On March 19, SoundForth will release its latest choral recording, “The King of Love.” In anticipation of the release, Dan Forrest sent me a review copy and asked me to share some thoughts here. I do not pretend to be an expert in choral recordings, but here are some thoughts from my little corner of the world.
The choral sound on this album is superb, which is no surprise to those who know the work of the director, Warren Cook. The sound is a mature, rich tone with real depth. This is no typical Christian college choir sound. I’d put this up against St. Olaf or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir any day. The consonants are vibrant, the vowels are pure and rich, each helping to support the vibrant, rich truths of the anthems.
The selections are also, for the most part, good. The texts are simple, yet strong; deep, yet accessible. The musical settings support the texts and grip the affections. The word that comes to mind with this recording is “modest.” In my book, that’s a great quality. You don’t get “swept up” with musical elements there only for spectacle’s sake.
Many of the selections are folk-based, which I see as a strength, especially in recapturing the imaginations of believers who have been captivated by pop music. Folk music is simple and accessible, but profoundly good. And this is not the “folk-with-a-pop-twist” sound that I hear a lot of in some of the popular sacred music of the day. There seems to be a preoccupation today with a quasi-“Celtic” sound with pop elements, but not here. This is legitimate folk, most of the Appalachian or Irish flavor.
I also appreciated how the album closed, not with a “CRASH BANG” spectacular, flashy piece, but a quiet, reflective number accompanied only by acoustical guitar.
What I loved best about the album is that it was recorded by a real choir, not a group of studio musicians. This group of singers, under the direction of Warren Cook, rehearses, performs, and ministers together on a regular basis, and that comes through strong in the communication of these pieces.
The first half of the album is certainly much stronger than the second half (with the exception of “The King of Love,” which is on the second half and is the strongest piece on the recording). The selections are stronger, and there is more variety. The second half, in my opinion, begins to sound all the same. Some sacred music recordings sound all the same because they’re cliche, but that’s not the case with this one. This recording, especially as the second half progresses, lacks variety simply because every selection seems to be based off of similar folk tunes. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – I appreciate the true folk-base of these selections. But one does start to hear redundancies broken only by variety in instrumentation.
I mentioned that the selections are very good, but with one notable exception. The second-to-last track, “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness,” seems to me to be weak compared to some of the other selections. I don’t know if it is just me, but everything on that one lacks the caliber of the other pieces. I was thrilled to see this wonderful Justification text set, but the new tune doesn’t support the depth of the text. I was happy to hear the common tune GERMANY in the middle of the piece, but its entrance sounds abrupt and manufactured. Many of the transitions in this setting sound abrupt, and many of the harmonies carry a bit of a jazz feel. Even the choral tone sounded more “pop.” Again, maybe it was just me, but I didn’t think it fit with the quality of everything else on the album.
Overall, this is a good album, and I can give it a hardy recommendation. I’m thrilled to see some great new recordings coming out of SoundForth, including ” Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise” (see my review here ), “With Grateful Heart,” and “Sun of My Soul.” So go out an order these albums as a way of encouraging more along this line!
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.