Release Date: March 24th 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Got Any Rivers / Carry You
- I Got Saved
- Set Free
- He Lives / Because He Lives
- Jesus Will Still Be Here
- This Little Light Of Mine (He Will Shine)
- People Of The Cross
- Lord, I Trust You
- Broken Ladders
- In The Sweet By And By
- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot / I’ll Fly Away
- Leaning On The Everlasting Arms (feat. Ron Block)
“…Hymns have always been foundational to what we do and who we are. We sang ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ at a youth conference one time and were congratulated by a teenager afterward for writing such a ‘cool song.’ I explained to him where the song came from, showed him a hymnal and told him it was chock-full of other really ‘cool songs.’ Parents are always telling us, ‘the only way our kids know these hymns is because we sing along in the car with you.’ If we’ve played a small part in keeping hymns alive for future generations, I feel like we’ve accomplished a dream…” Having recorded a plethora of stirring and inspiring albums since 1999, vocal trio Selah have displayed to us and unveiled many heartfelt melodies and soft piano pieces with the intention of ushering us into communion with Jesus. Songs like “I Look To You”, “You Raise Me Up”, “All My Praise”, “Bless The Broken Road”, “I Turn To You”, “You Deliver Me”, “I Will Sing Of My Redeemer”, “Wonderful, Merciful Saviour”, and “Hope Of The Broken World” all captivate and inspire us, giving us reason to praise God and celebrate our freedom in Him. And the three vocalists Allan Hall, Todd Smith and Amy Perry each sing eloquently, powerfully and beautifully, praises to Jesus, as well as bringing to the fore words of encouragement and impact.
Already having released their first hymns album Greatest Hymns in 2005 and Greatest Hymns Vol. 2 just last year, it’s clear that the Curb Records signed trio have become somewhat an expert at covering hymns, also particularly since previous albums such as You Amaze Us, Hope Of The Broken World, You Deliver Me, Bless The Broken Road and Hiding Place each contained a fair chunk of reworked hymns in their track lists as well. So I guess it comes as no surprise that Unbreakable, the trio’s all new full length studio album, and first in 3 years (not including the hymns album!) contains emphatic and powerful originals as well as explosive and captivating hymns as well. Though this album’s ratio of original tracks to hymns is higher than most other ratios on albums past, Todd, Allan, and Amy once again wow us and show us their brilliant vocal melodies and harmonies, and I am once again swept away in wonder and awe, as the Holy Spirit’s presence is evident on every track of this unique worship experience stretching close to an hour. Now with an album that on the surface looks quite daunting, let’s dive in to see how the band interpret these lesser known hymns as well as introduce us to new original favourites.
Opening the album with the engaging and captivating medley of the lesser known hymn “Got Any Rivers” (led by keys and Amy’s exquisite vocals) and “Carry You”, originally recorded by Sam Phillips in 1987 (led by Todd Smith against a backdrop of grunging electric guitars), Unbreakable starts off in remarkable fashion, as this medley I’d expect from a rock band like Switchfoot, Needtobreathe or Skillet. However this melody works with Todd’s distinct vocals, as we are reminded that Jesus will carry us ‘…when the water’s too high…’ just like He did with many heroes in the Bible and like He still does today. Inspirational and encouraging, the album opener reminds us how good the trio are at covering hymns and songs previously recorded by other artists, a fact that we can further enjoy on 6 more tracks from Unbreakable.
“He Lives” and “Because He Lives” are both hymns, with one being very obscure, and the other made famous from Crowder’s cover a while ago on Neon Steeple, yet what Selah do in marrying the two together, to form a gospel infused, banjo prominent Rend Collective like party style anthem, is nothing short of brilliance, especially when the band employ an African Children’s choir as backing vocals (Watoto Children’s Choir, maybe?); while the well known children’s hymn “This Little Light” is given the Selah cover treatment here also, as the band write a completely new chorus and introduce an African style atmosphere, as tribute to Todd’s missionary heritage- the band also sing in an African language (don’t ask me which language!) in an effort to be authentic and to add a personal touch. “In The Sweet By And By”, a hymn that I previously hadn’t heard before, is also covered, as Allan emotionally and eloquently conveys across captivating synth, poignant accordions, flutes and bagpipes, and chilling drum beats, that in the end we will meet with Jesus in heaven, so we do not have to be afraid of trouble and adversity in this life, while the band infuse rock and piano pop together in the medley of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “I’ll Fly Away”, in what only can be described by a throwback and flashback to the days of Carman- definitely a good thing as I dance to these two timeless hymns of Jesus claiming us for the Kingdom on Heaven and preparing us a place in Heaven for after our time on Earth.
