The Porter’s Gate Worship Project
Reviewed by: Jonathan Landry Cruse
Date posted: 05/06/2018
Work Songs, The Porter’s Gate Worship Project, 2017. Digital album, $8.99, available at Amazon.com. Reviewed by OP pastor Jonathan Landry Cruse.
Work Songs, a brand-new album released by The Porter’s Gate Worship Project, is comprised of thirteen original songs that all focus on “affirming vocation as an integral part of a life of worship.” This is a unique collection of Christian music, to say the least, and for several reasons. For one, it was recorded entirely live, primarily over the course of a three-day session in a small church in New York City. This comes across in positive and powerful ways to the listener. Without excessive dubbing or other forms of manipulation, you can hear the artists truly collaborate on each track—it brings an authenticity, energy, and emotion to the music.
Work Songs also stands out as a collaborative project, boasting a wide-range of talented people from different backgrounds and skill sets. This includes composers like Stuart Townend, singers like Josh Garrels, and scholars like Dr. Christina Edmondson—dean of intercultural student development at Calvin College, and wife of OPC pastor Mika Edmondson. (The OPC has no official relationship with the Porter’s Gate Worship Project, and the group intentionally spans any denominational lines.)
Every song on the record focuses upon some aspect of Christian vocation. As it is a much-neglected theme in terms of Christian music, I was very pleased to see this subject taken up and handled with care and craft by The Porter’s Gate Worship Project.
“Establish the Work of Our Hands” proclaims the truth that our labor is all in vain without the Lord’s blessing and aid, and proves to be a soulful expression of both Psalms 90 and 127.
“We Labor unto Glory” hauntingly reminds us that no matter what station we take up in this life, we all do it for the singular purpose of glorifying God.
“Day by Day” seeks to validate the everyday, seemingly mundane positions we hold in this life (servant, teacher, farmer, etc.) and to teach us that when done unto the Lord these roles point others to his goodness, character, and promises: “Lawyer, give us hope that one day justice will surround us.”
Musically, the album has a restrained, melancholic flavor, perhaps speaking to the temporary, penultimate, and oftentimes frustrating nature of work this side of heaven. That being said, the harmonies, playful piano, and infectious chorus of “Father, Let Your Kingdom Come” (a highlight track) will certainly bring a smile to your face. They sing, “May the work of my hands bring you joy.” Amen!
But overall, the album has a muted sound. The instrumentation does not expand much further than keys, strings, and acoustic guitar. There are clear influences from the Gospel, Spiritual, and Folk/Appalachian genres, and this, coupled with the bare-bones recording technique and vulnerable lyrics, leads to what can only be referred to as an “honest” album.
It should be noted that while the record is promoted as featuring thirteen “modern hymns,” the majority are not suitable for congregational singing. Some melodies span ranges that are too vast for the average singer, and others are too complex or unintuitive for a congregation to pick up in a unified manner. That being said, it is apt music for soloists and ensembles (as heard on the album).
Work Songs is well worth a listen. And not just one, but several. The rarely-tackled subject of the theology of Christian vocation is presented beautifully in these songs, and we would do well to reflect carefully upon it.