Tuesday 4th March, aka Pancake Day, sees the release of Page CXVI’s latest record, ‘Lent to Maundy Thursday’. I’ve written about the band before, including last year when they generously gave away their entire back catalogue for free. Page CXVI’s aim as a musical outfit is “to make hymns accessible and known again” and this they do beautifully, and so I’m excited about their new album.

At they end of last year the band announced a new project, to make three new records reflecting the traditional Christian calendar: Advent to Christmas (which was released last December); this album, ‘Lent to Maundy Thursday‘; and the forthcoming ‘Good Friday to Easter‘. The project was crowd-funded, via Indiegogo, through their growing fan base, to create music that was “a tool to help accompany the natural rhythm and cycle of life”.

As with their previous collections, this record demonstrates Page CXVI’s unique sound; in fact, once you’ve listened to their stuff for a short while, you’ll find it’s quite recognisable. That’s mainly due to the ethereal vocals of Latifah Phillips, who lays down dreamy lyrics over the band’s quirky rewordings of hymns, some of which are familiar, whilst others are less well-known  treasures.

Before we get on to the music, it’s perhaps worth touching on the focused subject matter. Some Christians will be more familiar than others with following the Christian calendar, and some will be more uncomfortable than others! Evidently if Lent is taught as a system of rituals and works, with the accompanying mindset that these acts of self-denial will get me closer to God, then obviously the gospel has been lost sight of. Likewise, I have friends who associate Lent with self-imposed gloom, almost to the extent that they have been encouraged to live like the gospel isn’t true. However, does that mean baby and bathwater go out together? Chuck Colson has a helpful post here, where he answers the question ‘Why bother with Lent?’ much more comprehensively than I will. In explaining the Christian calendar, he says “during these seasons, we encourage certain theological emphases, spiritual practices, and corresponding emotions to instruct and train the church in godliness.” Ultimately I think this excellent prayer from Scotty Smith for a “Gospel-saturated, Grace-inundated Lent” captures what Page CXVI are trying to encourage.

So, to the music! The record begins with a quite different reworking of ‘And Can It Be That I Should Gain’. My experience with Page CXVI is that where the hymn is very familiar, then the new tunes will often seem to jar at first. And yet they soon become friends, growing on you as familiar words become somehow fresh again, wrapped around Page CXVI’s enchanting sounds. Likewise with their version of ‘Behold the Throne of God Above’; its steady march and additional refrain soon has you following along.

In the Christian year, Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent and is symbolic of  repentance and mourning as we recognise it was for us and for our selfishness that the Saviour’s went to his death in our place. ‘Were you There?’ blends the solemn words of that popular spiritual with those from ‘O the deep deep love of Jesus’, expressing the responsive wonder that is now ours this side of the cross.

The beautiful ‘Fast from, Feast On’ appears to be based on a poem by William Arthur Ward and gently reminds the listener that everything has changed for us through the gospel. We can turn away from ungodly responses, to delighting in God himself: “fast from discontentment; feast on the joy that he brings … fast from the fear that haunts us; feast on the power of his might”.

As Lent comes towards its close, we have Palm Sunday. As the band write on their blog, “Our King is here. He is triumphant and strong. But this is not ordinary strength. It’s a foreshadowing of what is to come. Strength in weakness. He rides on a donkey.” As such ‘This Blessed Day’ sings gently of this triumph, before bursting into a joyful Coldplay-esque, “Prepare the way before Him; Hosanna our King, adore him”. 

All in all, it’s a well-worked record, often beautiful, and carefully creative. The seven songs capture a ‘sense of the season’, and ultimately I found them causing me to gaze upon Jesus and his beauty. As Phillips sings on the closing track, “I love the Lord, he takes my griefs away, despair no more”.

You can try it out for yourself by streaming the album at Page CXVI’s Soundcloud page or go ahead and buy it from iTunes or pagecxvi.com from Tuesday 4th March. Here’s a taster video:

Why not also download a heap of Page CXVI’s B-Sides for free, or read more about the vision of the band and why they’re pursuing this calendar project.

Full disclosure: The artist sent me a copy of this album for free, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review!