Monday, February 24, 2014

Fresh Worship

New feature: Check out our new "Fresh Worship" segments playing each morning, afternoon, evening and late night for your listening pleasure. These segments feature the newest in modern praise and worship as well as other recent additions to our rotation.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

PLANETSHAKERS BAND to releasee ENDLESS PRAISE album and DVD on March 11, 2014

Capturing the energy, excitement and worship of Melbourne’s Planetshakers Church, one of the fastest growing churches in Australia, Planetshakers Band is set to release globally through Integrity Music its 26th live recording, ENDLESS PRAISE, on March 11, 2014. Recorded at Planetshakers’ annual Awakening event in Melbourne, the CD / DVD is an anthemic, joy-infused collection that gives honor to the One who makes all things possible.

Modern worship grown locally then catapulted onto an international stage, Planetshakers Band’s new album is organic to its environment and yet unique to the digital age in which it was born. It is the result of a dedicated team of talented songwriters, musicians and worship leaders boldly leading as one. From the celebratory title track and video that opens the recording, to songs like “Turn It Up” and “Dance,” the album gives listeners carte-blanche permission to leave their inhibitions at the door and dance for joy before the Lord.

“God’s using us to remind the Church of the joy and celebration and passion he desires,” says worship leader and Planetshakers co-pastor, Sam Evans. “In a world that looks for happiness in all sorts of things, there is such great power in our praise - power against the forces of darkness, depression and heaviness that people live under. We want to break through that with praise so that people experience complete freedom in Christ.”

Reflecting in part the teaching over the last year from the church’s Sr. Pastor, Russell Evans, along with a vibrant, celebratory community of faith, ENDLESS PRAISE was produced by Planetshakers Band’s worship leader Joth Hunt. The album features 14 original songs that continue to push the creative envelope with new melodies that celebrate life fully awakened by worship.

“We’re always trying to write from a fresh perspective, to say something new,” Joth explains. “We’ll write toward Pastor Russell’s teaching on a given topic, but often it’s just in the flow of the Holy Spirit, which is the greatest way to do it.” In everything, he says, the goal is to support the vision of the church and give voice to how God is moving among them. “Our songs have to be full of power and life,” he adds. “Scripture shows us that the kingdom of God is full of joy and life, so that shapes our approach to the music.”

The live DVD that accompanies ENDLESS PRAISE was shot with the ultra-high-definition Sony Red HD camera, capturing the Planetshakers experience visually like never before. The complete CD/DVD track listing for ENDLESS PRAISE follows:

01) Endless Praise
02) Turn It Up
03) Dance
04) No Other Name
05) Made For Worship
06) Kiss Towards
07) Unto God
08) Praise You Lord
09) Oh Your Love
10) Our God Reigns
11) Set Me Ablaze
12) Abide With Me
13) We Are Free
14) Leave Me Astounded

Planetshakers Band members, including Sam and Joth, will lead many of these new songs, along with Planetshakers worship favorites like “Get Up,” “Healer,” “Beautiful Saviour,” “Nothing Is Impossible” and “The Anthem,” while on tour. An outreach that recently led over 200,000 at a single event in Asia, Planetshakers will tour nine states throughout the U.S. and travel to 17 countries in 2014, including India, Germany, Poland, Korea and Malaysia.

Dove Award-nominated Planetshakers Band also returns for the second consecutive year to San Diego for a Planetshakers Awakening event at Cornerstone Church National City Campus March 7-8, 2014. Planetshakers further adds a second U.S. Awakening in Dallas March 20-22, 2014 at Calvary Church Irving Campus. With the goal to see every person empowered, transformed and equipped to fulfill their God-given destiny, thousands are anticipated to attend the events that will feature compelling messages from speakers Russell Evans, Sam Evans, Sergio De La Mora,Ben Dailey and more. Australia’s largest youth/young adult Christian movements, Planetshakers Awakening registrations are being accepted now at

Sharing their Awakening experiences and what is happening with Planetshakers’ worship teams each week, Planetshakers has launched a new blog, “The Well” (, aimed at equipping worship leaders around the globe. A recent podcast on the blog, which is also available on iTunes, reflected on a Planetshakers Awakening event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where over 1,000 people had to be turned away after the venue and two overflow rooms were packed to capacity.

