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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Take Hold of Christ

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Feb
Take Hold of Christ
Sounds like … the classic sweeping orchestrations and powerhouse flourish endings characteristic of Sandi's earlier inspirational albumsAt a Glance … this one's perfect for the longtime Sandi Patty fan and tedium for anyone who's beyond formulaic orchestral pop

For the majority of Christian music fans, the legendary Sandi Patty needs no introduction. With 23 albums, 39 Dove Awards (11 for Female Vocalist of the Year), 5 Grammy Awards, and 4 Billboard Music Awards, there's no question that she is one of the most acclaimed vocalists of all time. Though after recording for nearly 25 years, many fans of her music will readily admit that they do not enjoy her recent albums as much as those recorded during the pinnacle of her career in the 80s.

Sandi and her producers make no qualms about this fact, or that one of the goals for Take Hold of Christ was to recreate the magic and formula of her earlier days. The new album re-teams the popular soprano with Greg Nelson, who produced many of her earlier albums, and David Hamilton, a keyboard player from her earlier days who additionally lends his talents of arranging and orchestration. The three worked to select songs that would be suitable for church choirs and soloists. Sure enough, they close this album with "The Majesty and Glory of Your Name," a popular church choir anthem that dates back to 1979, the same year Sandi released her debut (and such a common anthem that even my own church choir is performing it within a week of this album's release). Here it gets the royal Sandi Patty treatment, accompanied by a full orchestra (stunningly arranged by David) that brings to mind Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

However, if you've ever wondered what people mean by formulaic music, Take Hold of Christ is a terrific example. The sweeping orchestral arrangements, the steady build from a hush to a full-blown finale, Sandi's "rafter raising" vocal flourish … all are elements one normally associates with her music, and all have been faithfully and intentionally recreated with care and precision for this album. The title track and "Fields of Mercy," both big power ballads, pull the strings perfectly. Similarly, the producers have come up with another peppy anthem reminiscent of Sandi's big hits "Let There Be Praise" or "How Majestic Is Your Name" (written by Michael W. Smith before his solo career). Inspired by Psalm 145, "Mighty Is the Name of the Lord" is like a contemporary version of the church pop anthems from twenty years ago, though it also pays homage with some dated keyboard sounds that one normally associates with those classics.

Sandi's recordings also typically feature an "intimate song," a gentle praise ballad that contrasts with the huge orchestrations of the other tracks — Take Hold of Christ contains two. Lush orchestration underlies "How Beautiful" (not to be confused with the well-known Twila Paris anthem), which sounds as if Sandi were singing for a holiday event with one of the acclaimed Pops orchestras — "How beautiful Your songs of praise / How true and steadfast are Your ways / Let all that is within me rise and sing!" Gentler still is "Savior Came (When I Was Needy)," which has a wonderful piano part and lyrics that tell of the return of a wayward heart — "I had wandered in my heart so far from home / I bore the weight of sin, my faith grew cold / I feared the angels that protect me had flown, had left me / Then I reached for heaven and turned my face to Him."

Three other tracks break from the traditional Sandi Patty formula, and they are among the album's highlights. "Wonderful One" is a pleasant and upbeat inspirational pop song in the same style as Twila Paris' "God Is in Control." It marvels at God's, well, wonder — "You're the wonder of my heart / You're the wonder of my soul / You're the wonder of my life / You're the wonder of the world / You're the wonder of all time / You're the wonderful, wonderful One." A similar contemporary pop style is brought to "The Heavens are Telling," which is also highlighted by programming effects and electric guitar. Perhaps most memorable is "Alleluia," written by Rick Vale, who also wrote "Author of My Soul." This one is very singable, reminiscent of worship anthems like "Great Is the Lord" and "He Is Exalted," highlighted by an excellent melody and a thunderous drum pattern.

Take Hold of Christ offers nothing new to the inspirational pop genre, and that's precisely the point. This is about Sandi and her producers revisiting the sound of her glory days for the approval of her fans and the praise of the Lord. There are no attempts to reach new horizons here and no depth to the simple lyrics of praise. Still, if Sandi considers her recent releases an artistic stretch and this new one a return to form, one wonders why she can't split the difference and present both styles on an album. This disc is very easy to summarize. If you've never cared for the music of Sandi Patty, or if you abhor formulaic inspirational pop in general, this album will surely bore you into a coma. Others looking for contemporary vocal pop would be better served by recent releases from Natalie Grant, Janna Long (Avalon), and Joy Williams. But if you still delight in the classic inspirational pop sound and consider yourself a longtime fan of Sandi Patty, then Take Hold of Christ will likely become your favorite album of hers from the last decade.