Favorite Worship Albums of 2003
- Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Time again for our annual list of Favorite Worship Albums. The 12 CDs listed here, all released since September 2002, aren't ranked in any particular order, because different people worship in different ways. Many styles are represented here—from classic rock to soft pop, and everything in between and beyond. Whatever your preference, we hope you'll give these standout albums a listen. These projects were chosen based on originality of songs, quality of performance, and the ability to draw the listener into closer communion with the Lord, representing a level of excellence where artistry and worship uniquely combine.
Perhaps this is an obvious choice, but perhaps not. Smitty's first
Hillsong Live Worship (Hillsong/Integrity)
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The world-renowned Worship & Creative Arts team of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, produces a handful of albums annually. Unfortunately, many are repetitive and unmemorable, but here's one of the great ones. Blessed may be Hillsong's most energetic album yet, recorded live at the Sydney Entertainment Center in 2002. Improved arrangements and catchier songwriting ("Now That You're Near," "Made Me Glad," and the title track, to name a few) make the band sound more powerful and majestic. They still haven't come up with another "Shout to the Lord," but Darlene Zschech, Reuben Morgan, Marty Sampson and company seem to improve with time as evidenced by this remarkable worship event.
Quite possibly the breakout worship debut of the year. Name another new worship artist making a bigger impact in 2003. At this writing, "This Fragile Breath" has already spent six weeks at number one. Imagine how well the title track, an irresistible rock revival of "Amazing Grace," will do. Agnew deserves high praise for combining multiple interests into a single, cohesive worship style. Those who favor the traditional will appreciate his reverence for the old hymns. Younger listeners will love his relevant sound, remarkably emulating popular artists like Dave Matthews and Creed. He may not be the most original of worship artists, but Agnew's talents are undeniable and promising.
Though she's never stopped writing worship songs, it's been more than 10 years since this worship pioneer's last praise & worship album—surprising since the modern worship renaissance began five to seven years ago. But House of Worship was worth the wait. The new songs don't quite measure up to standards like "We Bow Down" and "We Will Glorify" (new versions of both appear on this album), but most are definitely a cut above the norm. "Come Emmanuel" and "Christ In Us" are beautifully haunting, "Glory and Honor" undeniably catchy, and "God of All" instantly learnable with a strong pop melody and simplistic lyrics. Of all the 2003 worship albums, this is one of the most concentrated for quality worship anthems you can expect to hear in church over the next few years.
Okay, we all know the songs that have made this UK quintet a world-famous worship band in the last 10 years. And no, there's really nothing new on this double-disc live album. But we include it here on the merit of the band's incredible performance. It perfectly captures Delirious in concert, where the atmospheres of an arena rock show and an ambient worship service collide into something magical. In addition to strong renditions of favorites like "My Glorious" and "History Maker," Delirious also succeeds in incorporating and strengthening their newer material from
Jami Smith (Hosanna!/Integrity)
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Smith is the female counterpart to Chris Tomlin and Charlie Hall, with a husky voice and acoustic pop/rock sound that's surely appealing to any Jennifer Knapp fan.
Some may disagree, but this live worship sequel seems superior to the more predictable first Offerings. The original songs are just as good this time, especially the ballad "Offering." Even better are the choices in worship covers. Kudos to Third Day for popularizing Waterdeep's excellent song of praise to the Trinity, "You Are So Good to Me." Their rendition of Rich Mullins' "Creed" is equally thrilling, and the worship medley of "Give," "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus," U2's "With or Without You," and "Your Love, Oh Lord" works surprisingly well. But perhaps best of all, Third Day sounds increasingly confident in their role as rock band and worship leaders here.
A nod of praise to British DJ Andy Hunter for helping take worship into new places, artistically and physically. Like Apt•Core's
Hard to say where this fourth and final installment in the highly acclaimed worship series ranks compared to the others. Many of the recurring formulaic elements that once seemed endearing now seem a little tired, and some of the song choices seem less than inspired—producer Steve Hindalong once again exploits his classic "Beautiful Scandalous Night." But relative to other worship releases,
This is hands-down the most unique-sounding worship team today. Combining simple worshipful choruses with thoughtful verses and a sound that alternates from playful to intimate, The Circus tops it off by incorporating psychedelic art rock from the '60s and '70s. Highlights include the Beatitude-inspired "Blessed Tune," the bouncy Psalm jangle "Morning Glory," and the holy love letter "Loveliest Bride." Their creative worshipful ambience is second only to Delirious, and while there's room for improvement in their rock sound, The Circus has made impressive strides in just a couple years. Definitely a worship band to watch, especially if you're involved with youth.
The 16 songs here are divided into two halves: "Songs of Worship and Reflection" and "Songs of Praise and Adoration." The first half may not be what CeCe's fans would expect—a glorious tapestry of soft-yet-majestic worship songs that more recall Enya than Whitney Houston. Winans pulls it off beautifully, especially Nate Sabin's "Jesus, You're Beautiful" (from Sara Groves'
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If you think including this album is my lame way of calling attention to all the sixsteps artists and their new releases at the same time … well, you're probably right. Both Charlie Hall and David Crowder Band have released new projects that could have very easily made this list. However, I happen to think the energy from a live audience of thousands makes songs like "All the Earth" and "O Praise Him (All for a King)" sound that much more effective. Better yet are the songs from worship artists who are still in the process of releasing new albums: Matt Redman, Jason Wade (Lifehouse), and especially Chris Tomlin. All of this combined new material indicates that we can expect some great new songs of worship in 2004. Here's your chance to hear some of it today.