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Different Hymnals.
Joel Mabus

fossil 2517


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[click here to read extra liner notes, online only]


As a kid growing up in small southern Illinois town, much of my music was served up in a little roadside Pentecostal church where the only choir was the congregation itself. Singing, clapping, and “shoutin’ glory” was a big part of most worship services. My brother and I played some old-time bluegrass around the house, but that humble little church – where our big sister played piano – schooled us every week in rhythm, harmony and song structure.  Some powerful lessons that got baked into my bones. 

At age seventeen, a National Merit scholarship bought me a bus ticket to a big college up north.  Turns out, that was just the first leg of a very long journey.  It’s as the old song says – I’m a pilgrim and a stranger, just traveling through.  But in all my wayfaring, I have always kept an ear out for the music of the elders – in all sorts of spiritual traditions.  Here I offer some fruit from that mighty vine.

It’s a full 500 years now since Luther famously nailed his theses to the door and split his church asunder.  Theology aside, Western music has never been the same since.  The Reformation in Europe ushered in radical new ideas of hymnody and song; in the fertile soil of North America those ideas took root in ways that no one could have predicted.  Hymns of the seekers, spirituals of the oppressed, anthems of the revived, and the rousing gospel of the redeemed – they all continue to swirl in the great melting pot. Their choruses echo in stained glass cathedrals and in lowly store-front missions. Their themes are repeated in symphonic concerts and in corner juke joints; the same tune throttled on Sunday’s pipe organ gets pounded on Saturday night’s guitar.   

If you know me, then you know that in these past forty years of recording, I’ve often woven songs of faith into my mix of original and traditional music.  It’s just my natural fabric.  At long last, in this album, I am shining full light on the wellspring that has informed so much of my musical life.  This collection represents a wide variety of inspiration and traditions, different dogma and creeds.

Different hymnals.  Same hope.  



The idea was to record a collection of favorite old hymns on fingerstyle guitar with no vocals.  It would be “A Parlor Guitar Hymnary,” a sequel to my earlier “Parlor Guitar” albums.  Most of the purely instrumental tracks here were part of that first plan.

But then, two of my featured guitar arrangements picked up new lyrics.  I had written two bits of verse that seemed to fit The Navy Hymn (MELITA) and the Sibelius (FINLANDIA) to become “Everybody’s Grace” and “One Simple Song” – the first a festal blessing in rhyme, and the second a simple plea for peace.  I judged both were better sung than said, so I answered the call to sing.  And this work took a new direction.  

One of the oldest stories in the world is here in “Low Lazarus & Lord Diverus.” After it, the scolding Jeremiad, “God Don’t Like It.”  Some would say neither is technically a hymn – and the latter I’ve reworked significantly.  But I sing two proper hymns from the great Charles A. Tindley: “Stand By Me,” and “We’ll Understand It Better Bye & Bye” – both published in 1905, and included since in hymnals of every stripe. I urge you to learn about Rev. Tindley’s life – he is a true inspiration.     

One of the earliest non-conformist hymns, “Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone,” slides into “Let It Shine,” a rousing African American spiritual. Also on bottleneck guitar, two seminal hymns link their tunes: “Jesus, Lover Of My Soul” and “Nearer My God To Thee.” 

“No Not One!” is a rather obscure gospel song I find refreshingly guileless.  Words written in New Jersey in 1895 by Methodist preacher and insurance man, Johnson Oatman, Jr., with melody by George Hugg.   “Jesus Knocking At Your Door” is a song I wrote for this album, drawing elements from the “Do Lord” family of traditional songs.

A word about my guitars: for the tracks in standard tuning I play my primary concert guitar – a Bryan Galloup maple cutaway, his “Spartan” model.  My slide guitar is a mahogany C.F. Martin I keep in the open-D “Sevastopol” tuning (DADF#AD) – a heavy brass slide serves as my bottleneck.

And finally a word about faith: I didn’t come to preach or proselytize.  I bring songs.  Like most everybody, I have my firm beliefs and my many doubts.  But I’ll just keep them to myself, if that’s okay.  The songs abide. 

I will give you this: a good song doesn’t necessarily make for the best theology. And that goes the other way around, too.  As the wise old cook said: Just because roses smell better than cabbages, it doesn’t mean they make better soup. 

I just hope you find this particular pot of soup as satisfying as I do.  Come and dine.

Joel Mabus – 2017


1.  Four Early Shape Note Hymns    4:37
Traditional melodies adapted and arranged for guitar by J Mabus – The tunes: FAITHFUL SOLDIER, NEW BRITAIN, PISGAH and RESIGNATION

2.  Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone / Let It Shine   6:10
Traditional hymns adapted and arranged by J Mabus – Original hymn tune CROSS AND CROWN, 1838  with original first verse text by Thomas Shepherd, 1693. / Second hymn based on a traditional spiritual

3.  When Peace, Like a River   2:44
Traditional, adapted and arranged for guitar by J Mabus – Original melody VILLE DU HAVRE by Philip Bliss 1876

4.  Stand By Me   3:25
Traditional hymn adapted and arranged by J Mabus – Original by Rev. Charles Albert Tindley 1905

5.  Love Lifted Me   2:45
Traditional hymn adapted and arranged for guitar by J Mabus –The original melody by Howard Smith in 1912

6.  No Not One!   3:06
Traditional hymn adapted and arranged by J Mabus –Original by Oatman & Hugg, 1895

7.  Everybody’s Grace   2:15
Lyrics by J Mabus with traditional hymn tune adapted and arranged by J Mabus – from the tune MELITA by J.B.Dykes, 1861

8.  Low Lazarus & Lord Diverus   6:10
Traditional English carol adapted and arranged with some new verses by J Mabus

9.  God Don’t Like It – I Don’t Either    3:07 
Words and music by J Mabus – chorus and tune based on a traditional American song

10. One Simple Song    3:00
Lyrics by J Mabus with traditional hymn tune adapted and arranged by J Mabus – from the tune FINLANDIA by Jean Sibelius, 1899

11. Jesus Knocking At Your Door   4:14
Words and music by J Mabus – Inspired by traditional spirituals.

12. Jesus, Lover Of My Soul / Nearer My God To Thee    3:18
Traditional hymns adapted and arranged by J Mabus – Original tunes: MARTYN by Simeon Marsh 1834 / BETHANY by Lowell Mason 1856  

13. We’ll Understand It Better Bye & Bye    3:25
Traditional hymn adapted and arranged by J Mabus – Original by Rev. Charles Albert Tindley 1905

14. Old Hundredth   1:25
Traditional hymn adapted and arranged by J Mabus – Original tune attributed to Loys Bourgeois 1551

All tracks (P)(C) 2017 Joel Mabus,
published by Fingerboard Music

Fossil Record #2517

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Ian Gorman for
La Luna Recording & Sound, Kalamazoo, MI

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