Album Review :
Various Artists - My Hope: Songs Inspired by the Message and Mission of Billy Graham

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Artist: Various Artists
Title: My Hope: Songs Inspired by the Message and Mission of Billy Graham
Label: Capitol Christian Distribution
Release Date: 10/15/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. We Believe (Newsboys)
  2. So Loved (Matthew West)
  3. The Reason (Lacey Sturm)
  4. The Cross is My Confession (Kari Jobe)
  5. Take Me Home (Michael W. Smith)
  6. Be My Rescue (Nichole Nordeman)
  7. Broken Pieces (Israel Houghton)
  8. Jesus, Take All Of Me (Amy Grant)
  9. The Cross of Christ (Darlene Zschech)
  10. My Hope (Tommy Coomes Band)
  11. Mercy Tree (Lacey Sturm)
  12. City on our Knees (TobyMac)

‘…it really all started when Billy went to preach again. And he’s going to write this book called ‘My Hope’ to preach, then all us music folks are going ‘wow, wouldn’t it be awesome to create and build something around ‘My Hope’’?. One day I wrote this little melody in my studio, and I just couldn’t help but think about Billy, it really had one phrase when I wrote it, it was called ‘take me home’…why don’t we write this from his perspective, him talking to Jesus?…’ Michael W. Smith, one of the men who pioneered this collaborative effort to create this musical compilation of artists singing melodies inspired both by Billy’s life in general, and the impact Billy had on their own lives throughout their walk with Christ; speaks out these words from the EPK of this album; and from when you first hear the emotion, immensity and power attached to these words as Michael speaks them out, you know the album’s going to be special. And why wouldn’t it? Billy Graham is arguably one of Christianity’s most respected, eloquent, passionate and enthusiastic speakers of the modern era. Even my parents remember the times during the 1960s and 1970s when Billy used to come to Australia and millions of people would come to see him preach at the Randwick Racecourse. And while it’s not done now- in fact, I can’t really name another who could come and fill up the whole of Randwick Racecourse with eager listeners willing to hear the gospel of Jesus- God was and is still moving through this man who just had his 95th birthday this last month. Billy’s legacy is as remarkable as any other pioneer of the Christian faith, often himself being spiritual advisors to many of the U.S. Presidents throughout the years. Standing faithful to the gospel and the Word of Christ throughout many decades (even when his colleague and friend from university days eventually died an agnostic); this compilation album full of some of today’s most popular artists (Newsboys, Kari Jobe, Michael W. Smith, Lacey Sturm, TobyMac, Matthew West) is kind of a tribute to him, reminding us that a man such as Billy, as ordinary as he was before he started as a preacher, was able to do great things, with the Holy Spirit within him. A testament to the power of God and an encouragement to each of us as we hear these songs, this is equally a ministry to Billy as well as a tool for evangelism. From worshipful anthem ‘We Believe’ to the gospel-in-song ‘So Loved’ and the classic hymn ‘Just as I Am (Jesus, Take All of Me)’; My Hope: Songs Inspired By the Message and Mission of Billy Graham is destined to change the lives of those who hear it. My favourite special event album of the year (even beating Jesus Firm Foundation); this is an album for CCM enthusiasts and those who respect Billy Graham’s ministry alike, with songs like ‘We Believe’ and ‘So Loved’ soaring into some of my favourite songs of 2013 so far!

With each of the songs reminding us of the impact of the gospel, and more importantly, the ability of Billy to present the gospel in a profound and impacting way all throughout his ministry as a preacher and communicator; these songs take on a whole new meaning as we witness each of these artists unveil their own hearts and what they want listeners to hear as Billy’s ministry gives us the confidence to live our own lives fully for Christ. The album begins with Newsboys’s worshipful anthem, ‘We Believe’. Penned by Richie Fike and Travis Ryan, the Newsboys bring to the album a song that is one of the most emotional, hard-hitting, encouraging and confronting since Third Day’s rendition of Rich Mullin’s ‘Creed’, a melody also giving us similar themes of what we believe in as Christians to be true and impacting in our lives. Also track 11 on their studio album Restart, Michael, Duncan, Jody and Jeff together invite us to commune together with them in a stunning and powerful worshipful ballad and hopefully a certain radio single in weeks and months to come. Michael powerfully lets us know that ‘…we believe in God the Father, we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in the Holy Spirit, and He’s giving us new life, we believe in the crucifixion, we believe that He conquered death, we believe in the resurrection and He’s coming back again…’, something us Christians can testify and proclaim to as we collectively worship the King who set us free. With the song a perfect start to an album with a central theme of declaring Christ to be the King, and our response in worship to His own sacrifice on the cross; ‘We Believe’ is almost certain to be on WOW Hits 2015, and hopefully one of the biggest and popular singles of the Newsboys’s career since ‘He Reigns’ (if it’s not released as a radio single, then the marketing executives are making a big mistake!). A highlight on both Restart and My Hope; this is a testimony, not only of the Newsboys, or Billy, but of every Christian that has been impacted by the gospel. Full of jubilation and exaltation, it is great to start off the album with the proclaiming and prophetic words of how ‘…in this broken generation, when all is dark, You help us see, there is only one salvation, we believe…’

