Peace Like a River
Hymn collections are, in my opinion, a genre in which artists struggle to succeed. The vast majority of the attempts either err on the one side by producing a bland album (why not just listen to my church choir?) or err on the other side by creating bizarre mutilations of beloved standards (does the world really need a reggae version of "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"?).
Chris Rice's 2007 hymn collection is the rare gem. One might wonder whether this artist of "Cartoons" fame would release a hymn collection subtitled, "Elmer Fudd Brings You 'Amazing Grace'"—nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, you would only expect something so unconventional if "Cartoons" and "Billy Jo McGuffrey" were your only exposure to Chris Rice, an accomplished artist whose thoughts about God run deep. "Peace Like a River" demonstrates Rice's maturity and talent as an artist as well as a Christian.
Song selection is a strength for this collection. Enough of the tracks are favorite hymns ("It Is Well with My Soul," "Rock of Ages," "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," etc.) to give the project the air of familiarity that is important for the success of a selection of hymnody. Rice's other choices are statistically less likely to grace a collection of hymns: "O Freedom" and "Before the Throne of God Above" come to mind. "Before the Throne of God Above" appears 19 times in the iTunes Music Store and "O Freedom" appears 4 times, compared to the well over 150 appearances (iTunes will show only the first 150) for "Amazing Grace" and "Come Thou Fount."
I also appreciate Rice's treatment of the hymns. There's no jarring sense of "I wanted to do 'Sweet Hour of Prayer' MY WAY." These hymns are the same hymns you've heard in church. Yet, they aren't. Rice's fluid vocals and the occasional subtle hint of something different make this hymn interesting, but not brash. Kudos, Mr. Rice.
Just in time for your last-minute Christmas shopping.