What’s Going on Here?

Once upon a time (Feb. 5, 2013 – Aug. 12, 2015) I ran a website that started off as album reviews and music finds. Over time, I conducted interviews with some of my favorite artists – and some who just happened to be available at the time. I even expanded to books and film. Then I moved, life got busy, and I just abandoned everything.

Thanks to a precient archiving in 2014 and the help of the Wayback Machine, I’ve been able to recreate almost as much of that old content as I care to. (For some idiotic reason, I didn’t think to actually backup my site files when the hosting lapsed and so some stuff is just lost to time.)

So, my intent is to get back to doing music reviews in real time. Over the last two years I’ve been rating tracks in my music library and scoring albums on a custom rating system. So, I’m excited to start sharing some of that info. In the meantime, I’m just trying to repost all the legacy content. I’m still of two minds about books and film, but they may find their way over here as well.

Hoping to start posting new content in early June. In the meantime, find me on Twitter.


Interview :: Brian McSweeney

The music of Brian McSweeney has been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been anything new added to the catalog in quite some time. That was true until a couple of weeks ago when McSweeney quietly released his solo debut, Love Me Down. The record itself is phenomenal, but it’s something that the artist couldn’t possibly have put together back when I was first introduced to him. Time, life experiences, and the advent of new technology finally made it possible for the Brian to put out a piece of work that really taps into his full potential as not just a musician, or one of the best vocalists around, but as a poet and artist.

Brian was kind enough to take some time out of his day to chat with me about the record and how it came into being.

Listen Here

*excerpts below are only a portion of what is contained in the full audio interview*

Ryan: You made this album a while back and you’ve just now released it. Why the delay and what have you been doing in the meantime?

Brian: I made the album in pretty short order after moving to Nashville. I felt like I needed to get some music out of me, and it just came out in a burst. Once I had finished the record, the content was still very fresh in my life and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and I just wasn’t ready to be that open. But I finally reached a place where I realized that time wasn’t on my side and I was finally ready to put this stuff out there.


Ryan: This music is very artistically different from what you’ve been known for. Was this a passion project to make that type of record?

Brian: I didn’t put a lot of thought into the sound when I went into making the record, but I had been listening to Ray Charles almost exclusively for like a year. I had discovered Ray Charles – of course, I knew who he was – and I had never really realized how brilliant he was. But I maintain now that he may be my favorite artist of my life. He may be one of the most talented people I’ve ever heard, for so many reasons. But I didn’t think “I want to make a soul record.”


Ryan: This record came out of the aftermath of a relationship gone bad?

Brian: Well, there are a few different relationships at play. Leaving the long-term relationship I moved to Nashville and within a year I met someone who was the complete opposite of that relationship. I met someone who I was really able to experience a lot of happiness with and experienced a feeling of being seen and appreciated. So, I was writing new songs or revisiting old ideas in the context of this new relationship. So what ended up happening – and it was almost unintentional – was that every other song sort of “leapfrogs.” One song might be fun in light of the new relationship and the next song might be a good bit darker.

Brian McSweeney: Love Me Down

Release Date: July 20, 2015

I may have a tendency of over-selling records by artists that I’m really committed to – especially when it’s something that I’ve been waiting years to hear. But in the case of Brian McSweeney’s latest release, Love Me Down, I promise you that every word of praise is well-earned.

For the uninitiated, the ever-youthful McSweeney boasts a two-decade-long, critically-acclaimed career. Unfortunately, most of that acclaim came in the first quarter of his career fronting the bands Seven Day Jesus and Matthew. For the last few years, however, McSweeney has spent most of his time behind the scenes, working as road crew for other artists and playing gigs here and there. In the last 5 years, he released an EP and several videos and clips on YouTube – just enough to whet the appetite for something more substantial.

I spoke with Brian a year and a half ago and got a fantastic play by play of the last 15 years of life for him and the promise of something great coming down the pike. He told me of how he had discovered the music of Ray Charles and then gone out and written and recorded a soul record complete with strings and horns – a far cry from the post-alternative rock he had built his career around at the turn of the millenium. The wait for this record has been unreal.. but oh, so worth it.

The album-opener “Black Diamond” sets the stage well by leaning on classic instrumentation – keys, violins, and John Mayer-esque guitar riffs give way to a verse carried simply by the drum and bass. The composition of “Turning Pages”, juxtaposing major/minor chords against one another, makes it perhaps the most reminiscent of the artist’s previous ballads. “Pillowfight” is probably the most upbeat track and calls to mind shades of Stevie Wonder, especially on its super-hooky outro tag of “Something feels like summertime/Children laughing all the time.” While it doesn’t completely drop the soul-vibe, “Wildfire” has the most singer-songwriter feel of the whole album.

