"A Collision"



"Better Days"



"An Evening With"


If there were a Dove Award for sheer audacity, Christian rocker David Crowder would be making room on his mantel for yet another trophy.

Though too clever for its own good, "A Collision" is nothing if not ambitious -- a sprawling, four-part, 21-track concept album that resounds with praise and worship refrains, string band riffs, gospel harmonies, cosmological themes, chamber music sonorities, digital jump-cuts, surreal loops, taped snippets and . . . well, let's put it this way: When was the last time you heard the unmistakable voice of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending" and a mock interview with a sniffling, ill-informed journalist?

Too much studio time on their hands? Crowder and his bandmates often appear guilty of that sin, but they also manage to make virtually everyone else in Christian pop appear sonically impoverished by comparison. A gifted composer and multi-instrumentalist, Crowder has created a complex hallelujah chorus here, and the best parts, including an imaginatively orchestrated cover of Sufjan Stevens's "O God Where Are You Now? (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)" and a romping bluegrass rendition of "I Saw the Light" (featuring guest Marty Stuart on mandolin) make up for a multitude of indulgences.

Like Crowder, fellow Texas singer-songwriter Robbie Seay often draws on the Psalms for inspiration. "Better Days," however, is rough-cut and lean, a roots-rock session dotted with spiritual themes and distinguished by Seay's frayed and soulful voice. Not all the songs are original. The 18th-century hymn "Come Ye Sinners" punctuates the album. Mostly, though, Seay delivers his own lyrics, songs of hope ("Better Days") and gratitude ("You Have Stirred My Soul"), with a gritty mixture of conviction and power.

Shane & Shane's "An Evening With" is a longer evening than intended. Earnest, tuneful and polished, the duo's acoustic music is easy on the ears, all right, but it's also easy to regard as routine Christian coffeehouse fare at times. While singers Shane Barnard and Shane Everett consistently display their complementary voices and religious devotion, less evident is their ability to write songs that stand apart from one another. As a result, there's not much space separating the album's highlights, including the softly harmonized "Arise" and the funk-flavored "Fringes," from the recurring lulls.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Thursday at Lisner Auditorium.