Glory Hallelujah | Posted November 19, 2011 Staff Reviewer
In 2000, Michael W. Smith released an instrumental project entitled Freedom. The project has sold more than 500,000 copies, and fans have often asked when he was going to make another record like it. Just over a decade later, the time has finally come. With his twenty-third album, Smith brings us Glory.
Smith began the project at home in Tennessee, later traveling to England to AIR Studios where he recorded with a 71-piece symphony orchestra. While Glory captures a spirit similar to Freedom, this record is its own project. Where Freedom had a strong Celtic influence, Glory is more American, and more cinematic in scope. Like Freedom, though, Glory will transport you. And you'll enjoy your journey through the different scenes that Smith presents on this album.
"Glory Overture" kicks off the record with tympani and brass. The piece is grand and vibrant, melodic and cinematic. The early part is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark and feels boldly adventurous. The song later slows and takes a magical, sweeping turn with bells and strings. Smith says the song was influenced by John Williams' movie score for E.T. While you'll be able to hear that influence, Smith has his own flair and flavor, and he is clearly at home creatively on the project. "Glory Overture" sets the tone for something special to come.
The next two tracks are distinctly patriotic, filled with love for home and country. "The Patriot" feels victorious, strong, and proud, like a soldier greeted with a parade after coming home from battle. The song pairs nicely with "Heroes," the next track. A tribute to the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers past and present, "Heroes" contains a hint of sadness, but it builds from strings and a lone, clear horn into a gorgeous, majestic piano piece. This album is not just a collection of songs. It is an array of musical landscapes. Eventually, strings and drums join the piano, and then the rest of the orchestra comes in. The melody for "Heroes" is one that will stick in your head, and the song would be right at home in a grand military ceremony or even as an Olympic Games theme.
Michael shifts his gaze for the next few tracks. First comes "Forever," his love song for his wife, Debbie. He says the song is a family favorite at home and that friend Wes King has even written a lyric for it. For now, though, it's presented as an instrumental. The piece is moving and vast, so the name "Forever" is fitting, because the emotion it imparts feels unshakeable and boundless. It feels like love.
Track five, "The Blessing," is meant to be the musical embodiment of Smith's book, A Simple Blessing. With this song, Smith says he wants to evoke a feeling of thanksgiving, and he does. The song lends itself to a prayerful experience, and it's brimming with emotion.
Next, it's time to play. "Whitaker's Wonder" is a whimsical tune inspired by Smith's grandson. Wonder perfectly describes the feeling this song conveys. There are some beautiful interludes and featured solos along the way, as the piece playfully prances in an enchanting style reminiscent of The Nutcracker Suite, Harry Potter, and even Home Alone.
After the delight of "Whitaker's Wonder," the tone shifts dramatically for the upcoming four-song sequence. The moody, "Joy Follows Suffering," depicts the life of Jesus. I feel like we're with Him as He knowingly contemplates His life-purpose in the garden. There is a particularly moving classical guitar solo in the middle. And while the song is peaceful and elegant, a note of sadness lingers.
"Glory Battle" is a stirring song which Smith says represent spiritual warfare. This anthem is a clash between good and evil, darkness and light. I imagine a landscape like that in The Lord of the Rings during the fight against Sauron. The arrangement becomes imposing, but toward the end the dark notes vanish and the light, airy sounds dominate. The tune seems headed for a quiet ending, but it is not an ending, only a lull, as Smith thrusts us right back into battle with driving beats and racing strings. "Glory Battle" has a punctuated, punchy ending that moves into a desolate sound like wind in the desert.
Thus begins "Atonement," which has some of the prettiest piano work I've ever heard, from Smith or anyone else. This piece is an aural representation of the death of Christ. It begins with minor key sounds but eventually brightens. There are two distinct sections to the song, suggested by producer David Hamilton. This is a technique that Chopin used to convey a broad range of emotion and evoke an emotional response in the listener. The track ends on a victorious note before the orchestra bounces into "Redemption," the final segment of the four-part sequence.
"Redemption" weaves together two very different sounds: bouncy Americana and an Old West celebratory romp. I picture lace-up boots and hoop skirts whirling and twirling in celebration. Near the song's end, there is a tinkling of bells, like a sprinkling of fairy dust, which soon swells into a joyous brightness, like the bursting forth of a grand sunrise. What an apt representation for the victory and glory won for us through Christ's triumph over death!
Michael W. Smith wraps things up by returning home for "The Romance," another gentle love song for Debbie, his wife of thirty years. The song is romantic and lush, and the listener feels wrapped in a loving embrace. Need I say more?
The album closes with a two-part piece. "The Tribute" was written to commemorate the 60th wedding anniversary of George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, and Smith played it for the former First Couple at the White House. From "The Tribute," he subtly shifts into an instrumental version of "Agnus Dei." You'll find yourself breathing slowly and deeply until, as the quiet song breaks open to the glory of God, your meditative spirit bubbles over into spontaneous song and praise. Worthy is the Lamb, indeed!
While it may not be a standard lyrical project from Michael W. Smith, Glory is worth repeated listens. The album is by turns contemplative, majestic, somber, romantic, joyful, and playful. But it is always melodic and filled with feeling and passion, fueled by Smith's God-given talent and enthusiasm for music, as well as by his thankfulness for the blessings bestowed by a loving Creator. To listen to Smitty's newest record is to be filled with awe and wonder. The music is the perfect backdrop for the holidays. Play it while you're working on a project for a special someone, or while you're baking cookies or wrapping gifts. You'll feel the magic of the Season--a magic that comes from the miracle of Christ's birth and the beauty of His loving sacrifice.