The worship collective known as Passion is back for their twenty-fifth annual conference. While it is actually a worship and teaching convention, Passion's live recordings are far and away what the conference is best known for. For better or worse, Passion is a gauge for the current standard of worship music. From these conferences have arisen some of the most famous Christian songs in recent memory, such as "Glorious Day," "Build My Life," and "Come As You Are." The idea is actually a pretty intriguing one; various artists of the CCM world write a song that highlights their respective style (including a few mega-hits already floating around), and record it to a raucous crowd of young adults. Each album has a subtle theme running throughout it, and I've Witnessed It revolves around a longing to see God work again like He has in the past.
The album begins exactly how you would expect a Passion album to in "All About You," and it's here we arrive at a microcosm of the entire hour and a half production. The lyrics are low-profile and honest, inviting wholehearted worship of God who has restored our relationship with Him. However, nothing in the song is proprietary or delves below the surface. The chorus melody is monotone, and the instrumental guitar lead is forgettable. It's little details like these that can make or break an album going for this "simple worship" approach. Take the next song, "Who Is Like The Lord," where the piano lead is simply uninspired. If this intro was at all inventive, the song would stand out from the pack, without sacrificing the ease of audience participation that the songwriters are surely seeking to provide. The same can be said for the chorus, which uses another three-note melody, and phrases that, while certainly God-honoring, do nothing to set this song apart or build a cohesive theme... "The mighty Lion of Judah/the pure and spotless Lamb/The Alpha and Omega/the good and great I Am/the God that saves the nations/the One we bow before/let every voice sing out/who is like the Lord."
Lead single and title track "I've Witnessed It" is one of the better tracks of the project, sung by vocal powerhouse Melodie Malone to a theme of God's constant power throughout the ages, "You left the throne and chose the cross/laid down Your life to rescue us/the savior then, the savior now." Unfortunately, the next stretch of tracks take the safe route, offering nothing in the way of creativity, and even the free-spirit of Sean Curran seems somewhat muted in his two entries, "Another Glimpse" and "Here It Is (I Worship You)."
One thing I noticed about the lyrical bent of the album is that it focuses primarily on our longing for more of God. While obviously that is a noble theme to pursue, I fear that too much of an emphasis on what we don't have can lead to a neglect of what we do have. In other words, instead of edifying believers in the life of the Spirit, the lyrics center on a desire for more of the Spirit; instead of dwelling on our peace in trials, the lyrics ask for rescue from trials. For example, in "Christ Our King," Chidima cries, "We wait for You/Lord for Your justice/Your mercy/revival in our city/we wait for You, Lord." While this is an appropriate sentiment, an entire album of this theme can diminish the encouraging side of our walk with God, while also overusing the message it's trying to communicate. As a result, the length of the album quickly catches up to it, and this slight shift in theme would perhaps bring an air of joy with it, rather than weightiness.
The closest we get to that joy is, wouldn't you know it, from Crowder's contribution in the swampy southern sounds of "King." While I wouldn't say it's his best track by any means (again the chorus is too one-note for my liking), it is a welcome change of pace and gets the crowd riled up. Brett Younker (of "Build My Life" fame) enters with "You Are Our God," an upbeat track that is all-too-similar to "Who Is Like The Lord," and both songs somehow manage to separately copy the intro to Hillsong's "Cornerstone" almost note-for-note. The album ends with one entry each by husband and wife team Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe, the former leading "Good (Can't Be Anything Else)," which includes a few out-of-key chords that spice it up a bit (ala Jennie Lee Riddle's "Revelation Song"), and some interest-piquing melodies. Jobe leads the nearly ten-minute-long closer "The Dove," and though the chorus treads on already well-trodden ground (recalling Hillsong's "All I Need Is You"), it boasts the most biblically rich lyrics of the album, and the metaphor of the Holy Spirit as a Dove throughout the stages of redemption is something I've not come across before, "When sin had spoiled creation/the creator sent a flood/on the cusp of new beginning/He again released the dove/and after all the searching/it found a place to land/on Christ the perfect Son/who would redeem it all again."
Decades after the modern worship movement took shape, and that being born out of simple melodies and chords, the needle hasn't moved much to this day, if at all. As such, it can be hard to move that needle while aiming to stay true to the genre, yet such is the job of a skillful songwriter (as Passion artists surely are). If the goal remains to write simple worship songs for the average churchgoer, there needs to be a turn of phrase and unique melodies, or the songs will get lost in the shuffle, and it seems that's what has happened with I've Witnessed It. I, for one, think our congregations could benefit greatly from more engaging music, especially songs that are easily distinguishable, yet we do not find that here. All in all, if you enjoy the current style of worship music, you will certainly find a lot to like here, but if you're looking for fresh music with clever spiritual insights, you'll want to look elsewhere.- Review date: 3/11/23, written by Joel Zaloum of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Capitol CMG
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