There are times when only an instrumental will do. Jazz fills a need in worship and praise in so many ways from improvisation to the subtle dance the keys of a piano can make as it sways with the upright bass and intoxicates with the held down in the pocket brush of the drum. Deanna Witkowski is both an outstanding player and composer with credentials that span from Chicago’s Wheaton College to New York City and Makes the Heart to Sing invites you to the table of excellence. God is in it all with many of the classical pieces being hymns and worship songs from Beethoven to Bill Evans. Jazz is described as the true music genre that originated deep in the African-American communities of New Orleans and the southern United States, throughout the late 19th and bridging the early 20th centuries.

The album opens with the beautiful luxurious Welsh tune “Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah),” that takes quixotic turns with the heart moving upright bass. The Bill Evans ballad “There is a Balm in Gilead” and gorgeous “Beach Spring” are noteworthy and worth the price of admission alone. “Holy, Holy, Holy” pays homage to Duke Ellington while the up-tempo “Foundation (How Firm a Foundation)” is a clinic on the majestic tonal phrasing of ivory at its best with gospel sensibilities. “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian,” is another standout and reminds the listener of jazz great Ellis Marsalis’s early work that married gospel and jazz in intimate and intricate ways.

“We Three Kings” grooves with swinging confidence and expertise that is breathtaking. “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” is Witkowski at her best with a classic from the Ninth Symphony. Makes the Heart to Sing is a beautiful and poetic work of art that is beyond five stars and should be a listening requirement for those who want to lift their jazz influence to another level. Witkowski’s media site is thorough and educational. As a musician, let Makes the Heart to Sing left me inspired. As a writer, I felt satisfied and convicted. As a Christian, this album gives me a greater walk with Thee. Give this album a listen and pass it on!

Steve & Shawn New Album: Faithful

Artist: steve & shawn | Album: FAITHFUL | Learn More:

When your story starts in Silt, Colorado it better be good! When Steve and Shawn Reed started their ministry they took the long road home that led them to Nashville, Tennessee. Their first full new album since the 2010, Who We Are, Faithful was birthed out of trusting in God and traveling where that would lead them as they trekked across the world. The opening tune “You Remain” is the perfect introduction to this album and the Celtic accents and creative rhythms is fun and catchy and obviously the seasoned foundation of a duo comfortable with leading worship. “Faithful to Me” with acoustic guitar and just a hint of country take you back to simpler times with a James Taylor vibe that is both sincere and authentic. When this duet blends their voices there is a touch of magic that fades into “Hide Myself” which Shawn carries with her beautiful vocal range that never exhausts the listener by over-performing. “Bless the Lord” is a standout on this project that uses sweet subtleties that never compromise the message and almost begs for the duet to step outside of the box and let go. “Your Life” which is a family affair – kids and all with banjo arpeggios that are priceless and showcase the real potential of Steve and Shawn.

Faithful does have a story to tell that is worth listening to and Steve & Shawn deliver with worship that is authentic and flows from start to finish. “Here’s My Heart” is another noteworthy song that is a well-written heartfelt ballad inviting to be covered. The music and lyrics have a balance that is complete and what remains is for you to come on their journey and hear the rest of their story.

The Gray Havens New Album: She Waits

Artist: THE GRAY HAVENS | Album: SHE WAITS | Learn More:

The Gray Havens are a husband and wife duet with She Waits being a follow-up to their first album, Fire and Stone from 2015. “She Waits” the title track opens this fascinating project with piano and synth drones that create a quirky tone that are fun and engaging. The subtle techno vibe and creative production tells a story and turns and twists in ways that is brazenly independent and refreshing. The spirited “High Enough” with authentic rap by Propaganda is a lyrical gem with hip-hop accents that are genuine and connect. “Return” and “Not Home Yet” have a smooth almost Celtic vibe and continues the narrative.

David and Licia Radford are a force with She Waits and “Forever” reminds the listener that sometimes you need to not only step outside the box but leap in new directions that set trends and appeal to those outside the typical four walls. This four-star album is a treasure and a real pass it on project that has viral threaded all through this tapestry of hits and wonders and wore out the repeat button on my player. Noteworthy is also “Three Birds of Babylon” and “See You Again” which uses the power of storylines to build and bond this project from start to finish. Hang outside the box and give this addictive album a listen and you will definitely return for more.

