Worship music as a genre creates a dilemma for the artists who create it; at its best, songs are open-ended enough to resonate with large gatherings of people but still remain true to the creators' own styles. All too often, the biggest songs drive church services with high emotion and singable choruses, but unfortunately end up criticized as repetitious and cliche ridden. When they're successful, artists who meet the church's needs while being true to their own lives and artistry can give the experience an extra dimension in songs that invite listeners to live their own story through the words of another. Atlanta-based worship leader Laura Story attempts to find that balance in her new release, Blessings, a collection of praise anthems and stories of God's faithfulness, and a worship album with a songwriter's soul.
Laura Story is true to her worship leader roots in ten tracks featuring vertically-oriented lyrics and music that reflects shades of Hillsong, AC pop, and singer-songwriter intimacy. Many of these would fit right into the church settings that embraced her prior hits "Indescribable" and "Mighty to Save," but with Story's writing credit attached to every song, her personality and life experience informs the lyrics with truth and honesty. The album focuses on God's faithfulness to redeem and finding "mercies in disguise," as the title track says, so in its most intimate moments, there is a personal touch often missing in better-known praise choruses.
"This is the Day" starts things off in Hillsong/Darlene Zschech fashion, a resounding tune that begins a series of church-friendly tracks, including "Friend of Sinners" and "You are Love." The songs that comprise the first half have the marks of pop worship, not so unique from other artists in the genre, but Story's voice confidently leads the way in bright tunes with the potential to be future staples in Sunday morning set lists.
First impressions might give the appearance of another mediocre collection of praise anthems with a typical worship vibe, but once the big songs are done, a few standout moments arrive where the lyrics, music, and Story's gentle vocals mesh into something special. "Blessings" opens the second half as a quiet piano ballad about finding hope through suffering. These lyrics aren't the kind most likely to be sung in church, but they are every bit as worshipful, looking to God for comfort and praising him as one who heals in the midst of pain. It's a song of questions that know the answer, hinging on the idea "What if my greatest disappointment / Or the aching of this life / Is a revealing of a greater thirst / This world can't satisfy?" Pensive and personal with spare instrumentation, "Blessings" provides a reflective interlude and one of the album's most beautiful moments.
"Prodigal Song" is another diversion from the praise and worship formula, a modern-day retelling of the prodigal son story. Personifying the father as a dad at the ballpark, the telling details bring the parable to earth in a father character who "longs to see his face in younger skin / Running down the driveway again." "Remember," though more in line with the other worship tracks, is a perfect new hymn for communion that sets the Biblical purpose of the Lord's Supper to music and lyric. And in the closer "Faithful God," Story sums up the theme of worshipping a God faithful to redeem, finally bringing out the choir for a stirring finish.
Blessings is a worship record all the way, and for the most part, it doesn't deliver a new, unique style. It's brief and gentle, based around slower songs with acoustic roots; even the biggest moments feel subdued compared to the huge, arena rock style favored by her peers. Her work focuses on lyrics from the heart, songs that reflect on hope, injustice, redemption, and love. Initial listens, especially to the first half of the album, might sound like a typical worship record and feel unremarkable, but time spent with Blessings lets her earnest, tender music unfold into something sweetly beautiful.- Review date: 4/10/11, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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