Word of God Chorus and Orchestra: Praises for the King (W/G 8020, 1980)
Throughout the 1970’s the Word of God, that Catholic Charismatic covenant community par excellence in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had two distinguishing features. The first was its authoritarian headship structure, whose main architects were Steve Clark and Ralph Martin. The second was its flat music style, heavy on chorded acoustical guitar and light on percussion. Both of these were doubtless considered “from the throne room” by the community’s leadership.
How the first came to a halt is better documented in a place like this. As far as the music was concerned, although there was certainly better quality Catholic music being put out during the era (some of which is on this site,) much of what graced parishes, prayer groups and communities alike was flat and banal. The unimaginative style that the Word of God and other covenant communities employed was no better than some, but no worse than many.
The limitations of that style were thrust in front of everyone, however, with the release of John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper in 1979. Produced in neighbouring Indiana, this skilful combination of orchestration, Talbot’s guitar work and the simple choral arrangements changed a great deal of what people thought was possible in Catholic music (and his subsequent albums reinforced that.) This obviously caused coordinator consternation in Ann Arbor. How could a recent convert like Talbot take an uncovenanted group in Indianapolis and outdo us?
To some extent, Praises for the King can be seen as a response to that groundbreaking effort. To accomplish this Jim Cavnar, music director at Word of God, brought in Cleon “Skip” Chapen to write truly orchestral arrangements for this album. They beefed up both orchestra and chorus from previous efforts, diversifying the instrumental mix and definitely changing the sound if not the song selection.
So how does it come off? It’s not as creative of an orchestration as one would like (Chapen would have done well to study both Talbot and the mysterious producers of A City Set Upon a Hill Cannot Be Hid) but it is an orchestration, and a serious step up. And, in a change that almost seems contradictory to the format, this album goes back to earlier Word of God efforts like New Life in that it replicates/incorporates the worship of the community, including singing in the Spirit. As Cavnar himself does all but admit, it is one of their more spontaneous and spiritual productions.
One feature of the album that is in line with earlier production are the acoustics. Word of God albums were generally recorded in reverberant acoustical environments, as was the case with many other Catholic efforts of the time. It’s too bad that an album they sent to London to master ended up being recorded in the basement of a church.
With all that said, Praises for the King is a creditable production, and in reality the best album the community ever put out.
- Hymn of Glory/Psalm 89
- Be Exalted, O God/Thou Art Worthy
- Proclaim His Marvellous Deeds
- Psalm 150
- You Are Holy/Holy God We Praise Your Name
- One Thing I Ask For
- The Song of Moses