As a rule of thumb, I typically avoid "greatest hits" packages, because of their lack of value to me. If I care enough about a group that is releasing a hits package, I usually already have most of what I want from them, which usually leaves me no need to buy it again. Since fans of 4Him are no strangers to hits packages, with Best Ones, Chapter One: A Decade and Simply 4Him all being released within the last few years, I think the band knew that if they were going to go the "hits" route for their final record, they had better try something different — and alas, they did. 4Him decided to completely re-record some of their most popular tunes for this record, which brings everything up on an equal playing field with albums that are released in 2006, adding a tremendous amount of value for this album.
For me, the standout on this album was the medley, which is comprised of "The Message," "The Measure of A Man," "A Man You Could Write About," and "Why." The medley runs for close to eleven minutes, with excellent transitions, and just a great overall recording quality. That is one thing that cannot be disputed, this album sounds great! Another great one, "The Center of the Mark," which was released in '96, has been beautifully updated with a new accompaniment track featuring strings, electric guitars, and piano, which goes along way into updating this song for the new millennium. "Unity (We Stand)", Encore's first single, is a bit of a disappointment however. "Unity's" chorus oddly features a female choir, provided by Point Of Grace, with the end result being short and quite uncreative: "We stand, we come, we lift our voice as one." 4Him's vocals take a back seat to these guest vocalists in the chorus and most of the rest of the song. And, quite honestly, "Unity" just isn't that good, which is sad being that this is the last new song they will release to cap off to their career.
At the end of Encore, we are treated to four bonus tracks, one from each member of the group. Even though Mark, Andy, and Kirk have had some sort of solo experience in the past, it is Encore's last song, Marty Magehee's "Runaway Train" that clearly wins out of these four. "Train" dares to shatter the 4Him mold and truly be something unique, which is what solo music should be. I look at Bart Millard's (MercyMe) Hymned as the best example of this. I don't know if Marty is planning on releasing a solo record, but I'll definitely give it a listen if he does. The songs from Mark ("Carry the Light") and Andy ("Debt of Gratitude") have been previously available on their respective solo projects, and Kirk's "Get Down Mountain", again, features a choir, so you know my feelings on that subject.
While it is sad to see 4Him end their career, you can't really blame them. These guys have been making music for 15 years, and are ready to move on and do other things. Although no single disc can effectively sum up every stop on 4Him's road to today, Encore is a fitting archive of some of their best — newly recorded so that they can be equally enjoyed as one release, and not like an 80's, 90's, and today radio station. Encore is a fitting end to their show, which will never be forgotten.- Review date: 1/15/06, written by Andrew Shaw
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