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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Not to Us

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Sep
Not to Us
Sounds like … moving praise and worship along the lines of Delirious, Matt Redman, and the Passion worship series At a Glance … Tomlin and his backing band turn in a fuller live sound on this record, which revolves around edgy garage rockers and energetic praise pop.

Responsible for writing modern day praise standards such as "Forever," "The Wonderful Cross," and "We Fall Down," Chris Tomlin is no stranger to being the musical lifeline between listeners and their Maker. He's been that lifeline in cities across the country, leading worship on the college-friendly Passion tours, and starting last year, on his own in support of his solo project, The Noise We Make. That album featured much of Tomlin's self-penned material inspired by the Passion sessions, running the gamut from upbeat and joyous praise anthems to quiet hymns with worshipful undertones.

Tomlin's maintained those elements to a certain degree on his latest, Not to Us, but he's taken a few steps out of that safe haven to unleash a more gritty, free-flowing garage rock sound, thanks to an organic backing band. Another reason for the more diverse sound is Tomlin's switch in producers, from the contemporary-minded Nathan Nockels (a member of Watermark and fellow Passion worship leader) to those steeped in more alternative sensibilities, such as Matt Bronleewe (Jars of Clay, Natalie Imbruglia) and Sam Gibson (Elvis Costello, Crowded House).

The range of cuts instantly showcases the new influences coming from behind the boards, bringing together the chunky grind of Delirious, hints of Costello, and the alternative acoustic edge of Jars of Clay. "Not to Us" is the disc's closest match to the Delirious/UK rock-and-roll sound, with Tomlin's vocal layering joined by snarling guitars. "Unchanging" takes the intensity level down a couple notches, but effectively trades in the punchy guitar licks for a swirling growl.

Even Tomlin's tunes that lack guitar domination still have a kick to them. Whereas the tamer cuts on The Noise We Make were mostly straightforward praise ballads, a handful on Not to Us resonate with an infectious momentum. "Enough" and "The River" both start out with typical acoustic introductions, but the incorporation of building electric guitars give the tunes a raw and crackly college-rock sound. (The latter features gospel-tinged Hammond organ played by Phil Madiera). "Where Would I Be" abandons the guitar focus completely in exchange for a rejuvenating string section that brings the memorable power ballad to a dramatic, but thankfully not overblown, conclusion.

Lyrically, Tomlin wrote or co-wrote all the material on the project. Although none of his concepts are revolutionary, he does have a few cuts with truly moving messages that probably will become as popular as "Forever." The title track is the disc's most celebratory chant to the Lord with lines such as "The earth is shaking, the mountains shouting, it's all for you / The waves are crashing, the sun is raging, it's all for you." "Enough" also has a cheerful mood of praise as Tomlin sings "All of you is more than enough for all of me / For every thirst and every need you satisfy me with your love / And all I have in you is more than enough." Perhaps the ultimate highlight when it comes to the songwriting is Tomlin's joint effort with UK worship leader Matt Redman on "Wonderful Maker." With a resume that includes the modern-day classic "The Heart of Worship," Redman certainly knows how to let his spirit-directed words translate into a musical format. The song's emotional cries include: "What a wonderful Maker / What a wonderful Savior / How majestic your whispers / And how humble your love / With a strength like no other / And the heart of a Father / How majestic your whispers / What a wonderful God."

However, there are times when Tomlin's songwriting is almost trite. For example, "Come, Let Us Worship" may have been inspired by the glorious words in Psalm 95, but Tomlin certainly could have dreamed up more creative lines of poetry than "For he is our God and we are his people / Yes he is our God and we will never be forsaken." The same can be said about "Unchanging," which Tomlin describes as a tune that "seemed to write itself." However, it seems as though he could have come up with something more striking than the simplistic lines "So we raise up holy hands to praise the Holy One / Who was and is and is to come."

Despite a few moments on Not to Us that fall outside the "groundbreaking" category, there are several instances when Tomlin moves the listener with his contagious worship. The fact that he and his band were able to explore new ground on many of the tracks with a rough-neck garage rock attitude proves that Tomlin is still growing as an artist and experimenting with new sounds. Basically, if you're into Tomlin's debut project or followed him throughout the Passion movement, then it's likely you'll enjoy Not To Us.