|Musical Style: Worship Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2017||Artist Website: Pastor Brad|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: No Quote|
You know the old adage: if you want something done right, do it yourself. Hence, the charm to self-financed and independently released recording projects. The advantages being obvious: complete creative and artistic control bestowed upon the artist. Independent bands, for instance, do not have to worry about some label bigwig showing up at the studio and making demands such as “guys, I’m going to have to ask you to lower the guitars in the mix just a bit’ or ‘be sure to keep your songs within a radio friendly three to three and a half minute range’. Other helpful words of advise include ‘a twenty minute epic might not be a good idea- listener attention spans are limited you know’ and ‘just go with your 9 or 10 best songs; there is no need to fill an entire 80 minute CD to capacity’.
Not all the above referenced suggestions are bad; rather, if certain independent artists followed them, we would end up bereft of some very good music. Consider vocalist Luke Richard Weber’s Razorigami project and its 2014 sophomore album Truths Beyond The Machine, which closes to one of my all time favorite songs in the twenty minute “Star of David”. Likewise, Sacred Warrior returned in 2013 following a twenty-year hiatus with a new album in Waiting In Darkness that is far heavier than the four it released on Intense Records between the late eighties to early nineties. The 2016 solo project of guitarist Dan Cummins, Storm, might come in at just under 80 minutes but also includes no filler tracks, while Eden’s Way put out the same year an eighties commercial hard rock album in Can’t Get Enough made up of material mostly in the four to five minute range.
One of my favorite independent artists, whom similar to the above is not unwilling to take risks and to think outside the box, is Bay City, Michigan pastor, guitarist and vocalist Brad Windlan. ‘Pastor Brad’ as he is better known, is quite the veteran within hard music circles, having releases ten full length albums, a pair of demos, a Christmas album and several compilations in styles ranging from instrumental hard rock to straightforward hard rock to eighties influenced melodic metal. One direction in which the artist has not previously pursued, or at the very least dedicated an entire album, is melodic rock and commercial hard rock tinged with AOR sensibilities. That is until now with the winter of 2017 release of his first worship rock album entitled UP.
In terms of specifics, eight of the ten UP songs are re-imagined worship rock covers with the remaining two ("God Can Do" & "Be Strong") being original worship compositions. Similar to much of his past solo material, Pastor Brad handles majority of the instrumentation (guitars, bass, keyboards and programming) in addition to all lead vocals. Lone exception is the track “God Can Do”, which features guest appearances by drummer Bruce Gaetke, guitarist Jeff Garner and bassist Phil Segrue.
Opening cut “This Is Amazing Grace” breathes all things AOR and melodic rock: larger than life backing vocals hold sway, guitars are on the reserved side of things but still relevant and momentum spirited throughout. One cannot help but feel UPlifted - hence, the albums title - from the manner in which Pastor Brad leads the way with his signature earthy and gritty vocal style as he asks, Who breaks the power of sin and darkness? / Whose love is mighty and so much stronger? / The King of Glory, the King above all Kings!
“God Can Do” sustains the upbeat momentum but in the overall heavier package. A more forthright guitar mix allows for a rawer and bare bones hard rock feel, with impacting bass prevailing for the verses and guitars rebounding to their place of prominence to back the impassioned refrain. A fitting arena rock aspect comes to the forefront in the process.
“Our God” begins to majestic keyboards and melodic guitars only to drop off at once as it slows to a crawl for a plodding bass line. Gradually building momentum moving forward, “Our God” takes a pointed direction as thick guitars fade in and interweave with pounding drums to make a decisive statement: Our God is greater / Our God is stronger / God you are higher than any other / Our God is healer, awesome in power. With its enticing keyboard and guitar interplay, I rate this with the albums more creative tracks.
