Hymn Sessions 90

Words fail to describe the joy

The Hymn Sessions, Vol. 1
Artist: Jimmy Needham
Label: Platinum Pop
Length: 10 tracks/40:44 minutes

The Hymn Sessions, Vol. 1 by Jimmy Needham reminds me that language often falls short in conveying reality. Think of Scripture’s depiction of heaven. It is a glimpse through a glass darkly. What we see and know is little more than the tip of the iceberg.

How do I describe Needham’s interpretation of “Rock of Ages”? Is it funk? Is it R&B, or some combination of both? Words fail me. It starts with vocal gymnastics that are a prelude to snappy percussion. Bass lines dance around big beats. Whatever it is, my heart is smiling.

As much as I like hymns, some are so familiar as to make them tiresome. Not so here. These adaptations, which vary from straightforward to exotic, have me alternating between jumping for joy and feeling peace like a river.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” is just soulful singing and expert picking on an acoustic guitar for a pristine loveliness. “Holy, Holy, Holy” begins with raw emotion and the sounds of a church organ. It takes on a beautiful delicacy as piano, acoustic guitars and background vocals, courtesy of Shane & Shane, provide restrained accompaniment.

At the other extreme you have songs like “How Great Thou Art.” Rapper Trip Lee riffs on the greatness of God before Needham jumps in with the traditional chorus to the sound of rock chords. It’s a long way from a song for altar calls, but it becomes more relevant to a new generation.

“Come Thou Fount” is jazz complete with horns. This may be too much for purists, but I find it refreshing. It’s hearing the familiar in novel ways.

“Joyful, Joyful” may be Needham at his best. It has a new melody, an added chorus and some brief instrumental interludes, all in an R&B groove. This influence is felt throughout.

The classics are framed by two original songs. After an opening prelude of industrial-sounding Latin chant, “The Gospel” explodes with modern rock. Fittingly, “It Is Finished,” a song about the completeness of Christ’s work brings the recording to a close. It’s a gorgeous conclusion of lofty and delightful sentiments. Words escape me. Descriptions fall short.   

Amazing! On one hand, my mother would appreciate the moments of stark allure. On the other, the wild creativity might lead one to inwardly laugh out loud. As Needham sings, “You make me joyful.” What better way is there to describe it?  

Michael Dalton