The Phantom Tollbooth


Songs from The Book
Artist:  Various
Label:  Word Entertainment
Length:  14 tracks / 62:04

In an attempt to expose the nearly 90 million Americans whom, according to research, have never read the Bible, Tyndale Publishers have published a New Living Translation called The Book. A musical companion, Songs from The Book, compiles recordings by top name Christian artists such as Michael Card, Amy Grant, Anointed, Crystal Lewis, Point of Grace, Sixpence None the Richer, Jaci Velasquez, Steven Curtis Chapman, and The Ragamuffin Band. This album is designed to draw listeners to the Word of God using the universal language of music.

Eight easily recognizable mainstream Contemporary Christian Music hits taken directly from other albums are included here along with three remakes of previously released material, one song never before released on CD, and two new songs made specifically for this project. Among the new ones is the title track, "The Book," by Michael Card and produced by Phil Nash. It is another of Card's Celtic-sounding tunes and one of the album's finest both lyrically and musically. Another is Sixpence None the Richer's "Trust" produced by Steve Taylor, which is actually a remake of the first song Matt Slocum and Leigh Nash ever wrote and recorded together when he was 16 and she was only 13. This recording features Slocum on an acoustic guitar and verges on a country sound. Anointed, Bryan Duncan, and Crystal Lewis team up to record a brand new version of a more obscure song called, "One Voice."

Chris Harris produced three songs, including an upbeat one written for this project called "The Word," featuring Anointed's beautiful harmonies. The album's first single is an urbanized remake of "El Shaddai" by the third generation of the Winans family, Winans Phase 2. Amy Grant joins the group on vocals, and the song's creator, Michael Card, plays guitar. Finally, Rocketown Records recording artist Ginny Owens offers her version of "Thy Word." Owens's beautiful voice rings clearly on this rendition. Though it is similar vocally to Amy Grant's initial recording, the accompaniment is smoother.

Although the admirable thrust of this campaign is to point unbelievers to the Word of God, such a premise is a bit suspect. If you think some unsaved friend might actually like mainstream Contemporary Christian Music, this project will serve as a worthy introduction. Considering the unlikelihood of such an event, you might just want to buy your friend The Book and an album  by a Christian artist that would better appeal to them.

 Trish Patterson   (5/23/99)

 Complete Track Listing:
  1.  The Book - Michael Card
  2.  El Shaddai - Winans Phase 2
  3.  Nothing is Beyond You - Amy Grant
  4.  God so Loved - Jaci Velasquez
  5.  Beauty for Ashes - Crystal Lewis and Ron Kenoly
  6.  One Voice - Anointed, Bryan Duncan, Crystal Lewis
  7.  Thy Word - Ginny Owens
  8.  Jesus Is -Point of Grace
  9.  He Watches Over You - Sandi Patty and BeBe Winans
 10.  The Word - Anointed
 11.  Trust - Sixpence None the Richer
 12.  Sometimes He Comes in the Clouds - Steven Curtis Chapman
 13.  You are Holy - 4HIM
 14.  My Deliverer - The Ragamuffin Band

According to national research taken from Gallup and Barna polls, almost 90 million Americans are approaching the millennium having never read the Bible. Songs from The Book is just one small portion of the largest campaign ever to promote the Bible.

Some of these songs were written specifically for this project, and some are re-cut classics. In a star-studded project such as this, it's difficult to judge which tunes stand out most; the quality of songs and artists has already proved successful. Therefore, the project must be evaluated from the standpoint of why it was designed. If it was designed to help promote a Bible translation entitled The Book, does its lyrics quote the Bible? Are its themes consistent with the themes of the Bible? Does it truly have the "star" appeal to do its job of selling merchandise?

Lyrics are doubly important when part of a CD's function is to sell The Book. While many songs on the project quote scripture directly, three songs--"The Book," God So Loved, and "Thy Word" --quote famous portions and will immediately catch listeners' attention.

"The Book," by Michael Card, sounds as though it were written specifically for this marketing blitz. In it, Card sings about things found in the Bible, and their effects. Jaci Velasquez lends help with "God So Loved." Most of her fans will immediately recognize the chorus as coming straight from John 3:16.

 "Thy Word," which features the little-known artist Ginny Owens and whose lyrics are my favorite of these three songs ("Thy Word's is completely from the Old Testament), also features my favorite melody on the project.

Several of the songs here were chosen because they hold firmly to themes expressed within scripture. Many are re-makes of older songs. Sixpence None the Richer's ballad "Trust" is a soft, melodious tune that attempts to establish control in this world of mass confusion. The remake of "El Shaddai" by Winans Phase 2 sounds similar to the original, but this version has been updated with a more urban sound.

As I mentioned previously, this project is definitely star studded. While not my favorite tunes, "Jesus Is" and "The Word," by Point of Grace and Anointed, respectfully, are definitely show-stoppers for the typical Contemporary Christian Music fan. Two other tunes I'm not certain about contain the voices of 4Him, Sandy Patty, and BeBe Winans. Each of these songs has lyrics expected in a compilation such as this. The shock is that each sounds like a Christmas hymn. This is not what a listener expects, and it throws off part of the project's tail end.

Other high-profile voices include Bryan Duncan, Crystal Lewis, and Steven Curtis Chapman. The most famous name on Songs from The Book is that of Amy Grant. Ironically, the tune on which Grant's voice leads is "Nothing is Beyond You," written and initially performed by the late Rich Mullins. This song and "My Deliverer," by the Ragamuffins, come from the Dove nominated CD of the year, The Jesus Record.

Cathy Courtwright

Another collaboration between a number of CCM artists, this time to promote a new translation of the Bible. Most of the included tracks have appeared elsewhere and are fairly middle-of-the-road. Sixpence None the Richer turn in a countrified version of "Trust" from their Fatherless and the Widow album and the Ragamuffins offer "My Deliverer" from The Jesus Record.  Apart from these two tracks there isn't much of note.
James Stewart (7/7/99)