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European edition, Sunday, August 19, 2007

With its new album, Casting Crowns is preaching to the choir. But anyone who’s been around Christians for a while knows that the choir — and other active members — sometimes needs to hear that preaching the most.

“The Altar and the Door” offers warning and encouragement to follow through on the message heard in church.

“We all live somewhere between the altar and the door, trying to get the things that we hear at the altar through the door and into our lives,” singer Mark Hall said in an interview with Stars and Stripes this spring.

The album follows “Lifesong,” which landed the band Grammy and Dove awards. It opens with a hit of assertive rock but ends up leaning more toward ballads — a style that’s well suited for the disc’s message.

The opening track is “What This World Needs,” which warns that we don’t need more celebrities with axes to grind, politicians peddling lies or prophets in Armani suits. It needs Jesus. It’s a strong and catchy song. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down in a preachy segment that features people speaking about God. A similar technique appears in “The Word is Alive,” which seeks to remind believers of the truth of the Bible. However, in this case, it works a little better since the song is a ballad set to strings. As a result, I imagine it will be heard at many youth-group meetings this fall.

The disc’s first radio single is “East to West,” which recalls biblical passages describing how far God can separate a person from sin — as far as the East is from the West. The ballad expresses a yearning for peace and for help in the fight against sliding back into misguided patterns.

The title track is a pop-rock duet describing how everything seems so black and white during worship, but quickly turns to shades of gray. The chorus says: “I cry, like so many times before, but my eyes are dry before I leave the floor.”

“Every Man” is a sort of pop ballad that describes how everyone faces fears, concerns and guilt. “Slow Fade” explains how easy it is to slide onto the wrong path. It warns: “A price will be paid when you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day. It’s a slow fade.”

The disc wraps up with a “hidden” song that the band performed during its recent goodwill trip to North Korea. “White Dove” — recorded in both Korean and English — is a simple plea for peace.

The tone of “The Altar and the Door” is often heavy — some might say heavy-handed — but that’s apparently what’s needed when you consider the reputation that Christians have among many nonbelievers.

Visit their site: www.castingcrowns.com

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.

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