Capitol Christian Music Label Group
Release Date: September 23rd 2016
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Track Listing [+ original album]:
- Flawless – Mercy Me [Welcome To The New]
- Just Be Held – Casting Crowns [Thrive]
- Good Good Father – Chris Tomlin [Good Good Father Single]
- If We’re Honest – Francesca Battistelli [If We’re Honest]
- Grace Wins – Matthew West [Live Forever]
- My Story – Big Daddy Weave [Beautiful Offerings]
- Same Power – Jeremy Camp [I Will Follow]
- Breathe – Jonny Diaz [Everything Is Changing]
- Remember – Passion [Salvation’s Tide Is Rising]
- Tell Your Heart To Beat Again – Danny Gokey [Hope In Front Of Me]
- Slow Down – Nichole Nordeman [The Unmaking EP]
- Deliverer – Matt Maher [Saints And Sinners]
- Prodigal – Sidewalk Prophets [Something Different]
- One True God – Steven Curtis Chapman [Worship And Believe]
- Guilty – Newsboys [Love Riot]
- Everything Comes Alive – We Are Messengers (BONUS) [We Are Messengers]
- Joy Of The Lord – Rend Collective (BONUS DELUXE) [As Family We Go]
- Unashamed – Building 429 (BONUS DELUXE) [Unashamed]
- Be One – Natalie Grant (BONUS DELUXE) [Be One]
- Feel It – TobyMac [This Is Not A Test]
- It’s Not Over Yet (The Encore) – for KING & COUNTRY [Run Wild Live Free Love Strong: The Anniversary Edition]
- The River – Jordan Feliz [The River]
- Trust In You – Lauren Daigle [How Can It Be]
- Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains) – Crowder [Neon Steeple]
- Diamonds – Hawk Nelson [Diamonds]
- Happiness – Needtobreathe [HARD LOVE]
- Your Words – Third Day (feat Harvest) [Lead Us Back]
- Say The Word – Hillsong United [Empires]
- You Are Loved – Stars Go Dim [Stars Go Dim]
- Fierce – Jesus Culture [Let It Echo]
- Real Love – Hillsong Young & Free [Youth Revival]
- Exhale – Plumb [Exhale]
- What You Want – Tenth Avenue North [Followers]
- The God I Know – Love & The Outcome [These Are The Days]
- Chain Breaker – Zach Williams (BONUS) [Chain Breaker Single]
- Song Of My Father – Urban Rescue (BONUS) [Wild Heart]
- Alone – Hollyn (BONUS DELUXE) [Hollyn EP]
- Limitless – Colton Dixon (BONUS DELUXE) [Anchor]
- Live It Well – Switchfoot (BONUS DELUXE) [Where The Light Shines Through]
When you’re on a good thing, there’s no reason to change the formula right? If something has worked in the past, is there a reason to be adventurous and do something different? In the case of the latest incarnation of WOW Hits- WOW Hits 2017, to be released on September 23rd this year, there’s a little bit of both- a bit of the ‘sameness’ that has been present in previous years gone by, as well as an element of surprise and clever song choices, signifying boldness and a willingness to be more timely and current. So I guess it’s no surprise that once I saw the track list earlier this week when their facebook page posted the news, and I saw plenty of glaring omissions; I still wondered ‘Is WOW Hits even relevant anymore’? Are there any artists that have been present in almost every WOW Hits that really deserve to be there? Apart from Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day and Newsboys, most of the artists present in the WOW Hits in the 90’s and early 2000’s have come and gone. Not that that is a bad thing by any means, but it’s just interesting. Supposedly the ‘best songs of today’s top Christian artists and hits’, it’s time for me to dissect the track list and figure out if WOW Hits 2017: Deluxe Edition is the best 39 tracks the year has to offer.
