"City On a Hill," the new collaborative recording of some of thenation's most gifted Christian contemporary musicians, is anunparalleled spiritual jam session.
Released by Essential Records, the new CD is accompanied by a bookwith the same title, outlining the faith perspectives of participatingartists.
The idea of competition is "innate to the entertainment industry andcharacteristic of most artists," said Steve Hindalong of the group, TheChoir. So while collaborations such as "City On a Hill" demonstrateunity among artists, there will still be obstacles to such cooperation.
"But worshipping and praising God together is a major function ofthe church -- old people, little children, all generations," he said."Certainly the relevance of Christian art is timeless."
Making "City On a Hill" was no easy feat, he said, but oneaccomplished through the planning and commitment of both recordcompany executives and musical artists.
Both the book and the CD tap the wellspring beneath an increasinglysuccessful musical movement. This is music for today, unfettered bydenominational barriers or individual inhibitions.
As such, it weaves naturally into the modern worship movement linkedto Christian contemporary music. Like that movement, this musiccelebrates faith and doubt, examines the questioning heart and probesthe mystical spirit.
"Our concept of community is one that takes the emphasis off of theparticular artists who may have their name on the song, and places itwhere it belongs, in worship and exaltation of God," said Hindalong,"City on a Hill's" producer. The Choir is known for its modernChristian rock sound. It has recorded 11 albums in its 15-year historyand was once recognized as readers' "favorite alternative band" in apoll by Christian Contemporary Music Magazine.
"`City On a Hill' allows us the opportunity to join the talents andhearts of these artists in such a way that I think God was trulyglorified," Hindalong said.
Other famous faces in Christian music -- from Third Day to Jars ofClay -- combine talents in this unusual CD. All the contributors tothe accompanying book have donated their royalities to Empowering LivesInternational, a ministry in East Africa.
On the CD, the artists' collaboration produces a recording rich inemotion, wisdom and hope. Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer sings"Precious Jesus" with The Choir. Mac Powell of Third Day joins Cliff andDanielle Young of Caedmon's Call for "God of Wonders." Third Daypartnered with the late Gene Eugene on "I Remember You," recorded just aweek before Eugene's death.
All the artists' talents underscore Eugene for the song "MarvelousLight."
In the book, Hindalong offers the equivalent of a backstageperspective on the experiences of young Christian musicians. Hiscomments are both wry and insightful.
"After 10 albums and 700 gigs (give or take a few) as the drummerand lyricist for a semi-renowned, marginally successful Christian rockband called The Choir, and having produced 30 or so albums for othergroups of a similar description, I consider myself lucky to still be atit," he said.
His professional experiences -- spending hours in recordingstudios and in touring vans -- prepared this musician for more of thesame and, in a sense, perpetuates adolescence, Hindalong said.
Just the idea of compiling the book gave Hindalong pause.
"I wondered about my worthiness to accomplish such a goal and tospeak to such a subject," he said.
"Am I a `good enough' Christian? Am I sufficiently `walking in thelight?"' he writes in the book's foreword. "Truth is, if you knew mevery well, you'd likely say `no.' But God sees me as righteous becauseof what Jesus did. And he loves me even more than I love my children --and that's a lot."
With refreshing honesty, Hindalong then proceeds to offer theindividual stories of the artists featured on this unusual recording.While he offers the book as a faith testimony, the stories, like themusic of the new CD, are neither pious nor sanctimonious.
Recording his thoughts for the book on a crowded, noisy tour bus,Mac Powell of the Third Day writes about growing up in the small town ofClanton, Ala. Part of a churchgoing family, Powell never struggled withdrug or alcohol addiction.
But he remembers singing many hymns filled with "thees" and "thous"and other majestic imagery reminiscent of the theology of the King JamesVersion of the Bible. After finally responding at one service to analtar call inviting people who wanted to accept Jesus to come forward,Powell seemed on his way to Christian adulthood. Only later did herealize he'd fallen short.
"I've learned there is no reason to play games with God, pretendingeverything is OK between you and him. We can stop pretending and stoprunning from him," Powell says.