Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mark Heard High Noon Review

I recently posted a review of Mark Heard's High Noon CD on Ebay. I am reprinting the review here:

High Noon is basically a "best of" Mark's last CDs: Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand, Satellite Sky and another one that was produced after his death. From Strong Hand of Love (probably his best song ever) to Treasure of a Broken Land, Mark Heard wrote and performed music that was both personally touching and real.

There is a reason why performers as diverse as Bruce Cockburn to Olivia Newton-John performed his songs on a benefit CD Orphans of God after his death. Although a relatively unknown Christian performer during his lifetime, his impact went far beyond the small market that was home to his music. In many ways, he was considered the "Christian Bob Dylan" for his incisive lyrics and progressive and widely varied music. Mark's music ranged from the folksy Appalachian Melody (one of his earlier albums) to the Cajun Rise From the Ruins (on Dry Bones Dance) -- with a lot of rock 'n roll in between. His music also ranged from the powerful driving rock 'n roll to thoughtful ballads.

The song Strong Hand of Love does not sound as good on this CD as it does on Dry Bones Dance, but High Noon contains a complete compilation of his best songs from the later years.
If you listen very carefully, you will notice a pattern to the lyrics. Some words appear over and over: bones, satellite, broken. His music was very philosophical. It contained a lot of very deep concepts. His music is not for those who want nothing but jingoistic, happy talk pop. His music was designed to provoke thought and introspection.

The CD starts out with Strong Hand of Love. A beautiful ballad about life and love and how we can go through life never recognizing how a kind of mysterious unseen love affects us all, whether we know it or not.

Another Day in Limbo was classic Heard. He contrasts immutable natural scenes with ever changing modern technology -- and he is the only singer I have ever known to use an unusual word -- Jacaranda -- in a song and make it seem like it belongs there.

On She's Not Afraid, he sings about a woman who longs for a past long since gone and withered. She reminisces about the beauty and vitality of her youth that she, now older, wishes she could get back.

The Dry Bones Dance is a song that sings of an idealized world (think: heaven) that is unattainable in the here and now. For instance: Every now and then I seem to dream these dreams/ Where the mute ones speak and deaf ones sing/ Touching that miraculous circumstance/ Where the blind ones see and the Dry Bones Dance/.

House of Broken Dreams is another lamenting ballad that typifies much of his later works: Lay me down to sleep/ Come and comfort me/ I'll sleep in peace/ In a House of Broken Dreams/. The song speaks about the transitory nature of life and how we suffer many heartbreaks throughout it.

Nod Over Coffee seems to talk about a married couple who go about their daily lives like automatons. He seems to be telling us to look beyond our daily lives and to "seize the day" without telling us directly.

The Orphans of God talks about the vanity of life and how someday in the future, our contemporary struggles will be mostly forgotten by our ancestors.

The final song is a driving rock song that rounds out the CD. It once again contrasts the corporeal here and now with the spiritual afterlife, and how it is important to live life to its fullest.

If you want a "best of" Mark's later works, this is a must buy.

8 comments:

The Mains said...

Great review! "High Noon" was my first album-length treatment of Mark Heard. There's so much content and depth to Mark's writing that putting it all to words can be challenging. You did the subject justice. I suppose as an attorney type, justice is kind of your thing.

:)

OkieLawyer said...

Thank you for the kind words; and thanks for visiting my blog. I was a fan of Mark's music all the way back to my teenage years.

I don't suppose you would know where I could get "Eye of the Storm" on CD, do you?

The Mains said...

Home Sweet Home Records offers "Eye of the Storm" on CD:
http://www.ccentertainment.com/mheard.htm. It costs about $16 plus shipping.

You can also go to emusic.com and pay $10 a month and get 40 MP3 downloads per month. "Eye of the Storm" is available there as are "Stop the Dominoes", "Mosaics", "Ashes and Light", "Fingerprint", the recent "Hammers and Nails" from Paste Records and a couple of older best-ofs. I think that emusic is currently offering 25 free no-obligation downloads.

Mark Heard albums on emusic are available here:
http://www.emusic.com/artist/10559/10559896.html

I probably out to check that out myself...

You don't happen to know where I could find "On Turning to Dust" on CD do you? I've heard it on an LP and...wow... it's good.

OkieLawyer said...

Actually, I already tried to buy "Eye of the Storm" from Home Sweet Home records. They said it was no longer in stock. I got the impression that it would no longer be carried.

I bought everything that was available from Pastemusic.com.

I would like to find "On Turning to Dust" on CD myself. I never heard it on LP.

UltraCrepidarian said...

By the way, the cover by Olivia Newton John was more or less a cosmic accident. The way it was told to me, Mark was recording Ideola at a big studio, where Olivia Newton John was recording an album. She needed one more song. She, or her producer, asked "where can we get a song?". Any song. Is there a Song Mart around here? (I made that last bit up). Anyways, someone said, there's some guy named Mark Heard over in that adjoining studio, working on a concept album. Okay, let's hear his stuff. Never heard of him. So she did a cover. I think she wrecks it, by doing it straight, when it's written to be weirdly sung. She butchers it, basically. But hey, they needed another song. I wish they had left her song off of Orphans of God. It's not like it was a tribute, it was a cover, a very old cover, and not a very good one.

Just my $0.02.

Ultracrepidarian

UltraCrepidarian said...

By the way, the cover by Olivia Newton John was more or less a cosmic accident. The way it was told to me, Mark was recording Ideola at a big studio, where Olivia Newton John was recording an album. She needed one more song. She, or her producer, asked "where can we get a song?". Any song. Is there a Song Mart around here? (I made that last bit up). Anyways, someone said, there's some guy named Mark Heard over in that adjoining studio, working on a concept album. Okay, let's hear his stuff. Never heard of him. So she did a cover. I think she wrecks it, by doing it straight, when it's written to be weirdly sung. She butchers it, basically. But hey, they needed another song. I wish they had left her song off of Orphans of God. It's not like it was a tribute, it was a cover, a very old cover, and not a very good one.

Just my $0.02.

Ultracrepidarian

OkieLawyer said...

Thanks for the background story.

I have to admit, I do skip over the Olivia Newton-John song when I play Orphans of God. But I have to say that I think Bruce Cockburn's tribute of Strong Hand of Love was done very well, IMO. Mark's version is better -- but, then again, the copy is never as good as the original.

Martin said...

The background story doesn't sound very credible. Mark recorded the Ideola album in his own studio, which was at first a portable unit inside a converted ice cream truck and later a shed behind his house (I've seen it). He certainly didn't record it at some big studio where Olivia N-J was in the next room.

Mark might have been working at the studio in some capacity on someone else's record, but not on his own.