Harp Family Recordings’ second hymn compilation is a compelling and impressive collection of sacred music, though it meets some common pitfalls of CCM along the way.
I have a certain hesitancy to review or even listen to worship music. I do believe that it is important for the church’s artists to write and record songs intended for corporate or liturgical use, but I admit that more often than not I walk away from such records feeling frustrated with the overwhelmingly poor aesthetic choices therein (a topic for a different writing). Even more unfortunately, explorations of the church’s rich hymnody are often executed just as ineffectively as contemporary songwriting.
This is why I am so delighted to discover records like The Harp Family Hymnbook Vol. II — a collection of twelve hymns and spirituals by various artists in the Canton, OH area. These renditions appropriately balance reverence and experimentation, exploring styles of Americana, indie folk, and bluegrass gospel. The curation of Harp Family’s figurehead, Brother Joshua, is excellent, balancing the wide variety of artistry in a complementary fashion.
Though the bluesy opener “Are You Washed?” isn’t immediately compelling, the track soon develops a haunting , urgent atmosphere that carries over into the following tracks. This context even paints the gentle instrumental rendition of “I Surrender All” in a different light.
The record takes a more uplifting turn after Brother Joshua’s sparse and husky take on “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” The welcoming pop-rock textures of “His Love is an Ocean” move to more traditional interpretations of hymns, which are interrupted by the moody electronic outlier “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” The record ends with the beautifully simple “Pass Me Not,” rounding out the mix with delightfully uncomplicated instrumentation and strikingly pure vocals.
Harp Family Hymnbook Vol. II unfortunately suffers from being frontloaded; the latter section is the record’s weakest point. Vocal affectation is the album’s greatest flaw. It taints several of the tracks, but most uncomfortably in “I Have Decided”. Additionally, “I Need Thee” noticeably falls prey to CCM production and performance tropes.
These errors show that the Harp Family have yet to subvert common missteps of “Christian music,” but the remainder of the record shows that they are rapidly moving in the right direction. Harp Family Hymnbook Vol. II takes massive steps ahead for sacred music in the contemporary age. Though it’s a flawed record, it leaves a positive impression and demonstrates that there is still room for hymns in modern music. I’m excited for what Harp Family Recordings and Brother Joshua have accomplished with this compilation, and I look forward to seeing what they will do in the future.
Stream and purchase Harp Family Hymnbook Vol. II below.