Genre: Pop/Southern Gospel/Country/Worship
Official Web Site
Bart Millard Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Bart Millard lyrics)
Bart Millard Biography
When success in the music business brings an artist the freedom to make his dream project, all too many have used their long leash as a license for self-indulgence, recording albums so personal or experimental, few wanted to hear them. For Bart Millard, the voice of MercyMe, that freedom afforded him opportunity to create a personal project to be sure, but one that will undoubtedly touch the hearts of thousands.
As Bart tells it, "When my son Sam was born three years ago, my wife Shannon and I were talking about memories of our grandmothers singing these old hymns to us that we pretty much didn't understand when we were kids, but are now a huge part of who we are. And we were wondering if our son will have those songs in the future, because they're just not sung much in churches today. It's rare to even see a hymnal in a lot of the churches we play now. The praise and worship movement has been incredible, but so many of the songs are really incredibly similar, and the lyrics to many of them really just pale in comparison to the hymns."
"When I told INO Records I wanted to do an album of traditional hymns, they said, 'Great,' but then four days later they called back and said, 'Do you realize there are like 11 hymns records coming out this year?' At first I didn't know what to do, but then I remembered why I wanted to do this in the first place, and trusted my instincts and God's timing for the rest."
The fruits of Millard's labors may be a collection of traditional hymns, but the results are anything but old-fashioned. Hymned is a heartwarming love letter to the foundations of the artist's own life, wrapped in a rich variety of musical styles which are contemporary and fresh, yet anchored in America's musical history.
"The record is called Hymned," explains Bart, "which is sort of a play on words off of the sewing term 'hemmed,' which I'm using in the sense that the experience of having these songs sung to me in my childhood is a big part of what has sewn my life together.
"There's one song, called 'Mawmaw's Song' that really explains the whole record. The chorus is actually from 'In the Sweet By and By,' but the verses are mine, talking about my grandmother and upbringing. My sole criteria in choosing the ten songs I did were that these were the ten I remember her singing to me most vividly."
To record Hymned No.1, Millard asked award-winning producer Brown Bannister to join him in the studio, along with MercyMe guitarist Barry Graul and some of Nashville's finest players, to craft his most personal project to date.
"There's kind of an old spirit about the record, paying respect to those who have come before and sung them before. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel with the arrangements, change melodies that were perfectly good to begin with or create completely new songs with the lyrics. The arrangements evolved naturally in the studio, with everyone contributing ideas, which a lot of these players really loved being a part of. We also left some space in the record too, as opposed to filling it all up with something or another. We didn't want to over think or over produce it, which happens a lot in Christian music.
"We did 'The Old Rugged Cross,' with just a couple of musicians playing acoustic instruments all live in the studio, including vocals. Barry plays guitar on it, and an incredible player named Paul Franklin played dobro, and they were facing each other in the studio. When Paul started playing that dobro, Barry just started losing it, with tears running down his face, trying to hold it together while he strummed, because it was just so beautiful. We did only three takes total, but after listening to them, we all decided that first take was really the best."
One of the many joys of listening to Hymned No. 1 is spotting the contributions of its many guest appearances, like on "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," where midway through the song, one of Christian music's most original voices moves the hymn into a higher gear.
"I grew up listening to Christian music," says Bart, "but the voice for me was always Russ Taff. The Way Home is one of my all-time favorite albums, and in fact we have it in the car right now. When I met Russ, we hit it off pretty well and I asked him. 'If I ever do a hymns record, would you consider singing on it?' He said yes, and then I literally called him when we were recording and he said, 'I just finished jogging, I'll be there in two hours.' It was a dream come true for me."
On "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior," the deep groove provided by the bass and drums are countered by a sweet high harmony with Bart's soulful vocals, one that could only come from Vince Gill. Bart says his appearance was the result of a simple friendly phone call.
"At the last minute, with me already back home in Texas, Brown called Vince and said, 'We're trying to figure out what this song needs, you want to sing on it?' Vince says, 'I got Grand Old Opry 'til 10:30, but I'll be over after that.' This is the night before we mastered the record, and the next time I see Vince he says, 'Hey man, I sang on your record, hope it was okay...' "
Also appearing on the album are steel guitar rocker Robert Randolph, country's Steve Wariner, Derek Webb, Anthony Evans, Nirva Dorsaint, Gordon Kennedy, Becca Bramlett and other great musicians.
According to Millard, the whole thing came together naturally and "organically," not to mention quickly.
"We did the whole album in 20 days, and we were flying by the seat of our pants. When we were wrapping it up though, Brown and I were both floored with the results. There's nothing I've been more proud of than this album ... honestly."