Posted October 19, 2015
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Hymns are such a beloved, timeless part of the liturgy and legacy of the past few centuries of church history that recording them in a contemporary setting takes a certain amount of courage and reverence. Few artists are as qualified to take on that challenge as Michael O'Brien. The veteran singer and songwriter has over two decades of experience in crafting faith-based music, most notably as the lead singer of Newsong for 7 years. This experience lends a maturity immediately evident on his latest album, Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs (referencing Paul's exhortation to believers in Ephesians 5:19).
One of the things that allows this album to succeed is that Michael does not set out to reinvent something already treasured and effective for hundreds of years. Classic hymns like "There Is A Fountain" a deep sense of familiarity still intact that evokes both nostalgia and reverence. Even when songs like "Solid Rock" are given different tunes than those they have usually been sung to, the melodies remain close enough to the traditional sound to keep them accessible.
This is not to say that the songs are dull through over-familiarity, however. The musical landscape built feels as timeless as the truths in the hymns. "When this Passing World" has a haunting arrangement that borders on Celtic in its musical tones. "From Depths of Woe" beautifully uses an ethereal choir. Even instrumental offerings like "Solitude" and "Onward" stay engaging while providing space for quiet reflection between each weighty hymn. Michael also chose a new "hymn" to record, offering his take on Matt Maher's "Lord I Need You." The song fits so well with the traditional liturgical tone of the other tracks that it would be easy to assume it has the same kind of history, despite its very recent origins.
Michael also chooses some lesser known pieces, like "Safe In the Arms" (written by prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby), introducing these rich lyrics to a generation who may have never heard them: "Jesus my heart's dear refuge Jesus has died for me / Firm on the Rock of Ages ever my trust shall be. / Here let me wait with patience, wait till the night is over / Wait till I see the morning break on the golden shore." Charles Wesley's "Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose" is renamed "All in All" and performed with a new, energetic chorus. The mention of "psalms" in the album's title becomes literal with "Psalm 13," which sets the Psalm of David to earnest, haunting music.
Michael O'Brien's Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs is reverent and traditional enough to appeal to an audience who may have grown up singing these songs in their youth, while marked by contemporary production conventions and energy that could bridge the gap and introduce these songs to younger generations. As a rare listener who spent my 90s church childhood singing hymns only rather than the contemporary choruses of the time, I found the project to be both a beautiful tribute and a refreshing way to draw these lyrics back to mind. The truths in these psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are just as powerful and timeless as Michael's seasoned voice, making this project perfect if you've yearned for something a little different for your personal moments of reflection, prayer and worship.
Song to Download Now:
"When This Passing World" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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