[reviews] Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

{Here is a collection of reviews I wrote up recently for a magazine that didn’t end up getting published. A few of my favorite albums playfully engaging with the biblical categories of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.}


[Psalms] – Prayerbook 2 by Brian Moss

Brian Moss is a presbyterian minister (Maple Valley Presbyterian) and accomplished musician working and living near Seattle, WA.  Brian was an early member of the Indelible Grace Retuned Hymns project and a touring pianist with Michael Card.

Among the many initiatives Brian has undertaken (check out his www.byfor.org project) he’s been engaged in the discipline of writing songs inspired by the Psalter.  While this undertaking may go the way of Sufjan Stevens *50 States* project, we are still very grateful for what we’ve received thus far!

Earlier this year Brian released his second CD covering psalms 16-30.  The sound is a mix of adult contemporary, folk, and meditative.  The lyrics and music are all original and true to Brian’s love for the church, available for free to the church. Listening to Brian’s lyrics you hear a heavy dose of Eugene Peterson – the psalms speaking out in clear modern english with a strong awareness of the internal logic of the ancient language. The tunes are highly sensitive to the tones of the text and sound like a generous blend of Andrew Peterson and Fernando Ortega.

Check out his version of Psalm 28 with a wonderful call and response with singer Ahna Philips, and his pastoral, lilting arrangement of Psalm 23 with the appalachian loveliness of Katy Bowser-Hutson at the vocal helm. If you could pull it off Psalm 22 would be an epic arrangement for a Good Friday service.

You can stream the entire album for free at Brian’s soundcloud site. soundcloud.com/brianmossmusic


[Hymns] –
Hymns & Friends by Wendell Kimbrough

Wendell Kimbrough is the former worship leader at Church of the Advent, an anglican church plant meeting in the heart of our nations capital.

Wendell has a passion for singing traditional hymns with an updated musical feel.  Thankfully for us Wendell is also gifted in recording and production and is sharing these arrangements with us.  The album includes ten traditional hymns (O Worship the King, And Can It Be That I Should Gain, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, How Firm A Foundation, What A Friend We Have in Jesus, For The Beauty Of The Earth, Jesus What A Friend For Sinners, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need, Hallelujah Praise Jehovah (Psalm 146), and All Praise To Thee My God This Night) performed in a folk vein (voice, guitar, piano, strings, sparse percussion).

This is a seminal album if you are at a church that is committed to traditional hymnody but would like to explore a more contemporary approach. Sadly there are so few albums that provide an aural picture of this when so many churches are looking for this kind of resource.

You can listen/stream the entire album at bandcamp and purchase either a digital or physical cd of the album for $10. The album download includes a songbook of leadsheets. www.wendellk.bandcamp.com

[Spiritual Songs] 
- Parker’s Mercy Brigade by Kristen Gilles

Kristen Gilles is a songwriter and worship leader from Louisville, KY.  She songwrites and leads worship within the network of Sojourn churches there.  Along with her husband Bobby they curate a fantastic worship blog www.mysonginthenight.com.

“Parker’s Mercy Brigade” is Kristen’s first full length album after an e.p. she released in 2012 titled “The Whole Big Story.”  This newest album is written in the shadow of a personal tragedy. In 2013 Kristen suffered a stillbirth of her son Parker.  On her website she says, “From this experience comes Parker’s Mercy Brigade, a collection of new worship songs to the Lord who gives and takes, and who works the giving and the taking for the good of those who love him.

The album is a collection of 10 songs that speak to an incredible variety of topics in a pop/rock vein.  Kristen leads from both piano and guitar and the album has a nice mix of both as lead instruments.  The songs cover a wide range of themes from the first tracks impressive meditation on the work of the Holy Spirit in the particulars of the world,

“You sweep into a brothel, and snuff the fire of lust;
You lift the fallen woman, with kindness she can trust.”

to “Praise the Sending God” the final tracks powerful benediction call to be sent into the world riffing on John 3:16 and Romans 8:37.

There is a strong Trinitarian backbone to all of the songwriting, a wonderful use of corporate language (we, us, our) and a broadly liturgical arc of the album covering Creation, Fall, Redemption, and sending.

The most powerful track on the record is #3 “Chase Away My Unbelief” where Kristen battles the deep and personal struggles of faith.

