Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts Volume 1 – Phenomenal Adaptation of Timeless Content

Ryan Egan —  October 1, 2010 — Leave a comment

Over the Grave Album Cover

There’s been one album that was released recently that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a long time.  No, it’s not the latest and greatest radio release.  It’s not one everyone in the country is raving about.  It’s an album by a bunch of excellent, no, outstanding musicians from a church in Louisville, Kentucky many of you have probably never heard of.  It’s Sojourn Music’s (a part of Sojourn Church) Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts Volume 1.  Here’s their summary of the genesis of the project:

In the midst of the Reformation in England, Isaac Watts recognized that people needed to see the gospel in the psalms and hymns of the church, and they needed to sing them in language and metaphors that they understood. In this, he became not only the father of the modern hymn, but the pace-setter for contextualizing the gospel for the people of God.

As musicians, pastors and songwriters, our desire was to explore the hundreds of hymns that Watts wrote during his lifetime, to learn from the incredible range and depth of his lyrics, and to re-envision those songs with modern language and melodies. In particular, we gravitated towards themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ.

Steadfast and Challenging Content

  • You can’t really go wrong when taking lyrics straight from Isaac Watts, writer of Joy to the World, one of the world’s most popular hymns, and countless other incredible poems set to music for the church.
  • It’s so good to see that they included “themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ.”  In a culture filled with grace without responsibility, it’s refreshing to know that these songwriters are willing to talk about issues that every Christian needs to meditate on.

Strong, Singable Melodies

  • A good amount of the songs on this project are very singable and completely appropriate for many congregations, especially congregations that utilize a modern musical style.  I find myself singing “Oh, the Warrior…” and “Only Your blood is enough to cover my sin” over and over throughout the day after listening to the album.  The beautiful notes of “May Your Power Rest on Me” would easily stand alone without a full band behind them.
  • While “Living Faith” and others have generally singable melodies, some of the vocal enhancements on parts of them might be tricky for some congregations, but they are worth the effort to learn them and teach them to the congregation.

Professional Playing and Production

  • There is no doubt at all that every one of the musicians that played on this recording are incredibly skilled on their instrument.
  • The singers are polished and in control of their voices (Living Faith, Reveal Your Love, and especially the vocal with bells hooks on Only Your Blood and Alas and Did My Savior Bleed are fantastic proof of this)
  • The guitarist and bass guitarist show restraint on songs where necessary and fire up the strings like there’s no tomorrow when appropriate.  They are especially fun to listen to on Warrior, How Long, and Reveal Your Love
  • Every song was produced very creatively, from the great use of the Stringed Bass on Warrior to the many non-diatonic minor chords utilized in many songs that has become a signature sound of Sojourn music to me

Even if you do not incorporate modern music into your church’s repertoire, this album is a must have.  For one, it pays tribute to Isaac Watts’ desire to put the music in the language of the people of the day.  Secondly, these lyrics in a fresh new setting with outstanding musicians make this an inspiration to anyone who is looking for music that will direct their minds to God’s character.

Another great thing about this album is that I believe it has many songs that men in particular will want to sing.  While so much of today’s modern music is filled with beautiful poetry, it can tend to get a bit romantic for men.  I could definitely see a group of guys singing “Oh, the Warrior” and much more from this album, however.

You can buy the album directly from Sojourn music here or purchase an mp3 version from Amazon here (affiliate).  So looking forward to the next volume.

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Ryan Egan

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.