A perfect storm of sorts occurred in the last week in terms of the state of Christian music.
I read an article lamenting even scoffing at the predictability and sameness, I watched again for the umpteenth time comedian John Crist’s very funny skit on a Christian band trying to get a deal with a label and Phil Thompson released his new album Lion of Judah (out July 23).
I’ve never heard of Phil Thompson, gospel music falls out of my musical purview but what intrigued me most was Thompson’s hand in all the songs. In other words, he did not record an album of songs already done by various other artists, a thing, arguably that defines the genre and one of the underlying problems with Christian music as Crist so aptly parodied. Watch, it’s funny and short:
For his part, Thompson began singing as a child but did not start writing music until he was 30. He was part of the quintet making up the contemporary gospel group Ashmont Hill which hit the charts with their debut self-titled album in 2008. Thompson released his solo debut My Worship in 2018 and now returns with the 11-track nearly 70 minute long Lion of Judah that he wrote during the great pandemic shutdown of 2020. Thompson fills Lion of Judah with current gospel, worship and praise music that features of course, himself behind the mic but also co-singers in Kymberli Joye, Anthony Brown, Michael Whitaker and Nia Allen on individual tracks.
Phil Thompson Lion of Judah Album Review
Thompson has a majestic voice which he uses as the primary instrument on all the songs accentuated by a well-rounded band comprising a wide variety of instrument play. In short, he really knows how to sing. From the start, Lion of Judah sounds like church as Thompson sometimes “ad-libs” an introduction at the start of songs or a call to sing along in the middle. This of course presupposes you have been in church or at least participated in any type of pre-sermon worship songs. Album opener “Fragrance,” which features Joye as well as a background choir, puts you right into the pews. Much of this audio experience continues for the rest of the album.
“Only Risen King” manages to bring a bit of a rock sound thanks to the heightened approach to guitar and drum work. “Constant Mercies” typifies a traditional approach to the modern Christian music heard inside many churches today. A slower, emotional piece with a delicate acoustic guitar in the background with a telling chorus. He repeats the song name for track 4 accompanied by the gospel band Overflow and written with different lyrics and music. Interesting tactic, one I’ve never encountered before. Whereas, the first “Constant Mercies” embraces a pop approach the second one carries the gospel.
A lively piece for “Redeeming the Years” as Brown helps out on vocals. The title track doesn’t disappoint with a charming melody that takes a few minutes to build into. The end blends into the start of “Jesus” which detracts a bit from singling the two out as separate songs as the decrescendo of the harmony of “Lion of Judah” starts “Jesus” and continues for a bit until Thompson takes his vocals to new heights . However, if you pay attention to the lyrics, the two work as one song but without sounding wholly similar. Another interesting approach.
A pop gem in “Everything,” with an element of Coldplay actually. The bursting drum work sounds like a live recording and the supporting rock guitar chord amplifies the melody. The rest of Lion of Judah holds on to the more traditional, but contemporary gospel approach, in “Crashing,” a slower piece which takes a bit, “Victory” featuring Whitaker has a bit more pop flair and the Allen led “Alive In You” strikes an R&B chord.
The well-crafted songs, most of which top five minutes and several stretch past seven minutes long, showcase range and complexity but most of all originality. While gospel dominates, Thompson incorporates elements of rock, pop, R&B and, of course, a whole lot of soul.
Lion of Judah has a built-in audience but arguably one craving for something… else. Phil Thompson certainly knows how to engage an audience, an attribute fully perceived even when listening to Lion of Judah at home, in this faith-affirming, true Christian music album of original material with little if any references to water.
Phil Thompson Lion of Judah Songs:
- Only Risen King
- Constant Mercies
- Constant Mercies
- Redeeming the Years
- Lion of Judah
- Alive in You