If you’ve read the previous WOW Hits reviews on this site, as well as others I have written on Christian Music Zine (which is now sadly no longer running!), you’ll know that there were some dubious song choices and obvious song omissions, even whole artist omissions. Is this the case this time around though? Well, let me just say this. Even though there is an influx of more and more new bands each year (this is the case this past year, from September last year til now, with plenty of debuts, ranging from Curt Anderson, Hollyn, Jordan Feliz, Consumed By Fire, and Grayson Reed, to Urban Rescue, We Are Messengers, John Tibbs, Stars Go Dim, Hannah Kerr and Hannah Schaefer); there is still the tendency of veterans to take longer to record each album. Skillet’s Unleashed took 3 years to record since Rise, Love And The Outcome are set to release These Are The Days after 3 years since their self-titled debut album, and the gap between Live On Forever and Life Is Beautiful from The Afters is 3 and a half years. While it’s been more than 4 years since Britt Nicole’s Gold in 2012, and she still hasn’t released a new full length album yet.
What are the implications for WOW, you say? Well, because of the tendency of WOW albums to contain songs from the same artists, regardless of there being a new album or new single from that particular artist; WOW albums on the whole are a bit hit and miss, as sometimes there are double ups (the same songs on two consecutive WOW CD’s- something that I scratch my head at…), as well as outdated tracks, of which there are quite a few here. So does my verdict that I imposed upon previous WOW albums (3.5/5) still hold true for this year’s incarnation? Is WOW Hits 2017: Deluxe Edition worth your money? Well, there are indeed some bolters, and a few surprises (both good and puzzling); but on the whole, it’s a slight improvement from last year’s edition. A step in the right direction; hopefully WOW Hits 2018 will include more timely melodies.
Starting off with “Flawless” from MercyMe, we are blessed with Bart’s powerful and honest depiction of how Jesus has made us flawless in every single way because of His ultimate sacrifice. No matter how many times I listen to this inspiring and motivational track; there’s so much to unpack lyrically and thematically in this 4-minute work of art- the Gospel means so much more when there’s an explicit song about it with biblical truths, as is the case here. My favourite lines are in the chorus, and as the band highlight that ‘…no matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless, no matter the hurt or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain, still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless…’, the message that we are priceless and special in the eyes of our Heavenly Father hits home; a truth that I’m sure will impact many who listen to the track. While the second song on WOW Hits 2017 is “Just Be Held” from Casting Crowns, an equally mesmerising, compelling and emotive melody, where Mark Hall sings from God’s perspective, relaying to us that He is with us always and will never leave us, and that His plan is perfect, as evident in the chorus: ‘…your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place, I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held…’. While track #1 and #2 are slightly dated (“Dear Younger Me”- MercyMe re-recorded a radio version this year- and “One Step Away” may have been much more timely!), both MercyMe and Casting Crowns’ prowess as songwriters and inspirational artists are probably unparalleled in the CCM industry in terms of veteran bands- and it sure helps when these two melodies have been in circulation on the radio for quite some time over the past year!
