Release Date: April 14th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Power In The Blood [*]
- Be Still And Know [*]
- Jesus Take All of Me (Just As I Am) (from My Hope)
- Rock Of Ages (Featuring Vince Gill) (from Rock Of Ages: Hymns & Faith)
- Carry You (from Rock Of Ages: Hymns & Faith)
- This Is My Father’s World (from Legacy: Hymns & Faith)
- El Shaddai (from Rock Of Ages: Hymns & Faith)
- Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (from Rock Of Ages: Hymns & Faith)
- It Is Well With My Soul/The River’s Gonna Keep On Rolling (from Legacy: Hymns & Faith)
- My Jesus, I Love Thee (from Legacy: Hymns & Faith)
- Deep As It Is Wide (Featuring Sheryl Crow and Eric Paslay) (from How Mercy Looks From Here)
- What A Friend We Have In Jesus/Old Rugged Cross/How Great Thou Art (from Legacy: Hymns & Faith)
- ‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus (from Our Hymns)
- Softly And Tenderly (from Legacy: Hymns & Faith)
- Holy, Holy, Holy (from Legacy: Hymns & Faith)
*= new recording
With her all-new album of original material How Mercy Looks From Here being her first album in 10 years (with the previous album being Simple Things); CCM pop/adult contemporary legend Amy Grant has now released a greatest hits album of sorts- of hymns! Amy has recorded 2 hymns albums (Legacy: Hymns & Faith and Rock Of Ages: Hymns And Faith) and also a few other hymn songs here and there on other compilation albums, and has now compiled the best of the best songs sure to bring healing and inspire us to live life for Christ. Though while some avid fans and those who were listeners of her previous 13 studio albums may believe that her best albums were in the 80’s and 90’s, with her songs “El Shaddai”, “That’s What Love Is For”, “Every Heartbeat”, “Lead Me On”, “I Will Remember You”, “Baby Baby”, and “Takes A Little Time” all highlights from the illustrious and well-respected 35 year old career; the evidence is nonetheless clear that Amy has continued to forge ahead and create new anthems and songs for people to sing, instead of just dwelling in the past. Amy is still going strong, and recording songs better than ever; and together with Michael W Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, she rounds out the group of solo artist veterans whom I respect so much because of their longevity. While Amy has so much experience behind her, another all new studio album doesn’t seem to be so far away, but until then, let’s dive in and see just what is special about this release, and how Amy records her hymns that makes it all the more beautiful and captivating for us to listen to!
With each hymn containing a vibrant piano presence, and Amy’s soaring and powerful vocals, what we hear from these 15 timeless classics are hymns preserved in their original state, with minimal alterations nor any presence of ‘beefed up’ or remixed music. I’m sure if Amy branched out and recorded a rock or rap album, she could pull it off with grace and style, but pop/adult contemporary/CCM is what God has called her towards musically; and I commend her for that decision and stand. So let me just say that Amy’s renditions of famous hymns as well as her recordings of original songs, are not musically similar to hymn albums from Newsboys, or even Casting Crowns for that matter. Think maybe musically similar to Michael W. Smith’s Hymns album. But that’s ok, hymns can be interpreted in many different ways, that’s the beauty of these songs that many people have covered and given their own twist and rendition! So how are Amy’s renditions?
“Deep As It Is Wide” brings together Amy with guest vocals Eric Paslay and Sheryl Crow, as all three beautifully sing together in harmony on the emphatic anthem with the main theme being about the depth of God’s immeasurable and unexplainable love. The height, depth, length and width of God’s love and devotion to us cannot be quantified or measured, and as Sheryl, Eric and Amy vibrantly and richly describe God’s love and how heaven could be like, I find myself loving this song every time I listen; it’s got that special epic feel to it. The country twang and honest lyrics are a plus too, and this acoustic guitar led melody is a welcome inclusion, from the original album How Mercy Looks From Here.
The Brenton Brown written original piano led hymn “Jesus Take All Of Me (Just As I Am)” is featured also, originally featured on the compilation album My Hope, containing songs inspired by the life of Billy Graham. With so many versions of this common modern hymn; the new chorus (only previously on God My Rock from Brenton Brown) is just as poignant and moving as any other. With lyrics such as ‘…Jesus take all of me, I run to You, I run to You, I lay everything at your feet, let my life be Yours…’; what a honest, vulnerable track of surrender, with the irony of it being placed here being that it’s Billy’s favourite hymn, and was always playing in the background when he asked people at his events to dedicate their lives to Jesus. “Tis So Sweet” is also present, and is the oldest song on this release, with the 1989 soft and reflective single (previously recorded on the compilation album Our Hymns) has me appreciating the song a bit more (it’s not my absolute favourite hymn!), as we are given a gentle reminder that ‘…Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er, Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!…’, that God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises in the past are reasons alone to trust Him in the hard times.
