Prime Cuts: The Returning, Come Through, Breathing Room
Overall Grade: 4.75/5
Kim Walker-Smith commands attention when she sings. Her voice resounds with so much power and authority that you can't help but seat up and listen. She invests every ounce of energy she has into each and every note that you cannot accuse her of being aloof. And when she sings about Christ and how he will come through for us in every trial, you can't help but be lifted with tear-filled gratitude. In this regard, "Wild Heart" excels. On this, her 5th solo record, this Jesus Culture matriarch has given us 12 new songs, many of which are worship classics in the making.
Recorded live at the Cascade Theater in Redding, California, this album finds her returning to the place she recorded Still Believe, Consumed (with Jesus Culture), and got married. The stage was full of live trees, ferns, moss and flowers much like the album cover imagery - it was a lush living garden created by her stage designer Eric Podtetenieff. The evening recording captured the look and feel of what the songs are trying to convey - new life, new hope, and a wild life with God. The album was recorded in one night in February, among a full room of people who traveled from New York, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and other states before the world was shutdown from this year's pandemic.
Taking the cue from Luke 19:40, "Stones" starts the album off powerfully. Refusing to avail any opportunity for the stones to cry, Kim Walker-Smith delivers one of her most passionate plea for the church to worship on this thumping anthem. If you are into those grandiose Jesus Culture ballads, you are in for a threat with "Come Through." A touching power ballad that anchors on how Christ perseveres with us even in the bleakest moments of our trials, "Come Through" is ammunition we all need when we feel the blues. "Breathing Room" is a gorgeous sequel to "Come Through" as Walker-Smith sings about resting in the victory of Jesus.
Where cliches tend to thrive in worship music, "The Returning" is a rare exception. The opening line itself is worthy of hours of rumination: "even the best of the best thing is counterfeit compared to you." The title cut "Wild heart" reminds us of C. S, Lewis' Aslan, where God is depicted as dangerous yet God. Though released months before the advent of this album is the simple yet so heartfelt "Just Be." This stripped down ballad expresses Walker-Smith's desire to sit at the feet of Jesus with no strings attached. Current single "You'll Always Be," with its beautiful piano riffs and Walker-Smith's haunting vocals, takes the expressway right into the arms of Jesus.
However, with such power singing and an album of mostly ballads ("Protector" being the only uptempo), it can be quite draining when you try to listen to the album as a whole. Maybe Walker-Smith should consider incorporating songs beyond her own palette to give us some "breathing room" after a volley of really heavy rolling songs. Other than this quibble, this album is modern worship music at its finest: God-centered lyrics, well-developed melodies, and all of this coming from a gal who sings her heart out for Jesus.