Notes from the Shore

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My Favorite Worship Albums

I’ve been thinking lately about styles of worship. Maybe it’s because of how I was introduced to contemporary praise and worship, but I’ve always enjoyed a variety of musical styles in my worship – not necessarily in the same service, but certainly on a regular basis.

Sometimes I have a hankering for a southern-rock flavored worship like the Brownsville teams and Lindell Cooley made famous. Sometimes I’m looking for something modern from the Passion team or Chris Tomlin. If I’m feeling a little more relaxed, and grab some Vineyard. More straight ahead and I’ll put in Hillsongs (not United Live). And I’m always up for some funky horns like old Ron Kenoly or more recently Israel Houghton and Lakewood Church.

So, when I recently was pondering on what is my favorite worship album of all time, there was no way I could narrow it down to just one. There is no one album that covers all of these great styles of music that I love. So, I thought I would narrow it down to five.

When I looked at my final list, that’s when it dawned on me about the styles I talk about above. When I picked my top five, I didn’t specifically pick one from each style – that’s just how it ended up. So, with a few words of explanation for each, here are my top five all time Praise and Worship albums.

Revival in Belfast – Robin Mark
This is the album that introduced Days of Elijah to the world, and it lived in my CD player for a long time. I especially liked the tasteful use Irish ethnic instruments on most of the tracks. Robin Mark also does a good job of building the songs to powerful climaxes.

First Love – Paul Baloche
Paul Baloche (rhymes with galosh) is a real leader in the arena of contemporary Praise and Worship. His website posts free lead sheets to every song he’s ever written, and he has also produced numerous videos to aid in worship leader’s music education. His First Love CD also features well put together arrangements that draw the worshiper in. This is simply a well-rounded, excellent worship album.

Freedom – Vineyard Café
When I bought my first Vineyard Café CD, I was instantly hooked. Unfortunately they made only four (and I recently learned of a Vineyard Café Christmas album, which I haven’t had an opportunity to listen to yet). Employing only acoustic piano, guitar, electric (I think) bass, and trap set using mostly brushes, the ensemble manages to take the congregation from the heights of energy to the most intimate communion with the Father. I picked Freedom from the four simply because it has my favorite songs on it – all are excellent.

Lift Him Up – Ron Kenoly
Ron Kenoly was my first exposure to contemporary Praise and Worship back in the early 90’s. One of the things I like about his projects are that instead of a collection of disparate songs, he records an entire worship service, beginning to end. There are some cuts for time, but essential the CD presents the entire service as it happened. This leads to some very powerful moments where you can practically hear the Holy Spirit ministering to the congregation. I like many of Ron’s CDs, but Lift Him Up has my favorite songs on it.

All Things Are Possible – Hillsongs
This is one of the few albums that grabbed me the very first time I listened to it, and never let go (many need to grow on me a bit). Hillsongs just does everything so “right” that it’s hard to put words to it. Certainly no one can milk a vamp like they can (Eagle’s Wings and Potter’s Hand from other projects come immediately to mind). I also like that they employ songs from a variety of writers and use the church’s different worship leaders on the CD – it’s not all Darlene Zschech (ha! Spelled that right without having to look it up first). Also, their music works with the huge arrangements they do, or just piano, guitar, bass and drums.

So, I couldn’t even keep it to five. Here are a few honorable mentions:

Honorable Mention:

Revival at Brownsville – Lindell Cooley
Southern rock meets praise and worship. These guys do all their covers 10 bpm slower than you’ve heard them anywhere else… and they work!

Worship – Michael W. Smith
Of all the pop stars who have jumped on the P&W bandwagon, Smitty really got it right. Also, as a pianist, I really enjoy his keyboard-centric arrangements.
So, why are your favorites your favorites? Figure that out and I believe you will further your skills as a worship leader and as a worshipper.

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