Since its stunning 2006 breakthrough debut album Sound of Melodies, progressive worship band Leeland has become one of the most important voices in a new generation of worship music. Known for its passion-filled live experience, the band’s fourth album The Great Awakening stirs a fresh desire for personal and worldwide worship revival.
Nominated for three GRAMMY Awards — one for each of its previously released albums — this time around, lead singer Leeland Mooring and brother Jack Mooring are joined by 18-year-old new member (and younger sister) Shelly, along with drummer Mike Smith, to bring 11 new modern songs inspired by historical “fathers of the faith”— men like theologian Jonathan Edwards and Salvation Army founder William Booth, whose depth of belief and passion for God started an uprising of faith wherever they went.
The Mooring siblings grew up learning about such spiritual giants from their parents while riding around the country in an old Lincoln Town Car; mom and dad led worship for traveling evangelists. Younger sister Shelly was there in the backseat, too, duly influenced by the Mooring family’s focus and energy.
“We grew up in a real spirit-filled background and have had more hands laid on us than a football has, you know?” says Leeland. “Most of all, our parents put us in situations where we experienced God. Any time we crossed paths with anyone who had an amazing anointing on their life, mom would put all three of us on the altar and say, ‘Pray for my kids.’”
Those prayers are working. Reviewing the band’s acclaimed catalog, allmusic sees “amazing songwriting maturity” (Sound of Melodies, 2006), “everything that is right in CCM” (Opposite Way, 2008), and “a truly transcendent experience” (Love Is on the Move, 2009). Leeland, with its wide-eyed musical approach that blends haunting Coldplay creativity and Hillsong heart, is a worship revival experience in itself.
The Great Awakening is far and away Leeland’s most impressive artistic and spiritual expression yet, with the Mooring siblings bringing unmatched three-part harmonies set to ambient guitars and the rock-steady drums of Smith, all guided by the haunting production of producer Paul Moak (Third Day, Matt Maher). It’s a shining worship set that fuses the simple charms heard on Sound of Melodies with the enthusiasm and reverence of Leeland’s unforgettable and captivating live show.
“A lot of those guys our parents talked about—Edwards, Booth, and later the British evangelist Smith Wigglesworth—reached out to God in ways we’re not seeing now in America. And that’s part of what spurred many of these songs,” explains Jack. “It’s the idea of asking God to wake us up; wake up our nation; wake up the church to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.”
The Mooring brothers read of that essence in what is widely regarded to be an anonymous poem (some attribute it to a man named Lawrence Tribble) dating back to the late 1700s revival era:
One man wakes, awakens another / Second one wakes his next door brother / Three awake and rouse a town and turn the whole place upside down / Many awake will cause such a fuss / It finally awakes all of us / One man awakes with dawn in his eyes, truly then it multiplies.
Those words would become the lyrics of The Great Awakening’s opening title track, a rollicking piano-led sing-along that outlines the joy, enthusiasm, and drive behind the entire project.
“We’ve all been going through a personal revival in this band,” Leeland continues. “We’ve felt God taking us out of a plateau, shaking us up and saying, ‘Don’t cruise anymore.’ That’s where we are; feeling like God wants to bring a great awakening to our generation.”
Indeed, from message to musicianship, the new album shakes off any dust of spiritual atrophy. Several of the particularly enthusiastic tracks were co-written by all four members during a stay at mentor Michael W. Smith’s house. Among them, “Chains Hit the Ground” declares freedom in Christ (for all of my years my banner will be clear). Epic rocker “Not Afraid Anymore” puts faith into vivid action (I feel Your lightning waking me up from the sleep of my timid soul).
When it was time to record The Great Awakening, a similar brand of togetherness reigned as Leeland cut every tune live to tape, a technique Shelly preferred as the studio rookie. Of course, her brothers weren’t at all worried about how she would do.
“Shelly’s first concerts with us were on a tour with Casting Crowns, and she nailed it every night,” remembers Jack. “She’s like our dad and can play any instrument she picks up.”
Longtime Leeland listeners will notice Shelly’s distinct vocal presence on the beautifully arranged “I Wonder,” a sweetly harmonized, almost country-meets-symphonic worship selection. The tune provided something of a religious experience for the Mooring’s mother, whose reaction upon first hearing the melodically rich piece wasn’t lost on her children.
“Mom ‘woos’ when she’s filled with the Spirit,” says Shelly with a smile.
“It’s a total mom-meter thing,” agrees Jack.
“If mom cries when she hears a new song, it goes on the record,” Leeland summarizes.
Another advantage to recording much of The Great Awakening live was the ability to capture what often happens during a passion-filled Leeland performance: the Holy Spirit shows up, people “have church,” and the band gets out of the way, so to speak. At nearly nine minutes long, the powerful “All Over the Earth” is a perfect example, a simple yet swooning song of praise that doubled in length as the members became swept up in the moment.
“What you hear there is us playing the song like we never had before,” says drummer Mike Smith, who has gotten used to keeping the beat when divine intervention leads the band off script. “It was a great take, and we said, ‘Let’s not try to recreate that.’”
The Great Awakening is a fascinating studio record in its own right. Producer Paul Moak deals in vintage sounds and equipment, adding atmospheric warmth around many hook-laced tunes like the internationally influenced “I Can See Your Love.” An ingeniously makeshift choir — brought together by a last minute Twitter from Jack — graces several tracks including the radio-ready “Pages” and compelling anthem “While We Sing” (another definitive call to revival).
Still, the band looks ahead to what it will do with this remarkable album on the road, where ministry has always taken shape for the members of Leeland “A big part of our heart is to invest in people in each city,” concludes Jack. “As the schedule allows, we want to have a church service before the concert and just worship, pray for people, lay hands on people, believe in God for healing and salvation; awakening, basically.”
It’s a great awakening, Leeland’s impassioned journey straight to the heart of God.
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