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Singer puts new twist on old hymns

An innovative musician will perform tonight.

Published May 20, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Matthew Smith takes 300-year-old hymns and modernizes them by writing brand-new music - acoustic guitar-driven - for 21st century ears.

The 28-year-old singer and songwriter from East Nashville, Tenn., who traveled to Florida for several performances this weekend, will offer his folk rock music compositions this evening in St. Petersburg.

Smith says he grew up a Southern Baptist and was unfamiliar with the old hymns until he encountered them at a Bible study in college. It didn't take long before he was hooked.

"I think that the honesty of the hymn writers struck me, as well as their focus on Jesus and what he has done, rather than on ourselves and what we have done or what we want to do, " Smith said during a telephone interview.

"Many of the songs that I'd sung when I was younger really focused on wanting to worship rather than singing about a God worth worshiping, " he said.

"I think our culture in general is self-centered, and so that's going to be reflected in the church as well. It's good for me to sing these hymns by people who lived 300 years ago because it helps me step out of my cultural context for a moment and get a perspective that's older and of very wise men and women who lived hundreds of years ago."

Smith, who has been recording his music for about seven years, is a founding member of the Indelible Grace community, whose music is used by denominations around the world.

Besides his work with the Indelible Grace series, he released his first EP - a five-song CD - Even When My Heart Is Breaking, in 2004. Hymns on his new full-length CD, All I Owe, explore themes of grace, sin and human identity.

Smith found his vocation while attending Nashville's Belmont University. His Bible study leader, Kevin Twit, had been collecting old hymnals for years and writing new music for the hymns. He encouraged Smith to do the same.

Many of the hymns he modernizes had fallen completely out of use, said Smith, whose East Nashville community is home to Christian music artists known for their innovative methods. His revamped hymns have a broad appeal among listeners, Smith said.

"I've been amazed at how these hymns cross generations so well, " he said.

"For young people, it catches their ear because the music is so modern, and older people recognize the truth and beauty of the lyrics."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or


Concert tonight

Matthew Smith performs at 7 tonight at Gulf Coast Community Church, 555 76th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $7.


To listen to Smith, visit


From his latest album:

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

His Love Can Never Fail

Thy Blood Was Shed for Me

How Helpless

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 20:26:11]

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