About Planetshakers Band

Originally formed in 1997 to lead worship for the first Planetshakers Awakening (conference) held in Australia, Planetshakers Band is passionate about uniting generations worldwide through worship. Their goal is to see people encounter God, be transformed by His presence and empowered to make a difference in their world. While they tour internationally, the team remains based out of Planetshakers Church, a multi-campus, 10,000-member congregation in Melbourne that is pastored by husband and wife, Russell and Sam Evans. Planetshakers Church is one of the fastest growing churches in Australia and the catalyst for a worldwide movement.

A church, a movement and a gifted musical ministry, additional information about Planetshakers and Planetshakers Band and its touring is available at, and

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jake Hamilton and The Sound, "Beautiful Rider"

He’s led worship in mammoth arena settings, stirred souls in the smallest of churches, performed on no less than four continents spanning many major American festivals to an audience of over 10,000 in Brazil, but even with experience at literally every level and cultural crossroad, Jake Hamilton and the Sound still have no idea what they’re doing. Sure, there’s the tangible success found in concerts alongside Third Day, Jeremy Camp, MercyMe and three years of Jesus Culture conferences or frequently collaborating with guitar great Marc Ford (The Black Crowes, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals), but as the singer/songwriter/praise leader so poignantly points out across the third worldwide release Beautiful Rider (Fuel Music Distribution), he’s simply along for a ride that finds God exclusively directing the driver’s seat.

“I’ve been in ministry since I’ve been 19 and the one I thing I know is I don’t know anything, but the more I’ve tried to figure it out, the further I feel from God,” admits a humble Hamilton. “I see Him more when I give into the mystery, and I’m not afraid of the hurt or pain because I know He’s going to catch me. The new project’s title is about the marriage of something pure, delicate, kind and very sweet next to a rider on a white horse coming to judge and rule with power, authority and holiness. It’s a marriage of finding new ways to say ‘we love you Lord,’ but also to authentically express the fact that we have no idea what we’re doing or playing, just really trusting in Him to lead the way. People can see the whole gamut of who we are- from rockers to ballads- tied to the same heart, which is simply to be authentically who we are.”

A mere scan of Beautiful Rider finds Hamilton and his close knit musical community sounding like a true anomaly compared to the rest of modern worship sphere, which aside from undeniably vertical lyrics, are perhaps more akin to a melodic blend between Jack White and the Foo Fighters. Add in everything from the classic rock riffs of Led Zeppelin, to the vivid storytelling of Bob Dylan, plus the old time gospel flavor of Mavis Staples, and the project truly stands in a class all its own.

“The church sometimes creates definitions as to what’s Christian and not based on style, and as a result, they’ve handed the enemy these styles and said ‘go for it,’” observes Hamilton, citing a current shortage in faith-based hip-hop or metal as a few examples. “There was a time when Kurt Cobain was singing ‘Come As You Are’ to a broken, hurting and disenfranchised generation, and instead of the church trying to fix someone before they come in, they should actually tell people to come exactly how they are- broken, dirty and dying because Jesus can save them. Instead, we let Kurt say that message back then, and now more than a decade later, those sounds are becoming more accepted and Christian artists may find themselves trying to copy them. The problem is it’s not authentic when we replicate what the world is doing and I’m convinced there’s no such thing as Christian music or art. There’s just authenticity, and if it’s pointed at Jesus, it doesn’t matter how broken you are because it’s all worship to me. When the world sees the authenticity it blurs the line. I’m not going to compromise or remove the name of Jesus, but simply be a real person with a real sound and message the world needs to hear.”

Hamilton may be bold in his observations, but he can report firsthand to the fruits of being completely open hearted and genuine in his delivery throughout global travels as distant as the Ukraine, Germany, South Africa, Mozambique, India, Brazil, Australia and Mexico. Though there’s something to be said about having internationally distributed CDs and MP3s, much of the group’s travels are booked on sheer faith- from an inquiry by a tiny church who can’t even afford their airfare to a mega-festival looking for a familiar face. Money’s never actually been a factor in the decision-making equation, but rather, a sincere need for an uplifting, albeit somewhat unconventional worship experience that’s yielded testimonies as diverse as deliverance from pornography and sexual addiction to cancer healings.

