Artist: Bethel Music
Title: The Loft Sessions
Label: Bethel Music/Kingsway Music
Release Date: 1/24/12
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre
- One Thing Remains (feat. Brian Johnson)
- My Dear (feat. Hunter Thompson)
- You Have Won Me (feat. Brian Johnson)
- Come To Me (feat. Jenn Johnson)
- Walk in the Promise (feat. Jeremy Riddle)
- You Know Me (feat. Steffany Frizzell)
- Angels (feat. Brian Johnson)
- Fall Afresh (feat. Jeremy Riddle)
- Draw Near (feat. Jeremy Riddle)
- This is What You Do (feat. Matt Stinton)
The new album titled The Loft Sessions by Bethel Music, the worship and ministry arm of Bethel College in Redding, California, is somewhat of a mixed bag. From such acclaim and heartfelt melodies from their first album Here is Love and their second Be Lifted High, this latest subdued effort full of acoustic guitars and strings can seem somewhat of a blur as I listen to these 10 tracks. Not that these songs are bad in and of themselves, but sometimes for an album to be great, there has to be the overall flow of the record, and sadly, The Loft Sessions pales in comparison to worship movement Jesus Culture, with worship leaders Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala from the Bethel ministry also. With such an explosive and contagious enthusiasm in their 2009 debut and their 2011 sophomore album, Bethel have really shown to be able to produce a great live atmosphere, sadly missed on this latest acoustic album. With only a few highlights including first single ‘Come to Me’ and the ever-reliable melody of ‘One Thing Remains’, this album fails to hit the mark of musical engagement as I remind myself of better worship albums throughout 2012, with Kari Jobe, Paul Baloche, Christy Nockels, even Vertical Church and Israel and the New Breed have albums released that are more excited and rejuvenating than The Loft Sessions. Sadly a blip in a great musical career, let us hope that Bethel’s next live album, For the Sake of the World, matches and betters the standards set by Be Lifted High!
‘Come to Me’ is sung by Jenn Johnson, daughter-in-law of pastor Bill Johnson; is one of the very few highlights on this album. Sung from God’s point of view, Jenn cries out amidst the strings and acoustics, ‘…come to me, I’m all you need…I’m your everything…’ as listeners understand God as our source of life, hope and acceptance. With a swaying melody filled with earthy vocals and guitar picks, this song is a reassurance to anyone who feels far away from Christ- that He understands our lives, and is able to hold us during the times of difficulty and calamity- something that can easily be said, yet not necessarily believed until the moment when you have no one else to cling to except for Him. The urgency of the chorus rings out in my mind as we are reminded of the Lord’s beckoning, that ‘…I am your anchor in the wind and the waves, and I am your steadfast so don’t be afraid, though your heart and flesh may fail you, I’m your faithful strength, and I am with you wherever you go…’ What a great revelation that Christ has given to us and well done Jenn for executing this great testament, showing the Lord’s faithfulness to his children. One of the best songs from Bethel Music ever, ‘Come to Me’ is sure to be sung in churches for a long time in years to come!
Glancing through the rest of the 9 songs, there are a couple of standouts in the recognisable melody of ‘One Thing Remains’, played by Brian Johnson in an acoustical setting with close accentuation upon the vocal harmonies and lyrical themes of understanding that God is the one constant in our lives; as well as the album closer ‘This is What You Do’, as Matt Stinton provides one of the most enjoyable and happy songs on the album, reminding me of a musical style similar to Northern Irish band Rend Collective Experiment with their acoustic themed melodies and hopeful song full of a freshness and ‘organic’ atmosphere. Sadly, apart from these 3 melodies (‘This is What You Do’, ‘One Thing Remains’, ‘Come To Me’), no other song struck out at me. That’s not to say that these songs are bad on their own, and a few are from Jeremy Riddle’s studio album Furious, including ‘Fall Afresh’, and the musically clever song ‘Walk in the Promise’ filled with an electronic undertone and light percussion. However, this album’s sharp contrast from lively and vibrant live worship that has transformed into a light and reflective feel may have worked for some listeners; but unfortunately, the change has done Bethel a disservice. With much of the album’s melodies falling into one another with not much indication between the start and end of each song seems to be a major drawback- by the end of the album, most of the songs seem to mesh together and only the standing highlights remain- the unique tracks that are different musically that draw you in.
‘My Dear’ is unique enough in providing the ‘woah’ moments that start off the song but by the end of the song, and through listening to the album a few times, the ‘woah’s are the only memorable part on the song- the lyrical moments in ‘…I am Yours and You are mine, I am ravished by the sight, of one glimpse into Your eyes, my lover’s coming for His bride…’ are thematic themes seemingly taken from other songs from other artists singing about similar issues, with this lyric in this song in particular reminding me of a mesh between The Afters’ ‘I Am Yours’ and Leeland’s ‘Pure Bride’. The album is certainly a great purchase for those who are in love with Bethel’s music, but for those who are looking for some creativeness in relation to musical styles, most of the album’s subdued nature coupled with a blending of songs places The Loft Sessions at the bottom of my list of favourite Bethel albums. Watching the corresponding videos also gave me a sad feeling- that as the songs are recorded in a loft (someone’s home with a crowd of people around); nowhere in the songs on the album do you hear crowds of people singing, nor any backing vocalist. Most, if not all, of the songs are over-polished, thereby taking away some of the enjoyment of the melodies that have really pierced my soul, particularly Jenn Johnson’s ‘Come to Me’!
Overall: Bethel’s The Loft Sessions, while offering up some great melodies, especially in the first single ‘Come to Me’, overall presents an album more suited to the reflective mood, not really offering anything new and exciting beyond acoustical undertones and harmonious backing vocals that somewhat seem like a blur from first to last song. With very few highlights, this deviation from Bethel’s trademark live records is an interesting move; however, The Loft Sessions seems a little too over-produced with not much freedom to venture out the 3-4 standard minutes for a studio track. The beauty of live songs (and how Bethel does them!) is their intense passion and energy and the ability to move in the spirit as the song builds to a roaring crescendo. There is some of that here, however, with many songs flowing creating a lack of song identity, this album fails to stand out amidst other worship albums like Live Worship from Vertical Church (Vertical Church Band), The Same Love (Paul Baloche), Homemade Worship by Handmade People (Rend Collective Experiment) and The Heartbeat (Bellarive) throughout the year of 2012!
RIYL: Hillsong, Planetshakers, Passion, Desperation Band
Download the Album: iTunes/Amazon