Monday, March 26, 2012

Hymnody Resurgent: Kentucky



Sojourn. These Things I Remember. Louisville, KY: sojourn MUSIC, 2006. Downloadable Audio mp3 album. $10.00.  www.sojournmusic.com (LH)   

Sojourn. Advent Songs.  Louisville, KY: sojourn MUSIC, 2007. Downloadable Audio mp3 album. $10.00.  www.sojournmusic.com (LH)

Sojourn. Before the Throne. Louisville, KY: sojourn MUSIC, 2007. Downloadable Audio mp3 album. $10.00.  www.sojournmusic.com (LH)

Sojourn. Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts, Part One.  Louisville, KY: sojourn MUSIC, 2009. Downloadable Audio mp3 album. $12.00.  www.sojournmusic.com (LH)

Sojourn. Jamie Barnes - The Mercy Seat / Brooks Ritter - The War (Split EP).  Louisville, KY: sojourn MUSIC, 2011. Downloadable Audio mp3 album. $10.00.  www.sojournmusic.com (LH)


Sojourn. The Water and the Blood: The Hymns of Isaac Watts, Part Two.  Louisville, KY: sojourn MUSIC, 2011. Downloadable Audio mp3 album. $12.00.  www.sojournmusic.com (LH)  


Hymns Resurgent is our theme as our reviews travel around the country examining new sheet music, chord charts, and recordings of historic Christian hymns.

Hymns are coming back in the aftermath of megachurch entertainment worship. Usually, we see historic texts joined to new tunes or historic tunes paired with a fresh hymn text. Writers, composers, and musicians also add some totally new songs of praise along the way.


How does Sojourn define their own song?

New songs for modern missional worship, rich in Christian teaching and contextualized in modern culture. Contemporary hymns, psalms, songs of lament and praise written by members of the Louisville, KY-based Sojourn Community. (website)  
Let's consider the albums they provided for review in the order of their release.



These Things I Remember

This 11-track collection of aesthetically diverse songs of faith, pain, longing and reflection based on the Psalms features worship music by Sojourn community members Mike Cosper, Rebecca Dennison and Jeremy Quillo. With stylistic influences ranging from the mountains of Appalachia to the villages of Asia to modern American rock, this record reconnects modern listeners with the language of the Psalms, reflects the diversity of creation and explores the tension between faith and doubt, triumph and struggle, laughter and lament.

Dedicated to the memory of Aaron Marrs, a community member lost at sea when the vessel he was working on capsized off the coast of Alaska, These Things I Remember focuses on loss and healing, and the stubborn faith in the midst of tragedy and questions that only comes from the Spirit of God. BUY THESE THINGS I REMEMBER HERE for $10
Track Listing
  1. My Rock and My Redeemer
    Chord Sheet
  2. Fifty Seven
    Chord Sheet
  3. Faithful
    Chord SheetPreview
  4. Bow
    Chord Sheet
  5. Of Psalm 51
    Chord SheetPreview
  6. From the Depths
    Chord SheetPreview
  7. Crippled Soul
    Chord Sheet
  8. Then Sings My Soul
    Chord Sheet
  9. The Christ Hymn
  10. Psalm 42
  11. Mourning Into Dancing
    Chord SheetPreview
(website)
This is an album that deals with two things that apparently are reluctantly, uncomfortably, and only rarely addressed by modern American Evangelicalism: pain and hymns. Old hymns are rich in Christology as well as both law and Gospel properly distinguished. "Contemporary Christian Music," so-called, often focused on experience, emotion, and I. Law predominated.

Instrumentation varies from a bluegrass sound to the typical pop/rock combo. This song is singable, but often little more repetitive than traditional hymn tunes. The titles tell you much about their rich content. What you see/hear is what you get.


The next Sojourn album also focuses on largely original song.


