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Essential Hits Ten

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jul
Essential Hits Ten
Sounds like … a pop/rock retrospective of Essential Records' artists over the last ten years, featuring Jars of Clay, Third Day, Caedmon's Call, and many moreAt a Glance … you "essentially" get what you pay for with this modestly priced and adequately comprehensive collection of some of Christian music's finest.

The "anniversary album" is now a commonplace product in your local Christian music stores. Just a few years ago Forefront celebrated its tenth anniversary with a double CD that featured its successful roster of artists. I think I also recall a Word Records box set not too long ago, celebrating their history and diverse sounds. In the last six months alone, there have been anniversary albums celebrating Rocketown's five years and Reunion's twenty. Which brings us to Essential Records' tenth anniversary, commemorated by the release of Essential Hits Ten, a twelve-song collection featuring songs from Essential's most memorable artists over the years.

Essential scores points for mostly picking "the right songs." If you had to select a signature song for Jars of Clay, it obviously would be "Flood." Likewise, the producers appropriately chose FFH's "One of These Days," Bebo Norman's "The Hammer Holds," True Vibe's "Now and Forever," and Andrew Peterson's "The Chasing Song." Essential could have chosen any number of songs to represent these artists, and they wisely selected their first hit single or their most widely enjoyed song from their debut. Since Third Day's first two albums were with Reunion Records, this album features their first big hit from an Essential album, "I've Always Loved You" instead of a classic signature song such as "Consuming Fire" or "Love Song." The same is true of Caedmon's Call, whose first album was released on Warner's short-lived Christian label, though I'd have thought the band would have been better represented by "Thankful" instead of "There You Go."

All of these artists represent "the present," and Essential is good enough to also acknowledge "the past" on this collection by featuring some of the artists who are no longer on their label, or even recording at all. Though it's not my favorite track by them, "God-Shaped Hole" reminds me of the Plumb-shaped hole in Christian music right now (fear not, a new album via Curb Records is on its way). Essential Hits Ten also features "Billboards" by Silage and "Revolution" by Imagine This, both good songs, though Imagine This's "Love" is much more fun and memorable. Additionally, Essential looks to "the future" by including their two newest artists on this compilation, both with seemingly bright futures ahead of them. Unfortunately, as expected of any record label, Essential shrewdly withheld the latest singles from both Paul Colman Trio and Sarah Sadler, opting instead for lesser tracks from their debuts. Sarah's "Orbit" is a fine song (actually, a little Plumb-like), but you can bet it won't be the first single from her debut. "Love Me More," on the other hand, is not one of the Paul Colman Trio's better songs, and it seems wrong not to include "Turn" on this album, their recent #1 smash hit that will forever be regarded as the band's breakout single.

Considering that the total album length is less than 50 minutes, it might have been nice for Essential to fill in the extra 20-30 minutes available on the CD with even more music. Why limit bands such as Jars of Clay, Third Day, or Caedmon's Call to a single song? The other idea would have been to add more of the artists no longer with the label. I'm not disputing the wisdom in leaving Parkway off the album, but Dan Mukala's brief foray into performance was as enjoyable as Silage and Imagine This. The most obvious omission from Essential Hits Ten is All Star United (also rumored to be releasing a new album via Delirious' Furious Records), who recorded a single album with Essential. Still, I suppose you get what you pay for, and Essential Hits Ten is something of a bargain at under $10. There's nothing here for longtime Christian music fans to get excited about, and there are a few song choices and artist omissions that raise question marks. Overall, however, this is a solid collection of grade-A material, a tribute to Essential's strong roster of quality Christian artists over the years. It would be a great album to give to a friend unfamiliar with Christian music.