Internationally acclaimed recording artist Jean Watson released her stunning new CD, SACRED, on Friday, October 19, 2018, through Truthfulmusic Productions and Elevate Entertainment.
Produced by multi-Grammy & Dove Award-nominated contemporary Christian music pioneer Billy Smiley (White Heart, Union of Sinners & Saints, Margaret Becker) for Northern Shore Productions, SACRED features 10 ancient songs of the Church, brought to life with Watson's ethereal, Celtic-flavored musical stylings, and embellished with guest performances from the likes of guitar maestro Phil Keaggy, cellist Matt Slocum (Sixpence None the Richer), and legendary vocalist Matthew Ward (2nd Chapter of Acts).
Q: Jean, thanks for doing this interview with us. Why did you decide to do a hymns album?
A: I have wanted to do a hymns album for many years. To me, hymns are testimonies of faith from our brothers and sisters of past generations! The words are often deep and profound, and the music is timeless.
Q: But this isn't your typical hymns album, many of them are quite obscure and unfamiliar. What were your criterion in choosing these songs?
A. My criterion in choosing the songs for Sacred was simply that they move me, spiritually, emotionally, and musically. I grew up in a fairly liturgical church, so my heart resonates with some of the ancient, traditional music that is very familiar. But I also discovered some more obscure hymns that touched me deeply and had a message I wanted to share.
Q: What were some of the hymns you have found and recorded for this album?
A. One of my favorites on the album is "The Doxology." I researched the origins of this song which is familiar to many Christians and discovered that it was written in 1695 by a man named Thomas Ken. The verse we know so well ("Praise God from whom all blessings flow," etc. ...) was actually only one of twelve verses! So, I used some of the themes from the original hymn to create new verses, added a new bridge, and a powerful new anthem of praise was born.
I also included some well-known songs of the church like "Holy Holy Holy," "Fairest Lord Jesus," and "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" as well as some very obscure songs such as "Jesus Christ The Apple Tree," "I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say," and "How Can I Keep From Singing." Over the years, I have traveled and ministered in many different churches and denominations, so I feel like the songs I chose reflect the diversity of music in the Church as a whole.
Q: Perhaps the newest hymn on the record is Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Why did you include this song?
A. I know Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is not a hymn in the traditional sense. My version is instrumental only, so there are no words used at all. Whenever I perform this song on my violin, however, I see people in the audience close their eyes and open their hearts to the possibility of a miracle (a "hallelujah moment") in their own lives. This is especially powerful when I minister in prisons. Often the inmates may not be open to a message of God's love for them right away, but when they hear Cohen's famous melody, tears begin to flow. There is the opening for the grace of God to come in and heal hearts, and that is why I included the song on the album. Sometimes, love is better expressed without words.
Q: I believe you are making a video for "St. Patrick's Breastplate." What can we expect about this video?
A. I sent the song to a videographer in Northern Ireland last year, and we began discussing how this powerful prayer could best be portrayed, visually. I was picturing myself just singing and playing the song near some spots where St. Patrick himself may have walked. The videographer, however, had a different idea. When I asked him what he saw, he described a battle scene between two medieval swordsmen. The two warriors were fighting while a small child played at their feet, completely unaware. In the end, the warrior who represents Christ in the story took the child on a journey, protected him, loved him, and blessed him.
I wasn't sure we could pull off something so extravagant, but we went for it! In September, with a small film crew and a make up artist and two swordsmen from the cast of the television show, Game of Thrones, we filmed the video over three days. We traveled to six locations around Northern Ireland, and I got my wish of being able to sing in some of the areas where St. Patrick lived and worked. We also filmed one scene at Inch Abbey which was a Game of Thrones filming site.
My favorite part of the video is the end where I am in a field in front of a 13th century castle. Just as I began to sing, the sun burst out from the clouds behind the castle, and I sensed the presence of God so strongly that I could hardly breathe! It was a life-changing experience. I am excited to say that the video has just released, and you can watch it here:
Q: You have given some of the these hymns your most unique spins. Of all the songs, which is your proudest? And why?
A. Oh my, that is a difficult question, because they are all my favorite! I guess I am most proud of "The Doxology." I spent many weeks on that one, banging it out on the piano and crafting the words until they felt 'right' and true to the intent of the original composer. When I brought the idea to producer Billy Smiley in Nashville, he suggested adding the powerful bridge, "Praise Him all nations, praise Him!" with a multi-ethnic choir and a pipe organ. The result was a praise explosion similar to what I imagine heaven will be like!
Q: You have quite a few notable guests on the record, tell us who are some of them?
A. I was so blessed and happy to have Phil Keaggy join me on "Fairest Lord Jesus." Phil and I have recorded and performed together before, and the combination of his gut-string guitar work and my violin and voice is exquisite!
I also was blessed to have Matt Slocum of Sixpence None the Richer add some stellar cello solos. He is an amazing player, and his sound fits the album perfectly!
Matthew Ward was a last-minute surprise. We needed a male vocalist for a duet on "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee," and having Matthew agree to sing was dream come true for me! His voice was absolutely perfect for the song and takes it over the top with energy and joy.
Q: What are the values of singing hymns for the church today?
A. I love many types of music and appreciate contemporary worship music as well as hymns. I think that we need both, to be honest! I am glad when I see younger generations singing old hymns, however - not because they are old, but because the words can be profound and edifying. I also love the sense of 'connection' hymns provide with the saints that have gone before us. I am so thankful to be able to share some of my favorites this year on my new CD, Sacred.
For more information on Watson and SACRED, visit jeanwatson.com.