Album Review: Various Artists — Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us
Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us covers a large swath of musical ground, from the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ raucous string band sound on traditional tune “Lights in the Valley” to Mat Kearney’s sleepy pop to jazz guitarist John Scofield’s gorgeous instrumental version of “Peace in the Valley.” But for all its variety, the Kickstarter-funded compilation is built around a singular message, inscribed by producer Phil Madeira on the CD packaging: “There are those who hope, like I do, that God is love. And what is love but a mother holding up a lantern waiting for her children to come home?” It’s a message worth hearing, especially when it’s delivered as beautifully as it is on this record.
With the exception of the title track, on which he sings lead, Madeira, a singer, songwriter — he wrote or co-wrote nine of Mercyland’s 12 songs) — and multi-instrumentalist who’s also a member of Emmylou Harris’ touring band, stays in the background, contributing guitar, accordion, organ, and the occasional harmony vocal while letting the rest of the all-star cast take center stage. Harris and Buddy Miller are, to the surprise of absolutely no one, their usual superlative selves, while The Civil Wars and Dan Tyminski provide Mercyland with a couple of unexpected moments: the former by sounding more vibrant and engaging on album opener “From This Valley” than they do on their own records, and the latter by eschewing bluegrass for footstomping roots rock on “Light of Your Love,” which is perhaps the best of Mercyland’s dozen tracks.
As its subtitle suggests, Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us is a lovely listening experience for those who may not normally seek out gospel music or organized religion. At its heart, the album’s guiding philosophy of love and universal brotherhood reminds us of the ways in which music and spirituality, at their best, can connect us.
- Rick: Opry Alert! I'm guessing(?) tonight marks the end of the spring season of the Thursday Night Classic Country Opry shows ...
- bob: Thanks for the info on the PBS Carole King concert. It will be good to see Trisha Yearwood sing again.
- Jon: Nope.
- Luckyoldsun: Sounds good. Is she--or her husband--related to Dallas? (I'll assume not to Joe.)
- Luckyoldsun: R-- Sounds like you're expanding your palate. "60′s style California hippie vibe" sounds like something you'd have banned from your playlist.
- Rick: I like the production, the excellent guitar picking, and Rebecca has a nice voice with individuality, but the song structure ...
- Rick: That Buddy Emmons tribute album sounds kinda interesting. I just might have to give it a listen when it's available. Congratulations ...
- Jon: Jack Bernhardt is the bomb.
- Bruce: Good article on Rucker. I do not care for all his songs and he is far from my favorite. I ...
- Kelly D.: Dig the Whiskey Sisters and the write-up from ol' Jim C.