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Wednesday
Dec082010

All Things New: Red Mountain’s Last and Finest Album

Yesterday, All Things New was digitally released to the public.  (They are in the middle of printing and will have physical copies available soon.)  It is a remarkable album and definitely Red Mountain Music’s finest work to date.

You’ll notice a subtle change to the “artist name.”  No longer on the album are they called “Red Mountain Church,” but “Red Mountain Music.”  Brian T. Murphy, Red Mountain’s architect over the last several years, explained the shift to me in a recent email:

[The] biggest reason for it being our final record is I moved to NYC, and am no longer working for Red Mountain Church.  ‘Red Mountain Music’ is essentially a separate entity from the church, but at the same time the two ideas are so closely linked that it’s probably time for some closure.

Red Mountain Church/Music has had a rich and glorious history: Depth of Mercy (2003), Heaven (2004), The Gadsby Project (2005), Help My Unbelief (2006), This Breaks My Heart of Stone (2007), and Silent Night (2008).  Each album chronicles their growth—especially stylistically—with the common thread being their unwavering commitment to setting old hymns to new music.  To classify their music as “contemporary” is too general, quite unhelpful, and even misleading.  Red Mountain Music has never been mainstream pop.  They began with a more Americana/bluegrass-rock style and have shifted over the years to a meditative indie-ambient rock, light on the drums and heavy on the layers of electric guitars (courtesy of the creativity of Clint Wells, co-producer and now in-demand Nashville session musician and gigging artist).

Is All Things New the end of Red Mountain Music?  Not exactly.  As Murphy explained to me:

I still plan to be working on future hymn / sacred projects (have one in San Fran going on in early 2011, and a project I'm planning to kick off after the new year here in NYC); [it] just might not be "Red Mountain" going forward.  I've actually been getting a number of requests to collaborate with other artists and songwriters and that is something I'm really looking forward to, since that was really part of the hallmark of Red Mountain anyway.  Anyway, I guess all that is a long way of saying, I'm pretty excited about the next chapter.

I, for one, am glad for this.  Murphy and Wells have too much to offer the church music community, in my opinion, to abandon the enterprise altogether.  We need their voice.

All Things New, from top to bottom, is an incredible album.  If you want track-listing and information on the original hymns that inspired the album, check out Cardiphonia’s post yesterday.  My own brief comments are:

  • Textually and theologically solid as always.   The lyrics are taken from old hymns, usually from the 1600-1850 era, which was a golden age for English hymn-writing.
  • Musically rich.  The production is more inviting and professional than ever.  The layers are dense and sonically interesting.  One hears some interesting use of panning and distancing in the mic-placement to allow for some tasteful, creative sounds.  (This album is worth a listen on a good set of headphones or a nice stereo system.)
  • Never too rockin’.  I’ve noticed over the years that Red Mountain (esp. Murphy and Wells) have found their angle in soft, meditative, ambient reflection.  All Things New reflects that bent.  Not one song is fast-paced; high-energy drumming is not to be found on any track.
  • Congregationally friendly.  In songwriting for congregational material, a tension exists.  Though they aren’t mutually exclusive, there is a push and pull between accessibility and musicality.  If you’re writing material that is meant to be sung by congregations, it needs to be simple enough in melody and chord structure to be singable.  At the same time, if that is one’s only concern, it becomes musically “blah.”  Red Mountain has always found that sweet spot between these two poles.  Many of the songs on All Things New are congregation-ready, and yet they hold their musical integrity as songs and as arranged, recorded material.  The tone of the songs is fairly homogeneous across the album—reflective and humble.  Nevertheless, they are accessible for congregations.

In my opinion, Red Mountain’s legacy will be that they were one of the front-runners in the hymns movement.  Whenever you hear anyone talk about the movement, two names are always referenced: Indelible Grace and Red Mountain.  Red Mountain will always be known for being one of the first (in the modern worship era) to stick their necks out there in the enterprise of setting old hymns to new music, and, unlike other projects and artists that have come and gone, Red Mountain has a seven-album longevity.  In a day and age when mainstream evangelical worship music continues to be the choice of the masses in American Christianity, Red Mountain’s achievement is truly remarkable.

I have three favorite tracks on this album.  The first is its title track, “All Things New.”  It is singable, accessible, and lyrical.  Its text is from the great hymn-writer Horatius Bonar, and it sets forth an eschatological vision which fuels the church with energy and hope.  Track five, “My Business Lies at Jesus’ Gate” is equally moving.  Here is John Berridge’s beautiful text from the Gadsby hymnal:

My business lies at Jesus’ gate,
Where many a Lazar comes;
And here I sue, and here I wait
For mercy’s falling crumbs.

My rags and wounds my wants proclaim,
And help from him implore;
The wounds do witness I am lame,
The rags that I am poor.

The Lord, I hear, the hungry feeds,
And cheereth souls distressed;
He loves to bind up broken reeds,
And heal a bleeding breast.

His name is Jesus, full of grace,
Which draws me to his door;
And will not Jesus show his face,
And bring his gospel store?

Supplies of every grace I want,
And each day want supply;
And if no grace the Lord will grant,
I must lie down and die.  

The third song of choice is Psalm 126 (“When God Revealed His Gracious Name”).  This song was written as a part of Cardiphonia’s Psalms of Ascents grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship…a glorious text-and-tune pairing.

This final offering of Red Mountain Music is certainly its pinnacle achievement.  Just as the prayer of “All Things New” is that Christ would consummate the kingdom He inaugurated upon His first advent, so my prayer for Brian, Clint, and the rest of the Red Mountain gang is that, in this new chapter of their lives, God would make all things new in them and through them as well, to the glory of Christ and for the sake of His Bride.

Praise God for the legacy of Red Mountain.  Today, I raise a glass to eight plus years of great hymns and great music.



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