Monday, October 22, 2007

The Power of Religion

The Bus is now on its third year of roaming the virtual backroads of the interweb. When the Bus first hit the road, I made it a policy to avoid discussions of politics or religion. Well, by the end of the first year I had broken my own rule about political posts, and I may have skirted the issue of religion a time or two.

A few years ago there was a series of threads on one of my favorite discussion boards about the inclusion of sermons at the festivals where Sunday mornings are started off with a gospel music show. Many posters felt that those Sunday morning segments were worship services and that preaching should be a part of the show. Many more felt that the Sunday morning shows were more a celebration of gospel music and that the music was the focus at a music festival. This second group of posters believed that those audience members that wished to use that time for worship were free to do so, but that no particular religion or denomination was sanctioned by the festival promoters. The gospel music was part of a larger celebration of music.

No matter your own beliefs, one can not deny that religion has played a large roll in American music and it would be a shame not to acknowledge that fact. For instance: I have always loved music performed a cappella, whether it is a lone voice or a group of voices singing in harmony. By avoiding spiritual music on the Bus, we have not been able to enjoy much unaccompanied singing. For that matter, we have not heard many wonderful compositions that came from the hymnals and pews of America.

I have always believed that the best music is written from the heart. When a songwriter feels deeply about a subject, most often those strong feelings come through in the song. The first Respond CD is a perfect example of this theory. Put together in 1999 by some of the Boston area’s best female folk artists to benefit a local domestic violence organization, the CD is packed full of emotional energy and deeply moving songs. The music of Woody Guthrie was written from a deep commitment to the plight of the underclass. In fact, most of the music that I feature on the Bus meets this criteria, whether it’s the socially responsible music of Carrie Newcomer, or the down and out blues of Son House, it all comes from a deep, emotional place, not a corporate pocketbook.

When it comes to gospel and religious music, I tend to side with that second group of posters on the discussion board mentioned above. The Bus is on a musical journey through the history of North America. The focus here is on the music and to ignore the impact of the church on the music of this continent would not be a true representation of American music.

Bob Gibson – This Little Light of Mine.mp3

Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother – Woke up This Morning with My Mind on Jesus.mp3
Blind Roosevelt Graves and his brother, Uaroy Graves, recorded great spirituals for Paramount in 1929 as the Graves Brothers, when they recorded several blues records in 1936 they recorded as the Mississippi Jook Band. The New Roanoke Jug Band included a great rendition of this song on their new CD, "When My Time On Earth Is Done."

Mississippi John Hurt – Nearer My God to Thee.mp3

The Staples Singers – I Wish I Had Answered.mp3

Joe Louis Walker – I’ll Get to Heaven on My Own.mp3
Although influenced by spirituals, I suppose you could call this an anti-spritual. This cut, along with an enormous collection of great roots music is included on the incredible “American Music: The HighTone Records Story”, available from HighTone Records.


Blogger Greg said...

Believer or agnostic, curious or skeptical, there's no doubt that religious folks have produced great music. Thanks for your thoughts and the songs.

Have you heard Doug Martsch's version of "Woke Up This Morning"? (He's in Built to Spill and put out a very fine solo acoustic CD called "Now You Know," that includes it. Check it out!

October 23, 2007 12:34 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks, Greg. I'll check out the Martsch track.

October 23, 2007 7:10 PM  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Hello Ed, Just got around to this episode and woke up with Roosevelt G. on my mind. Really like this version. And so the celestial monochord has a harmonic effect evidently as it goes on undiminished...

all thoughts fly... k.

October 24, 2007 4:03 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Nice job, Ed, of navigating a minefield. It's true that everyone holds very firm opinions on politics and religion. I'm not religious, but I am spiritual. I've never been to a Sunday morning concert session where I thought the sermon was uncalled for. Actually, it usually heightens the emotion of/for the music, and as we all know, emotion is what makes Music. I say let the preacher preach! Everybody say, "AMEN!" Damn, that was fun, Ed! Ha.Ha.

October 25, 2007 6:14 PM  

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