by Brendan O'Regan unless stated otherwise
Journey to Your Heart
Sr Marie Dunne
This is a beautiful album of calm relaxing music from liturgical composer Sr Marie Dunne. Best advice – take an hour off and listen prayerfully to this collection – 13 songs with a reflective instrumental to finish! It’s a fine blend of traditional and modern – the arrangements and delivery are contemporary but at times Sr Marie revisits old texts and breathes new life into them – for example on ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, Mary’s Magnificat’ and the ‘Saint Francis Peace Prayer’. It’s a timely release as she taps into the Year of Mercy with a beautiful song ‘With the Lord There Is Mercy and Love’. Other hugely important themes figure also – like gratitude (‘How Can I Thank the Lord’), hospitality (‘Blessing of Hospitality’) and faith (‘To Believe Again’). I liked the imagery of the title track – ‘The journey to your heart/Will lead you to that place/Where you will find your deepest peace’. ‘A Mhuire na nGrás’ is based on an old Celtic prayer, and here harp, violin, pipes and flute are used to great effect to create that Celtic feel. Among the many welcome features of this album is the use of a variety of vocalists. Long-time collaborator Patricia Bourke D’Souza sings many of the songs, while a standout track is Marino Nguekam’s lead vocal on ‘In Their Memory’, a gracious tribute to ‘the Ebola heroes of the Hospitaller Order of the Saint John of God family’ – 'because they loved they did not die in vain'. Musical arrangements and production values are excellent throughout and, always welcome, there’s a comprehensive lyrics booklet.
Johnny Duhan is a modern mystic of song. He has one of the most distinctive voices in Irish folk and singer-songwriter circles, but even more distinctive, even unique, is the fact that he weaves spiritual and religious themes so sincerely into his reflective songs. This is particularly true of this album Creation, as might be guessed from the title. I’m pretty sure you won’t hear anything quite like this elsewhere – it’s deep, reflective, playful and spiritual, in tune with people, nature and God. My favourite track is ‘Advent 2013’ a special reflection on the season, with a prominent journey theme, perfectly enhanced by subtle guitar and piano backing. ‘The Three Temptations’, has to be the only song I know that dramatises the temptations of Christ in the desert – the low whistle intro by Davy Spillane sets the scene so well. ‘The Cross’ reflects on the powerful symbolism of that image, while ‘Resurrection’ relates that biblical event to the ‘fresh shoots of Spring’ – ‘so much splendour still to come’. The songs are not all religious – ‘Missing You’ is a touching song about parents at home here with children away in Australia, a song that will have a resonance for many Irish parents – prepare to shed tears! ‘Winter’ is a natural follow-on song, with its winter-driven meditation on parents growing older together. This album will repay repeated listening, especially if experienced at a quiet time, free from the noise of the world.
Lead Us to the Water
Brendan Shanahan is an accomplished writer of spiritual songs and his album Lead Us to the Water is well worth a listen. The vocals and overall production values are excellent - I was reminded at times of John Denver! The music backing, subtle guitar, keyboards and percussion, is uncluttered and never overwhelms the lyrics. The messages are important and Shanahan makes sure the words are heard clearly. The catchy melodies enhance the impact. My favourite track is the title song – always crucial to start an album with a song that will draw in the listener. Most of the songs are reflective but there’s also the uptempo worship song ‘Praise the Lord’. ‘The Passion’ is an ambitious piece … over 9 minutes of a musical narration of the Passion. I wasn’t so enthusiastic about this one .. the narration is too much like prose whereas the other songs are more poetic. But it certainly will be useful for personal meditation or parish passion plays in Holy Week. Most songs are original, but Shanahan also adds two familiar hymns .. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Ave Maria’. There’s no lyric sheet but the words are always clear, and there’s a short reflection on each song on the CD sleeve. On my version the track listing on the sleeve didn’t quite match the actual order of tracks on the disc, but that’s a minor complaint .. all in all this is a worthy album that can be a resource for schools and church folk groups as well as an aid for personal prayer.
Flower - Old Prayers New Music
album works well on so many levels. Composer Brian Lawler has breathed
new life into many familiar prayers, giving them bright new musical
settings. Not only that but he has brought together some fine choirs
from south Dublin, especially his native Mount Merrion parish, and
with excellent production values has, along with co-producer Ben
Rawlins, brought us a collection that deserves wide circulation
and acts as a model for other parishes thinking of doing something
similar. There are some youth choirs in the mix and it's wonderful,
on the first part of the album, to hear them singing these new versions
of prayers like 'Glory Be to the Father', and 'Hail Holy Queen'.