In the face of deepest loss,
Blinded by my bitter tears,
Broken by what might have been,
A slave to things as they appear,
Then whisper peace into my soul
In midst of pain and piercing grief.
My own perspective’s incomplete.
Chase away my unbelief.

In psalmic lament form it moves from statements of doubt and fear to reminders of promises and presence. This song conspicuously lacks a chorus and this lends a weighty quality to the lament as a whole. Read Psalm 13 for a classic model of a song of lament.

This album offers a number of strong songs for corporate worship (Awesome is Your Power, You Will Raise Us Up), but I would recommend it even more as an album to delve into for offering or special music.  I’ve not heard many better songs dealing with issues of doubt and faith as are presented here.

You can read more and purchase the album at www.kristengilles.com.  Half of the proceeds of the album go to supporting Nadus Films (nadusfilms.com), documenting social justice issues around the world and partnering with local organizations to provide humanitarian relief and Christian witness.

Seven Reasons to Sing the Psalms – Douglas Bond

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I’ve been reading through Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship this summer.  It is a collection of far ranging essays from a conference held at Union University a few years back.  Definitely worth picking up.

Douglas Bond in his chapter “Biblical Poetry in a Postbiblical, Postpoetry World” finishes with 7 reasons we need the psalms today.  I commend them to you (in paraphrase) below:

1. The Psalms are the fountain of lives of prayer. We pray poorly and infrequently in large part because we are so unfamiliar with the content and eloquence of the psalms.

2. The Psalms keep in perfect harmony both joy and fear in worship. For example the first stanza of psalm 100 calls us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord,” then goes on to regulate and inform that joy with high, sobering truths about God’s power. It is in relishing both sides of this tension that keeps our worship from many of the follies of either stoic traditionalism or unreflective contemporaneity.

3. The Psalms free us from our slavery to the here and now. Spending time in the psalms, whether in private or public devotions, helps keep us from the folly of the moment, the tyranny of the latest thing, the exhausting work of chasing the newest worship hit. The psalms nurtured the faith and worship of Jesus and we would do good to worship them too.

4. The Psalms marshall our imagination in the service of God. The Psalms are the language of prayer and praise yet most of our days are full of tweets, sound bites, and news clips.  We need a consistent place to go to have our language formed in the concerns of God…so that we can enter into his courts full of the posture and awe due his name. The psalms are this.

5. The Psalms give us theological discernment. The Psalms help us measure what is worthy and what is not. “Psalm poetry is the God-ordained means of keeping every generation enthralled with the surpassing splendor of biblical truth.”

6. Recovering the Psalms in our worship and life will raise the bar for all new worship poetry in every age. Amen. The psalms are an encyclopedia of poetic forms and devices in the service of God.

7. Singing the Psalms unites us with the vast throng of worshippers throughout the ages. The psalms are God-given sung praise that transcends all barriers. Psalm poetry is for all time, the ultimate multicultural poetry for “all people that on earth do dwell.”

Here are a few links from around Cardiphonia for exploring the psalms.

Contemporary Psalms for Worship – some of our favorite retuned and modern psalm versions.

Psalms for All Seasons – excellent new psalter with tons of varieties of sung psalmody

Hallel Psalms

Hallel Psalms cover art

Summer 2014 Noteworthy

Here are a few ALBUMS to support with your hard earned cash.

Stephen Miller – Journey Church – New album through KICKSTARTER

Ascend ep cover art
Miranda Dodson (Austin City Life) – Ascend

Amanda Noel – Songbird at Midnight
(the Legacy of Fanny Crosby (Vol.1)

Summer Reading – here are a few things I’m reading this summer.

Wendell Berry – This Day – Collected and New Sabbath Hymns

Christian Smith – Lost in Transition

ACTS Commentary – NT Wright (prepping for next years series at Hope)

Doug Bond – The poetic wonder of Isaac Watts (i got this as a free ebook…a good overall introduction to his life and work)

Douglas O’Donnell – Psalms – A 12 week study (ESV)

Monique Ingalls (DISS) – “Awesome in this place: Sound, space, and identity in contemporary North American evangelical worship”

John Stott – Baptism and Fullness – The Work of the Holy Spirit Today


Here is a host of more academically oriented PAPERS related to worship presented for the biblical worship section of ETS.