Since her last studio album in 2005 (Brave), Nichole Nordeman has taken more of a backseat in terms of albums and recording to be more of a mother and songwriter. Since her chart-topping album, she has delivered some great singles afterward, from ‘Beautiful for Me’, ‘I’m With You’, ‘Turn Your Eyes (Look Up)’, and now, ‘Be My Rescue’. A certain highlight on this compilation album, the melody is one of my personal favourites as Nichole delivers a song where she longs for God to be her rescue (and hopefully the rescue of other listeners who hear this melody and relate to it). With Nichole writing all the lyrics to one of my favourite albums of all time Music Inspired By The Story, it was great to see her once again use her voice and writing skills to give us a song that uses a great amount of water imagery as we see and envisage God using water (sometimes physical as well as metaphorical) to transform and shape us in our walk with Him. A personal cry for God to be at the centre and forefront of our lives is a great part of the song as a whole. Showing us that she still has a knack for singing and songwriting (further leading her fans to hope and pray for a comeback into music album recording); Nichole’s powerful vocals showcase one of the most vulnerable and honest melodies she has ever done since ‘Holy’ 11 years ago.

Also wearing his heart on his sleeve is Matthew West, singer-songwriter of his latest and arguably his most famous album to date, Into the Light. One of my favourite male vocalists currently; Matthew invites us into a personal journey, as he places his own testimony in relation to how a Billy Graham concert caught the view of himself one day and spoke to his heart, while reminding us poignantly of the gospel in the lyrics of the melody ‘So Loved’- ‘…for God so loved, so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son, for God so loved…’ Simple yet pertinent and crucial to every believer in their faith and central message of what they believe and understand to be true; Matthew’s emotion is brought to the fore in this melody, full of light electric guitars, drums and a choir that is strategically placed in the bridge when Matthew declares ‘hallelujah’, promoting a worshipful sound as we collectively praise and declare out to the Lord in reverence. A great song to be No. 2 and carry on in theme and anthem atmosphere that was shown by ‘We Believe’; Matthew’s unique ability to take other people’s stories (as well as his own) and craft them into something relatable for the listener is what makes his songs meaningful to myself and other fans of his music. Add to these melodies the heartfelt and organ-and-choir ‘My Hope’ by the 20 year old gospel band Tommy Coomes, which is actually an abridged version of their most famous hit and speaks about how our hope and trust is in the Lord (a simple albeit profound message for believers and non-believers alike); and the hymn ‘Just as I Am’ sung by Amy Grant, with an added chorus written by Brenton Brown (which speaks about us longing for Jesus to take all of us- the good parts as well as the dark and hurting aspects of our lives in a moment of clarity and surrender); and you are able to witness an album full of contemporary and upbeat melodies alongside timeless tracks that will hopefully bring in a variety of listeners from different age groups and fans of different musical styles, each of them coming to listen to the album out of respect and honour for Billy and his ministry, as well as them looking for an album full of songs that will edify and encourage the heart and soul!

