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Album Review: King of Love by Austin Stone Worship

King of Love (release date Oct. 22) is the latest CD from Aaron Ivey and the folks from Austin Stone, who in their own words, “desire to write and sing songs focused on the centrality of Jesus Christ and the mission of God in the world.”King of Love

Let me say up front that I’m grateful for the gospel-fueled intentionality, creativity, passion, and equipping mindset that Aaron and his team exemplify. They don’t just produce albums from their local church, which is in itself commendable. They also provide free chord charts on their website, downloadable theology papers, and video performances of the main instruments on different songs so you can see how the songs are actually played. Their heart to serve is almost palpable and a real gift to the church. I also thank God for Matt Carter, the lead pastor at Austin Stone, whose seemed to have a significant hand in the oversight and writing of the album. From my own experience, I know the benefit that comes from having your senior pastor care about what’s being sung in the church.

King of Love contains 10 songs intended for congregational worship, most (all?) of which have been sung at Austin Stone. The style falls comfortably within the modern rock band genre, with the exception of a brief but beautiful instrumental postlude that closes out the project. All in all, I thought the production was crisp and full.

This is a live project with all the energy, spontaneity, and passion you’d hope for, and it’s easy to sing along to (not all live albums are). The leaders often interject phrases during the songs to help you focus on the meaning of the lyrics. I find that immensely helpful, as they draw our attention to the truths we’re singing, which is what can make a live project even more impacting.

Topics on the project include mission, consecration, proclamation, adoration, a fresh treatment of Psalm 23, some updated hymns, and longings to know Jesus better and love him more. The gratefulness for Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross is unmistakable throughout. The album as a whole is a reflection of Austin Stone Worship’s commitment to “equip the local church and worship leaders with songs and resources that are rich in theology, expression, and mission.”

The writers worked hard to find fresh lyrical images to communicate eternal truths, and to wed them with memorable melodies. A few samples:

Once my heart was lost, tangled deep in sin, wand’ring far from grace, and veiled in shame

When castles crumble, and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand

Wrench my soul free from thirsts from lower things, frivolous thrills, wrench my soul

My life is hidden ‘neath Heaven’s shadow, Your crimson flood covers me

On the cross, your meekness made magnificent

Great poetry. There were a few places when the commitment to lyrical freshness resulted in lyrics I found a little confusing or forced. But I appreciate the fact that they’re exploring fresh territory lyrically and are dedicated to both theological faithfulness and artistic creativity. It’s a sin to communicate the gospel in a way that makes it sound boring.

I liked something about every song on King of Love, but five stood out to me as ones any church could beneficially add to their repertoire.

Flood my Soul (track 2) is a mid-tempo prayer of dedication, asking God to deliver us from setting our hearts on earthly joys and treasures. I wouldn’t normally recommend starting a song with the word “wrench,” but it really works here.

Jesus is Better (track 3) is a passionate, building ballad that confronts the lie that anything is better than knowing Jesus. The verses and chorus declare Christ’s eternal glory, while in the tag we humbly acknowledge our idolatrous affections and ask God to make us believe Jesus is actually better than any sorrows, victories, comforts, and riches. It’s a thoughtful addition to songs that proclaim (assume?) Christ is already supreme in our affections.

King of Love (track 4) is an adaptation of Henry Baker’s 1868 version of Psalm 23 with a new chorus. The language is archaic with lots of “eth” verbs and inverted phrasing (“And so through all the length of days, Thy goodness faileth never”). But set to a beautiful melody in 3/4 meter that often reflects the lyrics, it’s refreshing. It’s difficult to write a 3/4 hymn that doesn’t sound like it’s already been written by ten other people, but King of Love succeeds.

Bright and Glorious (track 7) is a stirring song in 6/8 that reflects the celebrative singing around the throne of the Lamb who was slain. He is worthy, holy, risen, and there is none like him. Really enjoyed this song.

No Greater Aim (track 10) is another hymn-like ballad that continues the theme of  treasuring  Christ above all else. This is a great song to express and stir up passion for the superior joy found in knowing Jesus Christ. The opening of the chorus reminds me a lot of Graham Kendrick’s classic song, “Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear),” but I doubt that was intentional.

The two updated hymns on the album, Nothing But the Blood and There is a Fountain, are both creative and well-executed treatments, and a great addition to modern hymn arrangements.

I’m grateful to God for Matt Carter, Aaron Ivey, Austin Stone, and others like them who are faithfully and passionately seeking to proclaim God’s glory in Christ and the gospel not only with their new songs, but through their churches and with their lives. Listening to and singing songs from King of Love will give you a feel for what that looks and sounds like. And I think you’ll not only enjoy it, but your love for the Savior and his purposes will be stronger and deeper for it.

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