Prime Cuts: Holy Overshadowing, I Saw the Lord, Give Me this Mountain
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
Graham Kendrick, affectionately known as the father of worship music, is indispensable as far as the genre is concerned. His languid and iconic voice is to Christian music what Don Williams is to country music and what Don McClean is to rock music. No matter what he's singing, he delivers the lyric and melody from inside, as if revealing an experienced truth. If there's something you can't fault to Kendrick, it is that he sings with a weathered conviction. When he sings about hiding under the wings of the Almighty on "Holy Overshadowing," you know he means every syllable; he nuances each nook and cranny with a voice that has had survived the fiercest tempest.
"Keep the Banner Flying High" is Kendrick's first album of new material since 2013's "Worship Duets." An album which finds the English worship leader teaming up with stalwarts such as Darlene Zschech, Rend Collective, Reuben Morgan, Matt Redman & Michael W. Smith. This new album is not without the input from his luminary peers. Keith and Kristyn Getty are found as the co-writers with Kendrick on "My Worth is Not in What I Own," a track that the Gettys themselves have recorded for their "Facing the Task Unfinished" disc. Kendrick takes this hymn-like ode not to pilfer the cross of its glory at a slightly accelerated pace compared to the Gettys.
If "Adore" sounds familiar, it's because Kendrick first co-wrote the song for Chris Tomlin. Since "Adore" is essentially a Christmas offering, it's a little out of place to be segued into this set. Like the Gettys, Kendrick adopts a hymn-like structure to his songs; this means that his songs will find a affinity to those who are not crazy about extended bridges and endless recycling of choruses. In this regard, "Holy Overshadowing" is excellent. Balancing between curated phrases that are cathartic and a tune that is such a joy to listen to, this is one of the best songs written about Christ's sovereign care over us.
Scripture is the major source of inspiration on this record. Joshua 14 and the story of Caleb gets a three dimensional treatment on "Give Me this Mountain." Isaiah 6 gets its exposition on the dramatic ballad "I Saw the Lord." Not sure who the female co-lead singer is on "I Saw the Lord," but she's one fiery worship leader who can bring us right into the heavens. Then turning to the Second Testament, with "As in Heaven," Kendrick's gives the Lord's Prayer a jaunty pop spin, featuring newcomer Jake Isaac on vocals with him.
In most cases, the lead single off any album is often the strongest track. However, not so in this case: the title cut "Keep the Banner Flying High" has a strange Celtic-influenced melody that keeps evolving throughout the song without a stable (and memorable) hook for us to latch on. Other than such minor quibbles, this album is sublime. Kendrick has a gift that allows him to impart the poetry and wisdom in these songs directly, and in their own way, powerfully. After all these years, he is still in assured command of his voice and understands the deeper well it resonates from.