Sounds like … the ethereal Celtic-pop of Iona and Maire Brennan blended with modern worship
At a Glance … In Christ Alone is a successful blend of old and new — traditional Celtic arrangements with modern-pop worship sensibilities.
In the classic tradition of collaborative artist projects such as Ashton, Becker, & Denté and Keaggy, King, & Denté comes In Christ Alone: New Hymns of Prayer & Worship. If you like Celtic pop, you're going to love this combination of artists. Start with Dove-award-winning artist Margaret Becker, perhaps the least Celtic artist of the bunch, though she has strong Irish roots. Joining her is Grammy-award winner Márie Brennan, the lead singer of acclaimed Celtic group Clannad (and the sister of superstar artist, Enya). Rounding out the trio is Joanne Hogg, the lead singer of progressive Celtic pop/rock group Iona. All three vocalists are outstanding enough on their own, and have joined together in their love of worship and Celtic music to release In Christ Alone.
The title can be a little misleading. This album isn't just a collection of old Celtic hymns or Celtic versions of popular worship songs (such as "Be Thou My Vision" or Twila Paris's "Lamb of God"). In Christ Alone is actually a collection of 10 new worship songs, written in the structure of an old hymn and arranged against traditional and modern Celtic-pop backdrops. The songs were written mostly by the vocal trio along with the album's arranger and producer, famed Irish composer Keith Getty. Joanne brought along the rhythm section from Iona to play on In Christ Alone. If you're familiar with the band, then you know how good the musicianship is on this album.
This album is a successful blend of modern pop worship with ancient hymn stylings, thanks to the Iona musicians and the Irish orchestra. "Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer (May This Journey)" has a traditional-sounding Celtic melody with an ethereal backdrop. On the similar breathy sounding "O For a Closer Walk," Máire sounds much like her famed sister. Then there's the lushly arranged pastoral sound of "My Hope," which musically evokes the gentle pastoral qualities of Psalm 23, even though the text is closer to that of the old hymn, "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." At the other end of the Celtic spectrum is the driving "With the Early Morning (Song of the Kingdom)." The title track also features a strong rhythmic pulse, similar to the popular worship song "Better Is One Day," and a somewhat atypical rhythm in the melody. "Over Fields of Green (My Song Shall Rise to You)" is a particularly catchy song of praise, very acoustic and folksy in sound. "Hear All Creation" features a more contemporary sound with hints of Celtic elements (much like the band Ceili Rain), and there's a particularly impressive acoustic guitar solo in the midst of it. And then there's "Your Hand O God Has Guided (One Church, One Faith)" a Celtic-influenced modern worship song that reminds me of progressive band Yes and the modern-rock worship of Delirious — in other words, it would be much at home on an Iona album.
There's something of a paradox about this album for me. Part of me thinks the album is too homogenous sounding and that none of the songs stand apart from each other — but that's not entirely true. It's clear that a lot of work went into the production to make the songs sound different from one another. I suspect Celtic music is just one of those genres that can seem somewhat redundant when you listen to enough of it. It helps on In Christ Alone to have three distinct artists trading vocal duties from song to song. All three women give excellent solo performances, and at times they do a tremendous job of blending together (particularly on the title track). It should be noted that most of the time these three aren't singing in three-part harmony but contributing background vocals to each song's soloist, creating a breathy vocal tapestry. I'm curious about all the parenthetical titles on the album, which six out of the ten songs have. Perhaps they couldn't they agree on the titles (but that's beside the point). Surpassing my expectations, In Christ Alone is filled with honest, original, and artfully crafted expressions of praise.