The Five Best Modern Worship Songs You (Probably) Never Heard Of

June 13, 2009

Been hard at work on the Synchronicity podcast lately, so I haven’t been posting any, but I just started listening to the latest Hillsong United album, and it has me thinking about some older modern worship songs that I really love.

Modern and contemporary worship has a reputation among a lot of folks as being bland and uninspired. The typical critique is that it is no more than 3 chords played repeatedly to some bland and theologically questionable lyrics. My experience has been very hit-and-miss, but over the years, I’ve run across some stuff that I’ve found to be very inspiring, and some of it has never been widely used in worship events, at least that I know of.

What follows is my list of my top five songs that never seemed to “make it big.”

#5: I Was Made for Loving You (Rock n Roll Worship Circus, Welcome to the Rock n Roll Worship Circus). Rock n Roll Worship Circus brought a vintage 60s/70s rock feel to their music that made their concerts feel about halfway like Church and halfway like Woodstock. The chorus starts and peaks with the triumphant lyric: “And when I dance with you/I’ve finally found my place/Its so extraordinary/in a normal way/Cause I was made for loving you.” Another really good track on the same album is the prophetic-sounding and Pink Floyd-esque The Undiscovered.

#4: Hallelujah (Newsboys, Adoration). If there is one concept in New Testament theology that seems largely lost on the modern Church, it is realized eschatology (what some call “the already and the not yet"). This song, however, gets it right, and does it in the bright, flashy style of that makes the Newsboys irresistable: “And I know that its coming/but I can’t see it now/And I’ve touched it in moments/but I can’t hold it yet/And it glows in the darkness/And it calls us away/to that true destination/to that glorious day.” The title track on this album, which celebrates the way the Christ child “grabs my finger and he won’t let go” also offers a very cool metaphor for God’s love and grace.

#3: Hosanna (Jason Morant, Open). Morant brings a coffee house rock feel to his worship music, and – on an album with a lot of lyrically rich tracks – this one stands above the rest. Hosanna alternates between meditations on Christ’s humanity and his divinity (“He humbly dressed just like a vagabond/with discourse like a king/And when he talked/the angels stopped to listen”). The last lyrics are beautifully punctuated by a 5 minute instrumental-only section that arcs from quiet simplicity to full-orchestral triumph to serene peace.

#2: You Are Good (Jeff Deyo, Saturate and Surrender). I’m becoming a big liturgical junkie these days, but every once in a while, I still need a good-old-fashioned, ear-ringing, hand-raising, quasi-Charismatic worship experience to shake things up. Deyo does this better than anyone that I know of. You Are Good, however, is a marked contrast for Deyo. It comes on the Saturate album in three tracks, two of which are instrument-only meditation pieces featuring piano and string. The middle track contains this simple song with a beautiful melody. I don’t know why more churches don’t do this one – or at least use it for altar calls and eucharist background. It really is wonderful. For a more rock-oriented version of the song that gives you a feel for how it works in one of Deyo’s worship events, check out the same song on the Surrender album.

#1: Unify (Hillsong United, To the Ends of the Earth). “The whole earth falls to its knees/at the sound of your beautiful Name/And all the voices in the world/unify today/to bring you this song of praise.” From the first time it is presented as a soft understatement, the lyrics to this chorus make the hairs on my arms stand up. Also subtlety playing on the idea of realized eschatology (the lyrics are present tense, but they speak of a reality we aren’t fully experiencing), these lyrics are presented as a song which is offered by all humanity on the day when God’s kingdom is fully realized. The chorus builds and repeats multiple times, which I know is a turn-off to some, but which I really love when its done right. Michele Fragar, the vocalist on this track is just unbelievable. I don’t know why this one never became as popular as some of the other stuff that has come out of the Hillsong church.

The missional-oriented title track on this album is also worthy of a lot more use than it is getting.

So…what songs would you place on this list?


Unveil Unveiled

May 21, 2007

Unveil, Jeff Deyo’s new worship album, releases on Tuesday, May 22. I have been a huge admirer of Deyo’s worship music ever since his days with the old-school SONICFLOOd many, many years ago. And it won’t come as a surprise to those who know me well that I was eager to place a pre-order on Unveil so I could get access to pre-release mp3s of the album.

Over the years, Deyo has been one of the few modern worship artists who has been willing to truly pull out the plug when it comes to unapologetically integrating a full, driving modern rock sound into worship music. That sound, together with Deyo’s passionate lyrics, have resulted in Deyo’s previous albums having a near permanent presence in my car’s CD player.

Deyo’s latest effort reflects a new level of maturity in two ways. First, while Deyo has never written music with the lyrical sophistication of – say – a Jason Morant (which is okay – simple, passionate lyrics work well in his music), this album definitely has a few thought-provoking moments. Here are a couple of my favorite lyrical moments, from the slow-building ballad entitled Glory:

Creation groans for that great day/when heaven and earth collide

With praise we walk against the night/this battle we have won/because of Christ our savior-king at last it will be done

I’m also impressed with the way Jeff’s music seems ready-made for worship events. These aren’t radio-songs that can be adapted for church purposes. They are songs written for live worship experiences that are adapted to an album format. Every chorus, every pre-chorus, every bridge feels faithfully assembled with an eye toward deployment of the key musical moments in a live worship experience, often with what I expect will be great results.

There are a few things I wish were different musically. In several instances, I would have preferred a more straightforward, consistent mix throughout the songs, rather than an effort to place some variation in the instrumentation. Also, the first pre-chorus in I Forever seems to just fall apart before the band reaches the smile-inducing, richly harmonic chorus. But those are minor complaints. Unveil may be the deepest, best-sounding effort from Jeff Deyo yet, and it will be an important component of my personal devotional life for many months to come.

You can listen to parts of the album here.