Hymned No. 1
Gospel singers are supposed to be vocally agile, and their performances are often technically impressive. But the best ones give you the impression that no matter how baroque and elaborate the performance, it's all being done in the service of God, not as a way of bringing glory to the singer. One of the big differences between gospel music and Christian pop music is that in Christian pop music there seems to be more of a tendency for the artist to draw attention to his or her own sensitivity and righteousness by means of bloated or ill-conceived arrangements and a highly mannered, stylized delivery. Case in point: Bart Millard, a man who is as sincerely devout and musically gifted as they come, but who is also just a bit — a good bit, actually — too in love with his own voice. This album is meant to be a celebration of traditional hymns, but instead it comes across as a celebration of Bart Millard (an impression clinched by the DVD side of this release's DualDisc version, which features a documentary about Millard's hometown and childhood). The arrangements are all self-consciously idiosyncratic — some in ways that work very nicely, such as the acoustic folk-rock setting of "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior," and some in ways that don't, such as an inappropriately strutting New Orleans arrangement of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Millard's spare and lovely rendition of "Have a Little Talk with Jesus" is a treat, but his Memphis soul take on "Softly and Tenderly" is a disaster, and ruins one of the most powerful revival hymns ever written. Millard has lots of fans, and most will probably enjoy this album very much. But those from outside that group will likely be taken aback by many of the musical choices he makes here.