Monday, March 28, 2011

Mo Leverett: It's Alright (Music Review by Kirk Jordan)

Artist: Mo Leverett
Album: It’s Alright.
Genre: Singer/Songwriter, intimate ballads, bluesy Creole colored folk.

(Album now available in full on I-Tunes
or order limited addition CDs through Rebirth International.



A broken, tender, torn, self-deprecating, even surprisingly celebratory Psalm of an album. This album will break your heart, or make it well with bigger things. If that combo doesn’t yet make sense, hang on.


For the unfamiliar, Mo is a singer/musician/ song writer -- former pastor and Football castaway. (Years ago his career as a would-be football pro went south with torn tendons…Last year his career as a pastor ended with the demise of his marriage. But he still has his guitar.





I don’t say much about the music in this review. In short, I find the music fits my ear to perfection. Mo has been at this for a while. Tunes alternate between lone, raw acoustic guitar, and intimate studio-work with a lean bluesy feel. I hear piano, electric guitar, chimes, strings, flute, acoustic bass, and stellar Buddy Greene harmonica. I hear gospel. I hear death-crow. I hear a tune (and a direct reference) that lets me know that both Mo and I like the music of Bruce Cockburn… And…I hear an approach to the music that says that a producer somewhere knows that you don’t have to add layer upon layer to music to make it bite. This is skillfully wrought, unpretentious music of human proportions. Then there is Mo’s voice. Rough, gentle, bruised. Fitting. (a tad like Lyle Lovett.) But that that is not the focus of this album.

It’s hard to know where to begin. But one thing is for certain. In the ordinary sense of things, not much of anything is alright in Mo’s new world. (In a theological God soaked, ultimate, or even survival sense…. Well, that is a different matter.) Sometime in 2010 Mo Leverets’ marriage of 24 years collapsed. His wife asked to be loosed from their covenant bond. And from what I know of Mo, though Facebook and a little shared culture… Mo is crushed.

A thousands songs would I have penned
Against a thousand foes defend
She so fine and soft to see
Greater than the world to me


Elusive and estranged ..the peace(?)
Softy she has sought release
Now my tears forever flow
Forever I will let her go


Still would I have fought and died
For elegance personified
She the apple of my eye
Never more to taste will I

I guess, in one sense, no divorce is ever easy. I figure even Liz Taylor woke up the morning after her fifth marriage wondering what it’s all about and how she would deal with the wreck. But here is something different. Mo is a Pastor, (formerly with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and, belongs to a culture where divorce still caries shock. And shame. (And while it seems to be losing its shock value as the statistics climb) my sense is that Mo might rather break his back.



I do not want you to leave me alone
Flesh of my flesh, and Bone of my bone
My children’s mother, my precious wife
The queen of my heart, the love of my life.


But may the Lord bless you
And I will pray
May the Lord bless you. as you go your way


I do not want you to tender my name
But I would not want you to wear it in shame
I would commit myself to some mortis (sp?) flame
And I would be willing to field all the blame


May the Lord bless you … and be for you, everything I failed to do….
May the Lord bless you as you cross that line
Cross that line…



(Cross the line, one of the saddest songs in the universe.)


Bunny Trail: Truth is “It’s alright” is not really – or only -- a divorce album. Only two of the songs directly reference Mo’s divorce. On the other hand, most every song – like whites washed with a red magic marker – carries the stain.



Take these tears, this throbbing pain… these grinding fears, this darkest stain


And make it go away. Awaaaaay ay
These long hard years, that you’ve ordained
Like a mist appears and falls like rain
Make it go away…..




Take these lies, these fabled feet
This damn disguise, the self deceit
And make it go awy
Away away away……



Earlier I said this album is not about the music, or the voice. I may be wrong. You can read those lyrics, but you haven’t heard them till you hear Mo sing them with cracking desperation in his voice


This is an album of unmitigated pathos. This is an album that comes at great cost to its creator. But then… Then there are those songs that push in the opposite direction… For all its pain, there are several songs of Psalm-like praise, and several that directly celebrate marriage. With abandon. Really.



At first I was confused.

Were these leftover songs -- or is Mo singing about Christ’s love for his church?
What does it mean, when a guy who his riding the dark side of human existence sings..

