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August 2000 Pick of the Month
City on a Hill - Songs of Praise and Worship
Artist:  Various
Length:  13 tracks / 54 min. 21 sec.

God of Wonder
The Stone
With Every Breath
You are the light of the world
A city on a hill cannot be hidden
Shine your light before all men
That they might see your works and then 
Praise your Father up in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16)
Chorus from the title track by Third Day
Standing side stage at the Gene Eugene Tribute at Cornerstone 2000, a stranger passed by and handed me a CD.  At that moment it was too dark to see, so when I got back to my motel room and discovered what was in my possession,  I was very pleased to find an exclusive advance release copy of City on a Hill, a praise and worship album I'd read about.  Upon first hearing this album, I was not that impressed. However, after several complete spins and sensing the positive effect it had on me, my final analysis is different than it was at the beginning. Christians are instructed throughout Scripture to praise and worship the Lord in everything, and this collection of songs helps us to do just that.

Producer Steve Hindalong brings together a group of top-notch artists including Caedmon's Call, The Choir, Sixpence None the Richer, FFH, Third Day, Jars of Clay, Sonicflood and Peter Furler of the Newsboys, to create this very powerful praise and worship album. A number of the songs are collaborations containing beautiful vocal harmonies, such as "Precious Jesus," "God of Wonders," and "With Every Breath."  As one might expect, most of the music is quite soothing and worshipful, but the tempo picks up a bit on songs like "Merciful Rain" and the rock gospel title track. Listen carefully and you will hear hymn melodies in "God of Wonders" (Holy, Holy, Holy) and "This Road" (For the Beauty of the Earth). Lyrically, those who are familiar with Scripture will find verses/phrases taken directly from the Bible. In addition, the visual imagery the music and lyrics create is wonderful.

Also included on City on a Hill are two songs featuring the artistry of the late Gene Eugene that were recorded shortly before his death.  Those two songs ("I Remember You" and "Marvelous Light") along with "Precious Jesus," offered by The Choir and Sixpence's Leigh Nash, are the most gripping songs for me.  Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar as "Precious Jesus" begins, Derri Daugherty sings each word deliberately, which is quite effective in making listeners really pay attention to what is being said.  Following are the lyrics: 

I remember You, precious Jesus, I remember You
Healer of my heart, Lover of my soul

On Your sacred head
A crown of thorns pressed on Your sacred head
Mighty King of the Universe, Merciful Lamb
For my sin You suffered and bled
Still, 'Father forgive them. They don't understand.'
Sweet Savior, I heard what you said.

I remember You, precious Jesus, I remember You
Healer of my heart, Lover of my soul

Jesus, we remember
As we drink from the cup of salvation, Your blood
We remember Your sacrifice for us
We remember the way that You suffered for us.

Risen from the grave
Christ immortal risen from the grave
At Jerusalem's gate how You wept for the lost
Even as palm branches waved
Then You proved how You loved us on Calvary's cross
And rose up on the third day, so all who believe might be saved.

Yes, we remember You, precious Jesus, we remember You
Jesus, we love You
Precious Jesus, we love You
Jesus, we love You
Healer of our hearts, Lover of our souls...

Undoubtedly some of these songs will be sung as praise and worship choruses in churches around the world, and others will become radio hits. The lead-off track, "God of Wonders," has just been released as the first radio single. Following is the chorus, which praises our truly awesome, holy God:
God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are holy
The universe declares Your majesty
You are holy
Lord of heaven and earth
Hallelujah to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Release date is August 22, 2000, for both the album and companion book,  City on a Hill - Reflections on Our Spiritual Journeys. (The book features selected artists' and authors' perspectives on their faith.) This album will appeal to Christians who are or want to be in love with Jesus Christ, and to all those who are weary and heavy laden needing to focus on Him and away from their circumstances. It's balm for the soul.

Complete Track Listing:

  • God of Wonders - Third Day (Mac Powell) and Caedmon's Call (Cliff and Danielle Young)
  • The Stone - Jars of Clay
  • With Every Breath - Sixpence None the Richer (Leigh Nash) and Jars of Clay (Dan Haseltine)
  • I Remember You - Third Day (Mac Powell) with Gene Eugene
  • Precious Jesus - The Choir with Sixpence None the Richer (Leigh Nash)
  • You're Here - Sixpence None the Richer
  • Where You Are - FFH
  • Merciful Rain - FFH
  • Unified - Sonicflood with Peter Furler of the Newsboys
  • Covenant Song - Caedmon's Call
  • City on a Hill - Third Day
  • Marvelous Light - Gene Eugene with All Artists
  • This Road - Jars of Clay
 Trish Patterson     7/29/2000 

Lately worship music has become a more recognized genre within the contemporary Christian music market. Everyone is releasing music and putting the "worship" label on it. Some of it is truly worship music and some isn't.

Essential Records will soon release (Aug. 22) City on a Hill. Of all of the worship music produced so far this year this project is the finest. From the opening song "God of Wonders" through the closing "This Road" there is one cohesive, unifying theme: worshipping God. 

One indispensable element of corporate worship is the idea of the community coming together in adoration of God. All voices and all hearts striving together to reach that place where singing songs of praise transcends the human and becomes infused with the Divine. When that happens, the Spirit of God descends and inhabits the praise of His people.

This is rarely captured on recordings. But, God's Spirit is ever present on City on a Hill. He is the underpinning upon which it is built and the canopy under which it is performed. He is the East and West of this project and the Center of it.

