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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Sheltering Tree

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

Just two weeks after the release of Russ Lee's debut album, we now have the latest from the group that brought him to our attention — NewSong. And the expectations are high, since Sheltering Tree is their first new album in just over three years, excluding last year's greatest hits package. The advance word of mouth is that this album is something of a departure from their previous works. Fans of NewSong, never fear. They haven't abandoned their style in any way.

I've always been a little perplexed when it comes to NewSong, because they're consistently described as "pushing the envelope," "progressive," or "stretching musical boundaries." I frankly don't hear that at all — this is textbook Christian adult contemporary, and nothing is particularly innovative, musically or lyrically. Their style of music is not very far off from 4Him, Aaron*Jeoffrey, or Phillips Craig & Dean. The songs feel like a collection of interesting "thoughts for the day" found in a devotional or on a calendar. There's nothing wrong with that, for they truly are good thoughts for the day, but there's nothing very poetic in using quotes and ideas from friends and novels either. For example, "Red Letter Day" is a great song about starting the day off right with a daily devotion; but the term/phrase "red letters" in reference to Christ's words is already a tired cliché (I'm not sure if dc Talk was the first to use it either). Likewise, the title track is in reference to a Samuel P. Cooleridge poem that compares friends to a sheltering tree from a storm. A beautiful metaphor, and a pretty good song, but it feels too much like "We Are the World," because there are so many guest vocalists on the track, which is a little distracting. There's only one song that felt truly cheesy to me, and that's the addition of the Christmas track, "The Christmas Shoes." Don't get me wrong — it's a well-known story that I've heard many times, with a great message. But in the context of a song, it's got too much of a "weepiness factor," akin to Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses."

Before people start sending complaints, let me say this — it may be simple Christian pop, but few artists do this kind of Christian pop as well as NewSong does. They're not so much a model of innovation as they are of masterful production and performance. As always, Sheltering Tree is an immaculately recorded project, with flawless vocals and programming (which makes them a little more like Mike + the Mechanics or Toto, rather than a progressive band like Genesis or Yes). Everything is crisp and pristine musically. You can tell from the PR and the lyrics that NewSong truly has a heart for ministry and expressing it through song. And though they may not be the most interesting band out there, their music is filled with moments of inspiration and joy. I'm sure these moments will find a place in the hearts of many listeners, and since that is the ultimate goal, Sheltering Tree succeeds.