Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wonder - Michael W. Smith

Still creating wonder

Wonder
Artist: Michael W. Smith (http://www.michaelwsmith.com/)
Label: Provident Label Group
Length: 12 songs/53:54 minutes

Michael W. Smith’s Wonder, his 22nd album, combines the best elements of his recent releases: passionate worship, heartfelt pop and a touch of classical and orchestral arrangements (a la Freedom).

The opening song and first single, “Save Me From Myself,” makes it clear that this is not a praise and worship recording. It blasts from the start with a massive guitar-driven sound. The three songs that follow, however, are on par with his recent praise-oriented recordings. The downside is that the atmospheric, arena rock sound, common to artists like Hillsong, has become almost too prevalent.

Smith gets more personal on “Forever Yours” and “You Belong to Me,” which are beautifully penned and performed odes to Smith’s wife Debbie. The former is similar in content to “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Both highlight fidelity to one’s spouse. They also feature Smith’s piano playing, always a delight to hear, and his proficiency as an arranger.

“Welcome Home” wonderfully balances the grief of losing someone with the joy of knowing that they have entered their rest. The lovely melody keeps this from being overly melancholy, which makes this an ideal song for a memorial or funeral service. It exudes hope in sadness.

The title track is a whirlwind of synthesizer-led pop holding forth God’s nearness and all-sufficiency. This and many of the songs convey encouragement while acknowledging harsh realities. “I think this record can bring healing,” Smith said in an interview with Charisma. “Times are tough, and I personally believe it’s a record for our time.”

This is especially true on “One More Time” where affirming words float on a bubbling melody. Smith comes along side saying, keep on reaching … keep on moving.

At first “Leave” is like the dark side of one of the Psalms. The instrumentation is sparse, a lone acoustic guitar helping to paint a bleak picture. A young person struggles with abuse at home. If that isn’t bad enough, outsiders give conflicting advice including, Why don’t you just kill yourself? It’s from that place of brokenness that he reaches upward for help, hoping and then believing that God is there. Because it’s so different, it may be my favorite.

This recording is one of the first to use a new technology that allows songs to be cut direct to tape instead of digital, providing additional warmth and depth. “Sonically I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Smith said.

The album closes with “Take Me Over” a worshipful orchestral pop tune.

Smith’s skill as a music composer (his greatest strength) is what impressed me from the earliest days of his career. Even though he is somewhat constrained by the limitations of pop and praise songs, his brilliance still shines through. Smith’s creative flourishes keep me listening.
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