The Odes Project
Label: Independent / www.theodesproject.com
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
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.