes!, the band's second album, is a bit more gospel influenced, which might sit better with those who feel that Randolph & Co. rock too hard. Instrumental jams abound between catchy family originals like "Walk with Me" and "Call Him by His Name," as well as spirited covers of "Amazing Grace," "You've Got to Move," and even a familiar favorite like "If You're Happy and You Know It," rendered with a fun Latin-jazz feel. You'll find Say Yes! through the band's independent label.
Hand Me Down
Jodee Lewis and Steve Hendershot comprise The Spares, a Chicago duo that has played the Midwest since 2003. Acoustic guitars, mandolins, and other stringed instruments are at the core of their sound, though they've also performed with a bassist and drummer. Their debut
For the Beauty of the Earth
Ohio's Bradley Sowash is familiar to PBS viewers as a regular guest on "The Piano Guy," as well as NPR listeners who have heard his recordings regularly played on "Morning Edition." A composer, educator, and acclaimed pianist, Sowash has toured concert halls and churches alike for more than twenty years. He's recorded six instrumental albums, but this is his third disc of hymns and spirituals for jazz piano in the last four years—and reportedly his final, since it completes a trilogy. Those who enjoyed Chris Rice's
Things You Can't Stop with Your Hands
Trying to fill that void left by Jennifer Knapp's retirement? Do you wish more people caught on to Jill Paquette? Looking for someone as good as Bethany Dillon? Then rush directly to Tara Leigh Cobble and do not pass go. The one-time culinary student originally hails from eastern Tennessee (not far from Alathea's home), and now resides in Nashville. Stylistically, her aggressive roots pop/rock sound is a match to Knapp's—opening song "White T-Shirt" is enough to convince. But Cobble is certainly strong enough to stand on her own merits. A stunning voice that's earthy like Natalie Merchant and strong like Pat Benatar, it's comforting to learn that the album was recorded without "pitch correction." Cobble also distinguishes herself as an introspective songwriter inspired by faith but passionate about reaching beyond the Christian culture. "Beautiful Drive" and "Damage" could both be Christian radio singles, yet are seeker-friendly enough for mainstream airplay. "Follow" is an arty and poetic expression of discipleship, while "I Wonder" thoughtfully reflects on Christ's loving death for us. Top it all off with first-rate production, including strong instrumentation from Gabe Scott (Bebo Norman) and members of Caedmon's Call, and you'll be wondering why this girl hasn't been signed.
If Chris Rice fronted a band like Casting Crowns, Big Daddy Weave, or Caedmon's Call, the results would probably sound a lot like this Missouri sextet. Lead singer/songwriter Rob "Jonas" Woods is a youth pastor who started Farewell June with the vision of creating good Christian music that's relevant to believers and nonbelievers—and they generally succeed on this debut. The current lineup has only been together since May 2004, but they sound like they've been playing together for much longer. And it's a group full of surprises, interspersing softer AC pop songs like "Servant" and "Shine On" with some aggressive classic rock curveballs like "Take Shelter" or "Leanin' Heavy." Woods has a warm voice akin to Rice and James Taylor, yet he's also capable of sounding bluesy and throaty like Joe Cocker. His younger brother Nick offers some terrific electric guitar solos and wife Becky adds pleasant backing harmonies. James Koppang's shimmering organ and the versatile rhythm section of Randall Wildman and Mike Thompson round out the band. Farewell June won't strike listeners as innovative, but as a band that handles its craft as well as—if not better than—other similar acts.
Elements of the Journey
Sara Renner's bio says she's "rooted in the legendary Minneapolis sound." It's not so much a reference to Prince's Paisley Park Studios as recognition of the growing gospel music scene and the respected Christian songwriters from the Twin Cities—like Sara Groves, Joe Rogness, and Jason Gay, and producer Nate Sabin, who has worked with all three. It's fitting, then, that Sabin would match his skills to yet another local talent, though Renner has already made a name for herself there as a worship leader, a member of vocal trio Three Soul Cry, and most recently as a solo artist. Armed with a soulful and strong voice, her greatest strength is her eclecticism. Remember Basia, or Lisa Stansfield? Renner combines that kind of jazz-pop sensibility ("Simple Things") with the gospel-pop side of CeCe Winans and Natalie Grant ("Elements of Life"). And she does so convincingly, straddling comfortably between styles without giving the listener sonic whiplash. Also, much like Bryan Duncan, she has a passion for live musicianship over programmed backing tracks, evidenced by her impressive supporting band, The Elements. Check out the killer funk on "Dancin' in the Light!" This is a soulfully superior Christian pop disc elevated by all the talent involved.
A youth ministry coordinator from Naperville, Illinois, 26-year-old Ben Thomas has been writing and performing in Chicagoland's coffeehouses and clubs as an independent since the mid-'90s. But The Recovery marks his first full-length studio effort, and it's a good one. Self-written, produced, and mostly performed by Thomas, it's an album filled with dichotomies. The sound is melodic and approachable, yet the instrumentation is often quite progressive, mixing acoustic guitars with atmospheric effects and aggressive drum fills. The song style is structured, but the production is sometimes unconventional—there's an intense indie rawness reminiscent of Damien Rice's O album that can sound a tad muddy in some speakers, but it can also sound terrific in the right system. And it all plays off themes that candidly express sadness and brokenness while ultimately finding hope and peace in the Lord. Thomas appropriately cites alt-folk/pop influences like Wilco, Over the Rhine, Bob Dylan, and Pedro the Lion; you'll likely dig this if you've enjoyed recent albums by Derek Webb and Taylor Sorensen. This solo debut lends credence to that belief that indie artists are the last bastion for creative songwriting and production.
Frustrated with the increasingly formulaic modern worship sound of the last five years, guitarist Shane Ries responded by starting Rebirth with lead vocalist Sandra Stevens and a team of musicians that have toured with Christafari, dc Talk, and All Together Separate. Their debut album,
Lizza Connor is already making a name for herself in the Christian music industry, but it's not what you might think. She's been a featured writer in
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