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CD Review

Singalongs & Pseudohymns  

City Light News

February 2016

                                                                                                   ©2006-2024 MyCar Music                                     Mike’s Wing Page

Calgarian Mike R. Schuster has embraced an innovative approach to tackling the age-old worship dilemma facing the church.

While some continue to gravitate towards the time-tested hymns of the faith, others prefer modern worship choruses.

Enter the “pseudohymn.” Set to completely new contemporary melodies are the magnificent, doctrinally-rich lyrics that have inspired numerous generations. These words are subject to some reshuffling and modernization as well as an additional chorus or bridge.

It’s not an entirely new concept. We’ve seen artists like Chris Tomlin tinker with the hymns. But Schuster takes it to a whole new level. Eight of the 12 tracks on his latest album are of the pseudohymn variety.

Released this January, Singalongs & Pseudohymns is Schuster’s third CD, following 2006’s Together and To The World in 2011.

The itinerant worship leader formerly on staff at Calgary’s Bow Valley Christian Church is also quick to point out, “I believe this is my best work to date.”

That’s quite the assertion. Schuster is clearly a gifted songwriter. The stirring melody and poignant truth of Redeeming Grace from his debut project will always be a personal favourite of mine.

But with the ancient hymns, Schuster mines centuries of eloquently-expressed, Biblically-sound wisdom. And the musical backdrop is every bit 21st Century.

Flowing together seamlessly are the remade hymns and four original co-writes Schuster features on the disc. The sound is predominantly pop-rock, but includes infusions of folk, country and bluegrass.

After co-producing his two previous CDs, this time Schuster flies solo. Yet he enlists Covenant Award-winning producer Andrew Horrocks to handle the “mixing and fixing,” while Jason Germain of Downhere fame does the mastering.

The impressive roster of musicians includes Vancouver’s Phil Robertson on drums, Spruce Grove’s Dave Janssen on bass, and Winnipeg’s Carlin Lemon on keyboards. Also elevating the sound is the superb violin and mandolin work on two of the tracks by Vancouver’s Spencer Capier, who frequently tours and records with Carolyn Arends.

Doing cameo appearances are Schuster’s former co-producers Anthony Packwood on guitar and Leroy Harder on keyboards. It’s also Harder’s gear from the now-defunct Slyngshot Productions studio in Calgary that was used for the recording.

Schuster appropriately kicks off the disc with As We Gather In His Name, a call to worship co-written with Brad Guldemond on an artists’ retreat in B.C.

Perhaps best summing up the project is a line from Almighty God, derived from a Presbyterian psalter published circa 1912. In the added chorus, Schuster proclaims, “with words old and new, in spirit and in truth, we worship You and only You Almighty God.”

Almighty God earned Schuster a Covenant Award nomination in 2015 from the Gospel Music Association Canada for “Praise & Worship Song of the Year.”

Of the hymn remakes, two each are derived from the works of Fanny Crosby and Henry F. Lyte. Able, which is taken from Crosby’s 1899 hymn, Able To Deliver, ranks as a personal favourite.

Truly a complete family undertaking, son Zach did the album artwork, while daughter Janessa and wife Jennifer offer their vocals. Even father and retired minister Dr. Siegfried H. Schuster served as a theological consultant along with Rev. Shafer Parker of Hawkwood Baptist.

Remarkably, Schuster has one of the best and most information-packed artist websites I’ve ever encountered. It’s abounding with links. And for each track on all three albums, there are sound samples, lyrics, chords, Power Point slides, credits and song stories.

Singalongs & Pseudohymns has much to offer for both private listening and congregational worship. Available for $15 plus shipping from www.mikerschuster.com and for $9.99 as a digital download from iTunes and CD Baby.

- Peter Fleck
City Light News