City on a Hill - Sing Alleluia
Scheduled Street Date: Feb. 19, 2002

Essential Records has a winner on its hands with the second installment of the City on a Hill series of worship CDs, pulling together some of the top talent in the contemporary Christian music scene.

There's not a bad song on Sing Alleluia - and that's saying something for a compilation disc.

A choral prelude and postlude of All Creatures of Our God and King bracket the album's 13 tracks, contributed by 13 artists. The album's strongest voices follow the prelude, as Jennifer Knapp and Mac Powell join for the title track, a chorus supplemented by the lyrics and structure of All Creatures. The meshing of classic hymn with praise chorus demonstrates that the two styles don't have to butt heads but can be transformed into something that makes the old pro-and-con arguments seem petty and stale.

Most refreshing of all is to hear Knapp in such fine form, as producer Steve Hindalong allows the strengths of her singing to resonate. Hindalong brings a lighter touch to the title track, which he co-wrote, as well as to Knapp's singing on Hallowed, than producer Tony McAnany brought to The Way I Am. The delicate, beautiful guitar work of Phil Keaggy on Hallowed adds yet another fine element to the music.

Hindalong's confidence in Knapp is evinced in that, unlike nearly every other track on Sing Alleluia, Hindalong wrote neither the lyrics nor music for Hallowed. Knapp wrote both, interpreting the Lord's Prayer in a fresh way. The only other track without Hindalong's name somewhere in the credits is an interpretation of the 1890 hymn The Comforter Has Come, a quiet, contemplative piece brought to life by Jars of Clay.

Bebo Norman joins with Cliff and Danielle Young of Caedmon's Call for Holy Is Your Name, but it's not the slow, reflective rendering you might expect from the title. Instead, the tune is upbeat and joy-filled, without being irreverent.

Nichole Nordeman takes a more meditative approach on the album's fourth track, You Are Holy, which concludes with Fernando Ortega singing Be Thou My Vision, a less overt hymn/praise-chorus combination that works just as splendidly, in its own quiet way, as the title track.

Ortega's larger contribution to Sing Alleluia is Our Great God, a duet with Third Day's Mac Powell, who wrote the song and sings it with so much gusto that Derek Webb's vocal on the album's next track, the laid back Marvelous Light, is nearly overshadowed. But repeated listening bring out the beauty of Marvelous Light, as Sandra McCracken echoes Webb's longings: "You are the light of the world (Jesus is the light)/You are the way, the truth and the life (You are the life)/Lead us out of darkness/And into Your marvelous light."

Nichole Nordeman and FFH remind the listener of Matthew 5:14 on Shine Your Light: "When you live on a city on a hill/You've got to shine your light." The catchy tune nevertheless fails to build to the emotional chorus of some of the other tracks on the CD. Still, Nordeman makes the most of what she's given.

FFH goes it alone on Hide Me in Your Heart, a softer number accompanied by strings (including John Catchings on cello), while The Choir's Derri Daugherty takes the lead on Lift Up Your Hearts.

Communion, the final track (excluding the postlude), is an uplifting, inspiring call to the Lord's Table. Cliff Young, Danielle Young and Phil Keaggy give voice to the words and music of Hindalong, Phil Madeira and Marc Byrd, as they beckon believers to: "Let us break the bread of life/Together take the cup of salvation/The body and the blood of Christ/Communion, holy Communion."

The choral postlude ends the CD, but as the choir instructs the listener, "Let all things their Creator bless, and worship him in holiness," you won't need any encouragement: You'll have joined in long before then.