Prime Cuts: Almighty God, With Great Gentleness, Steadfast
Overall Grade: 4/5
If you have ever wondered what Emmylou Harris would sound like if she were to cut a worship album, you don't have to wonder anymore. With that deep southern rawness that used to occupy the honky tonk singers of yore, there is rustic Emmylou-Harris charm to worship leader Sandra McCracken's voice. Yet, you can't domesticate McCracken into the narrow confines of traditional country music. Utilizing piano as her mettle, of choice, she also has a pop-jazzy way with the piano that calls to mind the smoky lounge music of Norah Jones and Stacy Sullivan. In short, McCracken doesn't sound like anyone. She has a patented voice that stands head and shoulders above the average worship artist out there.
"Steadfast Live" as the titular suggests is a live worship album. But mind you, this is far from the high-tech stadium-sized bonanza of a recording that we have grown accustomed to by Hillsong Worship or Passion or Jesus Culture. Rather, this album was recorded live this spring at Nashville's Art House in a living room full of friends and family. The recording features McCracken and her band along with special guests All Sons & Daughters and Liz Vice. Despite the sparseness of the audience, McCracken makes it up by offering us a giant platter of 17 songs! With 5 new songs (including the hymn "Be Thou My Vision"), the rest of the cuts are evenly taken from McCracken's previous releases: 2015's "Psalms" and 2016's "God's Highway."
For the unacquainted, McCracken is a theologically meaty writer. Her songs, like those of the Gettys or Stuart Townend, are packed with quarter pounders of great theological truths. This is why McCracken has been heavily endorsed by theologically astute organizations such as the Tim Keller and D. A. Carson helmed Gospel Coalition. Thus, this record not only assists us to worship, but it also serves to teach us great truths about God and our faith. The title cut "Steadfast," for instance, is a brilliant poetic-essay that puts together a Biblical theological presentation of the power of God stringing together passages like Matthew 6, Colossians 1 and Psalm 146. With "God's Highway," McCracken offers a 3-D reading of Isaiah 35:8 where we can feel we are there holding onto our Lord on the King's highway.
If you tired of the overproduced EDM-driven worship music out there, this record will be your cup of tea. You can literally unwind to the hymnlike "Almighty" with the simplicity of the tune yet it is so beautifully augmented with a simple country-like backing. Quietly gorgeous is the newly written acoustic sounding "With Great Gentleness" as well as her thoughtful rendition of the hymn "Be Thou My Vision." However, not all her ballads are gems: songs like "Sweet Comfort" and "Continuously" are draggy without having any presence of hooks. Yet, not all is dreamily slow. The gentle folkish "Call Him Good," which finds its muse in Psalm 104, has a perky disposition that is endearing.
Lyrically, you can't fault McCracken. She is a thoughtful expositor of the Scriptures and she also has a keening eye to draw upon the threads of Biblical theology that enables us to see the big picture of God's truth. Musically, she has carved a niche for herself: she is a worship leader who is not afraid of taking her music to terrains without boundaries. This is an album Emmylou Harris may even be proud of.