The concept of community is expressed throughout as the various artists and bands combine and recombine, intermingling their talents and expressions of worship. Some write. Some sing. Some pray. Some play. Some produce. Some encourage. This one sings on that one's song and the other one wrote the song that this one sings. The logistical details of the project must have been enormous.

However, the involvement in "community" was integral to the project. As the producer put it: "It was truly a community endeavor, reflecting our common desire to live in holy communion with our heavenly Father and with one another--by the unifying miracle of God's Spirit in our midst."

Opening with the modern psalm "God of Wonders,” the disc unabashedly proclaims the holiness of God. The singers create just the right mix of awe and adoration for a "God of wonders beyond our galaxy:

 The universe declares Your Majesty
 You are holy, holy
 Lord of Heaven and Earth
 Lord of Heaven and Earth
 Early in the morning
 I will celebrate the light
 When I stumble in the darkness
 I will call Your name by night
Worked into the song are the recognizable strains of the traditional hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"--and the blending of old and new only gives the song more depth.

From proclaiming the holiness of God, the project moves into acknowledgement of the centrality of Jesus Christ, in the song "The Stone," built upon the Scriptures which proclaim "the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; 1Peter 2:7). From there comes the admonition that "everything that has breath" ought to be praising the Lord--even when things aren't going so well ("With Every Breath").

Following comes two songs working together to lead the listener from remembering the sacrifice of Christ to remembering God's triumph over death--and the salvation that single act brought to all who call upon the name of Christ. Melding the deep sadness and melancholy of "I Remember You" with the ever-increasing joy of "Precious Jesus" takes the listener from the despair of the Crucifixion to the exultation of the Resurrection. 

Despondency gives way to ecstasy as the realization of just what Christ's triumph over death means for the believer slowly becomes apparent. We are moved from remembering the broken body of Christ to remembering our own brokenness and the healing God has brought into our lives.

 Mighty King of the universe, merciful Lamb
 For my sin You suffered and bled
 Still Father, forgive them, they don't understand
 Sweet Savior, I heard what you said
 As we drink from the cup of salvation, Your blood
 We remember Your sacrifice
 We remember the way that You suffered for us
Subsequent songs deal with the omnipresence of God in our lives ("You're Here"), speaking to God through prayer ("Where You Are"), experiencing God's mercy ("Merciful Rain"), the unity that should, and will one day, be found in the Body of Christ, the church ("Unified"), covenanting with God to be His people ("Covenant Song"), and adoration of God's luminescence ("Marvelous Light").

The title song based on Matthew 5:14 ("a city on a hill cannot be hidden") encourages believers to share the Light of God that is within them with those who are still searching for that Light.

 And I know that our salvation isn't in the things we do
 But it's only given by the grace of God
 By the sacrifice of Jesus, and if we really did believe
 We would want to share this message with someone
Finally, the disc ends with "This Road," a prayer of benediction asking that God travel with us on the road we're on, giving us peace and grace and shelter.

This project was the work of these fine artists (in alphabetical order): Caedmon's Call, The Choir, Gene Eugene (in his last recordings before his recent death), FFH, Peter Furler, Christine Glass, Steve Hindalong, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, SONICFLOOd, and Third Day--among many others.

They showed, by their participation in this project, their own commitment to be that "city on a hill" -- showing the light of God to the world and drawing all people to Him.

 You are the light of the world
 A city on a hill cannot be hidden
 Shine your light before all men
 That they might see your works and then
 Praise your Father up in Heaven
Mike L Ehret 8/7/2000

Cynic that I am, there aren’t a large number of worship albums that I enjoy. I tend to see the genre as a whole as opportunistic, and I believe that a lot of bands aren’t in it for the right reasons. Even given that, though, I’ve been looking forward to City on a Hill, the genre’s latest effort, for quite some time now. Why? Because Steve Hindalong, drummer/lyricist for The Choir and mastermind behind the At the Foot of the Cross series (worship music before it was popular to do worship music!), spearheads the project. 

City on a Hill is on Essential Records, and it shows: quite a few of the artists represented on the disc are signed to that label: Third Day, Caedmon’s Call, FFH, etc. Other artists include Sixpence None the Richer, The Choir, and the late Gene Eugene. Eugene fans will be especially interested in the project, as his parts were recorded a mere two weeks before his death in March.

Unlike the At the Foot of the Cross discs, City on a Hill doesn’t appear to have a single unifying theme that runs throughout the album. Instead, it focuses on different aspects of God and the Christian walk, and includes songs to God, from God, and about God. The result is somewhat more disjointed than ATFOTC, but it doesn’t really distract from the feeling or mood of the record.

One highlight for me is Mac Powell’s (Third Day) rendition of Adam Again’s The Tenth Song, renamed here "I Remember You." That bleeds into "Precious Jesus," what may be the album’s most beautiful song, "Precious Jesus," sung by The Choir’s Derri Daughtery and Sixpence’s Leigh Nash. Nash also sings the self-composed "You Are There," which is a lovely, reassuring song sung from God’s perspective. Eugene tackles "Marvelous Light" wonderfully, with vocal help from every artist on the record, and FFH’s "Merciful Rain" is both catchy and touching. There are a few clunkers, but they don’t take away from the total value of the project, which may well be a classic someday.

Michial Farmer 8/23/2000



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