Gospel albums can be a bit hit and miss, particularly if they feature well-known, well-trodden hymns. It can be difficult to find a fresh angle on songs that have been covered by so many. Carrie Underwood has managed to breathe new life into a dozen classics however on her latest album, ‘My Savior’. Released as a companion piece to her Christmas collection, it continues in much the same vein as ‘My Gift’ but with a softer tone: less grandeur, and more intimacy.
The opening instrumental, featuring Buddy Greene on harmonica, is raw and reflective. Solemn in tone and redolent of an earlier period, it both confirms and belies what is to come. Its simplicity continues on through many of the songs that follow whilst its traditionalism is given an updated aeration. So ‘Nothing but the Blood of Jesus’ is stripped back but up tempo; and ‘Blessed Assurance’ remains acoustically grounded even as Carrie belts out the odd power note.
‘Just as I am’ carries on this minimal instrumentation to great effect, creating a really touching version which draws out the theme of unconditional love at its heart extremely well. This is before we get a taste of old-school Country Gospel with ‘Victory in Jesus’. The introduction of the pedal steel is most welcome here, as are the drum brushes which give the track a real jazzy edge to an otherwise honky-tonk-flavoured sound. It is a moment when Sunday morning steps over country music’s famous binary into Saturday evening, Carrie then returning to the hallowed setting of the Church building for a duet with CeCe Winans on ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’.
‘How Great Thou Art’ is a good indication of how much more intimate this album is compared to its festive counterpart. There is no grand vocal performance as per an earlier recorded version featuring Vince Gill. Instead, this is a tempered but no less heartfelt rendition that captures something of the sincerity with which Carrie has approached this project. ‘Because He Lives’ seems to display the reverence and passion that she has for these gospel standards from her childhood best, looking to honour the original whilst, in this case, producing a modern country sound around the lyrics. It leads to an altogether softer addition to her back catalogue, with ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘I Surrender All’ underlining this gentler approach. Again, both capture Carrie’s ability to bring a fresh, modern take on century-old classics, with a vocal that glides along with the minimal pop production to rest soothingly on the ear.
It is a staple of any Gospel album to include ‘Amazing Grace’, and Carrie chooses to end with it here. To find a new angle on a song that has been covered by countless artists is a challenge to say the least, and there is nothing particularly distinctive about this version. Carrie delivers it well, and with the addition of the harmonica, it becomes a nice bookend to the album. Greene adds a slight rough-and-ready feel with his playing which creates a nice contrast to the finely-polished chorus of the choir, the song displaying the kind of fusion between the traditional and contemporary that runs throughout ‘My Savior’. The result is an album on which Carrie Underwood manages to convey her faith in a way that is true to her and her music. She faithfully interprets these classic hymns for a new generation, creating a Gospel album that makes a lovely soundtrack to the Easter weekend.
Review written by Gareth Williams (twitter.com/lostinbluejazz1)