“We’re actually part worship leaders and part missionaries in the sense that many of these places actually cost me money to go there and they are areas that wouldn’t normally hear any type of Christian music,” suggests Hamilton. “Nothing for us changes no matter where we go whether we’re in a room of 50 or 5,000 because we play the exact same way with the same hearts. I even went through the streets of India declaring the name of Jesus and found 400 people joining me in a public park, followed by an invitation to sing at a local temple, even though the mere mention of Christ’s name has been known to get people stoned!”

Fast forward to a trip to the Ukraine, and Hamilton had the honor of singing for nearly four hours comforting and hugging somewhere between 300-400 children, including some whose parents were victims of modern day martyrdom. “I met a son of a guy who as recently as 20 years ago was holding an underground Christian church, but then the government showed up at his house and asked him to denounce the name of Jesus. He replied ‘no, the same Jesus I’m worshiping is the same Jesus that will save your life one day and you need Him just as bad as I do’ and they shot him dead in the back yard and left the body for his family to pick up. In the western church, we’re under the impression that this doesn’t happen any more, but in my travels, I’ve heard of it still happening first hand.”

Given the unbelievably assorted body of believers and seekers alike encountered by Hamilton and the Sound, it’s essential to have an arsenal of anthems that can be sung across all cultural and geographical borders. In the case of Beautiful Rider, “Never Let Me Down” and “Just Beyond The Breaking” could both simultaneously fill that void, and while the old school blues rock riff of the first or the surging piano/guitar amalgamation of the second might not be as common coming from a church pulpit, the message comes across loud and clear. “Every time we play ‘Never Let Me Down’ no matter where we are at, it triggers a sing-a-long with people declaring that the Lord will never let us down, leave us or forsake us. That idea ties into ‘Just Beyond The Breaking’ and the fact that God always shows up in the most beautiful and tangible way, even when we have no idea what we’re doing. Don’t worry about the details or people showing up, just keep moving forward and know that the way we win is to never give up trust in the Lord.”

Given all of the above sentiments, it’s no surprise that Hamilton is just as unconcerned about how the traditional Christian music market may embrace Beautiful Rider as he is the uncertainty of this ongoing journey. He simply hopes that whoever needs to hear these words would have the opportunity, rather than being prevented because of specific formats or ascetics. “Could any of these songs be Christian radio singles?” he ponders. “On one hand, they are totally vertical, but will the stylistic differences allow it to get played anywhere and will a church want to rock out on Sunday morning? I don’t know. I just hope we can be close enough to the box where people don’t write us off all together, but also just far enough outside the box where they will question how they lead worship the next time.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bethel Music gathers its biggest retail debut ever with first studio album, TIDES

Bethel Music, the worship ministry of Redding, CA-based Bethel Church, launched its first-ever studio album, TIDES, to unprecedented international acclaim. Released Sept. 3 with global distribution through Fuel Music Distribution, the album became the biggest retail debut ever for Bethel Music, selling nearly 15,000 copies and marking a 134% growth over last year’s debut of its best-selling album, For The Sake Of The World. This week, TIDES not only hit No. 30 on the Billboard Top 200 and No. 12 on the Overall Digital Albums (between Neko Case and Avenge Sevenfold) charts, but also No. 1 on the overall Top Christian/Gospel Albums and Praise & Worship Billboard retail charts.

“Bethel Music is an amazing ministry sharing music that not only resonates with and impacts people across this nation, but across the world,” says Tony Patoto, The Fuel Music Management Co president. “This new partnership between Bethel and Fuel Music Distribution highlights what can be achieved with focus, determination and expertise and with incredible music, ministry and vision.”

Hitting as high as No. 7 in the U.S. and No. 10 in Canada on the overall iTunes® Album charts, TIDES further sold more than 10,000 singles, including 4,000 copies of the Jenn Johnson led “Chasing You.” One of the most downloaded digital Christian singles this week, “Chasing You” is a song about following God with insatiable abandon. While other artists have garnered significant airplay with their recordings of Bethel Music songs, “Chasing You” went to radio earlier this month, becoming the first Bethel Music single to ever be serviced directly to radio.

