Prime Cuts: A Thousand Hallelujahs, Christ Redeemer, Hope Has a Name
Overall Grade: 4/5
Sheila Walsh knows how to speak into the times. Back in the 80s, Sheila Walsh used to be one of the movers and shakers of CCM. Her synth-based electronic pop was what kept Christian music abreast with the changing musical landscape of the 80s. With secular female pop acts (such as Sheena Easton, Olivia Newton-John and Whitney Houston) taking on a sound as big, colorful, and bright as those 80s hairdos (think Cyndi Lauper), Walsh was one of the few Christian acts giving Christian music the same uplift. Walsh's songs, such as "Angels with Dirty Faces," "Trapeze," "His Eyes" and "Surrendering," not only were "cool" to the kids then, but they were advancing the Gospel in ways that was current, relevant, engaging and fun. Throughout the decade, she gave us 8 amazing pop-centric records and 1 compilation effort to boot. When music started to morph again in the 90s, with female artists taking more of a reflective and balladry role (think Jewel and Sophie B. Hawkins), Walsh began visiting her roots by releasing a slew of Celtic-styled AC-based albums.
After taking a hiatus from music for almost a decade, Walsh is back with her new worship record "Braveheart Worship." During the intervening years between albums, Walsh was no sloth. She was still at the forefront writing books, hosting TV shows, speaking at women's conferences and she has upped her skills as a Bible teacher. All of which have benefited her in terms of giving depth and dimensions to her song writing and song choices on this new record. "A Thousand Hallelujahs," which opens the record, is stately and majestic. Set at an anthemic marching pace, "A Thousand Hallelujahs" finds Walsh championing the powerful ways of God proudly.
Whilst many of her 90s albums have been inundated by covers, thankfully, most of the tracks here are exclusively composed for this project, with the exception of "Hope Has a Name." Formerly a favourite by River Valley Worship, in Walsh's hands, "Hope Has a Name" receives a more nurturing touch. Fans acquaint with the older hymns will recognise the words of "It is Well," though the song is set to a new melody. Here Walsh is joined by Sir Cliff Richard on vocals. Though Richard has had written songs as well as duetted with Walsh before, this is their much talked-about duet in 30 years. Maybe it's part of the process of ageing, but Richard sounds tired. The years of constant singing has taken a big toll on him, making his vocals sound gravelly.
Those who love the lush 90s ballads of Walsh will find much to enjoy here. Nate Marialke's "Christ Redeemer" sounds like a hymn that would get the thumbs up by the Gettys. While "Behold Him" gently nudges us to look to Christ in times of fear; a song so befitting for our times. "No One But You" (not the Hillsong Worship song of the same titular, but an original) is bold and faith-filled as Walsh sings with conviction: "Release your miracles/Your never ending power/The answer I am holding to/No one but You." However, a word needs to be said with the backings of these songs. There's an AC-centric stiffness to these songs that really dates these songs with a 90s production. To make matters worse, there's a "sameness" in the way some of these ballads are framed that makes them sound tedious when they are heard back to back.
Other than the somehow safe and predictable backings, this album is a welcomed return for Walsh. After all her best selling books and stadium-filling speaking conferences, she didn't have to grace us with yet another music album. But she did; and it's a good one to boot. To this, we are grateful.