Sometimes attributed to Martin Mull, other times to Frank Zappa, one of the most famous quotes regarding writing about music goes like this: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Reviewing music is a terribly subjective endeavor. The trick is to find people with whom you share enough taste to trust but who will also push your own musical boundaries, someone who has a broad frame of reference but doesn’t simply resort to comparisons. I may or may not be that person for you.
“Christian” music (I use that term VERY loosely), like any other, moves in cycles. One of the cycles right now is the re-visitation of hymns. I love this trend. I love hymns, though many debate about what the exact difference between a “hymn” and a “praise song” is exactly. Broadly speaking, Christian hymns tend to be a bit older, and much more theologically rich than more modern songs of praise. While I realize that some will take issue with that designation, I did say “broadly speaking.”
RUF has released several albums’ worth of revisited, reworked hymns, Passion has a hymns album, Jars of Clay, Anathallo and more recently, the wonderful, Page CXVI EP all reinterpret hymns with varying approaches, successes and failures. This is a rich tradition that needs to be preserved. Older texts are often set to new melodies, which is entirely appropriate as the missional context shifts. We should not only be writing new songs of God’s mighty works, we should be preserving the songs of old, reworking to be “timeless truth in a timely manner.”
Enter “Rain City Hymnal,” the first official full-length album from Re:Sound, the music arm of Resurgence. With five different artists, the album works surprisingly well as a cohesive whole, reworking 12 different hymns. The production team has done a great job at preserving stylistic differences between each of the acts while striving for a cohesive whole. As the tagline for the album points out: “Theologically Unified • Stylistically Diverse • Musically Excellent.”
The bulk of the tracks have a “modern” feel, incorporating electric instruments and rising crescendos and quiet moments to punctuate the material and engage and accentuate the lyrics. Most of the songs keep the melody of the lyrics themselves recognizable while varying the instrumentation. This is the trick to reworking hymns and the question here is: did they hit the mark? Does it work? Yes it does.
The highlight of the album for me is Ex Nihilo’s take of “What Wondrous Love Is This?” Evoking hints of Woven Hand’s power, the song begins with the almost acapella voice, gradually accompanied by stomping/clapping and finally the full band. This is a prime example of retaining lyrical melody while adapting the musical form to be “culturally relevant.” It is here and the opening track, The Northern Conspiracy’s “Doxology,” that the album is most cohesive for me, showcasing the personality of, not only the band but the church they represent and the theological power of the text. That’s not to say that the album as a whole doesn’t work, but these two tracks are my high-points in listening.
You might ask, then, what my low-points, because, let’s be honest, most albums have them and many reviews leave them out. This certainly isn’t a perfect album and, in my own opinion, it’s the slower tempo tracks that don’t succeed as well. While faithful to the hymn and successful in new instrumentation, the tracks, “We Have Not Known Thee” and “Softly And Tenderly” just feel a bit out of place to me, like the “power ballad” on an album that just should have focused on power. I realize that both of these tracks are by Team Strike Force, so don’t take this as a jab at them, because I think that they’re take on “All Creatures” works splendidly. This is an album that works best when it charges forward rather than casually meanders.
This is an exciting beginning for a new musical venture and I can’t wait to hear what’s next. Highly recommended, and for a limited time, get it free at Noisetrade: