Sunday, June 2, 2013

Music Review: Sweet Exchange by Heather Payne

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful modern take on classic hymns
Cons: Can become a bit repetitive sounding
The Bottom Line
Familiar lyrics
Just a tiny modern twist
Combined they are great

Modern Arrangements of Classic Hymns from a Former Member of Point of Grace

In 2008, Heather Payne announced her plans to retire from hit Christian group Point of Grace, saying he wanted to spend more time with her family.  Obviously, she can't quite give up the music bug because in 2010 she released a solo project.  Sweet Exchange features new arrangements of hymns, and it is wonderful.

I've sung most of the songs on this disc for years, and they are old friends.  Fortunately, you can sing along from the very first listen.  But Heather does little tweaks to them and often adds an original chorus, which makes you pay attention to the words.  They feel fresh and new even while being old.

The disc starts out with "Holy, Holy, Holy" and the sounds of electric guitar.  It's slightly more upbeat than I normally sing it in church.  And Heather has added one of those new choruses I mentioned earlier, which further praises our Holy God.

My favorite track on here is "Rock of Ages."  Again, it's fairly upbeat and guitar heavy.  But here's the genius of this arrangement.  She uses "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" as the chorus.  Since I absolutely love both hymns, you can imagine how often this track gets repeated.

Things slow down for the piano based "Hallelujah What a Savior."  While singing the verses, it's just Heather's passionate voice and the piano, but when she gets to the chorus, she brings in a full orchestra to really blow things out.  It's a great arrangement.

Heather asks friend and the only other member of Point of Grace to leave the group, Terry Jones, to do a duet with her on "O the Deep, Deep Love."  This song's melody has changed the most, but since I already know two or three different melodies for the song, I don't mind.  It's mid-tempo and guitar heavy again.  It's great to hear these two ladies singing together again.

She does a fairly straight rendition of "Be Thou My Vision."  There are no added choruses, although she does sing it to an upbeat guitar.  I've got to admit, I've been spoiled by Ginny Owen's awesome version, and this one just doesn't quite measure up.  There's nothing wrong with it; I just like the other better.

It's back to adding choruses to the upbeat "Jesus Paid It All."  I can't help but worship along with her celebration "I am free" on that new chorus.  Of course, the hymn is pretty powerful if you listen to the words about Jesus paying for our sin.  I don't sing this one nearly often enough.  Fortunately, I can change that now.

She does a slow, reflective version of "Alas My Savior Did Bleed," which you might be more familiar with as "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed."  Heather sings over finger picked guitar and violin, one of the few times you find something outside of normal guitar, keyboard, and drums on the disc.  It's funny because I'm used to singing this one fast, but I really like this slow version of it.

The last two songs I'm not super familiar with.  Of course, "The Gospel Song" takes lines from three different hymns; I only recognize one of them.  "Come Ye Sinners" is weird just because she has a preacher start out the song and break in at one point all fired up.  The song doesn't need.

I first really listened to this disc on a road trip, and I noticed that the songs were sounding a little repetitive by the time I reached the end.  There is a lot of guitar here, and most of the songs are upbeat, so that doesn't surprise me too much.  I stuck it in again around town where I was making frequent stops.  I loved every song that way, so the problem isn't as bad as on some discs I have.

Frankly, that's a minor complaint.  Sweet Exchange will appeal to those who love hymns but want something with a new spin on it.  I know I will enjoy these songs for a long time to come.

CD Length: 58:16
1. Holy, Holy, Holy
2. O For a thousand Tongues
3. Rock of Ages
4. Hallelujah What a Savior
5. My Jesus
6. Sweet Exchange
7. O the Deep, Deep Love
8. Pass Me Not
9. Be Thou My Vision
10. Jesus Paid it All
11. Alas My Savior Did Bleed
12. Come Ye Sinners
13. The Gospel Song

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