It’s becoming more and more commonplace to release deluxe editions of albums that include a bonus DVD with a concert on it. For that reason, this edition of The DVD Experience explores CD/DVD releases from MercyMe, David Phelps, and Red. It’s also becoming the norm to release videos independent of a record label, hence the new Switchfoot DVD released under the radar. Rounding out this edition are three gospel projects for Myron Butler & Levi, Marvin Sapp, and a mix of classic performances simply titled The Very Best of Praise & Worship.
Myron Butler & LeviMercyMeDavid PhelpsRedMarvin SappSwitchfootThe Very Best of Praise & Worship
Myron Butler & Levi
Stronger (EMI Gospel)
The Good: On video, Myron Butler & Levi prove why they’re one of the most exciting things to happen to contemporary gospel. Butler is a consummate leader and performer, exposing Kirk Franklin-like qualities as he leads his talented ensemble and band through 10 spot-on selections from the group’s first two albums, Set Me Free and Stronger. From the latter, the funky “Jesus Saves” sizzles, the amped-up “I Live” rocks, and “Unrestrained” is worshipful gospel-pop. Stronger is stylistically all over the place, but never disjointed.
The Bad: Unfortunately, Butler and crew get the Clark Sisters treatment, going the cost-effective route by enlisting Gospel Music Channel to produce the show. As a result, things are more like a Bobby Jones special than a one-of-a-kind concert from one of the most promising acts in contemporary gospel.
The Bottom Line: Brevity aside, Stronger is a great visual companion to the album of the same name, as well as good indicator of Myron Butler & Levi’s rising star in music.
All That Is Within Me – Collector’s Edition (INO)
The Good: Fans who have yet to pick up MercyMe‘s All That Is Within Me may want to spring for the Collector’s Edition, which includes a DVD featuring their opening concert preceding Audio Adrenaline‘s farewell show in Hawaii. Those wanting to catch the band live performing some of their biggest songs will find much to savor, as nearly all of the band’s biggest singles are here, including “I Can Only Imagine,” “Word of God Speak,” “Spoken For,” “Here With Me,” “In the Blink of an Eye,” “Bring the Rain,” and “Hold Fast.”
The Bad: I just listed the entire set list. Ironically, there’s nothing from the new album in the concert. Of course, they hadn’t written the material yet, which is why you’ll also find a making-of documentary. The real problem with the live show is that the production values aren’t quite up to the level of the band’s previous live DVD. Maybe it’s because this isn’t really their show, but Audio Adrenaline’s?
The Bottom Line: Ardent fans will likely enjoy this “collector’s edition.” Everyone else is better served with MercyMe – Live.—Farias
No More Night: David Phelps Live In Birmingham (Essential)
The Good:David Phelps‘ vocal talents and showmanship skills are indisputable, whether performing as a solo artist or as part of the Gaither Vocal Band years ago. He’s all smiles and shimmering pipes throughout this spread of Southern gospel, pop, praise, and Broadway-esque material, covering all new territory since his last live project, 2006’s Legacy of Love: David Phelps Live!
The Bad: Phelps’s passion for outreach is admirable, and the set list is different than Legacy, but No More Night is still loaded with cliché-drenched songs and production annoyances—from the purposefully jerky camera angles on the dance pop opener “No Place” to the corny interview segments that regularly interrupt the flow of the live show. In spite of the varied camera work, this collection was likely filmed on a modest budget, wrapped around rather unimaginative production techniques. Many of these missteps could have been forgiven for some insightful extras, but even there the project falls short—all that’s offered is a pair of commercials, plugging the previous live project and last year’s Christmas CD, One Wintry Night. The only true bonus feature is the CD of the same concert that accompanies the DVD—at least there are no interview interruptions when listening to that.
The Bottom Line: No More Night could have been billed as Legacy of Love II. Faithful fans devoted to Phelps’s impressive vocal will want this simply because they don’t. For everyone else, it’ll seem more like a matinee show in Branson. —Andy Argyrakis
End of Silence Deluxe Edition (Essential)
The Good: Since the rock band’s debut in 2006, Red has only stepped up its live show, including some tour time with mainstream heavy hitters like Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, and Seether. End of Silence Live—offered as part of the deluxe edition of their first album—brings the band’s bellowing pop-metal to the intimate confines of The W in Nashville (where they made their debut to Gospel Music Week audiences two years ago). These guys are firing on all cylinders here, turning in pummeling scorchers like “Wasting Time,” “Hide” and “Let Go.” All are wrapped around simple but effective production, ably capturing the club-like atmosphere with quick intercuts of the stage and audience. But the most effective editing comes during the acoustic “Pieces,” which begins in black and white, then fades into color as the ballad builds to a crescendo. In addition to the concert, there’s a “Drops of Red” documentary and “Video Blogs From the Road,” which includes a humorous bit involving a false fire alarm at a hotel during the band’s tour.
