Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

The Joy Christmas Tour comes to Graceland Baptist Church December 8th. The tour features Avalon and marks the group's first full-fledged concert date in Kentuckiana since early 2000. Avalon did appear in Louisville last year as part of a pre-Billy Graham Crusade event, but this will be their first full-length show in a couple of years.

A couple of Avalon members have been doing solo work this year and will be performing some of those songs as way. Christian radio has fully embraced the solo music from Janna Long and Jody McBrayer and at press time both, along with Avalon, had songs in the top 20 - a first.

Janna began listening to female "diva" vocalists at three years old and continued to be influenced by powerful vocals as she grew up. She would listen, wondering how they do "that" with their voices. Eventually she figured it out.

Janna grew up in Baltimore. Like that town, Janna's family appreciated the power of music, including mainstream music, which is where she initially found her inspiration. She knew she always wanted to be a singer and began singing professionally right after college, spending her musical career to date as a member of the group Truth. She has now taken her talent and coupled it with fulfilling a of making her own album.

"A lot of artists sing about love and relationships," Janna says. "Those are great, but I miss hearing songs that are blatantly about the Gospel. Music has power to heal and bring joy and I always said if I ever got the chance to make my own record, I'd want to sing that kind of music."

As part of Avalon for the past seven years, Janna has already experienced success as an artist. But, she, like her fellow group members, is able to only express one-fourth of herself, being part of a group. This album, Janna says, is a direct expression of her. "I wanted songs that were bold with the Gospel but also have music that's straightforward with my faith," she said. "There are aspects that will appeal to someone who doesn't have a relationship with Christ, but I hope the majority of it will drive people to a deeper walk with Christ."

The first radio single, "Greater Is He," is a reaffirmation of her walk. She says it's about reminding people about the nature of God. "I want to encourage others as well as myself to pursue a deeper relationship with God. Nothing is too big for God, no matter what you are going through."

Janna's husband of two years, Greg Long, makes an appearance on this album. Greg, who is also a recording artist, backs Janna up vocally on "Superman." Aside from this musical collaboration, Janna says she and Greg are opting to keep work separate from their relationship. "The great part of being married to an artist is that we have a good understanding of what the other does. We both know what life is like on the road, for instance. But, we also celebrate each other's individual achievements." So don't expect to see Greg singing at the concert. But hey Louisville is close to Nashville-it's possible!

For six years, Jody has been a part of Avalon. With the group's career as solid as ever, his devotion to Avalon continues to swell with hopes of grand accomplishments in the years ahead. Nonetheless, a life-changing occurrence inspired his solo material. On September 13, 2000, Jody's father, Clyde "Sonny" McBrayer, died from an undetected internal growth that attacked his brain.

"My father's passing brought a moment of revelation," says Jody. "I returned home with so much on my heart and a vision for how to express it. Though Avalon has a common mission statement, these are feelings too personal for a group."

Using a break between Avalon albums, Jody sought words to capture his ideas and music to match. He pushed the "pop" envelope with a sound reflecting his love for R&B and soul.

Jody's solo songs incorporate sounds from house-trance to Latin-salsa, the latter influence a nod to Jody's Spanish heritage on his mother's side. You can hear that influence in the single "To Ever Live Without Me" which is getting strong radio play at the moment.

"This Is Who I Am shows solid focus," he says, "because it says everything that I wanted to say on each song. It tells my story. The album also conveys the love of Christ and his unconditional acceptance without alienating a non-believer or seeker. This Is Who I Am will help reach people who typically wouldn't listen to Christian music because the album's inspiration starts with the powerful and universal theme of loss."

Powerful stuff. Avalon are one of the best live groups around. Catch this show if you can, December 8th at Graceland Baptist Church on Kamer Miller Road in New Albany. Shaun Groves opens.

The Circa 2002 Tour came to St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville on October 24. Bebo Norman headlined, with Ten Shekel Shirt and brother/sister duo La Rue opened. All three were well-received by the audience that night, with La Rue getting a great response for such a new group. They were all new groups that night. Bebo has been putting out albums for several years now but only recently as begun to achieve real mainstream success in the Christian market. His "earthy" acoustic folk vibe was on display that night-quite a change from the group he opened for earlier this year at Broadbent Arena-Third Day.

There were no big surprises as Bebo, who did bring a back-up band, played a little of his laid-back guitar-strumming style with hits like "Great Light Of the World" and the lesser-known "The Hammer Falls" (a live favorite).

His laid-back "aw-shucks" humor was also present, continually joking with the crowd between songs. He's an artist that always looks and acts like he accidentally walked out on stage and someone handed him a microphone.

The crowd seemed pleased with the show. The constantly-touring Bebo has played Louisville several times in the last two years. Look for him to probably return soon.

And yes, last month I mentioned that Michael W. Smith was coming to Wal-Mart in Louisville. A lot of you did as well. Over 2,000 people showed up at the Wal-Mart on Hurstbourne Parkway October 22 to have copies of Worship Again (recorded at Southeast Christian Church) signed. Some people waited over four hours to get an autograph. By and large everyone seemed willing to wait.

Worship Again sold over 57,000 copies nationwide in it's first week of release. Louisville was #1 in the nation for sales. Now can you see why Michael was at Wal-Mart?