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Faith : A Hymns Collection
by Avalon

Reviewed by Michael Ehret

"This disc alone could end the divide between those who love worship choruses and those who revere the hymns."

In the eyes (and ears) of many, Avalon is the epitome of corporate pop music. Their vocalists have come and gone – six since their founding in 1996 – and yet the sound remains the same. Pretty faces, whether male or female; pretty voices, ditto; pretty songs about pretty faith all tied up with pretty bows.

But, perhaps the worst charge leveled against them is that they are trend-chasers rather than trend-setters (O2: Avalon Remixed anyone?). And with their eighth studio album, Faith: A Hymns Collection, that charge definitely sticks.

And yet it all continues to work together so well.

In an era when almost everyone except Rod Stewart has recorded a hymns/worship album, what makes Faith work so well, besides Avalon’s obvious talents, is their commitment to the material. The project could have been a by-the-numbers Avalon project and sold in the kajillions. How ironic is it then that the most risks group members Jody McBrayer, Janna Long, Greg Long, and Melissa Greene have taken in years is with an album of old hymns?

“This is an eclectic record,” Greg said. “ ‘Amazing Grace’ turned out to have an R&B feel. With ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ we all just got on microphones and sang it down … and we arranged it as we went. So it was more of a creative thing than we’ve ever done.”

And that creative freedom shows. Take a listen to that R&B version of "Amazing Grace," for instance. This is the hymn that even non-churchgoers know. Everyone, everywhere, has sung it – and yet Avalon brings an up-tempo feel to the song that completely resets and redefines the song as a jubilant testimony to God’s all-encompassing love.

The disc is not without its weaknesses. Not surprisingly on a disc of this kind, those weaknesses are in the newer songs: "Total Praise," "For Freedom," and yet another version of "In Christ Alone." (Note: Please, everyone, Michael English recorded this to perfection in 1992 – what are you thinking?)

But those newer songs only sound as paltry as they do because they stand alongside the likes of "The Solid Rock", "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee," and "Blessed Assurance." This disc alone could end the divide between those who love worship choruses and those who revere the hymns. Faith is especially welcome coming on the heels of the group’s disappointing Stand, released in January of this year.

Michael Ehret is a music maven who has written about music, secular and Christian, as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star newspaper, several Internet sites, and even CCM magazine. He is also the editor of the newsletter Afictionado, the e-zine of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is testing the waters with his first novel, Beyond December, while working on his second, Skipping July.