2016-06-30
(RNS) Their voices and visions are fresh. Their understanding of God is intimate and individualistic. Their outlook on faith challenges a generation to make its mark.

"City On a Hill," the new collaborative recording of some of the nation's most gifted Christian contemporary musicians, is an unparalleled spiritual jam session.

Released by Essential Records, the new CD is accompanied by a book with the same title, outlining the faith perspectives of participating artists.

The idea of competition is "innate to the entertainment industry and characteristic of most artists," said Steve Hindalong of the group, The Choir. So while collaborations such as "City On a Hill" demonstrate unity among artists, there will still be obstacles to such cooperation.

"But worshipping and praising God together is a major function of the 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 one accomplished through the planning and commitment of both record company executives and musical artists.

Both the book and the CD tap the wellspring beneath an increasingly successful musical movement. This is music for today, unfettered by denominational barriers or individual inhibitions.

As such, it weaves naturally into the modern worship movement linked to Christian contemporary music. Like that movement, this music celebrates faith and doubt, examines the questioning heart and probes the mystical spirit.

"Our concept of community is one that takes the emphasis off of the particular artists who may have their name on the song, and places it where it belongs, in worship and exaltation of God," said Hindalong, "City on a Hill's" producer. The Choir is known for its modern Christian rock sound. It has recorded 11 albums in its 15-year history and was once recognized as readers' "favorite alternative band" in a poll by Christian Contemporary Music Magazine.

"`City On a Hill' allows us the opportunity to join the talents and hearts of these artists in such a way that I think God was truly glorified," Hindalong said.

Other famous faces in Christian music -- from Third Day to Jars of Clay -- combine talents in this unusual CD. All the contributors to the accompanying book have donated their royalities to Empowering Lives International, a ministry in East Africa.

On the CD, the artists' collaboration produces a recording rich in emotion, wisdom and hope. Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer sings "Precious Jesus" with The Choir. Mac Powell of Third Day joins Cliff and Danielle Young of Caedmon's Call for "God of Wonders." Third Day partnered with the late Gene Eugene on "I Remember You," recorded just a week before Eugene's death.

All the artists' talents underscore Eugene for the song "Marvelous Light."

In the book, Hindalong offers the equivalent of a backstage perspective on the experiences of young Christian musicians. His comments are both wry and insightful.

"After 10 albums and 700 gigs (give or take a few) as the drummer and lyricist for a semi-renowned, marginally successful Christian rock band called The Choir, and having produced 30 or so albums for other groups of a similar description, I consider myself lucky to still be at it," he said.

His professional experiences -- spending hours in recording studios and in touring vans -- prepared this musician for more of the same 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 to speak to such a subject," he said.

"Am I a `good enough' Christian? Am I sufficiently `walking in the light?"' he writes in the book's foreword. "Truth is, if you knew me very well, you'd likely say `no.' But God sees me as righteous because of 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 the individual stories of the artists featured on this unusual recording. While he offers the book as a faith testimony, the stories, like the music 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 of Clanton, Ala. Part of a churchgoing family, Powell never struggled with drug 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 James Version of the Bible. After finally responding at one service to an altar call inviting people who wanted to accept Jesus to come forward, Powell seemed on his way to Christian adulthood. Only later did he realize he'd fallen short.

"I've learned there is no reason to play games with God, pretending everything is OK between you and him. We can stop pretending and stop running from him," Powell says.



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