The State of Worship Music

Christian music has switched almost entirely into praise and worship mode.  The charts are dominated by artists such as Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Hillsong United with virtually every other artist releasing at least one album in this genre.  That being said, this reviewer is finding that some of these stalwarts are struggling to bring novelty into this mature style of music.  It is at this crucial time that Catholic artists such as Matt Maher and Chris Bray are joining the fray.

Chris Tomlin– Burning lights

Chris Tomlin is probably the most successful worship artist ever.  This album debuted at the no. 1 spot on the Billboard charts, only the fourth time ever for a Christian artist.    This is the praise and worship artist that everyone emulates.  On this album, however, one senses a shift in direction.  The song  “Awake My Soul”   features a rap-reading bridge with LeCrae.  It is definitely different and seems to indicate a desire to shake things up. Lyrically, the album goes above the norm for praise and worship, and songs like “Sovereign” are as good as any song that Tomlin has written.  However, most of the songs are still in the style expected by Tomlin fans; repeatable, hook-laden and familiar.   There are some weak songs in “God’s Great Dance Floor” and “White Flag” which are about, yes, dancing for God and surrendering to God.  This album is indicative of the crossroads now reached in worship music.   With so many similar sounding artists, everyone is trying to break out of the common mould.   Tomlin is to be commended for making such an effort.

Matt Maher– All the People said Amen (Live)

Matt Maher is the Catholic artist that has made the greatest inroads ever into the Christian music scene.  He is definitely one of the genre’s most popular artist.   This album is a greatest hits compilation to some extent, with a mix of new studio songs and live rendition of all his favorites.  The live cuts really show his abilities as a worship leader.  Drawing from Catholicism, the depth of lyrics in “Adoration (Tantum Ergo)” and “Great Things” (which is essentially the Magnificat) are very unusual for worship songs.  Popular hits like “Your Grace is Enough” actually find new life in a live setting.  The new studio recordings, such as “All the People Said Amen,” will continue Maher’s rise in the Christian music world.  This is a great example of the direction where worship music should be going.

Chris Bray– Beloved Child of God

Here is another Catholic artist who is gaining traction on Canadian Christian radio.  This album reunites Bray with producer Andrew Horrocks and should continue Bray’s increasing presence on Canadian Christian radio.  The title track is a great and catchy, with a feel of country mixed with some Mumford and Sons.  Other highlights are “I surrender all,” with guest vocals by Kate Adams, and “You Claim Me”.   There is a great deal of promise from Bray’s latest release, with his smooth comforting vocal delivery and relaxed pop sound.  Chris is one of the few Catholics who does music ministry full time, and deserves our support and prayers.  This album will definitely appeal to worship music fans.

Hillsong United– Zion

Hillsong United (as well as all the other variations offered by this group) have often been accused of creating a formulaic worship sound (live, big arena, U2-ish) with predictable lyrics.  This album, however, surprises in that it has a much different sound.  Part of the reason is that this is a studio effort.  If I were to use an analogy, I would say this is more Peter Gabriel than U2 in its feel and sound, most particularly felt in the song “Stay and Wait”.   The first song, “Relentless” has a great hook, with lyrics that are less worship then usual.  On “Oceans”,  there is atmospheric and dreamlike imagery used that is similar to the Divine Mercy prayer.   The later songs drift back into a more typical Hillsong sound  but, overall, this is definitely my favorite Hillsong United release.

Phillips, Craig & Dean– Breathe in

With the worship trend in Christian music, many bands are continuing to jump on the bandwagon.  This group is one of the most established in the industry, with twelve albums and over a decade under their belt.  However, delivering a solid worship album is not easy. as this effort demonstrates.  This release essentially tries to sound like all the other worship albums out there.  Several songs feature the formulaic background vocals made popular by secular artists like Phillip Phillips  in songs like “Home”.  The lyrics here have little depth and feel contrived. Given the history of this great band, I have to admit that I am quite disappointed.

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