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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2000 1 Jan

Justin McRoberts is among the best of the newest Christian songwriters but, unfortunately, not many have been exposed to his music yet. Perhaps you saw Justin opening on tour with labelmates Five Iron Frenzy and The W's, which had to be odd for everyone involved, since a folk-rock singer is a really unusual choice to open for a ska and a swing band. Or maybe you saw him when he opened for Bebo Norman and Andrew Peterson, two other folk/acoustic songwriters, which was a much more appropriate pairing with his sound. This still was not a very high profile tour. Hopefully Justin's time has come now that he's released his second project, Father, and is on tour this fall with Nichole Nordeman and Caedmon's Call.

This tour may earn him his best exposure yet, since it's his most high profile tour to date and also because his sound is a hybrid of those two artists: the passionate and somewhat delicate songwriting of Nichole mixed with the acoustic rock of Caedmon's Call. Justin's singing voice is even a little reminiscent of Cliff Young from Caedmon's Call, but with a little more strength. Despite his capable vocals and guitar strumming, it's his songwriting that marks Justin McRoberts' greatest strength. He uses simple words straight from the heart, yet arranges them into poetry rather than making them sound cliched. My personal favorite from the new album is "Standing In His Place": "I guess a cup is only useful for the hollow of its shape; the brokenness in me is the need that holds your grace, Father." Father also features plenty of guest appearances; Sarah Masen, Tim Foreman (Switchfoot) and Andrew Peterson all help out with background vocals on various tracks, and even Nichole Nordeman lends both piano and a vocal duet in "Waiting on Your Love."

There's only one negative comment I can make about Father, but it's a significant one. The overall sound of the album is very homogenous, each track sounding a little too similar to the one preceding it. The recording quality is simple, good and clean; but one can't help but wonder if Justin and producer Masaki decided to just set up the band and record all the tracks at once with the same sound levels on each track. They were obviously going for a simple acoustic sound to let the songs speak for themselves, but simplicity does not equate with monotony. Father would have strongly benefited from a little more thought in the production and instrumentation. For a fine example of what I'm talking about, look no further than Justin's first album, Reason for Living. With that project, the songs were much more varied and playful throughout the album. There are hints of that on the new album, but it's very subtle. But this should not be perceived as a completely negative review of Father. It may well serve as a great introduction to his songwriting and artist skills for many people. Just be sure to check out Reason for Living, whether or not you pick up Father.