Michael W. Smith – The Big Picture – 1986

It has been said here and elsewhere (and quite often) that a CCM album’s depth, quality and creativity will be inversely proportionate to its sales success. Meaning; the better the album the fewer the people that will purchase it. This appears to remain true even for CCM’s golden boy and most popular and prolific male artist, Michael W Smith. The Big Picture, Smith’s artistic triumph remains his weakest selling album and the only album in his career not to reach even gold status. After a strong debut and the utterly forgettable argyle sock of a sophomore release (aptly titled “2”), Smith grabbed the CCM world by the throat with an album that was sonically, creatively and musically miles ahead of the rest of the Nashville pablum for the time. From the dark purple and gold hues of the artwork to the tasteful technological advances and superior production, the Big Picture is great from start to finish. What keeps the album from falling off the tracks in a travesty of technological traps is that the songs themselves are very organic and real. Taking themes from the culture and wrapping them in modern sounds with a clear and poignant response to the baggage those theme bring along makes the album the one worthy release from Smith in the Top 100. Producer John Potoker had worked with Brian Eno, Madonna and a host of others and had a huge influence on the musical direction and big production sound. Many will obviously find the music and production technique dated, but one of this lists presuppositions was to judge albums based on the time they were recorded and what was happening musically. And for that, this album is the most “current” album of Smith’s career. He would record about 10 more albums in a row that are completely indistinguishable from one another. But the strength here lies not in the production (or over-production) but in the strength of a songwriter album to have his songs outlast even the dated production technique.

Contributor David Lowman – https://ccms500bestalbums.wordpress.com/

Tracklist
1 – Lamu – 5:55
2 – Wired For Sound – 6:00
3 – Old Enough To Know – 4:47
4 – Pursuit Of The Dream – 5:00
5 – Rocketown – 4:32
6 – Voices – 5:50
7 – The Last Letter – 4:37
8 – Goin’ Thru The Motions – 4:55
9 – Tearin’ Down The Wall – 3:35
10 – You’re Alright – 4:36

Credits
Artwork By [Art Direction And Design] – Kent Hunter, Thomas Ryan Design
Backing Vocals – Chris Harris, Wayne Kirkpatrick
Bass, Chapman Stick – Tony Levin
Bass, Drum Programming – Gary Lunn
Drum Programming – Frank Doyle, Tokes, Mark Kovac
Drums – Steve Ferrone
Drums, Drum Programming – David Huff
Engineer [Additional] – Bill Heath, Bob Vogt, Clark Schleicher, Ed Goodreau, JB, Jeffrey Dovner, Jon Goldberger, Keith Odle, Ken Criblez, Mike Clute, Nick Deire, Rob Feaster, Spencer Chrislu, Tim Hatfield, Tony Volante
Executive-Producer – Brown Bannister, Dan Harrell, Michael Blanton
Guitar – Dann Huff, Eddie Martinez, Nick Moroch
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Chris Rodrigues
Horns – Jim Pugh, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker
Keyboards, Drum Programming, Backing Vocals – Michael W. Smith
Keyboards, Programmed By [Fairlight], Drum Programming – Shane Keister
Mastered By – Ted Jensen
Other [Child] – Christopher Copeland
Other [Grooming] – Jody Morlock, Julie Miller Overstreet
Other [Production Coordinator] – Kimberly Smith
Other [Styling] – Beverly Ann Moore
Percussion – Bashiri Johnson
Photography By – Dean Dixon, Larry Williams
Producer – John Potoker, Michael W. Smith
Programmed By [Synclavier] – Steve Schaffer

Companies, etc.
Phonographic Copyright (p) – Reunion Records – 1986
Copyright (c) – Reunion Records – 1986
Manufactured By – Word, Inc.
Distributed By – Word, Inc.
Recorded At – Power Station
Recorded At – Mediasound
Recorded At – Sigma Sound Studios, New York
Recorded At – Soundtrack Studios
Recorded At – Bullet Recording
Recorded At – The Bennett House
Recorded At – Emerald Sound Studios
Recorded At – The Castle Recording Studios
Recorded At – Blue Jay Studios
Mixed At – Blue Jay Studios
Mastered At – Sterling Sound

Michael W Smith – I 2 (Eye) – 1988

Michael W. Smith is back with his 5th album and wow what an album it was. Full disclaimer, I do not like AOR BUT even I think this is a fantastic album. It sold Platinum and was #1 on the Top Contemporary Christian charts. It actually had 7 top 10 singles including 2 #1’s and 2 #2’s. Here is all of them;

Pray For Me #1
The Throne #1
On The Other Side #2
Hand Of Providence #2
I Miss The Way #4
Live And Learn #7
I Hear Leesha #7

This album had a much younger feel than earlier albums but it was approaching the end of the 80’s and that was acceptable at this point in Christian AOR music. I’m not really going to get too deep into the album as I am guessing most of you either had it or listened to it. If not I do suggest you take the time to listen to it. Reading through the credits I noticed Dann Huff (White Heart) played guitar and here’s the real surprise, Michael Sweet & Oz Fox did some background vocals. I’m not really too sure what track they appeared on but I was pretty surprised to find them here.