In addition to “Chasing You,” TIDES is filled with songs of adoration, instruction and worship that speak not only of what God has done, but also what He is doing now, in the highest and lowest of tides. Taking the new music and worship favorites like the 2013 Dove Award nominated “One Thing Remains” to the masses, Bethel Music’s Brian and Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Steffany Frizzell Gretzinger and William Matthews have recently seen capacity crowds across the West Coast in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Portland. Their “Night of Worship & Ministry” tour continues through the month. For all the latest tour details, go to

“Our events are not just singing worship songs, but also amazing nights of ministry time as well,” says Joel Taylor, Director of Bethel Music. “We are partnering with each city to press in and experience God’s presence that we believe is shifting spiritual atmospheres.”

Over the last four years, Bethel Music has grown from being a local church music ministry to becoming a global outreach featuring a cadre of songwriters and worship leaders, a half-dozen CDs, chart-topping songs, and both online and on-campus worship schools. TIDES is again extending Bethel Music’s reach. An expression of passionate emotion, anthemic declaration, and sometimes surprising experimentation, the album features original songs and music led by the aforementioned artists, as well as Matt Stinton and Hunter Thompson.

The album also addresses the popular maxim that “the only thing you can count on is change.” Brian Johnson’s answer is that there is one more thing you can count on. “Through it all,” he declares, “God is in control. Through the whole album, there’s struggle, there’s tension, but then there is a reminder that God is always in control.”

Here is what the critics are saying about TIDES:

“Bethel welcomes creativity and musical growth, and TIDES is a perfect example. More importantly, this fresh expression is revealed in the prayer poetry filling each song… Almost without flaw, the music marries the tone of the lyric perfectly…the artistry of Tides is outstanding… Studio produced album of outstanding congregational music from one of the most influential teams in the worship genre.” – Worship Leader

“TIDES is about proclaiming the majesty of God and crying out for His Presence throughout this incredible worship experience. This album is a must-have for your praise and worship collection… one of the best of the year” –

“The innovative thing about recording in the studio, versus live, is not only a more polished sound, but also a more full one. This disc plays with dynamics and is able to make a much more relevant and contemporary worship album…this album is chock full of vocal powerhouses, and is definitely not your typical worship album.” –

“Bethel Music…is wowing the hearts and ears of many around the world…injecting fresh arrangements of songs and new life into an industry that is otherwise a little bit stale… the 60 minute musical masterpiece [TIDES] is a treasure that is to be explored over and over…In fact, the whole record of TIDES is a great success…A brilliant album…A must buy!” –

“What is amazing about the Bethel Music team is that their voices beautifully complement each other giving us a richly textured overall sound…TIDES is an album that is so firmly rooted in Christ's victory over the ‘sea’ that we can help but sing with affirmation…” –

“With a variety of singers and musicians that deliver their own songs throughout the album, Bethel's new album stands tall as it showcases some of the most prolific and powerful vocals and song-writing skills shown in worship music today…these songs that capture the heart of our desperation for the Lord are great highlights on an album that’s certain to be a standout in the history of Bethel Music, and the history of modern music altogether.” –

About Bethel Music:

Bethel Music, is a worship ministry that formed as an organic extension of Bethel Church, in Redding CA, which facilitates a rapidly growing relational network of churches around the world known as Global Legacy. The heart of Bethel Music is to be a steward of the worship being created and released at Bethel Church, making it a resource available to the world. In addition to the thousands of people that attend Bethel Church’s weekly worship services, another 100,000-plus people subscribe to the online stream of the services at More about Bethel Music can be found at and

About Fuel Distribution / Tonetree Music

Fuel Distribution/Tonetree Music, a division of Fuel Music & Management, LLC, is one of the leading independent distributors of Christian music, CD’s, tapes and vinyl records internationally and enjoys a growing base in artist merchandise sales. Based in Tennessee, the Fuel team brings nearly 50 years of combined music industry experience in record label operations (Furious? Records), record distribution and marketing (EMI Label Group), and artist management for artists ranging from upstart bands to Dove and GRAMMY Award nominated, multi-platinum artists. More information on the company can be found at