Dance with me, Dance with me
Come away with my bride
I will be, bound to thee with the chords of love inside
You will always have my heart, you have owned it from the start

As it is, Mo helped clarify. These were songs written for young couples he knew that were getting married. (In an odd way, it reminded me of a time when my own marriage was deeply troubled, and I spent week after week as a wedding photographer, wondering… would my wife and I still be married by my next photo gig. The happiness of the young couples only made our present pain that much greater. But here, Mo shows a some spiritual insight.. No matter how badly we have managed marriage… Marriage, as a God-given gift, is still a good thing.  Indeed, marriage is, and ever remains sacred.



Here ‘s the rub. Mo brings attitudes to the whole arena of pain and human failure, even fractured romance -- that are worlds apart from the messages we hear on the radio every day.

And this is where “It’s Alright” sets itself apart. It actually nourishes the damaged soul.

Here is the ordinary way that radio songs might work with love lost.


1) Wallow in the pain, cry the blues, down another beer.

2) Write blistering angry or demeaning lyrics about the person that hurt you.

3) Hide in yourself. Say nothing,

4) Announce to the world that you are strong, and will go on.

5) Forget the whole idea of genuine romance, and live for the one-night stand.



On the other hand, here is the way that Mo, a God redeemed and broken man has worked through his loss.


1) Wallow in the pain, smoke a cigar – and take your bloodied and sinful heart to the throne of God. Cry out to him for help. Worship God – who gives, and takes away, even as you ask Him to carry you through mess.

2) Seek to avoid all scathing remarks, even to the point of apologizing for cryptic comments about your former. Honor the woman you loved, even as you lament her loss.

3) Recognize that you share in, or even deeply added to the climate that cause the divorce in the first place. Publically recognize your culpability. Help carry the shame.

4) Announce that you are weak and broken… but that you will indeed go on, limping. See beyond the immediate story to a larger story in which God is working. Say that everything is Alright (in a God held ultimate sense) and not have a sarcastic tone.

5) Despite personal failure and loss, continue to see marriage of a good God ordained institution, fully worthy of celebration. Sing with your mangled heart at a young person’s wedding.

6. Don’t let the pain obliterate beauty. (The tune “Beautiful” is in fact achingliy beautiful, and is playing non-stop in my brain right now.)

7. Eat well. (This is more of Facebook thing.)



-

As is, I have focused on the pain filled parts of this album. But that only draws into stark contrast several tracks that really are given to another life dimension. Kind'a like the dark country skies that make those stars shout out all the louder with their beauty.


All in all, It's Alright is one of those standout albums, that just because the world is what it is, will probably be known only by the few. And that is too bad. There is depth and even audio delight here that simply puts it in another league.


If I have any quibble it would be with song order… for whatever reasons, I want to listen the track order almost backwards. I know that most folks who know anything of Mo’s music will know of his current plight, but it seems, that the load was almost too much to put out front. So we back into the pain knowing something is wrong, long before it has a name. And the title track (third selection) offers what feels like resolution… before the fact. Then, the only song that I might have scrubbed, closes out the tracks with a dose of sadness.

But then,  I, who like to find theological or artistic rational for things I do -- think… Hey, isn’t this the way it is. We who find hope in Christ, experience a form of resolution before the fact. We proclaim we are saved … before everything that pertains to salvation is realized. We are pilgrims in a place that is not our home, a place where the scream loosed at the dawn of creation still rages with fury. And finally… the melancholy note of the last track leaves us in the unsettled present.

 “It’s Alright” hints at a way of praising God that is largely alien in much of today’s Christian world. It would not have been alien to David, or many of those who contended with God throughout the pages of holy writ, but it affirms that the God who loves, loves in difficult ways.


Now the long remaining day, struggling, limping on my way..
Now in pain, that never ends, bitter is the joy God sends
Grace that comes at times of of need,
Hope that comes from wounds that bleed.


Or


If your life line snaps
And you lose your way
And dark relapse
On your feet of clay


And you lose it all…Its alright
Cause if the Lord is standing with us
Then we are not alone
We are not alone…


If your lover leaves
And she steals your heart
And your wounded soul, it peels apart


It’s alright
If the Lord is standing with us


We are not alone


We are not alone
We are not alone……


So. Conclusion. Weep with those that weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Pray for Mo and his family. Be fed at another’s cost. Buy this exceptional album.

Bonus Treat:  Here's a beautifull touch of Mo, with some of my images.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t-YyQvTN1o

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