A quick look through the rest of the tracklist on Disc 1 (usually more adult contemporary and worship) and you might say that it’s pretty spot on. And from first glance, I’d probably agree with you. “Guilty” (Newsboys), “Grace Wins” (Matthew West), Same Power (Jeremy Camp), “Remember” (Passion), “Breathe” (Jonny Diaz), “My Story (Big Daddy Weave) and “Deliverer” (Matt Maher) are all some of my personal favourites melodies and anthems over the past year, and it’s great to see all of these inclusions on such a strong disc 1. Though being a single from last September (almost a year now!), the theme song for the movie God’s Not Dead 2, which unequivocally and boldly proclaims that ‘…if saying I believe is out of line, if I’m judged cause I’m gonna give my life, to show the world the love that fills me, then I want to be guilty…’, reiterating that we all need to stand up boldly for Christ, standing firm in our unshakeable faith, is a no-brainer, probably one of the boldest and most courageous tracks Newsboys have ever recorded; while “Grace Wins”, once again inspired by listeners’ stories, has Matthew eagerly and fervently crying out that ‘…there’s a war between guilt and grace and they’re fighting for a sacred space, but I’m living proof Grace wins every time…’. “Same Power” has been in circulation on the radio for the better part of 2016, as Jeremy earnestly delivers a powerful worship song outlining that the same power that rose Jesus from the grave is living and dwelling is us, so we can do greater works than Jesus ever did (although “Christ In Me”, the current single from I Will Follow, is making more waves at radio than this song; I kind of expected “Same Power” as it’s been on the radio longer!), while both “My Story” and “Deliverer” are worthy inclusions- “My Story” takes on extra meaning and significance after Jay Weaver’s leg operations (plus “The Lion And The Lamb” is probably reserved for the next WOW Worship album!), and Matt’s earnest vocals relaying to us that Jesus is our deliverer, the One who carries us, is so profound that you cannot not have the song on WOW Hits 2017 (although one could also say that “Abide With Me” was sorely missed…). While surprise inclusions from “Remember” (Passion led by Brett Younker- instead of Kristian Stanfill in previous WOW Hits!) and “Breathe” (it’s great to hear Jonny on a WOW after a 6-year hiatus!) makes Disc 1 one of the most ‘complete’ discs I have seen in a while, since WOW Hits 2012!
Though I would have expected “Amen” present on WOW Hits 2017 (since both “Amen” and “Guilty” were singles around the same time, and “Guilty” made the list, then by extrapolation…), Steven Curtis Chapman’s more current hit and the worshipful “One True God”, featuring the guest vocals of Chris Tomlin, is a welcome addition, as Steven passionately declares that Jesus is the one true God, that ‘…You are the one alone in greatness, the One who never changes, Jesus You are the One who rose in power, the One who reigns forever…’. Probably the label is predicting this track to be a bigger hit than “Amen”, and I can definitely see that happening! While Francesca Battistelli’s earnest and honest melody “If We’re Honest” had success at radio this year, so her inclusion was somewhat expected (although I was a slightly disappointed!)- but you could argue that because this album was released 2 and a half years ago, that her presence on a WOW Hits album this year wasn’t warranted considering what was missed out. However, even though “Prodigal” from Sidewalk Prophets is a great song in its own right, “To Live Is Christ” has been on radio longer and has had more of an impact and it’s a shame to see another blunder from the annual compilation. Despite this mishap, three inspiring melodies stand out to me on the first disc (and yep, it’s none of the above I have already unpacked!).
10 years after Nichole Nordeman’s well received and highly praised album Brave, I thought that a comeback was not likely at all, however The Unmaking EP was released, which was a good surprise and the EP became one of my favourite EP’s of the year. “Slow Down” on the surface is an odd choice for inclusion here considering previous singles “The Unmaking” and “Name”, yet a deeper examination reveals a smart choice by the label, as the track became a viral hit after her lyric video took off- the video depicts and shows us a vulnerable and poignant journey of a parent’s love for their child, and could be described as a metaphor as to how much Jesus loves us, and then some more. While Chris Tomlin’s version of the worshipful “Good, Good Father” is more overt in its lyrics, with the song, originally recorded by Housefires, pulling at my heart strings like previous versions such as from Zealand Worship and Casting Crowns, with the simple melody reaffirming the belief that God is a good Father and He loves to provide and lavish His children with good gifts. Normally WOW would include songs on their albums from the artists’ already released albums, but “Good, Good Father” stops this trend, with Chris’s new album slated for release later on this year, yet still with no title or release date- a testament to the power of a song and the impact it can have as it transcends boundaries of language and world viewpoints.
