J.J. Heller is a unique artistic voice in the world of Christian music, as evidenced by commercial recognition on Billboard’s Folk Album charts. Painted Red peaked at No. 12 while her latest album, When I’m With You, rose to No. 9. The album continues to reside among the top 15 folk albums in the U.S.
Heller’s thoughtful lyricism, accompanied by husband Dave’s guitar, echoes the folk music simplicity of the 1960s, but Heller shrugs at comparisons to artists such as Judy Collins.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of folk music influences,” the California native told the Christian Examiner.
A missions trip to Africa as a San Jose Christian College student drew Heller to songwriting. Her stripped-down musical style now reflects a cohesive marital collaboration, although Dave Heller emphasized the couple’s creative dynamic.
“J.J. is much more of the poet and I have a linear thought process,” he said.
‘Dream On’ weekend for teen girls
Dream On, the Revolve Tour production for teen girls, will conclude at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., April 15 and 16. This 12-city sister event to the popular Women of Faith series is a two-day girls-only weekend event of music and drama.
Relatable messages of how women have conquered challenges with their faith are appropriate for grades 6 to 12, churched or un-churched. Musical artists include Britt Nicole, “So You Think You Can Dance?” participant Jamie-Grace Harper, and Grammy-nominated band Hawk Nelson.
For more information visit www.RevolveTour.com.
TriStar Pictures releases ‘Soul Surfer’
Britt Nicole and Carrie Underwood score professional firsts with the major motion picture release of “Soul Surfer.” The movie tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen surfing champion who returned to championship form after losing an arm in a shark attack. The inspirational story is about family, perseverance and Hamilton’s Christian faith.
Nicole, a Dove nominee for “Female Vocalist of the Year,” sings two of her songs in the film: “Set the World on Fire” from her 2007 album Say It, and “Like A Star” from her follow-up 2009 album, The Lost Get Found.
Carrie Underwood makes her film debut as Sarah Hill, a character based on Hamilton’s real life church youth group leader. Underwood received a Grammy in February when her latest hit song and album, Temporary Home won Best Female Country Vocal Performance honors.
No down time for the Newsboys
The Newsboys are not taking a break after finishing the 2011 Winter Jam Tour that drew more than 400,000 concertgoers. Michael Tait and his bandmates open their own Born Again Experience tour on April 9. Fellow Winter Jam performers Kutless and the Christian metal band Disciple will share the stage.
The Born Again Experience tour is a 26-city tour and will hit venues across the nation this spring. Ticket information is located at www.newsboys.com/tour.
What about the old hymns?
Kingsway has simultaneously released four albums for their Hymn Makers series. This collection highlights the best-known works of Christian hymnody: Best Loved Hymns: How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace: The Hymns of John Newton & William Cowper, Blessed Assurance: The Hymns of Fanny Crosby and Just As I Am: The Hymns of Ira D. Sankey.
The Celebration Choir and The Salvation Army Citadel Band provided choral vocals and classically styled instrumentation.
“Hymns have the ability to touch our hearts and minds, strengthening us in times of weakness, comforting us in times of pain, creating faith in times of doubt and bringing joy in times of sorrow,” said Kingsway/North America Vice President Steve Nicolle. “Essayist George Sampson once said, ‘The hymn echoes in the heart when the sermon is forgotten.’”
A bumper crop
Kingsway is also distributing several notable albums by contemporary worship leader/songwriters.
Benton Brown, a South African-raised Rhodes scholar, has written numerous modern worship classics, including “Everlasting God.” Now a California-based worship leader in Malibu, his third album, Our God Is Near, contemplates timeless human themes of both joy and death.
Brown also found time to co-write songs for singer/songwriter Laura Story’s new album.
London worship leader Tim Hughes has a new album, Love Shine Through, arriving in the U.S. on April 19. Hughes is the author of several modern worship anthems, including the 2004 Dove Worship Song of the Year, “Here I am to Worship.”
Dove Awards move to Atlanta
The 42nd Annual Dove Awards will be taped live April 20 at the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta for broadcast on The Gospel Music Channel at 7 p.m. EST Easter Sunday, April 24.
The Atlanta venue is a break from tradition. Until this year, Nashville was the host city. Atlanta area artists include Casting Crowns, Matt Redman, Third Day, Byron Cage, Bishop Paul Morton, Canton Jones, Dottie Peoples, Brian Free and Assurance.
The Gospel Music Association, Christian Copyright Licensing International, and PraiseHymn Sound Tracks will create a video collage for the program. Selected choirs from different denominations will sing “How Great Is Our God.” The Dove Award winning contemporary hymn penned by Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeve, and Ed Cash has dominated the top 10 1ist for licensed church use since 2006.
Fans will decide who receives Artist and New Artist of the Year.
Artist of the Year nominees are Francesca Battistelli, Jason Crabb, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Natalie Grant, Marvin Sapp, TobyMac, and Chris Tomlin.
Nominees for New Artist of the Year are Audrey Assad, Chris August, Forever Jones, John Mark McMillan, No Other Name, Kerrie Roberts and Kristian Stanfill.
Gospel and Christian music fans may vote online until midnight EST April 19 at www.watchgmctv.com/fanvote.