Housefires III reflects fine-tuning and polishing, in which the group has honed their songcraft into immediately catchy and singable songs that aspire to the status of worship megahits. The songwriting on standout singles "Yes And Amen" and "Build My Life" is fantastic. Both of these songs are more dynamic, compelling, and less repetitive than Housefires' breakout hit "Good Good Father." The minor-key sounds of "Build My Life" and Nate Moore's "Abide" are more reflective and interesting than your typical happy worship song, and have a good balance of lyrical depth and singability. Meanwhile, Tony Brown's "Fill Me With The Fullness" presents a more soulful take on an upbeat praise song, my personal pick for the best song on the album.
The downside to Housefires III is, as with its predecessor, song recycling. This was more egregious on the preceding album (in which only two songs, excepting spontaneous ones, were new material not appearing on the first Housefires album.) But reused songs still constitute about 30% of III's runtime. "Seek First," "Great Is The Lord," and "Mountain To Valley" are all great songs, but they've all been previously released by Ben Smith (who wrote or co-wrote each of those) with Bread And Wine.
If you've never heard the songs elsewhere then it probably won't make any difference. And this wouldn't be a negative for me if they were different interpretations, but none of them sound as good as one Bread And Wine's album because each benefits from the added instrumentation (bass, electric guitar) missing from Housefire's minimalist lineup. Speaking of the band members, drummer Harold Brown is the real star here, spicing up songs that are otherwise dominated by simple acoustic guitar strumming.
Kirby Kaple's "On And On" was a fine song on her R&B-inflected solo album, with its bouncier instrumentation, but on Housefires III it feels out of place because it's the most lyrically and melodically complex song, and doesn't work as well for corporate worship (seriously, just try singing that bridge part.) And though "Your Love Is Alive" is a nice-sounding song, it's much too similar to "Rise" from the last (two!) Housefires albums, and I would've preferred hearing "You Will Not Fail Us," which sadly wasn't featured on Housefires III.
Although Housefires III has some individual songs that I think are clearly better than most of the group's prior music, it also doesn't have anything quite like the twenty-minute cycle of "One Thing"/"Seek Your Face"/"This Love" from Housefires II. The latter half of this consisted of a, quite frankly, stunning spontaneous performance from Housefires leader Pat Barrett. The closest Housefires III comes to a similar moment is with the simple joy of "Life Is A Gift," which not coincidentally is one of the album's shorter songs, and best captures Pat's skill at spontaneous worship.
If you already loved Housefires' earlier releases, you'll certainly love this one too. But as someone who's been listening to Grace Midtown's music ever since their first album Songs For The City came out in 2010, it's hard not to miss the greater musical variety present on earlier albums like 2011's terrific-but-underrated Rising. Either way, Housefires III has a handful of must-have tracks, and if you like those, the rest of the album is worth checking out, too.
Life Is A Gift
Yes And Amen
Build My Life
Fill Me With The Fullness