Long after this pandemic has worn itself out and gone the way of the flu and the measles and malaria and other deadly viruses, many will still remember Andrea Bocelli and the hymn Amazing Grace. The sight of him singing to the empty courtyard of the Duomo in Milan impacted millions all over the world. Mankind is in dire circumstances but here is this Italian tenor single-handedly bringing a message of hope.
The same message resounds in Bocelli’s latest album. It is aptly titled Believe and is designed to calm fears and soothe the soul. Bocelli’s singing usually does that, more so when the music is as divine as Amazing Grace. The song appears in the album but as a duet with country music star Alison Krauss. If you think that country and classical vocals do not blend well, you have another thing coming with this one.
Expect more goosebumps with Bocelli’s Ave Maria composition; a duet of I Believe with soprano Cecilia Bartoli; Cohen’s Hallelujah; an Ennio Morricone song recorded for the first time, Inno Sussurato; and my absolute favorite, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Religious hymns and country music have been compatible bedfellows for a long time. There is something about plaintive country singing that endows songs of faith with so much emotion. That is why country music artists always come out with inspirational albums. And very good ones, too, most of the time.
American Idol discovery and now one of country’s biggest stars Carrie Underwood recently took her turn and the result is heavenly. She has the voice of an angel and faith in ample doses. Remember this is the girl behind the advice for the desperate, Jesus Take the Wheel.
Underwood’s first religious album is titled My Savior and it is loaded with some of the most-loved hymns of all time. Great is Thy Faithfulness as a duet with gospel music legend Cece Winans; How Great Thou Art; Because He Lives, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus; Blessed Assurance, Just as I am, Victory in Jesus, O How I Love Jesus, The Old Rugged Cross, I Surrender All, Softly and Tenderly and not to be missed Amazing Grace.
What is really great about My Savior is that Underwood eschewed her usual powerhouse vocals for something simple. The result is soothing and intimate. Relax, get lost in the music. We can all use the respite that this kind of music provides.
Here is another strange pairing that works wonderfully well. Jazz and traditional hymns. Not really jazz but the light kind that Harry Connick Jr. does, which leans a lot towards MOR. That means middle of the road or the easier to understand easy listening kind. That is music without jolts. It just coasts smoothly along.
Except that there are times when Connick goes overboard in his latest album titled Alone with my Faith, which he arranged, produced and recorded all by himself at home. He turned the spiritual Old Time Religion into a Dixieland romp. Well, this guy is from New Orleans so he just had to have that.
The other time was with the Latin hymn Panis Angelicus. I have always believed that music can be arranged any which way if you have your notes right. But this one still comes off strange.
I like how he adapted Amazing Grace How Great Thou Art, The Old Rugged Cross, Because He Lives and Be Not Afraid into his own style, all charming and full of warmth. But the gem in the album is a new original that Harry composed himself, Alone with my Faith.
Just like Alone with my Faith is no ordinary album, Alone with my Faith is a very special song. It captures how most of us feel these days, when faith is the only thing we can hold on to.
Alone with my Faith, the lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr.
“I still believe/ my story’s not over/ I’m making my way/ just not like I planned/ I still see the sunrise/ I still see the rainfall/ I know who I am/ I know where I stand/ alone with my faith.
“What I know is true/ what gives me assurance/ when I don’t know what to do/ I don’t know all the answers/ but I have always known/ I’m eternally faithful/ so I am never alone.”
Thanks to faith, we are never alone.