Category Archives: Music Reviews

An Interview with Ralph Hinkley Syndrome

Ralph Hinkley Syndrome, that’s an interesting name for a band. Tell us a little about who you are and the story behind the name.

Yes, thank you for noticing. Wyman and I (Jason) have known each other since “Webster” started airing on TV. Wyman was born into a musical family and his family had a band that was pretty popular in the late 70s (with rockin white-people afros) which explains his heightened musical prowess. Wyman can play pretty much any traditional instrument quite well. As for me, I started playing piano as a kid and was actually doing recitals and reading music until sadly I lost interest. Now, I’m kinda Eddie Van Halen. I don’t really read music, but play entirely by feel. So, it wasn’t until I saw Wyman in fifth grade at the school talent show singing the immortal chorus, “Who ya gonna call…Ghostbusters!”, that I was inspired to play guitar. He actually taught me my first licks on guitar in seventh grade.

Now, as for the unique band name: Wyman and I have played in numerous musical projects together but went our separate ways musically for a number of years. After unearthing some early recordings of a really cool song we started working on many years before, it inspired us to come back together in early ’07 to form this music project. That song consequently ended up becoming our very first track “Lombard Street” and ended up going six weeks in a row to win the New Release Tuesday (NRT) contest.

As far as the name of the project goes. I was sitting at my workstation one day banging my head against the monitor thinking there must be a band name out there for us in the vast sea of musical groups, and I bet it’s right in front of me. I then picked my head up, looked at my desktop wallpaper and there it was. A “Greatest American Hero” wallpaper in all its diffused glory. I then started picking it apart. I thought what about the name of the guy who played him? His name is William Katt. Pretty ordinary and uninteresting right? So, I went on to to look up the character’s name and saw that it was “Ralph Hinkley”. Eureka! That was a really different and catchy name and so I dug deeper into the show storyline to try to come up with some more meaning or inspiration behind the name. I found out that the character “Ralph Hinkley” was a teacher of special needs students who wanted nothing more than to reach his students, but didn’t really know how to accomplish this. He then gets visited by aliens (friendly ones) who gave him a ridiculous costume with special powers, yet he never really learns how to use the suit because he loses the instruction manual in the desert. So, he learns how to fly, but never learns how to land and comes crashing down every time. I looked deeper into this and realized that we are all “Ralph Hinkley’s”. All of us have this incredible and life-changing instruction manual available to us, but how often do we “lose” it and keep it on the shelf to collect dust? We all have good intentions, but honestly how often do we fail and come crashing down again? The prefix was there, the story was in place, now we just needed a suffix to wrap it up. Ultimately I realized that what we all have is a “syndrome”. A condition that we are unable to help or control that we inherited from the first man Adam. Thus “Ralph Hinkley Syndrome” was born.

Your latest single, Only Then, seems to have a different flavor than some of your previous music. What inspired this more worshipful, emotive song?

We’ve all got struggles. Some are nagging and require lifelong battles to overcome. This is a song of admittance of helplessness and gratitude for the spiritual freedom that comes through believing in the sacrifice of the Savior. Not sure the feel of this theme would’ve translated quite as well if we did it in the same aggressive vane as “Hi-Fi”. And you are very correct, this vibe is definitely different than pretty much all of our other songs other than “On Fire” which has some similar characteristics. This my friend is the beauty of being an indie band. Nobody telling us what to do or who to sound like in order to sell more records. We continue to explore and thoroughly enjoy that freedom.

Is Ralph Hinkley moving in a new direction and planning to write more music along these lines or will you continue to stay true to your original, unique sounds?

We’ve always tried to write songs that go far below the surface and address issues that are truly honest and meaningful. We’re very aware that we could easily do our homework and conform our sound and image to match the popular bands and probably arrive at that place that so many bands strive to reach for years and years. However, our musical integrity and passion would get lost in the fray. Our conviction is that our time is so limited on this earth, shouldn’t we be using our gifts and talents in a manner that’s genuine and has an eternal weight attached to it? Especially with the unchurched youth who are seemingly looking around every corner for hope only to come up empty because no one has showed them the way to the only living hope, our Savior Jesus.

What’s the next step for R.H.S. and how can people get in touch with your music?

We are in the midst of remastering our songs and are planning to get our songs on iTunes by this Christmas so definitely keep an eye out there!

Other than that, we plan on continuing to write, record and share our music with the world using the Interwebs and social networks. We think this is the next big thing. We love connecting with fans and have a few ways for peeps to do that as well as listen and hopefully be blessed, encouraged and especially moved by our music.

Connect with the Ralph Hinkley Syndrome on: MySpace | Facebook | Twitter.

Make sure to listen to Ralph Hinkley Syndrome’s latest single, Only Then, right here on Rethink Radio.

