There is no doubting that Michael W. Smith is greatly respected in the Christian music scene. In his latest release, Decades of Worship (career release number 25), good old Smitty gives us the best of his worship songs from three previous worship albums in one place (Worship, Worship Again, A New Hallelujah). Overall, the highlight of this album is that it literally gives you the classics along side some of the latest worship tracks, showing how Michael W. Smith has been able to adapt and lead numerous generations into new expressions of worship.
On seeing that classics like "Awesome God" and "Here I Am To Worship" were included in this collection, I was thrilled. Having grown up in the church with this music representing much of my early childhood, I had high expectations for Smith's interpretation of this era. And in typical fashion, he did not disappoint. Gone are the glitz and glamour of so many modern worship tracks. Instead, the album opens with the sound of a congregation declaring the well-known lyric, "Our God is an awesome God/he reigns from heaven above/With wisdom power and love/Our God is an awesome God." The simple piano driven melody carries the song and acts as an accompaniment rather than a force as in so many modern worship tracks. Smith comes in as the song reaches crescendo urging the congregation, and the listener, to worship God. This sets the tone for the following eleven tracks as there is a sense that this music, and this album, is not about the artist. Rather, Decades is about God and having His people worship Him irrespective of generational and denominational differences.
While the songs could have been placed with the tracks in order of the year of release, they have instead been placed methodically, taking the listener on a journey into the presence of God. It is due to this that the Hillsong-penned "Mighty To Save" is sandwiched between the likes of "Awesome God" and Smith's haunting original "Agnus Dei." The diversity of these songs could take away from the listener's experience of worship. However, the reliability of Smith to lead these songs in a humble yet bold manner, without the need for excessive electric guitar riffs and a thumping bass, make them interweave beautifully. The ability to forget the decade each of the selected tracks comes from, and instead become lost in the words of each song, is what makes Decades a unique and special album.
Fans of modern worship music will appreciate Smith's stripped-back (compared to their originals) versions of "Mighty To Save," "A New Hallelujah" and "Healing Rain." They may even find themselves appreciating the more classic tunes like "Breathe" as they see where modern worship began to develop into what it is today. Old school worship lovers will get a kick out of Decades because it will take them back to a time where music and lyrics were simpler and less packaged. And hopefully, they will appreciate the newer tunes as Smith presents them in a less overt and youth oriented fashion.
It is easy to inaccurately review a worship album because the experience of getting lost in worshipping God can make any music sound "good" to the listener. However, in this case, I can safely say that not only does Decades of Worship deliver in giving the listener a fantastic space to worship in, but it's delivered via the musical expertise of Michael W. Smith. The subtle combination of old school piano based melodies, contemporary electric guitar riffs and his lead vocals make this release a rare tribute to past and present worship music. This collection is recommended if you want to move past the smoke screen of worship music and experience untainted, honest and modern worship lead by one of the Christian music's brightest stars.- Review date: 3/6/12, written by Jessica Morris of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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