Saturday, April 15, 2017

Kim Walker-Smith: On My Side review

One of Christian music’s most beloved worship leaders, Kim Walker-Smith has been with Jesus Culture since 1999. In 2006, the group released their first album Everything, and since then has led millions straight into God’s presence through heart-felt worship. Kim Walker-Smith herself has previously released two albums – 2008’s Here Is My Song and 2013’s Still Believe, not to mention her 2013 duet album with her husband Skyler, and appearances on all of Jesus Culture’s nine live albums.

Now, after four years, Kim Walker-Smith delivers her third solo album titled On My Side. Unlike her previous two solo albums, however, this is not a live recording, but rather a studio album. And while half the tracks are 90s pop tracks, and half are the heavenly melodies Kim has brought us for years, one thing is still the same – Kim’s flexible vocals are stunning, and the presence of God is clearly evident on the On My Side album.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first two tracks from On My Side. While both of them are 90s tracks with contagious beats, the first, “Brave Surrender” sums up Kim Walker-Smith’s journey for the last four years. While parenting her two boys (with another on the way this summer), losing her father, moving, and planting the Jesus Culture church in Sacramento, California, Kim has learned to let go in full surrender. This is the message of the opening track’s chorus: “I’m letting go/ brave surrender/ I’m taking hold of life eternal/ on the other side I will find You, leaving my fears behind/ brave surrender.” I love how Kim Walker-Smith sings her way into the truth with this opening track and invites the listener to do so as well. “Glimpse” is my personal favorite track off On My Side, as the drums in the chorus are synthetic, yet pounding. Though it has a fun sound, its message is profound, crying out to live in reality and see things through the lenses of eternity.

Kim’s first single off this album, “Throne Room,” appears next, also being the first track that Kim has ever released an official music video for! Based on Hebrews 4:14-16, we are reminded that in God’s holy presence we get captivated “with angels and saints and all I can say is holy, holy, holy are You God!” With its powerful lyrics, the track has a heavier sound to it, building strongly by the chorus. Kim’s vocals match the building music perfectly! Following, “I Know” borrows lyrics from the hymn “The Solid Rock,” as Kim emphatically declares through song: “I know nothing is impossible/ I know every chain is breakable/ I know on Christ the solid rock I stand!” While she again reminds herself and the listener of the truth, this track is musically the same as the preceding track.

More like the soft and moving tracks one would expect from Kim Walker-Smith comes “Awaken Love,” the fifth track off On My Side. I find this track almost tear-jerking, as Kim beautifully depicts being a child with Jesus as our first love, unafraid and abandoned to Him. The  chorus is simple, “Jesus come, my first love,” but the song comes to a climax at its bridge, where Kim desperately cries out, stating “I’m done relying on myself!” and recognizes Jesus as the answer. For these reasons, “Awaken Love” is another of my personal favorites off this album. A short and sweet interlude follows, and because it is serene without words, it is a type of soaking track, which I really enjoyed.

In the same key as the interlude, “Just One Touch” reminds me lyrically of her earlier song “Healing Oil,” but is musically on the softer side with light drums and strings. Beautifully, Kim describes searching the whole earth “when all I needed was just one touch,” and is a prayer for God to touch us, the only thing our soul was made for. She softly sings, “I’m trading my scars for all that You are, for just one touch,” but as it builds, its bridge is intense, as Kim raises her voice and describes feeling the touch she is looking for: “I feel Your fire/ I feel Your healing/ All that You are is all that I need!” It is simply stunning, but its beauty is multiplied by the presence of God that Kim’s music carries.

The title track, Kim’s second single off this album, follows, very serene. Though it doesn’t build much and contains no drums, Kim’s vocals are very passionate, as she sings of God’s faithfulness – even in times when we were unaware of it! After this breathtaking track, two dance/pop tracks follow, again having a 90s sentiment. The fun rhythms mix with the strong messages of these tracks, as “You Define Me” reminds us that “only Your words define me/ You tell me who I am!” and “Rise” speaks of God calling us out of the ashes “to live inside the heart that beats with mine.” I did not expect that Kim would experiment with this genre, as she is a top worship leader, but since this is a genre I particularly enjoy, I was pleasantly surprised by this set of tracks.

The final two tracks on On My Side both describe the beauty of God’s presence, but in different ways. While the slower ballad, “Undone” speaks of being wrecked (in a good way) by God’s intense goodness – from the garden of Gethsemane to today and His healing of our hearts along the way --, “Fresh Outpouring” is intense with a cry for a fresh move of God. This closing track has such an anticipation to it, as Acts 2 instantly comes to mind – waiting for the promise of the fresh outpouring God has promised us in these last days. Kim passionately sings “Fresh outpouring/ Tear the fabric open/ Come Jesus, come!” While this closing track builds and fades appropriately throughout, the climax – as with most of Kim’s powerful worship songs – is the bridge, where Kim passionately sings how there is fire in our bones as we wait for Jesus to come and soak the earth with His Holy Spirit. I especially enjoyed the tag nearing the end of the track, where Kim resounds, “Make a way where I see none/ Let the waters rise in the desert” reminding me instantly of Isaiah 35. What a fantastic closing to the On My Side album, a track that personally had me a little disappointed that the album was over, and has so far caused me to play through the album again and again!

Kim Walker-Smith’s On My Side is definitely a fabulous third offering! While some listeners might be disappointed that only about half the album is synonymous with Kim’s other powerful worship albums, I personally thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful mix of catchy pop beats with anointed worship. Every track resounds with a message of how intensely we are in need of God’s presence – how that is what we live for and were made for – and serves as a reminder to let go and surrender fully to our good God. I will definitely have On My Side on repeat, as it is both an album to listen to during personal prayer time and one with catchy beats to keep you inspired throughout your day.

Rating: 4.5/5
Release date: April 17, 2017

Track listing:
1. Brave Surrender
2. Glimpse
3. Throne Room
4. I Know
5. Awaken Love
6. Interlude
7. Just One Touch
8. On My Side
9. You Define Me
10. Rise
11. Undone
12. Fresh Outpouring

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