There is a patchy mix of fruits in this tribute basket
Time: 15 tracks / 63 mins
While “Blessed Assurance” is a popular song, its writer’s life is less well-known. Fanny Crosby was a mission worker, poet and public speaker, who was blind, virtually from birth.
This collection was assembled to celebrate the centenary of her death. Apart from the title track, all the other songs are taken from Crosby’s several thousand lyrics and given new tunes.
Chris McClarney’s casual, but soulful, version of “Blessed Assurance” is a fine example of what a re-make should be like: you can recognise the original song, but it is a fresh take on it, which keeps the spirit in which it was written.
Even better is Ricky Skaggs’ assured country version of “All is Well,” played impeccably and with some well-judged vocal harmonies. From the sound of the strings to the depth of its Americana spirit, it gives the impression that Buddy Miller has been involved somewhere.
And just to show how well you can often rely on the older professionals, appropriately the Blind Boys of Alabama finish the collection with an account of “Where Could We Go” that sounds like “When the Saints” tied to the sort of simple, bluesy riff that has been the spine of energising songs for decades.
But it is not all like this. As often with such projects, the songs vary in quality and spirit across the disc. Dustin Smith’s “Hallelujah” is so generic that it is hard to believe that Crosby wrote it. I was left wondering at one point just how much it is a marketing handle to promote new artists.
If so, it has partly succeeded. Despite the thoughtless anonymity of their name, New Life Worship’s “Not Be Moved” has an organic zest that reminds me of Rend Collective, and Eli Dummer features a slow, chiming guitar that creates a spacey mood. And they outperform some more established worship names; while their ballads are probably closer to what Crosby herself might enjoy, songs from Darlene Zschech and Michael W. Smith are hardly memorable.
And Matt Redman’s passionless performance sounds like a contractual obligatipn just sounds like Matt Redman on autopilot.
Although Crosby was blind and lost her father when she was only six months old, rather than sit in self-pity, she wrote songs of devotion and praise. Meredith Anderson’s simple track catches that spirit.
So typically for such ‘tribute’ projects, there is a right mix of fruits in this basket. Hymn-lovers who come to it for the Crosby name are likely to be disappointed, but lovers of CCM will have several tracks to enjoy. If it appeals, downloading the better tracks or ones by artists you like is probably the best option.