EVANS AND STOKES - Children Of God
“Save Me From Myself”
John Evans (guitars, bass, keyboards) and Jenny Stokes (piano, vocals, lyrics) are quite the musical duo. They have been making music together for 3 years now and Children of God is already their 3rd release. To clarify, by “together” I mean collaborating and co-writing songs. In truth, they have never met in person and are separated in proximity by over 8,000 miles – Evans in Pennsylvania and Stokes in New Zealand. While this may seem a bit strange at first, this type of musical collaboration is actually more common today, many musicians preferring to work out of their own home studios which is economical, practical and often more gratifying since they are able to use their own equipment/tools.
In some aspects, this music reminds me of another Pennsylvania project Fountain of Tears from quite a few years ago which featured a similarly-styled vocalist (Vonnie King), pianos and a somber, yet uplifting gothic quality. In addition, Jenny Stokes sounds like a cross between Mia Richards (Gretchen) and Lizzy Hale (Halestorm). I like the slightly grainy quality to her tone. And while there is a touch of gothic influence here too, Evans and Stokes just craft dynamic rock/metal that is refreshingly free of genre labeling and which features a diversity of styles and a healthy dose of dynamic contrast injected into many of the songs. Heavy, crunchy moments – Evans, who is a gifted songwriter, manages to produce some great sounding guitar tones – are well-balanced with more acoustic sections featuring Jenny’s vocal strengths – clarity and a pleasant mid-range tonal quality, never shrill.
Lyrically, this music is exceptional. To me great lyrics are poetic, witty and concise, yet meaningful and relevant to the human experience. In this regard, Stokes scores an A+! The subjects covered here do include some historical elements (“Children of God” and “Oppenheimer’s Tragedy”), and contemporary events (“Flames of Notre Dame” and “Christchurch”), but the main focus leans toward how to live the Christian faith and serve authentically in today’s culture. Songs like “Soul to Keep” exhort us to stay faithful to what we know, remembering the Redeemer’s promises in our darkest hours.
“Godforsaken” is a stellar song, both lyrically and musically. I love the way this one starts out with the soft acoustic lead-in accompanied by violin and then Evans cuts in with a powerful guitar riff followed by a great solo to ride out. Lyrically, we are encouraged by Jenny’s reminder that “When the world deserts me/when I hate myself/He is always with me.” More greatness follows with one of the darkest tracks – but probably one of my favorites – in “Dead-Eyed Dolls.” Lyrically this song is such a great commentary on how we err in living the masquerade. Musically, the haunting voices of a child remind us of how fear is one of our greatest enemy’s – one we succumb to all too willingly. I love the way Jenny uses her voice here, reminding me of Cristina Scabbia. This song takes on a bit of the Type O Negative meets Lacuna Coil vibe, especially with the harsh male vocals in the background.
“Evildoer” cuts right to the chase of addiction with good mid-tempo riffs mixed with Stokes’ almost sedated voice, but the song nicely segues into the next track, “The Devil’s Tongue.” These songs deal with similar issues of spiritual warfare, this latter track addressing the condemning nature of Satan – always convicting us of falling short. Musically it’s a busy track, one of the more intense on the album. The soulful, lulling acoustic and electric guitars follow on “Wicked Ways” with a cry for redemption… “So restrain my feet/Let me be justified/Grant me peace/So renewed am I.” “Savior” – the culmination of this 4 song run – is one of the best tunes on the album. While it falls just shy of 3 minutes, it packs a powerful punch.
“Where is my Savior?/Banish the plague of my vanity/Where is my Savior?/Shatter my pride so I am not deceived” – “Savior”
“Garden of Eden” is the sole instrumental track and it features Jenny’s piano bookending a heavier, guitar driven middle section. This goes on in compelling fashion a little over 6 and a half minutes, and then after a brief pause, there is a hidden track - “Christchurch” – which is a beautiful acoustic guitar driven tribute to the victims of the March 15th, 2019 shooting massacre in Jenny’s home nation. In the lyrics she is grateful for her community as she reminds us that to love or hate is a choice and that “a nation that weeps when lightning strikes won’t let evil in/a nation that weeps is full of hope/we’re stronger than we knew/we’re united.” It’s a wonderful way to close out this very well-crafted collection of songs.
What’s missing? A drummer. Matt Smith (Theocracy) pulled off one of the greatest solo artist efforts in the history of metal without a drummer when he released his debut album. As great as it was, those songs were infused with new life and power when they were later recorded with acoustic drums by an actual drummer. Drummers are musicians too and they add their own nuances in subtle ways that enhance the music. I think it would also be nice to see these guys rip forth occasionally with a bit more pace and ramp up the vocals from time to time with more aggression.
Overall, though, Children of God is an excellent collection of well-crafted songs with beautiful melodies, engaging guitars and exceptional lyrics. You can purchase the CD or digital download from the band website, but the best option is to grab the quality 28-page booklet with the CD (bundle) for a few extra bucks. The book is well-designed, well-illustrated and in addition to providing all the lyrics and commentary on each track it serves as a nice introduction to the musicians themselves.
1. Children of God (3:07)
2. Soul To Keep (3:59)
3. Oppenheimer’s Tragedy (3:18)
4. Flames of Notre Dame (3:15)
5. Godforsaken (3:59)
6. Dead-Eyed Dolls (4:30)
7. Evildoer (3:20)
8. The Devil’s Tongue (3:42)
9. Wicked Ways (3:51)
10. Savior (2:51)
11. Garden of Eden (9:51) (includes hidden track “Christchurch”)