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Album Reviews

REVIEW OF WORSHIP ALBUMS IN 2015: PART 1

There have been a lot of new releases this year in mainstream Christian Worship this year. I’ve purchased quite a few and so I’d like to briefly review some of them, month-by-month through 2015. Click here for my review of 2013 (part 1 and part 2) and 2014’s albums. I’ll also mention at this point that the reviews are not based on lyrical content as such, but primarily musical. The reason for this is that I am reviewing from a musical perspective, and that I believe each album has Biblical, Gospel-centred lyrics. Secondly, I will not be reviewing Christmas albums: sorry!

Ratings:
5/5 – outstanding                           4.5/5 – exceptional                      4/5 – excellent

3.5/5 – very good                            3/5 – good                                     2.5/5 – average

2/5 – below average                       1.5/5 and below – poor

In January, Hillsong Y&F continued their steady rise with their new EP, ‘This is Living’. The title track is your standard Avicii ‘Wake Me Up’ inspired track with a big synth chorus, featuring prominent hip-hop rapper Lecrae, too. Its a good EP overall, big and bouncy tracks with more subdued ones. On a less-serious note, I wonder if Y&F are running out of upbeat title track names – already we’ve had ‘Alive’, ‘Wake’, ‘Energy’! 3/5.

Bethel Music also released another album, ‘We Shall Not Be Shaken.’ It’s beautifully shot and produced and features some brand-new artists on their label. Bethel just keep adding more musicians and are continually developing their sound from album to album. ‘Ever Be’, ‘Sea of Crimson’ are great tracks, and ‘No Longer Slaves’ has already become a regular in many Churches. I have really enjoyed their past few albums – I recently bought ‘You Make Me Brave’ and I loved it.  From a drum standpoint on this album, there are two kits on every song, and each sound adds brilliantly to the album. 4/5.

Not much of note in February, except USA CCM artist favourite Jeremy Camp releasing another album, ‘I Will Follow’, on Capitol Records. In March, WorshipMob released ‘Carry The Fire’ and Newsong released a live album, ‘Faithful’, both through Integrity. Matt Maherreleased a new album, ‘Saints and Sinners’ and Third Day released a worship album. When they released their last one to critical acclaim, I was expectant. I found this one as enjoyable too. Great production, interesting tracks make for a nice listen over and over. ‘Soul on Fire’, ‘My Deliverer’ stand out. 4/5. Passion. Another year, another release for Passion. In my opinion the previous two were quite disappointing, reminding me of Hillsong albums between 2009-12, quite average albums with only 1 or 2 stand-out songs. This one was a slight improvement in my opinion, with ‘Shout Hosanna’ and ‘Wonder’ standing out. ‘Even So Come’ is a decent track too, although there are so many similarities to previous years tracks. Kristian Standfill’s tracks over the years have become too formulaic for me though, have a listen to their similarities (and ‘Shout Hosanna’ intro compared to Tomlin’s ‘The Cross of Christ’). 2.5/5.

In April, Passion artist Christy Nockels released ‘Let it Be Jesus’ and Jesus Culture artist Derek Johnson released his debut album, ‘Real Love’.

In May, Citizens & Saints released ‘Join The Triumph’ and Planetshakers released their studio album, ‘Outback: Worship Sessions’. Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman released his solo EP ‘The Wonderland: Sunlight’. At the end of the month,  Hillsong UNITED’s highly anticipated follow-up to ‘Zion’ was released: ‘Empires’. It may not feature a stand-out song in the same line as ‘Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),’ but UNITED have again released another great album, subtly blending live instruments with electronics. Brilliantly produced and featuring some great worshipful moments, and surprisingly long tracks. Tracks like ‘Touch The Sky’, ‘Street Called Mercy’ and ‘Heart Like Heaven’ particularly stand out as well as the title track. This is an album that wouldn’t feel out of place or secondary in the mainstream secular charts, and it shows – as it debuted at no.5 on Billboard. 4/5.

