Bob Hartman wrote three of the songs on this album. If you've read some of my reviews of albums leading up to this one, you know about my increasing level of distress over Bob's songwriting, which seemed to me to have become a bit strained recently. I was so excited (and relieved!) to note that the problem I've mentioned with rhymes that seem contrived has vanished... I especially like the way the lines fit together in "Lovely Lord", though the other two songs he wrote, "Be Of Good Cheer" and "Holiest Name", are strong writing as well. I can only assume that since he has quit touring and has more time to be away from the stresses of traveling, Bob has really had some time to think and work on some good stuff. And since he only needed a few original songs for this album, he could really polish and come up with some gems to share with us.
I was really impressed with the first song, "Song of Moses", for two reasons: first, the lyrics are directly from Revelation 15:3-4; it's not often that you see the Bible quoted that directly. Second, I think it's interesting that the song was written in part by Jim Cooper, who is no longer a member of Petra... that says to me that there really are no hard feelings there. From things I've read that John Schlitt has said in interviews, the guys that joined the band and then left a year later just have a different vision than God has given Petra; there's nothing personal about the whole changeover. The inclusion of this song would seem to confirm that. The song evokes that same mysterious feel that the pictures do... a nice kickoff for this kind of album.
I mentioned before how excited I got the first time I heard "Lord, I Lift Your Name On High" at that listening station... that song is a particular favorite worship song of mine, and has been ever since my days at Oral Roberts University not so long ago. I love the way the second part of the song takes you from Heaven down to Earth, then to the Cross, then to the Tomb and then back up to Heaven... the entire Gospel in a nutshell. Well, this Petra version is by no means a worship version... it's very bouncy and peppy and happy. But hey... why shouldn't we be happy about the Gospel? I remember what my brother said to me the afternoon after the day I bought the album and we listened to it... "I've been singing that song all day!"
"Be Of Good Cheer", one of the Bob-penned songs, is impressive to me not only because of the memorable "uh-uhh" hook (when you hear it you'll know what I'm talking about!), but also because it too is taken almost word for word from several passages of scripture: John 14:27, John 16:33, John 16:5, John 14:3, and a little bit of Hebrews 13:5 thrown in for good measure. <G>
"Show Your Power" is the second of five very pretty worshipful songs on this album, the first being "Song of Moses" and the others being "Show Your Power" (which would have made a truly awesome duet!), "I Love You Lord" (which has "We Exalt Thee" from Petra Praise 1 beat hands down for a beautiful slow chorus song), "Let Our Voices Rise Like Incense", and "Lovely Lord" (gotta love that bagpipe-like sound that comes in for one verse partway through!). The first time I saw the title ("Show Your Power") on the outside of the CD, I expected something with loud guitar "power chords", or something that would blow me away with powerful music... silly me. The song is about the power of God, not the power of stacks of amplifiers!
The rocker on this album is, without a doubt, "I Waited for the Lord On High". It's one of those songs that you've just GOT to head-bang to, even if you're a white-haired conservative granny with a room-sized collection of Jim Reeves records! The only problem that I have with that song is that the verses are a little bit... well, not exactly hard to make out, but sort of. Hard enough to understand that the tendency is to ignore that part and sing along on the chorus only. That's not necessarily bad for a rock song on the radio, but for a praise and worship album that is there partially to give people a way to learn songs they can sing along with and learn, it's a weakness. There are two other spots on the album where things done for art's sake bother me for the listener's sake... it bothers me that they took such license with the rhythm of the melody on "Ancient of Days". The changes are just enough that I could see someone who had learned the song on the Petra album getting confused the first time he sang it in a church service... it could make him self-conscious enough that he might even stop worshipping God because he doesn't want his neighbors to hear him singing the song wrong. And it bothers me that John didn't sing the high notes in "To Him Who Sits On The Throne"... John, we KNOW you can sing those notes! Were you having a hard day that day in the studio? That might confuse someone also. But those are all minor quibbles with an otherwise terrific album... and if you look at the album as a band album (as opposed to a praise and worship album), those changes are nothing to worry about.
I really do like the Medley, though for the longest time I barely paid any attention to it... but there is a progression of sorts to the songs in it. It starts out with "Only By Grace", which describes the only way we are able to enter the presence of God. Then it moves on into "To Him Who Sits On The Throne", and we spend some time in actual worship, telling God how great He is, and on to "You Are Holy", which is even more personal than the song before, speaking directly to God in second person where before we were talking about God in third person. So, we talk about worshipping God, then we praise God by talking about Him, and then we walk right up to His throne and tell Him to His face how wonderful He is... and that's worship. Very nice, guys. I like it.
Strangely enough, the one song that bothers me for some reason is the last one, "We Need Jesus". That's odd, because not only is it the title song of the album, but it's also the first song released to Christian radio. In fact, when I listened to the album the first time through, I spotted that one as the radio song right away... it sounds like the radio song. I suspect that was in someone's mind from the very beginning. I'm not sure if it's that, or the fact that I almost wish they had ended with that beautiful medley, or that there is too much or too little space between it and the end of the medley... I don't know. Maybe it's the fact that the song really isn't praise or worship at all... it's just a song. But all reservations aside, the song is good to hear and think about and meditate on... we need to share Jesus with people, because He is what they need, even though they don't fully understand that fact.
Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus is a TERRIFIC album. You will have fun listening to it if you want to have some fun. If you want to hear some good musicianship, it's all there. And if you want to enter into the presence of God... that's something that, without a
shadow of a doubt, you'll be able to do.