Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia. His dad was an oil refinery worker and his mom a caterer. Michael signed as a songwriter with Meadowgreen Music in 1981, writing songs for the likes of Sandi Patty and Amy Grant. He was Amy’s keyboardist on her AGE TO AGE tour, and went on to become her opening act. His debut album THE MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT came out in 1983 on Reunion Records. It included several great songs including ‘Friends’ and ‘You Need a Savior’. My favourite album of his is THE BIG PICTURE released in 1986. His first worship album WORSHIP came out in 2001 and did very well. Now he is back with his fourth worship album SOVEREIGN (2014, Capitol CMG/Sparrow). I am reviewing here the standard twelve song version, which runs 56 minutes and 39 seconds.
‘You Won’t Let Go’, a rousing adult contemporary song penned by Michael, Seth Mosley, and Mia Fieldes, starts things off. It should encourage those going through hard times: “No raging storm can ever defy/One word of faith/My heart remains sure in the wind/Sure in the waves/You are the anchor for my soul/You won’t let go (2X)/No matter what may come I know/You won’t let go/No valley low changes the truth/So I’m not afraid”. ‘Heaven Come Down’ is a sincere cry for revival: “Oh, we are broken/Here before You now/God we’re cryin’ out/Bringing You a heart that’s open/Come and light a fire (2X)/Like an ocean/Washin’ over us/Strong and glorious/Your love has spoken/And our hearts are open/Oh, heaven come down tonight/We wanna see Your glory shine”.
‘Miracle’ is an adult pop song of testimony: “I am a miracle/I am a miracle/Impossible/The war was lost/Before Your blood/Before the cross/My shame no more/My curse no more/You made a way (2X).../Amazing grace/How sweet the sound/I once was lost/But now I’m found”. ‘Sky Spills Over’ was penned by Michael, his son Ryan, and Christopher Stevens. Wes King plays acoustic guitars and Ben Clark plays banjo. This very positive song has a pulsating beat: “Lift your eyes/Look to the horizon now/There’s still a hope for us/Reach up from the dust/And call it down/Can you hear/Can you hear that thunder?/Sing His Name, Sing it out/’Til the sky spills over/I may just be dry bones/Stripped of sinew and skin/But the wind of His Spirit/Will raise me up again”.
‘All Arise’ includes strings by David Henry and reminds us to revere God: “There is only One/Whose majesty is unending/There is only One/The King of Kings, never failing/All, all arise/At the Name of our Savior/Who is worthy/You are worthy”. ‘You Are The Fire’ is a song that builds in intensity musically and reminds us God can’t be contained in a box of our own making: “You’re all consuming/You can’t be contained/Never relenting, changing everything/You are the love that overwhelms my heart/You are the fire lighting up the dark.../Fan the flames ‘til the whole world sees us burn/You are the fire”.
‘Christ Be All Around Me’ was written by Leeland Mooring, Jack Mooring, David Leonard, and Leslie Jordan. It is a great congregational style song that serves as a prayer: “As I rise, strength of God/Go before, lift me up/As I wake, eyes of God/Look upon, be my sight/As I wait, heart of God/Satisfy and sustain/As I hear, voice of God/Lead me on, be my guide/Be my guide/Above and below me/Before and behind me/In every eye that sees me/Christ be all around me”. Aaron Keyes, Bryan Brown, and Jack Mooring wrote ‘Sovereign Over Us’. Jack is Michael’s son-in-law. This terrific worship ballad uses violin, viola, cello, and double bass. It boldly declares who God is: “Your plans are still to prosper/You have not forgotten us/You’re with us in the fire and the flood/You’re faithful forever/Perfect in love/You are sovereign over us.../You’re the lifter of the lowly/Compassionate and kind/You surround and You uphold me/And Your promises are my delight”.
‘Hide Myself’ values intimacy with God above all else: “You are the refuge that stands/You hold my world in Your hands/The quiet in the noise/The stillness of Your voice/Will be enough.../And it’s Your presence alone/That changes all that I know/’Til all that I know/Is just Your presence alone/I’m safe in Your shadow”. Nick Herbert and Ben Cantelon wrote ‘The Same Power’. It is a celebratory song appropriate for Easter Sunday: “There is power in His Name/For the stone was rolled away/Mountains bow down before/Jesus Christ, our risen Lord/Jesus Christ, our risen Lord/Mighty Savior, lifted high/King forever, Jesus Christ/Crowned in glory, raised to life/The same power lives in us”.
‘I Lay Me Down’ is a ballad that uses strings and finds Michael on piano. It is a song of true spiritual satisfaction: “I have found here/Love and mercy/From an infinite supply/I have found here/Living water/From a well that won’t run dry/At Your feet I bow in wonder/At Your feet/I place my crowns/Let surrender be the only sound/At Your feet/I lay me down”. The closing song ‘The One That Really Matters’ was penned by Jennie Lee Riddle and Dustin Smith. It features Kari Jobe on vocals along with Michael, Bellarive on backing vocals, and Cara Fox on cello. The song includes these passionate words: “I can’t help but scream about the way that You moved in/Chaotic love has messed me up so I could live again/You’re the One that really matters”.
Michael W. Smith and his wife Debbie have five kids and several grandchildren. Michael has sold over 15 million albums, had 28 No 1 hits, won 3 Grammy’s, and over 40 Dove Awards. He says: “I’m pretty passionate. I have lots of energy and I’m probably enjoying making music more than I ever have in my entire life. I’m having fun and I’m excited about this record and this next chapter...I don’t see retirement anywhere in the Bible”.
I recommend SOVEREIGN to fans of Chris Tomlin, Elton John, Mark Schultz, and Billy Joel. This is worship music for already converted youth and young adults. This album represents all that is good about modern worship music. The instrumentation is skillful and the lyrics are meaningful. Michael’s vocals are spot on. He is supported by many talented vocalists including Lauren Daigle, Jamie Jamgochian, and Jeremy Edwardson. These songs will inspire you to grow closer to God and trust Him more. They will also make you desire to share Christ with those who don’t yet know Him. I’m rating SOVEREIGN 98%. For more info visit: www.michaelwsmith.com and www.sparrowrecords.com.