Sounds like … well, this one's a matter of what it doesn't sound like. Rooted in European pop/rock, the producers and artists add elements of soul, dance, reggae, rhythm and blues, jazz, and gospelAt a Glance … worshipful, fun, and original, this is a compilation of favorite praise & worship songs that goes one step further by demonstrating the art of creative arrangements.
It's understandable that most publications cannot review every album made available in the Christian music industry. Logically, one of the first things to get overlooked is the compilation album. Among compilations, an artist's greatest-hits project typically is given precedence because it usually features new songs and because the artist probably has a loyal following. Today's stores are over-saturated with worship compilations, so there's not a strong need to evaluate every collection of "Today's Favorite Worship Songs" made available, be they WoW Worship, Songs 4 Worship, or another series. Maranatha! began its own series of Top 25 (fill in the blank) Worship Songs a few years ago. I haven't listened to them all, but I'm sure many serve their purpose of exposing listeners to the music that's impacting so many of today's churches around the world. The latest collection, however, warrants special mention because of the effort put into it. Whereas most worship compilations do little more than capsulize music, Maranatha!'s Top 25 UK Praise Songs goes one step further by demonstrating the art of creative arrangements.
This art that I speak of is almost as important as the need for fresh, quality worship songs. Any capable worship band can perform "Shout to the Lord" in the same manner as Darlene Zschech and the Hillsong praise team, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. But a new creative arrangement of such a song personalizes it both to the artist and the congregation. It's a demonstration of artistry-and a lack of this artistry often makes me disappointed when creative Christian artists decide to do a worship album of covers that stray very little from the original source material. Not so with Top 25 UK Praise Songs, which was produced by Colin Walker and Mark Edwards (Delirious). When presented with the opportunity to perform and record the most popular praise songs in the UK (as determined by Christian Copyright Licensing International), Mark wanted to "present some of the older songs in a relevant way to our own generation, and maybe provide worship leaders/musicians with some ideas on how we can approach material differently."
For all the worship albums available today, you just don't see too many albums that skillfully and consistently reinterpret popular worship songs in a fresh new way (The Insyderz' Skalleluia albums most readily come to mind). Take for example "Knowing You," typically a beautiful and intimate worship ballad, here transformed into a fast jazz-flavored Euro dance-pop number that recalls soulful pop-gospel duo Anointed. For "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," the band plays it fairly straight, but alter the chords just enough to create an interesting modern-pop arrangement without changing the song's familiarity. There's a wonderful jazz-inflected soul cover of "All Heaven Declares" that recalls Al Green or Marvin Gaye, and a smooth R&B rendition of "You Laid Aside Your Majesty" worthy of comparisons to Lauryn Hill. Perhaps the most startling surprise of the album comes with "Shine Jesus Shine," cleverly rearranged for this album into hip-hop reggae with a cute and slightly off-key children's choir singing the chorus. The stadium clapper "We Want to See Jesus Lifted High" is arranged here as a mid-tempoed modern rocker a la Oasis or Peter Yorn, and Stuart's cover of "As the Deer" is given new life as a modern pop/rock anthem that recalls early Delirious.
Most of the arrangements on this collection were handled by the band as a whole, or else by Mark Edwards himself, who also played many of the instruments. The band is comprised of several talented worship artists, though I don't have enough information to fully give artistic credit where it's due. Drummer Calum Rees was featured on Vineyard's well-known Hungry and Surrender albums. The soloist on "Give Thanks" gives a beautiful, soft, and soulful gospel-pop performance reminiscent of Oleta Adams or Shirley Caesar. UK worship leader Stuart Townend is featured as a guitarist throughout the album and handles the lead vocals on several notable modern pop tracks.
Of all the musicians featured, the one that really grabbed my attention is vocalist Louise Fellinger, lead singer of British worship band Phatfish (whose U.S. debut, Purple Through the Fish Tank, sadly was overlooked by most). She has a remarkably expressive voice that strikes me as a cross between Olivia Newton-John and Christine Denté (Out of the Grey). Her voice adds much passion to the ethereal pop sound of Stuart's "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" and the light jazz-pop sound of "Shout to the Lord." She begins Matt Redman's "Once Again" like a gentle lullaby, breaking into more of a '70s songwriter's-pop sound at the second verse. I had never heard the song "Be Still" before, but it's mesmerizing in this version with Louise accompanied only by piano. And she's absolutely stunning to listen to on her rendition of Keith Green's "There Is a Redeemer."
If you're still new to today's contemporary worship songs, I probably wouldn't suggest this album. Different isn't always better (there are some slow moments over the course of the two discs), and although the production is good on this collection, it's not as sharp or glossy as on other compilations. The Songs 4 Worship and WoW Worship series are just two of many available that showcase the impressive sounds of the original productions. If, however, you're well acquainted with contemporary worship songs, I'd highly recommend Top 25 UK Praise Songs to you. There's something for everyone on this album stylistically, and you get over 100 minutes of music for a very reasonable price. But more importantly, this collection challenges praise teams to be artists when worshipping the Lord. Just when I was beginning to think modern worship music was losing the spark of creativity, Top 25 UK Praise Songs presents fresh and innovative arrangements of your modern-worship favorites. Listen and be inspired, spiritually and artistically.