John Baumgardner & the Paper Doll Baptists
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John Baumgardner & the Paper Doll Baptists

Louisville, Kentucky, United States | SELF

Louisville, Kentucky, United States | SELF
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Just looking at the song list on John Baumgardner’s album My Sunday Best does a Baptist’s heart good. Contained within are many of the songs from childhood church, played instrumentally on solo acoustic piano. However, these renditions aren’t the by-the-book versions regularly played whenever the choir or congregation sang them. Instead, they are interpreted a little bit like the way a jazzman might approach them, without going too far down a new road. Yes, Baumgardner takes a lot of liberties with these songs, but as Chuck Berry once complained about jazz music, Baumgardner never plays these melodies “too darn fast.” He also remains very faithful to the original tunes.

Baumgardner’s version of “Jesus Loves Me” is one of this CD’s least adventurous tracks, yet it’s one of the best, treated as a meditation rather than the rambunctious spilling it often receives from excited children in Sunday School. It’s as though he’s contemplating Jesus’ deep love for mankind while he’s playing it. He even slows down the chorus a little bit in places, just to get the point across. Another stand out, “I Surrender All”, is approached in much the same manner. Baumgardner begins the track with sparsely played notes. He then goes on to play the melody slowly and thoughtfully, as though he is seriously contemplating the prospect of surrendering his all to God. Similar to the way this commitment should not be entered into hastily or lightly, Baumgardner’s interpretation of it reflects the seriousness with which he approaches this song’s subject matter.

There are places where the listener can distinctly hear the influence of modern day praise and worship upon Baumgardner’s interpretations. One of the loveliest moments comes with his take on “There Is s Fountain”. The introductory notes sound like David Crowder’s “O Praise Him”. Furthermore, it’s not hard to imagine someone like Chris Tomlin singing over it. After all, Tomlin recently released a popular rethink on “Amazing Grace”, so for him to also record “There Is a Fountain” wouldn’t be too much of an artistic stretch at all.

This pianist’s interpretation of “Love Lifted Me” is one of the most surprisingly unexpected turns. This song was always one of the more rollicking Sunday morning sing-alongs. Yet in Baumgardner’s light



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touch hands, the song takes on a gentle, George Winston feel. The love that lifts one during this recording is much closer to a ballet dancer lifting his ballerina, rather than, say, a football team hoisting up the coach after a big win. Almost equally surprising is the multiple note string that introduces “At Calvary”. This is one that Baumgardner probably takes the most melodic chances with. The melody is nearly unrecognizable during the initial flood of notes. Fans of acoustic piano music will love it. But your local church lady? Perhaps not.

On My Sunday Best, John Baumgardner has taken time-honored melodies and used his improvisatory skills to give them a unique new flavor. His results reveal how sturdy these melodies are in the first place. They may be sacred to many, but to music lovers, they’re just plain fine songs. The act of putting on the Sunday best is to get dressed in the best duds for church. And with this creative collection of reinterpretations, John Baumgardner has taken some songs that may look and sound old fashioned to modern ears, and made them look all fancy and new.
- Dan MacIntosh, Contributing Reviewer for CCM, Paste & Spin


Discography

Fruitcake with Nuts
1. Good King Wenceslas
2. Love & Joy (The Wassail Song)
3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
4. Come On-a My House
5. Go Tell It On The Mountain
6. The Hallelujah Chorus
7. Christmas on TV
8. 'Zat You, Santa Claus?
9. Welcome Christmas
10. The Christmas Tree That Ran Away
11. Waltz of the Angels
12. Auld Lang Syne

My Sunday Best
1. Doxology
2. There Is a Fountain
3. Amazing Grace
4. At Calvary
5. Love Lifted Me
6. 'Tis Midnight & On Olive's Brow
7. He Leadeth Me
8. Jesus Loves Me
9. I Surrender All
10. Blest Be the Tie That Binds

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