I’ve been inspired (and even entertained) by numerous worship albums over the years, and there are some that have made me want to add songs to my church’s repertoire. Sojourn is the rare example of a congregation that makes me want to attend/join based solely on their music ministry.
I’m (mostly) kidding, but considering how predictable worship music has become in the last five years—most of them opting for the same style as Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, or David Crowder—Sojourn is undeniably a gasp of fresh air. This is worship music for the hipper-than-thou and the so-called post-Christian crowd, as well as the liturgically-minded craving something new yet still grounded in old.
Considering the blend of rootsy Americana with modern rock and alternative pop, I bet Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken would love this Louisville, Kentucky congregation. I absolutely adored Sojourn’s 2007 release Before the Throne, and their Advent Songs project is a Christmas album that’s also a standout.
Now Sojourn has found broader distribution through stores and the Internet. Rightfully so. Just seconds into Over the Grave is enough to recognize you’re in for something different: from the distinctive sound of the drums to the slick guitar solos heard in acoustic groove of “Warrior,” this is definitely not the usual worship release from Nashville’s Christian music machine.
That’s just one of the joys about this worship album—each song has a distinct flavor, and that in itself is a small miracle these days. “Living Faith” has a catchy alternative pop feel, while “Psalm 13 (How Long)” riffs on edgy modern blues-rock that sounds like Ashley Cleveland or Eric Clapton teaming with Moby or U2. We’re treated to progressive pop for the praise anthem “Savior King,” ethereal piano pop for “May Your Power Rest on Me,” frenetic classic rock flourishes with a hint of post-hardcore for “Reveal Your Love,” and Beatle-esque Brit pop reminiscent of PFR for “We Are Changed.” The wide variety might seem unfocused on other albums, but Sojourn convincingly demonstrates that this is their church’s worship style.
Unifying the tracks on Over the Grave is the brilliant lyricism of Isaac Watts. The album’s producers worked with other members of Sojourn’s music ministry to adapt the great hymn writer’s poetic and theologically rich texts. Though the words may be somewhat contemporized, the concepts remain intact. And while I’m not typically one for reworked hymns, Sojourn wisely sticks to less familiar texts for their new melodies. (“Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” is probably the best known, and unfortunately it’s also one of this album’s weakest tracks.)
Thus we not only have an album with eclectic musical styles, but also eclectic themes that more accurately reflect the qualities of God and the full gospel story. Yes, there are songs here about God’s grace (“Refuge”), his sustaining power (“May Your Power Rest on Me”), and redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ (“Only Your Blood Is Enough”). But we also have songs about God’s sovereign judgment (“Warrior”), the uncertainty of God’s intervention (“Psalm 13 (How Long)”), and the consequences of sin without faith in Jesus (“Living Faith”).
This is a worship album that has just about everything you could ask for: the lyrical depth of old hymns, the musicianship of skilled artists, and the creative polish of seasoned producers. But such artistry comes at a price. Like much of David Crowder’s music, I don’t see these songs catching on with the majority of congregations around the world—they’re often too creative or intricate for the average church-goer to immediately pick up. But better this than the alternative. The church doesn’t need another album of simplistic, watered down worship fluff. There are lots of lessons to be learned here for worship teams seeking to go deeper with their music ministry.
Standouts: "Psalm 13 (How Long),” “Warrior,” “May Your Power Rest on Me”