The Elms don't seem to be about making big boasts for themselves. Instead, the newcomers seem to know what their message is and are happy writing simple guitar songs to express it. Listeners should be grateful for the honesty. Unlike the army of "Limp Korn" wannabes and the rest of the Christian rock outfits that float around unconsciously mimicking one another in blandness, The Elms comfortability keeps them from bogging down in genre issues.

Their self-titled debut 5-song EP from Sparrow Records is a solid pop-rock effort. Clean licks, memorable melodies: rock that doesn't try to outdo itself. Their music feels good like a summer haircut: maybe little short, but liberating.

Brothers Owen and Christopher Thomas, whose father led worship at their home church in Indiana, formed Just Visiting in 1995 as a self-proclaimed praise and worship band. Just Visiting released two independent albums before putting on a new rock-and-roller look, changing their name to The Elms, and signing with Sparrow. Along the way, the brothers (Owen sings, Chris plays drums) picked up bassist/pianist Malcolm McLaughlin and guitarist James Thompson.

The band got their name from an uncle's London estate named for the trees that surrounded it. "God revealed a picture of that house to me," says lead singer Owen, "as a physical analogy of His love for His children."

That love moves through the music on this disc. The Elms' strained vocals are at time reminiscent of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, but their warm guitars, simple hooks and contagious melodies bring English chart-toppers Oasis to mind, and in turn Oasis's chief influence, the Beatles, especially in their blend of horn and guitar. But lyrically The Elms communicate powerfully the human longing for love, and the solace and comfort found in God "You can black out your windows or go where the wind blows, but you answer to something someday."

The biggest beef to have about this album is not with the band, but the label, which budgeted only for a 5-song EP rather than a full-length CD. If this was a marketing acid test to determine whether The Elms are worth the risk, The Elms have set them straight with this collection, which should give them a shot at full-length album.

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