Church bells call listeners to worship at the beginning of Stuart Townend's latest release, The Journey. Orchestration and energy are very similar to his previous studio album, Creation Sings.
Much of the content of the album will be new to Townend's listeners. These recordings are of more recently-written hymns, many co-written by Keith Getty. One of the (few) drawbacks of a pre-release digital copy is that I don't have all of the liner notes at my disposal. That said, I'll probably buy a traditional CD version of this album to have all of those details for my own edification.
I thought the juxtaposition of church bells on track one and traditional acoustic instruments on track two to be rather striking. "O My Soul" confesses the joy of faith in Christ.
"By Faith," track 3, has been previously recorded by Kristyn Getty. Townend's take on the arrangement has a pleasing bluegrass feel. The melody is so strong it just needs a strong and confident voice and modest instrumental accompaniment. I loved the harmonies on this recording.
"Vagabonds" struck me as a song of contrasts. A song of invitation, track 4 calls all to the "table." My first reaction was that this was a reference to eucharistic fellowship. I don't believe that was the author's intent. The arrangement is intense and powerful, even disorienting. Such is the radical nature of the Gospel as welcoming love and grace in Christ to sinners. I found that law was missing. Perhaps a reference to repentance would have been appropriate. My other concern has to do with the second stanza. One line uses the loaded word "orientation." The context and confession of a given congregation or church body where this song is used would make all the difference. Occasionally, Stuart and Townend revise texts and even change the refrains. I would suggest more clear language in any revision of "Vagabonds."
A female vocalist adds poignancy to track 5, "The Man Who Calmed the Sea." I could imagine this as special music or a hymn of the day on any one of Sundays where the Gospel lesson is Matthew 8, Matthew 14, or parallel passages. The solo becomes a pleasing duet. Other texts like "take up your cross" (Matthew 16) are mentioned briefly.
An old hymn gets a fresh treatment on track 6. "It Is Well with My Soul" builds on the traditional hymn. Like the backbeat on track 2, I think percussion on this track could have been omitted. Townend adds a new refrain that adds musical and theological depth to the original.
Among the hymns on this recording that were written in 2010 are:
- The Perfect Wisdom of Our God, track 7, surveying creation, Psalm 119, and the cross
- Kyrie Eleison, track 8, written for the recent Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, a "Lord, Have Mercy" that is growing on me
- Simple Living (A Rich Young Man), track 9, ideally paired with a sermon on Matthew 19, or one on the Widow's Mite
"Everlasting Love," track 10, is a personal response to forgiveness in Christ, as well as an encouragement for mission.
Track 11, "You Rescued Us," is an up-tempo pop-feel song that reminds me of Townend's early recordings. I would encourage more explicit references to God. It does NOT fall into the trap of being a "Jesus or my girlfriend" song.
"Never Failing Love" highlight's Townend's piano playing with his solo voice. Bluesy, passionate, and human-care focused, it shows the proper connection between faith and good works building on James and 1 Corinthians 13.
Reminiscent of Timothy Dudley-Smith's "Christ Be My Leader," Lutheran Service Book 861, "Christ Be in My Waking" is a hymn for morning, evening, and throughout the day and one's life long. Personal, yet Christ-focused text is paired with Beatles-like harmonies and accompaniment.
I look forward to seeing the sheet music (and promised instrumental parts) for these newly-written songs, hymns, and canticles soon.