“Everlasting God” translates as a light (and very good) melodic hard rocker. The song starts to distorted guitar feedback before taking off to a mirthful tempo, with rhythm guitars staunch and firm moving forward, and soloing that leaves little doubt as to the reason why the artist has been so successful at releasing instrumental guitar ‘shred’ albums over the years. Overall impression is of a resounding eighties rock feel.
“Be Strong” gives rise to the encouraging and inspiring with its prominent symphonic keyboards and understated rhythm guitars, albeit not to a fault either way. Helping to keep “Be Strong” entrenched in your mind are the catchy ‘be strong, be strong and courageous, God is on your side’ vocal melodies. Artists extended stretch of flashy lead guitar helps carry the song out to five satisfying minutes.
“The River” is this reviewer’s choice cut due to its creative nuances. It begins with the dance groove that permeates throughout the song, which works well with the programmed drums, but also encompasses decided blues based sentiments, with the gritty and shuffling guitar presence to match. Some of the artists best soulful vocals lend to the heartfelt message at hand: I know a place where you can go / To lay the troubles down in your soul / I know a place, where mercy flows / Take your stains, make you whiter than snow
Catchy melodic hard rocker “How Great Is Our God” proves deliberate, sublime and powerful. The song rolls through its verses with assuming bass in control, steadily stepping up impetus as metal edged guitars maneuver in and propel things to the commanding ‘how great is our God’ refrain in which you cannot but sing along. A fitting stretch of sinuous lead guitar tops things off.
“Ever Be” takes a bluesy hard rock direction, even more so than “The River”. The song upholds a moody feel, with brazen bass and slide guitars (that really dig and bite) shouldering the driving scene until things explode for the engaging chorus that effortlessly declares how ‘your grace will ever be on my lips’. Following best sums up the songs message: You will be praised / With angels and saints we sing, worthy are you Lord.
Straightforward and no-nonsense melodic rock, “Trust In You” comes across steady as it gets with its forthright mid-paced impetus and lively guitar flavorings. Yes, this one is a bit basis in comparison to some tracks here but is still good nonetheless, noting how the faith based message cannot be denied: When you don’t part the waters / I wish I could walk through / When you don’t give the answers / As I cry out to you / I will trust in You. Similar to “Everlasting God”, “Trust In You” captures those eighties rock flavorings perfectly.
“God’s Great Dance Floor” touches upon the dance groove to “The River” but to the greater extent. The feeling is bounding and vibrant throughout, with upbeat rhythms that will just not quit and melodic hooks to spare as the artist, much to his credit, experiments with a musical direction that is well outside the box (at least in comparison to what he has done in the past). Put on your dancing shoes when listening to this one!
Rock praise and worship albums have literally been done to death over the years with some good and others, well, not so good. Most notable that come to mind include the recent Scandinavian Metal Praise releases in addition to the early nineties Rock Power Praise series but also includes the various Petra rock praise albums and those put out by guitarist PK Mitchell. My favorite might be Radio Scripture from Rochester, New York vocalist and guitarist Tommy Wales, whose bluesy and acoustic rock interpretations of traditional hymns and worship classics helps separate himself from the abounding metal and rock praise crowd.
Similar to the previously noted, Pastor Brad on UP remains respectful to the original worship compositions while lending a more up to date and current musical take on the subject with his melodic rock to AOR approach to the worship genre. Some exceptional material stands out in the process, with “Our God”, “The River”, “Ever Be”, “Everlasting God” and “Be Strong” ranking among my favorites. In the end, UP falls well within the good category in coming strongly recommended to those with a penchant for rock praise and worship albums.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “This Is Amazing Grace” (4:13), “God Can Do” (3:22), “Our God” (4:25), “Everlasting God” (4:06), “Be Strong” (4:55), “The River” (3:18), “How Great Is Our God” (4:30), “Ever Be” (3:51), “Trust In You” (3:43), “God’s Great Dance Floor” (3:49)
Pastor Brad - Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards & Programming
Jeff Garner - Guitars
Phil Segrue - Bass
Bruce Gaetke - Drums