Release Date: May 12th 2015
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Planetshakers– Outback Worship Sessions (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Like A Fire
- Spirit Of God
- Leave Me Astounded
- My Soul Longs For Jesus
- Endless Praise
- Nothing Is Impossible
- Made For Worship
- This Is The Day
- This Is Our Time
One of Australia’s premier youth and praise and worship bands, Planetshakers have created many stellar and poignant live and studio albums since the early 2000’s, and in the same vein as Hillsong, these Aussies release albums every year, sometimes 2 or 3. Just recently, the new record This Is Our Time dropped, as a CD/DVD and a standard edition, via Integrity Music (you can read my review here!) and what I gleaned from listening to that record several times was that a few albums of less cohesion doesn’t mean the next album is going to fall flat. See, though I was not that familiar with Planetshakers’ music, aside from a few tracks over the past few years, as well as the entire Rain Down and All That I Want albums; I could tell and hear that the past few releases from these Aussie young men and women of God lacked a bit of cohesion, namely Heal This Land, Limitless and Endless Praise falling a bit flat, a bit less that what I expected. Yet This Is Our Time thankfully is a whole lot more engaging, and a joy to listen to. Now, these passionate young men and women of God have unveiled Outback Worship Sessions which are their ‘best of’ songs plus some brand new recordings sung in a different light. So, does this gamble (best of album plus acoustic album…is it unique enough?) pay off? Well let me tell you, if there is one album I suggest you should listen to if you’re still not a fan of this modern pop/rock praise and worship group, then this release is the one to check out to ensure that you will be a fan of the Aussie movement in the future, as these guys are on fire for Jesus!
So which songs out of the 11 are selected, ensuring that the band has equal representation from each of their biggest albums? It’s always a struggle to ensure balance, and although Planetshakers have included more recent songs, I do think this ‘compilation’ beautifully encapsulates a snapshot of their discography sung acoustically. The album closer “This Is Our Time”, originally present on the live album of the same name released in 2014, was originally an upbeat frenetic dance party driven by synth and electronics. On this recording the melody is stripped down and sung with the acoustic guitar in the forefront, yet still encapsulating the essence and heart for Jesus, as we take a stand for Christ. With the lyrics in the chorus relaying that ‘…this will be the best time of our life as we encounter Your love again, here with You our hearts will come alive as we declare Your praises, oh, woah, oh, oh, oh, woah, oh, oh as we declare your praises…’, the theme of taking a stand could have been sung with a bit more gusto, though I am sure other listeners may have found this song engaging. To me though, the song is slightly more engaging as a live full band version, however the song gradually improves with the bridge and the last chorus, and thankfully is the weakest part of the album.
Also present on their 2014 live album This Is Our Time, the slower tempo worship anthems “Leave Me Astounded” and “Covered” completely blow me away. “Leave Me Astounded”, a slow ballad driven by keys, was already featured on Endless Praise earlier this year, and this time also never fails to disappoint. Thematically about asking Jesus to shower His spirit onto us, as ‘…You’re the only Love that satisfies me, Lord we rise into Your loving arms, we’re safe and secure in Your light…’, this is a cry for revival, and the track that to me sums up the heart, mission and vision of the band. Similarly, “Covered” is a ballad once again led by keys, and also the acoustic guitar (yep, there’s not that much changed from the live version to the acoustic version!). Originally written and recorded by Israel Houghton, Planetshakers have recorded a brilliant rendition, and have made this worship anthem into their own. The theme of God’s grace covering us, making us spotless and blameless, is quite revealing, vulnerable, and poignant, and kudos goes to Israel for his songwriting, and the team for creating a well thought out anthem, that highlights the unending truth that ‘…no matter what I’ve done, no matter where I’ve been, no matter how I fall, You pick me up again, You have removed my shame, You take me as I am…’. And as Planetshakers are in their element, the rest of the acoustic melodies, both old and new tracks, continue to be wonderfully written and exquisitely led!
The album opener “Like A Fire” immediately grabs my attention through unique instrumentation (is that a didgeridoo I hear?) and captivating gang and backing vocals, all pointing to the theme of Jesus filling us up with more of His presence like a fire within us, as Sam Evans ardently sings out to God ‘…Jesus I’m desperate for You, Jesus I’m hungry for You, Jesus I’m longing for You, Lord You are all I want…’. Abandoning all of the fancy flair and synth on the live track, this acoustic version uses the gentle keys and fervent vocals to create a well thought out message of hope and praise to God, kudos to the band for such an eclectic and inspiring rendition, which includes light electric guitar after the bridge adding layers and depth.
