Prime Cuts: Let Your Fire Fall, Song of Ezekiel, Days of Elijah/Adonai
Where do song writers of worship songs find their muse? A cursory glance at the lyrics of some of our modern worship songs seem to suggest that these writers find more affinity with Taylor Swift, U2 and (God forbid) Elton John than with Scripture. This is what you won't get with Paul Wilbur. Instead of plagiarizing phases or ideas from secular songs, Wilbur's finds his wellspring in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. Wilbur together with Darlene Zschech and the Hillsong team, Don Moen, Robin Mark, Marty Nystrom among many others, were part of the panoply of artists that emerged from Integrity Music's Hosanna Series. Ever since his Integrity Music debut, "Up to Zion," Wilbur has sold 6 million records including "The Watchman," ""Jerusalem Arise," "Shalom Jerusalem" and "Lion of Judah." Further, with albums recorded in a whooping 6 different languages, Wilbur's music knows no cultural and linguistic bounds.
The newly packaged "Paul Wilbur Ultimate Collection" is the latest addition to Integrity Music's Ultimate Collection which features worship leaders such as Matt Redman, Robin Mark, Don Moen, Tim Hughes and others. Containing 14 tracks garnered from Wilbur's Integrity albums, "Ultimate Collection" unfortunately does not contain any previously unreleased album. Just as with any compilation albums, it's bound to raise quibbles among fans as to which songs are excluded and which made it into the canon. Most disappointing though there are no songs lifted from Wilbur's breakthrough album "Up to Zion," while there are 5 entries reprised from "Jerusalem Arise." In fact, the collection seems to lean towards Wilbur's later projects with last year's "Your Great Name" being represented here with 2 tracks.
So, what makes Wilbur such an endearing worship leader for the last 40 years or so? First, the songs of Wilbur not only create opportunities to worship God, but they teach us about Scripture, particularly the Old Testament. Just as a tree trunk is to a tree, the Old Testament is foundation to our faith in Jesus Christ. And in each of these 14 tracks, Wilbur reminds us again how these Old Testament passages again and again point us to Christ. "Dance with Me," for instance, is Song of Songs set to music. Here Wilbur shows us that Song of Songs is not just an esoteric book that deals with erotic sex. Rather, in a reverent and responsible fashion, Wilbur gorgeously shows us how the Biblical book has Christ as its focus. Also, those of us who are a little rusty when it comes to the Old Testament prophets will get a refresher course with "Song of Ezekiel." With stunning animation, Wilbur brings to life the account of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37.
Second, we have to tip our hats towards Wilbur for the intricate artistry he invests into his songs. Wilbur doesn't just sing about the Old Testament, he tries to bring us back to the Holy land by importing the sounds of the ancient land. When he sings of the desolate streets of Jerusalem in "Shalom Jerusalem" we can almost feel the dust blowing across our faces as we tour the streets with him. And to signify how the blessings of Abraham have extended to the nations, on "Lord God of Abraham" Wilbur progressively adds layer upon layer of sound to the paean until you get a full-fledged robust sound.
If there are criticisms, it is that many of them lack a distinguishable hook for congregations to latch on to in order to make singing along easier. Further, if these songs are to resource the church, the big burly sound often created by the presence of a choir and a host of instruments (including the shofar) may be a challenge for smaller churches to replicate in their services. Other than these cavils, if you are looking for worship songs that are meaty saturated with Scripture, Wilbur's "Ultimate Collection" packs up quite a feast.