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lara Landon launches Kickstarter campaign for new album, FREE, due to release early 2014

Following her self-produced, crowd-funded sophomore release Overcome that iTunes® called “One of the best Christian albums of 2012,” Lara Landon announces a Kickstarter campaign for her third album, FREE, slated to release in early 2014. Launched last week and with 23 days left to go, Landon is already nearing her goal at

For the new album, Landon enlisted some of her favorite songwriters to co-write the songs that were welling up inside of her, including Jennie Lee Riddle (“Revelation Song”), Michael Farren (Pocket Full of Rocks, “Let It Rain”), Krissy Nordhoff (“Your Great Name”), Elias Dummer (The City Harmonic, “Manifesto”), Otto Price (DC Talk, Barlow Girl), Sam Tinnesz (Mike’s Chair) and more.

“These people are amazing,” says Landon. “I’ve been able to write these songs for FREE with people who have written some of my favorite songs. The resulting music that I envision for these songs will reference some of the great soulful singers of the 60’s and 70’s, like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, combined with the modern beats and energy of artists like Florence and The Machine and Ellie Goulding. We shall see what happens when I get in the studio!”

Inviting her fans to get involved in the process by pre-ordering the album through the Kickstarter campaign, Landon is also offering commensurate and exclusive gifts of appreciation for their donations. Incentive packages for fans who choose to help include an autographed CD and poster, a digital download of FREE one month before it becomes available anywhere else, “tickets” to an online live streamed concert where Landon will perform the new songs and answer questions, an immediate download of a live performance video, dinner with Landon, Landon’s handmade “vintage” necklaces, an invite to be part of a twice monthly “book club” meeting with Landon via Skype, a 30-minute Skype music or writing lesson, a live performance for family, friends or church, and even inclusion of the donator’s name in FREE’s liner notes.

Landon is further offering her fans the opportunity to pick a cover song, which will be featured on FREE pending publishing clearance. “I’m begging you to choose one that goes with the theme, but a deal’s a deal,” says Landon on Kickstarter. “If you request ‘Billie Jean,’ I guess we will just go with it!”

Giving her fans an early sample of the new music, Landon debuts the lead single and video from FREE, “There Is Grace,” as a streaming video beginning today and exclusively through ( Featured playing piano in the video is Farren, who also co-wrote and produced the song.

Leading up to the Oct. 3 end of the Kickstarter campaign, Landon is further offering everyone the opportunity to download all the songs from her current album, Overcome. Beginning today and through the end of this month, the music will be available through Noisetrade at A remarkable album,, like iTunes, named Overcome one of the best new albums of 2012, as Christianity Today says the album “shines musically” and demonstrates “grace and maturity beyond her 26 years.” adds that Landon “has talent in spades” and that “Overcome is the tip of the iceberg for the talented young artist...there’s no doubt her voice will be heard by more eager listeners tired of sugar-coated pop for years to come.”

Recently named the director of music at Birmingham’s House of Prayer, Landon shares, “Music is the vehicle that takes me places, lets me connect with people, teaches me things about myself, and I’m confident it’s what I was created to do. Over the years, I’ve gone through so many changes, but right now I feel ‘free.’ My new songs and sound reflect that– they are much more soulful and upbeat than what I’ve done before. I’m also learning and growing so much by leading and overseeing worship music five days a week.”

For more information on Lara Landon, her tour dates and links to charities she supports (New Reality International, Blood:Water Mission, Compassion International), go to

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The City Harmonic HEART: On being, and Becoming, Human

By Melissa Riddle Chalos

“The heart is like Pandora’s box, with just a crack it’s opened up to beat anew when all is lost, to run, crawl, come home...”
—from HEART, “Here & There”

You’ve seen the image in a hundred different places: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the perfectly proportional specimen of mankind, his arms outstretched in both a circle—symbol of the divine—and a square—representing the physical world. Philosophers, theologians and scholars have long devoured Da Vinci’s copious notes—along with those of Vitruvius, the architect on whose ideas Da Vinci built his drawing—to unpack the measure of a man and what it means to be fully human.

