“Living Hope” is the 8th full-length album by Phil Wickham. It could be counted as the 11th, if you factor in the three “Singalong” live albums he has recorded and given away over his 15-year career. Wickham is the child of a worship pastor, with a Calvary Chapel background. In 2014, while his career was mid-ascension (with the hit “This is Amazing Grace”), Phil was placed on complete vocal rest and ultimately had surgery to remove a polyp, followed by a continued season of rest. This album is the 2nd album released out of that crucible, and listening to Wickham’s powerful vocal performance betrays none of that struggle.
The alternation between produced album and sing-a-long album in Wickham’s work is actually an example of the alternating production of songs on “Living Hope.” The album is a mixed bag in terms of congregational singing. Although he may very well record another “Singalong” album that would include many of these songs, the average congregant would be hard-pressed to match Wickham’s soaring vocals and effortless switch between chest voice and head voice. That said, there are several songs that are standouts: “Living Hope,” “How Great is Your Love,” “Anthem,” “Song in My Soul,” and “Christ is Risen.” These five could be easily adapted to many different congregational contexts. “Living Hope” and “Christ is Risen” incorporate rich biblical and theological language coupled with singable and memorable melodies. “How Great is Your Love” and “Anthem” are simpler, repetitive refrains with a clear focus. “Song in My Soul” has an R&B flavor that may limit its use in smaller or more rural contexts, but the melodic and lyrical strength may allow it to be rearranged. Wickham enlisted various producers and cowriters for this album, and accordingly each song seems to represent a slightly different genre (pop, acoustic, R&B, arena rock). To his credit, Wickham’s distinct vocals tie the album together.
Leaders of worship and liturgists may indeed find one or two gems on this album that will enrich congregational singing in their contexts. Personal worship may be enriched by the entire album, but corporate worship may only be served by some of the stronger melodies that can be rearranged to fit contexts other than a concert venue. The lead single, “Living Hope,” is the strongest offering, but intergenerational congregations would be served by lowering the song a step or two for broader participation.
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.