The piano led ballad “Jesus Will Still Be There”, an early Point Of Grace classic originally recorded in 1993, is brilliantly led by Allan Hall, a promise and declaration that ‘…Jesus will still be there, when no one else is true, He’ll still be lovin’ you, when it looks like you’ve lost it all, and you haven’t got a prayer, Jesus will still be there…’, and the equally compelling and exquisite melody “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms”, recorded with Ron Block, is the perfect way to end such a musically and lyrically diverse album, as the trio remind us that we can rely on the everlasting arms of Jesus, because of the fact that He is faithful and can be trusted. Yet for all the amazingness and enjoyable nature of all of these hymns and renditions of popular songs that Selah have delivered us in these 7 songs, the remaining 6 originals, where the trio shine further in vocal delivery and songwriting, is where the genius of the band really lies. It is in between the hymns that we find ourselves marvelling at the originals, and remembering why Selah has lasted this long as a band (I think it’s 20 years…)- because of their commitment to share Jesus with the world through song, and their dedication to making their music as enjoyable as possible.
Brilliantly and strikingly led by Amy Perry, “Set Free”, sung against a backdrop of hand claps and a country/southern gospel twinged atmosphere, could have easily been included on the soundtrack of The Prince Of Egypt, if it has been written and recorded 20 years ago. Not that it has the 90’s feel, but the subject matter of Moses declaring to the Pharaoh to let his people go, conjured up fond memories of me watching the Dreamworks Animated movie that still impacts me today. As it stands, the concept of us declaring to the devil that he has no hold over us, that our names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, is bold when it turns up as a song- well done guys for taking a leap of faith and singing about spiritual warfare.
Also bold and out of the band’s comfort zone is the emotional, honest and captivating “People Of The Cross”, led by Todd, and sung about the persecuted church, a response to ‘…the murder of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hands of ISIS and a reminder to pray for those who suffer for their faith…’ (according to the band’s latest bio!), certain to generate a tear in the eyes of all who listen, as we are provoked and encouraged into action in order to right the wrongs that are aching on our hearts. Todd Smith also leads the simple yet nevertheless impacting and hopeful worship anthem “Lord I Trust You”, which basically reminds us of the ever-true fact that Jesus Christ is trustworthy, and that He can be relied upon in any situation, that ‘…there will never be a day when you are not with me…’, while Amy once again leads the earnest, inspiring and probably the most healing and freeing melody on Unbreakable– “Broken Ladders”, a simple ballad yet nonetheless encouraging, delves into the seemingly perfect and lofty standards we set for ourselves that are just not attainable by human strength, and the knowledge that Jesus never meant for us to be like who we ‘want’ to be, but like He wants us to be, as ‘…all You ever wanted was my heart…to You that’s all that really matters…’.
Recorded as probably the most CCM song on the album, the 3 minute pop tune “Unbreakable” is the title track, and on the surface seems like a run of the mill track to be guaranteed to be heard on K-Love radio in the future, which means some could say the band is selling out- but I reckon that this move shows us the band’s musical diversity and security in the fact that they can explore and do any genre, and pull it off nicely. Thematically though, this song is solid, as Todd eloquently sings about Jesus’ love being unbreakable, that ‘…You’ll never turn your back on us, your heart’s unchangeable, unshakable, living water than will never dry up…’. Yet it is the album’s first single, written by Corey Voss, Jennie Lee Riddle and Crystal Yates, that really highlights the band’s relevance in the CCM market. How could you think of any other band to sing “I Got Saved” than Selah? Seriously, the song is a simple concept, with the band relaying the eternal truth that Jesus saved us when we were the most broken, that ‘…I’m restored and made right, He got a hold of my life, I’ve got Jesus, how could I want more…’. Though there’s more to this song than possibly being a modern hymn in the future (I reckon the Holy Spirit’s anointing is on this track more so than other tracks…), I encourage you all to listen to the song, and see what I mean when I say that this will be Selah’s most popular and demanded song since their cover of “You Raise Me Up”! Well done guys for a thoroughly enjoyable album that I simply must put on repeat and repeat!
“…Many times when persecution is so visible, it’s because Satan is so threatened. What we don’t see is that God is working supernaturally. Thousands of Muslims are having dreams and visions of Jesus, asking people about the Bible and coming to faith in the midst of all this darkness…” Releasing their first album in just over 3 years (well worth the wait!), Selah seem to be more than filling part of the void left by Avalon, another vocal group who have been absent from recording for the past 5 years (who have since announced a comeback and a new album!). What Selah add to the CCM market, is soothing and beautiful harmonies and melodies, as each of the three vocalists Todd Smith, Allan Hall and Amy Perry sing to perfection, and deliver us some of the most popular and respected hymns and covers, as well as giving us originals sure to stand the test of time as well. Though the predominantly piano led and focused ballad heavy album may not be to everyone’s tastes, as some may prefer rock music; Unbreakable is well worth at least a listen- you may find yourself surprised at how much you enjoy the album, as you sing along with Selah praises to God, singing along songs like “I Got Saved”, “Set Free”, “Lord I Trust You”, the title track and the hymns that make Selah, well you know, Selah! Well done guys, I can’t wait til your next album, which will be awesome!
4 songs to listen to: Unbreakable, I Got Saved, People Of The Cross, Broken Ladders
RIYL: Avalon, FFH, Love & The Outcome, Grayson Reed, The Walls Group, Mandisa