In this article we review the 5 latest Christian Pop and Contemporary music albums. We mention Empires, Unguarded, Fight for My Soul, Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship and Zion.
Empires by Hillsong United
The album Empires is by the long-standing Christian pop group, Hillsong United. It features a lot of the band's uplifting worship and praise music. Yet again, their featured production from Michael Guy Chislett and Joel Houston(Vocalist), follows Empire's 2013 release, 'Zion'. Similar to 'Zion', Empires has an electric and acoustic rock sound incorporated with dance pop and electronic flourishes. Correctly, for a song album with a cover art revealed through a rocket launched into space, the leading single is called 'Touch the Sky'.
According to Joel Houston, the album is a story about two diverse worlds. The band wanted to create music that firstly seeks to listen, then vocalizes the great news of Jesus Christ into the irreconcilable, pressure and promising clashes of this delicate and broken universe we can see in the here and now, as well as the mystifying and unshakeable truth of the Kingdom mankind can not see.
Unguarded by Amy Grant
Unguarded is Amy Grant's sixth album that marked her big move over to the world of pop. After 'Age to Age' and 'Straight Ahead' went straight to gold even though distributions were restricted mostly to Christian bookstores, the management team made a distribution deal with a big company - A & M Records for 'Unguarded', plus the album itself was backed with a publicity campaign as well as a national tour to keep up with the front-line pop entertainment industry.
Brown Bannister, Amy Grant's producer, had carefully listened to pop charts all throughout Amy's music career, and at this point he was eager to provide her with the type of sound that would allow her to successfully compete on secularised airwaves. In the middle of the 80's, that involved programmed drumming, synthesizers and even more synthesizers, and guess what? Bannister was successful! It was straightforward to visualise all the songs in 'Unguarded' being played together with hits by Duran Duran, the Thompson Twins and Cars on the radio. The spiritual content of the music was very soft which made the transition a lot simpler.
In all her songs, Grant and all her colleagues describe life as a real struggle and recommend encouragement. You'll notice that words like 'Jesus', 'Holy', 'God' and 'Pray' only appear once throughout each song, or are just implied within a context. In Grant's solemn gasping voice, she tells her fans to 'Wise Up', 'Fight' and be aware of 'Who to Listen To'. As fans bop along with her synthesized beats, they can be forgiven for not getting the Christian message if they don't consult with the lyrics sheet. Consequently, 'Unguarded', worked exactly as it was intended to and produced a top 40 hit in 'Find a Way' and got to the top 40 LP chart itself. This was just the beginning.
Fight for My Soul by Jonny Lang
Fight for My Soul by Jonny Lang came about as Lang discovered religion and then attempted to merge his personal beliefs with hard rock music. The album title implies that Lang might still be attempting to sort out all his spiritual issues, although the album does not reveal any conflict with his musical personality. Dumping any of the remaining hard rock alongside any transparent blues tracks, Lang first jumps into classical RnB and Soul, its flexible, cool groves enabling the guitarists a lot of opportunity to solo. However, this isn't a record with the intention to show-off any instrumental brilliance. Working very closely with Tommy Sims, co-songwriter and producer, Lang places a lot of emphasis on the song which allows him a great deal of stylistic diversions.
The album opens on a gentle acoustic note, 'All of a Sudden', in the manner of Baby face's productions in the 90's, followed by a cheerful 'Blew Up The House', bringing to mind a harsher, rationalised 'Sly & the Family Stone'. Later on, Lang goes on to do a full-blown Motown imitation on 'The River'. From time to time, he recalls Lenny Kravitz with an emphasis on faltering funk and blankets of guitar. 'Break In' and 'We Are the Same' are in the mix, whilst 'I'll Always Be' implies the crystalized psychedelic narratives in Kravitz's stock trade. This isn't a negative thing, as Sims and Lang have both given 'Fight for My Soul' a similar alluring shine making the album enjoyable and this is Lang's most persuasive song set. It took a bit of time before Lang found his own groove, but then again, 'Fight for My Soul' really needed this journey to allow him to arrive at his destination.
Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship by Third Day
In spite of their fondness for performing and writing renowned worship songs like 'Your Love', 'My Hope is You' and 'Offerings', Third Day never managed to deliver a full albums worth of original worship songs up until recently. 'Lead Us Back', their initial new praise material, has a filmic and slightly public worship feel; overall it seems to find the old-time band in a good place.
The album starts with a worship call, 'Spirit' that rides a wave of different instruments and leads to Mac Powell as well as a chorus of pleading voices to the Holy Spirit. This is a pretty simple yet impressive opener to a wave of songs that sometimes brings the guitar on fire, yet is leaning more towards an exceptional song writing as well as a rare composition that provides life to the music. The leading single, 'Soul On Fire', is an arousing gospel track that is very well served by vocal artists, 'All Sons And Daughters', and provides notification that 'Lead Us Back' is a set of uplifting songs coupled with a rigorous community effort.
'Your Words' starts off with a famous Christian musical instrument, a hammer dulcimer, adding a lovely harmonious texture to Powell's' and Harvest Parker's (the female worship artist) voices. Including some guest appearances from Michael W. Smith, Michael Tait and Natalie Grant and other vocalists in the background such as Michael Gungor, David Crowder, Daniel Bashta and Sarah Macintosh, amongst others - 'Lead Us Back' brims with classical rock energy and enjoyment; this has been missing a little bit in the bands previous few releases. It also reveals that even after 20 years, 'Third Day', is still capable of drawing out brand new territory when it comes to artistic ability whilst still remaining true to the main principals of what it has produced for such a long time.
Zion by Hillsong United
Hillsong United are definitely the group to take contemporary style rock music to the top of the gospel charts by releasing a set of lively and loud albums that are secularly as well as sonically comparable to U2 and Coldplay.
The album kicks off with a bit of electro-touched rock named 'Relentless', and is a riskier extension of their sound, adding a lot of different flavours of pop music in to the mix and providing ornate, grand numbers such as Oceans (Where Feet May Fail). These numbers are so huge and engaging that you could justifiably say they've just come off a Broadway musical and ended-up here. The beats are repeatedly quicker compared to before but the sentiment is equally as grand, whilst Matt Croker and Joel Houston remain key group members, granting the newcomer, Ben Tennikoff, makes a fair bit of impact by drawing a lot of attention to his keyboard work. His latest co-written album, 'Tapestry', a gentle, persuading number still remains convincing for its entire duration (approximately 6 minutes). In contrast, a few of the tracks seem too lengthy, making the already existing big album, feel overly packed.