|1998 Spring Harvest Releases
Spring Harvest is the largest of a number of "Bible weeks" in the UK. The event is spread over two sites and three weeks, and each year around 70,000 people gather over the Easter break for teaching, worship, and fellowship.
One of the aims of Spring Harvest is to provide resources for the church, and for this reason they release a songbook and a collection of albums annually, to coincide with the event.
New Songs is the adult-contemporary release, while the Praise Mix was added a few years ago to address the need for something for the teens and twenties who attend the event. Such was the contrast between 1996's pop-influenced Praise Mix and last year's more alternative release that this year rage has been added as a home for the more alternative end of modern music.
All albums are on ICC Records.
New Songs '98
New Songs opens this year with a Taize song, "Bless the Lord"--ethereal keyboards topped with a small vocal group singing in tight harmony. As expected, the album contains a number of the most popular worship songs of the last couple of years, such as Matt Redman's "Heart of Worship" and "Believer," Paul Oakley's "Because of You," Dave Bilbrough's "Tell the World," and eight others.
The musicians and vocalists are good (although the voices are pitched to allow people to sing along), but unfortunately the arrangements don't have the spark that some of the originals have. "Tell the World," which live in the main worship sessions at Spring Harvest was a lively, rootsy number causing much spontaneous dancing, is here given a slick, polished arrangement that rids it of most of its personality. The arrangements are cliched like this in quite a few places, and it's not an album I would want to listen to more than a couple of times.
It is true that I am not in the demographic group which this album is aimed at, but most people I've spoken to agree that an album aimed at this market needn't be quite so bland.
Praise Mix '98
The Praise Mix this year is mostly house, with some doses of more recent developments in dance music, and the odd burst of electric guitar. Matt Redman, joined by Martin Smith (delirious?) plus a few other familiar names, is again well represented with "Heart of Worship" (the fifth recording of this song now in my collection) and "Send Revival."
"Heavenly Father" has something of an Underworld feel to its introduction, and a strong big-beat feel to the rest of it. Beth Vickers (former World Wide Message Tribe member) provides backing vocals, while Peter Wilson (Booley House) makes his first of numerous appearances on lead vocals.
The musicians are all strong; for example, Terl Bryant (Iona) appears on drums in a couple of places, and Gary Preston (Split Level) plays bass on a few tracks. In other places, some sounds are reminiscent of a number of chart acts, especially Sash on "History Maker." Matt Wanstall, the producer, normally works with Zarc Porter so the links are strong. This album will almost certainly appeal to WWMT fans.
Some of the arrangements are a little cheesy, but many a house fan will enjoy the album--as something to dance to, and something to help facilitate worship.
After his work on last year's Praise Mix, and Halcyon Days's Alkaline Times, young producer Dave Lynch has brought together some of the more alternative styles of music in a worshipful form.
Kicking off with some drum 'n bass, then pulling in styles from indie-rock/shoegazer to ambient to Gregorian chant, this album contains a wide range of styles without seeming too eclectic. Electronic beats dominate, as do female vocalists, and the whole album has a "chilled out" feel.
"My Jesus, My Lifeline" is given a trip-hop twist here, which I find much better than the version on the Praise Mix, and Iain Archer appears on guitars and vocals on "Pour Out My Heart" and "Waiting Heart," and guitars on a couple more tracks. Iain penned "Waiting Heart" himself; the lyrics speak of learning to surrender all to the "waiting heart" of God.
Your heart is waiting true
You're never far from me
Though I've been far from you
Overall, this may not be quite the ground-breaking album that the sales execs want us to believe, but it is one of the most cohesive dance-worship albums I've heard, and a very good listen. Now if only they'd add Iain Archer's material to the annual songbook....
By James Stewart