In June, Jonathan David & Melissa Hesler released ‘On The Shores’ through Bethel Music (distributed by Integrity). Terrific album. Prophetic, creative, passionate, worshipful. There are some high points musically and then soft, intimate moments, like in the song ‘Abba’, which is really beautiful. I would thoroughly recommend this album and am looking forward to their next release. 4.5/5. Also released this month from Jesus Culture was their new artist Chris McClarney, perhaps most well-known for the song ‘Your Love Never Fails’. This album, ‘Everything & Nothing Less’ is a pretty strong album, with good tracks such as ‘All Consuming Fire.’ If I can be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the Jesus Culture backing band with the over-powering keys which sometimes makes the drums (although high in the mix) sound quite robotic and uninspired – no disrespect to the drummer Josh Fisher who’s a great player, but nonetheless, a solid album. 3/5. Matt Redman released his latest album ‘Unbroken Praise’ in mid-June too. Redman’s last 2 albums, ‘10,000 Reasons’ and ‘Your Grace Finds Me’ were recorded at an annual gathering of worship leaders called GIFT. This time round, he recorded in the world-famous ‘Abbey Road Studios.’ Although I will admit to being slightly biased towards Matt Redman – I love both the musical and lyrical content of his songs – this album took a while to develop. The opener is enjoyable for me, ‘Louder’ – and it is your typical “loud” Christian worship upbeat anthem. The title track is also pretty good, as well as ‘Abide With Me’ and ‘It Is Well With My Soul.’ A solid offering again from Redman, but I would love for his next album to be almost written by him alone – I prefer the heartfelt cries of his earlier releases than the co-writes of recent – although he is really great a co-writing with different people. Worth getting. 3/5.

We’ve hit the half way point, July, and I’m going to stop here. Part two coming Wednesday.

REVIEW OF WORSHIP ALBUMS 2014

2014 was a pretty decent year for worship and CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) albums – here’s a brief look at what came out. In January Switchfoot released ‘Fading West’ – a really great album, and Casting Crowns put out ‘Thrive’. Elevation Worship’s latest offering ‘Only Kind Forever’ is decent. Nice drumming from Luke Anderson throughout, and the standout song is definitely ‘Grace So Glorious.’ ‘Blessed Assurance’ is also quite good and ‘Glory Is Yours’ is a nice upbeat number. There are some good songs here, although nothing that much different stylistically from their previous. 7/10.

In February, Bethel Music released TIDES LIVE, and in March came the remixes from Hillsong UNITED and Jesus Culture. Kari Jobe also released her album ‘Majestic: Live’ – a decent offering but all-too-similar to other releases to be honest. Planetshakersreleased ‘Endless Praise’, John Mark McMillan released ‘Borderlands’ and Rend Collective released ‘The Art of Celebration this month too. I quite enjoyed this album, with songs like ‘Joy’, ‘More Than Conquerors’ reminiscent of their early offerings, and ‘My Lighthouse’ being the ‘hit single’, but also songs like ‘Boldly I Approach’ standing out in quieter offerings. 7.5/10.

In April, Paul Baloche released ‘Live’ – a collection of some of his best material. Well produced but not anything different than his others. Like me, though, if you like Baloche, you will enjoy this. 6.5/10. Also this month came Francesca Battistelli’s ‘If We’re Honest’, which I personally enjoyed, and Phil Wickham’s ‘The Ascension.’ Bethel Music released another album, this time from their annual Women’s Conference, the title of this album ‘You Make Me Brave.’ I personally thoroughly enjoyed this, from the drumming to the production, to the all-female vocals. ‘You Make Me Brave’ and ‘Shepherd’ by Amanda Cook, ‘It Is Well’ by Kristene Di Marco and the big version of Jenn Johnson’s ‘Come To Me’ all sound lovely – as do the spontaneous moments. Steffany Frizzell-Gretzinger’s ‘We Dance’ is a beautiful intimate track too. If you like Bethel you will like this album. Great mixture of joyful numbers and expressions of reverence. 8.5/10. Also this month was the next Passion album which, again, was a mixed bag for me. Kristian Standfill’s songs sound all-too-similar. My favourite tracks were Redman’s ‘Mercy’ and Christy Nockels ‘You Came To My Rescue.’ 5/10.

