Singer/Songwriter Paul Zach has released 1 EP in 2018 and has contributed to several of the albums already reviewed here on the blog, including The Porter’s Gate albums. Accordingly, he is no stranger to crafting songs for congregational singing. His newest release, Hymns, is simply that—fresh arrangements of time-tested melodies and lyrics. Zach has also cultivated the art of cowriting, as evidenced in the aforementioned Porter’s Gate albums, and Hymns includes many featured guest vocalists with whom Zach has written in the past. Familiar guests include Liz Vice, Leslie Jordan, and Page CXVI, with Taylor Leonhardt and The Sing Team rounding out the list.
Appropriate for the COVID season, this album sounds like it was recorded in an aged, empty church with wooden pews, with a few friends spaced out in the room playing and singing these hymns together. Rather than feeling empty or isolated, however, these songs immediately draw the listener into the intimacy of the recording, and even on my first listen I was drawn to sing along with the comforting melodies of the chosen hymns. Musically, Zach leans on acoustic instruments as the foundation for each song: acoustic guitar, piano, organ, and upright bass. This folk/americana style lends itself well to each hymn, and Zach harmonizes beautifully with each of his various guests. Although some of the starting keys that fit Zach’s tenor/baritone voice may be a bit high for general congregational use, these arrangements could easily be re-keyed without losing their intimacy and dynamics. Lyrically, Zach makes no changes to the original hymn texts and chooses not to add any new choruses or refrains to the arrangements. Rather, he uses verses of the hymns that often are omitted when such new elements are added to hymnody. The hymn choices span several generations, including the African-American spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.” Other notable songs include: “Take My Life and Let it Be” (with its ebb and flow and soothing harmony), “Come Thou Fount” (including the swelling organ in the final verses), and “No Not One” (with its blues vibe and catchy bassline).
This hymns album is a precious listening experience, and may remind some music directors and worship leaders of “old” songs that need a re-introduction in local churches. As Paul Zach makes clear, these songs have endured in part because it doesn’t take a full production team to sing them—an acoustic guitar and an earnest heart (and some talented friends to help) are all it takes to capture a fresh yet familiar take on rich and important hymns. This album comes highly recommended for those who need to rest in gospel truth or be reminded of songs that may be important to re-introduce during the reset that COVID quarantine has provided the local (and global) singing church.
To listen to the album, go to: Spotify Album – Hymns by Paul Zach
Review provided by David Calvert, who is the Creative Arts Director for Grace Community Church in rural North Carolina and a PhD graduate in Theology and Worship from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.