Prime Cuts: Nothing to Fear (feat. Audrey Assad), The Greatest Commandment (feat. Paul Zach), Love Will Never Fail (I Corinthians 13) (feat. Leslie Jordan)
Overall Grade: 4/5
The Porter's Gate has created a song book for heaven's worship. If heaven is made up of people of all nations, tribes and languages, then many of our worship albums will serve only a minority. Most of our worship songs have a distinctive Anglo-feel with music that caters only to those whose leanings are towards the pop/rock/tecnho-pop genres. The Porter's Gate's brand new Integrity Music release "Neighbor's Songs" seeks to eradicate such caricatures. This album defies categorisation on a few fronts. First, in an effort to reflect the interlingual nature of heaven's worship, a couple of the songs here are performed partly in Spanish. Second, rather than restrained the songs to the pop/rock template, the songs canvass a larger musical terrain, from accapella to folk to Americana to Celtic hymnody to high church-sounding liturgy. Third, the Porter's Gate has enlisted an ecumenical group of lead singers ranging from Audrey Assad to Cassie J to All Sons and Daughters' Leslie Jordan.
The Porter's Gate was founded in 2017 by Isaac and Megan Wardell with a mission to be a "porter" for the Christian Church - one who looks beyond church doors for guests to welcome. It started as a group of 50-plus songwriters, musicians, scholars, pastors and music industry professionals from a variety of worship traditions and cultural backgrounds gathered for meaningful conversation about worship and vocation. They hosted a second gathering in Nashville in January 2019. Out of this sophomore gathering came "Neighbor's Songs."
One of the album's most commendable aspects is that the Porter's Gate have revived is the teaching aspect of worship songs. Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin had often used music to teach their congregations about Scripture. However, of late, most of our worship songs are only used to launder our emotions before God. Few are the songs these days that teach the church the reasons behind God's greatness. And the best songs on this record are the pedagogical ones. This includes the Audrey Assad-led "Nothing to Fear." Pay attention to this song's words: this is well-argued treatise from Scripture why fear is never an option when God is with us. Then, there is the beautiful folkish "Love Will Never Fail (I Corinthians 13)." Sometimes you don't have to reinvent the wheel to be great teachers in worship. Rather, using 1 Cor. 13 as her lesson plan, Leslie Jordan shows that the Bible alone is just as effective.
Rather than be circumvented by the loud and cheery, Porter's Gate has included two lament songs (the two instalments of "Daughters of Zion"), a genre so prevalent in the Bible. And they have also expanded range of themes often covered by worship songs by tackling issues of social justice. Most poignant in this regard is the R&B beat-laced Casey J, Leslie Jordan & Urban Doxology's "The Earth Will Know" and the John Denver-folkish Paul Zach-led "The Greatest Commandment." Then, in concert with the multi-racial worship of heaven, we get to join in with Diana Gameros on "En Comunidad."
However, with such a diverse coverage of themes, genres, languages, lyrical emphases, the album naturally sounds quite disjointed at times. Moreover, not all the songs are melodically strong. "Teach Us Your Ways," "Daughters of Zion" and "Hallelujah Sing" meanders around too much melodically. Nevertheless, despite the album's flaws, this is an important album. It's an album that prepares us for heaven with music that God himself honors. Have a foretaste of heaven and give this record a spin.