2021 / Optimistic Flamingo Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Amazing Grace is pianist/composer/educator Pam Asberry's seventh full-length solo piano album since she started releasing recordings in 2017. Recorded at Piano Haven Studio in Sedona, AZ, this album is a collection Pam's arrangements of eighteen hymns. Most of these songs are very familiar, and Pam's arrangements are contemporary without deviating too much from the original melodies. A church pianist for many years, I'm sure that many of these hymns are very dear to Pam's heart - and that comes across beautifully. (I'm sure that other church pianists will be thrilled to know that a companion songbook will be available soon!) Even if you have never stepped inside of a church, I'm sure these timeless melodies will soothe and inspire with their messages of love and hope. Those who love hymns will likely find a new favorite album in Amazing Grace.
The album begins with "Be Still My Soul," a favorite hymn among many contemporary pianists with its beautifully expressive melody and adaptability to many styles of music. "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is always comforting and reassuring, and Pam's arrangement envelops the listener in warmth and hope. "The Old Rugged Cross" was one of the first hymns I learned as a child and it's still a favorite. Pam keeps the poignant melody front and center with a simple, heartfelt accompaniment that works beautifully. "My Shepherd, You Supply My Need" is a new hymn for me, but I love the flowing melody and how Pam plays it with such heart and sincerity. "Jesus Loves Me" is the first hymn many children learn and Pam's version is sweet and overflows with childlike innocence. Each verse of "All Creatures Of Our God and King" is played in a somewhat different style, starting simply and quietly, and gradually building to a more triumphant close. A hymn about strength and endurance, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" is given a more powerful treatment with some of the melody played with the right hand crossed over the left and in the deeper bass of the piano - very effective! The melody for "Beautiful Savior" is also "Fairest Lord Jesus," both very popular and beloved hymns. Pam's arrangement expresses grace, warmth and tenderness. "Thine Is the Glory" is set to a melody by Handel and is often considered to be an Easter hymn. Triumphant and celebratory in some passages and more thoughtful and prayerful in others, it expresses an interesting mix of emotions. Smooth and reflective, "Abide With Me" soothes and reassures with the warmth of Pam's expressive playing. I love the dark poignance of "Ah, Holy Jesus," another hymn I was unfamiliar with. Pam again pours her heart into this one - my favorite piece on the album. Is it still possible to come up with a fresh new take on "Amazing Grace"? I've had my doubts about that, but Pam's gentle arrangement proves me wrong - beautiful and soulful! "Just As I Am" seems like the perfect closing hymn for this exceptional album - quietly humble yet deeply sincere.
Amazing Grace is available from Bandcamp, Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and various streaming sites like Spotify. Very highly recommended!
October 15, 2021