Tracklist
1 – Hand Of Providence – 4:33
2 – Secret Ambition – 6:26
3 – On The Other Side – 3:40
4 – All You’re Missin’ Is A Heartache – 5:39
5 – I Miss The Way – 4:35
6 – Live And Learn – 6:17
7 – I Hear Leesha – 5:26
8 – Help You Find Your Way – 5:28
9 – Ashton – 3:17
10 – The Throne – 6:49
11 – Pray For Me – 3:52

Credits
Michael W. Smith – keyboards, lead vocals, background vocals (2, 3, 6, 7, 10), horn arrangement (6), drum programming (9)
Dann Huff – guitars (1–8)
Chris Rodriguez – guitars (1, 3, 5, 6, 8), background vocals (4, 6, 8, 11)
Jerry McPherson – guitars (2, 4, 9, 10), acoustic guitar (7)
Billy Sprague – acoustic guitar (11)
Tom Hemby – guitars (6, 8, 10, 11), bass guitar (9, 11)
Mike Brignardello – bass guitar (1–5, 7, 8)
Tommy Sims – bass guitar (6)
Gary Lunn – bass guitar (10)
Paul Leim – drums (1–4, 6, 7, 8, 10)
Terry McMillan – percussion (1, 3, 5, 7, 8), harmonica (1)
Mark Hammond – drum programming (11)
Ronn Huff – string arrangements (5)
Mark O’Connor – fiddles and mandolins (9)
Wayne Kirkpatrick – background vocals (1–8, 10), acoustic guitar (3), drum programming (9)
Chris Harris – background vocals (1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10), recitation (6)
Mark Heimmerman – background vocals (2, 5)
Billy Simon – background vocals (4)
Michael Sweet – background vocals (4)
Oz Fox – background vocals (4)

Companies, etc.
Distributed By – MCA Distributing Corporation
Copyright (c) – Reunion Records, Inc.
Phonographic Copyright (p) – Reunion Records, Inc.
Recorded At – The Bennett House
Recorded At – Deer Valley Studio, Franklin, TN
Recorded At – The Castle Recording Studios
Recorded At – OmniSound Studios
Recorded At – Sixteenth Avenue Sound
Mixed At – Sixteenth Avenue Sound
Mixed At – Masterfonics
Mastered At – Mastermix
Published By – O’Ryan Music, Inc.
Published By – Emily Boothe, Inc.
Published By – Riverstone Music, Inc.
Published By – Whitney Katherine Music, Inc.

Various – The Rock of Gospel – 1987

This is a fascinating sampler album (CD). It came out on Arrival Records, which is a Sublabel of K-Tel International. I had no idea until I found this album that K-Tel had distributed Christian albums. Even more of a surprise for me is that there were several of these albums. The quality of the CD is horrible, but I’ve cleaned up the recordings as best I could. K-Tel’s vinyl releases were well known for their horrible quality which was a result of cheap vinyl and cheap pressing. This album was released on CD so there was no need for the poor quality. I’ve always suspected that the licensing agreements for these songs included a stipulation that the quality be horrible in hopes people would buy the original album.

Include below is the info on which album the songs were released on

Tracklist
1 – Michael W. Smith – You’re Alright – 4:39 – The Big Picture
2 – Petra – Back To The Street – 4:17 – Back To The Street
3 – Leslie Phillips – Love Is Not Lost – 4:03 – Black And White In A Grey World
4 – White Heart – The Beat Of A Different Drum – 4:17 – Don’t Wait For The Movie
5 – David Meece – All Is God’s Creation – 3:48 – Candle In The Rain
6 – Kim Boyce – Love Resurrection – 4:11 – Kim Boyce
7 – Randy Stonehill – Defender – 3:02 – The Wild Frontier
8 – Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart – Crack The Sky – 3:59 – Crack The Sky
9 – Rick Cua – This Raging Fire – 3:53 – Wear Your Colors
10 – Steve Camp – Cheap Grace – 5:11 – One On One
11 – David & The Giants – Cold Lonely Nights – 3:37 – Magnificat
12 – Margaret Becker – Fight For God – 4:06 – Never For Nothing

Companies, etc.
Copyright (c) – K-Tel International (USA), Inc.
Distributed By – K-Tel International (USA), Inc.
Phonographic Copyright (p) – K-Tel International (USA), Inc.

Michael W Smith – The Michael W Smith Project – 1983

The MWS Project introduced us to Michael W Smith, a fresh young musician with stellar keyboard, writing, and arranging skills and a knack for writing catchy worship riffs. The positive, ‘preppy rock’ sound hit most of the popular 80s pop rock notes. His soon-to-be-familiar signature styles get their beginnings here: keyboard-heavy arrangements with plenty of synth; full choirs for backing vocals; emotionally-charged ‘milestone’ lyrics; and the first of many anthem-like worship songs.

