Having never before heard of Mark Heard (bad pun intended), I still fell under the spell of every shining gem found in “Treasure of the Broken Land.”
Heard, from Macon, Georgia, died in 1992 at the cruel age of 41, two weeks after suffering a heart attack onstage. He earned a degree in journalism in 1974, and studied L’Abri, an Evangelical Christian philosophy, in Switzerland. That, combined with his deeply Southern upbringing and innate talent, infused the songs he began to write with unique perspective — to say the least. Heard signed to a Christian label, but his expressions of faith within the joys and sorrows of everyday life projected a wisdom that, as Drew Holcomb observed, were “confessional, not prescriptive.” Thus, he started recording albums completely on his own.
By virtue of the 18 songs presented on this third tribute to him by sundry friends and admirers, Mark Heard was brilliant. Melody never lies. Heard’s songs obviously fit very easily into a variety of roots music modes. Buddy Miller lays out the title song with resolute bluesy twang, while Sean Rowe, in his cool droll baritone, makes “Everything Is Alright” a very different — and riveting — kind of rolling folk. Amy Helm, Cindy Morgan, and Levi Parham turn “Orphans of God” into Band-like splendor, and the North Mississippi Allstars fronted by Rachael Davis, convert the deceptively simple “Freight Train to Nowhere” into a profoundly soulful mountain/blues shuffle.
Rocky resolve and beautiful fluency found equal footing within Heard’s songs, and every artist here sings his praises with incredible, comprehending respect. Dusty, gnarly roots by Matt Haeck; Rodney Crowell’s silkiness; Cruz Contrera’s Southwestern glamour; and Over The Rhine’s wraith-like magnificence also dot the set. Best of the batch? My vote goes to Drew Holcomb’s ironic-twist-filled and infectious jab at “Tip of My Tongue.” But that’s today; tomorrow it may be something else.
Believer Jeff Grantham called on Nashville producer Phil Madeira to get this project underway. Grantham summed it up by saying, “It was concerning to think that the memory of Heard as an artist might fade away completely.” Well, have no fear. The treasures of Mark Heard abound and inspire here.
- Various Artists
‘Treasure of the Broken Land, the Songs of Mark Heard’
Label: Storm Weathered