Release Date: July 29th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- 1000 Tongues (Andi Rozier)
- I See the Lord (Kyle Fredricks)
- This We Know (Jason Ingram)
- Exalted Over All (Kyle Fredricks)
- Come Holy Spirit (Meredith Andrews)
- Your Mercy (Andi Rozier)
- Set My Heart (Meredith Andrews)
- Let Everything (Gabe Finochio)
- More Than I Deserve (Meredith Andrews)
- Always Have (Jon Guerra)
- Frontiers (Tara Rios)
Since releasing their debut live album Live From Vertical Church 4 years ago, the members of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago who make up this collective called Vertical Church Band, have continued to release songs for the church. While Vertical Church Band don’t necessarily call themselves a band as such, we are reminded that ‘…Vertical Church is a collection of people who play every week in places all over Chicagoland as part of Harvest Bible Chapel, a place that believes singing isn’t a warm-up for the sermon; singing is a warm-up for heaven. So the faces may change. The style may evolve. But the aim will stay the same. Vertical…’ Comprised of worship leaders like Meredith Andrews, Andi Rozier, Tara Rios, Jon Guerra, Kyle Fredricks, Tyler Miller, Rochelle Burlock and Lauren Smith; Vertical Church Band have become one of my favourite worship movements, alongside Passion, Jesus Culture, Bethel Music and the ever reliable Hillsong UNITED, ever since listening to their chart-topping tracks, from ‘Open Up the Heavens’, ‘Light Shine In’, ‘All Glory’ and ‘Who Will Rise Up’, to ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Restore My Soul’, ‘Spirit of the Living God’, ‘Bound for Glory’ and ‘I Will Follow’. Now entering this last month with the release of their new live album Frontiers, the passion exuberated within these 11 tracks is nothing short of remarkable and enthusiastic, as all the worship leaders give us great reminders of what it really means to abandon oneself to worship the Living God. With Frontiers releasing July 29th, alongside new albums from Hillary Scott and Group 1 Crew; these songs are certain to become fan favourites within Sunday morning church services as Andi Rozier, Meredith Andrews and co. deliver some of the most vulnerable and poignant worship songs of 2016 thus far. They have continued to do what they have done best- deliver vertically directed worship music that allows the listener to become immersed in the various facets of what worship consists of and how it is expressed. Frontiers is a great album, an alternative if you will, if you’re looking for something different than the usual Hillsong, Bethel or Jesus Culture album that frequently releases each year. In fact, dare I say that this album is my favourite live worship album of 2016? Even more enjoyable than Let it Echo by Jesus Culture?
Released as the first single on the album, “1000 Tongues”, led by worship leader Andi Rozier, is an anthem as the inspiration behind the song comes from the ever popular hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”. Once reworked by the David Crowder*Band on their 2007 album Remedy, Andi Rozier’s version (which is entirely different musically, altered to draw in a younger crowd, I reckon) is as catchy as it is fit for radio. Whether or not it will be released on radio and played on various stations across America and the world is another question entirely. Nevertheless, “1000 Tongues” is an encouragement, and destined to become a favourite in various Sunday morning worship service set lists in the months and years to come. And who cannot love this song, when we’re met with such a poignant moment in the chorus, where Andi declares, ‘…o for a thousand tongues to sing, the glories of our Lord God Almighty, o to sing the Savior’s praise, the triumph of His grace, You are worthy, You are worthy God…’ With pulsating drums, and victorious atmosphere, and a moment of declaration envisaged all within 4 minutes, this upbeat melody that encourages us to sing praises to our Father; is a perfect start to Frontiers, an album whose remainder 10 tracks are just as enjoyable as the first track.
Sung also by Andi Rozier, “Your Mercy”, though not as upbeat as “1000 Tongues”, is just as emotive and poignant, as he delivers a modern hymn of sorts, with a lot of rhythmic rhymes and easy to learn melodic phrases. While at times it seemed as though the melody could’ve been borrowed from traditional hymns gone past, what Andi and the rest of Vertical Church Band have done is create a song that will be loved by many who respect, appreciate and even thoroughly enjoy the hymns of the traditional format. A song about how it is always God’s mercy that makes a way for us in every situation we’re in, this song in particular is for anyone who loves hymns like “Blessed Assurance”, “How Great Thou Art” and “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. Jason Ingram, lead singer of worship duo One Sonic Society, lends his songwriting skills and voice to “This We Know”, potential radio single (because it’s Jason Ingram who wrote it…no seriously, it sounds like a radio single), and while he himself is not officially part of Vertical Church Band, to have him there on the night and sing and contribute to the project is very much felt on the album- you know when a songwriter has his imprint over an album, and Jason is very much involved with Frontiers. “This We Know” tells us a story of assurance, us truly knowing that Christ has won and the devil has lost in this tale of redemption and us being connected back to the Father. With an easy-to-sing melody and a high potential to be slotted in Sunday morning song set lists by the end of the year at the latest, this song, alongside “1000 Tongues” and the title track, are the songs to listen to if you were to listen to a few from Frontiers!
