Release Date: May 27th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- In This Place
- For All My Life
- All Eyes on You
- Lover of My Soul
- Canticle (feat. Jon Guerra)
- Jesus > Everything
- Carry Me Home
- Narrow Road
- Not Ashamed
- All About Jesus
- Glory Hallelujah
- Sorry to Grieve You God
Love them or hate them, think that they are the most inspired and important worship band/movement, or even think that they are committing heresy, whatever your opinion on what I believe is the most talked about worship movement of our time; no one can deny the significance of Hillsong (Worship, UNITED and Young & Free), be it for the positive or even for the negative. There are a million and one different assumptions of this Australian group from Down Under, but by and large, we cannot deny Hillsong’s music has impacted people and the world, ever since…well ever since the songs of the 1990s ‘Shout to the Lord’, ‘Eagle’s Wings’, ‘All Things are Possible’, ‘I Give You My Heart’, ‘My Redeemer Lives’ and ‘The Power of Your Love’, am I right? It’s been years and years since the debut of a little ol’ humble church in the Hills district of Sydney, NSW, but all these years later, a lot of people would have a lot of opinions. And the news and what the media has portrayed about Hillsong (in all its facets) doesn’t really help it all either. Now all we’re left with, as listeners of worship music, is what we know from the news, which is this- that Hillsong NY ex-pastor Carl Lentz placed the name of Hillsong into disrepute because of all of his shenanigans and his infidelity, while currently, Brian Houston is on trial for concealing child sex offences of which was alleged against his father Frank Houston. Brian still maintains his innocence, but now feels as though stepping aside is the better course of action. There’re still folks out there who still say that Hillsong the movement, focus too much on the prosperity doctrine, while many around the world boycott the music and sermons of Hillsong full-stop, to avoid such a ‘problematic’ ministry.
All that is to say, is this- that when Hillsong UNITED singer-songwriter Taya Smith-Gaukrodger unveiled her self-titled debut project at the end of May 2022, I was hesitant to say the least…will I place personal feelings about Hillsong aside, and leap in and listen to Taya’s solo project without any assumptions or bias? Will I take the art for what it is, even if Hillsong, for all intents and purposes, is doing more ‘harm’ than ‘good’ these days, according to a lot of people around the world? Can I still listen to the music of Hillsong (and Taya’s new album), even though Hillsong’s teaching has been deemed by some to be dubious, harmful, and downright heretical? Those are the million dollar questions, right? The way I try to see it is this- that even though Hillsong has a whole lot ‘wrong’ with it at the moment, I still believe the Lord can still work through something ‘problematic’. I’ve never listened to Hillsong’s sermons, nor have I actually purchased a Hillsong album in some time.
And yet, I still hear Hillsong’s music via Spotify, because as much as people wouldn’t really admit it, I still believe the Lord can speak through their music…and He does. Songs like ‘Oceans’, ‘Say the Word’, ‘Touch the Sky’, ‘Not Today’, ‘This is Living’, ‘Wonder’, ‘Shadow Step’, ‘So Will I’, ‘Another In the Fire’, ‘Good Grace’, ‘Whole Heart (Hold Me Now)’, ‘Even When It Hurts’ and ‘Scandal of Grace’ are just some of the many songs Hillsong (UNITED at least) has delivered to us listeners, in the years that have gone by. And yes, their preaching, from what I know here and there, leaves much to be desired. But their music is top notch. And the Lord is working through their music if nothing else. And so, when Taya unveiled her solo album around a month and a half ago, I was hesitant to say the least…but I was really intrigued and excited to dive deep into one of the most recognisable voices in all of Hillsong music history. Standing at 14 tracks from the outset, this is a must-have for any Hillsong music fan, any fan of the Taya-led Hillsong songs, fans of corporate worship music, fans of music a la Ellie Holcomb or Kristene DiMarco…or some part (of all) of the above.
Let me just say this from the outset- this is not really a review of the album. If at all. There’re publications like JesusFreakHideout and NRT for such reviews and content. What this content here is for, is the musings and rumblings of a reviewer of music, who enjoys Hillsong’s music, enjoys Taya’s album, but still realises that Hillsong still has a lot of deep-rooted issues they need to sort, on both macro and micro-scales, and that no amount of music could ever fix some of the hurt that this ministry has unintentionally dealt people, as outlined by the documentary about Hillsong that aired on Discovery +, earlier this year. I still love Taya’s album, in spite of such revelations about Hillsong as a church and brand (I haven’t seen said documentary, but I may in the future). I still love many of Taya’s songs on the album, with tracks like ‘For All My Life’, ‘All Eyes on You’, ‘Glory Hallelujah’ and ‘Carry Me Home’ being personal highlights. But I’d be lying if I said that what is happening behind the scenes to Hillsong and it’s name, brand, and music, isn’t affecting how I view Taya’s album. But I know it shouldn’t though. I know the art and the artist should somehow be disconnected, so that the art can be enjoyed and impactful, in spite of the artist. But as humans, we can’t help it. As much as we want to divorce the artist from the art, our very nature is to listen to music that is congruent with the artists’s life. And if Hillsong is having a tough time behind the scenes…well, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t impact how I viewed Taya’s album. Because it unfortunately did. I did review the album as a 5/5. Because it is. But to sit and write a review on the album, when you can see everything unfold for Carl Lentz and Brian Houston, seems a little callous, unempathetic, and maybe even disingenuous. I dunno. What I will do though, is to place below, a few quotes from Taya herself about the album, and to let her speak for herself about what these songs mean to her.
