Thursday, August 26, 2010

Disc #41: Christina Aguilera (My Kind of Christmas)

Artist: Christina Aguilera
Album: My Kind of Christmas
Released by BMG Entertainment in 2000

Listen, I'm willing to give anyone a shot. It's Christmas music, so it can't be that bad, right? In other words, don't knock it it 'till you've tried it.

The great thing about this blog is that once I've tried it, I get to knock it all I want.

To give you some perspective, let's have a brief look at the timeline of Aguilera's career, just in case you're not that familiar. She released her debut album in 1999, and it was a huge success, reaching number one on the Billboard charts and containing two #1 hit singles ("Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants"). In 2002, Aguilera released her second studio album, along with unveiling a rather controversial new persona, "Xtina". In between these two albums, someone at BMG decided that there was a lot of money to be made of this new rival to Britney Spears. Hence, a Christmas album was throw together, and I really mean it when I say, "thrown together".

It's quite obvious that someone arranged and recorded a bunch of Christmas tunes, some traditional and others more contemporary, and said, "You're singin' these songs!" How could the new contender for Pop Princess say no?

Anyways, concerning the album itself, it's not completely horrible, but I suppose I should explain my generally negative tone. The first thing to note is the inconsistency of genres. I'm all for diversity and versatility, but this disc just had me confused. From R&B to blues to funk to traditional hymns to house to pop... I hardly knew who I was listening to at times.

There are a couple of traditional Christmas hymns on the album, but they didn't so much inspire me to sing along. "Oh Holy Night" almost had me question my faith. The Christina as I know her is the girl from "Stripped" and "Back to Basics" who is anything but modest and quite comfortable with her body image and sexuality. To hear that same woman speak the Lord's Prayer during one of my favourite sacred Christmas hymns was fairly disturbing and somewhat confusing. It's like when a lifetime smoker tells you to quit smoking because it's harmful to your health, just as they take another drag. You know they're speaking the truth, but it just doesn't make any sense to find what they're telling you convincing.

There were also a couple of highlights. Vocal talent, for one. Say what you will about Xtina, the girl's got a set of pipes. It's interesting to see her career unfold, because she certainly has been gifted with an incredible voice, and that was at least somewhat entertaining to listen to, even if it was repetitive at times.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very recognizable male voice on the blues tune "Merry Christmas, Baby". The guy who takes the second chorus is none other than Dr. John (Mac Rebennack). Most rock and roll fans would know exactly who I'm talking about. His vocal and piano contributions are fitting on this enjoyable blues tune. My favourite track on the album is "This Christmas", which you will probably hear on CHFI in Toronto starting November 25th about twelve times a day. Even still, it is a wonderful funk tune with a full band that fills out quite nicely. If the whole album had more tunes like these two, it would have been a great disc.

At the end of it all, it's really not a memorable album, and certainly not one I would put on at a Christmas party. There were some enjoyable moments, but there was far to much fluff in between to drown them out. I have no choice but to give this album a score of:


Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #42: Christina Aguilera (Back to Basics: Disc 1).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Disc #40: Chris Tomlin (Hello Love)

Artist: Chris Tomlin
Album: Hello Love
Released by Sparrow Records in 2008

Well, this is another solid effort by contemporary Christian worship leader, Chris Tomlin. One of the many things that I love about Tomlin's albums is that he always seems to hit you hard with a brilliant first track. I said some similar things about the first track on his previous album, which I recently reviewed, and you can listen to that opening track here. I then want you to listen to the first track from this album, "Sing, Sing, Sing". I find that they are perfect prefaces to what is to come on the rest of the disc. They just draw me right in and leave hungry for the remainder of the tracks.

I always like to pick a favourite tune when I review an album, but it has been pretty difficult on this one. There isn't one track that I do not thoroughly enjoy. I think that it's a toss-up between two tracks. The easy pick would be a song called "With Me". This is the classic Tomlin sound, full of distorted electric guitars and Tomlin belting it out vocally. I love the dissonance on the guitar chords. These ambient elements, which are all over this album, really remind me of many sounds that U2 has produced over the years, especially on some of their more recent albums. As far as I'm concerned, that's a massive compliment.

The track that competes with it is "Praise the Father, Praise the Son". I love traditional hymns, both to listen to and to sing. Therefore, I get very excited when contemporary artists write new songs in the style of traditional hymns. This tune can definitely be classified as a "contemporary hymn". The lyrics are reverent, yet accessible, and the song is simple enough to sing along to without much difficulty. These to me are important elements of a well-written hymn. I hope to do this one in the near future at my home church.

I mentioned in my previous review that Tomlin's music is very inspiring. It inspires me to worship God and draw nearer to Him. These are the very things that I ought to do, according to my belief system, so it may seem redundant or unnecessary that I need to be inspired to do such things. However, I'm nowhere near perfect, even when the things I want to do are concerned. Therefore, I need to be inspired by something. I have several things in life that inspire me: my wife, my kids, my church family, just as a few examples. This music is another thing that inspires me and reminds me of my identity.

