Whether or not you're a fan of Michael W. Smith, you have to admire the work this man has done and respect his ministry. Smitty has been a man to put his faith into action and his career achievements show this. In 1993, Smitty celebrated his first 10 years in music with First Decade 1983-1993. And, of course, ten years later it only makes sense to catalogue his next decade of works with The Second Decade 1993-2003. But what makes this project so unique and notable is it not only includes two new studio songs from Smith, but for a couple bucks more fans can get the "limited edition" version which features a special DVD offering music videos with commentary and a brief behind-the-scenes look at the last 10 years. And all this is being released on his forty sixth birthday.
The Second Decade opens with the new track, "Signs," a song co-written with his son Ryan and was inspired by author John Bunyan's book Pilgrim's Progress. A piano introduces the record before Smith's sandpaper worn vocals greet the listener like an old friend you haven't heard from in ages. While Smith's previous recording was just last year, it was a live worship project, as was the recording the year prior, with his last pop studio album having been released 4 years ago in 1999. His vocals are mature and somewhat aged, bringing out a greater sense of authority and wisdom in each of his verses. Smitty's vocal style is virtually the same, however, as he maintains his signature "yeah-ah's" and "whoa-oh's" that have permeated his songs for years. "Signs" is a great addition to Smith's collection and an appropriate intro to a remarkable collection of songs from a portion in a remarkable career.
The songs included are musts, and although I've never been much of Michael W. Smith fan, I recognize over half of the record which definitely can say something for Smith's impact on popular Christian music. His songs are always relative, honest, and transparent. What Christian can't even slightly relate to "Missing Person" with Smith expressing his longing to get back to the on-fire Christian he once was when he first came to know Christ? Or "Cry For Love" being a response to the hectic nature in life? Smith also often writes about what impacts him in life most, as in "This Is Your Time," his tribute to Cassie Bernall, a Christian massacred in the Columbine High School shooting some years ago. His heart aches for the moral decline of America in the surprisingly upbeat "Breakdown" (which is a brand new remix here, but originally appeared on his 1995 record I'll Lead You Home). The title track from I'll Lead You Home and "Straight To The Heart," also from that record, are both personal songs, the latter being a tribute to a family memory and the former being a heart's cry to our Heavenly Father. And the record wouldn't be complete without sharing moments from Michael's recent worship projects by including his unforgetable cover of Lenny LaBlanc & Paul Baloche's "Above All" or Mark Imboden & Tammi Rhoten's "You Are Holy (Prince of Peace)." Considering how most of his worship efforts were primarily songs he didn't pen himself, it was important that Second Decade didn't focus on these as so many of his other hits were much more personal to Smith's heart and personality. An updated rendition of his unstoppable hit "Friends" that includes the amazing lineup of Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Avalon, Michael Tait, Point Of Grace, and Third Day's Mac Powell, is a thoughtful addition to the project but feels somewhat out of place on the record. While it'd be more appropriate for an all-out Smitty tribute record, the "Friends" redux (aka "Friends 2003") is an excellent treat for the fans even if it otherwise doesn't really need to be on Second Decade (*it was originally recorded for and appeared on the Dove Hits 2003 collection). The record winds down with the instrumental treat "Freedom" from his completely orchestral 2000 project of the same name. Inspired by the Civil War, "Freedom" is a beautiful piece with a theatrical vibe and is featured on a record Michael regards as "the truest reflection of who I am as a musician." "Raging Sea" is a gorgeous piano song of God speaking to his children encouraging that "...when your life is tossed and turning / And you are on the raging sea / I'll come and pull you from the water / Then you will know that you are free..." Interestingly enough, Smith wrote the song in about five minutes from Skywalker ranch (yes... that Skywalker!). Nirva Dorsaint, known best for her vocal accompaniment with Toby McKeehan's solo work, backs up Smitty on the closing song, along with an orchestral arrangement that makes for a nice finishing touch.
Fans of Michael W. Smith will love what is assembled here on The Second Decade. And if you pick it up, make sure you get the limited edition version with the bonus DVD. The DVD includes videos for "Live the Life," "There She Stands," "Love Me Good," and surprisingly, yet probably his most popular video of his career, "Secret Ambition." Each video comes with an option for commentary and has Smith sharing some background information on each video. In addition to the videos, a discography of his past 10 years and some behind-the-scenes interviews round out this special DVD.
The Second Decade serves as the closing exclamation point for the second remarkable chapter in Michael W. Smith's unforgetable musical career. I honestly can say I look forward to his third decade...- Review date: 10/6/03, written by John DiBiase
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