Posted by: Billy Marsh | September 4, 2007

Hymnsongs In Disguise

Hymnsongs/Phil Keaggy

When I first began debating whether or not to start a blog, I was intent on the site being a mixture of teaching and equipping. In other words, I wanted my friends and family and other unexpected visitors to be able to come here to learn as well as to find helpful resources for their Christian walk. That purpose, of course, for me entails music and its role in encouraging Christian spirituality not to mention its usefulness in teaching doctrine. I realized that I’ve yet to review and endorse any of Phil Keaggy’s music, who holds a chiseled out place forever in the Mount Rushmore of my musical heroes and mentors. There is much more to Keaggy than just his guitar chops. He is a very pious and devout Christian man. When I first saw him in concert, I remember leaving more impacted by his humbleness and worshipful spirit rather than his out-of-this-world musicianship. He tremendously loves his family, friends, music, the Church, and God’s Word. Truly, he is a testimony to the fact that Christians can excel in their talents without being mastered by them.

Hymnsongs is an instrumental album which has etched itself into the “must have” list of Keaggy’s non-lyrical work. I labeled the post “Hymnsongs in Disguise” for the main reason that at the first listening you probably won’t recognize some of the songs though many of them are familiar hymns. The record definitely has a “sacred” quality about it; however, Keaggy is a master-craftsman at arranging songs in a unique way without losing their natural draw and familiarity. He adds layer upon layer of musical creativity and depth on many of the tracks. I was surprised at how much attention is given to the electric guitar on this instrumental album devoted to “Church music”. I’d expected more of a Beyond Nature approach, which was altogether acoustic. Still, there is a quietness to the record, and the songs that are more upbeat are actually quite relaxing and meditative. Don’t be alarmed, it’s primarily an acoustic endeavor.

As I’ve said before, I am a very meditative person. I cherish my morning time with the Lord. I love the quiet and solitude. Much of it I owe to my father who kept me outdoors packed away somewhere deep in the mountains waking up to misty mornings and going to sleep to the lullaby of ever flowing creeks and a crackling fire. Instrumental albums are effective in that way insofar as they are normally constructed by someone who has a sentimental taste for inspiring music. For me, instrumentals are intended to affect the emotions as opposed to the majority of lyrical music which is on a broad scale ear candy. This album really helps me get my mind right in the mornings as I prepare to pour over God’s Word and to commune with him during some stillness in prayer. My good friend and brother, Eric Beecher, has really enjoyed this record and has been blessed by Keaggy’s efforts in similar ways.

Some of the more familiar songs on the CD are probably “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, “Nothing But the Blood”, and “O For a Closer Walk With Thee”. For those of you steeped in hymnology, you will recognize many of the other song choices such as “Abide with Me” and “Be Still My Soul”. Keaggy gives commentary and background information concerning each song’s history and Christian content. He even at times lists the lyrics to the song so that it may be listened to in its proper context. The album concludes with the old hymn based off of Psalm 42:8, “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Has Ended”. I appreciate his reflections on this hymnsong when he says:

In hymnbooks it is typically listed under the “Vespers” or “Evening” section, but John Ellerton wrote the lyrics for missionary meetings. Ellerton was keenly aware of the Christian reponsibility to take the gospel to the whole world and this hymn clearly expresses that global vision. The hymn is a reminder that the church of Jesus Christ is never sleeping as the sun lights up each country from east to west.

I hope this record moves you as much as it does me, and that it cultivates in you a love for instrumental albums. Keaggy has plenty more to pick from, and they all are outstanding examples of musical gifts being used for God’s glory and are landmark albums in all of music history, not just Christian circles.

(P.S. Make sure you give a listen to the sample songs in my media player provided by Box.net. If you only have time for one, check out Keaggy’s rendition of “Nothing But the Blood” which is reminiscent of the guitar tone in Jimi Hendrix’s poetic “Little Wing”.

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