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The Odes Project
Artist: Various
Label: Independent /
Time: Volume 1: 17 Tracks / 66 mins
            Volume 2: 15 Tracks / 59 mins
The Odes of Solomon is a collection of worship material from one of the earliest Christian communities, written within a century of Christ’s death. The Odes Project is a contemporary re-working of the lyrics with new music to make them available to a new generation.
The main musical force behind the project is John Andrew Schreiner, who has regularly impressed me with his work with Fernando Ortega (although he has also worked with artists like Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer). Like Ortega, he has a passion for timelessness in music, so this is not a cutting edge production, but one designed to appeal to a wide demographic of listeners. This approach may be a long-term winner, but it exchanges the risks of a strongly current sound dating in time for the risks of sounding old-fashioned from the start, or even a tad muzakky. 
Schreiner and his colleagues spent a long time in research, getting to understand the mindset of the church and its situation at the time these pieces were written. On the web site he writes, “My approach to writing new music for the Odes was one of fear and trembling. I wanted, more than anything, to capture the heart of the writer and the sense of devotion that bound that community together. It was as if I had been given a great gift and it was my responsibility to pass it along in all its truth and beauty." 
I found myself reacting differently to the very first two tracks. The brief opener has an ethereal feel, which works well as an entry point, but the second had the feel of an old live worship album where the leader sings a line that some distant congregation echoes – something that has always niggled me and put me off many albums. But over the next few tracks we get different atmospheres again. Schreiner uses a choir, plus occasional strings and woodwind, over the core band of guitar, keys, percussion and bass.
Where the project works very well for me is on the lusher pieces, which have the atmosphere of Enigma, comprising a bed of synth, with programmed rhythms and top end percussion. It is good to hear Fernando Ortega singing on some of the tracks, but also a textural treat to have Maya Haddi’s vocals, as she gives her lines a distinctive Jewish feel that adds to the authenticity of the project. Bryan Duncan sings on one of the first volume’s more upbeat pieces, “Put on the Grace,” adding his usual huge dose of soul. Volume One edges it for me over the second collection – partly because it has a slightly wider textural range, but also because it includes the longest song, “Meditation on Paradise (Ode 11),” which is terrific both musically and lyrically. It has well over six minutes of beautifully reflective and ambient music, whose imagery is rich and rarely-tapped.
Where it doesn’t work so well is mostly where lines do not seem to scan naturally – surely an unnecessary issue given that the lyrics are freely adapted and restructured from the originals anyway, so not tied down to exact translation. The occasional children’s vocals may also be distracting to some.
Despite its research and historical nature, overall, it sounds quite similar to many contemporary worship albums. While fans of Newsboys or Pillar (for example) are unlikely to rush to it buy it, those who regularly play worship music are bound to find much here to enjoy. This image-rich collection will also appeal to those who enjoy meditative music from Taizé or Jeff Johnson’s Selah music (although this has a fuller sound). It works as a praise collection, but may best be heard as individual tracks that work as a basis for reflection as part of individual or group devotions.
The website has extensive background information, including both original and adapted lyrics, and short audio clips.
Derek Walker


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