Phantom Tollbooth Review

Soul Audio  Review

Gospel Music Channel

Christian Music Planet.com

 

Phantom Tollbooth Review

By:  Michael Dalton 

I Turn to You
Artist: Richie McDonald
Label: Independent
Length: 10 tracks/39:05 minutes

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County and gospel music continue to intersect on “I Turn to You” by Richie McDonald. This is the latest offering from an increasing number of country artists recording inspirational songs.

What sets this apart is a modern country sound—a combination of guitar driven pop/rock and ballads with not even a whisper of pedal steel. Big guitars are heard on the majority of the songs.

The straightforward lyrics are what you would expect from country music, but the words are all inspirational. The repeated mention of what Christ has done on the cross is a welcome surprise. No stories of love lost and found, but plenty of comfort and a hint of challenge on songs about living the Christian life. A couple of songs focus on reaching out to others, but most relate to finding refuge in God during hard times.

McDonald wrote or co-wrote all but two of the ten songs. Having grown up in a Christian home, McDonald for the first time is sharing his faith through music. “I want to touch people with songs that really mean something to them. I want to do my best to sing songs that can really make a difference in someone’s life,” McDonald says.

This CD reveals an accomplished singer and songwriter. One of the most beautiful moments is the tender “Faith.” This is one of two acoustic numbers. The chorus is accompanied by a lovely melody, “Faith gives you hope. Hope gives you strength. Strength gives you courage to go on each day. When you’re praying for answers to things you can’t change; when it’s out of your hands, you hold on to faith.”

One of my favorites is “Handle With Prayer.” It’s a classic country rocker with guitars reaching skyward. McDonald’s voice takes flight on a chorus that ends with the simple but memorable thought, “Life is fragile, handle with prayer.”

Richie McDonald is best known as the lead vocalist for the country band Lonestar. After more than a dozen years with the platinum-selling group, McDonald and his wife felt like God wanted him to move on.

This marks his debut as a solo artist. This has a familiar country music sound, but McDonald does an excellent job of articulating his faith in a natural way that doesn’t let the music take a back seat to the message.

 

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 Soul Audio  Review

 

The country genre is like musical vodka: straightforward, addictive, and potentially fatal in case of an overdose. Richie McDonald’s I Turn to You, his first solo release since leaving the vocal helm of established country band, Lonestar, in 2007, is a smooth blend of two parts country (vocals, songs) and one part rock (instrumentation.) This album doesn’t push any boundaries, and the lyrical content mostly lingers at the pedestrian level, but gosh darn it, this guy’s voice is so pleasant and familiar, somehow the lack of innovation just doesn’t matter.

It’s easy to understand Lonestar’s decade-and-a-half successful run. McDonald’s voice is silky flannel, less twangy than Randy Travis, but with the closed tone and inflection peculiar to country music. When he sings the chorus of “Stay With Me Lord,” he sounds like MercyMe’s Bart Millard on “I Can Only Imagine.” His phrasing is clear and concise, so that you never miss a word. Not that it matters because the words are embarrassingly predictable. Let’s see if you can finish this Easter lyric: “They said that they killed Him/ The word quickly spread/ Just three days later He …[blank blank blank blank] ” (”He’s Alive.”)

To be fair to McDonald, who co-wrote eight of the CD’s ten tracks, and who has a successful collaborative songwriting history (including the Lonestar philosophical mindbender, “Two Bottles of Beer,”) country music is known for its simple themes. The song titles on I Turn to You, including the title track, pretty much sum up everything; “Faith.” “He’s Alive.” “What Would He Do” (a variation on the bracelet theme.) “Blessed Are the Hands That Give.” The sixth track springs from that quintessential country song structure, the verbal twist on a cliché: “The only place I had to look/ Was there inside that book/ Life is fragile/ Handle with prayer.” (”Handle with Prayer.”)

McDonald includes an acoustic version of Lonestar’s “Hey God,” a prayer-based narrative based on his own life. The soft guitar and light strings perfectly complement the song’s soul-scorchingly direct lyrics. “Hey God, take good care of my nephew/ He was only 19, they say he didn’t feel a thing/ Now he’s there with You/ Hey God, You know what it’s like to lose/ Someone who You truly love/ When You gave Your son to us/ You must have cried then, too.”

