Don't expect too many surprises from Kirk Whalum's Hymns in the Garden if you're familiar with his previous few gospel-tinged albums like Unconditional and The Gospel According to Jazz. Like those two albums, Whalum goes out of his way to invest a considerable amount of spiritual sentiment into his candy-coated crossover jazz. On this particular album, the religious overtones come via the song titles, "I Will Trust in the Lord," "Christ Is All," and "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me" being three examples. But while all this Christian sentiment may seem to be mostly packaging since this is an entirely instrumental album, you can't deny the fact that Whalum's playing seems considerably passionate here, even if it's still ironically plagued by its own accessibility. And it's not that Whalum wasn't passionate on his previous releases, because he was; it's just that these songs seem a little more invested with sentiment, and this is communicated partly through their introspective arrangements and partly through their laid-back tempos. In other words, this isn't the sort of album you throw on for a party -- unless it's a Sunday afternoon after church sort of party. It's more an album for reflective moments when you can really kick back and appreciate the sort of peaceful and hopeful mood Whalum is attempting to craft. And for the most part, he succeeds in crafting that very mood; there's not a song here that isn't charged with sentiment. Yet as successful and well-crafted as Hymns in the Garden is, you can't help feeling a bit underwhelmed if you're a longtime Whalum fan. After all, the guy seems to have become content when it comes to exploring new musical avenues and has instead turned toward the non-musical side of his music, further investing ideology into his music with Christian rhetoric song titles and packaging. This isn't necessarily a bad thing at all and, in a sense, is in fact noble. Sometimes you wish he'd take a few chances with his music, though.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier