CD Hindsight Review: Blessed Assurance – The New Hymns Of Fanny Crosby
Producer: Bobby Blazier and John Hartley
Label: Integrity Music
Songs: We Are Waiting/All Sons & Daughters; Not Be Moved/New Life Worship; Hallelujah (King Of Glory)/Dustin Smith; In The Blood/Israel Houghton; Blessed Savior-Fount Of Grace/Darlene Zschech; No One Like Jesus/Michael W. Smith; Blessed Assurance/Chris McClarney; In Life And Death/Greg Sykes; Wholly Thine/Meredith Andrews; The Savior Of All/Matt Redman; Come To The Water/Paul Baloche; I Have Found A Priceless Treasure/Ernie Haase & Signature Sound ; All Is Well/Ricky Skaggs & The Whites; I Never, No Never/Elias Dummer; Where Could We Go/Blind Boys Of Alabama
Rating: 3 Stars
I don’t typically review CDs after they’ve been on the market more than a month or two, but I’m making an exception for Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns Of Fanny Crosby. I felt my first impression of it might not have been fair, so I set it aside to “soak” for a while, then forgot about it, then remembered it well over a year later. Released in 2015, this concept recording offers 14 of Fanny Crosby’s previously unreleased lyrics set to music by current songwriters plus her classic “Blessed Assurance” lyric with a new melody. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s safe to say that my initial impression was correct. This CD missed the intended mark.
Fanny Crosby wrote hymns, but this collection sounds more like a modern worship album (with a few notable exceptions I’ll mention below). Consider song structure. Crosby’s classic lyrics like “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross” and “He Hideth My Soul” have traditional verses and fully fleshed out choruses. Her lyrics follow a predictable pattern, and the number of syllables match up in each line. This level of art is lost on many modern songwriters, even when they’re “completing” Crosby’s unfinished songs. On this CD, certain lyrics don’t appear to be bound to any particular meter. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it causes the new lyrics to seem out of place. We don’t have the original manuscripts to compare, but no one would mistake some of these lyrics for a Fanny Crosby lyric.
There are some exceptions to the modern worship style, as I said, and these tracks tend to stand out in a positive way. Even though I believe Michael W. Smith’s “No One Like Jesus” probably includes a chorus Crosby didn’t write, it isn’t such a vast departure. It helps that Smith sings a simple new melody that most any child could remember and sing back after a couple of listens. Ditto for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound’s “I Have Found A Priceless Treasure.” Their four-part harmony also helps sell it as a Crosby hymn.
“All Is Well” is performed by Ricky Skaggs & The Whites. This is the highlight of the entire CD. There’s just a simple, authentic quality here that all the other tracks lack. The structure is verse/chorus, verse/chorus, instrumental break, verse/chorus/chorus/tag; much like you might have heard it sung in a traditional church service 100 years ago aside from the instrumental break and chorus/tag repeats at the end.
I also enjoyed “Where Could We Go” by the Blind Boys Of Alabama, but I don’t believe Fanny Crosby wrote many of those lyrics, at least not in the sequence they’re sung. This sounds more like a traditional spiritual. I do love the arrangement and their unique delivery style, though. The more aggressive track also makes this selection a highlight.
If you don’t care about liner notes, you can skip this paragraph, but I do want to address a couple of issues. Some of the color choices make sections of the liner notes rather difficult to read. That’s not my main complaint, however. Under each song, the modern songwriters are always listed first with Fanny Crosby’s name listed last. Ordinarily, the songwriter who contributed the most would be listed first. To add to the insult, Crosby’s name isn’t listed AT ALL under “Blessed Assurance.” Since that lyric is in the public domain, Integrity Music is not obligated to list Crosby’s name. Even so, it’s tacky to fail to list her name, particularly on a collection that features her name in the subtitle.
On a positive note, the production quality is excellent. More impressive is the fact that they were able to pull off this concept at all. From the discovery of the collection of 2700 unpublished Crosby lyrics in the vaults at Wheaton College by a man named Stephen Kelley in the year 2000 to the release of the recording in 2015, bringing this project to life was a slow journey. Click HERE to read more about that process.
Sadly, Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns Of Fanny Crosby is mostly a forgettable collection when it comes to the actual music. The reason classic Fanny Crosby songs like “Tell Me The Story Of Jesus” are so well-loved today is because we first heard them sung simply in church. These lyrics did not need to be introduced with the full-blown “artist” treatment. It’s too bad the producers did not make it a goal to present these new/old songs in more fitting, timeless styles.
David Bruce Murray
David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.