Sheldon Pickering and Ryan Tilby
2019 / Sheldon Pickering
Review by Kathy Parsons
Blessed Assurance, the fifth studio album from pianist/composer/arranger Sheldon Pickering, is a collection of eight classic hymns arranged for piano with guitar, percussion, violin and strings. I have reviewed a lot of instrumental hymn recordings, but there is something very special about this one. For the most part, the arrangements are not overly complex or intricate, but they express a true joy and an inner peace that are both addictive and refreshing. The simpler, relaxed style gives these musical nuggets a fresh new feel that is intended to uplift and heal the listener. The album also provides a warm and supportive backdrop for working or other activities and just makes you feel good. Guests artists on the album are Ryan Tilby on guitar, bass and percussion, and Aaron Ashton on violin. Sing along if moved to do so!
Blessed Assurance opens with the title track. The piano begins with both hands in the upper half of the piano keyboard. Light percussion, guitar, and quiet string orchestration merge with Pickering’s piano for a gorgeous ensemble version of this classic hymn. “Swing Low” is one of the most popular spirituals that date back to the days of slavery in America. Rhythmic and upbeat, it has a jazzy attitude that expresses the original sentiments of the song with an updated contemporary flair - I love it! “This Is My Father’s World” has a folk/country feeling and is mostly a piano/guitar duet supported with bass and percussion. Lively and playful, there is a celebratory spirit that flows through the arrangement. “Be Thou My Vision” has become a very popular hymn for pianists, and Pickering’s soulful arrangement includes violin, guitar and light percussion. “I Need Thee Every Hour” takes on a more reflective and prayerful mood. Piano, violin and guitar take turns with the melody - poignant, stirring and very beautiful. “Morning Has Broken” became a pop hit in 1971 thanks to Cat Stevens, but the song actually dates back to 1931. Pickering’s version includes piano, guitar, violin and bass in a relaxed and peaceful setting. “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” has been a favorite of mine for a long time and there haven’t been many versions I didn’t like. Even so, I think Pickering’s is one of the best. Piano, guitar, violin and percussion give the haunting melody wings to soar, simply and with sincerity. “Take Time To Be Holy” is based on the same Irish melody as “Be Thou My Vision,” but the two arrangements are quite different from each other. A peaceful, soothing balm for the soul, it’s a lovely close to an excellent album.
If you need a short break from the craziness of life, Blessed Assurance is a perfect retreat and is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby as well as many streaming sites.
August 27, 2019