Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Songbird at Midnight: The Legacy of Fanny Crosby; Amanda Noel

Album: Songbird at Midnight  (The Legacy of Fanny Crosby; Vol 1)
Artist:  Amanda Noel (vocalist)  with husband Jonathan and friends.
Song Craft: Fanny J. Crosby 1820-1915

Genre:  Christian Hymns as written by Fanny Crosby, recast with modern country and adult contemporary production.  (Compares with similar re-hymn efforts by the Indelible Grace Group.)

I surprising little gem of an album.   (with 6 songs, call this an EP)

I found this on a lark, saw the title and knew I had to order a copy.

I am hoping that any who read this will have some sense of who  Fanny J. Crosby's is, and of her deep contribution to American hymnscape... but if not, follow this little review with a little education.  In short, the blind Fanny Crosby was "the most prolific of all nineteenth-century American sacred song writers".[84]By the end of her career she had written almost 9,000 hymns"   (Wikipedia)

Oh, the pure delight of a single hour
That before Thy throne I spend,
When I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God
I commune as friend with friend!
There are depths of love that I cannot know
Till I cross the narrow sea;
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
Till I rest in peace with Thee  
          (Excerpt, Draw Me Nearer, Fanny J. Crosby.)

Fanny J. was staple of my Baptist and Bible-church childhood.  I was highly amused by her name - but overcame, and counted her hymn To God be the Glory among my favorites.  I warbled through  To God be the Glory on my Junior High trumpet, and raised my hand in routine request, every time we had a Sunday Night Hymn sing.  (Actually that, and Like a River Glorious by Frances Havergal.)

By the time I got to college and started attending a Presbyterian Church, I learned that not all lovers of hymns, loved Fanny J.    Her Wesleyan holiness tendendencies, in combination with a touch of sentimentality, made her the bane of folks who liked classier fair.  Fanny was sometimes regarded -- as were other 19th Century hymns writers -- as given unduly to the state of the hymnist's heart and less to the splendor of the transcendent God.  (As if David never wrote about his inner world:)   We regarded Fanny as good for evening service or campfire... but not so much for the sublimity of morning worship.

And with that,  and other paradigm changes in worship world, I lost track of Fanny J.

It took this little album to remind me of the genuine beauty and enduring quality of a number of Ms. Cosby's hymns.  I will leave it to others to critique her song-craft... I know that some of her verse is simple, but when I listen to these, I transported back to warm years -- bright years, given to a glad heart and the sweet inner work of the indwelling Jesus.  Indeed,  I am reminded that my soul is hid with him... in the Cleft of the Rock.  

Songs List:

Pass Me Not OH Gentle Savior
All the Way My Savior Leads Me
Draw Me Nearer
Rescue the Perishing
Dark is the Night
He Hideth My Soul (In the Cleft of the Rock)


My only lament.  Missing To God be the Glory.


As for the singer/production.  First rate.    The opening tracks of Songbird of Midnight lean decidedly country (banjo and steel guitar), other songs flirt with a more polished adult contemporary sound.  There are a couple of tracks that tilt  into toward rock  - Not too heavy, but perhaps too much for folks with Gothardite convictions, or who wince when hearing their piano- based hymns given to pop production.   As for tunes, some are variations on the standards, others are (I assume) new renditions. Dark is the Night is the only offering that I had never heard in any form,  and I love its churning images of storm.

Surprise Fave: Rescue the Perishing.  This bright, even bouncy arrangement strikes me as a little odd given the theme, but it hooks the inner ear.  I wonder what Fanny would think?

This is my first encounter with singer Amanda (who appears to work with her musician husband Jonathan Noel) but  a quick look around the internet suggest they have been active as music creators and worship leaders for some years.

As for Amanda's voice.   Direct and beautiful.  Sanguine and sturdy.      The music is given room to be music...and I am bathed in the glow of her femininity.   (Should these names help, I heard vocal qualities in common with Jill Phillips, Carolyn Arends, and old schooler Nancy Honeytree.)

Should I offer any critique it would be this.  The total sound leans toward the  Nashville Center.  Not total Nashville gloss, but more say, than my rootsy sweethearts Alison Krauss and Iris Dement.  (Dear Jon and Amanda.....I see that you have called this Volume 1.  If you want to make the Kirkster even more happy when recording Volume 2, remove some electricity, then replace the same with a an out-of-tune upright, Jew's Harp, and  jug band.    But man, no disrespect.  The production is tight.

Final Note: I suspect that this album will hook those who already love the music of Fanny Crosby, and aren't unsettled by a modern revamp.  On the other hand, I  readily recommend this for any who do not  yet know her music and wish to walk with Jesus through the storm, or in the warmth of a gentle morn.

In short, it is impossible to listen to these, and not sense the genuine intimacy that Fanny found in the face of her beloved.  Better yet.  Join with her in the gaze.

thank you Amanda.

#Save the Hymns

Links of Interest:

Amanda and Jonathan Noel Website
To follow Jonathan and Amanda on Facebook
To follow Jonathan and Amanda on Twitter

to listen to and order music:  Amazon

To download a free (but tippable) sample of Amanda Noel's Work:   Amanda Noel/Noisetrade

For more on the Life and Music of Fanny Crosby:

Christian History

To Listen to a whole bunch of Frances Jane Cosby's hymns, the Cyber Hymnal

To read Kirk's other reviews of hymn based work:    #Save the Hymns

Ps.  I love the cover graphics.  Nice touch with the glasses.


1 comment:

  1. I was pleasantly surprised to be led in worship by Amanda & her husband, Jonathan, this past weekend in Lexington, KY. They were part of an amazing four piece band leading worship for a Kelly Minter Women's Conference. Truly, it was the best music I've experienced at the many Women's Conferences I've attended. As a lover of hymns myself, I had to purchase this little gem of a project--especially since they were Fanny Crosby hymns! My favorite so far is All the Way My Savior Leads Me because I LOVE the Nashville sound. I was just googling more information on the EP when I came across your review. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I'm with you...#savethehymns