Sung versions of the Apostles Creed

Here are a number of versions of the Apostles Creed that artists have put to song.

Eric Damewood (Apostles Church) – The Apostles Creed
from Love Came Through (2010)

Miranda Dodson – Apostles Creed
from Ascend ep (2014)

Hillsong – This I Believe (The Creed)
from No Other Name (2014)

Mindy Deckard – The Apostles Creed
from ‘Mid All the Traffic – Redeemer INdy (2006)

Matt Hooper (Integrity Music) – We Believe
rom Newsboys (2014)

Rich Mullins - Creed
performed by Third Day

Richard Jensen – Creed
from Order of Service (2013)

Beach Spring (shapenote vs)
anyone have a recording of this version?

Hymns of Faith cover art

You can also listen through our compilation “Hymns of Faith” which uses 12 songs to sing through every line of the apostles creed.

Versions of the Veni Creator Spiritus

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HT to Paul Neeley over at Global Christian Worship for reminding me to post my post on versions of this ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit.

The text was originally written by Rabanus Maurus in the 9th century. The text is often used in ordination services and services connected to Pentecost.  An interesting note about the text is that verse 3 does relate to issues of the time concerning controversy surrounding the relationship between Spirit to Father and Son. The latin text has been translated by Martin Luther, Catherine Winkworth and many others.

O Holy Spirit, Come! (Greg Scheer)


Come, O Creator Spirit Blest (Matt Monticchio)


Come Holy Ghost (Bruce Benedict)


Veni Creator Spiritus (Donna Stewart)

Here is a wonderful version of the hymn in latin/chant form.


9 Observations on Singing New Songs

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I’ve had a couple of people mention to me Jamie Brown’s recent set of blog posts reflecting on his time at the National Worship Leaders Conference (DC). In particular they were questioning his thoughts on introducing new songs in church.  This is a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot in the various churches I’ve worked for so I thought I’d share my gathered wisdom.

1. A New Song is his Name…but don’t wear it out.

When the Psalms (in particular) speak of ‘singing a new song’ they are specifically foreshadowing the incarnation event.  The early chapters of the gospel of Luke show us in spectacular form that Christ is the cause, inspiration, and embodiment of the ‘new song’ of salvation.  Our ‘new songs’ are simply reflections of that One eternal never-ending, never- sick-of ‘new song.’  In that vein i. Try and write your new songs reflecting on the new songs of Luke (both deeply rooted in OT but also future looking). ii. So maybe don’t quote Psalm 96 quite so much as your biblical justification to introduce and write new songs ad nauseum. Or at least remind people that the exciting thing isn’t your new song, but the reality that Jesus is singing our names before the Father!

2. The Inverse Relationships of Your Church’s New Song Diet.

The general rule that I have sussed out is that there are a number of inverse relationships that guide the introduction of new songs in a congregation. They are (and can be sketched on an x/y axis).

  • i. If have you have a highly stable and consistent Sunday morning congregation than you should be able to introduce more new songs than if you have a highly inconsistent and transitory population on Sundays.
  • ii. If you have a congregation that is homogenous in age (and under 35 years of age?) than it should be easier to introduce new music more frequently than if you have an intergenerational congregation where a lot more factors are involved in introducing new songs.
  • iii. It is easier to introduce new songs if they are either songs that carry a wider ‘public’ exposure (radio, etc) or are songs that are a specific offering of your contextual, local church body.
  • iv. New songs will have a greater chance of succeeding in your church if they either a) fill a particular need where there is a current lack of songs in your repertoire (Say songs for communion, or songs about the Holy Spirit, or lament) or sound and feel like the current core of your repertoire.

3. New Songs have historically had a place outside of corporate worship for learning and practice.

While songwriters and the CWM industry continues to generate new songs at a blistering pace the church hasn’t kept pace in their practices to teach them.  One of the big problems I’ve seen is that many of the songs enter into our lives FIRST in the midst of our personal lives (the car, the iphone, the computer) which is a different experience than learning a song for the FIRST time corporately! This has not been historically the case.  Calvin taught his new genevan gigs to school children who would then pass them along to their families for church. Sunday Schools were a huge place for learning new songs in the 19th century. Singing Schools and itinerant music teachers used to be one of the main ways that churches learned new song and basic theory. There are a lot of ways that a community can be creative here.  Encourage small groups to sing more, provide CD’s or digital media in advance for members to listen too (although not totally ideal). Commit to have 1 or 2 events in your church every year reserved for teaching and learning new music.

