Listen Closely

Smalltown Poets

ForeFront Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/22/1999

Can you say "sophomore slump"?

Sure, you can. I knew you could.

But you had better NOT say it about the Smalltown Poets' sophomore disc, Listen Closely. There wouldn't be a word of truth about it. This disc is better than their 1997 debut in every way - and that debut was one pretty darn good disc.

Listen Closely far exceeds their self-titled debut both musically and lyrically -- and that bodes well for their future and what they will be able to do. The songs here are better defined. The lyrics deeper and yet more accessible. Musically, this is one talented group of guys.

Buoyed by the relentlessly upbeat first single "Gloria," this disc will be playing all over Christian radio stations (and some secular ones if they have any taste at all) all summer.

Exuberant praise drips from this song's lyrics, while it also instructs listeners that the best thing they can do is live what they believe:

"Glory to God/I want to make what I've been feeling show/And I've been living with specific boundary lines/Been given warning signs/It comes down to me/ Singing Gloria/Living Gloria/And the light so shines that everyone will see..."

The temptation for popular CCM bands is to water down their message in hopes of attracting general market acceptance. The Poets cannot be charged on that account. The lyrics here unapologetically speak to their Christian faith. Whether in the disc opener, "Call Me Christian," or the call to peaceful living "The Gospel Is Peace," or the closing "One of These Days" the Poets sing about faith in general and their own faith in particular.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Poets are: Michael Johnston, lead vocals, guitar; Miguel DeJesus, bass, vocals; Kevin Breuner, lead guitar; Danny Stephens, keyboards, vocals; and Byron Goggin, drums.

Johnston, Stephens and Goggin had all played together in various bands since high school - the other two were added in 1996. All the band members contribute to songs that appear on the album.

The writing on this disc is honest - sometimes painfully so. After the release of their debut, the Poets rocketed to instant success. With that success - as with any success - came the flatterers -- and possible distractions. In "New Man" Johnston and DeJesus write about that phenomenon:

"Flatterers can fill a room as readily as this/The devil goes to dinner 'midst their bliss/Following the need will lead me farther from truth's well/Then only to be filled with what I miss/I was full of everything my eyes put on this plate/Full of joy I'm needing less of late"

The song is about redemption as well - understanding that mankind really has nothing of value to present to God. But, by accepting His forgiveness, the Poets write, all can become new creations.

The Poets titled their new disc Listen Closely for many good reasons. Sometimes their lyrics can be a bit symbolic, poetic (hence the name), but they also didn't want their fans just enjoying the disc. They want them to listen closely and probe the words of the songs, focusing on what God may be saying to them.

And here is where the second disc exceeds the first: the lyrics are not as obtuse. There's less symbolic poetry and more lyricism. To be sure, some of this works on many different levels, but that's a good thing. Fortunately, most of the songs work well on the basic first listen approach, as well.

One song on the disc, "Hold It Up To The Light," encourages listeners to take the opportunities that come into their lives and hold them up to "the Light" of Christ and let Him guide them:

"I said 'God will you bless this decision/I'm scared, is my life at stake?'/But I know, if You gave me a vision/Would I never have reason to use my faith?/Now as soon as I'm moving - my choice is good/This way comes through right where I prayed that it would."

From the quality and message of this disc, it seems clear that the Poets did just that with Listen Closely - and God did bless their decisions.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of ForeFront Records, and is used for informational purposes only.