It's been done before by many and it is sure to be done again: a member from a rather successful band decides to venture out on their own and release a solo record. This time around it's MercyMe's own lead singer Bart Millard. While at first thought it may seem odd that the voice of MercyMe would temporarily put aside his status with the band to give the solo gig a try, after listening to his single outing one could see there is even more to this frontman than what thousands of fans have come to know. Entitled Hymned, you won't find any remakes of the massive hits "I Can Only Imagine" or "Word of God Speak", instead Millard's project focuses squarely on remaking the hymns the church seems to have lost in the past decade.
Though consistently reported that Millard has no intentions of leaving Texas-based MercyMe, Hymned seems to be simply an opportunity for him to play around with his creative muscle. With Brown Bannister (Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Rachael Lampa) on board to fulfill the production duties, Millard does just that. Because Hymned is a blend of various musical styles, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly the sound Millard was hoping to achieve with this project. Despite the fact that some may find this somewhat frustrating, the tour de genres approach is what helps set Hymned apart from a host of other records, making it refreshingly unique and original.
From the start, Hymned displays Bart Millard's knack for putting together unusual combinations of styles. The record starts with the strongly country themed "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," which manages to infuse gospel through the track's background vocals, making for a rather interesting and creative remake. Hymned rings with more country stylings on "MawMaw's Song (Sweet By & By)" where, on the verses, Millard reminisces back to his grandmother singing the old hymn in church. Jazz influences surface later on "Softly & Tenderly," while "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" (with guest vocals by Russ Taff) brings a southern gospel feel to the project. Millard further steps out to tread into new territory when he works out a blues/swing vibe in "Have A Little Talk With Jesus." To help add to the uniqueness of the project, Robert Randolph, Vince Gill, and Derek Webb all make guest appearances on Hymned. Considering the array of styles on Hymned, whether it be country, jazz, soul, or gospel, everything is put together quite well to avoid the possibilities of being viewed as "hodgepodge." Through each musical exploration, Millard also displays his vocal versatility, delivering nicely on all ten tracks. The only thing that appears to be lacking, and sorely missed, is the pop/adult contemporary sound that helped launch MercyMe into the Christian music spotlight. Though somewhat of a disappointment, avoiding the band's signature sound is understandable in order to create a project that allows Millard to step out on his own.
With amazing success already under his belt from MercyMe, it is yet unknown if Millard will continue to offer up solo projects. Since Hymned seems to almost completely skip over the ever-popular pop/rock stylings, some younger music fans may find themselves passing on this project. Nonetheless, if you consider yourself a fan of the older church hymns or the growing trend of remaking them, Hymned is a worthy addition to your collection.- Review date: 8/5/05, written by Lauren Summerford
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