Prime Cuts: Spirit of the Living God, I'm Going Free (Jailbreak), Found in You
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
After 4 live albums, Vertical Church surprises fans by dropping their debut studio studio album. But before fans get overly excited over this release, this is essentially a "greatest hits" collection with songs being re-recorded with different lead vocalists and reimagined with slightly different arrangements. This means that there are no newly written songs per sec on the record. Two tracks are lifted off their 2012 "Live Worship from Vertical Worship," three songs first find their incarnation on 2013's "The Rock Won't Move" and 2015's "Church Songs," and the remaining two first saw the light of day on last year's "Frontiers." Naturally, as with most "greatest hits" collections, not everyone's favorites will be represented. Significantly missing is "Make a Way" and "Bound for Glory," both of which have become worship staples across churches.
Vertical Church is part of the worship ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago where Dr. James MacDonald serves as lead pastor. When a church has such a perspicuous and careful expositor, this will usually have a huge and positive impact on the worship team. As a result, many of Vertical Church's songs manifest a greater theological depth and dimension than most worship music efforts. The band counts as their membership, Meredith Andrews, Andi Rozier, Kyle Fredricks, Jon Guerra, Tara Stutes, Jake France, Lauren Smith and Rochelle Burlock. Collectively, the team has done extremely well, with all 4 of their albums making into the top 10, and even having 2015's "Church Songs" making it all the way to the pole position.
One of the reasons for the team's success is sing-ability. You can have lyrics that make C. S. Lewis blushed or music is so slick that make Luid Fonsi sound dated, but if church members can't sing along, a worship song has lost its utility. Sing-ability is the key to Vertical Church's canon: take a listen to "I'm Going Free (Jailbreak)" and you can't help but hum along. Then you have "The Rock Won't Move." Jesus the Rock may not move, but the song has a way of making our lips move along with its ear and heart grabbing chorus. Also, gorgeous is "1,000 Tongues." Calling to mind Wesley's hymn "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," the song groves along to a warm-toned engaging pop underpinning.
Another reason why Vertical Church has been so influential in worship music is because they sing about issues close to the heart of Christ expressed through Scripture. Few are the songs these days that speak of the work of the Holy Spirit with so much clarity and power as "Spirit of the Living God." "Lamb of God," on the other hand, contains some of the clearest exposition of the theology of the atonement. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that Vertical Church has completely escaped the trappings of the recycled too. Songs, especially their earlier efforts such as "Open Up the Heavens" and "God You Are My God," verge on the anonymous.