In a previous conversation, Brian mentioned his move to Nashville in the aftermath of a long, unhealthy relationship. The stains of those experiences are all over this record. “She Says #1” – which boasts an intro that brings to mind The Temptations’ classic “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” – deals with the after-effects of infidelity. The almost-cinematic “Black Friday” draws the listener into the uncomfortable scene of breakup in-progress as it builds through sweeping vocals without offering a chorus to break the tension. As rough as it is to experience, it is perhaps the best track on the album.

A conversation from many years ago about making great records often comes to mind. A producer friend was discussing his desire to make “timeless” records – albums that sound like they could have come out yesterday or thirty years ago and still be relevant. I feel like that is exactly what Brian McSweeney has done here. It’s eclectic in all the right ways pulling in sounds as varied as Sam Cooke, The Beatles, and Richard Marx, yet not a single note feels out of place. Generally speaking, I prefer to hear acoustic versions of songs, but nearly all of these tracks demand full instrumentation as though that is as integral to the piece as the melody and lyrics – that to me is the sign of an album truly transcending music and becoming art.

You can stream Love Me Down on Brian’s site and Spotify, but do yourself a favor and actually purchase it.

Also, stay tuned for a new interview with Brian coming next week.

Interview :: Shane & Shane

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Shane & Shane about their musical development over the last 16 years, their Worship Initiative project, and their latest major-label release [aptly named] The Worship Initiative. While both Shane’s were on the line, Shane Barnard took the lead answering the questions.


conversation has been minimally edited for the sake of clarity

Ryan: Back in August of 1999 I moved to Lubbock, TX. My very first weekend on campus, I saw Shane Barnard play for the first time at Southcrest Baptist Church. Musically speaking, what have been some of the big growths and changes that have happened since then that define where you’ve been and where you’re at now?

Shane B.: There have been so many and it’s kind of hard to see when you’re so close to it because there are so many hundreds of things that have influenced and changed that. I would say, mainly, back then I didn’t have any kind of history in music at all. So, when I started to play right around that time I was just brand new. Not even a couple of years before then I had the first thought: “I need to sound good.” That was a foreign thought because I never grew up singing, there was no music in my family. So, I think the main thing that’s happened has been developing some patterns and finding things that I like. I think that [I’ve discovered] the beauty of simplicity. Back then I just sort of freaked out most of the time, musically. “How loud can I scream? How fast can I strum? That always equals better.” So, I think [I’ve developed] a little more of a musical taste since then, and that’s been a really big difference. The way that I’ve grown I’ve developed an appreciation for a simple groove that’s just right on and a simple vocal that’s not in the rafters.

Ryan: I’ve followed along with the Worship Initiative project since you launched it last year on Kickstarter, but I wanted to ask you about what the real impetus was behind wanting to do that. I understand what you’re trying to do, but were you seeing something out there as you were interacting with people that said “wow, this is a real need” or “there’s a real gap”? What was the driving force?

Shane B.: The closest encounter we’ve had to that is that we did a songwriting class for 5 years. We would walk with young artists and worship leaders in college by meeting up at our studio 12 at a time each semester. And we’ve always met with worship teams and artists along the way as we travel, but having a close-up, week-by-week relationship with these students we saw a huge need for discipleship. That combined with a passion and a conviction as we would go through the Scripture and see what Jesus has asked us to do in making disciples.

So, we looked at our lives and thought that making as many Gospel-centered disciples as we can from here on out until we die is probably a really good thing. After all those years of getting into the lives of these students and we started to find out that for most of them a lot of their hope was caught up in what people thought about them, what the future would bring, what kind of success they could have. At the end of the day, if you asked them what their passion was, it was pretty far from the person of Jesus. But until [we die to our self] nothing ever really happens. So, within the music community as a whole, the harvest is white.

There are tons of people – thousands upon thousands of people – within the music community at church: players and strummers, people who have been classically trained in piano jumping into the band, lots of worship leaders getting started – maybe a firefighter who kind of leads worship and goes to a small church… There’s this whole group of people that maybe think that preacher is the one who needs to focus on the Scripture and do the teacher thing and I’m just the singer-person. So, we’re trying to call that out a little bit and consider what we are called to do Biblically as musicians.

Ryan: You obviously have a passion for teaching, behind the scenes. As you are on the stage or as you are recording, how much do you feel it is your role to teach theology to the church through worship?

Shane B.: A lot. (laughs) A lot our role. We’re totally into that. When we first started the Worship Initiative it was like: stage one, let’s do the 100 songs that the church is singing. That’s pretty much what we did – barring any song that was way off. And then we surrounded those songs with Bible studies to point people to the Scripture. So that’s where we started. People want to learn the song “Oceans” so we did that to get them in and once they are in we can begin pouring into their lives.

I think a lot of songs to come, that’s what we’re after. Theology inside of our doxology is it. We have the chance of a lifetime to inform people of who God really is inside of music. That is at the top of the priority list, for sure.

