More on hymns projects

Reader CVH provides the comment of the day (from a few days ago), responding to my post on Janet Paschal and hymn projects:

I agree with you. Janet’s voice has always possessed a unique character, well suited to the catalog of material she’s done, but particularly nice when she finds a tune that’s a bit more obscure; one that is best brought to life by her nuanced inflection, phrasing and the timbre of her voice.

The two most critical factors on any project are selecting material and choosing the right producer. I don’t know if she’s on a label now or recording independently; that’s sometimes a factor in how much latitude an artist has with songs and production.

If there’s not pressure from a marketing department to record familiar (read: overdone) hymns, this could be a perfect opportunity to explore the hidden gems of hymnody. How satisfying artistically would it be to explore fresh ground, not only the richness of the lyrics but the opportunity to place them in orchestral settings that would complement both the words and Janet’s voice?

Of course, by that point most artists and label execs start to freak out about sales and what could be a good piece of art is reduced to another schlocky album.

Having the right producer is critical. She has worked with several with, in my opinion, mixed results. Some producers have such a strong imprint that the artist becomes more a part of their ’sound’ than the other way around. Others work with near transparent results.

Like a beautiful jewel in the perfect setting, Janet is best presented when the production is transparent and those tangible and intangible aspects of her voice and personality can shine through. That’s the ‘magic’ that happens when everything on a project comes together. I hope it does for her.

There’s a lot of smart stuff here, but since CVH and I obviously agree on all matters Paschal, I want to focus on the broader question of hymn projects, aka that ubiquitous template for table-projects and easy money. CVH brings up an interesting point about hymn projects that actually cuts against conventional wisdom that albums recorded independent of a label suffer in quality (which they normally do, though not as much as they used to): because hymns are so overdone and hymn projects so unoriginal, it actually can help the artistic integrity of these albums to be recorded on one’s own. Since independent table projects are cut loose from the marketing analytics and sales team demographying that increasingly corporatized labels subject their ablums to, independently recorded projects are free to avoid the cooking-cutter approach so common in sg and especially in sg hymn projects.

Now, that doesn’t mean sg artists won’t take every chance they get to pass up that freedom. In fact, most artists simply squander the independence when they record hymns projects and themselves and cut covers of “Rock of Ages” and “Blessed Assurance” and if there’s a pianist in the bunch he’ll play “When They Ring Those Golden Bells.” All this will create a sometimes slightly whimsical, sometimes partly peppy but always solemnly reverent set of arrangements that seem to be designed to work spiritually by being so tediously predictable that you start to pray you won’t become comatose from boredom. “Teach Me Lord to Stay Awake.”
There are exceptions of course. Kim Hopper’s “Blessed Assurance” from one of the Hoppers hymns projects back in the 90s is of surpassing and astounding greatness, as hymns go. The original Mercy’s Mark put out a table project with some fantastic arrangements of old standards which include some hymns (including Garry Jones playing a truly inventive and original arrangement of “Golden Bells”). Reader AG pointed my attention to a Greater Vision hymns project cut exclusively for Charles Stanely’s In-Touch ministries (whose flash-embedded web pages keep crashing my Firefox, so I can’t order the &*$# thing to say anything about it one way or another). Gerald Wolfe has a piano hymns project out that sounds interesting, but I have yet to hear it. Back when I was in college I found an old Lari Goss Plays Songs of the Church cassette tape in the remainders bin at the Baptist Book Story where I worked and it was an epiphany to me (I’ve since the lost it, alas). And I’ve already mentioned JP’s “Jesus, Savior.” But in general hymn projects = bore the hair off you.

In JP’s case, don’t cancel that next salon appointment just yet. Most of her projects of late have been produced by Wayne Haun (Michael Sykes produced half of one somewhere back there), and one thing I like so much about Haun’s work is that he knows when an artist needs that personalized “sound” of his that CVH talked about and when to get out of the way and let the artist sing, and arrange around them (this light-touch approach has been key to Haun’s success with the Perrys, and, I assume, not the least of the reasons why the Ps keep recording with him). Paschal has one of the more finely developed and stylistically sophisticated voices and is, juding by her music, one of the most carfeul listeners of anyone in gospel music, which when combined with someone like Haun’s arranging and orchestrating abilities, ought to result in the kind of project that one often hears described as the work of a singer’s singer. But I should probably stop before I create impossibly high expectations.

The downside to all this independence and potential for artistic license and integrity is that, as with JP’s Home Again project, the one that included “Jesus, Savior,” no one really hears the thing. Unless the independent artist is connected to some distribution network, projects like this are only (or primarily) available on an artist’s personal websites. That doesn’t mean the artist won’t make scads of money, because overhead is low and margins are wide (another bonus of independent recording). But since these websites often are, as Paschal’s unfortunately is, uhm, suboptimally designed, and inadequately marketed, my guess is they fail to move that much product. A pity, really. Because more people really should hear the kind of music a Janet Paschal gives to the world.

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Comments

  1. Jim wrote:

    While not an independent release, the new release from Fernando Ortega “Shadow of Your Wings” is an excellent example not only of playing to your strengths as an artist, but also of some excellent song selection. Try it, you just might like it! Partial song list: GRACE AND PEACE, LET THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH, OPEN MY LIPS, ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING, GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS, I HEARD THE VOICE OF JESUS SAY, THERE IS POWER IN THE BLOOD, SING TO JESUS, CROWN HIM WITH MANY CROWNS, SAVIOR LIKE A SHEPHERD LEAD US

  2. Jim wrote:

    Yes, I was too lazy to retype the titles, so I just copied and SHOUTED them out - Sorry

  3. Tee wrote:

    YAWNNNN…another hymns project……….

  4. Matt wrote:

    This topic brought up a question of mine. Why does every southern gospel pianist have to play “When They Ring Those Golden Bells”? What is so great about this song? I have never liked it and have never understood why every pianist has to play it. There are so many other wonderful old songs that get bypassed because in favor of “Golden Bells”.

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