by John Ellis
I love hymns. However, that wasn’t always the case. I’ve always loved listening to music, but, more often than not, over the course of my life, that music was far afield from the hymn genre. While I’m not sure if it’s a product of having reached middle-age or my sanctification (probably both), I find myself listening to hymns more and more. Not only is the artistry in hymns rich, but the message of that artistry is often directly connected to a robust theology. While recognizing that all good art glorifies God, there is something satisfying about drinking from the majestic artistic well filled with songs written for the explicit purpose of magnifying the name of God.
In order to feed my growing appetite for hymns, I remain on the lookout for albums that feature mostly hymns. Which, oddly, has proven more difficult of a task than I would’ve guessed a few years ago. Thankfully, this past December, at Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert, I was introduced to Jill Phillips who had recently released Lead Me Home, an album of hymns and gospel songs.
Jill Phillips is a singer-songwriter based out of Nashville. Part of the Christian artist collective The Rabbit Room, Phillips creates guitar driven, folk-rock most often referred to as Americana. I’m not familiar with her back catalogue, an oversight I plan to remedy, but Lead Me Home settles nicely into the earthy gravitas and familiar comfort that I expect from Americana music. Phillips’ voice is a powerful mixture of Florence Welch’s soaring, high mountain pass and Gillian Welch’s stalwart, gravelly trench. The ten songs on Lead Me Home are served well by her voice, and the often sparse instrumentation allows Jill Phillips to lift the hymns and gospel songs off of an Appalachian front porch and into the vestibule of the listener’s heart.
Lead Me Home opens with the great 18th century hymn “Come Ye Sinners.” In his hymn, Joseph Hart vividly confronts us with the cost of the Incarnation and asks, “View him prostrate in the garden/On the ground your maker lies/On the bloody tree behold him/Sinner, will this not suffice?” Hart’s masterful weaving of the Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative is served well by the pathos of Jill Phillips’ vocals. Combining the heartbreaking realization of sin, the joy of salvation, and the awe of our Savior isn’t an easy thing to do, but Phillips accomplishes just that.
I would’ve ordered Lead Me Home anyway, but I was especially happy to discover “Abide With Me,” one of my favorite hymns, among the track listing. While dying of tuberculosis, Henry Lyte penned this meaningful ode to God’s all-sufficient grace. While only singing four of the seven verses (for which I forgive her), Jill Phillips’ prayerful delivery of lines like “I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless/Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness” encourages the listener to find and place their only hope in Jesus.
For decades, I’ve disliked “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Growing up, the Christian school that I attended and that my mom taught at was over thirty miles away. Every morning on school days, my siblings and I would follow our mom out to the van. The radio station was always on the local Christian station, and a preaching program was concluding whenever my mom would start the van. This program always ended with a rendition of “Great Is They Faithfulness.” For over thirty years, my mind has married that hymn with waking up early to go to school. Jill Phillips has mercifully changed that. “Great Is They Faithfulness” is an excellent hymn, and the delicate guitar combined with Phillips’ vocals help to create a worshipful listening experience that causes me, at least, to praise God.
Most of us, myself included, could stand to include more hymns in our music listening experience. Lead Me Home by Jill Phillips is an excellent, God-honoring, and beautiful rendering of some of the best loved hymns and gospel songs written.
You can buy the album by clicking here.