Sounds like … contemporary pop worship similar to Hillsong Australia with elements of jazz and LatinAt a Glance … a well-made worship album that highlights an array of gifted musicians.
With the popularity and proliferation of worship music these days, it's simply not possible to cover everything that's available, nor do we want to get into the habit of critiquing church, as opposed to the skills of a particular songwriter. But then there are worship leaders such as Tommy Walker, an extremely gifted musician and composer whose artistry makes every recording worth the close look. With a voice reminiscent of Steven Curtis Chapman and fingerwork that rivals the best pop/jazz guitarists, Tommy is the worship leader responsible for classics such as "He Knows My Name," "Mourning Into Dancing," "That's Why We Praise Him," "No Greater Love," and "Lord, I Believe In You." His latest project, There Is a Rock, features 12 all-new worship songs by Tommy and is his first studio album in some time.
Another thing I admire about Tommy Walker is his commitment to artistic excellence. Few other worship bands call such attention to the talent of the supporting players. Tommy's C.A. Worship Band (though based in California, it stands for Central Assembly) is blessed with several gifted musicians: vocalists, percussionists, keyboardists, guitarists, and horn players alike. Imagine if Steven Curtis Chapman led a worship service similar to Darlene Zschech at Hillsong Church in Australia, or Michael W. Smith's much heralded worship concerts, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Tommy Walker's music sounds like. It's wonderful to hear such a spectrum of talent throughout the songs on There Is a Rock, and they're the reason I refer to the C.A. Worship Band as a worshipful Dave Matthews Band. You even can see the respect for musicianship in the fabulous packaging, featuring a full-color, glossy 24-page booklet with photos, lyrics, credits, and a list of specific models of instruments played.
I only wish I could say There Is a Rock is one of Tommy's best projects. The album begins promisingly with the bouncy jazz-inflected pop of "Here I Am Again" and the Latin jazz of "There Is a Rock." There's an awesome rhythmic reprise of the title track at the end of the album as well. "He Lives" is very jazzy, reminiscent of the big band sound popularized by Harry Connick Jr. or Denver and the Mile High Orchestra. An old Motown groove drives "I Love This Story," which is a delightful and simple summary of the good news of Christ. Then the album gets bogged down in inspirational pop, with no less than seven ballads in a row. I know these sweeter songs usually draw the worshippers into a more intimate time of worship, but they all kind of blend together after thirty minutes of slow music. Some stand out more than others do, such as the gospel ballad "Great and Marvelous" and the gentle "What a Good God," which features simply Tommy and his guitar accompanied by a violin. "For God So Loved the World" is similar to three other power ballads on the album, though it's more effective with the easy melody and the cute children's choir. The powerful ethereal ballad "Your Throne" draws things to a close with a strong chorus of "Holy Holy Holy"s.
There's no denying the quality of the work presented on There Is a Rock. Tommy has a knack for writing lyrics that are familiar, personalized, and scripturally grounded, but not clichéd. For example, Tommy expresses how worship goes beyond mere music in "Here I Am Again": "So many words, so many songs, so many melodies / Yet allow me one more declaration / You are the lover of my soul, the center of my life." I miss Tommy's penchant for adding praise choruses to old hymns, a fairly common aspect to his past work. There's also something to be said for the energy of a live album compared to a studio album when it comes to worship; Ron Kenoly faced a similar dilemma on his first studio album last year. Ultimately, I'm thankful for the worship ministry of Tommy Walker and his praise team. He's easily one of the best worship leaders around, knowing when to lead as a musician and when to blend in with the band, saying the right things at the right times in the music. I'd first recommend his Never Gonna Stop and Live at Home projects before There Is a Rock, but this is still a quality album and his music ministry is always a blessing to the church.