Called to Worship – Issue #21
By Phil Mershon
If you’re looking for some new worship music that resounds with great theology, look no further.
Zac Hicks brings a new worship recording that boldly blends the best of historic hymnody with the sounds of modern worship. Without Our Aid is the second such recording Zac has produced with Cherry Creek Presbyterian in the Denver area. To hear Zac discuss the album, go here.
I listened to this album as a friend, a worshiper, a theologian, a worship leader and as a musician. Here are some of my thoughts:
As a friend I found myself incredibly moved by Zac’s talent, production skills and creative renditions of some classic hymn texts and some that were newer to my ear. Zac’s pastoral heart comes through in his song choice and added lyrics.
As a worshiper the project enabled me to step into the worship concert experience. This happened through the use of congregational shouts of praise and singing. I loved the movement of the album as outlined on the back cover art (see image to right). The Trinitarian structure provided a great mental coat rack to hang each song upon.
As a theologian I was stirred by new thoughts as I contemplated Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness through the sounds of a chant and the heartfelt plea of “Come, Lord Jesus” on Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. I’m thankful for this effort to bring classic theology onto the lips and into the hearts and minds of modern worshippers.
As a worship leader I found several new songs that I will use immediately, but I was also conflicted.
Generally when I listen to an album I’m looking for new songs that I can use in congregational worship. Like many, I typically will listen to the first verse and chorus before deciding if the song will make it onto my prospect list. I’m afraid I would have missed some true gems with that approach on this project. You see, Zac kept some surprise moments for the bridge (and those sometimes happened 3 to 4 minutes into the song).
It is a major challenge to marry rich hymn texts with a modern form and lyrical sensibility–and keep it in the radio format of 3-4 minutes per song. If you’re a worship leader who typically plans songs to last for 4 minutes, you’ll have to make some adjustments to your paradigm to use these songs. Unlike the extended arrangements found on Passion and Hillsongs projects, the songs on Without Our Aid cannot be shortened without cheapening the song.
As a musician I was impressed with the musicality of this local church ensemble. Zac is a gifted vocalist and guitar player and he has surrounded himself with a lot of talent. I especially appreciated the addition of female vocal leadership. It provided some nice aural variety.
Some of my favorite songs (full sample arrangements of all these songs are available here):
It’s hard to pick just a few songs as I could see relevance for all of them. Depending on your context and tastes, you’ll likely pick some different songs, but here are some of my favorites:
All People That On Earth Do Dwell – I loved this strong declaration of praise. But instead of a 4-to-the-floor approach from start to finish, I enjoyed ending with the intimate 2-part bridge echoing, “For the Lord is good and his love endureth forever.”
From the shouted count-off at the start of Angels from the Realms of Glory I found myself in an unexpected rendition of this classic Christmas carol. The driving pulse reinforces the call to worship. I especially liked the insertion of Psalm 24 in the middle of the hymn text.
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory – The rhythmic arrangement gives new life to this classic militant hymn, causing me to focus more on the glory of Christ than on the spiritual battle, which the traditional Civil War feel usually conjures.
Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus – While the words seem archaic, the music feels very current. The juxtaposition of ancient message with modern medium echoes the good news that Christ is risen. Just when your brain starts to idle while your hands clap or raise in praise, the lyrics reengage your mind anew.
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness – Even though I’ve written my own arrangement of this hymn, I appreciated the chant-like verses against the funk guitar licks. This is another example of Zac’s mastery of juxtaposition. A powerful celebration of Christ’s sacrificial death.
There are numerous other hymn projects, but few that seek to bring the sounds of modern rock worship together with historic hymnody. Thanks to Zac and his church family for bringing this to us!!
What do you think?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this album. Which songs did you like?
Thank you very much for this thoughtful and thorough review. I appreciate the depth of analysis. It’s great to know that there are some out there who get what we’re trying to do. Thanks for the generosity of time it took to write this!
It was my pleasure to review your project. It was a gift to me. I only wish I could have been with you for the recording! I sense that the live experience of this project would be very powerful.
Thanks, Rick! This is definitely a great album!