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Mining God’s songbook

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WORLD Radio - Mining God’s songbook

Wendell Kimbrough reimagines the Psalms in his new album You Belong


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, July 14th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World And Everything in It: The Psalms Reimagined!

That’s how singer/songwriter Wendell Kimbrough describes his music: inspired by the Psalms. He started the project nearly ten years ago. Today he’s releasing his third installment. I’ve given all three of his albums a listen and here’s my review.

MUSIC: We were wandering in the desert with our souls so starved and weak. We were hungry for a homeland. We did not know how to seek.

Alabama-born and Mississippi-raised, Wendell Kimbrough is a gentle, but steady tenor with southern roots.

WENDELL KIMBROUGH: A lot of people tell me I sound like James Taylor or John Denver. When I’m singing I usually try to relax and I’m trying to sing in a way that feels like a hug or something.

In 2014 Kimbrough was artist-in-residence for an Anglican church in Fairhope, Alabama. Every week he chose a Psalm for the Sunday congregational reading. But his pastor wanted to do more than read the Psalms. He wanted to sing songs inspired by them.

KIMBROUGH: I knew that would be a big task for me. I was kind of a perfectionist and so, trying to write something every week and then to get up and play it you know, hot off the presses so to speak, that was very intimidating.

Nevertheless, Kimbrough accepted the challenge. Every week for three years he wrote a Psalm-inspired refrain. It’s worth noting, Kimbrough’s lyrics come almost directly from the Psalms, but they aren’t verbatim. Think the Message Bible set to music. You can hear that approach in one of his early efforts, “Oh Give Thanks” based on Psalm 107.

MUSIC: Oh Give thanks to the Lord for his love endures forever. We were wandering and lost and our father brought us home.

In 2016 Kimbrough released his first album, Psalms We Sing Together. I call it his genre-smashing project. He doesn’t stick with just one. The song “Oh Give Thanks” is early jazz inspired.

MUSIC: [trumpets and clarinets] Oh Give thanks to the Lord for his love endures forever. We were wandering and lost and our father brought us home.

He draws on another genre for his song based on Psalm 9, “Hope of the Poor.” This one sounds like an old-fashioned upright piano as he plays the gospel-infused melody.

MUSIC: Arise oh my Lord and answer my call my heart cries out to be heard.

Most of the songs on this first album are singable, piano and guitar-driven expressions of praise and thanksgiving. The type of songs many of us have become accustomed to singing on a Sunday morning.

KIMBROUGH: If you’re coming to church and you’re feeling good, there’s plenty of music and prayers and things to meet you in that space. But if you come to church and you’re struggling or you’re mad or you’re hurt. There’s not always language or prayers or songs to help you interact with God around what you’re feeling.

So Kimbrough produced a second album, Come to Me. He took Psalms of Lament and wrote modern-day songs designed to pull you out of your musical comfort zone.

MUSIC: Oh God do not be silent. O God Do Not be still. O God you can’t stand by and watch, while your children are killed.

In Psalm 83 the Psalmist does not hold back, but makes an earnest plea to God to not keep silent. Kimbrough’s music on this album mirrors that emotional content with songs like “O God, Do Not Be Silent.” A song he wrote after watching news reports of a mass shooting in 2017.

KIMBROUGH: And I was weeping and sitting in my office and I knew at that moment I needed to talk to God about what I was feeling. And I just grabbed my Bible. And honestly I don’t know if I’d ever paid attention to Psalm 83 before that. I think it’s one I just kind of skipped over. And that song just kind of felt out of my heart. It probably took me ten minutes to write it.

Kimbrough worked for five years to create his latest album, You Belong. During that period, Kimbrough, his wife and two daughters relocated and began serving at a church in Dallas, Texas. You Belong releases today, and it’s both a head turner and a head scratcher, especially when you consider Kimbrough grew up in a high church setting.

MUSIC: I will lift up the cup of salvation. I will call on the name of the Lord. He has heard my cry. He has saved my life. I will enter His courts with praise.

KIMBROUGH: Growing up in MIssissippi, we were Presbyterian, but like we would go to like a 5th Sunday night potluck at the Baptist church in town. You know the local vocal quartet would be there singing, “have a little talk with Jesus." Just this Southern Gospel thing.

You Belong is hands down Kimbrough’s most joyful project in the collection. It’s toe-tapping, head-bopping fun. To my ears, it also sounds like it may be his most produced body of work. While I enjoy the energy and the musical showmanship of songs like “I Will Lift Up The Cup of Salvation”, at times I find myself yearning for the simplicity of his earlier projects.

MUSIC: I will not hold back. I will sing His song. I was sinking down till my Savior saw that I needed help and He came to save. I will not hold back from my Savior’s praise.

Church worship leaders will appreciate the free digital, downloadable chords and lead sheets Kimbrough offers on his website. Parents will cherish this novel way to introduce their children to the themes of the Psalms. And if you’re looking for a way to revive your personal devotions, the 32 songs in this collection are beautifully crafted to help you set your mind on things above. How? By singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs!

MUSIC: I will not hold back from my Savior’s praise.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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