One of the tracks enhanced greatly by these fresh and unique twists is “Endless Praise”, which is led by vibrant and revitalising acoustic guitar with a r&b and Caribbean flavour. A dance anthem at heart, even on this acoustic version, the vocal strength of Joth Hunt is something to be admired, as the quality is top notch, especially during the bridge as we sing out to Jesus ‘…we lift You up up up, weʼre giving You our love love love, for everything Youʼve done done done, we give You all the praise…’. “Nothing Is Impossible”, sung with Israel Houghton originally, is present here also, and to me is my favourite song on the album. Joth Hunt carries this version to perfection, and with plenty of synth and acoustic guitar, this ‘acoustic version’ doesn’t really seem that acoustic. For such a full on worship anthem like this, as we cry out that ‘…through you, I can do anything, I can do all things, for it’s You who give me strength, nothing is impossible…’, it’s fitting and probably meant to be sung in an acoustic light, as we can soak in and fully grasp these eternal lyrics all the more. Well done guys for these emotional and hard hitting melodies rerecorded in a new light!
With “Made To Worship” and “This Is The Day” being the other representatives on this acoustic album already recorded before, Planetshakers continue to embark on a musical journey that I would gladly take with them again and again. The former track is an all-out praise song passionately led by Sam Evans, with just a hint of light electric guitar, the poignant use of percussion and inspiring lyrics combine for a fine effort and one of the album highlights, as we sing out and eloquently proclaim that ‘…I will bless the Lord at all times, I will bless the Lord at all times, I was made to worship, I was made to bless Your name…’. While the latter track is an acoustic guitar led and electronic dance remix like worship anthem, with computer sounds and an EDM presence reminding us that we can bless the name of Jesus any and every day because every day is made by Him and is a part of His plan in our lives; the fun and excitement, which I have surely felt throughout listening to this album, doesn’t end here, as the band has three brand new songs for us, presumably from a forthcoming full length album sometime in the future.
First of all, is that the inspiring and moving vocals of Henry Seeley I hear in “Spirit Of God”? Maybe that’s why I love the song so much. Anyway, the ardent and praiseworthy vocals and lyrics adds so much depth in this album, and as the song intensifies and builds up, so does the music, creating a Holy Spirit anointed atmosphere, as we cry out ‘…Spirit of the living God, have your way in us…’, as a free worship spontaneous part of the song is born near the bridge. The piano inspired hymn like “My Soul” is probably the best song out of the newer tracks, with Sam Evans ardently and fervently reminding us through this soon to be modern hymn (yep, this track will be big globally, like “Oceans” I reckon!) that her soul longs for Jesus at all times of the day and at all days of the year, a statement that we should all proclaim and declare as we further deepen our relationship with Jesus. Another piano ballad, the last new song “Father” is exquisite and beautifully played, as we are gently reminded that ‘…Father I adore, Father I am Yours, the joy of my heart, forever You are my Father…’. What a proclamation and assertion to make, that God is our Father at all times, even when oour circumstances seem like He is far away. God is always near to us, no matter what, and that is something Planetshakers make know to us in this track and in the album as a whole; well done guys for beautifully expressing yourselves without the much electric guitar in your songs on Outback Worship Sessions!
Overall an enjoyable album that has overall reinvigorated my interest for Planetshakers a bit more; Outback Worship Sessions achieved what it set out to do, and that is to share Jesus to the world using the methods and means that today’s culture understands and loves. Though not as hard hitting, poignant and emotive as albums from Passion, Jesus Culture, and Hillsong, Planetshakers have done Australia proud with their acoustic tracks full of inspiring messages and uplifting lyrics about Jesus! Well done Planetshakers for creating an album that is sure to be repeated on many iTunes playlists!
3 songs to listen to: My Soul, Nothing Is Impossible, Made For Worship
RIYL: Hillsong Worship, Israel Houghton, Michael W. Smith, Desperation Band
Be sure to check out Planetshakers’ new album Outback Worship Sessions in stores May 12th 2015! Also, check out Planetshakers’ music video of the song “My Soul Longs”!