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Music Review: Blessings by the International Staff Songsters

Much like its name, reviewer Jacqui Clack says that the latest CD release, Blessings, by the International Staff Songsters of the Salvation Army will bless listeners.

This latest recording by the International Staff Songsters offers a good variety of music with a mix of modern worship songs, original compositions, anthems and some familiar lyrics to new settings.

The opening song, ‘Amazing God!’ by Lee Fisher, has a contemporary feel that perfectly blends the lyrics with a syncopated, driving rhythm. The song declares, “You are everything to me”, and the climactic ending reiterates these words, concluding with the proclamation, “Amazing God!” on an exuberant dissonant chord that eventually resolves – fabulous and a firm favourite.

I am delighted to find Paul Sharman’s vocal arrangement of ‘Still’, the beautiful worship song from Hillsong, included in the CD and brings you into an attitude of quiet praise. The Grammy Award-winning song ‘Blessings’ is expertly and reverently presented. The words will resonate profoundly with anyone that has struggled with worship during challenging times.

Two much-loved songs, ‘Just Where He Needs Me’ and ‘In the Secret of Thy Presence’, have been given updated musical settings. These fresh compositions by current Salvationists (Andrew Mair and Olaf Ritman respectively) breathe new life into the familiar words and deliver a renewed message. Three a cappella arrangements demonstrate skilful choral ability.

The standout song for me was ‘Do Not Be Afraid’. I found this beautifully crafted Catholic folk hymn to be deeply moving, providing a spiritual highlight and evoking a sense of calm assurance.

There are two contrasting arrangements by the group’s pianist, Richard Phillips. ‘Contemplation’ powerfully conjures images of Christ’s agony and anguish. By contrast, ‘Light-walk’ is a fun, energetic vocal arrangement of Barrie Gott’s popular big-band style number, with superb syncopation and vocal range displayed by the singers and an excellent accompaniment guaranteed to get your foot tapping.

The words of ‘When God Comes Near’ were written by a corps officer following an encounter with God, in which a love for his word was instilled in his heart. The rallentando and subsequent pause leading into the chorus brings a sense of anticipation for the words, “When God comes near, it is a special moment”.

Whilst some of the tracks included will be beyond the reach of most songster brigades, for example, ‘Light-walk’, it is pleasing as a songster leader to hear many songs readily accessible for ensembles of varying abilities.

Overall, this recording brings uplifting, musical ‘blessings’ to the listener; it reminds us of God’s love and the promises contained in Scripture that no matter what challenges and trials we face, we do not need to be afraid because God is always near.

Blessings is available from Salvationist Supplies by emailing or or calling Sydney Salvationist Supplies (1800 634 209) and Melbourne Salvation Army Supplies (1800 100 018).

This review originally appeared in The Officer magazine.


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