Prime Cuts: Surrounded (Fright My Battles), Faith and Wonder, To the One
Overall Grade: 3.75/5
Worship music has advanced to into a good season. Gone are the days when singing in church was emotionless, stiff, and archaic. Rather, these days, worship music is expressive, heartfelt, and they are songs you simply just can't sing effortlessly. Many modern tunes are so arranged that you have to invest your entire being in order to belt out the lofty octaves. This has helped make worship more engaging and authentic. This has in turn attracted countless Millennials to churches which sing contemporary worship music. UPPERROOM's debut full-length album of 9 songs, "To the One" is so appealing because it captures everything that has gone right about today's worship music.
UPPERROOM started 8 years ago when a small group of Christians gathered to pray for the city of Dallas. Today, people around the globe are singing their songs and around 100 vocalists, songwriters and musicians contribute their talents to leading people in worship three times a day, six days a week. "To the One" tries to give us a glimpse of their worship. Most familiar among the track list is the Elyssa Smith-penned and led "Surrounded (Fight My Battles)," a track first recorded by Michael W. Smith. "Surrounded" recalls the battles fronted by David, Elijah, King Hezekiah where God is the default fighter (and winner). If you want to relive those glorious moments in scripture, make this your life's soundtrack.
Elyssa Smith returns with the second of her two compositions with the power ballad "After You." Though not as arresting as "Surrounded," the song is a good demonstration of what a promising writer and worship leader Smith is. After witnessing two suicides of two of her close friends, Hannah Sheets came to write the visceral "Healer." Nevertheless, the song is keyed at an octave far too low for Sheets, inhibiting her to be more expressive. Much better is "Faith and Wonder" which boasts a gorgeous chorus that will register in your hearts in no time. Top marks go to the title cut "To the One." Meredith Mauldin who sings lead on "To the One" is not one to be overlooked: her Kim Walker-Smith-esque vocals is simply mesmerizing.
"You and You Alone," which clocks in at 10 minutes, underlines one of the major problems of the disc. None of the songs here have a running time of less than 5:52 minutes. Regardless of how captivating a song is, you simply cannot test a listener's patience that way. One understands that worship teams want to capture the atmosphere of worship, but you can still do that within the confines of the average length of a song. Precisely because of the song's length, "You and You Alone" sounds irksome halfway into its running time. The song even becomes tedious, repetitive and diluted towards its latter half. The same can be said about the 8:56 minute "Holy Spirit (We Love You)" and the 7:32 minute "Washed."
UPPERROOM's "To the One" does have its flaws, but they shouldn't discount the disc of its appeal. This is a record that demonstrates what worship needs to be like: authentic, expressive and Holy Spirit-driven. When these guys and gals sing, you know they aren't faking it. Rather, they sing with their hearts on their sleeves drawing us right into God's holy presence.