Provident Label Group
Release Date: March 5th 2013
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Various Artists- Jesus Firm Foundation: Hymns Of Modern Worship (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
Hymns have always been the cornerstone and centrepiece of many modern songs today, and without the hymns, probably the Christian faith as we know it will look completely different. I’m not sure if I can imagine a world without hymns, especially since several artists today have taken some older tunes and completely made it their own, the most famous one being Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”. In light of the importance I place upon the hymns, and how no matter how many times they are redone, and the number of added choruses to a hymn, and how vastly different each melody of a particular hymn by different artists are; in my mind they will always remain timeless. Songs like “Jesus Paid It All”, “Blessed Assurance”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Just As I Am”, “I Surrender All”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, “Come Thou Fount”, “All Creatures of Our God And King”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and many others most likely will be sung for decades and maybe even centuries. For me, I can never get enough of these lyrics that speak to my spirit. For others, they may not be a hymn person, and that’s ok, but I am. When I heard about this project, how several artists were coming together to record Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns Of Modern Worship I became excited and intrigued. Sure they’ve been plenty of hymn albums in the past; the most notable by various artists is WOW Hymns and Love Divine: Charles Wesley Songs For Today’s Generation. However one more can’t hurt, right? And I’m glad I gave this album a go- in my opinion it’s my favourite ‘various artists’ album since Music Inspired By The Story!
Opening the album is the title track “Jesus, Firm Foundation”, sung by Mike Donehey (from Tenth Avenue North), Mark Hall (from Casting Crowns), Mandisa and Steven Curtis Chapman. With lyrics taken and altered from the hymn “How Firm A Foundation”; the lead single is a brilliant opener, as I am immediately swept up in the praise of Jesus by the piano, guitar and poetic imagery and lyrics, in this mid tempo song that is easily remembered and thus can be and probably will be sung in churches everywhere in the future. My favourite part of the song is the chorus, where Mark cries out ‘…how firm our foundation, how sure, our salvation, and we will not be shaken, Jesus, firm foundation…’, and this clever part of the track that was added by songwriter extraordinaire Jason Ingram, sums up the track nicely. Reminding me of the parable of the house on the rock and the house on the sand; Jesus is the Solid Rock that we build our foundation and faith on, the Hope we stand on, and can run to whenever we need. This comfort that we have in the promises of The Almighty should bring us peace, and listening to this 4 minute gem of a tune, I can tell it is going to be big in the future, and many lives will be changed! It also helps that all four vocalists harmonise will together. With Mandisa singing backing vocals and Steven and Mike trading voices in the bridge and the verses, and Mark completely blowing me away with his ownership of the powerful and chilling chorus; “Jesus Firm Foundation” is rooted deep in the truths of Jesus Christ, and is a sublime was to start proceedings.
From Nichole Nordeman and Building 429, to Newsboys and Brandon Heath, there is plenty of gold and treasures within these newly recorded and recreated timeless hymns and classic songs. With the whole album in the calibre of Music Inspired By The Story and with each hymn given a modern twist and a newly penned chorus attached to the ageless verses (or in some cases the refrains of the hymn are the chorus!); Jesus Firm Foundation never fails to impress. Apart from the title track, there are a many favourites of mine that stand out. And despite there being only 12 tracks, as opposed to much more on other hymns projects, I still find myself inexplicably drawn to these particular arrangements.
