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Steven Armstrong, "Hymnal, Vol. 1; Revised Edition” - Review

Steven Armstrong, "Hymnal, Vol. 1; Revised Edition” - Review

By Joel Paul on January 09, 2013

Steven Armstrong’s CD titled Hymnal, Vol. 1; Revised Edition is elegant and classy. Mr. Armstrong’s compositions of historic hymns of the faith are done with honesty, honor, and integrity. He stays true to the melodies many believers will, or at least should, be familiar with. While there are textures added to the pieces, they do not diminish or distract from the authenticity of the hymn’s original structure.

Mr. Armstrong’s ability on the piano is characterized by a great deal of finesse. He’s not just hammering the keys, nor is he traipsing without purpose over every key on the piano.  Mr. Armstrong leaves no doubt he has allowed God to develop fantastic skills on the keys. During “Great is Thy Faithfulness” Mr. Armstrong makes me believe there is a second person with a second piano. His range spans simple, single note melodies to massive rolling and tinkling scale structures backed by major chords mixed with a little jazz and some soul.

These arrangements may not make the regular rotation of your local churches praise team; however, they are nonetheless deserving of your listening time. Initially, I found myself skeptical of the effectiveness of these old hymns played on piano without vocal.  It is the lyrical content of old hymns that is rich, robust, and instructive. After giving this CD two or three listens, it hit me how effective the music is without vocals. The lack of a vocal track forced me to reacquaint myself with the lyrics by finding the lyrics and reading them as Mr. Armstrong played.  

The highlight track for me is “Blessed Assurance”.  The piece starts out very soft and simple. Mr. Armstrong sprinkles some jazz notes and chords throughout the verse and chorus which is tastefully done and adds a rich melodic texture.  He ascends to the heights of proclaiming God’s blessed assurance in the middle and eases the piece down to a single note ending which lead me personally into prayer.

“Blessed Assurance” is one of my favorite hymns, and Mr. Armstrong’s piece took me back to the many times I would hold each of my children when they were infants and toddlers and sing them this hymn. I was reminded this was my go to hymn on those nights they struggled to go to sleep. This hymn put my children to sleep on several nights. If you are not familiar with the lyricist, Fanny J. Crosby, you should immediately read a biography of her. Blind from her youth, she had memorized the entire New Testament by age fifteen, and until her elder years spent several hours each night into the early mornings writing songs.  

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is a superb ending to this collection. It is jazzy and bluesy with a little old time swing to boot. It is so nicely done, that I found the one criticism I have of this collection. Frankly, Mr. Armstrong cut this track short by about four and a half minutes. I expected more. I wanted more of this track. So much more I had it in my audio player on a loop for probably thirty minutes.

As I listened to the nine tracks on this CD, I found myself in a calm and reflective state.  I found this collection of classic hymns played on a grand piano conducive for opening up my Bible and meditating upon the enormous God we serve, and the many blessings he has bestowed upon me this year.

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Joel Paul

Joel Paul

Joel grew up in Kansas City and began playing music at an early age. While his first musical lessons were for the accordion, he found his passion with guitar, mixed in a few years of flute, and has picked up bass the last three years. A husband for twenty years, and the father of two teenagers he plays bass and guitar as part of a praise team at a local congregation in the midtown corridor of Kansas City.