Nathan Jess “Phoenix” Album Review

Nathan Jess

Prime Cuts:  Sweet Communion, Hearts of the Fathers, Tear the Veil

Overall Score: 4/5

Nathan Jess writes with a pastor's heart.  Few worship leaders and songwriters today take the time to ruminate upon the deep recesses of the human heart.  Even fewer are the songwriters who reflect in their songs how God does meet, engage, and transform our hearts.  Nathan Jess does this well with a heartfelt perspicuity. With the steep acceleration of broken families and single parent homes, for instance, how many worship songs actually give articulation to this issue?  None, except for Nathan Jess' "Hearts of the Fathers."  How many songs today actually deal with the practical implications (and blessings) of partaking the Lord's Supper?  Except for some ancient hymns, few are the modern worship songs that come remotely close as Jess' "Sweet Communion."

Jess is a songwriter and worship leader based in Northern Ireland. His debut album 'Love Stands Forever' was released with Integrity Music in 2013.  He has toured alongside artists such as Rend Collective, Phil Wickham and Martin Smith and continues to reach a growing audience with his heart to communicate the love of God and a passion to draw worshippers into a deeper encounter with their Heavenly Father.

"Phoenix" is Jess' sophomore release for Integrity Music. Citing John Mark McMillian as his influence, album opener "Awake My Soul" sounds like a page out of McMillian's songbook.  Brimming with a fervid passionate desire for God, this is the type of songs that do great surgery in opening our hearts to Jesus.  Co-written by Matt Redman and Jess, "Hearts of the Fathers" is the album's buzz song that speaks of how broken families can turn to God for healing.  In a culture of family dysfunctionality, this is a must-hear.  Also, a lodestar is the arresting and the album's most tuneful "Tear the Veil," which finds Jess singing with Jesus Culture's Chris McClarney.

Jess also shows versatility in his approach to his music.  While "Love in the Deepest Form" showcases the excellent use of big reverb soaking drums, the ballad "Sweet Communion" prides on the use of gorgeous sounding strings.  On "Sweet Communion," Jess actually goes deep to mine the implications of what it means to join with Christ at the Lord's Table.  This is more than a song; it's rich theology compact within a song.

As sensitive and careful as Jess is as a writer, there's a major weakness with the record.  Though all the songs do have their individual merits, there's no song that jumps out with the word "classic" imprinted.  Such that many of the songs do lack a transcendent quality that will make churches want to sing these songs in 20 years' time.  This is a tall order considering that Jess is still a relatively young writer.  Nevertheless, for a sophomore album for Integrity Music, this is already quite good.


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