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Album Review – Chris Tomlin, “Holy Roar”

The Center for Congregational Song, David Calvert

The Context

“Holy Roar” is the newest full-length release from Chris Tomlin. Tomlin is arguably one of the most influential songwriters of contemporary songs for worship, in part because of his intimate connections with Christian radio. Tomlin has been leading worship through song in some capacity since the mid-90s, and his ability to adapt to new pop music forms ensures that his music will continue to play on the radio and affect congregational singing in Western contexts. “Holy Roar” is positioned to become yet another best-seller, joining the over 7 million records Tomlin has already sold.


The Content

Musically, this record follows the trajectory of acoustic-arena-pop that has characterized Tomlin’s previous records. Most songs are playable from an acoustic guitar and have the feel of songs written originally for that instrument. Many of the songs include an ensemble of voices, reflecting the intended use for Tomlin’s songs and inviting the hearer to sing along. Tomlin is a pure tenor, so any song adapted for mixed congregational use will need to be re-keyed appropriately. One of the strengths of Tomlin’s songs is the relatively small melodic range, so once a song is re-keyed the melody is easily attainable. There is also a relative simplicity to the melodic rhythm of the songs, so the strong melody and simple rhythm allow these songs to be adapted to many contexts. Lyrically, Tomlin’s songs include many Biblical references and themes that have been features in his songs – praise, anthems, freedom, love, and the person of Jesus. He continues to write songs that can be utilized across denominational and doctrinal lines.

Notable songs include: “How Sweet it Is,” “Goodness, Love, and Mercy” (an adaptation of Psalm 23 co-written with members of Needtobreathe), and “Nobody Loves Me Like You.” Of special note is the song “Is He Worthy,” originally written by Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive as a call-and-response, derived from Revelation 5. Although Tomlin’s cover of the song has raised the key to fit his voice, the choral response to the lead vocalist’s questions are a surprisingly liturgical inclusion for a Tomlin album.


The Conclusion

It is inevitable that someone in your local church has heard or will hear one of Tomlin’s singles on the radio this season, and they will ask for the song to be sung or performed in church. It is always important for leaders of worship to have an awareness of significant releases in the “Christian & Gospel” genre. Although there is not necessarily a “How Great is Our God” or “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” on this record, listeners are led to consider the love of God in Jesus Christ, and Tomlin’s songs likely will make their way into listeners hearts by way of the radio or streaming services.


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Review provided by David Calvert, who is the Creative Arts Director for Grace Community Church in rural North Carolina and a PhD graduate in Theology and Worship from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.