The Lower Lights is a group of amazing musicians and performers who have taken it upon themselves to rework some of our hymns in a style that is newer and somewhat less, well, churchy and starchy than we may be used to. The style of their albums is folky and bluegrassy, yet still spiritual and perhaps even more meaningful than the original arrangement, at least to some. We’ve talked about them before, when their first album came out. I’m happy to let you know that their second volume of hymns came out last month, and even happier to tell you that it’s even better than volume 1 (which is saying something).
The tracklist from the new album is an interesting mix of the familiar and the forgotten:
Lead, Kindly Light
I Saw The Light
Be Thou My Vision
I Stand All Amazed
In The Sweet By and By
Go Down, Moses
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Nearer, My God, To Thee
I Need Thee Every Hour
Where Can I Turn for Peace?
Where He Leads Me
The Christian Life
Where The Soul of Man Never Dies
We Are All Enlisted
God Be With You Till We Meet Again
I was intrigued by this list because there were some songs on it that, admittedly, I had never heard or had forgotten existed, as well as some of my personal favorites. My only complaint is that they haven’t yet done some others of my favorites. Once you hear your favorite hymns given The Lower Lights treatment, you want to hear all your favorites done by them. Another bonus is that some songs you never liked or never had heard become instant favorites once The Lower Lights put their sensational spin on them. If it’s not obvious by now, let me be clear: I love these guys!
Among my favorites on this album is the stunning opener, Lead Kindly Light, which has always been among my top five hymns. In this rendition it is given a compelling percussion track, but is otherwise sung virtually a capella. It’s an instant classic.
The album then takes a left turn into Hank Williams territory for his songs I Saw The Light and Calling You.
We then switch gears completely for the Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision, which is now one of my favorite songs ever. Next, the familiar I Stand All Amazed sounds completely new, sung as a waltzing duet.
The traditional Christian hymn In The Sweet By and By has never been a favorite of mine, but the version of it on this album is fascinating if only for one reason: The lead vocal. I have no idea who the vocalist is but her voice is truly unique.
I’m not a big fan of the next song, the Negro spiritual Go Down Moses, but its position as a lead in to the civil war anthem The Battle Hymn of the Republic, played here as a funeral march, is nothing if not provocative.
I’ve always loved the next number Nearer My God To Thee, but this version put all previous renditions out of my mind forever. I only want to hear this version from now on, forever. It is sweet and heartbreaking in all the right ways.
I Need Thee Every Hour is another from my top five hymn list, and this version did nothing to diminish its power, although I could have wished for a little less tempo and I would probably have dropped the too-bluegrassy interlude.
Despite my love for Emma Lou Thayne, I don’t love Where Can I Turn For Peace as a hymn, but I do like the version on this album.
Where He Leads Me and The Christian Life both appear to be Christian hymns, though they’re not ones I find particular compelling. I would have liked to see some other of my favorites from our hymnal here instead of these two songs, but I’m being too picky.
Where the Soul of Man Never Dies a Johnny Cash classic, is the next tune, and this one is great. I’m not a fan of the next number, We Are All Enlisted, but that’s probably mostly because I never liked it as a hymn.
The album’s closing number however, is brilliant. God Be With You Till We Meet Again has never sounded better, and is, of course, perfect as the farewell song of the album.
Please let me know if you have had a chance to listen to this great album and if, like me, you have hymns you’d like to hear done by The Lower Lights. My top request: Be Still My Soul.