Before The Throne

Sojourn’s 2007 worship album connects the worship practices of the Church gathered to the ordinary stuff of daily life, a life lived before the throne of God. This life is a rich and varied experience of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, prayer for guidance, prayers of repentance and communal sharing of God’s peace, blessing and love. Comprised of one classic hymn and ten new songs for worship written by members of the Sojourn community, “Before The Throne” is our most ambitious and collaborative project to date.
From straight-on rockers like “My Maker And My King” to jazz-influenced cuts like “I’m Coming Back,” and from contemporary hymns such as “In The Shadow Of The Glorious Cross” and “Lead Us Back” to praise songs like “Come And Sing” and “There Is A Peace,” this album leads us through the movements of life, helping to inform and transform our prayers and remind us that no matter where we go, we are living and breathing in the presence of God, and that all of our lives are lived “Before The Throne.” The vocalists and musicians on this collection have shared the stage with artists like Norah Jones, Derek Webb, Bill Mallonee and Peter Searcy, but never have they sounded better than on this theologically compelling and musically diverse set of new music for the modern Church.
BUY BEFORE THE THRONE HERE for $10 + $3 shipping and handling
Track List
Songs are licensed through CCLI so feel free to use them in worship services — just report the usage to CCLI when you are being surveyed.
  1. Come and Sing
    Chord Sheet
  2. Before the Throne
    Chord Sheet
  3. My Maker and My King
    Chord SheetPreview
  4. I’m Coming Back
    Chord Sheet
  5. There Is A Peace
    Chord Sheet
  6. We Are Listening
    Chord SheetPreview
  7. Evergreen
    Lyrics
  8. All I Have Is Yours
    Chord Sheet
  9. Lead Us Back
    Chord SheetPreview
  10. In The Shadow of the Glorious Cross
    Chord SheetPreview
  11. All Good Gifts
    Chord Sheet
(website)
Theologically, I will disagree that our offerings are "a means of grace," according to "All I Have Is Yours," and that we are "compelled by grace" as in the song "In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross."

The melody of "Before the Throne" is particularly memorable. As a whole, the song, "In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross" also sticks with you and hints at the theological, musical, and creative promise to come in Sojourn's later albums.



Thus far, I had heard two albums by dedicated Christians who musically led worship for their local congregation. It was edifying road trip music.

Advent Songs is the album that got my attention.


Advent Songs
Original and Traditional Christmas Songs from Sojourn Artists, including Jamie Barnes, Dirt Poor Robins, Brooks Ritter, and more. The emphasis here is on the already/ not-yet tension of Advent, the season of waiting and anticipation before Christmas. Advent comes to us in the darkest season of the year — a season when the nights are long, the days are cold, and we look with anticipation for the return of the warmth in the spring. The songs have both a dark sense of anticipation and glimpses of light dawning in the face of the Christ child.

As we celebrate this season, we celebrate that our Messiah has come, and we look with longing to the day when he comes again. As St. John says, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus.”
BUY Advent Songs HERE for $10
Track List
  1. Joy to the World
    Chord SheetPreview
  2. Glory Be
    Chord SheetPreview
  3. God is With Us
    Chord Sheet |
  4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    Chord Sheet |
  5. What Child Is This?
    Chord SheetPreview
  6. O Come All Ye Faithful
    Chord Sheet |
  7. Amen, Amen
    Chord SheetPreview
  8. Hosanna in the Highest
    Chord Sheet
(website)
Here are some of the most well-known Advent/Christmas text "retuned." The new tune for "Joy to the World" is compelling, embodying well the anticipation of the season, the Christian expectation of the birth of Christ as well as His return on the Last Day. "Glory Be" reflects the joy of the season, including the creative percussion accompaniment. "God Is With Us" sings of Immanuel in a new carol.

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" retains both traditional tune and text. The post-modern arrangement is an attempt to contextualize the awe, mystery, and ethereal feel of the monastic and Gregorian original. Similarly, Greensleeves, the traditional tune of "What Child Is This?" gets a digital remix, with earthy vocals and a more intense and rhythmic modern instrumental accompaniment. "O Come All Ye Faithful" is probably most faithful to its roots. I hear both acoustic and electric instruments here.

