Believe it or not, despite their penchant for writing and performing well-known worship tunes, ("Your Love O Lord," "Offerings," "My Hope Is You"), Third Day had not yet delivered a whole album's worth of original worship music until now. Lead Us Back is their first collection of all-new praise material, and with a cinematic and slightly liturgical feel, the album finds the veteran southern band in a fine place.
Starting with a call to worship, "Spirit" rides a soundtrack-like wave of instrumentation (rolling timpani's, ethereal keyboards) that leads to Mac Powell and a chorus of voices pleading for the leading of the Holy Spirit in life. This haunting, yet simple opening is an impressive beginning to a cycle of songs that occasionally brings the guitar fire, but leans more on excellent songwriting and unique instrumentation to bring life to the music. Lead single "Soul On Fire" is a rousing gospel number that is served well by the vocal presence of worship artists All Sons And Daughters, and gives notice that Lead Us Back is both an uplifting set of tunes, and a community effort. "Your Words" begins with a hammer dulcimer (an instrument made famous in Christian music by the late, great Rich Mullins) that adds a nice, melodic texture to the voices of Powell and female worship artist Harvest Parker. With guest appearances from Michael Tait, Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant--with background vocalists including David Crowder, Michael Gungor, Sarah MacIntosh and Daniel Bashta, among others--Lead Us Back brims with energy and classic rock excitement (something that has been lacking a bit on the band's last couple of releases). It's the addition of all the multiple gang vocals on many tracks, and the guest vocalists that give this album its punch, and shows that twenty years in, Third Day is capable of mining new territory artistically while staying true to the core of what they've done for so long.
But the excitement on Lead Us Back is not necessarily from a return to electric guitar bombast, something that might have been present if this album had come around fifteen years back in their history. Rather, it comes from a slightly cinematic approach to the music, with a theatrical use of strings and orchestration to move the song list along, and a sense of drama and storytelling that serves the worship theme well. In "Victorious," the most intense instrument is a pounding piano, but the track is no less powerful for it. The guitars are turned up a bit in "Our Deliverer" and "He Is Alive", but overall, the music is balanced and well-shaped. "I Know You Can," "Father Of Lights" and "The One I Love" round out the set list nicely and close the album with a meditative feel. "One I Love" harkens back to "I've Always Loved You" from the band's classic Time record, and ends Lead Us Back with a quiet, reflective piece that finds Mac Powell's singular baritone in solid form.
Lead Us Back is an excellent example of a worship album, that is, a collection of songs that fit around a theme and are tailored musically and lyrically to fit together as a whole. The album might not bowl over the listener (particularly the ones looking for Third Day to return to its bluesy, alternative rock days) upon the first listen, but if given a chance and listened to as a whole, Lead Us Back proves to be a great worship piece and a mid-career highpoint in a veteran band's catalog.- Preview Review date: 2/15/15, Review Date: 3/1/15, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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