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Underground Sound, Volume One

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 May
Underground Sound, Volume One
Sounds like … a collection of Christian pop/rock artists similar to the WOW series, except focusing on up-and-coming independent artists.At a glance … the first installment in the Underground Sound series is a mix of promising talent and newcomers that sound like other Christian radio mainstays, but will consumers really rush out to buy a collection of artists they've never heard of?Track ListingTrust in You—Carl Cartee
Modern Day Escape—Last Year Portrait
Here with Me—Maria Long
To Bring You Back—Paul Alan
Ruin Me—Jeff Johnson Band
Inside—The Wrecking
Something Wrong—Separated
Send Me—The Justin Cofield Band
Who'd You Put in Charge—Foolish Things
More Real—1 Life
Whisper—Shelly Moore Band
The Real Me—The Ride
Save Me—Abbi Walker
Hold Me—Jonny Diaz
Again—Jessica McLean

With the industry relying more and more on independent artists, it was inevitable that we'd start to see indie-focused collections resembling the WOW albums, introducing us to bright up-and-comers. Top 20 Indie 08 released first earlier this year, focusing primarily on acoustic pop and folk (with similar albums for other genres to release later).

By comparison, Underground Sound, Volume One offers a mix of pop and rock. The producers began with a list of 1,500 artists, narrowing that down to their favorite 15 (a painstaking process that Christian Music Today can relate to in our own indie artist coverage). The result is a collection that ranges from pop-punk (Last Year Portrait) and synth-laden rock (The Wrecking) to adult contemporary (Jessica McLean) and acoustic pop (Jonny Diaz, whose album we've previously recommended).

This album is really no different conceptually than those new music samplers record labels used to offer in stores for around $5, except this one runs for average price and features unsigned artists (though Carl Cartee and Foolish Things both recently had record deals, and Paul Alan's career dates back to 1994 with Nouveaux). And though WOW is comprised of familiar hits, this collection is comprised of songs that most people have never heard.

With that in mind, the producers smartly marketed three singles to the varying Christian radio formats—"Trust in You" to Inspo, "Ruin Me" to AC/CHR, and "Something Wrong" to Rock. Plus, "To Bring You Back" (the best track from Alan's recently released Drive It Home) is already receiving airplay. But I'm not sure this marketing strategy has been fully thought through. Ask yourself, if you like what you hear on the radio, are you more likely to buy the independent albums of Carl Cartee, Jeff Johnson Band, Separated, and Alan, or will you spring for a collection of other artists you've never heard of?

That said, there are certainly some standouts here worthy of your attention, most of them in the disc's second half. Songs by Foolish Things and 1 Life have strong melodic hooks, Abbi Walker and Shelly Moore Band exhibit raw musical talent, and The Ride displays the most intriguing songwriting of the bunch. Unfortunately, much of the rest won't leave you thinking you've heard something distinctly different as much as something that would fit neatly alongside similar artists already on Christian radio.

The problem with Underground Sound (and for that matter, Top 20 Indie) is that it requires people to buy a crapshoot. You've really no idea what you're getting unless you research the artists included—I recommend first checking out at least a few of the artists' individual MySpace pages. Also, because these are independent recordings, not all the music is of the same production quality—a couple tracks here sound relatively muffled. Underground Sound reflects the changing landscape of the music industry, and an interesting way to introduce new artists. But I have a hard time imagining people rushing out to buy this, aside from those curious listeners who have money to burn.

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