Welcome to another “ReVue” from TheWorshipCommunity.Com – where we ask several worship leaders to give their thoughts on albums and resources for worshipers.
Today’s review covers one of the latest albums offered by Integrity Music, “Champions Live – Light in the Darkness” featuring Freddy Rodriquez. Freddy Rodriguez has been the Worship Leader at Champions Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and recently moved back home to Dallas, TX to be closer to his family. In Texas, Freddy is now the Worship Pastor for Destiny Church in Cedar Hill. Freddy leads this multicultural congregation in an energetic and passionate journey into the presence of God. Featuring many songs written by Freddy, this project has a fresh sound, mixing Latin, Gospel and modern worship dynamics to create a unique worship experience.
Champions Live was the vision of Freddy Rodriguez and The Champion Center Of Las Vegas, a thriving multi-cultural church in the heart of “Sin City” where Freddy had served as Worship Pastor for the past 3 years. The goal is to lead a worshiping community into God’s presence through relative and powerful music. Their heart is to introduce the world to the church and worship culture of Las Vegas. We have a strong desire to make a significant impact on our nation through music.
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The ReVue Team:
For our ReVue we went to four separate worship leaders and artists.
From Erika Michelle, Worship Arts Director at Praise Tabernacle Family Church in Richlands, NC
This CD has a blend of sounds from Gospel to Contemporary Worship to Jazz to Latin. Freddy Rodriguez is a mix between Israel Houghton and Kirk Franklin as he leads this team before a packed congregation. He is skilled at his craft and is encouraging as a leader. The choir harmonies blend beautifully. They are well written and executed. The instrumentation is tight especially the horn section. The horns ROCK OUT on this CD – I love good horn sections. I think that most tracks would be accessible to congregations and teams. At first hearing, it was an okay album. But after listening to it a few times, I really enjoyed it and could see our congregation loving many of these songs.
From Chris Vacher, Director of Worship, Orangeville Baptist Church, Canada
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this CD. Usually I’m not a fan of live worship albums from churches – not because they aren’t good or valuable but just because the quality of songs and performances isn’t always up to par with what we’re used to hearing. This CD surprised me over and over with the quality of the songs, the performances and the production. It’s not full of songs that will work for every church but the songs kept me engaged and definitely inspired some worship moments as I listened.
From Joel Klampert, Worship Leader/Youth Leader/Creative Director for Lifepath Church, Rhode Island USA
This CD has a modern sound thought it also gives us a throwback to 90’s gospel sound like John P Kee and New Life Choir. It crosses over so many styles like rock, R&B, gospel, and the “hillsong” style of worship. Overall this is a great CD. It is not my favorite stylistically and at times seems a little dated. There are however some major standouts like “No Other Name”. I would have liked to have heard Freddy sing more instead of just repeating lyrics or doing fills, but I know that is a style issue. This CD I think bridges the gap of many styles and can appeal to many different ears.
From Russ Hutto, Worship Leader and Creative Director for House of Joy Ministries, Valdosta, Georgia
Overall, this recording is very energetic and uplifting. The production quality and musicianship is outstanding. If your congregation leans more towards an urban/gospel sound overall there are a few songs that would really be usable for corporate worship. It’s almost an early Hillsong meets Israel & New Breed mashup, with the horns and funky bass lines. To pull off these songs in corporate worship your band needs to be extremely skilled. At the end of the recording I was very uplifted and felt encouraged to worship right where I was.
1 – We Lift Our Hands
Erika: The song opens with a great instrumental interlude. It is a great opening song for any congregation as it encourages the people of God to lift their hands in praise. This song is easy to sing and has not gotten out of my head since the first hearing.
Chris: A great opener. Really nice production and definitely establishes Freddy Rodriguez as the leader of a special night of worship for this church.
Joel: This song has a great vibe to it. It is simple yet not quite simple enough for a small church to pull of.
Russ: This song has a kind of retro gospel feel to it. Reminds me of some of the gospel coming out of the 90s and kind of has a “special music” feel to it.
2 – Rejoice
Erika: The horns rock in this one!!! Another great opening with the horn section jamming!!! “Rejoice” is up beat and is guaranteed to get your congregations jumping and dancing in the aisles. The song is repetitive and could easily be picked up by any congregation and team.
Chris: Killer horn parts! Wow. This was the track where I really started to notice the drummer and his ability to play stuff that I kept wanting to hear again and again.
Joel: Another great song. Fantastic lyrics. Simple repeating pattern. Very much based on the choir. Awesome ending.
Russ: A funky rendition of a familiar verse (Phillipians 4:4) which has a very soulful and gospel sound. Great lyrics.
3 – Lord You Are Amazing
Erika: There is a definite Latin “Santana” type feel to this song. It is original and refreshing to hear in contemporary worship music. Nice opportunity for a strong male vocal to solo on the intro. Breaks into a Spanish translation toward the end – very cool!
Chris: I really love the God-focused direction of the songs on this album and that the recording begins with songs talking about the greatness and worthiness of God – both in the lyrics and in the direction given by Freddy.
Joel: It was refreshing to hear the latin sound. Guitar work reminded me of Los Lonely Boys. Best part for me was hearing Freddy sing the lead and not just little fills.
Russ: This song has an almost latin Santana feel to it. The harmonies are tight and the groove the band lays down is in the pocket.
4 – No Other Name
Erika: Great Song! Easy vocals, easy chords changes. This is one you will be singing over and over as it is a great reminder that no other name heals, saves and delivers.
Chris: This was the first song that sounded like something I could use on a Sunday morning. The melody is pretty straightforward and the lyrics are very God-focused. The chorus hook on the “No other name” is a little cliche but very memorable.
Joel: For me this is the stand out radio-ready single. It is simple, congregational friendly, and has great dynamics. I will actually consider using this great song.
Russ: A jazzy, guitar driven tune that moves along quickly and will have your toes tapping. Definitely adaptable for congregational worship.
5 – I Will Run
Erika: This is a very worshipful song. Although I think that the verses are a little slow to the start, the chorus breaks out into a powerful anthem as we pursue the King. The singers rock this song!!! One of my personal favorites on the CD.
Chris: After four upbeat, high energy songs the feel changes a bit with the first slower tempo song. I had mentioned how much I loved the drumming on this CD and this song is where it really stands out. The fills between choruses, the syncopated stuff on the cymbals – all of it adds so much to this song.
Joel: Nice refreshing slower song. Reminds me of some of the live work from Israel Houghton.
Russ: This song moves the recording into more of a worshipful time. Definitely one that could be used with a choir or congregationally.
6 – Fallen
Erika: This song start with a female lead. This song uses a lot of keyboard synths which provide a great backdrop to the vocals. Awesome saxophone solos on this one!
Chris: Not sure who the female vocalist on this song but her voice has a very warm, confident tone and supports the song really well. I’m not sure about the lyrical direction of this song – “I have fallen in to Your love/I have fallen in to Your grace.” I get the sentiment behind it but a little wary of songs that talk about us falling “in love” with Jesus.
Joel: Female lead vocals on this was a nice change. Nice gospel sound on this one. Not my favorite on the CD. Very Jazzy meets R&B, but I am just not a fan of this one.
Russ: The first song where a female lead vocalist is utilized. Has a very gospel/r&b feel to it. Builds in intensity as the song progresses.
7 – Alone With You
Erika: This song also starts with a female lead. This is probably my least favorite song on the album although it has a great spiritual message. Just my opinion and taste.
Chris: Another song that talks fairly intimately about our relationship with Jesus – “Alone with You is where I need to be.” This song and the one before it don’t last long for me.
Joel: Wow this one reminded me of the early 90’s when I did sound for Shirley Ceasar. What a throwback song. Great.
Russ: A piano driven intro and smooth female lead vocals gives this song a little variety from the song before. Beautiful piano work throughout.
8 – It’s In You
Erika: This would be a good transition song or a good ending song for your congregations. Nice instrumentation on this song.
Chris: This is the second song that I think could work for us on Sunday morning. Melody is pretty straightforward and the groove on this song sits so nicely! Not sure if Freddy is the writer of these songs but I really, really appreciate how God-directed his lyrics are.
Joel: I really liked this one. Another stand out for me. This one has a much more modern sound than the other songs and if broken down can be made simple for a smaller church.