There are also some completely new songs here as well, including
the catchy 'O My Dear Lord We Need You' and 'Saint Therese'. Continuing
the inspiration of St Therese the second half of the CD features
Lawler's 'Little Flower Mass'. All in all Mount Merrion parish can
be proud of this work, and other parishes, schools and schools should
find here a wealth of material for the future. And the icing on
the cake is a comprehensive lyrics booklet with complete credits
and background notes.
|Things I Want to Say
is a really mature and striking album from this Belfast singer-songwriter.
The songs, mainly piano driven, deal with genuinely human emotions,
often with an underpinning of sound and subtle spirituality. There
are so many fine tracks but one standout is the reflective 'God Knows',
about, as the sleeve notes say, how 'God knew the people you needed
in your life and put them there just at the right time'. The title
track, 'Things i Want to Say' is a touching song about bereavement,
reflecting on what one would like to say to the person who has passed
away (in this case a friend of Ruth Trimble). Perhaps 'Goodbye' follows
a similar theme, or perhaps it's about a relationship break-up. 'Tonight',
'Let You Go' and 'Set You Free' are more definitely break-up songs
with some interesting takes on a familiar genre. 'Awaken My Soul'
starts out along those lines but by the end seems like it's about
drifting from God. 'May It Be' is like a blessing, a song of faith
and hope - 'Lord you have called me to be an example/Now by your grace
renew my heart to follow'. Fighter' pays tribute to her nephew Caleb
whose will to life got him through a tough first few weeks in the
world, while 'Judah' is a loving tribute to another nephew - lucky
fellows! All in all it's a varied and touching album, well produced,
and with a comprehensive booklet featuring lyrics, credits and brief
but enlightening observations on most of the songs.
Sure as the Sun
singer-songwriter Ellie Holcomb has released what must be one of
the best contemporary Christian albums of 2014. Styles vary - roots,
country rock, folk, with a contemporary feel throughout. I've been
impressed by her previous EPs and this is truly a treasure - well
worth waiting for her first full album! Holcomb's distinctive voice
is always to the fore and the lyrics always clear, providing a sense
of intimacy, a sense of being addressed directly in your heart.
The arrangements are top notch, the melodies catchy, those lyrics
simple and direct. There's not a bad track on the album and many
of them would work as singles. The variety is particularly attractive
- even the first two tracks demonstrate this - the reflective opening
track 'Sure As the Sun' with its effective piano backing followed
by the upbeat 'Marvelous Light'. Standout tracks include 'The Broken
Beautiful' which has the the most striking melody and arrangement,
and 'The Only Hope I've Got', with its important message and fine
piano and guitar work. There are Scriptural resonances throughout
- e.g. 'Love Never Fails' explores At Paul's reflections on love
in 1 Corinthians. The themes are varied, but themes of love, brokeness,
hope and liberation are prominent. The
album is ideal for personal listening, meditation, prayer and educational
use, but at all times never looses its entertainment value. The
album can be previewed/downloaded at the usual outlets - Amazon,
while a physical CD can be ordered here.
This is one of the most beautiful albums I have heard this year. Assad's
voice and piano are what make it so striking, and in fact if there
were no other vocals or instruments it would still be great. Her voice
manages to soar and be intimate all at the same time. It's a reflective
album and for a first listening I'd advise a quiet dark room so that
the impact can be effective as possible! There's a full lyric sheet
where each song is tagged with various uses and contexts, such as
personal devotion, praise and worship, Eucharistic adoration, Mass
- all of which is interesting and useful though hardly necessary.
There's one fine instrumental, 'Felix Culpa', and the songs, mostly
Assad originals, are all good, though I was particularly impressed
by a few of them. Standout track for me was 'I Shall Not Want' with
its important message that touches on our very human fears - 'From
the love of my own comfort/From the fear of having nothing … Deliver
Me O God'. 'Lead Kindly Light' is a gentle and appealing song, though
John Henry Newman should have got a credit for inspiration and some
opening words! 'Lead Me On', co-written with Matt Maher, is firmly
based in Scripture with its familiar image of God as shepherd and
its tone of quiet confidence. Hope is a vital quality in our world,
and in 'Good to Me', with its strong choral voices, Assad perfectly
matches the tone and the sentiments - 'I put all my hope in the truth
of Your promise'. One of the strongest themes of the album features
most prominently in the haunting title track - 'Fortunate Fall': 'Fortunate
fall/That gained for us so great a redeemer'. Occasionally a few of
the words are not as distinct as I'd like them to be but that aside
teachers will find plenty here for prayer and meditation services
and choir directors will surely delight in such excellent new material.