May saw the release of Crowder’s first solo album, ‘Neon Steeple’, which I personally enjoyed (7.5/10), and All Sons & Daughters self-titled studio album which I thoroughly enjoyed (9/10). In June, Leeland released a cool EP called ‘Christ Be All Around Me’ (also featured on AS&D album) and in July, Hillsong Worship (no longer called Hillsong Live) released ‘No Other Name.’ It’s a fairly enjoyable album, the title track will no longer be sung in Churches globally (as will ‘The Creed’), and marks what I think is a change for Hillsong. Gone are the ‘big’ moments (mostly) in this album and what arrives are a stream of mid-tempo songs with nice pad sounds and effects. Great to see them step out of the comfort zone and they always write quality songs. ‘Calvary’ is a nice song, as is ‘All Things New.’ Gungor and Tenth Avenue North also released albums this month. August saw the release of Steffany Frizzell-Gretzinger’s solo album ‘The Undoing’, as well as Lincoln Brewster’s ‘Oxygen’ (a very “meh” album – overly commercialised and cheesy), Colton Dixon’s ‘Anchor’ and Jars of Clay’s 20th Anniversary release. In September, Lecrae released ‘Anomaly’, Desperation Band ‘Banner’ and Dustin Smith ‘Coming Alive’. Now this is a cracker. Powerful, fiery, prophetic and declarative, and at times vulnerable, its a great album full of a mix moments – definitely worth a listen. 8.5/10.

October saw the release of Planetshakers ‘This Is Our Time’, Kings Kaleidoscope’s ‘Becoming Who We Are’ (see Jesus Freak Hideout for a good review). Chris Tomlin also released ‘Love Ran Red’, yet another safe and unmemorable batch of songs. That doesn’t mean that its not good or that many won’t be sung in Churches, but there are few ‘wow’ moments or times where you feel Tomlin steps outside of his box, apart from maybe ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Boundary Lines’, which are both enjoyable. ‘I Will Boast’ and ‘The Table’ takes us back to 2002-era Tomlin and ‘At The Cross’ is good. 7/10. Also this month came Worship Central’s ‘Set Apart’. I was quite disappointed by this album, to be honest. I expected more creativity (since they say they are big on that), but found little of it – ‘The Way’ is a nice track but with an all-too-similar feel of “let’s do Avicii in the chorus”, but it is expected to be one of the tracks of the coming year. ‘Set Apart’ is also good, and ‘Awesome Is He’ – but apart from that, found myself asking when the strong tracks were to come. Nice spontaneous moment at the end, though. 5/10.

Nothing much more of note towards the tail end of the year, with the exception of Misty Edwards, who released ‘Little Bird’ and Andrew Peterson’s ‘After All These Years’. I’ve only listened to the latter and its an excellent collection of Peterson songs past and present. Passion also released a collection of songs.

Over and out! Here’s to 2015!

CHRISTIAN ALBUMS OF 2013: A REVIEW PART 2

Here’s the link to part 1 if you missed it:

All Sons & Daughters – Live

Earlier on this year I bought their 3rd EP, ‘The Longing’ and saw this on the cheap on Amazon MP3, so bought it. This has been one of my favourite worship albums of the year. A folky album without being annoyingly like Mumford & Sons, more like Of Monsters & Men, with a bit of a Nashville feel to it. I really liked this album from the outset. And for once on a worship album, the opener, ‘Brokenness Aside’ is beautifully quiet and vulnerable. Usually when there is something like that on a worship album, it lasts for 1:32mins approx before the kick drum thumps in. But it doesn’t happen here. And its so refreshing! I love the swells from the organ and guitars in this album too, and its mixed very well. A great album. The male-female duo vocalists blend well and it has the feeling of an intimate, slightly-larger-than-a-coffee shop gig. Oh, and a nice version of ‘Nothing But The Blood’ as well. Recommended songs: ‘Oh How I Need You’, ‘Rising Sun’, ‘Oh Our Lord’, ‘Called Me Higher’, ‘Reason To Sing’, ‘My God My King’. Rating: 9/10.

