Sounds like … a mixture of inspirational adult contemporary and traditional hymns, similar in sound to Newsong, John Elefante, and Phillips, Craig, & DeanAt a Glance … though the songs aren't particularly original sounding, Al Denson's latest is a generally well-produced and performed inspirational project.
A significant and popular Christian artist during the industry's growth in the early '90s, Al Denson struggled with writer's block shortly after the release of his 2000 album From This Day On. Sadly, Al's brother died unexpectedly just before that album's release. The loss was especially devastating since Al was very close to his brother, and consequently the songs stopped coming for a time. Eventually a trusted friend and mentor suggested falling back on the beloved hymns of the church whenever Al couldn't come up with music to write. Sure enough, singing the hymns eventually eased Al's hurt over time. The comfort brought by the music led Al to try writing new songs inspired by the classic hymns. After all, many churches struggle with attempts to balance the popularity of contemporary worship with the beautiful heritage of traditional hymns. Hence the title of Al's latest project, With One Voice, which also features a number of guest artists throughout the album.
Contemporary arrangements of hymn favorites are indeed popular, and the idea has been successfully executed by a number of artists over the years (Tommy Walker, Chris Tomlin, City on a Hill). Unfortunately, only half of With One Voice's ten tracks feature the old hymns, but even more disappointing is the lack of ingenuity in using the hymns. These new arrangements are less "hybrids" of new with old, and more like "pairings." It's the difference between Chris Tomlin's brilliant "The Wonderful Cross" (which marries verses from the hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" with a new praise chorus) and performing City on a Hill's "God of Wonders" with a few verses of "Holy, Holy, Holy" at the end of it. The intent is to bring together the two musical camps of church-goers, but I imagine some traditionalists will tune out during Al's original music, with their ears perking up when he briefly segues into a hymn.
Still, like "God of Wonders," Al's new songs draw inspiration from the hymns, expanding on the old messages and including a verse or two at the beginning or end. The songs work well enough with the hymns, but they're not much of a blending and the results are mixed. "Trusting You Alone" is a fairly basic Christian adult contemporary pop song with a simplistic chorus of "I'm trusting you" repeated over and over again. Then near the song's end, vocalist Joyce Martin suddenly steps in to sing a verse of "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." The effect is similar to the track "A Greater Love," sung by Al with Ron Kenoly, which breaks into a verse of "How Great Thou Art" sung by Babbie Mason near the track's end. These examples seem more like hymnal cameos than smartly crafted arrangements.
Southern pop-gospel trio The Martins bookend Al's "Jesus, I Am Yours" with "I Surrender All." The hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" serves as the inspiration for "The Arms That Won't Let Go (The Pillow Song)," an extremely comfortingly worded song whose chorus may be too mushy for some: "If you need a pillow for your sorrow / If you need a blanket for your soul / If you need a place your broken heart can be made whole / He'll be your strength to face tomorrow / And when the night seems dark and cold / Fall into the arms that won't let go." The best pairing on With One Voice is "Holy Is the Lord," which involves not so much a beloved hymn as a contemporary worship classic. The powerful sound is excellent, reminiscent of John Elefante's strong adult contemporary and Michael W. Smith's "Great Is the Lord" or Twila Paris' "We Bow Down." Instead, Al transitions the song into Twila's "He Is Exalted," terrifically sung by Christian artist Lisa Bevill.
The remainder of With One Voice is comprised of five Al Denson originals, though there's not much original about the sound. This is pretty standard inspirational Christian pop from the '90s, reminiscent of Newsong, 4Him, John Elefante, Wayne Watson, and Phillips, Craig, & Dean. Though the sound lacks creativity, at least the songs are well written and produced. Perhaps they stand out because fewer Christian artists are recording in this style these days, with the sound of With One Voice standing apart as a better version of similar albums released ten years ago. Standouts include the inspiring ballad of spiritual unity "Undivided," the catchy pop of "Holy Love" (again featuring Lisa Bevill), and the enjoyable and exciting pop of "Alive in Us." With One Voice doesn't quite reach its full potential because of the clichéd style and the lack of creative arrangements, but the quality of the performances and the production make this a fair inspirational album for fans of this genre.