Audio samples available at Amazon
Liam Lawton (GIA)
you wanted a spiritual album for quiet personal reflection you needn't
look any farther than Liam Lawton's new album Eternal. The
opening song 'Holy Ground' invites the listener into sacred space
- "In this holy place where God's love is found". Then 'Into the Quiet'
invites quiet reflection in this space - "Into the quiet God calls
you". The rest of the album reflects on love, faith, mission and much
more. For this Year of Faith, 2013, the song 'In God We Live' is admirably
suited - 'In faith we come. In faith we seek'. There's a song for
Mary, an appealing new take on 'Ave Maria'; a reflection on our purpose
in the world based on the writings of St Teresa of Avila, 'Christ
Has No Body Now but Yours'; 'Breastplate', a worthy addition to the
long list of musical versions of the breastplate of St Patrick. The
experts in the field say that gratitude is a very healthy attitude,
and the Psalm-based 'Eternal is Your Love' touches on that - "I thank
you Lord with all my heart". For those who are troubled the consoling
words of 'The Lord is My Shelter' will be like a balm that soothes
- "When the heart is sad and weary, fragile and frail, he will hear
you when you cry out". The album seems aimed at instilling calm and
meditation, and it works so well on that level, though I would like
to have seen a little more variety in approach, even if there was
just one uptempo song to finish with, a sort of cheerful recessional
after prayer. Apart from its value for personal meditation the album
will, no doubt, be a rich resource for Church choirs. The musical
arrangements, mostly by Chris de Silva, are beautiful throughout and
production quality is top notch throughout and there's a comprehensive
booklet with lyrics and detailed credits, which is always welcome.
Some audio samples here
|The Spirit Speaks My Name
here's an album that adds 13 beatutiful songs to the repertoire of
Irish liturgical music. The songs are composed by Marie
Dunne CHF and performed under her direction by a variety of singers
including Patricia Bourke D'Souza, Alan Hynes, Emma Humbe, Linda Ledwidge
and Brenda McGivney. Choirs include the Saint John of God Choir, Saint
Frances' Hospice Choir, Raheny, Dublin and Holy Faith Secondary Choir,
Clontarf, Dublin. My favourite track was 'A Stranger No More', an
always timely song about hospitality ("May the seeds of hospitality
take roots in our hearts"). 'You Will be My Witnesses' is a fine
song useful for consideration of the topic of vocation. 'Let the Heart
Command' features effective choral work that underlines the important
message. 'Fan Into Flame' explores the idea of giftedness, while 'Lúireach
Phádraig' gives an Irish language outing to St Patrick's Breastplate.
There's so much here for church choirs, youth groups and personal
or group meditation. Musical arrangements and orchestrations are fine
throughout and never overwhelm the vocals. The songs are uniformly
relaxing, though I would have liked more variety of tone, rhythm and
Ronan Johnston and Emmaus
love to get a new musical version of St Patrick's Breastplate, and
Patrick's Shield on this album is a worthy addition to the
collection. It is suitable for personal reflection, school use, and
would be great in any praise and worship setting. I like the metaphors
on the album - especially on the first track, the soulful Dry Bones.
The background vocals on this track are excellent, as they are
throughout the album. Johnston's lead vocals and arrangements are
excellent as always. There's much variety on display here - from a
beautiful scriptural ballad like Lord I Am Not Proud - Psalm
131 to the catchy One More Time Around, the bluesy If
the Devil Gets a Hold and the more uptempo Mountaintop and
Do Not Be Afraid. All in all the album exudes quality, imagination
Not Go Back to Egypt
Ronan Johnston and Emmaus
are so many strengths to this new album from one of Ireland's best
known gospel-rock groups. The melodies are strong - many tracks could
become spiritual anthems given the right exposure. Johnston's singing
is crystal clear - he has a message annd wants us to hear every word.
The backing vocals are the best I've heard in a long time. The musical
arrangements are imaginative and well tailored to each of the songs
- tasteful piano is prominent. And what variety of style! There's
the uptempo You Are My Beloved Child, the gentle and beautiful
Because of the Lord's Great Love, and gospel beat of Let's
Not Go Back to Egypt. Arise Shine and All Who Are Born of the
Spirit are particularly suitable for group/congregational
singing. There's even a country flavour on You Are the Lord. I
Belong on the other hand has more of a rock groove - in a style
that reminded me of the work of Mark Heard - a worthy musical role
model. This is several notches above average CCM fare, with something
for meditation, reflection, congegational singing and even dancing!
Kathy Mattea (Narada)
is a highly regarded country/folk singer and this is one of her best
albums. The songs are fine and the instrumentation superb, especially
the tasty guitar work. As always Mattea sings with confidence and
passion. This time, on many tracks, she turns her attention to spiritual
matters. That's All the Lumber You Sent, the opening track
is a clever song about string up treasures in Heaven - a man gets
a surprise at how little good he has done in life. Junkyard warns
against filling our minds and souls with rubbish - "My heart
is not a dump for all the gunk around". "They Are the Roses"
reflects on the innocence of children, while Who We Are is
a touching but gritty song about a mother-daughter relationship that's
rather fractious. Till I Turn to You is a heartfelt prayer
to God for drastic action to get the writer back on track - I was
remided of John Donne's poem Batter My Heart. Mattea herself
co-wrote the final track The Slender Threads that Bind Us Here,
a tender song about the fragility of life and the loving connections
we make. Samples, reviews and buying options at Amazon - click here.
