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    "A Billy Graham Music Homecoming, Vol. 1" Bill & Gloria Gaither Our price: $13.99 | You save: $2.99
    available here.
    A little over a year ago, some Southern gospel and contemporary Christian legends gathered in a quaint and warm retreat nestled in the mountains of North Carolina to pay tribute to evangelist Billy Graham. The result is ably documented in the first and second volumes of "Bill Gaither Presents: A Billy Graham Music Homecoming," a moving musical testament to America's most famous preacher. The wide range of gifted artists who lend their support include the Martins, Avalon, Ricky Skaggs, Cece Winans, Andrae Crouch, Michael W. Smith, and gospel legends Vestal Goodman, Buddy Greene, and the Talley Trio. With reverence and humility, these stars offer heartfelt renditions of age-old classics.

    "Hymns" Shirley Caesar Our price: $14.99 | You save: $2.99
    available here.
    In that same spirit, the first lady of gospel, Shirley Caesar, breathes new life into 11 classics on her late-season release "Hymns." In a career that has spanned four decades, Caesar has never shied away from showing her roots, yet she continues to bring contemporary relevance to her music. A good example is her duet with (surprise) Michelle Williams (Destiny's Child) on the old spiritual "Steal Away." Caesar's powerhouse versions of "Amazing Grace" and "There Is Power in the Blood" will give you a sense of her exuberant spirit and richly emotional vocals.

    "God of Wonders" Paul Baloche Our price: $12.32
    available here.
    If you follow the contemporary praise-and-worship movement at all, you'll recognize songs like "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and "Above All." The author of these stirring songs is Paul Baloche, who returns with "God of Wonders," a live release full of vertical and majestic anthems. The musicianship that surrounds this charismatic worship leader is first rate, and Baloche allows bandmates to enhance each number with an airy and atmospheric appeal. Baloche's melodic pop sensibilities shine through on songs like "Face to Face" and "Stir Up a Hunger."

    "Momentum" TobyMac Our price: $14.99 | You save: $2.99
    available here.
    If Michael Tait is the rocker and Kevin "Max" Smith is the artist, then Toby McKeehan is dc Talk's conscience, keeping the world-famous trio grounded in streetwise smarts. Proof positive is Toby Mac's "Momentum," a massive maelstrom of sound that blasts a message of hip-hop reality through a God filter. While some of the lyric is brutal in its painting of daily life, Toby Mac always points toward hope and a better tomorrow. His message to the masses (besides "coming atcha like a whirlwind") speaks of a God who works beyond social classes and society's stereotypes. Toby Mac employs his extensive production skills wisely, offering a seamless sampling of street sounds in a melodic manner.

    "Lift" Audio Adrenaline Our price: $14.99 | You save: $2.99
    available here.
    And speaking of melodies, none come much sweeter than the ones found on Audio Adrenaline's new CD, "Lift." The fresh-faced rockers from Kentucky give us their best effort to date, showing brilliance with just about every track. While the group has toned down some of its funky groove, there's still enough "uh-huh" to make heads bob and feet move. After their lengthy headlining slot in Festival con Dios, the band's chops are also tighter than ever. While his scratchy and soulful vocals still rock, Mark Stuart now rightfully shares the limelight with his Adrenaline chums. Beautiful melodies and hooks abound throughout "Lift," a must-have release.


    It's Grammy time again, and the recently released list of Grammy Award nominees leaves us, as usual, scratching our heads. While Big Tent Revival's "Live" release is certainly an enjoyable collection, why is it in the Rock Gospel category? For that matter, could someone please explain the inclusion of dc Talk's "Solo" EP? More deserving would be Tait's fiery debut, "Empty"; Third Day's brilliant "Come Together"; or P.O.D.'s rock-de-force "Satellite" (whose "Alive" track was nominated for "Best Hard Rock Performance"). The Pop/Contemporary nominees make more sense, with Steven Curtis Chapman's emphatic "Declaration" and Nicole C. Mullen's lively "Talk About It" leading the charge. But what about the overwhelming but unheralded return of PFR and their outstanding "Disappear" release?

    The "Billy Graham Music Homecoming, Vol. 1" release from Bill and Gloria Gaither and friends leads the Southern/Country/Bluegrass Gospel category along with the unusual but entertaining duo of Merle Haggard and Albert E. Brumley Jr. on "Two Old Friends." The Traditional Soul Gospel Album category is strong with the critically acclaimed "Spirit of the Century" release from the Blind Boys of Alabama, Shirley Caesar's moving "Hymns," and Richard Smallwood and Vision's urban praise disc "Persuaded: Live in D.C." Yolanda Adams's masterful "The Experience" and Fred Hammond's bountiful "In Case You Missed It... And Then Some" head up the Contemporary Soul Gospel Album category. You'll also find many familiar favorites in the Gospel Choir/Chorus category, with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, the LFT Church Choir, and the Potter's House Mass Choir represented.


    "Freedom Highway" The Staple Singers Our price: $11.98
    available here.
    Formed by Roebuck "Pops" Staples in Chicago in the early 1950s, the Staple Singers had a distinctive, blues-based, eerily beautiful take on gospel and spirituals. Their earliest recordings reveal a fully developed signature sound: Pops's reverb-laden guitar lines snake in and out of Cleotha and Mavis's full-throated but slow-tempo singing. The band preached civil-rights-influenced folk-gospel sermons in the 1960s and tight gospel-funk ones throughout the 1970s. Here are their essential recordings.



Editor, Matthew Cooke ©, 2001 and ncdn associates of,bn,tower,cdnow

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