Capitol Christian Music Group
Release Date: September 30th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
WOW – WOW Hits 2015 (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- We Believe [Newsboys]
- The Only Name (Yours Will Be) [Big Daddy Weave]
- Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) [Album Edit] [United]
- Thrive [Casting Crowns]
- Do Something (Radio Version) [Matthew West]
- Back To You [Mandisa]
- Keep Making Me [Sidewalk Prophets]
- I Am [Crowder]
- Waterfall [Chris Tomlin]
- All The People Said Amen [Matt Maher]
- Shake [MercyMe]
- You Won’t Let Go [Michael W. Smith]
- My Heart Is Yours (Radio Version) [Passion (feat. Kristian Stanfill)]
- Glorious Unfolding (Radio Edit) [Steven Curtis Chapman]
- Forever (Radio Version) [Kari Jobe]
- I Will Follow [Jon Guerra] BONUS
- Beautiful [Dan Bremnes] BONUS
- Lay It Down [Sanctus Real] BONUS DELUXE
- Mercy (Radio Version) [Matt Redman] BONUS DELUXE
- Lift My Life Up [Unspoken] BONUS DELUXE
- This Is Amazing Grace [Phil Wickham]
- Fix My Eyes [for KING & COUNTRY]
- Speak Life [TobyMac]
- Beautiful Day [Jamie Grace]
- Multiplied [NEEDTOBREATHE]
- More Of You [Colton Dixon]
- Write Your Story [Francesca Battistelli]
- No Man Is an Island [Tenth Avenue North]
- Press On (feat. Blanca Callahan) [Building 429]
- Come Alive [Jeremy Camp]
- Alive (Radio Version) [Young & Free]
- Love Alone Is Worth the Fight [Switchfoot]
- Don’t Deserve You [Plumb]
- Your Love Is Like a River [Third Day]
- He Is With Us [Love & the Outcome]
- Satisfied [About a Mile] BONUS
- Words (feat. Bart Millard) [Hawk Nelson] BONUS DELUXE
- American Noise [Skillet] BONUS DELUXE
- Ready Set Go (feat. Capital Kings) [Royal Tailor] BONUS DELUXE
Each year around the months of September/October, WOW Hits releases their annual album, previously of 33 hits (and now 39) of Christian music that charted the radio that particular year (e.g.: WOW Hits 2015, released in 2014, showcases radio hits of 2014). Often declaring that these songs on WOW albums were/are the year’s best, the decisions made of what songs to include and which songs to omit were left to the three Christian label umbrella groups (Capitol CMG, Provident Label Group and WORD Label Group). Around since 1995, WOW Hits has become a staple brand in the Christian music culture, rivalling the mainstream NOW That’s What I Call Music!, as they pride themselves to collate a list of songs that have been in the hearts of many throughout the year. Some song decisions are timely, and others not so much, and while WOW Hits 2015 is a much improvement compared to recent WOW albums; there are still noticeable artist absences and song choices that make the CCM lover like myself intrigued, puzzled and confused. Which begs the question- is WOW Hits even relevant anymore?
With the influx of new artists and the departure of others, the question of whether WOW gives us relevant hits and timely songs to serve each listeners genre preference is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, WOW Hits 2015 does make a solid attempt at delivering some of Christian music’s powerful songs and hits, even if a fair few of them aren’t as timely as even I would like. While I could accept that WOW Hits don’t expose certain artists to the compilation because of favouritism of others, WOW Hits 2015 sadly feels like WOW Hits 2014/15, which is unfortunate. Therefore, in order for the Christian music compilation series to attract more casual listeners of the CCM genre, a better solution could be to follow the bold decision they initially did when they released WOW Hits 1- maybe 3 albums a year? A WOW Hits list won’t serve everyone’s genre preference, and while this year’s double disc collection of WOW Hits is on par with my personal standout albums WOW Hits 2007 and WOW Hits 2005; WOW has a long way to go if they want to call themselves a compilation that gives us the best songs Christian music has to offer.
