Quick Spin. Ten "future hymns from an anchient world" as “messed with” by the marvel that is Sir Crabb and his band of merry friends. Think of your favorite medieval, period-instrument band. Then think of Radio head. Throw the two together. Whalla. (or something like that.)
Once a decade or so, the atoms in the universe conspire in such a way-- Or, God...who is working in and through the atoms that are in the minds that are in the universe, conspires with those atoms in such a way -- as to produce music of such extraordinary power, loveliness, and mystique, that one wonders how the universe should have survived without it.
About a week ago, I sent a Facebook message to Kemper Crabb in which I said that his newest release “Reliquarium” must be among the top ten albums in the history of the world. (And that was just my impression from the 30 second promo samples.) He replied “thanks for the hyperbole” or something of the sort. But I meant no hyperbole. Should I pack my suitcase with everything we’ll need at the end of the world to restart civilization, I will throw in -- along with Some Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and Satellite Sky by Mark Heard -- a copy of Reliquarium. And while we might quibble about which other seven albums belong on that list, Reliquarium easily makes the top 10 Hymns albums in the history of the world. Really. It’s that good.
Now I know, hymns as such may not be a universal taste. I have about two dozen CDs given solely to Christian hymns, so you could say I’m something of a connoisseur. Indeed, my sense of what is vital, may not be your sense of what is vital. But my guess, there are some folks out there who would never opt to buy a hymns anything, that could thrive on Reliquarium.
The lyrics are what they are. Bold. Beautiful, full of light and life and the concrete power of the blood of God. Kemper didn’t write them. But one quick listen reminds me of the poverty of so much modern song craft. Would it be that more of our modern day worship song writers knew a thing or two about poetry. Or weight.
Then there is the music. An audio onslaught, gleaned from another age. (1300's, 1960s)
This next part may sound a tad vain, but for years I have used this description of myself on BlogSpot: “Kirk Jordan is a musician's musician who lives with his wife and three daughters in Central Arkansas. People who know Kirk do not think of him as a musician. That is because Kirk does not play any known instruments. He does, however, hear the most incredible music inside his head --- Something like Arabian-Celtic Rock, or the older hymns as sung by the trees.”
Finally, somebody is creating something close to the music I hear in my head but am unable to express.
Kemper Crabb is master of a pretty “remote” genre. Think of your favorite medieval old world-instrument band. Then think of Radiohead. Throw the two together. Whalla.
First, while the album is clearly a Kemper product, that is about like crediting Arthur Fiedler for the music of the Boston Pops. This is a true community effort, with lots of people playing lots of instruments. The music ranges from lean chamber stuff, to very large full-orchestra adrenaline attacks. But even with the mood variation, there is great unity in the album itself, joined by a common sound or approach. I won’t try to describe the sound too much, you can hear samples here.
I said that Kemper messed with the songs. (Those were his words). But surprisingly, most of the tunes --as sung -- are the tunes as I know them, given a chord shift or two. Kemper's voice has deepened over the last decades. His newer older voice is less elastic, but with a bit more baritone crunch. In short. These are the tunes we know, sorta.
The whacked-out part comes all under and around the voice. (Which sometimes includes a chorus.)
Each song is built on bed of instruments, many Old-world, including Ali-Baba/Celtic sounding fare, sometimes played like a reel, sometimes played like avalanche, but in each case the music under the song varies – often substantially -- from the sung song. And I am just weirded out.
I don’t get this musically at all. Beyond the word “counterpoint” I simply don’t know how to describe what is going on. The musical bath or structure is often so wholly different than the sung melodic line, that you wonder how the two musical “worlds” could work together. But they collide joyfully.
Reliquarium opens with the hymn, This is our Father’s World. Now if other renditions of this song proclaim a God who is worthy of creating a cow, the Reliquarium version proclaims a God worthy of creating a bull moose. Or a charging legion of war horses. In later songs we will hear tunes fitting for a God who should make a tiger, or an earthworm -- A mastodon …a platypus, even an Orc. (I don’t know, does God make Orcs?)
As is, at least three of these songs (Holy 3x, Just as I am, and On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” embrace such levels of minor-chord fervor and dissonance (not to mention volume) that lovers of the mere old-world sound will flinch. My gut grimaced with all the pleasure that only superb, highly crafted discord and loud guitars can do. And was that an old-world moog synthesizer? Oh my! My mother, God rest her soul, would have loved about half this album. The other half would simply have shattered her nerves.)
For the curious, Here is a list of players and insturments featured in Reliquarium.
