Sounds like … a decidedly mellow Vineyard album, contemporary worship with a bit of a roots/folk feelAt a Glance … this album has its meditative moments, great for inspiring quiet prayer time with the Lord; however, there are a lot of songs that don't seem particularly prayerful.
The latest release from worship label Vineyard Music is Prayer: Expressions of Worship, an album focused on the intimate connection we share with God. A diverse team of producers and artists united to create a worship recording filled with meditative and atmospheric songs intended to draw an individual listener or small group into God's presence.
What makes a song prayerful? I suppose that varies from person to person, but I'd think that means the lyrics have a prayerful feel to them - songs that praise God's greatness, seek his will, ask for his comfort, forgiveness, and blessing. Musically, I wouldn't think "prayerful" songs would sound too much like your average adult contemporary pop song with a band. Instead, I'd want the music to be atmospheric, spacious, and gentle with little of the instruments calling attention to the notes being played. If there were any drums and percussion, I'd want them to be repetitive and subdued, not playing in time like a pop rock band.
Now that you know where I'm coming from, you'll have a better understanding when I say I'm not sure what sets this album apart from any other Vineyard release. If the goal was to make a recording that can be marketed as meditative and intimate, why fill it with the same kind of roots pop/rock worship music we hear on most other Vineyard releases? In other words, what sets this album apart to earn the title Prayer? "Take Us In," for example, is not what I'd expect from a prayerful song, backed by a light rock band that jumps into drum fills and electric guitar solos like any other song you'd hear on the radio. Additionally, the lyrics are primarily "we will worship you" over and over again - fine for typical worship music, but are these words that inspire prayer? The same uptempo, unprayerful music appears on much of this album, ranging from roots rock ballads such as "I Will Be More Like You" and "Cry for the Afflicted" to gentle folk songs such as "Come to Me and Rest" and "How Much More." Many of these are fairly good worship songs, but the rock ballads in particular seem too exciting for prayer time with their guitar solos and drumming, yet generally too mellow compared to other worship projects.
Thankfully, Prayer does have a few excellent prayerful songs on it. Ironically, as I was listening to this album, I thought of other Vineyard releases that had more prayerful songs on them, and the 1999 release Hungry came to mind as one filled with some very intimate moments - "Breathe," "Be the Centre," and "Child of God" to name a few. No sooner had I thought that when, lo and behold, "Child of God" starts playing! This particular version is a little overproduced and not as good as the one on Hungry (which features a gorgeous cello part), but the use of the low-key drum machine percussion and the ebow guitar effect give it a far more intimate feel than most other songs on Prayer. Even better yet are "Faintly" and "Shine in the Darkness," two sparsely arranged songs whose gentle use of percussion, keyboards, and guitars draw the listener into quieter times of communion with the Lord. The album's highlight for me is "Truth Be Told," a song that perfectly matches my definition of a prayerful song, with atmospheric keyboards and non-intrusive hand-tom percussion. It also helps to have a beautiful melody and a lyric that concisely states that when we're honest with ourselves, we desperately need the Lord.
I wonder if a live album would have been more effective for an album focused on prayer, allowing the worship team to focus less on the production and more on drawing the congregation, small group, or individuals into a prayerful atmosphere. It also might have helped to fill this album with more extended instrumental passages, places for the listener to break into quiet reflection amidst the music. With all the worship albums being made these days, very few of them focus on prayer and serve as a backdrop to quiet time with the Lord - this album had a lot of potential to do just that. Obviously, my opinion of what makes music prayerful will not match that of everyone, but if you're going to call an album Prayer, I feel it needs to differ from your typical worship music. It might have been best to re-title Prayer as Folk Worship.