I find it intriguing that so many modern tunes are incredibly chant-like. The new song, "Amen, Amen" has numerous places where one pitch is sung repeatedly to support almost an entire phrase. Composers should take note of what Sojourn has done here in parallel to the ancients. "Hosanna in the Highest," another new text and tune, has a decent melody. I think it gets covered up too much by the rock arrangement.


Among the English-original texts in our 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal, Isaac Watts is one of the favorite hymnwriters of the people in the pews. Over the Grave is a focus on Watts' hymns, the first in a series.



Over The Grave

In the midst of the Reformation in England, Isaac Watts recognized that people needed to see the gospel in the psalms and hymns of the church, and they needed to sing them in language and metaphors that they understood. In this, he became not only the father of the modern hymn, but the pace-setter for contextualizing the gospel for the people of God. As musicians, pastors and songwriters, our desire was to explore the hundreds of hymns that Watts wrote during his lifetime, to learn from the incredible range and depth of his lyrics, and to re-envision those songs with modern language and melodies.
In particular, we gravitated towards themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ. This CD is the first installment of the Isaac Watts Project: songs inspired by and adapted from his hymns. The record was written and performed entirely by musicians from Sojourn Community Church — 35 in all. It is our hope that this project, like Watts’s hymns, will point us beyond the music and lyrics to see the glorious Savior who inspires them.
BUY OVER THE GRAVE: THE HYMNS OF ISAAC WATTS, VOLUME ONE HERE

Track List
  1. Warrior (inspired by “Psalm 21”)
    Chord Sheet Preview
  2. Living Faith (adapted from “Hymn 140”)
    Chord Sheet
  3. How Long? (Psalm 13) (inspired by “Psalm 13”)
    Chord Sheet
  4. Only Your Blood Is Enough (adapted from “Psalm 51, pt 2”)
    Chord Sheet
  5. Reveal Your Love (inspired by “Psalm 90, pt. 2”)
    Chord Sheet
  6. Over Death (adapted from “Hymn 17”)
    Chord Sheet
  7. Alas And Did My Savior Bleed (adapted from “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed”)
    Chord Sheet
  8. May Your Power Rest On Me (inspired by “Hymn 15”)
    Chord Sheet
  9. Refuge (adapted from “Psalm 31, pt. 1”)
    Chord Sheet Preview
  10. We Are Changed (adapted from “Hymn 95”)
    Chord Sheet
  11. Savior King (adapted from “Hymn 10”)
    Chord Sheet
(publisher's website)
I was thankful for the background provided on Sojourn's website identifying their source material, since my mp3 downloaded album otherwise had no liner notes. I am impressed at how Sojourn is
embracing substantive metrical psalmody!

"Warrior" is a strong, masculine, groovy opening to the album, definitely more in the "road trip music" category for me. I could imagine hearing this track on the radio. Sojourn definitely captured the "sound alike" concept common among Nashville-produced CCM.

"Reveal Your Love" was initially more intense than I had expected. This is not the stereotypical percussion given to a traditional hymn/tune pairing. It sounded more like Evanescence. "Over Death" echoed Sting and The Police.

I was most interested to hear "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed" because it is a well-known hymn and "Hymn 95" because of its possible use as a Venite at Matins. Both "Alas" and "We Are Changed" get a Top 40 treatment, groovy and memorable, but more challenging than I would like to present to my congregation.

Most of the tracks had a more bluesy feel to them. Overall, I head a theme of hope and resurrection because of Watts' strong texts. This volume of Watts' texts is more for listening than for using for corporate worship than in our tradition.


Jamie Barnes and Brooks Ritter share an album of soulful, soloistic song in The Mercy Seat/The War.


Split EP: The War & The Mercy Seat

Brooks Ritter and Jamie Barnes are a big part of Sojourn Music. They’re also two of the most talented and respected members of Louisville’s music scene, having received extensive local radio airplay and having performed on some of Louisville’s most prestigious stages.

