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The new worship album by Presbyterian pastor, singer and guitarist Glen Soderholm features backing vocals by Carolyn Arends, Steve Bell and the Blind Boys of Nassagaweya.

This album is the fourth by Glen Soderholm, a Presbyterian pastor in Ontario, but it's his first worship album. Subtitled "Songs for the Seasons of Worship," it features six hymns from the Presbyterian hymnal along with six originals. There's also an enhanced computer portion, including an extensive and insightful commentary, plus lyrics and song sheets that feature musical notation and chords.

"The order of the songs seeks to follow and illustrate an ancient and well-established pattern of worship," Soderholm states in the liner notes: Gathering the People, Hearing the Word, Grateful Response, and Going Out in Mission.

Sound stodgy? You'd be surprised. The vocals are lively even when they're laid back and the arrangements — often rock, blues, Celtic or country — are fresh and inventive. Who would have thought hymns could translate so well?

Soderholm pulls it off because he is a fine singer and guitar player. It also helps that he has talented musicians assisting him, including harmony vocals by Carolyn Arends, Steve Bell and the Blind Boys of Nassagaweya.

Don't be surprised if you can't tell a few unfamiliar hymns from the original songs. "Part of our objective was to offer some new interpretations" to show how hymns can be "arranged in a 'contemporary' style without compromising their integrity," Soderholm says in the commentary.

For example, the classic hymn "Praise to the Lord the Almighty" gets a lovely Celtic lilt with fiddle and mandolin. "Forgive Us Our Sins as We Forgive" features haunting flugelhorn lines that almost steal the show. And the bluely electric slide guitar over the tech no beat of "0 Lord You Are My God and King" is a standout.

In lesser hands, the fine arrangements (the ones on Soderholm's own songs are equally strong) might overshadow the lyrics. However, here, they only serve to boost the messages.

"Worship albums are a dime a dozen these days," Soderholm admits in his commentary. But he is glad to see and contribute to "encouraging trends" such as the "reclamation and reinterpretation of traditional hymnody, the growing awareness of ancient worship traditions, and the increasing excitement around Trinitarian theology."

Originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2008.




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