Songs of Praise
2007 / Stone Angel Music
Review by Michael Debbage
Songs of Praise is the colliding of several worlds on multiple planes both musically and theologically. It is the clash of an instrumentalist and vocalist, a Mormon and an Evangelical Christian, traditional hymns and worship choruses, classical influences and pop. All these ingredients would suggest a mix that would simply result in a dreadful mess. However, the love and passion that comes from the message of the Gospel finds breathe and life in this inspiring and almost anointed collaboration of pianist Paul Cardall, vocalist Steele Croswhite and friends.
Pure instrumentalist be fairly warned that only four of the eleven tracks presented are non vocal performances. Nevertheless, the opening rendition of the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Paul’s passive piano work is upstaged by the gorgeous violin lead and Steve Sharp Nelson’s heavenly string arrangements. For those of you that desire the instrumentation theme, you will need to skip forward to the fifth track for the more reverent “Redeemer” that clocks in close to six minutes. It is moody, pensive but also very stirring. Meanwhile, Paul closes out the album with two non vocal pieces in the form of “Eden” and “State Of Mind”. The haunting spatial melody of the latter draws comparison from the work explored on Cardall’s 2003 recording Faithful. However, the artist has confirmed that the inspiration comes from his song “The Dream” recorded on The Looking Glass back in 1999.
So what about the vocal tracks? The previously mentioned “Come Thou Fount” hymnal leads right into the more contemporary worship song “Agnus Dei” originally written by famous Christian artist Michael W. Smith. It is here that we are introduced to the relative newcomer vocalist Steele Crosswhite. His style, while never overbearing, is very distinct and unique. The song, much like its original builds in enthusiasm with percussion and choral arrangements pressing the song skyward. Speaking of Michael W. Smith, Cardall and Crosswhite put their spin on the praise song “Breathe” that Smith also covered on his Worship album.
Equally as impressive are Paul’s self penned material “Deeper” and “Grateful” that explore his most contemporary themes to date. Nevertheless, the latter is still simplistic lyrically and musically thanking the Creator for the everyday blessings that we often take for granted. However, in utter contrast there is the conservative yet angelic merger of Steele and Cheri Magill’s vocal harmonies found on the bittersweet Easter Hymn “Green Hill”. Accompanied by an achingly beautiful string arrangement, this song personifies the Passion Of Christ, leaving your eyes drenched and your heart heaving.
From the vocals of Steele Crosswhite, to the string arrangements of Steven Sharp Nelson as well as the warm and meticulous production of Jonathan Shults, Paul Cardall has once again surrounded himself with the A Team. Not hesitating to share the spotlight, it is sometimes easy to forget that the focal point is the pianist. Though he may beg to differ as Songs of Praise is ultimately about bringing back honor to the Creator that has clearly blessed this gifted artist.
January 1, 2007