Artist:  Michael Neale
Title:  No Greater Audience
Label:  Integrity Music

Michael Neale is the Dove-nominated Worship Arts Pastor for The People’s Church in Franklin, Tenn., just outside of Nashville, said to be one of the city’s most vibrant and creative churches. No Greater Audience, however, was recorded live in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, with the worship teams of Christ Fellowship, Neale’s previous pastoring post. He explains the song and album title as a reminder of what, and Who, our worship is really about, and the theme runs throughout the 13 tracks of No Greater Audience.

I like the brief intro opening, 45 seconds of hushed congregational worship that set a tone of energetic expectation right from the get-go. The intro leads seamlessly into the melodic “You Amaze Me,” without ever letting the momentum drop. Thick guitars lead into worship celebrating the majesty of our God. The album is laid out with thoughtful consideration, the first half very guitar-driven, from the nuanced string moments of pop-rock declaration track, “As From Me,” to the glimmering guitars of the joyful “From the Rooftops.”

You don’t always find the instruments standing out as strongly on worship projects as you find here, and I like it. I thought “As for Me” ran a bit long; at over six minutes it did start to feel just a bit repetitive, but that is the nature of a worship album, especially a live one. The first four tracks are thick with sound, so when “I Am Yours” opens to a quiet piano, it feels right, even coming across as a bit soothing. Neale weaves bits of Frances Havergal’s 17th century hymn of consecration, “Take My Life and Let It Be,” into his “I Am Yours,” and does it well. The stately movements of “More and More,” expressing the desire to know more of the Lord, continue the majestic tone, leading organically into the album’s centerpiece, the compelling title track.

The track starts with simple chord movements, and lyrically, as it points to the One we’re worshipping, it quickly brings Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship” to mind, although it is less dramatic sonically. Mid-track the song moves away from performance and into more reverent, strong corporate worship, and here the almost six and a half minutes length is very much a non-issue. From this point forward the album moves into more keyboard driven territory, beginning with the rousing crowd-pleaser, “I Will Dwell,” giving the Christ Fellowship worship team a chance to shine. The melodic “Redeeming Loves” does feature some sterling guitar work under Neale’s passionate delivery. I enjoyed the movements of “Beautiful King,” from quiet to reverent and back up to joyous, but “Hallelujah to the King” began to drag a bit. Again, this is an innate challenge to the live worship album, as the live audience may be experiencing a genuine spiritual encounter that should not be rushed, certainly not for the purposes of marketing the recording. The trouble is, those experiences don’t always necessarily translate well to the album’s listening experience.

Everything is right about “On Mountains High,” from its theme of God’s sovereignty, to the lovely violin work, to Neale’s on-point vocals, and the percolating pop-rock of “The Rock” is an upbeat celebratory closer, perfect for a live album.

I have to say, I don’t always feel completely comfortable scoring a worship project; due to its very nature, it seems inappropriate and even somewhat crass to rank it. But given the requirements of this context, I’d say that Michael Neale’s latest will easily find a home among worshippers. Those less attracted to worship will find it less absorbing.


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