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Single Review – Never Shakes Never Will

Note – this is the first time the Album Review blog has reviewed a “single” release. As music releases continue to shift from albums to singles and EPs, more reviews of shorter formats may follow.

 

 

The Context

“Never Shakes Never Will” is the first single by The Wood Drake Sessions, an artist collaboration born out of the creative potential that COVID quarantine provided in 2020 (and continuing). Paul Ranheim and Kirk Sauers, separated by several states even without social distancing, paired their songwriting to help the church sing hope into this season with the first of many songs to come. Their artist name is developed from Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” in which peace is found where the wood drake rests.

 

The Content

The lyrics of ‘Never Shakes Never Will’ are a rootsy blend of several Psalms (46, 121, and 125 specifically) and a colloquial tone which makes it immediately graspable by a congregation of any age. When seeking to lament and praise in the same breath, the Psalms are certainly the best resource. Musically, the song fuses elements of folk rock, gospel, blues, and americana. To their credit, the song sounds like a live take with a band all in the same room; the realities of COVID, however, mean that they tracked in separate locations at separate times and yet captured a consistent energy. Notably, Latifah Alattas of Page CXVI provided BGVs. The melody is clear and pitched well for a congregation, and even though there is a key change and some blues/gospel textures that would require skilled musicians, the song is reproduceable in many congregations.

 

The Conclusion

The blend of musical styles in this song are a key strength – with slight tweaks, this song could be sung in a variety of contexts and congregations. Alternatively, one could play up the gospel, blues, or folk strengths of the song and help it fit one of those respective contexts. The Wood Drake Sessions demonstrate that they aim to fulfill their vision of providing songs of hope amidst the frustrations and depression of COVID.

The single is currently available on all streaming outlets, or through their website: thewooddrakesessions.com

 

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.

 

The Context

Theologian and composer/songwriter Tony Alonso has released 23 albums to date, and Caminemos con Jesús is the latest release in this long line of resources for the church. In 2015, Alonso was invited to compose the responsorial psalm for the first Mass Pope Francis celebrated in the United States—a fitting recognition of his work. Notably, this album has been nominated for a 2020 Latin Grammy, and after just the first few bars you will know you’re in for a treat. Alonso, a Cuban-American Roman Catholic, has crafted a joyful, somber, lyrically- and musically-rich album of songs helping Christians walk with Jesus.

 

The Content

Lyrically, the catechetical potential of Cuban music is fully realized here as most of the songs include call-and-response. This method of teaching the lyrics and the melody makes it easy for the listener to sing along, as each part is introduced and then repeated. Alonso also alternates between Spanish and English in several songs, helping to connect worshipers in either linguistic context. The English is sometimes a translation of the Spanish, other times a complementary section of call or response. As a novice Spanish-speaker, it was meaningful to me that the Spanish was sung clearly enough and phrased such that I did not have any difficulty understanding the lyrics. Most of the songs could function well in either a Protestant or Catholic liturgical context, with the exceptions of Gloria Estefan’s “Caridad” (a song to the patroness of Cuba) and “Letanía de la Madre de las Américas” (a song to enrich Marian feasts).

Musically, Alonso has brought together a top-notch group of Cuban-American musicians. Although this may seem daunting to a smaller church or a church with volunteers of lesser capabilities, the strength of these songs is still found in the core of the melodies. Simplified arrangements of these songs could be crafted around the melodies without sacrificing much of the energy. The harmonies are textured tastefully to curate the call-and-response experience, with room for the listener to sing along and feel part of the song.

Grammy winner Juan Delgado produced the album with exceptional skill. Each of the various instruments has its own space in the mix and the songs never feel crowded. Frankly, it’s a very enjoyable listening experience for any music lover. Notable songs include the title track “Caminemos con Jesús” and the first track based on Psalm 122, “Qué Alegría Cuando Me Dijeron.”

The Conclusion

If you have any Spanish speakers in your congregation, or Spanish speakers in your church’s area of influence, this album is a tremendous resource. The joy that permeates Cuban music is tangible on this album, and these songs could be simplified for churches who lack the musicians to pull off the percussion or flute parts while maintaining their melody and energy. The global church is edified by albums like this that are simultaneously specific in their expression and broad in their potential reach. May this album, and many like it, continue to knit together Spanish- and English-speaking congregations and neighborhoods.

