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All Star United
Sarah Kelly
Shaun Groves
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Todd Agnew

Ultimate Music Makeover: The Songs of Michael W. Smith - Click to view! ULTIMATE MUSIC MAKEOVER: THE SONGS OF MICHAEL W. SMITH (2005)
It's probably not a huge stretch to say that more than a few members of the Gen-X and Generation Y contingents think of eighties music strictly in terms of secular artists sporting sleeveless tees, aqua eye shadow and ceiling-high hair — or perhaps peg-legged jeans, skinny ties and fake British accents, if they happened to inherit an older sibling's record collection. Either way, those who swear that Christian pop sprung into existence the day that "Flood" hit the mainstream Top 40 will be surprised to know that the music they listen to and love was alive and well during the decade when Saturday morning cartoon characters were short and blue, Ron and Nancy ruled the roost and the "M" in MTV actually stood for music.

No need to tell this to Michael W. Smith. Although he has inarguably garnered more than his share of success in the post-Nirvana world, it was during the Reagan decade that the now 47 year-old West Virginian netted 15 top ten hits on the Christian Hit Radio charts, Dove Awards for Songwriter and Pop Album of the Year (1986's The Big Picture) and a Best Gospel Performance Grammy for his self-titled debut, which first hit the shelves in LP and cassette form some 22 years ago.

Whether consciously paying tribute to the ten years between disco and grunge or merely covering the music they listened to at youth camps and lock-ins, the lion's share of the artists on the Ultimate Music Makeover have chosen Smith's '80s catalog as their starting point. David Crowder reimagines the sweeping crucifixion narrative "Secret Ambition" as a sparkling electronica piece that, surprisingly enough, retains the somberness and warmth of the original pop-inclined epic. Taylor Sorensen's equally engaging adaptation of "Lamu" sounds, for lack of a better analogy, like early U2 covering an extended dance version of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On, Eileen." And Ryan Smith delivers the formerly peppy, synth-driven "The Race Is On" as a poignant, languishing country-rock piece that would have made the late Mark Heard proud.

Elsewhere, as Stevie Nicks might say, things rock a little. Sarah Kelly's invigorating, guitar-driven performance of "You Need A Saviour" features plenty of the terse, start/stop rhythms that carried many an artist through the post-punk and new wave movements of the early '80s. Todd Agnew garnishes "On the Other Side" with enough jangling guitars and soaring melody lines to keep most Gin Blossoms fans happy for a month. Hair metal stalwarts Stryper show that the classic tearjerker, "Friends," still has a few miles left on the odometer as an arena-ready acoustic/electric power ballad. And Shaun Groves offers an absolutely blistering, punk-pop rendition of "Rocketown" that will leave listeners swearing his own albums are the work of a far tamer twin brother.

While Makeover, like most tribute albums, is ultimately more curiosity than necessity, those willing to lend an unbiased ear are apt to find much to admire. Longtime followers will be pleased that the artists involved shed new and interesting light on their respective songs while staying true to the underlying essence and mood that rendered them so endearing to begin with. And latecomers, who think that all of Smitty's songs sound like "Healing Rain" and "This Is Your Time," may well be awed at just how much his old stuff truly rocks. Like Smith's early work itself, the Makeover project is accomplished, accessible and, ultimately, a whole lot of fun. All in all, it stands as an ideal acknowledgment of an exceptionally talented artist.
- Bert Gangl
October 2005

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Smitty's label itself released this one, and thus they have all the juicy details on their website.
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