Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Dc Talk's "Solo" Tour comes to Broadbent Arena on October 8. Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max are singing material from their recent solo efforts as well as group standards. At press time, tickets were still available though Ticketmaster. Hope to see you there! Look for a review next month in LMN.

In the last few months I reported solely on national acts that have come to Louisville. It's time for me to focus on a couple of Louisville artists that have been getting attention lately.

First up, Calling Levi. The group has played all over the area and recently got a very big break playing the opening slot for Point Of Grace at the Kentucky State Fair. That was the first time I had seen them live, but I had heard their demo CD. According to 21-year-old guitarist Neil Coffman, the group has been described as "light acoustic rock" and has been compared to Jars of Clay, Third Day, and Jennifer Knapp among others. I agree with that comparison. Caedmon's Call comes to mind as well. In addition to Coffman, the group is comprised of siblings Derek Kiesler (drums) and Julie Kiesler (vocals) along with Gary England (bass).

From 1998-1999 Coffman and Derek Kiesler were in a band call Geris Incorporated that Coffman describes as "terrible." The guys had a chance to play with Julie, who has done solo work in the past, and England, who had played professionally for nine years in a group called The Manships. Calling Levi formed, originally calling themselves Mulberry Lane. Group members name Third Day, Jennifer Knapp and The Elms as influences.

Calling Levi has been played on Louisville Christian radio and has opened for national acts including P.O.G. and The Elms, but Coffman says it's not always easy in the Louisville Christian music scene. "It is a long road, it is very tough to get noticed, and to establish a following," he states. On the other hand, "This area seems to be the buckle of the Bible Belt, Christian music is very welcomed and accepted here, and once you have established a following, people are very supportive and generous."

As mentioned, Calling Levi's style is acoustic rock a la Caedmon's Call and Jars of Clay. The group is also very "praise and worship" oriented, a style that is currently dominating Christian album sales charts. Coffman says that more than anything the group wants to express "The strong influence that God has on our lives, and the way that it has affected us.  Also, that living the life of a Christian does not mean that you can't have a great time." Julie Kiesler adds, "It is an awesome feeling to know that you are being a vessel for the Lord." And Derek says, "It is a thrill to touch someone's life, or influence them spiritually."

And who would the group like to play with more than anyone else? Says Coffman, "We would love to get the chance to meet and play with Third Day." Maybe they'll get that chance one day. For more information on Calling Levi, check out their website at callinglevi.com.

Next up, Thomas Hood. The 34-year-old singer/songwriter is married, a father of five and lives in Shelbyville. Previously the lead singer and guitarist for Times Seven, Hood is now a solo artist, with a musical style comparable to Caedmon's Call and Jars Of Clay. He cites Phil Keaggy, Rich Mullins, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, and Mylon Lefevre as his major influences.

"I've played in some college rock cover bands in the past, but the bulk of my experience has been writing and playing Christian music. The first Christian rock/alternative band I played in was Remnant. After that, I worked on a solo project I named Broken which was made up of 14 original songs that I recorded at Backstreet Studios in Shelbyville", Hood says.

Then came Times Seven, a three piece that played gigs around Kentuckiana including opening slots for Clay Crosse, Nikki Leonti, and Salvador among others. "For me, Kentucky has always been very receptive to the local artist; churches and coffee-houses especially. It's a blessing to have been able to play for such supportive people."

In December of 2000, WJIE-FM got a copy of Hood's version of "Silent Night" and added it to their playlist. So what was it like to hear himself on the radio? "It was a real rush. I think I recorded it three times off the radio before I calmed down." Shelby County's Sentinel-News also ran a story on Hood and his new version of the song (he added lyrics). Hood's smooth vocals and the stripped-down production of the song made it a remarkable independent release.

"It seems like it's becoming easier for independent artists to get our music out to the public, largely due to the far reach of the Internet. If you can get your material recorded and on CD, you can promote it via the net, whereas in the past one had to mainly depend on others to do the marketing and promoting of your work," Hood says.

Though he's been playing for years and has had some pretty amazing experiences as an artist, his favorite moment has been, "receiving an email from a young fan who told me that she had given her life to Christ while listening to the words of a song of mine. It doesn't get any better than that." Hood says his goal as an artist is to show people "that God loves them and has a plan for their life." He's played everything from large outdoor events, to Operation: Care, Shelbyville's soup kitchen. I've seen Hood play numerous times and his attitude "on stage" was the same no matter what the venue. I managed Times Seven for some time and was always encouraged by his compassion for people and his willingness to "go the extra mile" at concerts. I knew I could count on him to do whatever it took make the gigs happen.

Known for singing and playing acoustic guitar, he likes a variety of music. "I'm especially into Living Sacrifice, a Christian metal band. That's right, I play original acoustic stuff but am a `metal head.' Go figure."

Thomas Hood is currently working on new material and plans to be out playing live again in the near future.