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Sounds like … modern-worship favorites old and new by artists such as Jars of Clay, Third Day, and Michael W. SmithAt a Glance … more than half of this album is simply a compilation of previously recorded worship songs, but there's no denying the quality of all the music featured on Our God of Wonders.
Essential Records celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and though a promotional CD is being developed to highlight their decade of success, their new compilation, Our God of Wonders, practically serves the same purpose. The impetus for releasing the album no doubt stemmed from the success of modern praise and worship music in the last five years, most notably Essential's City on a Hill series. Attempting to build upon the sense of artistic community created by City on a Hill, Our God of Wonders is a collection of worship songs by such artists as Jars of Clay, Third Day, Michael W. Smith, and Caedmon's Call
It's a little misleading to compare this album to the wonderfully made City on a Hill projects. Whereas those albums established an artistic community by pairing several Christian artists together for the creation of new worship music, Our God of Wonders simply gives an overview of the Christian artist community that is Nashville (i.e. the Christian music industry, or more specifically, Essential Records). This 12-song collection, predominantly featuring Essential artists, is a mix of the new classics made famous by your favorite artists and old classics performed by new artists. The question on the table then is whether this album features a collaborative community, such as the one found on City on a Hill — and the answer is clearly no. This is little more than a compilation of previously released material, a greatest-worship-hits album from the Essential roster.
Fortunately, we're talking about A+ quality material from the Essential artists. Jars of Clay is featured on this album with their #1 hit, "Needful Hands" (featured on the 1998 worship album Exodus). Caedmon's Call contributes "We Delight" from their best-selling In the Company of Angels album. FFH's "We Sing Alleluia," from their Have I Ever Told You album, is another great worship song — probably my favorite song by the band because of the glorious big drums and chorus. It'd be unthinkable not to have Third Day included here, considering the success of their Offerings album. I was happy their song "Your Love, Oh Lord" was included and that it was the studio version from their Time album as opposed to the live recording from Offerings. Similarly, Essential would be downright crazy to not somehow tie this into City on a Hill, and they've done so by including "God of Wonders" (featuring Mac Powell and the Youngs of Caedmon's Call).
Our God of Wonders also features some non-Essential (but nonetheless important) Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith and Sonicflood. Smitty's well-known "Agnus Dei" is included, though it sort of stands out as the only live track on the album (taken from his recent Worship album). Perhaps it would have been better to include the post-'80s arrangement found on his Go West Young Man album. Sonicflood's "Lord Over All" is a fairly good worship chorus from their Resonate album. Additionally, there are five "new" recordings of well-known worship songs by brand-new artists — artists so new their debut albums have yet to hit the shelves in most cases. Some people already may be familiar with Jason Ingram from his days as an independent artist and as the opening act on Sonicflood's recent tour. His cover of "All in All" features Sonicflood as the backing band, sounding more acoustic than usual. Also featured is new Squint artist Adore, an ethereal modern-pop duo comprised of Marc Byrd (of Common Children, co-writer of "God of Wonders") and his wife, Christine. Their versions of "As the Deer" and Twila Paris' "He Is Exalted" both feature breathy vocals and atmospheric guitars. Essential also uses Our God of Wonders to debut two new artists on their roster: the Paul Colman Trio (which sounds a bit like early U2 on their cover of "I Love You Lord") and Sarah Sadler (a worship leader who covers Keith Green's "O Lord You're Beautiful" here, and "Draw Me" on the Keith Green tribute, Your Love Broke Through).
I can't quite recommend Our God of Wonders for fans of modern worship looking for something new. Chances are real good that you already own most of these songs since they're culled from already best-selling albums — albums that serious worship fans shouldn't be without, I might add. As for the new tracks, they're just not remarkable enough to warrant going out of your way for. Produced by Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd (who both produced City on a Hill) with Bob Wohler (who produced FFH and Third Day), these newly recorded tracks sound great and are well performed, but they're ultimately predictable modern updates of well-known praise choruses. The full title of the album is Our God of Wonders Volume 1, which means we already can plan on the next installment. Want to bet Jars of Clay's "Hymn," Caedmon's Call's "Before There Was Time," and anything off of Third Day's Offerings album are included? You can't really blame Essential Records for taking advantage of the demand for modern worship while repackaging their greatest worship hits in the process. Considering how well Songs 4 Worship and I Could Sing of Your Love Forever have done, Our God of Wonders is sure to be appealing to music buyers, especially those just getting into the modern worship genre. The album may be lacking in originality, but there's just no denying the quality of artistic performances and songwriting included on Our God of Wonders.