Classic texts and new songs explore being in Christ.

Simple Hymns: Songs of Communion
Artist: Various
Length: 10 songs/45 minutes
Label: Venture3Media

Don’t imagine songs about receiving communion from the title of this release. Songs of Communion is about partaking of the union that comes through the cross of Christ. Classic texts and new songs explore being in Christ.

As with the prior releases in this series, this being the fourth, there is minimal accompaniment, and some of the finest writers in Christendom add creative arrangements, alterations and new compositions. The writers include Chris Tomlin, John Hartley, Chris Eaton, Stuart Townend and others.

This opens with “The Wonderful Cross,” a majestic anthem in the world of hymnody, written by Isaac Watts. The powerful verses that make the cross loom large are borne along by simple guitar strumming. Brushed drums are employed here, and percussion is light throughout if used at all.

Some time ago a fragment from “And Can It Be” made it’s way into a modern worship song, which in no way could carry the gravity of the full text. This one doesn’t get covered as often, and fortunately it’s not an abbreviation here. That’s not to say that incorporating elements of hymns is bad when it can add something worthwhile.

I first encountered this Charles Wesley hymn during a sojourn in England, and they knew how to sing it! It originated from their part of the world where it is still sung with gusto. It was unforgettable the way male and female voices were intermingled and then joined in a chapel meeting. Here, where simplicity reigns, it has a new melody, which is probably wise given that the original is not as accessible today. This is bright and cheerful, and even though what I heard at Birmingham Bible Institute was more dynamic, I’m glad to be able to experience the text anew.

“Man of Sorrows” is like a throwback to an earlier time even though it has a contemporary feel. It’s slow, deliberate and quiet with piano backing, which makes it somewhat meditative. This is sung by American Idol alumni, Joanna Beasley. Her vocals are terrific and she also gives a different but lovely feel to “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.”

“Be Still My Soul” has always been a personal favorite for its lyrical richness. There is wisdom in every line. This version has an interesting contrast. Under-girding the melody is an otherworldly sound, almost like steady, low-sounding feedback. The foreground includes high notes that sound like a toy piano; whatever the instrument it’s an interesting mix. It’s anchored by finger-picking on an acoustic guitar.

For the most part “Nothing But the Blood” is not the traditional hymn. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood, nothing but the blood. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood” becomes the chorus, the stanzas being new.

This track has a strong roots music feel that features David Fitzgerald, a founding member of Iona, the prog rock band. He is also credited as one of the writers. The style is punchy. Fitzgerald sings with a grit that reminds me of Matt Maher.

Another adaptation is Reginald Heber’s “Bread of the World, In Mercy Broken,” which is titled “Broken for Us.” The added bridge breaks in boldly declaring: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” It’s repeated a few times and with some variation. I like this succinct summary.

“The Wonder of the Cross,” the only duet, sung by Gabe Wilson and Amy Little, is a tender rendering of a song written by former UK worship leader, Vicky Beeching. The latter came out as gay in a 2014 interview and a book about her experiences came out in 2018. This modern hymn expresses holy desire: “May I never lose the wonder, the wonder of the cross. May I see it like the first time standing as a sinner lost.”

“O Fount of Love,” a new song, has a hymn-like structure and becomes especially noteworthy for its catchy string arrangement that drives the rhythm. Whenever employed the string arrangements on this release are excellent.

Christian singer and author, Kelly Minter, closes with another new song, an understated piano ballad, which brings this to a worshipful end.

Michael Dalton