It seems natural to have a project like Abide With Me from an artist like Sara Groves, who has consistently shared real Christian life with the rest of us broken people for years….

Abide With Me

Sara Groves

Fair Trade Music

11 tracks / 39 minutes

Hymns collections. They were hot for a while – seemed like every Christian artist from Amy to Stryper (okay – maybe not Stryper) was on the bandwagon except Sara Groves …and isn’t that just like Sara? Never one to bow down to the current trend, Groves and her musical entourage have faithfully delivered the real, the heart-felt, the vital and personal in an age of superficiality and programmed ‘reality’  entertainment. This is the appropriate time for her hymns project, and it comes at a time when the comfort and simplicity of the great songs are welcome indeed.

In many ways it’s hard to review Abide With Me – it’s like reviewing your old-school Sunday morning worship time in church. I believe I’ve previously stated in other reviews, that hearing the unpretentious, vulnerable, but beautifully-rendered vocals on a Sara Groves record is like standing in the congregation and next to the best singer in the church. To clarify what I’m saying here: there’s no over-the-top vocal riffing, no breathless ‘worship team’ dramatics – this is where we all came from, once upon a time, when the hymns were in a book instead of on a screen, and the words found a nesting place in our hearts.

In some cases the titles will be more familiar than the melodies, as Abide With Me does a little alteration here and there. After all, Sara Groves has certain stylistic pathways that give some of the songs here her own special touch – but always with reverence and affection for the originals. “’Tis So Sweet,” “Fairest Lord Jesus,” and “The Love of God” get the Sara Groves treatment abd take on refreshing new life. Listen not only to the incredible lyrics of “The Love of God,” but try to catch the spirit of the performance…

The musical settings are acoustic, warm, and refreshingly free from electronic intervention. . Woodwinds, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and accordion appear in appropriate places, and the additional voices are human and church-friendly. Also on hand are Aaron Fabrini (bass, pedal steel) and Zach Miller (drums), all produced with restraint and good taste by Mark Nelson and mixed by Ben Gowell.

When all is said and done, it seems natural to have a project like Abide With Me from an artist like Sara Groves, who has successfully shared real Christian life with the rest of us broken people out here. The hymns are a comfort. If there’s one track that’s worth the price of the whole collection, though, it’s Sara’s new version of her now two-decade-old, “He’s Always Been Faithful.” The melody, the lyrics, the unabashed musical shout-out to “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” the song’s obvious inspiration, come together in a way that produces (at least for me) the essence of what a hymn can be. This is a song of gratitude, but a love song at the same time. In many ways that song encapsulates what this album is about.

Abide With Me is an album that refreshes the soul. I can’t think of a better time for this to arrive than at Thanksgiving.

- Bert Saraco