I am a few days late to the party with regard to this CD, but does that really matter when I am writing this as much to improve my writing than writing an actual review? Shorter post than my previous efforts!
In an age where it seems album artwork is seldom thought about, New Scottish Hymns sought hard to reinforce the album’s message through the album design. A three-page gatefold, black but overlaid with a faded grayscale mosaic of photographs of church members of the band. On the left, the lyric book; on the right, sheet music for the title track; in the middle, the CD, titled orange on black, drawing attention to those words: we shall all be changed. If we place our trust in Jesus, all of our blackened hearts will be changed, cleansed, made new – and we all will be able to live the life God wants us to live.
This is the story-arc of this album. Track 1, Wake Up My Soul (Palm 103) is a reminder of how sluggish we are to return to the cross, but how great God is that he shows justice, mercy and love. Gentle Eiunaudi-esque pianos open this number, and prepares the heart to be able to sing with God’s gentleness “wake up my soul, and bless your God.”
The title track is catchy, and I have found myself singing it having only listened a couple of times. It is a great encouragement, which is why I was signing at work “there will come a day when all my labour is complete / and it shall not be in vain, no it shall not be in vain.”
Indeed most of the album has tunes which are easy to sing along to. As their aim is to write hymns for the church, this makes sense. And it works for personal worship, too. Of the Father’s Love Begotten contains no unnecessary warbling. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that extended warbles are often an expression of a singer’s passion, but I personally find it unhelpful in worship. I have searched high and low for recordings of hymns that are ‘untampered’, sung ‘straight’, with no added jazziness, and they are rare! New Scottish Hymns’ version of Begotten meets this criteria, and that allows me to sing along and worship God, as it draws attention not to the singer but to the words and therefore to the God I am worshipping.
The brass instruments in Union with Christ are a little cheesy. It does sound as if the Gettys wrote a song with Songs of Praise. Time will tell whether this track will date. But the brass does at least fit: it is an upbeat celebratory track about how if we have put our faith in Jesus, we are now Christ’s, one with God – and that’s a truth which will never date.
The album is theologically sound, other than a couple of minor points. There is a reference to Heaven being ‘in the sky’, while O Saviour of Sinners gives rise to an interesting, but ultimately minor, question about God’s order of operations: “You died in our place / and offered us grace” in the lyric book; but sung as “you died in our place / then offered us grace.”
Overall, this is a much more polished, full album than their first. The music fits with the songs – Advent Song uses a minor key and driving drums to reinforce to us the seriousness of our sin. The story-arc is completed with Begotten. And having been woken up to things of God, the seriousness of our sin, the greatness of God’s love and forgiveness through the album, we are now able to sing: “Honour, glory, and dominion / and eternal victory! / evermore and evermore / evermore and evermore.”
Even if we don’t use the songs in a church context, the lyrics and musicianship will help, in their words, “remind new generations that these ancient words of scripture remain profoundly relevant.” It is an album that deserves to be in your collection, because it will help you focus on God, and that will change you.
Coming soon: a review of Philippa Hanna’s new album.