HILLSONG WORSHIP : Open Heaven River Wild (Hillsong Australia)
Oh Hillsong, why do you continue to frustrate me? Just when I think you will ignite the fires of worship in me, you douse them with a blast of mediocrity. Remember when Hillsong was new, fresh and vibrant? Do you remember the delights of such songs as “My Jesus, My Saviour” and “Mighty To Save”? Of course you do, and I’ll bet you still sing them. They remain on the core lists of many churches because they are good songs, inspired and timeless. This album though is unfortunately anything but. Not only does it sound like it is regurgitating what has gone before the songs themselves seem to be a repeat of one another – the same chord sequences, the same guitar sound, the same drums, the same vocals, the same sentiment, the same style, the same tempo. Normally I like to pick out some highlights and comment on them individually but I am struggling with this album to find anything of note. This is not a comment on the sincerity of those behind this but from a perspective of someone spending hard earned cash, it’s a big disappointment. I’d rather give my money to a grass roots artist. Sorry Hillsong, you must do better. 2/10 Robin Thompson.
DANNY GOKEY : Hope in Front of Me. (BMG Absolute : ABMGCD4)
Danny Gokey came to prominence in the US a few years ago, when he was a finalist in the American Idol TV series. He released a smash hit album called “My Best Days” and now, after four years of creative development and production, has unveiled his second album. Gokey himself calls it “songs of hope and entertainment.” That describes it perfectly as he mixes songs of a religious background with secular songs of love. Musically, it’s a similar style to Take That crossed with One Direction. There are plenty of songs here that would match today’s chart material, including the title track. It opens proceedings and the production sees everything but the kitchen sink thrown into the mix. “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” is almost a ballad about how God works for your good in your life, even when you’ve hit rock bottom. The electro funk on “Better Than Gold” bears more than a passing resemblance to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. My favourite song has to be “This is What It Means”. It’s head and shoulders above anything else on the album. A song about being in love, the lyrics are well written by Gokey and Stephanie Lewis, and the music, expertly put together. I can see this album appealing primarily to people half my age but, saying that, there was still enough good material for me to listen to. 8/10.
ALL SOULS ORCHESTRA : Prom Praise – Loves Excelling (Recorded live at the Albert Hall.) Integrity Music 65072
This is an odd CD. Either you make a classical album, or a worship album. This CD tries to do both, and it doesn’t really work that well. The CD starts with a rendition of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”, which is fine until the bit where the lyrics come in. I’m sorry, but you can’t replace “Land of Hope And Glory” with new lyrics, I don’t care how spiritual they are, you just can’t. The second track is the traditional “Love Divine All Loves Excelling, which is ok with the orchestra and choir, but as the song builds to a climax at the end, there is something that seems to be way off key, the singing seems to be flat, against the organ. I listened to it several times because I thought it must be me, but I’m convinced that it’s not. Reuben Morgan features next singing “Mighty To Save”, with a bassline that’s completely unsuited to it. There are one or two songs where the orchestral arrangements don’t complement the vocals, but seem to fight with them for prominence. The Classical tracks that are not worship songs are better, There’s a nice version of “The Warsaw Concerto” for example. The best of the worship songs is easily “O For A Thousand Tongues” which lends itself to the big arrangement quite well. Despite featuring Matt Redman, Christy Nockels and others, I thought this was a fairly disappointing CD. There’s also a DVD that comes in the package, which features some extra tracks that are not on the CD. All in all though I’d sooner watch the real proms. 4/10 Andy Sayner.
When Carol released “The Key” earlier this year, I realised just what a talented singer and musician she was. Indeed, this new 6 track charity CD just confirms my belief that she has one of the best voices on the UK CCM scene today. Recorded in aid of the St Richard’s Hospice, as I write, it’s already raised hundreds of pounds. The title track is a beautiful, original song about the birth of Christ that I instantly took to my heart. That warm vocal sound of Carol’s simply warms me inside. Her guitar and Mary Pitchford’s violin offer the backing to a well-crafted version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – a style that’s repeated on “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I’d never heard of the “Sans Day Carol” before, but I heartedly enjoyed it, complete with harmonica and accordion. Again, Carol’s voice is on top form on a catchy, folk number. The final track is another self-penned, light pop song. It’s a great track that tells people of our Saviour, and just what He can do for them. “I will pray you will hear His call, as it echoes to your soul.” It’s a lovely collection of songs and my only disappointment was that there weren’t more included. 9/10.
BREAD & WINE is the sound of those pursuing deeper communion with God and one another. Founded by Bethel Atlanta worship pastors Ben and Kelly Smith, BREAD & WINE lead simple gatherings of worship for all to experience the beauty, mystery, and wonder of relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As far as the production of the album goes, it really does capture the true essence of this live gathering. There are 12 tracks in all, but 5 of them are spontaneous versions of the previous song. For instance, the opening “When You Are Here” features some great vocals by Ben, testifying to the great miracles that God can do. It’s followed by a spontaneous version which I really liked. Sometimes, these things can sound a little contrived, but note here. Likewise, when Kelly takes over on “Great is the Lord”, the power of the song spreads through both versions. The overall style of the album is contemporary, but is very different to that emanating from, say, Jesus Culture. For me, that’s a big plus, as I found this release so appealing. Stand out song is “Mountain to Valley”. Ben sings so well, with lyrics such as “In the silence or in the city streets, your presence covers me.” What a great promise to know, that God is with us at all times and everywhere we go! And, for those who struggle with the father figure as Godhead, just listen to “Never Met a Father”, it’s simply wonderful. The excitement of listening to a new artists’ album is one I treasure, and hearing this one has been a pleasure. 9/10.
This 15 track CD from the latest iteration of the famous Winans family is a ‘deluxe edition’ reissue of the original from 2014, with three re-mix / re-edit ‘bonus tracks’. Here we have a mixture of slow ballads (sometimes a touch TOO slow) and upbeat funk featuring sequenced drums and bass with vocals up to the usual high Winans standard, with harmonies beautifully arranged and delivered. We also have superb sound quality, in stark contrast to the compressed mush that characterises so much ccm these days – a pet frustration of mine. On first listen the standouts for me were the eminently danceable ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘Negative positive’ with its ‘life turned around’ message delivered via a repeating chorus riff ‘turned it from a negative into a positive’ that ran through my head for hours afterwards! Further listening revealed one or two ‘growers’ including the remixed ‘Dance’. Whilst in my view the original ‘Move in me’ was probably best left as it was(!), I found the remixed ‘Dance’ to be a big improvement on the rather plodding original, and the ‘breathed on’ ‘I really miss you’ to be a similar improvement, although my toes were curling at the cheesy ‘love lost’ lyrics of the latter and ‘Please don’t go’. Overall then a bit of a mixed bag – definitely a ‘dem record’ for those with nice quality sound systems, two or three outstanding tracks, others worth a listen, others irritating and the remainder fairly unmemorable. A difficult one to give an overall score to, but probably fair to make it a 7/10. David Deeks