Prime Cuts: Open the Windows, Emmanuel, Never Late
Overall Grade: 3.75/5
Stress can be a great muse. With no money, new to Nashville, baby #3 on the way, and without purpose, Brian Ortize was not in good place when he crafted and recorded this album. Yet, it is in the midst of such uncertainties, Ortize writes with an abandonment to God that makes these songs such a ministry to the soul. Song titulars such as "Never Late," "In the Waiting" and "Your Love" chronicle Ortize's own journey of trusting God without a safety net. But it's in more than the lyrics where Ortize diaries his faith in Christ during such apprehensive moments, it's also in his vocal nuances. With a twinkling tenor reminiscing of Matt Redman and the occasional grit of Casting Crowns' Mark Hall, Ortize has a way of conveying his absolute trust in Jesus with a glowing desperation that is truly heart-tugging. Especially in the vulnerable moments, Ortize perfectly conveys the hurts as well as the hope in waiting on God's salvation.
Growing up as a pastor's son, Brian's earliest memories are in the church. At the age of fifteen years old, he discovered his gift for music and began leading worship at youth group. By his early twenties, Brian had toured the United States several times and had also travelled to many parts of the world playing music. Currently, Ortize runs an academic training program called The Worship School (www.theworshipschool.com) which he founded in 2013. The Worship School has partnered with many well known worship leaders such as Kim Walker-Smith, Joel Houston, Bryan and Katie Torwalt, John Mark McMillan, Mack brock, and more.
After an EP released last year, "Never Late" is Ortize's debut full-length 11-track album for BEC Recordings. The album finds him working with producer Pete Kipley (Bart Millard, Phil Wickham). Album opener "Never Late" sets the tone for the album. A slow synth-driven worship ballad, the song is a proclamation of trust in Jesus even when our timetables and God's don't match. For anyone who has had ever been in throes of waiting, this song is such a balm to the aching heart. "Barricades" accelerates the tempo on what is a gorgeous reminder that God is our defence in times of weaknesses. More faith-building moment comes with pop-centric and lambent single "Emmanuel."
Sharing the pen with Hillsong's Mia Fieldes, Hillsong NYC pastor Nathaniel Finochio, producer Peter Kipley, Ortize's "Open the Windows" is this album's highlight. Here Ortize shares vocals with indie pop chanteuse Shaylee Simeone on what is a powerhouse ballad urging us to open the windows of our hearts to the sweep of the Holy Spirit. Fellow label mate London Gatch also shares the microphone with Ortize. But this time, their duet "Only Jesus" is as creative as its titular. "Freedom" foregrounds the electronic beats on what is a forgettable entry. The same can be said "Your Love" and "Sing Hallelujah" (which borrows too much lyrically from the hymn "Jesus Paid It All").
Many of the songs require careful listening. When you pay attention to the words, what you will find are nuggets of wisdom. "In the Waiting," for instance, he reminds us that sometimes it is in the quietness of waiting where we actually hear God's rumblings. "Uncomfortable" is also seasoned with spiritual maturity, as Otize reminds us that Godliness and not comfort is God's will for us. So, take the time to listen to these songs and you will not only find your faith growing, but you will also discover truths we can take with us in our own journeys.