Bethel Music Publishing
Release Date: January 25th 2019
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Raise a Hallelujah (Jonathan & Melissa Helser)
- Goodness of God (Jenn Johnson)
- Ain’t No Grave (Molly Skaggs)
- Stand in Your Love (Josh Baldwin)
- Victory is Yours (Bethany Wohrle)
- There’s a Name (Sean Feucht)
- Promises Never Fail (Emmy Rose)
- Praise is the Highway (Brian Johnson)
- Drenched in Love (Daniel Bashta & Harvest)
- Every Crown (Kalley Heiligenthal)
- How Great a King (Paul McClure & Hannah McClure)
- Christ is Risen (Hunter GK. Thompson)
- Living Hope (Brian & Jenn Johnson)
- Endless Alleluia (Cory Asbury)
One of the most popular worship movements over the last 10 years since their inception in the late 2000s, this music and the prophetic movement that arose from Redding, California has become such a poignant and emotive force that has changed the landscape of the worship music genre in all its facets. Equally lyrically challenging and compelling as any other group like Hillsong UNITED or even the music borne out of the annual Passion Conferences (that launched careers from artists like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Crowder and the like!); Bethel Music, helmed by worship leaders Brian and Jenn Johnson, and their team of other artists like Amanda Cook, Cory Asbury, Jonathan & Melissa Helser, Josh Baldwin, Steffany Gretzinger and Kristene DiMarco, to name a few; have become a household name. Known primarily for the annual albums they release, Bethel Music have been known for delivering encouraging and empowering songs, from ‘Forever’, ‘Reckless Love’, ‘Come to Me’, ‘You Make Me Brave’, ‘Chasing You’ and ‘This is Amazing Grace’, to ‘Take Courage’, ‘It is Well’ and ‘No Longer Slaves’. This is no different on their new 2019 live album Victory.
Unlike other worship movements (a la Hillsong and Planetshakers) that churn out albums continuously, sometimes multiple in any given year, thereby their albums seemingly being ‘stale’ and ‘cookie-cutter’ at times; Bethel Music have been known to stew on songs for a bit, releasing albums at a less frequent time frame as opposed to much of their worship music contemporaries. Prior to Victory, Bethel Music’s last album was 2017’s Starlight, and even that album only featured the women of Bethel (rather than the whole Bethel Music collective). They’ve also recorded full length studio albums (Tides), acoustic albums (The Loft Sessions) as well as instrumental albums (Without Words, Without Words: Synesthesia), and children’s albums (Bethel Music Kids: Bright Ones) throughout their musical discography, which sets them apart from I reckon most, if not all, of the worship movements currently active- Bethel have reminded to us that live, studio, instrumental and acoustic albums can all co-exist in one artist/band’s discography, thereby creating versatility and the appeal to a wider community that may prefer certain musical styles over others.
Bethel Music have revolutionised the culture of worship music today, alongside other artists like Crowder, All Sons and Daughters, Paul Baloche and UNITED. Even if we may not enjoy their whole catalogue of music, there will nevertheless be some songs on each album that we enjoy on a regular basis. One glance through Victory and you can see songs that we can be instantly familiar with- ‘Living Hope’ featuring worship leader Bethany Wohrle, ‘Stand in Your Love’ featuring Josh Baldwin, ‘Praise is the Highway’, originally on Chris Tomlin’s Holy Roar and now featuring Brian Johnson on lead vocals, ‘Christ is Risen’, again originally by Phil Wickham on his album Living Hope and now represented here by Hunter G. Thompson, as well as album ender ‘Endless Alleluia’, presented by viral worship artist sensation Cory Asbury. All these songs aforementioned have been released in some shape or form in 2018, and all have been reviewed in some way or another on this site (Living Hope– Phil Wickham, Holy Roar– Chris Tomlin, Reckless Love- Cory Asbury, Stand in Your Love (Single)– Josh Baldwin), and thus, for me to just regurgitate the reviews of these aforementioned songs right here in this review can seem a little redundant. But what I will say is this- all these songs that have had success throughout the last year when they were placed and recorded and sung on other albums, are nevertheless still standouts here, as songs like ‘Stand in Your Love’ becomes the anchor, both musically and lyrically, of the whole entire Bethel Music album Victory. And while at times these songs can be a little dragging (for me, I’m ok with long songs, just so long as the arrangement is engaging and the chorus isn’t repeated 50 000 times!), Bethel on the whole have created songs that stir at the heart and tug at the soul, with songs like ‘Living Hope’ and ‘Endless Alleluia’ destined to become fan favourites in churches around the world in the months and even years to come. And while for me, it seemed like ‘Praise is the Highway’ was an obscure song to place on Victory, considering it wasn’t really a standout for me when I heard Holy Roar in its entirety not too long ago, Brian nevertheless co-wrote the song with Chris Tomlin, thus, the inclusion of the track on Victory is warranted. Hopefully, hearing this song a few more times can make the studio recording with Chris more compelling and impactful when I listen to that track in the future!
