Artist: Various Artists
Produced by Michael W. Smith
Label: Rocketown Records 1998
Time: 10 Tracks/47 Min.
I think most modern "praise and worship" music is a tacky American
cultural thing. I was raised a snob, you see, in the highest of high church
environments. Ours was not a church where one waved one's hands in the
air during Sunday Service, singing "Our God Reigns," and it was our business
as youngsters to scoff at those that did so.
I'm over that, mostly. I must admit, however, (with the sincerest
of apologies) that I still get my own private yucks when certain
individuals in my church get what I consider to be entirely too animated
during our weekly rendition of "Hosanna" or some other danceable tune.
A few years in and out of evangelical circles has taught me to appreciate
different forms of worship. However, in the interest of full disclosure,
when I saw this latest project from the capable Michael W. Smith, what
attracted me was the very cool Jimmy A. penned illustration on its cover
(his artistic renditions inside, of each band on the project are priceless).
Despite all my big talk, I must admit to being a closet Smitty (don't
you just gag when people call him that) fan, so the opening track,
"Exodus" immediately caught my ears, it's in the vein of a lot of the instrumentals
on his most recent record, Live the Life. By mid number, I was overwhelmed
with emotion at the beauty of his keyboard work and the haunting accompaniments.
In other words, it got, and kept my attention. I kept listening and was
pleasantly surprised by the new DC Talk cut which came up next. Entitled
"My Will," the lyrics hit me right where it hurts:
Complexity haunts me, for I am two men
Jars of Clay unfortunately left me with a bad taste in my mouth - how
could a new band with such promise fall so flat, and yet people be so oblivious?
The track is so-so, kind of sappy. I guess not every tune on a various
artists album is going to be exceptional. The next one, however, most definitely
fits that description. Leigh Bingham-Nash's vocals ring out clearly, in
Sixpence None the Richer's adaptation of an old Celtic prayer:
Entrenched in a battle that I'll never win
My discipline fails me, my knowledge it fools me
You are my shelter, all the strength that I need.
My heart is as dark as the soil
Oh, people! Talk about a word picture! Can't you just see the beauty
Sodden with winter rains.
My soul is as heavy as the peat
Freshly dug from the bog.
Help me open my heart
It's simple and childlike, and I love that in a worship song.
To you oh Jesus
It's what I long to do.
Now, you'd never have told me I'd sit bolt upright and go "Wow!"
over a Cindy Morgan tune, but her very ethereal "Make Us One" is
breathtaking, if not overly musically complex. Chris Rice chips in
with an adaptation of a popular hymn I used to know ("What can wash my
sins away? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"), setting it in his trademark
acoustically based vein. The relatively new "guy-group" The Katinas also
do a great job of a favorite of mine "Draw Us Close."
You're all I want
I feel like I'm sitting in the cavernous Willow Creek auditorium, watching
those very words up on the screen. The thought amuses me.
You're all I ever needed
Help me to know you are near.
Third Day hikes up the intensity level, with the MWS-penned version
of the "Agnus Dei," which certainly inspires. I respect this band
a lot, I find them to be very straightforward, simple and satisfying, like
a meal at your favorite diner. Hearing them speak at the Cornerstone festival
this year really impressed me. Crystal Lewis's rendition of the Sunday
Morning Special "Salvation Belongs to our God" is fine. Very nice. And,
if Michael W. Smith (I can't bring myself to use that awful nickname again)
hadn't just put out a fabulous project with lots of new material, I might
have been disappointed that his entry on the record was a cover of the
Rich Mullins classic "I See You." But, hey - it's a nice gesture to the
late songwriter, and he does it well.
So if I've left you a tad perplexed with my ramblings, and are unsure
exactly what my feelings are on the project, let's recap: I like it a lot,
almost without exception. I think it's one of the best modern worship compilations
I've heard. Artistically, it stands head and shoulders above the
recent Maranatha/Integrity Music type offerings, it's genuine, it
pleases me and actually points me to God, which is the intention, I suppose.
By Dave Landsel (9/10/98)