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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Secret Conversation

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jul
Secret Conversation
Sounds like … the inspirational Christian pop typical of Steve Green, Russ Lee, Newsong, 4Him, Greg Long, Allen Asbury, Larnelle Harris, Clay Crosse and Phillips, and Craig & Dean, to name a fewAt a Glance … those looking for a strong voice singing timeless truths set to familiar adult contemporary pop sounds will appreciate Secret Conversation, but despite some truly inspired and thoughtful tracks, those looking for any shred of originality will need to look elsewhere

Most people probably still remember Charles Billingsley as a one-time lead singer with Newsong, though he's generated six solo albums after that artistic stay. In the three years since the release of 2000's Marks of the Mission, Charles has seen some tremendous opportunities open for his career as a music minister. He was invited by Dr. Jerry Falwell to serve as a worship leader at Thomase Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. He's also taken a position as artist-in-residence at Liberty University,where he leads the college students in worship each week and facilitates the school's Praise & Worship degree.

When it came time to prepare a new album, the inspirational vocalist contacted his longtime friend and producer Don Koch (4Him, Newsong). Accompanied by co-writer Brian White, the three wrote half of the new album at a three-day youth event in Oklaholma. The album birthed from that writing process, Secret Conversation, is an inspirational adult contemporary project intended to help the church better understand God and worship. It's also nothing you haven't heard before in Christian music.

Which is not to say there aren't some stirring songs to be found on this disc. "The Altar" is a pretty and smartly conceived ballad that is based on the point that God doesn't need worship, but we do need to worship him. Another highlight is the sweet ballad, "The Beginning of You," which offers a glimpse of God's bottomless well of blessings and love. "More of You" is a familiar sounding, soulful ballad that is powerful and effective, with some stunning moments between Charles and the gospel choir. My favorite, however, is the sweeping piano and strings ballad, "In the Room," a perfect epilogue to a worship album that summarizes the humble and grateful feelings of a worship leader after an effective concert/service: "So many stories and no one knows but You/The silent prayers answered tonight in these pews/And I don't understand how You do what You do/I'm just glad I was in the room."

Aside from those tracks, though, Secret Conversation is typical inspirational adult contemporary: tired, repetitive, and unoriginal. "Fill This Place" is an appropriate opening, an energetic invocation that invites God's presence and his people to worship him. It's very reminiscent of inspirational pop ten years ago by the likes of Steve Green or Phillips, Craig, & Dean. "Loss for Words" is a typical anthemic ballad with extremely hackneyed words of praise: "You are holy, You are worthy/The blessed Son of God, the morning star/You are glorious, You are marvelous/But there's so much more to who You really are." A more intimate-sounding ballad is "Whisper to My Heart," which features 26 tracks of recorded background vocals, but only nine lines of lyrics: "God, I am praying/I am waiting/Whisper to my heart/Here in this moment/I am seeking/Whisper to my heart/Take me beyond/The curtains of heaven/Reveal the mystery to me."

Some of the worship songs use the standard worship clichés that focus more on our response to worship rather than God's greatness. The energetic pop of "Your Love for Me" is one such example: "Lord, I'm in awe of Your majesty/Lord, I get lost in Your love for me." Another is the R&B flavored "Psalm 71," similar in sound to Russ Lee or Newsong with gospel vocals arranged by Nee-C Walls (Anointed): "Jesus, I love You/Jesus, I praise You/My savior, my king/Jesus, I worship You/Jesus, forever my heart will proclaim/Rock of all ages, Your love never changes/Honor and glory we bring/We lift the name, we lift the name of Jesus."

Then there's the disc's one cover song, a dance pop rendition of Andy Park's "In the Secret (I Want to Know You)." The press materials suggest that this is "sure to be a live worship favorite"—indeed, it has been since 1995, appearing on numerous other worship recordings. Charles claims that the song was first performed by Freddie Colloca. While I can't refute that with certainty, it almost certainly first appeared on a Vineyard Winds of Worship album, which leads me to think Freddie was not the first. Ironically, this version sounds a lot like Freddie Colloca with the programmed beats and horn section.

Albums really don't get much more predictable than this. You've heard virtually the same thing from artists such as Steve Green, Clay Crosse, Greg Long, 4Him, Newsong, Allen Asbury, Larnelle Harris, Russ Lee, and Jonathan Pierce to name just a few— essentially, anything that Don Koch has ever produced. There's nothing remotely unique or creative about this music other than the qualities to Charles Billingsley's voice. This is beside the point. We're talking about what is in essence Southern gospel set to pop music. It's not so much art as it is ministry that uses music as a tool. The truth is, there are some people who are looking for unoriginality—the same words of inspiration set to familiar pop sounds. If you consistently enjoy the music of the aforementioned artists, chances are excellent that you'll like Secret Conversation. Anyone else searching for creativity in their spiritually inspired music would be advised to steer clear of this album, though there are still a few tracks that may be worth your time.