"Hymns," the brand new disc from Christian music artist Michael W. Smith, teams him up with an organization that he has known for many years: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. "We thought it could be a good fit," Smith said about the restaurant-gift store chain. "They agreed [and] we found a good slot in my schedule, because you just can't release something like this on top of another record."
The project, which will be followed by a new studio album for Capitol in May, is a collection of 15 songs that have always been a part of Smith's life. He did confess to Billboard that cutting the total down was a daunting task.
"I went thumbing through the Hymn book because I didn't want to miss anything. When I was eleven or twelve, I would never look at it because I knew every one of them – every verse. I had some of them in my head like ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness' and ‘How Great Thou Art.' My first solo in Church was ‘The Old Rugged Cross.' Then, there was also ‘Were You There.' which is my favorite cut on the record. I thumbed through the Hymn book because I didn't want to miss something that was special, and I found a few in there that were. There were about fifty songs on the list, and I knew ten that I really wanted on the record – but choosing those other five was very tough. I think there might a Hymns 2 down the road."
How did Smith decide what made the final cut? He says it was far from a scientific process. "You just go with your gut at the end of the day. Of course, you have producers. Jim Daneker, my keyboard player – who has been with me for about eighteen years, produced half of it. There's a great kid named Kyle Lee who has great sensibilities, that is one of my writers. I let him produce half of it. I would just ask them ‘What do you think?' They had some great input."
Though Smith has been recording Gospel music since 1983, he feels a project like Hymns might not have felt as right to him earlier in his career as it does today.
"I think had I done an album like this 20 years ago, it would have been a much different record. I probably might not have enjoyed it as much. I think you just grow up and get a little wiser, and you're more respectful and there's a real reverence for these songs. I know more today than I did twenty years ago how important these songs were that shaped my life."
Up ahead next for Smth is a new studio record that he is equally excited about.
"I've got a new record coming out on May 13 called 'Sovereign.' I've been working on it for a year. I'm on a new label – Capitol Records for the first time in my life. It's been an amazing journey. I feel like I have re-invented myself again. I looked at the Capitol team, and said 'Guys, if we're going to make a really great record, we have to do this together. I told them that I welcomed their input. I didn't want them to give me the ‘Yes' answer the whole time. Iron sharpens iron. If we've got to butt heads, let's butt heads. Let's find great songs, and I need to get out of my box. So, I started working with all these kids. I'm old enough to their dad – some of them," he says with a laugh. "I worked with songwriters I never wrote with before, and worked with producers I never did before, as well. It was a big step of faith for me, but we got a great project. It was unbelievable."