Ryan: As you were going through that process, were there any songs that you didn’t agree with theologically? Did anything not make the cut because of that?

Shane B.: Nothing comes to mind. We didn’t come across a lot of those songs in the very top of the list. There are a few where here and there we would change a lyric and just hope that nobody sees it – because a little change can make a big impact.

Often we get the question of “do you lead a song by a certain ‘camp’?” because when you’re leading that song, you are sort of embracing that group and sending people there and the teaching may be kind of off. That is a genuine concern. It’s hard to find the line of that even when we look at our hymn writers. The guy who wrote “It is Well” went off the rocker at the end of the day. Do we throw out the song “It is Well” because his life and his theology suffered later after that?

So, it’s hard to find the line. I think we have a responsibility as pastors to say, “this is true.” We don’t have to push people into any camp. If there’s a song that is Biblical truth put into music, we’re probably going to embrace it and say this is a great song to get behind. We understand the concern and we’re not really trying to endorse a camp, say Hillsong or Bethel, but really just get people into a place where they can get discipled in truth. But also we want to wrap some truth around those songs. So we’ve gotten our three favorite writers at Desiring God to write Bible studies around every song. So you get songs that are beautiful and metaphoric like “Oceans” or “You Make Me Brave.” Some of these songs could mean a variety of things so we just wrap some truth around it and equip worship pastors with that truth.

Ryan: So, when you’re recording these kinds of songs, how do you maintain the authenticity of the experience of worship in the studio say when you’re on the 26th vocal take of singing “Alleluia”? How do you translate that live experience into the recording process and keep it engaging to the listener?

Shane B: We did 100 songs in a little over a month, but we didn’t sing them [at that time]. I would say that probably 70 out of 100 were super enjoyable and the other 30 were really difficult to get through. We did it just like a worship band, though. I would get in early, come up with an arrangement, and then we would just play it through as a band. Because we were capturing everything on video, we had to play it. There was no “punching in” or “punching out,” we had to play it just like a band would play it. So, that was kind of a cool part because we were kind of like a church band. On Sunday morning there are no start-overs or do-it-agains, you just play the song.

Then, over the course of the next six months, it was mostly really sweet for me. I would come up to the studio most every day that we were in town and crawl into my little vocal booth that used to be a bathroom and put a lot of reverb on my vocal and I would just be tracking alone. We have a computer in there so I can mirror the computer in the control room and I would just get a good mix. In trying to get a vision for 100 songs, I knew I had to make it enjoyable. So I would set up a rough mix of the song, I had good reverb, it would sound like I was in a cathedral and I would just try to have a devotional experience.

Some of these songs I had never even come close to singing before, so I would literally have to learn the song. So, I would sing it through like fifteen times just trying to get the hang of it. But it was actually very sweet. I mean, I cried maybe 20 times just in this little room by myself singing these songs to Him. I didn’t know how it would go, but we did twelve full records in not even a year so it was just a steady pace of tucking inside a little room for several hours a day and trying to think about the Lord through these songs.

Ryan: Did you do anything different to adapt your production process on the official label release that just came out?

Shane B.: We were a little bit more choosy on the songs to take the time and really think about it. On the first hundred songs, the first thirty came really easy. The second thirty was kind of difficult. And the last thirty was nearly impossible to figure out which ones we were going to do. This time we had more time leading up, so there were about five songs that we knew for sure [we wanted to do].

I would say our favorite song on the record – I think it’s the second song – is “Seas of Crimson.” A new Bethel CD had come out and Shane was listening to it while we were recording. We already had a set list and Shane was pushing for a few songs, including this one but it was way out there and it was hard for me to wrap my mind around it. Their new record is so artsy and creative and it took probably a year for them to make it. And the song wasn’t produced in a corporate worship manner at all, so it was hard but he thought it would be awesome. So, we gave it a shot and it ended up being, by far, our favorite song on the record. So some of it just happened on the fly like that.

Audio Adrenaline: Sound of the Saints

Release Date: March 4, 2015

Bands change. It’s been hard for me to accept that, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized it’s true. From Dio-era Black Sabbath to Van Hagar, bands not only change their personnel, but also their sound. I was both excited and intrigued when the band reformed a few years back with one of the greatest vocalists ever (Kevin Max) as their frontman. I was much more skeptical this time around as a whole new group of musicians took up the banner of a group with over two decades of history.

If you were to hand me a copy of Sound of the Saints and tell me, “name that band,” there’s no way that I could do it. This does not sound like any of the previous iterations of the group. And though we are aware that bands change, it’s only fair to go into this record eyes and ears open to the fact that you’re going to be getting something else. What you’re getting is a really solid, radio-ready record full of great hooks and fantastic melodies.

The album opener, “Move”, has gotten my 6 year old amped for soccer practice and inspired him to showcase his ninja skills against the mighty foe of our living room couch. No wonder it’s being used by NFL network, MLB network, and WWE. It’s fantastically well-crafted and is one of the band’s favorite songs on the record. The lead single, “Love Was Stronger”, is straight forward if not heavy handed but it does a great job of drawing the listener in and inviting them to sing along. “Miracles” and “World Changers”are also among the top tracks on the record.

The title track, “Sound of the Saints”, is notable as it was co-written by founding lead-singer Mark Stewart. What’s interesting is that this track represent the farthest deviation from the band’s original sound. Its folksy, camp-fire sound is echoed on “Spirit Burn.” “Saved My Soul” sounds like something that would have been well-suited for former vocalist Max.

This band means a lot to me, personally. As I told new lead singer, Adam Agee, the band’s bloom record really introduced me to “Christian Rock” music – and in going back and listening today, that album holds up surprisingly well. That’s the kind of record I want to hear when the name Audio Adrenaline comes to mind. But even the sound of that version of the band went through stages. bloom (in my opinion) was a great example of that trial-and-error finding its perfect spot. They repeated that sound, in large part, on the follow-up Some Kind of Zombie. But after that, their sound leaned a lot more toward the center and away from the edginess they had once offered.

One thing, however, that has continued to bother me, I think is worth mentioning. The original band never shied away from their Christian message, but their songs were rarely “on the nose.” They took more of the teen angst and uncertainty and inserted a Christian worldview into it. This record, however, is nothing if not explicitly evangelical… and that’s fine, I just think that it really shrinks the potential audience – especially folks like Agee and myself who discovered Christian rock music through the band.

Still, this record is perhaps the logical next step of melding mainstream CCM with a rock edge. As I mentioned, this record is well-suited for Christian radio, especially the likes of Air1. In fact, I would say that it is better than the vast majority of what is out there in this category – but it’s still hard for me to call it Audio Adrenaline, and it probably always will be.

P.S. listening back through the band’s catalog and hearing Mark Stewart’s voice get weaker and weaker with each record is so thoroughly heart-breaking and makes his brief appearance on their previous record all the more sweet.

Interview :: Audio Adrenaline

I know what your thinking: who are those guys? Well, friends, that is the new Audio Adrenaline – (l to r) Brandon Bagby, Adam Agee, Jack Campbell, and Dave Stovall. The group took up the mantle of Audio A about 6 months ago, taking over for the band’s previous incarnation fronted by the great Kevin Max. Oldsters like myself may remember the group’s original lineup anchored by vocalist Mark Stuart who was forced into retirement a decade ago due to vocal issues. Stuart has stayed involved in the life of the band and has offered his ringing endorsement of “Audio Adrenaline 3.0”. I got the chance to speak with new lead singer Adam Agee in the days leading up to the release of the band’s tenth studio album, Sound of the Saints.


conversation has been minimally edited for the sake of clarity

Ryan: First off, congratulations on the success on the new record that’s on it’s way out. It’s a very cool time to be in, I’m sure.

Adam: Thanks. It’s been a crazy six months.

Ryan: I’m fascinated to hear what the call was like when you found out that this was going to happen. Did you know the guys from the band already? Did a manager call and say, “hey, are you interested?” How did that all go down?

Adam: Yeah, I’ve known Mark [Stuart – founding lead singer] and Will [McGuiness – founding bass player] for a long time and I love those guys. It’s pretty well documented that they had a huge influence on my career over the last twelve years in [my former band] Stellar Kart. We were under the same management as Audio A for the last three years and they had been watching us.

So they came to me and said, “hey, we’ve got this thing happening. We need a singer and we’d like you to be the front-man for the band and help write.” Stellar Kart was kind of winding down so I thought about it with my wife and prayed about it a lot. The guys from Audio A came back and said that they wanted to keep things going to continue to raise awareness for the Hands and Feet Project and that ministry. So, my wife felt like I couldn’t just go back out on the road to play music. There had to be a huge ministry aspect involved in order to leave the family. With all of those things adding up, it felt like a good fit.

Ryan: What about the rest of the guys? You are all new to the band. Were they guys that people knew already or was it everyone thrown into a room all at once and, “Hey, good to meet you,”?

Adam: It’s a little strange. We all kind of new each other from other bands or church or mutual acquaintances. I know that Mark and Will had Dave, our bass player, on their label with his old band, Wavorly, so they knew him very well. Then Brandon [guitarist] and I went to church together, and Jack [drummer] I knew because he’s been out with Newsboys helping them out for the last couple of years. So, we all kind of knew each other, but at the first couple of rehearsals it was like “hey, man. How ya doin’?”

One of the freakiest moments – it was our fifth or sixth rehearsal – Mark and Will come in and they are sitting at the soundboard. And I’m thinking: “Well, this isn’t awkward at all,” as we’re about to play “Big House” in front of them. It’s like “What is going on, man?”

Ryan: How different does it feel now when you walk on stage under the name Audio Adrenaline than it did when you going out as Stellar Kart both in terms of purpose and emotion?

Adam: It’s not a whole lot different than what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years. It’s still going out there and putting on the best show I can. I think that the added element is making sure that we do justice to the catalog of songs that Audio A has developed over the last 25 years. We want to make sure that we are honoring that and that it is as awesome as it can be. In terms of the new stuff, I was able to write a bunch of it and we formed it as a band. So, all that stuff is coming together great and it seems really easy on stage and it’s just so much fun. I feel like the pressure is less than it would have been, had I not been preparing for the last 15 years to be a frontman in a band.

Ryan: What are you feeling from the fans as you meet them one-on-one? The fans have gone through a phase of acclimating to Kevin [Max – former lead singer] over the last few years. I’m sure that when they walk into the venue, they aren’t sure exactly who they are seeing. How have they received you and what kind of conversations have you had around that?

Adam: The knowledge that the fans have coming into the show is pretty mixed, but the reaction after the show has been overwhelmingly positive. I was almost surprised the first couple of weeks of the tour at how well people responded and how encouraging they were. It was much better than I could have hoped. Of course there are people who really liked the old way, but the response has been great. The younger fans that come up that may not even know about the history of Audio A are really excited about the new stuff and they love it. We’re able to inspire a new generation the way this band inspired us, so it’s very special each night. Then the fans who have been fans for 25 years come up to us and say, “Man, you did a great job on the old stuff and we really like the new stuff.” This band really changed their lives back in the day and they’re glad we’re keeping it going.

Ryan:  Audio Adrenaline’s bloomrecord was really drew me into Christian rock music…

Adam: Same here.

Ryan: I’ve recently shared that record with my 6-year-old son. It’s maybe a bit of nostalgia, but man that record really holds up well. I have to imagine you’re probably getting the same thing – parents who love the old stuff and now they’re bringing the kids out to the show and experiencing something as a family.

Adam: It’s really special and a true honor to get to do that every night.

Ryan: Alright. Rapid fire: What’s your favorite Audio Adrenaline album – can’t say your own?

Adam: (laughs) I would probably say bloom for the same reason you were saying. The way it holds up… it introduced me to Christian rock music. I didn’t even know that that was a thing. I grew up in Arizona and so we didn’t have a lot of the “Bible-Belt” circuit. Hearing bloom, I thought it was pretty awesome.

Ryan: What’s your favorite AudioA song to sing – old or new – and what’s your favorite one to listen to out of the catalog?

Adam: Ok, I’m going to have to go new on the singing one. My favorite one to sing is the first track on the new record, it’s called “Move.” It’s one that just slays every night. It is so much fun. The crowd just goes nuts. I’ll give you one from the old catalog, too. I love singing “Ocean Floor”. That’s one of my favorite moments from the show, 2,000 people worshiping to that song. I love that.

As far as listening, I really like the bloom record. I like the songs from Underdog, too. That’s one of my favorites. Then Worldwide is awesome. All the guys in the band want to work up “Some Kind of Zombie” so we can play that live. There’s just too many good songs, man.

Ryan: I’m sorry, but I’ve got to tell you my “Move” story because we were listening to it in the car the other night on the way to soccer practice with my 6 year old. He was really getting into it and he says, “We’ve got to take this out to the soccer field. This will get everybody moving!”

Adam: (laughs) That is awesome!

Ryan: So, your on tour with Newsboys right now. You’re probably playing mostly new stuff. What are you playing from the old stuff? What does the setlist look like?

Adam: We’ve been playing “Ocean Floor” and “Kings and Queens” and a medley of “Big House” and “Get Down”. Then mostly some new stuff. We’re doing our first headline show at the end of this month so we’ll be getting to play more of the back catalog like “Hands and Feet” – I think we’ve got a couple of others that we’re going to work out for that.

Ryan:  I know back when Kevin came in, Mark was travelling with the band a little bit. Is he still keeping his hands on the project? Is he out with you guys at all?

Adam: He’s not on the road, but he actually co-wrote the title track, “Sound of the Saints” with me and a couple of other guys. So, he’s definitely got a piece of this album. And like I said earlier, he and Will came to the studio for rehearsals and were speaking into the live shows saying, “Here’s what we did on this song back in the day. Here’s something we tried that worked out real well for this.” So, of course, we’re going to do that.

Ryan: So, I’ve been listening to the record and trying to remind myself that this is Audio Adrenaline – TODAY. But beyond changes in sound and personnel, one thing that really stood out to me was the lyrical content. Obviously, the band has never backed down or shied away from the Christian faith, but it felt like the songs on this record were a lot more explicitly evangelical. These songs are very strong in their message, whereas some of the older songs were a little more pedestrian or a little more grounded. Is that an intentional move on your part to write in a certain way? Is it just a matter of the people who were in the room writing? How does that mesh with the history of the band, lyrically?

Adam: I think it just happened organically that way. There were over 50 songs written for this record and it just wound up that this is the direction that we wanted to go. It is that unapologetic, “This is what we believe.” And it’s got a couple of moments of that Underdog vibe, where anybody from anywhere – it doesn’t matter if you think you’ve got all the skills or if you’ve got all the answers – anybody can make a difference in the world, and change the world, and tell the world about Jesus. That vibe is what we’re going for. It’s the whole message of Audio, whether they were explicit with it or you had to dig to find it. It’s always been that, “Here’s what we believe and anybody can make it happen and Jesus can use anybody.” So, that’s what it’s all about.

Ryan: You mentioned that you’ve got your first big headline show coming up. What are the plans for the summer after you finish up this tour?

Adam: We’ve got some festivals coming up this summer. We’re working on a headline tour this fall. We’ve got some international shows coming up this fall as well and those are always fun. Just honing in the live show and working on blowing up the show for the fall.

Ryan: “Love was Stronger” is out now. “Move” is available. Is that being pushed as a radio single or is it just available to buy now?

Adam: I don’t have the final clearance on it, but I would certainly hope so. It’s already gotten picked up by NFL network and MLB network. So it is one of those – like you said, your 6 year old knew it needed to be played out on the soccer field. They’re doing that for sure.

Ryan: I head that first song and I thought that it was really listenable and while it may be a little bit of a change of pace for the long-term fan who doesn’t know what they’re getting when they pop it in, it’s such a listenable record. It’s definitely radio-ready and something that’s going to be catchy for whoever listens to it. So, congratulations on putting out a great piece of work and best wishes to you and the rest of the guys throughout the summer and whatever comes next.

Adam: Well, thank you man, I really do appreciate that. We really hope that the songs can not only hold up to the legacy that Audio A has already had, but can continue to push the envelope and get better and better and better and take it to even new levels. That’s the goal.


Check out the review of the new album Sounds of the Saints.

Shane & Shane: The Worship Initiative

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Two years ago I wrote a history-filled, non-review of Shane & Shane’s Bring Your Nothing record outlining my deep love for these guys and their music alongside its far-reaching impact on me. I mention it because, in this case, my personal history with the artist drastically impacts my evaluation of the record.

Back in February of last year, I saw that Shane & Shane had set up a Kickstarter campaign for a project called The Worship Initiative, a website and resource for local church worship leaders. The site would feature song tutorials, videos, Bible studies, and more. It sounded really cool. In addition, Shane and Shane revealed that they had already recorded 100 songs for the project which would also be built into their proprietary system, but would also be available in album format to project backers. They made their goal of $150,000 and the site is live – check it out.

Last year, I noticed that the Worship Initiative “albums” were being released on Spotify and Amazon. In total, the band put out 10 albums totaling 100 songs – most of them familiar worship songs from the last 20 years, but a few were more obscure. The production quality was really basic, which was at points a turn off, but understandable given the context.

So, when I saw the announcement of this record from their label, I figured that they had culled together their favorites from that project and decided to promote it as an official release. From listening to the record, it seems like I was maybe 50% right. The songs on the official The Worship Initiative album are not found on the previous independent releases, save for two “radio edits” at the end of the record. The songs here seem like they may have been favorites that were not featured previously. The production is similar, but definitely enhanced from what we’ve heard over the last year – but it’s still not the same as the tone and style of their previous major releases.

The song choice for the album is a good mix of familiar and more obscure selections originally recorded by a variety of artists. Only one original song, “God of Ages Past,” is included. I was surprised and excited to hear a couple of my favorite songs from Hillsong bands make the cut, “Scandal of Grace” and “Man of Sorrows.” This recording was my first exposure to “Forever” (originally by Kari Jobe) – which, oddly enough, seemed to be everywhere just a couple of weeks ago. While I’m not a huge fan of the song lyrically, I really like the inclusion of “You Make Me Brave” simply because it provides a welcomed and much needed change in the tone of the record. In my opinion, the best is saved for last with “All the Poor and Powerless.”

Many of the tracks on this album sound very much the same in tone, pacing, arrangement, and even lyrical content. This makes it hard for me to sit and listen to the record as a whole – but for someone who is looking to learn these songs, each individual track is a phenomenal reference tool. Still, their previous record of worship cover songs (Dare 2 Share) felt like it had a much better flow and the songs sounded far more unique.

As a complete work, it’s hard for me to call this an album. The best descriptor that I came up with is that it is more of a “resource.” While the individual songs are great, the collection of songs does not offer the same type of flow or continuity that I would like to hear in what I would describe as an album. I’m certain that the songs hold up well in the context of the overall Worship Initiative project and fans of the band will want to hear their take on these songs. I, for one, would like to hear a live recording of a setlist like this, so that I can feel more a part of the experience.