4. New Songs should help your Congregation sing the whole counsel of God more fully.

New songs should have a pastoral intentionality where they seek to expand your congregations ability to sing the heights and depths of the Gospel.  Spend some time and look at your song repertoire from the past couple of years and do a theological, affective, pastoral audit.  Do you need more laments, more songs of praise, more psalms? Do we have songs that celebrate God’s past, present, AND future?! Does our congregation sing to the Father, Son AND Holy Spirit? Are you singing songs that reflect both the insider AND the stranger?

5. A Worship Conference is not the ideal place to evaluate new songs for your congregation.

I understand, and largely agree, with the comments Jamie Brown made recently about the attending the NWLC in DC. A worship conference is SO unlike every aspect of your pastoral work in corporate worship that if you are thinking anything else but “wow, this music is really loud but I hope heaven is something like this” than we need to talk! A conference has a lot of cross purposes (promoting, advertising, experiential demands, disconnection from a local body) that it can be a very confusing situation in which to evaluate a songs suitability for singing in Your congregation.

6. Have a plan for how you introduce new songs.

Don’t just let new songs happen to you, but intentionally seek and pursue a strategy for how you will incorporate them into the worshipping life of your church.  Where are the soft places in your worship service to introduce new songs?  For me its been weekly communion – where the congregation can hear it and sing along but corporately singing isn’t the main focus of the time.  Maybe for you it’s in a prelude time?

  • However you do it when you introduce a song make sure you can sing it for at least 3-4 Sundays in a row. Unless they are hearing this song every day in their car or at their computer it will take a while to embody it.
  • Reflect on the differences between introducing a new song that you will potentially sing all year round with a new song that you might only sing for a short liturgical season or sermon series.
  • Remind yourself that your congregation takes both longer to learn a song and longer to get sick of it than for you!!

7. New songs can be powerful markers of new seasons, or new movements of the Spirit in your church.

Whether it’s changing up songs for a liturgical season or writing/finding songs because of a gospel breakthrough in your church the songs we sing help mark significant movements. They are ebenezers to mark the work of God in your congregations. They do this through helping to create, sustain, or change the ‘feel’ of our churches worship.  This is a pastoral stewardship issue for worship leaders and music directors.  When we move from the fall into advent, or lent into Easter there should be a palpable change in how the music feels. from inner reflection to outer joy, from corporate introspection to sending in mission.  From minor to major, from banjos’ to brass!

8. Every new song has a different level of difficulty for both the band and the congregation.

This is incredibly contextual but it’s good to at least reflect on what it means to strike a balance in the difficulty level of new songs your introducing.  Maybe make a mental note on a scale from 1-10.  It’s going to be exhausting (and maybe disheartening) to the congregation if you are introducing a lot of difficult songs…and this difficulty can be on a range for the musicians vs. the congregation.  Make sure you balance new songs between easy and more difficult ones.

9. What to do when your band is sick of a song right about the time it’s hitting the sweet spot for your congregation.

This is a classic one.  Your congregation is JUST starting to get some of those tricky bits in the verses of “10,000 Reasons” but you can tell they love singing it.  Your drummer then decides that he’s going to start doing super random fills cuz he’s bored with the song, the keyboard player is now playing alternate harmonizations, and the bass player has decided that he’s going to consistently forget to sit out vs 3.  argg. These are actually brilliant moments to remind your musicians that they have a pastoral role to fill in providing a consistent and nurturing musical backdrop for CONGREGATIONAL singing.

Did miss anything?

More Thoughts from:




Justice and Mercy Worship Projects

Here are a couple of projects that you should support because they are great music + supporting even greater causes.

Luke Morton
has his whole new album on noisetrade with 50% of every donation going to support Voice of the Martyrs‘ Families of Prisoners Fund.

Let’s Do This Together: Summer 2014 Compilation

Aaron Hale – songwriter, promotor, worship leader, and general provocateur has just made the leap of faith to join the staff of The Orphan Care Network. My wife and I are foster parents and this is a mission very dear to our hearts.

You can support him in two ways.

1. Download and donate to this ALBUM.

2. Support him on a one-time or monthly basis HERE.