Sounds like … similar to previous entries in the acclaimed series-worshipful acoustic pop with alternative touches, featuring Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, Bebo Norman, and several othersAt a glance … though weaker in many ways than the previous efforts, The Gathering still stands as an outstanding album that offers thought-provoking worship and sophisticated acoustic pop sounds

With three albums in as many years, the highly acclaimed and undeniably popular City on a Hill series has left a lasting mark on Christian music, generating one of the most enduring modern worship songs ("God of Wonders") and selling a combined total of more than 700,000 units. With the fourth and final edition, City on a Hill: The Gathering, producer Steve Hindalong has drawn things to a close.

The City on a Hill series is unique in its community-inspired collaborations of worship between prominent Christian musicians. With the exception of Third Day, the long-time participants are back for round four: Jars of Clay, Caedmon's Call, FFH, Sixpence None the Richer, The Choir's Derri Daugherty, and Glassbyrd (which was involved behind the scenes the whole time). The Gathering also features returnees Sara Groves, Bebo Norman, and Paul Colman Trio, plus City on a Hill newcomers Andrew Peterson, Ginny Owens, and acoustic-pop band Silers Bald. Hindalong is again joined by fellow producers Daugherty and Marc Byrd of Glassbyrd.

With all the returning creative forces, The Gathering retains many of the characteristics that made previous efforts so endearing: impressive duets, sophisticated acoustic-pop arrangements, and a reverence for ancient church tradition blended with modern worship. I've always loved how one album seems to inspire the next. Ignoring the slight detour of 2002's Christmas album, The Gathering picks up where Sing Alleluia left off—with the sound of birds and bells, juxtaposed over a running stream.

Unfortunately, there are indications that the series has run out of ideas. Like the previous albums (except the Christmas one), "Marvelous Light" is featured on The Gathering; it might be viewed as a recurring theme, but it lacks punch this time. There's also the decision by Hindalong and Daugherty to once again resurrect "Beautiful Scandalous Night" for the second or third time in their career—though not on previous City on a Hill projects. Although it's sung beautifully by Leigh Nash (Sixpence) and Bebo Norman, it feels like the song's been done too often, as if it were an admission that the producers can offer no better. Then there's the multi-artist title track and first single, sort of a Christian folk/pop "We Are the World" that almost sounds too forced: "Sisters, brothers/We've got to learn to love each other/Our Father in Heaven has called us to be instruments of peace."