This is not a three-chord album. It’s mostly guitar-driven, mellow instrumentation with a rock beat and snippets of electric guitar solos that are anything but hillbilly. There are some graceful, intermittent acoustic moments, such as the mandolin on “Blessed Are The Hands That Give” and acoustic fingerpicking on “Faith.”

However, the track that stands heads above the others is “Walls,” written by McDonald, Matt Johnson, Gary Baker, and best-selling Christian novelist, Karen Kingsbury. McDonald’s voice begins softly, losing much of its Lonestar tone, and launches into a song laced with melancholy chords, asynchronous toms, and soft harmony that’s, well, refreshingly contemporary. “When the walls fall down/ And you find the truth/ Shadows run for cover/ The light comes shining through/ Every chance you take/ Is your saving grace/ There’s a calm inside your soul that’s only found/ When the walls fall down.” Should he decide to make a second inspirational album, and I hope he does, McDonald should move in the direction of this song, which is lyrically and instrumentally a cut above the rest.

The great appeal of I Turn To You is that the vocals and tunes are as familiar and comfortable as slipping on your fuzzy robe and slippers. Evangelists take note: given McDonald’s clearly articulated presentation of the axioms of Christianity, and the popular appeal of simple songs set to pop/rock, this type of album may be the perfect vehicle for spreading the gospel message in non-English speaking countries. For the rest of us, listening is just a guilty pleasure.

 

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Gospel Music Channel

 

To be content in your personal life is a blessing, but to become too content in one’s career is courting complacency. That’s a risk singer/songwriter Richie McDonald has never taken. As the lead vocalist for the award-winning country group Lonestar, McDonald’s warm, evocative voice was the driving force behind such chart-topping country hits as “Amazed,” “No News” and “I’m Already There.”

However, in 2007, after more than a dozen years with the platinum-selling group, McDonald stunned the Country community by announcing he was leaving Lonestar for a solo career. Now on the brink of an exciting new chapter in his career, McDonald is fulfilling a lifelong dream with the release of I Turn to You, an inspirational album that provides the Texas native a platform to share his beliefs and celebrate his faith.

“I’ve always wanted to do this kind of album. I just thought it was time,” says McDonald, who wrote or co-wrote all but two songs on the project. “I just feel like I’m doing music that really makes a difference. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing now and it feels right in my heart.”

McDonald has always been an artist who has followed his heart and created music that reflected his values. During his tenure with Lonestar, the band connected with Country audiences via such family-friendly hits as “My Front Porch Looking In” and “Mr. Mom.” Lonestar placed 27 singles on Billboard’s country chart with nine of those reaching No. 1. “Amazed” spent eight weeks at the top of the country singles chart and became a huge crossover hit that placed the band on top of the Billboard Hot 100.

An award-winning songwriter, McDonald penned many of Lonestar’s best-known tunes as well as writing hits for Billy Dean, Heartland, Clay Walker and Sara Evans. In addition to his musical endeavors, McDonald is well known for his support of numerous charitable causes including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Feed the Children, the Minnie Pearl Cancer Center and the Children’s Miracle Network.

Between his songwriting, humanitarian endeavors and busy touring schedule, McDonald was one of Nashville’s busiest artists. He decided he wanted to make a change and in 2007, McDonald announced he was leaving Lonestar. “My wife, Lorie, and I talked about it and prayed about it. It was a tough decision because I was leaving a very successful group,” he says, “but I just felt like God had other plans for me. I still wanted to be a country artist, but there were other kinds of music that I wanted to do as well.”

A devoted family man, McDonald also wanted to spend more time with Lorie and their three children. “I wanted to slow down a little bit and spend time with my family,” he says. “That’s real important to me because the kids are 12, 9 and 6 right now and I just feel like it’s time for me to give back to them something that they were robbed of and that was my time. It doesn’t mean I’m retiring. I’m still going to go out and spread my testimony through my music. I want to touch people with songs that really mean something to them. I want to do my best to sing songs that can really make a difference in someone’s life.”

McDonald grew up in a Christian home and his relationship with God has been a constant in his life. “I remember going to church as a young kid in Dallas,” he says. “My parents just always instilled great things in us and helped us with our faith. It’s always been strong and I feel like God has always had his hand in everything that has happened in my life.”

