"Loudest Praise: Hymns of Mercy, Love, and Grace"
Overall Grade: 4/5
Prime Cuts: Does Jesus Care, His Eye is on the Sparrow, What a Friend We Have in Jesus
"Glorious God: Songs of Worship and Wonder"
Overall Grade: 3.5/5
Prime Cuts: Jesus at the Center, What a Beautiful Name/Agnus Dei, A Wretch like Me
Lauren Talley is a maverick when it comes to her own solo recordings. For each of her 7 solo albums, she had had approached each project from fresh and innovative lenses. Her last album "The Gospel," for instance, was a conceptual album where all the songs work together to show the multiple facets of the Gospel. Two years later, Talley ups the ante in ingenuity by releasing not one but two records coterminously. A move that is unprecedented at least in Southern Gospel music. the first instalment "Loudest Praise: Hymns of Mercy, Love, and Grace" comprises of 6 newly recorded hymns. Whilst the other instalment "Glorious God: Songs of Worship and Wonder" features 8 contemporary worship favorites as well as new compositions.
Let's start with Talley's hymns album first. A couple of factors worked in the record's favor: first, the orchestration that envelopes the rendering of most of these classic hymns deserves a standing ovation. When familiar hymns such as "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" gets a sweeping cinematic lilt, it takes away the overtly tiresome feel often accompanied by these oldies. Second, Talley is to be congratulated for unearthing some of the lesser known Gospel hymns such as the touching "Does Jesus Care" and the Scripturally-soaked "His Eye is on the Sparrow." The only disaster on this relatively short EP is "When God Dips His Love in My Heart" which is given a cluttered pop-ish makeover that feels so alien to the rest of the offerings here.
Album #2 is "Glorious God: Songs of Worship and Wonder." This finds Talley in more contemporary terrain, evident in her rendition of Darlene Zschech/Israel Houghton's "Jesus at the Center." This worship ballad which crowns Jesus as Lord of the cosmos, the church and our own lives is a song that deserves to be sung across our churches. The same orchestration used for her hymns counterpart, gives the medley of Hillsong's "What a Beautiful Name" and Michael W. Smith's "Agnes Dei" a soaring effect.
Utilising John Newton's "Amazing Grace" as her inspiration, the Talley-original "A Wretch Like Me" has a haunting ethereal pop feel bringing a coat of freshness to the richness of God's saving grace. However, Talley tries to canvass too much musical ground when she gives "Jesus Only Jesus" a Bethel-esque blast. Then she gives "Let the Glory Come Down" a heavy dose of Eric Church which again adds more confusion to a record that is already spinning in all directions.
On the whole, Talley is to be congratulated for always thinking outside of the box. With each new release, she takes a step forward demonstrating that Gospel music knows no bounds.