The Songs of Zion
“Back Porch Believer” By Douglas Erekson
I need to start this one out by clarifying a conclusion I’ve reached lately. I’ve come to define when some kind of creative work crosses over some imaginary line and goes from “nice work” to “great art”.
This is a very personal definition, and I don’t mean to imply that it should also be YOUR definition. Even if you should choose to adopt this criteria, it’s so personal that you and I might not even classify the same work the same way.
Here it is:
It is “Great Art” when something creative makes me think or feel something I hadn’t before.
Having said that…
“Back Porch Believer” is a collection of hymns of the LDS church re-interpreted in an old-time bluegrass style. When I say, “old time”, I’m not talking about simply playing the songs with fiddles and acoustic guitars. There’s nothing new-age about this. It’s down-home folk. Think “O Brother Where Art Thou” about a hundred years before it got hip.
Now, there have been a myriad of CD’s put out of late where artists have redone hymns in their own arrangements, their own styles, etc. Some could say, ad nauseum. There are a few of them, however that stand out as “Great Art” by my standard. Very rarely do several of them happen on the same CD. “Back Porch”, however, is such a CD.
The one that struck me the hardest was, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”. This hymn has been solemnized and revered for centuries, it seems. Until Douglas, I’ve never heard any one sing this with the jubilation that sweet sentence truly gives. This song moves with an excitement that never loses respect, but is still truly joyful.
In fact, in spite of the fact that most of the CD is a downright fun and lighthearted romp, I found myself feeling the glow of the Spirit as I listened.
Other highlights are “The Day Dawn Is Breaking”, and “There is Sunshine in My Soul”. I also loved the bluesy instrumental of “Israel, Israel God is Calling”. There are some Mormons who just can’t bring themselves to admit that a hymn in our book would have its roots in southern blues. Me, I’m glad to find it once in a while!
While I do like all kinds of music on some level, I very rarely will listen to bluegrass, especially deeply traditional bluegrass. But this CD grabs me. I’ve spun it while I’ve been working, while I’ve been at home, and while I’m commuting. It’s got this great blend of Spirituality and fun that just keeps me coming back.
I hope you’ll at least try it out.