Release Date: March 25th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Mark Schultz– Hymns (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Blessed Assurance
- It is Well
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- Before the Throne of God
- Nothing But the Blood/I’ll Fly Away
- How Great Thou Art
- This is My Father’s World
- Amazing Grace
- Give Me Jesus
Having been in the Christian music industry for as long as Mark Schultz has, it’s hard to continuously plough through and release albums with the same popularity as the last (probably with the exception of Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith). With hits like “I Have Been There”, “All Things Possible”, “He Is”, “Love Has Come”, “Letters From War”, “I Am” and “Everything to Me”, Mark continues to soldier on with solid album releases, and his new album, Hymns, is no different. While Mark may not necessarily be the most popular artist within the CCM industry currently (artists like Matthew West, Josh Wilson, Brandon Heath or Aaron Shust have been popularised within radio, seemingly at Mark’s expense), we are nevertheless shown an array of hymns delivered with piano and acoustic guitars as a strong focus.
While Mark has moved away from a label and is currently releasing his music independently, he is still nevertheless one of CCM’s most respected male vocalists, in the realm of others like SCC, MWS, TobyMac or Peter Furler. To be honest, Hymns has flown under the radar for myself (with Michael’s Cracker Barrel released hymns project and Kari Jobe’s live album recording catching my eye before this); yet even still, Mark has done a great job to showcase an album certain to be enjoyed by Mark Schultz enthusiasts and lovers of hymn-style music alike!
Standing at 10 tracks, Mark’s renditions of classic hymns are great to enjoy if you are a fan of softer reflective style renditions, with continual emphasis on Mark’s vocals, the piano (the trademark instrument in virtually all his songs) and light percussion. “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace”, possibly the two most famous hymns ever, are great standouts amongst the Mark Schultz hymns collection, even though “Amazing Grace” felt a little disjointed without the added chorus of “My Chains Are Gone” (that’s what you get if you listen to Chris Tomlin’s rendition of the melody for a long time!). And while the melody of “Amazing Grace” was somewhat confusing- the verses were sung in a way that resembled Chris’s way of singing them in his own 2006 version- the song itself deserves to be included in the 10 track album, no matter what the rendition, or how weird it sounds.
“How Great Thou Art”, relatively standard for any recording/re-recording; is presented with an acoustic guitar and light electric guitar strumming, for the contemplative reflective melody effect to be brought to the fore in great force, as we focus not just on the simplistic musicality of it, but also on the poignant lyrics. Together, these two aforementioned songs are some of my favourite hymns ever, and while not necessarily that adventurous musically, still portray timeless hymns that still impact listeners today as they did many years ago!
“Blessed Assurance”, a melody that is probably just as old as “Amazing Grace”, is possibly one of the hymns that aren’t as popular- still, Mark covers the song with such fervent enthusiasm, and despite the quickened pace, we are met with a song that encourages us to declare our stories to the Lord in praise as we thank God in the ways we know how- worship, praise, prayer and fellowship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Both “Doxology” and “This is My Father’s World” are some of the most subdued melodies on the album as Mark utilises the same technique of the piano in both songs, offering themes of inspiring praise (“Doxology”) and the knowledge of God’s place in a world that is in desperate need of Him (“This is My Father’s World”). While each of them hardly ever crescendo musically, the poignancy on both is still present. Mark has done both these songs justice- even if both these melodies aren’t necessarily my personal favourite hymns.
“Holy, Holy, Holy”, reminding us that God above is the holiest of all, is treated with the piano as the front-and-centre instrument as Mark plays us a version that is enjoyable and a little short at the least, with my mind casting back to versions recorded by Matt Maher or Steven Curtis Chapman as some of my favourite renditions. Nevertheless, irrespective of the length of Mark’s version (3:27 is a tad short in my opinion), passion is still there, which flows into the medley “Nothing But the Blood/I’ll Fly Away”, an acoustic/harmonica driven country-style melody that quite frankly, despite the certain passion you can hear and see, adds too much harmonica in relation to the other tracks on the album. Despite this glaring oversight, the medley is one of Mark’s most unique and different tracks, and even if not that many listeners react well to this, the song has done its job in meshing together two familiar tracks with a central theme of God washing away our sin.
Mark also covers one of the most obscure and unknown hymns ever- “Before the Throne of God”. Complete with synths and keys, Mark delivers a stanza-style song that encourages us to be before God in reverence. While seemingly short despite the number of stanzas, Mark still delivers a version that’s accessible to many and easy to learn. Kudos to Mark for covering it, even though I myself am virtually unfamiliar with the track. Ending the album with “Give Me Jesus”, first known to me through a Jeremy Camp cover from his album Restored, Mark ends the collection of songs with a simple plea- that ‘…in the morning when I rise, give me Jesus…’ Honest and poignant, humble and emotive, this is the perfect end to the album that includes some familiar tracks, some unique and some unfamiliar, but all in all encompass the album and portray it as a hymns project equally as enjoyable as Michael W. Smith’s hymns album, also titled Hymns too!
Mark has created an album that stands tall and formidable amongst all the releases from his set of albums, even though when compared to releases amongst 2014, I have thoroughly enjoyed much more albums than this. Nevertheless, Mark continues to buck against the trend of falling away when there’s not much publicity on you within the music industry- and while currently, I may not listen to much Mark Schultz material than previously, I continue to respect the style of artist he is, with Hymns being no different. From hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” to “Give Me Jesus” and “Holy, Holy, Holy”; this is a great album to enjoy if you are a fan of timeless classics or piano pop a la Michael W. Smith or Matthew West.
3 songs to listen to: Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Blessed Assurance
RIYL: Matthew West, Aaron Shust, Brandon Heath, Michael W. Smith