Sunday, October 30, 2016

Inheritance Deluxe Addition - Audrey Assad

One of the year’s best is now better

Inheritance Deluxe Addition

Artist: Audrey Assad (
Label: Fortunate Fall Records
Length: 16 tracks/approximately 1 hour

One of the year’s best releases is now even better. Audrey Assad teams with acclaimed cellist Cara Fox to reinterpret four songs from the original release in a neoclassical style. Cello, violin, harp, electric guitar and drums blend together live on “Be Thou My Vision,” “How Can I Keep from Singing,” “New Every Morning” and “It is Well with My Soul.”

The addition of the harp stands out and adds a beauty not heard on the originals. It’s an underutilized instrument in popular music, which is a shame because it has such pure tones. Though it is mixed with the other instruments, I found myself listening for it.

“New Every Morning” is a gorgeous original. The line referring to the beginning of creation, “You broke an unbroken silence” is a beautiful bit of poetry. In a way, I might summarize the whole release as poetic.

Worship leader Sarah Kroger adds her voice to “How Can I Keep from Singing” and “It is Well with My Soul.” The former starts with “I Wonder as I Wander.” You can almost feel the cold. Imagine a winter night with stars overhead. It then seamlessly transitions to the warm “How Can I Keep.” It’s like going from darkness to dawn. The music is radiant.

I may prefer this version of “It is Well.” It seems a little less traditional. The original features a congregation, but I like just hearing Assad and Kroger.

“Oh, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” remains a favorite from the initial release. It is coupled with the music associated with “Morning Has Broken” and includes Fernando Ortega, who along with Assad is excellent in adapting old lyrics.

In my prior review I never mentioned the opening track but feel compelled to do so here. “Ubi Caritas” is an ancient text sung entirely in Latin. As one reviewer noted it sounds more Celtic than Gregorian. It’s haunting but holy as captured on this YouTube video, which includes a translation. Assad writes, “I began this record with ‘Ubi Caritas’ because it felt like the perfect way to begin a collection of songs that shaped up to be a love note from me to the church.”

This is artistry that is relevant but timeless. It combines a judicious use of technology with mostly ancient verse. The latter springs to life anew.

The excellence makes me want to investigate all of Assad’s subsequent releases, and maybe even prior ones.

The reworked songs, dubbed The Fox Sessions, include live videos contained on a DVD or flash drive. So those who purchase this Deluxe Addition will have even more to savor.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Songs of the People - Prestonwood Worship

Michael W. Smith and Paul Baloche highlight a solid release from Prestonwood Worship

Songs of the People
Artist: Prestonwood Worship
Label: Integrity Music
Length: 13 tracks/1 hour 15 minutes

Being unfamiliar with Prestonwood Worship, advertised guest appearances by Paul Baloche and Michael W. Smith on Songs of the People caught my attention. Each of them deliver brief but effective performances. Of the two, Baloche plays a larger role being part of three songs. Smith’s sole contribution is the closing “We Are Alive,” which would be at home on any of his live albums. He brings his typical enthusiasm.

Overall, the sound and style is comparable to the mainstream releases in this genre. It’s contemporary but conservative, not edgy or alternative, which widens the possible appeal.

It may falter a little in being distinct from other similar albums. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a few of the subtleties: the string introduction on “You Can Have it All,” which is a performance of “I Surrender All,” and the call and response on “Let the Redeemed” where the choir is prominent.

At least three of the tracks incorporate phrases from hymns, which seems to be a recent trend. The best example is “Our Story Our Song” a truly joyful ode that borrows from Franny Crosby, “This, this is our story/this, this is our song/We are praising, praising our Savior all the day long, all the day long.” These phrases have never sounded better.

This, along with Smith’s anthem “We Are Alive” and Baloche’s “We Turn Our Eyes” are three of the best moments. The latter is quietly worshipful.

The tracks feature a variety of song leaders, only two of them led by women. They all acquit themselves honorably.

These are all new songs performed live at the 42,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church, which has two locations in the Dallas, TX area. It’s one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in the world. Dr. Jack Graham is the pastor.

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