Release Date: August 26th 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Charles Billingsley– Only Jesus (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Only Boast
- Mercy Tree
- Sing and Shout
- Jesus, Only Jesus (featuring Guy Penrod, Travis Cottrell and Michael O’Brien)
- Nothing Less (Great Is Thy Faithfulness)
- Now and Forevermore
- Holy (Jesus You Are)
- In a Moment
- 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)
A nationally known recording artist, a worship leader, teacher, author and pastor, Charles Billingsley is probably best known for his stint in the mid 90’s as lead vocalist for the CCM/pop group Newsong. Though I haven’t heard of his music prior to this album, it is the familiarity of some worship covers in Only Jesus that intrigued me and sparked my interest, as I took the plunge, to see what these renditions and original material would sound like. The result is a stellar worship record that has me wanting to check out the rest of Charles’ discography. With plenty of styles incorporated in this record, from pop to adult contemporary to epic orchestral pieces, Charles’ new album is one not to miss, as we dive deeper into God’s presence, and worship along, singing new songs and old!
The piano led worship ballad, that is the powerful, inspiring and encouraging title track “Jesus, Only Jesus”, originally written by Matt Redman, has Charles singing with 3 of his friends (Travis Cottrell, Guy Penrod, and Michael O’Brien), and is one of the highlights on the album. All the 4 exemplary vocalists sing quite well in harmony, and we are treated to a 5 minute tune of unbridled and unashamed worship, where we can declare that Jesus is worthy of our praise and that He is the One who we can call on at all times. In fact, the chorus where Charles and his friends passionately cry out ‘…holy, King almighty Lord, saints and angels all adore, I join with them and bow before, Jesus, only Jesus…’, is the most spine tingling, encouraging part of the song, as we are reminded that Jesus is our everything, and this song is perfect as the choice for the title of the album, as the theme of the album is giving honour and praise to Jesus, and lifting Him up because He is.
The rest of the album contains many well-known worship covers. In fact more than half the album is Charles singing songs from other artists, although his stellar voice and commanding presence makes the songs his own. “Sing and Shout”, also by Matt Redman, is a song that we sing at church quite often, and it’s nice to see this electric guitar led song be covered here. Charles changes this song up to an acoustic guitar led hand clapping, feet stopping celebratory melody, complete with gang vocals and great enthusiasm. In essence, this song is almost a carbon copy of Matt’s live version from last year, however Charles’ version is nevertheless effective and still impacting. Declaring that we can sing and shout, and asking the question of ‘…what could be better than the grace that leads us home and makes a way? What could be better than Your great Love?…’; I find myself nodding my head in agreement and declaring this unending truth along with Charles- this rendition is thoroughly enjoyable. “Always” is led by the synth, and even though I prefer versions from Rhett Walker Band, Tricia Brock and Kristian Stanfill, how can you not love a worship ballad about God being with us always? This version has heart, and I can tell that Charles enjoyed singing this Holy Spirit led melody. As the instruments join in to create an anthemic worship experience later on, musically this is brilliant for an opener, grabbing my attention the whole way.
Similarly, the album ends lyrically and thematically the same way it starts, with a song about how God has been faithful since the beginning of time. The acoustic guitar led, contemplative and reflective iconic hymn like Matt Redman penned “10 000 Reasons” may gain a groan from listeners wanting another ‘original’ cover, as this song has been covered plenty of times, and each very competently. However, Charles makes this song his own, and the fact that the song doesn’t build up, makes it all the more intimate and special. With the keys earning a solo in the instrumental bridge, we are met with a song that lyrically depicts all of the great things God has done for us, and all of the great things that God is as well, through simple lyrics. To me there’s something special about “10 000 Reasons” (any incarnation!), and I believe we, as in everyone around the world, will be singing this song for many years to come!
Delivering the rock anthem “Freedom”, originally by Bethel Music, Charles unequivocally and unashamedly delivers a hard hitting worship anthem, led by stirring electric guitar, mesmerizing synth, and a pulsating drum beat. As we praise God and declare freedom in Christ because of the cross and resurrection, the infectious tempo, and the joy in Charles’ voice as he cries out ‘…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, every chain is broken through You Jesus…’ amongst the hand claps, is alone worth hearing this track and singing along as well. Another personal highlight is the piano led ballad “In A Moment”. Personally, I prefer Rebecca St James’ version better (but I love anything that Rebecca sings so…), yet Charles’ near flawless rendition objectively is quite remarkable, as he uses his vocal range to turn the pop/worship ballad into a semi-opera style vocal performance out of this world. As we praise God and declare ‘…gloria, gloria, hear the sound of Heaven ring, gloria, gloria, all the Earth will bow and sing…’, the change in the chorus from ‘alleluia’ in Rebecca’s version to ‘gloria’ in this version is a nice touch and a great way to distinguish the two versions of this God breathed anthem!