For Christians, the question requires a more crystallized focus: what does it mean to be fully human in light of what Christ—the only human to literally square the circle—has done?

Released on September 3, Juno Award-winning band The City Harmonic reveals its eagerly anticipated, full-length sophomore release, HEART, a full-circle progression of its critically acclaimed debut, I Have A Dream (It Feels Like Home). This album—underscored by the cinematic and communal aesthetic so prominent in all The City Harmonic’s music—shifts from the dream of what could and should be to the complexities of how fragile, broken humans follow the true humanity of Christ’s example in the world.

It makes imperfect sense that these young men—vocalist/songwriter and pianist Elias Dummer, bassist Eric Fusilier, guitarist Aaron Powell and drummer Josh Vanderlaan—would look inward for this effort. After all, in the past two years, life has hit them square on. They went from working day jobs to recording and touring full time. Aaron had his first child. Josh got married. Elias had his fourth child. And on top of all the usual struggles that might accompany such huge life changes, Eric was diagnosed with cancer. In a sense, life set the context for them.

“With all this sort of ‘real life’ stuff going on, we set out to write an album ‘on being, and becoming, human,’” Elias explains. “But in a way it’s about image bearing. By that I mean that yes, we’re human… and the Bible tells us that we’re made in the image of God and each and every human has an inherited dignity as a result. But there’s more to it than that … God made this universe around us and often refers to the cosmos as a temple. I mean if you stop and think about the role an ‘image’ or ‘statue’ might play in a temple, you begin to see that we humans have quite a role to play. Whatever our present circumstances, the biggest challenge before us is to recognize that in Christ we’ve been given the responsibility and capacity to become like Him in a way, and as we do, we are becoming exactly the kind of humans we were meant to be from the beginning.”

Co-produced by The City Harmonic and Jared Fox, HEART begins where I Have A Dream’s “Holy Wedding Day” ends, with “Here & There,” a sweeping, theatrical metaphor for the entire album. “Here I am, a finite being, juxtaposed against the eternality of Christ, who talks about living in our dying,” Elias says, “and here we are dying everyday, a little further along than the day before...Whatever comes, we are not called to a life free from suffering, we are called to something bigger than ourselves. We are called to Christ.”

The tracks that follow beg the question, “What does redemption of the human heart really look like?” “Praise the Lord” serves as the call to worship, an entrance to grace in the context of powerlessness. “In our culture, it can feel sometimes as though we’ve reduced grace to just some transaction between us and God,” he says. “But grace is much more than that. It’s the air we breathe – it’s by God’s grace that we awoke at all this morning. And sometimes, like with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, grace is a thorn.”

“If I can’t see the light through the pain, tell me how a thorn could ever be grace...”
-- from HEART, “Strong”

“Strong,” written by Elias and Eric over Skype with Elias at a show and Eric at home, grew from a place of vulnerability and not knowing in the middle of Eric’s battle with cancer. “I wasn’t really in a place to write anything,” Eric says. “Emotionally, I felt like a child who had been let down by his parents for the first time... I just couldn’t see [my illness] as a blessing. I couldn’t connect with God. To confront that stuff and write ‘I am strong in my weakness,’ was really difficult because I couldn’t deny how I really felt...”

Near the one-year anniversary of the stem cell transplant that saved his life, Eric’s cancer is in remission. He talks openly of the faith of his family and friends who, like the four friends in Luke 5 who lower their paralyzed brother through the roof to be healed by Jesus—their faith carried him when he didn’t have it in him to believe. “That’s what got me through when I had no faith of my own; when I couldn’t process that on my own. The raw faith of my family, the guys in the band, my sister, my wife and her family... I had to rely on the faith of others...” Now, being on the other side of it, he says, “my emotions line up with what I believe. God really has been there the whole time, using this for the good. It’s a clear picture of God’s people coming together, working together... a profound experience.”

“Take Heart” continues the idea of grace beyond our human power to control it, the new identity we have as children of God, the risen Christ inside us, and the comfort of knowing we’re not alone in our struggle.