Throughout the rest of the album, we are given newer songs that are just as great as the songs we already know, as Bethel Music begins to experiment musically in a wide variety of these songs, some having better results than others. Co-writers and singers of the hit song ‘No Longer Slaves’, Jonathan and Melissa Helser lend their voices to album opener ‘Raise a Hallelujah’, a song that sadly drags on for longer than it could’ve and should’ve been. Despite its song length, ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ as a song is good, full of life and energy, anthemic and declaratory as the husband-and-wife duo invite us all to declare a hallelujah alongside them, in the presence of the things that are not going right for us. A song that places us in a right frame of mind as we posture our hearts to have one of worship and praise, ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ brings forth the acoustic and folk atmosphere and meshing it together in a worship setting, and surprisingly, it works! ‘Goodness of God’, led by Jenn Johnson, is presented in a hymn-like refrain as this track, for me, has the potential of becoming the next ‘God I Look to You’ or even ‘Come to Me’, a song that Jenn has led that has taken off both as an anthem as well as a life-changing song that can help and heal many who hear such a song full of life, zeal, hope and poignancy. ‘Ain’t No Grave’, a cover of the southern gospel hymn from long ago, is given the Bethel Music treatment, with lead singer Molly Skaggs (yes, daughter of country/gospel legend Ricky Skaggs) delivering what I reckon is one of the highlights of Victory, as Molly presents the song in true bluegrass/worship fashion. A song that reminds us that timeless songs are still popular and ring true now as they did when they were written, we are starting to see older songs redone as a part of bringing in a younger generation as they hear songs from yesteryear presented in a way that even the younger generation can get behind. The collective three tracks ‘Victory is Yours’, ‘There is a Name’ and ‘Promises Never Fail’ (the latter was recorded in Spanish to be on Bethel’s first Spanish album released just last week Friday) are next, led by Bethany Wohrle, Sean Feucht and newcomer Emmy Rose respectively, and while each of the songs by themselves are great, together they can seem like a stream of songs that by the end of ‘Promises Never Fail’, you could forget how ‘Victory Is Yours’ sounds like, that’s if you are only a casual listener of the band, sad to say. Never mind if you are a great Bethel music advocate, these songs will still resonate.
And yet somewhere between listening to these songs and writing this review, I’ve come to find that on the whole, live worship music seems to drag on a little. The same can be said about Victory– it’s not Bethel Music’s fault, the songs are the way they are to facilitate free worship at times. Nevertheless, for the listener who’s listening on his own at home, a long song on an album can turn them off the rest of the album. Thankfully, I have heard the entire album for review purposes, and can safely say that if you were to stop at, let’s say the first track ‘Raise A Hallelujah’ because it is deemed ‘too long’, you’d miss out on the rest of the goodness that is relayed to us through the rest of the songs. But if I’m completely honest, if I was just a casual listener of the band and wasn’t reviewing the album at all, I’d probably wouldn’t listen to the whole album, primarily because of the song length of a majority of the songs, not only on Victory, but throughout most of their music discography as well!
‘Drenched in Love’ is sung by the ever-reliable Daniel Bashta, songwriter of arguably one of the decades most rousing and impactful worship songs ever, ‘God’s Not Dead’. Sung with his sister Harvest as backing vocals, ‘Drenched in Love’ takes influence from Rend Collective, as this song itself feels more at home on the Northern Irish band’s album rather than Bethel’s…nevertheless, ‘Drenched in Love’ is vibrant and unique, poweful and emotive, as Daniel utilises a stanza of ‘Nothing But the Blood’ in this song, a clever notion to remind us that classic hymns can marry up with newer-style tracks, and it can still be ok! ‘Every Crown’ sung by Kalley Heiligenthal (singer/songwriter of the hit song ‘Ever Be’), is once again another standard worship melody, and while the song is very sincere and honest, it doesn’t really have the wow factor that ‘Ever Be’ had all those years ago (also led and written by Kalley). For me the song itself here on Victory could’ve been sung by another artist and it would’ve been ok. Which doesn’t bode well if you want Bethel to become more inventive and ingenius with their songs in general. Sad to say, ‘Every Crown’ doesn’t have the standout factor that has been present in many of the songs of the past, from ‘You’re Not Alone’ (Meredith Andrews) and ‘Touch the Sky’ (UNITED), to ‘What a Beautiful Name’ (Hillsong Worship) and ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ (Leeland). Nevertheless, Kalley has delivered her all, and though for me, it wasn’t a standout, for others who hear the song, it could be. ‘How Great a King’ is the last remaining song on Victory that we haven’t heard prior to hearing this album in its entirety, as Paul and Hannah McClure present a song that brings about a sense of rousing renewal and a poetic atmosphere as this hymn-like melody continues to make this album different and left-field compared to any Bethel album of the past. Well done Paul and Hannah, who have divulged strong Biblical truths, in a song that is destined to come across at least some Sunday morning church service worship teams in the future.
So there you have it…Victory. Yes, there are songs that we’ve heard before. And because of that, the remaining songs pale (from slightly to very much so) in comparison, that’s just how it is. But, I reckon the familiarity of the album as a whole is what will work in favour of Bethel and encourage people toe hear an album from a group they may not have explored if it wasn’t for the track listing. Nevertheless, Bethel Music, for what they have produced throughout their career, are a force in the worship music industry to be reckoned with, and Victory continues with that assertion. Here’s hoping that some of the songs that I haven’t heard prior to the release of the album, will grow on me upon multiple listens, in the future. Well done Brian Johnson and the worship team for creating an album full of hope and life, with many of its standout songs being songs we’ve come to know and love over the last year or so. Can’t wait to put this album on repeat again and again. A definte standout on January 2019, and maybe, just maybe, a nomination for Worship album of the Year come October-time for the 2019 Dove Awards?
3 songs to listen to: Stand in Your Love, Christ is Risen, Endless Alleluia
RIYL: Jesus Culture, UNITED, Young & Free, Passion Music