Now we present to you a double-EP of ten worship songs, including “Absent From Flesh,” “Rock Of Ages,” “Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat” and “Whom Have I In Heaven But You” from these acclaimed singer-songwriters and humble worship leaders. Listen to all the songs in full, and buy it in a variety of formats right here.
The songs on these EPs explore themes of lament, hope and grace.
You’ll hear new renditions of classic hymns and brand new songs with earnest lyrics and captivating music. BUY THE WAR & THE MERCY SEAT HERE
Track List for The War by Brooks Ritter
  1. The War
  2. Good Day
  3. Waters Of Forgiveness
  4. Whom Have I In Heaven But You
  5. Rock Of Ages
Track List for The Mercy Seat by Jamie Barnes
  1. Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat
  2. Absent From Flesh
  3. Jealous Arm
  4. A City No Longer Forsaken
  5. Dark Passenger
(website)

Stylistically, most of these tracks would seem out-of-place in a traditional liturgical Lutheran congregation like mine. Yet, the musicianship and Christian texts make them edifying listening in the car on the road. 

"Approach My Soul" is a John Newton text. "Rock of Ages" is a well-known favorite of many Christians. "Whom Have I in Heaven"  and the memorable "Absent from Flesh" are by Watts. The remainder of the texts are original compositions. Texts are Christological, but not always explicitly so.


We now go from personal, paired solo projects back to the group for a second volume in Sojourn's Watts hymn series. 



The Water And The Blood

During a cold, snowy week this January, a group of Sojourners trekked up through nasty roads to Bloomington, Indiana. There, they had the privilege of working with producer Paul Mahern (who has worked with Over the Rhine, The Fray, John Mellencamp, T-Bone Burnett, and many, many more), recording an album that had been years in the making. They recorded live on an old tape machine, creating and album that is warm and intimate — a true “record” of what happened: a band making music, responding to one another, and singing together. It’s raw and rough around the edges, much like Sojourn itself is.
The songs are re-imaginings and adaptations of the hymns of Isaac Watts, the “Father Of English Hymnody.” Watts was an extraordinary pastor and poet. These songs, these snapshots of the gospel, can profoundly help us to see Jesus as more beautiful and more believable.
As musicians, pastors and songwriters, it was an honor to explore the hundreds of hymns that Watts wrote during his lifetime, to learn from the incredible range and depth of his lyrics, and to re-envision those songs with modern language and melodies.
In particular, we gravitated towards themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ. This record is the second installment of the Isaac Watts Project: songs inspired by and adapted from his hymns. The album was written and performed by dozens of writers and musicians from Sojourn Community Church. It is our hope that this project, like Watts’s hymns, will point us beyond the music and lyrics to see the glorious Savior who inspires them.
BUY THE WATER AND THE BLOOD: THE HYMNS OF ISAAC WATTS, VOLUME TWO HERE
Track List
  1. Absent From Flesh
  2. The Water And The Blood
  3. From Deep Distress
  4. Compel My Heart To Sing
  5. Let The Seventh Angel Sound
  6. O God Our Help In Ages Past
  7. Deep In Our Hearts
  8. Bless Be The Lamb
  9. Death Has Lost Its Sting
  10. Early My God Without Delay
  11. Let Your Blood Plead For Me
  12. The World Will Know
(website)
Sojourn is making a sojourn from what Christian worship music has been in recent decades to what it has been and what it could be, what Robert Webber called "Ancient-Future Worship."

"Absent from Flesh" pairs a soulful Jamie Barnes tune with Watts' text. As I stated before, it is a memorable pairing. I can hear it in a more restrained acoustic arrangement of my own for piano, twelve-string guitar, and congregational voices.  The slow pace of "Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past" (and most of the later tracks) has yet to win me over.

I commend Sojourn for returning to their tradition's historic roots to find richer, Christological, Gospel-filled text to "re-tune" for our day.


Our readers should note that both volumes of the Watts project went on sale in February 2012.


We would love to hear more from Sojourn, including With the Angels, A Child Is Born, and their future projects.


Reclaiming the treasure of the Church's historic hymnody is always a worthy endeavor. Sojourn is part of the notable recover of traditional song in a non-traditional way.

I pray Christians may continue to, as Norman Nagel wrote, "draw on the vast treasury of Christian hymnody old and new, with words that speak God's law and Gospel and express our faith's response and with music that nourishes both memory and heart."



The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.