I’m excited to give my readership a view into our second album, Without Our Aid, due out in September 2011. Tracking, for us, will be a months-long process, hopefully completed in mid-spring. Our first album, The Glad Sound, was a more studio-style, pop-produced worship record, complete with percussion loops and rhythmic synths. Without Our Aid takes the same concept of old hymns to new music in a slightly different direction.
THE SONIC GOAL
In short, Without Our Aid is attempting a more live, “arena worship” sound—big drums, big guitars, big “stage-presence,” lots of verb, and lots of voices. It is not a live album, but it will give off that air. Since The Glad Sound, we at Cherry Creek Worship have grown in our musicianship, and the music—especially the drums and guitar work—will reflect that progression. The drumming is very aggressive and at a few moments unconventional. Our vocalist roster has expanded to an additional female member, so four tracks on the album (as opposed to two on The Glad Sound) will be broken up between two female leads. I am singing on the other eight songs, but I’m hopeful that this is continuing a trend toward greater distribution of lead vocals among our singers as God continues to develop our talent and pave the way for new records. The instrumentation, over all, is a bit more limited to the typical rock band makeup—guitars, keys, bass, and drums—with the occasional peppering of other instruments here and there. Perhaps unlike many other “modern hymns” albums (e.g. Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music), this album is less musically introspective and more up-beat. If you’ll forgive the violence of the metaphor, some hymns albums present the gospel by bringing you to your knees; this hymns album is a gospel-punch to the face.
THE SONGWRITING GOAL
The songwriting goal is to take the wedding of old hymns to new music into a structurally experimental direction. Modern worship has stretched the boundaries of “traditional” contemporary songwriting forms. They’ve creatively mutated the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus structure and added more layers. Sometimes those layers are in the form of pre-choruses, and at other times, they are manifested in “surprise” fourth and fifth sections, elevating the middle or the end of a song to a different plane. The songwriting goal of Without Our Aid, for many of the songs, is to see if traditional, through-composed hymnody can fit (and fit well) into some of these more progressive forms and expressions. All the songwriting for Without Our Aid began with this vision in mind, so, compared to the more piecemeal feel of The Glad Sound, this album will have more cohesion in its style and direction. I had wished to do more collaboration in songwriting on this album, but I haven’t found many attempting to take hymns in some of the directions I had taken them on this project, so collaborative efforts proved a bit more challenging this time around. There will be other projects, though, and I know my material will be better when I am honing melody, harmony, and structure alongside the other great songwriters across the country I now know, love, and appreciate.
THE THEMATIC AND TEXTUAL GOAL
The album’s title comes from the second verse of “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”:
Know that the LORD is God indeed,
Without our aid He did us make.
The phrase is less of a unifying theme for all the songs and more of a statement of how we view our posture and the posture of these hymns in relation to God—subservient, humble, self-effacing, God-exalting. God has been forming and shaping the music on this album…and He has been doing it “without our aid.” Still, the phrase is very much a part of what is the unifying theme of the album—the gospel. From top to bottom, the hymns selected for Without Our Aid drip with the good news of Christ Jesus as our all in all: good news that though we are poor and needy, Christ is rich in grace; good news that though this life is hard, we await a greater glory and peace; good news that salvation has come for sinners like you and like me; good news that our hearts find more rest and more peace the more we are captivated by the splendor and glory of God through Jesus Christ. The track listing below helps visualize the gospel-unification of Without Our Aid.
THE TRACK LISTING
Sola – a short entrance/processional song centered on the five “solas” of the Reformation, asking Christ to be our worship leader.
All People That on Earth Do Dwell – an energetic setting of Psalm 100, one of the first Protestant hymns penned originally in the English language.
Angels from the Realms of Glory – a raucous advent hymn, heralding the good news of Christ’s first and second comings.
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory – a haunting setting of a great eschatological hymn about Christ’s return in power and glory…good news that is sobering.
Be All the Glory Thine – a “call to worship” hymn (Joseph Hart’s “Once More We Come Before Our God”) that summons our sluggish souls to joyfully take up the “duty” of gospel-response in worship.
Firm and Unmoved Are They – a setting of Psalm 125 which offers comfort in God’s steady peace and hope…Christ is not explicit, but He is everywhere implicit in this psalm.
Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus – angsty verses and soaring choruses, with an additional bridge quoting straight from the book of Revelation: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever.”
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness – a slightly disco-funk-style fight-song (it sounds weird, but it’s fast becoming a “cult favorite” among those involved in making this album), full of the victory and joy of the cross and Christ’s meritorious righteousness.
Jesus Christ is Risen Today – a reverential beginning, and a pounding bridge and chorus…very different from the traditional through-and-through triumphant setting of this well-known Easter/resurrection hymn.
Lord, I Believe – a sincere and heart-wrenching Communion hymn. My favorite line, perhaps on the whole album, is: “I eat the bread and drink the wine / but O, my soul wants more than sign / I faint unless I feed on Thee / and drink the blood as shed for me.”
How Firm a Foundation – An alternate setting of a great hymn, with an additional bridge and chorus that more explicitly tie it to Psalm 46.
O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright – The oldest hymn on the album (ca. 4th century), with the Gloria Patri as the chorus. A climactic album ending with low lows and high highs.