Reviewed by Michael Ehret
A New Hallelujah by Michael W. Smith
"...does a remarkable job of combining the strengths of his dual career: the passion of his worship and the songcraft and performance of his pop music."
In 2001 and 2002, Michael W. Smith took what seemed like a detour at the time into straight-ahead worship music, releasing Worship and Worship Again. Following an astronomical career in the CCM/pop crossover world, it seemed a bit of a chancey career move, but the efforts paid off both in popularity and in setting a new standard for the worship music genre.
When he then returned to his more pop-oriented efforts (Healing Rain, 2004, and Stand, 2006), it seemed to some, particularly with the latter project, that Smitty had lost his way in the pop world. Make no mistake, each of the discs produced solid songs and decent hits, but the passion was less, if not gone.
Thankfully, Smith returns with another live worship album, A New Hallelujah, that does a remarkable job of combining the strengths of his dual career: the passion of his worship and the songcraft and performance of his pop music.
This is a disc you can put in your car CD player for a long trip and just let play over and over and over. Each successive play deepens the listener’s engagement with the material and with God, the focus of this album of live worship.
Opening with a short drum corps, Smith and crew then launch right into a tight three-song set of new up-tempo worship tunes, “Prepare Ye The Way,” the title track, and the light island vibe of “When I Think Of You.” The latter two are enhanced by the appearance of Uganda’s African Children’s Choir.
“A New Hallelujah” is a modern worship classic-in-the making:
“Can you hear there’s
a new song breaking out from the children of freedom?
Every race and every nation sing it out, sing a new hallelujah.
Let us sing love to the nation, bringing hope of the grace that has freed us….
Sing it out, sing a new hallelujah.
Arise, let the church arise! Let love reach to the other side!
Alive, come alive. Let the song arise.”
As Smith leads the crowd in the song, you can feel his passion – and the crowd feeds off that as the whole business turns into something more. Something God-honoring and God-exalting.
Smitty’s take on “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone” (adapted by Chris Tomlin for the movie “Amazing Grace”), and his version of “I Surrender All” (with Coalo Zamorano) prove that there is still much life and meat in the hymns of the church.
Other highlights: “Deep In Love With You,” Smith’s love song to his savior; “Grace,” a live version of one of the strongest cuts from Stand; and “Help Is On The Way,” an outstanding duet with fellow worship leader Israel Houghton.
Smith closes the disc with a rousing rocker, “The River Is Rising,” that would have made a great opener, but makes a fantastic closer:
“I feel it, I feel it, I feel in my bones and I just don’t
think I can hold it anymore.
The river is rising, flowing out of me and I’m coming alive, I’m coming alive.
I’m gonna dance and sing and move my feet because the river is rising
Flowing out of me.
Gotta let the world know, take it to the street.”
Smith has found his footing as a worship leader. I’m not saying he’s not still a great pop singer, but God’s pleasure is on him when he leads others in worship to God – that’s clear from this disc.
Michael Ehret is a music maven who has written about music, secular and Christian, as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star newspaper, several Internet sites, and even CCM magazine. He is also the editor of the newsletter Afictionado, the e-zine of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is testing the waters with his first novel, Beyond December, while working on his second, Skipping July.