|Pursuing the live experience | Posted October 17, 2011
Travis Cottrell’s seventh release, When The Stars Burn Down, finds the writer, worship pastor, singer, songwriter and traveling minstrel continuing to create blended worship music experiences, weaving original material together with traditional hymns updated with modern worship sensibilities. Cottrell’s an accomplished composer and his facility with structuring arrangements enlivens the more traditional songs, keeping them surprisingly recognizable yet fresh, seamlessly bridging the past and the present. He also crafts a pleasant ebb and flow within the songs themselves as well as between the more lively praise and the unhurried worship.
Cottrell covers Chris Tomlin and the Passion Band’s “All My Fountains” in his signature AC-style with the opening track of When The Stars Burn Down. Unfortunately, a poor choice of effect on the lead electric guitar grates on the ears. Followed by the similarly covered, but more successfully arranged “I’m Changed” (by the prolific Jeffrey Smith of City of Life).
Not to be confused with the hymn by the same name, Cottrell’s “Lord, We Come” changes gears with a simple and languid intro anchored by a single electric guitar and Cottrell’s voice. Piano, drums and a choral background are slowly introduced and the central cry for the Holy Spirit’s presence becomes a passionate resound before quietly trailing off. “Faithful God,” another original song, is a tempo-changing, guitar-driven declaration of GOD’s generosity & imminence in our lives that brings to mind Lincoln Brewster.
Again, not to be confused with Ayiesha Woods’ multiply-covered “Refine Me,” Cottrell’s earnest plea and desire to remain committed to the transforming process evokes comparison to many of Don Moen and Dennis Jernigan’s understated yet memorable ballads. Compared to the other revamps, the musically standard and tedious updates of “Just As I Am” and “Power In The Blood” follow.
“My Soul, March On” sounds more like the aforementioned Lincoln Brewster or Charlie Hall as Cottrell abandons his more familiar orchestrally-supported arrangements in favor of a modern 5 piece worship band vibe. “The Word of God Is Spoken” continues to dabble with the more modern worship style abetted with a healthy dose of acoustic lead guitar and percussion.
Three covers with a decidedly Adult Contemporary stylistic stamp follow: a leisurely take on Sons & Daughters’ “All The Poor and Powerless,” the Jennie Lee Riddle & Jonathan Lee penned title track anthem, and the gradually developing David Ruis standard “We Will Dance.”
“Thanks Be To God” serves as a fitting thanksgiving benediction for When The Stars Burn Down. Piano and Cottrell’s quiet vocals convey the initial impetus, with a gospel-flavored choir slowly asserting itself and building to an emotionally delivered crescendo, then fading to an a cappella closing.
I think it would be safe to observe that some music and musicians are better experienced live- certain production elements and/or a recording just won’t do the music and/or artist justice. This applies in particular to praise and worship music, especially when the recording attempts to simulate an encounter best experienced personally and/or corporately. An additional layer of subjectiveness comes into play when existing, familiar songs are being reinterpreted and tailored for a specific audience.
With that being said, When The Stars Burn Down is a positive attempt to summon the feel of a live worship experience but seems to lack an indefinable element- a certain “oomph” found on other non-live worship-oriented recordings. Maybe too much effort was made to create that live, corporate “feel” with the more up-tempo songs, because the more stripped-down, quiet worship songs succeed in ushering the listener into a worshipful mindset/experience.
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