Prime Cuts: Pieces (featuring Audrey Assad), For Us, Highest
Overall Grade: 4/5
Sarah Kroger has a voice that commands attention. Her voice is wrenching: it is utterly vulnerable displaying the refraction of brokenness when she sings about our weaknesses before the Lord. Moreover, her use of falsetto (calling to mind label mate Darlene Zschech) to showcase the different shades of emotions is just sublime. But, there is also a resolve in her nuances: she can soar with a strident tendency when she sings about the Lord's goodness and grace. All of this not only makes Kroger an excellent vocalist, but also an engaging worship leader. And she puts all her vocal prowess to display on "Bloom," her debut record for Integrity Music.
"Bloom" comprises of 9 newly composed worship songs (coming from the pens of Kroger and notable scribes such as producer Audrey Assad, Sarah Hart, and Matt Maher) and a cover of Amanda Cook's "Pieces." The record is also augmented by two brief instrumental interludes and a live version of "When I See You." Kroger is a Nashville-based, Catholic worship leader and songwriter. Over the years, she has had led worship for events around the world, drawing together people from a variety cultures and church backgrounds under the banner of Jesus. Her passion is to create a safe and prayerful space through her music in which people can encounter the heart of God in a profound way.
The album gets a retro-start with the hymn-like "For Us." Calling to mind Stuart Townend's "How Deep the Father's Love," "For Us" is a detailed exposition of God's love across redemption history, from creation all the way to the Cross. Accompanied by the gentle percussion of "Highest," Kroger puts her crystalline vocals to stunning display. It's easy to see why Kroger has chosen to cover Amanda Cook's "Pieces." The lyrics present the nuances of God's love that often slip our minds: Your love is wild for me/It isn't shy, it's unashamed/Your love is proud/To be seen with me.
Nevertheless, the midriff of the record is stymied with too many slow ballads. "Wildflower," which clocks in at over 7 minutes, is too idiosyncratic and far too introspective. The same can be said about the diary-like "When I See You." "This is my Story" sounds like a craven attempt to update the hymn of the same titular. Much better is the piano-led "Freedom in the Spirit" which brings to life Galatians 5:13. Matt Maher, Audrey Assad and Kroger come together to write "Take Heart." Despite operating on quite a nondescript melodic structure, the song is redeemed by Kroger's soft passionate delivery that shimmers under every note.
Vocally, Kroger is a tour de force. When she sings, there's such clarity and purity that we can help but feel like she means every syllable she utters. Even in her whispery notes, she can be moving. However, she is on occasions let down by her own songs that tend to meander. Other than that, "Bloom" is indeed a promising album sprouting with great worship moments.