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The DVD Experience (Summer 2008)

  • Andy Argyrakis, Russ Breimeier, and Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Jan
The DVD Experience (Summer 2008)

As DVDs and the Internet become more prevalent in the music industry, we'll continue to see videos used in different ways to support Christian music. Some like Worship at the Abbey and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers video attempt to connect worshipping the Lord through song with worshipping him through ministry. Others capture the thrilling live concert experience of popular artists like tobyMac and Underoath. Deluxe Editions of previously released albums allow artists like BeBe Winans to include live video footage with their CD. And by going back into the vaults for classic footage, we're now treated to a live compilation that explores the archives of the late great Keith Green.

Brooklyn Tabernacle SingersKeith GreentobyMac
UnderoathBeBe WinansWorship at the Abbey

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers

Live from Angola Prison: The Miracle of Hope (Integrity)

The Good: Recorded on location, this gripping docu-concert is a striking look into the spiritual revival taking place at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Snippets of songs are interspersed in between thoughtful interviews with inmates and other footage, infusing the film with extra poignancy. And thankfully, the actual outdoors concert is separate from the feature itself, which makes things easy for those who just want to get to the music—an assortment of favorites culled from the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir's expansive repertoire, including covers of God's Property's "My Life Is In Your Hands," Richard Smallwood's "Total Praise," and Phillips, Craig & Dean's "This Is How It Feels to Be Free."

The Bad: The set list is only eight songs long, which is quite short compared to Brooklyn Tab's other live projects, I'm Amazed—Live and the upcoming I'll Say Yes DVD. In spots, there are also some syncing problems between audio and video, which gives the impression there's some stuff going on with pre- or post-production (for example, overdubs).

The Bottom Line: Ministry and music commingle for a moving and impactful glimpse into the heart change through Christ.
—Andree Farias

Keith Green

The Live Experience (Sparrow/EMI)

The Good: Though there have been numerous compilations for Christian music legend Keith Green, The Live Experience marks his first official live recording. The DVD/CD combo is the result of his wife Melody digging through their personal archive to dust off the singer/songwriter's most celebrated selections, which were then transferred from video and remastered. She's uncovered quite a treasure trove of rarities, ranging from spirited performances of "You Put This Love In My Heart" and "Your Love Broke Through" at Jesus '77 to the vertically focused "When I Hear the Praises Start" and "I Can't Wait To Get To Heaven" from an unspecified date at Los Angeles' Daisy Club. Bonus features abound, including the insightful hour-long documentary, Your Love Broke Through (originally included with The Ultimate Collection), plus a preaching/performance television clip from 1982. Moreover, it should be noted that the accompanying CD offers completely different live footage from the DVD—lively solo performances spanning Green's career that make his songs sound more timeless while demonstrating both an entertaining stage presence and a heart for evangelism.

The Bad: Considering that the recording budget was low and the live footage is more than thirty years old, the restoration process can only accomplish so much. The Jesus '77 and Jesus Northwest '79 performances are of bootleg quality, but acceptable. Scenes from Estes Park '78 and Jesus West Coast '80 are significantly better, though still rather grainy by today's standards.

The Bottom Line: The rough production values are certainly tolerable considering the rare content and extensive footage, aptly summarizing Keith Green's indelible contributions to Christian music.
—Andy Argyrakis


Alive and Transported (Forefront/EMI)

The Good: Backed by the eclectic explosiveness of his Diverse City Band, tobyMac has proven himself one of Christian music's most exciting and charismatic entertainers in recent years. Those qualities are at last captured through top-notch video production, with exceptional camera angles and framework. The set list is chock full of tobyMac's entire solo career, not to mention a few shout-outs to his dc Talk days. Highlights include the roaring "Ignition," the hip-hop drenched funk of "Catchafire (Whoopsi-Daisy), and the sax-smacked neo-soul of "No Ordinary Love," plus Mandisa makes a special appearance for "Lose My Soul." All the while, the stage is adorned with images from Mac's recent Portable Sounds project, plus an ambitious light show that rivals dc Talk's concert experience. In addition to the concurrent CD soundtrack, there's a behind-the-scenes feature offering an hour's worth of insightful interviews that flesh out the tour further.

