Prime Cuts: Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, Abide with Me, I'd Rather Have Jesus
Overall Score: 5/5
The titular of Jill Phillips' tenth album "Lead Me Home" is the best synopsis for the record. Returning back to her Southern roots and the earlier epoch of her own upbringing, Phillips has deftly chosen to record 10 hymns and Gospel favorites she has had grown up with. But unlike many other of her peers who have had travelled the same route, Phillips have avoided the pitfall of restricting her canon to just the tried and true hymns. Rather, in augment to the more well-known hymns (such as "Abide in Me," "Peace in the Valley," and "I'd Rather Have Jesus"), she has also wisely selected lesser known Southern Gospel gems. Few of us who have grown up on this side of the Millennium have ever heard of the old America Civil War tune "Eyes on the Price" or Ralph Stanley's "Ranking Strangers" or Louis Armstrong's "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen." Neither does Phillips approach these cover tunes as mere karaoke. Instead she re-imagines them with her own roots cum country stripped-down signature sound.
Ever since Phillips graduated from Belmont University in 1998, she has had been involved in the music industry. Signed to Word Records, she recorded her debut eponymous album a year later. A top tiered record, the album was produced by Grammy Award nominated producer Wayne Kirkpatrick (Amy Grant, Chris Eaton & Kim Hill). As a result of Kirkpatrick's involvement and Phillips' acumen to write thought-provoking tunes, Phillips became a darling among music critics and fans. After touring extensively with Caedmon's Call and Bebo Norman, Phillips partnered with Fervent Records for the release of the critical acclaimed "The Writings on the Wall." An album that featured musical contributions from her hubby Andy Gullahorn, Matt Stanfield, Matt Slocum (Sixpence None the Richer), Stephen Mason (Jars of Clay), Bebo Norman and Andrew Peterson just to name a few.
With the introduction out of the way, let us delve into "Lead Me Home." Easily, the record's nerve center has to be "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen," a song made popular by the late Louis Armstrong. While too many contemporary Christian songs tend to whitewash sufferings, "Nobody" which originated during the period of slavery doesn't sideline the issue of pain. As a result of its plaintive setting, the song's longing for heaven and hope become even more striking. Accompanied primarily by the pull of nylon strings on an acoustic guitar, Phillips gets up, close and personal with her stunningly intimate version of "Abide with Me." And she has never sounded more sincere and vulnerable than on the hymn "I'd Rather Have Jesus," a song easy to sing to but a challenge to live out.
Ralph Stanley's "Rank Strangers" gets a completely Jill Phillips makeover. If you have never heard the original, you would have sworn Phillips has written the tune as she sings it as if it were tailored made for her own vocal nuances. "Eyes on the Prize," on the other hand, doesn't work quite as well. The song's quirky melodic line and Phillips' rocking Gospel-ish rendering just don't marry well. While she tries too hard on "Eyes," she effortlessly sings without any fanfare on "Great is Thy Faithfulness" -- simple yet conterminously profound. Though many have tackled "Come Ye Sinners," Phillips brings a "Brother Where Art Thou" southern nostalgic tint to it, taking the song to a new soul-pulverizing level.
Home to Phillips is warm, nostalgic, simple yet elegant. The same can be said of this record.