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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Obligatory Worship God Live Review 

I'm not exactly sure how to start this review, except to say that I'm glad that I didn't do it two weeks ago when I received the CD in the mail. It was part of a free giveaway offer on Bob Kauflin's blog, with the requirement that I post a review of it on my blog. Here's the Sovereign Grace take on the project (yanked right from their website):

Worship God Live is the latest live recording from Sovereign Grace Music, capturing two evenings in February 2005 at Covenant Life Church. Featuring worship leaders Bob Kauflin and Pat Sczebel, this CD includes 14 new songs from two generations of songwriters – Bob Kauflin, Mark Altrogge, Stephen Altrogge, Steve & Vikki Cook, Pat Sczebel, Jonathan Baird, Ryan Baird, Adam Sacks, and Rich Dalmas.
The songs range in style, but are all congregationally oriented. Two of the songs features lyrics from Isaac Watts ("O God Our Help in Ages Past") and William Cowper ("God Moves") in current arrangements from Mark Altrogge and Bob Kauflin, respectively.

So I'm going to start with positive, then give some critiques, then I'll come back to what I really like about it. First, it was free. That's always cool. Also, I think it's essential to mention that all the lyrics, chord charts, lead sheets, and song samples are available for free from the website. They make it pretty evident up front that this CD is about ministry, not profitability. Second, it is very energetic sounding, with clearly gifted and skilled musicians and vocalists, and a reasonably high-quality production - making it at the very least a pleasant listen.

That being said, I've got to admit I wasn't initially all that impressed. Starting with the cover art, which looked like a mock-up of the "polaroids stuck on with tape" theme employed by Derek Webb on "She Must and Shall Go Free", I feared that this wasn't going to be a first-rate experience for me. Of course, individual musical preferences played a big part in forming my opinion. As I listened, there seemed to be very little that really set this recording apart from any other well-rehearsed praise band. It featured some of the same styles that I eschew and elements of worship that tend to get on my nerves, like ending a song with 27 repeats of "Jesus thank you how we thank you yes we thank you Lord we thank you thank you Jesus yeah we thank you Jesus thank you Jesus" or taking a perfectly good hymn like "O God Our Help In Ages Past" and setting it to a rock beat with electric guitars to "juice it up a bit".

But, I decided that I needed to give the CD a fair shot, so I left it in my player in the car. I began to adjust my opinion, and I decided that it would be the perfect kind of music for an individual, band, or church that had gotten swept up into the "contemporary movement" but then realized the vapidity of the lyrics that were being purveyed as "worship music" and needed something that wouldn't offend the newly acquired modern tastes of their audience but wanted more God-focused lyrics. However, for others who had already taken the time to discover the treasures that can be found amongst the rest of the garbage heap, this CD didn't really represent anything earth-shattering. Essentially (I reasoned) the only thing "Worship God Live" offers is biblically-based, theologically-sound, God-honoring lyrics. Slowly it began to occur to me how earth-shattering that really is.

Consider some of these comparisons:

Do you see what I'm getting at? Worship God Live at its very worst, mines the depths of Scripture to force gospel-laden lyrics into somewhat banal music. At its best, it evokes my response to the character, words and actions of God, initiated by His revelation and enabled by His redemption, whereby my mind is transformed, my heart is renewed, and my actions are surrendered, all in accordance with His will and in order to declare His infinite worthiness. I think that's called worship.

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I heard someone say last night at our ensemble rehearsal that you had given a "bad review" of this CD, so I wanted to check it out. But after reading this, I think it's actually pretty fair. You praised the CD for being gospel-centered, which is the real strength of most Sovereign Grace productions. For example, "I Come by the Cross" from their "Songs for the Cross-centered Life" CD is a great example of good use of clear, gospel-focused lyrics.

I've listened to a lot of Sov. Grace CDs, and I have to say they always seem uneven musically. I would like to see at least one Sov. Grace CD produced with focus--a CD that features songs in the vein of their classic, Celtic hymn-like style that characterizes "I Will Glory in My Redeemer", "Before the Throne of God Above", "His Forever", et al.

Then again, why wait? Maybe we should just do it ourselves! :)



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