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All Star United - All Star United (1997)

Before the self-proclaimed "greatest band in the world" hit the scene in 1996, Ian Eskelin was making solo records of second-rate dance music. (Scary.) When that didn't work, he decided to get together with some of his friends and jam. As a result, All Star United was born. Since then the band has come a long, long way, but it was really their self-titled debut that launched ASU into international superstardom.

August and Everything After - Counting Crows (1993)

It's always hard as a "music critic" (a term with which, like it or not, most of us around here will be labelled) to review an album that one has become enamoured with. It's easy (and probably most fun) to review a bad album, and equally simple to appraise a banal piece of "art," but really good ones—the kind that transport you to another place and leave you wanting more—can be the scourge of any critic's existence.

Smash Hits - All Star United (2000)

Many people would argue that a greatest hits album after only two records would seem absurd. To set the record straight, it is. Luckily, All Star United somehow manages to pull it off gracefully. After being suspiciously dropped from Essential Records (quite possibly the label's biggest blunder), Smash Hits was intended to provide some kind of compensation; whether that compensation was intended for the band or its fans is anyone's guess. It could be that Essential was trying to squeeze as much money out of them as possible before they departed.

The Eleventh Hour - Jars of Clay (2002)

“Disappear” opens The Eleventh Hour with a neoteric pop/rock vibe unlike anything the band has ever pulled off before. Dan Haseltine’s vocals cascade with a newfound energy, and the instrumental accompaniment by Charlie, Steve, and Matt is pure and vivid. 42 minutes later, “The Edge of Water” brings the album to fruition by employing a banjo and using a folksy descant to show their urge for Christ’s return. Not so much of a rebirth as a rediscovery, this is the end result of a band that has again captured the joy they found from being who they are. This is Jars of Clay.

7even Year Itch - Collective Soul (2001)

Right alongside Creed in the Crypto-Christian category of modern music is Collective Soul. Through the past seven years, they've puzzled both Christian and secular listeners alike with their positively reinforced lyrics and even discussion of salvation. No one really knows for sure where they stand except the band themselves, but one thing's for certain: they are musical prodigies.

Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo - Five Iron Frenzy (2001)

I had been curious about Five Iron Frenzy ever since I read an article about the lead singer's college roommate who carried a golf club (a 5 iron, to be specific) for protection with him wherever he went. My curiosity grew even more when I read yet another article about how the band believes that "squirrels are single-handedly responsible for government corruption, the greenhouse effect, and food shortages." I purchased the new album not too long after the 11/20/01 release date of FIF2: Electric Boogaloo.

Let's Get Crazy EP - All Star United (2000)

Possibly the last we'll ever see of glam Christian rockers All Star United is this jewel of an EP, only obtainable through their website, which is now shut down. Let's Get Crazy: B-Sides, Rarities, and Previously Unreleased Material was meant to whet fans' appetites until the release of ASU's much promoted third album, an album still not released since this popular band was booted from Essential Records and have had various signing problems. Will Ian Eskelin and co. ever come back?

Stereotype Be - Kevin Max (2001)

Picture an average kid, Daddy in tow, squirming as a new animated movie begins. He’ll laugh at jokes, jump in Dad’s lap during scary parts, and be terribly surprised at every twist and turn. Contrast him with internet-savvy Junior sitting nearby, a boy who knew the movie’s plot, minor characters, and insider-jokes-to-watch-for weeks before it released. Sure the whiz kid invested more time into the experience, but who got more joy out of it?

Weathered - Creed (2001)

Any hopes of resolving the great "Christian/Non-Christian" debate are even more obscured by Creed's latest contribution, Weathered. Dark, cryptic rock still prevails on their most spiritual album to date, bringing along with it more questions, fewer answers, and excess listening enjoyment all in Creed's trademark style.

Hit Parade - Audio Adrenaline (2001)

The following was said of Creed recently: "They're not necessarily trying to change the face of rock music. They're just trying to do honest, hard-nosed, good rock music. And when I look at each new record, I say to myself, "by gosh, they've done it again." (Or some variant of that). The same could be said of Christian group Audio Adrenaline.

Satellite - P.O.D. (2001)

"One of the most important records of our time" is how Atlantic Records spokespeople describe Satellite, the latest album from hardcore supergroup P.O.D. Not only is it important, but it's one of this year's best, obtaining platinum status in just one month. Satellite goes above and beyond anything P.O.D. has ever released, as there's something for everyone on this disc, even for those who aren't fans of hardcore rock.

The Way I Am - Jennifer Knapp (2001)

Jennifer Knapp is the undisputed queen of Christian rock, a fact which is proven once again with her latest album The Way I Am. In it Ms. Knapp serves up delicious songs that range from quiet to moody, soft to violent. Never one to settle for token hooks, she expresses herself freely in her lyrics which portray a woman who is strong but also one to whom insecurity is no stranger.

The Fundamental Elements of Southtown - P.O.D. (1999)

"Let me tell you why you are here," Reads Matthew 5:13a,15a "You're here to bring out the God-flavors of this earth...To be light, showing the God-colors in the world."

Sonny, Traa, Marcos, and Wuv of the band Payable On Death know the meaning of those verses. They also know nothing of conformity. Their hard rock sound have left those in CCM-land shaking their heads, and their uplifting, God-praising lyrics are bringing light to those in the mainstream market.

["untitled"] - The Benjamin Gate (2001)

"Of Benjamin he [Moses] said: 'The beloved of the Lord shall... dwell between His shoulders,'" reads Deuteronomy 33:12. Final words from an Old Testament patriarch are an odd source for understanding a 21st century rock band. But Moses's words speak all too directly of South Africa-born The Benjamin Gate, who cling to their Father's knees like children, always wanting to be held. Not to dismiss the "attitude" present here.

The Big Surprise - The Elms (2001)

Joy—where’d it go? Child-like faith has evolved into doctrinal systems. Relationships (think cliques and divorces) have become cruel. And give-it-everything melodies set to jangly guitars are pigeonholed as “oldies rock.” A million debates, disappointments, and drab albums later, audacious rockers The Elms prod listeners into a carefree reality.

Solo EP - dc Talk (2001)

Fans pore over even their most obscure performances, commonplace remarks, and trivial nuances. Critics believe that the three guys have piggybacked on studio musicians and producers to get where they are as Christian music's first superstars (and wearing that label comfortably). Whichever side of the debate one's on, the choice of each dc talk member to go Solo holds much promise. With three upcoming albums instead of the usual one, the dct message boards gush with excitement--while the calculating commentators await the chance to pick apart which member can't write, sing, etc.

Ardent Worship - Skillet (2000)

First it was only wishful thinking. Then came the rumors. And finally there was word from the band themselves. Skillet was making a worship album. An idea pre-conceived even before the release of Hey You, I Love Your Soul, Ardent Records has finally made possible what has been the longing of the group and its many devoted Panheads for quite some time. Move over, Matt Redman. Here comes Skillet.

Glo - delirious? (2000)

Back when Martin Smith was scared of crowds, before Stu G. groupies hounded them, and "delirious" was another term for being intoxicated, a few British guys made a decision: they'd rock hard in leading worship, but a flashy show wouldn't ever replace the presence of God. Eight years later, the d:boys bring that same naive vision to Glo, forming a new paradigm of congregational song.