Sara Groves: finding beauty and relevance in the old hymns

Friday 13th October 2017

Tony Cummings reports on the forthcoming 'Abide With Me' album by SARA GROVES

Sara Groves
Sara Groves

Down the decades hundreds of artists have recorded albums of old hymns. In truth many have been of decidedly mixed quality. It is only too easy for middle-of-the-road crooners or earnest folk singers, country stars or CCM pop purveyors to reach for a hymnal and hurriedly record their renditions of hymn evergreens. But in the case of the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter from Tennessee Sara Groves, recording an album of ancient hymns was not a decision taken quickly or lightly.

'Abide With Me' will be Sara's 13th studio album and will be released on 17th November. She told the, "My last album found me on the 'Floodplain' reflecting on the kind of provision that comes when I find myself in a place where I cannot rescue myself. 'Abide With Me' is a collection of hymns and songs that were with me on the floodplain. A highlight for me was re-tracking 'He's Always Been Faithful' with piano, upright bass and woodwinds. My bandmates and I guesstimate that we have played that song well over 1,000 times, and these days it is loaded with the memories of 20 years of making music."

Fittingly recorded in a 105 year old church converted into a studio by Groves alongside her bandmates, Sara's latest is both personal and congregational, with songs like "Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus" staying close to the original hymn, while others such as "Oh My Redeemer What A Friend You Are To Me" and "Fairest Lord Jesus" take on Sara's own creative arrangements. She said, "Troy has had a running list of our favourite hymns in his phone for about 10 years and has championed the idea of a collection of hymns even longer. I always thought it was a good idea, but I had other ideas to work through first! Now, it's time to share these with you. When we bought Art House North in 2011, we inherited a pile of well-worn hymnals. A cathartic practice for me has been to go to the church when it is empty and play the wonderfully warm upright piano we inherited with the building. The fuff-fuff of the hammers passing each other, the light rhythmic clacks of the wooden dowels and works, the room that is ever-ready to receive sound, and these old songs sharing language that has both lasted and been lost - they have all ministered to me in deep ways.

"Sentimentality can obscure worthy things, and these hymns and their relationship to the people who wrote them are absolutely fascinating to me as a person trying to relate to the world through song. These writers didn't have the longevity of their work in sight. They were attempting to write about the character of God in light of their own suffering, and the suffering and confusion of the world around them. Is he our friend? they ask. Does he see, hear, remember, know. . . Is he acquainted with what it means to be human? What is his kingdom really like? These songs have risen to the top of a lifetime of hymns and songs, and in a season where language is difficult and caustic, form new sentences of hope and solace for me. I hope they do the same for you!" CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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