I received a CD a while back as part of the stream of books I get from time to time for review. I confess to not being the best music reviewer, though for some reason I happen to know a lot of musicians — and musicians with genuine talent. I listened to the CD a couple of times through and then foisted it upon a couple of musician-friends (let’s call them Mike and Karla), both of whom have reviewed books here before. My take on it was that some of the songs had some good lyrics, though not all of them really “grabbed” me. It reminded me a little of some of the Worship Circle stuff. Anyway, another review follows… with a video of Brian McLaren discussing the project tossed in for good measure.
Brother Maynard gave us this CD to review, “Songs for a Revolution of Hope, Vol. 1 – Everything Must Change”, and he gave it to us many, many moons ago. So, why did it take so long to write this review, especially since we were expecting great things and we immediately popped it into the CD player when we got home that day?
Well, my first impression was that the music was pretty good, including Brian McClaren’s song writing and guitar playing. The mixing and production seemed to be okay, but there was something not quite agreeable about the entire CD. It’s quite a long disc (15 tracks, with 3 of those over 5 minutes), and we didn’t sit down and really listen to the whole thing — it was background music to our activities during the hour it was on. I thought maybe it was the singer, Tracy Howe that was the weak link, but I wanted to give her a fair shake before writing my review, so I waited.
For the next several months, the CD sat unlistened-to, near the top of the CD pile. Usually when I get a new CD, it gets played over and over again for the first few weeks. So, the fact that we listened to it once, as background music, and then didn’t touch it again for months speaks to how little I enjoyed it the first time through.
I finally sat down and really listened to it again this week. My first impressions were right: the weak link is definitely the singing. Honestly, I didn’t actually make it through the whole CD again: I only got to Track 11. I have been blessed (cursed in this case) with perfect pitch, or nearly perfect pitch, developed from playing violin for over 33 years (I’m 36). Tracy Howe does not have perfect pitch, and for me, her lack of control ruins many of the potentially great songs from this collaborative project. She has trouble maintaining her pitch on all but the simplest songs.
The best songs on the CD are those where Tracy does a sort of “talkover” thing during the verse and then the chorus is a simple melody that she handles without going off-pitch. These tracks, (tracks 3 and 8), are haunting at times, and Track 8, “Let’s Confess” provided me with the only “chill up the spine” moment that I typically experience when listening to great music. The melody in the chorus of “Let’s Confess” is only three different notes, and four syllables long… “Lord, have mercy.”
It’s quite unfortunate that she has trouble with her pitch on this album, because she really does have a good voice, and a lot of the songs have real potential to be good, if not great songs. If you don’t mind or aren’t distracted by somewhat off-pitch singing, then the songs on this CD may well inspire you. On the other hand, if you’re at all like me, you’ll find the off-pitch singing too distracting, and the CD will likely sit unplayed… unless you’ve been asked to write a review of it.
And there you have it — thumbs down from the Russian judge. ;^) In Mike’s review, you can see a recommendation of how their next release might be improved (vocal coaching or more attention to vocal pitch during production), as well as note his positive opinion of the quality of the songs on the album. It’s obviously been a while since I listened to it now, but for a while I thought it might be good material for people seeking worship material for small group or other settings, though I think not all of the songs readily lend themselves to such uses. And I didn’t mind it as background music either… of course, just in case it needs to be said, I don’t have perfect pitch.