ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
LABEL: Reunion Records
GENRE: Adult Contemporary/Worship
SPECIAL EFFECT(S): Heartfelt concert celebration of God features increasingly impressive Michael W. Smith fronting a choir that includes Amy Grant, Chris Rice, Plus One, Ginny Owens, Mark Schultz, Out of Eden, and more.
PRODUCER(S): Michael W. Smith, Tom Laune
I recall years ago seeing pop artist Michael W. Smith, without any pre-announced fanfare, sit behind the piano and enthusiastically lead a church through its weekly worship service. Adding that memory to his pedigree for writing praise songs before it was particularly fashionable, the sincerity of Smith's new anticipated Worship project rings powerfully true. From predisposed passion to purity of performance, a modern classic has clearly taken shape.
Recorded live, Worship captures the crowd's electricity, encouraging unrehearsed sing-along vamps and random rounds of thankful applause and cheers to God. After a Scripture reading, opening track "Forever" is the liveliest example, with its galloping tempo and smack-dab audience clapping. Smith's second career recording of Rich Mullins' "Awesome God" also feeds off the concert dynamic, turning into an escalating round of thunderous choruses that forego the traditional verses.
Best of all are takes on prolific modern church songs "The Heart of Worship", "Open the Eyes of My Heart", and "Breathe"--each one starting simply enough, then rising to a standout level when Smith's yearning voice and improvisation add a distinct urgency to the lyrics. Uncluttered new studio cuts "Above All" and "Purified" fit surprisingly well at the end of Worship, providing a chance for quieter reflection, even though both are somewhat radio-ready.
Throughout, Worship is anchored well by a tight band, all-star choir, string accompaniment, and brisk intermission thoughts from Smith. Most successfully, the selections and procedure never miss, comparing to a spirit-filled worship service; where one stays focused on the music's message, and forgets who is on stage. Devoid of ego and filled with reverence, Worship is exceptional.