Sounds like … a mix of inspirational pop, soul, modern worship, and gospel under the thematic blanket of Rick Warren's book, The Purpose-Driven LifeAt a Glance … not as creative (or new) as one would hope, the album still has a handful of appealing songs that thoughtfully relate to the subject of the best-selling book
Christian albums inspired by best-selling books are becoming more commonplace with the proven success of albums inspired by such beloved favorites as Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, L.B. Cowman's Streams in the Desert, Bruce Wilkinson's Prayer of Jabez, and most recently Max Lucado's Traveling Light. The obvious appeal is the built-in brand name of the best-selling book. How else do you explain the success of the Left Behind albums, or for that matter the recently released Songs for a Purpose-Driven Life, which debuted in the Top 20 Christian Albums chart. The recording was inspired by the new book, The Purpose-Driven Life, by pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, best known for his 1995 best-seller, The Purpose-Driven Church. The fact that "Purpose-Driven" is now a registered trademark hints at how successful this series is. Most people probably bought Songs for a Purpose-Driven Life while picking up their copy of The Purpose-Driven Life at their local bookstore. It's the only logical explanation since only half of the artists on the album have any sort of marquee value; the others you'll probably only recognize if you keep track of Maranatha!'s worship leaders.
Of course, recognition isn't the goal as much as making an inspiring pop project that reflects the key points of Pastor Warren's book. The results are hit and miss. The album was produced by Buster & Shavoni, best known for their work with Kirk Franklin, God's Property, Yolanda Adams, Michelle Williams, and the Prince of Egypt soundtracks. That resumé is appropriately descriptive of the new album's blend of inspirational pop, gospel, soul, and modern worship (it's like all three Prince of Egypt soundtracks rolled into one). Nicole C. Mullen stands out as the album's most successful and widely known artist, contributing her own song "Magnify," a routine pop ballad of praise that stands out because of Nicole's impressive vocalizing. The same could be said of "My Soul Is in Your Hands," a simple pop power ballad of surrender sung by Natalie Grant. Kevin Max (dc Talk) distinguishes himself as the odd inclusion with his usual alternative pop sound, though it should be noted that "Just an Illusion" is toned down and more accessible than some of his more creative endeavors. The track brings to light the deception of the notion that we can live our lives without God: "Just an illusion to pull you outta your place of grace / Where's the confusion? You can't lose if you choose to obey." Vocal group Take 6 offers a typically delightful a cappella track entitled "Family of Love" about the vast size and diversity of God's family.
The remaining tracks are by artists most people probably aren't familiar with, though Pastor Clint Brown of Faith World Church in Orlando, Florida is a fairly well known best-selling artist. He sounds as soulful as Tom Jones or Michael McDonald on the contemporary worship track "Lord I Live," a simplistic song that reminds us we're called to serve the Lord by ministering on this earth (one of the "five purposes" outlined in Pastor Warren's book). If you're familiar with Pastor Clint's music, then chances are you're also familiar with Heath Burgett, a regular featured worship leader on the Faith World Church gospel albums. On this album, Heath sings a beautiful gospel duet with Maranatha! singer Lauren Evans entitled "Thy Will," a ballad about making God's will our own (another of the book's five purposes). Lyndsey Lloyd Wallace serves as a worship leader at Saddleback and sings on the glossy pop ballad "Reach One More for Jesus." Jill Zadeh is an up-and-coming gospel artist from Martha's Vineyard who's performed with Diana Ross and CeCe Winans. She sings "What on Earth (Am I Here For)," a generally unremarkable soulful pop song similar to the music of Mariah Carey or Michelle Williams, elevated by Jill's beautiful voice and the lyrics that begin to scratch at the deeper truths of the book – that living for God offers us endless purpose, as opposed to living only for ourselves. Multi-instrumentalist Adam Watts infuses the album with some energy on the enjoyable modern worship track "To Be Used by You," about using our sinful past as our ministry to build relationships with others.
Some of the tracks on Songs for a Purpose-Driven Life fall short because they're too hackneyed sounding. Others simply sound too dated, with Maranatha! dipping into their recorded archives for album filler. Denise Graves' popular gospel pop classic "Send Me" is performed by Vaneese Thomas and still effectively fits in with the theme of the album/book. Worship leader Aaron Gayden's "We All Need," however, sounds far too dated for a 1996 recording. Even more dated sounding is 1991's "My Life Will Worship You," featuring Saddleback worship leader Rick Muchow, as well as Morris Chapman and Charles Billingsley – it's also the album's only live track, so it sticks out more than it should. Aside from presenting more newly written material by better-known artists, this album also would have benefited from better song sequencing to more successfully drive home the message. Because the songs aren't in any thematic order, you'll probably need to refer to the album's liner notes to determine how the CD relates to the book. Unfortunately, the album feels like a half effort, especially compared to better thematic albums such as City on a Hill, Streams, and Traveling Light. Still, there's enough on Songs for a Purpose-Driven Life to compliment Rick Warren's book, or else create additional interest in the insightful message he offers.