Music Review: Hymn Like by Kurtis Parks

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Updated November 27, 2018
Hymnlike Cover
Nothing But the Blood (New Creation) - Kurtis Parks LIVE
Be Thou My Vision (Open Eyes) - Kurtis Parks LIVE
Set My Eyes On You - Kurtis Parks - Hymn Like

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Old Bear Records is excited to announce our newest artist signing, Kurtis Parks. Kurtis has been a longtime friend to the community at Old Bear, and we couldn’t be happier to get to release his new Folk hymn project “Hymn Like” to you in October!

Kurtis has an extensive history as both a songwriter, and worship leader. His heart for serving the local church is inspiring, and his authentic passion to connect people with Jesus through songs permeates every artistic effort he releases.

When we discovered that Kurtis was working on a project that took an organic sounding approach with creative elements incorporated into traditional and historical Christian hymns - our interest was piqued right away. Many of us at Old Bear grew up on hymns and value the depth of lyrical content and effectiveness of teaching the timeless truths of the Bible through lyrics and melodies. Upon hearing what he was working on, we felt Kurtis’ “Hymn Like” project would be a wonderful fit in our growing catalog of new and fresh expressions of faith inspired music that could serve the local church.

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Hymn Like by Kurtis Parks
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Kurtis Parks has been singing and writing worship music since he was 13, and has now written over 1200 songs that he has written in every possible genre. So music runs deep in his veins, particularly worship music and how it connects us together as a people of faith and how it connects us to God. Kurtis was also one of the top 50 finalists from American Idol back in 2005 and has made regular US television appearances. Kurtis has worked with a number of artists from both mainstream and Christian communities and was for some time signed to Christian label Integrity Music. He has served for 7 years as the Worship Director for the National Community Church out of New York and was instrumental in their 5 albums that they have released in that time. He has also recently written a book called "Sound Check" which is a call for worship leaders to lead a life of authenticity. All of this and a lot of soul searching and prayer has now lead him to relocate to Nashville to launch a new Church. Also in this time he has put together this new solo album called "Hymn Like" which reflects the passion for the songs that he grew up with in church. Not just rewriting them to engage with a new generation, but also to reinvigorate and resonate with an older generation who have sung these hymns for many years.

There is a bit of an issue with the track listing for this album as streaming services seem to have a different order of songs, so I am going to stick with the track listing that was embedded in the download, which means that the album starts with the classic "Be Thou My Vision (Open Eyes)". The first thing to notice with this version of the song is that Kurtis is not re-inventing the wheel here. He has stuck with the familiar tune and the classic words, and to save repeating myself throughout he has actually done this with most of the tracks, the only difference is that there is an added chorus, just to refocus the listen and singer on the 'vision' of the song. This track is often recorded with a Celtic feel, or with full church organs, but there is a range of instruments here that make this recording feel very organic, without veering off into either Celtic or Country.  Again this is something that is felt through each track, there are very few modern or electric instruments in this recording which keeps it quite rustic and I do like this effect.

"The Old Rugged Cross (Wreckage)" comes up next, this is more gentle than I was expecting, but works really well with the instrument blend and Kurtis' vocals. Again the chorus that has been added does work and it quite a powerful statement, this time teasing out what is so special about the cross in our salvation story. This is one of the skills of this album, if you are going to add to a classic hymn then it needs to be done sensibly and actually bring something to it. So often people do this to 'modernise' a track or to make it fit better with a new tune. Kurtis manages to add something which emphasises the worship or theme of the songs that little bit more. "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today (He Is Not Dead)" adds in the simple fact that Christ is alive and this brings a new hope. He even manages to add more depth and meaning to the simple chorus "Nothing But The Blood (New Creation)" without detracting from the original.

Generally there is a great use of the traditional hymns on this album and you can tell that there is a great love and passion to recreate what they have brought to worship for hundreds of years, but still to be able to tease out something new. Alongside those traditional hymns sit a couple of Kurtis' own tracks. The first is "Set My Eyes on You" which was originally recorded for the "One Worship Collective" album released by Integrity in 2013. Written with Kelly Minter this track keeps that hymn feel and blends brilliantly with the rest of the album. The last (or first) song on the album is one called "All In" which also scans as a great modern hymn which probably deserves a bit more widespread recognition. This is very much a hymn of personal dedication in our lives which has it's own simple chorus playing on the meaning if "all in, all out."

Another classic hymn that I am pleased to hear on this album is "Just As I Am (I Come)" which was always a favourite end of service hymn in the church I grew up in. Of course no album of hymns would be complete without a rendition of "Amazing Grace", this version has the sub-title "Found New Life". This version is written and performed with Cyndi Knipp and starts with her vocal on the first verse, before Kurtis joins in.

This is a beautiful folky hymns album which really pays homage to these classic songs that have stood the test of time. There is a big difference between this style of re-framing some classic hymns as Kurtis has done, and completely rewriting or updating a song simply for the sake of doing it. What Kurtis has added is often a little more worship or explanation of the reason that things are important, and because he has done so in keeping with the original you can appreciate it, or not, he hasn't simply rewritten it for the pleasure of making it more 'his'.

I really enjoyed everything about this album, it's sensitivity about the hymns, even the selection of instruments which gives the beautifully organic sound and, of course, the vocals which could easily have overpowered the music, but here they sat and complimented these lyrics that we know so well!

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