"We live in a day and age where people don't want to hear about Jesus, they want to see Him. They want to see Him in our lives and in what we do and in the way we treat each other. Being a witness doesn't always mean passing out tracts on the corner. It also means being kind and considerate. It means giving a smile to someone who's down. It means living every part of our lives in a way that testifies to the reality of God's love in our hearts. It should be as natural and constant as breathing."
With the release of Oxygen
, their fifth Sparrow Records project (including Joy, the top-selling CBA Christmas recording for 2000), Avalon has not only maintained their position on the leading edge of CCM vocal groups, but they seem through the consistency of their success over the last several years to have reached a place of permanency within the genre. In an industry that has room for only a certain number of artists at any given time, and where most careers are leased on a month-to-month basis, Avalon has entered the select circle of those who actually seem to own the space they occupy. Their infectious pop sensibilities, creative vocal harmonies, and willingness to stretch themselves and their audience with each new recording, have resulted in an evolving, dynamic flexibility, a widening appeal, and a longevity that already borders on permanence.
And yet, while their careers have rocketed upward at an exponential rate and their schedules have grown increasingly hectic (200 tour dates last year), the four members of Avalon seem to be more centered and grounded than ever. Reflecting that anchoring spiritual focus, the eleven songs on Oxygen
all seem to revolve around a need, a hunger, a desire to be more intimately connected with God, to strip away pretenses and be drawn like a magnet to the One who alone offers satisfaction for the deep longings of the soul.
Produced by Brown Bannister--with vocals produced by Michael Mellett--Oxygen
is probably the most musically sophisticated, and lyrically honest of any Avalon release to date.
"It wasn't a conscious choice to put together an album about our need for God," Michael Passons says, "it just happened to come together during a season when we've all experienced our need for Christ in really tangible ways over the last year, so those are the themes we naturally gravitated toward. We always pick songs that we can 'own' at the time we're singing them. This time we were just realizing the depth of our need for God, a need as all- encompassing as our need for the air we breathe."
In addition to the brooding title song "Oxygen" (which was originally co-written and recorded by Mr. Mister's Richard Page, and rewritten by him specifically for Avalon), that need for God is directly addressed in the percussive spunk of "Undeniably You," the euro-pop stylings of "Never Givin' Up," the driving creativity of "Make It Last Forever" and the soulful textures of "By Heart, By Soul," recorded with r&b legend Aaron Neville and also included on his most recent project.
"There's been a lot of discussion in recent years about 'crossing over,'" Jody remarks, "but we've never concerned ourselves with that. Our focus has always been to maintain our Christian stance and to fulfill the calling God has given us to be a Christian group. We do believe, however, in 'spilling over'. It would be a contradiction if we, as Christians, were only willing to sing our gospel message to people who already believe. So we try to be sensitive to any doors that God might open for us to present the gospel to the culture around us. Having this chance to record with Aaron Neville is something that will hopefully expose a wider circle of people to God's truth."
In the two years since their last non-holiday release, the members of Avalon have gone through big changes in their own lives. Cherie made the challenging transition from being the group's new member to being a seasoned veteran. Michael found himself dealing with the death of his father which happened during the recording of In a Different Light. Janna Potter married and changed her name to Janna Long. Jody both married and suffered the loss of his father.
Far from throwing them off course however, the changes and upheavals in their personal lives seem to have matured them, even turning them outward toward new ministry opportunities. In the summer of '99 all four of them stepped out of their comfort zones and traveled together to Rio de Janeiro on a mission trip. There they visited the slums and cardboard shantytowns of the populous Brazilian city, praying, performing for, and offering hope to thousands trapped in crushing poverty and despair.
"There are days," Janna says, "when I think this kind of life that we lead is really crazy. But there are other days when I just say 'God, thank you for letting me do this. Thank you for blessing me with these opportunities.' When you wait on God and follow His will and let Him take care of the details, you're always in the best place you can be, because you're always with God."
The recording process itself required a fair amount of waiting and patience from Avalon this time around. Oxygen
took longer than their previous efforts to record for a couple of reasons. First, there is the self-imposed pressure to raise the level of crafting on each successive record. Secondly, the songs that were coming in just weren't hitting the bullseye as far as the group was concerned.
"We listened to hundreds of songs and heard a lot of good ones," Jody explains, "but we decided to hold out for eleven or twelve great ones. If we weren't all absolutely passionate about a song we agreed to wait until we found one we were passionate about. It paid off. We got some amazing stuff."
first single and certainly one of the project's more amazing cuts, is the theologically rich portrait of Christ's sacrificial love, "The Glory."
"I think audiences connect with the realness of Avalon's lyrics," Cherie says. "The words we sing reach deep, they cut sometimes, they convict, they stir up. But this song is almost in a category by itself. 'The Glory' describes how Christ suffered on the cross, but it goes beyond the suffering to reveal the depth of love that compelled God to give His only Son for us, and compelled Christ to be obedient through such a death. There's a beauty in that that gives me chills when I sing it."
"The Glory" has already connected with radio by receiving 41 adds from 41 reporting stations - the first single at radio to ever achieve 100% participation its debut week. "Make It Last Forever," the first single issued to CHR, received an initial 14 adds out of 19 reporting stations. This gives Avalon a total of 55 adds in just one week, which is an unprecedented mark in not only Avalon's radio history, but for Christian radio as well.
Personally effected by the redemptive message they sing about night after night, the members of Avalon expect that Oxygen
will prove to be a springboard for increased ministry opportunities.
"The gospel has been a focal point for Avalon from day one," Michael remarks. "We present the gospel every time we sing and we give an opportunity for people to respond. But in conjunction with that it's also our goal to serve, to be servants in the way that Christ was a servant. We want our lives to speak as loudly as our words. In an industry where it's easy to be served, we're trying to be the opposite."
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