If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recognize Todd Berger’s name from his work with Enter the Worship Circle on the Village Thrift Circa 2005 album, back from… uh… right around 2005.  Together with Ben and Robin Pasley, Ryan Lott, and Doc Harrill, Todd helped create something genuinely new in worship music, which is a rare thing when it happens.  Overall, I liked the album.  I thought some songs were phenomenal, some were really good, and some just shouldn’t have made the final cut.  Like most albums, it was a mix of good and bad, but what it did more than anything was prove that a worship album didn’t have to be Chris Tomlin-influenced worship-rock (which there’s nothing wrong with), redone hymns (also, nothing wrong here), or simple acoustic songs ala Enter the Worship Circle’s normal stuff (again, nothing wrong with that either).

There’s a new Village Thrift album in the works, which should be even better than the first, but while you’re waiting, Todd Berger is about to release his own solo album, And Have Not Love.

You can head on over here to listen to a pre-release, non-finalized version of the album, or if you’re lazy don’t even bother to listen but just buy the thing when it comes out.

Man, there’s some great songs in this mix, but before I get to them, I wanna give you some background on Todd Berger himself.  First off, just look at his photo at the beginning of this post – how could you not like a guy who looks as normal as that?  I think I could worship God no matter what the person leading worship looked like, but it’s easier when they don’t look like Gene Simmons in full KISS uniform.

Todd and his wife Laurel have a passion for leading students (and others too I presume) into intimate worship encounters with God.  Since 1997 they’ve been creating “multi-art events where a fusion of visual art, movement, acoustic instrumentation, with elements of electronica & turntablism come together for an intense time of worship”.  I stole that from their blog.  I couldn’t write something so awesome on my own.

Todd is a worship leader for Journey Fellowship Church near Cleveland, Ohio, and a missionary with Wake Arts Collective, a group which I’m confused about.  What exactly the Wake Arts Collective does I’m not sure.  This interesting fact I do know: they produced a Christmas album in 2007 (Rough Road to the Star) which included Todd Berger and other artists, one of whom goes by the name Joseph John on the album.  I, however, know him as Joe Steinke, a pastor at Mad City Church in Madison, Wisconsin, where I went to college.  I’ve only talked to Joe a handful of times, but I lived in his parents’ basement for 3 months before I got married.  While there, I got free food and free rent, on the one condition that I would clean the shower once a week.  I think I cleaned it once the whole time I was there.  It’s been over four years but I still think about it.  I should just show up and scrub their shower one of these days.

Anyway, Todd Berger seems like a really awesome guy who loves God and wants others to do the same.  So let’s get to the album itself.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are always some good and some bad songs on every album.  And Have Not Love is no different.  First off, as an album it’s very good, but as a worship album it’s awesome.  The songs are really well-written and the lyrics are way more interesting and poetic than usually is seen in worship music.  In all my listening of the album, never once did I find myself going, “I know what they’re gonna rhyme with here” or “Yep, I figured they’d start singing about that aspect of God right about now.”  It’s still a worship album so the writing has to be somewhat more accessible than, say, Bob Dylan or The Decemberists, but Todd Berger has really done an amazing job of breaking away from normal worship words and phrases.

Musically, the album is a mix of progressive rock, experimental, electronica, and more normal rock.  It’s a very interesting mix of sounds, different enough that I probably would listen to it even if it weren’t worship music, but not quite amazing enough that it’d be a constant in my playlist.  Some songs feature some really cool use of instruments, like the harmonica solo that shows up on “Here in Earth.”  That harmonica appearance makes the song.

But this album at heart is a worship album, and like with every worship album, what you want to know more than anything is whether it’ll connect you with God or not.  This is where the album makes up for any shortcomings that may be present in the music.  The worship spirit behind the songs carries through for the most part.  The song “Left Left Right” didn’t do anything for me, but some songs like “Do Not Fear” and “He Only Is” carry a weight that draw you right into worship.  If you’ll be needing more worship music soon, I can’t recommend And Have Not Love enough.

So which songs did I like, and which didn’t I like?  It’s hard to say, because on every listen I end up liking more songs.  Some I liked right away, but others grew on me.  So let me just go ahead and overload you with my thoughts on all the songs, one at a time.

I mentioned already that I didn’t care for “Left Left Right.”  “Here in Earth” was fine but not anything amazing – until the harmonica showed up.  Once that puppy came in, I loved the rest of it.  Harmonicas will get me every time.  “Do Not Fear” is an amazing worship song.  Very well-written, catchy, musically dynamic, and anointed.  This is one of my favorite songs on the album for sure.  “He Only Is” was similar for me.  I got sucked right into worship with that song, and it’s definitely one of my favorites.  “Arise Shine” has some of my favorite lyrics of all the songs on the album, and I really like the vocals, even though I couldn’t tell you why.  The line, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” stuck with me all day whenever I listened to it.  I liked the song “God is Building a City” for similar reasons.  “Trust in Him” is a fun, upbeat worship song with a catchy chorus.  I liked it alright.  I liked the idea of “Stand Strong” more than I liked the song itself.  I didn’t really like how the vocals turned out.  “Love is the And” is one of those songs that I didn’t care for at first but now is one of my favorites on the album.  I think it’s the chorus that really did it for me – it’s so fun and easy to sing along with.  And the lyrics are really clever.  The song “Nameless Faceless” was OK.  The first part was a little boring, but it picks up near the end, redeeming a song that I probably wouldn’t like otherwise.

And now we come to my absolute favorite song on the album: “If You Must Fight.”  The trumpet, backing vocals, accordion (I think), and organ all coincide to make a song that’s as musically diverse as any by Sufjan Stevens, Danielson, or Bodies of Water, to name a few bands known for their musical quirkiness.  I can’t get enough of this song.  The music just leaves you feeling like everything is perfect, and the words inspire you to reach out to those who need God.  If there were such a thing as the perfect worship song, this one would for sure be a contender for the title.

To finish up the album, I liked “Shelter Me” a lot.  Definitely a great worship song.  The last song “Let God Arise” brings up some contrasting feelings in me.  The words are great, the chorus is a lot of fun, and the upbeat feel is cool, but I just didn’t like the music.  They even threw a harmonica in there, trying to sway me, but it wasn’t gonna happen.

To close this up, look for the album sometime this month, and definitely grab it up if you’re in need of some more worship music, or even if you just want something different for your music library.  I hope they release it on e-music so I can get it (hint hint).

MySpace: www.myspace.com/villagethrift
Website: www.reverbnation.com/toddberger