Phil Wickham "The Ascension" (Deluxe Edition) Album Review

Phil Wickham

Prime Cuts:  The Ascension, This is Amazing Grace, Wonderful 

It is almost protocol these days.  Whenever an artist has a major hit and an album that sells, you can almost expect a deluxe version to be released a few months following.  After securing a major hit with "This is Amazing Grace," and with "The Ascension" soaring to #2 on Billboard's Christian album chart, the Deluxe Version is now open us.  Featuring the original album augmented by acoustic versions of 10 of the original songs (the song "Mercy" is the only song not to get the acoustic treatment), it's ready to entice fans to part with their money again.  Yet, for those who missed buying the album the first time round, this is your prime opportunity.  

"The Ascension" finds its muse in the Psalms of Ascents.  The Psalms of Ascents consisting of Psalm 120 to 134 are pilgrimage songs sung by Jews while they were making pilgrimages to Israel's great festivals from the diaspora.  Thus, just as these songs from the Psalter are anticipatory paeans written to prepare our hearts to meet with God, likewise are the 11 songs here in Wickham's "The Ascension."  Thus, "The Ascension" consists of songs written for God's people to sing when they gather for worship; this is essentially Wickham's first worship record to date.  And it comes under the tutelage of famed producer Peter Kipley who has helmed some of the finest records by Shane and Shane, Matthew West and Everfound.  The title cut "The Ascension" locks our GPS in for God's holy mountain as Wickham sings about his longing to worship the God who has branded his name on our hearts.  So befitting of the song's climbing motif, the song's chorus builds upon accelerating notes as the heavenly-sounding chorus gets louder and louder as Wickham sings:  "further up, further in, just to be with you again, let us start, be ascension." 

If the lead single "This is Amazing Grace" sounds familiar, it's because it is a song first crafted by Wickham, Jeremy Riddle and Josh Farro for Bethel Live on their "For the Sake of the World" album.  Building on twitchy percussive swells and soaring oblique synths, "This is Amazing Grace" has an irresistibly dynamic chorus hook.   "Over All" finds Wickham stepping into newer turf with its chilled out dance beats.  One of the striking peculiarities of the Psalms of Ascents is that the Psalmists would litter their songs with images of what they saw along their pilgrimages (including the sun, the moon, the raging waters, the sheaves and so forth). Thus, many of these Psalms are consequently imbued with a rustic and organic flavor.  Along a similar trajectory is Wickham's "When My Heart is Torn Asunder" and "Tears of Joy."  The acoustic guitar-driven backing of the former and the folky-country spaciousness of the latter certainly create that wide open space of nature's finest reminiscing of the Psalms.

"Wonderful" which celebrates God's presence in various aspects of His creation, calls to mind the creation motif which recurs right through the Psalms of Ascents.  However, the song is somehow let down by Wickham's somehow mechanical reading.  While album closer "Thirst" finds Wichkam singing in falsetto; this is definitely not Wickham in his vocal best.  As far as concept album goes, "The Ascension" works cohesively giving us a contemporary and a Christ-centered counterpart to the Psalms of Ascents.  More importantly just as Psalmists accompanied their steps with worship, may we too make worship the soundtrack of everything we say, think and do.

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