by Sam Robinson
Following on from their December 2013 release Advent to Christmas, Page CXVI are about to release their second (of three) church calendar record, Lent to Maundy Thursday. As the name suggests, the album is a soundtrack to the period of time leading up to Easter.
As you’d expect from a Page album, there are a number of re-worked hymns here. Some are familiar, some aren’t. Some have kept the majority of the original arrangement, some have re-worked melodies almost completely. However, Lent to Maundy Thursday is far from predictable. The band venture into soft rock, rollicking rhythms and of course, stunning harmonies.
The album opens with the wonderful hymn And Can It Be That I Should Gain. At first I was a little thrown by the new arrangement the band have put together, and the absence of the familiar melody – there’s no chest-puffing male/female call and response here – but this song in particular is real a grower. Remembering that this album soundtracks the weeks leading to the cross, this hymn joyously celebrates the astounding, amazing love that is shown to us in Jesus’ death.
Before the Throne of God Above showcases lead singer Latifah Phillips’ wonderful vocals, and some dreamy synth sounds. Were You There? is one of the album’s highlights. Usually such a solemn song (and rightly so), Page CXVI have added a real slinky not-quite-reggae groove, and erased any opportunity of a drawn-out, passionless ‘tremble, tremble, tremmmbllllle’. Not to say this arrangement isn’t stirring, moving it is.
From this point the album moves into lesser-known or original hymns, which is a real difference to most other Page CXVI albums. These tracks include Fast From, Feast On – a hymn written by the band based on a discovered poem – and This Blessed Day. The latter moves into a swelling jam towards the end with an encouragement to adore Jesus.
Latifah Phillips has shared on Twitter that the final track I Love the Lord is her favourite hymn. It speaks of Jesus being our Lord and comfort in times of despair, who takes our griefs away. I recently got to chat with Latifah about this new record, and this is what she said about this particular hymn:
“It’s one of my favourite discovered hymns. I didn’t know it until I found it. At the community we were part of a couple of years ago, the way they celebrated Maundy Thursday is they would encourage everyone in the church to go to dinner, or have people in their homes – eight to ten people. And they would go round the table and talk about what they love about God, and what they love about Christ, and remembering Christ. Things he’s done in their lives, and we shared. Sharing this meal together, y’know?
So I had to think hard about what am I really thankful for, specifically when I’m remembering Christ and how he’s ministered to me specifically. So when I found this song, I Love the Lord, it’s an original melody – he hacked up the hymn I found, of course, and put it back together a different way. But the chorus is: ‘I love the Lord / He chased my griefs away. Despair no more / and use this breath to pray’. […] I’m really thankful – that idea of despair no more: sometimes it’s easy for me to get lost in despair. And what is despair? It’s grief with no hope! It’s hopelessness. And Christ is hope! He gave us the Holy Spirit – all these things that we can have to cling to to have a hope and trust in him. So that line is reminding me: don’t despair. And instead of despairing, why don’t you spend some time talking to God about it? And he does chase your griefs away in that eventually he will right every wrong. I don’t want to diminish anybody’s pain or reality – suffering is real and our world is broken – and those are hard realities to deal with. But it’s comforting to me to know that ultimately he will right every wrong and make things what they should be again, even if I don’t see it in my lifetime. And that is what I am most thankful for. So the song – the words alone I love but I just love the melody too. We used beautiful strings, we had these great string players that came in and just added everything. It’s just lovely. So it’s my favourite song on the record and I can’t wait for people to have it. And I hope it encourages them. That’s the intention behind the song, that those of us who maybe are having a hard time, understand God’s goodness in the midst of pain and suffering that hopefully this song will be a reminder to continue to have hope and not to despair.”
Read my full interview with Latifah Phillips about Lent to Maundy Thursday here.
This album is a wonderful reflection on a time of year when many stop to consider what Jesus has done. I believe it’s a step up from Advent to Christmas, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Good Friday to Easter holds when it is released mid-April. I’m giving this three-and-a-half out of five stars.