[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.

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