Formally of the band The Royal Royal, worship leader Gabe Finochio, who previously led the Vertical Church Band songs “None Like You” and “Shout it Out” on their previous album Church Songs, lends his voice to the 80s influenced “Let Everything”, as Gabe declares out, giving God the highest praise as Nintendo sounds, hand claps and a rousing crowd all make up what is possibly one of the most ‘alternate’ sounding worship tracks on Frontiers. Lyrically very similar to a song The Royal Royal wrote before in songwriting partnership with Hillsong (“Praise Him”), Gabe continues along with the theme of praising God no matter the circumstance, as musically, “Let Everything” stands out, all for the right reasons. Fresh off the high of the success of Little Songs and his singles “Nothing Better” and “I Will Follow”; Jon Guerra gives us an acoustically driven “Always Have”, a song that brings forth a crescendo to create an anthem half way through, and an ever present theme of God always loving us (though not a typically ‘new’ concept, it is nevertheless one that we still need to be reminded of, often even now); while songs “I See the Lord” and “Exalted Over All” are presented by worship leader Kyle Fredricks, the former being a riveting fast-paced anthem where Kyle vocally channels Chris Llewellyn of Rend Collective as the message of God being Lord of All and us having a glimpse into that fact is delivered with such fervent urgency and emotion; while the latter is a poignant prayer of thanksgiving to God, thanking Him for such a sacrifice, and declaring that ‘…one name is higher, one name is stronger, than any grave, than any throne, Christ exalted over all…’ Both these songs by Kyle showcase similar messages, while presenting different musical frameworks to present them in- which further reminds us of the versatility of not only Kyle the worship leader, but the versatility, of both music and lyrical richness and depth, of Vertical Church Band as a whole too.
One of the most respected and loved worship leaders of the modern CCM era, Meredith Andrews has proven to be a songwriter/worship leader of many radio hits and songs, and here on Frontiers it is no different. With previous tracks like “Open Up the Heavens”, “Not For a Moment”, “Strong God”, “Worthy, Worthy” and “Spirit of the Living God” being popular in churches around the world, Meredith offers up 2 songs to listeners- “Come Holy Spirit” and “More Than I Deserve”. With a light electric guitar introduction, Meredith presents a moment of gratefulness and thankfulness in “More Than I Deserve”, a song that chronicles how God gave to us what we didn’t even deserve- freedom in the price of God’s Son Jesus on the cross. Though this theme has been written into song time and time again, there’s something about Meredith and her songs that always make me want to stop, listen and bask in the presence of the Lord whenever she delivers a song with fervent passion and grace, and “More Than I Deserve”. Does it sound somewhat cliché in terms of both the lyrics and music? Maybe. Yet Meredith’s passion is undeniable, and “More Than I Deserve” is as simple moment where we are ushered into a place of worship- and if that is the only thing “More Than I Deserve” does at the end of the day, then the song was still worth it. “Come Holy Spirit” is the other remaining track from Meredith, and while this song is more stylistically framed as a more ‘free-worship’ track, what “Come Holy Spirit” presents is a moment of us allowing the Holy Spirit to come and shake us, break our perceptions of who we believe God is to us at that moment, breaking down every hindrance we have in the way of wanting to know God more. A song that stirs the heart and soul, this 5:50 track is as emotive as it is confronting and comforting, all at once. Musically one of the most engaging songs on Frontiers, Meredith sings her heart out and delivers what I reckon is one of her finest performances, not just on the album, but throughout her own solo music career as well.
One of the newer voices to grace Vertical Church Band albums, worship leader Tara Rios offers up what I reckon are some of the most vulnerable songs on the album. “Set My Heart”, stand at a little over 5 minutes, and encourages us all to set our hearts on God in every moment of our lives, and in whatever we undertake and accomplish. As subdued as any other anthem we know from this album- til half way through when rousing guitars and powerful drum beats take over and an anthem is borne out of fervent praise and adoration, Tara reminds us all that ‘…nothing will ever break me, ever slay me, all my hope in You, nothing will ever shake me, overtake me, all my hope in You…’ Yet it is the album closer and title track, “Frontiers” that ends the 11 track album on one of the highest notes of any Vertical Church Band album. With the song presenting to us the theme about putting our faith in God in spite of what we see, feel and experience; we are called towards the frontier- the edge, stepping into the unknown where we know that He will be present, in our fears, our darkness, our doubt and uncertainty. Tara powerfully declares for God to ‘…lead me to the edge of myself, take me to the edge of something greater…’, reminding us that often what is after all the hurt, doubt, fear and the like, comes a moment of something great. With the music slowly building (as all great worship anthems do) to become a moment of declaration, at times even calling upon God to move us from fear to faith, from doubt to certainty; this is an anthem that I’m sure will become a song that I’ll listen to again and again on my iTunes playlist for months to come. Well done Vertical Church Band, and to Tara especially, for “Frontiers”, my favourite song on the album, and one of my favourite worship songs of 2016 thus far.
With the vast amount of worship movements, from Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong Young and Free, to Passion, Gateway Worship, Desperation Band, Fearless BND and Soulfire Revolution; Vertical Church Band from Chicago, Illinois is such a movement where each album subsequent has been better than the last, and Frontiers is no different. Their most heartfelt and encouraging album I’ve heard from the group since their debut album in 2012; Andi Rozier, Meredith Andrews, Jon Guerra, Kyle Fredricks and Tara Rios have all collaborated to give us an album worthy to be placed within my top 10 favourite albums of 2016 thus far. From the first track “1000 Tongues” to the Jason Ingram led “This We Know” and the title track, Essential Worship and Provident Label Group have a worship movement that’s certain to grow and continue to increase its popularity amongst listeners in the upcoming months. Well done Vertical Church Band for these 11 songs, some of the most enjoyable worship tracks since Phil Wickham’s Children of God!
3 songs to listen to: 1000 Tongues, Frontiers, This We Know
RIYL: Hillsong Worship, Passion, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Desperation Band