This wonderfully succeeds in helping a new generation discover the majesty of hymns.
Simple Hymns: Songs of Redemption (www.simplehymns.com)
Artist: Pat Barrett (Housefires), Chris McClarney (Jesus Culture), Leigh Nash (Sixpence None the Richer) and others
Label: Venture3Media (V3M)
Length: 10 tracks/39 minutes
“Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” sung here by Pat Barrett is like a pattern for the rest of Simple Hymns. Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio added additional lyrics to John Newton’s well-known text. These hymns have similar additions: new words and melodies that enhance rather than diminish. Purists may object but this succeeds in making ancient lines more accessible to listeners today.
The sound might be likened to roots music. Acoustic sounds are the foundation. Guitar strumming and piano playing are like anchors for more electrified accents. Some songs use a limited number of instruments. Piano and cello make for a fitting pensiveness to “Psalm 62.” This is immediately followed by the joyfulness heard in guitar, banjo and other stringed instruments on “Oh, How I love Jesus.” No overproduction here!
Even though traditional interpretations bring back memories and can be a comfort, subtle changes can reinvigorate. “I Surrender All” has a soft programmed clap track and atmospheric guitar that fits the theme. It’s not a style I expected but it works.
“Like a Wideness of the Sea” is written and performed by Anthony Skinner. It draws inspiration from Frederick Faber’s “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” a hymn which I was introduced to by Rich Mullins. This more fully develops the theme in marvelous ways. The sound, aided by an organ, is relaxed, the tempo calming, yet the message can be pointed: “Oh, we make His love so narrow by the limits of our own/And we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.” It’s easy to mistake this for the ancient hymn but remarkable to discover that this is a new creation.
“This I Know (There is a Fountain)” marries the sublime words of William Cowper’s “There is a Fountain” with a new cheerful melody driven by acoustic guitar and mandolin. Chris Weninegar’s male harmony on the chorus blends with Katie Gustafson's lead vocals. What a comfort to hear the good news delivered so tenderly.
“Psalm 62” written by Aaron Keyes and Stuart Townend, and performed by Keyes, is another new song done in a hymn-like style. Throughout this release a listener may wonder if they are hearing something new or old, when in reality you get both, often on the same song. Whether it be a classic text, lines that mirror that style, or something more contemporary, it seems every effort was made to make it the best possible song. The shackles are off. This reverently breathes new life into timeless words. Some may object to the changes but these songs have the potential to reach a broader audience than if they were limited to traditional melodies and familiar lyrics. That’s not to say that the old hymns are now totally unrecognizable and will soon become dated.
On the other hand, listeners who don’t like the “My Chains are Gone” version of “Amazing Grace” may want to steer clear of this.
I think this first project in the series succeeds wonderfully in helping a new generation discover the majesty of hymns.
Apple/iTunes offers a deluxe version that features videos of every song. Though I have not seen them, they no doubt will add to the experience.