Nichole Nordeman, songwriter of the 2011 Story CD, has always been one of my favourite singers, and it was unexpected when she decided to take a break from music after her 2005 album Brave. But Nichole hasn’t completely stepped away from the spotlight- and besides writing a book in 2012, she returns with her rendition of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (also recorded by the Newsboys in 1992), in which the actual hymn is the chorus, and Nichole passionately sings out the verses, which in my opinion are the best parts of one of my favourite hymns. As I am drawn into this worship ballad by the eerie and mysterious keys and a slow tempo placing emphasis on the stirring vocals of Nichole as she sings ‘…oh heavy heart, oh heavy load, lay it down and let it go, leave your broken yesterdays in the open arms of grace…’, I am amazed by the fact that Nichole hasn’t lost one iota of songwriting ability- she is in the league of Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray and Bebo Norman! A potential single of the album, Nichole reminds us all why she must record a comeback album very soon; and skilfully steps out of her comfort zone, changing up the music, and pace of the song, and employing various electronic effects to create a dance anthem. The bridge of ‘…look up, this is a song about the morning after the long night…this is a song about believing, it’s gonna be alright…’ is also very poignant and moving, and together with Nichole’s flawless voice, and awesome piano playing skills, provides a worthy follow up to the title track.
Throughout the track list, one can see that the 12 songs contain some of the most recognised hymns ever, and the songs are further enhanced with quality arrangements. Matthew West’s “Blessed Assurance” is pretty awesome, and hits all the right notes. Currently, on the back of his successful album Into The Light, Matthew is having a golden year, and deserves to be Male Vocalist of the Year at the Dove Awards this year. Singing about how ‘…this is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour, all the day long…’, we are invited into communion with God through the drums, keys, and guitar, and a full band sound that swells into an epic crescendo, to praise God’s name and shout His goodness. The added bridge of ‘…my King is coming soon, He will roll the clouds away, Light of Heaven bursting through, oh what a glorious day…’ is also very well written by Matthew, and gels nicely with the hymn. These songs are meant for vertical worship, and are more praise than pop/rock. This can be no further highlighted than in Building 429’s effort “My Jesus I Love Thee”, a hymn that I am not that familiar with, from a band that sings more rock than pop. Yet the hymns are a universal language, and as lead singer Jason Roy softly sings out ‘…worthy, worthy, worthy is the lamb, the lamb that was slain, holy, holy, Jesus I will sing, sing of Your holy name…’ these simple words in the chorus, that was written by Jason Roy and Jason Ingram, sum up the record nicely, which is a record about praising God for all He has done for us.
Normally you wouldn’t see an album with Building 429 and Nichole Nordeman on the same track list, yet these hymns can strike a chord with anyone, so in that way the artists featured here can be from different genres. Hillsong features “Cornerstone (The Solid Rock)”, sung by Dave Ware, and the band have breathed new life into one of my favourite age old hymns and created a spark that is welcomed. With a new chorus claiming Jesus is the cornerstone; the anthemic big stadium feel and rich lyrical content ‘…Christ the Lord, cornerstone, weak made strong, in Saviour’s love, through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all…’, have made the song one of my favourites ever from this Aussie band. One of my other favourite hymns is “It Is Well” and Brandon Heath covers the song to perfection. With the lyrics fitting his vocals nicely, Brandon sticks with his Blue Mountain-esque vocals and vibe as he produces and performs a quality version that is sure to rival Kutless’ 2009 version. While that one was a hymn written for a rock twist and something made for dancing in the mosh pit with your hands raise high; Brandon’s version is more of a quiet reflective piece, with his added chorus of ‘…it is well, with my soul, here’s my heart, make it whole, for You I live, in You I dwell, oh my Soul…’ giving me goosebumps, it’s so good!
Andy Cherry and Matt Maher also have their mid-tempo danceable guitar led ballad inclusions of “Nothing But The Blood” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” respectively and both are cleverly and professionally recorded. Their added chorus of ‘…oh the blood of Jesus, it’s enough for me…’ (“Nothing But The Blood”) and ‘…from the cradle to the cross, God with us, God with us…You gave up Your only son…so that all the world would know our God with us…’ (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) are quite profound. Matt’s version of “Holy, Holy, Holy” is just as enjoyable as Steven Curtis Chapman’s who recorded it in 2007, and Matt’s heart for Jesus matches the intensity of the song, making me excited for the forthcoming album All The People Say Amen! And Andy’s unique vocals remind me of Aaron Morgan of Seabird and Dalton Diehl of Samestate, with hints of Bear Rinehart of Needtobreathe- quite a remarkable and nice combination; working well with the country infused flavour of the track that is laden with electric guitars. Another favourite of mine is Kari Jobe’s “Be Still My Soul”, for which the music reflects the lyrics, as it is a soothing quiet piano piece. As Kari proclaims that ‘…in You I rest, in You I find my hope, in You I trust, You never let me go, I place my life in Your hands oh Lord…’, we are met with a prayer of hope and adoration, and of utter devotion as Kari gives her all to Jesus. Even though the instruments are not as profound, this ploy works as it highlights Kari’s beautiful vocals that are deserving of a Dove Award in the future.
