The contemporary Christian music scene has been sounding a bit generic lately, with the charts cluttered with artists and bands playing the same brand of polished, energetic pop-rock.
That makes the arrival of "Salvation Station," the debut disc of Newworldson, that much more refreshing.
The four-piece band from Niagara Falls, Ontario, plays music with a loose-limbed, funky, jazzy, roots-rock style that has a lot of heart, soul, and imagination. There's space between the notes and the musical bars; everything is not filled to the brim with layers of instrumentation and studio wizardry.
The funky jam tune "City Lovesong" features one of the only kazoo solos you'll ever hear in Christian rock.
Singer-keyboardist Joel Parisien, guitarist Josh Toal, bassist Rich Moore, and drummer Mark Rogers cite musical influences as diverse as surf guitar pioneer Dick Dale, jazz bass legend Jaco Pastorius, and R&B superstar Stevie Wonder.
Parisien says the band picked its name as a tribute to the music of the New World, North America.
"It really couldn't have come from anywhere else because the mix of styles, the whole history of gospel and blues becoming jazz, rock, and hip-hop, that cultural experience happened here in the New World."
He said that the closest label to fit Newwworldson would be soul music, because "that's the foundation."
The group's origin was serendipitous, according to Rogers. He and Moore were playing a weekly jazz gig when the guitarist left. Toal and Parisien filled in one night and started playing gospel music.
"It got a fantastic response and that's where we all came together," Rogers said.
FAMILY FRIENDLY: Movie fans looking for more family-friendly fare from Hollywood have another awards show to review besides tomorrow night's Oscars.
The Faith and Values Gala, held Feb. 12 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, gave Epiphany Prizes to the best films of 2007 that had either strong moral or biblical content, or a "Christian or redemptive worldview."
The prize for top film of the year for all ages, went to Amazing Grace, the historical drama about British abolitionist William Wilberforce.
The "family movie" winner was Ratatouille, the animated film about Remy the rat who longs to be a chef.
The top TV program of 2007 was Valley of Light, a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about a World War II veteran's adjustment to life after the war.
After Ratatouille, the rest of the Top 10 films in the family category were, in order, Enchanted; Alvin and the Chipmunks; Bella; The Game Plan; In the Shadow of the Moon; Shrek the Third; The Ultimate Gift; Nancy Drew, and Bridge to Terabithia.
After Amazing Grace, the top movies for mature audiences were August Rush; Spider-Man 3; I Am Legend; Strike; The Great Debaters; The Astronaut Farmer; Pride; Transformers, and Live Free or Die Hard.
Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide and chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, said the Epiphany Prizes "are intended to encourage spiritual wisdom, knowledge, and growth. We hope that by honoring these movies and television programs, millions of people will be uplifted and inspired."
The $25,000 Kairos Prize for the most spiritually uplifting screenplay went to Guy W. Forest, of San Pedro, Calif., for If By Chance.
Mr. Baehr said Movieguide is "dedicated to redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and informing the public about the informing the public about the influence of the entertainment media.
More information is available online at www.movieguide.org.
A PROPHET'S STORY: Speaking of biblical content in film, you can't get any more biblical than the CGI box office hit The Ten Commandments, which features the voice of Christian Slater as Moses, Elliott Gould as God, and Sir Ben Kingsley as narrator. The film has just been released on DVD by Motive Entertainment and Promenade Pictures.
This family-friendly movie about the reluctant leader of the Jews generated $938,000 at the box office and the DVD version includes a few bonuses such as the music video "I Am Willing" by Jeremy Camp and an amusing "man on the street" segment in which people's knowledge about the Ten Commandments is put to the test.
ECO BIBLES: Everyone's going green these days, even the Bible.
Thomas Nelson, Inc., has announced that its Bible group is starting to discontinue the use of synthetic covers on their Bible products.
"Customers can expect to find significant eco-friendly Bible offerings in stores come early 2009," the Nashville-based publisher said in a press release. "We're happy to be leading the way in providing environmentally friendly Bibles in keeping with the concerns of today's consumers."
ROCKIN' IN SCOTLAND: Two Toledo-based Christian rock bands, This Beautiful Republic and Sanctus Real, will be featured at the Ultimate Event music festival in Staffordshire, Scotland, on May 10.
The show will be headlined by British group Delirious? and takes place at the Alton Towers theme park.
HEALING TESTIMONIES: The First Church of Christ, Scientist has launched a Web site featuring people sharing their personal experiences of prayer and healing in Christian Science.
"People hear about Christian Scientists relying on prayer for healing, but what does that really mean?" said Tom Black, a spokesman for the Christian Science Board of Directors in Boston. "It is good to know that people who rely on the Web for information have a place where they can hear about Christian Science healing directly from those who have experienced it."
The Web site is www.christianscience.com.
CYBER BIBLE STUDY: The American Bible Society has opened its Bible Resource Center, previously available only to scholars, to the general public online at www.bibles.com/bibleresources.
The searchable, digitized information includes extensive Bible study guides, interactive maps of biblical locations, and tips on choosing Bible translations.
David Yonke is The Blade's religion editor. Contact him at email@example.com or 419-724-6154.