Review: In The Living Room by Aaron Keyes

In a world full of well-known worship leaders, you may have missed Aaron Keyes. It's time to set that straight, because the American songwriter pens songs packed with so much scriptural truth that it puts some of his better-known contemporaries to shame.

In The Living Room opens with a 5-minute spoken word 'Invocation'. "We really believe the local church is alive and well," Aaron explains, "and we're hoping this will help house churches around the world worship better and be inspired…That's why we're here."

Aaron's songs have been re-worked for the live recording, and so too has the production.

To say that Keyes' last studio album sounded 'professional' would be a gross understatement. Dwell featured the very best musicians making the very best sounds. But the production on In The Living Room stands in stark contrast. It doesn't clear up Aaron's vocal mistakes or tidy up the background noise.

When I say 'noise' I'm not just talking about a few misplaced notes, I mean real background noise. People talking, coughing and even stuff falling over. The YouTube clips of the recording show a small child in pyjamas. So what's going on?

The answer lies in the context and the mission of the recording. Keyes and his team wanted to move worship "from the Green Room to the Living Room"…literally. That's why they recorded the album in the worship leader's home.

This decision pre dates Rend Collective's community focused live album Campfire, but both records are driving at the same point and motivated by the same vision: Worship is not about stages, lights and record deals. There's nothing wrong with any of those things. Aaron has been on many stages, has a record deal and even In The Living Room featured special lighting! But worship is primarily about ordinary Christians worshipping together in spirit and in truth. Sometimes in stadiums, but more often in homes – just like the early church did.

Of course, it's not entirely like house church…unless your house church's living room has a full drum kit, electric guitar and double bass, not to mention in ear monitors. But it is a remarkable effort at stepping outside of the auto-tuned world of live worship albums and into the real world. A world where a church member's fingers are sometimes in the wrong places on the guitar fretboard, but their hearts are focused solely on God.

That's not to say excellence and good musical production doesn't have its place. It certainly does. But as more and more Christians hire top studios and record songs with the greatest musicians, local church worship pastors can start to feel left behind.

That's why it's a welcome surprise that In The Living Room is so rough around the edges. It could be described as 'organic' but in reality, it's actually just a bit messy. Just like real church.

This personal focus is summed up best by Aaron himself: "We want to shift what worship leading looks like, from worship leaders simply leading songs to worship pastors leading people to knowing God better, to resting our hearts in Him, to expressing our hearts to him-physically, instinctively, fully, expressively… not just emotion, passion and excitement, but to declare the promises of God in the Bible with reverence and orthodoxy."

Aaron leads his friends and family through 12 songs from opening hymn Come Thou Font to closing track My Soul Yearns, written by English songwriter Samuel Lane. In between there are songs written by Aaron, but each of them sound different. I Am Not The Same originally had an infectious synth riff and driving electric guitars. But in the living room it opens with one simple loop and a gentle piano. Musically, the jury is out on whether the rendition even works. Plus not everyone in the room can hit the high notes…and there's no overdubbing!

What you're left with at the end of the 1 hour 20 minute recording is the impression that you've eavesdropped on something special. Intimate moments of worship that are being shared to prove that God doesn't respond to the coolest sounds or strongest guitarists, he's much more interested in our hearts. And this production has oodles of heart.

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