Sounds like … previous Worship Circle projects, offering raw and intimate acoustic worship that resembles modern folk-pop and the praise songs of the '70s Jesus Movement

At a glance … though not as good as the original Worship Circle album, it's still incredible because of its original, raw, and honest approach to praising the Lord

When we talk of worship music, we all ultimately mean the same thing: music intended to glorify God. Of course, true worship goes beyond musical definition, but we all enjoy different worship albums according to our personal tastes. For example, you might not have cared for the genre until a favorite artist like Michael W. Smith, Third Day, or Newsboys released an album of worship covers. Or perhaps you prefer worship "hits," with strong production and catchy hooks, as heard on compilations like Songs 4 Worship, iWorship, or WoW Worship.

If you consider those things secondary and truly desire honest, original worship in its purest form—songs written and recorded to bring your heart in close communion with the Lord—check out the Enter the Worship Circle series, an essential piece in the modern worship revival. The first release in 1999 was a collaborative effort between members of Waterdeep and 100 Portraits (husband and wife duo Ben and Robin Pasley). Since then, the Pasleys helped start a Christian artist community in Colorado Springs called Blue Renaissance Creative Group, resulting in the release of Second Circle in 2002. Both projects have sold more than 100,000 units combined, making it one of the best-selling indie worship projects of all time. A number of songs have since been popularized by prominent Christian artists—most notably Third Day ("You Are So Good to Me"), John Tesh ("I Will Not Forget You"), and Salvador ("Those Who Trust").

Now comes Third Circle, which maintains the momentum. The Pasleys are joined this time by worship leaders Kate Hurley and Barry and Michelle Patterson. Recorded again in a makeshift recording studio in someone's home in Colorado's mountains, this is spontaneous and unpolished worship. Imagine an intimate worship service performed in the round with acoustic guitars and percussion, and you have Enter the Worship Circle. It's reminiscent of early Jesus Movement folk-pop, featuring some truly awesome percussion—some of it world music instrumentation.

Third Circle borrows heavily from the Psalms, very much like Shane Barnard and Shane Everett's 2002 Psalms project. And in the same way, the Worship Circle crew elaborates on the emotions of Scripture without simply rehashing it. Psalm 71 inspires the lead-off track, "I Don't Know," simple acoustic worship that marvels at God's faithfulness and love. "For My Ashes" (from Psalm 145) is similarly buoyant in praising God for his goodness. The bluesy "Wait on the Lord" comes from Psalm 27 as an expression of faith that God will deliver us in his time. Psalm 116 is the foundation for the melancholic sounding "God Is Good," and "Everlasting Love" (Psalm 109) is likewise maudlin in offering our perspective from when we first came to know Christ.

Psalm 45's "You Are My God" is expected to be the standout track as the album's radio single. It definitely has one of Third Circle's catchier acoustic grooves and memorable melodies, as well as the strongest rock intensity. The Psalm 124-inspired "You Are the One" also has great potential with its darker guitar riff, rocking ¾ time, and powerful lyrics: "You are the one who delivers the dying/You are the one helping those who are drowning/You rescue the loser … so come rescue me." Other highlights include the especially delicate "Continue" from Psalm 36 and the celebratory "Dance Dance" from Psalm 30, made even more joyous through the use of flutes and dulcimer. "Together" is a strong unity anthem taken from Ephesians 4 (the one non-Psalm on the album), while Psalm 130's "How You Forgive Me" contrasts fear of God's wrath with fear of failing our loving Father. The album closes strongly with the almost shouted praise chorus "It's My Joy" from Psalm 68.

For fans of this unique worship series, Third Circle is still not quite as special as the classic first disc—I suspect they'll need Waterdeep back in the mix to pull that off. With inspired lyrics, passionate performances, and an intimate feel, it's nonetheless as good as Second Circle in every way. As for those who have yet to discover the Worship Circle series, this is as effective a worship album as you'll find today, despite the lack of marquee value, polished production, and song familiarity. Try it!

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