A quick snapshot of both Disc 1 and Disc 2 of this new compilation show us that WOW is moving into the right direction when it comes to current radio hits. Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Glorious Unfolding” (a poignant melody that encourages us to watch and see how God weaves through every circumstance and make our lives much more than we can see or imagine), the worshipful “I Am” and “Waterfall” by Crowder and Chris Tomlin respectively, the apostle’s creed inspired Newsboys recorded “We Believe”, Hillsong power ballad “Oceans” and Casting Crowns’s ‘roots and reach’ philosophical melody “Thrive” (which encourages us all to delve deep in God’s Word and reach out to the people around us); are all standouts on Disc 1, showing us the reliability and relevance of these Adult Contemporary/Pop artists that continue to please listeners time and time again.
Matthew West delivers poignancy in “Do Something”, a call to action melody that gives us resolve to do things for the kingdom of God, while Kari Jobe offers us a Bethel Music recent hit, “Forever”. K-Love Fan Awards song of the Year nominee “The Only Name” (Big Daddy Weave) makes an appearance as well, and when you add in the ever reliable Michael W. Smith (with his infectious worshipful “You Won’t Let Go”, his first WOW appearance since “Mighty to Save” on WOW Hits 2010), and MercyMe (with their dance/retro/alternative 3 minute melody “Shake”, encouraging us all to shake about out of the love and change inside of us from Christ); Disc 1 boasts a very steady line-up that is since my favourite batch of songs on a first disc since WOW Hits 2009.
With more of a Pop/Rock focus compared to the AC/Insp Disc 1, Disc 2 continues to bring the year’s highlights, from the synth/electronic “Fix My Eyes”, a challenging yet motivating melody to fix our eyes on the things eternal from Aussie duo for KING & COUNTRY, to Switchfoot’s radio friendly “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” (an encouragement to pursue love in all actions and circumstances), “Write Your Story”, a soulful surrendering-to-God melody from Francesca Battistelli, and “No Man Is An Island”, from genius Mike Donehey and his band Tenth Avenue North, one of my favourite songs of the year as he describe life as being lived with others and not by ourselves. Hillsong Young and Free, the youth branch of the Hillsong franchise, offer up energetic “Alive” for pop/rock/dance enthusiasts, while Southern Rockers NEEDTOBREATHE show us arguably their most worshipful song of their career, “Multiplied”. Phil Wickham, never on a WOW Hits before, makes a surprise addition with “This is Amazing Grace”, a song recently recorded by Bethel Music and showing us how amazing grace really is, not only within us but in every circumstance and community we are in.
Canadian duo Love And the Outcome were a welcome surprise to Disc 2 of WOW Hits 2015, and while I myself would’ve expected a more recent hit like “King of My Heart” instead of “He is With Us”, Love and the Outcome’s first single from their self-titled debut is otherwise a great song, comforting us and a great reminder of God’s faithfulness in troubled times. Add to the song line-up Colton Dixon bolter “More of You” (a rock-worship anthem declaring for us to have more of God), TobyMac’s “Speak Life” (a life affirming melody with the poignancy to bring listeners into the theme of speaking words of encouragement to one another) and “Press On”, Building 429’s duet with ex-Group 1 Crew vocalist Blanca about pressing on til we reach our goal and ultimate prize which is Jesus; Disc 2 continues to be a formidable set of songs that appeal to listeners who enjoy are more pop musical genre and taste compared to the worship and adult contemporary of disc 1.
Bonus songs on WOW Hits albums are always fun to enjoy- with songs from up and coming artists that hopefully attract interest in not only these artists but in the WOW brand as well, it is the assertion that these new artists ought to be on our radar in the near future that makes WOW albums interesting. About a Mile, Dan Bremnes and Jon Guerra, on Word Records, Sparrow Records and Essential Worship respectively, are the artists WOW wants us to take notice of throughout 2014 and into 2015, each of them giving us unique songs about our relationship with Christ. About a Mile’s “Satisfied” encourages us to be only satisfied in Christ as the lead singer of the band does his best to sound like Jason Wade of Lifehouse, while Canadian Dan Bremnes provides one of the most enjoyable radio songs of the year in “Beautiful”, and Jon unearths a worship ballad in “I Will Follow”, a prayer that ought to be sung as we believe the song lyrics that ‘…I believe everything that You say You are…I believe and I will follow You…’
While many new and up and coming artists were overlooked in favour of these three (Lauren Daigle, Lindsay McCaul, Moriah Peters, Bellarive, David Dunn, 1 Girl Nation, Shine Bright Baby, Danny Gokey, to name a few), About a Mile, Dan and Jon nevertheless give us a great snapshot of new artists in the given year of 2014, as we are continuously reminded of the music out there that ought to demand our attention if we want to support the up and coming artist just as much as the seasoned veteran. Three deluxe songs each on both disc 1 and 2 (songs from Hawk Nelson, Royal Tailor, Skillet, Matt Redman, Unspoken and Sanctus Real) round out the 39 tracks, and while I would still hope for newer artists to be placed within the Deluxe Edition only tracks instead of seasoned veterans- whom all deserve to be within the 15; these 6 artists offer songs that continue to impact radio currently, even though some song choices were a bit dated (how about “Not Gonna Die” instead of “American Noise”, “Faithful” instead of “Words”, “Start A Fire” in place of “Lift My Life Up”?).