 

Click here to watch a short documentary about the making of the album

To buy the album, go to: https://www.giamusic.com/store/resource/caminemos-con-jesus-cd1064

 

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.

THE CONTEXT

Daughter Zion’s Woe is a joint release by Cardiphonia and The Liturgy Fellowship, with Rachel Wilhelm as producer. There are several remarkable albums of lament that have been released during this remarkable year of sorrow and suffering (see previous review from David Bjorlin and Adam Perez), but this album stands apart as a collection of songs written, arranged, and performed by women. The story behind this album is a beautiful illustration of the body of Christ working together to give these songs a voice – many men and women in positions of influence or with access to studio equipment donated time and resources to empower the voices of the women gathered here.

 

THE CONTENT

Thirteen various female artists wrote and/or performed the songs on this album. Among them are Advent Birmingham and Urban Doxology —no strangers to this album review blog, and frequent collaborators with Cardiphonia. The contributing artists are from various ethnic backgrounds, which appropriately expands the scope of lament to reflect voices from around the world.

Because all 13 tracks are attributed to different writers/teams, it is difficult to briefly summarize the content. There are some strong lyrical and musical themes that are consistent across the songs, however. Lyrically, this album contextualizes biblical lament in our contemporary experience with the particular power that only women’s voices can produce. Many of the songs draw from the Psalms explicitly, and all of the songs echo the plaintive cry of the psalms of lament. For a church seeking to enrich their canon of congregational songs with lament, this album creatively combines biblical and contemporary contextual language. There is an undercurrent of fervent hope that carries these songs along and lyrically connects them despite their various genres of music.

Musically, instrumentation ranges from folk to spiritual to pop, all in minor keys, with strings playing an important sonic role on many songs. Although the songs may include more instruments than a local church may have available, the melodies are strong and clear. Songs are also pitched very well for congregational participation. Voices are layered in rich harmonies as appropriate, and songs with swelling dynamics are balanced with songs that use sparing instrumental support.

Notable songs for congregational singing include Shelly Moore’s reimagining of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which keeps the chorus as remembered while adding a triplet feel to refresh the verses, and “The Glory Shall be Thine,” with its shape-note sensibility and hymn meter that invite the listener to sing.

THE CONCLUSION

This album is released at a time when it is necessary to equip the Church to express biblical lament. Although some of these songs may be more intricate than what a smaller church could accomplish, a church may be served by simply reflecting on the song as a soloist gives voice on behalf of the congregation. Every song on this album draws from the Scripture and enables the listener/singer to participate in lament, even if they are not personally experiencing the sufferings of their neighbor. Accordingly, one of this album’s strengths is as an aid to personal worship and private lament, even as it connects us to one another.

 

The album is currently available only via Bandcamp: https://cardiphonia.bandcamp.com/album/daughter-zions-woe

 

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.

 

The Context

Matt Boswell and Matt Papa have been cowriting hymns for over a decade, and this album represents the fruit of their co-labor. Boswell is a lead pastor at a church in Texas while Papa serves as artist-in-residence at a Nashville church. Papa has described their regular practice of connecting using video chat or phone call every Wednesday over the years, sharing the melodies, tunes, and lyrics that they were working on independently. Some of these hymns were birthed in just a session or two while others gestated for years in various forms before the writers would agree that they were finished. Boswell and Papa are part of the network of hymnwriters that Keith Getty (host of the annual Sing! Conference in Nashville) has gathered over the years, providing new hymnody for evangelical churches.

 

The Content

Musically, these hymns are built upon piano and acoustic guitar and are thus replicable in many local church contexts. Adorning the basic acoustic instruments are the typical ‘praise band’ arrangement of electric guitar, bass, and drums. There is occasional use of a pad or synth wash, but the focus of these songs is on the melody and lyric. Many of the hymns are also metrical, connecting them to hymn tradition in a meaningful way. Songs are pitched well, with a group vocal (congregation) in the background of the recordings illustrating how these songs might sound in the local church. These songs do not contain the necessary octave jumps or melodic inconsistencies of other, more popular, albums marketed in the “

Lyrically, these songs are robust theological reflections on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Some hymns chart the life, death, resurrection, and soon return of Christ, especially “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” which features Kristyn Getty as a guest vocalist. There are two songs that are properly Advent hymns, focusing on the birth of Jesus and the implications of His incarnation. Even with the focus on theological language, the songs are singable and resonant with issues that Christians endure.

