REVIEW OF PAUL WILBUR’S “YOUR GREAT NAME” ALBUM
It is interesting where singer-songwriters find their inspiration. Many have often found their creative muses in the happenstances of personal and church relations; others were inspired to write after being piqued by a testimony, a conversation, a film, a newspaper article, a book or a sermon. Yet, other songs are birthed out of the writer's own tales of struggles and pains. For Paul Wilbur, it is clear that the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) are his major afflatus. Wilbur, in the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, bleeds Bibline. These 11 cuts are so soaked in the grand truths espoused by the Old Testament that they drip with a penetrating cry to us to take Hebrew Bible more seriously. This comes as no surprise as Wilbur is a Messianic Christian. This means that Wilbur believes that it is never surreptitious that God would call Israel out of all the nations of the world. And out of Israel came Jesus the Messiah of whom all Jews as well as Gentiles are called to obeisance. Thus, deep within Wilbur's heart expressed through his own music, there is a deep passion for Israel as well as the nations to be reconciled in the worship of Jesus. Whether or not one agrees with Wilbur's dispensational theological paradigm, "Your Great Name" is choke full of songs steeped in the motifs, images, phrases and ideas from the Old Testament giving us a rich trove of Biblically-driven worship songs. Such an approach is not novice to Wilbur: ever since his 1990 Integrity Music debut "Up to Zion," Wilbur has always infused Hebraism into his style of modern worship music. And to season his recordings with an even more Jewish flavor, three of his former records ("Shalom Jerusalem," "Jerusalem Arise" and "Lion of Judah") were even recorded in Jerusalem on their important festive days.
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Unlike his preceding live records, "Your Great Name" is his first studio recording in 20 years. However, patterning after his 2010 live album "Desert Rain," this album is again thematically focused around a major motif conjured up from the Old Testament-this time around it is "the name of Yahweh." And just like his more recent records, there is a fuller sound created by an amalgamation of the sounds of the orchestral and the rhythmic of modern worship. Like the unfolding of a James Horner-movie soundtrack, album opener "Song of Ezekiel" is a sprawling and dramatic cinematic orchestral piece calling us back to how God unveils the power of His Name via at Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones. The prophet Ezekiel is not the only prophet evoked, Isaiah's new exodus message is at the cynosure on "Prepare the Way" (a track that could actually work as a Christmas worship song across churches). While the story of Moses and the burning bush shadows behind "Great I Am." Reverently introduced with just vocals and piano before it is joined by a bevy of strings, "Great I Am" is a beautiful ballad about the worship of God's name that causes the demons to flee and the mountains to crumble.
One of the reasons why Wilbur is such an endearing worship leader lies in vocal prowess. While many male worship leaders have a light tenor, Wilbur possesses a full-bodied Fernando Ortega operatic base. Trained in high-Italian opera in Milan, Italy, Wilbur utilizes his pedigree well: when he hits the low notes there is such a gravitas of emotional depths that send shimmers down one's soul. This is most evident in the guitar driven "Who is Like You." And when it is time to soar, listen to some vocal-power exuberance especially on "Glory Come Down." However, Wilbur is at his vocal best with the climax-building worship pop ballad "Nobody Like You." Starting off soft and slow before building and building up his vocal intensity this is a track where you can hear Wilbur in his full vocal glory.
Vocal gymnastics aside, one song not to be missed is "Song of the Beautiful Bride." Keying on the Biblical theme that we are the bride of Christ made up of various nations this song is a passionate call for all of us to be united in reflecting the light of our coming bridegroom. All in all, "Your Great Name" is not just one of your average worship albums. The Messianic worship songs steeped in the language of the Old Testament is itself a reason to warm up to this album. Add to this Wilbur has a gorgeous voice; it's one that truly makes songs exalting the great name of Yahweh even more majestic and contagious.
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