Hillsong Young & Free – We Are Young & Free 9/10

Absolutely loved this album, from the upbeat songs like ‘Alive’ and ‘Wake’ to the mid-beat numbers ‘Lifeline’, ‘Love Goes On’, ‘End of Days’ and ‘Back To Life’ to the downbeat ‘Gracious Tempest’ and ‘Sinking Deep.’ One of the finest Hillsong offerings in recent years. Its not very ‘rich’ theologically but is a great, upbeat album which covers many aspects of the Christian life.

Keith & Kristyn Getty – Live At The Gospel Coalition

Also a favourite album of mine from this year. I really enjoy the Getty’s material, and Kristyn has a nicer voice than other common co-songwriter Stuart Townend. This slightly rockier album (of course its still Celtic folk, though, don’t worry!) packs a punch at points, with brilliantly-written hymns sung the whole way through. Accompanied by some of Nashville’s finest session musicians, the album really speaks of high quality musicianship. The drums are thumping in this, with some brilliant, musical and supportive playing from Dan Needham. 8.5/10

Elevation Worship – Nothing Is Wasted

I bought the deluxe 25-track live and studio version of this album from Amazon MP3 for only £5.99. From Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church, these guys are polished and well-produced. Lyrically the songs are solid. But they don’t sound much different to NewLife, Gateway, Soul Survivor.Or Hillsong for that matter. Actually, some of it is so similar to Hillsongs ‘Cornerstone’ album. Why do so much sound the same? Same big guitar sounds, multiple choruses, massive drums and big build ups. Are we so reliant on formula nowadays in modern contemporary worship? Didn’t interest me that much to be honest, although not a bad album. Rating: 6/10. Noteworthy songs: ‘Great In Us’, ‘Be Lifted High’, ‘Open Up Our Eyes’.

Darlene Zschech – Revealing Jesus

Darlene’s back with a new album. I was quite impressed with this album. She’s of course a pioneer in Christian contemporary worship music, but she still stays with the times in this album. The opening tune, ‘God Is Here’ lyrically is typical of Zschech, all about drawing near to God’s presence. It is also quite typically Hillsong, upbeat, guitar and drum driven, with plenty of ‘woahs’. Good song though. At 6:04mins it is quite long, too (not a criticism, its enjoyable), about 2mins longer than your average Hillsong Live opener. Other enjoyable tracks include ‘In Jesus Name’,  ‘Your Name/Cry Of The Broken’ (Your Name originally a Paul Baloche song) and ‘Jesus At The Center’ (Israel Houghton track). Former Hillsong drummer Rolf Wam Fjell plays on this record and sounds great. 7/5/10.

 

 

The Digital Age – Evening: Morning

This David Crowder Band breakaway album came to my attention online. It’s pretty good overall, and has Crowder-influences as well as some slightly heavier tunes. It does miss that unique lead vocal of David Crowder, but, overall a good, creative batch of songs. 7/10

Bethel Music – Tides

When I first heard ‘Chasing You’, musically I enjoyed it. Lyrically I had to do a bit of thinking. Do we chase God because He hides from us? To me it felt backwards. I thought God reveals Himself to us. The story of Salvation. I also thought, to a new Christian seeking God this might be baffling. But then I realised it was about ‘God’s treasures’. Clever, current and musically strong song that wouldn’t be out of place in the charts. It’s a good start to a rather brilliant album from Bethel. For me, the best songs on the album are ‘Forever’ and ‘For The Cross.’ Brian Johnson can write some great songs on the cross. 8/10.

Other good albums:

Martin Smith – God’s Great Dancefloor – Step One and Two 7.5/10

Enjoyable tracks throughout both albums, including the title track, ‘Song of Solomon’, ‘Awake My Soul’ and ‘Waiting Here For You.’ Martin Smith is enjoying a renaissance of late and these albums are pretty solid. I went to see him on tour this year and thought he was great live.