But if there is one song you must listen to on WOW Hits 2017 (and I do mean one, across both discs!) this year, it is Danny Gokey’s “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again”. Originally recorded by Phillips Craig And Dean in 2012, the now re-worked version with an added verse is probably the most played song in CCM radio currently- not too bad for an artist not signed on a major Christian label. Inspiring and thought provoking, compelling and moving; Danny’s heartfelt message about saying goodbye to our past, encouraging us to ‘…let every heartbreak and every scar be a picture that reminds you who has carried you this far ‘cause love sees farther than you ever could, in this moment heaven’s working everything for your good…’, was inspired by a story he heard from a pastor, about a woman’s heart failing during surgery, and the surgeon actually speaking to the woman, asking her to tell the heart to beat again. The woman lived in the end, but what stuck out to me was the message- that Jesus the great Physician and Surgeon has repaired our hearts, has comforted all of our past hurts, so all we need to do is to trust Him, and let our hearts beat again, knowing that the Author and Perfector of our life is holding it all together in the palm of His hands. What a majestic and hopeful melody of life and life abundant, and my favourite song from Danny Gokey ever! A brilliant addition to an eclectic and musically diverse Disc 1 of WOW Hits 2017.
Disc 2 of WOW Hits 2017 is up next (usually comprising of pop/rock tracks), and while the timeliness of some of the songs as well as some choices and glaring omissions have me scratching my head, there still are some positive plus points here (although these 15 songs aren’t as cohesive as the first disc!). TobyMac’s soul/jazz/funk/dance anthem “Feel It” opens up proceedings, as the 50-year-old begins to show us how to worship God. Musically something Toby has never recorded before, Toby shows us a fun side to Christian music we have probably never heard before in a long time. Reiterating that he feels Jesus in his heart and in his soul, and that’s how he knows of Jesus’ presence; Toby doesn’t put a step wrong here, with this 4 minute infectious and contagious danceable ball of energy, featuring Mr Talkbox on guest vocals, as well as a surprise uncredited cameo of Tauren Wells from Royal Tailor, setting the rest of the disc up nicely. On the other end of the disc, the closer “The God I Know”, from husband/wife duo Love & The Outcome (comprised of Jodi King and Chris Rademaker), from their upcoming sophomore album These Are The Days; is more piano pop, as the mid-tempo ballad brings a personal touch to the album. This testimony-style melody reiterates the fact that we were lost before we know God, and now we are found. As Jodi earnestly cries out ‘…and then I threw my hands up, worries down, I remember when He showed me how to break up with my doubt, once I was lost but now I’m found, no strings attached when He saved my soul, I want you to know The God I know…’, we are inspired to actively pursue and know God if we haven’t already, as we marvel at this God we know.
In between track #1 and #15 on disc 2, we are greeted by 13 other offerings that are across the range of ‘really deserving’ to ‘this song does not fit at all’! Falling into the latter category, sadly are Crowder’s “Lift Your Head Weary Sinners (Chains)” (“My Victory” or “Run Devil Run”- both from the forthcoming American Prodigal would have been more timely!) as well as for KING & COUNTRY’s “It’s Not Over Yet (The Encore)”. Though I could forgive Crowder’s inclusion (the song has been popular at radio this past year, and especially if it is the live version featuring Tedashii), but particularly with Joel and Luke’s inspiring track- there’s no denying the heart behind the brothers, but surely “Priceless” should have been a shoe-in…right? Perhaps the label wanted to wait until the novel and movie of the same name of Priceless released, so as to gauge whether the song would be deserving on next year’s WOW Hits (which I reckon would be outdated too- perhaps “Ceasefire” for WOW Hits 2018?), however I believe this to be a weak excuse. No matter, the song still inspires, and with strings and synth abound, we are reminded that we can ‘…keep on fighting, out of the dark, into the light, it’s not over, hope is rising, never give in, never give up, it’s not over…’, as the track proves just how much impact the duo holds right now in CCM and in the mainstream industry too. “You Are Loved” by Stars Go Dim also falls into the category of being a poor choice (not because the song isn’t great, but because it was already included on last year’s WOW Hits; maybe “Walking Like Giants should have been included instead?), while in my opinion, the worship trio of Hillsong UNITED (“Say The Word”), Jesus Culture (“Fierce”) and Hillsong Young & Free (“Real Love”) are all timely and welcome additions, but in my opinion do not fit on the second disc- they’d be much more at home alongside Steven Curtis Chapman and Big Daddy Weave instead of Needtobreathe and Hawk Nelson.