Notable songs include “Lord, From Sorrows Deep I Call” which is based on Psalm 42 and captures the struggle of doubt and faith in the midst of suffering; “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” which draws deeply on the nautical metaphor for the assurance of Christ’s faithfulness; and “Come Adore the Humble King” which closes the album and would be a solid addition to any church’s Advent hymnody.

 

The Conclusion

For churches led by acoustic guitar or keyboard/piano, these songs are a valuable addition to available hymnody. Most songs are already pitched well for congregational singing, and the strong melodies and theologically-rich lyrics will make the songs attractive to folks of many generations. Though the hymnwriters are firmly within the evangelical sub-culture, many of these hymns could (and arguably should) be used by Christians of any denominational background for the joy of their congregations.

 

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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.

 

The Context

Over his two-decade career, singer/songwriter Christopher Williams has played with the likes of Jars of Clay, Phil Keaggy, and David Wilcox. Williams is located in Nashville, and this most recent record is his 12th full-length album. “We Will Remember: Songs Inspired by the Book of Joel” is a different project for him, however, in that it was written in community (with several co-writers) with a very specific focus. This album is the musical accompaniment to The Millennial Narrative by Jaco Hamman and is a deep dive into the themes of the book of Joel. Williams’ goal is to contextualize the themes of both books, giving resonance to grief, lament, and celebration in and of community.

 

The Content

In addition to the albums two specific anchors: The Millennial Narrative and the book of Joel, Williams has accompanying notes that give explanatory context for each of the songs on this album. The lyrical themes of remembrance, mourning, hope, and community are very prominent, and the phrasing is consistent with Williams’ singer/songwriter roots. This album contains several songs that would set the table for the Lord’s Supper in their focus on the blessings of community. Musically, the piano and acoustic guitar are the foundation for the clear and memorable melodies, so these songs could be adapted without much difficulty for a local church context with one of those instruments able to lead. Songs are already pitched relatively well for an average congregation to sing, and the harmonies layered in tastefully would be adaptable. There are several moments of ensemble vocal parts or choral backing vocals that certainly lend toward congregational singing.

Notable songs include: “I Cannot Know You,” which reminds the church that we need each other in order to know God; “Remember and Proclaim,” which references Hamman who claims, “we awaken hope when we remember and proclaim”; and the very sing-able title track, “We Will Remember.”

 

The Conclusion

Although the specificity of this album serving as soundtrack to a book and adapting a specific biblical text might lean toward limited application, there are broad themes that expand the usefulness of this album in a local church context. The core ideas of community, confession, and hope would be resonant in any church. Definitely consider this album if your church is walking through Joel or any prophetic text, but consider as well how this album might serve a church reflecting on the formative power of authentic community.

 

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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.

 

The Context

Hallowell is the name for Jospeh Pensak’s first project since participating in Bifrost Arts’ “Come, O Spirit!” From 2007. Pensak is a Presbyterian pastor in Burlington, Vermont, and the Hallowell album features a plethora of Vermont-based musicians. Pensak worked with composers and vocalists, including a chamber music collective and a chamber folk band, to bring this album to fruition for its early 2019 release.

 

The Content

If you’re familiar with Bifrost Arts and the spectrum of musical flavors encompassed by the related musicians, then you will recognize both the production values and instrumentation of Hallowell. For those uninitiated, the soundscape that Hallowell evokes is a combination of somber folk tones (guitars, pianos) with a wash of string arrangements that provide the foundation for simple melodies with raw harmonies. Vocals are softly sung, and instruments are softly played, inviting the listener (or participant) to rest and reflect on the lyrics and storytelling that occurs in each song. Several hymns are re-tuned and given new life by the rich instrumentation. The songs are pitched in safe spaces for congregational participation, and the melodies are certainly sing-able in their simplicity. Musically, there are a few sounds that a local church may not be able to replicate, from the larger string ensemble to some of the ambient tones that swirl in the background. The chordal structure and melodic range are replicable in various contexts, illustrating the strength of the songwriting.

Notable songs include the hymn rearrangements of “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” and Fanny Crosby’s “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior.” Since these songs have recognizable lyrics, they may be most accessible for smaller churches seeking to adapt these songs for use, even if simpler instrumental choices must be made. Also notable is a particularly haunting re-tuning of the John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”) hymn “I Will Trust and Not Be Afraid,” here re-titled as well, “Tho Dark Be My Way.”

