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Much of contemporary evangelical worship music has been dominated by the synth-pop or rock sounds of groups like Hillsong. A refreshing alternative is found by worship group Heritage Hill. Driven by a strong cast of female vocals, the band’s EP Out of the Sea creates a sound relatively unique to the worship genre.
Heritage Hill is one of several groups that lead worship at Westside Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, but their music draws strongly on the American traditions of bluegrass, folk, and gospel. Westside’s website says of the group, “Their music will get your feet stomping and hands clapping.” They delve into each style across the EP, giving the album a distinctly Americana feel.For contemporary worship music with a fresh musical style, Out of the Sea by Heritage Hill is a welcome collection of songs.
Out of the Sea’s best moments are when the vocals are given center stage and the harmonies are allowed to shimmer. “Come All Ye Heavy Laden” is a soulful opener that sets the tone for the whole EP. Moments on “Sing Hallelujah” and “Death Is Dead” also sparkle. These moments lend themselves especially to communal singing, and in the setting of a service, I can see how Heritage Hill enables a community to join together in praise, each congregant finding their voice in the chorus.
Overall, though, the attempt to cover such a breadth of musical styles on a short seven-song EP leaves sonic ideas undeveloped and hurts its consistency. The instrumentals are sufficient in providing support, but lack the creativity to carry the music when the vocals aren’t present. Additional songs would have been welcomed, providing the artists with more room to develop their appealing style.
Out of the Sea fits the trend of renewed interest in folk music that’s grown over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, it also falls into some of the same traps other bands have landed. This isn’t worship music that has grown out of a unique culture and history and, therefore, carries a unique style. Heritage Hill simply takes the most recognizable aesthetic qualities of pop Americana and sets worship lyrics to that music. The sound is pleasant, but their music would be much more cohesive and creative if it was rooted in the tradition rather than merely copying it. Folk, bluegrass, and gospel all have unique musical and cultural histories that go far beyond foot stomping, banjo plucking, and soulful vocals. There is much more Heritage Hill could have explored in this album. Perhaps with Out of the Sea’s success, the band will be able to go deeper into the tradition on its second release.
Even so, for those looking for contemporary worship music with a fresh musical style, then Out of the Sea will be a welcome collection of songs. Hopefully more creators of worship music will follow the path that Heritage Hill has started down, bringing musical diversity that more accurately reflects the aesthetic diversity of the church body.
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