The greatest hits collection was once the rite of passage of an established recording artist, usually covering a few successful albums in to the artist's career. It usually featured the artist's hits in either chronological or thematic order, one new song and one well chosen cover song. But in recent years, the notion of a static collection of songs chosen either by the artist or their record company and burned to a plastic disc has taken a hit. The free flow of individual songs, whether in an iTunes play list or some other medium, has rendered this once standard album a bit of a relic. The fan can now choose what songs they feel most represent the artist's best work and create their own collection of sorts. So it behooves the artist and their record company to offer something truly unique in order to entice potential buyers to give their greatest hits collection a chance.
Chris Tomlin is as worthy a candidate for a greatest hits album (or "essential collection" in this case) as Christian music has to offer. With eight songs in the CCLI top twenty five most sung modern church songs, Tomlin is as universal a presence on Sunday morning as he is on the sales rack and the radio. There is no denying that the man can write a singable song.
But what songs are worthy of inclusion on this first pass (there will no doubt be many more collections to come as record companies continue to seize every opportunity to repackage old material) at a greatest hits collection? All the expected candidates are here: recent hit (and #2 CCLI song) "Our God," older introductory Passion songs like "Famous One," "Wonderful Cross" and "Enough," and mid-period radio hits like "Jesus Messiah" and "Made To Worship."
In recent years, it has become standard to re-record a few of the artist's earlier songs now that they can command a bigger recording budget. For this collection, Tomlin has re-worked "Forever," "How Great Is Our God" and "We Fall Down" to good effect. Gone is the somewhat cheesy disco drum beat on "Forever" that permeate too many of his songs, and in its place is a much bigger and fuller drum coda that actually lifts the familiar melody to new heights.
And for as powerful a song as "How Great Is Our God" is to sing, it has always suffered from anemic recorded versions. This collection includes two re-workings of this "new classic" that both improve the sonic impact of this tune. The first is a "world edition" of the anthem that adds vocalists singing in many different languages and is a creative imagining of what singing the song in Heaven might be like. The second is a stadium-sized version that adds much bigger guitar and drums.
Tomlin has enough well-loved songs that the argument about what songs got excluded will no doubt be loud and boisterous. Notable missing songs are "Sing Sing Sing," "Unchanging," "Kindness" and recent radio staple "I Will Follow." Also missing is any new material. With so many worthy song exclusions, it is understandable perhaps that any new material would have been nixed in lieu of fitting in one more hit. But the inclusion of a brand new song would have rounded out this material nicely.
When evaluating a "greatest hits" collection, it is important to judge the quality of the album by song selection, new material and overall presentation, and not by the songs themselves, as discussion of these tunes has already happened in many circles. By that metric, How Great Is Our God: The Essential Collection earns points for overall song selection and for the sonic upgrade of a few familiar tunes. It then gives those points right back for the slightly suspect decision not to include any brand new material that would have made this collection truly "essential" for fans.- Review date: 11/11/11, written by Tincan Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Sparrow Records
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