Casts Out Fear
CD of sacred music by the Passionists was produced and directed by
Rev David Cunningham CP, and proceeds go to the Tobar
Mhuire Crossgar building fund. The cause is good, and so is the
music! From the first track you know that this isn't going to be a
typical album of monks singing plain chant. There are some electronic
effects and instrumentation, some female voices, a variety of liturgical
styles and quite a distinctive use of bells! Sometimes accompaniment
is sparse, sometimes there's what sounds like a small orchestral ensemble.
With 18 tracks this is also a fine resource for choirs and schools.
Thankfully the album mostly avoids overly familiar material, the best
known probably being Salve Regina. Standout for me was the title track,
with its haunting refrain. Perhaps it's monastic collegiality or humility
but I woould have liked more comprehensive sleeve notes - on the hymns
themselves and on the many skilled performers. You can purchase, and
hear samples from the album and from other Passionist CDs here.
of Praise @ 12.30 Vol 1
great to see local groups producing their own albums. This one features
the music and soloists of the 12.30 pm Sunday Mass at St Patrick's
Church, Trim, Co. Meath. The material is largely familiar, but tastefully
chosen - The Deer's Cry by Shaun Davey, Only in God
by John Michael Talbot, Voice of an Angel by Liam Lawton, and
my favourite track, Stand by Me written by Tom Kendzia. The
classical tradition gets a look in with Schubert's Ave Maria
and Beethoven's Joyful, Joyful. On first listening I found
the musical accompaniment rather sparse (mostly guitar and keyboard)and
wished for a fuller sound, but the album is growing on me. For example
I was hoping for a more choral approach on the chorus of Stand
By Me, but the approach on the album is very deliberate, as explained
on the sleeve notes: "superb singers, singing prayers from the
heart and with minimal musical accompaniment - something which is
at the heart of our service to the Mass". In praise of The Word,
it's entirely apt that the words of these prayer songs should be the
focus of the album. And because of this the album is also particularly
suitable for private prayer and meditation.
Left to Say
by Nigel Connell (Burnell Records)
is a really strong album from a relatively new performer with a
great voice and great songwriting ability. Listening to it several
times singers like Neil Diamond, Dan Fogelberg and Michael Card
came to mind. Connel has played with Liam Lawton among others and
includes two of Lawton's songs here, All this Time and Could
It Be. In the latter song there's a line "Could it be that
God would hear my song?" - the answer must surely be yes. If
God has a CD collection (as a proud parent might keep their children's
artwork) this will be in it! Connell's voice is what impresses most
at first and passes the test set by the vocally demanding Carrickfergus.
However it's the original songs on the album that ultimately are
what make it special. They are strong, well written and melodic.
I wouldn't be surprised if some became much covered by other artists.
In My Heart is a song of loneliness and yet of hope; the
delicacy and vulnerability of love is captured in Nothing Left
to Say; Keela Mae, about a young girl who died and speaks from
heaven, is a tad too sentimental, and I'm not a fan of spoken introductions,
judging by the dedication this song has a personal resonance for
Connell. Apart from that caveat it's a definite thumbs up for this
album. Sample tracks on the artist's
by The Dublin Gospel Choir
has to be the busiest gospel choir in the country, and here they are
with a new album. What I liked about this was the variety of material,
and the fact that much of it was unfamiliar (to me, at least) material.
And where it was familiar, as with Here I Am Lord and Make
Me a Channel, DGC have done something different with it. That
being said I'm not sure I'm that enthusiastic about these new arrangements,
but I'd say they'd go down well with young people. Listening to the
album at first I felt it was too much in the funk/soul vein for my
liking, with a lot of electronic instrumentation, but it's growing
on me, and there are plenty of more traditional gospel tracks. Vocals
are quite strong, and the choir has some excellent solo singers -
I was particularly taken with Something So Wonderful, with
Anna Carey on lead vocals. Liberty Bell has also been released
as a single, and it's distinctly Irish flavour and references also
make it stand out. Good to see some modrn gospel songs by Kirk Franklin
- of these My Love, My Life, My All is a standout track. For
more info and sample tracks click here.
of Inspiration: The Dream
by Fr Marino Nguekam
striking about this album is the fine and distinctive voice of Fr
Marino Nguekam. A priest from Cameroon who is currently ministering
in Ireland, Fr Marino gives soulful and meaningful renditions of popular
songs like Ave Maria, Bring Him Home, O Holy Night, Danny Boy
and the ubiquitous You Raise Me Up. A few Liam Lawton songs
feature also - Cloud's Veil and Voice of an Angel are
given the Marino touch, but my favourites were John Michael Talbot's
The Magnificat and Only in God. You'd have to try hard
not to be moved by these. You've Got a Friend and Let it
Be are unusual additions, but they certainly fit the bill of
"Songs of Inspiration". Choir directors, including in schools
will find lots of useful material here, and some of the material would
be suitable for prayer/meditation services in school prayer rooms.
