Thursday, October 21, 2010

Caught-up in a wave of worship

A Beautiful Exchange
Artist: Hillsong Live
Label: Sparrow
Length: 13 tracks/75:14 minutes

A friend who has been a fan of Hillsong Live recordings expressed his disappointment that recent ones seemed to feature Darlene Zschech a little less than earlier recordings. On A Beautiful Exchange she leads two songs (“Greatness of Our God” and “Believe”), which are among the best on this release.

The reason why she isn’t spotlighted more may be twofold: the presence of equally-talented songleaders (they deserve an opportunity to use their gifts), and perhaps the desire to keep the focus on God rather than any one person, since this series is all about worshipping Him.

The male vocalists lead songs that have more of a rock edge, and the more that I listened, the better the songs sounded. The rock never gets too heavy, which gives this broad appeal. The songs are often atmospheric and anthem-like, building to a crescendo like a cresting wave, receding and sometimes coming back again.

Brooke Fraser takes the lead on “Like Incense/Sometimes by Step,” which combines poetic stanzas with the familiar chorus written by Beaker and recorded by Rich Mullins. Here and periodically it’s great to hear the voices of all those in attendance. It’s an exhilarating experience to be surrounded by thousands of people worshipping God in song. Aside from the CD, you can share these moments by picking up the DVD release of this title. I did not have a copy to review, but judging from past DVDs, it’s the next best thing to being there.

After so many CD and DVD releases over the years, what works against Hillsong is that their songs tend to be similar-sounding. The mix can also be a little muddy because it’s live, and there are multiple musicians playing similar instruments. The radio version of “Forever Reign,” a studio cut, at the end is a pleasant change-up, even if it lacks some of the energy of the live version.

In writing new songs, there is always the danger of inadvertently using clich├ęs that creep in here and there. Hopefully, Hillsong will rise to the challenge of drawing on those fresh springs of inspiration. It’s not that they don’t do it here; I like what they have done, but I hope they can somehow reinvent themselves a little in the future.

I give them credit for continuing to modernize their sound in small ways (compare this with past releases), and they may do live worship as well as any. Fans won’t be disappointed.

As long as you are not adverse to contemporary styles, it’s hard to listen to this and not feel the spirit of praise.
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