The Bad: The only tiny complaint—nice as it is to hear songs from the dc Talk catalog (from "Jesus Freak" to the recent reunion song "Atmosphere"), they fuel nostalgia and longing for a reunion with Kevin Max and Michael Tait.

The Bottom Line: In keeping with the excellence of his solo career, tobyMac goes all out with Alive and Transported and gets everything right, making this highly anticipated concert project well worth the wait.


Survive, Kaleidoscope (Solid State/Tooth & Nail)

The Good: At long last, emo-core heavyweights Underoath get the full-concert treatment. Last year's 777 gave us an idea of what the sextet is capable of, but with this CD/DVD combo, their live show is fully formed and an apt representation of their remarkable growth from They're Only Chasing Safety to Define the Great Line. Recorded live at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, the concert contains more performances from that latter album, which allows viewers a chance to experience front and center the vocal synergy between flailing frontman Spence Chamberlain and wunderkind drummer Aaron Gillespie. The 16:9 widescreen format only adds to the realism of the live component—it's the next best thing to being at the real thing. (And that's not a bad alternative, since the odds of getting kicked in the face by an overzealous teenager are lower in your own home.)

The Bad: Aside from the accompanying CD, you only get 14 songs and nothing more—not even a DVD menu to select different options for audio settings. Some bonus features would have been nice, though the band probably shot their wad with the 777 DVD.

The Bottom Line:Survive, Kaleidoscope brings visual context to the bombast of Underoath's albums, making it a great keepsake for fans and a great starting point for those who want to see what the band is like live.
— Farias

BeBe Winans

Cherch—Deluxe Edition (KOCH Records)

The Good: Accustomed to his long-held status as a crossover act, BeBe Winans has never sounded this churchy in his solo career. Those who have missed this side of Winans will relish the bonus DVD included in the deluxe edition of Cherch. Recorded live at Faith Community Church in West Covina, California, these mostly traditional selections are performed with the fervor and Sunday-morning ethos that have characterized the rest of Winans' kin—many of whom are in attendance here, alongside a number of gospel's brightest stars.

The Bad: Winans tries a little too hard to remind us we're having cherch, er, church—he places so much emphasis on the misspelled word that it becomes annoying after a while. Also, the guest appearances—Mary Mary, Israel & New Breed, Dionne Warwick, and others—do a fine job of bringing on the praise, but all of them seem to be caught off guard by Winans, who calls them out from the stage and asks them to deliver impromptu, call-and-response collaborations. To make matters worse, there's only one microphone available for vocalists, uncomfortably forcing all these luminaries to share (rather than duet). Not good.

The Bottom Line: Though as spirited like the standalone album version of Cherch, this CD/DVD bundle will only appeal to Winans completists or gung-ho fans of traditional gospel—the only ones who are likely to have cherch with this one.
— Farias

Various Artists

Worship at the Abbey (Kingsway Music/EMI)

The Good: Worship leaders and artists from the U.K. (Tim Hughes, Stuart Townend, Phatfish's Lou Fellingham) and the U.S. (Smokie Norful, Kelly Minter) "come together" for an evening of praising God at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London. Highlights from the concert experience are captured with a 78-minute CD/DVD combo that includes familiar favorites as well as some gems less familiar to Americans—Townend's intelligently crafted worship music deserves international distribution. The visuals are solid for this enjoyably eclectic and multi-ethnic event, which mixes pop, rock, R&B, and other genres for a small audience in spacious Studio One. And apparently the event was created to help raise awareness and funds for the Ray of Hope ministry, serving impoverished villages in the Amazon.

The Bad: The impetus for this concert feels somewhat gimmicky. Why Abbey Road studios beyond the "ain't it cool" factor? Why not Westminster Abbey, or else a bigger facility to help raise awareness for Ray of Hope in front of a larger audience? A short behind-the-scenes documentary offers minimal insight into the origins of the event, and aside from the short Ray of Hope video—which serves as a prologue—this concert never seems to bridge the idea of worshiping through both music and our lives. For that matter, while the CD is strong, the video editing makes this feel less like a fluid worship concert and more a series of performance highlights.

The Bottom Line: A solid worship album with impressive performances and songs worthy of any praise team's consideration, but it feels like Worship at the Abbey could have done more to create a meaningful worship experience in both video and its tie-in to ministry.

For previous editions of The DVD Experience, please visit our archives.

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