Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sara Groves / Melody Olson Concert Review

Sara Groves, December 11, 2009
Cup ‘O Joy

By SS Mertens

A breath of heaven, to use one of her lyrics and song titles, is an accurate description of a Sara Groves concert. Complex in arrangement yet simple in message. Multi-faceted in content yet singular in substance. Overwhelming in capacity yet simplistically focused in effect. The message, the music, the art is untainted, innocent, and virtuous.

Sara’s ‘O Holy Night Christmas Tour’ recently made a stop at the Cup ‘O Joy in Green Bay, Wisconsin providing two shows to capacity plus crowds. The tour included selections from her ‘O Holy Night’ Christmas album and her recently released ‘Fireflies and Songs’ album. As always, the Dove nominated musician gave of herself without reserve.

On many levels a Sara Groves concert is a family affair. Sara’s husband opened the concert with an ice breaker to pull the audience into the event. The opening song ‘It’s True’ had son Toby Groves providing the opening lines to the song. The band, a family of its own, contributed on many levels. The ‘O Holy Night Christmas Tour’ set list included new songs providing a window into everyone’s everyday life with ‘Setting Up The Pins’ to a view of Sara’s childhood in ‘This Old House’. Holiday tunes included the comedic ‘Toy Packaging’ with Troy’s mix of percussion from an electric drill drilling to boxes banged on to a hammer hammering, and a medley / sing along of ‘Silent Night’ / ‘Away In The Manger’ / ‘Come All Ye Faithful‘/ ‘He Alone Is Worthy’.

Throughout the set, synchronized video ranged from cartoons, to old family still photos, to lyrics for audience participation. Long time band member Melody Olson shared two songs from her upcoming debut LP including ‘All These Things’ and ‘Keep Me Close’ with Sara providing harmony. The concert concluded with a customized version of ‘O Holy Night’ with melodic percussion, the unmatched harmony of Sara and Melody, flowing acoustic guitar, and a band / audience a cappella version of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’.

As the concert house lights went up the audience felt a true sense of community with the very real people contributing to this band of musicians. Having shared her personal life and discipleship one feels the truth and peace given freely in Sara’s offerings. A crowd favorite – yes. A wonderful story teller – yes. A memorable night and a wonderful Christmas gift – most emphatically yes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Paul Coleman Concert Review

Paul Coleman, November 13, 2009
Cup ‘O Joy

By SS Mertens

Paul Coleman provides a night of entertainment which cannot be matched by many! This crowd favorite crafts a solo acoustic performance bringing together praise, comedy, masterful acoustic guitar, moving allegories, and shared audience experiences that remain memorable long after the concert lights have dimmed. The founding member of the Dove Award winning and Grammy nominated ‘Paul Coleman Trio’, published soloist, and recently lead guitarist for ‘The Newsboys’, Paul has a large repertoire to leverage.

Recently, Paul performed at the Cup ‘O Joy concert venue in Green Bay, Wisconsin providing two shows to a near capacity crowd. His solo acoustic performance pulls the audience into his world and subjects the audience to Paul’s Aussie sense of humor. An Australian by-way-of the U.K., Paul comes complete with a ‘down under’ accent and cultural difference he loves to share with his audience through dialog sprinkled between songs of praise, love, and the occasional comedic flair.

The evening’s set list ranged from old to new and unpublished. Like his demeanor, the songs also ranged from praise to a sprinkling of comedic moments. “Gloria (All God’s Children)”, the ‘Paul Coleman Trio’s’ breakout hit mixed well with the new “Run”. ‘The Newsboys’ hit “Something Beautiful”, co-written by Peter Furler and Paul was beautifully offered in a mellow acoustic rendition. Showing his mastery as a musician, when a guitar string broke during the initial chords of “The Real Jesus” Paul did not drop a beat, singing the entire song without the accompaniment of his guitar while changing the guitar string!

