Prime Cuts: How Can I Keep from Singing, Even Unto Death, Holy, Holy, Holy
How many artists, secular or Christian, can be spotted wearing a pair of glasses on their album front? In both her debut and sophomore records for Sparrow Records, Assad is spotted in her thick rimmed glasses. Visually this may set her apart from her peers, but it's also an ominous sign that this lady doesn't bend to conventional platitudes. From her Sparrow Records era to her independent Kickstarter-funded albums, Assad has shown that she's very much an artist in the bona fide sense of the word. She writes, sings, and interprets not to pacify album sales gatekeepers or chart placing mongers, but she records to express both her vigilant faith and her endearing vulnerability. "Inheritance," her second Kickstarter-funded project, takes us back to Assad's childhood when she was growing up in the Plymouth Brethren community.
"Inheritance" is Assad at her creative and heartfelt best. This album of hymns and a few originals is brilliantly polyglot: here Assad gorgeously blends together the language and sounds of her liturgical high church traditions with the palatable expressions of a modern day coffee house singer. As a result, Assad has created a modern sounding hymnal with sonic threads of ancient sensibilities. Sure, hymn albums are very popular these days, but most artists only touch on the iceberg of hymnology recycling the same few hymns such as "It is Well" and "Amazing Grace" again and again. Assad avoids such frivolity; rather, she divulges into hymns that are more obscure but still rich in theology. Album opener "Ubi Caritas" is an example. An antiphon associated with the foot washing ritual of Maundy Thursday, "Ubi Caritas" is a gentle reminder that where true charity is, God is there too.
With "Holy, Holy, Holy," Assad turns this ancient worship piece into a Sarah McLachlan-esque slice of dreamy pop-folk with her ethereal phrasing accompanied by forceful percussions and echo-y backings. "Be Thou My Vision" unfolds like a movie with each scene moving us closer and closer to God. With "I Wonder as I Wander" we feel like we are brought into a high-walled ancient Cathedral. Here we get to hear Assad express her vulnerability before God only to be reassured back by the echo-y reverberations as if to be reminded that our prayers to God are never mere whispers into thin air. More endearing vulnerability is expressed in "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." Musically, Assad enters into Enya's terrain with her light and fluffy ethereal renderings backboned by some metallic sounding percussions. This is simply a stunning work of art.
Inspired by Christian martyrdom in the Middle East, "Even Unto Death" is a touching piece. Here, Audrey professes undying faith in Christ despite persecutions as she sings "Though I lose my life, though my breath be taken, I will wait for you, I will not forsake you." "New Every Morning," presumably an Assad original, has, relatively speaking, the most contemporary feel, and it's also the weakest track on the album giving in to too much repetition. If you want a hymns album that demonstrates originality, forethought, creativity and an understanding of the different shades of traditions and how they interact with contemporary music, "Inheritance" is definitely worth a listen.