Thursday, May 20, 2010


Over the Grave is the newest release from Sojourn Community Church. It is the first in what appears to be a large-scale project to release songs inspired by and adapted from the hymns of Isaac Watts.

Sound like a big task? Now consider the fact that Sojourn asked their own members to write these songs and the record is completely made of Sojourn musicians (35 in all). Requiring this much work, the record ought to be good, right?

It is.

The concept of the "modern" hymn record has been around for awhile. In my memory, the earliest projects came from Integrity or Maranatha and were typically more mellow, even jazzy version of popular hymns. We'll call this Phase 1 - artistically safe, musically faithful versions. There weren't a ton of projects like this, but it was the overall flavor for a while.

Phase 2 was about risk and addition. The best example of this would be Passion's hymn project, "Hymns: Ancient and Modern." This record did not play it safe. It made hymns into rock songs or more epic ethereal pieces. The record also added stuff. Many of they hymns had new choruses or bridge section attached. Phase 2 lasted a bit longer than the first one as churches tried this new way of doing hymns and created a desire for like products in the marketplace.

I'd say we're now in Phase 3. Phase 3 of modern hymnody is by far the biggest field we've seen so far. Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music, High Street Hymns, etc. The pioneers of this new period have gone back to faithful lyrical content but now tend to use lesser-known songs, sometimes with no known melody. These newer, Phase 3, albums have ancient lyrics with present-day melodies. Most Phase 3 hymn projects also stick together stylistically as well. Most any recent hymn album is firmly in the folk category. Mandolins, fiddle, honest vocals, etc. Because most of these records are creating original music for the songs, they've created some very cool stuff.

But Over The Grave is different. It surprises. There are folk songs. Rock songs. Odd, rootsy blues songs right next to middle-of-the-road acoustic pop. And that's why I'm loving it. Now, I can appreciated thematic work as much as anybody, but as a worship leader, I get tired of hearing records that sound the same tracks 1 through 10. Over the Grave challenges me as a musician, as a writer and as Christ-follower. Each song poses questions and quandaries, some of which I'm still trying to figure out! This record has more value than just new songs. It's a new way of doing worship in a hymn-context.

Sadly, many of the songs are TOO good! There are four or five songs that I love but I'm not sure we could pull off at church. The band at church is fantastic and they could nail this stuff, but some of it is a bit too disjointed and experimental for our church right now. So far, I'm most intrigued by "Living Faith," "Only Your Blood" and the Leeland-esque"Refuge" for our church. Other strong congregational worship tunes are "May Your Power Rest In Me" and "We Are Changed."

(Let me pause here and say that any record that has me thinking of five songs to use is pretty impressive.) This record is filled with amazing worship songs.

From a purely musical standpoint, I also love "Warrior," "Reveal Your Love" and "How Long." I realize that these are worship songs, too, but gosh, I wish somebody would play these on the radio. They're fantastic and fresh.

There's quite a bit of online chatter about this project and it's pretty easy to find info. You can get a ton of information from at the church's website. There's a great review at noisywhisper and worship leader Mike Cosper was just interviewed in the March/April issue of Worship Leader Magazine.

If you're up for a worship project that challenges you on every front - musician, music fan, congregant - then this is the record for you. Over the Grave may ask a lot of questions about the state of worship, but it also answers a bunch of them, too.