Prime Cuts: Good Good Father, Doxology (Featuring Selah), I Need Thee Every Hour
Overall Score: 5/5
Timewise, the longest song here is "In Christ Alone." The track clocks in at a mere three and a half minute. Music wise, most of the songs only feature vocals and maybe a piano. In fact, some of the songs do not feature any instrumentation, acoustic or electronic. Song wise, most of the songs are not written in this century. Save for Chris Tomlin's "Good Good Father" and the Gettys' "In Christ Alone," all the songs here would be considered "traditional." In short, this is a short and largely under produced album containing mostly traditional tunes, yet it is so good. Call them the Christian version of Pentatonix, Anthem Lights have put their a cappella harmonies to glorious effect on what is the best hymns album released this year.
The genesis of Anthem Lights is found in the fall of 2007, when singer/songwriter Alan Powell joined forces with then aspiring solo artist Chad Graham. After months of writing, recording and prayer, Anthem Lights signed with Reunion Records and began fleshing out what would become its self-titled debut. Anthem Lights' second album, You Have My Heart, appeared in early 2014. It was led by the single "Hide Your Love Away," their most popular song yet on the Christian charts. By the end of the year, third album Escape had appeared, with a pair of singles ("Just Fall," "Run Away") performing well on the charts. The group also began releasing mini albums of their favorite songs by other artists, under the banner Covers; most were recent songs by pop artists such as One Direction, Taylor Swift, and OneRepublic, but the group also charted their influences with covers of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
Hymns fall into the same umbrella as the covers Anthem Lights have had been doing. Though a cappella bands are a dime and a dozen, what sets Anthem Lights apart is that their butter smooth harmonies carry a youthful zest. The common (mis)perception with hymns such as "I Need Thee Every Hour" and "It is Well With My Soul" is that it is for a generation past. Anthem Lights show that these hymns are just as vital for today as they were when they were first written. But the boys do not just tackle the hymns. What has become their wheelhouse is their ability to "mash" various hymns together as medleys. They come across with flying colors with a medley each for the two major seasons of the church, including one for Easter and one for Christmas.
With "Good Good Father," Anthem Lights show that they are not just karaoke singers. Rather, they literally reinvented this Chris Tomlin/Housefire's classic and made it their own without the excessive repetitions that some worship bands are culpable of. Selah's Amy Perry adds her mellifluous vocals to "Doxology" bringing in a crystalline vulnerability to this hymn of praise that is just breathtaking. In short, Hymns, isn't your typical grandfather's record. Rather, it's an album of rich theological truths done the boy band way and more.