Release Date: June 10th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- My Great Redeemer’s Love
- Our God Alone
- You Deserve Our Hallelujah
- Christ Be Everything
- Every Breath
- Let It Be Worship
Known for her song “Power of the Cross” that was covered by powerhouse female singer/songwriter Natalie Grant on her 2010 album Love Revolution, worship leader Shelly E. Johnson has been in the music industry for a while, even though she is starting to become popular now. It was the success of “Power of the Cross” that has made Shelly’s music become more noticeable, and hopefully as the years go by, we will see how much of an under-appreciated artist she really is. 2 albums and 3 EPs later, Shelly has once again released another worship EP, this time a collection of songs she has sung at her church. A live recording of 6 songs that I’m sure will become household names in Sunday morning set-lists in months and years to come; Shelly’s story about how she entered into the music scene is nothing short of God-ordained. Writing music as a way of coping after her father passed away when she was a teenager; what has resulted is more and more worship songs, and a collection of songs all revolving around this theme of Christ being our everything- the EP aptly titled Christ Be Everything encompasses this very theme within each of these 6 tracks. While many may not know of Shelly’s music, it is this EP, alongside her 2016 EP Measureless that I reckon will place Shelly and her music on the map. What makes her music and this album even more remarkable is that Shelly isn’t signed to a major label, thereby making the quality of her EP very and significant. Certain to be on my iTunes playlist for months to come, Christ Be Everything is an EP that has flown under-the-radar, yet it’s heart, passion and message is nothing less than intentional, heartfelt and encouraging, for anyone who hears it.
Even though there has been a quick turnaround between Christ Be Everything and Measureless, this collection of 6 songs has in no means been an EP written out of haste. Rather, Christ Be Everything has been an EP full of lyrical richness, where each of these 6 songs could easily be at home in any Sunday morning setlist from any church around the world. Similar lyrically and stylistically to other artists like Phillips Craig and Dean, Keith and Kristyn Getty and Pocket Full of Rocks; Shelly has incorporated hymn-like melodic frameworks in each of these 6 songs. Which is interesting and a unique way of presenting worship music- to deliver these words of truth in a hymn-like way makes us all be reminded that hymns, be it ancient or modern, impacts people of today as hymns impacted people of yesteryear. Which is why I reckon Christ Be Everything, with its hymn-like ‘sheen’, has the ability to draw in fans of modern contemporary worship music, and fans of hymns alike.
Starting the EP is “My Great Redeemer’s Love”, and with a light Irish themed melody, that reminds me of artists like Keith and Kristyn Getty and even Northern Irish quintet Rend Collective and their musical influences; Shelly presents us a theme of us declaring to the Lord, for what we say and proclaim ought to remind us all about His great redeeming love, and nothing else. What we say and what we do should reflect what is deep within us, and if we have truly been changed by God’s redeeming love and power; surely what comes out of our mouths ought to reflect this? With soaring vocals that assert how ‘…oh Lord, my song, be my great redeemer’s love, oh I belong in my great redeemer’s love…’, Shelly further encourages us all- we can never have too many reminders of who God is, and His continual and constant redeeming nature towards us, often on a daily basis.
“Our God Alone” is #2, and continues the upbeat nature of the EP thus far. With a strong drum beat and Shelly’s enthusiasm and passion, we see a single in the making, as Shelly encourages us all in the heartfelt words of how ‘…who’s mind can dream the earth from nothing, who’s breath can bring the dust to life, who’s mouth can speak the night to morning, our God alone, our God alone…’, that it is only God and God alone that can achieve all the unfathomable things that we can only dream and imagine. “Our God Alone” is an anthem full of lyrical richness and poignancy, one fit for being sung in Sunday morning worship services for months and even years to come. Quite possibly my favourite song on the EP, “Our God Alone”, alongside “My Great Redeemer’s Love”, anchor the album both musically and lyrically as Shelly continues to create one of the most under-the-radar under-appreciated EPs of 2016 thus far.
The rest of the EP, though not as upbeat as the first two tracks, still carry a similar weight to them as compared to the first two. “You Deserve Our Hallelujah” brings to us a theme of never forsaking the name of Christ- the One who has made our lives forever new, and is a song that ought not to be taken lightly as we sing out the truths- hearing Shelly declare out ‘…hallelujah, hallelujah, forever You deserve our hallelujah…’, we ponder ourselves- are we truly believing the words we’re singing, or do we need a heart reset? “Christ Be Everything”, the title track, further expounds on such a theme, and with a similar theme to “Christ Be All Around Me”, a song written by worship band Leeland and made famous by Michael W. Smith; Shelly makes us again think about the words we’re singing- with a song that makes an assertion that Christ is our everything, we take a look at our own lives, and wonder- is Christ really our everything as we take a step back and look at how we live our lives, in both the chaos and busy moments, and the moments of contemplation? “Every Breath”, with light electric guitars and a reflective atmosphere, reminds us all that every breath that we breathe is indeed from God to begin with, and that as a sense of gratitude, we ought to give back everything we have as a gesture of thanks, as a reminder to ourselves that what we have is a gift given to us, and what we give to God is a reflection of what is inside our hearts. The EP ends on “Let it Be Worship”, a piano driven melody full of reflection and praise as Shelly encourages us all to live a life of worship unto the Lord, that our lives ought to be ‘…worship, more than songs that I sing, let it be worship, Jesus You have all of me, in everything I say and do, let my life be worship to You…’ What a humble way to end the EP! I can definitely see this song fit in without a doubt in a Sunday morning worship setlist. In fact- “Let it be Worship” and “Our God Alone”, though polar opposites musically, and both the most church-friendly songs on the EP, and both I reckon will become fan favourites amongst Sunday morning church services in weeks and months to come!
There you have it- 6 songs in a live EP, and 6 songs that Shelly has delivered with much grace, heart, emotion, fervent praise and enthusiasm. Yet one little thing still remains. In spite of this EP being such a powerful and encouraging one, I can’t help but still scratch my head- this EP has been advertised as a live EP, yet sadly, there isn’t really much that differentiates this project to Shelly’s previous one, Measureless. You can’t really hear the crowd, and the production doesn’t really have much of a live element to it- if I didn’t know it was a live album, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Therefore, for a live album to be truly ‘live’, shouldn’t there be more live crowds and less ‘polished’ production? Nevertheless, this is just a minor ‘gripe’ of mine, in a sea of compliments. This 6 song EP still is a great EP, even if we can’t really hear much of the crowd worshipping alongside Shelly. Still, these 6 songs are just as emotional, heartfelt and encouraging as any other worship project released in this contemporary worship music era. Fans of artists like Natalie Grant, Pocket Full of Rocks, Selah and Keith and Kristyn Getty will enjoy Shelly and her music. All these songs have the ability to be songs in the church, and all have reminded me in my own walk with Christ- that He has to be my everything, for me to find the purpose He has set before me. Well done Shelly for such an inspiring EP, one that will be on my iTunes playlist for many, many weeks and months to come!
3 songs to listen to: My Great Redeemer’s Love, Our God Alone, Let it Be Worship
RIYL: Natalie Grant, Pocket Full of Rocks, Selah, Keith and Kristyn Getty