The album's main problem is that all of the material is so familiar.
Next time I'd like to see Fr Marino trying some less familiar material,
for example some lesser known spiritual material, and perhaps some
from his native country. In the meantime check out the website: www.fathermarino.com
for information and videos.
Psalms for Advent and Christmas
by Brian J. Nelson (Nelson
professionally produced collection will be a substantial resource
to choir directors who want to try something different during Advent
and Christmas. The album comprises 15 Responsorial Psalms based on
the lectionary for the season, settings composed by Brian J Nelson
from the University of Kansas. The arrangements are straightforward,
with cantors, choir and organ - my personal preference is for the
rich voice of the male cantor David Adams, and he features on my favourite
tracks - A Light Will Shine on Us This Day, Lord Come and Save Us
and Lord Every Nation on Earth on Earth Will Adore You. It's not a
CD I'd throw into the car for entertainment and I'm sure that's not
what this album is trying to achieve, but it certainly is useful for
personal prayer in quiet moments - the repetition of the responses
particularly useful for this. And it helps that the psalms are not
exclusively applicable to Advent and Christmas - these can inspire
any time of year, so I won't be storing this album away with my Christmas
CDs. For more background and information, and a chance to listen to
some samples go to www.nelsonmusic.com
by the Castlebar Gospel Choir
Music or RE teacher will find lots of useful material in the CD from
the Castlebar Gospel Choir. Choice of music and performance is excellent,
while production values are high. Some tracks are more "gospel" than
others, but tracks like Let Nobody Turn You Around and O Healing River
leave no doubt about the choir's gospel credentials. Ironically one
of the standout tracks for me was the least gospel in style - more
folky in flavour Tom Kendzia's Stand By Me is given a really moving
treatment and would be particularly suitable for school use. Instrumentation
is sparse, but the piano playing is spot on and never overwhelms the
vocals. Hank Williams' I Saw the Light features bouncy piano and as
I'm more to that in country/bluegrass style it took some getting used
to and wasn't one of the stronger tracks. Congrats to conductor Niamh
O'Kelly and her soloists for a fine album, the proceeds of which go
to the Simon Community.
God is Near
by Monica Brown (Emmaus)
God is Near is a joyful, colourful, entertaining play celebrating
the real meaning and spirit of Christmas. Written by Monica Brown
this play is suitable for Junior and Senior Primary children. It
incorporates a beautiful collection of hymns and songs for Advent/Christmas.
Monica uses scripture imaging of Advent and Christmas and presents
it in a language and melody that children can appreciate. In our
school before Christmas 2009, two fourth classes performed this
play for their parents. As the children engaged in drama, mime,
dance and song, the play proved to be a deeply touching, moving
and heartwarming celebration. As the children were drawn into reflection
on the mystery of God in their own lives they were enabled to sing
with joy and understanding of the wonderful Advent/Christmas story.
More info, ordering and audio samples here.
Review by Bridget Clare
By Liam Lawton (Gia)
Song (2009) is the first completely liturgical collection of
music released by Irish composer Liam Lawton in about ten years.
Liam's intention in creating this body of work was to produce a
very high quality collection of music for use in church services
and spiritual occasions. But on top of this he also wanted to create
a collection of beautiful songs for anyone to use in their own personal
reflection, and I believe he has succeeded so beautifully in both
areas. Within this new collection we find again some of Liam Lawton's
most wonderful melodies which he is so well known for, graced with
beautiful heartfelt lyrics, some of which are based on well known
and loved scripture texts.
The theme running through this collection is healing….. healing
from loss and grief, healing in relationships, healing through the
Eucharist , healing for those burdened. In Liam Lawton's quest to
create a high quality liturgical collection, he has used some the
finest of ingredients. Paul Tate, well know for his beautiful arrangements
worked on this collection with Liam. The orchestral parts were recorded
in Prague with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. St Colman's Cathedral
Choir of Cobh (Cork), a very well respected choir with much experience
in Ireland and abroad, and under the direction of Dominic Finn,
worked with Liam also on this. The production was done by Mark Cahill,
who has been Liam's producer on all of his recent releases, of which
some have topped the charts.
There are 12 pieces in the Healing Song collection. 'Sing
Alleluia' opens the set, and its most beautiful and pleading violin
intro really stirs the soul to rise up and march for Our God…..
beautiful. In our search for healing in many areas of our life,
we can feel the need to be comforted in some way, and Liam's songs
can certainly feel as if they wrap themselves around you for support.
