Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Inheritance - Audrey Assad


Audrey Assad, one of the foremost Catholic artists in our day, infuses ancient texts with a simplicity and wonder that makes them sound timeless.

Inheritance
Artist: Audrey Assad (www.audreyassad.com)
Label: Fortunate Fall Records
Length: 11 songs/42 minutes

On Inheritance, Audrey Assad, one of the foremost Catholic artists in our day, infuses ancient texts with a simplicity and wonder that makes them sound timeless. Initially, as I thought how to describe it, words failed me. This production is an amalgamation of styles that varies from track to track.

The percussion and layered keyboards bear some resemblance to Celtic music, though you won’t find any flutes, pennywhistles or pipes. Piano, violin, cello and programming combine at times to create something ethereal.

The promotion for the release uses the word “cinematic.” Not a bad description for music that could serve as a soundtrack for something epic. At other moments, it’s little more than a fragile yet confident voice singing over piano and woodwinds.

One of the surprises is “Even unto Death,” which I mistook for an ancient song that I had never heard. Assad wrote this stirring, challenging ode to modern-day martyrs, especially those in the Middle East, with fellow Catholic Matt Maher, who sings on it.

Assad’s connection to the Middle East is more than a song. She is the daughter of a Syrian refuge.

“New Every Morning” is another outstanding composition by Assad and Maher. The rest are classics, with the exception of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which is a more recent composition.

“New Every Morning” is a little like the beauty of the first day enshrined in song. Like the Spirit hovering over the face of the deep, Assad’s voice gently floats over piano notes as she sings first of Creation, then Adam and Eve’s transgression, and lastly the Word made flesh, which makes the promise of new mercies every morning secure. This is a gorgeous track that grows in intensity.

One of the most remarkable transformations is “Oh, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” If the traditional melody has a sense of foreboding, coupling this with the music associated with “Morning Has Broken” is like lifting this from the chill of winter into the warmth of spring. It gives it a different feel. Fernando Ortega, one of my favorites, duets on it. His involvement is such an appropriate choice, given the sound of his voice and his history with hymns.

Another transformation takes place on “How Can I Keep from Singing.” It uses roots rock elements, layered keyboards and shimmering guitar to convey peace. Remakes don’t get much better.

Even in the more sparse moments like “It is Well with My Soul” and “Abide with Me” there is fullness. The former includes a small congregation of voices echoing the famous chorus. The winsomeness heard in both is due in large part to Assad’s singing. She effortlessly slips in and out of falsetto. I’m not that familiar with the rest of her work, but I can’t imagine her vocals being any more beautiful than what you find here. She could have sung each track with just piano accompaniment, and I would be applauding, but the various textures add richness. This is how to do hymns.

I’ve been collecting recordings like this for years, and this is without a doubt, one of the better ones. It has a transcendent quality; it’s worshipful and artistic; spiritual but earthy. I would welcome more along this line, but I’m interested in whatever she might do in the future. This is an artist to follow even as she continues to follow Christ.  
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