Leigh Nash: Hymns and Sacred Songs
Style: Acoustic/folk hymns; compare to Sandra McCracken, Stuart Townend, Sara Groves
Top Tracks: "O Heart Bereaved and Lonely," "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"
Most pop fans know Leigh Nash as the darling vocalist for Sixpence None the Richer, whose hits "Kiss Me," "There She Goes," and "Breathe Your Name" have been heard on radio stations everywhere since the late 1990s. Nash's artistry has taken her beyond Sixpence into solo work and other collaborations (with Amy Grant and Jars of Clay, among others). Now she releases her first solo project since 2006, Hymns and Sacred Songs.
Part of the difficulty in working with hymns lies in their familiarity, as their longstanding place in religious settings has made their context and depth all too forgettable. Nash selected songs for the album based on their poignant lyrics, and in collaboration with other artists, she creatively reworks melodies, arrangements, and sounds that push the listener to hear these powerful words in fresh ways. Covers of traditional favorites are sprinkled amongst new compositions (by such artists as Stuart Townend, Keith Getty, and Kate Gustafson), and old hymns are given fresh sounds and a new framework for their poetic stanzas ("Come Thou Fount," "O Heart Bereaved and Lonely," "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come").
Nash's chosen hymns focus primarily on weariness, loneliness, and other human struggles while also praising Christ's victory over them. The poetic verses of such acclaimed hymnists as Fanny Crosby, Charles Wesley, and William T. Sleeper connect listeners with generations of believers who experienced similar challenges and trusted the same Lord.
A simple, subtle folk bent that will please Sixpence fans colors most of the arrangements, which are primarily acoustic with light percussion. Occasionally, some of the more recent releases adopt a contemporary praise/pop sound with soaring, repetitive choruses, but vibrant lyrical and thematic content keeps them from becoming completely beholden to the genre. What truly fleshes out this collection, though, is Nash's ethereal voice; the re-orchestration adds depth, but her vocal sweetness and charm flavor it beautifully.
Hopefully Hymns and Sacred Songs will encourage listeners to reconsider traditional hymns and the practice of hymn composition today. Contemporary praise choruses—which often utilize short stanzas, oversimplified themes, and drawn-out phrases—could learn from Nash and company, whose rich scriptural context, beautiful lyrical expression, and intricate arrangements occupy an important place in Christian tradition and make for an aesthetically valuable, spiritually nurturing work of art.
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