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Stephen Miller, Hymns - Review

Stephen Miller, Hymns - Review

By Ed Rotheram on November 15, 2012

I love Hymnals. There are songs on this new release by Stephen Miller that have been sung for over 300 years, and yet in this album, with songs you’ve been singing for years, you can still experience joy, wonder, and excitement.

There are 2 things that leap to mind when I think of centuries-old hymns: the first being interesting and unusual time signatures; the second being fast-moving chord sequences and intricate bass lines. The real danger you find in many hymnal albums is the temptation to over-simplify, and therefore not give enough respect to the original - yet this is by no means the case with this album.

The opener “Praise to the Lord” is one that definitely encompasses both of these aspects - a predominantly 6/4 time signature and a formidable bass line are dealt with superbly. This is a real feature of this album as a whole - the rhythm section are really tight, whatever time signature is thrown at them. This continues in the version of “How Great Thou Art” - a very familiar chorus is given a new lease of life here.

An incredible contrast occurs in the next 2 tracks - you have a really skippy, light, airy version of “Holy Holy Holy”, followed by a wonderfully atmospheric take on “Kyrie Eleison” - just a deep-toned acoustic guitar and ethereal, reverberant vocals on this one. The deep tones of the acoustic continue into “I Surrender All” - one of my most-loved hymns gets the ethereal treatment again, and comes out with a beautiful sound. 

Our first foray into the modern hymn writers comes in track 6, with Stuart Townend’s “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”. Again, the mix of textures and layers in the arrangement is inspired - another plus point for the album as a whole, this is exceptionally well produced. This is, without a doubt, my standout track on the album.

The Stuart Townend theme is continued with Stephen’s take on “In Christ Alone”. Lyrically, this has to be one of the greatest songs of the modern age - and it is again backed up by an off-beat time signature that Stephen and the guys do a really good job of keeping tight and easy on the ear.

This is a 4 1/2 star album for me, I’d love to hear an extended version of it. For all you fellow hymn lovers out there - this is a must.

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