Critic's Choices: Our Favorite Worship Albums of 2017

Darlene Zschech

2017 is indeed a fruitful year in terms of harvesting for the church new songs of worship to God.  In reflecting on this year, here are our favorite worship albums.

10. Hillsong UNITED "Wonder"

Creativity takes a front seat with UNITED's sixth studio album "Wonder."  Gone are the over-simplistic lyrics of recycled clichés guised by the clamorous sounds of arena-styled rock guitars and percussion. Rather, evidenced by the songs' titulars such as "Splinters and Stones," "So I Will (100 Billion X)," and "Glimmer in the Dust," there's more poetic creativity and intrigue woven into the crafting of these 12 newly written songs. Such added insights give a refreshing depth and dimension to what is perhaps UNITED's most mature and seasoned effort in their already colossal canon.

9. Corey Voss "Songs of Heaven and Earth Vol. 1"

Melodies of worship music need to have an echoing component.  This means that the tunes need to stick with the average congregant so that they can sing them in their leisure personal worship time.  Too often worship songs lack a memorability factor.  This is not so with Corey Voss.  "Songs of Heaven & Earth Vol. 1" is a 5-song EP that prides on having songs with hooks large enough that we can tap our toes to and hum along in a few listens.  Moreover, the songs are made even more palatable with Voss' easy on the ears tenor and producer Kyle Lee's (Michael W. Smith, Dustin Smith) pop-centric underpinnings.

8. Alisa Turner "Alisa Turner"

Alisa Turner has a voice that pulverizes.  With a striking clarity of a Jenn Johnson, a worshipping lilt of Darlene Zschech, and an undergirding Holy-Spirit-power of Kim Walker-Smith, Tuner makes you stop and worship along when she sings.  One of the reasons why Turner is such an attention grabber is because she has the uncanny ability of expressing both joy and suffering in her nuances.

7. Kristene DiMarco "Where His Light Was"

Kristene DiMarco has found her niche with album #4.  While her first two albums adopt the coffee house singer-songwriter template where she didn't have much room to manoeuvre beyond her folkish whispers, her previous album "Mighty" leans towards the other extreme.  "Mighty" as the titular suggests was as subtle as a sledgehammer.  The live sound was more Kim Walker-Smith than Kristene DiMarco.  With "Where His Light Was" stands astride between the thoughtful poetic of her first two efforts and the expressively grandiose sounds of her previous effort.  Relative to "Mighty," the songs here have a greater definition with more developed melodies canvasing broader theological themes.

6. City Harmonic "Benediction (Live)"

Grievous to say "Benediction (Live)" is the team's swan song. After 8 years of indenting Christian music with their theologically hefty tunes, they are disbanding with each team member being called into other ministries. Born out of a church unity movement in the blue-collar steel town of Hamilton, Ontario, The City Harmonic formed in 2009 after leading worship for inter-denominational student events. By 2011, the band had become the best-selling new artist, won its first Gospel Music Canada Covenant Award.  Altogether, the band released four critically acclaimed albums I Have A Dream (It Feels Like Home), Heart and We Are. And they have given radio and the church worship staples such as "Manifesto," "Praise the Lord," "Holy (Wedding Day)," "Mountaintop" and "A City On A Hill."  

5. Lou Fellingham "This Changes Everything"

As soon as the first song starts rolling, you know Fellingham is schooled in the likes of Graham Kendricks, Stuart Townsend, and Keith & Kristyn Getty.  Never one to settle for mere conversational platitudes devoid of any integration with poetry, with "Everlasting Arms," Fellingham takes the works of Annie J. Flint and sets it to tune of a gorgeous ballad.  The lyrics by themselves are worthy of careful rumination: "He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater/He sendeth more strength as our labors increase/To added afflictions He addeth His mercy/To multiplied trials He multiplies peace." 

4. Matt Redman "Glory Song"

Racism does rear its ugly head in our worship music.  It's the white elephant few worship leaders and pastors care to address.  You don't have to be a music expert to know that the sounds of praise in an African American church is vastly dissimilar to what is being sung in a white or American-Asian church.  Matt Redman, God bless his heart, takes a bold Gospel step to breach this tacit divide with this new record.  Redman has taken the first step to enhance the Gospel streaks in his music.  He does this in a trio of ways:  first, the songs on "Glory Song" adopt a more "looser" Gospel-ish ad-lib impromptu than his previous efforts.  Second, there are more hand claps, choir shout-outs, R&B grooves, and generally the songs are far longer than the average "white-centered" worship songs. Third, Redman has brought in Gospel artists, such as Kierra Sheard, Guvna B, and Tasha Cobbs, to sing with him, a fairly uncommon fleet on a worship record.

3. ICF Worship "The Journey: A Collection" 

Every worship leader ought to have this album in their collection.  If you have had ever led worship in church before you would know that songs that are conterminously (1) singable for the congregation, (2) Biblical and theological in content, and (3) not individualistically trite and not cycling along the endless loops of repeated clichés are rare.  Many of the songs on this record easily tick the three aforementioned categories and more.  Such as these songs are not only executed with the corporate worship of the church in mind, they also draw us in as individuals in worship. These points by themselves are worthy enough for every worship leader and for those who have a penchant for worship to take invest time into this CD. 

2. Brian and Jenn Johnson "After All These Years"

Though a brand new studio album of 10 newly penned songs, "After All These Years" percolates with a nostalgic throwback feel.  Most telling is that all the songs here are slow and contemplative ballads.  Moreover, the themes of the songs rife with an irresistible joy as the couple look back at God's faithfulness over the various seasons of their careers.

1. Darlene Zschech "Here I Am, Send Me"

Cancer squirms in the face of its Maker.  "Here I Am Send Me" is Darlene Zschech's first album since her tumultuous bout with breast cancer.  Here you will not find the former Hillsong Worship Pastor wallowing in pain or regrets.  Rather, what you hear a child of God who has seen the Shepherd in the shadow of death and has lived to testify to it.  These 11 songs here function as powerful testimonies of God's sovereignty, love, and grace.  But she doesn't leave it there.  Inspired by the vision of Isaiah, Zschech doesn't want us to be spiritual hoarders.  Rather, she wants us to take this Gospel to the rest of the world.  Such a thought is epitomized in the theologically pregnant album's closer "Go."



Tags : our favorite worship albums 2017 alisa turner Corey Voss Integrity Music Hillsong United Darlene Zschech worship songs best worship songs Matt Redman brian and jenn johnson kristene dimarco bethel music lou fellingham

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