Uplifting and Optimistic
“Blessed Assurance” is a collection of fourteen classic hymns performed and arranged for solo piano by Jennifer Haines. As often as these old chestnuts have been recorded and performed in or outside of churches, Haines still manages to breathe fresh life into them, making them personal and contemporary without changing them TOO much. Most of these hymns have improvisations and variations on their themes which further personalize and update them. As a whole, the CD has a very flowing and gentle cast to it rather than being majestic or anthemic. And if you get the urge to sing along, Haines has included all of the lyrics in the liner notes. If you don’t want to sing, it’s still a big plus to be able to read the words to see what the songs are about (if you don’t already know them). Several solo piano hymn collections have been released over the past year, and as a reviewer, it’s been fascinating to hear the different interpretations of many of the same songs. They all have the same melodies played on the same instrument, and yet they are so different from each other - a clear indication of the personal impact of this music on the individual performers/arrangers. Fellow pianists will be happy to know that sheet music for all of these pieces is in the works.
The CD begins with a gently flowing arrangement of “It Is Well With My Soul.” Warm and optimistic, it’s a lovely opening. One of my favorites is “O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” which is darkly passionate with an infectious energy. “Fairest Lord Jesus” has fascinating variations on the melody along with some unusual chord changes. “All Creatures Of Our God and King” is full of sunshine and joy - a call to rejoice and praise the Creator. It’s amazing that a hymn as old as “Blessed Assurance” could sound so contemporary - light, flowing, and again very joyful. Each verse of “This Is My Father’s World” is a different variation, giving each its own take on the melody. “I Surrender All” is quietly pensive and expressive. One of the happy surprises on this album is “Amazing Grace.” There must easily be a million different versions of this song, but Haines’ is unique. Rhythmic, energetic, yet soft-spoken and optimistic, it sounds brand new. Each verse has a different treatment, and each works wonderfully well. “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” will be a beautiful addition to anyone’s holiday collection. “Be Thou My Vision” has been turning up on a lot of piano albums the past year or two, and this is a song that lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. Haines’ is lighter than many and is a real gem and a great way to close this lovely collection.
Jennifer Haines is working her way into the upper echelons of contemporary solo pianists, and “Blessed Assurance” should help to advance her a good deal farther up the ranks. Whether you are looking for a spiritual uplift or just some great solo piano music to listen to, check out this CD. Highly recommended!