 

The Conclusion

Although this album may best be experienced on vinyl, worship leaders may find inspiration for personal worship through these songs and may find a gem that could work in a local context. The energy of this album is more relaxed and contemplative than much of the music marketed as “worship” music, and thus Hallowell may also fill a musical space neglected in one’s collection.

 

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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.

The Context

You have probably heard Pat Barrett’s songs, if you have any exposure to Christian radio. This self-titled album is his first solo release, however. Barrett is a frequent cowriter, with previous songs appearing on the Housefires albums. He is also the author of the popular song covered by Chris Tomlin, “Good Good Father.” After that song’s success in 2017, Tomlin signed Barrett to a new Tomlin-produced imprint on Capital Records. This album is the first release on that imprint. Barrett’s songs work well in charismatic worship contexts, with a focus on the Holy Spirit, extended extemporaneous sections in songs, and personal/colloquial lyrics. He frequently collaborates with the Bethel songwriters, who operate from a charismatic theological context.

 

The Content

Barrett’s smooth tenor voice and acoustic guitar-driven songs are very much at home in the “worship” genre of popular music. There are a few moments in this album when guest musicians or guest vocalists add layers of complexity, but otherwise this album is firmly resting on the simplicity of Barrett’s voice and guitar. Cowriters on this album include Daniel Bashta, Aaron Keyes, Ed Cash, and Matt Redman, with guest vocals by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook (from Bethel). There is not much chordal complexity, so songs should be adaptable to many contexts, whether a church has a full band or simply a piano or guitar to undergird singing. Melodic rhythms are a bit more complex, as they reflect more conversational language, but can be learned with the repetition that is characteristic of these songs. Lyrically, the themes vary between a focus on individual worship and God as the object of worship. This reflects another element that is resonant with charismatic congregational singing. Notable songs include “God is So Good,” “Build My Life,” and “Sing to the Lord (Banner).” The first brings the 20th century chorus into a new arrangement, the second is a strong melody coupled with a chorus that moves outward, and the third includes both lyrics from the Psalms and the Doxology.

 

The Conclusion

Barrett has a significant stake in the “worship industry” with several hit singles already to his credit. One or two of the songs from this album will make their way onto the radio, so worship leaders should be familiar with Barrett’s ability to craft a singable hook. His theological convictions, which manifest in the lyrical content and lyrical focus of the songs, should be weighed for a local context. This album seems more appropriate for private/personal worship based on the lyrics, yet is written for groups or congregations to sing.

 

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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.

 

The Context:

“Pillars” is the second album from singer/songwriter Jeremy Moore. This album is a rearrangement of several hymns with pop, indie rock, southern rock, and folk sensibilities. Moore’s previous album is more in the intersection of jazz and singer/songwriter genres, which still manifests in moments on “Pillars.” Moore is based in Birmingham, Alabama, and has collaborated with Zac Hicks and other worship leaders in the Birmingham area (Advent Birmingham) for the album “Our Strivings Cease.” This album is a self-described effort to maintain the “ethos, tone, and structure” of what would appear in a hymnal, yet arranged with “updated” musical choices.

 

The Content:

Moore has chosen an interesting selection of 18th through 21st century hymns to rearrange, from “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” and “Rejoice, the Lord is King” by Charles Wesley to “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stewart Townend & Keith Getty. The hymn melodies are largely preserved, although Moore makes some dynamic alterations and some small adjustments to serve a song’s new musical setting. The consistency in melodic movement may help congregations who are generally familiar with the song to sing it in its new form, but congregations who are intimately familiar with these melodies and their rhythm may find it difficult to adapt to some of the changes. The first listening experience draws fresh attention to the songs but does not necessarily invite participation, and in this way is more conducive to personal rather than corporate worship. The instrumental choices may also preclude some smaller local churches from directly representing these songs, as Moore adds layers of strings and ambient sounds to the hymns. Generally, the songs are pitched well for intergenerational participation, though it seems some songs have been adjusted to allow for Moore’s tenor voice to make an octave jump or other performance moment.

Notable songs include “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners” and an intimate arrangement of “Give Me Jesus” in addition to the aforementioned Wesley hymns.

