Aimed squarely at the church market, this doesn't show all Hanna's strengths, but this is still a bunch of songs that work well.
Time: 11 tracks / 49 mins
This was perhaps an inevitable combination: Philippa Hanna, one of the best independent Christian songwriters in Britain, recording for Integrity, the only sizeable Christian music label left. She gives them kudos and they return with support, particularly if it frees her from the issue of marketing and allows her simply to (co-)create.
The question it gave me was whether she’d still be allowed to write to the quality of her previous material or get sucked into the stranglehold that the corporate seems to insist on: write cliché or begone.
Her recent albums have shown Hanna’s ‘both-and’ appeal: she can reach listeners on both sides of the Atlantic, both sides of their thirties and both sides of the faith divide. That is still true for the first two, although this is aimed more squarely at Christians. Overall, though, she manages to keep one hand holding her own fans and the other holding Integrity’s market.
The album kicks off well with the gospel-edged “Freedom Found Me.” It tells a life story that many Christians can identify with: “When I couldn’t find freedom, that’s when freedom found me.” Her duet with fine Scottish singer Steph Macleod “Oh the Power” is among several others that feature a discreet gospel backing, and she closes the set with Robert Critchley’s “My Troubled Soul.”
“Against the Odds,” punctuated with “Hey!”s, is an example of a proper song that works all round. It begins with the type of line (remarkably rare in Integrity songs) that actually relates to real everyday life: “When the doctor says, ‘We’re out of options;’ when the one you love walks out the door...” And as a proper song, it hangs a set of threads on the title, including living a life of faith and what Jesus did in rising from the dead.
Similarly, the very singable “You’re still God” takes a range of tough situations and insists that none deny God’s presence or status, while “Loved Me First” links the theology of what God has done for us with the everyday issue of self-worth.
But the label gets its normal fare with “Now to Jesus,” which plays the lyrics-by-numbers game, joining lots of standard phrases found in countless other songs: “I won’t be afraid... we will give you all the glory, only you are worthy of all praise... give me Jesus, only Jesus.” The closing song and “The Name that Saves” are among others that suffer likewise. There are several co-writes here, credits shared with producer Jonny Bird and big-name writers like Martin Smith and Chris Eaton.
But whichever strand she is aiming for, Hanna writes strong and memorable tunes. Only an angling superstore might contain more hooks than Hanna’s brain. “Everything is Possible” seems to join a Keith Getty verse with a Rend Collective chorus. Several tracks, heard only for the second time after weeks since they were released as advance singles, were instantly recognisable. Even cliché-laden songs at least can have an anthemic feel.
Although it is a niggle that she uses that breath-cum-glottal-stop sound that some female singers throw in at the end of lines as a shortcut to emotion, she sings well here, full of clarity, without sacrificing expression.
This is aimed squarely at the church market, using many phrases that were mercifully absent from her previous (and better) album Come Back Fighting. But there is still a bunch of songs that work well here.