“We cannot afford to lose these old hymns, they are full of the Gospel…” Basil Manley (1891)

Every December Paste Magazine publishes a list of their top fifty albums of the year. Each year I scan the picks searching for the worthy successors to Led Zeppelin and U2. Needless to say, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

2008 was like any other year. I found myself nodding in agreement with some of their selection, shaking my head in dismay at others, and completely ignorant of most. But as I reached the end of the list I saw a write up for a Sandra McCracken, referred to as the better half of Derek Webb.

Being a fan of the last few Webb albums, I decided to give her album “Red Balloon” a spin. Since then, I’ve been hooked. While by no means Robert Plant’s, her voice has a more transcendent feel, one that Paste reviewer Jason Killingsworth calls “cloud-splitting.”

Her latest release, In Feast or Fallow has been advertised as a collection of ancient and modern hymns. When I first heard this I was skeptical. It reminded me of the eight thousand mediocre-at-best “worship projects” that have been released by every faith-based artist in the past few years.

Fortunately, Sandra has once again proven that she should not be classified along with the other CCM artists. After one listen, my unwarranted fears were laid to rest. In Feast or Fallow is a beautifully written cohesive collection of earthy songs with Cross-centered lyrics. Music one might actually want to sing in church, the car, or the kitchen. As the album progresses the songs only get better as “Give Reviving,” “This is the Christ,” and “In Feast or Fallow” make this album truly great.

Vertical hymns that address real fears are often the best of church music. This fifteen song collection succeeds where many others have failed.

Here is Sandra at her best with an acoustic version of the title track. Enjoy!

P.S. In Feast or Fallow is available (legally) for $3.85 through Amie St.