Monday, September 27, 2010

Tuesday Review: Lincoln Brewster, Real Life

Lincoln Brewster - Real Life
While it's fair to say that most people who are famous in music (Christian or otherwise) have the talent to back it up, Brewster stands alone as the premiere guitar-slinger in CCM and worship.

He's a great vocalist, good songwriter and a passionate supporter of the local church, but it's the musical wizardry that tends to garner discussion each time Lincoln puts out a new record.

We'll look at that, of course, but today we're also analyzing other aspects of the record to see where it fits and how it's best appreciated.

You won't be surprised to hear there's lots of impressive guitar work on the project. Lincoln seems faster and smoother than ever. However, there's a chance that close listeners may feel a little underwhelmed...not because of the technical proficiency...believe me, it's THERE! But the solos and fills and riffs sound a little familiar. There's not as much tone variation as his last project and a lot of the playing stays in the upper-neck, speed tapping style. Dang good, but there's a lot of it there. I found myself really enjoying Lincoln's "other" guitar work - the second and third guitar tracks that hold down rhythm or accent the melody. Naturally, they're mixed behind the signature riff or lead, but they combine to create some excellent sonic landscape for these songs.

As to other musical aspects, the styles on the project seem nicely balanced. Lincoln and his musicians have hit on a good mix of tunes here without making the record too random or unfocused. I felt the rock songs on the record were forward thinking, skillfully employing some moments of prog rock without losing control. Some of the bass work here is especially impressive.

The record is made of primarily worship tunes with the exception of two songs: "Real Life" and "Made for More". The title track is a ballad that looks back on Lincoln's life. It's autobiographical and well produced but a little formulaic. It seems perfectly mixed for radio airplay, which is important because I don't think Lincoln's ever really got the CCM exposure he deserves. "Made for More" is a laid-back acoustic peek into the writer's most basic and sincere desire. This is definitely unique as it speaks to the concept of having "fans" versus being "church." The rest of the songs are more dedicated worship tunes. Two standouts are the church friendly "More Than Amazing" and the Kari Jobe duet, "Whom Shall I Fear." Both of these songs seem designed for almost any church praise team. The rock songs are good, too, especially "So Good" and "I Belong To You". Both of these tunes have some great melodic interplay between instruments and vocal delivery. However, I was a little disappointed with some of the lyrical content of these songs. In short, Real Life is a collection of well made songs that don't really say anything fresh. Say what you will about nothing new under the sun, but that's the challenge all worship writers face - to find fresh ways to share timeless truths. I wish Lincoln and the writers had pushed a bit harder for lyrical creativity.

Christian music has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years, but I think it's still safe to assume that worship CDs are released to benefit the church as a resource. The absolute most important aspect of reviewing worship records is accessibility - in other words, can churches play these songs?

The answer is yes and no. I'd say about half of these songs could be learned by most moderately skilled praise teams and could become stable additions to a song catalog. The other half are just too difficult for most teams to do. That's seem to be a typical ratio these days, although I'm one of the few who like to see more 90% (or more) accessible records. The most frustrating thing for me personally is that the songs I would gravitate to for my church tend to fall in that "too-difficult" category.

This new record isn't a huge step forward for Lincoln Brewster. The musical layout of the tracks is a definite improvement, but for the most part this record feels like a good continuation of his previous project. If you're looking for impressive musical work, you'll dig this record, but if you're hunting worship resources, this one may not deliver.


Johnny! said...

I'm surprised by your accessibility thoughts. Are there really popular worship songs people can't play?

That's depressing.

Robert Conn said...

I thought it was lackluster. It's not bad... its just not well Lincoln Brewster sounding.