Russ: The pace quickens again with this song. Guitar driven. This has an early Hillsong feel to it. Definitely a congregational possibility. The bridge is very funky and rhythmic, also reminiscent of You Are Good by Israel & New Breed. This is a fun song.
9 – Wrap Me In Your Arms
Erika: This slow worshipful song brings you into the arms of God. Lyrically, it is very descriptive. Musically, it is soothing.
Chris: The third slower song of the album and again it’s one that uses some pretty intimate language to describe our relationship with Christ. It’s not that I think it’s a bad thing (although it’s my only real big criticism of this album) but I’m not comfortable singing songs like this and leading our congregation to sing songs like this on Sunday morning. “Take me to that place, to that secret place/Where I can be with You/You can make me like You/Wrap me in Your arms” – Sorry, it’s just not happening.
Joel: The fantastic lyrics on this one bring you right into the throne of God. Song goes into a reprise with a prayer section and “straight up charismatic worship”.
Russ: A worshipful ballad. Has a very love song to God vibe to it. I could definitely hear a simplified guitar driven version of this song in corporate worship
10 – Wrap Me In Your Arms (Reprise)
Erika: Spontaneous worship. Wonderful.
11- That’s Who You Are
Erika: Great worship song for your congregation. Really emphasizes who Christ is to us. Easy to sing and the chord changes sound fairly standard.
Chris: It sounds like Freddy has moved from guitar to piano – if it’s him playing both he is very solid on both instruments. His vocals are really showcased on this song too. For a live album, a song like this falls at a really nice spot for people who are in attendance at the recording. It’s more of a performance song and gives the congregation a break from singing.
Joel: This song didn’t do it for me. I don’t think anything stood out on it.
Russ: A ballad that features a great choir sound and some soulful piano work.
12 – Lifter Of My Head
Erika: I like this song. It has a great groove, good electric guitar solo and a great hook in the bridge. Also, one of my favorite verses!!! This will get our congregations clapping and dancing!
Chris: The energy comes back up with this one! Another song that I think has Sunday morning potential. I’m really enjoying the variety on this album – not every song will fit in every context but one mark of a great songwriter is that they can write songs which work in different styles.
Joel: This song is a guitar driven almost rock song. I think this one has some great potential for use in most congregations.
Russ: The intro takes off and this song has more of a rock sound than gospel. The variety is nice nearing the end of the recording. Definitely a congregational option.
13 – Nothing Compares
Erika: I like the vocals on this song. The beat and the guitars drive this song. It has some great guitar solos.
Chris: This song stands out a little bit compared to the rest of the record – sounds like it could have come out of a songwriting session with Joel Houston and Israel Houghton :) There are a couple of awesome electric guitar/drum trading moments – great stuff.
Joel: What a great guitar riff in the beginning. It has almost a Deluge sound and then goes into a Hillsong style of Chorus. Great song.
Russ: Continues the rock sound. Nice driving intro. It is a big departure from the earlier gospel/r&b feel of most of the recording. Easily adaptable for congregational singing. For congregations looking for a mashup of rock and gospel this is a nice tune.
14 – We Are Champions
Erika: This song sounds like it could be their church anthem. It is a good song. It encourages the congregation to claim who they are in Christ. It is easy to sing and has some pretty standard changes.
Chris: The last on the CD is obviously a bit of an anthem for this church. I’m not totally down with the theology about being “champions, favoured and blessed” but that probably has to do with the fact that I’m a conservative Canadian baptist more than anything :)
Joel: I waited for the great Queen song to start and realized this was a different CD. This is a fantastic call and response gospel song. The chorus however has less impact than the verse and I am not a fan of it.
Russ: The funky horns lead this one back into the gospel sound. Very soulful, funky feel. A great way to end the recording. With a skilled band this could be adapted for congregational worship.
As you can see, the songs that seemed to be more “congregation friendly” jumped off this CD and were noticed by all the review team. For churches who may have a smaller band or who don’t have the skill level needed to learn some of these riffs and chords, there are still a couple of keepers. Churches should always keep in mind that they can make these songs their own, with arrangements that fit their team and style.
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