Thursday, May 24, 2012

“Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest of Us”

(Tone Tree Music, released April 2012)

“I was on my boss Emmylou’s tour bus in 2008 when a really crazy TV preacher came on the satellite TV and caused me to wonder how to counterbalance this bad PR God continues to get from his own flock. 
So, I came up with the simple idea of gathering together a few great musical artists singing songs written around the basic theme of “What If God Is Love?”--Phil Madeira
With that inspiration and vision, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Phil Madeira spearheaded a project that resulted in “Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest of Us.” In no way is this production of the “contemporary Christian” genre but rather a reflection of a universal God or spirit that loves and serves mankind. 
Most songs on this concept compilation are new material--written, performed, and arranged for the CD. Though Madeira had a hand or voice in each song he gathered an impressive group of musicians to share his vision. From the spectacular opening song by the Civil Wars (“From This Valley”) to the final song by John Scofield (“Peace in the Valley”), a variety of musicians fill the “valley” framed by this arrangement. 
I didn’t notice the symbolic bookends these songs created until I started writing this nor do I know if it was purposeful by Madeira. Regardless, a valley sows the seeds of a fertile ground and the songs that sprouted in “Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest of Us” are lush and hardy. Musicians such as Shawn Mullins, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Dan Tyminski share a message of hope that is ecumenical and inspiring regardless of a person’s religious practice--or lack of it. 
The all-star cast of roots and bluegrass musicians make this a CD that belongs in any music lover’s collection. In an age of turmoil, tragedy, and polarization around the world, “Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest of Us” is a universal treat. It neither promotes or negates any religion or spiritual practice. Rather it is a reminder that music and spirituality have always been intertwined and provide solace and hope to a world in desperate need of mercy and grace.
This song by Shawn Mullins addresses God’s love for all--Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and Atheists are all mentioned by name as Mullins breaks the barriers and reminds the listener that God loves us all even if we all "Give God the Blues.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

~May Day Memories~

2012 May Day Bouquet for Mom and Mary

The small joys and fun of May Day are woven into the story of my childhood but my memories are a bit threadbare. As a youngster, my fistful of lily of the valleys and dandelions placed in a small container brought squeals of delight from my grandmother. I would ring the doorbell and flee while Miss Dolly praised the bouquet, its beauty, and wondered aloud who brought her these lovely flowers. Hit rewind numerous times each year. She repeated this act, with enthusiasm, all day long for each of her grandchildren.
Through the years, the family “May Dayers” dwindled. The older generation slipped away, the boys lacked interest, everyone lived in different places--but my Mom, Dad, and sister all still played May Day with enthusiasm. In college, Mary sent the smallest bouquets she could order through the mail to Kentucky. She did the same for Mom, which reminded us both of Miss Dolly and old traditions celebrated by our family. Three months before Dad died (May Day 2005) he picked a small bouquet of lily of the valleys and gave them to me in one of Mom’s short Waterford vases. He said I could keep the vase too. Mom squealed just like her Mother years before--but this squeal implied “my vase needs to be returned!” Dad winked at me. 
I still have most of the last May Day bouquet from my father
but obviously I didn't get to keep the vase. The little drink
umbrella was added with the dried lily of the valleys the night that
my parents took me out to celebrate my tennis medal in the
Show-Me State Games. It proved to be our last date
as Dad died in his sleep about 10 days later.
To my surprise, a brief search on the history of May Day revealed controversy and conflicting stories of its origin. Some say it is Christian, others pagan. Traditionally, it is celebrated abroad more than in the U.S. and its history goes back before the birth of Christ. Since 1890, it is known as International Workers Day in the UK, originally in the fight for the eight-hour work day. It still serves as a day of protest there, and increasingly, around the globe. Until today, I never considered the current news of the Occupy Movement’s call to not work, shop, or go to school on May 1, 2012, as a May Day activity. 
But, enough! My history of May Day will always be about little fingers picking and arranging flowers to leave on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell, and running into the woods without a worry in the world.