TUESDAY REVIEW – LEIGH NASH (HYMNS AND SACRED SONGS)

Leigh Nash – Hymns and Scared Songs
Long regarded as one of Christian music’s most recognizable voices, Leigh Nash is back with a brand new “worship” record. And since I love worship, I figured I’d review for possible use at my church.

Before we get to the song rundown, let me say (again) that the recent hymn resurgence has breathed life into the overall world of CCM/worship releases. Regardless of arrangements or traditional consistency, the rise in popularity of hymns seems to have reminded musicians of the value of poetry, worldview and the whole of the Gospel message in our songs.

SAVIOR, LIKE A SHEPHERD LEAD US
I nearly chucked the whole album when I heard the first song. If you follow the toddblog on twitter (and why shouldn’t you?) you’ll know that I’m perplexed why so many hymn records also have to be folk records. The bluesy kick drum/banjo intro is compelling, but as a guy who’s already tired of hearing banjo on every song written before 1950, I didn’t dig it. It’s a good tune that suffers from too big a shift between the intro and the rest of the song. Melodically, the rest of it just doesn’t seem to work with the dark, Appalachian-esque opening riff. Lyrically, it’s a strong song of dependence and responding as those the Lord owns.

COME THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING
For our church, I tend to prefer that familiar hymns retain as much of their original sensibility as possible. For the most part, beloved hymns have melodies that don’t need a lot of tweaking. For unknown or extremely old hymns, new melodies seem much easier to integrate. I’d pass on this one because my congregation would just rather sing the original melody. And so would I!

For what’s it’s worth, the melody herein is a good one. It definitely plays to an indie-folk female style. There’s a nice chime part and the overall vibe is laid back. I dig the variety of verses. There’s been a bit of modernizing in the lyrical direction and verses have been switched around a bit.

ISAIAH 55
I readily admit that I’m a sucker for worship songs written out of Isaiah. We don’t have enough tunes from this amazing book! This big drum rocker has a simple arrangement and a contagious groove. There’s also what sounds like synth bass, which works here. There are a few vocal jumps and some phrasing in the chorus that might be hard for a congregation to follow. I’d probably teach the chorus a couple of times, maybe stripped down and linked with another song to build some familiarity. This one is a keeper, though. I’d use it at my church, no doubt.

OH HEART BEREAVED AND LONELY
Opening with echoing drums and metallic guitar part, this hymn definitely showcases Leigh’s incredible dynamic range. The song flips back and forth from bluesy, minor-key vibe to sunny, simplistic melody, which makes for a cool listening experience. This is a hard song to sing. I probably wouldn’t use it congregationally, but its amazing encouragement and solid theology of suffering would definitely make it a great performance piece.

POWER OF THE CROSS
If you’ve got a team that can work some subtle jazz flavor into songs, this a good song. This favorite features some somewhat jazzy piano and guitar work. There’s no big riffing here, just a very basic band setup (4 or 5 piece “sound”) expertly playing in and out of sections.

GIVE MYSELF TO YOU
Little pop ditty with some new wave touches. Time to break out the cheap Casio keyboard for the drum loop! Of all the tunes on the record, this one feels the most “Sixpence.” I like the song, but it feels more like a radio tune than a song for corporate singing. I’m also less interested in this one because it seems to be saying what a lot of other songs are already saying. With a new record, I’m looking for stuff that’s fresh and formative for my people. And I hate to pass on this one because it’s got a great slide guitar part and you know how much I love slide!

COME YE THANKFUL PEOPLE COME
Probably the most “hymn-sounding” of the record. I’m not nuts about the arrangement, which seems to feature a driving drum march that’s been programmed digitally. Coupled with the fingerpicked guitar and electric piano, it makes for a weird mix. It’s an enjoyable listen, but again, the phrasing is hard to follow. I’d probably pass on this one for singability.

BLESSED REDEEMER
Nice, simple arrangement, very singable melody. Lyrically, it’s definitely an ‘adoration’ piece, but has a performance feel that I can’t quite figure out. I can’t put my finger on what makes this seem more suitable to a featured solo than congregational singing. Maybe it’s Nash’s upper vocal register? There’s a lot nice hymn-like melodic turns here. Most any church team could knock this one out of the park.

OUT OF MY BONDAGE
There have been a few “out of my bondage” remakes in the hymn resurgence lately. Whereas most every version of this type of hymn opts for the minor key approach, Leigh’s version is a noticeable positive-sounding song. Don’t know that this one is suitable for my congregation. There’s some weird warbles and synth things that are a bit distracting as well as a whispery crowd vocal section on the back half that would be a terrible idea to try at my church. I don’t think any of these are deal breakers, but the song wanders too much for me.

SONG OF MOSES
I’ll readily admit my basis here – I’m a fan of the guy who wrote this song, so I’m naturally inclined to dig it. All the hymn qualities there – the unique rhythmic layout, long verses with a simple refrain throughout. It’s an excellent depiction of the worship that Moses gave to God and it’s the most simple, singable melody of the project. It’s also probably the calmest song, relying on the strength of its prose more than stacking production values on top of each other to create some sense of anthem. I’d add this one to the song catalog our church for sure.

PRAISE THE LORD WHO REIGNS ABOVE
More of the sweeping, waltzy vibe here. Overall, the song isn’t saying a lot, but what it does say is beautiful. The chorus is built around the phrase “praise the name of Christ” which a wonderful image and the type of line that a lot of churches aren’t singing. This one sounds the most palatable for the church-at-large. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the “church hit.”

BE STILL MY SOUL
Nice closer that starts mellow but carries a lot of power. I think Nash’s vocals are at their clearest and strongest here. There’s nice musicianship, especially the tremolo electric guitar on the back half of the tune. Beautiful song, but for some reason still carries that “performance” feel to me. I’d do this one for sure, but probably as a synthesis piece. I just don’t see this one working for my group singing.
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Have you heard this record? Like it? Hate it? Share your opinion!

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