This is felt in pieces like.. 'The Beginning and the End' …'Yours'….'Silence
and Peace'…. 'There are Many Rooms' …… 'You are My Shepherd' (one
of my favourites)….. 'Where two or Three are Gathered'. 'Heal Us
Lord' is the signature piece on this collection. This is truly a
most beautiful piece. Liam sings with such a longing for God to
hear our call, and it feels like his love of God in his voice and
music is creating some bond between Heaven and Earth, which the
Lord will work through……. This heard in concert and with everyone
united in song is amazing.
There is one commissioned piece on this collection - 'Come to Me'
was written for the canonization of St Charles of Mt Argus in Dublin
in 2007. It is so appropriate for this piece to be on this collection,
as St Charles was and is known for his intercession of healing.
Another big one on the collection is 'Live to be Holy'. This is
based on the 'Song of Songs' and it is really a most beautiful piece
about living humbly for God and being in love with God.
review by Yvonne Walsh
by L'Angélus (Cajun Records)
is a beautiful collection of mostly traditional hymns done in a
modern style which enhances and revitalises the material. L'Angelus
is the Rees family group from USA who mainly play in Cajun style,
but there's quite a diversity on this album. The best tracks are
those where the group is comfortably in the folk/bluegrass/Cajun
genre. Throughout the singing and playing is top notch and there
is a strong sense that they believe sincerely in the words they
sing. Standout tracks include the catchy This Day God Gives to Me,
credited to St Patrick, and Be Thou My Vision which shows they've
been delving to great effect in the Celtic tradition. The French
Cajun tradition is seen in the spiritual waltz about Our Lady J'Irai
La Voir Un Jour, which features some great piano playing. This devotion
to Mary is also shown in Ave Maria, and Sing of Mary. Some of the
better known hymns, like Ave Maria and Salve Regina are well performed
but only in a very traditional fashion, which doesn't give them
the necessary edge - this is particularly true of Holy God We
Praise Thy Name which gets a rather flat and uninspired arrangement.
Samples of the tracks can be heard here.
Darkness, Come Light - Twelve Songs of Christmas
by Mary Chapin Carpenter (Rounder)
Chapin Carpenter has long been one of my favourite singers so I
was thrilled when I heard she was working on a Christmas album.
The finished product does not disappoint - this is a work of beauty.
It has all her trademark features - personal, reflective and intimate,
with every word coming across crystal clear and musical arrangements
(especially tasteful guitar and piano) that complement rather than
overwhelm the songs.
What I look for in a new Christmas album is a combination of Christmas
favourites being given a new lease of live and new songs that capture
the spirit of the season. This album scores highly on all fronts.
The album opens with a Christmas song that I've rarely seen on other
contemporary Christmas albums - this version of Once in Royal
David's City may not please the classical purists, but I think
it's a refreshing take on the song, with a laid back country/folk
stlye that savours every word. Children Go Where I Send Thee
is the only other traditional song I was familiar with, and
while it's not my favourite this is a fine version.
Come Darkness, Come Light, the self-penned title song, is
most infectious with its Allelluia refrain and welcoming message
- "Come running, come walking slow/Come weary on your broken
road/Come see Him and shed your heavy load/Alleluia". Candlelight
Carol, by John Rutter is a soothing Chrismas lullaby - "Nations
proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour/But Mary will hold him
and sing him to sleep". There's plenty of seasonal nostalgia
too in songs like the cosy Hot Buttered Rum and Christmas
Time in the City. Thanksgiving Song, another Carpenter
original, speaks for itself, a song of gratitude and welcome as
family gathers - "Grateful for what's understood/And all that
is forgiven ... Let grateful days be endless". I feel that
Christmas Carol is the most personal song on the album -
with it's Christmas joy and its shadows also - "The earlier
it gets each year/The scarcer is my Christmas cheer" - I can
relate to that! There's a yearning for peace - "I pray that
peace comes in our time/It's hard enough to keep from crying/When
every bit of news just breaks your heart".
As should be obvious by now the album is certainly Christian in
its outlook and imagery, but in this song she says she hasn't "been
to church since God knows when", but this doesn't come across
as a sour note, or any fashionable distancing from religion. If
that's where she's at that's where she's at. Maybe the next step
will be a rediscovery of the community element that church going
of these songs can be heard at Amazon here.
Click play button on left.
Love Could Say God's Name
by Beth Nielsen Chapman
This DVD is special on
so many levels. It features Beth Nielsen Chapman in a live concert
from St Paul’s Cathedral, London, with the London Oriana Choir.