•Kemper Crabb: Bloogle Tube, Cittern, Celtic Harp, Oud, Electric Rhythm Guitar, Mandolin, Electric Rhythm Mandolin, Ebo Guitar, Electric Slide Mandolin, Mountain Dulcimer, Theremin, Chanter, Frontal Voice, Crummhorn, Harmonic Voices, Bombarde, Kellhorn, Autoharp, Harmonium, Low Whistle, Harmonica, Kalimba, Harmony Recorder, Melodica, Frontal Recorder, Sampled Drones, Kazoo, Bouzouki, Frontal Electric Mandolin, Echo Harp, Electronic Bagpipes, Whistle, Bowed Psaltery, Harpe de Judah, Sopranino Recorder, Production, Song Arrangements, String Parts
•Garett Buell: Djembe, Udu, Tamborine, Repinique, Mazhar, Darbuka, Dumbek, Shaker, Gong, Cymbal, Tablas, Kick Drum, Conga, Cymbal Bells, Pandeiro, Bodhran, Dohalla, Gong-Kaido, Programmed Percussives, Chimes, Electronic Effects, Wind Chimes, Programmed Loop
•Christina "Crickett" David: Violin, Viola, Erhu, String Arrangements
•Ryan Birsinger: Chapman Stick, Bowed Psaltery, Low Harmonic Voices, Programmed Percussives, Harmonium, Electric Rhythm Guitar, Engineering, Co-production
•Chris Whittington: Acoustic Guitar, Harmonic Voices, Saz
•Charles Shadell: Double Bass
•Frank Hart: Electric Frontal Guitar, Electric Slide Guitar, Electric Rhythm Guitar
•John Simmons: Dumbek, Djembe
•Alecia Lawyer: Oboe
•Max Dyer: Cello
•David Marshall: Electric Frontal Guitar, Electric Rhythm Guitar
•Daniel Mendiola: Electric Melodic Guitar, Electric Ambient Guitar, Ebo Guitar, Frontal Electric Guitar
•Shanna Crabb: Autoharp, Sampled Drones
•Tony Weiss: Frontal Synthesiser, Synthesiser, Electric Organ
•Stan Nelson: Fretless Bass, Electric Bass
•Thadd Grimm: Electric Frontal Guitar, Electric Rhythm Guitar
•Mark Luitjen: Electric Bass
•Chuck Dotson: Electric Rhythm Guitar
•Andy Crabb: Electric Rhythm Guitar
•Phillip Roberts: Acoustic Guitar_
I don’t want to make too much of this next idea, but sometimes I think the music that we give to God, rises to the level of our concepts about God. Which, given much of modern worship-fare has me worried. On the other hand, this album, with both its music and lyrics, serves as needed antidote. I sense, that behind the variety, crunch, and exploration, is a deeper (older) conception of God: A warrior God, an extravagant, playful, imaginative God … a holy, dreadful God… a communing God. A consuming Fire.
As is, this album functions at another level. I will let Kemper have the last word.
Since 1984, the Servants of the King have labored toward the spiritual betterment of humanity, building orphanages, schools, leprosoriums, hospitals, and churches in India and Africa. Founded and led by the elder Kemper Crabb, missionary, priest, and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, SOTK feeds, clothes, educates, provides medical care, and vocationally equips thousands upon thousands of people daily. The proceeds of this project, all of whose musical contributors donated their time and skills, will benefit the Servants of the King. For more on SOTK, visit their website at www.servantsoftheking.org#Save the Hymns.
Illegal copying is theft from orphans and lepers.
Bonus: some of Kirk's other favorite Hymn albums in the history of the world.
Looking into the Light: Celtic Hymns, by Joanne Hogg
Hymns and Prayer Songs, Buddy Greene
Men and Angels say: Ashley Clevland
(Various ablums ) - Blind Boys of Alabama
Downtown Church - Patty Griffith
Shards of Light - Mo Leverett (many original lyrics)
Redemptions Songs: Jars of Clay (alternate tunes)
Kingdom Come: Jill Phillips
Hymns: Michael Card (MC also has a great Celtic hymns album)
The Shadow of your Wings (and several others) Fernadno Ortega
Hymns Project: Chris Rice
My Mother's hymnbook: Johnny Cash
Life Line: Iris Dement
Hymns: 2nd Chapter of Acts.
Hymnsinger: Cynthia Clawson
And while they aren't really hymns, in the modern protestant sense, most any early album my "early church" troubador Johm Micheal Talbot.
Ps. If you have a hymns album (or other recording) you would like me to review, contact
Kirk Jordan, kirkwood2020 at Yahoo.com