Speaking of the aforementioned artists, both Bear Rineheart and co. and Jon Steingard and co. are present here, with “Happiness” and “Diamonds” respectively, both of which peaked immensely at radio. As “Diamonds” is as joyful as it is bouncy, with the hopeful and motivational lyrics sung against a backdrop of layered electronic drums and synth, with Jon eloquently highlighting that ‘…He’s making diamonds, diamonds, making diamonds out of dust, He is refining and in His timing, He’s making diamonds out of us…’; “Happiness” on the other hand is slightly grittier and musically more raw, as we are presented with a gospel choir during the first few seconds of the 3-and-a-half-minute danceable melody, with Bear fervently recounting that he is ambitiously chasing and pursing happiness, and longing for the time when he truly encounters the meaning of the word. As we are encouraged to actively run towards the One who ensures that our happiness is eternal, pressing on towards Jesus as our eternal prize; this is a thought provoking and stirring melody and timely inclusion on WOW Hits 2017, that is bound to create discussion as to what it means to be truly happy.
Newcomers Lauren Daigle and Jordan Feliz also brighten up the track list with “Trust In You” and “The River” respectively (the former being a piano led soulful melody about trusting in Jesus, and the latter being an all-out southern gospel type worship melody that has us tapping our toes and moving our feet, proclaiming that ‘…we’re going down to the river, down to the river, down to the river to pray, let’s get washed by the water, washed by the water and rise up in amazing grace…’; while Third Day’s worshipful “Your Words” (featuring Harvest on backing vocals) may have also fitted more on disc 1, but nevertheless is a great song to be included, as the band have never failed to impress me with their worshipful heart combined with their southern rock roots. “Your Words” is no exception, a beautifully crafted single highlighting that only Jesus’ words can bring us new life and can comfort. Tiffany Arbuckle Lee aka Plumb makes an appearance here, with the somewhat dated “Exhale” from the album of the same name (in my opinion, “Great Is Our God” should have included…), and though the song is great, the timeliness makes me think that no matter what the year is, some songs will be more current than others- it’s just the way it is. Yet it is Tenth Avenue North and their smash hit “What You Want” that immediately draws me in, as Mike Donehey and his friends immediately travel out of their safe pop/rock genre and into electronic dance/pop. Reiterating to us that the world is full of leaders, but who God calls us to be is followers of Him, I am amazed to hear the band effortlessly sing a different genre of music, and deliver the song well. If Followers is as half as good as this song is, in my opinion, then that album will surely enter into my top ten albums of the year.
Regardless of which disc you prefer, there’s no denying that these 30 tracks have been heard on the radio at one point or another over the last year. As for the remainder of the 9 tracks, three are bonus songs and 6 are only available on the deluxe edition of the album, with the WOW Hits brand starting to compile deluxe versions of WOW from 2012 onward). With We are Messengers (“Everything Comes Alive”), Zach Williams (“Chain Breaker”) and Urban Rescue (“Song Of My Father”) rounding out the songs on the standard edition of the album (I don’t really understand the inclusion of “Song Of My Father”- it’s not even a single! – is “Never Stop” too alternative?); we are blessed to hear up and coming artists and a glimpse of what they may have to offer us in the coming years both musically and lyrically. And there are 6 songs exclusive to the deluxe edition, songs like “Be One” (Natalie Grant), “Unashamed” (Building 429), “Joy Of The Lord” (Rend Collective), “Alone” (Hollyn), “Limitless” (Colton Dixon) and “Live It Well” (Switchfoot) round out the 39 tracks, and while some of these songs would’ve been more suited to WOW Hits 2016 instead (“Be One” and “Limitless” maybe…), these 6 songs are nevertheless hits over the last couple of years, all of which are deserving to be on WOW Hits, either on this year’s compilation or the last. Particularly with “Live It Well” and “Alone”, I am impressed at their inclusions, as Switchfoot have created their best album yet in my opinion with Where The Light Shines Through and Hollyn is sure to be inspiring us with her pop and rap for years to come!
