“Hills of Tyrone” by We Are Messengers
- What's most notable is how We Are Messengers sets an example for Christian artists to shed the synonymous sound and arrangements we see in so much Christian music.
The lads from We Are Messengers have released an album close to the heart of frontman Darren Mulligan. In the EP Hills of Tyrone Mulligan sings of his home, the historic small town of Monaghan, in County Monaghan of Ireland. Originating in the green hills of Eire, We Are Messengers is now based in the US. Previous albums have been heavily influenced by predictable CCM production, but Hills of Tyrone strips away much of the CCM-ness, giving the album an organic feel. In many of the melodies, you can hear the influence of traditional Irish ballads, grounding them in history.
Music and Production
The production for the project is solid, with most of the elements staying up front, which is expected given the overall style of the project. Their musicianship is impressive, each member paying attention to their role in the accompaniment, adding fills and runs to enhance the songs without overplaying. They still incorporate some pads and the like, but it is tasteful and does not interfere with their sound.
Just to Be With You is an ode to Ireland. The opening arpeggio is reminiscent of the hammered dulcimer. It moves along at a good clip with energy that builds over the course of the track. Percussion with a traditional Irish feel underpins Mulligan’s vocals. The theme of home is kept up on the next track, Hills of Tyrone, a reference to the ruggedly beautiful Sperrin Mountains, along the county borders of Tyrone and Derry near Mulligan’s hometown.
The track Slow Down is a surprise with its smooth R&B influence. It denotes a shift in the album that turns from home to God and family. Slow Down’s message to stop and take a breath when things go wrong shows the wisdom that echoes in the melody and accompaniment of the piece.
Father Would You Hold My Hand is a prayer of petition as waters rise and doubts creep in around us. The chorus then moves into praise for the Trinity. Set in 3/4 (with some mixed meter thrown in for fun), the song harkens back to a past age when hymns dominated the musical landscape. The meter and structure of the melody are memorable and accessible, while the lyrics are reminiscent of those days when theologians and clergy wrote hymns with depth and breadth. An excellent modern hymn.
They close the album with the melancholy Oiche Mhaith, meaning ‘good night’ in Irish Gaelic. It is a lullaby to the family, with the hope of seeing them in the morning, and if not, to see them soon in heaven. This is a nod to early Irish lullabies that balanced hope with hardship, as was the experience of many Irish in earlier times.
Hills of Tyrone is a bold album that truly represents We Are Messengers sound. The stripped-down production and composition lets their musicianship come through. Mulligan’s sonorous baritone is like sitting next to a warm fire on a winter night; a welcome addition to an industry that favors more strident tenor vocalists.
But what’s most notable is how We Are Messengers sets an example for Christian artists to shed the synonymous sound and arrangements we see in so much Christian music. We Are Messengers addresses themes of God, family, and home; elements close to their hearts making an album that is truly faithful to who they are. There is no Christianese cluttering their message, or rehashed over-spiritualized themes that are becoming so predominant. It is simply real.
Father Would You Hold My Hand is a modern hymn that should be embraced by all.
There needs to be more of this.
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Christopher Watson is an author of six books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is also a musician and composer with a B.A. in Music from Azusa Pacific University. For several years Christopher led worship at The Springs Church while attending Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas Texas. He's been involved with worship in a number of churches in California and the Pacific Northwest both as a musician and in production and technology. Now he lives and writes in Washington State with his amazing wife, wonderful daughters, and highly intelligent dog, Ellie Mae.