Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage


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The Advocate

Today by 33Miles

Reviewed by Bert Gangl

"In the final analysis, there isn’t much here that hasn’t already been done before. Even so, the latest record is still both pleasant and proficiently performed."

Ask anyone who’s ever been in a band and they’ll tell you; the loss of a member is rarely a trivial matter. Just how much that person’s exit influences the outfit at large, though, often boils down to exactly what role they played in the group before deciding to pack it in. The most noticeable effects are usually felt after the exit of an iconic lead vocalist. The decision to tour without Steve Perry in the late ‘90s left legions of Journey devotees decidedly disinterested with the Steve Augeri-led collective. Fleetwood Mac’s stock similarly plummeted during Lindsay Buckingham’s ten year hiatus between 1987 and 1997. And, with the exception of the 1985 smash hit, “Nightshift,” only the smallest percentage of Top 40 radio devotees are capable of naming a single song recorded by the Commodores during the two and a half decades since Lionel Richie first decided to try his hand as a solo artist.

Given the abovementioned theory, one could well postulate that since it was keyboardist Collin Stoddard, and not front man Jason Barton, who departed 33Miles prior to the making of the former trio’s new album, the net change to the group at large should be at least marginally less momentous than the examples cited above. And, to a large degree, the premise does hold water. Fans who appreciated the country-pop leanings of the self-titled effort and 2008’s One Life will certainly find evidence of that same fondness on the third project. The stimulating leadoff track, “What Grace Looks Like,” falls nicely in line with the spirited country-tinged pop/rock of artists like Emerson Drive and Keith Urban. “Where I Wanna “Go,” on the other hand, is cut from the same roll of cloth as Lonestar’s massively popular power ballad, “Already There.” And the lilting rhythms and ever-so-slightly-twangy vocal work of “Today” may well cause more than a few musical sleuths to wonder if Barton and guitarist Chris Lockwood aren’t secretly lobbying to become the fourth and fifth members of Rascal Flatts.

The good news, though, for those who don’t follow the groups mentioned above is that the duo has toned down its previously unabashed country-pop proclivity, and expanded its musical palette, this time around. “Calling My Name” offers a veritable custom fit for members of the MercyMe/Casting Crowns/Sanctus Real crowd. The more rousing, “Live,” by comparison, falls more in line with the adult alternative pop/rock stylings of U2’s “Beautiful Day.” Most impressive, though, is the best-of-album mid-tempo offering, “Underneath,” which begins and ends on a slightly dissonant Coldplayesque piano riff that the twosome would do well to investigate more fully on successive releases.

In the final analysis, there isn’t much here that hasn’t already been done before. Even so, the latest record is still both pleasant and proficiently performed – both of which position it favorably as far as Top 40 radio airplay is concerned. And while its lyrics are occasionally more clichéd or cloying than substantive, listeners with a soft spot for the days when CCM artists spoke openly and unambiguously about their faith will be delighted by Barton’s use of unmistakably Christian-based themes. Existing members of the 33Miles camp who were expecting a carbon copy of One Life may be somewhat less than enamored by Today’s less countrified inclinations. Those who were secretly hankering for a more purely pop-oriented outing, on the other hand, are likely to discover that it suits them just fine.

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.