Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Got Them Higher Calling Blues

Thursday marks a new installment in the blog that will become a regular weekly occurrence. Tune in every Thursday for "Give me Religion...Thursdays." I was going to wait until the new year to start this one but decided to get the jump on things.

The format will be pretty open. Every Thursday we'll post and talk about song(s) that concern themselves with God, religion, Jesus, redemption, etc. This will be open to interpretation obviously, but will definitely include everything from gospel and beyond; serious and not so.
These topics have been explored within their art by many a great (and not so great) songwriter. These songs carry a great weight, not just for the artist himself, but for the listener, who works out their own thoughts alongside the artist. They can be uplifting like many a gospel track, or intensely introspective, as often the search for meaning is.

So check back every Thursday as we walk through the valley. By no means are we an expert in this vein. Have a favourite song that falls somewhere in the category? By all means let me know and we'll try and get a hold of it.

The inaugural song is the old hymn Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling. Written by Will Thompson, a songwriter and businessman from Chicago in 1880. The song is surely a comforting message to those facing death with the refrain of "ye who are weary come home." It acts to dispel the fear that your sins on earth will bar you entrance into heaven. It portrays Jesus as a benevolent and ultimately forgiving God.

I've included a few versions for you. The first is from Johnny Cash. Recorded during the famed Million Dollar Quartet sessions, Elvis Aaron Presly chimes in to give this a loose, boozy vibe.
Softly and Tenderly - Johnny Cash w/Elvis Presley

The next two are pretty straightforward modern gospel takes on the song. One version by Amy Grant and the next by Randy Travis. Like many attempts to modernize some of these hymns, the end result is a bland and homogenized version that fails to break any new ground. That is arguably the case here. My dad really likes both artists so I thought I'd include them for his sake.
Amy Grant - Softly and Tenderly
Randy Travis - Softly and Tenderly

The last version is by Robert Sean Leonard. It is included on the Jeff Tweedy composed soundtrack to the 2001 Ethan Hawke directed film, Chelsea Walls. He also contributes a cover of Wilco's "The Lonely 1." The album is a great moody little thing. Mainly Tweedy instrumentals, it is easily worth it for this haunting and sparse performance by Leonard. It's good to know if that whole acting thing doesn't work out for him he's got a fallback.

Robert Sean Leonard - Softly and Tenderly (new mp3 sendspace link)

1 comment:

Rob Howard said...

Great Idea. Growing up in Baptist Church this song was such a part of my life. Every service, 50+ times per year. I haven't heard it in a couple years, I really appreciate your using of it.