REVIEW: Sojourn – The Water and the Blood

ARTIST: Sojourn
RELEASE: The Water and the Blood: the Hymns of Isaac Watts Vol. II
LABEL: Independent

I’ve been listening to Sojourn Community Church’s music since 2006, when they were still mostly unknown outside their home-base of Louisville, KY.  Upon first listen I was struck by a number of things: these folks are creating music missionally, in a style that connects directly with their community, not following fads or fashions to get radio play or label attention.  Secondly, they care about doctrine, and history, crafting songs that express and pay homage to not only where the church may be headed, but where it’s been.  Lastly, their music consistently manages to be modern, paradoxically,  by being so faithful to crafting genuinely timeless songs.

For the totally uninitiated, Sojourn are not far removed from what it might be like for John Mark McMillan suddenly took to devouring Jonathan Edwards books and making hymns albums.  For those familiar with the modern hymns movement, this would definitely appeal to fans of Indelible Grace or Red Mountain Church music, but Sojourn is separated from the fore-mentioned by the quality of their production, the unusual high caliber of their musicianship, and their addition of rock and blues to the musical palette.

The Water and The Blood is Sojourned sequel to Beneath the Grave, and continues their exploration of Isaac Watts’ hymn catalogue.  Though I haven’t found anything here quite as corporate as “Refuge” from their last, overall this CD is even more consistent.  I do not exaggerate by saying that I listened to it upwards of 4 times a day for the first week I owned it, and I never skipped a track. Listening, I discovered elements of old-school country (think Johnny Cash, not Keith Urban), folk, blues, and even a touch of the Dead – yes, the Grateful kind, brought to bear of these re-written, even reimagined, versions of Watts’ mostly forgotten hymnody.

After about a week of listening a few highlights did emerge.  Track 3, “From Deep Distress”, is a bluesy romp, overflowing with soul and passion.  It is probably this CDs much mellower response to Beneath the Grave’s “Reveal Your Love” – if you like one, you’ll probably prefer the other as well.  Track 5, “Let the Seventh Angel Sound” is a mellow, playfully relaxed song, with elements of 70’s jam-rock, sounding not unlike some of Grateful Dead’s best, lyrically resting is God’s sovereignty and what Christ has done on our behalf.  The last highlight would be Track 9, “Death has lost its Sting”, for it’s raw, authenticity.  This song is BLUES.  Not some watered down, modern pop interpretation of the blues, but channelling genuine brokenness, musically echoing the best of the earth Animals’ non-radio friendly tracks.  The real deal.  That said, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch.

So far 2011 has proved to be a very good year for new music.  That said, The Water and the Blood is a standard setter: the sort that makes me want to go back into iTunes, find all the other CDs I’ve reviewed this year and doc them all a star.  It’s not that they’re back, but if this is a 5, they’re a 4 – even the best of them.  There’s no comparison.  Thank you, Sojourn, for sending me this one to review!

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