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Review: Fiction Family

In a scene dominated by the gentle, hypersensitive sounds of Sufjan Stevens, The Welcome Wagon and Fleet Foxes, Jon Foreman and Sean Watkins finally inject some manliness back into the acoustic guitar.

Fiction Family, the culmination of two of our generation’s most prolific and respected songwriters, debuts as a masterful collection of tales about murder, adventure, lost love, and war that highlight each contributor’s strengths and personalities while managing to defy perceived expectations.

There’s a beautiful carelessness to this project—a work birthed out of rest, friendship, and unabashed innovation. With no immediate deadlines, rules, or formats to follow, Foreman and Watkins embark on a musical journey of the purist, most unadulterated kind. The album keeps one foot in the folk door (a familiar home for both artists) while audaciously messing with everything from techno beats to ’60s pop choirs to fisher price instruments. While the acoustic guitar remains fixed in the foreground, a symphonic cast of unlikely characters join the conversation. Chamber stings, tympanis, accordions and electric fuzz tones somehow manage to play nicely together. A few of the most arresting tracks replace traditional bass lines with resonate piano timbres, dark pounding drones that duel eloquently against intricate finger-picking patterns.

There’s an idea that the farther one departs from the traditional pop format, the less tangible their work becomes to the average listener. Not so with Fiction Family. Wildly inventive and spontaneous (track two entitled “Out of Order” sounds exactly how it reads) the work stands in victorious defiance against a crumbling conventional music industry. Hooks and phrases linger long after their first introduction, and are sure to induce an involuntary foot-tapping episode or two.

It’s the stories, however, that give the project a sense of timelessness. In the spirit of his Season EPs, Foreman channels cultural staples like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, even various Motown voices, conveying raw acoustic narratives like “Betrayal” and “War in My Blood” that read straight out of a great American novel. Watkins attaches his expertise for the hauntingly sorrowful love song that, in his case, always seems to relay more familiar truth than angsty longing. “Elements Combined” sketches the complexities of a woman, an intoxicating mixture of “earth, air, fire, and wine.”

But it’s not all love and war for the Family. Both Watkins and Foreman wrestle with the spiritual complexities of human nature. On “Closer Than You Think” the two critique the widely held notion of heaven as a distant and out of reach destination and suggest it may be “right under your feet.” In traditional Foreman lyrical style, “Prove Me Wrong” is laden with tender screams for affirmation and acceptance as it contemplates every man’s darkest struggles and fears through a solitary voice.

Those who have eased into a level of comfortable enjoyment of Jon Foreman’s solo projects and Watkins’ bluegrass repertoire may be caught off guard by the duo’s progressive departure from the predictable. Those looking for Switchfoot meets Nickel Creek will be disappointed. This is truly a profound exploration deep into the creative wells of two tremendously inventive and forward-thinking songwriters. Fiction Family is genius. It’s progressive without being high-brow, laid-back but fearless.

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CJ is an artist, writer, and cultural commentator with a passion for raising a new generation of innovative artists and forward thinkers.

To download a free mp3 of Fiction Family’s “When She’s Near Me” please click here.

This article was printing in the March/April issue of Rethink Monthly magazine (issue #6).

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Adrian Blackman "Sweet Life" CD Review

With an ease-inducing voice reminiscent of Shaday and musical stylings that reflect her Caribbean heritage, Avion Blackman’s new album Sweet Life is a breezy blend of folk, worship, World, soca, R&B and neo-soul.

Aside from her solo career, Blackman is also a member of the group Christafari. She continues to perform with the band, performing more than 100 shows in 25 countries in 2008 alone, including concerts in the USA, Iceland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, England, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Antigua, Trinidad and Brazil.

Born in Trinidad, Blackman lived in luxury as a daughter of the famous calypsonian, Lord Shorty, who was the inventor of Soca (the pulse of Carnival) and Jamoo music. As a young dreadlocked child, she began singing on stage in front of crowds at 4 years old. That year, her life drastically changed when on a spiritual quest, her father transplanted his massive family to the jungle, where she would spend the next 20 years living seven rugged miles from the remote Indian village of Pirapo.

The Blackman home was a log cabin with no doors, windows, plumbing or electricity. Blackman was home-schooled and her large family (24 brothers and sisters) lived primarily off the land growing virtually everything that they ate. Their days were filled with Bible study, intense rehearsals, various tour dates and regular performances for curious visitors.

Blackman learned the art of harmony while touring and singing background for her father, who took on the name Ras Shorty I after his conversion to Christianity. At 14, she began playing bass for the family band, The Love Circle, and eventually began recording solo material of her own.

In 2003, she moved to Los Angeles and married Christafari founder and lead vocalist Mark Mohr, and subsequently became Christafari’s bassist and one of the group’s vocalists.

