It's early in the year, but 2002 already has produced a landmark recording. Fernando Ortega's Storm is a classic Christian album, full of timely - and timeless - expressions of joy, hope and longing.

Like many of Ortega's major label releases, Storm includes a few uptempo numbers along with several slower, reflective songs, but the overall tone of "Storm" is more consistent than some of Ortega's previous recordings, admirable though they are, and ranks as his most assured English-language album.

Storm opens with Traveler, a plea for God to "remember the traveler/bring us safely home," before shifting to an older hymn, Come, Thou Sinners, Poor and Needy. Ortega has made a name for himself as one of the foremost interpreters of classic hymnody, and his reputation as such is certain to grow now that he's recorded Come, Thou Sinners as a duet with Amy Grant. The effective combination adds the right complement to the rich theology and lyrical imagery of the song, written in 1835.

As strong as the duet is, it shouldn’t overshadow the second hymn on Storm, the marvelous Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, a little-sung meditation on the incarnation that uniquely captures the wonder of God becoming man.

The uptempo Light of Heaven and the title track continue in the same thematic vein as Come Thou Sinners, yearning for God's intervention and assistance in a dark world. Another Ortega trademark, the instrumental, appears midway through Storm, with Cristina’s Dream, a song Ortega wrote for his sister.

Our Great God, penned by Ortega and Third Day's Mac Powell, has the same "big" sound as Creation Song (Glory to the Lamb), the first track on Ortega's The Breaking of the Dawn. Ortega explains in promotional materials for Storm that he aimed to bring out the song's hymn-like quality, although Powell, who wrote the music, preferred to give the tune his own "praise song" spin. Powell's take on the song can be heard on the upcoming City on a Hill - Sing Alleluia, with Fernando sharing the vocal assignment.

The heartwarming This Time Next Year shifts the focus of the lyrics from God to family, as a grandfather looks forward to the growth of his grandson. The prayerful A Place on the Earth picks up on themes of confession and fear before a "Mysterious God," in Whom we can have great childlike confidence.

A Place on the Earth leads into the album’s strongest song, the mournful City of Sorrows, a reflection on contemporary Jerusalem, set to perfectly matched pacing and musical accompaniment. Ortega sings: "Oh Jerusalem/City of thrones/The blood of your people/Still darkens the stones/City of sorrows/Spread on a hill/Bride of the prophets/They dream of you still."

Sing to Jesus and Jesus Paid It All provide a joyful, peaceful contrast to the sadness of the song that precedes them, closing out the CD on a lovely, low-key note that leaves the listener edified and encouraged.