And who could forget Smitty? The CCM legend who has been in the business for decades returns with an electronic dance anthem worthy of inclusion, as he completely does a makeover of “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name”, complete with a choir and synth and strings, transforming the quiet hymn to an epic orchestral piece that I am very proud of. Michael W. Smith may not have recorded any new studio albums since Wonder but even in this standout track, it’s clear that he’s still got some stuff left to say- I imagine he’ll still be recording in 10 years time; just look at the added lyrics of the song ‘…shout in universal song, and crown Him Lord of all, join the anthem that’s been sung, and sound Him Lord of all…’, and imagine these words sung to something from one of those Disney Pixar movie scores. Brilliant, right?
While Casting Crowns (“I Surrender All”) and Newsboys (“Jesus Paid It All”) both round out the track list, their efforts, while good; are not spectacular, and pale in comparison to the epic-ness that is around them. Not to disregard the heart and intent of both bands, but something was indeed lacking in these tracks. They both just seemed so…standard; and these bands were not taking enough risks. Casting Crowns’ changed the tune of “I Surrender All” to make it completely unrecognisable, and Newsboys included Kristian Stanfill’s famous tag of ‘…oh praise the One who paid my debt and raise His life back form the dead…’ but were not that adventurous.
Nevertheless; Jesus Firm Foundation is still a pretty awesome musical and lyrical journey, and a great way to revisit some of my favourite hymns. A shoe in for a Dove nomination for Special Event Album of the Year this year; this album has shown me a few things. One- that Nichole Nordeman is not that far away from a comeback album (check out her website, which is still be redeveloped, as to what reason, no one knows…). Two- that Michael W. Smith has plenty of years left in Him, and that an album is sure to come in 2013. Three- that Matthew West, Tenth Avenue North, Building 429, Kari Jobe, and Brandon Heath are quickly becoming my favourite artists at the moment, due to their powerful voices and honest lyrics. And Four- that despite the step up for Come to The Well; Casting Crowns always seems to be a bit more hit and miss compared with other more reliable artists. And most of all, after discovering each one of these truths, I came with this conclusions- that hymns do have their place in society, and everyone should buy Jesus Firm Foundation- it’s a very good album deserving of replay value and many accolades! Well done Provident Label Group, you’ve released a gem of an album!
- Jesus, Firm Foundation [Mike Donehey, Steven Curtis Chapman, Mark Hall & Mandisa]
- Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Look Up) [Nichole Nordeman]
- All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name (Crown Him) [Michael W Smith]
- I Surrender All (All To Jesus) [Casting Crowns]
- Holy, Holy, Holy (God With Us) [Matt Maher]
- Be Still, My Soul (In You I Rest) [Kari Jobe]
- My Jesus I Love Thee (Your Holy Name) [Building 429]
- Jesus Paid It All [Newsboys]
- Blessed Assurance (My King Is Coming) [Matthew West]
- Nothing But The Blood [Andy Cherry]
- Cornerstone [Hillsong LIVE]
- It Is Well (Oh My Soul) [Brandon Heath]
Favourite Tracks: Jesus Firm Foundation, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Look Up), All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name (Crown Him), My Jesus I Love Thee (Your Holy Name), Blessed Assurance (My King Is Coming), It Is Well (Oh My Soul)