Friday, January 24, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Jake Hamilton "Beautiful Rider"

Beautiful Rider  
Just when I thought
that this year's crop
of new music
was gonna suck,
I discovered a gem!

It's been three years since singer / songwriter / guitarist Jake Hamilton released his 2011 Top 10 sophomore effort, Freedom Calling. However, the one-time Jesus Culture worship leader has returned in 2014 with his band, The Sound, to offer a record that was well worth the wait — an energized, hard-hitting and passionate ten-song collection that can best be described as sounding like Jonny Lang-meets-Black Crowes at a Third Day aftershow party. Let's take a look at some highlights...

Packing plenty-o-punch and a mighty message, "Behold God is Great" is a songwriting collaboration between Hamilton and Dana Russell. This driving, alterno rocker serves as a powerful opener.

"I Love Your Presence" is a high-energy praise anthem accented by Seth Thomas' snappy "New Year's Day"-type drum work. And the hand claps actually sound like hand claps — bonus points, for sure. Every breath, is drawing you in. Come a little closer, come a little closer.

"Thank You" is a bona fide gem. Hamilton's honest and pure lyrics pinned against Dustin Lau's warm and rich keyboard / Fender Rhodes work makes for an engaging Magical Mystery Tour-meets-Tigerlily treat — but with a cooler message.

"I'm convinced there's no such 
thing as Christian music or art. 
I'm not going to compromise 
or remove the name of Jesus, 
but simply be a real person 
with real sound and message 
the world needs to hear."
-Jake Hamilton 

"Beautiful Rider" exemplifies the theory that less (production) is (often) more. Clocking in at just under six minutes, this predominantly piano / vocal epic offers a poignant description of Christ's return.

"Just Beyond the Breaking" not only is a beautiful poem, but also a fantastic showcase for Hamilton's impeccable acoustic guitar skills. The combination of his vulnerable vocal and the ambient background violin is simply magical. Mac Powell's chest swells with pride as he listens intently.

And then there's the cream of the crop, the pick of the litter, the best in show — "Never Let Me Down." This one is so gutsy, gritty, and downright fabulously funky, that it compels me to crack open a Red Bull and dance through the streets while shouting with reckless abandon.

Seemingly inspired by Romans 7:15-25, "Save Me" is a high-octane, get-to-the-point rocker — a golden goodie, to be sure. And Brian Campbell's driving bass line only adds to the track's "burn" factor.

A final highlight, "My Ballad to the Church of Laodociea" is a collective songwriting effort between Hamilton and his band. Edgy and chaotic-sounding, it offers perhaps the record's most profound message / challenge to listeners...

Greed will blind you to 
your weakness and need.
The love of power is 
the devil's seed.
Don't put your trust in the
kingdoms of earth (and)
Don't climb a mountain 
with no eternal worth.

In a day when so much popular secular music serves as a mere platform to convey messages promoting the foolish lifestyles of its "artists," and contemporary Christian music seems controlled by "corporate" restraints, Beautiful Rider offers a bold breath of fresh air. BRAVO, JAKE!

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)



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