“The only good thing ever to come out of religion was the music.” — George Carlin.
Like any good comic, the late Mr. Carlin exaggerated for effect. Religion does have its good points — most of the Ten Commandments, for example — but I lean more toward the Groucho Marx school of ideaology: I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have someone like me for a member. Besides, I know some very, very religious people; don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderful human beings and would do just about anything for you, but their brand of zealous organized religion is not my cup of tea. (Yes, there’s a thunderbolt with my name on it. Forgive me.)
Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest of Us (Mercyland Records) speaks to folks like me. Set to drop on April 24, Mercyland features what producer Phil Madeira calls “bone chilling, soul-stirring music”. Madeira (producer/musician/songwriter and member of Emmylou Harris’ band The Red Dirt Boys) was introduced to the music of Mahalia Jackson when he was young, and everything else paled in comparison. “These were joyous odes that sang of the love and the dignity of all humanity. Over the years I was saddened to see how often the differences of personal beliefs were highlighted in the mainstream dialogue.” So true. We often focus on our differences rather than our similarities. But I digress. After all, at least here at ATF, it’s really about the beauty of music.
So Madeira gathered together a diverse group of musical friends who wanted to put out a positive message that perhaps God is just love. “Not all hymns are found in the pocket on the back of the church pew,” says Emmylou Harris. “Here are some for your consideration from folks who set up their tent out in the left part of the field.” More simply put, Buddy Miller says, “This is a beautiful record.”
Shawn Mullins’ swampy blues number “Give God The Blues” talks about how God loves everyone regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, but we all give God the blues. Ultimately “The sign says ‘God’s Gone Fishing’ for the soul of every man,” in what could be the theme song for the New Testament.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ rousing version of the old Bluegrass Gospel tune “Lights In The Valley” fits nicely next to Buddy Miller’s contemporary country-folk “I Believe In You.” The collection’s highlight is Emmylou Harris’ “I Didn’t Know It Was You.” Recorded in the tiny Franklin, TN studio known as “The Workshop,” Emmylou was joined by drummer Bryan Owings, bassist Chris Donohue, guitarist Pat Bergeson, and Madeira.
In a letter to Harris asking if she’d be interested in contributing a song to the album, Madeira simply asked, “Would you be interested in being part of a recording which focuses on the Love of God?”
“Like me,” Madeira wrote on his blog, “Emmy was tired of the vitriol spewed by so many people of faith, in the wake of Barrack Obama’s election. Watching the campaign by satellite TV on our tour bus, we recoiled at the religious posturing, and I hung my head often, at the ridiculous things asserted by people of my faith.
“Emmylou is not particularly religious. But when the language of faith is loving and poetic, and when Jesus is allowed to stand without the props of exclusivity, not as a dashboard statuette, but as an open-armed lover of souls, one need not be religious to find Him appealing.”
Listen to selected tracks here.
Full track list for Mercyland, Hymns For The Rest of Us:
1. From This Valley – The Civil Wars
2. Give God The Blues – Shawn Mullins
3. I Believe In You – Buddy Miller
4. Lights In The Valley – The Carolina Chocolate Drops
5. Mercyland – Phil Madeira
6. Walking Over Water – Mat Kearney
7. Leaning On You – Cindy Morgan
8. Fell Like A Feather – Amy Stroup
9. If I Was Jesus – The North Mississippi Allstars
10. Light Of Your Love – Dan Tyminski
11. I Didn’t Know It Was You – Emmylou Harris
12. Peace In The Valley – John Scofield