Here's a question for you (since I'm not going to let you just read these reviews with out a little work on your part). What inspires you? What do you believe in, and what encourages you to continue believing those things? Maybe you don't know, or have never even considered it. I recommend that you find something to inspire you. It could be a person in your life, or maybe you respond to music in the way that I do. If you can't think of anything, try this album out. Go and grab it, or listen to it online. If you want it in your hands, just ask me and I'd be happy to lend you mine. Whatever you do, find some inspiration in your life. I think that it is extremely important, regardless of what you believe in.

So comes again the time to award a score. Although I think I like this album a little bit more than its predecessor, I think that I will give it the same score of:


I would hate to think that Tomlin's albums couldn't keep getting better and better.

Please join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #41: Christina Aguilera (My Kind of Christmas).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Disc #39: Chris Tomlin (See The Morning)

Artist: Chris Tomlin
Album: See The Morning
Released by Sparrow Records in 2006

First off, I'm a big fan of Tomlin's music. This is the first album of his that we acquired, and hats off to Nora's brother, Ben, for giving it to us. It's been very inspiring. When the first two tracks are so dynamite, how could it not be? They were both big hits, at least in Christian music circles, and perhaps even outside the Christian loop (at least in the United States).

You start off with "How Can I Keep From Singing?", which is a great song about expressing praise to God. It is then followed by "Made to Worship", a call to believers in terms of our identity and purpose.

I'm a big guitar fan, and this album is full of great guitar rock. The sound is not heavy, just full of warm, rich electric guitar tones, blended with full-bodied acoustic guitar sounds on rhythm. The first two songs contain this type of sound, but my favourite on the album is definitely "Rejoice", which contains the title lyric. This song also illustrates Tomlin's incredible vocal ability, which is evident in both his range and tone.

This is truly an inspiring album, both lyrically and musically. I will touch on this a little more when I review his next CD. For now, I will simply give him a score, once again abiding by the extremely strict parameters of The Mike Jones Scale of Disc Awesomeness:


Please join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #40: Chris Tomlin (Hello Love).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Disc #38: Chantal Kreviazuk (Colour Moving and Still)

Artist: Chantal Kreviazuk
Album: Colour Moving and Still
Released by Sony Music Entertainment in 1999

When I first threw this disc in the player, I was immediately reminded of a time in the late nineties when girls had just stopped wearing brown plaid shirts over all their outfits and they all looked forward to Lilith Fair every summer. Not an overly strong period in recent Western pop-culture, but a stepping stone noe-the-less(I'm sure).

Lilith Fair jokes aside, this album is not so bad. The problem for me is that it's just not my cup of tea. I can certainly appreciate Chantal's musicality and song-writing ability. There were one or two tracks where her vocal ability really made me raise my eyebrows. She writes some good songs, but I guess this specific style of music is not my thing.

The song you are probably most familiar with from this album is "Before You". As I reviewed this video, I remembered that I really liked it when it came out. It wasn't because I loved her music, though I always have enjoyed this tune, or because I had a huge crush on Chantal (which was often the case with videos that I loved featuring female artists). I specifically remember enjoying the deep greens in the forest scenes, and I always thought that the whole TV screen concept linking the different settings together was a great idea.

At the end of it all, I really have nothing negative to say about this album. If you like Chantal or other artists like her, you will enjoy this album. You have the Mike Jones guarantee on that one. As for me, I'm not overly thrilled with it, so I am forced to give it a score of:


I was going to give it a 5, but I bumped it up because of some special appearances by her husband, Raine Maida, and the drummer from his band, Our Lady Peace, Jeremy Taggert. I love it when artists collaborate with each other, and I'm kind of addicted to reading the liner notes of an album to find out who popped up on the disc as a special guest.

Please Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #39: Chris Tomlin (See The Morning).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Disc #37: Casting Crowns (Lifesong)

Artist: Casting Crowns
Album: Lifesong
Released by Provident Label Group in 2005

Before you begin reading this post, click on this link to the title track for this album. I think it sums up the general feel of the album, and can double as the soundtrack for today's review. A big thank-you once again to Mike and Jan for getting us these wonderful discs.

This album is the band's sophomore disc, and is of course the follow-up to my last review , which was of their debut album. In my mind, this disc is a direct continuation of their first, if not a step forward into something new. If the first disc was mainly focused on pointing out the short-comings of the church, this one suggests how we might respond to those challenges.

However, it wouldn't really be a true Casting Crowns album without reminding us at least a little bit of how we're messing things up as a group of people. "Stained Glass Masquerade" and "While You Were Sleeping" are probably the most direct of these types of songs on the album. Though it may just seem like non-constructive criticism to some, the band refers to it as "a ministry of discipleship". I think it's very important to point out the problems in the way me live as a body of believers, but it is almost more important to try and find a solution and take steps towards it.

If you're going through a tough spell in life right now, listen to "Praise You in This Storm". If you like, you can check out the lyrics here. This song depicts an individual who is overwhelmed by the storms of life, yet in his trials, he still looks to the one who is with him. Just remember, there's always someone there for you, no matter what you're going through.

