Music Review: Creation Sings by Stuart Townend

28 10 2009

Very little introduction or preamble is needed when discussing the musical ministry of Stuart Townend. His contribution to modern hymn writing and the worship life of the contemporary church continues to grow, as does the catalogue of ‘standards’ that flow from his pen. The modern evangelical church owes him a debt of gratitude for placing timeless truth in our hearts, minds, and mouths.

Townend’s latest album ‘Creation Sings’ sees him return to the studio, recording a number of new tracks as well as fresh arrangements of a few of his more well known pieces. The style is mostly English/Irish/Scottish folk with a tremendous blend of sounds and musical textures. The production values on the album are astoundly high, with a compelling clarity and depth of tone to every note and syllable. It really is a pleasure to listen to this album with the headphones cranked up loud!

Lyrically the album is all that one would expect. Timeless, evangelical truths are phrased in plainly poetic cadences, with a steady adherence and fidelity to orthodox expressions – while maintaining a fresh turn of phrase.

The first track Come People of the Risen King, is an open invitation to all who trust in Christ to come and worship. The jubilance of worshipping the Saviour is bracketed by an understanding that not all who come to worship do so with lightness of heart or happiness of circumstance – some are enjoying the blessing of sunrise, others still struggling through the night.

Creation Sings is an extrapolation of Psalm 19 with Townend writing of the sunrise, of God’s breath upon the spinning globe, and granting the newborn baby’s cry. The chief instruments here are banjo (played by Townend) and upright bass. The folksy simplicity of the arrangements belies the depth of truth conveyed here – with Christ’s federal headship lulling along to the sound of light-touch piano and lilting melody!

The Father’s Embrace is a more understated arrangement springing from Psalm 27 with simple confidence in God’s fatherly care set against the encroachment of the enemy.

All my Days (Beautiful Saviour) is a well known standard, set this time against what sounds like a DADGAD arrangement.

O for a Closer Walk with God is a new setting for Cowper’s classic hymn, with new chorus appended (‘O fire of God come burn in me, Renew a holy passion, ‘Til Christ my deepest longing be, My never failing fountain’). Normally I’m no fan of putting a chorus into a well worn hymn, but here it really works, with Cowper’s sentiment sensitively echoed in Townend’s composition.

The Light of the World is the most English-folk styled song on the album. Its a lovely song, with very strong instrumentation. For me it is one of the most audibly pleasing pieces, but lyrically most weak. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I love listening to it, but it just doesn’t carry the same depth and dimension as the other tracks.

There is an Everlasting Kindness (Compassion Song) is simply a piano piece recounting God’s kindness and grace to us – particularly in Christ’s death. It is a beautiful piece.

For many reviewers the highlight of the album is To See the King of Heaven Fall (Gethsemane) and one can understand why. This is typical Townend, stripped down instrumentation overlaid with compellingly powerful lyrics about Christ’s passion. The close of each verse is repeated with creating a refrain effect which emphasises the pathos of Christ’s position in the garden.

There then follow four well known tracks (O Church Arise, Speak O Lord, My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God) in new folk clothing.

My Fault, the closing track of the album, is something of an anti-climax. Having scaled the heights of God’s providence and glory, the depths of Gethsemane, and the inestimable kindness of God in previous trakcs, it seems a shame to end on a very subjective lyrics (the theme seems to be how to communicate with someone who is backslidden) and a disjointed melody and arrangement. It is the only bad track on an otherwise excellent album.

I heartily recommend Creation Sings, this is hymnwriting and Christian recording at its very best. Buy it. It won’t disappoint.

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