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A TIME TO WORSHIP (2004)
A Time To WorshipAmericans have been known to lovingly copy the trends of our UK big brother. Whatever gains popularity there receives attention on this side of the Atlantic. (Anyone remember the fluke of Jimi Hendrix? My point exactly.) Here's an opportunity for us Yankees to launch onto something truly beautiful. When executive producer Hugh Robertson learned about the genre called "Chillout," he sought to make a worship album that reflected its soothing ambient feel. While the European style serves as little more than calm background music, the team making Chillout sought to use the music as a tool to "be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). With that higher purpose in mind, A Time to Worship was born.

Chillout is unlike anything I've heard in the Christian market. I've never been a huge fan of electronica, but this album awakens a formerly unseen delight in the synthesizer-driven genre. There's not a traditional guitar, bass, or drum kit to be heard; instead there's smooth trumpet and electronic keyboards, and every instrument and vocal gets fed through reverb and endless looping devices. The musicians take songs made famous by the likes of dc Talk, U2, and MercyMe, and instead of making watered-down versions of the hits, they turn the sound upside-down and produce entirely new creations. For example, the producers take "I Can Only Imagine" and give it an otherworldly feel that compliments the lyrics more so than the original instrumentation. After a few listens, I've grown to like this version more than the initial recording. Even the over-used "Above All" receives new life with the differing melodies and harmonies. The chorus is simplified to "Crucified / You lived to die." Matt Redman's "The Heart of Worship" is explored with a semi-80s keyboard approach. Vocals are spoken instead of sung, reminding me of Rebecca St. James' work on Transform. "Jesus Freak" turns to a jazz ballad, using a trumpet to sound more like a sultry saxophone. The only lyrics are the bridge: "People say I'm strange / Does it make me a stranger / That my best friend was born in a manger?" I don't think Chillout reconstructs Out of Eden's "Lovely Day" and U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" with as much success as the other tracks, but they don't make this smooth listening experience rocky in any way.

There are a few original songs that deserve mention. "I Belong to You" hits the mark with its loops and airy vocals. "Return to You" and "I Will Be Your Friend" become sister songs: first there's a musical journey of return to the Father, then a song of surrender. The music blends together seamlessly to form a successful continuum. Then "I Trust in You" arrives, the tune that sounds the most radio-friendly and the most like a traditional worship song. The female vocalist sings, "When I can't see the way / I trust in You / I believe the things You say / I trust in You / Even when I'm sinking down beneath the waves / I trust in you / I know that You will lift me up and put my feet on solid ground." There's a distinct sense of hope and encouragement in the melody.

I think the purpose behind this album works; A Time to Worship creates the right atmosphere for personal reflection. It is in the quiet times that we can often hear God speak the loudest, so this project provides a wonderful time for the creation to be still before the Creator and just, well, chill out.
- Hollie Stewart
January 2005
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