Lauren Daigle New Album: Look Up Child

Artist: LAUREN DAIGLE | Album: LOOK UP CHILD | Learn More:

Lauren Daigle arguably has one of the most unique and interesting voices in worship and Christian music. Her first album, How Can It Be, went platinum. Daigle has garnered Dove Awards as both a singer and songwriter. The single “Trust in You” is Grammy nominated and highlights her rich raspy voice. However, at the center of it all is powerful and vulnerable lyrics that appeal to a wide and diverse audience. Look Up Child opens with “Still Rolling Stones” and the legacy continues. This upbeat tune takes Daigle’s vocal range up a notch or two and then takes the listener on a reflective lyrical rollercoaster. “This Girl” has a vibrant full throttle gear that has depth and passion that illuminates like a torch with chilling strings and open boldness that is as much a proclamation as it is a mega tune swirling with crossover finesse and chilling strings.

“Your Wings” a blend of reggae and zydeco is true to Daigle’s Louisiana roots and is another wistful turn into a treasure chest of thoughtful arrangements that ebb and flow with masterful pacing from ballad to anthem in thunderous waves. “You Say” is equally noteworthy and makes “Love Like This” a resonating chapter in this novel of listening masterpieces that races forward and only looks back to bring you on the ride. By the time you get to the title track “Look Up Child” the pulse turns up again, and you are on a journey into uncharted worship territory that is infectious, inspiring and memorable.

As Look Up Child closes with the surrendering

“Rebel Heart” and traditional gospel lullaby of “Turn Your Eyes” Daigle is an artist with something to say that is thought-provoking and conversation invoking. There are radio-ready tunes as well as sanctuary reverence that build and live up to the promise and worth the wait. This project is wise beyond its years and may very well set a standard that crosses over to multiple genres. The attention to detail, lyrical prowess, and masterful production pay off with this five-star album and the results are “Inevitable” and unlimited.

Vineyard Soul New Album: Generous God

Artist: VINEYARD soul | GENEROUS GOD | Learn More:

Vineyard Worship has a legacy of live worship collaborations that are as diverse as they are reverent. The collaborations seem to stretch music and lyrics across boundaries and make them fit a time and season with a distinct clarity of voice and instrumentation. Now Vineyard Soul has released their second project that features assorted voices from a myriad of multi-ethnic Vineyard churches. “Generous God” lead by Tina Colón-Williams answers the call from the opening bell with tempered power and is smooth and rich. “We are Hungry” with an organ and guitar intro right out of the 70s is mesmerizing and builds like a titanic wave with warmth and urgency. The vocal arrangement lead by Joshua Miller is contemporary and nostalgic in ways that make the production second to none.

“Slow to Anger” pays homage to the late Andrae Crouch and captures the listener’s ear with subtle accents that embody R&B and gospel in a modern way with exquisite string arrangements and leads into the anthem “When We Call Your Name.” The flow of passion is non-stop throughout this project and “Form Us” is another standout with a beautiful vocal arrangement with engaging background vocals that will without a doubt set a trend with balance between power and restraint. Vineyard Soul is most appealing in its ability to stay true to the Vineyard brand while forging new ground and doing it with soul and boldness.

This project captures a fresh sound that interweaves traditional tunes with new inspirations and is never too familiar. “Above all else” captures this formula with perfection. The brilliance of Generous God is great arrangements, fresh voices and powerful songwriting that puts vocal clarity out front and asks us to have Sunday morning worship every day. To this five star album “We Say Yes” from ballads to anthems give them a listen.

