Prime Cuts: King of Glory (feat. CeCe Winans), Miracles (feat. Mark Gutierrez), Waymaker (feat. Vanessa Campagna & Madelyn Berry)
Overall Grade: 5/5
Michael W. Smith has been in CCM since 1981. Unlike many of his peers, he has not hang up his boots to spend his time babysitting grandkids and picking up seashells. Rather, he's still actively touring, ministering and recording. Last year, he released a worship record, a normal CCM record, a children's collection and he even had time to pen a kid's book. Now, while others are only returning to work after their Christmas vacation, Smith is already on hyper gear. "AWAKEN: The surrounded Experience" is a 13-track live worship record that was recorded last August at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The album features the multi-Platinum, three-time GRAMMY® Award-winning artist along with special guest CeCe Winans and the voices of 14,000 that attended the evening. One wouldn't be surprise if this is just the first of many projects Smith has up his sleeve for 2019.
Besides having an industrious spirit, Smith has an ear for great songs. Safe to say, there's not a dud in this offering. All the songs here are absolutely the best worship and gospel music can offer today. 6 of the songs here are live versions of songs that already appeared in Smith's 2018 album "Surrounded." 4 of them are new covers of notable worship songs, with the remaining songs being the "greatest hits" from Smith's back catalog.
Let's get to the 4 new songs first. Best of the bunch has to be Todd Dulney's "King of Glory." Here Smith takes the back seat behind the keyboard, while CeCe Winans takes on the microphone. Winans completely inhabits every note of this worship ballad nuancing each syllable with passion as she sings about her love to dwell in Christ's presence. "Waymaker," the current breakout single, is a departure from Smith's usual slick pop. Rather, the song's old spiritual Gospel august brings out an urgency for God to work in our lives that is particularly affecting. Jennie Lee Riddle's "Revelation Song" is a tad disappointing as Smith allows the congregation to take the lead in singing while he retreats to his synth work. Rounding off the quartet of new songs is a dramatic reading of Jesus Culture's "Set a Fire."
The bulk of the songs originally came from Smith's album "Surrounded." Though many would have qualms with the word "reckless" as a way of describing God's love, Smith's rendition of the Cory Asbury's "Reckless Love" is good or if not even better than Asbury's version. The same goes for Smith's take of Elevation Worship's "Do It Again." Then he takes his time to build up his ammunition on the spiritual warfare-declarative "Surrounded (Fight My Battles)." This song ought to be our own anthem in the face of spiritual attacks. Smith's own "Washed Away" coupled with the hymn "Nothing but the Blood" showcases what a fine ballad writer he is.
To round off, Smith has also include three of his more popular songs from his own oeuvre. "Let It Rain" has been transformed into a ministry moment with Alex Seeley on the microphone. "Healing Rain" gets back to its roots with Smith singing with his keyboard before segueing into a choir-aided outburst of worship with "Agnus Dei." Powerful, melodious, variegated (in terms of interweaving Gospel, CCM and worship music), this record is a holy worship experience. Smith is a veteran of worship music for almost 40 years, and this album shows why.