With every good things comes a bad, and this isn’t any different regarding song choices on WOW Hits 2015. While there have been many good and timely choices regarding which songs to consider when amassing a 39 song album full of standout melodies that have charted successfully throughout the year, I can’t help but wonder- whether the executives at WOW Hits are favouring certain artists above others, or they just don’t like certain labels, because frankly, with every great 39 tracks, there are another 39 that didn’t make it. Mikeschair’s “People Like Me”, a heartfelt prayer to God asking for Him the question of ‘…tell me that grace was made for people like me…’, received much radio success throughout 2014, nevertheless, it was unfortunate to not see the quintet amongst the WOW Hits 2015 song list. Natalie Grant, The Afters and Josh Wilson were all on Disc 2 of WOW Hits 2014 as bonus songs- and this time, you would’ve thought that with their singles of “In the End”, “Broken Hallelujah” and “Pushing Back the Dark” respectively, they’d be automatic shoe-ins into the WOW list- alas, this was not the case.
Centricity Music, home to artists like Lindsay McCaul, Jason Gray and Aaron Shust, only had one representative on WOW Hits 2015 (Unspoken), as well as on WOW Hits 2014 (Jason Gray) and WOW Hits 2013 (Aaron Shust)- is there a deal with WOW Hits that there can only be one representative from Centricity Music on WOW albums? It’s a shame, considering Jason’s chart topping song “With Every Act of Love” (a song that encourages us to show love to everyone we meet), Aaron’s worship cover “No One Higher” and Lindsay’s vulnerable “Empty Handed” (coming empty handed to the cross and receiving the grace given) were some of 2014’s highlights in Christian music; and newcomer to Centricity Lauren Daigle’s melody “How Can It Be” is receiving traction and popularity currently- maybe a definite for WOW Hits 2016 then? Gotee Records alumni Family Force 5 recently signed to Word Label Group, and released their CCM single “Let it Be Love” to much success… is it because of the reputation of the band as being heavy rock musicians the fact that “Let it Be Love” can’t sneak in on a WOW album?
Audio Adrenaline, 1 Girl Nation, Everfound and Group 1 Crew all lost members, or changed personnel throughout the year- maybe that was the reason their songs, “He Moves You Move”, “Turn Around”, “God of the Impossible” and “A Little Closer” were shunned from the WOW Hits 2015 list… and then when you think of both Shawn McDonald, who made a comeback to music after a hiatus with out of the box pop anthem “We Are Brave”, and Rush of Fools, who also made a comeback to their familiar pop worship genre with “Held in Your Hands”, as well as pop anthems “You Carry Me” (Moriah Peters), “Our Only Hope” (Dara MacLean), “Hope in Front of Me” (Danny Gokey), “Heartbeat” (City Harbor), “You Remain” (Tim Timmons), “Time’s Not Waiting” (Stellar Kart) and “Bring Us Back” (Bellarive), that sadly didn’t make the cut; you wonder who is making WOW Hits albums and whether they have bias to certain artists and labels ahead of others.
