Prime Cuts: Keep on the Firing Line/Onward Christian Soldiers, Since Jesus Passed By, Sweet Hour of Prayer/If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again/Pray
The titular of the Nelons' latest release "Hymns: the A Cappella Sessions" is the cause for some nervous twitching. For those of us who have grown up in the church where hymns are its lingua franca, can anyone offer any fresh readings of these sonic chestnuts making them come alive again? After all the countless renditions of a hymn like "I Need Thee Every Hour," has a saturation point been reached as far as interpretations go? Furthermore, with the proliferation of hymn albums available everywhere on iTunes, what warrants the purchase of yet another release?
Before we seek to tackle some of these queries, it is important to say a word as a way of introducing the Nelons to the unacquainted. Comprising of Kelly Nelon Clark, Jason Clark, Amber Nelon Thompson and Autumn Nelon Clark, the Nelons have been one of the leading family groups in Southern Gospel Music. Over the years, they have garnered six GMA Dove Awards; three GRAMMY® Award nominations; 14 Singing News Fan Awards; a Silver Angel Award; a New York Film Festival Award for the history-making short form video "Famine In Their Land"; and a People's Choice Silver Telly Award for the concept video "Excuse Me, Are You Jesus?" With more than 35 albums under their belt, "Hymns: the A Cappella Sessions" is the Nelons' much anticipated non-seasonal album for Daywind Records since 2012's "Come on Home."
Honestly speaking, despite the oversaturation of records of hymns right now in the market, there are three reasons why "Hymns: the A Cappella Sessions" still warrants a listen. First, these songs remind us not only that the Nelons can sing, they also remind us that the Nelons are stellar interpreters of songs. Instead of just proffering a plain reading of William Cowper's "There's a Fountain," Jason Clark infuses his Southern roots into this hymn, turning it into a down home bluegrass spiritual plea to Jesus calling to mind Ricky Skaggs or Doyle Lawson at their best. Listening to how the ladies sing around the melodic lines of "'Tis So Sweet" creates the feeling that when we wait for the Lord in quiet trust, we are never alone but there's a choir of voices who wait with us.
Second, producer Lari Gross and the quartet are to be congratulated for the ingenuity of joining similar-themed hymns together flawlessly. In this regard, take a listen to the medley of "Sweet Hour of Prayer/If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again/Pray." These are three hymns written over a span of time in vastly different contexts. Yet God still uses the same means of prayer to accomplish His purposes across these eras. The same can be said about the upbeat "Keep on the Firing Line/Onward Christian Soldiers."
Third, instead of relying on instruments, the way the Nelons use their voices to create drama, crescendos and emotions is by itself a work of art. Taking a listen to how their voices make a picturesque song like "Since Jesus Passed By" come alive three dimensionally is by itself a stunning exercise well worth the price of this disc alone. So, at the end of the day, if you want to see these hymns come alive again, give this CD a swirl.