A special worship project bringing together three of America's most acclaimed singers, MICHELLE TUMES, SUSAN ASHTON and CHRISTINE DENTE has just been released. Elizabeth Cook reports.
If you'd been around Christian music in 1994 chances are you'd have been raving about the album 'Along The Road' by Ashton, Becker, Dente, a marvelous piece of pure pop featuring three of the greatest voices in CCM - Susan Ashton, Margaret Becker and Out Of The Grey's Christine Dente. Fast forward 10 years and a new album has emerged which recalls the former glories of that musical milestone. 'Kisses From Heaven' (released in the States as 'Lost In Wonder') showcases the return of Ms Ashton and Ms Dente, though this time they are joined by another hugely talented vocalist of the Nashville scene, Australian-born Michelle Tumes.
The album was producer by John Hartley, the Brit now living in Nashville still fondly remembered for the years he spent with pioneering pop duo Phil & John. He and Kingsway Music's label manager Stephen Doherty conceived the album after a conversation they had about the "purity of when a female sings a worship album." John Hartley explained, "We wanted to make a worship album with Christian artists and both of us cited 'Along The Road' as one of our favourite Christian albums."
Getting three of the finest female singing talents in Nashville to share the lead vocals isn't a new idea, but here the concept is given a clearer worship focus as each of the talented ladies brings her considerable singing skills to worship songs. Christine Dente, who only last year recorded her first solo album, 'Becoming', after a string of classic recordings with Out Of The Grey, said about the 'Kisses From Heaven' sessions, "It was fun to share the microphone again."
And Ashton insists the album is different to 'Along The Road' saying, "It's different in almost every way - musically it's different and there's no Margaret, so that makes the dynamics very different." Each of the singers took their turn at doing lead vocals with the other two providing harmony and backup. Michelle, due to start work on her next solo album soon, said about working with others, "I liked knowing that there were different shades of artistry, which I feel makes it interesting and has more of a sense of community. A solo album is so focused and at times stressful, because one is carrying a lot of creative weight. I really loved singing background vocals on Susan and Christine's songs."
Between them the three singers have sold in excess of four million albums worldwide and are all multi Dove Award winning artists and Grammy Award nominees. Although the girls did not do all the recording together they were glad for the reunion. Dente said, "I was very comfortable working with Michelle and Susan. I have known them both for several years and they are fantastic singers and lovely ladies to spend time with. I was glad of the reunion." And although due to technology they did not get to spend a lot of time recording together Hartley said, "What really stands out for me is the quality of the songs but also the enthusiasm and kindness from all three girls."
As well as the choice of the producer, 'Kisses From Heaven' has a strong UK influence with Michelle and Christine covering Tim Hughes' classics "Beautiful One" and "Here I am To Worship" while Susan offers a fine reading of Stuart Townend's modern hymn "In Christ Alone". But the project isn't all worship covers. The two original songs "I Believe In You" and "Your Love Falls Down", both co-penned by John Hartley, are amongst the album's strongest tracks.
Tumes picked out "Beautiful One" as her favourite song on the album. "It's my favourite because the meaning washes over you, reaffirming the love we have for Christ, and to me that is a huge part of worship. Initially this song was done in a low key but John made the decision to re-record it in a higher key which made the song come to life." Ashton felt the same sense of God's presence. "The whole process of being involved with this record has contributed to a major renewing of my spirit and I've really needed that, it's been a real gift."
That sense of renewal came through for Ashton in recording "I Believe In You". She said, "The first time I heard it, I was singing the demo of it for John Hartley and Chris Eaton. I was feeling fairly lost at the time, and singing it was like making an affirmation of my faith that I couldn't even really feel at the time. But as I sang the words, God's faithfulness to me was so real, I just cried as I sang it. I love that song, it's my song, and I hope it can be everyone's song who has ever felt lost."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.