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Hymns IIMusic Review ~ Hymns II: Shine on Us – Michael W. Smith

This is the follow-up to the multi-talented Michael W. Smith’s 2014 Hymns album recorded for the Cracker Barrel restaurants. This one could have been titled Hymns, Worship Songs and Patriotic Songs, as it includes some or all of these. As with all of Smith’s projects (and I’ve been a fan since his 1983 debut Project (a song from that album is included here), they are done with excellence. Here are a few thoughts about each song included on the project:

Down to the River to Pray – a fantastic version (musically and vocally with background choir), of a traditional song that was sung by Alison Krauss on the soundtrack of the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? It starts off the album on a high note. It’s my favorite song on the album.

I Need Thee – the traditional hymn written by Annie Sherwood Hawks in 1872, with the chorus written by Robert Lowry and music composed by Robert Lowry. Begins with Smith on piano and vocal with light strings and then builds with a backing choir.

Jesus, Only Jesus – this is Matt Redman’s excellent song from his 2013 Your Grace Finds Me album. Starts with Smith on piano and vocals, and then builds powerfully with light drums and backing vocals.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – written by Helen H. Lemmel in 1922. Features backing vocals from Audrey Assad. Begins with Smith on the piano and vocal and some light strings.

I’ll Fly Away – An upbeat version with drums, fiddle, banjo, backing vocals and a bluegrass feel. Was written by Albert Edward Brumley in 1929.

I Don’t Know Why (Jesus Loves Me) – a wonderful Andre Crouch song. Smith brings a smooth black gospel feel with choir to it. Not the first time Smith has covered an Andre Crouch song, singing “Jesus is the Answer” on the 1996 Tribute: Songs of Andre Crouch album.

His Eye is On the Sparrow – the song was originally written in 1905 by lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel. The song is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography. Smith uses a scaled back approach, singing with piano and some backing strings.

Shine on Us – really a prayer to the Lord written by Smith and wife Debbie that has been covered by Phillips, Craig & Dean. It’ a ballad with piano, strings, light drums and backing vocals that gently builds toward a powerful ending.

That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way In the darkest night
Let Your love come over us
Let Your light shine on us

Nearer My God to Thee – a beautiful rendition of a hymn written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841. Opens with violin and then Smith’s voice and piano. Features a duet with Susan Ashton.

I’d Rather Have Jesus – based on a 1922 poem by Rhea F. Miller, this was one of George Beverly Shea’s signature songs. Smith gives us a beautiful tender vocal, with piano and strings that builds gently with backing vocals.

O Sacred Head Now Wounded – Paul Gerhardt provided a German translation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s text in 1656, and about 200 years later James Waddell Alexander translated Gerhardt’s German text into English. Smith gives us a beautiful tender version with piano and strings that builds gently with backing vocals.

Be Still My Soul – This hymn was originally written in German by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel in 1753. Smith’s vocal is paired with his piano and light strings that builds with backing vocals.

Great is the Lord – an excellent new version of Smith classic song from his first album Project in 1983. Features excellent backing vocals and instrumentation.

Great are you Lord
And worthy of glory
Great are you Lord
And worthy of praise
Great are you Lord
I lift up my voice
I lift up my voice
Great are you Lord
Great are you Lord

A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn is based on Psalm 46. It is a celebration of God’s sovereign power over all earthly and spiritual forces, and of the sure hope believers have in him because of Christ. Smith gives us a beautiful and powerful version of this triumphant hymn, slowing down the pace and featuring excellent backing vocals and church organ. Definitely a highlight.

America the Beautiful – this is the one misstep as far as song selection is concerned. Its inclusion reminded me of when Cracker Barrel stuck “Cinderella” at the end of Steven Curtis Chapman’s excellent 2013 hymns project Deep Roots. Both songs are good, they just don’t fit on a hymns project. Like many of the songs this one starts simply with vocal and piano and then builds to a powerful ending with strings and backing vocals, with a bit of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the very end of the song. I can hear this song being played during 4th of July fireworks celebrations this year.

Most of the arrangements and instrumentation is kept simple, except where noted, and for the most part Smith chooses to goes with a light, scaled back production, different from his normal releases. The scaled back production and instrumentation at times expose his voice, never strong, as vulnerable and at times thin. But overall, this is a highly satisfying and wonderful new release which will be loved by those who love the hymns and Smith’s music.

music news

  • Wow to the Deadness. I’m excited about the February 5 release of Wow to the Deadness by Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil. Read our review here.
  • New Andy Mineo Video. Check out the video for his song “Now I Know”, from his excellent album Uncomfortable.
  • New Scott Roley Music. I got to know Scott a bit when he joined Michael Card at a Biblical Imagination Conference at our church a few years back. I was excited to hear about his new album Nine Guitars which is now available on iTunes. The album includes “The Old Man”, which Scott included on his Patient Endurance release of a few years back (compilation of earlier songs and a few new ones). Scott is a believer who walks the talk as he lives among the poor in Franklin, Tennessee. Check out his books Hard Bargain: A Beautiful Place to Live and God’s Neighborhood: A Hopeful Journey in Racial Reconciliation and Community Renewal

Favorite Quotes of the Week

  • Double lives take half as long. Steve Taylor
  • People will always question the good they hear about you, but believe the bad without a second thought. Lecrae
  • Leaders activate people through passion, not pity. Andy Mineo
  • Starve your distractions. Feed your focus. Lecrae
  • I know many super-smart Christians who say Two Corinthians as opposed to 2nd. That being said, please God – protect us from a Trump presidency. Fernando Ortega
  • And as He stands in victory,
    Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
    For I am His and He is mine—
    Bought with the precious blood of Christ. “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

Chris Tomlin Quote

Song of the Week           

Whatever Happened to Sin? by Steve Taylor


This song was included on Steve Taylor’s 1983 debut EP I Want to Be a Clone, but the lyrics are as current as if they were pulled from today’s news. Listen to the song here.

The Christian counselor wrote, quote
“Who is the only humane choice aheadSteve Taylor
If you can’t support it
Why don’t you abort it instead?”

You say you pray to the sky
Why? When you’re afraid to take a stand down here
‘Cause while the holy talk reads like a bad ad lib
Silence screams you were robbing the crib

Say it ain’t none of my business, huh?
A woman’s got a right to choose
Now a grave digger, next you pull the trigger what then?
Whatever happened to sin?

I heard the reverend say
“Gay is probably normal in the Good Lord’s sight
What’s to be debated?
Jesus never stated what’s right”

I’m no Theology nut
But the Reverend may be a little confused
For if the Lord don’t care and he chooses to ignore, ah
Tell it to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah

Call it just an alternate lifestyle, huh?
Morality lies within
Consciences are restin’, please repeat the question again
Whatever happened to sin?

When the closets are empty and the clinics are full
When your eyes have been blinded by society’s wool
When the streets erupt in your own backyard
You’ll be on your knees praying for the National Guard

If you don’t care now how the problems get solved
You can shake your head later, that you never got involved
‘Cause the call came a ringing from the throne of gold
But you never got the message, never got the message
‘Cause your mind’s on hold

A politician next door
Swore he’d set the Washington Arena on fire
Thinks he’ll gladiate them
But they’re gonna make him a liar

Well, he’s a good ole boy who was born and raised
In the buckle o’ the Bible Belt
But remember when you step into your voting booth
He’ll never lie, he’ll just embellish the truth

Promises were made to be broken, right?
You’ve gotta play the game to win
When you need support, tell them that you born again
Whatever happened to sin?

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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