Musically, the overall sound of this album is much bigger than their debut. You will hear more tracks with string arrangements and heavy power chords from distorted electric guitars than on their first disc. The sound isn't much more complex than it's predecessor, but its got more depth.

All being said, I think I like this album about the same as the last one. in fact, I might like the music a little more but the lyrics a little less. That being said, it's not by much. Therefore, I will give this album the same score as the last on The Mike Jones Scale of Disc Awesomeness:


Please join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #38: Chantal Kreviazuk (Colour Moving and Still).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Disc #36: Casting Crowns (Casting Crowns)

Artist: Casting Crowns
Album: Casting Crowns
Released by Beach Street Records in 2003

If I could use one word to sum up this album, it would be: refreshing. I've listened to it before, but not in quite a while. I'd forgotten how well done it is. I owe a huge thanks to my in-laws, Mike and Jan, for giving this album to us. It's very encouraging. It's a pretty strong mix of self-examination, both as individuals and as the Body of Christ as a whole, and sincere worship of the Father.

As the disc starts out, it seems pretty harsh. The first two songs criticize the Church at large for not praying ("What If His People Prayed") and not reaching out those coming into the Church from the outside("If We Are The Body"). I don't actually believe it's all that harsh; I think it's realistic. Even if we are doing our best to follow the example that Christ has set out for us, which most of us aren't, we still fall short of the mark.

It lightens up a little bit after the first two tracks, but still challenges us to examine ourselves and realize that we're not as great as we often like to think we are. Lyrically, I think that I can relate the most to "Who Am I". It is a good reminder for me when I do something that I think is really awesome, that it's not by my strength that I can do it; it's only through the Lord. In addition, it humbles me by reminding me that Jesus didn't die for me because I deserved it. I truly don't deserve it, but He died for me because He loves me. It is His death that makes me great, not the things I do.

Not because of who I am

But because of what You've done

Not because of what I've done

But because of who You are

Musically, this album is quite simple, and that is not meant to be a negative statement. I believe that the powerful part of this album is the convicting and uplifting nature of the lyrics. The music is solid and engaging, but it doesn't distract what really draws me in to this disc. i find the music quite enjoyable, but not challenging like many other artists and genres that I enjoy.

My favourite song on the album is the last track, "Your Love is Extravagant". Even though I know that they did not compose this song, and usually that would bug me on an album, I think they've done a fantastic job with the tune. I find it so relaxing, and it gives me such a peace when I listen to it. Whether you believe in the same things that I do or not, I recommend this tune to if you feel at all tired, weary, depressed, lonely, or afraid. Hopefully it will give you the comfort that you need.

I'm a big fan of this album, and there's never a time that I've had it on and I don't feel good afterwards. Though I usually look for something a lot more complex, musically speaking, the power of the lyrics makes it highly enjoyable and uplifting. I'm quite confident in giving this album a score of:


Please join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #37: Casting Crowns (Lifesong).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Disc #35: Capstone (Integreality)

Artist: Capstone
Album: Integreality
Released by Capstone in 1999

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised upon listening to this CD. I have heard these guys live before at least once. I remember them coming to Tyndale College during frosh week of my first year. I enjoyed their music, but wasn't really into them or that circle of artists in the way that many of my peers were. The one song I do remember is "You Are My Rock". Since these guys were a few years prior to the YouTube days, it was hard to find anything on them. However, I was able to find an amateur video of lead singer Joel Auge singing this song solo in 2007. It's a great tune and one that has for some reason remained in my memory.

The first thing that I noticed on this album was the mixing. At first I felt that the rhythm section was mixed way too loud and that I could hardly hear the vocals. As the tracks went on I found that some tracks were the opposite, and some were mixed just right. The word that sums it up is inconsistency. I was initially disappointed, but as I listened to the disc a few more times there was something that distracted me from this technical flaw: musicality.

These four guys are incredible musicians. Not only that, but the songs are very well written. Some tunes, like "You Are My Rock", are simple and catchy. Others are rather deep and complex, such as "Invention", and my favourite on the album, "Never Let Go". Eventually, I didn't even notice the mixing problems anymore. I was simply able to enjoy the great music that these guys have produced. All being said, it's a half-decent job for an independent (and probably very low-budget) release.

As far as Christian worship music goes, I find it to be raw and very sincere. It's very much focused on the Lord. Some lyricists tend to point out the flaws in ourselves as imperfect human beings and direct us to how we ought to live. There is value in that and we all need to hear it at some point during our life, no matter what we believe in. This music however, generally focuses on praise of the Father. I find that this is the best place to start when worshipping. We always have stuff going on inside, whether good or bad, but He NEVER changes, so we can always worship him for who He is: the un-changing Rock.

Due to the mixing problems that I pointed out, I cannot give this album as high of a score than if it were mixed more professionally. None-the-less, it is a very inspiring album created by some extremely talented musicians. Because of how much I enjoyed it, I will award it a score of:


All the best to the members of Capstone, in whatever opportunities you may be pursuing at this time, musical or otherwise. Please join me next time as the experiment continues with disc #36: Casting Crowns (Casting Crowns).