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Worship Through The Valley - Click to view!Everyone goes through highs and lows in life. The hardest part about the lows is continuing to worship God and give Him praise. It's so much easier to offer up thanks when we are enjoying the good times that we tend to get selfish in times of strife; we lose our focus. Instead of turning inwards at the first sign of trouble, we should follow the advice given by the title of Matt McGee's debut album and Worship Through the Valley.

Matt's album is a bare bones, straightforward testament of love and adoration. Originally envisioned as a simple project for personal reflection, this project grew and evolved through its production into something much more. Instead of focusing only on introspection, there are songs of praise, an instrumental, and a wonderful rendition of a traditional hymn. This range adds depth to the album and broadens its appeal beyond the students for whom Matt intended the early tracks.

The album most prominently features a stripped-down, acoustic feel that begins with the opening track "Lord, Come." The follow-up is "Who Am I," which is somewhat slower and more introspective. Instrumental music is not something routinely found in popular or worship music, but "Every Tribe," comes next, and it takes the listener on a quick journey around the world. Pay close attention and the Native American and African drums, Asian cymbals, and other exotic rhythms you hear will convey the message of global worship.

Matt chooses to include a cover of the Hillsongs track "You Said" next. He calls this song a personal favorite, but the range of the song is too much of a stretch for his vocal abilities. In fact, this is the recurring theme to the more subdued and basic songs of the first half of the album; Matt's vocals lack some of the strength and control he displays later on. "More of You, Lord" is made more poignant by the concluding clip of Matt's uncle, Dr. Rick Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson (nationally known pastor, to whom the album is dedicated) served as an inspiration to Matt, and, tragically, was killed in a car accident only weeks before the album's release.

The second half of the album is more upbeat and introduces a fuller sound. The up-tempo style and richer backup give Matt the confidence to let loose with his vocals. Consequently, he comes off as more confident and comfortable. "Holy is the Lamb" is demonstrative of the later style, featuring some excellent guitar work by Nate Sabin (producer and co-writer for Sara Groves.) Bringing up the rear is the best track on the disc. Probably everyone has heard "Old Rugged Cross" numerous times. But the beautiful piano performance turned in by Greg Worzel (who also produced and co-wrote much of the album), combined with the best vocal performance of the album by McGee, results in a simply wonderful vision of Christ's sacrifice and how much we owe Him. The icing on the cake is that the track concludes with a verse from the Gaithers' classic, "Because He Lives."

Though his passion is evident throughout, Matt's vocals early on leave a little to be desired. The stark sound of the first quarter of the album leaves him alone and sounding less than confident. Combine that with his slightly unusual finish to notes, something like a male version of Cher, and the early portion of the album is forgettable. That said, his performance picks up with the pace, and the second half pretty much saves the entire project. The truth is, though, that God doesn't much care about the sound of our voices if the sentiment is heartfelt. Matt is a talented writer, and his lyrics express that which we feel in our hearts, but for which we don't always have words. While this project is on par with the majority of worship albums out there, McGee should, with a refined approach (and staying within his comfort zone), do better on his next project.
- Scott Bush
May 2004
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