Album review: Christ is Risen!

This is a review of the Everlasting Word Band‘s album, Christ is Risen!, which was released in April of last year. Everlasting Word Band is a ministry of Christ The Word Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Toledo, Ohio.

Introduction

The Everlasting Word Band has revived several great texts with new tunes, and has come up with a great album that my family keeps coming back to. The album is also full of various quirks—some to its detriment, others endearing. In this review I want to point out both the excellencies and the quirks of the EWB’s new album.

(Lyrics are available here.)

Track-by-track

1. Christ Is Risen!

A happy opener. The verses start out with a restrained energy—a gentle, acoustic sound with occasional electric guitar outburst straining to burst the seams.

2. As the Hart About to Falter (Psalm 42)

This rousing rendition of Psalm 42 breathes new life into the classic Genevan Psalter hymn. The pause before the second half of the rhyming couplet at the end of each verse is fun—some of the rhymes in the old hymn are a bit quirky (“And in prayer, transcending distance/Seek the God of my existence”) and the pause gives you a chance to think what the rhyme will be.

Another fun feature is the variation in instrumentation and vocals:

  • Spare instrumentation with solo, verse 1
  • Full instrumentation with duet, verse 2
  • Full instrumentation with solo, verses 3 and 4, 6 and 7
  • Spare instrumentation with duet, verse 5

The song covers the whole psalm—neat. And it makes you want to dance for hope and joy—good for Presbyterians!

3. Holy Lord

In this song, the slow, contemplative chorus contrasts with the faster tempo and strong chords of the verses. What a joy to join in raising your voices to sing these glorious truths:

God of hosts! when heaven and earth
Out of darkness, at Thy word,
Issued into glorious birth;
All thy works before Thee stood,
And Thine eye beheld them good,
While they sang with sweet accord,
Holy is the Lord!

The quirk about this one is the odd line breaks in verse two:

One Jehovah evermore,
Father, Son, and Spirit! we, [but we’re not Father, Son, and Spirit]
Dust and ashes, would adore… [but we’re not adoring the dust and ashes]

You’ve just got to keep your brain in gear to know what you’re singing. Crank it up!

4. Psalm 8

An upbeat, joyful, “beach” rendition of “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

My 5-year-old son’s favorite part of the whole album is the “Alright, we’re rollin'” at the beginning of this track.

5. O Lord Remember Me

A tender litany. Reminds me of Nehemiah:

For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness. – Nehemiah 13:22b

One of the sweetest and most poignant verses:

If for your sake, upon my name
Shame and reproach shall be
I’ll hail reproach and welcome shame
O Lord, remember me

Good for training our minds in sweet submission to God (rather than bitter “submission”).

6. O Love of God

Pretty, but the tune’s continual wandering around in circles of futility obscures the faith-filled words.

7. Day of Judgment! Day of Wonders!

Eerie, unsettling, dark words of warning. Words of warning are important and needed—but the setting here seems to give too much credit to the devil; and the text does too in verse 4:

Satan now, who tries to please you,
Lest you timely warning take,
When that word is past, will seize you,
Plunge you in the burning lake:
Think, poor sinner, thy eternal all’s at stake.

But nowhere do we read that Satan has authority to personally throw anyone into hell. That power is reserved to God:

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” – Luke 12:4-5 NASB

We’ve changed that verse to:

When that word is past, will see you,
Plunged into the burning lake…

8. How Sweet and Awful

A song of sweet thankfulness and wonder at the generosity of God toward us. Example verse:

Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

The quirk with this one is the grammar in the chorus (which comes along four times),

Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

It should be “Each of us cries, with thankful tongue.”
(In the EWB’s defense, John Newton wrote it that way.)

9. Jesus the Crucified

The musical setting is a crusty remnant of a partial album the EWB had released a few years ago. To listen to, it’s tired and cliche, with twangy mandolin. Maybe it sings better as a congregational hymn.

10. Undivided Three, Mysterious One

Another remnant from that earlier work, this is a good one, and somehow the twangy mandolin is ok on this one. Its quirks are the repeated tag at the end of each verse, which are sung quite quickly and tongue-twistingly. Here are examples of the tags:

He sent his own eternal Son
To die for sin that man had done (repeat)

and

And now he lives and now he reigns
And sees the fruit of all his pains (repeat)

and the biggest mouthful of all:

Where reason fails, with all her powers,
There faith prevails and love adores (repeat)

If you can make it through the tangle at the end of each verse, the message is great, and the setting serves the text well, reminding us that these are no common things we’re singing about (just the thing the setting fails at in “Jesus the Crucified”).

11. Immanuel Has Come to Thee

A tender Christmas song. Quirks are the lead singer’s robotic phrasing and the pronunciation of Naphtali (as “Naphtalee”) in the opening verse. But the finger picking guitar and xylophone accent really highlight the beautiful prophecy from Isaiah 9. A sweet close to the album.

Summary

For all its quirks, my family and I have been listening to this album over and over for weeks since I first introduced it to them on a 16-hour drive out to North Carolina, and the kids have several of the songs about memorized. Give it a listen. It is profitable.

Thank you to the Everlasting Word Band and to Christ the Word church for this album, and keep up the good work.

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