Style: A plethora of rock genres; compare to Stone Temple Pilots, Casting Crowns
Top tracks: "Sacrifice," "70x7," "You Must Love"
Overtaking the New Testament with pure rock, multi-faceted musicians Dennis Duncan and Mario Canido have constructed a wide-ranging, 40-song, 3-disc collection featuring every word spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (as presented in the New Living Translation). Not an easy task, especially considering the heady objective of musically appropriating verses by the Son of God. And though the seemingly random pairing of Duncan and Canido may raise the question, "Who are these guys?", it's got the backing of industry major-leaguer Russ Regan (Jesus Christ Superstar, Elton John), a devout Christian, plus the support of Christian publisher Tyndale House.
Lest one dismiss it as a mere publicity move, the creators' sincere desire is apparently to see Scripture made famous—or at least better known for those who might otherwise ignore its life-changing inspiration. Duncan and Canido use every influence of rock imaginable to dynamically impress the Bible's truths in the hearts of listeners.
With the rock opera flair of Jesus Christ Superstar, albeit more modern, the Red Letters set list ebbs and flows between hard-hitting anthems (a la Aerosmith), energetic post-grunge (Foo Fighters, Creed), and acoustic-driven pop/rock (MercyMe).
"70x7" conjures up the infectious vocal hooks of southern outfits like DecembeRadio and The Black Crowes, wailing Jesus' command to issue forgiveness generously (Matthew 18:21-23), and "Cornerstones" continues the trend with a Lynyrd Skynyrd-ish acoustic/electric hybrid. "Oh Jerusalem" supports a top-notch choir of raw southern ardor, belting: "Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matt. 21).
"Fish for People" lyrically portrays Christ's temptation (Matt. 4:1-11), the calling of the first disciples (Matt. 4:18-22), and The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10), and contends musically with Casting Crowns straightforward rock/pop—an easy appeal for Christian music fans who enjoy the platinum band's Scripture-based radio fare. Meanwhile, "I Was Hungry" musically imitates Steven Curtis Chapman's lighter fare a la Speechless.
"You Must Love" is akin to Audio Adrenaline's "Hands and Feet" days, with the lead vocal uncannily resembling Mark Stuart's raspy inflections. "Sacrifice" mixes up the cutting-edge riffs of Skillet with tobyMac's rap and rhythm tracks.
Red Letters is certainly done professionally, but the recitative nature of cramming historic, and sometimes-antiquated, language into songs is hard to leisurely digest. Will the intended audience of teens, young adults, and music fans find it relevant? Hard to say. But whether the project reaches one or one million, good things will happen. According to some black letters of the Bible—those spoken by the Father, not the Son—putting God's Word out there "always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it" (Isa. 55:11).
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