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Review: CompassionArt February 11, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Music, Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

There are lots of different types of music fans. There are “background noise” fans, who like to have music on but couldn’t tell you the name of the last song they heard. There are crazed teenage fans who remind us that the term is short for “fanatic”, the ones who know everything there is to know about their culture’s latest craze: Elvis and Beatles then, JoBros now, plenty in between. Then there are the fans of music itself, who appreciate the craft and construction of a song, who understand both the intellectual and visceral responses to lyrics and melodies. The CompassionArt project should appeal to these people, whether they like the music or not.

Finally released this past month, the CD/DVD and companion book are the fruits of a dozen songwriters and even more performers in an effort to raise funds for charities directed at poverty relief all over the world. Martin Smith is the father of this project, moved by the plight of the “least of these” he encountered in his travels.

The CompassionArt “experiment” was a brave and audacious venture, and fans of the craft of music will be mesmerized. On the surface, CompassionArt is a multi-artist benefit CD. The phrase itself conjures recollections of Band Aid’s “Do They Know it’s Christmas” or USA for Africa’s “We are the World”, and the parade of lesser-heralded mega-collaborations like “Voices That Care”, or “Sun City,” or even “Hands Across America”. (I should get some kind of award for remembering “Hands Across America”.) The profound differences are these: CompassionArt is a full album, not a single song, and CompassionArt was written by a dozen artists – not one song per artist, but a true collaboration of some of the most well-known Christian musicians alive today.

Set in a corporate retreat center during a damp and chilly Scotland winter, CompassionArt saw the birth of songs as an exercise in group dynamics, community, and corporate worship. A flip-chart on an easel, a staple of any corporate retreat, bore the names of songwriting “dream teams”, and each team was given a simple assignment: go away for two hours, develop a song, and come back and share it with the group.  This is my favorite part of the documentary. The dozen participants’ names are all over the CCLI top 25. They’re the 3-part names everyone knows, like Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman. They’re the surnames we shouldn’t be able to pronounce but we do, because they’ve produced so much, like Baloche and Zschech and Houghton. A set of a few names scrawled on a flip chart became a two-hour get-together including the aforementioned 3-part-name-guys. The last few minutes of that two hour get-together (after the requisite catching up) became the birth of the song “Highly Favoured”. That song was vetted among the entire group, a process that saw the delicate lyrics avoid crossing the border into egocentricity, and eventually became a performance by what remains the most compelling duet in Christian music, Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. That the songwriters, publishers, and labels would both give away all royalties to these songs forever, and that the writers would in so many cases give away their performances to guest vocalists, attests to the common goal of poverty relief and the sense of community in which these songs were nurtured.

The “work on a song for a couple of hours and then hash it out among the group” process was repeated over and over in week’s time. The flip chart revealed new combinations of names each time, and the list of songs grew to over twenty. A few weeks later the best fifteen songs were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, with the help of guest performers including Grant, TobyMac, Leeland Mooring, and Kirk Franklin.

I love these songs. They are disjointed, and eclectic, and it turns out most of them are not well-suited for corporate worship, but they absolutely hold up to multiple spins of the CD, and they stay in my head for days, in a good way. Some will stand out for you, and they’ll be different from the ones that stand out for me, and that’s a testament to the craft of the songs. I have a few specific comments: The TobyMac/Kirk Franklin offering “Let it Glow” is an utterly misplaced 2-minute interlude where none was needed. I still like it, just not here. I never realized it until I heard him among this cavalcade of so many voices, but Leeland sounds a lot like Phil Keaggy. I wish MWS would have sung a bit more on his duet with AG. He’s relegated to a backup role, so the effect of the duet is lessened. There’s a scene in the DVD in which Martin Smith talks about a few small issues with egos during the week. It might be that dry British wit, but I’m really not sure if he’s serious or not. I can’t imagine egos not flaring up over the course of a week like this with people like these who care about music and its message, and for whom songs are like children.

If you’re in that third category of music fans (the music snobs), watch the DVD first. Watch the songs being born, and then listen to the finished product, and then watch the DVD a second time. Even if you’re in that first category (background music fan), buy the CD and play it as background music. You’ll be helping a bunch of worthy causes.

Finally, if you’re so inclined, lyrics and chord charts are available for free at:




1. RaiulBaztepo - March 28, 2009

Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

2. PiterKokoniz - April 7, 2009

Hello !!!! 🙂
I am Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
And want to ask you: what was the reasson for you to start this blog?
Sorry for my bad english:)
Thank you!
Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

3. Top 9 of 2009 « A Window in the World - January 8, 2010

[…] 3. Review: CompassionArt […]

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