Austin-turned-Atlanta worship leader Chris Tomlin has steadily evolved into one of the strongest writer-performers in the contemporary Christian music genre.
With a voice that blends the gentle rasp of Michael W. Smith and the sweet tenor of Jason Mraz and an arsenal of soaring songs that never stray from their purpose of worship, Tomlin is currently at his peak.
“Burning Lights,” his eighth studio album, shares a few tracks previously released on last year’s live “Passion 2012,” recorded at the massive gathering of young Christians in Atlanta (the annual “Passion” event took place again last week, drawing more than 60,000 to downtown).
“Lay Me Down,” “White Flag” and “Jesus, Son of God,” a duet with the angelic-voiced Christy Nockels, a fellow worship leader at Passion City Church in Atlanta, pull double duty here – and they’re good enough to deserve the dual appearance (the version of “White Flag” from the “Passion” album is up for a Grammy next month for Best Contemporary Christian Music song).
But also worthy of attention are the glistening pop of “Awake My Soul,” which features a booming guest sermon from fellow Atlantan – and Christian musician – Lecrae and “God’s Great Dance Floor,” which fastens a propulsive beat and chiming guitars to its message of spiritual awakening.
With much of the music in the Christian genre, the focus isn’t so much on musical adventure as it is crafting lyrics that speak to the masses. Sometimes Tomlin strays into that lane of generic musicality as on “Sovereign” and “Countless Wonders,” which contain pretty piano tinklings and pleasant melodies, but are otherwise toothless, but he’s nonetheless steadfast in his lyrical mission.
Musically, he fares best with creative mixes of the traditional, as on “Crown Him [Majesty]” with Kari Jobe, and when he reaches high, which he does on the tailored-for-worship-singalong “Shepherd Boy,” the beautiful closer to an album that is a memorable inclusion to Tomlin’s expanding canon.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene