Prime Cuts: Untitled Hymn, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Too Much I Love
Overall Grade: 4/5
Flash back 12 to 15 years, Chris Rice was the new generation following in the heels of stalwarts such as Kathy Troccoli, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Not only was he placing top charting hits on the CCM charts, Rice was also scoring secular AC hits including the top 10 "When Did You Fall (in Love with Me)" and the top 30 "Lemonade." However, after his 2007's introspective collection "What a Heart is Beating For," Rice disappeared from the recording scene. 12 years later, he re-emerges with "Untitled Hymn: A Collection of Hymns."
After a look at the song list, fans who have had waited for such a long time, may shriek with disappointment. This is because this album finds Rice recording 10 often-recycled hymns with a new recording of his signature hit "Untitled Hymn" and only one brand new song, "Too Much I Love," tagged at the end of the record. After such a long hiatus, all we get is a merger one new song? To add further chagrin, this is not the first time Rice tackled an album full of hymns. A decade and a half ago, Rice had already given us a hymns project via "Peace Like A River: The Hymns Project."
However, the album is partially redeemed by the creativity and ingenuity invested in re-imagining these hymns. With a new coda added to "O For a Thousand Tongues," the song gets a new facelift. It transports this Charles Wesley from the 19th century right into the worship of 2019. Meanwhile, the crunchy guitar of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" adds a rootsy Americana veneer that is quite fetching. One thing to note is that Rice is very economical when it comes to the use of percussion. "This is My Father's World," for instance, is completely devoid of any drum work though it is taken at a slightly accelerated and jangly pace.
Never one to approach the hymns as karaoke pieces, "Hallelujah, What A Savior" is delivered with great depth and nuances. And the children's choir add further dimension to this gorgeous meditation on the saving work of Jesus. Not sure why Rice chose John Newton's "Amazing Grace" which suffers from overexposure despite Rice's thoughtful reading. Meanwhile the piano arpeggios of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" are heavenly. And after all these years, Rice's breakthrough hit "Untitled Hymn" is still so affecting. The words still cut right into our souls: "Sometimes the way is lonely/And steep and filled with pain/So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then/Cry to Jesus/Cry to Jesus/Cry to Jesus and live!"
The album's sole new song is "Too Much I Love" is a folkish song with Rice accompanied only by a piano. The simplicity of the accompaniment, the theological depth of the song's insights, and Rice's understated passion make this a standout in Rice's portfolio. In short, the disappointment of Rice doing yet another hymns album is showhow overcomed by the earnestness and creativity he puts into this project. And in this regard, this album's worth checking out.