Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Orphans Of God

"We will always be remembered as the orphans of God."

In response to my cochlea's post-funeral yearnings, I have turned to Orphans Of God, the tribute-slash-fund-raising extravaganza that came out in response to Mark Heard's death (and concomitant medical bills). This 12-year-old item is not new to me, but I returned to it after the revelatory experience of Buddy Miller's MH cover, "Worry Too Much." Miller's cover was a revelation because he did nothing to alter the song: the delivery is the same, the emphasis, the pace -- all the same as Mark's. It's just the voice that's different, and that was enough for me to hear the lyrics anew.

As I tried to gage my response to Miller's singing, I began to wonder if Mark was always the most appropriate performer of his own material. A song like "Worry Too Much" slipped under my radar when I first heard it because, frankly, after ten-plus years of listening to Mark's albums I tended to think his chorus was spot-on: he did worry too much. That was just a given. Hearing someone else sing the song, I actually felt the impact of the words for the first time. I realized what is at stake for anyone who sings them with conviction: basically, everything the singer believes -- or hopes -- is sacred.

Orphans Of God is a mixed bag of tricks that holds many such moments for me, as well as many moments I simply don't "get" (they were recorded nearly 15 years ago, and what once sounded au courant now seems to land a bit wide of the mark) and a few that set my teeth right on edge. I'm tempted to call out the chief offenders, if only to add to the interpretive controversy. One Amazon reviewer thinks Ramona Silver's cover of "Remarks To Mr. McLuhan" is a waste of time, but for me it's a delightful highlight: a short, creative riddle, layered with meaning and media -- and it sounds gorgeous.

So I'm not going to shit on any of the contributors because all of them were living and performing on the fringes of the scene long before the scene frayed to the point of becoming one enormous below-the-poverty-line fringe. These people Google themselves (maybe not Olivia Newton-John. Or maybe she does) so to them I say, "Thanks for doing this, and God love ya." Particularly noteworthy performances include: Pierce Pettis, Brooks Williams, Victoria Williams, Carolyn Arends and Ashley Cleveland. Through their voices we hear the angst and even some of the humor that informed Mark's best work.

But my personal award for head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest performance goes to:

Colin Linden -- singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer extraordinaire -- for his soulful rendering of "Dry Bones Dance."

Links: here are some more of my thoughts on Mark Heard; here is Colin Linden's website; finally, Orphans Of God eMusic, Amazon. Also: the lyrics to "Orphans Of God" and "Worry Too Much".

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