Before I do that, here’s Heather’s biography, so you know who it is I’m talking about.
Heather Payne does not miss the stage. Make no mistake – she treasures the nearly 18 years she experienced as a founding member of Point of Grace. But she has not – not even once – looked back and thought, I wish I was back on the road. These days, as wife of a pastor and educator and mother of four adorable kids, living a fairly quiet life away from the Nashville scene, Heather Payne is the very voice of contentment.
But, oh, that voice! That remarkable range, that honest delivery, that effortless power – how it has been missed. In 2008, when Payne retired from Point of Grace, she declared that she would sing again one day. A good friend gave her this advice: “When the time comes, don’t sing because you have to, sing because you want to.” Now, finally, the time has come. Heather Payne is singing again.
“Sweet Exchange” is a fresh take on the timeless hymns of the church. Modern arrangements, new choruses, and sometimes-complete re-imaginations help these deep and meaningful songs shine.
So what makes a retired artist from one of the most successful groups in Christian music history decide to record a new album full of old hymns? A childhood memory helps explain: “I remember when I was very young, and my mom used to let me stand on the pew beside her in church. She let me hold the hymnal, even though I couldn’t even read! I felt so big. I learned the hymns that way, just singing along. I want that for my kids now.”
Payne tells of her 2-year-old getting a head start, singing Holy, Holy, Holy like only a toddler can: “Ho-wy, Ho-wy, Ho-wy!” That desire to pass these old hymns to her children merged with a goal to give the church a new worship tool, and “Sweet Exchange” was the result. The album makes classic hymns accessible to modern listeners, and sets the stage for worship that is not just about emotion.
“Emotions go just so far in worship,” Payne says. “With the rich doctrine in hymns, truth sinks in. Some modern worship music is so repetitive that it almost creates a frenzy, but is it truth or emotion driving it?” In the arrangements on “Sweet Exchange”, Payne made a point to allow the vivid portraits of God’s love and grace to be the focus in hymns like Hallelujah, What a Savior, Pass Me Not, and Jesus Paid it All.
If modern listeners ever thought the lyrics of hymns were stale, these presentations will draw them in and open both their hearts and minds. Alas and Did My Savior Bleed is given an appropriately solemn, almost theatrical treatment. O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing drives to a pulsing kick drum and features a rousing new chorus and provocative bridge: “And even with a chorus of 10,000 voices strong, and even with a day that was 10,000 lifetimes long / And even with a melody that spanned 10,000 songs, I’ll never cease to sing Your praise / Creation sings along!”
Payne gets philosophical in discussing the motivation for the title track, a new hymn that declares the album’s theme. Her husband was preaching on imputed righteousness, a big theological term, and he was explaining it with a quote from a first century Greek writer’s Letter to Diognetus. The fact that this old letter could explain a difficult concept in an embraceable way, and then overflow in worship, embodied exactly what Payne hoped to accomplish with this album. Consider these words, almost 2,000 years old: “O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”
From this beautiful description an equally beautiful song was born, and the idea carries the album. Ironically, while it will certainly serve to introduce hymns to a new generation, the fresh approach has already been a way to reintroduce hymns to folks who grew up singing them. “My mom played the album for the lady that cuts her hair – typical proud mama,” Payne recalls, “and as she was listening the lady said, ‘Oh! So that’s what that hymn says!’ She had never really listened to the words before because she just sang them monotonously.”
This desire to serve future generations with the theology and worship of hymns stems from the same Scripture that played a role in Payne’s decision to leave Point of Grace. It was the Shema from Deuteronomy 6, the compelling call to impress the commands of the Lord on your children all day long, that struck Payne when she moved to Louisville in 2002. “I memorized that passage because we were starting to have kids and I wanted that in my mind and heart. As more kids were born, the Lord kept bringing it back up. Are you teaching them diligently? When you’re traveling the way I was, there was no diligence or consistency or excellence.”
Payne began discussing alternative plans with the other members of Point of Grace and eventually, in the most unlikely of places, retired completely. “We were backstage, getting ready to sing at the Dove Awards. I was getting makeup done and nursing a 4-month-old baby when our manager came in and said one of our songs was getting airplay on country radio. He wanted us to head out to California for a week-and-a-half promo tour. I sat there holding my baby and thinking of my husband and other 3 kids, and it was the first time I saw clearly that this is not what I want to do anymore. So right then and there backstage before I had to sing on TV, I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not kidding, this is it for me.’”
Today, that baby’s a happy toddler. Heather is thrilled that Point of Grace has thrived and continues to impact country radio. (Fellow PoG alumna Terry Jones even sings background vocals on a few of the tracks on “Sweet Exchange”.) And that same passage in Deuteronomy, that same desire to pass the truths of God on to her children, and the realization that those truths are so richly conveyed in the old hymns, that’s why the time has come. That’s why Heather Payne is singing again.
It was wonderful! It was upbeat, it was full of joy, and it was full of reverence. This will most certainly be a part of my CD collection. These are basically refreshes of old hymns. Remixes, if you will. It really really works. It keeps the beauty of the old, but with a contemporary feel that you can take them with you and enjoy them. That you don’t have to be in a church to enjoy them. That’s a beautiful gift. You can purchase the CD at Amazon, or at any other music retailer.
1. Holy Holy Holy
2. O For A Thousand Tongues
3. Rock of Ages
4. Hallelujah What A Savior
5. My Jesus
6. Sweet Exchange
7. O The Deep, Deep Love
8. Pass Me Not
9. Be Thou My Vision
10. Jesus Paid It All
11. Alas My Savior Did Bleed
12. Come Ye Sinners
13. The Gospel Song
I was sent this CD gratis in exchange for an honest review.