Album Review :
Phil Wickham - The Ascension (Deluxe Edition)
Artist: Phil Wickham
Title: The Ascension (Deluxe Edition)
Label: Fair Trade Services
Release Date: 4/15/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre
- The Ascension
- Holy Light
- Carry My Soul
- This is Amazing Grace
- Over All
- When My Heart is Torn Asunder
- Tears of Joy
- The Ascension (Acoustic)
- Holy Light (Acoustic)
- Carry My Soul (Acoustic)
- This is Amazing Grace (Acoustic)
- Over All (Acoustic)
- When My Heart is Torn Asunder (Acoustic)
- Glory (Acoustic)
- Tears of Joy (Acoustic)
- Wonderful (Acoustic)
- Thirst (Acoustic)
One of my favourite worship artists ever (alongside Meredith Andrews, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, All Sons and Daughters, Tim Hughes and The Sonflowerz); Phil Wickham’s music has always been able to minister to myself throughout the years. From ‘Beautiful’ and ‘After Your Heart’, to ‘Safe’, ‘Heaven Fall Down’ and ‘At Your Name’; this worship leader from San Diego, California is a great artist to listen to if you enjoy worship with an alternative edge, similar to artists like Leeland, Delirious?, All Sons and Daughters or Rend Collective Experiment. With long-time producer of his albums Pete Kipley at the helm of producing his 2013 album The Ascension, the follow-up to Response was both exciting and daunting, in the fact that Response was one of my favourite 2011 worship albums, and possibly my favourite Phil Wickham album ever. So when I heard The Ascension, I was initially apprehensive and somewhat worried that my album listening experience wouldn’t be at the standard set by Phil’s previous record. Yet what transpired was an album release that was just as unique, different and enjoyable as his 2011 release, both in lyrics and music. Arguably known for his radio hit ‘You’re Beautiful’ (even covered by MercyMe on their 2011 worship album The Worship Sessions); Phil’s passionate vocals and distinct voice sets himself apart from all other worship leaders in today’s 21st century. Now releasing the deluxe version of The Ascension, basically the original album and the acoustic counterparts (except for ‘Mercy’ which was originally very acoustic),Phil Wickham fans are sure to pick this one up on iTunes (or at least listen to this album on iTunes), and with both his 2013 album and this extended version being able to showcase his more orchestral and anthemic music side, Phil’s current work, will certainly inspire and encourage anyone who listens to his music, regardless of whether they are fans of Phil or not!
What can I say about The Ascension and all its bright spots? One of my favourite worship albums of 2013, this deluxe edition complete with acoustic tracks certainly makes the album much more enjoyable as we hear both the original and acoustically stripped down versions of songs that are some of the most memorable, vulnerable and heartfelt songs Phil has ever written and recorded. Recently recorded and released by Bethel Music on their album For the Sake of the World, ‘This is Amazing Grace’ is Phil’s first single from the album, and a great way to introduce someone to Phil’s music. Full of electric guitars, powerful singing, and a message that promotes God’s grace above anything else, Phil has once again delivered a song that will make its way into churches sooner, if not by the end of 2014. ‘Wonderful’, originally recorded as an acoustic track on Singalong 2, also appears on The Ascension, this time as a full-fledged studio recording full of electronic keyboard reverb, Phil’s distinct vocals creating a powerful effect when mashed together with the big drum beat, as well as the gang vocals that appear during the chorus. While not necessarily as enthusiastic and passionate as the acoustic version of the song (without the congregation declaring out God’s wonderfulness as well as the strumming of the acoustic guitar, the song can seem somewhat polished); Phil does deliver a decent effort and shows us a poignant message of how ‘…I can see you in the light of a new dawn, I can hear you in the words of a love song, I know it in my heart, I know it in my soul, you’re wonderful…’ ‘Holy Light’, one of the most upbeat songs on the album, speaks about us being awakened to God’s holy light and presence around us and therefore us being forever changed because of that, is a rousing anthem and emotive melody at its best, while ‘Carry My Soul’ slows down the tempo and pace to bring us a light electric guitar driven song about running the race after the Lord’s heart, until we are called towards our spiritual home. In a beautiful moment of excitement, expectation, hopefulness and a sense of being eager and hungry for eternal things rather than that of the temporary, Phil’s vocals shine, with this melody possibly being the highest Phil’s voice has ever been.
Phil also provides us with other standouts, like modern hymn ‘When My Heart is Torn Asunder’, a song that reminds us that there is hope beyond everything that we can see or feel right in front of us, ‘…peace in every tragedy and love that conquers fear…’; ‘Tears of Joy’, the acoustic-country melody that shows us the importance of our salvation as Phil describes the moments of Jesus’s return with the help of the acoustic guitar, banjos, mandolin and other unique and interesting instruments; and ‘Thirst’; a poetic and poignant song that encourages each one of us to satisfy our thirst and longing in Christ alone through hauntingly refreshing light acoustics and Phil paying homage to the famous older song ‘As the Deer’. With Phil also showing us a like-for-like note-for-note replica of melodies in the form of acoustic tracks for every song on the album except ‘Mercy’, Phil’s powerful voice above the acoustic guitars further shows us of Phil’s power in his voice, and the fact that even with minimal instruments, these songs can still be good and minister to whomever listens. After the success of both Singalong and Singalong 2, people are sure to love these additional 10 songs on the deluxe version of The Ascension. And even though some acoustic tracks are very similar to their original counterparts in terms of melody, pitch and singing style, Phil nevertheless gives us emotive recordings of melodies certain to be favourites as listeners hear arguably Phil’s most diverse and lyrically poignant album to date!
Overall: With many of his songs sung in churches around the world, Phil’s 5th studio album, along with his 6th pseudo-new album, is something to behold from an artist who’s not even thirty yet. With a variety of genres in The Ascension, and the great acoustic nature of the deluxe edition, there is hopefully something for everyone as they hear what I think is one of Phil’s best produced albums and possibly one of the most popular worship artists currently. While the acoustic arrangements are simple in its musical direction, the acoustic element of the album is one of the most profound and impacting set of songs since his last acoustic effort, Singalong 2. With 21 songs, his is an album that you don’t want to miss! Well done Phil for an intimate worshipful collection.
RIYL: Leeland, Chris Tomlin, All Sons and Daughters, Matt Hammitt
Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3