ACM Review: Cool Springs Records

Don Marsh Presents America’s Choice 30
Publisher: Cool Springs Records Franklin, TN

We'd just been talking about how we really wanted to get some good worship music collections to listen to around the house and in the car, so I was excited at the opportunity to review these CD's for Active Christian Media.

As the name would suggest, this two-CD set features 30 of the worship songs most popular today in churches across the nation.

There are some really wonderful songs on here, and it's a great way to keep your mind focused on God throughout the day.

Musically, however, I was a little disappointed. Great songs, and well performed, but the arrangements were not ideal for the medium. The songs are performed by a large worship team, singing in unison.

This type of arrangement is probably the easiest way to facilitate congregational participation in a live worship service. When everyone in a large group is singing the same thing, it is easy to follow along and join in, even if you have no musical background. The unison serves to help draw everyone into a common experience.

In the context of a recording, however, I found the same format rather isolating. Listening to the CDs, I was aware of a rich communal experience... of which I was decidedly not a part. I could sing along, but even then, there was a sense of being the odd one out. Everyone was singing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place... and so for me to be singing along, much later and far away, felt like something of an anomaly.

Strangely enough, this isn't nearly so such a problem with recordings of soloists, or groups singing in harmony. If everyone is singing something different, and it all meshes together into a unified whole, there is a sense in which there's room for me to sing along, in a different time and place, and still be a part of the same whole. Even if I don't sing along, my aesthetic experience of the relationships between the vocal lines is a vital part of the song.

For instance, God of Wonders (You are Holy) is one of my favorite worship songs. Singing it in unison in the midst of a large congregation sends shivers down my spine, and even in a recording, the Newsboys' rendition never fails to draw me in. By comparison, the unison recording on this album rather fell flat.

There was one song, however, for which the format worked perfectly. Blessed Be the Name is an excellent song taken loosely from the book of Job, expressing the firm commitment to join with Job in blessing the Name of the Lord, regardless of experience. In this case, the music was perfectly suited to the powerful, emphatic words. And because the song was not about emotional experience, but about a commitment to stand firm in the face of fluctuating experience, I could truly participate as a listener. I may not be able to join them in that particular experience of singing together, but I most certainly can join them in praising the One who remains constant through all our varying experiences.

I was a bit startled, though, at the saxophone's gleeful entrance at the end of the song. It struck me as rather out of place with the tone of the song as a whole. I'm not quite sure whether this difference of opinion is musical or theological.

All in all, the collection is very uplifting, but musically speaking, perhaps not ideally designed for home listening. And indeed, I think their main purpose with this project was actually facilitating live worship services for congregations without access to live instrumentalists. This collection, as well as the America's Choice Kids set, also comes in a split-track format.

I'd give it three and a half stars out of five.

(In case you're new to this blog, my name is Elena Johnston, and I'm a mom of three positively adorable toddlers, and ever so blessed to have an amazingly supportive husband who helps me carve out snippets of time to compose, read up on the philosophy of music, and write about my kiddos' antics on this blog. I recieved a copy of this album in exchange for the review, through Stacy Harp, who does a fabulous job of hooking up bloggers with great new Christian media.)


Anonymous said...

I tried to go from your blog to find out how to buy this, but it wouldn't let me. Any ideas?

Elena said...

I'm pretty confused about that, too. The site I linked to was working earlier, but not today... I'll update the link as soon as I find anything out!

Elena said...

They're back up now.