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Peace Like a River: The Hymns Project

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Peace Like a River: The Hymns Project
Sounds like … classic hymns performed in the style of Chris Rice and Fernando Ortega—warm vocals with simple piano or acoustic guitar accompaniment.At a glance … Peace Like a River is a good, though somewhat by the numbers hymns project, highlighted with some fine performances by Chris Rice.Track Listing It Is Well with My Soul
Rock of Ages
Freedom
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Love That Will Not Let Me Go
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
The Old Rugged Cross
How Great Thou Art
Before the Throne of God Above

How frustrating it must be for Christian singer/songwriters like Chris Rice. Despite a ten-year history of Dove awards and Christian radio airplay for his faith-based songs, some people automatically assumed he had sold out—or even abandoned his beliefs—once he left Rocketown Records and scored a crossover hit with "When Did You Fall in Love." As if Christian artists need to reassert their faith every time their songs focus on everyday romance instead of sacred romance.

Skeptics will hopefully rest easy with the release of Peace Like a River: The Hymns Project, an album released with limited distribution in 2006, now widely available. Not to be confused with his 2001 instrumental piano project The Living Room Sessions, this one has Rice singing to some of the church's best-known standards. Most of these tracks resemble the sound of his previous hit "Untitled Hymn," or Fernando Ortega's general approach to hymn covers—soft vocals with stacked harmonies, gently supported by piano with a soft keyboard bed underneath (not to mention a general absence of percussion). The exceptions bear the acoustic guitar of Scott Denté (Out of the Grey), giving "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" a slight Renaissance flavor, and a more upbeat folk feel reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel on "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go."

The only curveball found here is "Before the Throne of God Above," which Rice delivers with a new melody, though the character is very hymn-like—not too dissimilar from "The Old Rugged Cross." In fact, it's so well done, you can't help but wish Rice would have put his songwriting to full use and come up with a more original album of all-new hymns. Peace Like a River is pretty cut and dry, though Rice's warm vocalizing is beautifully done, and there are some pleasant subtleties to the arrangements that keep them from sounding too routine. Overall, it's a hard album to fault, and one that leaves no question about where the gifted artist stands with his faith.

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