|Yes, They Can Pull It Off Live | Posted October 19, 2012
Translated literally, the Greek word from which we get "liturgy" means "the work of the people." And in that sense, it makes sense why Gungor calls their first live album, A Creation Liturgy. Some people have been working awfully hard to pull this off.
Largely comprised of songs from the collective's two most recent releases--Beautiful Things and Ghosts Upon the Earth--A Creation Liturgy boasts more than an hour of some of the best musicality captured live in Christian music. These tracks were captured during live sets throughout Gungor's 2012 spring tour, in venues large and small.
The "work of the people" in this project paints a picture that starts with the love and beauty of God, moves into the creation of the world (and us), falls into the desperation and darkness of our own depravity, and concludes with the redemption Christ brings, and our celebration of His goodness.
Opener "You Are the Beauty" begins with faded-in a cappella vocals singing the chorus before a strong acoustic guitar riff ushers in the knee-slapping hoedown-style worship. Shouts and audience handclaps add to an already upbeat and energetic song. I easily can picture a room full of people dancing and swinging their partners round-and-round as they sing, "You are the love, love of mine!"
The live vibe gives extra oomph to the fantastic musicianship of the Gungor collective. It's not like Michael was restrained by commercial time limitations on Ghosts Upon the Earth, but on this album, you can tell things are stretched out even a little more.
A funky, bluesy, John Mayer-sounding track follows with "Heaven." We hear the higher range of Michael's vocals here, complete with amazing blues-rock raspiness as he sings, "I don't know what you've been told, but Heaven is comin' down to the world!" The track--originally introduced on the Beautiful Things studio album--hardly misses the soulful vocals of Israel Houghton, as Michael Gungor more than represents.
There's another fantastic, pregnant solo section in this piece, where the Gungor band is clicking on all cylinders. Electric guitar riffs, organ blasts and inventive percussion all share the spotlight. Musically speaking, listeners are treated to excellence and artistry frankly uncommon to projects in the Christian music genre.
"Let There Be," the intro song to Ghosts Upon the Earth, begins with lots of impassioned screams from the audience, as a gentle guitar ushers in the soft, sweet vocals of Lisa Gungor. The musical storytelling of God creating and bringing light into the world and into hearts is evident as ethereal, ambiguous tones give way to a glorious, power-punching finish (preceded by a foreboding, thunderous rumble): "Where there is darkness / Let there be light!"
As is the case in Ghosts Upon the Earth, "Let There Be" is immediately followed by the peppy and bouncy "Brother Moon"--a song about how God blesses us and reveals Himself in Creation. Gungor takes the safe route on some of the high notes here, opting to switch into a lighter falsetto voice, rather than hit the phrase, "Maker of it all / You provide it all" full-voice. Other than that, though, the track is a carbon copy of the studio version--a real testament to the musicians.
One of the most unexpected and powerful moments on the album is an acoustic and violin-led rendition of the classic hymn, "This is My Father's World." A bit slower in tempo than most renditions, this version allows the words and the instruments to breathe, so to speak, with passionate declaration. Lisa Gungor's voice is at peak performance here, putting a fresh coat on a timeless melody.
"Dry Bones"--from Beautiful Things--is a thick, poignant, minor-key dirge of sorts that translates well to the stage, helped in large part by the fact that the recorded audience likes to sing along. "Spotless/You Have Me" is a sincere, cello-immersed cry of thankfulness for salvation that's a nice, easy listen.
"This is Not the End" begins with a forceful spoken-word declaration by Amena Brown--a poetic and powerful lead-in to the strongest track from Ghosts Upon the Earth. "This… is NOT… the end!" she shouts as the song's familiar xylophonic tones begin. "This bride, you and I will rise, come alive like third day morning first breaths of Christ!" The Gungors' vocal harmonies are especially rich here, and it's great to hear the crowd and the band sing loudly together in unison the final "This is not the end!"
Amena returns to the spoken-word vibe with even more gusto and passion in the largely instrumental "We Will Run/He is Here."
The xylophones and bells and other assorted percussive instruments create such a dance of sounds in "The Earth is Yours." It really is magical, and amazing how these tones could be captured so precisely and clearly. One of the best audience-as-choir moments occurs when the instruments drop out and we hear, "Holy, holy, holy, holy, God, the Earth is Yours…"
Perhaps the most well-known of Gungor songs, "Beautiful Things," doesn't deviate much from the original, save a more prominent cello part and the constant presence of background singers (the audience).
As many churches end their services, Gungor concludes the album with a crowd-as-choir, multi-harmony chorus of "Doxology." The only traditional liturgical moment of the album, it concludes with a subdued "Amen," and Michael's blessing--"Grace and peace be with you always"--followed by the crowd's response: "And also with you."
For some Gungor fans, A Creation Liturgy may seem a bit puzzling, as it's not tremendously different from the previously recorded works represented. But in a sense, Gungor fans are spoiled. They've found the crown jewel of musicianship and songwriting in Christian music, and so when they get a live album, they expect something that goes beyond the mind-blowing material they've already heard.
Here's the deal: The fact that the Gungor collective is able to pull off the complicated musical arrangements, time signatures, instrumental gymnastics and ambiance that was originally sewn into a studio project is nothing short of jaw-dropping. This is as good of a live album as one will hear this year (or even this decade?). I can't wait to watch the forthcoming DVD that is currently in production. I'd love to see how the magic is made.
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