Jon McLaughlin, House of Heroes, Brandon Heathâ€¦a lot of great pre-release albums have been piling up on my desk this summer.Â Itâ€™s one of the perks of working for a major Christian radio station (I may not get rich in money, but I’ll never lack in music or event tickets).Â Hereâ€™s a glimpse at some of the best albums coming out this fall:
Jon McLaughlin OK Now (no release date announced) The 25-year-old played coffee shops around the Midwest before getting picked up by a major record label.Â Sadly, his 2007 effort Indiana fell on deaf ears to the radio community at large (Shine.FM played two songs from the album, both of which became very popular).Â However, the video for Beautiful Disaster turned some heads.Â For his latest project , Jon shows off songwriting skills that have grown by leaps and bounds.Â While the songs are still centered on the piano, OK Now is heavy on sing-along hooks, and there are a few production elements that could have been lifted right from Michael Jacksonâ€™s Thriller album. Ultimately, what makes this record stand out is McLaughlinâ€™s ability to craft lyrics that bring the spotlight to the everyman, the same skill that put Bruce Springsteen on the map.Â But where Springsteen told stories of blue collar characters dreaming of breaking free of New Jerseyâ€™s sprawling factory landscape, McLaughlin spins tales of a generation of former latch key kids whose worldviews have been shaped by TV dinners & Dawsonâ€™s Creek re-runs, introduced too soon to porn, drugs, and abuse, now trying to determine what kind of adults there are now supposed to become. The standout track â€œ4 Yearsâ€ is the post high school anthem Â John MayerÂ couldn’t quite capture with his breakout single â€œNo Such Thing.â€
Michael Gungor Band Anciet Skies (Out September 9)-The worship four piece from Denver, Colorado couldnâ€™t have picked a better season to release their debut.Â With the election just months away, itâ€™s a perfect time for MGBâ€™s songs, which are heavily themed around justice, mercy, and compassion, to become spiritual anthems to younger Christians who are politically active in their faith like never before.Â However, debuting in 2008 has its disadvantages, mainly that every CCM artist with a record deal has already tried their hand at the genre, resulting in a stack of worship albums that sound pretty much all sound the same.Â Â What sets this band apart is the chilled out songwriting of the husband/wife vocal/songwriting team of Michael & Lisa Gungor, who originally penned the project for their home church, not a national audience.Â This narrow focus helps Ancient Skies capture a unique tone that can only be described as Colorado folk (in the same way that Counting Crows somehow â€œsoundâ€ like the desert, and the influence of the mountains of the northwest can be heard in Death Cab for Cutieâ€™s music), salted with hints of banjo, B3 organ, and finger-picked acoustic guitar. This will fit well in your playlist next to Derek Webb, Sara Groves, and the new Brandon Heath project (keep reading).Â
House of Heroes In the Valley of the Dying Sun (September 23)-Just as the world faces the possibility that the Russia/Georgia conflict will lead to a Cold War encore, House of Heroes drops a project thatâ€™s oddly themed around WWII, the 1950â€™s arms race and sci-fi monsters, and somehow ties all that to the universal struggles of sin, love, destiny and ultimately, redemption.Â To try to â€œdefineâ€ these guys past that would be doing you a disservice.Â Just know that this is one of the most musically progressive bands to come out in a long time, and give them a listen on their myspace page (a million people have already done the same).Â The album runs a bit long by todayâ€™s standards (15 tracks), but thereâ€™s not one ounce of excess fat or filler to be found.Â Well done.
Brandon Heath What if We (August 18)-Ok, so this album is already out. But to be fair to the title of the blog, I did get it ahead of time.Â And to be fair as a critic, I need to tell you that I havenâ€™t lived with the material as long as I normally do before I write about an albumâ€¦but the power of â€œLondon,â€ â€œWait and See,â€ and the hard-hitting single â€œGive Me Your Eyesâ€ are enough to make me a believer in the whole project.Â Very few singer-songwriters write memorable hooks that bring about radio success. Even more rare is a radio-friendly artist who has something deep to say .Â Heath may be the only artist this year to achieve success on both sides of the coin.
Â tower can be heard from weekdays from 2-6pm on 89.7Â Shine.FM Chicago, and 6-10pm on 101.7 Fuse FM in Saginaw, Michigan, and can be read in SHORE Magazine in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. He’s had three root canals and a sprained ankle in the past three weeks, giving him lots of time to sit around and listen to good records and play Gears of War on XBOX 360.