Reviewed by Bert Gangl
Hearts of Saints self-titled
"For listeners who like Michael English but wish he rocked a little, music aficionados seeking proof that pop/rock purveyors don’t have to water down either of the genre’s constituent halves, or simply those who lament the fact that Seven Day Jesus ever decided to call it quits, this record is most definitely for you."
Vocalist Craig Felker, guitarist L. J. Granstaff, bass player Joel Purday and drummer Jason Killebrew – collectively known as the musical outfit Hearts of Saints – hail from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a mere one-hour drive from Paducah, the birthplace of Christian music’s most Dove-awarded son, Steven Curtis Chapman. In the summer of 2009, the quartet signed to Revolution Art, a record label started by Teron Carter and Stacy Jones of the Nashville-based hip-hop group, GRITS. Given these two facts, one would assume that the Saints men would spend the better part of their waking hours concocting either, A) a buoyant, acoustically-driven blend of pop, country and adult contemporary or, B) a bass-heavy, lyrically-clever fusion of rap, old-school funk and classic R&B. While one could hardly be faulted for drawing the proverbial circle around either of these choices, the correct answer, which should be obvious to anyone who has resorted to guessing on their standardized college admission test, is C) none of the above.
Geography and mentorship notwithstanding, Felker & Co. have opted for a decidedly more rock-based approach to their music-making endeavors. And it’s a good thing, too, given that it has sparked such top-flight material as their new album’s leadoff track, “The Secret,” an absolutely sumptuous blend of barreling guitar-based modern rock and terse ‘80s post-punk/new wave. The follow-on cut, “Over and Over” is likewise energetic, melodic and joyously rough around the edges – picture the Strokes covering latter-day U2 covering Ultravox and you’ll have a fairly accurate notion of how these songs sound. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Hello Grace” spotlights the HoS cooperative’s equally impressive way with slower, more purely pop-oriented material. And “Beautiful Mystery” splits the difference with its soaring, irresistibly melodic Jonas Brothers-derived power pop groove – a point of reference that all but the fussiest, most self-important of music critics would have to admit is a complement of the highest magnitude. The most endearing feature of the abovementioned tracks (and most of the others on the self-titled release), though, is the fact that all three of them are the sort of songs you listen to once and wind up humming non-stop for a week.
Speaking objectively, the band's lyrics hardly qualify as Shakespearean prose. Similarly, Felker's vocals occasionally seem slightly out of sync with the music he’s singing to. Perhaps most noticeably, the band frequently sounds as if it’s pantomiming its influences rather than merely drawing inspiration from them. All of that said, the Saints lads are easily as good as, or better than, the average Christian Top 40 outfit. And most, if not all, of the abovementioned shortfalls are arguably more nitpicking than they are career-ending. Either way, they positively fade into insignificance against the backdrop of an album as forceful, energizing and downright infectious as this one. For listeners who like Michael English but wish he rocked a little, music aficionados seeking proof that pop/rock purveyors don’t have to water down either of the genre’s constituent halves, or simply those who lament the fact that Seven Day Jesus ever decided to call it quits, this record is most definitely for you.
Bert Gangl was formally introduced to the wonderful world of Christian music by his baby brother as the two were winding their way through Western Tennessee in the family automobile. Ever intent on proving that not all Christian artists were knock-offs of their mainstream counterparts, the younger Gangl duly inserted his newly-purchased copy of White Heart's Freedom into the waiting car tape player and the rest, as they say, is history. In the twenty years that have transpired since that time, Bert has amassed a sizeable CCM album collection of his own and has gone on to write reviews for a range of music-related sites including ChristRock , The Phantom Tollbooth, inReview and The All-Music Guide. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and daughter.