“The Son of God, you calm the seas that rage inside the heart of me, the heart of God is what I need. You’ve overcome the world: take heart.”-- from HEART, “Take Heart”

“Alive, Alive,” a percussion-driven anthem based on Psalm 23, connects HEART’s processional to the reality of what Christ has done. The song opens with a familiar self-soothing mantra, “It’s alright, it’s okay, it’s all gonna be okay” and reveals why the lie we tell ourselves is really true. “One of my favorite lines in that song is ‘live or die I’ll be alive,’” Elias says. “For us, these past two years, we’ve been through the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23, and the reality is that apart from Christ, we are all powerless and dead. Maybe it’s time to believe the truth that there’s more to life than just what we see in front of us. We’re living resurrection.”

Perhaps the most personal moment on the album is “Love Heal Me,” a song Eric brought to the table when the band met in Nashville to record. “When it came time to track the song, my voice was shaky and hard to control,” says Eric, who had lost his voice to muscle atrophy while in the hospital and hadn’t sang or played in over a year. “I was a little embarrassed about how it might sound. You can hear the weakness... but it captures an honest moment,” he says.

Grittier and yet sonically proportional, HEART progresses with “Songs of Longing, Joy and Peace,” a poetic introduction to “Glory,” a straight up, liturgically-bent picture of Jesus, the savior of the world who is also the center of it. The intention here is anything but neat and tidy. “I’ve been challenged by how much we’ve been willing to reduce Christ to the cross only,” Elias says of “Glory.” “He behaves there. We don’t have to deal with what he had to say or the implications... but it’s not just a nice picture, a nice baby Jesus. He’s the center of the universe!”

In addition to “Glory,” at the core of the new album is the first radio single, “A City on a Hill,” which is steeped in the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5. “‘A City On A Hill’ is a great partner to ‘Glory’ in that it takes the high concept view of Christ and brings it down to earth in the form of the very things he said in the Sermon on the Mount,” says Elias. “It also forms a natural transition into the rest of the album, calling the Church to live differently.” “Live Love,” written specifically for the ICTHUS Festival, fleshes out this ‘how then shall we live’ question in real time. “It’s a popular Christian thing to say that the Bible is God’s love letter to the world,” Elias adds, “but Paul paints us as the love letter (2 Corinthians 3:2). We can’t miss this.”

“Discipleship isn’t simply adding knowledge to our lives,” Elias adds, “but it’s to become increasingly more like the human example we’ve been given – to become ‘little Christs,’ and carry our cross through the mud and mire of a broken world in the knowledge that by the grace of God we arise brand new.”

In these and all the songs on HEART, the constant juxtaposition of grace and humanity sets the strong and steady rhythm. From “1+ 1,” the waltz-like love song Elias wrote for his wife Meaghan in celebration of their 10th anniversary, to the Beatles-esque discipleship metaphor, “Long Walk Home,” to “Brand New,” written on the fly in front of three thousand people at a youth conference... the songs build on the idea of living out lives as image bearers of Christ, becoming more like him.

“My Jesus, I Love Thee,” completes the circle; a hymn treasure handpicked by Eric and set in a minor key that encapsulates the bittersweet of our lives here, and, simultaneously, the joy of Jesus as the center of our everything. “We switch over to a major arrangement for the final verse about heaven,” Elias adds. “It’s a fitting and familiar end, a musically symbolic way of summarizing the album as a whole.”

For Eric, HEART represents something bigger than just another album. Something much bigger. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be in a band, to write/say something that matters to people in a spiritual sense,” he says. “But this time it was hugely important to me to get it right; to express the raw, gutteral frustration, pain and suffering I’ve experienced, and that people around the globe have experienced even more than me, and to give some kind of hope in the midst of it. I love that it’s called HEART and that it celebrates the joys and sorrows of life. It’s exactly what we needed to write... a beautiful, raw expression of life.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bethel Music - TIDES

by Mark D. Geil

Bethel Music (from left to right) Stephanie Gretzinger, Hunter Thompson, Jenn Johnson,
Brian Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Matt Stinton, and William Matthews