As I have mentioned time and time again, an analysis of the year’s most current and best songs isn’t complete without mentioning what missed out. And a glaring omission is 7eventh Time Down’s “God Is On The Move”, a song that has been definitely in circulation on radio that past year, but was shunned. For what reason, I don’t know, maybe the band is too rocky? Skillet with “Stars” (or maybe “Feel Invincible”) were not present either, as well as Kutless’ “Bring It On”, or maybe “Mirror”. The Afters (“Live On Forever”), Jason Gray (“Sparrows”), Audio Adrenaline (“Sound Of The Saints”), Ryan Stevenson (“Eye Of The Storm”), Finding Favour (“Refuge”), Mat Kearney (“Air I Breathe”), Group 1 Crew (“Wake Me Up”), Blanca (“Not Backing Down”), Meredith Andrews (“Deeper”), Phil Wickham (“Your Love Awakens Me”), Citizen Way (“When I’m With You”), I Am They (“Make A Way”), Josh Wilson (“No More”), Brandon Heath (“Only Just Met You”), Chris August (“He’s Still Here”), Unspoken (“Higher”), Zealand Worship (“Your Love Is Wild”) and Hillary Scott & The Scott Family (“Thy Will”) are all not present (did I just list another 20 or so songs, which could have easily been a 3rd disc of WOW Hits?)- and that’s just the artists who were bypassed all together. I mentioned earlier about song choices by artists which were very untimely, and I also suggested more current singles of these artists, so I guess when you look at the compilation as a whole, in comparison to every CCM single that has been recorded over the past year, then WOW Hits 2017: Deluxe Edition isn’t that ‘great’ as the label makes it out to be. Sure these songs that made the cut (what is the criteria anyway? BEC Recordings and Inpop Records seem to be shunned, and Centriticty Music mostly shunned!) are great in their own right, but to me the album is about the selection of the 39 songs as a package, not about the individual tracks themselves.
Nevertheless, I still have hope for this compilation, as there are some winners here, enough for me to encourage you all to check out the album. As I said last year, 39 tracks is way, way, way too short to cover the impressive and amazing singles, and God given melodies from the talented Christian artists today. But 39 is the arbitrary number, and as it stands, only about half of these are smack bang on the money. Several tracks in WOW Hits 2017 are good, and are chosen well, however notable absences from all that I have listed above as well as dubious song choices from artists with dated songs, sour my eager anticipation of future WOW Hits albums. So should you buy WOW Hits 2017: Deluxe Edition if you want the best songs of the year? You may find a few that you like on this years’ edition, but saying that these 39 songs are the best is definitely a stretch- for me WOW Hits albums need to be extended to maybe 70 or 80 songs, then we can be satisfied. These artists have been around on WOW for a while, which is ok, but sameness doesn’t equal the best. Sometimes taking a risk and including newer artists at the expense of older ones is needed in moving forward and making the series more relatable to the younger listeners. I guess that’s what they did with the cruel but much needed culls of Michael W. Smith, Rebecca St James and Point Of Grace (maybe Amy Grant and sadly Josh Wilson as well!), but if the WOW brand is to succeed for a further 20 more years, then big decisions need to be made. All that being said though, is this album good in its own right? Yes, it is. Not spectacular though, but good. If you go ahead and buy this album, I won’t convince you not to, but please keep in mind the other artists not on the album that I mentioned above as well! Hopefully WOW gets it right, or mostly for next year.
10 songs to listen to: Flawless, Grace Wins, Tell your Heart to Beat Again, One True God, Unashamed, The River, Diamonds, What You Want, The God I Know, Live It Well
RIYL: The Afters, Sanctus Real, Josh Wilson, Brandon Heath, Group 1 Crew