Favorite Worship Albums of 2003
- Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
Contemporary worship was already a phenomenon in Christian music at this time last year. But few could have known about the tragedy that was to come on September 11, or the comfort and impact that songs of worship would bring to so many, particularly Michael W. Smith's
Various Artists (Essential)
Andy: The second installment of this widely popular series stays in the tradition of joining together some of Christian music's biggest stars in unique duets. Like the first volume, the sequel features the production work of Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd, who base the project on gentle acoustic beats and rousing orchestral crescendos. With such wonderful collaborations as Nichole Nordeman, Mac Powell (Third Day), and Jennifer Knapp on "Sing Alleluia," and Cademon's Call with Phil Keaggy on "Communion," you'll enjoy spine tingling praise.
Russ: Christians come together for the sake of worshiping the Almighty with creativity. Old hymns blend with modern worship. Inspirational songwriters duet with roots rockin' lead vocalists. There's even a liturgically based mini-communion service in the album's final few songs. This album is what worship and Christian community are all about.
Shane Barnard and Shane Everett (Inpop)
Russ: I've picked Psalms for this list primarily because of Shane Barnard's songwriting skills, specifically his gift for artful-yet-catchy adaptations of Scripture for worship. Numerous artists have used the Psalms as a source for songwriting over the years, but few have done it as well by appropriating key verses and phrases to verses and choruses. Since Shane also uses draws upon Job and Hosea for this album, I look forward to seeing what else he can do with God's word for years to come.
Andy: What I really appreciate about Barnard and Everett's transformation of the
Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus (Vertical)
Andy: Known for their intense live show and classic rock and roll influences (Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles) the Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus is a trailblazing rollicking rock band in Christian music, void of clichés and haphazard arrangements. Instead, their spiritual themes and vertical lyrics are couched behind a blaze of guitars and drums, backed even more importantly by personal integrity possessed by each group member.
Russ: I love Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus for taking a different approach to praising God, combining fun British rock sounds with times of breath-taking worshipful atmosphere ala Pink Floyd. Anything that gets people excited about coming to worship the Lord is a good thing. Given time, I think this band might be as influential as Delirious has been on modern worship.
Various Artists (Maranatha!)
Russ: This album calls attention to the art of arranging, an essential skill in being a worship leader. Everyone can mimic the original versions of "Shout to the Lord" and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" for their own church's worship, but sometimes it's helpful to try something new musically to grab the congregation's attention or express the personal style of the church. Might this album inspire worship leaders to stretch their artistic skills for the sake of glorifying God?
Andy: I've always said artists need to put just as much effort into artistry as they do ministry, and thankfully, the worship leaders on this project echo those sentiments. Because the group is based in the UK, the songs have an obvious underlying Brit-pop influence, yet the arrangements are clever and carefully developed. Keep your ears glued to cuts like "Shine, Jesus Shine" and "We Want to See Jesus Lifted High." You'll be pleasantly surprised by the inventive reworkings.
Kara (Vertical / Integrity)
Andy: Growing as a worship artist from her stint with the band Three Strand, Kara is even more effective as a solo artist on her Vertical Music debut. The self-titled released is loaded with groovy dance jams, bursting pop beats, and refreshing contemporary melodies that will translate well into the church setting. The production on Kara's project is top notch and matches, if not surpasses, anything in the mainstream market, proving that musical quality and uplifting spiritual messages make for an appealing combination.
Russ: This is a different kind of worship album … one that has a beat you can dance to. As cool as the techno-pop production is on this album, don't let that shy you away from using these songs in church. Kara's original songwriting translates well to rock and acoustic settings. Additionally, the reverse vertical song "I Love You" is a love letter from God to us that leaves me with chills. Good stuff, especially if you're a fan of Rebecca St. James's
Vineyard Music Group (Vineyard)
Russ: I think this is easily the best album Vineyard has released since 1999's acclaimed
Andy: You can always depend on Vineyard's ability to cull together some of the most anthemic praise material available and put it together with the worship leaders who can get the job done right. They obviously can't strike gold with every release, but they've managed to do so in the last few years with projects like
Rita Springer (Floodgate)
Andy: Rita Springer delivers penetrating worship experiences along her endless road of touring, while her recordings serve as soundtracks for believers to step into personal interaction with God. Her latest Effortless combines angelic vocals (along the lines of Tori Amos or Ginny Owens) with the soothing piano playing fans have come to love over the years. Springer wears her passion for worship on her sleeve and never once leaves the parameters of a praise experience.
Russ: 'Passionate' is a word you can't use enough when describing Rita's songwriting, and 'poetic' is a close second. Though her vocals are energetic, they can also be as powerful as Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls. The sense of worship seeps through the speakers on this one, with a terrific band that recalls Rich Mullins's
Brian Doerksen (Hosanna! / Integrity)
Russ: This long-time contemporary worship leader is overdue for some recognition, and this is the album to do it. You Shine is the first solo album from the man responsible for "Refiner's Fire," "Lord Light the Fire Again," and "Come Now Is the Time to Worship," which appears at the album's end for thoughtful reasons. It's so clear from the songwriting, the arrangements, and the performance that Brian really understands what it means to worship lead … and how to be artistic about it as well.
Andy: In the past, worship leaders have often remained anonymous behind praise compilations, and although I appreciate their humbleness in doing so, it's nice to be able to follow the work of favorite songwriters, especially the ones who think outside the box. Doerksen mixes up this project with new compositions as well as new versions of audience favorites that previously appeared in the Hosanna and Vineyard collections. Stylistically,
Lincoln Brewster (Vertical / Integrity)
Andy: Lincoln Brewster has played guitar for a list of legends ranging from Journey's Steve Perry to Michael W. Smith, and he's always kept his blend of alternative rock and pop on the cutting edge throughout his career. Amazed is particularly listener friendly through its course of rearranging modern-day worship standards (like Delirious' "What a Friend I've Found") while featuring many spirited originals (including "All I Really Want" and "Everybody Praise the Lord").
Russ: "Everybody Praise the Lord" is the coolest rock worship song I've ever heard. Lincoln knows how to write catchy and memorable worship songs that you'll find yourself humming long after listening to the album. But most of all, I love Lincoln's willingness to promote instrumental excellence in worship – he absolutely smokes as a lead guitarist. If you liked Sonicflood's first album, you'll love this one.
Student Impact Worship Team (Willow Creek)
Russ: We're going with a slightly unorthodox choice by picking this independent release from the Student Impact youth service at Willow Creek Community Church, but let that be an indicator of how good it is. Twenty-something worship leader Aaron Niequist leads an impressive praise team of teens on this album of mostly original songs. The music is fun, memorable, and irresistible – great for worship services of any age demographic.
Andy: Having personally participated in several worship services at Willow Creek, I can attest to the congregation's abundance of musical talent and infectious methods of delivery. Hearing primarily the youth of the church on this project is encouraging and shows promise that the parish will have a new generation of impacting worship leaders coming up in the ranks. Youth groups across the nation will fall in love with Student Impact's free-flowing style and spirited moments of praise, finding themselves quickly adapting Willow Creek's methods in subsequent services.