I personally enjoyed the album, especially the songs like ‘For All My Life’, ‘Glory Hallelujah’ and ‘Carry Me Home’. I expected a few more upbeat songs, with similar paces like that on ‘Shadow Step’, ‘Say the Word’ and ‘Not Today’, present here on Taya’s album. Still, for what the album is worth and what the album is (a reflective album in light of everything about Hillsong), it’s a job well done. Taya’s career is just started, and though Hillsong’s issues will never go away, hopefully Taya can forge her own identity separate of the worship movement, and if her career is going to go where I firmly believe it could go (and if her first album is any indication), then we’re in for a joy and a treat. Taya is one of the most emotive and compelling female CCM vocalists in some time, and it’s nice to hear something that is completely her, and not shrowded by anything Hillsong-esque (right now, maybe not affiliating yourself with Hillsong is actually something better in the long run). Maybe people will check this album out because of Hillsong. Maybe people will just check out this album just because. Whatever the case, this album stands tall and reminds us that people can still forge their destinies even if they’ve been affiliated with something for years upon years, and people know them as being _____ instead. Well done Taya for this debut album. Looking forward to what the Lord has in store for this album, in the weeks and months ahead.
‘…this has been one of the most stretching things that I’ve ever been a part of. The process of “stretching” is not a one-time thing once you come to Jesus. It’s an everyday thing, laying down your life and saying, “God, have your way. What do you want from me today? I’m here to respond to you.” I liken it to Romans 12:1 (in The Message translation), which is my life verse. It says, “Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering.” That’s what this whole project is about. I felt like it was a God thing, and I’m being obedient to what He’s saying. I pray that this project would encourage other people. If God could use a donkey, He can use me. If we ask God to speak and give us direction, He will if we make the space to listen. The Bible says that when we seek God with all our hearts, we will find Him. He’s not hiding, so I pray that this album would be like honey for people…’
‘…”For All My Life” is a song of joy. I’m thankful for God’s timing with that song because it’s been a heavy time in our local church community. But I’m grateful for a song of joy that says, “I’m not going to lean on my own understanding, but in all my ways, I’m going to trust in You, God, and I’m going to believe that Your yoke is easy, and Your burden is light.” The song came to me on the last day of writing for this album. I wrote most of the record on Zoom. But then I had the opportunity to visit America and finish the project in person. We went to Nashville for a month. And, for the first three weeks, we wrote. Then the last week was production, which means we tried to record everything we had. Then–classic Jesus, at the eleventh hour–God gives us “For All My Life.” I wrote it with my producer Jon Guerra and Hank Bentley, who also co-produced the track. We had an honest conversation about how following Jesus had brought me up to this moment. Jon brought the initial idea of basing the song on Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV), which is where Jesus gives us the invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” A yoke is an instrument–a collar–that you put on cows or horses to plow the fields and make them ready for harvest. A yoke was something that would bring two animals together, which would mean that it wouldn’t be as heavy for them. They would walk side-by-side; and carry the load together. This is a great illustration because that’s what God says to us. We don’t have a God that says, “Good luck. Figure this life out yourself.” Instead–as it says in The Message translation of that verse–Jesus says, “Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” It’s an invitation to come together. After we wrote the chorus, we realized that this is my testimony put to song. It’s all based on scripture, including Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” That has been my testimony. My testimony has been placing my life before God, even if it looks like–at various times–pieces of my life. I’ve watched, and I know that God is a God who redeems. He’s the one who restores, and when I place my life before Him, He does far more than I could ever ask, think, or imagine. I’m stoked that this song is based on scripture. We believe that the Word of God is powerful, active, and living. I pray that as people sing this song, they would find encouragement for the season that they’re in. I also pray that this song would be an encouragement to people who are new to walking with Jesus, and maybe they could borrow my faith if they’re waning in theirs. The last two years have been taxing for many people, so I pray that this song would blast joy and hope into people’s homes and cars or wherever it is that they’re listening…’
‘…when I see Him, everything else that doesn’t matter fades. It’s like that old hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus/Look full in His wonderful face/And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” It’s going to be a wild time when we finally get to see Jesus eye-to-eye–when we get to see the eyes that have seen everything, and yet He still loves us and calls us His own. We have so much noise and chaos in our lives. And if we’re all distracted and not looking at Jesus, the things that don’t matter will creep into our lives. I just want to be obedient, and I just want to do what He wants me to be doing. I want to be about my Father’s business. There are moments when I think, “Take us home, God. We suck, we need you.” But we’re meant to bring as many people as possible onto this journey of walking with Jesus until we get to behold Him and see His face. I pray that I would be able to see Him, and the things that don’t matter would fall away…’
‘…I feel it’s such a gift to be able to pen songs in my own words and with my own melodies that reflect who Jesus is to me. I’ve stood in other people’s songs for many years, so it’s a delight to try and remember my own lyrics. I’m grateful for that. I’m just here to be obedient. The Lord has surprised me in every moment of my life, so who am I to doubt Him or listen to my fears? God has been so kind. He’s never led me astray. I just need to continue being obedient. If He says to make another album, I will say yes. I’m sure I’ll still have fear, and trembling and say, “Lord, you know me and everything that it cost to get to this moment, but I’m going to trust you again.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll be listening to “For All My Life” as I head into that season, and God will be saying, “Remember when you sang this?”…’
4 songs to listen to: For All My Life, Carry Me Home, All Eyes on You, Glory Hallelujah
RIYL: Kristene DiMarco, JJ Heller, Ellie Holcomb, Amanda Cook, Lauren Daigle