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ROOT (2003)
Root - Click to view!The '90s will always be dear to me. It was the decade when I came of age. When I made my closest friends. When I stopped letting my mom buy my underwear. When I learned my hardest lessons. When I bought my first "real" music albums.

Also birthed in the '90s were a series of compilation albums released by Much Music (the Canadian equivalent of MTV that pre-existed MTV Canada) containing the biggest hits of the year. The albums were called Big Shiny Tunes. I never learned why.

Nevertheless, "big, shiny tunes" is the best phrase I can come up with to describe modern rock group By the Tree's latest collection, Root. It's not the originality of the music or its virtuosity that will attract you to the album, but the ridiculously high production value on this meticulously stylized collection. If songs were tangible objects these would be big and shiny.

Root begins with "Root of it All," a jingly song that introduces the Matchbox 20-meets-Train-meets-Tonic (the one-album wonder band from 1996) sound that pervades the album. Lyrically, it examines the fads that have come and died in recent years and issues a call to all citizens of God's house to return to the love of their Father, which "will transcend through the ages." Next is "I Need You," with a semi-laboured first verse that bumps along with all of the bounces, rattles and hums of a off-road ride in mom's SUV, but is saved by an ethereal chorus that demands that heads be nodded and toes be tapped.

"Far Away" follows, with a barre-chorded intro that sounds like something out of the Relient K catalogue. The vocals and bass line have the sensibilities of a hoe-down south of Dixie-an odd and schizophrenic mix, but not an unpleasant one.

"Your Arms," the ensuing song, is one of the album' best, which begins sounding like a requisite ballad but culminates in a highly emotional, symphonic chorus that—no joke—almost brought tears to my eyes. Another album highlight is the equally moving "Shoot Me Down," a piano-driven rocker that emotes what most Christians have come to understand-that God should have killed us for the things we've done.

Unfortunately, those are all of the positive things I can say about the album. The mentioned songs are (for the most part) truly wonderful, but the rest sounds like filler. "Notes On My Door" has a cheesy, ska-infused feel that's a little too "yesteryear," and other songs are laden with poor melodies and hackneyed phrases. The low point comes with "Confessions (Hearts Are Restless)," which is at times a dead ringer for dc Talk's "Supernatural" and at other times reminded me of the distorted cow dung I played through my guitar amp at age 15.

All told, if you have access to a radio station that will play "Root of It All" and the other songs on this album on a regular basis, don't bother grabbing this album. If not, you might consider picking it up.
- Ben Forrest
January 2004

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