The Bad: With just one album under Red’s belt, the band’s set list is understandably lean. Still, is that all there is? No cover songs, new songs, or the remaining tracks from End of Silence?
The Bottom Line: End of Silence Live is a little short, but nonetheless an explosive documentation of Red at its performance peak, offering just the right amount of extras to give curious fans a virtual backstage pass. Fans who already have the first album can buy this edition with confidence, thinking of it as a DVD with the CD included as a bonus. —Argyrakis
The Good: As far as contemporary gospel goes, the music portion of Thirsty doesn’t get much better than this. Marvin Sapp nails every song with ease, but it’s music director Aaron Lindsey and vocal arranger Myron Butler who truly take the band and vocalists to the next level. In fact, it’s more fun to watch the choristers and instrumentalists than Sapp himself, who seems a little like he’s going through the motions, by comparison. Still, he remains in charge, and as far as top-notch gospel concerts are concerned, Thirsty fits the bill.
The Bad: It looks a little too much like a church gig than a concert production. Recorded live at Resurrection Life Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the performance bears all the identity marks of a mega-church service, with just venue lighting and a gaping distance between the artist and audience.
The Bottom Line: The DVD version of the best-selling gospel album of 2007 is just like its audio counterpart: well-performed, but unremarkable.—Farias
Live at the Ventura Theatre (lowercase people)
The Good:Switchfoot rebounds from their disappointing Live in San Diego DVD from 2004 with this far more impressive effort. The project is independently released through their official site, but the production values are top-notch thanks to the work of Live Nation Studios. The visuals are excellent, as apparent from the opening blasts of “Stars” and “Politicians,” which set off a fast-paced show propelled by several strategically placed cameras that light up every corner of the venue (especially when frontman Jon Foreman ventures out into the audience during “Shadow Proves the Sunshine”). Even with his return to the traditional stage setting for the anthemic “Awakening,” the band’s energy is apparent throughout.
The Bad: Foreman’s charisma carries the show, but his vocals waver noticeably as the evening progresses—which is unfortunate considering the band’s biggest songs (“Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move”) are saved for last. The extras are quite scarce, aside from a pointless 90-second documentary. There are three bonus songs too—”Company Car,” “We Are One Tonight,” and “Burn Out Bright.” But why aren’t these included as part of the main show (especially when they’re listed as part of the set list on the back cover)? For that matter, the full set list is seen in the liner notes and the documentary, indicating that concert favorite “Dirty Second Hands” is inexplicably absent from this video.
The Bottom Line: The shadow really truly proves the sunshine in this case. Despite a few blunders and strange omissions, this is a generally cohesive, compelling, and smartly produced concert from Switchfoot’s 2007 tour that adequately hints at just how excellent their live show is. —Argyrakis
The Very Best of Praise & Worship (Verity/Legacy)
The Good: Some of gospel’s most definitive church-based selections from the past decade and beyond are compiled in The Very Best of Praise & Gospel. Legacy Recordings went to the vaults of the Verity, GospoCentric, and Integrity labels, uncovering a number of classic performances, including Kirk Franklin‘s “Hosanna,” Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise,” Byron Cage’s “The Presence of the Lord Is Here,” Donnie McClurkin’s “I Call You Faithful,” Commissioned’s “We Shall Behold Him,” Yolanda Adams‘ “Through the Storm,” and Israel & New Breed‘s “Again I Say Rejoice.”
The Bad: Some performances fare better than others since not all of them were transferred to the DVD format from their original VHS release—Smallwood’s track is noticeably lesser quality. Also, Mary Mary’s “Shackles (Praise You)” isn’t really live, but merely a music video for the hit song.
The Bottom Line: With performances this strong, there’s no way to go wrong. This is truly an impressive video sampler for the gospel enthusiast.—Farias