Music Review: Awaken: The Surrounded Experience by Michael W. Smith

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Updated May 23, 2019
Michael W. Smith - Surrounded (Fight My Battles)
Michael W. Smith - Reckless Love
Michael W. Smith - Waymaker ft. Vanessa Campagna & Madelyn Berry

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The event and this album is a call to Prayer; a call to Worship, a call to Awaken. Michael W. Smith's Awaken: The Surrounded Experience is the recording of that night as it happened. An experience of worship that is intentional and powerful. It is his hope that this album extends the impact of that evening throughout the world. Michael has been releasing new music regularly and performing around the world to sold-out crowds for the last 30+ years.

During his storied career, he's written 32 #1 singles, been honoured with three Grammy Awards, as well as being nominated for Best New Christian Album of 2018 with the release of SURROUNDED. In addition, Michael has received 45 Dove Awards, was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and has sold more than 15 million albums!

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Awaken: The Surrounded Experience by Michael W. Smith
(Updated: May 23, 2019)
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Michael W. Smith is one of Christian music's greatest treasures and he's been able to reinvent his music more times than I care to count. From his different looks through the 80's and 90's into his "Worship" and "Worship Again" albums and the subsequent releases that have come both in worship and contemporary releases he has managed to keep things feeling fairly fresh, with very few missteps. Last year after wondering if he was ever going to produce any music ever again he ended up releasing 2 albums, one contemporary "A Million Lights" and one worship, "Surrounded". It is off the back of "Surrounded" that this live performance has come together.

This worship album is a recording of a night which is a call to worship, prayer and declaration of God's power and is heavy expectation that as we praise and pray we will see God move in our lives, towns and cities, relationships and loved ones. With this album, a lot of the tracks are examples of key current worship trends, and some are focused mainly on the chorus or main stirring theme. Kicking off the album is "Set A Fire" which lets you know straight away that this is live, as the music fades in the crowd cheers and the song starts with the chorus in the background before Michael's unmistakable voice comes in over the top. This is one of those that focus on the chorus asking God for a fire in the soul and a plea for more of God. This leads into Cory Asbury's "Reckless Love" which has become an anthem for many Christians about how God, in His love, chases us down to overwhelm us and bring us back into relationship with Him. The track opens with a very familiar "Are you ready?" from Michael and ends with familiar whooping from both the led artist and the crowd. This then leads into "King of Glory" and at this point Michael brings out the first of his guests, none other than Cece Winans! This is a beautiful song and the arrangement works brilliantly with Cece's rich vocal, and she also encourages the audience to get involved and sing so it's not just a performance. Michael is happy at this point providing some backing vocals and the piano!

We then enter a set of 4 songs that are real faith-builders to remind us of the God that we serve and the amazing way that He works in our lives. The first is "Waymaker", again Michael gives way to female vocalists at this point, namely Vanessa Campagna and Madelyn Berry. This song just shows that the God we love is working every moment as "Waymaker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light In The Darkness" even when we don't see it happening! The focus of this song is that declaration over our situations and circumstances in worship. As that song fades out Mark Gutierrez compliments Smiths vocals on "Miracles" which is again focusing on the fact that God can work miracles and that we can trust Him because of what He has done in the past and that even now He is reaching out to heal us. In this song, Michael brings a declaration for those who have prodigals in their family, that God will bring them home. "Do It Again" is a reminder that we have the victory because we know that God has never failed us, and His promise still stands for us. Even though we might feel we are walking around the walls of Jericho we have to keep going, confident in His sure and certain promise. This little collection finishes off with the track that has become an anthem for me and many others "Fight My Battles" the chorus from the song "Surrounded". The slight difficulty I have with this is that Michael has chosen to focus just on the faith-building chorus, but it doesn't actually explain how we fight the battle! If you know the song, you know it's through praise, worship and giving thanks to God, but if you are not familiar with that then it's a bit of an odd choice!

The tone changes from the triumphant declaration to the focus on our need for a Saviour and Jesus' death to buy our sin "Washed Away" this is combined in a medley with the chorus "Nothing But The Blood". It's quite a change from the bombastic nature of declaration to confession, but the contrast works well because it moves the focus from our circumstances to Christ. "Great Are You Lord", the All Sons and Daughters track is next up as we declare that it is Gods breath in our lungs. Honestly, this is a song that when I am walking I will sing at the top of my lungs! We then take a bit of a trip back in time to the first "Worship" album with "Let It Rain" which is a song that builds to a great crescendo as we ask God to open the floodgates of Heaven and let it rain. This has a prayer that focuses on Nashville but I think we can all add to that prayer for our own areas and communities. He then drops into a chorus of another MWS classic of "Healing Rain" and then onto "Agnus Dei" which takes us all the way back to 1990! The album finishes with a focus on God and the worship portrayed in the book of Revelation, a great way to end the album with Smith's arrangement of Jennie Lee Riddle's classic worship track.

I have to say that for the last couple of months this album has been my go-to worship release, particularly if I am out walking and just want to worship God. If you're going through a hard time and you are finding it hard to worship, can I recommend this album? You cannot come away from this album without knowing that God is making a way for you, just like He has done before and throughout all history. There are songs here that will be very familiar, but Michael's live arrangements work well to make them easy to pick up. The guest artists and the overall quality of this production are great, knowing that you are worshipping with others that were there on the night of the recording.

Seriously if you are in a place where there is no light, the valley seems long and dark then fire up Spotify or even YouTube and listen to this, it will build you up, remind you that God loves you, He's pursuing you with "Reckless Love", He's faithful and He has good plans for you, then dare to lift up your voice and join in. The valley may not disappear immediately but the light shining in will get brighter, I promise you!

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