Avion Blackman released her debut album, Onyinye, in 2005, and the following year the project was nominated for nine Caribbean Gospel Music Marlin Awards. Blackman took the top honor, becoming the first non-Jamaican to win Album of the Year. She also won Marlin Awards for Contemporary Female Vocal Performance of the Year (“Marvelous Beauty”) and Packaging of the Year. In addition to her solo work and Christafari, Blackman has lent her voice to an assortment of songs for network television, where she can be heard regularly on popular shows such as General Hospital and One Life to Live.

On her new album, Blackman combines honest worship with island rhythms.

Some songs, like ‘Sweet Life,’ have jazz undertones, and are the perfect compliment to a Sunday afternoon drive around town.

“On ‘Sweet Life,’ I unapologetically sing about the sweetest life of all,” Blackman says. “The abundant and eternal life that is freely given to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.”

Other songs on the album, like “It Is For Freedom,” incorporate melodious Caribbean melodies minus the steel drums. Blackman’s music introduces spiritual themes, from forgiveness to progressing in the spiritual walk, to trusting God.

For more information, visit Adrian Blackman’s web site at www.avionblackman.com.

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This article is printed in the January/February 2009 issue of RETHINK Monthly.

Lindsay Goodier is a journalist living in Houston, Texas who loves the beach, sailing and running.

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Music: Josh Hilliker

These days, especially as an independent artist, it seems nearly impossible to break through. Even when you can you are forced to connect with an ever-changing culture while also being “unique”, this can prove to be a daunting task. Worship artist Josh Hilliker has figured it out though, Josh’s soothing vocals, pleasing melodies, and uplifting original lyrics touch believers – and unbelievers – of all ages. Shortly after arriving on the scene Josh began drawing early comparisons to John Mayer, Shane & Shane and Bebo Norman, Josh has found his own unmistakable original sound – a smooth blend of folksy pop, blues and soul-stirring worship.

A singer/songwriter, worship leader, and “music minister’s kid” from Tuscaloosa, AL, Josh grew up in church singing hymns of the faith. Learning to play guitar at an early age, he pursued music by playing in local rock bands throughout high school and college. At the age of 19 he felt called to use his musical gifts to serve Christ. Josh says, “God revealed to me that I was using the gifts He had given me to glorify myself. I was playing college baseball and playing in a rock band so from the outside it looked like a pretty cool lifestyle, but inside I was a wreck. I realized that day that God had a plan for my life and I surrendered to follow Him.”

Over the past few years, Josh has been traveling across the southeast, performing at churches and venues of all sizes and sharing the stage with some of Christian music’s top artists like Casting Crowns, Big Daddy Weave, Shane & Shane, Warren Barfield, Aaron Shust and Shawn McDonald. He has also appeared in CCM, Relevant, and Power Source magazines, been featured on the Gospel Music Channel’s Music Download Monday (gospelmusicchannel.com), and led worship for World Changers, Centrifuge and Student Life camps. While admitting he has grown immensely as a songwriter and performer from these “stage” experiences, it’s his “life” experiences, and a fresh call to authenticity, that are beginning to shape his ministry. “I’m learning to embrace vulnerability,” he says. “I want to be as transparent as I can in both my writing and my performances so that Christ, and only Christ, is glorified. I’m not perfect and I don’t have it all together… and if I’m honest about my struggles, and honest about my weaknesses, then people will see God’s grace at work in a real person’s life.”

Josh’s debut CD, Where Can I Run? (January 2005), earned rave reviews from Power Source and grassrootsmusic.com and his first single, “Sail Away”, received airplay nationwide. Josh Hilliker Live (March 2007), his second project, features two new original songs, covers of popular worship songs like “All The Earth” and “More Precious Than Silver”, and a bonus studio track of his latest single, “Who Is Like You”, winner of the Indie New Music Challenge six weeks in a row (newreleasetuesday.com).

Currently, Josh is writing for his second studio album set to be produced by award winning producer Scotty Wilbanks (Third Day, Decemberadio, Echoing Angels), Josh has also recently signed with Consumed Artist Agency, a premier indie booking and management agency based out of Atlanta, GA. Josh, his wife Amy, and their two little girls, Campbell Joy and Rilee Elizabeth, make their home in Tuscaloosa where – when not on the road – Josh can be found leading worship at Capstone Church on the University of Alabama campus.

With two successful recording projects and his touring schedule rapidly expanding, Josh is accepting God’s call on his life and music. “I’m excited about what the future holds, “ he says. “God has blessed us in so many ways, and despite all of my failures, He has always been faithful. You know, I am inconsistent… but He is consistent. I am weak in so many ways, but He is the definition of strength. His grace is tangible… it’s real… and that’s the message I want to share. That’s what I want to write and sing about.”

