Monday, April 2, 2007

Music Inspired by Amazing Grace

I wonder why so many "inspired by" recordings are not produced in response to the material that supposedly serves as the basis for their inspiration. In the case of movies, why not let the artists view the film prior to its release, and let them craft songs built around scenes, themes or the ideas presented. There may be some reason why this isn’t done—it may be hard to write enough original songs, or maybe it’s difficult to let the artists see a film prior to its release. If the problem is the latter, why couldn’t those contributing songs be given something in written form? It may not be as inspiring, but it at least provides a starting point for creating a song.

This is not to knock Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Amazing Grace. It’s a fine collection of hymns by a variety of talented artists. It seems a shame though that only the song "Amazing Grace" performed by Chris Tomlin has any direct connection with the movie. John Newton, the author of the hymn, had a relationship with the key figure in the film, William Wilberforce.

Tomlin does what many of the artists do with these hymns, and a little more. In addition to a different arrangement, he takes the risk of adding some new verses to a classic song, and pulls it off admirably. Nichole Nordeman does the same with equally impressive results on "Just As I Am." Tomlin’s subdued playing and instrumentation reinvents and adds a touch of grace to one of the most popular songs of all time.

Jeremy Camp’s strong masculine voice is the perfect complement for music that thunders around the verses of "It Is Well." It’s a strong performance augmented by the background vocals of his wife Adie.

This is one of several remarkable duets, the next featuring Shawn McDonald & Bethany Dillon on "All Creatures of Our God & King." It starts off with an ethereal vibe but the vocals get a little cluttered with the programming that ends the song. Another song that suffers from programming is "Fairest Lord Jesus" by Natalie Grant.

It’s a challenge for artists to take such familiar songs and make them sound fresh. For the most part, these interpretations succeed in making these hymns sound new. The best results here are the songs that are acoustic and less complicated like the title song.

Another brilliant example is "Rock of Ages" by David Crowder & Marty Stuart. It begins and ends with a delightful acoustic instrumental that sounds like some wonderful Christmas recording. David Crowder continues to record impressive music.

The medley "My Jesus I Love Thee / ‘Tis So Sweet" by Bart Millard (of Mercy Me) starts and ends with the sounds of an accordion. The music is a relaxed blend of contemporary and pop sounds. Though the title of the song does not show this as a duet, the voice of Derek Webb is unmistakable. He is a great addition to one of the best songs on the recording.

A light country version of "How Great Thou Art" by Martina McBride is also excellent and closes the recording.

Two black gospel songs are included, but with orchestration and more production, they don’t fit as well with the many songs that lean toward acoustic pop or rock. They are well done and they do add variety, but like the songs that make use of programming, they feel a little out of place.

This is a strong collection of hymns done in a contemporary style. It won’t appeal as much to those who favor more traditional renderings.
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