Prime Cuts: Stay With Me Here, Prepare the Way O Zion, Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
Overall Grade: 4/5
To borrow a cliché: they don't make concept albums like Fernando Ortega's "Crucifixion of Jesus" anymore. You can hardly find albums these days where each song contributes a vital part to the album's storyline. Unadulterated by the insatiable want for radio hits or the tyranny to be hip, "Crucifixion of Jesus" is a meditative set where liturgy and contemporary balladry meet. Without sounding like attending a Catholic Mass and yet without feeling a need to outdo Planetshakers or Hillsong Young and Free, Ortega does try to keep a contemporary pulse as he walks with us through the final week of Jesus' earthly life.
"Crucifixion of Christ" is Ortega's first album in six years. Co-produced by Ortega and Bernard Chadwick, the album features 11 songs and 6 readings from Scripture. Let's say a word first about the readings before we give an exposition of the songs. The readings were selected and edited by Ortega's pastor, Gary Villa. Hurled mostly from Scripture, the readings lead us on a contemplative walk as Jesus travels from the Garden in Gethsemane to Golgotha. Wonderful as the readings are, they are not the type you want to hear again and again. So, if you want to listen to this record on repeatable rotations, they tend to retard the flow of the album.
As for the songs: all of them are pensive ballads with piano and a bevy of strings as backing. Those that can be earmarked excellent include "Stay with Me." Be prepared to have your heart pricked as Ortega sings the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the backing of cellist Nat Smith. Few songs speak of what sin does to the Father in ways that are as touching and as truthful as "Ah Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended" which features the harmonies of Audrey Assad along with Jonathan and Amanda Noel. "In My Father" is a communion hymn that gorgeously intertwines heaven with Christ's sacrifice. Most contemporary and perhaps the most single-worthy among the lot is "Prepare the Way O Zion." "Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted" minces no words as Ortega speaks of the crucifixion with utmost intensity & honesty.
Nevertheless, the drawback that discounts this album from getting a 5-star accolade is that there is sense of same-ness that pervades through the record. Granted the sober disposition of the album's subject matter, the album can feel draggy and at times dull in spots.