Music was also an integral part of McDonald’s life growing up. “Being in Texas, there were a lot of influences. George Strait was huge along with Kenny Rogers, The Eagles, Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Arnold, Mac Davis and John Denver,” he says. “I always listened to different types of music and was inspired by all kinds. Dallas Holmes was a big influence. I love his music and it was a big part of my life.”

When he began pursuing music professionally, Country music became the path he chose. “I just felt like Country music was my calling,” he says. “That’s where I was supposed to be and that’s where my heart was leading me.”

On I Turn to You, McDonald combines his love of Country music with his heartfelt desire to spread the gospel to a hurting world. “Stay With Me Lord” is a prayerful plea to feel the comforting presence of our holy father. “Faith” is a poignant ballad about the hope and strength found in faith. “I wrote that with Frank Myers and Jason Eustice,” says McDonald. “We wrote it last year and it was about the same time that I was kind of struggling with all my decisions. I just feel like it is one of those songs that could really make a difference in someone’s life if they are going through the same kind of situation that I was going through. When you are looking for an answer to all these questions, sometimes you don’t realize that God is leading you down a path. Sometimes you just wake up and go, ‘Ah, that’s why I’m doing this!’”

Produced by McDonald’s longtime friend, Frank Myers, I Turn to You is a compelling collection of songs that both entertain and inspire. “What Would He Do” challenges believers to live a life that would make Jesus proud. “Handle with Prayer” is a testament to the power of prayer to clear our confusion and heal our souls.

The project also includes an acoustic version of “Hey God,” a song already familiar to Lonestar fans. “It’s just one of those songs that’s close to my heart,” McDonald says. “It was written about things that have happened in my life. It’s always been a personal favorite of mine and when I made the decision to leave Lonestar, I wanted to cut it again and I just felt like it would be a perfect fit for this record. I’ve always just loved the vocal, guitar and string version. There’s something really intimate about it. It tells the truth loud and clear.”

I Turn to You is a finely crafted album, filled with great songs brought vibrantly to life by one of the finest voices in Country music, but to McDonald it is so much more. It’s the most personally satisfying album of his career. It’s a labor of love that showcases the faith in God that permeates every corner of his life.

“Having faith gets you through hard times,” he says. “It gives you something to believe in and I feel like that’s what has got me through all these years. My faith has gotten me through everything.”

 

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  COUNTRY MUSIC VETERAN SETS HOPES HIGH WITH FIRST CHRISTIAN MUSIC RELEASE

From:  ChristianMusicPlanet.com

 

It’s not everyday the lead vocalist for a superstar country band steps down to pursue a solo career, a risky move. But last year, Richie McDonald did just that. Shocking millions of fans, the acclaimed singer/songwriter resigned from his 12-year post as Lonestar’s award-winning front man in order to spend more time with his family and to fulfill a lifelong dream of recording an album focused on faith. McDonald’s first solo release, I Turn to You, converts that dream into a reality.

Growing up in the church, McDonald has long desired a forum in which he could outlet his specific beliefs in a way that didn’t always fit into the arenas of a platinum-selling country act. Taking the evocative vocal that made “Amazed” and “I’m Already There” smash hits, the Texas native lends his signature to 10 original songs of faith, helping pen all but two of the CD’s tracks.

 Blatant affidavits of faith like the radio-ready opener “Carry the Cross” and “Handle with Prayer” might as well be the next Lonestar singles with tight production and hooky choruses. The title cut issues an impeccable production of melody and lyric, making its election as the first radio single a no-brainer. And the simple accompaniment of McDonald’s vulnerable vocal on the achingly honest album closer, “Hey God,” forms a beautiful offering of thanks for life—the good and the bad.

McDonald’s solo move is not unparalleled. Since popular music’s inception, the Gospel music industry has deservedly hosted the inspirational side projects of many musical celebrities. Disappointingly, these projects often fail to live up to the artist’s mainstream releases, suffering from lower budgets or a capitalist mentality, using fame to sell merchandise to a large church demographic.

McDonald’s I Turn to You avoids this stereotypical fate. If ever McDonald doubted the change in his musical focus, I Turn to You proves he has absolutely nothing to worry about. –Andrew Greer