reviewed by Susan Bailey
Since the release of Bethlehem Morn in 2005, Canadian musician Chuck Stevens has been ordained a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. Deacon Chuck has felt compelled for several years to share what he has learned in his studies through his music. Harvest of Love is a wonderful expression of that knowledge.
The beauty of Harvest of Love is the truly sacramental nature of the songs. It is obvious by the lyrics that Deacon Chuck has done a lot of prayerful reading in preparation for his vocation. Each song teaches the core beliefs of the Catholic Church in a prayerful way that is very accessible through the lovely melodies.
The title cut, "Harvest of Love," was written originally as a way of thanking all the people that had supported Deacon Chuck in his journey. The lyrics, however, apply to all of us who have realized that everything we have is a gift from God, meant to be given back generously to God's people: “Here is a harvest of love from all of the bounty You've granted, we give back to You; here is a harvest of love, we offer to You with our neighbor, the fruits of our labor, the works of our hearts and our hands.”
I especially appreciated the way Deacon Chuck weaved the sacraments so effortlessly into the songs without actually naming them. A perfect example of this is “We Come to Return” which demonstrates the immense love and grace of God lavished to us through the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation and the Eucharist. The Church teaches us to live our lives sacramentally and songs such as this reinforce this core idea.
Songs such as “Elohim” and “How We Adore You” teach truths about the Lord God from scripture while inspiring the heart to pray and offer praise. Neither song especially exhorts to the listener to offer praise but rather, inspires because of content of the lyrics.
For example, “How We Adore You” proclaims truths about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, allowing the listener to meditate upon the Trinity, and then offers this wonderful refrain which prepares the heart to praise: “All power and glory, all worship and praise, adoration and honor, till the end of our days belongs to You . . .”
The fifth song in the Harvest of Love collection is a nearly 10 minute sung version of the Jesus Prayer. The song is very easy to learn and once given the chance, will lead you on what Deacon Chuck calls a “mini retreat,” meditating on the great mercy of God. I have personally prayed this song many times and have been greatly edified by it.
Deacon Chuck has a strong sense of service to the poor which is beautifully expressed in “Could You Give Me Some Water.” Drawn from the gospel story of the great day of Judgment, when the sheep will be separated from the goats, Deacon Chuck begins the song by gently touching the conscience of the listener but becomes stronger in his exhortation in final verse. He recounts the number of hungry children in the world and calls on those of us who have been richly blessed with materials means to share with those who have very little. This song makes a very powerful social justice statement which is authentic, heartfelt and convincing.
Harvest of Love does have a drawback which will hopefully not prevent the listener from enjoying all the blessings and teaching this album offers: the production sounds home grown. There are some flat notes, mixing that isn't perfect, timing that is occasionally a little off, and sparse instrumental arrangements. Yet, I've seen a lot of musical growth since Deacon Chuck's last album which made it a joy for me to listen to, despite these problems.
Harvest of Love has quickly become a favorite of mine to listen to and pray along with. It can be purchased through CD Baby at http://cdbaby.com/cd/chuckstevens3 and is also available through iTunes. It can also be downloaded in its entirety for free at www.smalltalentmusic.com.
Nancy Krebs – Moved by God
reviewed by Susan Bailey
Nancy Krebs is a seasoned performer, having recorded 6 beautiful albums of meditation-style music marked by deeply thoughtful lyrics and fine storytelling. Her 7th CD, Moved by God, continues in this tradition but takes a major leap forward musically.
For the first time, I feel the musical arranging matches up to the quality of the songwriting. Soft contemporary instrumentation and whispered background vocals beautifully complement Nancy’s pure, effortless vocals, framing her lyrics.
Thematically, Moved by God is about movement. “These songs all contain some kind of ‘movement’: turning outward, inward, upward or downward in the direction that God would have us go,” Nancy writes in her liner notes. The artwork on the cover also beautifully conveys this theme.
Each of the 12 songs is top notch. Among my favorites is “The Quiet,” a gentle invitation to retreat to a place of silence to regain your center. The music sets the perfect tone and mood to achieve quiet in the midst of chaos.
I also love “Welcome Me Home,” a song loosely based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. It has a bossa nova feel to it, supporting the lyrics in painting the picture of a gentle and merciful Father.
“Mary Knew” is one of the most touching story songs Nancy has ever written. Her vocals perfectly punctuated the lyrics and took me deep into the story of the mother and Son and the special love they shared. I was truly moved and wanted to revisit that story again and again.
“We Adore You” and “Road to Emmaus” are two of the most upbeat songs on the album. “We Adore You” builds gloriously through the clever use of background vocals, while “Road to Emmaus” builds through the lyrics and the dramatic lead vocal.
All the songs achieve their goal – transporting the listener to the heart of God. I keep listening to Moved by God over and over to get back to that place.
You will too. You can purchase Moved by God through Nancy’s website at www.nancykrebs.com.
Christopher Dayett - Coming Home
reviewed by Angelo Natalie
Coming Home is the sophomore CD release by worship-leader Christopher Dayett. While Dayett’s first CD Here I AM covered several well-known praise & worship songs, his new collection features eleven originals from the Delaware native who is now based in North Carolina. His original call-to-hope “Anything’s Possible” appears in both releases.
One is first struck by the fine quality of Christopher’s voice. The easy delivery in his upper register and strong vibrato is reminiscent of pop icon Neil Sedaka. (If you’re coming up blank on Sedaka, Search iTunes Store and give a listen to “Bad Blood” and “Laughter In The Rain”.) The similarity of Dayett and Sedaka in vocal timbre is uncanny. It is not surprising that the cum laude theatre graduate of the University of North Carolina also minored in vocal music. In spite of the excessive reverb his voice truly sparkles.
Like his debut, Dayett once more opts for minimal production. This is all Christopher: solo voice accompanied simply but ably enough on piano. Some subtle synthesizer string pads provide a little sonic atmosphere far back in the mix. A violinist is credited as playing on the closing song “Go In Peace” but I had to listen a second time as it is barely audible. Nobody could fault Dayett with relying on production value to prop up this piano-voice demo of his songs of praise.
The songwriting on this project bears the mark of Dayett’s long-time work in musical theater and the influence of modern Catholic composers such as David Haas, Marty Haugen and the St. Louis Jesuits. The content is unapologetically Catholic with a clear Eucharistic bent. While Dayett gratefully acknowledges the inspiration of his bishop and former pastor, his lyrics suffer somewhat from the scarcity of rhyme and read more like prose with diminished returns on memorability.
I hope to hear more from this promising talent in the way of collaboration with other singers, musicians, songwriters and recording engineers who shine as bright in their crafts as Christopher does as a vocalist. The Church’s vault of metered prayers is crying out for fresh and well-crafted new musical settings. Maybe Christopher Dayett will find his way to treat us to his spin on them. One can hope.
You can purchase Coming Home at Christopher’s website, www.christopherdayett.com.