Roundup: Christ for the Nations Institute
- Makes Me Shout, All The Riches Of You, and We Lavish
Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) has been producing live worship albums annually since the 1970s. Classic worship songs such as "As the Deer," "I Worship You, Almighty God," and "Surrender" were first recorded at CFNI. In recent years, CFNI has upgraded its facilities and recording processes to improve quality, using some overdubs and studio cleanup to polish the sound. With more than thirty-seven recordings and hundreds of songs, CFNI is an institution in the praise and worship genre. Here is a roundup of the three most recent worship albums from CFNI.
Over the past forty years, Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) has become renowned for discovering and producing great worship tunes. In the early days of the worship chorus, CFNI ruled the roost. In today's world of lengthy, lyrical worship songs, CFNI is playing catch-up, but it is steadily improving. Each year's worship album is better than the last. 1999's Makes Me Shout is no exception, and starts off with a bang, led by worship pastor Keith Hulen. Many of the songs are written by CFNI staff, students, or alumni, and the applicable tracks are marked in the liner notes.
The "CFNI sound" entails a live band with a full complement of brass, vocalists, and a 1,000-member congregation. Traditionally, the first half of the album was recorded as a non-stop live take, breaking only to change reels on the tape recorder. It is a raw, live sound born of weeks of practice during the daily chapel services at the Institute.
Makes Me Shout stretches the boundaries of tradition at CFNI by aiming for a hip, gospel style. While the sound on this particular CD is similar to worship CDs from ORU Worship and The Higher Dimensions Choir, it lacks true black-gospel roots. Despite Texas-sized energy and enthusiasm, "Glad He Loves Me" needs more power and oomph to be totally convincing. On the other hand, "Come On In" is well rendered with nice touches of sax and guitar fills. Like all CFNI worship albums, there are extended "free worship" times after some of the songs. CFNI Music is one of the rare labels whose recordings feature singing in tongues.
"When I Think About The Lord" is the title track by Shannon Wexelberg, one of America's best-kept secrets in the worship artistry arena. Wexelberg's solo CD is almost impossible to find, but she is a primo songwriter, comparable to Rita Springer in many ways. Other highlights on the project include "Welcome To The Father's House," a well-written song with an easily sung chorus, and "That Is Why," a deeply touching song with a duet by Hulen and his wife Kerri Hulen. What is most poignant about "That Is Why" are the lyrics, especially in light of the fact that Makes Me Shout was Kerri's last recording. She lost a valiant bout with cancer November 26, 1999.
"To Seek Your Face" features a Sierra-like female trio with a touch of 2nd Chapter of Acts style, and like the rest of the songs selected, is quite solid. "Come To The Fountain" is a full nine minutes long, which is not unusual for a CFNI recording. These albums should be an experience, not necessarily listened to track by track. Each song seamlessly segues to the next and drips with the signature style of Hulen's leadership, in the grand tradition of generations of CFNI worship leaders before him.
All the Riches of You
Artist: Christ for the Nations Institute
Label: CFN Music
Length: 12 tracks
Christ For The Nations Institute (CFNI) hits a home run with All The Riches Of You, its annual worship recording for 2000. Picking up where Makes Me Shout leaves off, it contains more of a studio-polished sound than ever. Like its predecessor, it kicks off with quasi-black gospel tunes before settling into its strong suit, heart-touching, heavenly worship songs.
Again, Keith Hulen is backed by a full band and choir, with special solos from talented CFNI students such as Eduardo Coronado, whose strong tenor on "Shout For Joy" sounds like Fred Hammond or a junior Alvin Slaughter. Worship artist Roger Hodges, an alumnus, lends his talents on guitar and lead vocals "Faithful God," a tune he wrote for the project.
All The Riches Of You includes one of those popular "credo songs," this one called "I Believe." Credo songs have been popularized by such artists as Rich Mullins with "Creed" (Credo), Petra on "Creed," and Jody Davis on "Believe."
Alumnus Andrew Morris wrote the chart-topping Vineyard-like "Surrender." Musically, the song keeps returning to the root chord as if drawn by an electromagnet. Contrast that with the pretty flute work of John Levans on "Love Song," an otherwise sleepy tune, and you have a wide mix of musical styles to worship to.
The energy builds on the Roger Hodges masterpiece "Big Big God" and flows into a rolling mid-tempo song of awe and wonder about friendship with God. It just cries for a modulation to the next key, and gets it, breaking into full-on heartfelt worship and soaring harmonies highlighted with a guitar solo by Hodges.
The title track by Shannon Wexelberg is not her magnum opus, but is redeemed by her rich voice (think Kelly Willard, Nichole Nordeman and Rita Springer wrapped up into one) and a sweetly played violin part. The best of all the tunes on the recording is probably "We Worship You" featuring Eduardo Coronado and some precious Rhodes piano sounds.
All The Riches Of You is arguably the best CFNI worship album to date, thanks to the wonderful songs led by talented musicians and vocalists. The liner notes and inserts add to the package, with a touching tribute to Kerri Hulen in the front. This is a must-have CD for lovers of worship music.
We Lavish Our Love
Artist: Christ for the Nations Institute
Label: CFN Music
There is no growth without experimentation when it comes to music, and worship music is no exception. On We Lavish Our Love, Christ For The Nations Institute (CFNI) breaks away from tradition, though not radically. Using drum loops and more studio pre- and post-production, Lavish comes out with a slicker, more youthful sound. It is more akin to Sonicflood or an unplugged Delirious? sound than its prior releases, which were closer to Integrity's Hosanna! and Vineyard Worship sounds.
"We're Here To Worship" opens the disc with a funky drum loop, joined by acoustic chucka-chucka rhythms and leader Keith Hulen at the fore. There is a Darrell Evans influence throughout the project, tainted with a leaning toward Teen Mania's Acquire The Fire albums, down to the hyped-up crowd and rock-n-roll feel. But there is plenty of substance to chew on, and it is not a cotton candy disc.
Co-Producer Raymond Boyd, an alumnus and the main drummer for the past few albums, contributed the pre-production tracks which were accompanied by the full band and choir in addition to the main feature that CFNI is known for: the live student body joined in worship. The whole album has a youth-oriented style, from the simply memorized choruses to the fiery orange and green colors on the CD cover.
Musical styles on Lavish are more aggressive than in the past, borrowing from Los Lobos' "La Bamba" on "I Love The Lord" and backed by perky, complex rhythms on "Totally." It is a drum-driven album with less of the live crowd and free worship that usually characterize CFNI worship albums.
Veteran worship leader and CFNI alumnus Roger Hodges again joins the band as guitarist and songwriter, contributing "You Are," one of the best tracks on the CD. The whole project is a step in a new direction for CFNI, and launches its traditional style of worship into the new millenium.
Full disclosure: Zik Jackson is a 1990 graduate of Christ for the Nations Institute