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Be sure to check Josh out at www.joshhilliker.com and Josh’s music is now available at grassrootsmusic.com, cdbaby.com, independentbands.com and on iTunes.

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The Anatomy of a Hip-Hop Artist

We took a minute, well several, and sat down with independent hip-hop artist Braille. We met for lunch at the Wild Pear in downtown Salem. He ordered hummus. Then we drilled him on life, hip-hop and his latest album. This is what he had to say.

RETHINK MONTHLY: SO IS IT RAPPER, HIP-HOP ARTIST, OR AM I COMMITTING A SIN BY EVEN ASKING?
BRAILLE: It all depends on who you talk to. I’m not the kind of guy who gets all caught up by labels. Labels are objective – just somebody’s opinion. So, I’m a rapper but rap is just one of four elements of hip-hop. You have break dancing. You have graffiti. You have rap and you have a DJ. So a hip-hop artist is someone who embraces all four elements and therefore embraces the culture of hip-hop. So I’m a rapper but I’m a part of the hip-hop culture. But I don’t care at this point – I’m fine with someone just calling me a musician or a poet – because ultimately your product is going to speak for itself.

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN THE HIP-HOP SCENE?
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. My parents split up when I was young. My mom got a job over in New Jersey, so we packed up and moved over there during high school. After high school, I didn’t go to college but moved out to L.A. – sort of my college for music – and became a homeless musician; sleeping on floors, gaining life experience. You know, life experience in music is just as important as learning to make the music. You can train someone how to make the music but if there’s no life behind it, no experience behind it, then they really don’t have anything to share with their audience. It’s when you get past the training and get to the ‘living it out’ that you start having something to say.

SO YOUR LIFE STORY BECOMES YOUR TRADEMARK?
Yeah, it’s like this is who I am, this is what I do and if you relate to this and like this, then I’m going to keep feeding it to you.

THAT BEING SAID, WHAT IS YOUR TRADEMARK?
Passionate lyricism. There’s more curiosity to who I am as a person than how good of a rapper I am. I started out rapping as a thirteen year old kid. And a lot of people saw me try to do my thing when I was young, awkward, but they saw that I was working hard and going for it. Now thirteen years later, I’m married, have a kid and people are seeing that I’m still going for it and still standing for what I believe. For me, my trademark is just me. I sit down and make songs. I don’t look at what’s popular in the industry, I do what I like and do what sounds good to me and I’ll keep moving forward and keep trying to develop.

ALL YOUR MUSIC HAS A SPIRITUAL SIDE. IS THAT INTENTIONAL OR DOES IT JUST COME OUT?
As much as I’d like to say that it’s this huge intentional, well thought out plan of how I represent, I’m not really into that idea. I’m not in to manipulating who I am and what I do to make it appealing. I make a record like anyone else would make a record. The Bible says “from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So I’m like, “whatever is in my heart, that’s what I want to come out.” And when it comes out, if there’s not enough God in there, it’s because there’s not enough God in my heart.

YOUR LATEST ALBUM, “THE IV EDITION,” IS IN STORES NOW. THAT’S GOT TO FEEL PRETTY GOOD, DOESN’T IT?
Right now I look at it as progress. It’s not like there are twenty copies on every Best Buy shelf in America but it is available. I have a bigger machine behind me now but I still have to work hard to make it successful. Like if I were to go to sleep for a year, I don’t think my record would progress on its own during that time. I have to promote it to make people aware that it’s out there. It’s feast or famine.

WHAT DOES THE “IV” MEAN ON YOUR NEW ALBUM?
It’s the fourth edition – my fourth solo record – but at the same time, its word-play. In hospital terms, the IV puts medicine in the vain. It’s a metaphor relating to social illness – medicine for social illness. Our society is ill and we see the effects of our illness – like water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. We have people in our society who are ill because their simple basic needs are not being met. In that same sense, a lot of the other illnesses that are going on in our world, roots from being ill with sin and that sin is causing us to do things that are destroying ourselves and each other. Because of that, we need mercy and grace for our illness. And ultimately, this album offers Jesus Christ as the remedy and the redemption for our illness.

SO WHAT WOULD BE THE ONE THING YOU’D LIKE TO LEAVE US WITH?
I’m not sure who’s reading this and what their situation is, but I know that God is capable of turning their situation around, their problem around. I don’t know what that looks like for everybody but I can simple say that I’ve seen the turnaround in my own life. From the regular old kid with double XL clothes that didn’t fit his body, braces on my face and then seeing the transformation happen as I started following God. Taking all my passions and desires and shaping them into something that has value and bringing me to a place where I can see that value and taste that value. The point is that I’m aware of God and want others to be aware of him too. Again, I don’t know where people are at, but I do know there’s is a God who loves them.

Connect with Braille:
www.braillehiphop.com
www.myspace.com/braillebrizzy
braillehiphop@hotmail.com

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