Throughout their eight-year run, The City Harmonic has provided a much-needed antidote to the shallow simplicity that all too often suffocates the worship genre. From the soaring anthems of I Have a Dream (It Feels Like Home), the artistically brilliant Heart, and even the more commercially friendly We Are, a contagious passion for God and His people, coupled with theologically rich lyricism, saturates these songs. This brings us to Benediction (Live), the band's swan song and quite possibly the best worship release of the year.
Releasing independently after a long time collaboration with Integrity Music, Benediction (Live) is not merely a beautifully strung together collection of their greatest hits but a devoted farewell, a love letter to the church written to inspire and encourage. It's easy to draw comparisons between the band's farewell and the message Jesus left before His ascension. These aren't meant to be sad sendoffs but calls to pursue further works for the Kingdom of God. The songs played here, whether deliberately chosen or not, carry a theme of Christ's work and our response. The eschatological "Maranatha" sings of the hope we have for Christ's future coming as it calls us to "Rise and sing," while "Praise The Lord" encourages us to worship with gratitude in every moment because, whether it is good or bad, "Jesus Christ is Lord." Fans will be delighted with the inclusion of a new song called "Honestly," a powerful ballad about being broken before the feet of Jesus, realizing that He is all we ever need. "Could I sit at your feet, forget about me, and remember what I'm here for? / Honestly I need to be broken / Honestly I need to fall down / Go ahead and shake my foundation because honestly I'm figuring out that of all that I have all that I need is you."
Moments of worship are in no shortage here also. "Yours" is a wonderful anthem that's only made better in its live setting. "A City On a Hill" is a stripped-down reimagining of the fantastic pop tune in the middle of Heart and serves as a highlight here as well. Elias Dummer's vocals really shine as he sings behind a sole keyboard and the voices of the church. "Holy (Wedding Day)" is already one of the band's most splendid offerings, but its live version is simply glorious. The majority of songs here actually improve upon their studio counterparts, an achievement few live albums manage to pull off. "What I Want" may be the only exception as it does run on a little too long.
It's hard to shake off the skeptical dread of a live worship album. How long will we hear the same refrains repeated over and over? How long are we going to hear the vocalist shout praises over vanilla background music? I often find myself asking questions such as these before popping in a live worship album, but The City Harmonic's Benediction is anything but monotonous or mundane. This is a beautiful and emotionally potent release that finds its strength in the passionate praises of the church. In the end, what we're left with is a thoughtful and inspiring goodbye that's worth repeating many times over. Fans of worship music should listen to this immediately.
- Review date: 6/20/17, written by Lucas Munachen of Jesusfreakhideout.com