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Smacking listeners between the eyes with unpleasant truth is something most musicians avoid. Casting Crowns makes it a habit.

The group’s chart-topping single “We Are The Body” asks why so many people feel alienated by Christians when the church is supposed to be the “body of Christ.” The song is a hard-hitting indictment of churchgoers who ignore or reject those in need.

The song strikes a chord with many in youth ministry, which isn’t a surprise since the song was written by Mark Hall, who serves as youth pastor at Eagle’s Landing Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga.

“I’ve been a youth pastor for about 12 years and I wrote it for my students. … They would listen to songs before they would listen to me sometimes,” Hall said.

In fact, Hall sees the group’s musical career as somewhat secondary. “Student ministry is our priority and what we’re all about,” Hall said.

Despite that, Casting Crowns has found musical success in a short time. It was the first new group in two years to send a song to the top of the Christian radio charts, and its CD sales have been hovering in the top 10.

The group’s self-titled debut disc pulls together powerful lyrics, solid vocals and balanced arrangements. Many of the best songs are peppered with thundering guitar riffs, used to pound home important points.

True to its origins in the rugged world of youth ministry, the CD makes some painful observations, such as:

• Many of the world’s problems could be solved if the church stepped up to the plate, in the CD’s opener “What If His People Prayed.”

• Fear easily overwhelms the desire to share a message of hope with a friend, in the earnest and prayerful “Here I Go Again.”

One of the most poignant tracks is the hard-edged “American Dream,” about a father who spends more time building castles of sand than building a healthy family. Hall said it’s a message that most students want to convey to their fathers. It’s a message that many fathers respond to.

“I get a lot of e-mail from dads saying, ‘I’ve got to get a better grip on my schedule,’ ” Hall said. “… It preaches to me. I’ve got three children myself.”

The band’s energy also surges through most of the CD’s praise songs, especially “Praise You With The Dance” and “Glory,” which are certain to get you tapping, thumping or bobbing. However, it also delivers solid performances in the mid-tempo “Voice of Truth” and mellow “Your Love Is Extravagant.”

Hall said he composes most of the lyrics and the basic music but “the band always throws in their stuff so you can really say one person writes the songs.”

Songwriting is a bit of a challenge for Hall because he is dyslexic. What’s that mean?

“Well, I don’t write the songs down,” he said with a laugh.

“I guess, for me, dyslexia and learning disabilities keep you depending on God. … It’s God’s way of keeping us looking to him,” Hall said.

On the Web:

— Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry. It appears every other week on the Religion page.


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