Monday, November 7, 2011

REVIEW: "Hymns & Sacred Songs" by Leigh Nash

Leigh Nash fans are in for a treat!  After 5 years, she is releasing her first solo album, Hymns & Sacred Songs on November 15, 2011.  For those who are unfamiliar with Leigh Nash, she is the lead voice of Sixpence None the Richer.  Hits like "Kiss Me" (1997) and "Breathe Your Name" (2002) made Sixpence a mainstay in American pop culture.  When asked to record an album of hymns with Kingsway, Nash jumped at the opportunity.  Hymns & Sacred Songs holds a special value to Nash, and she graciously shared her thoughts with The Worship Community.

How did this project come about?
I was asked if I'd be interested in making a hymns record and flipped!  I've always wanted to do this and am so grateful for the opportunity!

How did you come to decide which hymns to use?
John Hartley, who produced the record, did much of the song selecting.  He did a beautiful job I might add.  I contributed to the writing of several, and I selected those by looking through an old hymnal and finding words I was particularly moved by.

What brought on the decision to write new melodies as opposed to using the traditional ones?
I really love the idea of bringing new life into these beautiful words.  They're timeless, but sometimes melodies can get a bit stale and it's hard to be as inspired by them.  These new melodies are beautiful and I feel they breathe new life into these sacred words.

Which hymn(s)/song(s) mean the most to you in this project and why?
I love "O Heart Bereaved and Lonely" - this song resonates with me the most because it so adeptly describes feeling discouraged and broken.  It is a common human emotion and I think this song says so beautifully in words not to be discouraged because Jesus know all - we are not alone.  Such a comforting song.  I also really love "The Power of the Cross."  It's such a powerful song - I had chills while singing it.

What are your hopes as a result of this project?
I pray that people are encoruaged and lifted by this music.

In familiar Sixpence fashion, Nash brings some bluegrass and folk in Hymns & Sacred Songs to some memorable hymns by Fanny J. Crosby, Charles Wesley and others.  The collaboration in this project really impresses me.  This collection contains songs from unknown lyricists, Nashville worship leaders, independent songwriters, etc.  You'll see what I mean as I share the song-by-song breakdown:

Savior, Like A Shepherd, attributed to Dorothy A. Thrupp in 1836, was musically arranged by Brian Ortize and Season 9 American Idol finalist Katelyn Clampett.  It starts off the album with a sweet upbeat bluegrass style.  The banjo adds such a nice touch to the dynamic of the song, and Nash’s voice makes it all the more sweet.  The melody is new.  So, it brings a fresh arrangement to the classic.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is a VERY well done adaptation of the original.  The melody is fresh in keeping with the original 1758 lyrics by Robert RobinsonThe new melody, arranged by Leigh Nash, Chris Eaton, and John Hartley, is written in a minor key, which breathes new life into it.  Since I’m a sucker for minor, I was immediately drawn into the melody.  Adding a light “music box” feel to the beautifully crafted lyrics, I’m a new fan of this old hymn.  I highly recommend the arrangement for worship music libraries.

Isaiah 55 (Nothing You Can’t Do) is a new song written by singer/songwriter/worship leader Katie Gustafson.  It’s a great melody inviting everyone to the goodness of Jesus in the verses, adoration of God in the chorus, and exaltation of the Lord in the bridge.  Nash brings a light rock style to this modern hymn, and introduces Gustafson through this project.

O Heart Bereaved And Lonely is one of 8000 hymns written by Fanny J. Crosby.  It’s a great hymn encouraging those who have been broken to trust in the Savior who “knows it all.”  Leigh Nash, Chris Eaton, and John Hartley arranged the melody and accompaniment to a 6/8 light rock flavor.  Lyrically, it’s a great song to add to a set list when needing to encourage those among you that in all our trials, we can still trust the Savior to see us through.  Musically, it’s a tender minor melody that expresses the bereaved believer calling out to the Savior like what we would find in a lament.

The Power of the Cross is a new hymn from Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend.  This song gave me chills when I first heard it.  As the title suggests, Getty and Townsend go back to the cross at Calvary and wrote around its theology in worship.  “Ever bitter thought, every evil deed crowning your blood stained brow” and “we stand forgiven at the cross” bring that theology to life in a powerful way.  Musically speaking, it’s an easy listening song, but the lyrics make it more powerful than one may anticipate.  This makes a great teaching song when adding to a set list.

Give Myself to You is a new song from an unknown lyricist.  Nashville worship leader Savannah Ellis originally wrote the music, and Nash introduces it through this project.  It’s a light rock worship song that expresses the thankfulness of what Jesus did on the cross. 

Come Ye Thankful People Come is a great song of thankfulness.  Want a song around Thanksgiving?  This would make a great addition to a set list in that season. Henry Alford originally wrote it in 1844, whereas Leigh Nash arranges the melody.  The style of the song seems like a soft march with a light banjo mixed in.  It’s a great folk-style song to add to any music library.

Blessed Redeemer is another Fanny Crosby classic hymn in this project. Written between 1820 and 1915, Crosby brings Christ’s character to the forefront. Chris McClarney, Chris Eaton, and John Hartley arranged this hymn with a 6/8 folk style.  The melody is fresh, which allows a modern dynamic using electric guitar power chords.  As with many of Crosby’s hymns, it’s a great song to add to a Sunday set list.

Out of My Bondage (Jesus, I Come) was written in 1887 by William T. Sleeper.  Leigh Nash brings a light melodic 6/8 folk style to the arrangement.  This is a great song of freedom, coming from bondages of fear, despair, discontent, sickness, and need to everything that only Jesus provides like freedom, gladness, love, health and wealth.  It’s a must-add to any music library.

Song of Moses was recently recorded by Aaron Keyes.  He provides a great history of the song on his website.  I like how the banjo is used in this song.  It doesn’t sound bluegrass, but it has a folk flavor that is so fitting for Nash’s voice.  Congregations have already used this song in their set lists, but this arrangement may work great with female vocals with a folk-ish texture.

Praise The Lord Who Reigns Above is a great 1743 hymn from well-known theologian Charles Wesley.  The song was originally written in a 4/4 time signature, whereas Chris Eaton and John Hartley arranged the melody to a 6/8 time, arranged the dynamics to a light rock style, and added a new chorus.  The chorus is powerful and works very well with the new melody.  I highly recommend adding this song to every music library.  It’s a great adaptation of the original.

Be Still My Soul brings a slow bluegrass style into the project mix.  It was originally written in German by Katharina A. von Schlegel in 1752, and then translated to English by Jane L. Borthwick in 1855.  Chris Eaton, John Hartley and KatieGustafson arranged a new melody.  It’s a great song in a minor key that brings a tender lament feel to the dynamic.  This is also a great song to add to a music library.

Since most of these songs are well-known hymns, the lyrics simply need admiring (as opposed to critiquing).  It’s refreshing to hear some of these popular hymns to new melodies because as Nash stated in her interview, it brings freshness to melodies that may have become stale over the centuries.  Hymns & Sacred Songs is an extraordinary fusion of old and new.  Using any of these songs as part of a music library would help bridge the gap between generations.  Well done, Leigh Nash and Kingsway, well done!

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