One of my favourite songs of last year was the well-received “Mercy Tree”, by former Flyleaf lead singer Lacey Sturm, and Charles sings this hymn like worship anthem perfectly. Also covered by gospel/R&B singer/songwriter Anthony Evans, “Mercy Tree” is very accessible for corporate worship, where Charles’ captivating vocals shining brightly in this track. With a distinct melody, honest and true lyrics depicting Christ’s death and resurrection, that is sure to bring a grateful tear to our eyes; “Mercy Tree” has me near tears, as we sing overtly about the gospel (each 4 verses tell the story of Jesus’ death, resurrection and second coming). With the simple words of ‘…death has died and love has won, hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ has overcome, He has risen from the dead…’ summing up the reason for being a Christian, I am certain that this song will change a massive amount of lives, and it’s great Charles has included this on his album!
The hymn like guitar and keys led mid tempo ballad “Only Boast” is a cover from Calvary Church, and is an earnest and honest melody about the gospel, vividly describing how our hope is in Jesus, and that the crucifixion and resurrection made a way for us to be made whole with Jesus. A prayer of gratitude, I am not familiar that much with this track, however that doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of this song by any means. The final cover “Holy (Jesus You Are)”, written by Matt Redman and Jason Ingram, and made famous by One Sonic Society, is yet another song we sing frequently in church, as we are introduced to a mid tempo, moving and inspiring ballad, that proclaims God’s holiness. As we affirm that Jesus is who He says He is, we ask the question, in reverence and praise to God ‘…who shall we say You are, You’re the living God, who shall we say You are, You’re the Great I AM, the highest name of all, You’re all You say You are…’, this explosive rendition is a great inclusion in an album full of inspirational melodies with sound biblical lyrics.
We are also introduced to an intimate and personal moment of praise with the reflective guitar led hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, known on this album as “Nothing Less”, as Charles has rewritten the whole song along the theme of the hymn (with the only recognizable lyrics being the hymn namesake). Charles has written a compelling and contemplative chorus that fits right in with the timeless theme of God being faithful, and the modern verses are engaging as well. Gang vocals and a choir, together with heightened synth and keys at the end give the acoustic track depth as well! The song “Now And Forevermore” is the final original song, and is a fun ball of energy, and a wonderful inclusion of this diverse and eclectic track list. A celebration of praise as we declare that Jesus is worthy to be praised forevermore, Charles dives in deep and doesn’t hold back. Though the lyrics are once again simple the meaning is evident, as we sing out that ‘…now and forever You’re the Holy One, the One who is and is to come, You are the King, You are the Risen Lord, now and forevermore…’. Jesus is the One who deserves all the praise, and this original song outs Jesus at the front and centre of everything, which is how it is supposed to be. Well done Charles for a worshipful, cohesive and powerful batch of songs that I will definitely listen to again and again in the near future!
Reminding me vocally of Phillips Craig and Dean, Russ Lee from Newsong, Mark Harris from 4Him and Jason Crabb; Charles Billingsley is an amazing vocalist, as each song highlights his impressive vocal ability, unrivalled to most vocalists in the CCM industry. One of the most enjoyable worship albums I have heard over the past few months alongside Chris Tomlin’s new album, don’t let the amount of covers turn you off. Because this is meant to be a worship album full of old and new favourites, hopefully Charles’ new album contains some new originals. If nothing else, Charles has gained a fan (myself), and I pray and hope that you all are blessed by his music. I presume that the goal of Only Jesus was to lift Jesus high and to remind us that the songs are not defined by the artists that sing them. In that respect, Charles Billingsley has accomplished what he set out to do. So dive in, take a listen, and be blessed by Charles’ worship leading. And like me, wait for the next album full of original material from Charles, or at least dig through his 20 + year old discography…
3 songs to listen to: Mercy Tree, In A Moment, Now And Forevermore
RIYL: Jason Crabb, 4Him, Phillips Craig and Dean, Matt Redman, Newsong