Singer/songwriter Andrew Greer releases Angel Band: The Hymn Sessions (MA’M Recordings) today. We’re celebrating his release week by by giving him a chance to share his personal thoughts with you about this project, which features a host of talented artists, including Cindy Morgan, Ginny Owens, Sonya Isaacs, The McCrary Sisters and more.
ANGEL BAND: MY STORY IN HYMNS
By Andrew Greer
Growing up in rural Texas, daily life was structured around work, school and church. Church services, meals and special events organized our weeks and provided a common meeting ground in the community. We celebrated and grieved a lot of life with the members of our local congregation. And though sound sermons resonated life-changing truths from the pulpit, it was the thoughtful poetry of hymns – marrying foundational truths with sweeping Americana melodies – that first introduced me to God, and continue a dialogue between my best Friend and me.
Songs like “Jesus Paid It All” and “Softly and Tenderly” remind me of God’s grace through the death of Jesus. “The Lord’s Prayer” and “All Creatures of Our God and King” give me words to pray when I am struggling to connect with my Creator. With life-like lyrics (“And He walks with me / And He talks with me”), “In the Garden” intimates the Almighty – reminding me God is a personal friend, not just a distant judge.
As a singer/songwriter, I’ve been asked, Why record an album of cover songs? Hymns tell as personal of a story for me as any of my original tunes. So it was a no-brainer to cull, arrange and record a batch of these historic – but relevant – tunes on Angel Band: The Hymn Sessions. To insert a little of my own lyrical voice, I decided to contribute one original song (“I’ve Been Searching”), as well as write a new verse to a couple of hymns, keeping the melody intact, in hopes the listener will merely hear it as “the third verse” they never heard.
Having been sung corporately for hundreds of years, these songs connect us to the stories and lives of millions of passengers of faith, gifting us with a timeless, multi-generational connect. Wanting to capture the communal nature of hymns, I invited some of my close musical friends to make Angel Band a true community response.
Sonya Isaacs’ famous tearful soprano helps carry the title track, an early 1900’s tune introduced to me in a 2003 recording by her family bluegrass band, The Isaacs. Considering my awe for her artistry, it was a rare honor to have her vocal bring the recording of this song (and “Softly and Tenderly”) full circle for me. Ron Block (from Alison Krauss & Union Station) and his world-famous banjo reinterpreted “The Lord’s Prayer” in a way that helped me not just sing the model prayer, but actually pray the lyric of Jesus: “Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
One of my first songwriter influences in Christian music was Cindy Morgan. As we’ve become friends, Cindy and I have had conversations about anxiety and its sometimes-hold on our work and lives. So I wrote the second verse of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” a duet with Cindy, with her voice in mind, and as a spiritual focus for days of fear: “Though death it shall come in one moment / Forever in him life we share / Though my bones are anxiously groaning / My soul has not one single care / Turn your eyes upon Jesus . . .”
The legendary McCrary Sisters fulfilled a young white boy’s dream of singing Black Gospel so poignantly (“Jesus Paid It All”). And my dear friend Ginny Owens, who lost her sight as a toddler, gave “I Am Thine/Near the Cross” a poignant lift, as both songs were written by Fanny Crosby, a prolific mid-19th century songwriter who was also blind.
Sandra McCracken, Marc Scibilia, Julie Lee, even my own mom, also helped me tell this story of faith in a context more beautiful than I could have created on my own.
Hymns are messy. And life has been a bit messy for me. I would imagine for you, too. And with our modern culture’s obsession with me-centered techniques of self-help, it is a relief to sing songs born from the distress of the authors’ often trauma-riddled lives, but always pointing to a bigger picture – to an eternal help in surrender to Jesus, the Christ.
For more info on Andrew and Angel Band: The Hymn Sessions, visit www.andrew-greer.com.