wanderer’s rest: new old songs

Wanderer’s Rest is a long time in the making, and we find it a bit ironic that we inflict it on the public now at a time when I am no longer working for a church.  Nevertheless, we hope that it serves some purpose and bears some fruit, if only as a reminder to you of certain timeless truths.  I think of it as a project about songs, rather than the performance or the production, in that it was conceived as a way to share hymns that wouldn’t otherwise be shared.  And to that end, we tried to flesh out each track in a way that realized the mood and essence of the hymn, whether that meant using the classic, traditional tune or something more modern and personal.

A word about the name(s): wanderer’s rest was a line lifted from the second track, but it also seemed to capture the personal essence of this record.  Many of the songs concern God’s faithfulness and goodness amid times of trial, and they were recorded amid our own trials, in the process of uprooting and moving across the globe.  So even though the lyrics were not ours, they carried special meaning for us in this season of our lives.  And the band name?  Mountainfoot is just a transliteration of Piedmont, where we lived and recorded in Atlanta.

Finally, in getting the thing printed we chose a simple, environmentally-friendly CD jacket which had no room for real liner notes, so here are a few for those keeping score at home:

Just As I Am
This is not really one of my favorite hymns.  In fact, it feels a little maudlin and cliché to my ears now.  But at one point I was interested in taking a classic hymn that had lost relevance and seeing if I could completely change the feel without altering the classic melody.  I’m aware that this is probably too dissonant and unsettling to be used in a congregational setting (unless you have a very cool congregation) but I think it’s an interesting experiment.  This version was recorded live with a single mic.

Abe – vocal, guitar

Eternal Beam of Light Divine
One of several tracks about our doubts and God’s faithfulness.  I had this melody in my head for some time and I have no idea where it came from.  I wasn’t all that interested in it until the chords started to take shape, when it started to seem like an Arcade Fire song. Then Bethany found a text that fit the meter and mood of the piece and the rest is history.  Originally it was slower and more meditative, and in some ways that version seems to work better, but this one succeeds thanks in large part to Chad Johnson’s stellar guitar work.  I never got this recording to sound like I wanted, but I do really like the arrangement.

Abe – vocal, acoustic guitar, keyboard
Bethany – vocal
Chad Johnson – electric guitar
Billy Gewin – bass
Jeff Hawkins – drums

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
This melody (Beech Spring by B.F. White) became our favorite setting for this text because of the sense of comfort and assurance it lends to the central plea of the hymn.  I tried to add some minimalist keyboards such as the Unthanks use to great effect.  Special thanks to Kurt Moen for letting me into the church to use the organ after I got fired.

Abe – guitar, keyboards
Bethany – vocal, piano

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
This was an early attempt on my part to marry high-church hymnody with an original folk melody.  Originally, this music was composed for an obscure hymn called “Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow”, which was used once in church and promptly forgotten.  But it also shares a meter with a more accessible and useful text “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, and fits the mood of the lyrics quite well.  So that became the version we recorded.  This is one the congregation caught onto quickly and seemed to enjoy singing.  Later I added that flute descant, making the song sound like something you’d hear on a Wyndham Hill release.

Abe – guitar, vocal
Bethany – vocal
Walter Harris – guitar
Melanie Heckman – flute

Lord, Like the Publican I Stand
This is an old Irish traditional melody that’s been used for a whole host of songs.  In this case, it lends a bit of severity and anguish to the narrator’s confession.  We typically did this tune only on Ash Wednesday, but it’s a great song of confession once you explain to people what a “publican” is.

Abe – guitar, vocal
Walter Harris – banjo
Erik Rostad – violin
Billy Gewin – bass
Jeff Hawkins – drums

Whate’er My God Ordains is Right
This is a richly reassuring text about God’s sovereignty that has been used before (RUF), though I was initially unaware of other versions.  The thought behind this arrangement is that the text is composed something like a psalm of lament, in that it lays out the odds against us before concluding with a doxology or a declaration of faith in God’s enduring goodness.  The music is supposed to reflect that: odd meters and sudden key changes give way to a simple, resolute statement at the end of each verse.  Anyway, it’s probably overthought and a little awkward for congregational use, but one could restore the missing beats to make it more church-accessible.  Special thanks to Billy and Jeff for the hard hours putting this drum parts together.

