In 2000, Essential Records struck gold with the innovative collaborative effort entitled City On a Hill. Like any great original, a worthy follow-up is always welcome and Essential once again delivered a new worship favorite found in 2002's sequel City On a Hill: Sing Alleluia. Later that year, the nothing-short-of brilliant Christmas detour, City On a Hill: It's Christmas Time may have looked like a cheap addition to a hit series, but proved to be a unique must-have seasonal offering. Now it's Fall 2003 and Essential Records is releasing what is being called the third and final official chapter in the regular City series, this time entitled City On a Hill: The Gathering. The series ends on a high note scoring once more with fourteen new City arrangements of original and older worship cuts.
As with the other records, producer Steve Hindalong teams up with the brilliance of Marc Byrd (Common Children, GlassByrd) to piece together a thrice-done but always interesting format. Considering it is a format and feel done three (or technically four) times on the City On a Hill projects where CCM artists work together on the tracks, it's a surprise it maintains a fresh feel each time around. Although the novelty and wonder of the first City album has since worn off slowly with each release, what keeps it exciting is getting to see artists like Jars Of Clay and Sixpence None the Richer collaborate, or even larger moments offering the likes of Caedmon's Call, Jars' Dan Haseltine, Bebo Norman, and Sara Groves teaming on vocals with members of Jars Of Clay, Sixpence, and The Choir performing the accompaniment. There aren't too many other records where you will find this.
The Gathering opens strongly with the upbeat title cut followed by "Kyrie Eleison" fronting Sixpence's Leigh Nash with a mighty impressive backup choir. An inspired union of Sixpence None The Richer with Bebo Norman highlights "Beautiful Scandalous Night," a song originally penned by veterans Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty of The Choir some eleven years ago. Daugherty, Haseltine, and Groves team with GlassByrd and Paul Colman for a memorable original that tastefully incorporates a brief nod to the City On a Hill original "God Of Wonders," a song that first appeared on the 2000 record and has since become a favorite among worship services all over. The rest of the project falls in line as nicely as those that preceded it with the album coming to a bittersweet close in a reprise of "Marvelous Light," a song that has appeared on each of the City efforts. This time around, the regretfully short rendition is lead by Dan Haseltine and Ginny Owens, accompanied by another impressive vocal ensemble.
While it's understandable that the artistic muscle behind these albums would want to cap off the series at a trilogy, this remains a collection of collaborative efforts that are unmatched and it will be sad to see this new tradition end. Perhaps we'll see more projects like City On a Hill in the future. Until then, The Gathering is a worthy end to an impressive run. Thanks Steve, Marc, Derri... & friends.- Review date: 9/22/03, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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