The sweet and somber melody is excellently constructed to bring the ancient prayer to life in a feat of modern songwriting that belongs on the radio.
It’s really hard to write a Psalm into a good song. Of course, there are plenty of examples of memorable liturgical melodies that have set the soundtrack between readings at Mass, but the Psalms just don’t tend to lend themselves well to the modern songwriting format.
Sure, the Psalms are absolutely considered poetry, as well as prayers, but they are much more free-form than modern lyrics tend to be, and they can rarely rhyme in translation. On top of that, they are a part of the scriptures, so very few liberties can be taken with these timeless texts. While the difficulty level is high, however, that just makes the great Psalm songs even more impressive.
We’ve seen several incredible treatments of the Psalms in recent years, from Jacob Rudd’s “Psalm 1” to Victory Boyd’s “Psalm 91,” which brought contemporary and jazz elements to the Psalms respectively. While these were perfectly suited to liturgical practice or even private prayer, however, today’s “Psalm 139” by Aaron Shust sounds like it would be just as home on the radio as in a house of worship.
There’s a certain indie/folk element to Shust’s arrangement that calls to mind The Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah,” or even “You Were Born” by Cloud Cult. Driven by a fluid guitar line and minimalistic strings, the song is constructed just like a modern pop song with verses split by choruses and even a bridge section. The chorus is especially notable for the clever use of musical metaphor, with melody rising as he talks about the rising of the sun.
Shust, a native of Pittsburgh, makes his home in Nashville with his wife Sarah and their sons Daniel, Nick, and Michael, as well as a growing menagerie of pets. In 2007, Shust won the GMA Dove Award for Best New Artist, and his song “My Savior My God” was awarded Song of the Year. His song “My Hope Is in You,” a tune he wrote after his son was diagnosed with Down syndrome, spent 14 weeks at #1, and his tune “Ever Be,” debuted at #3.