Reviewed by Tony Cummings
Recorded live at Bradford's megachurch Abundant Life Centre on 12th October 2003, this has much more going for it than I could have imagined. I struggle with Abundant Life albums. Like other journos, I'd previously criticised Abundant Life for being close, way too close, to the sound and approach of Hillsong. Influence is one thing, cloning is another. I slipped this album on at the end of a mammoth album review session and my attention span was considerably impaired. So impaired in fact that after listening to the far from impressive opener "Everybody" my mind wandered. I'm not somebody who easily gets drawn into a Spirit of worship by slipshod art and this song seemed banal and formulaic. As the CD got to song two I'd already reached for the book I'm currently reading. I was soon engrossed in Sweet Soul Music (a fascinating history of Southern soul music by Peter Guralnick I'd recently picked up cheap). As I got into the first chapter and began dwelling on emotive pen-pictures of the origins of soul - the cathartic call and response passion of African American worship - the Abundant Life CD playing in the background made little or no impression on me. When I still caught a blast of dull pop rock arrangements and over enthusiastic crowd it, if anything, depressed me. How, I ruminated, could poor black American congregations worship God with such creatively innovative worship, music that could birth a whole genre of pop while we middle class whites were happy with such soul-less, derivative blandness as Hillsong and Abundant Life? But my musings were suddenly arrested. It was the close of a song I subsequently discovered was track eight, a song called "Daylight In You", that cut through my black church/white church musings. Worship leader Mark Stevens went into an improvised bit where he poured out his heart and testified to God's love in his life. In black church circles they would have called this piece of improvised musical testimony "the vamp" or "the breakdown". Now, at last, 'How Loved' had gotten my full attention. Mark's sung testimony exuded a gutsy passion and, dare I say it, soul. It reached me. Book discarded, I began to listen closely. Track 10, "You Take Up All Of Me", has an exceptionally expressive vocal by Lara Martin. And track 11, "On Earth As In Heaven", was one of the most uplifting worship anthems I've heard for ages. "There's none like you/In this place as in heaven we lavish on you praises/Upon praises/Upon praises," the praise rang. It stirred my soul. Sometimes music does more than work in the aesthetic realm. Some will transport you beyond the earthbound confines of art and culture.
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
Interested in reviewing music? Find out