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  Album: Our God of Wonders, Volume 1
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Essential Records (2002)
Length: 12 Tracks (55:12 minutes)

Without a doubt, the third volume in the City on a Hill series, Our God of Wonders, has some pretty big shoes to fill.  The first two installments, Songs of Worship and Praise and Sing Alleluia, confirmed producers Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd as purveyors of consistently innovative worship music, garnering near-universal critical acclaim, multiple Dove Awards and nominations and combined sales of nearly 500,000 units in the process.  But, while the new release shares the City on a Hill designation with its forerunners - both of which consisted entirely of original compositions - the Wonders project combines roughly equal portions of existing solo material from the individuals and groups featured on the first two albums along with new renditions of classic praise and worship choruses by up-and-coming artists.

While the inclusion of the already-released tracks is bound to be less than a selling point for some fans, particularly those who already own the albums from which the songs are taken, most listeners will be hard-pressed to find fault with the caliber of songs selected.  Third Day's hook-heavy "Your Love Oh Lord" kicks things off in decidedly infectious form.  "Needful Hands" from Jars of Clay and Caedmon's Call's equally beautiful and stirring "We Delight" are each built upon intricately structured acoustic textures that lock perfectly with the album's largely organic undercurrent.  And the live version of Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei," featured on last year's Worship project, exudes a sense of intimacy and immediacy that well surpasses that of its venerable studio counterpart from 1990's Go West Young Man.

As impressive as the lion's share of the older tracks are, the cover songs - which for the most part, run fairly faithful to their original versions - wind up besting their already-released counterparts.  The members of the Paul Coleman Trio sprinkle delicate, traditional gospel harmonies over "I Love You, Lord's" slightly countrified core with first-rate results.  In the same way, Marc and Christine Byrd of Adore slow the tempo of "He Is Exalted" just slightly, adding languishing vocals and majestic, full-bodied guitar textures for a result that matches, if not surpasses, the Twila Paris original.  And the Jason Ingram and Sonicflood collective displays a near-perfect pop sense on Dennis Jernigan's "All In All," stepping up both the lilting character and highly melodic content of the decade-old classic to catapult it into the best-of-album slot.

Although the notion of dividing Wonders equally between old and new material seems, at best, odd, the end results are, nevertheless, surprisingly positive.  The newer tracks, like those of the first two City on a Hill efforts, possess a texture that is, at once, earthy and polished, both austere and elegant.  To be sure, Hindalong and Byrd continue to make the process of putting fresh spins on familiar favorites look deceptively simple, leaving more than a few listeners rightly longing for an album's worth of such reworkings.  If the latest addition to the City on a Hill family admittedly lacks some of the originality and distinctiveness of its forerunners, making either of those albums a more ideal starting point into the series, its consistently strong song roster helps fill in much of the deficit, making the Wonders project a winning proposition that succeeds in spite of its dichotomy.

Bert Gangl 5/20/2002

Some of you may be familiar with the "City On a Hill” series, but for those of you who aren’t…there are currently two City On a Hill albums; both full of various artists coming together and making new worship songs. Well the creators of the series (Essential Records) have done yet another worship album titled Our God of Wonders!

Like City On a Hill, this album has a number of Christian artists, however the difference is all of the songs have been previously recorded. While that doesn’t effect the album entirely it would have been nice if [like City On a Hill] there would be new material.

As for which artists are on the album, you’ve got names like Third Day, Michael W. Smith, Jars Of Clay, FFH, Caedmon’s Call, Paul Colman Trio, and more! So the artist line-up isn’t bad at all, but again, it would have been nice to have new material.

In short, if you like worship music, I would recommend this album. But even though it says “From the creators of City On a Hill” right on the cover, don’t think it’s just like the other two albums. I was sort of disappointed, however it’s still a fairly good album overall, but by no means mind-blowing.

Josh McConnell 5/31/2002

The creators of City on a Hill have put together another amazing album; and this title could not fit it any better. Our God of Wonders is undoubtedly a "gathering of your favourite artists and worship songs."

It starts off with one of Third Day's most well known songs "Your Love Oh Lord" (from album 'Time'), and continues with Twila Paris' "He Is Exalted" performed by Adore. Following those are "Needful Hands" (Jars of Clay), "I Love You, Lord" - one of the most renowned worship songs (performed by the
Paul Colman Trio), "We Delight" (Caedmon's Call, from their latest album 'In the Company of Angels'), Keith Green's "Oh Lord, You're Beautiful" (performed by Sarah Sadler), Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei" (from 'Worship'), the very familiar "As the Deer" (one of my favourite choruses of all time - here
beautifully performed by Adore), FFH's "We Sing Alleluia," another popular chorus "All in All" (performed by Jason Ingram w/ SONICFLOOD) - followed by a performance of "Lord Over All" by SONICFLOOD, and ends with an incredible version of "God of Wonders" performed by Third Day's Mac Powell and Caedmon's Call's Cliff and Danielle Young.

The album portrays beautiful and God glorifying lyrics, great instrumentation, a diverse group of artists all bringing in their most noted assets (be it vocals, instrument abilities, or style), and some of the most
familiar tunes we all know and love: a combination that's hard to beat! I highly recommend this album!

Jessica Heikoop 7/8/2002

Our God of Wonders is a compilation CD of praise music, which acts as a sequel to the City on a Hill project.  The project had moments of overall good music, but the music doesn't flow together.

The album starts on the right foot with Third Day's rock/praise rendition of "Your Love Oh Lord," and like the prequel CD this album starts off strong. "He is Exalted" and the Jars tune "Needful Hands" are also winners, but from here on the compilation is more reminiscent of a talent show or a collection of praise MP3's that one would never buy all together.  These songs the
all-familiar internet, where one can find singles looming on a napster-driven hard drive.

Even worse, nearly all of these songs have already been released on one or more albums.

This is not to say that all is lost.  There is incredible talent on the CD from Michael W. Smith, FFH, the Paul Colman Trio, and Caedmon's Call.  It's too bad that a couple of songs justified the creation of another project.

The CD ends on a good note however, ironically, its Caedmon's Call signature song, "God of Wonders," from the original CD.

John Wehrle 9/9/2002
 

   
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