This CD gave me a lesson on NOT judging a CD by its cover. When it arrived I took a glance at the song list and saw the title “Give Me Jesus.” Since Facing North is a pagan/earth spirituality review site, I wondered why I'd been sent a Christian music CD. After a few weeks of avoiding it, I popped it in my computer to listen. I was pleasantly surprised! I apologize for the temporary lapse of prejudice. The music is ample reward for making the effort. No holy rollers will jump out of the bushes if you play it – promise!  

Yes, this is a CD of church hymns! Musician-arranger Kyle Pederson has created new arrangements of hymns that are over 150 years old. This is an instrumental CD, so words don't detract from the beauty of the music. Pederson gathered skilled musicians from around the Twin Cities of Minnesota, including Handt Hanson on guitar, Dana Maeda on oboe, Diane Tremain Kogle on cello, Sarah Bertsch on violin, Al Hreha on bass, and Scott Malchow on guitar, mandolin and weissenborn (a lap slide guitar). The arrangements employ a variety of instrumental combinations. A few solo tracks by Pederson show his mad piano skills.

The first song, “Be Thou My Vision” is the oldest hymn on the album. It was written in Ireland in the 8th century. All of the songs have interesting histories. Most are of European origin, but a few are old American folk hymns. Pederson's arrangements greatly change the sound of these hymns. If you didn't know they were hymns, you probably wouldn't guess it – there's no organ or praise-and-worship choirs cluttering up the acoustic chamber group presentations. Some of these arrangements were used for Pederson's wedding. None of the songs are very long, and in fact it wouldn't have hurt if some of the arrangements had been stretched out a bit. 

The CD came with a separate publicity sheet tucked into the mailer. I wish some of the text from this sheet had been included in the jay-card in the CD jewel-box. The origin and history of the hymns is really fascinating.

The hymns are quite effectively renewed in this charming presentation. Kudos to Mr. Pederson. Listeners will find this CD to be the equivalent of acoustic New Age music that's low-key and pretty. It's comparable to the piano-centric tracks by George Winston, Liz Story, and Jim Brickman on Windham Hill's “Conversations With God” CD. If you like piano and acoustic instrumental arrangements, “Renewal” is well worth taking for a spin.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Artist: Kyle Pederson, 2009
10 tracks, total time – 38 minutes. Available from Cdbaby.com, Amazon.com, and as digital downloads at iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, and other online sales sites.
kylepederson.com       
Mp3 - $8.99; CD $18.01

(see also our review of his 2011 album, 12-25)

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