Album Review :
Various Artists - CompassionArt

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Artist: Various Artists
Album: Compassion Art: Creating Freedom from Poverty
Label: Sparrow Records
Release Date: January 27, 2009
Reviewer: Eric Pettersson

Tracklist:
1. Come to the Water
2. Shout Praise
3. King of Wonders
4. Lead Me to the Rock
5. We Won’t Stay Silent
6. Highly Favored
7. Filly My Cup
8. Friend of the Poor
9. King of the Broken
10. You Have Shown Us
11. Until the Day
12. Let it Glow
13. So Great
14. There Is Always a Song
15. There Is Always a Song (reprise)

Martin Smith, frontman for Delirious?, took a trip to India and saw intense poverty. He saw women forced into prostitution in order to feed their children, and he decided he need to do something about it. The creative result was calling up his musician friends to join him in writing this 14-song record, of which all the proceeds go to organizations helping the poorest of the poor. And apparently when you’re in a band like Delirious?, you get to know a lot of big artists.

Smith was joined in the songwriting process by Paul Baloche, Steven Curtin Chapman, Stu G (also from Delirious?), Israel Houghton, Tim Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Andy Park, Matt Redman, Michael W Smith, Chris Tomlin, and Darlene Zschech. In case you don’t necessarily recognize those names, they’ve probably written at least half the music you’ll be singing in church this week, assuming you attend a contemporary styled worship service. But it doesn’t stop there. After these twelve songwriters got together and did their thing, they also brought along some more friends for the recording process to do some guest vocals, including Kirk Franklin, Amy Grant, Joel Houston, Leeland Mooring, Christy Nockels, tobyMac, and CeCe Winans.

Ok, so by now I think two things have been established. One, buying this album will help to end sex slavery, human trafficking, starvation, and other evils associated with the injustice of poverty. Two, there’s a whole lot of talent going into this project. But the final question remains. Did that talent actually blend well into a cohesive album with top-quality songs, or is it just a jumble of superstars? Well, that probably depends on how diverse your taste is.

“Come to the Water,” the first song, is lead by Chris Tomlin and mostly plays in his typical modern rock worship genre. However, Kirk Franklin, the legendary gospel singer, jumps on for the bridge, which to me just sounded awkward and out of place. Maybe some people can enjoy the collaboration, but it was not for me.

On the other hand, “Friend of the Poor” came out great. It’s a soft, piano-led song that talks about God’s compassionate heart for those in low situations. Andy Park’s crisp voice molds wonderfully with Leeland Moorning’s on the chorus, and the heart in the song comes across as genuine, without forcing emotion. Kirk Franklin also redeems himself in a much more suited collaboration with tobyMac on “Let it Glow,” a somewhat rockin’ hip hop song with a dancy vibe and heavy beat. Many of the other songs will be enjoyed by fans of CCM, modern worship, or gospel music, with each style taking lead for a few tracks and sometimes being combined within a track, usually with better results than that first one.

This is an album I can truly stand behind. The music isn’t for everyone. It’s not really for me, either. But if you enjoy the style, then you’ll enjoy this, because it’s done well and it’s got a whole lot of great voices. One of the strongest aspects of CompassionArt is the lyrics, which are all worshipping God, but with a better theology than a lot of the romanticized and self-centered music I wish the Church in America would stop singing. Finally letting go of the “I love you God, I want you, I’m a good person” type lines, CompassionArt is much more likely to say “God, change us, help us to do your work,” or simply “God, you are good,” which to me sounds much more in line with how Jesus taught us to pray.

Also of note, CompassionArt is being sold in conjunction with a book called “The Art of Compassion,” containing the stories of the twelve songwriters involved and their thoughts on how “compassion can unlock real transformation in the world.”

[Official Site]

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