Produced by John Piper
Recorded in the Dallas, Texas area, and in Louisiana Released originally in 2014, revised & remastered in 2016
Before I review this CD, I’d like to mention why I see the Psalms as important to contemporary Christianity. Imagine a time when the New Testament was not yet composed, and the initial witnesses of the Christian gospel wanted to present their testimony to their peers. To do so, they referenced a shared knowledge base, the sacred text that we call today the “Old Testament” (OT). Two thousand years later, an appeal to the prophets seems irrelevant, as the New Testament (NT) is received as a valid testimony in its own right. But when the NT was being lived out and composed, the frame of reference, and the appeal, was unequivocally to the OT.
As contemporary Christian discourse has lost reliance upon the OT, it has arguably lost something else: the gathering in the synagogue every week to hear the holy texts being read, which had permeated and infused that culture, was the substrata upon which spiritual discourse (including the NT) was based. The Psalms in particular were a key element of that culture. The oral tradition had burnished these texts brightly within the consciousnesses of sinner and saint alike. It was the single common frame of reference.
Today with the efforts of contemporary song-writers and musicians, we have an opportunity to revisit these texts anew within the oral tradition, and re-discover them for ourselves. This particular work, Pastoral Psalms, is one of the better examples that I’ve heard of this genre. Instead of forcing the text to fit some pre-conceived melodic line, the words are allowed to breathe themselves out within the music. The result, at first, is somewhat off-putting, as the familiar 4/4 structure and rhyme scheme are missing. Instead, the unique textual phrasings of the KJV are heard, matching usually meandering and languid, yet occasionally striking and even arresting melodic landscapes.
What’s amazing about the Pastoral Psalms album is that the more that I play it, and become familiar with the words and sonic textures, and they infuse themselves into my consciousness, I can literally “meditate on the word day and night” (e.g. Psa. 1:2, Josh. 1:8). I play this CD at work in the background, and nobody really pays any mind because it sounds like pleasant light jazz; occasionally clever and facile but never obtrusive. Suddenly the phrasing of the words, like Shakespeare or Milton, touches me unexpectedly, and I feel as though I could sense, perhaps for the first time, what these texts meant to the apostles in the NT… it’s been a unique experience in my Christian life. It’s as if I can now feel the spirit of the oral tradition, and the word is indeed living and operative (Heb. 4:12), and the ancient yet again becomes new.
I can think of four full-length musical CDs of Psalms that I’d give 5 stars: this one, “Songs of Peace and War” by Jason Coghill, “Shelter” by the Sons of Korah, and “Steady Love” by Charles Pettee. My criteria are twofold: first being fidelity to the text and second being music that continually unfolds itself. The 50th time through, I might hear some nuance previously missed, or a phrase will leap out from the song and announce itself to my consciousness. I just can’t overplay these records: they dance joyfully and vibrantly before me, again and again. It seems as though the Spirit that inspired the prophets, and which raised Jesus from the dead, was there with these musicians, selecting the notes, arranging them, and sounding them forth. The whole effect is too marvelous for words.
I also have a number of three and four-star Psalms records, even a four-and-a-half-star one, which I enjoy immensely. A few, like this, are simply too good to find fault with. A five-star rating isn’t largesse; it seems fitting. See source review