Prime Cuts: Let There Be Light, Mountain, Champion
It's easy to brush this album aside as yet another Jesus Culture record. Sure enough Bryan and Katie Torwalt's latest release "Champion" doesn't break the template that have moulded the releases coming out of Jesus Culture and their ensuing worship acts. In fact, the songs here are what you would expect from Jesus Culture. Bearing the same imprints of keyboard-driven stately worship numbers, many of the songs start off slowly before exploding into some soul stirring moments. On their own, they sound wonderful but bunch them altogether the songs are blunted into an endless flow of worship pandering. This is not Bryan and Katie Torwalt's problem but it seems to be the prevailing trend across many worship acts these days.
"Champion," released on the Jesus Culture imprint, is the first new album since the husband and wife worship team's last studio release Kingdom Come in 2013. Their debut album "Here on Earth" produced this year's GRAMMY-winning song "Holy Spirit" recorded by Francesca Battistelli, which hit No. 1 on the National Audience Chart and is currently a Top 5 CCLI song.
This is not to say that "Champion" has no redeeming value. Rather, if you are patient enough to actually give this record a few careful listens, a few gems emerged. "Let There be Light," the album's lead single, is a co-write between the couple and Mia Fields and Hank Bentley. A gorgeous conflagration of Biblical thought (namely Genesis 1 and John 1), the lyrics speaks of how God can speak light into our darkest circumstances. "High Above" is a worship inducing power ballad where Bryan leads us to ascend the heights of a Godly shout-out. Though "Never Let Go" boasts a singalong congregational focused chorus, it doesn't have the same matching infectious quality in the verses.
Sounding like Kim Walker-Smith with her commanding vocal presence, Katie is at her best with the bold title track "Champion." And you can feel the Holy Spirit fire in Katie's voice on "Flame of Fire, Rushing Wind." Nevertheless,despite the power of the song, it doesn't have a strong enough hook for the musically challenged congregation member to latch on. Easily the album's best cut is "Mountain." Showing some creative ingenuity in breaking away from the heavy ballad formula, "Mountain" is cherished for its pounding percussion drive and that fearless proclamation of trust in Jesus Christ.
This is not an album that warms up at first listen. Nevertheless, with a little patience and with a little getting over the over-the-top balladry feel, the album does have some its share of worship gems. Let's hope they ditch the Jesus Culture conveyor belt for something a little more adventurous the next time around.