Just in time for the Christian Holy Week, Charleston worship music collective Holy City Hymns has released its second album, Not a Word, as a download on Bandcamp. All seven tracks are traditional hymns, lovingly revamped for modern congregations with an ear for folk, pop, and alt-country.
Take for instance “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” an Easter Sunday favorite that nonetheless can be tricky for churchgoers without choral training or an ear for the pipe organ. The 18th-century hymn by Charles Wesley appears as the last track on the album, and the new version sets the words to gritty rock guitars and soaring harmonica. “That was one that I loved the lyrics to but felt like it was almost inaccessible, that it was difficult for our average churchgoers to participate in, let alone people that may be wandering off the street as you get in your typical Easter service,” says Patrick Schlabs, leader of Holy City Hymns and worship pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Mt. Pleasant.
Like Advent Songs, the group’s December 2012 debut, Not a Word is a thematic collection of songs meant for a specific season in the liturgical calendar. The group will perform all of the tracks in a Good Friday service at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul (126 Coming St.) at 6 p.m. The worship service is open to the public and will feature readings and prayers centered on the Stations of the Cross.
Holy City Hymns includes worship leaders from a diverse cross section of Charleston-area churches, including Andrew Avent of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Ryan Bailey of Seacoast West Ashley, and Ryan Thompson of the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul. Schlabs’ wife, Meg, provides lead vocals reminiscent of Emmylou Harris on “There is a Fountain,” and Jon Lowder of the downtown church Sanctuary gives the most arresting performance of the record on “Were You There.” Listen, and you’ll swear that the latter-day Johnny Cash was at the microphone.
“[Lowder] made a mistake and started singing it low, and I was struck,” Schlabs says. “He was just bellowing, and it really spoke to your gut.”