A gorgeous anthology of gospel-infused Americana, Mercyland was born when Phil Madeira asked his boss, Emmylou Harris, if she would be interested in being a part of a recording of Gospel music that was inclusive, engaging, and socially aware. The project revolved around the idea of God embodying love. Emmylou said yes, and 10 other artists followed her. Madeira explains, “The idea wasn’t to make a Christian record, but it was to pay tribute to the great body of work which is in the bones of Americana, country, and blues.”
The idea was so well received that Madeira and company returned for an encore in Mercyland Vol. 2. Below you will find our take on each track on the release, out now on Mercyland Records.
The Lone Below – “I See That Hand”
Excitable and motivated, The Lone Below maneuver “I See That Hand” with jubilation and exuberance that is unmatched on the album. With a tent revival atmosphere, the band’s musical movements build momentum as they go. Chipper and animated, the good-spirited song is a frisky and lively Sun Records classic hidden in the heart of the internet era.
The Wood Brothers – “Can’t Put A Name On It”
Backed by a gang of horns and wielding a classic Motown vibe, The Wood Brothers tranquilly capture the beauty of a forgotten time. Atmospheric and distinctive, the song’s organ usage will get stuck in your head for days. Prepare accordingly.
Emmylou Harris – “Kyrie”
Emmylou is always going to be Emmylou. All of her signatures are on point and accounted for on “Kyrie”; her sincere and colorful storytelling is as immaculate as it has ever been. Her blended vocals, shared with the voice of John Paul White, fuse flawlessly with the fiddle swells in the chorus. Swarming with emotions, the song is a stark reminder of why Emmylou Harris is a legend and how lucky we are to have her.
Humming People – “Stars”
“It’s scary as hell looking into yourself when nothing else is looking back…”
Blunt and vulnerably, Humming People suppress no sentiment from their listeners as they explain the quandaries and apprehensions that come with getting your life in order. Hidden within a bulky wall of sound is a tragic story of foolishly betting on the wrong, transparent dream, and the process of recovering from that chase. Motivating and miserable at the same time, “Stars” beautifully manages to show an all-encompassing assessment of growing up.
Angel Snow – “I Said It, I Meant It”
Rising from a meek acoustic introduction featuring simple guitar, tranquil slide guitar, and Snow’s stunning voice, “I Said It, I Meant It” shapes increasingly into a well-organized selection of roots noises like banjos and church choir background singers. The heartbreaking descriptions of losing a person to self-indulgence is impeccably presented through hasty, pointed one-liners like:
“All the lovers in the world couldn’t help
Undo the damage that you’ve done to yourself
You keep repeating history
Digging yourself in too deep”
The frank glimpse at the unraveling of a person gives a particularly vulnerable insight into the strength, compassion, and heart of Snow. It is that trustworthiness that makes “I Said It, I Meant It” so expressive, like a noticeable page from a diary, more than a song.
Jason Eskridge & Cindy Morgan – “Sacred Ground”
Rooted in the same nostalgic circles as Randy Newman or Harry Connnick Jr., Jason Eskridge’s soothing voice takes on jazzy, bubbly vibes as it flutters along a familiar and agelessly reutilized sound. Although the song touches on aspects of every generic “seeking love” song, under the shell of its reprocessed feel, there is a layer of cleverness definitely overlooked. It took a few attempts for this track to grow on me, but I’m glad I gave “Sacred Ground” the chance to mature.
Sugar & The Hi-Lows – “Stranger”
With a Carly Simon-like voice, Amy Stroup passively asks for the company of her Almighty. Carefully plucking the perfect phrasing for each of the poetic verses, the track narrates the creative songwriting that is propelling Stroup and her Sugar & The Hi-Lows partner, Trent Dabbs, into the spotlight they deserve. Simple and unassuming, this beautiful track stands out against an album of big, bold numbers.
Will Kimbrough & Red Dirt Boys – “Madness of the World”
Reminiscent to the construction of Joe Cocker’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends”, “Madness of the World” is quite possibly the most beautiful song on Mercyland Vol. 2. Musically simply yet lyrically verbose, the track’s ability to relocate the listener to a different time and place shifts Kimbrough from a songwriter to a novelist of sorts.
Although the statement is bold, the cost of Mercyland is balanced by the acquisition of “Madness of the World”. Everything else becomes a bonus.
Phil Madeira – “Mercy”
Swaying a bit more towards traditional country than a majority of the songs on Mercyland, Madeira trades gospel swells for crying fiddle and acoustic guitars. Humble and straightforward, “Mercy” isn’t hiding behind anything. The track pilots the perspectives of both the underprivileged and the prosperous, presenting a curious take on how each party perceives the opposing side. Offering a set of honest and thought-provoking lyrics, placed unprotected over the unpretentious orchestration, the song is unquestionably a credit to Madeira’s unique mind and talents.
McCrary Sisters – “Boom Chicka-Boom”
The daughter of Reverend Samuel McCrary, the gospel soul found in the voice of his daughters comes from heritage as much as musical training. With a “Green Onions” guitar riff that would impress Booker T and the MG’s, and Etta James-esque voices that are second to none on this compilation, The McCrary Sisters’ “Boom Chicka-Boom” is outright precision. The jazz drums are infectious, the wandering guitars are addicting, and the sisters’ soothing voices are traditionally dated and stunning.
David Crowder – “Make An Ocean”
Although tremendously beautiful musically and overflowing with striking emotions, wordplay is ultimately the reason that “Make An Ocean” is remarkable. The song shrewdly navigates through gracefully sparkling poetic phrases, seemingly selected from a thesaurus, before spiking at an intentionally simple and sobering, emotional chorus. Evocative and whimsical, the song is as lovely as they come.
John Scofield – “Heaven Hill”
“Heaven Hill” is an antiqued throwback, timelessly dependent on a vintage organ and bluesy guitar hooks placed beautifully over a slow jam of orchestral instruments. Its breathtaking and soothing vibe makes it hard not to question why the jazz scene isn’t more vibrant and popular today.