Acclaimed bluegrass ensemble and Song Garden recording artist Chosen Road has recently released their brand new album Appalachian Hymns. Produced by the group's Zachary Alvis and Tyler Robertson, the 12-song collection pairs the band's unparalleled acoustic instrumentation and vocal harmonies with classic songs of faith and the Church.
The project's cornerstone lead single and video, "Be Thou My Vision," is one of the oldest hymns of the Church, bearing a message as timely today as when the words were first written centuries ago in Ireland. Chosen Road honors their Scotch-Irish heritage with the arrangement, featuring beautiful Celtic instrumentation and intricate harmonies.
Other highlights of Appalachian Hymns include the rousing "Brethren We Have Met To Worship" (available November 5); the striking simplicity of "My Savior's Love"; the gentle, guitar-driven "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"; the a cappella "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be"; and the crowd-pleasing instrumental "Send The Light."
Q: Thank you so much for doing this interview with us. I love your new hymns album. Why did you decide to do a hymns album?
For years we've been asked to do an album of nothing but hymns, and for years we've talked about doing it. Honestly, we never had the time, but in March of 2020 things shut down for us just as they did for other musicians. We found ourselves with more time on our hands than we ever had before, and we were also scared of whether we'd still be here as a band once we finally could get back on the road. The one thing we could do was pour our heart and gifts into new music.
We started talking about what songs we wanted to sing and the first few that came to mind were hymns that brought us hope and comfort in the midst of uncertainty-songs like "It Is Well" and "Be Thou My Vision." We went into the studio and started tracking. It was amazing. We found ourselves encouraged as we were singing and playing. We needed to sing these songs of hope in the midst of the valley we found ourselves in back in 2020.
Q: What do you have to say to those who think hymns are outdated?
Can Truth be outdated? I don't think it can be. There are so many hymns of the church that are theologically rich. These songs are built on absolute Truth that comes straight from scripture. How can that be outdated? It's been amazing to see how people seem to come alive when they sing these songs that have stood the test of time in corporate worship. We love new songs too, don't get me wrong. However, when we get into these old songs in a live setting with a congregation or an audience, something special happens. I believe it's because these old songs still have life, and they still have life because of the Truth of the Gospel they proclaim.
Q: With so many hymns out there, how did you narrow down your choices?
It was tough. There are so many great ones. We really tried to select songs that fit into what we do musically. The album has a lot of Celtic undertones. You hear that on songs like "Be Thou My Vision" and "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." We wanted to bring our Scotch-Irish heritage into the music. Our ancestors settled in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1700s, and they brought fiddles and songs of their faith. We really wanted to go back there, musically. It was that heritage that eventually gave way to the creation of bluegrass music when the banjo was added from Africa. There are some songs on the album that really focus on the banjo and fiddle and what they sound like when they are combined to create what we call bluegrass music.
That's also the case with the a cappella selections. A capella singing was a cornerstone of worship services in primitive Baptist churches throughout the mountains of Appalachia for generations. We wanted to shine a spotlight on how we arrived where we are today. So in that light, the album is in somewhat of a journal containing songs of faith and how they've been done here in the mountains.
Q: How did you try to bring something fresh and personal out of these hymns?
We tried to be very mindful of the arrangements on this album. Although we were doing songs many people are familiar with, and we are playing them on instruments as old as the hills, we wanted them to be fresh. We wanted to give old songs new life with old instruments. Sometimes it was a challenge, but for the most part the arrangements just flowed. I don't believe there's a song that has been arranged the same way on any previous recording. We are really excited about that, and the arrangements are very singable too.
Q: I love the Celtic influence you bring to "Be Thou My Vision." Talk a little about this hymn and why you chose it.
We've always been intrigued with this hymn because the history behind the song is really interesting. It's inspiring. Many say it's the oldest hymn in the English language.
A few years ago, we had the opportunity to perform in Scotland. That was an amazing experience. While we were there, we dove into the history of Christianity in Scotland-how revival spread across the land, and how so many believers were martyred for their faith. As a matter a fact, it is said the writer of this hymn, an Irish monk named Dallan Forgaill, was martyred by pirates. His poem, that we now know as "Be Thou My Vision," is reported to have been inspired by the story of St. Patrick. We came back from that trip wanting to incorporate the music of Scotland into our music in a greater way than ever before. When we decided to do the hymns album, this song was a must do. It's probably my favorite from the album.
Q: I think the a cappella of "How Heaven Must Be" is stunning. Why did you decide to do a vocal-only version?
It really goes back to our culture and the primitive Baptists throughout our home region who continue to sing a cappella in church to this day. As a band, we've always loved good harmony singing, and most of us learned to sing harmony in church here at home. I remember my family singing a cappella songs like these as a kid. We've always been drawn to that style of singing, and I think it's just because it's in our blood. Singing a song like this a cappella also really puts the focus on the lyric in a special way. My grandfather was a mountain preacher, and this happened to be his favorite song, so when we were in the studio talking about an a cappella song and this one was mentioned, I knew we had to do it.
Q: How have these hymns impacted you in your own life? Can you recall a time in your life where God spoke to you through a hymn?
Absolutely. I never will forget-it was right before we decided to finally do a hymns album. It was the second Sunday of March in 2020. We were out on the road and singing for what would be one of the last times that year. We were scared because we didn't know what the future held. The audience was fearful because they didn't know what was really happening, and we just started singing "It Is Well With My Soul." We had never sung that song as a band before. That morning it was just what we needed. We ended the concert with the audience singing along with us. It was there in that moment of fear and uncertainty that we felt surpassing peace in the midst of suffering. I think I have sung that song to myself every day since. Singing God's Truth in the midst of suffering never gets old, and it can carry us through some of the darkest moments in life. I believe that's why God gave us music and commands us to sing.
Q: What are some take-home messages you hope listeners will grasp after listening to this album?
We want listeners to know that God is faithful. In the end, He will get the glory from everything that we face here on this earth, and if He lives inside of us, we will spend forever in glory with Him. We hope that people will not just listen to the music on the album, but we hope they will sing along with us in praise and worship to our Creator. I hope that if someone hears this music and they are suffering, they will simply lift their voice and sing. I believe if they do, regardless of what they are facing, they will be encouraged and find strength in Him.