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Come O Spirit! – Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs Vol. I
Artist: Bifrost Arts
Label: Great Comfort Records
Time: 13 tracks / 38 minutes
This is as far from CCM as it gets.
The first release from Great Comfort Records is aptly described by the album’s sub-title: it’s an ‘anthology of hymns and spiritual songs.’ There are no hooks to speak of (unless you’re referring to the spiritual sort) – no synth-bass, programmed drums, or synth-strings. Here are thirteen songs sung and played much the same way they might’ve been a hundred years ago. Or maybe three hundred …or four. Here we have the fragile sound of people who haven’t quite figured out all of the theology but are satisfied to sing about the mystery.
When you see the faux-vintage
cover art of Come O Spirit, and hold it in your hand, you almost
expect a little vinyl LP to fall out. In fact, the CD does recall
the golden age of LP labels, with a simple design of muted pastel vertical
bars under a flat-side-down gray half-moon, the simple, all-caps title
proclaiming “Come O Spirit!” in a very ‘fifties’ font. The music on the
disc harkens back even earlier, to a time when the oldest hymns remembered
might’ve been reverently laid down in recording studios with the provision
that the music wouldn’t be exploited but used for the glory of God.
Perhaps in a profoundly wise move, the first track, “I Sought The Lord,” features Sixpence None The Richer’s Leigh Nash on vocals – a sound frail and pensive enough to fit well on this collection but familiar enough to the modern listener to compel further exploration. To say that Nash’s vocal is one of the most dynamic on the project gives you an idea of what to expect – no grandiose Sandy Pattys here. This is an album about frail, unsure, awe-struck humanity trying to articulate some form of expression to the God that is their only hope.
There’s beauty and weakness in these songs, like a child’s attempts to make something beautiful for his or her daddy. The purity of the musical setting often shines through the occasionally frustrating vocals (there’s a fine line between sounding vulnerable and just not sounding very good, and occasionally that line is blurred on the recording) – a kind of O Brother, Where Art Thou vibe often emerges from these songs, which seem to have so much Americana about them (“Hard Times”). Guitars, banjos, flutes, organ and fiddles create a sonic backdrop that willingly takes a back seat to the simple, haunting vocal harmonies of songs like the slow, melodic “It is Finished,” only to re-emerge center-stage on more complex pieces like the stunning “How Calm and Beautiful the Morn” and “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.”
Bifrost Arts, the latest incarnation of the Danielson Empire, is a loosely-bound fellowship of musicians, and includes such artists as Dave Bazan, Damien Jurado, Rosie Thomas, Shara Warden (of My Brightest Diamond), J.Tillman (of Fleet Foxes), Laura Gibson, Denison Witmer, The Welcome Wagon (featuring Sufjan Stevens), as well as Leigh Nash (of Sixpence None the Richer) and others.
Come O Spirit! offers
long-forgotten melodies and liturgical music for the modern worshiper needing
something less-glossy and more human than what the major-label ‘Praise
and Worship’ machine has been churning out for wide commercial consumption.
Is it for everyone? No, I’m sure that there are many who just won’t be
able to get into this project. It’s for the curious, the open-minded, those
with a broad tolerance for musical forms they’re not used to, and those
with musical curiosity. In a world full of noise, Come O Spirit!
invites you to step back and reflect. An interesting and uplifting change
of pace that you just might enjoy.