County a Hotbed of Christian Music

William Lobdell, editor of Times Community News, looks at faith as a regular contributor to The Times' Orange County religion page. His e-mail address is

Here’s a little-known fact: Orange County, with Bible Belt music coming out of Trinity Broadcasting Network, the hard-core punk band Focused and help from its megachurches, is now threatening Nashville for supremacy of the Christian music scene.

“I think Southern California tends to be a melting pot for artists and different styles of people,” says Todd Proctor, whose second CD is expected out in January. “And any time those people invest their gifts back to God, you’re going to have something special.”

I know next to nothing about music--Christian, Buddhist or otherwise. I needed an expert so I headed over to Christian Family Bookstores in Santa Ana and met Ronald Burnett. I knew instantly that he was the right man for the job.


At 23, he has youth on his side. With his ponytail that runs the full-length of his back, he has the look. And after diving into the subject 10 years ago, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of local Christian music.

“I’m a CD-aholic,” admits Burnett, who also plays guitar, sings and writes songs for his band, Blet Serenade. “I’ve averaged buying 10 CDs per month since I was in junior high.”

I’ll do the math for you: That’s a music collection somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 CDs.


Who better to review the best Christian CDs of 1999 that Orange County has to offer?

Joy Electric

“Christian Songs”

Sounds like: “A cross between Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade and Erasure (a 1980s secular band).”

Mini review: “The epitome of happy music. They’re synthesizer pop and techno. New Wave of the ‘90s. Ronnie Martin writes, sings, plays guitar. He’s awesome. This is a very innovative album. Album high points: ‘The Magic Of’ and ‘Children of Love.’ ”

Ronald rating (scale of 1-10): 8.

Fernando Ortega

“The Breaking of the Dawn”

Sounds like: “I don’t want to say Gipsy Kings--maybe Dire Straits or Sting, the mellower stuff. Dave Matthews might be more accurate.”


Mini-review: “This is intimate pop music, very radio-playable, and Latin-influenced. Ortega is a very, very good musician. Lots of people just love his voice. This is a good album, but I like his previous stuff better.”

Ronald rating: 7+.



Sounds like: “Third Eye Blind or maybe Smash Mouth.”

Mini-review: “This is a very, very good band. They’ve always been popular. They have an excellent fan base who kept with them even after they lost their first lead singer and went through some stuff. Plankeyes’ key might be their unique blend of pop and rock; they seem to mix it right every time. This album is great. It might be their best-selling one to date.”

Ronald rating: 8.

Flight 180


Sounds like: “Nobody else.”

Mini-review: “I personally don’t really like this kind of music, but this is very innovative stuff. It’s allowing Christian music to break out into new areas. This is a cross between ska and swing, and they combine the two very well. They’re awesome. They have two very good female singers. Songwriting is excellent. Good harmonies. I like the way they mix hard-edge ska with upbeat swing.”

Ronald rating: 7.

Vineyard Music

“Change My Heart Oh God” series

Sounds like: Contemporary worship music.

Mini-review: “This gives you a good taste of Vineyard music. They have great songwriters, good singers. It’s like putting you into the middle of a worship service.”

Ronald rating: 9.

Orange County Supertones

“Chase the Sun”

Sounds like: Many different bands.

Mini-review: “If KROQ would ever listen to this, it would be on its play list. On this album, you have rap, ska, hip-hop, hard rock, pop-rock and worship. This is a classic. Really, really good. Album high points: ‘Unite,’ ‘Away From You,’ ‘Grounded.’ ”

Ronald rating: 10.

Starflyer 59


Sounds like: “Smashing Pumpkins, maybe.”

Mini-review: “Good album. The music has gotten a lot of play on MTV and ‘Real World’ as background music. It’s Brit pop and some drone rock. Imagine a very soothing calm voice backed by a hard wall of guitars and drone effects. Simple yet creative.”


Ronald rating: 8.



Sounds like: Alice in Chains

Mini-review: “Awesome band. Has its roots in the legendary Christian hard-core bands. They are just amazing on this CD. Stavesacre is one of Christian music’s most underrated bands. Lead singer Mark Solomon has a way of reflecting Christ-like love, yet showing holy authority, both in concert and in lyrics.”

Ronald rating: 9.

Crystal Lewis

Sounds like: “Gloria Estefan with a gospel influence.”

Mini-review: “She’s at the Harvest Crusade every year, and everyone wanted a live album, which she has made. This is a good collection of her really famous songs.”

Ronald rating: 8.

Todd Proctor

“Reaching: Prayers and Praise”

Sounds like: “Acoustical praise music with elements of early U2.”

Mini-review: “Some of the high points are the first song, ‘Stir,’ and ‘Pour Out My Heart.’ Good blend of worship and feel-good music. Kind of a landmark recording in Orange County because I feel a praise and worship revival starting in the county and this CD has helped start it.”

Ronald rating: 8.

Proctor says there’s another reason Christian music in Orange County has become so popular.

“For so long, Christian music has told people about God,” Proctor said. “Now the music helps people respond to God, confess to God, thank God and have an interactive experience with God. And the churches in Orange County are discovering this and raising up a new generation of people who don’t just listen to music, but experience it.”

And buy it.

William Lobdell, editor of Times Community News, looks at faith as a regular contributor to The Times’ Orange County religion page. His e-mail address is