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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Favorite Worship Albums of 2003

  • Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Favorite Worship Albums of 2003

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.

Worship Again

Michael W. Smith (Reunion)

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Perhaps this is an obvious choice, but perhaps not. Smitty's first Worship album (2001) had more recognizable and popular songs, which is precisely why Worship Again is a more interesting listen and more useful to worship leaders. It reintroduces the world to a number of lesser-known corporate worship songs—namely the heartfelt confessional "Lord Have Mercy," the rich and hymn-like "Ancient Words," and the popular sing-a-long "You Are Holy (Prince of Peace)." What Smith lacks in originality, he makes up for with effective arrangement, performance, and communication skills—key traits in a great worship leader.

Blessed

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.

Todd Agnew

Grace Like Rain (Ardent)

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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.

House of Worship

Twila Paris (Sparrow)

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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.

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Delirious (Furious?)

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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 Touch—all while creating a truly spiritual mood by segueing from one song to another. Nobody does it better.

Wash Over Me

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. Wash Over Mefollows the pattern of a typical worship service (atypical of most worship albums), beginning with rockers like "Only You Satisfy" and "Your Love Is Deep" and gradually moving into softer and more prayerful offerings like "Come Unto Me" and the title track. A talented songwriter, musician, and worship leader, Smith is fairly well known in modern worship circles, but hasn't quite made the impact her contemporaries have. I'm hopeful and confident that will change in time.

Offerings II: All I Have to Give

Third Day (Essential)

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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.

Andy Hunter°

Exodus (Sparrow)

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A nod of praise to British DJ Andy Hunter for helping take worship into new places, artistically and physically. Like Apt•Core's Rhythms of Remembrance before it, Exodus demonstrates that you can worship the Creator with computers while using lyrics sparingly. Depending on context, Hunter's music plays as well at clubs as it does for worship events or personal Bible study time. It's also made an impact on television and film; "Go" could well be the most used song in movie soundtracks over the last year. Which goes to show that it is indeed possible to impact the world beyond the church walls with worship music.

City on a Hill: The Gathering

Various Artists (Essential)

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, City on a Hill remains one of the most creative and collaborative worship efforts of all time in the way it smartly blends historical and contemporary praise. It may be for the best that Hindalong is done with this series (for now), but here's hoping that it inspires other producers and artists to create similar greatness for the worshipping body of Christ.

A Beautiful Glow

Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus (INO)

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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.

Throne Room

CeCe Winans (Wellspring/INO)

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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' All Right Here) and "How Great Thou Art"—tracks that are perfect for personal or corporate worship. The second half of the CD is more what you'd expect from the popular pop/R&B vocalist, offering music more suited for praise offerings during worship. Perhaps a little long and homogenous sounding, this is overall an album of great beauty sure to draw your heart close to the Lord.

Sacred Revolution

Passion (sixsteps/Sparrow)

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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.

Check out our "Best-Of" Archives to see other lists from previous years.


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