Yes, it's another 'hymns' project! But don't be scared – Leigh Nash makes it go down easy, with simple elegance and style, a sense of reverence, and none of the bravado and excess of the genre....
Hymns and Sacred Songs
Time: 12 tracks / 47:17
If there's a CCM market counterpart to the mainstream trend of releasing albums by a seemingly inexhaustible flood of pop stars interpreting 'standards,' it would have to be the ever-increasing catalog of Christian artists producing hymns projects. In both genres this often seems to indicate a creative dry spell in an artist's career or a label's attempt to milk the current musical cash-cow. (Okay – so this sounds a little cynical. Have you actually heard the Rod Stewart standards album....?)
Fortunately, there are cases where these types of projects seem to flow naturally from an artist's heart, resonate with the total body of a performer's work, and reveal a deeper layer of the inspiration and foundation of his or her creative persona. That's the case with Leigh Nash's Hymns and Sacred Songs – an understated and affectionate tribute to the hymns that so many of us warbled out in church with an open hymnal in our hands. You had to use that strange, burgundy colored, hard-cover book – you didn't think the words would just show up on the wall, right? Yes, these were the songs we used to sing in the days before every church projected the lyrics up front, before there was such a thing as a 'worship team' (we had song leaders) and before there was a genre called 'praise and worship.' Yes, there was such a time, kids....
One of the wonderful things about Nash's approach to these songs is that she manages to be reverent without being sterile and lifeless. The delicate quality of her vocals points out not only the frailty of our universal humanness, but allows the majesty of the lyrics to become that much more powerful in contrast. Free of vocal gymnastics and dramatic bravado, Leigh Nash approaches these songs more like a member of your congregation that just happens to have a voice that's really nice to listen to. We're spared the drama-queen excesses and Vegas-sized 'spirituality' that often plagues these projects.
Musically, the hymns remain (for the most part) recognizable in terms of structure, although there are some modern tweaks here and there to melody lines and tempo. "Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us," for example, has a more country/Celtic feel than you might be expecting, but after one or two listenings it feels as if that's the only way we ever heard it. The musicianship is fine, featuring the talents of Stu G (Delirious?, Casting Crowns, Michael W. Smith) on guitar, Paul Mabury (Hillsong, Steven Curtis Chapman, Brandon Heath) on drums, Matt Stanfield (Mandisa, Britt Nicole, Plumb) on keys and Chris Donahue (just about everybody who ever passed through Nashville) on bass. The talented crew, including producer John Hartley, manage to include modern songs like "The Power of the Cross," (one of the more classic hymn-like songs of recent years) with compositions written in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds and make it all sound like a unified whole.
For fans of Sixpence None the Richer, and those who remember the great hymns, this is aimed right in your direction. A project like this will serve to introduce some new music to those who haven't 'kept up' with modern worship trends and will expose the classic hymns in a more palatable way to those who might never have heard them. Avoiding the often maudlin trappings, bombast, and antiseptic lushness that so often hide the simple beauty of these classics, and scare away those looking for some substance, Hymns and Sacred Songs is infused with sincerity and even a kind of sweetness. This one is good to have in your collection – it might not get 'heavy rotation' but you never know when you might need to hear it.