Prime Cuts: Armor, Undying Love, Iron Sharpens Iron
Overall Grade: 5/5
Over the years, many country music artists have cross pollinated genres by releasing Christian-themed albums. Oak Ridge Boys, Alan Jackson, Ray Stevens, Carrie Underwood, and Reba McEntire are some of the stalwarts in the genre that have had graced us with songs directed towards God. Nevertheless, some may embark on such endeavors in an effort to bolster their altruistic side of their careers, while others may do them out desperation to widen their fan base. But not so with Tim Malchak. With "Morning Hour of Prayer," there's a bona fide sincerity that makes it sound like a labor of love undertaken for his Savior. Featuring 9 newly written songs by Malchak and his wife (and a hymn medley), the songs canvass integral doctrines of the Christian faith done in his inimitable country style recalling the time when the neo-traditionalists like Alan Jackson and Randy Travis were ruling the airwaves.
For the uninitiated, Malchak first came to country music scene in the late 80s. Signed to the independent imprint, Alpine Records, Malchak released his debut album, "Colorado Moon," in 1987. The title track became Malchak's first Top 40 single. Later, he was signed to MCA Nashville Records, where he released the critically acclaimed album "Different Circles." The album featured tracks that were produced by James Stroud, who went on to release some of the biggest hits recorded by Toby Keith and Tim McGraw. During this time, Malchak had shared the stage with superstars like Vince Gill, Barbara Mandrell, and Alison Krauss.
After his stint with country radio came to a recess, Malchak gave his life to Christ and started releasing Christian music records. "Morning Hour of Prayer" is Malchak's latest of such efforts. The album begins with the Irish tilted tribute to our nation's soldiers, "Home of the Brave." Though many patriotic anthems can be susceptible to frivolous jingoism, "Home of the Brave" is actually quite good. Instead of recycling nationalistic clichés, Malchak links the sacrifice of our heroes with Matthew 25:21 that is refreshing.
While most songs on friendship - especially male bonding - are only an inch deep, dwelling mostly on drinking beer together, "Iron Sharpens Iron" is a rare find. It goes beyond the beer-talk to speak about how friends can steer each other towards holiness; a theme almost unearthed these days. "Undying Love" also goes the extra mile to speak of how God is still love in the midst of sufferings. Along similar lyrical trajectory is the heart-tugging ballad "Armor." Easily the best song in Malchak's portfolio, "Armor" is a plaintive prayer to God for his providential care that is so heartfelt that you need a box of Kleenex nearby.
"Morning Hour of Prayer" is an apt choice as the album's title cut. Malchak captures all the variegated emotions displayed across the record - from heartbreak to joy - in what is a piano-based prayer of worship to God. But Malchak doesn't wax sentimental all the time, he does get rowdy with the swampy bluesy "By My Side" and the ultra-catchy worship kicker "Name Above All Names." In short, Malchak goes deep and wide in expressing his love for Jesus via the songs' lyrics and styles. And when you also endowed each note with worshipful sincerity, you can't really fault this gorgeous CD.