Songs from the Canyon III - Mike Janzen

Songs from the Canyon III - Mike Janzen

Songs from the Canyon III

Songs from the Canyon (The Psalms Project Vol. III)
Mike Janzen
Label: Independent
Length: 11 songs/53 minutes

Right from the start on the opening “Echoes (Psalm 8)” this sounds distinct from other recordings where each song is inspired by a different selection from the ancient psalter. The rhythms are layered and complex like a stream that twists and turns and builds in intensity. Near the end of the first song it changes course with an aboriginal chant, a primal sound which fits well with the theme of creation. The words here and elsewhere are not rigidly tied to the sacred text. Structure gets attention throughout, which serves as the architecture for jazz, pop and classical influences.

I wouldn’t even know this artist if it wasn’t for Steve Bell. Janzen has served as his pianist and orchestrator. Bell is outspoken in his admiration for this series; this being the third. I have not heard the first two but if it’s anything like this they will be worth having. If you are wondering why you haven’t heard more about these two, it may be in part because Bell and Janzen are Canadians. Both are well-respected artists whose works are not found in this country’s charts but nevertheless are full of depth just waiting to be discovered.

It’s as if all creation is joined in joyful praise on “Hallelujah (Psalm 104)”. It’s wonderfully upbeat and strings only add to the merriment. Janzen’s classical training is evident but pop oriented. Who could ask for more as Janzen recounts the wonders of nature.

“Took Hold (Psalm 18)” uses elements of R&B and gospel to tell a tale of liberation. This uses a choir for the typical call and response. It shows Janzen’s versatility as he adeptly moves from various styles and moods.

The gospel-infused R&B delightfully continues with “Steady (Psalms)”. Everything about it is superb with an emphasis on God’s loyal love.

“How Long (Psalm 13)” is beautifully pensive; awash in keyboards this give it a kind of progressive sound.

Elegance leading into some sublime background vocals characterize “Deep to Deep (Psalm 42)”. Whatever tension there is in the music gets a gorgeous resolve with the wordless voicing. Lovely piano notes are sprinkled throughout.

A lament at the depths of our depravity and a corresponding plea for mercy characterize “Have Mercy (Psalm 51)”. “Only you see the poison in my vein.” It’s contrite without being maudlin. The orchestration is beautiful; the keyboards mesmerizing.

I like the swirl of strings encompassing “Canyons (Psalm 45)”. The mood is sobering as the psalmist contemplates a lack of stability. Like a reprieve from gloom the tone changes as the singer considers the city of God and the river running through it. The music echoes notes of triumph before closing with the sawing of strings once again.

“Great is the Lord (Psalm 96)” is a musical delight with its nimble piano solo. Words and sounds combine in tribute to the majesty of God.

Like vultures circling their prey, “Circling (Psalm 22)” refers to the crowds surrounding the Crucified One. This captures the feeling of being forsaken. Just before the halfway mark listeners hear a rumbling that marks the momentous occasion. It then segues to victory snatched from the depths of apparent defeat.

Janzen’s composition and delivery skills are evident throughout reminding me somewhat of Sting’s solo output. I get the impression here and from what I have read that Janzen has been through the fire and come out the other side. I hear that in his choice of words and phrases. It’s no small comfort and encouragement especially for those who may feel bowed down and at the point of breaking.

This is not your run-of-the-mill recording of scripture-inspired music. This gets high marks for conveying the many moods found in the psalms. Those looking for somewhat of a classical-oriented, progressive sound cannot go wrong here.

Michael Dalton

4 and a half tocks