It’s a collection of spiritual songs, sung with infectious gusto,
enthusiasm, respect and inspiration. Beth’s voice has rarely sounded
better, and here it is complemented like never before by a truly
heavenly choir. This is most striking on her well-known song Colour
of Roses – I doubt if fans of the original will be disappointed.
Then there is the opening song, with the rather unusual title Prayers
of an Atheist. To understand this it helps to refer to a comment
she made in a recent interview – when her husband died, one of the
most touching prayers she received as from an atheist friend who
offered up whatever prayers he could muster. She felt that this
prayer had the longest distance to travel. As she says in the song,
even the prayers of an atheist can find their way back home. There
are familiar songs that seem somehow refreshed by these performances
– (Amazing Grace, Ave Maria, Steal Away), and some culturally
diverse material like the African flavoured Massibulele,
and the Jewish Shalom Alecheim. This is not just a concert
however, in fact it’s more of a worship service – between the songs
we get scriptural readings and readings from Nobel Peace Prize winners
like Bishop Tutu and Jody Williams – the event was in aid of Peace
Jam, which seeks to bring teens together with Nobel Peace Prize
winners. On the DVD there’s also a short “Behind the Scenes” film
which helps our understanding of the event. The sound for the readings
could be better, and some of the camera angles are limited, but
these are just small quibbles – overall this is a beautiful work
and Angels Say
by Ashley Cleveland
( Rambler Records)
you like your rock gospel heavy and your trad gospel soulful you
couldn't do much beter than Ashley Cleveland, a highly regarded
singer not that well known on this side of the Atlantic. Her strong
voice exudes commitment and sincerity and is used to great advantage
on this her latest album, in which puts her own distinctive stamp
on some older hymns. One of my favourites is a rocked up version
of Christ the Lord is Risen Today (she sounds really glad
that He is risen) which, with her Holy, Holy, Holy, would
suit school prayer services - to send the students away with a spring
in their steps. For those wanting some relatively quieter, more
reflective material Precious Lord and Surely Goodness
and Mercy should satisfy. You can hear samples of all the songs
on the artist's website.
Voice of Hope
music has been gaining more acceptance in the mainstream music scene
in recent years, and here's another fine example - a Tommy Fleming
double album, unique in many ways, not least for being recorded
in the Basilica in Knock. Tommy is The Voice - full of strength
and committment, a style eminently suitable to inspirational material.
If his aim is to present familiar inspirational songs the venture
is a success - we get From a Distance, Morning Has Broken, Ave
Maria, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Amazing Grace and many more,
but perhaps therein lies a question - why revisit so many songs
that have been so well covered in the past? The songs are so good,
and done so well here, that familiarity won't breed contempt, but
a more adventurous approach would have been welcome. From that point
of view it's good to see inclusions like Jimmy McCarthy's mystical
Bright Blue Rose, and Beth Nielsen Chapman's poignant Sand
and Water. I'd love to have more contemporary Irish spiritual
songs, but maybe next time! The CD also contains 4 bounus studio
tracks, Tommy on more familiar ground with well crafted contemorary
roots songs, including the thought provoking parenting song Things
We've Handed Down, by Marc Cohn. I'm looking forward to seeing
by Eleanor Shanley and Ivan Leparr
Shanley, an Irish folk singer, and Leparr, an American Gospel singer
first met on a gospel project when Shanley was singing with Dé Danann,
and what a fortuitous meeting! They have produced a most striking
album, unique among recent Irish releases.
gospel or social comment on most tracks and all are sung as solos
are duets with undoubted conviction. Thankfully the voices are complimented
rather than drowned by the backing music - strong on uncluttered
piano and guitar.
Among the standout tracks are Give Me a Clean Heart, which
would be at home in a prayer service or in a discussion on the theme
of forgiveness, and Drifting Too Far From the Shore, also
suitable for a meditative setting.
Shanley's voice, with its sense of yearning and sincerity, is most
suited to these slow songs (particular strong on Jimmy Cliff's Too
Many Rivers to Cross), but the up tempo numbers are worth a
listen also, from the opening track, Bob Dylan's License to Kill,through
Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody, to the more familiar Heaven
Help Us All, by Ron Miller. Just a few small qualms: I can't
quite take to Leparr's version of Que Sera Sera, and the
sleeve notes could be more comprehensive - no musicians listed by
instrument and no lyrics (most can be easily found on the web),
but Leparr's dedication is worth quoting from: "I would like to
thank God for the opportunity to bring uplifting and hopefully exciting
music to all who care to listen".
to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2
releases from U2 are always of interest for spiritual content and
this one is no exception.
The most overtly religious track is Yahweh, a striking prayer
song that will find plenty of use in prayer services and in classroom
discussion - the lyrics are rich in ideas and imagery - "Take these
hands, teach them what to carry, Take these hands, Don't make a
The spiritual content of the other tracks may not be quite so obvious,
but it's there - in Vertigo: "And though your soul it can't
be bought/Your mind can wander". There's a hint of Jesus' desert
temptation ("All of this can be yours"), before the positive ending:
"Your love is teaching me how, how to kneel", a motif picked up
again in Love and Peace Or Else: "I'm not easy on my knees".