With a wide variety of music artists and different musical styles to bring in a variety of listeners from all musical tastes, this album has something for anyone who loves a great conglomeration of CCM and pop/worship music. Kari Jobe, from the heels of her success of her Sparrow Records debut album Where I Find You; invites us into an intimate moment of revelation and worship in ‘The Cross is My Confession’, a humble hymn-like melody that gives us the freedom to worship our King as we declare that ‘…by grace received my soul be still, Your work in me in power and will, the Cross, the Cross is my confession…’ With a powerful voice, reverbing keyboard effects and string instruments; Kari’s anthem of worship and praise is destined to be in churches around the world, if not this year then hopefully early in 2014. Ex-lead singer of Flyleaf, Lacey Sturm gives listeners two songs to savour as fans of the old Flyleaf get to hear this vocalist again on songs (and who knows, maybe a solo album from Lacey in the future?). Both ‘The Reason’ and ‘Mercy Tree’ are more along the side of mellow tracks and can on the surface seem a little odd, considering that Lacey’s previous band Flyleaf was more directed to the harder rock scene; however these two songs fit right at home with the more worshipful tracks on My Hope. With ‘The Reason’ being an acoustic guitar and keyboard driven track that utilises Lacey’s powerful vocals to bring forth the theme of us finding the reason for existence- ‘…I was made to be Yours alone…’, and ‘Mercy Tree’ showing Lacey’s reflective and contemplative worship side as she unveils the gospel story in a hymn-like fashion, pouring her heart out in the chorus as she declares that ‘…on that bright and glorious day, when heaven opened up the grave, He’s alive and risen indeed, I’ll praise Him for the mercy tree, death has died, love has won, hallelujah, hallelujah, Jesus Christ has overcome, He has risen from the dead…’; both of Lacey’s tracks are stellar and great highlights on an album with hardly any down-points, if at all.

TobyMac’s new version of ‘City On our Knees’ is uniquely different and welcomed- with no new recordings or even re-recordings by Toby, it is great to see snippets of Billy’s famous speeches slotted in between the lyrics and melody of the song, as we hear Billy declare the importance and pertinence of the gospel and how we as Christians ought to respond to it. Gospel singer Israel Houghton also lends his voice to the project with groovy acoustic melody ‘Broken Pieces’, a heartfelt song inviting us to come to Christ as we are, Him fixing the broken parts of ourselves as we unveil the hurts as well as the triumphs as God uses each part of us to be a vessel for His love wherever and whenever we are; while Australian worship leader Darlene Zschech delivers another Hillsong-esque song full of hope, compassion and church corporate worship atmosphere as the song touches upon how our ‘…hope is found in Jesus, Spirit of life, rising up in me…’ Yet it is Michael W Smith’s emotional track, ‘Take Me Home’, that is able to hit me hard emotionally out of any other song on the album as I place this song as my favourite from Michael for a while (since either ‘Come to the Cross’ or ‘This is Your Time’). A track written by Michael from Billy’s perspective about Billy’s focus on Christ, it is when I hear these words of how ‘…oh won’t You take me home…’ that I realise for myself that we are not home yet, at least not eternally. Having the same effect as Steven Curtis Chapman’s ‘Not Home Yet’; the transientness of life becomes ever-apparent in this song, full of synth, string instruments, and Michael’s passionate vocals, even though at times they could sound like they’re a little electronically altered (maybe as a tool to reinvent himself and his music style to attract younger aged listeners?). Capturing the heart and soul of the album, as well as the urgency and longing for Billy himself to be with the Lord; ‘Take Me Home’ invites us all to take a look at our own lives and whether we can say with that conviction, asking the Lord to take us home, and knowing that everything we have built and amassed won’t be coming with us. Thought provoking and challenging; Michael’s inclusion is just as exciting as Nichole’s. Bring on a new album from Michael in 2014!

Overall: Billy’s life, ministry and ability to draw crowds and share Christ’s love will certainly live on after Billy goes to be with the Lord. A compilation album to give him the honour, respect and tribute he deserves; this album is one of my favourite albums of the year, and my favourite compilation album since the 5 star Music Inspired By the Story. A great step by Capitol Christian Music and the artists involved to give Billy a moment of honour and awe as we look back on a life lived solely for Christ and His kingdom; this is a must buy album, no matter what genre of music you enjoy or listen to. From opening song ‘We Believe’ to ‘Be My Rescue’ and ‘City on Our Knees’; worship, pop, acoustic, rock and moments of reflection are all encompassed in these 12 tracks. Will I be purchasing this album when it arrives at my local Christian bookstore? Definitely? Should you? Read this review, listen to some of the tracks and make a decision for yourself. Regardless, this is a great album, if only for Billy himself to listen to it, proud of his own life and the affection and love Christ has for Him. Well done Michael, the Newsboys, TobyMac and the rest of the artists for giving up their time and effort to tirelessly give us an album to minister both to us and Billy simultaneously!

RIYL: Newsboys, Michael W. Smith, Kari Jobe, Nichole Nordeman

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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