 

Hillsong Live – Glorious Ruins 7/10

Having been quite disappointed (by their standards at least) by the previous few years of Hillsong Live releases, ‘Glorious Ruins’ surprised me. Yes, it definitely still has the ‘Hillsong’ (ie. big ‘whooahs’, U2 guitar riffs and 16th-note tom fills) stamp on it (why shouldn’t it though?), but there are also some signs of a shift away from the ‘Hillsong’ style . Some tracks are longer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, like the title track, but it does feel like it takes an age to kick into gear. Thankfully its surrounded by better tracks like ‘Man of Sorrows’ and ‘Always Will.’

Matt Redman – Your Grace Finds Me 7/10

‘Your Grace Finds Me’ is the difficult follow-up album to the superb ‘10,000 Reasons’.  Similar to it (it was recorded at the same event), it has the beefy opening track ‘Sing & Shout’, followed by the more mid-tempo ‘Your Grace Finds Me’. My personal favourite, ‘Mercy’ is a beautiful track, and so is the closing one, ‘Benediction’. ‘Wide As The Sky’ is also pretty good. Solid overall.

Sovereign Grace Music – Grace Has Come : Songs from the Book of Romans (Special Edition) 7.5/10

Another good offering from Sovereign Grace Music. Musically solid, theologically rich and cheap to buy (£5.90 from Bandcamp!), I really enjoyed this. ‘The Gospel Was Promised’, ‘Nothing In All The Earth’ and ‘Judge of the Secrets’ all great tracks.

CHRISTIAN ALBUMS OF 2013: A REVIEW PART. 1

Ah the predictable ‘end of year review’ blog post! On a serious note, I’ve never done this and I wanted to write an article about some of the most-well known and some not-so-well known Christian albums released that over the past year I’ve come across. I say the past year…  I mean, a year or so…give or take…some were released in late 2012. Here’s Part 1.

*a brief note: I am not taking a swipe at any particular band or ministry. I am just trying to critique music in general, according to my taste.

Autumn-Winter 2012

Third Day – Miracle

Another good, solid album for Third Day, though not as good as 2010’s Move. Again, its well produced, solid, anthemic and country-filled at points, just what we’ve come to expect from Third Day. But not necessarily a standout album from them. Very listenable, though. Best songs: ‘Kicking And Screaming’, ‘Your Love Is Like A River’, ‘Forever Yours’ ‘I Need A Miracle’, ‘The Victory’.

Israel & The New Breed – Jesus At The Center

This is my favourite album of the last year. Worshipful (is that a word? I’m going to say yes), musical, inventive and creative, Israel and co continue to push the boundaries. Get this album. No more needed to be said. Favourite tracks: ‘Jesus The Same’ , ‘Rez Power’, ‘More Than Enough’, ‘I Call You Jesus’, ‘Jesus At The Centre’, ‘Speechless’. Rating: 9.5/10.

Worship Central – Let It Be Known

Good, solid offering from Tim Hughes and co. For me personally, it doesn’t match up to ‘Spirit Break Out’, and for a few reasons. 1. I feel some of the songs are ‘fillers’. I couldn’t tell the difference between the first two tracks, ‘Ready For You’ and ‘God Most High’ and the latest Jesus Culture/Hillsong/Elevation Worship etc offering. Is that a bad thing necessarily though? Maybe in some ways not. But if Hughes, Cantelon, Hellebronth etc are looking to implement creativity as a value of what Worship Central is, then it feels like a pretty dull opening to the album. Same mid-tempo feel, add a bit of synth, additional side drums and there you have it…a good opener heard on many a Christian worship album. 2. Relying on past ‘hits.’ This seems to be a common theme for Christian albums. Why do ‘Guardian’ and ‘Hallelujah’ appear (both Ben Cantelon numbers)? Ok, maybe it feels like Ben Cantelon’s new album has been out for ages, but it only came out in May 2012 (‘Guardian’ appeared on it, ‘Hallelujah’ is on 2009’s ‘Running After You’). Still, though, if its on the latest Worship Central album, theres a chance it’ll appear on Soul Survivor (on 2012’s Kingdom Come) and New Wine (on My Heart Will Ever Sing, 2012). But is that Worship Central’s fault, you ask? No, perhaps not. But for me, all of these albums where bands rely on past ‘hits’ seem to scream out to the buyer, “look, a new version…buy me!” Oh, wait, its the exact same song…

Right. With that moan out the way, the good songs on this album are really, really good. ‘Let It Be Known’ is such a funky, electronic piece, its one of these songs that makes you dance. And, perhaps a real step forward to where worship is going: electronica. ‘The Cross Stands’ is another stand out, as well as ‘Dry Bones’ (although is it just me or does the Ezekiel 37 theme seem to be doing the rounds with worship bands at the moment?) and ‘Our Generation.’  So yes, I do like this album. Especially the rapping. Rating 7/10.