Michael Farren New Album: Fighting For Us

Artist: MICHAEL FARREN | Album: FIGHTING FOR US | Learn More: 

Michael Farren is both a Dove Award winning songwriter that has written songs such as “Trust In You” (Lauren Daigle), “Every Time I Breathe” (Big Daddy Weave), “Let It Rain” (Michael W. Smith) and “Sing It Now” (Reba McEntire) just to name a few. However, this does not begin to scratch the surface of the breadth and depth of this multi-talented artist and project. “Fighting for Us” is the title track of the album that is multi-dimensional on a number of fronts but the real strength comes from tight production and the diversity of tunes that engage and challenge our listening palette to take in the whole song and not just the sum of their parts. “I belong to Jesus” the opening track with driving drums and shimmering banjo uses unique percussive nuances to bring the song to life. “Prisoners” is a gospel flavoring that is authentic and a bridge between praise and worship.

There is a lot to like about Fighting for Us. The lyrics are profound with the right touch of passion and blend of instrumentation that are world class and allow the listener to ebb and flow with the heartbeat of the album. “Goodness and Mercy” plays with vocal syncopations and keeps the narrative original and yet familiar in interesting ways that allow Farren’s voice to stay front and center, which is refreshing. “Where is God” is a piano and string symphonic wonder that is vulnerable and timeless. The acoustic guitar on “As it is in Heaven” is the perfect compliment to the haunting rhythm and more traditional arrangement that transitions from ballad to anthem in a thunderous blink of an eye. “Loved and Known” the reprise to “I belong to Jesus” closes out this album in an old-time gospel way that leaves you wanting more. This five-star project is a songwriting clinic that is faithful in its promise and a reminder that authentic worship is alive and well and Michael Farren is in the forefront as both a singer and songwriter.

Gateway Worship New Album: Greater Than

Artist: GATEWAY | Album: GREATER THAN | Learn More:

Greater Than is from Gateway Worship based in the Dallas-Fort Worth Gateway Church and pastored by Robert Morris. The production of a live album has a number of built-in advantages from the ability to have an active audience to being able to reach out to a broader following and the challenge of letting go of the familiar to reach the masses. At the end of the day, it is about good music, songwriting, and production. The song “Deliverance” accomplishes this and sets the table for the title track “Greater Than” by not forgetting that their base is sanctuary themed worship. “How Glorious” then takes it up a notch with a strong female vocal and is a passionate and powerful anthem that is clearly an audience favorite.

Greater Than uses reverent lyrics and vacillates between high energy and minimal ballads that have the right balance of sparkling guitar riffs and piano that is both striking and noteworthy on “Steadfast” and “I Will Wait”. There are a number of reasons to like this album. There are fourteen cuts on the project, which, are satisfying, and a joy to listen to with “Linger” a soul-gripping ballad that is vulnerable with an outstanding string arrangement. “Stand in Your Love” epitomizes the depth of Gateway Worship and this album with acoustic guitar intro and power drums that compliment the sanctuary focus.

The final cut “Open the Heavens” has a nice groove and breaks away from the other tunes with a rock-pop driven sensibility that allows the listener to move with the music. Greater Than works because Gateway never loses sight of their (live) audience and delivers with an array of diverse songs that have purpose and passion while inviting the listener to join in. Give this four-star album a listen and the celebration will linger long after the music stops playing.

Mosaic MSC New Album: Heaven

Artist: MOSAIC MSC | Album: Heaven | Learn More:

Heaven is the follow-up EP to Glory & Wonder from Mosaic MSC, a touring worship band that has an enduring legacy based out of the Mosaic church in Los Angeles pastored by Erwin McManus. The first tune out of the box is “Mercy” and it sets the tone for the rest of the album with a contemporary California vibe that is fresh and engaging. “Never Let Me Down” led by Mariah McManus who has written songs for Grey’s Anatomy and other film and television projects, continues the journey. The pulsating sub bass and thoughtful lyrics use space and hearken the hearer to keep listening in and the payoff comes with “Engraved” and “Maker of Heaven” that blend the vocals with the right touch of effects that is not overproduced and interestingly creative and relevant.

The minimal approach to “Voice Memo” is a reminder that the music comes first and the songwriting process is a reward in and of itself and the listener gets to feel like they are in the studio as the flow and results are being birthed. Mosaic takes risks with “15” and the results are rewarding and fulfilling and closes out this four-star project with energy and charisma. Heaven is exactly that and well worth a listen from a seasoned worship band that delivers what it promises and does not let you down and leaves you wanting more which is what an EP is designed to do.

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