John Michael Talbot’s Worship and Bow Down recalls 1979’s The Lord’s Supper. After converting to Catholicism, Talbot released the latter’s unique musical adaptation of the Mass, intending for it to be his goodbye to the music world. Instead, its well-received reception launched his new career, following in the spirit of St. Francis as a modern day troubadour for the Lord. His discography is now more than 50 recordings plus a number of books.
Worship and Bow Down, which has a CD release date of 6/21/11, but was released as a digital download on Easter day of this year, finds Talbot once again adapting the Mass using the new translation of the Roman Missal into what he calls the “Mass of Rebirth.” There are new settings for every element of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Angus Dei, etc.) and for the Hail Mary, the Jesus Prayer and a portion of the Lectio Divina. Many of these songs will be included in the new hymnal published by Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) this fall. Talbot teamed with OCP for this release.
“Hail Mary” is already one of the new concert favorites and it’s not hard to understand why. Talbot sets it in a minor key that adds a beauty and solemnity that is characteristic of a number of compositions found on his recordings. It’s moving even if you are not Catholic. Some non-Catholics might object to some of the lyrics, but Talbot is just taking the existing prayer and setting it to music. I have no problem here and on his other recordings overlooking the occasional reference that I might disagree with from a theological standpoint. Such instances are few and far between, which is why Talbot has an appeal beyond Catholic believers. It’s worth being able to hear such sacred music.
Talbot is truly an artist. He forged his own way, which led him away from the contemporary trend that characterized (and still does) so much of Christian music. He’s unlike anyone else and continues to make relevant and meaningful music.
One prime example on this release is “Hind’s Feet on High Places,” a title that many protestants might recognize from the classic book by Hannah Hurnard. This approaches his best work. It starts with a reference to Psalm 91:7 “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you” (ESV). From there Talbot leads us to Habakkuk 3:17-18, (though) “the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD” (ESV). This takes us to the triumphant chorus: “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19 KJV). Multi-tracking John Michael’s voice on the chorus (here and elsewhere), along with soaring music, that both end on a high note make this an exhilarating track. Any future collection of Talbot’s best songs should include this.
Talbot’s trademark acoustic guitar style is mixed throughout with superb orchestration. The only exception are the non-musical tracks 10-16 (the “Mass of Rebirth” section), which consists of a series of short acapella chants, and calls and responses.
Artistry and beauty are evident on every track, though the encouragement toward contemplative practices in tracks 7-9 may not be quite as aesthetic lyrically but is still well done.
Among his output in recent years this has to rank as one of his best efforts. He unplugged for this one; the electric guitars and drums were shelved in favor of the acoustic and organic sound, but it’s not sleepy. This is something to wake up to on Easter day or any other, for every day is like a resurrection day for the believer in Christ.
Something about the Mass brings out the best in John Michael Talbot.
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