Psalm 96:1 exhorts believers to “sing to the Lord a new song.” The place of music in worship is a powerful and vital component of believers’ expressions of praise to God, both in corporate worship and in a personal way.
DeSoto County songwriter and music teacher Stephen McNeill has been involved in worship music for his church, Vintage Church, which meets at Horn Lake High School each week. McNeill previously released a set of songs as an album titled Centerpiece. The second volume of the series, titled “Centerpiece Volume II: Shelter and Shade,” is about to be released on Nov. 29.
The album is not a solo effort, however. McNeill enlisted many friends and worship leaders to help fashion the collection. He said worship leaders, musicians, and singers from Vintage Church, Longview Heights Baptist Church, Eastpoint Church, Redeemer Baptist Church, Heartland Church, Mercy Hill Church, and others all joined in with him to make a truly community album.
The compilation of songs expresses music on a congregations and devotional level, McNeill said, adding that they all seek to be honest about the hard realities of life in light of the steadfast love of God.
“I started writing these songs to express what we were going through,” McNeill said. “I sent them to our worship pastor Blake Bostick and he gave me feedback. We started these songs as natural expressions of what we were studying as a church and what we were learning together. It became part of our identity as a church.”
Among the titles on the album are “The Earth is Full,” and “As I Have Been Loved,” which features another DeSoto County musician in Hunter Bobo.
As McNeill’s church started singing his songs as part of worship, he received encouragement to consider putting them down in album form. The encouragement continued with the upcoming release of the second volume of songs.
“I released the first one at the end of 2017,” said McNeill. “The theme that connects the two is the theme of unity. The songs weren’t written for me and they’re not just written for me, they’re written for my church and unity. We sang them together before we ever had the thought of recording them.”
McNeill describes his music as that of having a folk element and a singer-songwriter sort of feel, but it also embraces a famous rocker and the Memphis style.
“I love the sound of Tom Petty records, but I also love the sound of old Al Green records he recorded in Memphis,” said McNeill. “So, it has that fat Memphis sound but with the Tom Petty guitar, a mix between Memphis and Tom Petty.”
But the message in the music is being honest about life in the view that God’s love never changes.
“A lot of times, it’s uncomfortable to talk about sad things and hard things in church, or whatever,” McNeill explains. “Lyrically, it’s dealing with the fact that trouble’s going to come and suffering is a part of human life, but God never leaves us in the midst of it and Jesus led the way for us through that.”
The drums and bass part of the album was laid down in May of this year at Young Avenue Sound in Midtown Memphis, with the rest of it mixed in with McNeill’s small studio in Olive Branch. McNeill said he also used a Kickstarter website campaign to help raise support for the project.
On the release date of Nov. 29, “Centerpiece: Volume II” will be available on most all music streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music. McNeill said centerpiece.com will offer the album for purchase.
“When you look at Scripture in the book of Psalms, when God’s people were celebrating anything, they were singing,” said McNeill. “Singing has a way of capturing what you know in your head and what you believe in your heart at the same time. When you’re singing together, it’s a reminder that, even though it’s been a crazy week, the truths of Scripture haven’t changed, Jesus hasn’t changed.”
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.