(Review of ‘New Again’ – Word Alive 2016 album)
Since its inception in 1993, Word Alive as a conference has served the church in the UK through the faithful teaching of God’s Word. Amidst a wonderful all age teaching programme, singing God’s praises has been a highlight for many who attend.
Over the last few years Word Alive has released an album after each conference that captures the singing; which is no small feat given the fact the conference marquees are often battling to stay upright in the howling winds of North Wales!
So what do you get in a Word Alive album?
The most encouraging thing about every Word Alive album is the live sound of hundreds of people singing God’s praises. It is the USP of any conference album and this is no exception.
What to expect in the 2016 album ‘New Again’…
Firstly be prepared for some serious bass. I bought a car a few years ago and without knowing it, I managed to buy one with a rather nice music system – it came with a sub-woofer speaker (for lots of bass)! My boys rather enjoy this superfluous feature of our car, but I hadn’t fully appreciated it until I decided to listen to this album. One Saturday morning when driving to a football match, my youngest and I were listening to ‘New Again’ and I think everyone around us must have thought we were listening to some hardcore drum & bass. I say that to warn anyone with substandard headphones or speakers! But positively, it a really lovely rich mix.
Secondly be prepared for quite a bit of speaking/shouting/encouragement from the music leaders. I don’t say this as a criticism; but it is noticeably on the rise in live recordings and it does expose that contemporary inability to allow the words that have been written (here in the songs) to stand alone, doubting that their quality will suffice without further comment.
Thirdly be prepared to be very encouraged indeed as you hear a large congregation sing God’s praises. This is clearest in the more hymnic tracks: ‘Crown Him with many crowns’, ‘Before the throne of God above’, ‘It is well with my soul’ – it is wonderful to hear such clear, passionate singing in these classics of English hymnody.
Fourthly note, during the array of ‘new songs’ that were taught at the conference, note how the congregation at times seem more muted with the exception of two songs; two lesser known ‘hymns’, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood’ and the new hymn ‘He will hold me fast’ are incredibly well sung. (I know that for some ‘There is a fountain’ is a classic of evangelicalism, but it is not often sung these days in most churches – therefore it is ‘new’). My point is this; these two new hymns are very easy to pick up and therefore are sung very well, encouraging those present. Even the most tone deaf and musically inept, will find the predicable eight line hymn structure and melody form, etched in their brains by verse 2 – but there lies the challenge for the modern song writer. The strength of hymnic simplicity will hardly be a platform to show your musical wares – simple melodies don’t gain followers on social media! But we need more self-deprecating musical simplicity, so thank you to Matt Merker for his new arrangement of ‘He will hold me fast’, a true highlight on this album.
Fifthly note the inclusion of the William Cowper classic ‘There is a fountain filled with blood’.
‘There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains…
I was pleased to see its inclusion on the album, as it is a personal favourite. The imagery is stark, yet so beautiful; because it drives the beautiful doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement deep into our hearts.
But why have so many churches dropped this? Why are not more churches singing it again? I know a few churches have considered rekindling this ‘Olney Hymnal’ beauty, but often it doesn’t make it to the final playlist on a Sunday morning because the language is deemed too graphic for the contemporary ear. Why is that?
I wonder if our ecclesiology is so skewed to welcoming the outsider or unbeliever that we feel that we need to dilute the graphic nature of the gospel; poetically and beautifully depicted in hymns such as this, that so helpfully remind the believer that they are saved by the grace of God alone, through the sacrifice of Christ. After all, don’t we need a blood sacrifice to cleanse us?
Now you may just not like ‘There is a fountain’ – that is ok! But we must be careful not to avoid such wonderful reminders of the stark realities of our own sin and the necessary sacrifice that was necessary to prepare us for an eternity in God’s love. We have enough songs in circulation that use less graphic imagery, there is a place for them. But please, let’s not lose songs like ‘There is a fountain’ because it is becoming a rather rare commodity in British hymnody.
So ‘thank you’ to Word Alive for including this ‘great’ on this album. Personally I’m not a fan of the hillbilly arrangement, but that is so secondary, because I get to sing in my car with its awesome sub-woofer speaker…
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save…
Word Alive is happening this year 8-13th April, Lou Fellingham will be leading the music, more details can be found here.
Review by Andy Fenton (Team Leader of Music Ministry) also found on andyfenton.com