Sounds like … the trademark rhythmic and acoustic folk-pop of Caedmon's Call with worshipful lyrics that are both thought-provoking and poeticAt a Glance … In the Company of Angels is catchy, beautiful, skillfully crafted, and simply one of the year's best worship albums.
One of my favorite bands, Caedmon's Call has a somewhat unique sound by combining acoustic folk with progressive pop, creating a sound that's both familiar and fresh. The band is no stranger to worship either, having played a pivotal role in developing a successful contemporary worship service in their hometown of Houston. Naturally, these characteristics all seemed to point to an inevitable worship album from Caedmon's Call, and thus we have In the Company of Angels: A Call to Worship. Of course, their timing is sure to raise red flags among the skeptics—are they simply jumping on the worship bandwagon? I'd have to say the answer is no, because there simply aren't enough worship albums like this available today.
It's interesting that the band almost completely changed its songwriting process for this album. On past albums, songs were typically written by vocalist Derek Webb or behind-the-scenes eighth member Aaron Tate. This time, the songs were contributed by indie artist Aaron Senseman (vocalist Cliff Young's brother-in-law), Derek's wife Sandra McCracken (also an indie artist, who adapted old hymns by Isaac Watts and John Stocker to new music), legendary Christian artist and band mentor Kemper Crabb (who's medieval flavored "The Danse" is one of the most poetic worship songs I've ever heard), and the band's keyboardist, Josh Moore. Incredibly, 18-year-old Josh's two worship contributions are far more thought-provoking than the majority of most contemporary worship songs. He also contributes as a skilled keyboard player and as one of the album's primary producers—the kid's truly blessed, 'nuff said. Additionally, Caedmon's Call was one of the few artists privileged to choose a song from Rich Mullins' unfinished works collection. That song, "Oh Lord Your Love," sounds much like a Rich Mullins song (complete with ragamuffin insecurity and humility), yet it also sounds like it was made for Caedmon's Call because of the way they perform it. Beyond the songwriting, the album also differs in that the entire band contributed to the song selection and the overall instrumentation/sound, making In the Company of Angels a more democratic album than previous works.
The punchline is that you probably wouldn't have noticed any of this if I hadn't told you. Despite the change in songwriting lineup, the music is essentially the same Caedmon's Call we're all familiar with, the same acoustic folk-pop that's the cornerstone of all their works. This isn't a complaint, since the music is so good and the band members so talented. It's just fascinating to me that the songwriters have all changed, but Caedmon's Call remains consistent. Fans will probably agree the album sounds like the superb production from Long Line of Leavers combined with the relatively simple and stripped-down acoustic sound of their earlier albums, only with very worshipful lyrics that sometimes give the band a more traditional, ancient church sound.
The music on In the Company of Angels is terrific, but I think its greatest strength lies in the poetic lyrics and the band's understanding of what worship is. In the accompanying bio, the band expresses a thought shared by Rich Mullins—we as believers often mistake energy and emotion for worship. Worship is something that should be just as intense and powerful in private as it is in public. Furthermore, lots of today's contemporary worship songs limit expressions of praise to the Almighty by using clichéd Christian rhetoric, or worse yet, they focus more on our limited and relatively small reactions to the Lord's greatness ("I will praise/worship/exalt you … "). Caedmon's Call makes a point of expressing God's glory through poetry, effectively capturing many important facets of the Lord, yet only scratching the surface. Through their song selection, the band reveals several reasons for worshipping God—because he is good ("Thy Mercy"), mighty ("Warrior"), forgiving ("I Boast No More"), omnipresent ("Before There Was Time"), faithful ("Oh Lord Your Love"), and simply because he is God ("Who You Are"). I certainly don't mean to imply that most worship music is insufficient, but it's simply refreshing to finally hear a worship album that stimulates the mind and gives good reason for the heart to fully worship God.
For all of its strengths, In the Company of Angels could probably afford to loosen up a little bit and stimulate the heart more. Much of the album is slow to mid-tempo folk music, and the lyrics aren't always easily understood by a casual listen. That only adds to the appeal for me, but listeners who like their worship music extremely obvious in lyrical content may be in over their heads here. Likewise, I wonder how much contemporary worship services will embrace these songs, since many of them aren't as instantly learnable as other worship choruses—you'll definitely want lyrics to sing along to them. I say these things only to offer a balanced viewpoint and to prepare those who might not care for the album. Personally, I wish there were more worship albums like this, where it's obvious the artist gave a lot of thought as to what it means to be a worshipper, and then proceeds to create and perform thoughtful and beautiful worship music. Caedmon's Call to Worship is one of the most poetic, contemplative, and enjoyable worship albums I've ever heard.