Abe – guitar, banjo, keyboard, vocal
Bethany – piano, vocal
Chad Johnson – electric guitar
Billy Gewin – bass
Jeff Hawkins – drums

Nothing but the Blood
This non-traditional chord progression was adapted from something my brother Tom play, who probably adapted it from something his friend Matt Novenson used to play.  In any case, it became probably the all-time favorite communion hymn for the congregation.  As for the recording, it was done back in ‘03, back when I didn’t have apparently didn’t have a clue either about singing or recording.  I’m a bit embarrassed by this recording now, but included it anyway at the insistence of a very insistent Curtis Curtis.

Abe – guitar, vocal

The King of Love My Shepherd Is
An all-time favorite melody, which we used for several different texts, most notably “How Sweet and Aw(ful)esome is the Place”.  Once, I did a weird modal arrangement of this melody that was kind of cool, but ultimately we recorded this more traditional setting, the guitar part of which came from Chad Johnson’s vast repertoire of Episcopal hymns.  That flute descant is from the book “Traditional Choral Praise”.

Abe – guitar, vocal
Bethany – vocal
Melanie Heckman – flute

Revive us Again
I remember singing this song when I was growing up in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church of Warner Robins.   It sounded corny to me then, and it sounds corny to me now, but this version is a lot of fun to play and sing exuberantly.  One time I started this song in church on the guitar in 4/4 instead of 3 and when the congregation started singing, it was very obvious something was wrong.  Then we all had a good laugh at my expense and Chad Johnson started the song properly.  (Lesson learned: do not try to get your congregation to sing polymeters. they’re not ready for it.) Bethany recorded all the drums in two separate tracks and we decided to keep her somewhat unpolished take because it sounded looser and more fun, like a hootenanny.  That choir at the end is me, Bethany and sister Ellen multi-tracked in the stone lobby at First Presbyterian Augusta.

Abe – guitar, vocal, percussion
Bethany – vocal, drums
Walter Harris – mandolin
Erik Rostad – violin
Billy Gewin – bass
Ellen Hoover – vocal

Alas! And Did my Savior Bleed
My friend Michael Kurth wrote this arrangement and find it startlingly effective at conveying the sorrow and horror at the inequity of the crucifixion.  I wish I had time to write better string parts for this, but this was recorded about four days before we left the country, so just be glad it’s recorded at all.  This became a congregational favorite as well. We played it straight on the recording, but this arrangement works best if you wear a beret and sing with a French accent.  Try it; it’s great fun.

Abe – guitar
Bethany – accordion, vocal
Mark Yang – violin
Erik Rostad – violin
Kim Vinson – cello

Great is thy Faithfulness
This one began as a challenge to see if I could re-harmonize this song in a more modern context without changing the melody.  I succeeded except for a single note: the G# accidental, which was changed to a G natural.  The rhythm is a bit different, of course, and this arrangement is probably too syncopated to make a good congregational tune, but we did this several times at church and folks seemed to catch on and sing it, so maybe I should give anglos more credit.  This recording was made at an evening service at First Presbyterian Augusta.  The song was learned and rehearsed by people I had never met in about 10 hurried minutes before the service.  It turned out remarkably well in spite of it, aside from a few bum notes from the lead singer.

Abe – guitar, vocal
Bethany – piano, vocal
Tom Okie – electric guitar
Jamie Anderegg – bass
Jason Vital – drums

God’s Unchanging Hand
In 2008 my siblings and I did a mini-concert at First Presbyterian Augusta, and this was one of the tunes we performed that night.  I learned it from an old Russ Taff album but this version is decided more upbeat, even though we borrowed some of his vocal ideas.  Bethany can be forgiven if she sounds out of breath; she was also playing djembe with both hands and tambourine with her feet while singing lead vocals.

Abe – guitar, vocal
Bethany – percussion, vocal
Tom Okie – guitar, vocal
Ellen Hoover – vocal
Charlotte Okie – vocal

Amazing Grace Revisited
I wrote this arrangement back in 2004 and never put it to much use, in part because I pitched it in a key that required singing the chorus in falsetto.  That works well for Coldplay, but less so for me.  We revisited the tune (pun intended) and pitched it lower for the mini-concert at First Presbyterian Augusta.  Subconsciously, I think that chorus came from the Pedro the Lion song Rejoice, and it just seemed like a fitting antiphon to the well-known verses.

Abe – guitar, vocal
Bethany – piano, vocal
Tom Okie – guitar

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About bethraham

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