Monday, September 24, 2007

Nashville to Jesus with Kevin Lawson

Over the years I have been blessed to get to hear, meet, work with, and know so many wonderful musical artists. I am unique in some ways because I was blessed to work with some bands who were there merely to entertain, yet others, who valued music and the quality of what they did. I am still blessed and honored that people still contact me for my views and opinions regarding music. Just today I told a young man in Scotland that I am willing to do that but am brutally honest. I think that comes from the respect I have for the marriage of music and lyrics and if instrumental the exceptional blend needed in production, sound, and quality of play.

With my background in music, my love for music, I have to admit, I hardly ever listen to what some label “Christian Music” That very fact astonishes people, what astonishes them even more is when I tell others I don’t listen to it because in my opinion so much of it is garbage. There are some long stories there, but for true and real fans of music, I find that most, even if Christian, agree with my premise. That don’t mean I don’t listen to any Christian music, I do, it is just much of it is either obscure because Christian labels refuse to put out quality, or it is done by groups who are going out on their own, seeking to put out quality music, not promoting their faith, but as a reflection of their own person. Over the years some of the exceptional ones include people like Larry Norman, The Alarm, certainly as of recent groups like U2, Bruce Cockburn, and I could go on and include perfect examples of people like Mark Heard who certainly fits the bill of blending music and lyric.

I have a dear friend I respect so much named Mark Hollingsworth who I met a number of years ago while working with Christian Bands and specifically Rob Cassels (AKA Rob Castles). Mark and I have gotten to know each other a little better over the last year or more as we have made acquaintance at MySpace. This wonderful ambassador of Social Justice, and quality music who works with Compassion International contacted me regarding a new artist he had heard, one he wanted me to give a listen to. I went to this person’s page, listened to some music, and now, well, now here I am doing a review of his new CD.

Kevin Lawson with his new CD Nashville to Jesus is a unique blend of an artist who has a faith, but also has an unrelentless love for producing quality music. With praise coming from MTV to Jezebel Magazine, this artist, who happens to be Christian, is setting the stage alive wherever he performs, whether it be the Viper Room in New York or Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Kevin Lawson has that unique quality that has audiences and critics amazed and pleasantly surprised.

Nashville to Jesus, released on GodTown Records, starts off with a wonderful acoustic style tune titled Follow Me. While starting off with some exceptional guitar work, it kicks into a quality rock tune that reminds me of the past work of Mark Heard. This solid tune has a great deal of potential for commercial air play. When listening to the opening tune, a novice listener will quickly be able to decipher a quality verse, chorus, and bridge. While those things exist in much music, the set aside word is “quality.”

Only You starts off with an Electric Light Orchestra style of acoustic intro. It kicks up with driving bass and relentless rhythm guitars. Kevin’s voice is reminiscent of some of the older Mike Peters of The Alarm stuff for those that don’t know a kind of Bono style that is fresh and liberating. Thankfully Kevin’s voice isn’t a replica of these individuals, but certainly fits the bill with being unique and refreshing. This song helps also identify, early on, the wonderful production and engineering work on the CD. From great guitar and drum sounds to hand claps, we hear everything fresh and clean.

I love the intro to the next song Joined At The Heart, that isn’t all I love about this song though. What a beautiful piece of song writing. While there are great songs out there, we don’t much have the chance to hear them. Sure on a rare occasion we do, but hopefully, with the commercial potential of this song, this is one we will hear in the very near future. Musically this song gives us a little bit of everything, from wonderful horn sounds, to a driving bass line. It don’t have time to be boring because it is so well done.

Joined at the Heart kicks off as a rocking tune with a differing style of vocal that reminds one of a classic rock tune from the 80’s with a taste of John Mellancamp or Bryan Adams. The listener gets a good taste of just how good the vocals are from Kevin Lawson. We are treated with some wonderful background vocals and as per the rest of the album, a wonderfully written thought provoking song that is a reminder of the need to apologize.

Goodness Gracious is a love song resembling the Beatles. It continues to highlight the vocal styles of Lawson, it is also fitted with a nice guitar bridge that is clean, and not too busy. It is part of what I mean when I tell artists to let the music breathe.

37206 isn’t really a song, but a recording of the sounds of Kevin’s neighborhood, complete with church chimes and what sounds like a religious program on the television or radio. This presents itself with a unique twist that transition to the next song Little One, a tune written for a child. This helps show one of the unique attributes of this CD by its ability to transition what would normally be a regular conversation and bed time discussion into a song that causes us all to reflect. Any parent can almost imagine themselves in the time and space Lawson presents. As the song ends we hear the raindrops from a storm, which takes us to the next tune.

In Storm we hear the raindrops and the hope that transpires. This nice tune can be viewed in a variety of ways, from a loving father who just put his daughter to bed making her a promise, a loving spouse who is making a commitment to the one they love or any other number of variables, including possibly even to Jesus talking to those who have chosen to follow him.

The next song, One who does has a country sound that reminds me of some of the old Daniel Amos tunes from the early Christian music era, Lawson continues with the theme of darkness and storms as alluded to in previous songs. Here though, we have what could be an autobiographical journey of recognizing the mistakes that the singer or listener has gone through. There is hope though in the song as there is also an allusion to knowing where the answers and hope come from.

Choices You Made has that old vinyl sound of cracklings, snaps and pops you would hear from the needle of a record player going across the grooves on the record. I actually love the production value of self reflection and looking at old times and using the sound technique to help illustrate that. While this particular song may not have a lot of commercial value; it is one of the things that set a complete recording aside from a single song. The song perfectly illustrates the themes that have occurred up to this point.

Once Upon a Dream starts off in a style resembling some of the old Cowboy tunes noted within Country Music. I couldn’t help but think of Johnny Cash during his Country Music Days. It isn’t that the vocals or anything sounds anything like Cash, they don’t, but it is the type of song Cash may have recorded. This story song takes us from finding love, to finding God and the journey that is a part of that search.

Nashville to Jesus closes out with the tune Tell You Somethin’. The song starts off with a powerful vocal that soon kicks into a bluesy ballad. This is the most religious of the songs on the CD from a faith perspective. It is a powerful reminder though of the journey Lawson is taking us on. It is a fitting finish to a non threatening journey of faith and the search of a regular guy.

The marriage of music and lyric that blends faith and reality hasn’t been illustrated so well in a long time. There are myriads of people like me that have an appreciation of some of the older styles of Christian Music, not the copycat style but the original, real life, real solid styles. The styles of people like Mark Heard for example. I am speaking about the artistry that moved and garnished the respect of people in the music industry, whether Christian or not. For that I have an immense appreciation for the CD Nashville to Jesus. If you like quality musicianship, quality meaningful lyric, and excellent production, then this is a CD I would highly recommend. Its style is varied enough that you won’t get bored, and even if you haven’t heard of some of the musical artist I compare it to, give it a listen, you will be pleased. It is one I will listen to over and over, and one that gives me hope, hope that not all Christians have sold out on bubblegum and popularity, but that some, still have a measure of integrity and quality which is something that all people will appreciate, whether Christian or not.

On a scale of 1 – 10 for the memories, the quality, and just plain near perfection, I give Kevin Lawson's Nashville to Jesus a rewarding 9

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