I’ve noticed lately on WOW Hits albums is that despite the assertion that this type of compilation album provides us with the best of the best- whole record labels are shunned. With no representatives from Integrity Music or Inpop Records, it would’ve been nice to see artists like Rend Collective (“My Lighthouse”), Lincoln Brewster (“Made New”), Superchick (“Sunshine”), JJ Weeks Band (“Let Them See You”), Tricia (“What I Know”) or Shane Harper (“Hold You Up”) snuck on WOW Hits 2015. Curb Records, with the exception of Plumb, were also not represented- which was a shame. Alongside Mikeschair and Natalie Grant, it would’ve been nice to see “All Eyes on You” of the energetic OBB (presenting a theme of focusing our eyes on Jesus regardless what is happening around us) earn a spot in the coveted WOW Hits line-up.
Then it comes to the issue of timeliness- as much as I love Third Day, their melody “Your Love Is Like a River”, while great, is heavily dated- as is songs from artists like Big Daddy Weave, Plumb, Hawk Nelson, Jamie Grace (“Fighter” or “Do Life Big” anyone?) and Skillet. Portland Oregon quartet Kutless released their album Glory in February 2014, with the singles “Never Too Late” and “You Alone”… you would’ve thought they would be on WOW Hits 2015? Your guess is no? Then you are correct. Enter in the fact they are completely bypassing DREAM Records with artists like Jonathan Thulin (“Architecture”), Press Play (“#LITO”), Satellites and Sirens (“Jump Start My Heart”) and Loftland (“Hold On, Small One”) as viable options for WOW Hits 2015 song choices, all the while not investing in indie artists with popular songs.
With indie artists possibly bolstering the song lineup (who may or may not have been once signed)- where were artists like Peter Furler Band (“Sun and Shield”), Ellie Holcomb (“The Broken Beautiful”), Leeland (“Christ Be All Around Me”), Kerrie Roberts (“Come Back to Life”), Carman (“Yes, Yes”), Beth Hazel Farris (“Follow Me”), Anthony Evans (“Never Fail”), Brett Younker (“Burning in My Soul”), Charmaine (“Love Somebody”), John Waller (“Orphan”) or Holly Starr (“God Is”)? You’re left wondering what the criteria for a song to be on WOW Hits really is- because it is good, or because it is popular? Would WOW Hits 2015 be better as 3 Discs instead of 2?
Looking at the track list for WOW Hits 2015, there is a trend- be signed to a label (one of Capitol CMG, Provident or Word Label Group) and you could have a chance at being on the most controversial, celebrated, talked about CCM album of the year. Despite all my grievances of WOW Hits 2015; one thing is clear- in its own right, WOW Hits 2015 is a great album- with songs that uplift, and others that give us an atmosphere of pop/rock, all of which have been circulating radio the last year or so. Yet when we look deeper into the process of selection, and see which songs were omitted, which songs were chosen, and which songs were bypassed altogether, you start to see that WOW Hits sadly advocates sameness ahead of bold decisions.
A few years ago, I wrote a review of WOW Hits 2013 for IndieVisionMusic. Here, I wrote thoughts that expressed that ‘…of late, despite a few songs here and there, song selections have been few and far between as poor dated melodies by the same artists year after year always seem to take precedence over artists that may seem like they ‘fly-under-the-radar’, but nevertheless equally deserve their opportunity to assert themselves as some of the best musical offerings of that particular year…’ Looking at this statement, I can’t agree more, even now. Don’t misunderstand me, this is a great album. For the casual listener, this does provide a decent snapshot of 2014 and Christian music.
Yet for the WOW brand to claim these songs are this year’s best, when others have been omitted that I reckon deserved a chance at the coveted title, seems absurd more than anything else. Like I mentioned in previous reviews for IVM, WOW should think of giving us the best 39, not the most popular or publicised 39. Maybe a rebranding is necessary- dropping artists like Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, SCC or MWS from the lineup, like Rebecca St. James, BarlowGirl, Bebo Norman, Avalon, Rachael Lampa and Point of Grace before. That being said, I will still buy the album, if only to play in the CD player of the car. Now…off to my iTunes to listen to songs from artists that are not on WOW Hits 2015! Maybe I should start lobbying for WOW Hits 2? (WOW Hits 1 was published April 2008!).
10 songs to listen to: We Believe, I Am, Glorious Unfolding, Beautiful, Ready Set Go, Fix My Eyes, Write Your Story, No Man is An Island, Do Something, Love Alone is Worth the Fight
RIYL: Casting Crowns, Francesca Battistelli, Mandisa, Matthew West, Chris Tomlin