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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Apr
Sounds like … soulful and jazzy funk/rock that recalls such artists as Earth, Wind, and Fire, Lenny Kravitz, and Dave Matthews, though the effect occasionally gets watered down with simplistic pop soundsAt a Glance … Unusual is not nearly as explosive as All Together Separate's self-titled debut, but it's still packed with punchy hooks and melodies.

When All Together Separate burst into the music world in 1999 via Ardent Records, it was refreshing to see a group finally step outside the lines of straight-laced CCM pop. Instead of "playing by the rules," All Together Separate loaded their debut with soulful, funky rock and cleverly worded songs. Songs such as "On and On" and "Camouflage Soul" rivaled some of Lenny Kravitz's best work, while the momentum-building rock ballads "Paradigm" and "Something Electric" highlighted the group's flexibility. A year later they released a live album in the Ardent Worship series, featuring the same types of grooves on praise standards such as "Let Everything That Has Breath," "My Soul Finds Rest in You Alone," "For the Lord Is Good," and "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" As the group stepped up to the plate for their new album, Unusual, it's clear they wanted to preserve many of the elements that made the first two projects so memorable — and for the most part, they succeed. However, there are also moments when the group seems to water down their eclectic hybrid, perhaps spurred by the desire to reach a wider, less niche-oriented audience throughout Christian circles.

The action starts with "We Know," a moderate rocker carried by Dex Alexander's raspy neo-soul vocals and Andrew Shirley's meaty guitar riffs. The guitar crunch continues on "I Believe," one of the album's funkier cuts, complete with a handful of vibrant harmonies courtesy of the other band members. That tune bridges right into "I Won't Slow Down," padded by a full horn section and a retro groove which crosses the paths of Earth, Wind, and Fire with Maceo Parker. All Together Separate moves to a mix of rock, reggae, and rap on "Bring it On," reminding me a bit of Blessid Union of Souls' sped up version of their hit "I Believe" (not the same as All Together Separate's track of the same title).

It's unfortunate that a handful of the other tunes on Unusual lack the same robust flavor. "I Surrender" has a peaceful acoustic thread, but it pales in comparison to the ingenuity of the prior tracks. "You're the One" is vertically focused, but it's cut from the same mold as "I Surrender." Neither of these songs stands out among the huge selection of modern worship songs currently available. Instead of going out with a bang, the album fades out with the uneventful flicker of "Candle." The band doesn't really kick into gear until the last minute of the song, and when it seems like they could rip into a killer guitar solo, the tune disappears all too quickly. (Hopefully, they'll extend the track in concert to feature more of the band's instrumental talents).

Even though not all the songs reach their full potential, the members of All Together Separate wear their faith on their sleeves and they once again venture outside the lyrical comfort zone that's been built up by many of their peers. "This album became more about investigating our relationship with Christ than about celebrating our relationship with him," notes Alexander. "It seemed to us like that direction was a bit 'unusual'." That comment justifies the album's title even if every song doesn't live up to that description. Then again, Unusual is far from placing All Together Separate into the sophomore (studio album) slump common with so many bands. Hopefully All Together Separate will stay together for quite some time and will seize the chance to step it up another notch with their next release.