In our playlist and single-driven musical landscape, one thing that has become increasingly lost is the compilation. While some collections brought together various hits around a specific theme (a forefather to the modern playlist), others struck out a more original approach. There was nothing like hearing your favorite singers get together to record a unique compilation of new original songs. It was almost like an Avengers crossover event for music fans.
This article examines a few such albums from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
City on a Hill Series
The City on a Hill album series included four contemporary Christian worship albums from the early 2000s. The albums featured the likes of many known voices in contemporary Christian music at the time, such as Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Hastletine, Newsboys lead singer Michael Tait, and contemporary artists Leigh Nash and Sara Groves produced many classic recordings.
The City on a Hill music series produced popular hits like “God of Wonders” by former Third Day lead singer Mac Powell and “This Road” and “The Stone” by veteran contemporary band Jars of Clay. Many Good Friday and Easter songs, including Mac Powell’s “I Remember You,” Leigh Nash and Bebo Norman’s “Beautiful Scandalous Night,” and “Jesus Went to the Garden,” are featured. The series also includes the contemporary band Paul Colman Trio’s “Instrument of Peace” and FFH’s “Merciful Rain.” “Marvelous Light” appears in multiple volumes, and there’s even a Christmas release. This series is worth revisiting if you enjoyed Christian music in the early 2000s.
iHero: The Rock Opera
Speaking of Avengers-style crossovers, this was a hugely ambitious Christian music project that I’m surprised isn’t talked about more. Released as a CD, DVD, novel series, and concert tour, this “rock opera” is a modern retelling of Christ’s story, setting it in a dystopian version of America.
Such a unique project seemed poised to become one of the most significant phenomena in Christian music. Still, perhaps the concept proved too unusual for some, as it is a largely overlooked chapter in Christian music history. Released in 2003, this two-hour, two-disc production didn’t boast any notable radio singles or iconic hits, but it’s chock full of juicy rock and hip-hop.
Add to it the who’s who of Christian rock vocalists of the time round out the cast (some only appear on the album version, mind you). Listen for iconic Christian artists Mark Stuart, John Cooper, Matt Hammitt, and Rebecca St. James, with Michael Tait leading the cast as “Hero.” Eddie DeGarmo and Bob Farrell produce the project and have a prestigious feel. Songs like “Kill The Hero” and “I Am” will get stuck in your head.
Fans may recall a previous project called Passion, which shares similarities with this production. However, while Passion used mainstream pop songs, this album features original content with a rocking theatrical style. While some pieces may not stand out individually, the album is a joy to rediscover. Despite some cheesiness, the unique and unforgettable nature of the project makes it worth revisiting on its 20th anniversary.
This compilation stands out for its tightly focused theme and massive popularity. With over 400,000 copies sold, it features songs that became viral hits for the featured artists.
Some of the biggest names in Christian music contributed original songs for this project. Iconic Christian contemporary artist Michael W. Smith offered the rousing instrumental title track and a famous cover of veteran artist Rich Mullin’s “I See You.” The veteran Christian band Third Day covered Smitty’s “Angus Dei.” Iconic bands dc Talk and Jars of Clay offered “My Will” and “Needful Hands,” respectively. Both songs would become big hits and staples of the bands’ later Greatest Hits collections. The Katinas released a cover of “Draw Me Close” that would later become their defining hit.
Given this album’s number of popular songs, it’s no surprise it sold so well. You may be familiar with many of these songs if you’re a fan of the artists, but perhaps the compilation as a whole slipped you by. As it turns 25, listen and discover how much it offers.
J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He’s published the novel ‘Because of Austin’ and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, ‘When Miracles Can Dream,’ is out NOW!