Yesterday, I began reviewing Sojourn Music’s new album Over the Grave: the hymns of Isaac Watts, volume 1. Today and tomorrow, we will look at the individual songs more in-depth. Finally, we’ll ask the all-important (and oft-neglected) question, “Can the congregation sing it?”
Yesterday, I said that this wasn’t an “indie-rock” album but that I didn’t mind because of the variety of musics used. (I love the word “musics”, which I got from Harold Best. Incidentally, if you’d like to see an interview with Harold Best and Mike Cosper, one of the producers of this album, you can see it at Sojourn Music.)
My friend Tim Sharpe delivered me a copy of Over the Grave while we were at General Assembly in Orlando. I listened to the first song, expecting indie-rock, and instead got the funky “Warrior”. After the funk influenced verse, we get just a snippet of the chorus, complete with Eleanor Rigby-like strings. Actually, the verse is a little like chant or recitative, in its minimalist reduction to repeated notes and cadences. This is a a fun song. Lyrically, it’s great to hear a song about the Lord as the conquering King!
“Living Faith” is a mid-tempo rocker that boasts a soaring vocal.
For some reason, “How Long” reminds me of Johnny Cash singing gospel. Up an octave, of course. With 21st century guitars, of course. Any settings of the psalms of lament are welcome, though I wonder if this song needed another verse to more completely capture the pleading cries of Psalm 13 (upon which it is based).
“Only Your Blood” is one of my favorites for several reasons. The production, while intricate, never gets in the way of the lyrics, a great setting of the second half of Psalm 51. Like “Refuge” later on the album, the use of the piano in octaves provides a great chime-like texture. Lyrically, the third verse stands out:
No bleeding bird, no bleeding beast,
No hyssop branch, no priest,
No running brook, no flood, no sea
Can wash away this stain from me.
When I first heard the song, however, I heard a mondegreen:
No bleeding bird, no bleating beast…
I like that lyric even more than the original.
To call “Reveal Your Love” high-energy would be a tremendous understatement. The lyrics would have been helped by some variation in dynamics. Even if the song does vary in loudness, it’s all energy all the time.
“Over Death”. Isaac Watts’ called this hymn “Victory over Death”. The song is based upon 1 Corinthians 15.55ff.
Joyful, with all the strength I have
My trembling lips should sing:
“Where is your boast of victory grave?
And where is the monster’s sting”
This is the kind of song that should be sung at funerals, not schlock like “I’ll Fly Away”. Our hope isn’t that we’re going to escape this bad, old world but that death has been defeated. We praise the “God of victory” that death has no power over the Christian, we will be resurrected on the last day.
Tomorrow, we’ll cover the second half of the album. As always, I’d like to hear others’ comments on the album if you’ve been able to get a copy.