Jesus Culture with Martin Smith – Live In New York City

When Jesus Culture hit a chord or a bass drum you know its them. This time they’ve teamed up with former Delirious? frontman Martin Smith. It features a couple of his new tracks, ‘Fire Never Sleeps’, ‘Waiting Here For You’ and ‘Song of Solomon’ as well as a few Delirious oldies. The current popular tune in charismatic Christianity (originally by Will Reagan & United Pursuit Band), ‘Set A Fire’  also makes an appearance, as well as some new Jesus Culture tracks. Now, whilst there’s no doubting the prominence of Jesus Culture movement, or their passion, I find this album quite dull at points (where’s your passion, Brian? LOL). Or do I mean ‘worshipful?” Some of the songs just really lack in tempo, the guitar sounds the same from song to song, the drums are so metronomical it lacks groove (that same bass drum kick and big crash groove in nearly every song is uninventive) making tunes indistinguishable from one to another (Perhaps we’re so used to this now, though!). A few lyrics I find to be mediocre at best, too. For instance, in the song ‘I Am In Love With You’, the line ‘My heart lusts after you, and I will abandon myself to you’ seems to be a poor choice of words and quite lazy actually, to be frank. But it doesn’t detract from the flow of the album, though (and I actually quite like that song), and is certainly not heretical, just poor. Highlights of the album for me, though are the brilliant ‘Alleluia’, ‘Holy Spirit’ (not a fan of the song, really, but like this version actually), ‘Fire Never Sleeps’, and ‘Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble?’. Rating 6/10.

Brenton Brown – God My Rock

First off, as a drummer, I actually thought the drums were far too loud in the mix! And the album really misses a keys player. There’s a space there filled by only one electric guitar which makes the whole thing sound quite empty and outdated. However, its a solid, if unspectacular album. It sounds at points it should’ve been released in 2005/6, and Brown’s ‘hit’ songs Everlasting God, Our God Is Mercy, Praise Is Rising are all included (for the mass audience I assume), as well as a nice transition to ‘How He Loves,’ actually. New songs ‘God My Rock’ and ‘Word of God’ are particularly good and show Brenton Browns skills as a songwriter. 6/10.

Bethel Music – For The Sake of The World

This album was a grower for me. At times I thought it was quite a boring album to be honest. Too many mid-tempo numbers, Brian Johnson’s ‘grainy voice’ and Jenn Johnson’s ‘howls’ can get annoying, but once I got past that (because I think you have to be in the mood when listening to it), I really appreciated it. Jeremy Riddle’s contributions ‘This Is Amazing Grace’ (co-written with Phil Wickham and others) and ‘In Your Light’ are two highlights for me personally. ‘You Have Won Me’ is a great addition from ‘The Loft Sessions’ and the album’s title track is also a pretty good anthemic heartcry. Steffany Frizzell’s song ‘Closer’ is quite good, too, if not a little basic. I guess it does have a ‘childlike’ cry to it, though. The album is also so well produced it makes it a very listenable collection of songs, and the spontaneous songs captured in the moment are great, though, a little predictable at times. Overall, I would give this album a 7/10.

2013

Chris Tomlin – Burning Lights

As much as I like Chris Tomlin, I have to agree with Jesus Freak Hideout’s review: he doesn’t step outside of the box too often. Three obvious highlights of him doing this though are the anthemic ‘God’s Great Dancefloor’, ‘Awake My Soul’ (feat. Lecrae) and ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies).’ Three great songs. The rest of it is average, to be honest. Not bad, but average. Crown Him is disappointingly predictable, and the Passion 2012 numbers ‘Jesus, Son of God’ and ‘White Flag’ don’t add a great deal, although both are very singable, Church songs. I guess that’s what Chris Tomlin is best at. But I just wish there was a bit more to the album. However, don’t let this negativity destract you from the album’s production, though which is incredible. Fantastic sounding drums, strings and synths galore, its really great to listen to.  7/10.

Passion – Let The Future Begin

This is the worst Passion album I’ve heard to date, to be honest. “Ouch, thats a harsh opening line” I hear you say. It’s just my opinion, though. Apart from ‘God’s Great Dancefloor, ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’ nothing really stands out for me. For instance: Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin’s ‘Shout’ is so similar to ‘Break Free’ from 2011’s ‘Here for You’. ‘Revelation Song’…why is it on there other than it being Kari Jobe’s most well-known ‘hit’ (though not written by her)? Chris Tomlin appears on 8 out of 14 of the songs…hogging the album. Kristian Standfill’s tunes are not particularly interesting or captivating (though the bonus version track by Charlie Hall, ‘Death By Death’ is great!). The only song I kind of like is ‘Jesus, Only Jesus’, as its quite catchy, and typically Matt Redman. Oh, and one more thing. ‘In Christ Alone’ is on it…minus one verse and lots of ‘woahs’ and an extended bridge, which must be said is excellent. Very disappointed by this album, all in all, though. In 5 years time, will Passion be like Hillsong, churning out albums sounding almost identical to each other year after year? Only time will tell. 4.5/10.

Hillsong UNITED – Zion

Wow, this is a great album! This might just be the best Hillsong album I have ever purchased, I would even go so far as to stay.  If ‘Aftermath’ was a step in a different direction for Hillsong UNITED, then ‘Zion’ is a massive step away from what Hillsong (in general) is known best for (not that I don’t like that, they are the best at what they do, but I just think that I’ve heard so much of it, album after album, 2008-12 in particular). At points of course, there are some trademark Hillsong tunes, like ‘Relentless.’ Still, its a great opener. And it just gets better. This synth-oriented, organic, spacious and poetic album is a stunning display of production, songwriting and musicianship (the glockenspiel and tambourine are undervalued instruments!). It flows beautifully, and would not be out of place in the secular charts. This is a must buy! If its where worship is going, then let’s go! I particularly love the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)’, especially the lyrics in the bridge:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Rating: 9/10. Top songs: ‘Relentless’, ‘Scandal of Grace’, Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)’, ‘Mercy Mercy’, ‘Heartbeats’, ‘A Million Suns’.

OLDER ALBUMS:

PAUL BALOCHE: GLORIOUS

Paul Baloche is one of my favourite worship songwriters. Theologically rich verses and choruses with few words to let the praises ring give a nice balance of a worship song. A brilliant songwriter and faithful leader, he knows how to get the most out of his band and to lead a congregation in worship. His voice has improved over the years, and recent albums sounds polished but not over done as Baloche allows for there to be space within each song. His 2009 release, Glorious, sees him going from strength to strength. The album is full of gospel-saturated songs, from the albums opener and title of the album, with it’s Coldplay-led guitar drones and pulsing drum beat, to the simplified and broken down To The Cross, where the focus is on keeping the main thing the main thingThere really are few better songwriters than Paul Baloche when it comes to combining with Gospel-centred lyrics and superb musicality, but I personally feel he has the balance right. From the lyrics such as “Where can I go but to the cross, to the cross, For there my shame You have washed away” to “I’m face to the ground, forsaking my pride, leaving my will, my burdens behind, All I want, all I need, is just to be with You.” This studio album has an audience in some of the songs which really adds to the worship feel, giving an impression that these are not just songs to listen to, but sung and played in Church. Baloche’s melodies are infectious at time’s and you’re left humming along, but it’s the deep-thinking lyrics leave you constantly going back to each song, added only by the strength of Baloche’s vocal chords. The songs are well laid-out in format and there never feels like a song out of place. My personal favourites from the album are Glorious, Just To Be With You, To The Cross and Today Is The Day. For a further review, check out Bob Kauflin’s opinions.