Indeed, The MWS Project covers some ground in terms of song types. MWS has always interested me in that he writes for a multitude of occasions and venues, not just moods or subjects. On his debut album we find music for rock concerts, worship services, and even weddings/funerals/graduations:

– high energy biblical storytelling in “Could He Be the Messiah?” and “Be Strong and Courageous” (which always reminds me of Van Halen’s “Jump”)
– high energy exhortations toward the pursuit of Christian living in “The Race Is On” (I saw this in concert, and thought he was going to leap off the stage, he had so much energy), “You Need A Savior” (this lyric warrants some further discussion, but that’s for another time), and “Love In The Light” (this one has stuck with me; every time I read or hear any part of 1 John 2:8-11, it starts playing in my head)
– instrumentals (“Sonata in D Major”, “Looking Up”, “First Light”, “Alpha Overture”)
– a contemplative piece (“Too Many Times”, one of my favourites)

…and of course, two songs firmly entrenched in the collective CCM unconsciousness: Friends, and Great Is The Lord.

One last thought: What was he going for with the original album design?? MWS is a self-professed sci-fi aficionado, so maybe it was meant as a nod to video games, and science fiction movies like Tron… The album was re-released in CD format in 1987 with an updated cover and photo.

*******

Track listing:
1 – Sonata in D Major – 1:13
2 – You Need A Savior – 3:34
3 – Could He Be the Messiah? – 4:28
4 – Too Many Times – 4:25
5 – Be Strong and Courageous – 3:42
6 – Looking Up – 3:23
7 – The Race is On – 3:41
8 – First Light/Love in the Light – 5:30
9 – Friends – 4:16
10 – Great Is The Lord – 2:52
11 – Alpha Overture – 3:40

Credits:
Music
Michael W. Smith – lead vocals, background vocals, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Yamaha GS2 synthesizer, Prophet-5 synthesizers
Shane Keister – OB-X synthesizer, Prophet-5 synthesizers, vocoder
Jon Goin – guitars
Mike Brignardello – bass guitar
Mark Hammond – drums, Roland TR-808 drum machine on “First Light”
Mike Psanos – percussion
Dennis Solee – saxophone
Gary Chapman – background vocals
Jackie Cusic – background vocals
Diana DeWitt – background vocals
David Durham – background vocals
Teresa Ellis – background vocals
Amy Grant – background vocals (“Friends”)
Pam Mark Hall – background vocals
Chris Harris – background vocals
Gary Pigg – background vocals
Kim Smith – background vocals
Production
Michael W. Smith – producer, assistant engineer
Michael Blanton and Dan Harrell – executive producers
Mike Psanos – recording engineer
Brown Bannister – assistant engineer
John Woods – assistant engineer
Jack Joseph Puig – remixing
Recorded at Tree International Studio (Nashville, Tennessee)
Hank Williams – mastering
Mastered at Woodland Sound Studio (Nashville, Tennessee)
Bill Brunt – art direction
Tim Campbell – photography

Rick Elias and the Confessions – (self titled) – 1990

Rick Elias showed up on the CCM music scene in 1990 and wow did he make an entry.

His sound filled a huge empty spot in the CCM music scene. His Springsteen meets Mellencamp sound is done perfectly and yet he makes it his own sound.

The album is a mix of strong rock riffs and excellent acoustic guitar work. The harmonica gives the album a strong Springsteen feel. If you’ve not heard this album you need to listen to it now.

Rick went on to produce artists such as Amy Grant, Aaron Neville, and Michael W. Smith. He also went on to be a founding member of Rich Mullins and a Ragamuffin Band.

Track Listing:
1 – Confession Of Love – 4:04
2 – Streets Of Rome – 4:13
3 – Miles And Miles – 3:21
4 – Before The Fall – 3:33
5 – Someday – 6:14
6 – The Word Is Love – 4:41
7 – Riot (Comin’ On) – 3:20
8 – Without One Word – 5:58
9 – Stones – 5:13
10 – Stripped – 4:00

Credits:
Art Direction – Ed McTaggart
Bass – Danny O’Hanlon
Drums – Bob Sale
Engineer – Dave Jahnsen
Engineer [Additional] – Bill Baumgart
Guitar – Marc Intravaia, Rick Elias
Keyboards – Linda Elias, Rick Elias
Layout – Joe Potter
Mandolin – Marc Intravaia
Mastered By – Chris Bellman
Mixed By – Dave Jahnsen, Rick Elias
Percussion – Bob Sale, Linda Elias
Producer – Rick Elias
Vocals – Linda Elias, Marc Intravaia, Rick Elias
Written-By – Craig Krampf (tracks: 3,6), Rick Elias