To guide your summer getaway book selections, try this formula: E=FB²
Like Never Before
Nicole C. Mullen
Mullen gives lie to the depiction of Christians as joyless prudes with a sour countenance. The title track’s entrancing bass and thumping club beat jolt listeners into entering the joy of faith to “Sing like never before / shout like never before / dance like never before.” A wider-than-ordinary musical palette brings a little something for everyone, including urban hip-hop, R&B, and even a quirky French version of “It Is Well.” Traditional CCM fans will cheer for “Greater Still,” a steadily building anthem in the manner of Mullen’s original breakthrough hit, “My Redeemer Lives.”
The great news about Rend Collective’s Good News is that it makes the gospel sound genuinely good (and great, and fun) as it ought. The band maintains a raw-boned, freewheeling feel thanks to eclectic instrumentation straight from an Irish pub. But it’s a pub that beats with a church’s heart, continuously winking to favorite hymns and crafting new ones. These hymns are less the civilized creatures of Keith and Kristyn Getty and more like wild critters roaming the backcountry, with whoops and hollers driving rousing, blues-infused choruses.
Riddle displays all the requisite characteristics of today’s catchy worship music movement: a pleasing, plaintive tenor perfect for crying out for God’s help in trouble and reverb-drenched keys and guitars creating an open, U2-redux sound capable of building big choruses or breaking down to brooding moments. But one aspect that sets Riddle far above the pack is a playful, patient way of entering into the song space that imbues ambiance and musicality. That and a canny ear for pop make for a worship sound that effectively delivers More.
Have My Heart
Despite being independently released, Robertson’s debut EP created an immediate stir in the Christian market. Turns out that an intimate, jazz-inflected voice bouncing breezily atop acoustic-pop rhythms in the vein of Chris Rice and Sarah Groves is a tough combination to resist. As a result of sometimes-gauzy lyrics and conventional song structures, the project is a bit simple. But so is a sunny day. And we can always use another one of those.
As political movements accentuate class and tribal distinctions, two artists (one white and one black) encourage us to remember the gospel is colorblind.
With High Above, Derek Minor brings serious reflections to a weird and wonderful hip-hop landscape stuffed with potent hooks and jazz psychedelia. On “Walls” he threads a silky groove while bemoaning how we “kiss up to God” for “a promotion” while ignoring the needs of the poor all around us: “We spend $9.99 for Spotify / but hearing my stomach rumblin’, not worth a dime?” Every tribe and tongue is an example of the “master’s masterpieces … made in His image, we are all His kids / [If] I look down on you, I look down on Him.”
The other is Carmen Justice’s Against the Odds. Amid bold vocals and futuristic drum sequencing, “Red & Yellow, Black & White,” Justice asks, “Why do we build all these walls up?” Whether that’s a poke at a certain campaign promise or just good timing is hard to say. Muscular beats and catchy melodies save the album’s heavily layered production from becoming too self-serious, as do solid guest appearances from rapper GabeReal and Steven Malcolm. —J.K.