 

The Conclusion:

“Pillars” combines a 21st century indie/pop instrumental palette with the lyrical content (and mostly-intact melodic content) of a variety of well-loved hymns. The album is very appropriate for personal worship, and a few of the arrangements may be reproducible in local church contexts in which skilled pianists serve. This album is an example of a conscientious attempt to contextualize hymnody for a specific musical space.

 

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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.

 

 

The Context

Hillsong Worship, not to be confused with Hillsong United or Hillsong Young & Free, is a behemoth in the “industry” of music for Christian worship. Considered individually, each team of Hillsong’s writers has a slightly different generational or demographical focus, with Hillsong Worship being the more “adult” or cross-generational of the three. Each release by Hillsong Worship contains several singles that are given heavy Christian radio airplay, although it is just as often that a new song makes the rounds on social media via a viral video clip. Most of the songwriters on this album are longtime contributors to Hillsong such as Reuben Morgan, Brooke Ligertwood, and Joel Houston.

 

The Content

Though these songs are ostensibly written for the Church to sing, the live versions on this album are arena rock—driving drums, soaring guitars, pads and synths, and lots of reverb. The final four tracks on the album are “acoustic” arrangements that are a bit more accessible for the average church and volunteers who serve in music ministry. In both cases, the key for songs may need to be adjusted, as these songs are intended to be sung in prime unison. Even songs led by Brooke Ligertwood are pitched low for men singing split octave. Average song length on the record is more than five minutes, so several of the songs would also need to be rearranged with less ambient space and/or repetition. As is often the case with Hillsong’s pop songs, the anthems of the song are found in both the chorus and the bridge of the respective song, with a jump of an octave or a fifth guiding the dynamic changes. Singles that have already been well-received from this album include “Who You Say I Am” and “So Will I (100 Billion X).” The strongest songs on this album are the ones that provide opportunities to sing Scripture—“God So Loved” is a powerful setting of John 3:16, “The Lord’s Prayer” adapts just that, and “Remembrance” celebrates the benefits of the Supper.

 

The Conclusion

Each Hillsong release usually contains one or two songs that have strong enough melody/lyric resilience to survive the rearrangement that smaller or more local churches must conduct in order use the song in corporate singing. Although the theological distinctions of Hillsong Church peek through in certain lyrical turns, the songs are rooted in biblical concepts and often paraphrase the Scripture in ways that are adaptable to many languages and contexts. It remains to be seen which song(s) from this album may take hold in the global church.

 

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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.

 

The Context

The Porter’s Gate is a collaborative effort between many songwriters and artists, spearheaded by Isaac Wardell. Their stated goal is “… to build an ecumenical community that invites conversation and collaboration in an exploration of faith.” This “sacred arts collective” desires to provide a welcoming and deeply moving soundtrack for the Church’s presence in the world. This specific album focuses on the labor of God and labor of the Christian, thus the title, “Work Songs.” Participating artists on this project include Audrey Assad, Josh Garrels, Latifah Alattas, Liz Vice, Paul Zach, David Gungor, Joy Ike, Madison Cunningham, Aaron Keyes, and Urban Doxology.

 

The Content

The diverse voices of the participating artists are each given a moment to feature on the album. The joy and lament of the gospel genre of music are manifest in the songs performed by Urban Doxology, the folk genre is well-represented by Paul Zach and others, and classical music shines through in string arrangements and certain moments from the piano. Historically, one of the ways that the world has been invited to consider the gospel is through goodness and beauty. This album seeks to reclaim this invitation through goodness and beauty represented in song. The natural reverb of the church in which this album was recorded is a subtle reminder of the resonance of congregational singing and the organic beauty of musicians worshiping together. Notable songs include “Wood and Nails,” “Establish the Work of Our Hands,” “In the Fields of the Lord,” and “Father Let Your Kingdom Come.” Although songs are generally pitched for the voice of the performing artist, the strong melodies could be easily re-set for congregational singing. Similarly, although arrangements may include instruments not common in some smaller churches, the strong melodic movement and simple yet profound lyrical content could be rearranged for different contexts.

 

The Conclusion

This album is an important resource for personal worship—one would be hard-pressed to listen through this work and not be moved to consider the majesty of our merciful God. The variety of musicians who participated bring a refreshing eclecticism to the flow of the album. Although the arrangement of the songs may limit its use for congregational singing in smaller churches, several strong melodies and some rearrangement may help adapt these powerful songs for the participation of the local church. The focus on vocation and the Christian life is an important supplement to hymnody in the American church, especially.

 

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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.