Michael W. Smith
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Although you might not think Starbucks and the Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores have a lot in common, they both package and sell music to their customers featuring iconic artists. And the latest release from the latter (joining the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Wynonna, Smokey Robinson, and Alison Krauss and Union Station, among many others) is a beautiful and organic collection of the best-loved hymns of Michael W. Smith … and well, most everybody. These are not the Scripture-rich hymns of the 1700s, with the exception of Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” rather the hymns of the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s—perfect for a crusade, church meeting, or hummed while mowing the lawn or doing most anything. Songs such as “The Old Rugged Cross,” “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Just As I Am” are dense with emotional appreciation for our Savior and the Cross and the gospel story of redemption. There is also one modern hymn written by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior.”
This collection was not an exercise in finding obscure hymns and putting a new spin on them—adding a different chorus, or contemporary rock/pop flavor. This is a lovely presentation of hymns: part living room sing-along, part Sunday morning at your local Baptist Church, with a few bluegrass/country foot-tappers, and capped off by two gorgeous choral pieces that translate you to a heavenly sphere. Although the project is furnished with the gifts of fine musicians (piano, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, strings, pipe organ, and more) and singers, plus rich arrangements, for the most part, the feeling is spare, simple, human, accessible. The production is restrained, and the lyric and melody lead the songs. Many hymns begin simply with piano then build vocally, adding Smitty alone, eventually joined by one, two, three, or a choir full of voices in sweet harmony.
Beginning with the lilting waltz and simple beauty of “The Old Rugged Cross,” it’s clear Michael W. is on to something. The first 42 seconds of the spiritual “Were You There” is Smitty a capella, adding piano and building vocally to match the lyrical drama, then returning to awed quiet at the end. For maximum joy, “Victory in Jesus,” the Southern Gospel favorite taken on a bluegrass romp, leads the way. If you need a vacation from distressed, distorted, processed, padded, reverbed electronic, auto-tuned music and have a yen to hear the human voice and a melody you can sing along with and even teach a friend. This is it!
Most Singable: All of these are singable classics but “Victory in Jesus” takes the prize.
Strongest Biblical Content: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Mt 27:29; Mk 15:17-18; Gal 6:14; Mt 27; Phil 3:10; Gal 6; and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” (Num 6:24-26)
The Whole Package: “God of Our Father’s” “Near the Cross” “It Is Well” “My Jesus, I Love Thee”