Apart from the first two originally recorded tracks on this album, the rest of the 10 melodies are present on both hymn albums from Amy, and though I would have preferred more all-new material, these songs are still poignant, honest, emotional and relevant for today’s society. “Rock Of Ages” is a duet with husband Vince Gill, and is a very organic worship anthem, with minimal instruments (except for piano, guitar and Amy and Vince’s inspiring and captivating harmonies), and the subject matter being about declaring God to be the rock of all ages and our safety and security, a fact we can declare forevermore. I’m not really familiar with this hymn, nor is it my absolute favourite, yet on this version, it’s truly something that piques my interest to hear more versions of this hymn. Though I have heard this track on Jimmy Needham’s hymns album, and enjoyed that version quite a lot, Amy’s prowess as a singer shines through a lot on this rendition, which is also very enjoyable to listen to.
“Joyful, Joyful” is also featured, and though this banjo prominent melody, which stays true to the original, isn’t as inventive nor impacting as previous versions from Jimmy Needham and Casting Crowns (both versions have added choruses and refrains, while Amy’s version has an instrumental bridge), it still reminds us of being joyful before the Lord and praising Him for all He’s done for us. The acoustic guitar prominent mid-tempo contemplative ballad “My Jesus I Love Thee”, is where Amy unashamedly expresses her unending love for Jesus, against the backdrop of soft and light acoustics and a smorgasbord of woodwind instruments and possibly bagpipes, creating an Irish atmosphere in the compelling bridge; while “Softly And Tenderly” is an inspiring and motivational piece driven by the keys, and thematically and lyrically about looking forward to going home to Jesus in heaven.
Though not as rocky as Kutless’ booming and explosive version in 2009, or Rebecca St. James’ pop tune in 2002, “It Is Well” is sung is as soft, contemplative and slow-paced piano ballad, one that I can soak in the presence of God and sing out with conviction that ‘…whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul…’. Once again driven by keys, with strings and a choir included to give the song depth, Amy’s prowess as a singer is remarkable, as I marvel at the medley, with “The River’s Gonna Keep Rolling”, an original song about life and time never stopping, and us coming to grips with that notion and what God plays in that part; included as well. Amy’s ability to create God breathed moments from simple notes and modest solo performances is quite extraordinary. Amy’s prowess as a singer and composer is evident further on tracks like the emphatic and emotional electric guitar led country ballad/medley of “What A Friend In Jesus”, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art” (three of my most favourite hymns ever!); an acoustic guitar led 2 minute tune of “Holy, Holy, Holy” (with a stirring piano led instrumental bridge), where Amy passionately declares and cries out the emotional refrain that God is ‘…holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty! God in three persons, blessed Trinity!…’; and the obscure, lesser known mid-tempo ballad “This Is My Father’s World”, where Amy vividly reminds us that God’s hand is in all creation, so we do not need to be afraid as God is in control.
The inclusion of “Carry You”, a piano and acoustic guitar slower tempo heartfelt and honest ballad, where Amy sings from God’s perspective, reminding us that God will never let us go, that we can ‘…lay down your burden, I will carry you, I will carry you my child, my child…’, is fitting and welcome, as we can remember God’s faithfulness and believe in that promise even when things are tough and situations are not going our way. One of her most famous songs, the worship song “El-Shaddai”, written by Michael Card, is also on this album, and is the last of the previously recorded tracks present here. As Amy eloquently sings out God’s praises that ‘…we will praise and lift You high, El-Shaddai…’, against a backdrop of quiet acoustic guitar and keys, Vince Gill contributes backing vocals exquisitely. And now we come to the all original songs, recorded especially for this release. While “Be Still And Know” is thematically similar to Steven Curtis Chapman’s melody of the same name, and is a mid-tempo country themed ballad sung from God’s perspective, encouraging us to take time out from our busy schedules and dwell in the presence of God; “Power In The Blood”, a lesser known hymn, is musically creative and country themed, with the acoustic guitar (and is it the banjo or mandolin as well) the centrepiece of the track musically, reminding us how much the cross of Jesus and His sacrifice means to us and us living life to the fullest with the knowledge that we are secure in Him.
Amy Grant has given us some special hymns and old classics, and though some tracks I would have loved to see, such as “Amazing Grace”, “Blessed Assurance”, “The Solid Rock”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, “In Christ Alone”, “Doxology” and “Be Thou, My Vision”; the track list is solid and is thoroughly enjoyable. So what’s the consensus? Amy’s choice of hymns, though it may be different than other popular ones, never ceases to amaze me, as we are met with songs speaking about all facets of Christianity and the Bible, which is great as these hymns are somewhat of a snapshot of the whole gospel! Personally, I believe that Amy Grant’s new album is one full of songs that matter, and songs with stories that are very close to her heart. Amy has indeed had new life injected into her singing and song-writing, evident in her hymns and new songs, and has compiled a hymns album that will surely be a classic in many, many years. Well done Amy for creating an album that reminds us why she is one of the best female singer/songwriters currently, and why she may record for a few more years yet!
4 songs to listen to: El-Shaddai, Jesus Take All Of Me (Just As I Am), Deep As It Is Wide, Power In The Blood
RIYL: Natalie Grant, Meredith Andrews, Francesca Battistelli, Kari Jobe