The Phantom Tollbooth
Heart of Worship(US)/Intimacy (UK)
Artist: Matt Redman
Label: Star Song (US), Survivor Records (Kingsway sub-label) (UK)
Time: 12 tracks/63:30
 
No sooner had the US release of The Friendship and the Fear settled into its place on the shelves of Christian bookstores across the US, than this follow-up began to appear in the UK. Possibly the most hotly anticipated UK Christian Music release of the year, Intimacy features a veritable "who's who" of British Christian music, and is being hailed by many as Redman's best release yet.
 
In an article in Soul Survivor magazine, Matt says that one of his aims with this album was to make sure that the songs were suitable for congregational worship.  That inevitably places some constraints on the music. The melodies are simple and the music fairly middle of the road in many respects, making music that people can sing along with. Having said that, this is very definitely not a Kendrick or Bowater album, and the music continues to experiment with mixing loops alongside guitars.  In fact, it goes further in its experimentation with a variety of instruments--Dave Clifton apparently hired an electric sitar for some of the sessions, and a zulu choir is also featured. The delirious? boys are as prominent as ever; Martin Smith joins Redman in providing lead vocals on "Heart of Worship," and King of Fools producer Andy Piercy also did a lot of the production here.
 
The use of both Smith and Redmans's vocals on "Heart of Worhip" served to remind me of how similar they are vocally. Matt Redman has a slightly more husky voice, and does not have the odd accent of Smith, but in terms of general range and inflections in the voice, they are very similar. Both are good singers, and the duet works very well, although I prefer a couple of other recordings I've heard of this particular song.
 
Listening to this album through speakers I sometimes find it a little dull, with not many songs sticking out. As soon as I plugged in the headphones, though, the sound seemed to fill out--there're a large number of subtle effects layered behind the other items in the mix which really add life to the arrangements and are worth listening out for. The final section of the first track, "Let Everything That Has Breath," will be of interest to those who haven't been at an event where Redman has led worship, since Terl Bryant (Iona) and his Psalm Drummers lead a spontaneous semi-instrumental section that gives a feel for how Redman-led worship sessions often develop. 
 
The first track to really stand out to me was the ninth track, "Now to Live The Life." The song is backed by a trip-hop-influenced beat, and the vocals are distorted. It reminds me slightly of delirious? in one of their more experimental moods, but comes off as slightly more consistent than what they've recorded. Lyrically, this song comes, as many of the others on the album do, from the heart of Soul Survivor Watford, the church that Redman is involved in: Over the course of his four albums, Redman has developed as a lyricist, and over the latter two releases his phrasing and focus has shown why he is considered to be the leading worship songwriter in Britain at the moment. On "For the Cross," one of the album's most upbeat tracks (with a nice string-section backing), he sings: It took me a while to warm to this album, and I am still not sure by how much it surpasses Redman's previous release, but this is an excellent collection of worship songs. As a pop-rock record there are certainly ways that this could be improved upon, but it is an interesting listen and, for me, a useful aid to worship.

By James Stewart