With rise in popularity of iTunes an increasing number of independent artists have – wisely I believe – focused on releasing single or EPs instead of full-lengths, so when I see an independent band release a full-length I often approach it with apprehension. At best, I expect I will download two tracks – the highlights – and the rest of the CD will turn out to be filler. I can count on two fingers how many full-length indie worship records have proven otherwise; Unhindered’s self-titled CD, and “The Church” by Ascension Worship.
It’s an impressive feat: most every song on this disc stands alongside all but maybe the CCLI top 10 – any church would do well to add any of these songs to their Sunday morning setlist. Standing firmly in the space between modern Hillsong and Jesus Culture, Ascension Worship’s lyrics are Biblical and clear – the melodies are memorable and easy to sing – the music is modern, familiar, and direct. Honestly, if I were digging for a complaint, it would be that the songs tend to lean strongly towards the slower tempos, but song-by-song, every one is solid.
“Grace” – a hook-laden upper-mid-temp rocker, akin to “Your Grace is Enough” or “Glory to God Forever”, is highest up my list to sing on a Sunday soon. Not only do I love guitar-driven praise, but the verses and choruses are simple, straight forward, and broadly corporate and singable – it’d be an easy song to introduce to a congregation with little introduction.
“Hope is Alive” – a live version of this was the title track for Ascension’s last CD, but the studio version is on fire. Much like classic Hillsong United, it builds to a monumental intensity, the loud proclamation of the title: “Hope is A-Live in YOU!” So very powerful!
“Psalm 67” – on first listen this one tends to slip under the radar, and then days later I found myself singing it and thinking, “Who wrote that and where did I hear it?” A subtle, nuanced, and beautiful ballad, easily interpreted in a variety of worship environments.
“Spirit Move” – the final track, released as a single last year, is another powerful, Hillsong-esque worship anthem – a plea for God to breath life into dry bones – a new take on a classic, Biblical theme.
Not so much a single churches worship team, or a conference band, Ascension Worship are a movement based in Jacksonville, which has recently put down roots also in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC; Gainesville, FL; Mobile, AL; and most recently, Chicago, IL. Made up of over 400 worship leaders, songwriters, and musicians, Ascension’s publishing arm culls the original corporate worship highlights from their network, creates an official “Ascension Worship band”, and tracks those stand-out songs for the benefit of the broader church.
As a church musicians/worship band “temp agency” of sorts, Ascension is not your conventional worship band, and this is not just an average collection of songs. Sing these in your car, then sing them in your church – in the meanwhile, explore whether or not your church might benefit by partnering with Ascension.