Book :: A Beautiful Hell

Release Date: September 24, 2013

Somewhere around 9 months ago, my then-5-year-old started asking questions about hell – or as he puts it “Satan’s place;” a place that he definitely does not want to go. And somehow, despite spending my whole life in church, along with years of Christian school and a graduate degree in Christian ministry, I didn’t feel confident in talking to him about it. My initial take was: let’s focus on the good stuff, not the bad stuff. If you’re on track with the good stuff, then you won’t have to worry about the bad. But around that same time, I began stumbling across some different thinking on the topic that got me really interested in learning more. So, while it’s not been a consistent topic of study, it has been on the radar for a while.

A few weeks ago I found myself looking for some reading on the sub-topic of conditional immortality. I was unwilling to spend the money to purchase what some consider to be the definitive work on the topic – Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes – and was fortunate enough to discover Nathan J. Anderson’s A Beautiful Hell trilogy. The collection, which easily could have been produced in a single volume, includes The Myths of Hell (Book 1), The Ache for Paradise (Book 2), and Does Hell Really Last Forever? (Book 3).

The author sets about with a single aim: to answer the question, “that has been haunting [him] for thirty years. What is it about Jesus’ death that saves us from hell?” He then structures his writing around finding answers that uncover deeper questions, answering those questions and finding more. He works this through from understanding what hell is and isn’t (Book 1) to why Jesus came and what his death accomplished (Book 2). He suggests that Book 3 is one that he had no interest in writing, but that his discoveries throughout the process seemed to demand it of him. The writing is academic, but still conversant and thought it may seem highly theoretical, the practical implications of his conclusions are nothing less than life-changing.

I have to say that this is one of the most fantastically well-researched books I’ve ever read. The author digs deep to uncover the various words in the original languages that we see translated as “hell” in our modern Scriptures, along with the variety of other terms and euphemisms that feed into the topic. I was fantastically grateful for his lengthy discussion on the rise of the “classical” position on immortality and hell that developed during the inter-testamental period in which he focused both on the Apocryphal writings and the Greek philosophers.

I felt that Book 1 was the strongest of the three – perhaps because it was the one that I most agreed with. The author brought a lot of clarity to the positions that I was already feeling drawn to, but we did not land precisely on the same opinions regarding some of the Book 2 topics. I appreciated his evaluation of the various atonement theories (another topic of great interest), but I think that there are some nuanced sub-points where we are not in alignment… and I think that the author would be ok with that.

For some, this is not a critical topic – especially when you get down deep into the sub-theories. Most religious institutions would hold this as a “secondary” matter; that is, one that is not critical to faith. While I agree with that, as I outlined in the beginning, this is a critical topic for me. Beyond understanding how to talk to my children, I’ve found over the last 9 months that my understanding of topics such as atonement, the (im)mortal nature of the soul, as well as the nature of both heaven and hell have a far-reaching impact on my faith and practice.

Kevin Max: Broken Temples

[Legacy Content]

Release Date: March 10, 2015

I’ve been a fan of Kevin (Smith) Max since I first heard dcTalk’s Jesus Freak back in high school. His has been one of my favorite voices in all of music for nearly two decades now. For whatever reason, however, I lost track of his work for the better part of those years. When he signed on to helm the re-formed Audio Adrenaline a couple of years ago I was somewhat shocked and took notice of what was going on. The subsequent album that Audio A released (Kings and Queens) was pretty solid and Max’ vocals were on point. I was rather disappointed, when late last year I learned that the band had broken up because I felt that they could have come back with an even better album after having toured together for two years. [“Audio Adrenaline” still exists. No founding members are present. Max was replaced in mid-2014 and the slate was wiped clean earlier this year and re-started with 4 all new members (wha??)]

Broken Temples is Max’ twelfth studio album. The album opener “Good Kings Highway” sounds like the inevitable continuation of the Audio Adrenaline sound that was teased at the end of Kings and Queens. There’s a U2-ness to the guitar riff and Max channels his inner Bono as he did on tracks like “I Climb the Mountain.” The doubled, octave vocals create a fantastic effect and the song has a fantastically catchy melody. It is followed by “Light Me Up” which tends a bit more toward typically CCM rock – that’s not a knock, though. This track is probably more catchy than its predecessor, just not quite as inventive.

Three songs into the record, though, he loses me. “Just as I am” has a very “now” sound, it’s just not a sound that I like. There’s some electronic action going on that I find distracting and there’s something with the syncopated beat that has a ska vibe about it. “Clear” has a very 80’s tone and I think I would like it on its own, but in context it is kind of a downer sonically. But these two songs are only a blip on the radar.

