Reviewed by Bert Gangl
WOW Worship Purple
"Listeners whose tastes lean toward the adult contemporary, hard rock or traditional gospel ends of the Christian music spectrum aren't likely to toss their existing music collections in the waste bin based on what they find here. Conversely, true-blue devotees who eat, sleep and breathe praise music will probably scoop up the album without a second thought."
There is an old adage that says if you're fortunate to find a horse you truly like, ride him until he either kicks you off or dies. While this admittedly humorous axiom probably isn't emblazoned on the business cards of EMI Christian Music Group employees or hanging on plaques in the company's visitor reception area, those who have followed the trajectory of its WOW Worship releases over the past ten-plus years know just what a proverbial thoroughbred the well-performing series has proven to be. Indeed, the first half dozen uniquely color-coded installments in the ongoing set have racked up combined sales of no less than six million units. Just as impressively, each of the first six WW projects not only performed impeccably on the Christian music charts but also carved out a niche for themselves on the venerable Billboard Hot 100. And, if the fact that it hit the Number 6 spot on the Billboard CCM charts its first week in the stores is any indication, the latest two-disc set – tinted violet for those keeping score – looks poised to do equally vigorous business.
While the material on the earliest
WOW Worship records was performed by the same worship leaders who originally
penned them, the Purple album takes
its cue from the more recent Yellow (2003), Red (2004) and Aqua (2006) outings,
all of which passed over the original renditions of their then-current worship
standards in favor of cover versions from popular Contemporary Christian
artists. Although such a change may well seem tantamount to treason to dyed-in-the-wool
praise purists, the Purple permutation nonetheless offers plenty to enjoy.
Natalie Grant's delicate, yet confident, vocal work molds "Desert Song" into
an article of sublimely forceful beauty. "Mighty to Save" from
Hillsong United and "Hosanna" from Selah prove that understated,
mid-tempo offerings can still be both majestic and moving. And "Hosanna
(Praise is Rising)" by Brenton Brown is, quite simply, a consummate
example of how a great pop/rock piece should be written and performed.
Of course, most listeners whose interest in praise music is more than merely passing either already own many of the tracks already mentioned or hear them regularly on their local Christian radio station. Perhaps sensing this, the folks at EMI have wisely chosen to fill out the Purple album with a trio of previously-unreleased cuts. Although certainly valuable from the completist viewpoint, the songs themselves are hardly essential additions to the modern worship canon. Leeland's highly-polished version of "Majesty (Here I Am)" is inarguably pleasant enough, but seems nearly lethargic compared to the organically-based – and decidedly more engaging – Delirious?-penned original. Matthew West's take on the neo-classic "The Wonderful Cross" is likewise well-constructed but largely generic. Indeed, only Francesca Battistelli's bracing retooling of "Lead Me to the Cross" as an arena-ready power ballad seems likely to leave the listener with any sort of lasting impression.
On a more positive note, the true pièce de résistance, particularly for those who enjoy claiming that they were the first to discover their favorite singer or band, would have to be inclusion of material from lesser-known, up-and-coming artists. Carrying the "bonus" label, these entries from the not-yet-famous contingent represent some of the WWP's most shining moments. The gentle marching rhythms of Kristian Stanfill's "Beautiful Jesus" lend it a pleasurable sense of stately reverence. The likewise stirring "Forever Reign," from One Sonic Society, delightfully blurs the artificial line between worship piece and love ode. Most impressive, though, is Meredith Andrews' "New Song We Sing." Although it's hard to imagine even the most forward-thinking of congregations incorporating its sun-filled rhythms into their weekly worship service, the shimmering dance-pop number is nonetheless, far and away, the most irresistibly buoyant entry on the Purple record.
Its sundry peaks and valleys notwithstanding, the WWP effort, like its forebears, may wind up largely a case of preaching to the converted. Listeners whose tastes lean toward the adult contemporary, hard rock or traditional gospel ends of the Christian music spectrum aren't likely to toss their existing music collections in the waste bin based on what they find here. Conversely, true-blue devotees who eat, sleep and breathe praise music will probably scoop up the album without a second thought. The good news for members of the latter camp is that they will almost surely find the vast majority of the release much to their liking. And nay-saying holdouts in the former group may want to consider the words of the late, great Ray Charles who astutely said, "There’s only two kinds of music as far as I'm concerned: good and bad." Indeed, those who are willing to forego their musical prejudices and give WOW Purple a fair spin are bound to find, like their already-converted brethren, that the lion's share of its contents are very good, indeed.
Bert Gangl was formally introduced to the wonderful world of Christian music by his baby brother as the two were winding their way through Western Tennessee in the family automobile. Ever intent on proving that not all Christian artists were knock-offs of their mainstream counterparts, the younger Gangl duly inserted his newly-purchased copy of White Heart's Freedom into the waiting car tape player and the rest, as they say, is history. In the twenty years that have transpired since that time, Bert has amassed a sizeable CCM album collection of his own and has gone on to write reviews for a range of music-related sites including ChristRock , The Phantom Tollbooth, inReview and The All-Music Guide. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and daughter.