Various Artists

Downstream: A Weathervane Compilation

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This is the introductory sampler for WeatherVane Music, which was established in 1998. The liner notes offer a strange definition for the new label's niche ("grassroots music, by which we mean artists who interact directly with their fans"), which consciously overlooks the most obvious common bond between their artists: Christianity. This may seem like an attempt at stealth evangelism -- and in some measure it may be -- but the main mission of the label is to provide a platform for a group of spiritually minded musicians who want to avoid the stigmatization and creative censorship that plague many musicians in the ghettoized Christian Contemporary Music industry. It's also a means of cross-promoting a group of similar artists, many of whom share a common (and growing) fan base: coffee shop-going Christians who are suspicious of the CCM industry. Unlike the products of Word Records, which is rumored to enforce a minimum quota of references to Jesus Christ, there are few overtly religious lyrics here. Musically, the quality is uneven. Several of the songs are better produced than written, and a few fail to shake the distinctive mannerisms of CCM pop. But others display talent which deserves greater recognition. The Californian neo-country duo of Hughes and Wagner show considerable polish and proficiency. Harrod and Funck are acoustic hypnotists, with a sound so original it already has imitators. One of those imitators is their college chum Claire Holley, who also appears on this disc. Her beautifully produced folk lullaby "Sleep, Sleep" sends a polyphony of guitar sounds bouncing off all available walls. Rob Deeble's "Rock a Bye" is an interesting, if somewhat saccharine, duet with Victoria Williams (a guru in both Christian and secular circles).

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