The later tracks on the record return to the mainstream-ready alt-rock style that boosted the first two tracks. “That Was Then This is Now” is a slower ballad that again oozes U2 vibes all over the place. “White Horse” may be my favorite track on the record. It builds well and has a great anthemic feel. The final track “Infinite” feels a little “on the nose” to me. It’s a throwback to Max’ earlier work and has a radio-ready CCM feel – which is fine, but just doesn’t feel like what I expect from this artist.

The album also includes two remixes, sandwiched in before the final track. The remixes are by none other than Derek Webb and definitely have a feel of his previous work, specifically his Stockholm Syndrome album. Oddly, the two tracks chosen are the two that liked least on this record and the remixes didn’t do much more to endear them to me.

In the end, I think that this is a watershed record for Kevin Max. It shows that he can release a record that is mainstream approachable and still CCM friendly without losing his trademark style and edge. The songs stand on their own and could be toured with a simple acoustic setup or he could recruit any of his numerous old friends from the industry to put together a touring band and make a big production of it and he would succeed.

The Audio Adrenaline experiment brought Max back into the mainstream of “Christian music” – a hyper-selective subculture that had not readily embraced him during his post-dcTalk solo years. Now, without a record contract, Max funded the album through a PledgeMusic campaign. While he was clear about his faith in describing the record,

Lyrically, I wanted to reflect the changes I had experienced
of God working on me throughout the years. Redemption is not a foreign
word to me, it is something I have lived out and at a great cost. God has
met me in the valley of my own temptations, failures, inadequacies and
doubts. I have been tempered by defeat as well as by great success. My
legacy is the story that God is continuing to author and finish in my own
personal journey of the soul.

the Christian music industry is not one to embrace those they haven’t been hand-picked for stardom. With that in mind, it’s exciting to see the trajectory of his career from this point forward

Book :: The Divine Magician

Release Date: Jan. 20, 2015

When I first encountered author Peter Rollins in 2006, I loved his approach to thought and theology, but I mostly disagreed with him (even when I wanted to agree). Revisiting his work in 2013 and picking up his then-latest book The Idolatry of God, I was able to read with fresh eyes and found him to be saying – sometimes word-for-word – exactly what I had been thinking.

In reading Rollins, one thing has become clear to me: you can’t read him for what you think he is saying. There is a lot of semantic overlap in his language and he intentionally keeps it vague to force the reader to challenge his own preconceptions. As such, when something he writes conflicts with what you may believe, it is imperative that you not immediately dismiss his conclusions, but consider them all the more deeply.

In The Divine Magician, Rollins expands and clarifies a concept that is at the heart of his previous work, The Idolatry of God. Here he forms a more cogent, precise, and graspable argument by focusing on the process of magician’s illusion as the backdrop for his theory. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige film will immediately understand this process as it is described. Those unfamiliar with the analogy are helped along by the author’s conversational style and an ample amount of diagrams.

It would be fruitless for me to attempt to boil down the author’s 200 pages into a mere 200 words, and to try would be to do everyone involved a great disservice. In a recent interview, however, the author summarized the work as such:

One thing that both the critics of religion and its defenders seem to agree on concerns what Christianity actually is. To paint with broad brushstrokes, they agree that it involves a belief in God, the idea that we can reconnect with this God, and the notion that this reconnection will re-establish a lost harmony. The former attacks these ideas, the latter defends them.

In contrast, The Divine Magician presents a radically different reading of Christianity. One unconcerned with what people believe, that is not about reconnecting with some ultimate source, and that is most certainly not caught up in re-establishing a lost harmony. What people will find within the pages of this book is an unapologetically this-worldly reading of Christianity, one that views the subversive heart of the gospels as nothing less than an insurrectionary invitation to become a cultural dissident who challenges the status-quo, embraces the world and has the audacity to embrace freedom.


 I really enjoyed this book, but I felt a little underwhelmed because I had just re-read Idolatry only a couple of months ago and didn’t find this new work to unearth any great new revelations. That said, here Rollins provides much better language for his readers to convey these ideas to others. Further, it is clear that the author himself has further solidified his own (non)understanding.

Having recently finished What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Rob Bell) and A Farewell to Mars (Brian Zahnd), I found several welcomed streams of continuity present in Magician. At one point, Rollins echoes Bell’s praise of the Alcoholics Anonymous community as a place where people embrace their “lack” or their incompleteness rather than fantasizing about a more perfect union unto themselves. Rollins also spends a good number of pages investigating the scapegoat mentality discussed at length by Zahnd. If there is a single concept that warrants more discussion by all parties – those who agree and disagree with both authors – it is this idea that we must cease our blaming, vilifying, and ostracizing of the “other”.  As such, I’ll end with this quote,

In order to destroy the scapegoat mechanism, a different strategy must be adopted. Instead of trying to create a community where there is no outsider, the real answer lies in understanding that there is a sense in which we are all outsiders. In concrete terms, this means that a community faces its own lack, rather than ignoring it and thus creating a scapegoat who must carry it.

The Divine Magician, 46