Sounds like … melodic modern pop/rock for fans of Bleach, Newsboys, Matchbox Twenty, and Ten Shekel ShirtAt a Glance … By the Tree transforms from a quartet of alternative worshippers into a trio of refined pop/rockers, going in a mature new direction.
After spending much of the latter half of the '90s recording and touring independently, By the Tree was the first act signed to Fervent Records just over a year ago. The group's national debut, Invade My Soul, was a collection of fresh cuts and previously recorded material slightly reworked in the studio. Listeners were quick to embrace the material from that alternative worship project, as well as the opposite personalities of the band's even-tempered Chuck Dennie and quirky Kevin Rhoads. In keeping with the band's tradition of staying on the road, the group kept their calendar packed throughout 2001 and early 2002, often having to schedule their studio sessions for the follow-up project during odd hours. (In fact, group members mulled over their latest batch of tracks for so long that they left the studio late on the night of this year's Dove Awards and, due to traffic, missed accepting their first major accolade!)
Nevertheless, all that running around and meeting new friends, fans, and even collaborators made the group stronger, which is evident on their latest release, These Days. Unlike the hodgepodge of songs from different sessions that wound up on Invade My Soul, the new disc has a more cohesive feel from start to finish. However, the band members will be the first to admit that such development also has caused various growing pains. The partnership between Dennie and Rhoads dissolved, with Rhoads amicably leaving By the Tree to pursue other musical avenues. As a result, Dennie and remaining members Ben Davis (bass) and Aaron Blanton (drums) teamed up with producers Joe Chiccarelli (Tori Amos, Shawn Colvin, Counting Crows) and Otto Price (dc Talk, Jeff Deyo, GRITS) to serve up By the Tree's latest.
The result is 11 catchy pop/rock tunes loaded with free-flowing harmonies, memorable lyrics, and bubbly instrumentation. Fans are probably already familiar with the disc's lead single, "Salvation Song," a glistening pop gem with engaging melodies featured during the group's recent live shows. The track ends with a celebratory trumpet solo played by John Painter from Fleming and John, which works to the group's favor by showing instrumental depth and a bit of spirited spontaneity. "Satellite" evokes similar sentiments, although it has more of an alternative Bleach/All Star United edge. The song paints a parallel between cell phones relying on satellites to send their signals and Christ relaying on believers to be satellites for the Gospel message, a clever message of evangelism.
A vertical focus is evident on several cuts, including "Your Presence," "Mystery," and "Remain." All three tracks gradually build in momentum, showcasing the band's desire for their audience to enter into a time of worship. "Change" turns the focus away from praise and speaks to believers' need to continually seek forgiveness and renewal. Alternative undertones, also along the lines of Bleach, appear with Dennie's defiant snarl on lines such as, "And I need you to change me / I'm drowning in my shame / And I need you to change / Gonna take it away, take away my blame."
These Days' most pleasant surprise is "Into Your Arms," which was originally performed by The Lemonheads, a mainstream group that scored radio airplay with that tune and the immensely popular "It's a Shame About Ray." Dennie may not share much in common with The Lemonheads' lead crooner, Evan Dando, but he sure gives the Boston native a run for his money with this interpretation of his hit. Another bonus is the disc's beautiful finale, "When I Found You," penned by fellow artist Scott Faircloff (writer of Lifehouse's "Sick Cycle Carousel" and Avalon's "Never Givin' Up.") The ethereal ballad is padded with effective orchestration and the chilling realization that quite often we lose the original fervor of our faith in order to pursue worldly desires: "I long to explore the mystery of leaving it all behind / And find you beyond this crowded life / I know there's got to be more / Won't you bring that day back again."
The gripping reprise of "When I Found You" closes the disc on a prayerful note, capturing By the Tree's continual development in their most vulnerable moment. Although Rhoads' efforts will be missed on the road, the remaining members have a quality batch of new material to share on their compelling sophomore album.