Sounds like … Twila's classic contemporary pop worship style, reminiscent of Amy Grant, with occasional ethereal touches similar to Michelle Tumes and EnyaAt a Glance … House of Worship is the refined contemporary praise album listeners have been expecting from Twila for years
Those who know her name are all too aware that Twila Paris is a worship music pioneer. Not all Christian songwriters are gifted at composing worship music, and there are many who will only be remembered for writing one particular song in your church's collection of music. Of course, one's enough for most songwriters when it comes to writing a church standard. Twila has written at least five church standards, which are still sung by congregations today – "He Is Exalted," "We Bow Down," "We Will Glorify," "Lamb of God," and "How Beautiful." A repertoire like that implies that this is a prolific songwriter of worship music, but the truth is that this "modern day hymn writer" hasn't recorded a praise & worship album since 1991's Sanctuary. With something of a worship music renaissance in the last five years, Twila's absence has been deeply felt. While many of her albums in the last decade have included a few worship songs sprinkled in with the inspirational pop, writer's block and newfound motherhood have slowed Twila's outpouring of praise offerings.
House of Worship, Twila's eighteenth album, makes up for lost time with twelve all-new worship recordings. Two of them are familiar favorites, re-recorded for this project to demonstrate their timelessness while making them more relevant to a modern setting. Purists need not worry. Twila, with the help of producer Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Avalon), remains faithful to the original sound while actually improving on them. "We Bow Down" sounds more vibrant and driving with its rhythmic acoustic guitar pulse. "We Will Glorify" especially benefits from an update, because the quick ¾ time of the original restricted congregations to performing it as a fast keyboard-led hymn (or a head-banging punk-ska tune, as heard on The Insyderz' Skalleuia album). This new rendition is slower and more flowing, resonating with power and ambience.
Of course, we always knew these were great songs of worship. What of the ten new tracks? They're actually all quite good, though like any worship album, some are more memorable than others. Both "Fill My Heart" and "I Want the World to Know" are upbeat and catchy, but they feel too much like vertically-focused pop songs instead of congregational friendly praise & worship. The opening track "God of All" seems positioned to be a future benchmark song for Twila, and while its instantly singable melody is matched with a wonderfully majestic contemporary pop sound that rivals "God of Wonders," you'd expect more depth from this accomplished songwriter. Most all of the five-minute song is contained within the lyrics, "God of all, we come to praise You / We lift Your name on high in all the earth / God of holiness / God of righteousness / God of heaven / We lift Your name on high / God of all."
Those little quips aside, House of Worship abounds with gorgeous praise anthems that, unlike most worship music today, have the potential of being sung by multiple generations. For five years now, Twila has been patiently saving "Come Emmanuel" for a worship album. The beautifully written ballad for piano, strings, and guitar is a little reminiscent of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." While it could certainly be used as an Advent or Christmas hymn, it's not season specific and works just as well as an invitation for Christ's presence – "Once mercy found us, still you astound us / Hold and surround us Emmanuel / Living inside us, faithful to guide us / Cover and hide us Emmanuel." In contrast to the songs mentioned earlier, "Glory and Honor" is an upbeat pop worship song with simple verses and a memorable chorus that are more congregational friendly. It's also very well produced with its gospel choir, guitars, B3 organ, big drums, and piano. "You Are God" is a great Psalm-like song of praise, coupled with a terrific violin solo and Twila's soothing vocals, only to build towards a bigger chorus of backing vocalists.
In "For Eternity," Twila sounds as ethereal and breathy as Michelle Tumes and Enya, and like "You Are God," it only gets bigger as the song seemingly draws upon the angels of heaven to join in the mix — "Lest the rocks cry out, we will sing Your praise / We will shout the name that set us free for eternity." A similar sweeping sound is heard on "Christ In Us," a personal testament to God's unfailing presence. Both that song and "Make Us One" hearken back to simpler four-line praise choruses of the 80s (such as "Sancturary," "Give Thanks," and "More Precious Than Silver"), and it's refreshing to hear new songs of worship written in that style today.
Brown Bannister has long been regarded for his tastefully produced pop productions, and House of Worship is no exception with its blend of pop and orchestra. You can't help but get caught up in the power and emotion of a large group of backing vocalists belting out Twila's new praise choruses. There's a lot here for fans of pop worship artists like Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and Darlene Zschech to appreciate. In fact, you can half imagine Michael performing more than a few of these on his Worship albums, which is very much indicative of the quality of songwriting and production on House of Worship. Few artists can successfully rush excellence, so while it took Twila Paris a decade to come up with it, House of Worship is the refined contemporary praise album that everyone knew she was capable of creating.