During breaks between songs, it is not uncommon for Paul to read his lyrics to the audience as a poetic refrain giving another element to his art. He is animated during performance, improvising and providing some comedic relief. While his message is truly faith-based, his method of interlacing a story and an occasional laugh is a breath of fresh air for Christian music and is Paul’s style of discipleship

Paul Coleman is a story teller who brings out the truth in his faith-based songs. Having a large stage presence, he connects easily with his audience, proven by his ever growing following. This artist is very comfortable with his role as a performer, welcoming the audience to share his life experiences through music and word. As a warning, be aware that Paul’s humor can occasionally border toward the secular but is never truly off-color. While this night did not portray Paul at his liveliest, he again captured the audience while providing yet another performance to remember.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“The Imposter” movie review

Written & directed by Daniel Millican
Serendipitous Films
Rating: No rating at this time but could be PG-13 for drug use and sexual innuendo
Running Length: 120 minutes
  • Kevin Max as Johnny C
  • Kerry Livgren as Proff
  • Jeff Deyo as James
  • Tom Wright as Homeless Man
  • Arianne Martin as Tara
  • Troy Baker as Jerome
  • Daniel Millican as Tony
  • Meredith Mauldin as Sydney
As the title implies, “The Imposter” depicts a rock star that has fallen from his faith, due to the high cost of fame. The twist here is the rock star is a Christian rock star setting this story line apart from the stereotypical lost-and-found Christian story. The acting, soundtrack, and conclusion put this movie a ‘touch’ above most in its genre.

Starring Kevin Mac (solo musician, actor, and former member of dcTalk), Kerry Livgren (former lead guitarist of the rock band Kansas), and Jeff Deyo (solo musician, and former member of Sonic Flood), the story focuses on the fall from grace of ‘Johnny C’, the lead singer of a hot Christian rock band. The story depicts of a rock star’s fall from faith - cheating on his wife, addition to oxycodone and liquor, with a narcissistic bent. Together they cause Johnny C to lose control, separating him from his band, family, friends, and faith. But rather than ‘finding’ his faith through the outreach of friends, family and others at stories’ end the story follows Johnny as he continues to spiral out of control despite his efforts and those of others close to him. When he reaches ‘bottom’ he starts over in the most rudimentary way – a completely different lifestyle than where he started from.. Johnny loses all, including family and fame, but holds the rough beginnings of faith found anew. The ending shows a much more realistic picture of those defeated by fame and fortune but finding a new start than the typical story book ending. The story’s centering on a Christian with fame who makes all the wrong choices makes this movie hit home – none of us are perfect, we are all sinners.

While the movie has the typical low budget production look and feel of so many Christian films, surprisingly the acting rises above the fray. Occasionally over the top, Kevin Max’ portrayal of the fallen Christian rock star pulls through as believable in the role of Johnny C. Kerry Livgren provides the stalwart Christian friend and mentor, although we never are quite sure of his history with the movies’ characters. Jeff Deyo does well as Johnny’s friend and band leader. Tom Wright, co-starring as bag person befriended by Johnny, is less believable in a role that adds little to the film. Arianne Martin, co-starring as Johnny’s wife, does not rise above the typical roll of a sad, defeated spouse.

Another redeeming quality of “The Imposter” is a very solid Christian rock soundtrack, highlighted by the inclusion of songs by Downhere, Kevin Max, Jeff Deyo, and Kerry Livgren providing the movie with a deeper insight. Atop the soundtrack’s collection is the rewritten Kansas staple “Wayward Son” originally authored and rewritten for the movie by Kerry Livgren. The movie’s rendition of “Wayward Son” has Kevin Max providing lead vocals. This is truly a treat for Christian music enthusiasts which should not be missed.

Although the story is at times choppy and drawn out, “The Imposter” shines in showing personal issues also exists in the Christian world and not all attempts to reclaim faith by the fallen have a happy ending. The overall message is truthful and grounded in reality – faith saves and provides for an abundant live if you work at your faith and your lifestyle. Also rising above the norm for a current period Christian film is the acting and soundtrack. “The Imposter” is worth seeing for these reasons and for the message it successfully provides.

Note: “The Imposter” will be distributed in March, 2010 by Pure Flix. See link below for additional information.