There's another hint of scripture in Miracle Drug: "I hear
a voice/It's whispering/In science and medicine/'I was a stranger
and you took me in'". There's a belief in mature love - Love and
logic keep us clear/Reason is on our side love", a theme taken up
again in A Man and a Woman "I could never take a chance/Of
losing love to find romance". Crumbs From Your Table shows
the social awareness we have come to expect from Bono - "Where you
live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die", but
it is not overly preachy and the imagery does not yield up its meaning
Bono is often accused of egotism, but there's a nice ironic undercutting
of this image in Original of the Species: "Some things you
shouldn't get too good at/Like smiling, crying and celebrity", and
back in Yahweh: "Take this mouth/So quick to criticise".
Musically it's the familiar U2 sound, distinctive if not too adventurous.
Most of the words are clear enough but it does help to have the
lyrics printed on the sleeve. There's plenty of food for thought
here, from a mature rock band whose creativity shows no sign of
by The Monks of Glenstal Abbey
of the music made by the Monks of Glenstal Abbey knoiw what sound
to expect from this collection and they won't be disappointed by
this collection of 21 chants hymns and meditations.
Nóirin Ní Riain guests on the album - she has a particular love
for singing with these monks, and doubles as producer. Also guesting
this time are singer Sinéad O'Connor and writer John O'Donohue.
O'Connor's voice is distinctive and at times unnerving, while Ní
Riain's is more soothing.
Some of the chants are plain, but there's harmony as well - heard
to greatest effect on the beautiful Beatitudes, which should
become a useful resource when the Beatitudes are being taught or
meditated upon. Significantly this track figures prominently in
the publicity for this CD.
There are many Christmas songs - The Coventry Carol, Christmas
Day is Come, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, for example, and many are
in Latin - Viri Galilae, Spiritus Sanctus, and Regina Caeli,
Musical accompaniment is either non-existent or sparse - it's all
in the voice, the "sound of the Spirit" as the CD's subtitle has
it. The sleeve notes pursue the issue: "The voices you hear are
singing with each other but beyond themselves". The reflections
of Mark Patrick Hederman OSB, on the CD, develop the ideas further
- for example in The Holy Spirit is the Air We Breathe he
says: "Each of these singers is somehow being sung … these singers
are holding open a space for the Spirit of God to be heard …the
Holy Spirit is the air we breathe".
by Beth Nielsen Chapman
is this for a surprise - a prominent American country/folk singer
whose songs have been recorded by some of her most famous contemporaries
releases a new album - of old Catholic hymns, most of them in Latin!
Beth Nielsen Chapman has just released a mainstream album, Look,
but has still found time for this Hymns project - a CD of
rare beauty - from the cover design to the intricate harmonies and
subtle musical arrangements.
Beth Nielsen Chapman, whose mainstream work has often included spiritual
themes, was brought up Catholic and obviously has fond memories
of the hymns of her childhood. She was finding it hard to get good
recordings of these so she recorded them herself, to our great benefit.
Many readers will remember Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris
Hostia from the benediction ceremonies, and here they are given
vibrant new life by Chapman's beautiful voice and really striking
harmonies. Only those who insist on unison singing will be disappointed,
but personally I feel that such harmony singing is an intimation
of the glory of Heaven. The benediction songs are unaccompanied,
as are Panis Angelicus, Adoramus Te, and Salve Regina (younger
readers might remember it from the film Sister Act). Where
there is musical accompaniment it is often a subtle Spanish guitar
in the style of John Michael Talbot, as in the opening track Ave
Verum Corpus which won this well-disposed listener over immediately.
There's one Christmas track, Veni Veni Emmanuel, which makes
me hope that Chapman will some day release her own Christmas album,
but a few of the tracks are in English - there's my personal favourite
Oh God of Loveliness, with words by St Lafonso Liguori set
to a traditional melody, a moving musical prayer that I last heard
in a recording from the seventies by Jennifer Warnes, another inspiring
voice. Chapman has included one of her own songs, Hymn to Mary,
a touching and very personal prayer with harp, cello and strings
Those who listen to the end of the CD, as I'm sure all will, are
in for yet another surprise - a hidden track, Ave Maria,
that was previously available on a now deleted compilation album.
I had the pleasure of hearing her sing this live at a concert in
Vicar St, Dublin, a few years ago, a performance of sincerity that
I will long remember. This album will be followed by a collection
of world hymns from other religious traditions, and is available
on the Sanctuary label, and from the artist's website - www.bethnielsenchapman.com