Sometimes, something really special happens, and you know you need to drop everything to see it through to completion. For Bethel Music, the worship ministry of Redding, California-based Bethel Church, steady progress was being made toward a follow-up to 2012’s The Loft Sessions live album. Songs were being selected for intimate performance in a rustic loft, when founding worship leaders Brian and Jenn Johnson and label director Joel Taylor were called into the studio with these words: “Let me show you something we’ve been working on.” What they heard was no loft session. It was an extraordinary full-on production complete with layers of instruments, loops and a new sound and passion that turned heads. Brian recalls the moment. “Joel, Jenn and I looked at each other and said, ‘All right, we’re not doing The Loft Sessions follow up! We’re doing this!’ In about five minutes we changed direction.” Just like that, TIDES was born.

Bethel Music’s first full studio album addresses the popular maxim that “the only thing you can count on is change.” As the tides roll in and out, so does life bring ups and downs, good times and hard times. Johnson’s answer is that there’s one more thing you can count on. “Through it all,” he declares, “God is in control. Through the whole album, there’s struggle, there’s tension, but then there is a reminder that God is always in control.”

Over the past four years, Bethel Music has grown from a local church music ministry to a global outreach, featuring a cadre of songwriters and worship leaders, a half-dozen CDs, chart-topping songs such as “One Thing Remains,” and both online and on-campus worship schools. A Bethel song was even featured on American Idol last season as part of the “Songs I Wish I’d Written” night. This expanded scope means more and more people are associated with the ministry. In short, the community has grown. It’s that community that played a part in another key decision that radically affected the development of TIDES. The album was communal.

From the songwriting, to the artwork, to the track listing, to the marketing, everything was done in community. “We’ve made a commitment to always try to use musicians in the local church,” Johnson says. “The people you hear on the albums are the normal worship leaders in our church. We try to keep connected as much as we can. Everyone has a position in a local church.” As TIDES progressed, that commitment grew and grew, such that every facet of the project was touched by a group of more than fifty people.

Naturally, that complicated things a bit, and the production was one of Bethel’s more challenging endeavors. “There’s certainly been stress, but the outcome is worth it. It’s like a family that sticks together. You’re gonna have some stuff that happens, but we have fruit. This album, this whole thing we’ve done says, ‘Here’s what happens when everyone gets their heads together and tries something.’ You learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s real – we’re past the honeymoon stage, we’re in deep with each other. You have to make it work.”

The fruit of that effort is an album of passionate emotion, anthemic declaration, and sometimes surprising experimentation. Lead single “Chasing You” is an extraordinarily catchy Jenn Johnson pop song about following God with insatiable abandon. “I Can Feel You” could have been pulled straight out of the 80s, complete with saxophone solo and Miami Vice vibe. The musical imagery works to point the listener to a distant, bright light of Christ finally visible in a shadowed, hopeless world.

Those familiar with the old spiritual “Give Me Jesus” will marvel at Matt Stinton’s gorgeous vocal just as they find new meaning in the song through a truly surprising arrangement. And Bethel fans are particularly eager to hear “Forever” for the first time on an album. The powerful Easter-themed anthem has been previewed in a congregational setting for a few months now, and it stands as an example of how well these songs will work in churches.

The community that made TIDES worked so hard because they recognize the unique responsibility inherent in music that points to the Creator. “A simple song,” Johnson reflects, “can do so many things in the realm of the kingdom of God. It’s amazing how one song can go past denominational walls, past people’s preconceived notions. People start humming a song and then singing it and then actually believing it after a while.”

Moreover, Johnson notes, the presence of God in music can change the way people think about God, about society and about our role on this earth. “It’s not just about being nice people. It’s about being people who carry the power of God through the rising and falling tides of our time. I feel like we’ve been given a huge responsibility in music to capture what God has said and what He’s doing. That’s why we’re willing to push the envelope a bit, to try different sounds and styles.”

What’s especially refreshing about the new sounds and styles on TIDES is that the band remains authentic. Even these eclectic songs, born of such a large community, maintain the consistent thread that is Bethel music. With an earnest desire to combine so many people to create something fresh and inventive, the team has exceeded perhaps even their own expectations. These are songs of adoration, instruction and worship that speak not only of what God has done, but also what He is doing now, in the highest and lowest of tides.