EWC started in 1999 with the release of the First Circle. It was a collaboration by 100 Portraits (Ben and Robin Pasley, EWC founders and sustainers) and their friends from Waterdeep. The album was heavy on acoustic guitars, hand drums, and general earthiness. Though in the vein of independent music, mainstream Christian rockers, Third Day, later covered the EWC song, “You Are So Good To Me.”
Since 1999, EWC has expanded its palette with six more albums, which includes three more Circles and two new series. Chair and Microphone presents one artist with just his guitar, voice and vulnerability to keep us company. And for those curious about an electro-pop hybrid, Village Thrift offers experimentation with forms of electronica and worship.
The latest creation, the Fourth Circle, hit the Internet in mid-March. Each of the albums from the previous Circles introduce different artists that team up with Ben and Robin. The Fourth Circle is no different and features Canadian folk artists Karla Adolphe and Caleb Freisen, The Blackthorn Project’s Tim and Laurie Thornton and Aaron Strumpel, who enjoys alt-tunings and has a neo-raspy, old-soul voice.
The sound of the Fourth Circle
is the most eclectic in the series thus far. It both progresses into areas of blues, gospel, alt-country and bluegrass, giving your ears something new to worship to, while still retaining the tribal familiarity of home that Circle junkies have come to love. Specifically, the harmonica, fiddle and mandolin work is fabulous (kudos to Caleb for bringing in his drum kit as well). The beauty of these instruments is not in any spectacular performances, but rather in the orchestration of them. They most certainly add to the sound and paint highlights on the tracks, but they don’t distract from the song as a whole; they are simply doing what they are supposed to do.
One can easily link the first seven tracks to a feeling of Exodus and wilderness walking. There are wild bellows of freedom in becoming a community and people of God; there are frustrated and tired inquiries as to wickedness, trust, self and doubt; there are remembrances and a sense of journeying to a home that one has never been to yet. One thing that greatly enhances this echo of Exodus is in the recording style of EWC. From the beginning, the artists on the albums record “live” (for the most part) in a big living-room-like area. This allows for a connection in the moment between people, as well as captures the spontaneity that can erupt at any given time.
While there are a couple corny lines in the Fourth Circle, it is prominently filled with relevant and sincere lyrics, both poetically and literally. The great thing with working from the Psalms as a content base is that they provide a gamut of emotions. The Psalms bleed incarnation. They present humanity’s struggle and various personalities. What is worship if it is not human? They display an interactive and glorious God. Whether adoration, petition or communal response, EWC’s lyrics all flow back to God’s character and deeds–who He is and what He has done and will do for us.
"Higher and Higher" exalts the Son and King far above all earthly things including feelings, kingdoms, possessions and power. God is eternal and these earthly things will soon fade away. Besides praise, questioning ensues on different levels. On "Too Proud," Aaron and the Thornton’s personally ask, “Can you undo me enough to heal me?” With social justice on the brain, Ben begs and solicits, “Wake up God, move Yourself … how long until you say, never again?” And as one of the ventricles of the EWC heart, songs like "Bright and Beautiful" and "Your House" celebrate and admonish God’s children and family.
Enter the Worship Circle’s Fourth Circle retains the family feel with the rest of the EWC records, but also hones the talents of the musicians involved to create something unique from it’s siblings and parents. The members of EWC are normal and this is refreshing. They create because of who they are. The worship of EWC is grounded on earth but rooted in heaven.