If George Whitfield were living today, he would most likely be like Carman. With a flair for theatrical drama, engaging stories, animated gestures, and with a voice that could reach up to 30,000 people, Whitefield used every means possible to call people to Christ. This 18th Century open air evangelist had taken the words of the Apostle Paul to heart when he "became all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). Fast forward a couple of centuries and we have Carman. Like Whitefield, Carman is not just a singer, he is also a three dimensional evangelist. Sometimes touted as the rock n' roll Billy Graham, Carman does not just sing. Rather, at his concerts he would preach, tell stories, put up shows and skits, and sing in order to preach the Gospel to his audience. And like Whitefield who was able to pack up record throngs of people, Carman still holds the record for the largest concert ever when he packed up the Texas stadium with over 71,000 people. "Anthems of a Champion" is Carman's first release in six years and his first Sparrow record release since 2000. And this is a compilation collection culling tracks from most of Carman's albums from his sophomore record "Coming on Strong" way back in 1985 to his 2007's "Instrument of Praise" with the most tracks (4 tracks) taken from 1993's "The Standard." Also, this disc also features one brand new song "The Flag," brand new recordings of "I Feel Jesus," "Lazarus Come Forth," "The Champion" and a new medley comprising of "That's My King" and "Radically Saved."
First thing first, for those of us who are not familiar with Carman's older songs, many of these songs sound awfully dated. However, one needs to keep in perspective that Carman was a cutting edged evangelist who wanted his music to be relevant and contemporary. Thus, his songs from the 80s tend to adopt the Quiet Storm heavy synth mix, paeans from the 90s have a New Jack Swing gloss and those from the late 90s even featured synchronized raps. But once when we are able to look passed the various musical dispensations, a greater appreciation of Carman and his music surfaces. Three things tend to stand out from this portfolio of songs. First, Carman is a Gospel-centered artist: deep in his heart he has had a passionate to make Jesus known and you see his genuineness in the AC synth-laced ballad "Serve the Lord." Giving his own journey of how he turned from a pagan lifestyle to serve Jesus, Carman has never sounded more earnest and heartfelt; when he sings "John 3:16 is real" you can't help but feel his heart in his throat. With a James Bond mysterious aura to it "Mission 3:16," this is Carman's novel attempt to make the task of evangelism as exciting as the work of 007. If you could look pass the Vanilla Ice-esque rap of "Who's in the House?," this song offers a precious insightful glimpse into Carman's heart where he longs to put Jesus and his Cross central.
Second, Carman is not domesticated in the lyrical scope of his songs. While many contemporary Christian songs today are mostly sanctified love songs to God, Carman goes beyond the love genre to tackle other Biblical issues. Carman deals with the issue of spiritual warfare in "A Witch's Invitation." A gripping story song narrated by Carman, "A Witch's Invitation" tells of the protagonist receiving an invitation to visit the home of a warlock (a male witch) and how he was overwhelmed by the power of evil until such a spell was broken by the name of Jesus; this is really powerful stuff! Young children would be thrilled by "Monsters," a PG-version of "A Witch's Invitation." Third, the music of Carman is never boring. He is not afraid to let his imaginative run with "Lazarus Come Forth." This is a perfect example of how to tell Bible stories in ways that are not only faithful to the texts but also in ways that relate to us today.
Of the newly recorded songs, the refurbished ballad "I Feel Jesus" has a warm Southern gospel choral backing making it a more heartfelt than the original. And the Carman written sole new track "Flags" is more niche driven: if you are into patriotic songs that weaves its melody around "The Pledge of Allegiance" then this new cut will work for you. Nevertheless, as with most compilation records, avid fans would definitely have gripes about why some of their Carman favorites are not added. But, frankly a nice cross section of Carman's songs are already represented here; and for those unacquainted with this modern day Whitefield, "Anthems of a Champion" is a great introduction.