Reviewed by Susan Lloyd
Introducing Chris McClarney
"Chris McClarney is definitely one to watch.... The songs are catchy, spiritually stimulating, solidly written, and theologically sound."
of this year, Kingsway released Chris McClarney’s
debut EP as a way of making his soulful, unique worship music public. While
Chris is no stranger to music, having led worship for half of his life, his
EP gave him a national voice that was soon recognized by the Jesus Culture
movement. In a tip of the hat to McClarney’s songwriting skills, they
adopted his song “Your Love Never Fails” and gave it and McClarney
the kind of exposure that allowed for his voice to be heard worldwide. The
stage is set, so to speak, for the release McClarney’s first full length
album entitled Defender. The album contains
all six songs found on the EP and adds an astounding nine more tracks. The
plays for over an hour, yet as I listened, I never grew tired of McClarney’s
voice, his style, or the arrangements of the songs.
Chris McClarney is definitely one to watch, and not because he can capture the attention of a listener for a full album using fancy production and glitzy clichéd themes. He’s able to do so because he’s real. McClarney is a worshiper, and his heart is what really shines through in each track on the album. His lyrics seem to give a voice to the private worshipper but also to the church at large, giving us the words we need to say to our Savior right now. He has effectively tapped into the heart of the believer, putting words to our thoughts, our prayers, our praise, and even our doubts.
Each song seems to be carefully crafted matching McClarney’s richly textured voice to soulful instrumentation. McClarney gives us memorable songs that are easy to sing without being boring, and in many cases uses God’s word as his inspiration. “Defender” the album’s title track draws its inspiration from the biblical story of Jehosophat who obeyed God in battle and won against all odds. And the story of the woman who poured out her expensive perfume in order to anoint Jesus’s head inspired the beautifully haunting “Waste it All” . McClarney also draws inspiration from the rich heritage of hymns belonging to the protestant church and has given new life to “Blessed Assurance” (featured on the EP) and “Immortal, Invisible” by allowing the timeless truth of the lyrics rest against a more relevant, contemporary sound. McClarney has given each of these beautiful old songs a different treatment, too. “Blessed Assurance” is almost a whispered prayer while “Immortal, Invisible” is a soaring, uplifting and emotive exclamation of unabashed praise and love for Jesus.
As fresh and sincere as each track is on this album, the one that communicates McClarney’s gift for leading worship is “Rescuer”, the only live track included. Certainly this track doesn’t take away from the brilliance of the other songs, but the authenticity that comes through in McClarney’s voice is palpable. It makes me think that as a live worship leader, McClarney is gifted enough to make even the most reserved worshippers raise their hands in praise and abandon themselves in the presence of God. It also makes me really want to hear a full length live album in the future. In fact, if I have a criticism of Defender, it’s that at least one more live track wasn’t included.
Although McClarney’s voice is perfectly suited to guitars, Hammond organs, and the occasional blue note that graces most tracks, we are also treated to strings, pounding drums, and solid bass lines to give backing to each song. And while there are a broad variety of arrangement styles throughout the album, there is never a departure away from rootsy, real music that McClarney’s distinct voice sails on top of. Even the more bouncy “Across the Universe” allows for McClarney’s voice to communicate the lyric without overpowering his vocal texture.
Personally, I cannot wait to experience live worship with Chris McClarney leading the way, but until that happens I’m sure that his album will give me many opportunities for private times of worship. McClarney’s album is a perfect addition to any worshippers collection. But it’s written not only for the individual, this album needs to be in the hands of every worship leader in the country. The songs are catchy, spiritually stimulating, solidly written, and theologically sound. McClarney has a bright future as a national (maybe even international) worship leader who leads with humility, grace, and an unforgettable voice, and I truly look forward to hearing his next project.
Susan Lloyd is a professional photographer in Charleston, South Carolina who specializes in shooting concerts. She holds a degree in Music Education and has worked as a worship leader and as a youth minister. She is passionate about all types of music and enjoys encouraging and supporting bands who seek to glorify God. She also loves movies, animals, traveling, and making new friends. She and her husband have three kids and have been married for nearly 17 years. More info about Susan's photography can be found at www.susanlloydphotography.com or www.susieq3c.wordpress.com