It seems almost impossible to imagine that early twentieth-century Scottish teacher and evangelist, Oswald Chambers, could ever have envisioned that My Utmost for His Highest, a collection sermon notes and lessons transcribed and published by his wife after his death, would eventually go on to become one of the most widely-read inspirational books in history, selling over 13 million copies and being translated into nearly 40 languages. The near-unprecedented success and impact of the 366-day devotional during the decades following its arrival, on the other hand, would arguably make the eventual generation of a musical work inspired by its contents almost a given. And that's just what happened in 1995, on the 60th anniversary of the book's first publication, as then-popular Christian artists 4Him, Cindy Morgan, Bryan Duncan and others joined forces to construct a musical project based on the devotional.
When one considers the fact that a child born in the mid-'90s would now be approaching the age when many artists make their first foray into the Christian Music arena, the notion of a follow-on to the 1995 effort for a new generation seems more than reasonable. But, much like the '95 outing, it is the very premise of tying itself to Chambers' work that ultimately turns out to be the eponymous 2017 release's greatest liability. Listeners lacking liner notes or other explanatory information -- which would ostensibly include anyone who downloaded the album rather than purchasing a physical copy -- will be hard-pressed to tell which portions of the record correspond to which sections of the devotional. And even those who are able to make that sometimes tenuous connection will almost surely find that the lyrics of the musically-based work inevitably pale when placed in such close proximity to the far more unique, literate and thought-provoking wording of Chambers' venerable tome.
Things proceed a bit more smoothly on the musical side of the coin. "I Surrender," by Brandon Hampton and United Pursuit, is a superbly-crafted slice of pop music, made even more so by its consummate use of understatement and restraint. Meredith Andrews' "Needing You Now" makes likewise skillful use of dynamic range, as the singer effortlessly swells her vocals from a plaintive whisper to a gut-wrenching shout and back again. The Big Daddy Weave/Francesca Battistelli collaboration, "Lavish," harks back to everything that rendered the albums in the City on a Hill series so transcendent. And the closing cuts, Unspoken's "Light That Never Fades" and "I Come Alive" from Out of the Dust and The Gray Havens, are the musical equivalent of a brisk breath of fresh spring air at the end of a long, cold winter.
That being said, impressive as they are, the songs above represent the lesser portion of the project, the remainder of which is fleshed out by a surfeit of listless, generic-sounding compositions that begin to run together as the record wears on. None of the weaker entries, it bears noting, are out and out disagreeable. And Top 40 inspirational radio devotees will probably find that the release, as a whole, falls well short of completely off-putting. Even so, in the end analysis, the album's uneven nature and preponderance of run-of-the-mill material make it a recommended purchase only for Chambers completists and die-hard fans of the artists it features.
- Review date: 11/8/17, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com