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Upstairs - Click to view! I admit, I'm more than likely doing a disservice to this duo by reviewing their CD Upstairs. I didn't realize that this project was a best-of collection stripped down to coffeehouse style. I didn't understand that this was a collaboration recorded "on the side" from the mainstream pulse of the band. And as fate would have it, this is the very first Shane and Shane album I've ever laid ears on.

Due to this conundrum, I can only review this album from the position of a freshman in the school of this apparently very popular pair (how else could they put out nine CDs?). But in my ignorance I hear a sound I thoroughly enjoy. These guys have folk/jazz-infused voices reminiscent of Aaron Neville; they sometimes make me miss words but never the pulse of the song. The almost-frantic guitars keep my feet moving and my fingers itching to play along.

These songs are quite simplistic praise songs (and one "chick song," as they label it). The lyrics abandon fancy imagery for the sake of eternal truth. There's no fear to repeat, "I will wait on You" several times ("Psalm 13"). Traditional images, such as being broken for the Lord, occur multiple times in songs like "I Want It All": "Use me, break me, waste me on You, Lord / Ruin me, take me, waste me on You / For to die is to live."

Of course, this doesn't mean that Upstairs is a ho-hum collection of "been there, done that" material. "I Miss You" stands as the strongest track of the album both musically and lyrically. The opening verse reads, "Put down your paper plate / Come to the table made / Deep blue china / Found on the table by the wine / So fine." The voices converge on the chorus with grand strength, and the instrumental climax centers on, "Oh, I miss you so / The feel of forever." Time and time again this track caught my attention long before I learned the lyrics.

Initially, as is the case with "I Miss You," the listener gets lost in the music, and then the lyrics arrive with concrete force that might not punch as hard if they were softened with multiple adjectives. There is a definite masculine quality to the lyrics thanks to their sparseness, but the gentleness that shines through Shane Barnard's and Shane Everett's tenor vocals keeps both genders engaged. The tempos allow for meditative reflection, and cries like, "Lord I want to yearn for You / I want to burn with passion / Over You / And only You" ("Yearn") reverberate in the hungry heart, no matter the listener's color, race, gender or creed.

While one would classify this disc as a worship album, it isn't one for general congregational worship. I suppose some of the songs could be used in that manner ("Beauty For Ashes," for example), but a heaviness does hang on the tracks. By "heaviness," I mean a contemplative flair that might not be seen in Sunday morning worship services. Yes, "Psalm 13," "May The Few," and "The Answer" contain that frenzied guitar sensation I alluded to earlier. But in the long run, this album will serve quite nicely as a precursor to prayer, or as filler instrumentation for the reading of Scripture.

Despite my unawareness of Shane and Shane's musical career and ministry, Upstairs refuses to disappoint. If you're already a long-time fan, I imagine this to be a necessary addition to the collection. And if you're like me, a stranger on the outskirts of knowledge, this best-of sampling still serves as good introductory material.
- Hollie N. Stewart
September 2005
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