Artist: Jesus Culture
Title: Come Away
For raw emotion and moments of unpolished serendipity, nothing matches a live album. Jesus Culture taps into this dynamic on its latest, Come Away, a recording of a worship conference held at the band's home base of Bethel Church in Redding, California.
Live worship recordings are a tricky proposition. Few would argue that worship is more than just performance. A live worship recording must communicate the complete atmosphere of an auditorium full of earnest voices without robbing the band of a quality mix. From a technical standpoint, the album—produced by Jeremy Edwardson and mixed by Sam Gibson—succeeds. The mix is terrific, and the six-piece band—fronted by lead singers Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala—sounds lean and tight throughout. Walker-Smith and Quilala attack these songs with a ferocity and passion which is engrossing. The primary strength of their performances is the pacing.
The album—ten tracks running over an hour—is not slim, but with the exception of a track like "Mighty Breath of God," nothing feels plodding. The arrangements are stellar. Walker-Smith has a voice like a jet-pack, and she launches her way through tracks like "Rooftops," the album's second track. Its chorus is arena-sized worship that would make Delirious nod in approval. "Freedom Reigns" is a first-rate declaration, with chunky power chords and a bed of synth. Quilala's vocal delivery—on tracks like "Come Away" and "One Thing Remains"—is more measured, but swells to an equally exuberant fullness.
The lyrical content of these songs is limited; Jesus Culture relies on the emotion of the experience to carry things, but those who need more lyrical development to their worship experience will be disappointed by the repetitiveness of some of the songs. Combined with its run time, the brashness of the delivery can become equally repetitive. This is high-octane stuff, and moments of contemplation could be hard to come by. For this reason, Jesus Culture doesn't yet possess enough nuance to their performances to warrant a position with the first tier of worship bands. They still possess the rare ability to create an atmosphere that is simultaneoulsy anthemic and intimate, public and private. Were this album to wind up in the hands of a stranger with no knowledge of the church or the conventions or worship music, it would demand respect for its passionate performances and technical prowess.
**This review first published on November 23, 2010.