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Mark Schultz knows how to pluck the heartstrings.

His ballads evoke tears and his anthems spark leaps of joy. It’s something that the audience at Fort Hood, Texas, can expect when Schultz performs Thursday at the festivities welcoming 4th Infantry Division soldiers home from Iraq.

Certain to be on the program is “Letters From War” from Schultz’s latest CD, “Stories & Songs.” Schultz based the song on his great-grandmother, who sent three sons to World War II. When he sang the ballad at a recent concert in military-friendly Northern Virginia, most of the audience was in tears.

However, the standout track from “Stories & Songs” is “You Are a Child of Mine.” One of the few songs that relies more on the guitar than the piano, this track is a soaring account of the comfort felt by someone connected with God.

Another great song is “Time That Is Left,” which sneaks a powerful message into a deceptively simple package. “What will you do with the time that’s left/ Will you live it all with no regrets?” It’s a question prompted by the short life of one of the students Schultz worked with as a youth director in Nashville.

Schultz slides one unexpected zinger into the mix with “Running Just To Catch Myself.” This fast-paced tune does excellent job of capturing the hectic pace of modern life through lyric, tone and tempo. It’s certain to raise a smile — then prompt a frown when you recognize yourself.

Most of the remaining tracks are pleasant, mellow and devotional, very suited to Schultz’s adult-contemporary style.

Idol’s Christian debut

Another performer scheduled to share his talents at Fort Hood this week is RJ Helton, who recently released his first CD, “Real Life.”

You might remember him from his top-five finish in the first season of “American Idol.” After the national concert tour and the compilation disc, Helton decided his future was in contemporary Christian music.

Like many of the “Idol” alumni, Helton leans toward pop. Musically, it’s simple pop with a Latin flair, but it’s pretty solid.

And the lyrics are much more significant and spiritual than the typical “Oh baby, I love you” drivel so prevalent on the mainstream market.

Helton’s displays a good vocal range but seems to do his best work on the slower songs, such as “Delicate Child,” “Forgive” and, especially, “Missing Me.” Perhaps that’s because he helped write those songs and has invested more of himself in them. He shares writing credit on about a third of the CD’s dozen songs - including “Canto de Amor,” the disc’s only Spanish song.

If you’re a pop fan, “Real Life” will be worth a try.

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

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