"Inspired By" Disc a Strong Compliment to "Amazing Grace"

Artist(s):  Various Artists
Title:  "Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Amazing Grace"
Label:  EMI/Sparrow

Anytime a group of prominent Christian artists appear together on a movie soundtrack, one can only hope the result isn’t just another over-hyped, unimaginative effort. Too often, when the words “inspired by” appear in a project’s title, what usually follows is a disc that is boilerplate at best.

That said, it was intriguing to discover the plans producers had for "Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Amazing Grace," a compilation album created in conjunction with the major motion picture which hit theaters February 23. The disc contains modern renditions of well-known period hymns sung by pop, rock, urban and country acts, a bold undertaking for sure. But then the project’s visionaries did the unthinkable:  They asked someone to write a new verse to the most recognized hymn of all time – “Amazing Grace.”

Remarkably, virtually everything comes together in solid fashion, and the music effectively evokes the film’s theme of how one person can change the world. The movie chronicles the heroic endeavors of William Wilberforce, who championed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire two centuries ago. Joining his quest was John Newton, the repentant ex-slave trader who authored the poem “Amazing Grace,” which ultimately birthed the classic hymn.

Speaking of the title track, who better than Chris Tomlin to deliver the showpiece? With help from the Wilberforce University Choir, Tomlin’s straightforward arrangement and relaxed vocals capture the essence of the beloved hymn. Asked to add new lyrics to the classic, Tomlin does so while seamlessly incorporating the original “last verse” from Newton’s poem, which the hymn has historically left out.

Among the other selections, the set’s three duets stand apart. Jeremy and Adie Camp turn in a fine performance on their interpretation of “It Is Well,” although it would have been ideal for pixie-voiced Adie to augment her background vocal duties and sing lead for at least a stanza.

Bethany Dillon and Shawn McDonald render an understated, yet spine-tingling, rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King,” unifying their expressive, well-blended voices to generate the disc’s finest moment.

Equally remarkable are virtuoso performer David Crowder and country music icon Marty Stuart on “Rock of Ages.” Following a soul-stirring one-minute instrumental intro, Crowder wraps his distinctive vocalizations around the song and makes it his own inimitable masterwork.

Other standouts include Nichole Nordeman’s superb piano-driven adaptation of “Just as I Am”; Smokie Norful’s soulful output on “Were You There;” and Martina McBride’s soothing arrangement of “How Great Thou Art.” 

A few songs do fall short, including Jars of Clay’s take-no-risk approach on “I Need Thee Every Hour” and Avalon’s feeble attempt at “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which finds the group sounding more like a duet than a powerhouse quartet.

Supposedly, all the songs chosen for this soundtrack were hymns that resonated with Wilberforce, with eight of the 13 selections recorded specifically for this project. A fine work in its own right, the collaboration finishes as a strong compliment to the spirit of the film, definitely not the typical tag-along disc destined for the annals of mediocrity. 

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