Review of Here Among Us, by Jaron and Katherine Kamin, plus Interview

Zac HicksUncategorized1 Comment

Contrary to what one might think I believe, the hymns movement is not THE answer for modern worship.  The reform that is needed and the reform that is happening in today’s evangelical congregational music needs much more than a revival of hymnody and historical connectivity.  That said, the hymns movement is still an important piece in this reform…which is why I want to continue to herald its growth and expansion. 

Jaron and Katherine Kamin are a welcome addition to the fold.  Recently relocated from Socal to Nashville, this singer/songwriter couple have found new solace in old hymnody.  Just yesterday, they released Here Among Us, a beautiful indie-rock hymns album, which was produced by the mighty Andrew Osenga

Jaron and Katherine share the vocal load throughout the album.  Jaron’s is a straight and simple pop voice (as any good modern worship leader should have)—not too flamboyant, but certainly nuanced and stylized.  Katherine’s is a round alto tone, uniquely suited to the indie style of the project.  Some of the songs are new tunes to the old hymn texts (e.g. “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”), but many are modern re-arrangements of the original tune (e.g. “Nothing but the Blood” and “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”).  They’ve also included a few of their own great originals (e.g. “Light”). 

Much like my comments regarding Ascend the Hill, I personally enjoy the musical style of Jaron & Katherine.  Their style is a loose, engaging indie rock sound.  “Light” begins with a Built to Spill-ish / OK Go-ish beat and guitar chord shifting.  In general, there is a lot of “space” in their mic-placement or effects on the electric guitars…beautifully ethereal, as in “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation.”  You can hear the Nashville influence, as well, on tracks like “Give Praise to the Lord,” with its tasteful, arpeggiated banjo.  “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” contains a fresh rhythmic interplay between the original melody’s 4/4 rhythm and their added flowing 6/8 beat.  The drumming throughout the album is creative and unconventional.  I love the surprising second half of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” in that regard. 

The whole album is a rich sonic feast, but my favorite two songs are “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” and “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation.”  In my opinion, many of these songs work wonderfully for congregational singing (see their answer to the final interview question below), and I hope that many churches (particularly the ones sold out on the Passion and Hillsong repertoire) will employ them.  I thank God that folks like Andrew Osenga spend time producing the work of new and emerging artists, especially those of the hymns movement variety.  You can hear Osenga’s tasteful electric guitar work throughout Here Among Us…in a sense it’s his small signature on the album.  Go out and get the album, and tell all your friends about it!  I can’t wait until their next project.

I had the privilege of being able to fire off a few questions to the Kamins.  When bloggers like me do interviews, it’s a risky endeavor, because artists are not always purposeful, thoughtful, and articulate.  This is not the case with the Kamins, which is why I wanted to give them a major voice on this post.

Tell us about your background as worship leaders and with worship music.

Well, we’ve been leading worship together since before we started dating.  So, for almost nine years.  It started with youth groups, then volunteering with smaller congregations, and eventually to Jaron being a full time director after some time in seminary.  Katherine’s been involved on and off, but writing and playing music has always been one of our favorite ways to spend time together.  We’ve primarily led worship in congregations that were also our worshiping community.  With this record, though, we’ve had opportunities to visit other congregations, and that’s been a really beautiful experience for us, being received into another body’s worship service and connecting with folks there.

When we started leading it was almost entirely with contemporary songs.  It really wasn’t until around 2007 when Jaron’s boss at the time, Jim Rauch of Westminster Pres in Escondido, CA, started asking him to include one hymn per week that our focus began to change.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that rearranging these hymns for a contemporary style of worship really felt like the best of both worlds to us.  Eventually the pastor had to require that we include at least one contemporary song each week.

What are your thoughts, constructive and critical, about the state of contemporary evangelical worship today?

It’s hard to generalize about the state of evangelical worship.  So many churches are doing so many different things.  What we can say is that we think the church is at its best when people in local contexts are finding what works and resonates in their particular situation.  When they find or create the music and lyrics that give voice to their community, affirm scripture, and draw nearer to God because of it, then we see that as ideal.  From our perspective problems arise when a community goes through an identity crisis and starts to reach for a voice in worship that is not their own.  A church should not trust only a record label executive to determine what their worship should look like, though that executive may have some good ideas. 

What captivates you about hymns, and why have you chosen to focus your album on them?

We love hymns for at least three reasons.  The first is that the hymns provide a connection to the thousands of years of Church life that have come before us.  When we sing these songs, we sing with the saints of the past.  We have a connection to their struggles and joys, which, we believe, are struggles and joys that we still relate to today.  We have a connection to the way our fathers worshiped their God, who is also our God.

The second reason is that we find these songs, in general, to be very rich theologically.  So much modern music today, evangelical or otherwise, is about expressing an emotional state.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but the music of the last few centuries (again with exceptions) has been more about engaging with very particular aspects of who God is and who we are in Him.  Including hymns in our worship provides some needed balance.

Third, a lot of the music is just beautifully written music.  It makes sense- it that has survived for centuries.  You tend to hang on to the good stuff.  That makes for a pretty big pool of great music.

What, in your minds, is the value of setting old hymns to new music?

For us a lot of the value in it is that the new music enables us to own the lyrics a little more.  That’s the hope anyway, but to be honest, we also just love to rearrange songs, whether they were written in the last twenty years or the last two hundred.  We personally still love the hymns when you’ve got a group of people singing around a piano or pipe organ, but we hope that these arrangements will provide a fresh experience for people.

What are your hopes and goals for this album?

It really was a privilege just to be able to make this album.  To work with this music with such amazing musicians and to see the vision become a reality through our work with Andy Osenga was kind of a realization of hope for us already.  However, we hope that the people who might benefit from hearing this record will be able to hear it.  We hope it provides something fresh, that it gives voice to people.  And we hope it enables these works to minister to folks who may not engage with them otherwise.  We hope that people who hear it will participate in it.  One of the things we were really intentional about in recording, even in the keys we chose, is making a record with which people would be able to participate, whether that’s by using these arrangements at church or singing along in the car.  And one of the beautiful things about working primarily with lyrics we didn’t write is that when we lead others in a live setting, it doesn’t feel as though we’re imposing our own words onto them.  We’re all partaking in the ministry by the saints that came before us.

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